NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
In this verse, the KJV has the words, “loose” and “bind.” British theologian, Dr. John Lightfoot, has given us an excellent list of how the words “loose” and “bind” are used in Jewish literature. It will help us understand how our Lord used this common phrase among the Rabbis of His day to instruct His followers on their responsibilities in the future.
Bind and loose, a very usual phrase in the Jewish schools, was spoken of things, not of persons; which is also observed in the articles what and whatsoever. One might produce thousands of examples out of their writings: we will only offer a set of ten; the first, where the frequent use of this word may appear; the second, what the sense may be:
- Rabbi Jochanan said to those of Tiberias, “Why have you brought this elder to me? Whatever I loosen, he binds; whatever I bind, he loosens.” [In other words, if the Rabbi says it’s alright to do, the Elder will say it is wrong to do; if the Rabbi says he will permit it, the Elder will say he will not permit it; if the Rabbi says I’ll allow it, the Elder will say I won’t allow if.]
- You shall neither bind nor loosen.
- Nachum, the brother of Rabbi Illa, asked Rabbi Jochanan concerning a certain matter. To whom he answered, “You will neither bind nor loosen.” [Another way of saying: “You should not say “yes” or “no.”]
- This man binds, but the other loosens.[This was done to enforce or relieve someone of their obligations or responsibilities under the law.]
- Rabbi Chaija said, “Whatsoever I have bound to you elsewhere, I will loose to you here.”
- He asked one wise man, and he bound: Do not ask another wise man, lest perhaps he loosens.
- The same mouth that binds is the mouth that loosens.
- Although the disciples of Shammai bound, those of Hillel loosened.
- A wise man that judges judgment defines what defiles and what cleanses; he loosens and binds.
- The question whether it is lawful to go into the outhouse to urinate wearing phylacteries? Rabbena loosens, and Rabh Ada binds. The mystical doctor, neither binds nor loosens.1
It becomes clear that when something was deemed as “loosened,” it was freed from any condemnation or wrong doing and made to stand as proper conduct. By the same token, when something was considered “bound,” it signified that such a thing would invite condemnation and be guilty of wrong doing and made to stand as being improper. I invite you to take a look at Dr. Lightfoot’s second and third sets of ten that give additional explanations that can be very helpful.2
This was a common practice in Israel because such binding and loosing were necessary for common folk to be in harmony with each other in the community of believers.3 Therefore, we take away from this a more enlightened understanding of what our Lord said and how it applied to His followers. Another way to put this binding and loosening of things on earth and in heaven is to ask this: Would you feel free and say or do in heaven those things you approve to be done and said here on earth? And, do you believe that those things you disavow here on earth would also be disapproved of in heaven?
In other words, Jesus knew He would be leaving before too much longer. So He was more or less telling His followers: I’m leaving you in charge. You’re going to have the responsibility to make sure what I have established here on earth keeps going until I come back. He knew it would be an awesome task for them. So they needed to be reminded that whatever decisions they made about the church would not only reflect on them, but on the One in heaven who gave them this authority. Therefore, the community of believers was to live in harmony, and such harmony would only be accomplished by adhering to God’s Word and by obeying the leading of the Holy Spirit. However, there is no indication that Jesus was talking about the forgiveness of sin in order to become a child of God. He, and only He, had the authority to do so.4
Verse 20: Then Jesus warned His followers not to tell anyone He was the Messiah.
Most scholars accept the premise that Jesus did not want to come out into the open as the Anointed One at that time because it might not only draw large crowds of adoring followers for whom He would then become responsible for maintaining their well-being, but also to avoid getting the Jerusalem crowd up in arms and thereby run afoul of the Roman leadership before it was time.
One polemic Jewish writer had a very sarcastic way of putting his opposition to Jesus by paraphrasing verse 20 this way: “And Jesus said to him, ‘Tell no man that I am God for from the time that I have abandoned the Torah of my birthplace, I have rebelled against my Creator and against His Torah.’”5 That would be like criticizing the Wright brothers for abandoning their bicycle shop to build an airplane because they believed flying was possible. The Torah had become such an object of veneration and worship to the point that this writer could not recognize the Living Word when he saw Him.
