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On This Rock
Matthew Series #091
August 30, 2015
“Father, we’re thankful that we have Your Word to go to in times of difficulty and times of challenge, and as we face the vicissitudes of life, we know that there is one place to go where there no change. For You are the same yesterday, today, and forever. You are immutable, eternal, and we can always come to You and trust in You because You are the One who oversees Your creation.
Father, as we come to our passage this morning, we are reminded that You have had a salvation plan from eternity past, that this was first announced in the garden of Eden at the same time that judgment for sin was announced. You also gave the first prophecy, first prediction related to the coming of a Messiah, the Seed of the woman, who would defeat Satan and would be the One to provide a solution to the sin problem.
Now Father as we look at our passage today, there is much that goes on in this passage, but it is significant to us because it helps us to understand that that which we believe is ultimately focused on the Lord Jesus Christ who is our solid rock. And that we need to build our lives upon the certainty and the stability of who Jesus Christ is and what He did for us on the Cross.
Father, we pray that we might be able to focus this morning upon Your Word and that God the Holy Spirit would use it to strengthen us spiritually and to focus us more precisely upon our Lord Jesus Christ.
We pray this in His Name. Amen.”
We are in Matthew 16, and this is a great passage. I just love going through this passage for a number of reasons. This is the passage where Jesus makes a statement that has confused people down through the ages, and there are different interpretations. There have been battles fought over this, people killed over this, and that is,
“On this rock,” Jesus said, “I will build My church.”
That statement is pregnant with significance, and we will try to unpack that a little bit as we go through this passage today. It’s a passage I love to go through and love to teach because of the location where this transpired. We’ve been there.
If you’ve been to Israel, you’ve probably have been there. If you’ve been with me, most likely you have been there, and it gives a certain depth to our understanding of what is going on in this passage.
Often as we read through the gospels and pay attention to Jesus’ teaching, we realize that Jesus is taking the things of the environment, everyday things, everyday activities, and He uses those to teach some important doctrinal principles to His disciples.
Whether He’s talking about agricultural things, whether He’s talking about meteorological things related to the storms and the Sea of Galilee, or like in this passage, He’s standing with a magnificent backdrop of the huge rock escarpment at a location called Caesarea Philippi, He uses that.
He’s not building an analogy off of this background, but like we have seen so often in Scripture, it provides an occasion for teaching something of great significance.
We begin in Matthew 16:13 where we read, “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?’ ”
There are parallels to this passage in Mark 8:27–30 and in Luke 9:18-21. That is Mark 8:27–30, which is four verses and Luke 9:18–21, which is also four verses. So this is the longer account than the parallels that are found in the other Gospels.
There are also some minor differences, but what we find is that Mark and Luke are summarizing it a little more and not bringing out all of the specific nuances that we find Matthew emphasizing in his text. Since we’re studying Matthew, we’ll focus more on Matthew.
Now the first thing we read has to do with some important information on background when Jesus came into the region of a Caesarea Philippi. Now this is important.
Here’s our map. We see that Jesus has been down in the area around the Sea of Galilee.
Previously to this, He had an encounter with Herod, and there was some hostility there coming possibly from Herod Antipas who reigned over Galilee. So He had pretty much avoided this territory for probably the past six or eight months.
They had crossed over into the territory of Philip the Tetrarch near Bethsaida. He had come back briefly over to the Galilee side.
We had the episode with the disciples in the storm on the Sea of Galilee, unable to make any headway, and then early in the morning before dawn, Jesus walked on the water. Peter then walked on the water.
We see the emphasis as He’s training them that they’re to focus upon Him and to trust in Him, and that He’s able to surmount any challenges, any difficulties, any obstacles in life as represented by the storms, the waves of the sea.
Then He headed up into Gentile territory to the area of Tyre and Sidon, ancient area of Syrophoenicia, where the Canaanites are, and there He has this interesting encounter with the Canaanite woman as Matthew emphasizes her bringing out historic antagonism between the Canaanites and the Israelites.
He virtually ignores her. She calls upon Him using a Messianic title, the Son of David. She basically shows that she understands that even though His primary mission and His priority is to Israel, nevertheless, though the Gentiles referred to as they were to Jews by the term “dogs,” she says, “Even the little dogs, your domestic pets, have the right after the children have been fed, they can eat from the leftovers.”
