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Second Quarter 2016 (April–June)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF MATTHEW
Week 8: May 14–20
COMMENTARY ON PETER AND THE ROCK
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This lesson points out that Jesus began to make clear to His disciples that He had to die. It makes a curious statement, however, in the fourth paragraph: “Given the nature of God, the sanctity of the law, and the reality of free will, His death was the only way that humanity could be saved from the penalty of transgression.”
This confusing sentence does not explain how “the sanctity of the law” nor “the reality of free will” makes Jesus’ death necessary. The Bible is far more clear:
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:15-17).
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).
No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4:20-25).
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.
For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:15-21).
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (Romans 7:4-6).
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known (John 1:9-18).
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:10-14).
In short, Jesus came to die because human sin required human death. Jesus took human flesh so He could die a human death, but because He was God, our Creator, He could become sin for all of His creatures. He did not die a representative death; He died a substitutionary death for all men and women. He did not have to die because of the “sanctity of the law” or “the reality of free will”. He died because that was the ONLY way sinful man could be reconciled and restored to God. God declared from the beginning that sin meant death, and in Adam we all died, even before anyone of us had committed a sin. Only our Creator could propitiate the wrath of God against sin. Only God could satisfy His own demands.
Jesus didn’t die to exonerate the law or to somehow honor free will. He died because sin required death. He died and rose again so those who believe in Him may have their sins forgiven, and the actual, personal righteousness of the Lord Jesus credited to their account. His rising from death broke the otherwise inescapable doom of death on humanity. Because of His resurrection, we can be born again and can know we will be glorified when He returns.
This lesson addresses Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The lesson is right in pointing out that this momentous story occurred in Caesarea Philippi, gentile territory. It doesn’t go far enough, however. Caesarea Philippi was the site of a temple to the god Pan, the god of nature, and it’s probable that not only goats but also humans were sacrificed there. In that place of debauchery and evil, Jesus stood and declared His foundation of His church and stated that nothing would cause His church to fail. It is likely that Jesus intentionally chose Ceasarea Philippi as the location to make this announcement because by so doing, He declared in a powerful way His own authority and dominion over nature, over human authority, and over evil itself.
This incident isn’t about Peter recognizing that Jesus is more than the prophets. It is, however, showing us in the eternal Word of God that Jesus declared His authority and sovereign power and foreknowledge of what He was bringing about. Jesus was deliberately introducing the idea of the church to His disciples, and this coming reality depended upon His true identity. Only He could found the church, and He had the divine authority to announce His identity and His church in one of the most debauched places in Israel’s territory, an area dominated by pagan gentiles. Yet Jesus was sovereign, and He would reign over all powers and authorities.
This lesson camps on Jesus’ declaration that “on this rock” He would build His church. It correctly states that the church was not built on Peter, but the lesson does not deal with Jesus telling Peter that He would give him the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” binding on earth whatever was bound in heaven, and loosing on earth what would be loosed in heaven (Mat. 16:19).
This verse is important and suggests a couple of things. First, Jesus was giving Peter and the apostles the gospel. After Pentecost, they would take that gospel into the world, and whoever received it and was born again would be loosed from the domain of darkness, sin, and death. They would be transferred to the kingdom of the Beloved Son (Col 1:13). Similarly, those who refused the gospel would remain bound in sin and death, both on earth and in eternity. The binding and loosing was directly related to the power of the gospel and people’s responses to it.
Second, Peter was, indeed, God’s chosen instrument to usher in the church into the three main people groups Jesus had said to disciple. In Acts 1:8, Jesus gave them His last commission, to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Pentecost occurred a few days later and is recorded in Acts 2. As Peter preached, 3,000 Jews received Jesus and were born again, receiving the Holy Spirit as their seal and guarantee of their eternal inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14). This was the birth of the church. Contrary to Ellen White’s words quoted in the lesson from The Desire of Ages, there was not church until Pentecost.
In Acts 8, the first Samaritans received the Holy Spirit and became part of the church. They did not receive the Spirit, however, until Peter came and prayed for them. He had been sent with John from Jerusalem to give official apostolic oversight and evaluation to the Samaritans whom Phillip said had been baptized, but they had not yet received the Spirit. When Peter prayed, they received the Spirit. By God’s design, they did not receive the Holy Spirit apart from Peter’s apostolic oversight.
Finally, in Acts 10, the first group of gentiles received the Holy Spirit when they believed the gospel as Peter preached to Cornelius and his household. It was God’s plan that Peter would be the official apostle who would oversee the three people groups receiving the Holy Spirit in exactly the same way—by believing in Jesus apart from law-keeping. Moreover, if Peter had not been an eye-witness of this new way of becoming God’s people, the Samaritans and gentiles would have been marginalized from the beginning.