Chrysostom felt that he saw an underlying reason why Jesus requested that His being the Messiah be kept in secrecy. He writes: “And why did He charge them? That when the things which offend are taken out of the way, the cross is accomplished and the rest of His sufferings fulfilled, and when there is nothing anymore to interrupt and disturb the faith of the people in Him, the right opinion concerning Him may be engraved pure and immovable in the mind of the hearers. For in truth His power had not yet clearly shone forth. Accordingly it was His will then to be preached by them when both the plain truth of the facts and the power of His deeds were pleading in support of the assertions of the apostles. For it was by no means the same thing to see Him in Palestine, now working miracles and now insulted and persecuted, especially when the very cross was presently to follow the miracles that were happening, and then to behold Him everywhere in the world, adored and believed, and no more suffering anything such as he had suffered.”6
Then Theodore of Mopsuestia adds his view: “After the disciples received the Spirit, then the teaching concerning the divinity of the Son was shown to them perfectly and the Spirit Himself bore witness through the miracles that were done in His name. Yet it was still necessary that this is hidden from the rulers, the secular powers of this world, so that Christ, by suffering and rising again, might transform in Himself human life and recreate it, changing it back to the state it was in at the beginning of its corruption. This perhaps is the reason why of necessity this instruction had not yet been given them.”7
Verse 21: From that time Jesus began telling His followers that He must go to Jerusalem. He explained that the older Jewish leaders, the leading priests, and the teachers of the law would make Him suffer many things. And He told His followers that He must be killed. Then, on the third day, He would be raised from death.
Here we see a shift in our Lord’s focus on the purpose for which His heavenly Father sent Him to earth. I’m sure the disciples noticed the sudden change, especially His insistence on going to Jerusalem where nothing but trouble awaited Him. Matthew points out that it was the Jewish elders and chief priest, along with the priestly teachers of the law that would promote the suffering He must endure. We do not know how the others felt about it, but Peter would not let it go by without some action. Apparently he enjoyed such a close relationship with Jesus by this time, that our Lord willingly – although knowingly – allowed this fisherman to have a private conversation with Him.
Jerome sees the possibility that our Lord’s restriction in letting people know who He really was, may have been due to His being both God and man. He writes: “For the purpose of proclaiming, He had sent His disciples before Him and ordered them to announce His arrival. But He advised them lest they say publicly that He was Jesus the Christ. It seems to me to be one thing to proclaim Him to be the Christ, another thing to proclaim Him to be Jesus the Christ. Christ is a common term for the messianic dignity [the Anointed One] while Jesus is the proper name for the Savior. It is possible that for this reason He had been unwilling to be proclaimed Jesus the Christ prior to His suffering and resurrection in order that He might afterward when the obligation of blood had been fulfilled, at an opportune time say to His apostles, “Go and teach all nations”8 and the rest. And lest anyone think that this is merely our opinion and not the perceptions of the Evangelist, then what follows explains further the reasons for the prohibited proclamation.”9
Verse 22: Then Peter took Jesus aside and begin scolding Him. “Things like this should never happen to someone like You!”
We can’t really blame Peter, he was expressing the tradition Jewish idea of the Messiah as we see in their wisdom literature: “See, O Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, at the time which you chose, O God, to rule over Israel your servant. And gird him with strength to shatter in pieces unrighteous rulers, to purify Jerusalem for nations that trample her down in destruction, in wisdom of righteousness, to drive out sinners from the inheritance, to smash the arrogance of the sinner like a potter’s vessel, to shatter all their substance with an iron rod, to destroy the lawless nations by the word of his mouth, that, by his threat, nations flee from his presence.”10
Unfortunately, it also shows a certain amount of arrogance on Peter’s part. Earlier Jesus hailed him as a chip off the large Rock upon which the church would be built. Now here he is being rebuked as a cohort of Satan. This is why it is so necessary not to build a following on man because man can fail; but build it on the solid Rock Jesus Christ; for He is the true Rock of Ages. But this was not the first time Satan had tried this tactic. Jesus’ royal ancestor got himself into a terrible situation because he listened to a suggestion from the devil.11 Also, Joshua the high priest underwent a similar trial, “The angel showed me Joshua the high priest, standing in front of the angel of the LORD and Satan was standing by Joshua’s right side. Satan was there to accuse Joshua of doing wrong. Then the angel of the LORD said, ‘The LORD says that you are wrong, and He will continue to correct you!’”12
In his sermon on this text, Chrysostom says: “Peter was examining the issue by human and earthly reasoning. He thought it disgraceful to Jesus as something unworthy of Him. Jesus responded sharply, in effect saying, ‘My suffering is not an unseemly matter. You are making this judgment with a carnal mind. If you had listened to My teachings in a godly way, tearing yourself away from carnal understanding, you would know that this of all things most becomes Me. You seem to suppose that to suffer is unworthy of Me. But I say to you that for Me not to suffer is of the devil’s mind.’ So He repressed Peter’s alarm by contrary arguments. Remember that John the Baptizer, accounting it unworthy of Christ to be baptized by him, was persuaded by Christ to baptize Him, saying, ‘Let it be so now.’ So we find Peter as well, forbidding Christ to wash his feet. He is met by the words, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.’ Here too Jesus restrained him by the mention of the opposite, and by the severity of the reproof He repressed his fear of suffering.”13
Verse 23: Then Jesus looked at Peter and said, “Get out of My way, Satan! You are not helping me one bit! You are not interested in the things God is interested in. You only care about things that people think are important.”
