I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH (Matthew 16:13-20)
This morning we come to one of the great texts of Scripture. Some people claim it is great because of the controversy that surrounds it, but controversy is not the basis for making something great. It is great because it describes so clearly the state of man – blind and without understanding – and the mercy of God in intervening into the life of man so that he may come to know the truth. It is a great text because it centers on God’s ability to use people that yield themselves to Him.
Let’s open to to Matthew 16:13-10 and follow along as I read through this passage to get an overview, then we will examine each verse individually so that we may see the hand of God at work, and at the same time cut through the controversy that has surrounded this passage of Scripture. When you leave today, you should both understand this passage and understand how God can use you.
“But when Jesus was come into the parts of Caesarea-Philippi, he demanded of his disciples, saying, Who do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some, John the Baptist; and others, Elias; and others again, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. He says to them, But you, who do you say that I am? And Simon Peter answering said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in the heavens. And I also, I say unto you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and hades’ gates shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens; and whatsoever you may bind upon the earth shall be bound in the heavens; and whatsoever you may loose on the earth shall be loosed in the heavens. Then he enjoined on his disciples that they should say to no man that he was the Christ.”
Matthew 16:13 tells about where all this took place. Remember that Jesus is in the middle of what is often called His “withdrawal.” Since the beginning of Matthew 14, Jesus has been seeking a quiet place where He could teach His disciples. They traveled all around the Sea of Galilee and even up into the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon, but everywhere they went the suffering of humanity moved Jesus to compassion and He healed multitudes of the sick, diseased, and lame. He miraculously fed two great crowds of people – one of more than 5,000 and one of more than 4,000. When we left the story last week, Jesus was using the time it took them to travel back to the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee to warn the disciples to beware of the teaching of the Sadducees and Pharisees.
Now we find that Jesus and the disciples are in the district of Caesarea Philippi. From Mark 8:27 we know that they were just passing through some of the villages on the outskirts of the city of Caesarea Philippi. This city is very close to the ancient Hebrew city of Dan and to a sanctuary to the pagan god Pan. The region is a beautiful spot lying on the slopes of majestic snow covered 9,232 foot Mt. Hermon, and it is one of the sources of the Jordan River. From Luke 9:18 we know that Jesus had just spent time praying alone before He asked them that all important question we find at the end of Matthew 16:13, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
WHO IS THE SON OF MAN? (Matthew 16:13-17)
Jesus’ question is straightforward. He is not asking for gossip or for statements from foolish people, and you will note in a few minutes that the disciples do not say anything about the Pharisees’ comments that Jesus is empowered by the devil, but Jesus wants a report on how the people are responding to His message. Are they understanding it? Do they yet recognize who he really is?
WHAT THE PEOPLE SAID (Matthew 16:13, 14)
The disciples report in verse 14 that the people have various opinions. Some said Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Remember that this was the opinion of Herod Antipas in Matthew 14 and that idea had come from his advisors. Jesus’ miraculous works show that He is someone special, and John the Baptist was the most recent someone special that they were aware of.
The others agreed that Jesus was special, but could not be the Messiah Himself. Some said Jesus was Elijah the prophet returned as the forerunner of the Messiah. Malachi 4:5 alludes to Elijah returning in such a role, but Jesus had already said that John the Baptist had fulfilled that role.
Others said that Jesus was Jeremiah the prophet. This was based on a tradition that had developed that Jeremiah had taken the Ark of the Covenant and the Altar of Incense out of the Temple prior to its looting and destruction by the Babylonians. He is said to have hid them somewhere on Mt. Nebo and that prior to the return of the Messiah, Jeremiah would return to restore the Ark and the altar to their proper places in the temple.
Still others agreed that Jesus was someone special, but they did not know who, perhaps just one of the prophets of old risen back to life. Now notice that they could not deny that what Jesus did was supernatural, therefore He must be someone special, but they could not accept the fact that He was the Messiah. The signs and wonders that Jesus did proved that He was the Messiah because they were in keeping with the prophecies about Him, but the miracles did not convince the people.