They can eat from the crumbs, pointing out that she understands that God’s grace is broader than just to the Jews, that God’s grace is also for the Gentiles, but that there must be a priority, and right now it was to the Jew first and then to the Gentile.
Following that, He headed down to the area on the east side of the Sea of Galilee to the area known as the Decapolis. This was also Gentile territory. There He feeds the 4,000 just like He had fed the 5,000 earlier. But the 5,000 were Jews, the 4,000 are Gentiles. He’s demonstrating that God’s grace is as bountiful for the Gentiles as to the Jews.
Then from there He came back across to a location we’re not certain of, probably around Magdala, and then they left from there, and they headed back over towards Bethsaida.
This is what we focused on at the beginning of Matthew 16, where during this time He has this conversation with the disciples about not succumbing to the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, that is their false doctrine, which ultimately related to the fact that they had rejected the Messianic claims.
So all through this section, the focus again and again and again is on Jesus as the Messiah and understanding that. That forms the backdrop to this great conversation that He has with His disciples.
They’ve left the area of Bethsaida, and headed north to this area of Caesarea Philippi, which was located almost in the furthest northern part of Israel.
Just to the west of Caesarea Philippi is located the ancient site of Laish—we mentioned that a couple of times in our study in 1 Samuel recently—that was conquered by the tribe of Dan during the period of the judges. In Judges 17 and 18 that’s described. From that point on, that area became known as Dan.
Usually when Israel was described in terms of its northern and southern extremities, it’s described as “from Dan to Be’er Sheva.” So Dan is the furthest north; and Caesarea Philippi is right next door to Dan and is located on the slopes of Mount Hermon.
You can see from the terrain features here in this map that there are a lot of mountains here, and this is Mount Hermon, which goes up to approximately 9,000 ft. above sea level. They have a ski lift up there, and it snows in the winter, so you can go to Israel and go skiing—not the image most people think of when they think of Israel.
It’s located not far from Damascus. So the border between Syria—this area all up through here is the Golan Heights, and it’s located just right in this area here coming across this Hermon Ridge—this is where the modern border between Israel and Syria exists.
From Caesarea Philippi to Damascus is approximately 40 miles. It is 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. So this is where Caesarea Philippi is located.
It was a town, and the background of this is important for understanding some of the things said when Jesus is talking to His disciples. It’s a lot of fun I think, when you’re studying Scripture, to discover that there are little puns and word plays that are found in the Scripture, but you only really discover them if you understand some things about the culture, some things about the geography, and some things about the history.
Otherwise, they just go right over our head. But the Lord is using those things because He’s talking to people in their day and time, and He’s using things that are of common knowledge and related to the surroundings around them.
This area of Caesarea Philippi was originally named Panion after the Greek God Pan, and it was then changed to the name Paneas. It was a scene of a major battle between Antiochus III as he was battling to seize more of this territory from the Ptolemys around 200 BC.
Herod was later given the gift, this was Herod the Great, was given this city as a gift by Caesar Augustus, and in order to honor him, Herod built a marble temple to Augustus here.
The Herods were masters of the doctrine of sucking up. Y’all have probably run into a few people like that in your work or in your families or somewhere, but that’s what they majored in.
There’s another Caesarea, in fact, there were a number of cities that were built called Caesarea, and the rulers did that in order to try to curry favor with the Caesar of that time.
So the Caesarea that we usually talk about, or have often talked about where Cornelius was located in Acts 10, is called Caesarea by the Sea or Caesarea Maritima.
This was later called Caesarea Philippi, because after Herod had built this marble temple, then his son Philip, who was called Philip the Tetrarch, made it the capitol of his territory.
He wanted to suck up to Tiberius, so he named it after them. He called it Caesarea, but to distinguish it from the other Caesareas, he called it Caesarea Philippi, putting his name on it.
This grew to quite a significant site. It’s important because some of the things that are there in the background, and we’ll get to that in just a minute, but that’s the area there, the region of Caesarea Philippi.
Then Jesus asked this question of His disciples. He says, “Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?”
If you look at the parallels in Mark and Luke, they leave out the Son of man. That brings up the question that some people ask, and I’m not going to go down this rabbit hole, but you will notice that there are some differences between the synoptic gospels when they quote Jesus.
Most of the time they’re either like this is the full statement; sometimes they’ll leave something out because it’s not necessarily germane to their purpose. They’re not trying to give an exhaustive report of everything that Jesus said. They are not following a—what we’d call—modern concept of historiography, where you’re going to get every detail right, but they might leave out a sentence, or they might leave out a paragraph; and then another gospel writer will include it because it fits their purpose. But what they are reporting is accurate.
