Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Sunday School Lesson #13

Posted by Jim F. on April 15, 2007

NOTE: FOR THE MOST RECENT, UPDATED VERSION OF THESE NOTES, GO TO : http://feastupontheword.org/Site:SS_lessons#New_Testament_lessons


Lesson 13: Matthew 15:21-17:13

I have been ought of town for most of the last two weeks, on business that took eight to ten or more hours a day, leaving no time at all for blogging. So, I apologize for getting behind in posting and responding. What follows is only a rough draft, but I decided to post the draft now rather than wait until it is no longer useful. Experience has taught me that the readers of Feasting will find my errors and fix them. Thanks for your patience and help.

Jim F.

There are a number of stories in this reading, and they appear not to be given to us in a haphazard way. There is a natural progression from one to the other: (1) Jesus heals the Canaanite woman’s daughter (Matthew 15:21-28); then (2) he heals many and multitudes come to him (Matthew 15: 29-31); (3) he not only heals them, he feeds 4,000 (Matthew 5:32-39); (4) having just given a miraculous sign, he warns the Pharisees and Saducees against sign seeking (Matthew 16:1-4); and (5) he tells the disciples to beware the leaven, the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:5-12); then (6) he asks the disciples who he is and Peter testifies that Jesus is the Christ (Matthew 16:13-20); however, (7) when Jesus tells the disciples that he will be killed and resurrected, Peter denies that teaching and is rebuked (Matthew 16:21-23); (8) following that rebuke, he teaches the disciples what it means to be a disciple (Matthew 16:24-28); then (9) taking Peter, James, and John as witnesses, Jesus is transfigured, speaks with Moses and Elijah, and the Father testifies of him (Matthew 17:1-9); (10) the disciples ask whether this vision of Elijah was a fulfillment of the prophecy that Elijah will come to restore all things (Malachi 3:23-24), and Jesus answers that he has already come in the person of John the Baptist, distinguishing between the prophet Elijah and the priesthood calling that has that same name. (The names Elijah and Elias are the same in Greek and—I think—Hebrew. We make that distinction by using the name Elijah for the prophet and Elias for the calling.)

In these stories, how do we see Jesus preparing for what is soon to come? How is he preparing the disciples? Do they understand what he is teaching or is he teaching them something that they will understand only later, on reflection? How often do we understand only on reflection? What does that suggest about how we should approach doctrine, revelation, and scripture?

What comes before the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter and how is that related to that story? What do we see in the story of that healing that is similar to the second story, in which the multitudes follow Jesus to be healed? What is different? How is the story of feeding the multitude related to the two previous stories? What do the first three stories show us about Jesus? Does Alma 7:11-12 give any insight into these stories? What do they say to us?

What does the discussion with the Pharisees and Sadducees about sign-seeking have to do with the previous three stories? The Pharisees and Sadducees were not usually in agreement. The former believed in the necessity of the Oral Law (i.e., pharisaic interpretation of and tradition concerning the written Law) as well as the written Law; the latter believe that only the written Law was law. The former believed in the resurrection; the latter did not. The former believed that it was sinful to adopt Hellenic (Greco-Roman) culture; the latter did not and for some time had been advocates of it. The former believed that the temple priesthood was corrupt; since the latter were composed primarily of temple priests, they did not. Jesus warns against the teaching of both the Pharisees and Sadducees. Against what teaching is he warning the disciples? Think about how his warning is a response to what the Pharisees and Sadducees have demanded and how this story fits with the stories in the previous chapter.

How is the warning against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees connected to Jesus’ question about who the disciples think he is? Why do you think Jesus asks that question at this particular point in his ministry? Why does Jesus call Peter “Peter, son of Jonah” here? Why does he give Peter the name “rock” when Peter is going to need rebuke immediately afterward and when he knows how Peter will behave at Jesus’ trial? Against what will the gates of hell not prevail, the church or the rock? What does Peter’s denial of Jesus’ coming death suggest about his testimony? Why is his denial followed by the teaching about discipleship?

How do the previous eight stories lead up to the transfiguration? Why does Jesus take Peter, James, and John to the mount to witness his transfiguration? What does that experience have to do with Jesus’ teaching about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees and with Peter’s testimony? Why does Jesus tell the disciples not to speak of what they have seen until after the resurrection? How would it have been important to the early church after the resurrection? Why do we need to know of the transfiguration?

How does the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration lead to the question about Elias? Why do you think the disciples asked that question? How do you think they understood Jesus’ answer? How do we understand it today?

Additional notes and questions about some specifics

15:22: Matthew calls the Gentile woman who comes to Jesus a “Canaanite,” using an Old Testament term that doesn’t have a specific reference in New Testament times and occurs no place else in the New Testament. Why do you think Matthew uses that Old Testament name rather than a contemporary name. (Mark says that she is Greek-speaking and from Syro-Phoenicia; see Mark 7:24-30.)