People are still the same way. Philosophers revere Jesus as a great thinker. Ethicists call Him the great moral example. Liberal religionists say He provided the model of how we should live. Atheists have proclaimed Jesus as the “greatest among the sons of men.” Rock stars have sung that Jesus Christ is the “superstar,” but in every case the acclaim and pronouncements of these people is far below who Jesus really is.
We must remember that people have their eyes “blinded by the god of this age.” The people in Jesus’ time were firsthand witnesses of miracle after miracle. They were present to hear lesson after lesson from the greatest teacher ever. They experienced His love and compassion, and yet they did not recognize Him and turned away from Him. There are some today that advocate what is called, “power evangelism,” which is the idea that signs and wonders should accompany the presentation of the gospel message and that people will turn to Christ when they see that kind of power. Nothing could be farther from the truth. People do not believe because their minds are blinded to the truth, their hearts are dead in trespasses and sins. In the next three verses, we learn that people believe because God works within them.
PETER’S CONFESSION (Matthew 16:15-17)
In verse 15 Jesus makes His question more personal. Jesus wanted to know what the people were thinking, but even more Jesus wanted to know what the disciples believed. And so Jesus asks them, “But who do you say that I am?”This question is asked with great emphasis on the “you,” which is plural here. Jesus wants to know what they believe. We need to keep in mind that salvation is a personal affair. It really does not matter what other people believe when we stand before God, because when you stand before Him you will stand alone.
In verse 16 Simon Peter answers on behalf of all the disciples, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter is direct and to the point. He has understood that Jesus is the Christ, and “Christ” is simply the Greek equivalent of “Messiah.” Both mean “The Anointed One.” Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. He is the promised one. In addition, Jesus is the “Son of the living God.” Not a “son of a god” as in the Greek pantheon of gods, but THE son of THE God, creator of heaven and earth. While they did not have a full understanding of the full nature and work of Jesus the Christ, they did understand that He was one in essence with the eternal God because a son is one in nature with his father.
Peter and the other disciples are not any more intelligent than the crowds. They still do not understand why Jesus has not overthrown both the national political structure and the yoke of Roman bondage. That is what everyone was expecting of Messiah, that he would be a conquering king who would change the social-political structures. The only advantage Peter and the other disciples had was their sensitivity to the revelation of God. Look at Jesus’ commendation of Peter in verse 17.
“And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.’”
Human wisdom cannot understand the things of God because a “natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them . . .” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Recall that earlier Jesus said, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27). What Jesus is saying to Peter is that Simon was the son of Jona, an earthly father, but he did not come to understand that Jesus was the Christ because of anything arising out of humanity. It was because Jesus’ Father who is in heaven revealed it to Simon, and for that you, and for that reason Peter was blessed. So are all those to whom the Father reveals the Son.
Salvation does not come by human means or methods. Human wisdom is foolishness before God. Man’s self-efforts at being righteous only leave Him in the filthy rags of sin. Salvation comes to those who respond to the revelation that God gives them concerning Himself and His Son. It comes to those who seek out God’s wisdom rather than human wisdom, for God’s righteousness rather than self-righteousness, for mercy and grace and the forgiveness of sins rather than a demand for favors.
Jesus made his question personal to His disciples. Let me make it personal to you. Who do you say the Son of Man is? Is He a good moral example? A great thinker? A model for life? A good teacher? A superstar? Or is He what He Himself claims and what Peter declares here that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The manner in which you live your life will tell the world who Jesus really is to you.
THE ROCK OF THE CHURCH (Matthew 16:18)
Jesus’ commendation of Peter continues in verse 18. This verse has become a point of debate, but one that is not really that difficult to understand. Jesus continues and says, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church . . .”. Earlier Jesus had called Peter by His given name which was Simon Bar (son of) -Jona. Now Jesus calls this man by the name we have come to know him by, Peter, which means “stone” or “rock.” Jesus then added that “upon this rock . . . I will build my church.” The question that has become such a point of debate is to whom, or what, does the phrase “upon this rock” refer?
Some have tried to get rid of the controversy by simply saying that the saying was incorrectly added to the text, however, both the early and late manuscripts contain it. It is arrogant ignorance that tries to take away from the text of the Scripture that which does not fit into its one’s own pre-conceived ideas.