So it’s significant that Matthew includes the full statement, which includes this title “the Son of man,” because this is a Messianic title. He’s just reported about the Syrophoenician woman who came to Jesus and addressed Him as the Son of David, a Messianic title.
He has talked about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees who are rejecting Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, and now He is going to ask this question of His disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?”
So the inclusion of this phrase by Matthew is showing that Matthew’s purpose, which is to demonstrate the qualifications of Jesus as the Messiah, is being reinforced by understanding everything that Jesus said here. The focus is on His Messianic credentials.
Jesus is asking this question not to find out what the disciples are going to say. Jesus isn’t asking this question because He doesn’t know what people are saying. Jesus isn’t asking this question because He’s testing the disciples to see if they’ve been listening and paying attention.
As we find so often in Scripture, God asks questions. Jesus is asking questions to get people to think a little more precisely about what’s going on.
For example, in Genesis 3 after Adam and Eve have sinned and God comes to walk in the garden, and they run and hide, God says, “Where are you?” He wants them to think about what they’ve done in running away and separating themselves from God.
He said, “Who told you that you were naked?” He’s asking questions to get them to think about what’s going on. That’s a great technique whenever you are talking to someone who’s an unbeliever or somebody who’s a believer who is struggling.
It’s hard for a lot of us. We know the answer, and we want people to understand that we know the answer, and so we want to jump right in there ahead of time. We function out of impatience and certain degrees of arrogance, and we want to show what we know, rather than leading people to the answer by asking them questions.
That’s something I’m not very good at, and I’m trying to get better at that, and I think a lot of us wrestle with that, but that’s a great technique when you’re witnessing, is to ask people those questions:
“Well, how did you come to believe what you just said? I’m real interested in that.” “What is your evidence that what you’ve just said is true?” “Well, have you thought about the implications of that?”
Sometimes we are too hasty to run to the answer and run to the gospel when they haven’t really had the time to set up their own thought process to be prepared for that particular answer.
Now this is what Jesus is doing here. By asking this question, He’s getting the disciples to focus on that He wants them to not learn something new, but to really, fully understand the implications of His identity as the Son of man.
It’s very clear that they have already come to an understanding that He is the Messiah. They’ve come to the understanding because He said it numerous times already—that He’s the Son of man. This was Jesus’ most common designation of Himself—was through this title “the Son of man.”
If we read in John 1 when Andrew, who is Peter’s brother, and Andrew and John are disciples of John the Baptist, and when John the Baptist points out that Jesus is the Messiah, what does Andrew do? Andrew runs to get his brother Peter, and said we’ve found Him! We’ve found the Messiah! What does Peter do? He says, “Well, take me to him.”
So from the very beginning of Peter’s relationship with Jesus Christ, He understands that Jesus is the Messiah. When we get to Matthew 16 here, this is not some new awakening on the part of Peter that he’s just now really coming to grips with the fact that Jesus is the Messiah.
This has been clarified to him again and again, just as in our spiritual life, as we grow in our understanding of the Word, things that we understood at an elementary level when we were young baby believers become more and more clear as we go on.
For those of you who have been sitting under my teaching for the last 10 years or so, you have come to an understanding of what it means that Jesus is the Messiah in ways that you never understood at all 10 years ago. That’s what’s going on with the disciples.
It’s not that they didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah two years earlier, but that now is becoming more crystalized in their thinking. That’s what Jesus wants them to focus on—is who He is, who are these people saying that I am
One reason He asked this question, as we’ve seen, is because He’s been going through a period of increased rejection by the leaders of Israel.
Back in Matthew 12 they said that He was casting out demons in the power of Satan and the power of Beelzebub. The leaders came out with their objections to Him, their rejection of Him.
Then when we get later on in Chapter 14, we learn that Herod Antipas is hostile to Him. Other political leaders are hostile to Him. The people are coming out to Him, but they’re primarily interested in the meal ticket.
He feeds the 5,000. He’s taking care of them, but they’re still asking the question, “Well, who is this guy?” So He wants the disciples to think about the fact that those that are coming out to hear Him are coming up with different answers than the true answers.
So He says, “Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?” They come up with different answers.
