Teaching the clueless: a quick study of Matthew 16

“The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him; neither can he understand them for they are spiritually appraised” (I Corinthians 2:14).

“Are you getting this?”

“Am I getting through to you?”

Ask any teacher. Trying to convey a lesson to the clueless is the toughest part of their job.  The students sit there and stare at you as though you are speaking Swahili.  They just don’t get it.

Matthew 16 has three groups that do not get what the Lord Jesus is doing and teaching.

The Pharisees and Sadducees (16:1-4). They wanted a sign.  The Pharisees were the ultra-conservatives of that day and the Sadducees the ultra-liberals.  The only thing they had in common was an animosity to Jesus.

These so-called religions authorities had no time or energy to consider what Jesus was doing and saying and what it meant.  By asking for a sign, they were saying: “If you want us, you’ll have to overwhelm us with your miracles so we have no choice but to believe.”   But without faith, it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) and the just shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; quoted in Romans 1:17, Colossians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38).

No one enters the Kingdom who is unwilling to come by faith in Jesus Christ.

“And He left them and went away.”

The disciples (16:5-12).  They saw the miracles and had no clue as to their meaning.

Hearing the twelve bickering about who was supposed to have brought the bread, our Lord said, “You men of little faith!….Do you not yet understand? Do you not remember the (miracle of the) five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets (of leftovers) you took up? (The answer is twelve.)  Or the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? (That would be seven.)  How is it you do not understand…?” (16:8-11)

The lesson of the loaves was the all-sufficiency of Christ for all our needs.  (Twelve = twelve apostles.  Seven = sufficiency, completeness.)

Colossians 2:9-10 states in no uncertain terms: “All of God is in Christ and you are complete in Him!”

The multitudes (16:13-14).  They listened but were at sea trying to figure Him out. 

“Who do people say I am?”  (This is as close to a public opinion poll as you could ask for in Scripture!)  It’s about how the public is perceiving the Lord.

How were His message and His miracles coming across to the masses? The disciples were quick to respond.  “They’re still trying to figure you out.”   “Some say you’re John the Baptist back from the dead.”  “Others say Elijah or Jeremiah or some other prophet.”

They didn’t get it.

So, the Holy Spirit stepped in and gave one disciple the answer (16:15-17)

Jesus then asked, “Well, how about you? Who do you say I am?”

I find it interesting that our Lord had not done a “ta-da” moment and laid out all His credentials and claims before the disciples.  As He walked among them, talking and working and teaching, He expected them to pay attention and think about what these things mean.  They were to consider the evidence and come to their own conclusion. That’s the only way they would last.  Anything less and they would waver and always be needing more miracles to prop up their convictions.

The Lord was doing with His disciples the same thing He did when John the Baptist sent his emissaries from the jail to ask if He was “the One to come”.  Rather than say, “Of course! Here is what I am claiming!” Jesus said “Go back and tell John what you see.  The dead are being raised, the blind receiving their sight, etc etc.”

Simon Peter got one right this time. “You are the Christ! The Son of the Living God!”

“Blessed are you Simon, son of John.  You didn’t figure this out by yourself.  My Father in Heaven gave this to you!”  He didn’t come to this conclusion because he was smarter or more spiritual.  The Holy Spirit stepped in and gave him the answer.

Four more mysteries coming up….

Well, it’s not going to get any easier, disciples.  Here are four more hard-to-grasp realities you’re going to have to comprehend before it’s all over…

One: The Church (16:18-20)

“Upon this rock I will build my church,” said our Lord.  The thing is, the disciples had no clue what this meant.  There were no churches at this point.  So, He was giving them a teaching for the future.  (In John 14:26, Jesus said when the Holy Spirit “came,” He would bring all these things to their remembrance.  We assume this is how they remembered these teachings for which they had no connection at the time.

Two: Calvary (16:21-23)

He’s going to be killed?  By the religious leaders?  While we stand around and do nothing?  These are some of the thoughts running through the minds of the disciples as they processed this.

This is the first of three occasions where Jesus gave the disciples advance information concerning His upcoming appointment with a Roman cross.  (16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19)  Only later did they remember it and realize what He had done.  (Interestingly, the religious authorities “got this” better than the disciples. See Matthew 27:63 where they told Pilate, “We remember that He said….”)

Peter spoke up, “Not so, Lord! Get that kind of negative thinking out of your mind! We’re not going to let this happen!”  To which Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan!” (The word ‘satan’ means ‘adversary’) “You do not comprehend the things of the Spirit of God!”  Which of course was and is true of every natural mind.  See I Corinthians 2:14.

We can imagine how exasperated Peter was. On the one hand, Jesus bragged on him (16:17) and then turned around and called him satan (16:23).  We can imagine him saying, “I don’t have a clue!”

Three: Your own cross (16:24-26)

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”  If the disciples did not know what Jesus’ death meant, they certainly had no clue what it meant to “take up my cross.”  They would put it all together later, but for the moment it was a piece of information that fit no part of the puzzle they had.

Four: Coming of Christ (16:27)

“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay each person according to his deeds.”

Since the disciples had no clue about the Lord’s death and later His ascension, they surely did not understand about His Second Coming.  That would make sense later.

And so it goes.  The Lord telling us things now which will make sense only later.

We walk by faith, not by sight.  (2 Corinthians 5:7)

The just shall live by faith.  (Habakkuk 2:4)

“Lord, teach us to obey what we know, to do what we understand, and to leave the rest with You, knowing that when the time is right You will make it clear.”

We think of the saints of the Old Testament period.  How little they must have understood.  So the writer of Hebrews says, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles in the earth…. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:13-16).



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