This chapter, when the connection is clearly seen, is of profound and touching interest. The transfiguration spoken of in the earlier part of the chapter was a turning-point in the life and ministry of the blessed Lord.
After the character of those who were suited to the kingdom had been unfolded, the divinity of His Person and character of His ministry are brought before us. His disciples are then sent out with the ministry of the kingdom to the Jews, at least the poor of His flock, in His lifetime, and then till He came as Son of man. Then we have the record of the rejection of John the Baptist’s ministry, and that of His own, as come in grace: and standing on the edge, so to speak, of the world, He is witness that no dealings of God could reach where His grace found, like Noah’s dove, no place there for the sole of her foot; and declares that the world has been tried, and He could find no entrance for divine goodness, and they must come to Him if they would know the Father, and have rest (for the Son revealed Him in grace), and learn of Him as the man meek and lowly of heart, and find rest to their souls in a world where evil ruled, and no rest could be found, as He knew.
In chapter 12 the Jews, as a nation, are finally rejected, under Satan’s power as a people in the last days, and the Lord disowns association with them according to the flesh; relationship with Him was by the word He preached. He leaves the house, goes to the seaside, not any longer seeking fruit in His vineyard, which bore none but bad—sowing that from which fruit was to come. The kingdom of heaven in its mystery, with an absent king, takes the place of Messiah upon earth.
In chapter 14 we have the whole scene ripening historically. John the Baptist is actually put to death, and the sovereign grace of Christ continues while the coming scene is opened. He satisfies, according to Psalm 132, the “poor with bread,” but there, I believe, according to the Messiah order. Then He dismisses the mass of Israel, and sends His disciples off, and goes up on high (a priest on high), and the disciples are tossed on the sea. Peter goes on the sea to meet Him: as soon as He is entered into the ship the wind ceases, and He is gladly received where once He had been rejected.
In chapter 15 the hollow and false religion of the Pharisees is rejected, while fully owning Israel’s privileges, and sovereign grace goes out to awaken and meet faith in the rejected race of the Gentiles—according to Jewish standing, the accursed race. He was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, but God would not be Himself if only the God of the Jews, and the Gentiles were to glorify God for His mercy. We have then the five thousand fed, the same general principle; only now, I believe, the sovereign patience of God.
In chapter 16 the church, as built by Himself, takes the place of Jewish Messiahship, and chapter 17 the kingdom in glory. Thus we have the kingdom, as it is at present, the church, as built by Christ, and the heavenly glory of the kingdom, taking the place of the earthly Messiah. This is the point I desired to reach, which, indeed, characterises all that follows— the revelation of the heavenly glory on earth, what will be in the world to come, and was now revealed to establish the faith of the disciples; though the Father’s house is yet a better portion. It is found in the description of this scene in Luke 9, where they15 enter into the cloud from which the Father’s voice came. For the scene itself see 2 Peter 1:16-19, reading “the word of prophecy confirmed.” I have gone through the previous chapters because they lead up to the rejection of the Jews, and the new character in which Christ’s Person and work were to be displayed. Here (chap. 16:20), they are forbidden to say to any one that He was the Christ. We find the same injunction in Luke 9:21: that ministry was over. Here He tells them the Son of man must suffer and rise again. The Son of man was about to come in the glory of His Father with His angels. So Luke 9:22-27.
In a word, the suffering Son of man and the glory that should follow, take the. place of Messiah on earth, now disowned there, and even forbidden to be any more preached. Thus the beginning of Psalm 2 was now before Him, bringing about in another way the purposes there spoken of, and Psalm 8 in part accomplished as spoken of in Hebrews 2. But the old things of Messiah on earth were over, redemption was about to be accomplished, and the new things of a glorified man introduced. In Matthew 17:22, 23 this rejection is pressed on the disciples, and then comes the blessed and touching way in which He shews them their association with Himself, as Son of God, in the new place into which He is introducing His people.
The tribute here spoken of is not tribute to the civil power, but the didrachma which every grown-up Jew paid for the temple service, and which they had voluntarily imposed upon themselves in Ezra’s time—a tribute to Jehovah. The question which the collectors put to Peter was really whether his master was a good Jew according to the earthly system now passing away. Peter, with the zeal so often there, yet in ignorance, at once answers “Yes.” The Lord then shews divine knowledge of what had been passing by anticipating Peter, to introduce in touching grace the new place He was giving to Peter and those with him “Of whom,” says the Lord, “do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute, of their own children, or of strangers? “Peter replies “of strangers.” “Then,” says the Lord, “are the children free.” We are the children, you and I, of the great king of the temple, and as such, free from the tribute. “Nevertheless that we offend not”—bringing in Peter, as one of the children of the great king with Himself free, but not willing to offend, and then shews, not divine knowledge but, divine power over creation. “Go thou to the sea, and take up the fish that first cometh up, and when thou hast opened his mouth thou shalt find a stater [two didrachmas] that take, and give unto them for me and thee “; shewing now His divine power over creation, making the fish bring just what was wanted. And then again He puts Peter with Himself in the place of sonship by the overwhelming, but unspeakably gracious words, “Give unto them for me and thee.”
Do our hearts echo these words, moved to their foundations? If Christ said “me and thee” to us, how should we feel it? Yet He does say it. It is when a rejected Messiah, His Person and the effect of His work too (but the expression of His boundless grace in it) come forth to give us our place in the purposes of God, but as His heart delights to see it and make us see it too. Oh! for the Son of God to say to such an one as me, “Me and thee.” I know it is the effect of redemption, but of a redemption He has accomplished, and a redemption which gives us a place where He shall see the travail of His soul and be satisfied—in seeing us in a blessing which only His heart, which answers to the Father’s counsels, could have thought of for us. But what a comment of Christ’s heart on the ways of God unfolded in the foregoing chapter! Thinking first of us to apply it.
15 I suppose Moses and Elias, but the truth expressed remains the same. The cloud was the dwelling-place of God in Israel. [See Volume 33, page 289.—Ed.]