Chapter 9: Peter’s Confession and the End of the Galilean Ministry
From this point Matthew proceeds in Mark’s company, and here Luke’s "great omission" ends (Mk 8:27-33; Mt 16:13-23; Lk 9:18-22). According to Mark and Matthew, Jesus went to the villages or district of Caesarea Philippi. Luke gives no indication that the event that follows occurred anywhere but at Bethsaida, where he located the feeding of the five thousand. Caesarea was about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee at one of the sources of the Jordan. It was in the territory of Philip, a son of Herod the Great, and was called "Philip’s Caesarea" to distinguish it from Caesarea on the shore of the Mediterranean. the headquarters of the Roman governors of Judea.
Here occurred what may fairly be called the watershed of the gospel record. For the first and perhaps the only time in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus shows an interest in what people think about him. He asks the disciples, and they report current opinions. Jesus then asks. "But who do you say that I am?" The impetuous Peter, speaking for all the disciples, replies. "You are the Christ" (that is, the Messiah).
Matthew puts Jesus’ first question in the form, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" This would be puzzling unless the disciples understood that the Son of man meant Jesus himself. (The reading of the KJV and previous English translations. "that I the Son of man am," is not supported by the manuscripts or versions.) If the term was commonly understood as a Messianic designation, one possible answer to the question, "Who do men say that I am?" would be. "The Son of man." In the second question Matthew has "I"; Mark and Luke have it in both questions.
Incidentally, KJV’s solecism. "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" and "But whom say ye that I am?" runs through all the previous English versions from Tyndale on, except that in Luke, Tyndale and the Great Bible have "who." Not until the Revised Version of 1881 was the error corrected.
When the disciples said that some people thought Jesus was John the Baptist. some Elijah, "and others one of the prophets," they meant that these men were believed to have risen from the dead in the person of Jesus, or in the case of Elijah that he had come back from heaven. Herod Antipas had thought that Jesus was John the Baptist. whom he had beheaded (Mk 6:14-16 and parallels). On that occasion too some believed Jesus was Elijah; and others, according to Luke (9:8), thought "that one of the old prophets had risen." According to Mark (6:15), however, they said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." The manner in which Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God might well lead people to think of him as a prophet, and they evidently did (Lk 7:16, 39; Mt 21:11,46).
There are indications that Jesus so thought of himself (Mk 6:4; Mt 13:57; Lk 4:24). At Nazareth he said, "A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country." Later in Luke (13:33), Jesus says. "It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem."
In response to Jesus’ second question Peter said, "You are the Christ," adding in Matthew, "the Son of the living God" (Mk 8:29; Mt 16:16; Lk 9:20). According to Matthew, Jesus enthusiastically welcomed this declaration (16:17). If we did not have the Gospel of Matthew, however, and if it did not come first in the New Testament, Jesus’ reaction to Peter’s statement would seem very different: "And he charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer" (Mk 8:30-31; Lk 9:21-22).
This need not imply that Jesus denied that he was the Messiah. He clearly did not wish to be so called in public, but that might mean that he felt the time was not ripe to declare himself. Yet Peter’s confession was made in the close circle of the disciples. Possibly Jesus was not sure whether he was the Messiah or not. His emphatic, almost violent, reaction to Peter’s declaration might even suggest that the idea of Messiahship was a temptation he found it hard to resist. This could explain why Peter’s protest against the prediction of rejection and suffering was repudiated as Satanic (Mk 8:33; Mt 16:23). It is possible also, however, that even thinking of himself as Messiah seemed to imply a mistaken conception of his mission. That may be why he proceeded at once to predict the rejection and suffering of the Son of man. If this is correct, it is one of the ironies of history that the title by which Jesus was unwilling to be known became very soon the one most commonly applied to him, even ceasing to be recognized as a title and being used practically as a surname.
