Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Translation: But when Jesus came into the region of Caesarea of Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, "Who do the people say the son of man to be?" But they said, "Certainly John the Baptist, but others Elijah, but yet others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say I am to be?" But Simon Peter answered, saying, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God." And Jesus answered him and said, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father in the heavens. And I say to you that you are Peter and on this rock, I will build up my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you might bind on the earth will be bound in the heavens, and whatever you release upon the earth will be released in the heavens." Then he distinctly instructed the disciples so that they would surely not say that he is the Christ.
Background and situation: Caesarea Philippi is at the far north of the land of Israel. It was originally named Paneas, after the Greek god Pan, the god of music. This far northern region was known as "the panion"--the region of Pan.
In 198 BC, the Seleucids (the Greeks of the middle east) defeated the Ptolemies (the Greeks of Egypt) at the Battle of Panian. This re-established Seleucid control over the region, which lasted until the Maccabean revolt about thirty years later. The Seleucids built a monument to Pan in the city.
Rome, of course, later conquered the entire region. In 20 BC, Caesar Augustus gave the town to Herod the (so-called) Great. Upon Herod's death in 4 BC, his son, Phillip, inherited the city and renamed it after Caesar and himself. With this Roman city mentioned in the introduction to the pericope, Matthew intends the following story to be read and heard in light of Roman power.
The main source is Mark, but Matthew adds several Matthean touches. Where Mark has, "Who do people say me to be?" Matthew has "Who do the people say the son of man to be?" The more formal-sounding "son of man" adds a bit of gravitas to the question. The phrase "son of man" comes from Daniel 7--"...one like a son of man..."--which adds a typically Matthean touch of eschatology and apocalyptism.
The parallels for Matthew 16: 13-16 are Mark 8: 27-30 and Luke 9: 18-20. The latter portion of the reading, verses 17-20, is Special Matthew.
Who do the people say the son of man to be? John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah are specifically named. Jesus had obviously attracted a lot of attention and people were searching for ways to think of him. To whom can we compare the extraordinary Jesus of Nazareth? He is like John the Baptist or Elijah!
The mention of John the Baptist is quite clear. His name is preceded by the Greek word men which means "truly" or "certainly," hence my translation: "Certainly John the Baptist." (In 14: 2, Herod Antipas--Philip's brother--had said that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead.)
This again underlines Jesus' continuity with the ministry of John the Baptist, this despite the fact that the actual message of Jesus was quite different from, though not necessarily in conflict with, the message of John.
In political terms, one suspects that Jesus was an early follower of John's, but branched off at some point, drawing some supporters away from John--Andrew, for example. When John was killed, many of his followers moved to Jesus. (Some of John's supporters continued in John's name. To this day, there is a group called the Mandeans, located now in southern Iraq, who trace their "religious lineage" to John the Baptist.)
Elijah was the classic prophet, and, like Jesus, was from northern Israel. Elijah is also an eschatological figure. In fact, the very last two verses of the Old Testament, Malachi 4: 5-6, say: "Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes."
Matthew adds "Jeremiah." (Jeremiah is not mentioned in Mark or Luke.) The inclusion of the "suffering prophet" makes sense. Jeremiah and Jesus have some important connections. Both opposed the religious and political establishment of their day, and both suffered for it.
Jesus says, "OK, that's the talk at the filling station and the grocery store, but what do you think?" Peter answers, "You are the Christ." For a more complete identification of Jesus as "son of man" and "messiah (xristos)," Matthew adds to Mark, "the son of the living God."
The phrase "living God" asserts God as the source of life and the Life Principle itself. (See Hosea 1:10: "...in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people’, it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God.’")
Peter's "confession" is not the first. The disciples had proclaimed Jesus as "son of God" when Jesus stilled the storm, and saved Peter from a dose in the drink. Then, all the disciples had said, "Truly, you are the son of God" (14:33). Peter's "confession" is the first to be made by a named individual in Matthew.
"Blessed" Peter: In the first use of makarioi since the beatitudes, Jesus calls Peter "blessed." (Don't get too excited. He calls him "satan" in just a few verses.) Jesus also identifies him as "Simon, son of Jonah." In the fourth gospel, however, Simon is called "son of John." Perhaps bariona (son of Jonah) is a variant of ioannes (John).
More likely, in my view, is the use of "Jonah" as an image of resurrection. As Jonah was three days in the whale, so Jesus would be three days in the earth (12:40). To call Simon Peter the "son of Jonah" was another way of calling him a "son of the resurrection." It is with eyes informed by God's power that Peter is able to make his confession. Jesus says as much when he says that "flesh and blood" has not informed Peter, but rather direct revelation from God.
On this basis, Jesus gives Peter another name and title, that of "Petros," or "rock." This recalls Old Testament figures, such as Abram and Jacob, who were likewise given new names. As God can give new names, so can Jesus. This is yet another way that Matthew affirms Jesus' equality with God.