Verse 14 says, “So they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ”
Jeremiah’s an interesting one. How did Jeremiah get into this? Well, I’ll tell you in just a minute.
The reason they say, “Some say John the Baptist,” remember even Herod Antipas in Matthew 14 thought that Jesus was a reincarnation of John the Baptist. He’s loaded down with guilt over having executed John the Baptist, giving the okay for John the Baptist to be beheaded, and so he thought Jesus was John the Baptist who came back to life. There were other Jews that believed that as well.
Others say they thought He was Elijah. This shows the influence of a popular Judaism at that time, because they understood from Malachi 4:5 that Elijah would appear again before the great and terrible Day of the Lord.
Even today when you go to a Jewish home, and you celebrate a Passover meal, the Seder, there’s an empty seat at the table for Elijah. At the conclusion of the Seder meal, they usually send a kid out the front door to take a look to see if Elijah’s coming.
That all goes back to Old Testament prophecy that before the end times come, before the great and terrible Day of the Lord, Elijah must appear.
Indeed we know from our study of John the Baptist that if Israel had accepted the message of John the Baptist and Jesus, then John the Baptist was the one who would have fulfilled that Elijah-type role, but because they rejected Him, he was not.
So they thought that, “Well, maybe this is Elijah, and we’re about to see the end of times. He’s preaching this gospel about the kingdoms, so maybe that’s it.” Others thought that he might be Jeremiah.
Now remember Jeremiah was not a popular prophet at his time. He was announcing that the Babylonians were about to come and destroy Judah and that the people needed to turn back to God—but even if they did, that would not put off the coming judgment, but that would enable them perhaps to survive.
Jeremiah later became, even though he was rejected by his generation, in the post captivity period once the Jews had returned to the land, Jeremiah’s respect had gone up a notch or two, and he was revered by the rabbis.
If you look at a couple of the books in the Apocrypha—that’s the non-canonical section, the Roman Catholic Bible has it their Old Testament. Jews have never accepted the Apocrypha as part of their Old Testament Canon, but these books are helpful historically. They’re not inspired by God, but they do give us a lot of information about that intertestamental period from the end of the Babylonian captivity to the coming of Christ.
In 2 Maccabees 2:4–8 there was a view that Jeremiah, in order to protect the Ark of the Covenant and some of the temple furniture, had taken them to Mt. Nebo and hidden them in a cave on Mt. Nebo. Others have said, “Well, maybe it’s under the present Temple Mount. Others have said Jeremiah maybe took it with him to Egypt. So there were those ideas that were out there.
There was also the idea that Jeremiah would later, before the end times, return to the earth and restore the ark and the altar to the Temple in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. These are some of the ideas that were prevalent among the Jews in a popular Judaism that wasn’t based on the Scripture but was based on some of the non-biblical ideas that they had.
So they’re saying, “Well, maybe he’s John the Baptist, maybe he’s Elijah, maybe he’s Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.
But in each instance though, the people recognize there’s something significant about Jesus. There’s something about His ministry that has the stamp of the divine on it. They’re not getting the point that Jesus is the God-man, the anointed Messianic deliverer that God would send to deliver the people.
They don’t understand that He is the Messiah and the Savior. They still have that Messianic idea that the Messiah is going to come and deliver us. He’s going to be a secular leader, political leader who’s going to deliver us from the Romans.
So He asks this question, “Well, what do they say?” People down through history have had a lot of things to say about who they think Jesus is. They think that He is a good man. They think that He’s a good teacher or moral reformer. Some people say, “Well, He is a great religious innovator and a great religious teacher.”
What you hear from most people are very positive statements about who Jesus is, but they fall short of the fact that Jesus is the eternal Second Person of the Trinity who has entered into human history in order to provide salvation.
This is a classic argument of apologetics or defense of the faith called “The Lord, liar or lunatic” argument. “What do you think Jesus was?” “Well, I think He was a good man. He was a religious teacher.” “Well, let me see. If He was a good man and a religious teacher, then He clearly taught that He was the only way to God, the only way to Heaven, so He’s either telling the truth or He’s lying.” All of these claims that He claims to be the Messiah.
Now you’ll see some people who say, “Well, He never really claimed to be the Son of God. He never really claimed to be the Messiah.”
But this is just one of a number of passages that show that that’s not true. He is clearly making the claim to the fact that:
He is the Messiah. He’s the Son of God. He’s the Son of David. He’s the Son of Man. He clearly understood who He was and taught that He was God.