In Matthew, Jesus’ approval of Peter’s declaration (16:17) leads to the passage on which the claims of the Roman papacy are founded (vv 18-19), beginning. "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." The play on words in the name Peter and "on this rock" cannot be reproduced in English, but it is clear in the Greek and would be even more so in Aramaic. Peter’s name was Simon. The name Peter is a translation of the Aramaic nickname Kepha, meaning "rock," which according to Matthew was bestowed on Simon by Jesus on this occasion. The Gospel of John tells of Jesus’ giving the name in the form Cephas (i.e.. Kepha) when Simon was brought to Jesus at the Jordan by Andrew (1:42). Paul also preserves the form Cephas (I Cor 1:12 and often).
The figure of building on rock as a symbol of solidity and permanence is of course familiar (Mt 7:24; Lk 6:48). Jesus himself used it in the parable of the two builders. In one of the Thanksgiving Psalms from Qumran (I QH vii. 8) the poet says. "Thou has established my building on a rock," and (vi. 26) "Thou dost establish counsel on a rock," and goes on to say that the powers of evil cannot break into God’s fortress. Another Qumran document (1 QS viii. 8) refers to the council of the community as a house with firm foundations.
The word "church" appears in the Gospels only in Matthew, and only three times there (once here and twice in 18:17). The Greek noun ekklesia means an assembly of any kind. In Acts (19:39) it refers to the town meeting of Ephesus. The Septuagint uses it for the congregation of Israel, and it occurs twice in that sense in the New Testament (Acts 7:38; Heb 2:12).
At the time of Peter’s confession of faith there was no Christian church. If Jesus said, "on this rock I will build my church," he must have referred to a community that he intended to establish later. More probably, however, this statement was first uttered by an early Christian prophet, speaking in the name and (he believed) by the spirit of the risen Jesus. Such prophets are mentioned in the New Testament (e.g., Acts 11:27-30; 21:10-11), and Paul considered the gift of prophecy superior to speaking with tongues (1 Cor 14).
Jesus adds that "the powers of death" (KJV, "the gates of hell") cannot prevail against the church (Mt 16:18). Neither "death" nor "hell" is a good translation of the Greek "Hades" (cf. 5:29). Equally unfortunate is the rendering "powers" for "gates." What is meant by prevailing against the church is not clear. The Greek verb occurs elsewhere in the New Testament only in Luke 23:23, which says of those who demanded that Jesus be crucified, "and their voices prevailed." Gates not only keep captives in, they keep enemies out. The figure of gates prevailing against a person or persons suggests stopping an invasion. The JB reads, "the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it." This means that the church will attack Hades, break down its gates, and take it by storm.
Jesus now (v 19) confers upon Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, declaring that what he binds on earth will be bound in heaven and what he looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. The group for which Matthew wrote was evidently troubled by the presence of unworthy members and perplexed about what to do with them. The saying about the keys and the power of binding and loosing suggests that some effort was made to keep such people out of the church. In a later passage (18:18) Jesus grants this power to the disciples in general.
In Matthew, as in Mark and Luke, Jesus now commands the disciples to tell no one about him and says that the Son of man must suffer, be rejected and killed, and rise again. This is the first of three predictions of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34 and parallels). They are so specific that the tradition of Jesus’ words seems obviously influenced by what had occurred in the meantime. The story of his crucifixion and resurrection was the core of the gospel proclaimed by the church. and a preacher or teacher repeating Jesus’ warning of what he saw before him would almost inevitably fill it in with the familiar details.
In all three of the predictions in Mark and Luke, and all but the first in Matthew, the one who is to suffer is called the Son of man. The abrupt shift from Peter’s "the Christ" to Jesus’ "the Son of man" is striking. Whether Jesus meant, "I am not the Messiah, I am the Son of man," or whether he merely used "Son of man" as a substitute for the pronoun "I," we cannot tell.
In Luke, after the Resurrection, Jesus tells the two disciples on the way to Emmaus that the Christ had to suffer (24:26), that is, the same thing is said there about the Messiah that is said here about the Son of man. For the evangelists both terms meant Jesus. On the question whether that was true for Jesus himself we must suspend judgment for the present.
