Lectionary Year A
August 25, 2002
Matthew 16:13-20

IV: Broader Context


Here Jesus uses language that surely communicates with fishermen and other common folk, like the disciples. The first century believers were naive, uncertain, inexperienced and afraid, as well as probably being persecuted. Remember they were the first community in history to meet the Messiah face to face. Their confusions and questions about His nature must have been legion. So, Jesus recognized their situations in life and tried to address them in terms they could easily understand. Asking the disciples to repeat the daily talk of the people of the streets and in the marketplaces would readily prompt natural recitations by His observant followers.

Keys would be easily recognized as instruments with which doors could be locked and unlocked. We remember, slavery was a recognized institution during these early stages of Christianity. Here, in the passage at hand, we find another indication that Matthew is addressing a community of neophytes. He is trying to broaden their appreciation from ancient instructions at the hands of the rabbis of Old Testament tutelage. He illustrates the contrast between the rabbis' teachings and Jesus' by mentioning the "bindings" and the "loosenings", popular images to the first century Jew in this conversation. He has a message that gives more hope than heretofore religion had offered. Reginald Fuller says in Harper's Bible Commentary (one volume), "Matthew is fighting on two fronts, against legalism on one side and antinomianism (neglect of the new righteousness) on the other."


* God answers Job (38:17), "Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?" This verse might have prompted Jesus reference to hell's gates not being able to prevail against the church He will build.
* In Isaiah 22:22, God promises to "place on (His chosen King's) shoulder the keys of the House of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open." Jesus refers to such inviolate keys to the kingdom of heaven here.
* Isaiah 51:1ff refers to the rock-solid background of God's calling Abraham from being one man to becoming a nation. From this passage we can see a possible source for Jesus' adding the appellation, "Rock" to Simon's name.
* Albright & Mann, in The Anchor Bible, cite, the reappearance of dead heroes was a well known theme in contemporary Jewish thought. Examples they list include II Maccabees15:13ff which speaks of Jeremiah and Onias appearing to Judas Maccabaeus; II Esdras 2:18 refers to the coming of Isaiah and Jeremiah; on the coming of Elijah in Matthew 11:14. * Furthermore, Schweizer mentions "Isaiah 28:16 speaks of the foundation-stone that God is laying in Zion, from which waters of God's justice will pour forth like a 'torrent' sweeping away all evil and upon which the alliance of all Israel's enemies with 'death & hell' will be broken."


The Hellenists might have some trouble hearing that one sovereign God alone could reveal the proper identification of the Messiah with Jesus of Nazareth. We might hope the Hellenists' appreciation of duality in arguments could motivate them to consider how flesh and blood's attempt to clarify the Messiah's identity could be surpassed by God's revelation of such data. Perhaps the concept of Hell's gates' not prevailing against the church Jesus was building would pose difficulties for the Hellenists, too. These Greek speaking Jewish philosophers could, however, possibly, appreciate that the God Jesus calls Revealer par excellence, was a dynamic rather than a static God. They liked those images' referring to God. They would also applaud the use of the term for the church which could convey a sense of " assembly of freeborn citizens", according to Albright & Mann.

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