So that first example where people think that He was a good man, would a good man tell people that if they believed in Him that they would go to Heaven and not go to Hell, and if it wasn’t true, then of course, they’re lost, they have no hope, they have no future in Heaven. He would be deceiving millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people down through the ages who would be deceived by Him.
So you don’t really have the option of saying He’s a good man. Your first option is to say that He was just a bold-face liar and created one of the greatest hoaxes in history.
But we have the evidence of His life and of His sayings and of His followers, of those who knew Him personally, who ran away when He was arrested, but when He was raised from the dead, they saw Him. They had that evidence that He had been raised from the dead. They had the boldness and the courage to stand up against Rome, to stand up against the Sanhedrin, to stand up against everyone even though it cost almost every one of them their life over the course of the next 50 years.
They didn’t back off. They were scared to death at the crucifixion, but after the resurrection, there was no fear in them. They wouldn’t give their lives for a lie.
So the only option that you have is He’s a liar, but the evidence isn’t there that He’s a liar. Or He’s crazy, He’s psychotic, He believed what He was saying. He had a God complex, and He was nuts!
But once again, there’s no evidence that Jesus was anything but not only sane, but wise, and gave some of the most brilliant instruction in all of human history.
So people say many things, but we need to help them when we witness think through the implications of what they say. They often times are just repeating what they’ve heard somebody else say. Usually they’re repeating things they’ve heard on the History Channel or the Discovery Channel or something like that.
After Jesus has asked this question, notice the strategy here, “Who do people say?” And they think about it, they talk about it. Their minds are focused on, “Well, could it be this, could it be that? Listen to what people are saying.”
Now Jesus says to them, “But who do you say that I am?” He’s asking them, “Well, what are your thoughts? What do you say? What are your thoughts?”
Simon Peter answers. Peter’s usually the first person to speak up. He’s the one who is the spokesperson, and he answers for them. In verse 15 the way this is structured in the Greek, it’s YOU—y’all really, it’s plural. “Who do y’all say that I am?” That emphasis is, “What do y’all think?” He’s focusing on them.
In verse 16, Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
When we look at this, we have to remember that the word “Christ” in English is just an anglicized form of the Greek noun CHRISTOS. CHRISTOS begins with the Greek letter CHI, which looks like our X.
This is one of my little no extra charge observations here: The first letter in CHRISTOS is the Greek letter CHI, which looks like an X.
A lot of Christians I’ve heard over the years say, and I remember hearing my mother say this, “Oh, I just can’t stand it when people use the abbreviation ‘Xmas.’ That just seems blasphemous.”
Well, that’s called historical ignorance, because in the early church, words like Christ were often abbreviated with the first letter, which looks to us like X. God would be the Greek word “Theos,” would be abbreviated by just the letter THETA.
When I learned that, you can read my notes from seminary, everything’s got just the first letter of the Greek there for God, for Christ, for the Holy Spirit, and that’s where that derived.
So it’s actually just using short hand that was used in the early church throughout church history. Rather than having to write out the whole name, you just use that abbreviation when you’re taking notes.
But CHRISTOS is the Greek word for the Anointed One, which came from the Hebrew Mashiach, which is the word for “the Anointed One, the Messiah.”
So what Peter is saying is “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Here he recognizes that the identity of Christ is not just a human being, but the Son of God.
Now as I’ve taught you many times, and just to remind you that in Hebrew the phrase “son of” can refer to several different things. It can refer to somebody’s lineage from their parents—that Peter is the son of John. He’s called Simon Bar-Jonah in this passage, which means Peter, the son of John, or Simon the son of John or Simon Johnson. So you have that direct physical lineage.
But it’s also used in Hebrew idiom to describe the characteristics of something. So if someone was a fool, they would be called the “son of the fool.” They are manifesting the characteristics of foolishness. If they are destructive, if they’re devilish, if they’re demonic, and they’re destroying things, they’re called the “son of Belial,” and this was what the sons of Eli were called in 1 Samuel 2, the sons of Belial, the sons corruption.
So it’s not talking about Belial being their literal, actual parent, but that they’re manifesting the characteristics of Belial. You have other statements like someone who’s called the son of a murderer. They’re a murderer and they’re manifesting that character.
When you come to phrases like Son of man and Son of God in relation to Jesus, they’re talking about His essential character. He is truly human, so He’s called the Son of man. He is truly God, so He’s called the Son of God.