"Petros," incidentally, was not used as a person's name in those days. It was simply the name for "rock." The word is not so much as a name but as a title. "You are rock, and on this rock, I will build my church."
Roman Catholics say that Jesus means to confer primacy upon Peter. They then go from that to saying that Peter was the first Pope, and that all subsequent Popes are "Peter" as well--all of them "vicars of Christ" on earth, as Jesus himself said.
Protestants counter that Jesus was not referring to Peter the man, but rather to Peter's "confession." That "confession"--not Peter himself--is the "rock" upon which the church is built.
As to Matthew's intent, I agree with the Catholics. The plain sense of the passage is that "rock" refers to Peter, not his supposed "confession." Frankly, you'd have to go through some serious mental paroxysms to make "rock" refer to Peter's words and not himself.
On the other hand, the primary source, Mark, has nothing about Peter being a "rock." Considering Mark's view of the disciples as a whole, and Peter in particular, such an assertion would be laughable. All the disciples are clueless in Mark's gospel, and Peter is the most clueless of all.
The section is Special Matthew. Matthew clearly added it in. Why? My view: The church to which and for which Matthew was writing felt threatened on two fronts: the rise of gentile Christianity (Paul), and the increasing friction between Christians and Jews.
Jewish/Christian conflict was minimal prior to the Roman-Jewish War. Then, most Christians were Jews. After the war, however, each side tended to blame the other and relations began to break apart.
This was especially true in the north of Israel where many refugees from the war settled, and local pharisees took the lead in organizing their communities. It was in this region, and during this time, that followers of Jesus were kicked out of synagogues. (Matthew's church is likely in this region, and these evictions began to happen during the time of his writing. One notices that Matthew had nothing good to say about pharisees.)
Matthew may be promoting Peter because Peter was associated with what you might call "the Jewish wing of Christianity." As leader of the disciples, and thoroughly Jewish, Peter might have had special appeal for Matthew's Jewish Christian community. (Moreover, Peter, Jesus' right-hand man, is more than a match for Paul.)
There were several major factions within the early catholic church--the gentile Christians associated with the ministry of Paul, the community of the Beloved Disciple, the "Jewish Christians," another "dissident" faction represented by the community around "Mark," and the "head office" in Jerusalem. (That's for starters. Several other groups, some now considered heretical--the ebionites and the proto-gnostics, for example--also considered themselves followers of Jesus.)
There was some friction in all of this. This is not to say that these factions were enemies of each other. That would be too strong. The Beloved Disciple, for example, has some things to say about Peter, but never is there a sense that relationship had been broken between the two. Mark is likewise quite critical of Peter, but nevertheless always recognizes Peter as the leader of the disciples--(not that that's particularly a good thing, in Mark's view).
The "gates of Hades": The word ekklesia--"church"--literally means "the called-out gathering." It recalls the worshipping community at Mount Zion at the end of time. Precisely because it is an end-times image, and because Jesus identifies the church as "my church," death has no power over it. "Church" assumes resurrection.
"Hades" was the Greek god of the underworld. It sometimes translates the Hebrew word sheol, which was a vague and shadowy place that was the abode of the dead. In general Biblical usage, it refers to the grave, or even hell. In Greek mythology, Hades, along with Zeus and Poseidon, claimed to rule the cosmos.
Jesus isolates Hades in the underworld, however, and asserts that its "gates" will not prevail against the church. We often take this to mean that the assaults of hell cannot doom the church. Gates, however, are a stationary image. They do not attack; they defend. Pardon the martial language, but, in the power of the resurrection, the church does not defend against hell, but rather attacks and defeats it.
The reference to "keys" recalls Isaiah 22: "...and I will place on his shoulder (Eliakim, in this case) the key of the house of David." Binding and loosing also recalls Isaiah: "...he shall open, and none shall shut; he shall shut, and none shall open (22:22)."
John Meier says that "binding and loosing," seen in the context of rabbinic sources, means the authority to decide between what is permissable and not permissable, or also even to include or exclude people from the community. It may indeed have been Matthew's agenda to devolve that authority onto Peter.
The "messianic secret": Why would Jesus tell people not to say anything about him? Why the so-called "messianic secret"?
It could have been what we call "reverse psychology," i.e. tell people not to something, and they'll fall all over themselves to try to do it. This is indicated by Mark 7:36: "Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it."
Another reason may be that, as of yet, we only know part of the story. We have heard authoritative teaching from Jesus--the Sermon on the Mount!--and have been told of his miracles and majestic power. We have not yet been through his death and resurrection. Then, his authority and ministry will be affirmed and ratified by God himself in the most powerful way possible. (Indeed, then he will have "all authority".) Until then, better not to say anything at all than to tell only half the story.
Yet another possibility is that Jesus was opposed by the various authorities of the day, and just maybe he didn't want them to know what he was doing or where he was going.
Image: St. Peter the Aleut, Fr. Ray Bucko