Matthew 16:21–23: The Cross and the Things of God
After Peter’s momentous confession, Jesus’ words might have led us to believe that we have reached the climax of his story. From one perspective, this is true. Everything Jesus has been doing up to this point has sought to instruct his disciples about his identity as the Christ, the Son of the living God. This point, however, is only the necessary precondition to a much fuller understanding of Jesus’ mission in the world. The church will indeed be built on the rock of Peter’s confession; however, that foundation is not complete without a full understanding of the mission of Christ in the world. While even Peter himself will struggle on what Jesus begins to teach his disciples here, it is nevertheless true that Christ crucified is the wisdom of God.
1. How does the phrase “from that time” (v. 21) transition into an important new part of the Gospel of Matthew? What has Jesus been seeking to teach his disciples up to this point? What does Jesus “begin” to teach his disciples now? Why was Jesus’ identity a necessary precursor to understanding his redemptive work? Why is Jesus’ redemptive work of suffering, dying, and rising from the dead a divine necessity?
2. What do you think led Peter to take Jesus aside and rebuke him in v. 22? How does Matthew portray this scene as a repetition of the temptation narrative in Matthew 4? Where do we see a repetition of the first temptation, where Satan challenged Jesus’ identity? Where do we see a repetition of the second temptation, where Satan appealed to God’s mercy toward Jesus? Where do we see the third temptation, where the cross never needed to happen?
3. How does Jesus repeat his rebuke of Satan to Peter? Do you think that Jesus spoke too harshly with Peter? Why or why not? What should we make of the “rock” of Matthew 16:18 now being described as a “stumbling block” (ESV: “hindrance”; v. 23)? How do we understand these two consecutive evaluations of Peter together? What are the things of God? What are the things of man?
4. Where are you tempted to believe that your greatest problems consist in avoiding suffering? Why is Peter’s rebuke of Jesus’ message of the necessity of the cross attractive to this day? Where do you seek to avoid the suffering required by following in the footsteps of Jesus by taking up your own cross (Matt. 16:24)? What part of this short passage speaks to you to teach you how to follow him faithfully, even through great suffering?