These small group studies of Matthew contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, verse by verse commentary, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Matthew 16:21-28 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Verse by Verse Commentary

The below notes are adapted from the parallel passage in Mark 8 from


  • Peter rebukes Jesus (21-23)
  • Cost of being a true disciple (24-28)
  1. Peter rebukes Jesus (21-23)

Discussion Questions

Why did Jesus tell His disciples these things ahead of time? (John 15:15)
Did He speak plainly to them or in parables?
What do you learn about Peter from verse 22?
In what way is this the same character we see from Peter in the previous passage when he declared Jesus to be the Christ?
Why is not good in this case?
What do you think motivated Peter to take Jesus aside and speak to Him in this way?
Can you find any irony in what he said, “God forbid it, Lord {emphasis mine}?”
Are we ever like Peter here? Do we doubt God’s plan or try to force our own way instead of following God’s leading?
Why did Jesus respond so strongly? What can we learn from Jesus through His response? What can we learn about how to respond to temptation (no matter the source?)
Do you think Jesus might have used different words to someone else besides Peter? Why or why not?


Proverbs 19:21 – Many are the plans of man, but the it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

Job 42:2 – No purpose of yours can be thwarted.

Isaiah 55:8-9 – His thoughts and ways are higher than ours.

James 4:7 – Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Ephesians 4:27 – Give no opportunity to the devil.

Verse by Verse Commentary

  1. Jesus treated His disciples like friends. John 15:15. He told them ahead of time what was going to happen even though He knew they wouldn’t fully understand it until after the fact. But then after it happened they would remember what He said and it would increase their faith. The details he shared were very accurate. It included His suffering, death, and resurrection and also the ones who would do it against Him.
  2. Verse 22 – Here we see again Peter’s personality. He is very outspoken and a bit rash. He sometimes acts without thinking. As we saw in the last passage, sometimes this outspoken, bold personality is a very good thing as when he said, “You are the Christ.” But sometimes it gets him into trouble. We can learn several lessons from this verse:
    • Be wary of falling after a spiritual high. I believe Peter’s mistake here is related to his success. He answered Jesus well. Jesus gave him a positive response. He was the only one who spoke up and he got the right answer. It is likely he felt a bit prideful and self-confident after this and started to think of himself more highly than he ought to. This gave him the supreme confidence/pride to rebuke Jesus that he might not have had otherwise. Application: Be careful after a success. It is after successes that Satan often attacks by preying on our pride. Billy Graham had a person on his staff dedicated to calling him out when he started to get prideful. We should have someone close to us who is also willing to remind us when we start to get too high an opinion of ourselves.
    • We need to think before we speak – Do not rashly say the first thing that comes in to your mind. See Proverbs 17:28 and 29:11.
    • We should always ask ourselves what is God’s will in this situation and not ours. Peter could not comprehend or accept what Jesus planned to do. But instead of submitting himself and asking questions or seeking to understand more, he argued against it. Do we insist on our own will or are we willing to submit ourselves to the Lord’s will even if we don’t understand it?
    • Sometimes we say “Lord,” but our actions do not treat him as such. Peter says, “God forbid it, Lord.” There is a very clear contradiction here. A person cannot give commands to his master and Lord, but Peter did. Are we treating Jesus as Lord or are we trying to be our own master?
  3. Verse 23:
    • Jesus responded to Peter very harshly/strongly. I believe he did so because he recognized that Peter’s statement was a very strong temptation, which appealed to the very human instinct to avoid pain. Thus we learn to respond to temptation quickly and decisively. Do not think about it, meditate on it, or let the tempation linger in your mind to stir up doubts or additional temptations. Is there any other examples in the Bible of people who dealt with temptation quickly and dramatically?
    • Satan – Peter is obviously not literally Satan, nor was Jesus referring to him as such. But in this specific case Peter was being used by Satan to tempt Jesus and try to pull him off track of his heavenly mission. We learn two things from this. Firstly, Satan uses people, even believers, to tempt other people. We cannot blindly put our faith in people because sometimes they will err in judgment. Secondly, we must be very careful that we never become the source of temptation to others. Our job is to encourage others to resist temptation so far be it from us to become the means of temptation to our brothers and sisters around us!
    • You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s. How can we be more heavenly minded? How can we look at things with God’s perspective instead of our own?
  1. Cost of being a true disciple (verses 24-28)

