See also Mark 8:27-29, and Luke 9:18-20.
Cesarea Philippi - There were two cities in Judea called Caesarea. One was situated on the borders of the Mediterranean (See the notes at Acts 8:40), and the other was the one mentioned here. This city was greatly enlarged and ornamented by Philip the tetrarch, son of Herod, and called Caesarea in honor of the Roman emperor, Tiberius Caesar. To distinguish it from the other Caesarea the name of Philip was added to it, and it was called Caesarea Philippi, or Caesarea of Philippi. It was situated in the boundaries of the tribe of Naphtali, at the foot of Mount Hermon. It is now called Panias or Banias, and contains (circa 1880' s) about 200 houses, and is inhabited chiefly by Turks. The word "coasts" here now usually applied to land in the vicinity of the sea - means "borders" or "regions." He came into the part of the country which appertained to Cesarea Philippi. He was passing northward from the region of Bethsaida, on the coasts of Magdala Matthew 15:39, where the transactions recorded in the previous verses had occurred.
When Jesus came - The original is, "when Jesus was coming." Mark says Mark 8:27 that this conversation took place when they were in the way, and this idea should have been retained in translating Matthew. While in the way, Jesus took occasion to call their attention "to the truth that he was the Messiah." This truth it was of much consequence that they should fully believe and understand; and it was important, therefore, that he should often learn their views, to establish them if right, and correct them if wrong. He began, therefore, by inquiring what was the common report respecting him.
Whom do men say ... - This passage has been variously rendered. Some have translated it, "Whom do men say that I am? the Son of man?" Others, "Whom do men say that I am - I, who am the Son of man - i. e., the Messiah?" The meaning is nearly the same. He wished to obtain the sentiments of the people respecting himself.
And they said ... - See the notes at Matthew 11:14. They supposed that he might be John the Baptist, as Herod did, risen from the dead. See Matthew 14:2. He performed many miracles, and strongly resembled John in his manner of life, and in the doctrines which he taught.
And Simon Peter answered ... - Peter, expressing the views of the apostles, with characteristic forwardness answered the question proposed to them by Jesus: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
The Christ - The Messiah, the "Anointed" of God. See the notes at Matthew 1:1.
The Son - That is, the Son by way of eminence - in a special sense. See the notes at Matthew 1:17. This appellation was understood as implying divinity, John 10:29-36.
Of the living God - The term "living" was given to the true God to distinguish him from idols, that are dead, or lifeless blocks and stones. He is also the Source of life, temporal, spiritual, and eternal. The word "living" is often given to him in the Old Testament, Joshua 3:10; I Samuel 17:26, I Samuel 17:36; Jeremiah 10:9-10, etc. In this noble confession Peter expressed the full belief of himself and of his brethren that he was the long-expected Messiah. Other people had very different opinions of him, but they were satisfied, and were not ashamed to confess it.
And Jesus answered, Blessed art thou ... - Simon Bar-jona is the same as Simon son of Jona. Bar is a Syriac word signifying son. The father of Peter, therefore, was Jona, or Jonas, John 1:42; John 21:16-17.
Blessed - That is, happy, honored, evincing a proper spirit, and entitled to the approbation of God.
For flesh and blood - This phrase usually signifies man (see Galatians 1:16; Ephesians 6:12), and it has been commonly supposed that Jesus meant to say that man had not revealed it, but he seems rather to have referred to himself. "This truth you have not learned from my lowly appearance, from my human nature, from my apparent rank and standing in the world. You, Jews, were expecting to know the Messiah by his external splendor; his pomp and power as a man; but you have not learned me in this manner. I have shown no such indication of my Messiahship. Flesh and blood have not shown it. In spite of my appearance, my lowly state - my lack of resemblance to what you have expected, you have learned it as from God." They had been taught this by Jesus' miracles, his instructions, and by the direct teachings of God upon their minds. To "reveal" is to make known, or communicate something that was unknown or secret.
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter - The word "Peter," in Greek, means "a rock." It was given to Simon by Christ when he called him to be a disciple, John 1:42
Cephas is a Syriac word, meaning the same as Peter - a rock, or stone. The meaning of this phrase may be thus expressed: "Thou, in saying that I am the Son of God, hast called me by a name expressive of my true character. I, also, have given to thee a name expressive of your character. I have called you Peter, a rock, denoting firmness, solidity, stability, and your confession has shown that the name is appropriate. I see that you are worthy of the name, and will be a distinguished support of my religion."
And upon this rock ... - This passage has given rise to many different interpretations. Some have supposed that the word "rock" refers to Peter' s confession, and that Jesus meant to say, upon this rock, this truth that thou hast confessed, that I am the Messiah and upon confessions of this from all believers, I will build my church. Confessions like this shall be the test of piety, and in such confessions shall my church stand amid the flames of persecution, the fury of the gates of hell. Others have thought that Jesus referred to himself. Christ is called a rock, Isaiah 28:16; I Peter 2:8. And it has been thought that he turned from Peter to himself, and said, "Upon this rock, this truth that I am the Messiah - upon myself as the Messiah, I will build my church." Both these interpretations, though plausible, seem forced upon the passage to avoid the main difficulty in it. Another interpretation is, that the word "rock" refers to Peter himself.
