In Mathew 16 we have a real turning point in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus intentionally takes His disciples to one of the most pagan places in all of Israel – Caesarea Philippi (verse 13). In this area we have the blatant worship of pagan deities like Pan.
It is in this very dark place that we have the climactic confession of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah (Mathew 16:16). It is the 1st place that a character within the Gospel narrative confesses Jesus as the Messiah/Christ. It is on the basis of this confession that Jesus declares that He will build His church and that the gates (i.e. the power) of hell (i.e. darkness) will not be able to prevail. This is the first time Jesus mentions the church in the Gospels. The word appears only one other place in the Gospels, Mathew 18:15-17. Even the kind of powerful pagan worship at Caesarea-Philippi will not be able to stop the advancement of God’s kingdom through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus and the faithful discipleship of Christians.
It is right after this divinely-inspired confession of Peter that Jesus begins for the first time to talk openly about His upcoming arrest and death in Jerusalem (Mathew 16:21). It is noteworthy to mention that at this first explicit mention of Jesus’ suffering, Peter took His Master aside and said “Never Lord”. (Mathew 16:22).
Jesus rebukes Peter by saying to him: “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (verse 23). One minute, Peter is used as a mouthpiece by God, the next minute he is used as a mouthpiece by Satan. How fickle we humans are! Peter had the confession right but not the commitment. If His Lord is going to suffer in this world to accomplish God’s purposes, how much more will His followers have to experience hardship and suffering as they seek to follow the Lord in this world which rejects Christ’s Lordship.
In the rest of the Gospel of Mathew we see Jesus journeying to Jerusalem where He will be arrested and where He will be crucified just like He predicted. In the Gospel accounts of the last weeks of Jesus’ life we still see the disciples unable to fully comprehend why Jesus came to this earth. Jesus takes up a towel to wash the disciples’ feet (John 13), while the disciples are fighting for thrones to be at Jesus right- and left-hands (Mathew 20:20-28).
May the LORD give us the mind of Christ so that we can more and more perceive God’s thoughts and God’s ways in this world. May He form in us more and more the character of Christ so that we can be seen as servants who love the LORD and love people. In Christ’s love and service, Pastor John