For his disciples as well as himself (Mk 8:34-9:1; Mt 16:24.28; Lk 9:23-27), Jesus foresaw suffering and perhaps death. The saying about taking up one’s cross and finding life by losing it has already been used by Matthew in his second discourse (Mt 10:38-39; Lk 17:33). We have considered what it means in that connection.
Mark and Luke read here, "For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words [Mark adds, "in this adulterous and sinful generation"], of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26). The shift from "ashamed of me" to "the Son of man also be ashamed" suggests a distinction between Jesus and the Son of man. Matthew reads here (16:27) simply, "For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done." The saying is quoted earlier in Matthew and repeated later in Luke (Mt 10:32-33; Lk 12:8-9), but with variations that make it uncertain whether Jesus refers to himself or to a heavenly being other than himself.
The evangelists now report another important saying with perplexing differences (Mk 9:1; Mt 16:28; Lk 9:27). They agree in the first part of it: "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death"; but the final clause appears in three different forms. In Mark it reads, "before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power"; in Luke, "before they see the kingdom of God"; in Matthew, "before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom."
The idea of the kingdom of the Son of man is peculiar to Matthew. The other Gospels speak of the Son of man as coming in power and glory or as seated at the right hand of God, but they do not refer to his kingdom or throne. Kingship is implied, of course, in the title "Christ" (e.g.. Mk 11:10); and there are verses that refer to the kingdom that Jesus will receive (e.g., Lk 22: 29-30; cf. Mt 19:28) but without using the term "Son of man."
Since the saying is otherwise the same as in Mark, and occurs in a Markan context, we cannot say that Matthew has taken it from some other source. It seems that for Matthew the coming of the Son of man as king has almost taken the place of the coming of God’s kingdom, though Matthew preserves many sayings about the kingdom of heaven with no reference to the Son of man. By introducing the kingdom of the Son of man here, Matthew at least avoids the abrupt shift in Mark and Luke from the coming of the Son of man to the kingdom of God.
By itself, Luke’s expression, "see the kingdom of God," may mean "perceive the royal power of God." In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells Nicodemus (3:3, cf. v 5) that without a new birth a man "cannot see the kingdom of God." The Wisdom of Solomon says that Wisdom guided Jacob in his flight from Esau and "showed him the kingdom of God" (10:10). A Jewish prayer, referring to the crossing of the Red Sea, says, "and they saw thy kingdom"; in other words, they witnessed a demonstration of God’s royal power. Perhaps Luke used this expression instead of Mark’s because, when he wrote, the kingdom had not yet come with power.
It did not so come before the generation to which Jesus spoke had passed away. Has the time ever come when Christians could stop praying "Thy kingdom come"? If this saying is an authentic utterance of Jesus’, I can see no honest way to escape the unwelcome conclusion that he expected the full, final, indubitable establishment of God’s sovereign power within the lifetime of his contemporaries; and it did not happen.
The only alternative is that Mark 9:1 was not an authentic saying of Jesus. This is ably argued by very competent and conscientious scholars, but I must confess that I do not find their reasoning convincing. It is conceivable that a prophet later delivered this prediction. meaning by "some standing here" his own audience; but a prediction that had not been fulfilled would be less and less likely to be ascribed to Jesus as time went on. That Mark himself composed the saying is to me quite incredible.
Not only this saying is involved, of course. There is "The kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk 1:14-15 and parallels), also "the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Mt 12:28; Lk 11:20). and later "the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (or "within you) (Lk 17:21). But whatever the coming of the kingdom may mean in any or all of these places, Mark 9:1 speaks unmistakably of a coming with power not many years away.