This is the obvious meaning of the passage; and had it not been that the Church of Rome has abused it, and applied it to what was never intended, no other interpretation would have been sought for. "Thou art a rock. Thou hast shown thyself firm, and suitable for the work of laying the foundation of the church. Upon thee will I build it. Thou shalt be highly honored; thou shalt be first in making known the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles." This was accomplished. See Acts 2:14-36, where he first preached to the Jews, and Acts 10, where he preached the gospel to Cornelius and his neighbors, who were Gentiles. Peter had thus the honor of laying the foundation of the church among the Jews and Gentiles; and this is the plain meaning of this passage. See also Galatians 2:9. But Christ did not mean, as the Roman Catholics say he did, to exalt Peter to supreme authority above all the other apostles, or to say that he was the only one upon whom he would rear his church. See Acts 15, where the advice of James, and not that of Peter, was followed. See also Galatians 2:11, where Paul withstood Peter to his face, because he was to be blamed - a thing which could not have happened if Christ (as the Roman Catholics say) meant that Peter was absolute and infallible. More than all, it is not said here, or anywhere else in the Bible, that Peter would have infallible successors who would be the vicegerents of Christ and the head of the church. The whole meaning of the passage is this: "I will make you the honored instrument of making known my gospel first to Jews and Gentiles, and I will make you a firm and distinguished preacher in building my church."
Will build my church - This refers to the custom of building in Judea upon a rock or other very firm foundation. See the notes at Matthew 7:24. The word "church" literally means "those called out," and often means an assembly or congregation. See Acts 19:32, Greek; Acts 7:38. It is applied to Christians as being "called out" from the world. It means sometimes the whole body of believers, Ephesians 1:22; I Corinthians 10:32. This is its meaning in this place. It means, also, a particular society of believers worshipping in one place, Acts 8:1; Acts 9:31; I Corinthians 1:2, etc.; sometimes, also, a society in a single house, as Romans 16:5. In common language it means the church visible - i. e., all who profess religion; or invisible, i. e., all who are real Christians, professors or not.
And the gates of hell ... - Ancient cities were surrounded by walls. In the gates by which they were entered were the principal places for holding courts, transacting business, and deliberating on public matters. See the notes at Matthew 7:13. Compare the notes at Job 29:7. See also Deuteronomy 22:4; I Samuel 4:18; Jeremiah 36:10; Genesis 19:1; Psalms 69:12; Psalms 9:14; Proverbs 1:21. The word "gates," therefore, is used for counsels, designs, machinations, evil purposes.
"Hell" means, here, the place of departed spirits, particularly evil spirits; and the meaning of the passage is, that all the plots, stratagems, and machinations of the enemies of the church would not be able to overcome it a promise that has been remarkably fulfilled.
And I will give unto thee ... - A key is an instrument for opening a door.
He that is in possession of it has the power of access, and has a general care of a house. Hence, in the Bible, a key is used as a symbol of superintendence an emblem of power and authority. See the Isaiah 22:22 note; Revelation 1:18; Revelation 3:7 notes. The kingdom of heaven here means, doubtless, the church on earth. See the notes at Matthew 3:2. When the Saviour says, therefore, he will give to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, he means that he will make him the instrument of opening the door of faith to the world the first to preach the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. This was done, Acts 2:14-36; 10. The "power of the keys" was given, on this occasion, to Peter alone, solely for this reason; the power of "binding and loosing" on earth was given to the other apostles with him. See Matthew 18:18. The only pre-eminence, then, that Peter had was the honor of first opening the doors of the gospel to the world.
Whatsoever thou shalt bind ... - The phrase "to bind" and "to loose" was often used by the Jews. It meant to prohibit and to permit. To bind a thing was to forbid it; to loose it, to allow it to be done. Thus, they said about gathering wood on the Sabbath day, "The school of Shammei binds it" - i. e., forbids it; "the school of Hillel looses it" - i. e., allows it. When Jesus gave this power to the apostles, he meant that whatsoever they forbade in the church should have divine authority; whatever they permitted, or commanded, should also have divine authority - that is, should be bound or loosed in heaven, or meet the approbation of God. They were to be guided infallibly in the organization of the church:
1.By the teaching of Christ, and,
2.By the teaching of the Holy Spirit.
This does not refer to persons, but to things - "whatsoever," not whosoever. It refers to rites and ceremonies in the church. Such of the Jewish customs as they should forbid were to be forbidden, and such as they thought proper to permit were to be allowed. Such rites as they should appoint in the church were to have the force of divine authority. Accordingly, they commanded the Gentile converts to "abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood" Acts 15:20; and, in general, they organized the church, and directed what was to be observed and what was to be avoided. The rules laid down by them in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles, in connection with the teachings of the Saviour as recorded in the evangelists, constitute the only law binding on Christians in regard to the order of the church, and the rites and ceremonies to be observed in it.
Then charged ... - That is, he commanded them.
Mark 8:30 and Luke Luke 9:21 say (in Greek) that he strictly or severely charged them. He laid emphasis on it, as a matter of much importance. The reason of this seems to be that his time had not fully come; that he was not willing to rouse the Jewish malice, and to endanger his life, by having it proclaimed that he was the Messiah. The word "Jesus" is wanting in many manuscripts, and should probably be omitted: "Then he charged them strictly to tell no man that he was the Christ or Messiah."
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing Matthew 16:15:
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