Now the Messianic title “Son of David” doesn’t refer to a character quality, it’s referring to His lineage. He is a descendent of David. So when Peter says this, he says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
He recognizes that Jesus is not just a man, He is the God-man who is the promised Messiah from the Old Testament. And this is an extremely clear statement that he has made.
Jesus responds to Him in verse 17, and He says, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah.” The nuance here is really interesting because He’s going to say that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but My Father who is in Heaven.”
We ought to ask the question, “Why does He call him Simon Bar-Jonah?” Simon was his birth name. He’s the son of a man named John. Bar is the Aramaic for “son of.” If it was Hebrew it would be Simon Ben-Jonah, but Jonah is basically the name for John. So he’s called Simon Johnson. That’s how we would translate that into English.
He says, “You’re blessed because you’ve understood this. This is a rich, spiritual blessing. You’ve come to understand truth,” and He says, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you by My Father who is in Heaven.”
Ultimately, he has come to understand this as we all do because of the illumination of God the Holy Spirit and our response to that—that we accept that as true. God reveals and illuminates many people to the truth of the Gospel, but they reject it because of their negative volition.
He calls him Simon Bar-Jonah because He’s emphasizing his descent in the flesh, who his fleshly father is. He’s saying, “You are Simon the son of John, but it’s not the flesh that has revealed this to you, it’s your Heavenly Father who has revealed this to you.
So He’s drawing this contrast between who Peter is in the flesh as a human being and the fact that his Heavenly Father’s the One who reveals this to him.
Then we come to the next slide. He says, “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.”
Now what you see on the slide is an artist’s rendition of what this temple to Pan looked like at the time that Jesus was there. This area had originally been called Panias. In fact, it never really escaped that name even though Philip wanted it renamed Caesarea. It still maintains that name.
Arabs can’t say the letter “P.” They don’t have a hard labial in Arabic, a “P” in Hebrew or in Greek becomes a “B” in Arabic, so it’s known as Banias with a “B.” But it was this temple of Pan.
What you have here, if you look at this, this is the Temple of Pan, and you can see this dark area behind it, and this opened up into quite a large chasm behind that temple. Pan was said to reside in the underworld or in Hades.
So this was seen as one of the gates or openings into the netherworld into Hades. When you worship Pan, you would bring some sort of animal sacrifice, and the animal sacrifice would be thrown into this abyss. And if blood came out through the spring, then it wasn’t accepted. But if there was no blood, then it was accepted. So this was known as the “Gates of Hades.”
The other thing that we see here is this enormous rock escarpment that is in the background. Jesus is not teaching that this has some sort of allegorical meaning, but what He says is playing off of the geographical location where He is teaching.
Just to give you a little more insight into this, this is a sign that’s there, that “this cave is the nucleus beside which the sacred sanctuary was built.” In this “abode of the shepherd god,” this pagan cult began as early as the 3rd century BCE—BCE is how non-Christians express “Before the Common Era.”
They also have “After the Common Era,” but what divides the common era is the birth of Christ. So they can’t get away from the fact that Jesus divides history—and then it goes on to say about what I just told you about the sacrifice being cast into the abyss.
This is what it looks like today. This was the sight of the gates of Hades on the left. There were other niches such as this one, which is where they had that other temple located.
You might recognize Doug and Kelly in that picture.
And then here’s a couple of pastors standing at the gates of Hades.
Slides 12, 13
So here’s what Jesus says. He says, “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.”
So what’s interesting here is that there’s another play on words here, and that’s between the name of Peter and the use of the term “rock.”
Some scholars say, “Well, He said this in Aramaic, so the pun doesn’t work.” But the Word of God has been preserved in Greek, and no one can say for sure whether Jesus was speaking Greek or Aramaic. Sometimes I run into people who say, “Well, you’re making a big deal out of this, and it was really in Aramaic, and there’s no evidence for that at all.”
This is a critical verse that has been abused throughout much of church history. There are three views as to what the rock is on which Christ will build His church.
1. The first view is that this is the Apostle Peter himself, and that he is the foundation for the church, and that all of the church, all of Christianity, is built on the foundation of Peter.
You have the doctrine of the primacy of Peter, which is the idea that this is announcing that Peter is the first among all of the apostles. That would have been news to most of them because they never treated Peter as having any more authority than anybody else amongst themselves.
