Who Do You Say I Am?

Our Text Summary: Matthew 16:13-28

Matthew’s gospel is in historical narrative form. Before I can consider the about-ness of the text (Green 1.5), I must first consider the internal development and external boundaries presented (1.3, 1.4). 

Preceding our text, chapters 14 and 15, Matthew records several miracles of Christ that he witnessed, including Jesus walking on water (14:22-33), healings performed (14:34-36, 15:29-31) and the feeding of the 5,000 and 4,000 respectively (14:13-21, 15:32-39). These miracles garnered much attention towards Christ. As we begin chapter 16, Matthew turns our attention to the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were not easily impressed by the miracles themselves. 

In 16:13, our self-contained pericope begins as the disciples have moved to a new location in the district of Caesarea Philippi. We can verify the text’s end boundary because in chapter 17:1, Matthew specifically records the transfiguration taking place six days after our passage.

Concerning intertextuality, Matthew’s narrative is also included in Mark’s (8:27-30) and Luke’s (9:18-21) accounts respectively, and share the general selection, arrangement, and composition of Matthew’s pericope, with the exception of verses 17-19.

Internal Development of the Text: 16:13-27

  1. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (13-15)
  2. Peter’s response declaring Jesus the Messiah (21-23)
  3. The church and it’s authority (18-19)
  4. The suffering Messiah (21-23)
  5. The path of discipleship (24-26)
  6. Coming kingdom (27-28)

What’s it about? (Co-Text, Situation, Development) 


At first read, our passage seems to recount a series of disconnected stories in the life of Christ and his disciples, particularly Peter. However, when I consider the larger context, and the internal development of the text, I begin to see that Matthew is moving in three basic stages. He begins with the miracles of Jesus (activity), then moves to the revelation of Jesus as Messiah (identity) and concludes with the nature of His sent purpose as Messiah to suffer, and the call to participate in this as disciples (purpose). 

The preceding miracles work to affirm the faith of Jesus followers, simultaneously stirring up dissent among the religious powers that aren’t impressed and in whom will eventually become the instruments of persecution. The revelation of Peter, given by the Father, becomes the symbolic rock on which all believers will be gathered into this new, mysterious entity called the Church. This Church will participate in God’s kingdom mission, but not exactly as the disciples might suppose. Christ’s kingdom will come through His own suffering. Those who wish to follow Jesus from this point forward, will need to embrace Christ’s divesting way themselves as well! 

The transfiguration, perhaps, should be included in this pericope because this is where Peter, James and John are witnesses to a fulfillment of the “Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (16:28), to which the entire passage concerning the church and its authority is alluding to. 

Q2 What is culturally situated?

The entire text is culturally situated, however I must work to “identify carefully what separates our worlds to which the biblical materials give witness” (Green 2007, 12). Some of the immediately foreign concepts (to me) include: 

  • Son of Man (13:13). The Son of Man, and God, are messianic terms which the ‘world behind the text’ would understand in the 1st century among Judaism. 
  • Changing of names (16:18). What is the significance and practice of this? Was this common among Jews, Romans? Why did Jesus choose essentially Rock as Simon’s new name and why did the church historically interpret this as literal? 
  • Keys to the kingdom, binding and loosing (16:19) are Monarchical terms relating to what exactly? Binding and loosing would mean “the carrying of a key or keys was a symbol of the delegated power of opening and closing” (Zondervan Bible Dictionary). How would original reader understand this metaphor? 

Q3 Are there any mute assumptions? 

  • Church: This is, I believe, the first use of the word ἐκκλησίαν in the Gospels. The world, and most original readers behind the text would suggest that God’s people would be Israel. Jesus is prophetically declaring a new people that he will assemble. This must have been at the time, impossible to understand, like speaking of the internet in the 15th century! This could be a mute assumption that we, as 21st Century believers, fail to consider in Matthew’s account. Perhaps at the time the disciples all looked at each other and whispered, “what’s a church?” Could this mute assumption have an important role in understanding the text? 

Conclusion: 

As I look to consider any fusion between a historical-critical analysis, and my own contemporary situation, I’m encouraged to know that Jesus saw His suffering coming and wanted to prepare his disciples. Matthew, Mark and Luke each inform us of the same account which could mean it also made a strong impression on them as they too each found their lives by giving them away (16:25), and Jesus’ kingdom has continued to come through the divesting way of its members. 

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