“A Puzzling Sentence”

When we began these studies of Matthew 16, we said that, although this is one of the richest and most important chapters in the Gospel, it is also one that seems to be a source of countless problems. Almost every sentence seems to have produced diverse interpretations among commentators. How is Peter the rock? What are the gates of Hell? What is the meaning of the keys? We do not escape problems even with the chapter’s last verse, for no one seems entirely sure what Jesus meant when He said, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (v.28). Because all the Twelve have long been dead and Jesus still has not returned, many people have stumbled over this text. It should be obvious He was not saying that some of them would not physically die before His actual second coming. I offer four suggestions.

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“The Way of the Cross”

In a sense, in chapter 16 Matthew is introducing us to Jesus Christ. He has been telling us about Jesus all along, of course, but here he gets to the heart of his introduction. Who is Jesus? Peter had the answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then, what does Jesus do? Jesus Himself answered that part. “From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

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“The Gates of Hades”

Jesus said, “…I will build my church (ekklesia – “called out assembly”) and the gates of hell [hades] shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16.18). What did he mean by “the gates of Hell” not being able to overcome Christ’s Church? Several different interpretations exist. The most common view is that “the gates of Hades” refers to attacks on the Church by Satan and his demonic forces and that this is a promise that Satan will not succeed. The problem is with the word gates, which is a strange way to refer to an attacking army. It suggests a defensive situation, and the natural way of understanding it is that hades will not be able to resist the forces of the Church when the Church is assaulting it. Unfortunately, although the Bible recognizes the reality of spiritual warfare, it does not speak of evangelism in those exact terms.

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