That’s the view of the primacy of Peter, and the Roman Catholic Church built a doctrine upon that called “the primacy of the bishop of Rome as the head of the church”—that all of the popes can be traced all the way back to Peter, and that the pope has the authority of Peter that Jesus talks about here in the next couple of verses.
In fact, according to the catechism of the Catholic Church, Christ the Living Stone thus assures His church built on Peter a victory over powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed, Peter will remain the unshakable rock of the church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it.
Another Roman Catholic commentary says that our Lord chose him and fitted him to be the rock of His church, His vicar on earth—that means His representative on earth—the head and prince of His apostles, the center and very principle of the church’s oneness, the source of all spiritual powers, and the unerring teacher of His truth.
That’s the Roman Catholic view. There are a number of problems with this that we should note. First it appears in the English that that’s what is being said here, but we have to understand the Greek and some other passages of Scripture.
In Ephesians 2:20, Paul says that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the Chief Cornerstone. That would indicate that it’s Christ Who is the rock, not Peter that’s the rock. But also that it’s all the apostles and prophets that are the foundation of the church.
A second thing that needs to be noted is that there is no other verse in Scripture that refers to Peter as the foundation of the church. The other apostles don’t treat him as foundational. Paul claims equal authority with Peter in Galatians 2:7–8, so the text itself of the New Testament doesn’t validate that.
Then lastly, we see that the words themselves don’t support that. The word for Peter is PETROS, which is a masculine noun. PETROS usually means a stone. It can refer to even a pebble or just a rock, whereas when we read “on this rock I will build My church,” this is the second word.
The word on the right, which is PETRA, is the feminine form, and that often refers to a large rock or even a massive rocky escarpment. We know that this word is used in Matthew 27:60 when it talks about tombs being carved out from the rock, that this is referring to some sort of massive rock.
The way we should understand this then, is it reads, “You are Peter, and on this rock.” The word “and” is often thought of as simply being a connective between two equal things, and we use it that way most of the time.
But the Greek Word KAI can often have other meanings. It can mean “and yet,” that has sort of a contrastive meaning. It’s used that way in passages like John 7:19 and John 16:32. And it can have this idea of “indeed” or “in fact.”
The best way to translate this would be, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and yet—there’s a contrast—and yet you’re a little rock, and yet I will build my church on this foundation rock.”
So we have to decide: who is this foundation rock?
2. Now the second view that is often said here is that “this rock” refers to His statement, His confession that Jesus is the Messiah: that, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” and that that’s the foundation for the church.
But the church really isn’t grounded upon a confessional statement. Even that statement, or even that statement as the foundation of the church, is somewhat ambiguous.
There’s no other evidence in the Scripture to support the fact that the foundation of the church is the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. While that is true—that that statement reflects the foundational truth—there’s no Scriptural support for that.
3. So the best view is that Jesus Himself is the Foundation of the church, and this is supported through a number of other passages in Scripture.
For example, in Matthew 7:24 talking about Jesus’ teaching, He says, “Therefore whoever hears these saying of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock—on the PETRA.” So it refers to the teachings of Christ.
In 1 Peter 2:4, 5, we come “to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious,” and then Peter says, “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house,”—so that’s built on top of that major foundation.
1 Peter 2:6 goes on to say, “It is also contained in the Scripture, ‘Behold I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious,’ ”—and that refers to the Lord Jesus Christ.
And in verse 7, He’s “the stone which the builders rejected and now He’s become the chief cornerstone.”
1 Corinthians 10:4 says in reference to the Old Testament wilderness wanderings of Israel, that they “drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.”
Then we go back to a number of passages in the Old Testament that refer to God as the Rock.
For example Psalm 18:31, “For who is God, except the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?”
Psalm 18:46, “The Lord lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted.”
So the best interpretation here is that the rock that Jesus is talking about when He says, “Upon this rock” He’s referring to Himself as the Chief Cornerstone.
In Matthew 16:19, He says, “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”
Now a lot of people think that a key is something important because it opens a door. So what He’s talking about is that Peter is going to give you access or deny access into Heaven, but that doesn’t fit the context.
First of all, we’ve seen that the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” always refers to the future, literal, millennial reign of Christ, not Heaven.
So it’s referring to the Millennial Kingdom.
All believers are going to be in the Kingdom. They are going to be resurrected and in the Kingdom whether they’re Old Testament saints or whether they’re Church Age believers, or Tribulation saints. They are all going to be in the Kingdom. So that really doesn’t fit.