16:18-19: As the footnote indicates, Jesus gives Peter a name, “Petros,” that is the masculine form of the Greek word for rock, petra. The Aramaic word would have been Cephas (Kēphas), a name that occurs several times in the New Testament. The word translated “church” was a general term meaning “assembly,” a place in which people met to judge cases, debate issues, and come to decisions. The word did not yet have the specific meaning that it has for us. Why do you think this word came to be the word for “church”? What are the keys of the kingdom? Are “church” (verse 18) and “kingdom” (verse 19) parallel? If so, what does that teach us? If not, how do they differ?

16:23: Why does Jesus call Peter “Satan” and how do you think Peter probably responded? The word translated “offence” means “stumbling block.” In what way was Peter a stumbling block for Christ? Why does Jesus use the metaphor of tasting when he says to Peter, “thou savourest not the things that be of God”? Is that related to the teaching that Jesus is the bread of life?

16:24-26: To deny oneself, as the term is used in verse 24, seems not so much to be to give up one’s goods, but to give up one’s self. How do we do that? Why would we want to do it? When verse 25 teaches that we ought not to try to save our lives, what does it mean? What does it mean that we must lose our lives “for my sake”? In what sense do we find our lives if we lose them for Jesus’ sake?

17:2-5: How does this incident relate to Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai? Are we supposed to see a parallel between them? Moses and Elijah have symbolic as well as literal significance: Moses can stand for the Law and Elijah for the Prophets, the second major part of Old Testament scripture. Understood that way, Jesus stands for the fulfilment of God’s revelation to human beings. Peter suggests that they build tabernacles, reflecting the Feast of the Tabernacles, a commemoration of the Israelite stay at Mount Sinai. Why does he do so? He is prevented from doing so by the voice of the Father commending his Son. What might that interruption signify symbolically? How does what the Father says differ from what he said at Jesus’ baptism? How is that difference significant to Peter, James, and John?

7 Responses to “Sunday School Lesson #13”

  1. Matthew said

    I’m particularly interested in the question and comments on Peter. It would be cool to read through the New Testament just thinking about the story it tells of Peter.

    One thing that seems odd to me is that these are text which were written when Peter led the church or after he died, yet they seem surprisingly open about their founder’s problems. In contrast we seem sometimes overly concerned by the faults of Joseph Smith or–if he has had any:)–our current prophet.

  2. nhilton said

    Jim, Kiss your brain. It’s so nice to get to read your notes BEFORE I teach this lesson on Sunday. You have great questions & really help me go deeper than I do on my own. Thanks.

    Why is Jesus transfigured? I’ve always seen him almost as an escort to his apostles for their benefit in receiving the keys. But more is going on here & I don’t really know what it is. Does anyone? I’ve always connected transfiguring to one of two things: 1. a prolonging of natural life (i.e. John the Beloved, Moses, Elijah, etc.) and 2. a preparation to see diety (Moses, etc.). Was Jesus’ life prolonged so that he could indeed “give it up” unlike the rest of us who have it taken by whatever cause? Did he need to be prepared to see His father–I’ve always assumed he had already done that in some private moment(s) before this.

  3. Cherylem said

    Great notes.

  4. Shirley said

    Just in response to the above, I also wondered why it was that Christ needed to be transfigured and then I found this – It cleared it up for me:
    Transfiguration is the process of temporary glorification by which mortals can withstand the presence of God without being destroyed. Moses said, ‘Mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him’ (Moses 1:11). That Christ was transfigured merely means that he received again that glory which he enjoyed as the pre-mortal Jehovah. For Peter, James, and John, it meant the same thing as for Moses—that the power and glory of God came upon them so that they could withstand the presence of God. The fact that they survived the experience and saw what they saw is evidence that all three were transfigured.

  5. nhilton said

    #4, the God that Moses saw was the pre-mortal Christ. With Christ being mortal the other 3 didn’t need to be transfigured to see him. Something else had to be going on here. I don’t think Christ was receiving any further glory at this point, pre-atonement. I could be wrong, of course, but if this were the case then this was a temporary glory since they all went back down the mountain and resumed life as previously lived.

    • Rosemary said

      It seems to me what the 3 apostles saw was the glory of Christ being manifested to them. This would have sealed their testimony as to who he really was. Christ had just asked them who the people thought he was. Peter was the one to respond when Christ asked him who he thought he was. When they were transfigured they could see Christ’s glory, which was there underneath his mortal tabernacle. Just my thoughts and certainly not doctrinal as far as I know, but just how I envisioned the transfiguration. Thanks for letting me share.

      • Jim F. said

        Thank you, for sharing. Having other ideas and creating conversations about them is what this is supposed to be about.

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