Luther’s Notes on the Gospels: Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles

June 29th
Matthew 16:13-20
New King James Version

13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

20 Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.

 Luther’s Explanatory Notes

13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I, the Son of man am? 

An excellent and exalted Gospel. This is one of the excellent, high Gospels, and nearly the best part in the Gospel according to St. Matthew; for it contains exceedingly high and excellent articles, in which we Christians are particularly interested; namely, that we learn what Christ is, what his church and his people are, what kind of enemies, and then also what excellent gifts and goods this same church has.

Who do men say that I am? First, Christ asks what the people say of him. Therewith he gives us an example, which serves as an incentive to good behavior, that we should be careful that we may have a good reputation among those who are with out. Then he takes occasion to reveal himself to the apostles. Here we shall learn what Christ really is, how we shall regard him, and what we shall believe concerning him. For everything depends upon having a correct knowledge of Christ. 

14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. 

Some say, John the Baptist. They did not mean that he was the same person, (that would be too stupid,) but that he came with such authority, office and spirit as John, Elijah or Jeremiah. But these are still pious people. For the Pharisees and high priests did not regard him as a prophet, but as a deceiver. Human reason and flesh can conceive of Christ only as a holy, pious man, who sets a good example which we should follow. But heaven is still closed to him who receives and knows Christ only as a holy man, for a pattern of a good life. 

15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am ? 

Whom say ye that I am? Note here, that he does not ask Peter alone, but all the disciples together. For from this we must draw the conclusion, that the answer of Peter (v. 16,) and afterwards the reply of Christ (v. 17-19,) are not to be applied to Peter’s single person. 

16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 

Thou art the Christ. This is a short confession, but the real kernel of the whole Scripture. For the word “Christ” was a word well known among the Jews; it was understood as meaning the seed of the woman, which should bruise the serpent’s head, and in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed, who should establish an eternal kingdom, redeem the people from sin and death and bring them to eternal life. 

The Son of the living God. Here he adds an excellent part, of which few Jews knew anything, and which all the world at the present day will not believe, and says, ” Thou art the Son of the living God!” This is a new and previously unheard of word, that God has a Son. But now, God can bring forth nothing out of his essence or nature, but what must also be like God eternal and almighty. To know and confess Christ correctly, it is not enough to say the words, but to believe in the heart, that this Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, is the Son of God, who came into the world and became man, that he might bruise the devil’s head, that he might remove the curse under which all men rest on account of sin, and instead bring us again into a state of grace.

17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 

Flesh and blood hath not revealed it. This is a blessed word, when he says, “Blessed art thou,” etc. For thereby the Lord will indicate, that whoever has this confession and knowledge, has everything necessary to salvation. Christ says, He is blessed, because he believes this, and not because he does this or that. For, although God demands good works, yet this faith alone shall be necessary to salvation. Rom. 10:10-11. 

Now whoever would learn what faith is, and whence it comes, (that faith is not a mean art) let him here listen to Christ. Such faith, he says, is not a human thought; the Father must awaken it by his word and Spirit. 

The popes have nothing that is like Peter. Peter confesses and teaches Christ, the Son of the living God; the pope teaches of himself. Peter requires faith; the pope requires obedience to his devilish law. 

But this narrative is also profitable to us, in that we should not be selfconfident or presumptuous, as if we possessed this grace already in perfection. Soon after this confession the devil tempts Peter, so that he for gets his confession, and looks upon the Lord as no more than any other man. See verse 22. 

From this it follows further, that the free will of man can do nothing at all in itself, but only by the grace of God, which makes him free. (John 8:32, 34-36.) Further, that the free will is never rightly called or understood, except when adorned by the grace of God, without which it should rather be called a self-will, than a free-will; for without grace, he does not do God’s will, but his own will, which is never good. 

18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 

Thou art Peter. As if he would say, Thou hast a right to be called by this name; it is not unreasonable that thou art called Peter (a rock) for thy faith and confession is rock-like, firm and certain; it stands right and firm upon a strong rock. 

Upon this rock will I build my church. That is, upon thy confession of faith, which makes thee a rock and upon this doctrine I will build my church. Upon this will depend whoever shall be saved; there it shall also permanently remain, though all the gates of hell should rage against it. 