There’s another option, and that is that the keys represent authority. They’re a symbol for authority, and for the Jews, the key was the symbol of the authority of the scribe. Scribes were the ones who handled the Word of God and had the authority of interpretation.
So the Lord is promising Peter an exalted position of great authority in the future earthly kingdom. This is supported by other passages like Matthew 19:28, which promises a throne for each of the disciples from which they will judge the 12 tribes of Israel.
The saints are said to judge the world in 1 Corinthians 6:2.
So this fits better. It talks about how Peter is going to have a future authority in the kingdom. Not now, he’s not determining who gets to Heaven and who doesn’t, but this is a kingdom authority in the future.
This is supported by the next line: “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.”
Now the first thing we have to understand is that the “binding and loosing” terminology was common in rabbinical literature. It meant to have the authority to make a decision—to approve something or to disapprove something.
So you would have a well-respected rabbi, and you would go to the rabbi and say, “Well, rabbi, can I do this on the Sabbath?” The rabbi would think about it, would consult the oral law, and he would say, “Yes you can,” or “No you can’t.”
So it has to do with making decisions, a reference to their judicial authority.
The other thing to understand here is that—and I have this, I believe, from the New American Standard— it translates the perfect participle here as the future tense, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,”
It’s not a future tense. I’ve told you again and again perfect tense means completed action in the past.
The best way to translate this is, “Whatever you bind on earth will have already been bound in heaven.” In other words, the decision you make now reflects a decision that heaven has already established. “Whatever you loosed on earth will have already been loosed in heaven.”
To paraphrase this so it’s a little more understandable, we can translate it this way:
Whatever you forbid on earth in terms of interpreting Scripture must be what is already forbidden in heaven.
In other words, the decisions that you make in your position as a leader in the church reflect the absolutes of Scripture. You’re not making this up as you go along. You’re not going to be giving contradictory information or new ideas—that what you forbid reflects what’s already been forbidden in heaven; and whatever you permit on the earth reflects what has already been permitted in heaven.
You’re under the authority of God. You’re not giving out a lot of new information. So this becomes the foundation for understanding the beginning of the church.
One other point: When this is announced, Jesus says, “I will build My church.” There are only two times in all the Gospels where the word EKKLESIA for church is mentioned: Here in verse 18, and in Matthew 18.
The church hasn’t begun yet. It’s future tense, “I WILL build My church.” He doesn’t say, “I have already built My church” or “I’m building My church.”
He says, “I will build My church.” The church is future. The church does not begin until the beginning of Acts, in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost.
So Jesus for the first time indicates that something new is coming, a new entity, a new organism that is going to be known as “the body of Christ, the church.” But then when He finishes this, it says, “He commanded the disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Messiah.”
Now why is He doing that?
Because He doesn’t want to create a situation that stirs up the opposition from the authorities so that they will move against Him precipitously.
Because now He is within almost six months from the crucifixion, and things have to operate according to His specific timetable.
Up to this point, the message has been going out. Now it’s, “Well, we’re not going to stir up things because we’re going to go according to this timetable.”
He is finishing up His northern ministry in the Galilee, and He will be heading south and heading to Jerusalem in preparation for His final week on the earth before He dies on the Cross to pay the penalty for our sins.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things this morning, to be reminded of the uniqueness of Jesus, the Messiah: that He is the eternal Second Person of the Trinity Who entered into human history. He is the Son of God, the Son of the Living God, and that He came to earth to die on the Cross for our sins. That was the Messianic role, that was the prediction from the Old Testament, and He fulfilled that in every detail.
Father, we pray that if there’s anyone who has never made it sure or certain in their life that they are saved, who have questions, maybe they’re confused, maybe they’ve been just distracted by many things in life, but this is your opportunity to make this both sure and certain.
Jesus Christ died on the Cross for YOUR sins and that it’s yours if you accept that free gift of eternal life, by believing in Jesus. That’s all that’s necessary. It doesn’t involve doing anything, doesn’t involve cleaning up your life. It doesn’t involve repenting. It doesn’t involve numerous other things that people want to add to salvation. John in his Gospel over 95 times made the issue one thing: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
Now Father, we pray that You would help us to think through what has been taught this morning, to apply it to our thinking under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit.
We pray this in Christ’s Name. Amen.”