Matthew 16:13–20: “Who Do You Say that I Am?”
More than we realize, relationships are built on words. Certainly, relationships require more than words, so that one of the worst betrayals in a relationship occurs when someone’s words do not live up to his or her actions. Yet, while relationships require more than words, relationships never permit less than words. Jesus himself has explained the reason for this in that our words are the fruit that arises from our hearts (e.g., Matt. 12:33–37). It is perhaps no surprise, then, that one of the most important passages in the Gospel of Matthew revolves arounds the words that people say about Jesus, and what Jesus says about his people. From this, our Lord teaches us to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
1. Where is Caesarea Philippi (v.13a)? Why do you think that the events of this extraordinary passage take place in pagan, Gentile territory? Why does Jesus ask his disciples who the people say that the Son of Man is (v. 13b)? What kind of answers do the people give? From these answers, what is the general consensus about Jesus? How close do these answers come to the truth? Why do you think these answers fall short of the truth?
2. Why does Jesus ask his disciples who they believe that he is (v. 15)? What does it mean for Peter to say that Jesus is the “Christ” (v. 16)? What does the word “Christ” mean? Does the office of “Christ” point to Jesus’ human nature or to his divine nature? What does the phrase “Son of the living God” mean? Does this point to Jesus’ human nature or to his divine nature? How close do these answers come to the truth? Why does Peter know what the crowds do not?
3. What does Jesus mean by the wordplay between “Peter” and “rock” (v. 18)? When Jesus says to Peter, “on this rock I will build my church,” does Jesus assign Peter (and the church in Rome that Peter founded) any kind of primacy over the other churches? Why or why not? If not, then what do you believe that Jesus is actually saying in these words? How do these words shape the way that we structure the church today?
4. What does Jesus mean when he speaks about the keys to the kingdom of heaven (v. 19)? What does Jesus mean when he speaks about binding and loosing? What is the connection between this passage and Matthew 18:18? Why do theologians use these passages to suggest two keys: the key of doctrine, and the key of discipline? How are those similar? How are they different? If the church possesses these keys, what should your response be to the authority of the church?