The Roman Catholic Church has used this and verse 19 which speaks of the authority of the church to claim that Peter was the first Pope. Their claim is that Peter is here given the first place of honor and authority within the church and that each successive Pope has received this same honor and power, so that to be a true follower of Christ all Christians must be in submission to the Church of Rome where Peter rules in the person of his successor, the current Pope. Such an argument is absurd at face value and even more so as you look at the details.
First, as we shall see in a few moments, the authority given in verse 19 was also given to all the apostles, not just Peter.
Second, Peter never claimed nor do any of the other apostles give Peter such place of prominence or authority in the Church. In fact,
Peter refers to himself it is as a “fellow elder” (1 Peter 5:1) and a “bond-servant” of Christ (2 Peter 1:1). Third, every opportunity in which Peter’s supposed supremacy could have been reinforced by Jesus, Peter himself, or one of the other apostles, it was not. He is prominent among the apostles but he has no supremacy over any of them.
And fourth, neither in this passage or in any other passage is there any evidence for apostolic succession by which any supposed superiority Peter had is transferred to anyone else. To put it simply, the Roman Catholic interpretation of this passage is unbiblical. Jesus Christ is the foundation of and the only head of His church (1 Corinthians 3:11, Colossians 1, etc.).
Others have reacted to the Roman Catholic interpretation and tried to remove the man Peter from being in any way the reference of “this rock.” Biblical interpretation founded as a reaction to someone else’s error is usually not good basis for interpretation either. Who or what would this refer to if not Peter?
Much has been made by some that the name Peter (PetroV / Petros) means “stone” or “little rock” and that the word “rock” here is petra / petra meaning “large stone” or “rocky ledge.” However, a very frequent meaning of petra / petra is simply “rock” or “stone.” The reason for the differences in the two words is simple. In Greek, nouns have gender, feminine, masculine, or neuter, and each gender form is spelled slightly differently. The word for “rock,” “Petra,” is normally a feminine gender noun, but to use that noun as a name for a man it must be changed into a masculine form which is “Petros.” Even in Greek Jesus is saying, “You are rock and on this rock – or rocky ledge – I will build my church.” And as Hendrickson points out, “The word THIS makes reference to anything other than the immediately preceding ‘Petros’ (Peter) very unnatural.”
The rock referred to is Peter. Jesus is promising to build His church on Him, but not Peter as the primary foundation, nor Peter all by himself, nor Peter in his natural state. It would be Peter as a man who is the product of God’s grace, Peter as the first among equals as an apostle, and Peter as a main stone laid on the primary foundation which is Jesus Christ Himself. “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). The apostles were foundational in a secondary sense. Ephesians 2:20 tells us, “. . . built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner [stone].”
Peter was the primary character in the early chapters of Acts. He was the primary spokesman for the rest of the apostles and the principal preacher. Much of the “apostle’s doctrine” which the early church devoted themselves to in Acts 2:42 came from Peter. History has proven Jesus’ words and the church has been built upon Peter, but Peter was not a pope. Peter never held authority over any of the other apostles. In fact, we find in Acts 15 that though Peter speaks the judgment of the council is now with the “apostles and elders” and that James seems to be the chairman of the council, not Peter. Peter is the rock, but that does not give any support to the Roman Catholic papacy.
THE BUILDER OF THE CHURCH (Matthew 16:18)
The emphasis in verse 18 is not on Peter or even upon the rock, but upon the builder of the church. The action of the verse is building the church and the one that performs the action of building is Jesus Christ. Peter and the church would be nothing without Christ. Maybe that is why there are so many “churches” around now that are nothing because they have left the Christ of the Scriptures outside their doors.
We will expand on this topic in the future, but it is Jesus that builds the church. Not Peter. Not the Apostles. Not any denomination. Not the pastor. Not you. Does Jesus use the people I just mentioned? Certainly! In fact, the church could not be built without them, but we are simply the materials out of which Jesus builds His church. Our value only becomes apparent when Jesus puts us into His building where He wants us. Consider the materials that make up the building we are in: wood, concrete, brick, block, plaster, metals of various sorts, fabric, and carpeting. How valuable are any of those things until they are assembled together by the builders? The wood in this structure could have been used for firewood. Instead it was sized, shaped, and cut to become truss beams, wall framing, or this pulpit. What about the concrete in this building? The material could have been left in the ground or used in something else. Instead it was mined, manufactured, mixed, and then poured into a particular place for a particular function including the foundation and the blocks that are cemented together that make up the walls.