We cannot reduce Jesus’ conception of the kingdom of God to a neat formula. It was not an idea but a complex of ideas. Grounded in the assurance of God’s eternal and universal sovereignty, it included his rule over an individual’s life, the fellowship of those dedicated to the will of God, the relief of mankind’s afflictions by the power of God’s Spirit, and the final consummation of the ages in a new world.
Jesus saw that God’s sovereignty was not universally acknowledged. There was much in the world that was contrary to his will. The present age seemed to be under the domination of Satan. In spite of this, Jesus was convinced that God’s power would prevail; and the success of his own healing mission confirmed his faith that this would happen soon. What has been called "prophetic foreshortening" is not uncommon. The very intensity of a prophet’s vision and his overpowering sense of its reality cause the interval before its fulfillment to be telescoped in his mind. It was probably so with Jesus’ proclamation that the kingdom of God was near.
Probably he also expected the kingdom to come in something like the way envisaged by the Synoptic evangelists and other New Testament writers. As a real person, speaking a human language in a particular historical situation, he could only speak and think in the intellectual and cultural molds of his time and country. To uncover the significance of his proclamation and teaching for us requires interpretation and reformulation.
The kingdom of God did not come as soon as or in the way that he expected. We are therefore thrown back on the core of his faith, his conviction that the heavenly Father was in control and had the power to accomplish his loving purpose. If he was right about that, questions of time and manner are relatively unimportant.
Still proceeding together, the three evangelists relate next the "transfiguration" of Jesus (Mk 9:2-8; Mt 17:1-8; Lk 9:28-36). Mark and Matthew say that it occurred "after six days"; Luke says, "about eight days after these sayings." Taking with him Peter, James, and John. Jesus "led them up a high mountain apart." If they were still near Caesarea Philippi, the mountain might have been Mt. Hermon, which rises to a height of more than nine thousand feet about fifteen miles northeast of that city. Christian tradition has more commonly identified the mount of transfiguration with Mt. Tabor, not far from Nazareth, though it is not a high mountain. There is actually nothing to indicate that the evangelists had any particular mountain in mind.
It is not certain, in fact, that the incident is historical at all. except as it reflects the historic faith of the early church. Quite possibly, however, it preserves an authentic memory of a great spiritual experience of the three disciples who were closest to Jesus. The evangelists’ language suggests a vision and has often been so understood. Matthew calls the experience a vision (Mt 17:9). Jesus was "transfigured" or "transformed," say Mark and Matthew; and Matthew adds, "and his face shone like the sun." Luke says, "the appearance of his countenance was altered." A sensation of brightness and light is a common element in the visions of mystics. A vision shared by three men at once, however, would be unusual. More probably the story represents a new insight, a new appreciation of Jesus’ goodness. dedication. and authority.
But there is more to the story. They saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. These two outstanding persons of the Old Covenant represent law and prophecy. Jesus’ communion with them symbolizes his relation to the old covenant, both fulfilling the law and the prophets and bringing a new and better covenant (Heb. 7:22; 8:6; 9:15).
Some New Testament scholars hold that the transfiguration was a post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus, only later supposed to have occurred during his ministry. To me this seems less probable than either of two other possibilities. If there is a historical nucleus in the story, the symbolism of its present form may have been added by Mark or by one of his predecessors. Possibly the whole story is a symbolic legend.
Neither Mark nor Matthew tells what Jesus talked about with Moses and Elijah. Luke says (9:31) they "spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem." Luke often refers to Moses and the prophets, especially as foretelling the Messiah’s suffering (Lk 16:29, 31; 24:27, 44; Acts 26:22-23; 28:23). Perhaps here too he has in mind the fulfillment of prophecy by Jesus’ death.
Luke adds (9:32) that Peter, James, and John "were heavy with sleep." The same thing is said later concerning the same three disciples in Gethsemane (Mk 14:40; Mt 26:43). There, however, they fell asleep; here they "wakened" and "they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him." The expression "saw his glory" recalls John 1:14. It also fits the references to dazzling brightness, for glory is associated with light in the Bible (e.g., 2 Cor 3:7-Il, RSV, NEB, JB). The same Greek word is sometimes translated "splendor."
