The Greatest and Truest Confession


Our last lesson in Matthew focused on the parable of the seeds and the soil. It served to give a solemn warning about a casual and flippant reception of divine truth. Any reception of the message of Jesus, or any interpretation of the ministry of Jesus, that looks upon threatened pain or present pleasure as greater in significance than the Kingdom of God is not worthy of it and will not be a citizen of it. “Reformations which are not the work of conquering grace are usually temporary, and often lead up to a worse condition in after years,” so Spurgeon reminded us. We are ever more pressed toward a true and mature answer to the question, “Who are the true family of Jesus?” Our text tells us plainly the kinds of persons that will be built into his church, his kingdom.

I. Observations in Various Modes of Response

A. Herod observed the miracles of Jesus and thought that he must be John the Baptist risen (14:2). John “did no sign” (John 10:40-42), but his message and presence must have been so filled with earnest divine power that Herod could see no explanation for the powers of Jesus other than that he shared the life of John the Baptist. His conscience was at work, for he had called for the head of John the Baptist upon a vain promise made in light of the power of the lust of the eyes (14:6, 7). John had no compromise in him and felt such unction about the holiness of God and the inviolability of his law that he exhibited no fear of earthly power. Herod had heard such about Jesus.

B. The disciples had confessed, “You are the Son of God” (14:33). His manifestation of power over all created things in the feeding of the five thousand (14:13-21), his walking on the water (14:25), and his stilling of the storm (14:32) made them see him as the one who created and sustained the heavens and the earth, so they “worshiped him.”

C. The Pharisees ignored all this evidence and invented a variety of strategies to seek to discredit him and find a way to eliminate him.

  1. They depicted him as a breaker of their traditions and a challenge to their authority (15:1). Jesus knew their teaching in detail and how it sought to circumvent the law of God. To them he applied the prophetic word of Isaiah 29:13. The truth is closed to those who should know and be able to interpret the revelation of God, at least by their training, for they prefer the commandments of men (Isaiah 29:13c). Paul cited the next verse, Isaiah 29:14, in 1 Corinthians 1:19 when showing how God’s wisdom in the cross of Christ had made foolish the wisdom of the world.
  2. They ignored the multiplicity of signs he had already given in showing that his power and prerogative was continuous with the Lord God revealed in the Old Testament. They demanded a special sign crafted just for them that would virtually descend from heaven as their own special revelation such as the fire that descended on Elijah’s sacrifice (16:1-12) They refused to look at the purity of his teaching, the grace of his compassion, and the tendencies of his power. Sign enough had been given for true seekers, and he would not honor their coldness and hostility with more than was required. Jesus warned the disciples against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees, for, like leaven its content had expansive power to blind the eyes to spiritual light, close the ears to revealed truth, and destroy the soul as a two-fold child of hell (Matthew 23:13-15).

D. The Canaanite woman, who obviously had heard much about the ministry and teaching of Jesus addressed him as “Lord, Son of David.” This was clear expression of a conviction that Jesus was the Messiah prophesied in the Jewish Scriptures. Jesus tested the nature of that knowledge severely in ignoring her (15:23), excluding her (15:24), and placing her among the unclean and uncovenanted of the world (15:26). At each stage she persisted with her request, knowing that Jesus was sent that all nations might know their maker and give thanks to him for his grace. (15:27).

E. The crowds still flocked to him as one who had power over all disease, infirmity, and other debilities for his compassionate attention (14: 14, 34-36; 15:29-31).

II. The Accumulation of Credentials

A. He fed 5000 men plus women and children from the meager store of five small loaves of bread and two fish (14:13-21). Then again he fed 4000 men plus women and children with several loaves and a “few small fish” (15:34). This multiplying of a substance was in fact an act of creation. As God had taken dust and made a man, and had taken a rib from the man and made a woman, so now he took fish and bread and made more fish and bread. In each case he took pre-existing material but in the first two cases changed the arrangement of the material and gave a new quality to it. With the fish he multiplied the existing quality into a massively increased quantity.

B. He showed his immediate power over the normal functions of nature. In this he demonstrated that he “upholds all things by the word of his power . . [for] in him all things hold together” (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17). Even as he sustains all molecules, atoms, and all sub-atomic particles in their relations to all other things, so he may use these relations for his own purpose at any moment, so that what we call the miraculous is, in reality, no greater a manifestation of power than is the day by day inter-related operation of all things. None of it operates as it does apart from his purpose and power. All things are an ongoing manifestation of his infinite intelligence and every enterprise of scientific investigation is possible only because a being of infinite intelligence and wisdom established and continues to give existence to all things. Jesus showed his immediate control of wind, waves, inter-relations of pressure centers and gravitational pulls. That he is to be worshipped as the Son of God is the perfectly fitting response to such an awareness.

C. His healing of all infirmities showed his immediate awareness of the operations of the pathogens that corrupt the lives of fallen humans. He knows all the internal connections of limb and sinew, light and nerves, pulsing sound waves and inner ear functions. All of these he showed that he could put in proper relation and give health (14:14, 34-35; 15:28, 30-31), so that those healed “glorified the God of Israel.” For all of those whom he healed, however, death still would come soon. The final suspension of the effects of the fall in the body will come on the day of resurrection when by the word of the Son of God the dead in Christ shall rise.

