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THE YEAST OF THE PHARISEES & SADDUCEES
As we read about Jesus being constantly mobbed and hounded everywhere He goes, we start to understand why He spends so much time sailing out across the Sea of Galilee. Retreating to water is the only way to get a break from the miracle demanding hordes. Happily this is before the days of motor boats and jet skis so there’s no quick way for people to catch up to Jesus once He sets sail in one of His disciples’ boats. How handy to have two pairs of professional fishermen among the twelve. Between Peter, Andrew, James and John, empty boats are easy to come by and as we begin this lesson, Jesus and His twelve have once again crossed the sea in boats and they are now coming ashore on the other side. This is when it suddenly dawns on the disciples that they forgot to buy bread before they set sail. Now they’re down to just one loaf. Rats.
“Watch out!” Jesus warned them. “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matt. 16:6)
What is Jesus talking about now? He must be ticked about the bread. The grumpy disciples start arguing amongst themselves.
Jesus knew what they were saying, so He said, “You have so little faith! Why are you arguing with each other about having no bread? Don’t you understand even yet? Don’t you remember the 5,000 I fed with five loaves, and the baskets of leftovers you picked up? Or the 4,000 I fed with seven loaves, and the large baskets of leftovers you picked up? Why can’t you understand that I’m not talking about bread? So again I say, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’” (Matt. 16:8-11)
Once again, Jesus is exasperated with the fact that His disciples are refusing to apply themselves in the most important work of all: that of faith development. By now they’ve seen Jesus feed thousands of people on two different occasions using just a handful of food and they think this lack of bread in the boat is some kind of crisis? What happened to trusting in God’s ability to provide? Didn’t Peter just recently claim to believe that Jesus is who He claims to be? Well, Jesus claims to be God—can God not handle a food shortage?
Now let’s be clear about the lesson here. Our Gods are not our servants, and They make no promises to always provide for us when and how we want Them to. But They do say that we are dependent on Them for everything and that we can trust Them to provide for us in a way that They know is best. So what’s with this fretting over a bread shortage? Why is it that when Jesus is cranking out mass miracles in front of a large audience, His disciples are acting amazed and cheering Him on, but as soon as the adrenaline stops flowing, they treat Him like He’s no one special? The primary reason Jesus is performing miracles is to get it through these dense skulls that He is God Almighty.
Jesus is God, not just another bumbling human. His goal with His disciples is to drive them down the road of spiritual maturity, but they keep focusing on non-spiritual issues like what they’re going to eat for dinner. By now they should realize that whenever Jesus says something, that something has spiritual implications. But instead of listening for spiritual lessons, they’re always acting like they’ve got oatmeal for brains and trying to make Jesus’ comments relevant to their own silly agendas. Because they’re focused on physical bread, they figure Jesus can’t be talking about anything else. But Jesus doesn’t care about the bread, He wants to warn them about the spiritual dangers of listening to the Pharisees and Sadducees. Those demon led teachers are leading scores of Jewish commoners astray by filling their minds with harmful delusions about what it means to please Yahweh. Jesus wants His boys to be on their guard. His boys want to talk about their stomachs. Jesus is exasperated.
PETER’S CONFESSION OF JESUS AS GOD
A little while later, Jesus moves north into the region of Trachonitis and approaches a city called Caesarea Philippi. There are three reasons why hanging around in Trachonitis has its appeal right now. First, it’s far from Jerusalem. Second, the population here is mainly composed of Gentiles, not Jews. Gentiles don’t consider Judaism to be their national religion, therefore they don’t find Jesus’ claims of Divinity to be so offensive. Here in Trachonitis, Jesus will be able to get a break from huge mob scenes and spastic Pharisees. He’s also in territory that is ruled by Herod Philip—a ruler who was more just than his brother in the south and not feeling threatened by the possibility that Jesus might oust him from his throne. We learned about Philip back in Lesson 42.
It’s in this calmer environment that Jesus wants to really drill His boys about the issue of His Divinity. They need to stop hedging and commit themselves to this radical concept of Jesus being a second God. To get the conversation started, Jesus asks:
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
“Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
Then He asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:13-16)
Even though Peter’s response here sounds the same as his response in our previous lesson, we know something is different in his heart because of Jesus’ positive reaction.
Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because My Father in Heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build My Church, and all the powers of Hades will not conquer it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.”
Then He sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah. (Matt. 16:17-20)
This passage needs some unpacking. First, notice how Jesus says that Yahweh is the One who has enabled Peter to understand who Jesus really is. Before we can accept any new God, we must receive confirmation from the Gods we already know. If some fourth God were to come along tomorrow, you wouldn’t be able to accept Him as valid until Yahweh, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit confirmed Him to you. At this point, Yahweh is the only God Peter has ever known, so Peter should not even consider accepting a second God without clear confirmation from Yahweh. Jesus says that Peter has received such confirmation on a soul level.
Now considering what a spiritual slacker Peter has been up until now, why is Jesus picking him to be some big shot in the coming Church? Well, why did Yahweh pick a whiner like Moses to lead Israel into the wilderness? Why did Yahweh pick a brat like Jonah to speak His prophecy to Nineveh? Why did God use an ogre like Samson to be a judge in Israel? The fact that God chooses someone out for a particular assignment doesn’t mean He thinks that person is a spiritual superstar. To receive any assignment from God is to be given an opportunity to honor Him with your obedience. The calling itself doesn’t guarantee that you’ll please God with your work. God called Paul to serve Him in the early Church and the teaching Paul puts out in his letters is so full of error and ego that it’s turned out to be more of a hindrance than a help. If God relied on us to get His will done in this world, He’d be in a major crisis. But happily, God doesn’t rely on us in the slightest. Whether we follow or fight Him, He always gets His way.
Today, Catholics like to tell themselves that their current pope is a successor of Peter. Is this ridiculous? Utterly. In the first place, Peter was hardly the only leader in the early Church. In the second place, to say “I’m Peter’s successor” is a lousy reason for any man to lead. No one should be picking up a shepherding staff without direct authorization from the Holy Spirit. When we are serving God correctly, He is the only One we are exalting, so there’s no reason for us to be associating ourselves with some dead disciple.
The Catholics also teach that Jesus entrusted the care of His entire flock to Peter. Here’s more idiocy. We won’t see the day that God abandons the care of our souls into the hands of bumbling humans. By the time the Catholics say that the pope has full, supreme, and universal authority over all believers, and that the man is actually infallible when making certain declarations about faith and morals, they’re just practicing another form of flagrant idolatry. To exalt the teaching of any mortal as infallible is utter blasphemy. To credit any created being with perfection is sheer rot. This ludicrous routine of dressing some old man up in regal robes, putting a crown on his head, and then parading him around in a flesh exalting circus while everyone stands around saying that God is pleased—well, no wonder the Church is in such a mess. Playing king is all fine for little kids, but the mark of a mature Christian leader is one who is sincerely revolted by the idea of soaking in worldwide applause simply because of the frock he’s wearing. Anyone who can actually say the words, “There are times when I am infallible,” without gagging on their own abundance of arrogance has no business leading anyone. But thanks to our idiocy in misinterpreting Jesus’ words to Peter, here we are.
So what did Jesus mean? Well, He certainly isn’t saying His Church is going to be built on some bumbling mortal. This famous phrase of Jesus’ is actually a pun, which gets totally lost in translation. To understand it, we have to realize that Jesus is using two different words for “rock” here. In English, a rock is a rock. But in Greek, petros is a piece of a rock that is small and portable, whereas petra is a large, unmovable mass of rock. What Jesus really said was:
“Now I say to you that you are Petros (a little rock) and upon this Petra (a large, unmovable rock foundation) I will build My Church, and all the powers of Hades will not conquer it.” (Matt. 16:18)
Who do you suppose Petra is? Jesus, of course. Jesus is the Rock upon which the Church is built, not some foolish man. Sounds rather obvious, doesn’t it? Knowing how jealous our Gods are for glory, we really ought to know better than to think Jesus would ever glorify Peter. But it’s hard when you go from one language to another and it’s not like our Bible translators are putting very much effort into helping us out with this very important distinction. Where are the footnotes that steer us clear of a common bit of idolatrous thinking? Don’t our Bible translators care about us developing God honoring attitudes? Obviously not.
