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The Suffering Servant – Matthew 16:13 – 17:13


There were two prophetic themes for the promised and prophesied Messiah: The glorious king like David and the suffering servant. These two themes were distinct enough that some of the rabbis believed there would be two Messiah’s – one to be King and one who would suffer. In this section, we see Jesus in both of these roles just after Peter confesses Him as the Messiah, the Son of God.

Suffering Servant

Jesus, after his last encounter with the Pharisees, went to the opposite end of the Sea of Galilee – and kept going north to the origin of the Jordan. He wanted to get alone with His disciples, for He had important things to tell them. He began by questioning them:

Jesus: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

Disciples: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Jesus: “But what about you? Who do you say that I am?

Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Jesus: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. – Matthew 16:13-18

After this momentous acknowledgement that Jesus is the Christ, the long promised Messiah – and the Son of God, Jesus promised Peter the “keys of the kingdom of God” and said that he would bind on earth what had been bound in heaven and loose on earth what had been loosed in heaven. [That is the significance of the Greek construction here. See the NASB, which is meticulous in its translation of the Greek tenses, for confirmation.]

Jesus cautioned them not to tell anyone yet that He is the Christ. Then, for the first time, He began to speak of Himself as the suffering servant.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and there suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. – Matthew 16:21

For Jesus to speak this way blew Peter’s mind. He protested:

Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you! – Matthew 16:22

Jesus would not accept this rebuke:

Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men. – Matthew 16:23

Peter had taken Jesus aside to rebuke Him. After Jesus’ rebuke of Peter’s rebuke, He turned to all of the disciples as He continued:

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world ye, forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. – Matthew 16:24-28

Denying one’s self. Cross-bearing. Losing one’s life to find it. These are the requirements for any who would follow Jesus. The Christ is the suffering servant. His followers are to suffer with Him.

But that is not the whole story. The Christ will come in the Father’s glory with His angels. He will judge the world – and His disciples will share that glory as they see Him coming in His kingdom.

Glorious King

About a week later, Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him as He went up the mountain, possibly Mount Herman by Caesarea Philippi. He had told them He would suffer. It was now time to reveal His glory for them as well.

On the mountain, He was “transfigured before them.” The Scripture explains, “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white at the light.” You may recall that when Moses came down from talking with God on Mount Sinai, His face shone with an after-glow so bright he covered his face. This description of Jesus is a description of heavenly glory.

Just then, Moses and Elijah appeared and was talking with Jesus. Peter, bless his heart, could not contain himself. He just had to talk.

Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. – Matthew 17:4

When He said this, “a bright cloud enveloped them.” They were inside the cloud, which was all around them. Then a Voice came from within the cloud. That is they heard this Voice all around them:

This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him! – v. 5

When the three disciples heard this voice, they fell to the ground face-down and terror-stricken. Why shouldn’t they be terror-stricken? They had heard the very voice of God Himself! Whenever men know they are truly in the presence of the glory of God, they fall before Him in holy fear.

Two things came together on the mountain. Luke, in his account of the Transfiguration, tells us that Moses and Elijah “spoke of His departure which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). This is the suffering. The brightness of Jesus, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and the presence of Yahweh in the cloud were the glory.

There is no wonder that this event impressed Peter so deeply that he wrote about it later:

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received honor and glory from God the Father when the Voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this Voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain. – 2 Peter 1:16-18

Two streams of though came together in the Messiah. He was both the Suffering Servant and the Glorious King. He went to the Cross, before He received the Crown. Now “God [has] exalted Him to the highest place and [has] given Him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

  1. Why would some Rabbi’s speculate that there would be two Messiah’s?
  2. Why was it necessary for the disciples to understand who Jesus is before He told them about His coming suffering?
  3. What would His suffering mean if He were not the Christ, the Son of God?
  4. Why did Jesus rebuke Peter so sharply for saying this could never happen to Him?
  5. How are His disciples to share in His suffering? How do they share in His glory?
  6. What significance does the placement of the story of the Transfiguration have?
  7. How does Philippians 2:5-11 bear out the two themes that come together in the Messiah?
  8. What does the promise in 1 John 3:1-3 have to do with this lesson?
  9. Why does the Cross precede the Crown?

NEXT: THE GREATEST IN THE KINGDOM – Matthew 18:10-35

PREVIOUS: YEAST OF THE PHARISEES – Matthew 15:29 – 16:13

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