Peter was useful to Jesus as a rock because He yielded himself to be used as Jesus saw fit. In his case it was a foundation stone on which other parts of the church would be built. But each and every brick has its part. Maybe that is why Peter uses the building analogy to describe the church in 1 Peter 2 with each individual coming to Jesus as “a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
It is Jesus that does the building. Acts records a lot about the activities of Peter and the other apostles, but it was the Lord Himself that was “adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Are you ready and willing to be a brick, a piece of wood, a yard of fabric, or whatever else is needed to be used by Him however He sees fit? If you are, then Jesus will use you and you will be part of the church that Jesus is building.
THE STRENGTH OF THE CHURCH (Matthew 16:18)
The end of verse 18 adds a characteristic to this church that Jesus is building.“The gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” Jesus is building a strong church able to break through and grow past what would seem to be the limiting factor. Many have interpreted this as a reference to the church withstanding the onslaughts of the devil. However, the word here is not hell, but Hades which corresponds to the Old Testament Sheol which was the abode of the dead. In addition, gates are not weapons of warfare but of containment. They either keep something in or keep something out. In this case, keeping something in for it would make no sense for the church to be seeking to enter into the abode of the dead.
What is the “gates of hades” referring to? Death. If the builder of a building dies before it is completed, the building project dies too. When the leaders of a movement die, often the movement either dies too or it changes course to match the direction the new leaders want to go. In the case of the church, neither is true. Jesus died, but Jesus conquered death and continued to build His church. In fact, it was His death as the payment for man’s sin that made the church possible. In addition, when the apostles died and then the successive church leaders over the generation have also died, the church has continued on and continued to grow. Why? Because Jesus is the one that builds the church. Not only has He conquered death, but He has made death a vanquished enemy of all who believe (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). The church is built with people, but death does not overpower the church.
THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH (Matthew 18:19)
In verse 19 we find the authority of the church. Due to time constraints, I am not going to get into a lot of detail in this, but we are going to examine this again in Matthew 18. Here we find that Jesus is specifically speaking to Peter, though remember that Peter is the representative of all of the apostles. In Matthew 18 Jesus specifically says the same thing to all the apostles, so whatever it means for Peter to have the keys to the kingdom and the ability to bind and loose, the other apostles also have the same power.
What are the keys to the kingdom? Other uses of the idea of having keys in the Scriptures indicate that this refers to having the power to admit or refuse a person admittance into heaven. How is such a thing done? By the proclamation of the gospel. Peter took the lead in doing just that in the first part of Acts, but all the apostles joined in doing the same thing. The gospel opens the door of heaven to those who will hear and respond, but it closes the door to those who reject its message (Acts 3:23).
The issue of binding and loosing has absolutely nothing to do with Satan and demons. The binding and loosing deal with “whatever” not “whoever.” Binding and loosing are rabbinical terms meaning forbidding and permitting. This is an issue of the church being able to discipline those within it and this will become even more clear when we get to Matthew 18 and its context. Jesus told His disciples shortly after His resurrection in John 20:23 that “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” Peter, and later the other apostles and the church, are given authority to examine the Scriptures and examine a person’s life and determine whether they are in sin or not and whether they are repentant or not. This judgment is not arbitrary, but based upon the Scriptures themselves. We will cover this issue in depth when we reach Matthew 18. At this point please just keep this in mind, the church does have authority to discipline those that profess to be Christians.
Finally in verse 20, we find that Jesus warns His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Christ. Why? The people were looking for the Messiah to bring a political kingdom, but for now the kingdom is existing only in a spiritual form. Jesus would make that announcement Himself that He was the Messiah, but He would do it at the proper time in keeping with God’s plan for salvation, and it was not yet the proper time.
Who is Jesus? He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Who is Jesus to you? Are you responding to the revelation of God being given to you or are you rejecting it?
Jesus will build His church, but He uses people as His building materials. Are you ready and willing to be used by Jesus in that manner? If you are, then He will use you and give eternal value to your life.