Now once we understand what Jesus is saying, it comes as no surprise that He says nothing will be able to take down His Church—not even the evil powers that the Jews associated with the fictitious underworld of Hades. It’s also important to note that Jesus has just declared that Peter is going to end up on the right side of eternity. Jesus has basically compared the Church to a brick building and said that Peter will be one of the bricks. This is a very good thing. Because of his belief in Christ as God, Peter has been granted salvation under the terms of the New Covenant. Here is at least one soul who has successfully transitioned through Yahweh’s change of Covenants.
Now that we’ve sorted out this confusion about rocks, how about this famous loosing and binding passage? Here’s another place where our egos run amuck and once again, our Bible translators do their best to lead us in the wrong direction by playing around with verb tenses. The version of this passage that you hear quoted ad nauseum by pompous windbags in the Church is this:
“Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:19, NIV)
Notice how you’re taught to ignore the fact that Jesus is talking only to Peter in this moment and not making a general statement about all believers. Next, notice how this “will be” language makes it sound like Peter is leading the binding and loosing process. In other words, a human’s activities on earth are controlling the activities in Heaven. Does this sound right to you? Anytime it sounds like God is handing supernatural power over to a mere mortal and giving that mortal authority over supernatural realms, you know you’re being deceived. We’ve already shown how our Bible translators encourage you to exalt Peter as the rock of God’s Church. Now they want you to think you’re calling the shots in Heaven. Well, no, you’re really not. Happily, our various translation groups aren’t all falling down in the reverence department at the same rate. Some groups are still trying to hang on with things like reverential caps. Here’s the Holman Christian Standard Bible’s more correct version of this verse:
“Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in Heaven.” (Matt. 16:19, HCSB)
Verb tense makes a big difference. Here Peter is described as the follower, not the leader. God is the One binding and loosing things in the supernatural realms, and Peter is echoing God’s actions with powerless verbal commands. This is how it works during exorcisms. No demon ever leaves a human host because some mortal said “In Jesus’ Name, get out!” Our verbal utterances don’t have any power over demons. We’re not potent little sorcerers, we’re just powerless flecks. Demons only leave when they are forced out by one of their Creators—Yahweh, Jesus, or the magnificent Holy Spirit. Our Gods are the Ones with the power. All we have are arrogant delusions.
So then, all that Jesus has said in this passage is that Peter is going to be included in Christ’s Church. When Jesus says He’s giving Peter the key to the kingdom of Heaven, our egos want to think Jesus is talking about power. The term “key” is used as a metaphor for power and authority in the New Testament, but a key is also a symbol of access. In this context, for Peter to receive the keys to Heaven simply means he’s being given access to Heaven by God. This is an assurance of Peter’s salvation, nothing more. If you are a Christian in God’s eyes today, you’ve also been given the keys to Heaven. It’s a metaphor. We don’t have power, we’ll never have power, so we need to stop trying to read power into these passages.
Now after this conversation with Peter, Jesus tells His twelve disciples not to tell anyone who He really is. Why not? Well, this is one of those chilling reminders that God only gives us a limited amount of chances to come to Him. After spending quite a while trumpeting His Divinity throughout Israel, Jesus has been met with constant rejection and hostility by both Jewish commoners and Jewish leaders. Fine. Since they’re going to be so hardhearted, Jesus is intentionally withdrawing from them and telling His disciples to hold off on any evangelizing efforts for now. He’s done chasing rebels for the moment and He’s switching over to a new set of priorities. It’s time to start preparing His boys for His coming crucifixion and resurrection. There’s no pleasant way for Him to go about this. The disciples don’t want to hear about Him dying—especially not on a Roman cross. But time is rapidly running out and Jesus knows He only has about one year left to get His guys ready for the most traumatic event of their lives: watching their newfound God get murdered by men.
UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 56: A Suicidal Savior & The Transfiguration
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