The tone deepens here. We start with themes we’ve seen before, with others who are engaging him but don’t want to believe. His response is to look around: “O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” (from Matthew 16:3). But note the more wistful note, with the mention of sunsets and troubled sunrises in Matthew 16:2-3.
After which he gathers together those closest to him, and the endgame begins: “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18), and the reason why that Petrus is necessary is that Jesus “must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (from Matthew 16:21).
Peter protests: “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee” (from Matthew 16:22), but Jesus is uncompromising: “But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Matthew 16:23.) I love that exchange, for the humanity that it shows combined with the principles that are behind it: earlier, I’ve been critical of such an uncompromising point of view, but here the consequences for Jesus himself are as severe as can be, so who am I to judge? He acknowledges that others might want to follow but will suffer in doing so (e.g. Matthew 16:24, “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me”), and ultimately leads to this question: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) A very good question indeed, no matter what is important to you, what you see as your soul.
And then there’s the last verse in Matthew 16: “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28) The problem with specific prophecies is that they are falsifiable…
Matthew 17 reinforces this core group of disciples, with their mountaintop retreat (complete with fancy outside guest appearances), and finishes sketching the tale of what’s to come: “The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again” (from Matthew 17:22-23). Along with a couple of other side bits: again, a call to the power of faith (“If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”, from Matthew 17:20, which I find strangely seductive), and a bit on taxes that the chapter ends with. I’m still not sure what to do with these tax sections: we’re seeing an expression of a lot of hostility in the air towards taxes, but both here and in Matthew 9 (where Jesus sat down with the tax collectors), Jesus seems willing to go along with them.
This post has not been revised since publication.