Apparently these touches are Luke’s own contribution. He now returns to Mark’s narrative, reporting Peter’s officious but well meant offer to set up three booths for Jesus and his heavenly visitors (Mk 9:5. RSV footnote, NEB. JB; Mt 17:4; Lk 9:33). In Mark. Peter addresses Jesus as Rabbi, in Matthew as the Lord, in Luke as Master. Luke’s word is one used six times by him, never by the other evangelists.
Now a cloud overshadowed the awestruck disciples, and a voice spoke almost the same words that were spoken by the heavenly voice at Jesus’ baptism. This time the voice concluded, "Listen to him." Matthew says that the disciples fell on their faces, but Jesus touched them and told them not to be afraid. All three evangelists report that when the disciples looked up they saw Jesus alone. Luke says that they told no one of their experience at the time.
Whatever may have been the origin of this story, its meaning for his followers is clear: their Lord was God’s elect and beloved Son, the fulfillment of his promises under the old covenant. Something like this was undoubtedly the experience of the first disciples, whether or not it came in this way and at a definite time to these three.
The paragraph that follows in Mark and Matthew (Mk 9:9-13; Mt 17:9-13) records a conversation between Jesus and the three disciples on the way down from the mountain. Jesus charges them not to tell what they have seen until the Son of man has risen from the dead. They obey but discuss what the resurrection of the Son of man means. Then they ask Jesus why the scribes say that Elijah must come before the Messiah (cf. Mt 11:14). He replies that Elijah has already come "and they did to him whatever they pleased." In Mark Jesus adds, "as it is written of him," but what this alludes to is unknown.
In the midst of this reply, in Mark (9:12), Jesus asks, "And how is it written of the Son of man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?" Instead of this Matthew adds at the end, "So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands." Apparently Mark’s text has suffered at the hands of a careless copyist. To make sure that no reader will miss the point of the reference to Elijah, Matthew concludes, "Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist."
"And when they came to the disciples," Mark continues, "they saw a great crowd about them, and scribes arguing with them" (Mk 9:14-27; Mt 17:14-18; Lk 9:37-43). The people, seeing Jesus, "were greatly amazed, and ran up to him and greeted him." Jesus asked, "What are you discussing with them?" A man in the crowd replied that he had brought his epileptic son and the disciples could not heal him. Matthew calls the boy an epileptic; Mark and Luke say that he was possessed by a spirit. The seizures suffered by the poor lad are vividly described by Mark.
Hearing the father’s statement that the disciples could not heal his son, Jesus exclaimed, "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?" (The rendering "faithless" is unfortunate; what is meant is not "unfaithful" but "lacking in faith.") The father said, "If you can do anything, have pity on us and help us." Jesus replied, "If you can! All things are possible to him who believes." At this the father cried, "I believe; help my unbelief!" And this half-faith, this hope struggling with unbelief to become belief, was accepted and rewarded.
The account of the miracle is again much fuller and more dramatic in Mark than in Matthew and Luke. Jesus, Mark says, rebuked the unclean spirit when he saw a crowd assembling. At his command, the demon came out of the boy, "after crying out and convulsing him terribly." So exhausted was the child that the spectators thought he was dead. "But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose." Luke adds that Jesus gave him back to his father, and "all were astonished at the majesty of God."
Mark and Matthew have more (Mk 9:28-29; Mt 17:19-20). Back in the house, alone with Jesus. the disciples asked why they could not cast out the evil spirit. In Mark, Jesus replies, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer," to which many manuscripts and ancient versions add, "and fasting." In Matthew he says, "Because of your little faith," and adds that with even a little faith, small as a mustard seed, one could order a mountain to move and be obeyed (cf. Mk 11:23; Mt 21:20). In a different connection Luke has a similar saying, but instead of moving a mountain he has making a sycamore tree uproot itself and be planted in the sea (17:5-6).