Discussion Questions

Who could be Jesus’ disciple? Had the disciples done this?
List out all the qualifications or signs of being a disciple listed in the gospels you can think of.
What do verses 35-37 mean? What principle can we learn here?
How might we try to “save our life?” What things might we do if we lose our life for His sake?
What will you give in exchange for your soul? Are you for sale? Is there anything which you are not willing to let go of for the sake of following Christ? Is there are anything you are holding onto that you shouldn’t?
What does verse 38 have to teach us about confessing Christ in front of people?
What does this verse say about those who are afraid to identify with Christ?
In what kind of situation are you afraid to identify with Christ? Based on this verse, what should you do?

Cross-References –

Luke 14:25-35 – Passage on the cost of being a true disciple.

Luke 9:23 – If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

John 8:31-32- If you abide in my word you are truly my disciples.

John 13:34-35 – By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Luke 6:40- Everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.

John 15:8 – The one who bears much fruit proves to be His disciple.

Verse by Verse Commentary

  1. If anyone wishes to come after Me – Do you wish to follow Jesus? Perhaps the crowd thought that following Jesus meant witnessing lots of miracles and receiving lots of benefits. Jesus is going to show them that there is more to it than just making a wish or thinking it would be good to follow Jesus. It requires real commitment and sacrifice. This verse is a reminder that “not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.”
  2. He must deny himself…and follow Me – This is a key part of being a disciple. It requires sacrifice. It requires submitting ourselves, our goals, our desires, and our plans to Christ. It requires making Christ the Lord of our life. While salvation is free because we cannot earn it, there is a very real cost to following Christ. There will be some things that we want to do, which Christ will say “No, you cannot.” A true disciple doesn’t merely follow Christ when he feels like it or when he wants the same thing that Christ does. For example confessing our sins to God is something we should do, but we also want to receive forgiveness. At times it may be more difficult to forgive others. When Jesus tells us to forgive that person who has hurt us so deeply our flesh might say, “I don’t want to.” And that is when we have a decision to make. Do we want to follow Christ. If the answer is “yes” then there is only one real alternative and that is obedience. Denying ourselves doesn’t necessarily mean giving up all things that we like and becoming a monk. It doesn’t mean we inflict pain or discomfort on ourselves for no reason. It doesn’t mean I can’t eat the cake because it is too enjoyable and God doesn’t want me to have anything nice. What it does mean is subjecting my desires to His. If God asks me to move to a rural area (like the Henry’s), I have to be willing to say “yes.” If I am overweight and I know God wants me to honor Him with my body then I may need to say “no” to the cake. Everyday there are many opportunities to apply this. What choices did you face today where there was a cost to following Christ? Some daily choices include giving up our time to pray and read the Word, giving up our “rights” by showing patience or compassion to those who don’t deserve it, giving up ourselves to serve others and love the unlovable. Jesus’ disciples were not perfect. They had many weaknesses and flaws. But did they deny themselves in order to follow Christ. Absolutely.
  3. Take up his cross – What does this mean? In that culture, a cross was not yet a symbol of grace or salvation or forgiveness. It was a symbol of death. The Romans performed many crucifixions so the Jews listening to Jesus would have been very familiar with it and probably have personally seen many people hanging on the cross. What they didn’t know was that following Christ meant that they would face a very real danger of persecution, some to the point of death. What Jesus is saying is that “To follow Me, You have to be prepared even to die.” We know that all of the disciples except for John did indeed give their lives for Jesus. Many other Christians in the early church did as well. This is something that the crowds wouldn’t have expected. Wouldn’t the Messiah save them from the Romans? Wouldn’t He make them rich and prosperous? Wouldn’t He set up His own kingdom? Why would following Jesus bring death? And if it did, what is the point? Recently I overheard a young lady at a seeker study ask why she should believe in Jesus if it meant that she would face persecution. How would you answer this question? The night before I heard a guy ask if he believed in Jesus would Jesus help him immigrate to New Zealand. How would you answer this question? This is the expectation that many people have when they are considering whether to believe in God or not. They don’t care so much about if it is true or not (the guy asking about New Zealand even said he didn’t care if it was true or not as long as he could successfully immigrate.) They care what they can get out of it. What can they get from believing in Christ? Jesus emphatically answers these questions, “If you believe in Me, it may cost you your life.” Wow! That doesn’t sound very attractive. But in the next verse, there is more.