And so it was that the Son of God corrected the devil again for suggesting to Peter that He should not carry out His mission. What a quaint combination we see here. First, Jesus told Peter that the Spirit of God had helped him see that He was the Son of the Living God, the Messiah. Now Jesus must scold Peter because he allowed the spirit of Satan to influence him to speak against what Jesus the Son of God, the Messiah had planned. That war within Peter is still being fought in the hearts and minds of many believers to this day.
Blaming Satan for causing such irrational thinking and discord was well rehearsed among the Jews, especially after what happened to the patriarch Job.14 As one Jewish commentator says: “The serpent represents all the negative spiritual forces in the universe, and brings God’s wrath upon His world as it seduces God’s creatures to rebel against Him.”15 Therefore, Jesus rebukes Satan, not Peter, for trying to do the same thing here and turning His own disciples against Him. One commentator made this suggestion on what Jesus meant when He told Satan to get behind Him by saying: “Yeshua is actually inviting Satan to become His follower (with the universalistic doctrinal implication that eventually even Satan will be “saved).”16 However, we know that Satan’s fate is already sealed.17
Early church father Theodore of Heraclea had this to say about Jesus’ rebuke of Peter: “When contrary to what he had hoped, Peter heard this, he was troubled. For the revelation had exhibited Christ as Son of God and the living God, on the one hand. Yet, on the other hand, he was found to be preparing for the dreadful events of the Passion. In rebuking Peter, Christ brings to light His own righteous judgment. When Peter confessed Christ, Christ praised him. But when he was irrationally terrified, Christ rebuked him, acting without respect of persons.”18
Then the respected theologian Origen gave this view: “Responding to Peter’s ignorance as one opposing God, Jesus said, ‘Satan,’ which is Hebrew for opponent. If Peter had not spoken to Him out of ignorance nor of the living God when he said, ‘Never, Lord! This must never happen to You!’ then He would not have said to him “Get behind Me,” as if speaking to someone who had given up being behind Him and following Him. Neither would He have called him ‘Satan.’ Satan had overpowered the one following Jesus in order to turn him aside from following the Son of God from behind, to make him, because of ignorant words, worthy of being called ‘Satan’ and a scandal to the Son of God, ‘not thinking in the ways of God but of humans.’”19
So it is clear that Jesus was not calling Peter, Satan, but rebuking the spirit of Satan that had inspired Peter to caution Jesus against going through with His suffering and death. So we can see, Satan did not rejoice when Jesus was nailed to the cross, for His death meant total defeat for Satan, and His resurrection would mean Satan’s eternal damnation in the fiery pit.
1John Lightfoot’s Commentary on the Gospels, Matthew 16:19
3Babylonian Talmud, op. cit. Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Chagigah, folio 3b
4 See Robert R Seyda New Testament Contextual Commentary, John 20:23
5Naẓẓaḥon Vetus, op. cit. Sec. , p. 201
6Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily, 54.4
7Theodore of Mopsuestia: Commentary fragment 93
8 Matthew 28:19-20
9 Jerome: Commentary on Matthew, Vol. 3, 16:20
10 Psalms of Solomon, 17:21-25
11 1 Chronicles 21:1
12 Zechariah 3:1-2
13 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 54.6
14 See Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Baba Bathra, folio 16a
15 Tzror Hamor, op., cit., Parshat Bereshith, Genesis 3:1, p. 85
16 Jewish New Testament Commentary by David H. Stern, Mattityahu (Matthew) 16:23, Kindle Edition
17 Revelation 20:9-10
18 Theodore of Heraclea: Commentary fragment 102
19 Origen: Commentary on Matthew, 12:21