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Intro: I often begin my sermons with a question. I guess I do this to draw attention to the subject and immediately involve the audience in what I am about to teach. I also realize that I am in good company here. Jesus used questions to introduce very important lessons. Turn to…
I. Jesus’ Question: Matthew 16:13 – When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
A. Jesus was not seeking for a public relations update, or trying to evaluate the effectiveness of His ministry among the masses. Jesus knew the answer to His question. I am convinced that this was a question designed set up another question – a more important question.
- So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
B. This was a crucial question for the disciples. The identity of Jesus as God, and the promised Messiah, was the focus of almost all of Jesus’ words and miracles up to this point. The answer to this question was truly a barometer of their faith and the success of Jesus’ teaching.
II. Peter’s Answer:Matthew 16:16 – Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This was certainly the answer Jesus wanted to hear. Peter understood. He believed what he had to believe. God will bless him for this affirmation of faith because it reveals the receptive nature of his heart. But we should note that the question was addressed to all the apostles. The “you” is in the plural, so as to mean who do you all say I am? Without hesitation Peter answers for all. He speaks as their representative. Peter’s answer is unequivocal. We can see this in at least 2 ways:
A. The emphatic position of the pronoun You (thou). Peter did not say “I think you are…” or “In our opinion…” But YOU ARE.
B. In the original language Peter’s confession contains 4 definite articles (the): The Christ, The Son, The God, The Living. This confession identified Jesus as both the Messiah (Christ, anointed One), and the divine Son of God. In essence Peter was saying, “You are THE One”.
- Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
C. Jesus told Peter that his faith was the fruit of divine revelation. The Father had displayed Jesus’ identity to the apostles through divine works and words. Peter had arrived at this conclusion through His willingness to listen to God, not men. This is often referred to as Peter’s “Confession”. The word, “confess” points in this direction. It means to “say the same thing”. Peter was willing to say exactly what God was saying about His Son. John 6:44-45 – No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.
1. What follows Jesus’ question and answer session with the Apostles is the real intent of this discourse. Jesus makes a promise. God had been revealing His intentions to His people through promises for centuries. Those who paid attention were strengthened and encouraged by these exceedingly great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4) Let’s take a closer look at Jesus’ promise to build His church.
III. Jesus’ Promise: 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
A. Upon this Rock… The words of Jesus in vs. 18 are the subject of much religious discussion. The Roman Catholic church contends that the rock on which the church is built is Peter himself, as the first Pope, and the first in a continual line of authoritative Popes, who were to lead the church. This position is not tenable for several reasons:
1. Semantically – The two appearances of the word “rock” in Jesus’ words are certainly a play on Peter’s name, Petros (given to him by Jesus) which means “a stone”.
a. But virtually every Greek lexicon distinguishes between Petros (Peter) and Petra (rock).
- Petros means a stone or rock you can carry in your hand.
- Petra indicates a large firm rock or ledge. Vines says “a mass of rock” (Vine, pg. 302). (Scarcely ever interchanged in the language). This points against these words referring to the same thing in this verse.
b. Jesus seems to intend a distinction when He says “You” are Peter… Upon “this” rock I will build. The change of pronouns suggest a distinction.
2. Historically – the identification of Peter as the rock was a minority view in the post-apostolic era. If Jesus meant it this way the early church did not get it. But certainly in the apostolic period of the NT there is no indication that the other apostles or the church understood that Peter was to be the head of the church in any way.
- Later on they asked Jesus who would be greatest.
- Peter was later rebuked by Paul for failing to fellowship Gentile Christians (Gal. 2)
- Peter was married.
- In Acts 15 Peter spoke, but so did Paul, Barnabas, and James. The decree that emerged from that meeting was pleasing to the apostles and elders… Peter is not in a position as the head.
- Peter never identified himself as the foundation of the church. In 1 Pet. 2:4-8 Peter uses the same terminology (building on a rock) but applies it to Christ, not himself as the “living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious”. Peter was indeed a “stone” in the building, but not the Rock on which it was built.
3. What is the Rock on which the church is built? – a couple views:
a. Possibly the most common interpretation is that the rock is Jesus. The identity of Jesus as the Son of God was the truth confessed by Peter. Other scriptures support this view, and picture Jesus as the foundation of the church. 1 Corinthians 3:11 – 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. The text though, presents Jesus as the builder, rather than the foundation itself. If this view is taken, then the “rock, more specifically points to the truth about Jesus (He is the Christ, the Son of God) that Peter confessed. Certainly this FACT is foundational to the church. Those who were built together as stones in the church were called upon to confess this truth, and submit to the authority it implies.
