The Sign of Jonah
Matthew 16 starts out with the Pharisees and Sadducees demanding a sign from Jesus that he was who he said he was. Jesus had already shown them many signs by this point in the form of miracles, and yet they were still unbelieving. In reply, Jesus calls them hypocrites (not for the first time–remember Matthew 15:7?). He points out to them that they often predict the weather by looking for signs, but they refuse to acknowledge the signs “of the times”. Just like in Matthew 12:40, Jesus again tells them that the only sign they’ll get is the sign of Jonah:
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Jesus is referring to Jonah, who emerged from a fish’s belly after three days. He is prophesying his own death and resurrection.
Parable of the Yeast, Take Two
Jesus now delivers another parable to his disciples: “Be on your guard against the yeast of Pharisees and Sadducees” (16:6). Remember the parable of the yeast in Matthew 13, when Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to yeast? Here, Jesus is saying that his disciples need to be on guard against the hypocritical teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Jesus, Son of God
In Matthew 16:13, Jesus approaches his disciples and asks who people are saying is the Son of Man. They tell him that “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (16:14). Jesus asks them what they think about the matter, and Simon replies that Jesus is the Son of the living God.
Up until now, no one had thought Jesus was the Son of God. His disciples believed he was the Messiah (Hebrew) or the Christ (Greek), both of which mean ‘the Anointed One’. They knew he was sent by God to save His people, but they didn’t actually think he was the Son of God…until now.
Jesus blesses Simon for understanding who he (Jesus) really was, and gives him the name Peter (which is Greek for ‘rock’), and says the following:
…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
The first part of this verse has been argued and debated over countless times. Some believe that the ‘rock’ Jesus is referring to is the fact that he is the Son of God. Others believe that the rock is Peter’s faith (or possibly faith in general).
Jesus Tells of His Death
Jesus then begins telling his disciples that he will go to Jerusalem and “suffer many things” and that he “must be killed, and on the third day be raised to life” (16:21). Peter is understandably upset, and tells Jesus that will never happen to him. However, Jesus responds in a somewhat unexpected way:
Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.
In Matthew 4, Satan led Jesus into the wilderness and tested him three times. Jesus knew that he had a purpose to fulfill, and Satan, through Peter, was trying to turn him away from his rightful path. Peter certainly wasn’t aware that he was speaking sinfully, but by being more concerned with human desires, he was turning away from Jesus. Jesus knew that to fulfill God’s demands he was going to have to suffer, and he wanted to make that clear to his disciples.
Take Up Your Cross
Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life will find it.’
Jesus is saying in no uncertain terms that following him will not be easy. His followers will meet with hard times, and some will lose their lives. However, he also makes it clear that those who follow him will gain more than anything the world alone can offer; they will gain the kingdom of heaven.
Sometimes following Jesus and doing what is right is hard. It can be burdensome, no doubt about it. But if you carry those burdens and follow Jesus, you will gain so much more than you could ever hope to gain otherwise.