Mark proceeds (Mk 9:30-31; Mt 17:22; Lk 9:43), "They went on from there and passed through Galilee." Matthew says cryptically, "As they were gathering in Galilee. . ." Luke implies that they stayed where they were, "But while they were all marveling at everything he did . . ." Mark adds that Jesus did not want his presence known, because he was teaching his disciples. Apparently after Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi and the transfiguration, Jesus withdrew from public preaching and endeavored to prepare his disciples for what lay ahead, somewhat as Isaiah did at a critical moment in his life (Is 8:16-17). There is at least a suggestion here that rising official opposition dictated this procedure.
All three Gospels give here the second of Jesus’ three recorded predictions of his death and resurrection, the first having been spoken at Caesarea Philippi (Mk 9:31-32; Mt 17:22-23; Lk 9:44-45; cf. Mk 8:31 and parallels). This one is simpler than the other two. It is simpler in Matthew than in Mark, and still more so in Luke. It is by no means improbable that Jesus foretold his rejection by the authorities at Jerusalem and even his death. In Matthew and Luke the prediction is a single statement on a particular occasion; in Mark it is the substance of what Jesus was teaching the disciples at this time. Both Mark and Luke say that the disciples did not understand what Jesus said, but were afraid to ask him about it. Matthew says only, "And they were greatly distressed."
Here Matthew inserts another item concerning Peter (17:24-27). It has to do with the payment of the annual half-shekel tax for the upkeep and ritual of the temple (Ex 30:11-16). It also involves the least convincing and least edifying of the miracle stories. When the collectors of the tax asked Peter whether his teacher did not pay the half-shekel, and he went to tell Jesus, before he could say anything Jesus asked him, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their sons or from others?" Peter of course replied, "From others"; and Jesus said, "Then the sons are free," implying that he and the disciples as sons of God were exempt from such exactions. Nevertheless, "not to give offense to them" (cf. Mt 3:15), Peter was instructed to cast a hook and take the first fish he could catch, and when he did so he found a coin in its mouth.
Regardless of the origin of this tale, its implication for Jesus’ attitude toward the tax is plain. It is hardly the attitude of an uncompromising rebel. Whether it was actually the position taken by Jesus himself, or only that of the Jewish-Christian church in Matthew’s day, is uncertain. The whole story may be a creation of second-generation Christians to support their own attitude.
The three Gospels now continue together to the next episode (Mk 9:33-37; Mt 18:1-5; Lk 9:46-48). As Mark tells it. when Jesus and the disciples reached Capernaum, he asked them what they had been discussing on the way. Matthew, having brought them to Capernaum with the incident of the temple tax, picks up Mark’s narrative with the phrase "At that time." Luke, still with no indication that they had left the place where the epileptic boy was healed, says, "And an argument arose among them."
The question they had been debating was which of them was the greatest. Matthew says they put this in an impersonal form, "Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" According to Mark "they were silent," and Jesus answered their question without being told what it was (9:35). "And he sat down," says Mark, "and called the twelve; and he said to them, ‘If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’" Matthew and Luke omit this here, but at the end of the paragraph Luke sums up Jesus’ answer to the question (Lk 9:48; cf. Mk 10:43-44 and parallels).
Jesus then "took a child, and put him in the midst of them" (Mk 9:36; Mt 18:2; Lk 9:47). Mark adds one of those graphic touches that Matthew and Luke omit: "and taking him in his arms." What Jesus then said (Mk 9:37) has no bearing on who is greatest: "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me." Two independent incidents involving a child seem to be combined here.
Matthew provides a more natural connection with two sentences. The first reads, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18:3; cf. Mk 10:15; Lk 18:17). The second (18:4) reads, "Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." We have already encountered the idea of greater and less in the kingdom (Mt 5:19; 11:11; Lk 7:28).