b. Another view of this passage affirms that the play on Peter’s name is significant to the meaning of the text. Jesus is pointing to Peter as a foundation because he is a representative of the apostles (He was speaking for them in answering the question), and Jesus would build His church through the work and teaching of the apostles. One commentator explains it this way:
- It therefore seems that in the present passage Jesus addressed Peter as representative of the Twelve. In light of that interpretation, the use of the two different forms of the Greek for rock would be explained by the masculine petros being used of Peter as an individual man and petra being used of him as the representative of the larger group .It was not on the apostles themselves, much less on Peter as an individual, that Christ built His church, but on the apostles as His uniquely appointed, endowed, and inspired teachers of the gospel. The early church did not give homage to the apostles as persons, or to their office or titles, but to their doctrine, “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). (from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary,)
In his letter to Ephesus Paul says that God’s household is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Eph 2:20), so there is certainly a sense in which the apostles are foundational to the building of the church. Jesus’ later promise concerning the keys of the kingdom would support this view. The first church in Jerusalem continually devoted themselves to the apostles’ doctrine. The truth that Peter had just confessed becomes the building ground on which God establishes His church in Acts 2. Peter himself announced Jesus’ claim to divinity and Messiahship in Acts 2:36 – “made Him both Lord & Christ” The teaching of the apostles and prophets were foundational in the structure as they proclaimed the message of Jesus’ authority. Acts 4:11-12 – This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ 12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
B. “I Will Build…” – This promise was meant to encourage the disciples. They were confused over the rejection of Jesus, and disappointed over the delay of the coming kingdom. In a foreigner’s land (Caesarea Philippi), Jesus was telling them that He would suffer and die (vs. 21), but the promise of the kingdom was still a certainty.
1. Jesus identifies Himself as the builder. He alone will accomplish this. This was a clear connection with the promised Divine Messiah. He was who Peter said He was, and as such He would not fail to gather His people, and build His kingdom. – not an earthly kingdom, or military power; God never intended that. But a people delivered from the greatest enemy – Satan.
a. There is a sense in which Jesus is still building His church. 1 Peter 2:5 – “as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house”. The process by which the church came into being continues to take place today- the gospel message is preached, and people believe, and become obedient. In spite of the distressful circumstances of our world, the word of God is still the seed of the kingdom.
b. It is still being built upon the “rock” of truth found in the words of the apostles & prophets… not in the words or thinking of men. That is the surety of God’s church. Men’s churches will fail – Jesus’ church will not.
C. “My church…” Building the church is not an impersonal enterprise with Jesus. This is the first appearance of the word “church” in the NT. It translates from Ekklesia, a word that was common in Jesus’ day. But the word “ekklesia” meant literally assembly, and always referred to people, not institutions. It was not a religious word, and Jesus did not use it as such. He was simply referring to gathering His people together.
1. The personal pronoun “My” identifies the people as belonging to Christ. Paul speaks of this intimacy and ownership when He declares that Jesus “purchased the church with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)
2. The church is pictured as the body of Christ (Col. 1:24) We are joined with Jesus as a bride is joined to her bridegroom. We need to contemplate the closeness that Jesus seeks in building His people around Him. “But He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” – I Cor. 6:17; To be added to the church was synonymous with being added to the Lord (Acts 11:24)
a. There is an O.T. parallel to this truth – Zechariah told Israel that “He who touches you, touches the apple of God’s eye.” (Zech. 2:8) Those who afflict God’s people are poking their finger in God’s eye. How important is Jesus’ church to you?
D. “The Gates of Hades Shall Not Prevail Against It.” The church that Jesus builds is a victorious church. The imagery of this phrase has been variously interpreted. The term “gates” suggests a confinement or barricade; picturing the gates of a prison to keep someone in, or the gates of a city to keep invaders out.
1. There are 2 possible thoughts here: (the “it” refers to either the church or Jesus promise to build the church.)
a. Hades (Death) will not be able to imprison the church. “Hades” is from the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “sheol“, or grave. The gates of death or the grave would be powerless to hold Jesus’ church. I Cor. 15:55 – “O death where is thy victory? O Death where is thy sting?” There is contained here a great promise of a resurrection to life through Jesus’ victory over death.
b. Death will not prevent Jesus from building His church. It may have appeared as though Satan had stopped Jesus dead in his tracks at Calvary. But Christ would prevail. He plundered Satan by crashing through the gates and taking captivity captive. Rev. 1:17 – Do not be afraid: I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and Hades.” Think of those in the first century that lived the implications of this promise as their life was snuffed out because of their faith. Satan was powerless to destroy Christ’s people, and still is.
E. “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (v. 19) The term “keys” signified authority, especially the authority to open or shut.
1. A key was given to a scribe when he was admitted to his office as a symbol of his authority to open “the treasury of the divine oracles.” In Luke 11:52 Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they had “taken away the key of knowledge” and hindered others from entering the kingdom.
a. The kingdom of heaven is not heaven, but the church. (This misunderstanding is the root of all the jokes about St. Peter standing at the gate of heaven – unbiblical). The kingdom or church was something to be entered and Peter as a “kingdom scribe” would show how people to enter. Later on this same authority was said to belong to all the apostles (Mt. 18:18) (12 thrones – Mt. 19:28)
2. “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (v.19) Binding and loosing (prohibiting & allowing) were familiar terms to the Jews. The Rabbinical schools often used the terms in the proclamation of Rabbinical laws.
a. But these words did not give the apostles (much less Peter authority to legislate on the terms of entrance to the kingdom, or any other issue. The form of verbs helps us here.
b. bind and loose are in the future perfect passive tense, (a past action that whose effects exist in the present and continue into the future.)
c. These phrases are correctly translated in the NASV …whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Matt 16:19)
Conclusion: The church that Jesus built is still here today. Satan could not kill it. God is still adding the saved to it. The truth confessed by Peter, and proclaimed in the apostolic message is still the rock upon which it is built. Those who are part of it are still intimately connected to the One who died for them. Do you want to be a Christian? Let Peter take out the Keys and open the Kingdom for you.
- “Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:38-39