by David Groendyk
Besides Matthew 27 and 28 which tell us about Jesus’s death and resurrection, perhaps no other chapters in this Gospel are as profound or important as Matthew 16 and 17.
Matthew 16 is the turning point of the whole book. Verses 15–19 detail for us Peter’s famous confession. We see that Jesus had accrued quite the diverse reputation amongst the masses. Many people saw Jesus as one of a long line of prophets that God had sent. They thought he might be John the Baptist reincarnated, the second Elijah promised in Malachi 4, or even the prophet in Deuteronomy 18 that was promised to Israel. But none of those answers are sufficient. As Peter confesses, what we must believe about Jesus is that he is the promised Christ, come to save his people from their sins, and that he is the Son of God. All other worldly estimations of Jesus being a masterful teacher, a prophet, or a good example do not do him or his words justice. He is no less than God himself whose mission is to be killed and raised again so that his people might have eternal life (v. 21). Everything hinges on your response to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” (v. 15).
Remember that Jesus looked like an ordinary man. There was nothing about him that would make you think he was God; in fact, quite the opposite (see Isaiah 53:2). All along, these disciples are taking this man at his word and seeing the miracles he performs and trusting that what he has said about him being God was true. Then, in chapter 17, Jesus takes a moment to reveal himself in his full glory. For a brief moment, Peter, James, and John saw Christ’s divinity (v. 2). We don’t know exactly what happened, but when it says “he was transfigured”, somehow, some way, his outward appearance changed. He shone with glory in such a way that his disciples knew he was God. What an amazing sight that would have been! What a grand confirmation of everything they’d believed so far! And someday, you and I will behold Christ in all his glory too. Every doubt you may have had about whether or not this was all real, every hesitation about whether or not this Christianity business was all worth it, will be dispelled the second you close your eyes in death and behold the face of God. What a day that will be! Let that be the fuel to keep you going in life.
Unsurprisingly, though, we will all act in ways that contradict our great hope. The disciples three times are rebuked in these two chapters (16:8; 16:23; 17:20). Peter, who beholds Christ’s glory, will eventually deny Jesus three times (Matt. 26:69–75); James and John will abandon Jesus when he is arrested just like all the others (Matt. 26:56). As plainly as Jesus can lay out for us who he is (16:16–19; 17:1–8) and what he’s done (16:21; 17:9–13; 17:22–23), we are so prone to doubt and wander. What contradictory lives we all tend to live.
Let’s all pray for greater faith. I know that as I’ve written these devotionals, I’ve probably sounded like a broken record. But this is the note that gets played over and over again. Believe! Because this testimony about Jesus is true. And because we so often forget and live like it doesn’t matter. And because it has eternal consequences whether or not we hold fast to Christ (16:24–28). Pray over and over like the man in Mark 9: I believe, but help my unbelief. We will all have to take up our crosses, which means not just having to endure inconveniences in this life, but having to leave behind this world and march to our deaths, like Jesus himself did. Faith, whether great or small, will keep you united to Christ and connected to the God who can accomplish anything for you (v. 20). Behold Christ and believe.