  4. Verse 35 – This verse shows that there is a certain irony in following Christ. You have to give up something in order to get it. I think it is helpful to understand a verse by giving an example from our everyday life. As you know, I have two sons. Although I teach them to share, they don’t always do it. From time to time I can hear one of them shouting, “It’s mine!!!” When I hurry into the room I may see JoJo running away from Caleb with his hands clenched around a toy. He desperately wants to keep this toy for his own and is not willing to share. What do you think I will do in this situation? I will tell JoJo to give it to me. As I take the toy I explain that neither of them can have it because they are both being selfish. This is what this verse is talking about. Many people go through their life saying, “I will not deny myself. It is my life, my money, my house, my career, and my time. I will use them how I want to because I earned them.” Jesus says that this person loses his life. His soul has been forfeited, sold because he lives his life for himself rather than for the God he was created to serve. The harsh reality is that his money cannot be taken with him, his house will collapse and rot one day, and he will have all the time in the world for eternity in judgment remembering how he wasted his time on his own desires. But there is another choice. Going back to my example, sometimes Caleb and JoJo play nicely together. I have seen them happily sharing and rolling a car back and forth. It looks like when they roll the car away, it is gone and they lost their chance to play with it. And then it is rolled back. Because they “give up” this car they can keep playing with it. If we deny ourselves (Romans 12:1-2), that is the evidence that our relationship with God is real. Not only do we have eternal life, but this life on earth can be filled with joy just as the classic verse, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
  5. Verse 26 – Luke 12:13-21 (Parable of the Rich Fool). This verse reminds me of many famous, evil rulers in history (Herod the Great, Hitler, etc.) They spent their entire lives killing and scheming to further their own ambitions. For a time they gained power and wealth, but it cost them their soul. This verse doesn’t only apply to the most evil rulers we can think of. It applies to everyone, even the poorest farmer in rural China. Unfortunately a love of money and materials has corrupted many people. I have recently talked with a lady who openly admitted that she sold fake eggs to people. She herself said she would not eat them. The people that bought them from her did not do it. Why did she do it? Money. Perhaps 100 yuan, perhaps 1000 yuan. She also said that she purposely added a little bit of water into bottles when taking them to the recycling place because she could make a little bit more money on them. The last time she went there, she sold bottles for 57 yuan. So her integrity probably netted her 3-5 yuan. In that verse you can substitute anything for the “whole world.” The point is that if the whole world is not enough to give up our soul, our relationship with Christ (and it is not, Christ Himself denied Satan’s offer of the world when He was tempted to worship Satan), then anything less than the whole world is certainly not enough either.
  6. Verse 26b – What will give in exchange for your soul? Are you for sale? Will you give up your integrity for 100 yuan, 1000 yuan, 1,000,000 yuan, 100,000,000 yuan? A true disciple of Christ should be willing to put God first no matter how much it costs them. This is the principle of the movie Flywheel. If you haven’t seen it, I would strongly suggest it, as it shows the principle of this verse in action.
  7. Verse 27 – Jesus is coming again. He is coming as the judge when He will repay every man for his deeds. Will we be ready? If a person has not placed their faith in Christ, he will have to take the full punishment for his own sins. And if a person has placed their faith in Christ, He then substitutes Himself for us, taking that punishment and instead only repaying us for the good deeds which we have done (and those only because of His grace.)
  1. Verse 28 – This verse is very likely a reference to the transfiguration of Jesus, which happens in the very next chapter.
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