The Great Benediction

The Apostle Peter by Rembrandt
The Apostle Peter by Rembrandt

Blessed art thou, Simon Barjonah. Mt. 16:17

Our Lord’s response to Peter is just as important as Peter’s answer to his question. The Great Benediction deserves our examination just as much as the Great Confession. And our Lord tells Peter that it is a blessed thing to confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God.

There are so many things that the world tells us that if we know this or have that, then we will be happy. However, we know by experience that the promises of the world are empty wells. But it is not so with God. “The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it” (Prov. 10:22). So I listen when the Son of the living God pronounces a blessing.

The blessing is not just for Peter, although there are aspects of our Lord’s words here that apply to Peter in ways that they do not apply for us. But Peter was not just speaking for himself here but for all the disciples (“Who do you say that I am?” was a question addressed to all the disciples, not just Peter). In some sense, he is speaking for all true believers. Moreover, what is promised to Peter in verse 19 is promised to the church as a whole in 18:18-20. So this is not a blessing unique to Peter. The confession is confessed by the church and the blessing is received by the church.

Those who join with Peter in the Great Confession are blessed because such a declaration is evidence of the work of God in the heart. Our Lord says to Peter, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (17). The reason why Peter could make such a confession was because God the Father revealed it to him.

This revelation is necessary. The reason why Peter was blessed was because God revealed this truth to him. It was the reason why Peter understood that Jesus was the Christ the Son of the living God, not just another prophet like everyone else. Now if this was true of Peter, how much more of you and me? The only way that any man, woman, or child can receive this blessing is by being the recipient of this revelation from the Father.

This is just what our Lord had previously said on several occasions. Recall that he had said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight” (11:25-26). And then note the necessity of this divine intervention: “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (27).

This is because gospel is foolishness to the natural man: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Note that Paul does not allow the possibility of self-improvement to overcome this situation. Those who are not born again cannot receive the truth because it is foolish to them. It takes the work of God in the heart to overcome this.

Not only do those who are not born again think that the truth of the gospel is foolish, they hate it: “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:5-8). They cannot receive the gospel. They cannot be subject to God’s law. They cannot please God. They are unable to do these things.

Paul tells us that the reason why people cannot do these things is because they are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-3), enslaved to the world, to lust, and to Satan. How do people who are dead then come to Christ? By being raised from the dead: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7). The point is that the intervention of God revealing the Son of God to us is necessary if we are to be truly blessed. Salvation is by grace alone, and therefore God is alone to be praised if you are saved. To him be the glory!

But what exactly is this revelation? We can see what it means by seeing what our Lord contrasts it with: “flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” “Flesh and blood” is a reference of course to other people. People did not reveal this reality to Peter. God did.

But this means that Peter’s confession was not simply the product of education. He did not arrive at it simply by sitting down and working out the arguments pro and con. Now this does not mean that Peter had not heard the truth from other people. Of course he had. He had heard from John the Baptist that Jesus was the Christ. Nor does it mean that the truth Peter heard from others and then saw for himself did not help him arrive at the truth. But it does mean that flesh and blood, whether his own or others, was not sufficient to get him to see the glory of Christ.

In what way did he receive it then? I think the key is found in 2 Cor. 4:5-6: “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” What this text tells us is that when God reveals the truth of the gospel in the heart, he not only imparts knowledge, but he gives the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Christ. He not only puts information in front of us, but gives us the spiritual eyes to see it and spiritual taste buds to delight in it. Jonathan Edwards explains in one of his sermons what this is: “A true sense of the divine excellency of the things revealed in the word of God, and a conviction of the truth and reality of them thence arising.” In commenting on 2 Cor. 4:6, he writes, “This plainly shows, that there is a discovery of the divine superlative glory and excellency of God and Christ, peculiar to the saints; and also, that it is immediately from God, as light from the sun: and that it is the immediate effect of his power and will.”[1]

The way God reveals the truth of his Son to us is by giving us the ability to see the worth of Christ. He creates in us a heart that loves the truth that we know with our minds. And unless God does this in us, we will wickedly ignore or reject him and his claims on our lives. I saw a picture not too long ago of a bunch of school children in a museum. Hanging in front of them was a Rembrandt, or the work of one of the great artists of all time. But these children were not even looking at the painting, even though it was put in front of them; instead, they were all hovering over their smart phones, totally ignoring the breathtaking artistic skill right before them. But apart from the grace of God, we will despise the cross of Christ set before us. We should be eternally thankful that the Father in heaven reveals his Son to sinners!

If Jesus is to you the Christ, the Son of the living God, and if he is this to you in such a way that you see the glory and excellence of Jesus Christ our Lord as he is revealed to us in the gospel, then the blessing pronounced upon Peter is pronounced upon you: Blessed are you! And you are blessed, no matter what disappointments you have had or will have to endure. You are blessed, no matter what others may say of you. To be blessed by the Son of God is to be blessed indeed.

[1] The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (1834 British ed., reprinted by Hendrickson), p. 12-17.

By: Jeremiah Bass