Peter’s witness, however, gave the proof that God had treated them all the same way. Jews were not higher-classed members of the church than Samaritans and gentles. All were equal at the foot of the cross, and all were born again exactly the same way. Peter, the apostle to whom Jesus had given the keys of the kingdom, had been the one who “presided” over Jews, Samaritans, and gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit and becoming part of the church.
Today’s lesson focusses on Peter’s knee-jerk reaction to Jesus’ telling them He was going to go to the cross. Peter responded, “Far be it from you Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Jesus said to him, “Get thee behind Me, Satan!”
The lesson argues that Peter, in spite of the growth that had already occurred in him, was trying to control Jesus and events, managing Him to help Him do what he thought a Messiah should do.
This “psychologized” interpretation completely misses the spiritual reality of this passage. Peter had just testified to Jesus’ true identity, but when the One whom Peter believed was the Son of God said that He was going to the cross, Peter objected.
J. Vernon McGee’s commentary on this passage unpacks the dynamics of this situation. At this point in the ministry of Jesus, no one but Nicodemus had heard yet that a person had to know two things: who Jesus is, and what Jesus did for one. When we believe these things by faith and receive them, we are born again and saved. Jesus had told Nicodemus this truth early in His ministry.
The disciples, however, did not have the cross in their minds yet. It seemed unthinkable that the Messiah would die! Nevertheless, denying any part of the gospel—a truth which was not new revelation but which had been prophesied throughout the Old Testament—is from Satan and evil. Moreover, Peter had just acknowledged Jesus’ identity as God’s own Son, yet he disbelieved him and argued that it would not be.
Peter’s sin was not “managing” and “controlling” Jesus. It was unbelief. He directly denied what the Son of God told Him, arguing that it would not be true. Jesus rebuked Peter because Peter was speaking words that were coming from the temptation and deception of the evil one. In one moment he declared the reality of Jesus true identity, and in the next moment, he was deceived by Satan and speaking words that opposed the gospel, the purpose for which Jesus came and which Jesus had just declared to be true.
Once again, the lesson skews the point of the biblical account and makes it all about how we love our dreams and have trouble giving them up. This is a wrong interpretation. The point is that Peter, having declared the truth the Father revealed to him about Jesus’ identity, immediately succumbed to the weakness of his flesh and acted in unbelief.
God asks us to trust Him. How things look to us is not the whole picture of reality. God’s revelation of Himself through His word and His Son are a complete, truthful revelation. We must trust God’s word even when it contradicts our perceptions. It is unbelief to opt for our own analysis of what we see instead of trusting God’s word to us and acting on that.
Even though Peter acted in unbelief, however, Jesus loved him even while He rebuked him.
Today’s lesson covers the Transfiguration. In this lesson, the quarterly misses the point of the biblical chapter profoundly. Based Ellen White’s commentary in The Desire of Ages, the author quotes EGW and elaborated that heaven saw Jesus needed strengthening and encouragement because so much was at stake.
In fact, this event wasn’t about encouragement. It was a clear demonstration of Jesus’ glory, which the disciples were shown so they would see the reality of who He was and of His kingdom. It was also a clear demonstration of the relationship of the law and the prophets to the Lord Jesus.
In Judaism, the Law was represented by references to “Moses”. In other words, references to Moses were references to the law, because Moses was seen as the historic leader of Israel who delivered the covenant to them on Mt. Sinai. Therefore, reading “the law” was the same to them as reading “Moses”.
Similarly, Elijah represented “the prophets”. Elijah was both prophetic and historic, and “Elijah” became the prophetic reference for the person who would appear before the Messiah came and prepare the way. The name “Elijah” represented all the body of God’s prophetic word that foretold the Messiah’s coming and His kingdom and His continuing faithfulness to His people.
The men representing the Law and the Prophets showed up, by God’s provision, on the Mount of Transfiguration and were glorified with Jesus. Peter, James, and John saw the three and were overcome, with Peter babbling nonsense about building three tabernacles for them.
The Adventist explanation of Jesus needing encouragement as He faced death, of God sending two men who had suffered to encourage them, makes no sense. How could Moses and Elijah appearing in glory be adequate encouragement for the Son of God who was about to take into Himself the sins of the world, including the sins of those two men who were encouraging Him?
This was a far more potent revelation than Adventism will acknowledge. Here’s what happened. Peter, James, and John came and saw the representations of the Law, the Prophets, and the actual Messiah glorified together. Overwhelmed, they were ready to give them equal billing with three constructions of “holy space”, or tabernacles, in their honor. Of course, as good Jews, they understood that the Law and the Prophets represented God’s word to them. Moses and the prophets, in fact, constituted most of their Scriptures. They had no doubt of the glory of their covenant or of its divine mandate on their lives. Now, they saw their own Jesus glorified with the two men who represented to them God’s ultimate revelations to Israel. Peter, James, and John were completely overwhelmed with the glory of God and of His provision and revelation to them personally.