According to Mark and Luke, what Jesus said about those who received him led John, the son of Zebedee, to tell of a man the disciples had found exorcizing demons in the name of Jesus (Mk 9:38-40; Lk 9:49-50). They had forbidden him to do this because he was not one of them, but Jesus said, as Mark reports, "Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us." Luke has only, "Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you" (cf. Mt 12:30; Lk 11:23).
In Mark, Jesus concludes, "For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward." The use of the word "Christ" without a definite article is characteristic of a later stage of development in Christianity and occurs nowhere else in words attributed to Jesus. So consistently did Jesus discourage any reference to himself as the Messiah that he can hardly be believed to have used the title as reported here. A somewhat different form of the saying in Matthew’s second discourse (10:42) reads, "because he is a disciple."
Matthew omits the story of the unauthorized exorcist. In Luke it marks the end of the Galilean ministry. In Mark it is followed by a series of sayings (Mk 9:42-48; Mt 18:6-9) so loosely connected that they seem to have been brought together here for want of a better place to put them. First in the group is the stern warning, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
The disciples’ question and the incident of the child introduce Matthew’s fourth major discourse (Mt 18). The saying about causing a little one to sin follows naturally, making the "little ones" appear to be children. If Jesus referred here to children, what the clause "who believe in me" meant is not clear. To this Matthew adds another saying: "Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!" Luke has both of these sayings in a different place with some variation (17:1-2).
Next in Matthew as in Mark comes a paragraph about cutting off a hand or foot and plucking out an eye that causes one to sin (Mk 9:43-48; Mt 18:8-9; cf. Mt 5:29-30). Matthew has this also in the Sermon on the Mount but repeats it somewhat more fully here. With the sacrifice of both hand and eye Matthew has the expression "enter life"; Mark speaks of hand, foot, and eye, reading "enter life" twice but the third time "enter the kingdom of God" (Mt 18:9; Mk 9:47, cf. vv 43, 45). Evidently as Mark understands it the kingdom of God and "life" are closely related.
This is not the only place where the two expressions appear as synonymous, as we shall see presently (cf. Mk 10:17, 23-24; Lk 18:18, 24-25). Here the contrast between entering life or the kingdom of God and being thrown into the eternal fire of Gehenna clearly connects the kingdom of God with the coming age.
Another saying in the Sermon on the Mount follows now in Mark in a condensed form (Mk 9:49-50; cf. Mt 5:13; Lk 14:34-35). This is the saying about salt that has lost its saltness. Matthew omits it here. It is preceded and followed in Mark by sentences not found in Matthew or Luke. They have been examined together with the saying where it occurs in Matthew.
At this point Matthew (18:10) introduces another saying about the "little ones." They are not to be despised, for "in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven." Neither Mark nor Luke records this. Its meaning is by no means obvious. Luke says in Acts 23:8, "For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit." If what they rejected had any connection with the resurrection of the dead, the "angel or spirit" may be related to the future life of the individual.
When Peter was released from prison by an angel and appeared at the house of Mark (Acts 12:15), the disciples exclaimed, "It is his angel!" This may mean that they thought Peter had died in prison, and what they saw was his spirit; or it may mean that they believed a person had a spirit-double that might appear visibly, though it is doubtful that this was believed by Jews at that time. Whether either idea has any bearing on "their angels" in Matthew is uncertain. In any case, the conception expressed in old-fashioned gravestone inscriptions, "Gone to be an angel," is not involved here. It is not biblical at all.
Jesus speaks here of little ones who are still living. In Jewish sources as in the Gospels there are references to angels being sent to guard or guide individuals. Whether each person was believed to have his own guardian angel is uncertain. The words "behold the face of my Father" recall the conception of angels as interceding for men. Probably this saying is a warning that the humblest or weakest of men have such intercessors in heaven.
