The Examination of Biblical Passages and Themes
by WordExplain

Explaining the meaning of the text.

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Matthew 16:16

In What Way is Christ the Son of God
in Matthew 16:16?

by James T. Bartsch, WordExplain.com

Jesus asked His followers directly who they thought He was. Peter immediately responded, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." As Jesus’ response indicates, God had revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One. What did that mean to Peter? To Peter it meant that he believed Jesus had been anointed by God with the Holy Spirit to be the King of Israel. But Peter did not stop there. He also believed that Jesus was the “Son of the God – the Living One” (author’s literal translation). Here is where I fear most commentators miss the mark. They do not connect the dots between being the Messiah and being the Son of God. It is almost as though they interpret Peter as saying to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the King of Israel. Oh, and by the way, You are also the Son of God,” almost as though the two were disconnected. To me, the two designations are two sides of the same coin – if one is the Messiah, on that basis He is the Son of God. In other words, to be the Anointed King of Israel is to be the Son of God. Let me explain:

    In 2 Samuel 7, David desired to build a house for God (2 Sam. 7:1-3). But Yahweh denied David that privilege (2 Sam. 7:4-7). Instead, He had other plans for David – Yahweh would build David a house (2 Sam. 7:11)! Yahweh would raise up David’s seed after him, and would establish his kingdom (2 Sam. 7:12). That seed would build a house for Yahweh’s name, and Yahweh would establish the throne of his kingdom forever (2 Sam. 7:13). Now here is the critical part relative to the present discussion: Yahweh next said, “I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to Me” (2 Sam. 7:14). When he strayed, Yahweh would “correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of men” (2 Sam. 7:14). But Yahweh’s loyal love would never depart from him (2 Sam. 7:15). At that point, Yahweh reverted back to speaking about David: “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16).

    So there are two facets to this revelation: (1) God would have a “Father-Son” relationship with David’s descendant, Solomon. But that “Father-Son” relationship with the Davidic descendant would endure forever because the throne of Solomon, son of David, Yahweh would establish forever. So there would be an eternal Father-Son relationship with the Davidic king. (2) David’s house (dynasty), throne (ruling authority), and kingdom (territorial reign) would last forever. Ultimately this portion of the promise would be fulfilled in David’s ultimate son, Jesus of Bethlehem and Nazareth.

    We note with interest that both aspects of the promise of Yahweh to David were passed on by the angel Gabriel to Mary, the mother of Jesus, descendant of David. (1) Her son Jesus would “be called the Son of the Most High,” fulfilling the “Father-Son” aspect of the Davidic Covenant (Luke 1:31). (2) Her son Jesus would also inherit the Davidic dynasty, the Davidic throne (Luke 1:32), and the Davidic right to rule over the “house of Jacob” forever in a kingdom that would never end (Luke 1:32).

    Psalm 2 supports this same notion of a Father-Son relationship of Yahweh with the Anointed King who will rule the nations with a rod of iron. In response to the rebellion of earth’s nations and kings and rulers against Yahweh and His Anointed King (Ps. 2:1-3), the Lord laughs and scoffs at the nations from heaven (Ps. 2:4). Then He will speak to them in anger and fury (Ps. 2:5), announcing, “As for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain” (Ps. 2:6). Then the Messiah Himself speaks of the decree of Yahweh, “He said to Me, ‘You are My Son. Today I have begotten You” (Ps. 2:7). Again, there is a Father-Son relationship between Yahweh and His Messiah – the One Anointed to be King over Israel and over the world. The Messiah-Son continues to repeat the decree of Yahweh to Himself, the Messiah, as follows: “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron. You shall shatter them like earthenware” (Ps. 2:8-9). My point is that the Messiah, by virtue of His being a descendant of David, occupies, by Divine establishment, a Son-to-Father relationship with God.

    This same understanding of the Messiah having a Father-Son relationship with God is evidenced both by Jesus’ supporters and by His enemies. After a brief exposure to Jesus, Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49). Jesus’ arch-enemy, Caiaphas, the high priest, issued to Jesus the following directive, “I adjure you by the living God, that you tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63).

    Back to Matthew 16:16. Peter’s bold pronouncement that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God was simply voicing the Israeli understanding that the Messiah, by virtue of God’s promise to David, would occupy a Father-Son relationship to God. Being the Son of God was part and parcel of being the Messiah, not an ancillary component. It is with greater understanding, then, that we read of God’s pronouncement to Jesus at the latter’s baptism. It was at Jesus’ baptism that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit as the Jewish Messiah. And so, it should have been no surprise that the voice from heaven declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:15-17).

(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB.)