While Peter was still speaking his declaration of intent to memorialize the three with holy space, a bright cloud completely covered the three glorified men, and a voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased’ listen to Him!”
When the disciples heard this voice, they fell face down on the ground, terrified. Then Jesus came to them, touched them, and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid” (Mt. 17:7).
“And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus alone” (Mt. 17:8).
And HERE is where Adventism completely misses the point. God revealed to them the reality of the imminent new covenant: the Law and the Prophets were gone, and Jesus remained. God the Father presided over this revelation by declaring from heaven, “This is my Son; listen to Him!” The law and the prophets disappeared, and Jesus remained. Jesus would now be the One who would give the direction and truth for God’s people. The law and the prophets foreshadowed Jesus; now that He was here, the Law and the Prophets would disappear as their Fulfillment completed the shadows that symbolized His death and resurrection, and He, not the Law and the Prophets, would be the Authority in the lives of God’s people.
The Law and the Prophets would continue to give insight and understanding to the people of God; they would continue to provide the evidence that Jesus is, indeed, the Messiah, the only One who fulfilled their shadows. But the Law and the Prophets would no longer be the rule of faith and practice for Christians, because the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood would replace the old covenant.
Even though Matthew 17:9 was included in the lesson’s text, the lesson itself did not deal with it. Jesus told His disciples that they must not tell anyone what they had seen and heard until after He rose from the dead.
In other words, the old covenant was still firmly in place; the Law and the Prophets were still the rule of faith and practice for Israel until Jesus fulfilled them by dying and rising from the grave. Until He fulfilled them, the Law and the Prophets were to be observed, and Israel was to obey the mandates of the Law. Once Jesus rose from the grave, however, He replaced the Law as its fulfillment. The new covenant would replace the old, and God’s people would live under the Authority of the Lord Jesus and the law of Christ instead of under the Mosaic law.
This story is so significant that it appears in all three synoptic gospels. God gave this story to us as part of our confirmation that the Lord Jesus was truly God’s Son and the promised Messiah. The Father Himself let us know that the completion of Jesus’ ministry and mission would eclipse the law and the prophets, and we were to live under the authority and witness of Jesus, not going back to the shadows of the law. The new covenant would replace the old, and God visibly demonstrated this fact to the three disciples with Jesus on that mountain.
Today’s lesson addresses the account of the Jews’ confronting Peter, asking if His Master paid the temple tax, and Peter saying “Yes”. Then, when Peter came to the house where Jesus and His disciples were, Jesus asked him if kings collected taxes from sons or from strangers, making the point that Jesus was the Son, and the disciples were members of God’s household and were not morally required to pay the temple tax, but, so they would not offend the Jews, Jesus provided the money for the tax. Unbelieving Jews, however, were not exempted from the tax because they were not members of God’s household.
This provision was one of Jesus’ surprising miracles: Peter was to go the sea, throw out a line, and the first fish he caught would have the tax money in its mouth.
In this miracle Jesus was demonstrating agin His authority over all creation. Not only Peter but also the fish followed His command; Jesus created the coin in the fish, and the fish was there for being caught on Peter’s hook.
J. Vernon McGee states that he believes Jesus was demonstrating that He was restoring the dominion of man over the creatures of the earth. Adam had lost much of his power and dominion in the fall, but in the Perfect Israel, the Sinless Man, this authority and power were again at work. Jesus was demonstrating that in Him, God was returning to man His original intention for performance.
Jesus will provide for all that God requires of us, even the offerings we give and the taxes we pay.
Friday’s lesson again camps on the idea that Peter struggled to submit his will to God. These stories of Peter, however, demonstrated the way we see reality through our sinful fleshly perspective. The point we must remember, however, is that if we are in Jesus, we are already forgiven and justified and glorified. Our response to Him must be belief, even if the words of Scripture seem to conflict with our view of reality.
God cannot lie; what He says is true, and when we explain away the plain meaning of the words, we put our minds over God’s word. This position is backwards. God’s word always trumps our own perception, and we must stand under His word even when we don’t understand.
We are to read and obey His word; what God reveals to us is truth, and our lives must yield to His declarations.
God is not desperately trying to convince us of His power so we will see that He loves us. He has already shown us His power, His divine nature, and His justice and mercy. Our only appropriate response is to humble ourselves before Him in repentance and gratitude, receiving the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and becoming God’s adopted son or daughter, filled and sealed with the Holy spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13-14).
The Bible is not a collection of object lessons showing us by example how to live. Rather, it is a volume revealing truth and reality and the truth about ourselves and about God. God’s glory, not we humans, are the ultimate value in the universe. We are to submit to Him and worship and honor Him.