III. The Confession (Matthew 16:13-20)

A. Jesus now called for a statement of how the evidence from his teaching, demeanor, and demonstrations of power were perceived.

  1. “What do people say?” Mark 6:14 and Luke 9:7 give the answer of the people as Matthew 4:12 had recorded the conclusion of Herod.
  2. “What do you say?” Peter expressed what all of them had been thinking and to which they had on occasion given expression (John 2:49; 6:68, 69; Matthew 14:33). This confession, asked for at a strategic time in the ministry of Jesus carried cognitive freight that constitutes an irreducible element of saving faith. Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

B. The meaning of the Confession

  1. The Christ – The one specially anointed by God as prophet, priest, and king to give a single personal expression to the revelation, salvation, and sovereign rule of Yahweh over his people.
  2. The Son of the Living God – He is the one who has dwelt with the Father from eternity (John 1:1) and who calls God his Father in a way that indicated he shared all the essential attributes of deity in his own person (John 5:18.) He is truly Emmanuel, God with us.

C. The source of the confession (16:17). When this confession is made in truth in the context of saving faith, faith that endures to the end, it comes in the efficacy of saving power.

  1. This confession is not made in the power of the flesh. Flesh and blood did not reveal it, neither the power of another nor the natural perceptions of the believer himself (John 6:63).
  2. This confession comes as a revelation of truth to the soul by the will and power of the Father. As the Father sends the Spirit through the Son, or as the Son sends the Spirit from the Father, so the Spirit effects the covenantal will of the Father and the covenantal work of the Son to bring repentance and forgiveness of sin and the hope of eternal life.

D. The constructive power of the confession (16:18, 19)

  1. This confession made by Simon solidified his designation as Peter for he had expressed the unbreakable foundation of how the church would be built. At Pentecost, as all the disciples testified (Acts 2:4) and as the apostles preached stood in unison (Acts 2:14), Peter gave scriptural justification to their message and the manner of it, thus establishing the messianic kingdom through this message of Jesus as Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).
  2. Christ himself builds his church in accord with the covenantal arrangement from eternity (John 6:39,40, 44, 65; Hebrews 3:6; 13:20, 21).
  3. None of the efforts of those who inhabit the realm of death (Ephesians 2:1, 2; Hebrews 2:14, 15) can hinder this predetermined purpose of God now put into effect through the work of Christ as the redeemer king.

E. Jesus prohibited their telling this clear claim to messianic status (16: 20). Though it seems as if this should be spread abroad immediately—“Jesus of Nazareth has demonstrated and testified to the reality that he is the long expected Messiah!”—Jesus “strictly charged” that they tell no one he was the Christ. Why did Jesus make the prohibition.?

IV. The Prohibition Justified

A. Verse 21 – Jesus explains what is involved in his position of Messiah. Though they knew who he was and from where he had come, they still did not discern the nature of his mission. H now began to explain in painfully plain language that death by crucifixion awaited him, the one who had just claimed that he was Messiah. He does this again in 17:23, 23 and 20:17-19. On none of these occasions did the disciples seem to grasp either the gravity of this prediction or its meaning. Clearly, they were not ready to proclaim his messiahship, for they themselves did not understand it and would have made many erroneous claims about its meaning.

B. Peter reprimanded Jesus for such a dreadful depiction of his immediate future. When Peter showed the stark misunderstanding of the necessity of the redeeming work of Messiah, Son of God, Jesus detected the operation of Satan through Peter’s ignorance. Like the crowd (“the things of man”) he wanted food, healing, removal of oppression. That is what Messiah is all about, is it not? Though he had a deep sense of his sin, neither Peter nor the other disciples had seen this in terms of the need for the substitutionary sacrifice of the cross. The truth that Peter would state so clearly later after having been taught by the word of God and the Spirit of God—“Who himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed”—was no where to be found in his perception at this point (1 Peter 2:24).

V. The Cross Defines True Discipleship—No Glory Apart from Suffering (16:24-28)

A. In this life, the cross. Since Jesus would not reign over his house apart from the rejection that would issue in the cross (1 Peter 2:4, 5), so must his disciples be willing to forsake their lives for his sake in obedience to the truth of the gospel. As Christ was raised from the dead in order to be lifted to glory (1 Peter 1:21), so must his disciple not save his life in this world, in order to have the life that can never end at the return of Christ. Those who die under the power of gospel truth, having refused to submit to the pressures of this world, will live and reign with Christ (1 Peter 4:6; 5:10, 11).

B. After this life, glory—At the return of Christ, the true glory of Christ as the God-man, the Messiah, the perfect sacrifice now seated on high, will be seen as he judges each and every person. No tongue will utter a reply against the perfect justice of God (Romans 3:19) and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10, 11). Then we will see and enjoy the substance of the confession “For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:11, 12).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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