The remainder of Matthew’s fourth discourse is not found in Mark. Some passages have parallels or partial parallels in Luke; others appear only in Matthew. First comes the parable of the shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep on the hills to search for one that has gone astray (Mt 18:12-14). This is connected with the preceding saying by the conclusion, "So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." Luke reports this parable later with the parables of the lost coin and the prodigal son (15:3-7). It is a moving expression of Jesus’ concern for those who have lost their way in life, and his assurance that God is concerned for them. Current evangelical Christianity often uses the term "lost" as though it meant doomed to eternal punishment. For Jesus it meant having gone astray, being unable to find the way home.
Next in Matthew come sayings about agreements and differences among the disciples (18:15-20). The first deals with the proper treatment of an offending brother. A short, simple form of this appears later in Luke (17:3-4): "Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him." In Matthew it is more formal, a matter of established procedure in three steps, the last of which is to report the offense to the church.
As previously observed, this is one of only two places in the Gospels where the word "church" appears, the other being the declaration that Jesus will build his church on Peter, the Rock (Mt 16:18). There we concluded that the statement is not an authentic utterance of Jesus. Here too that conclusion can hardly be avoided. Jesus could have used the Aramaic word for a local synagogue or assembly. The final clause, however, implies an attitude to Gentiles and tax collectors very different from that of Jesus. The presupposed existence of the church as a body with disciplinary powers also makes it difficult to attribute these elaborate directions to Jesus.
Matthew appends to these rules a statement resembling what he has reported as spoken to Peter at Caesarea Philippi (18:18, cf. 16:19). Here the words are addressed to the disciples or the church: "Truly, I say to you. whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Conceivably this might be an earlier form of the promise, but even so it is hard to fit it into the ministry of Jesus and his relationship with his disciples. They appear here either as the disciples of a rabbi who empowers them to make authoritative decisions on legal questions, or as priests authorized to give or withhold absolution of sins. The Gospel of John says that after his resurrection Jesus gave the disciples authority to forgive or retain sins (20:23). Here again Matthew’s saying must have been a result of developing situations in the church, perhaps not originally supposed to have come from Jesus at all. Only later, as it was handed down in the church, would it come to be thought of as a saying of Jesus and so be included in the tradition received by Matthew.
The promise that comes next in Matthew (18:19) resembles other Matthean sayings: "Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven." Where two or three gather in his name, Jesus adds (v 20), he will be with them. Of the two major emphases in the early church with regard to the relation between the risen and exalted Lord and his people, one, far more prominent in the Synoptic record, is the hope of his return in glory to judge the world and inaugurate the new age. The other, expressed here, is the sense of communion with him in worship. In general, concentration on the anticipated coming of Christ is characteristic of the early, predominantly Jewish generation of Christians, while stress on his presence in Christian worship is increasingly prominent in the later Hellenistic church. There is. to be sure, a remarkably similar statement in the rabbinic literature (Pirke Abot 3:3): "Two who sit together occupied with the law have the Shekinah in their midst." The divine Presence takes the place here of the presence of Jesus in the saying recorded by Matthew. Whether either of these two sayings was influenced by the other can only be a matter of speculation. The dates of both are uncertain. Whatever its origin, Matthew’s saying has reassured and inspired Christians of all generations.
At this point (Mt 18:21-22) Peter interrupts with a question. "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus replies. "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven" (or perhaps "seventy-seven"). Luke has some variations in detail (cf. Lk 17:4), but what Jesus means is clear. Self-centered resentment and refusal to be reconciled have no place in the life of a Christian.
The last item in the discourse is a parable (Mt 18:23-35). It begins, "Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants." The essence of the story is that a servant for whom the master had canceled a very large debt threw into prison a fellow servant who could not pay him a much smaller debt, whereupon the master delivered the merciless servant to be tortured until he should pay his own debt. "So also," says Jesus, "my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart" (cf. Mt 6:14; Mk 11:25). The fantastic difference between the amounts of the two debts suggests the incomparable vastness of man’s debt to God.
The conclusion of the fourth discourse is indicated by the usual formula (Mt 19:1), which in this case marks also the end of the Galilean ministry.