The rock, therefore, upon which the church stands, is Christ and his word, for Christ is known only through his word. The words, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God” make him known to me and describe him to me. Christ says to Peter, “Thou art Peter.” That is, Very well, thou art truly Peter, for thou strikest the rock and the right foundation upon which the church stands and must stand. 

Secondly, He speaks of himself when he says, “And upon this rock,” etc. Upon this rock, that is, upon me, not upon thee; for Christ does not say, I will build myself upon thee, but thee upon me, because Peter himself must necessarily be built upon Christ the rock. Peter is here called a rock, and Christ likewise is called a rock; but this is the difference, that Christ has all his qualities by justice and right; but Peter and we have ours by grace and mercy. Therefore he calls Peter here a rock, because, upon this rock and by this rock, he also becomes a rock. Therefore, we also should all be called [by the name] Peter (rock). Christ permitted Peter to fall, that we should not regard him as the rock, nor build upon him.

The “Church” exists where you find such faith and confession, whether those people have this appearance before the world or not. 

To “build” means here nothing else than to believe on Christ, and confidently trust in him, that he is my Savior and is mine with all his gifts, for I depend upon all that he is and can do. 

Against this rock all the gates of hell shall not prevail. But how does this happen? Faith is an almighty thing, as the eternal God himself is almighty; therefore God will also prove and test it. Therefore the knavish devil will oppose and do all he can against it. But what he says here is not vain and useless: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” In the Scriptures, the gates mean a city and its government or power. For at the gates of entrance they held their courts of justice. (Deut. 16:18.) Hence the gates of hell mean all the power of the devil with all his retinue, such as kings and princes, with the wise men of this world, who will all array them selves against this rock and this faith. Therefore no creature on earth is more troubled and assailed than a Christian. (1 Cor. 15:19.) But this is the consolation, that although the devil is full of wrath, yet he shall not conquer.

 19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 

The keys of the kingdom of heaven. Such a treasure has the church; that is, the people or assembly, who confess with Peter that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God. But this treasure the Christian church distributes not only in the word, through absolution and especially the public preaching, (as in Acts 2:41,) but also through Baptism and the Supper of the Lord Christ. 

This passage is also directed against the Novatians (an ancient sect. Ed.) who taught that there is no hope of forgiveness of sins to those who had fallen away after their Baptism. This would take the keys entirely away from the church, especially the most important part; namely, the forgiveness of sins. Such grace we find not only with those whom Christ has by a special command appointed to preside over his church, but also in case of necessity, with every individual Christian; for the church, that is, all Christians, has this power and command, that it leaves no sinner to despair in his sins, but comforts him, and in the name of Jesus assures him of forgive ness of sins, (Matt. 18:20) yet so that the public preaching of the gospel, or the office of the keys, be not despised. 

This passage has been woefully martyred by the pope. For in the first place. He claims to be the head of the church, and that he alone has the power of the keys. Secondly, He has designated those keys to be not only as the power of the forgiveness of sins and the ban, but that he may make laws and command what he pleases, even in temporal affairs (against “the kingdom of heaven.”) These words, “I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” do not in general concern the pope, for 

1. The Lord addresses them to “Peter” that is, the “confessor of the Son of God,” and inasmuch as he was a confessor, a public person in the whole church, he is not a private person. Therefore the words are not to be understood of a person, or of a bishop, but of the church. 

2. Granted, also, that he had spoken these words to Peter alone, it does not follow thence that the Roman pope is the successorof Peter; (a) Because spiritual gifts are not inheritable; (b) Because Peter was not the bishop of the Roman church alone, but an apostle of very many churches.

3. These shameless lies of the Papists are contradicted by observation, for neither were the apostles at any time subordinate to Peter, (Gal. 2:11 ff. ; 2 Cor. 11:5) nor have the churches in the whole world ever stood under the pope. 

20 Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ. 

Tell no man that Jesus was the Christ. Christ forbids that he should be made known as the Christ, before the accomplishment of his sufferings; yea, he himself openly predicts his sufferings, and concedes that it must be previously announced to them, in order that afterwards, when his sufferings had come, they might not doubt that he was the Lord and Christ, who had previously announced it, and that he had not suffered accidentally or according to the will of man, as it had the appearance in the eyes of the unwise. 

But Christ does this chiefly to show his disciples that his kingdom was not temporary or worldly.

Luther’s Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 95-99.

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