On This Rock I Will Build My Church
One day as the disciples were traveling near Caesarea Philippi with Jesus, He stopped and asked them what people were saying about Him and who they thought He was. “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” Jesus asked them. (Matthew 16:13b) Several of the disciples answered back; “Some say You are John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say that You are Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14) So the crowds who had watched Jesus heal the sick and listened to Him preach, still thought Jesus was just a prophet, (a superstar), and they still didn’t understand that He is Savior and Lord.
And then Jesus asked His disciples for their personal opinion about who He is. It is always important to Jesus that His own know who He is. “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked. (Matthew 16:15) And then Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)
Jesus smiled and joyfully nodded his head. He was very pleased with Peters’ answer and He turned to Peter enthusiastically and pronounced: “Blessed are you, Peter, son of Jonah, for this truth was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:17-18)
Jesus has just said that His church would be built on the rock. And down through the last few centuries this statement that Jesus made has been the center of a controversy. The problem is, just what is the meaning of the rock that Jesus spoke of? Did Jesus mean that the rock refers to Peter himself or to Peter’s confession? Peter had just confessed that Jesus is “the Christ and the Son of the living God.”
Isn’t Peter’s powerful confession – that Jesus is Lord and Savior - the center (or rock) of our Christian faith? Isn’t it a supernatural (Holy Spirit) confession, since when we confess that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior we receive eternal life? Isn’t Jesus the Rock, the Cornerstone (rock) that we build upon?
In Hebrew there are three words for rock – sela, tsur, and keph. Each appears throughout the Hebrew Bible and each is used to refer to God. So Protestants believe that Peter’s confession of faith that Jesus is Son of God and Savior is the solid rock that the church is built on. And Protestants believe that Jesus (who is God the Son) is the rock the church is built on.
But the Catholic Church believes that Peter is the rock and they take this scripture (Matthew 16:16) and use it in part to justify papal authority. Catholics believe that after Jesus ascended to heaven that Peter was the first leader of the first church, and thus Peter was the first pope. Scripture does tell us that the early church was run by apostles and elders and that Peter was one of them. When you listen to what Jesus said: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church…” it does sound like the rock could be Peter. So Catholics believe that the Catholic church is built on Peter, the first pope whose apostolic power has been passed down the line to each pope that has followed after him.
It is interesting to notice that Jesus said; “On this rock I will build My church.” Jesus didn’t say “On this rock you will build My church,” or “On this rock I will build your church.” We may think we are the builder and it is our church. But Jesus is the builder and it is His Church!
Jesus also tells Peter that he didn’t believe and confess this truth- that Jesus is Lord- on his own or by his own intellect or by human knowledge. (Matthew 16:17) But the truth that Jesus is Son of God and Savior is a spiritual truth that was supernaturally given to Peter (and to us) by God. We can not believe in Jesus on our own. Salvation (believing in Jesus) is a gift from God. We can only believe that Jesus is Lord and Savior when our hearts are open to allowing God to give us this faith.
When Jesus told Peter that He would build His church on the rock, He also added that the “gates of hell will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18) The “gates of hell” may mean “the powers of death” and perhaps Jesus was saying that His Church would not be at the mercy of physical death because the Lord’s resurrection would insure the resurrection of all believers. And also Scripture says that the Church (that’s us) at the end of the age will overcome every trouble through Jesus. (1 John 5:4-5) So Jesus will make His church victorious and the gates of hell will not overcome it. (1 Corinthians 15:57)
And Jesus said one more thing to Peter at this time. He said; “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.” (Matthew 16:19) I don’t know the full meaning of this verse, but I think that Jesus is giving power to Peter here, and to the disciples and to us as believers. Spiritual power to carry on His work. We have Holy Spirit power through intercessory prayer to bind evil and to loose healing and love and God’s will on others. We have been told that through Jesus whatever we ask in prayer believing, if it is God’s will, we shall receive. (Matt. 18:15-20)
Since we are given the keys of the kingdom I believe that they can be used in spiritual warfare. We can lock (bind) and unlock (loose) with a key. I think that the keys of the kingdom are to be used to spiritually bind and loose. These aren’t just any keys but they are powerful Holy Spirit keys. What a responsibility and a privilege to be given this spiritual gift.
We can pray that a family member be reconciled to the family – bind the spirits that keep the loved one angry and apart and loose on that one a freedom and love and forgiveness in the Holy Spirit. If we don’t know how to pray, or what is holding the family member back, we can pray in tongues – and count on the Holy Spirit to use the right words. “The Spirit also helps us, for we know not what we should pray for, but the Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:25-26)
If we are praying for a sick person we can bind the spirit of sickness and loose on them a healing and a loosening of the disease. If we are bound up and can’t pray in the Spirit we can pray for more faith and more freedom and pray to be loosed from the many things that bind us up and keep us from being free to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. And we can continue praying in the Spirit and believing until we see the answer come to fruition.
Jesus is still building His church and He comes to each of us and asks the same question He asked Peter: “Who do say that I am?” It is the most important question that you will ever have to answer. What will you say? Who do you believe Jesus is? Is He your Savior and the Son of God? Or do you know? Are you asking the hard questions? Have you taken a moral inventory of yourself? Wrestled with your own faith? Or are you just repeating what other people are saying about Jesus?
If we say that Jesus is just another prophet or just a superstar we make Him a liar. Jesus said that He is the Son of God. He admitted that He is eternal – “before Abraham was, I Am”. (John 8:58) That is why the religious leaders crucified Him. They accused Jesus of blasphemy for saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by Me.” (John 14:6) We can never say that Jesus is just a special teacher. Jesus is either who He said He is or He is a liar.
Maybe you don’t want to know who Jesus is. You sense that He will change you if you know Him. A Door will open up in your heart when you confess that He is Lord. You don’t want to be changed,- to give up control. But you will never know who you are until you know who Jesus is.
Questions: What do you think Jesus meant by the “rock”?
What do you think the “keys of the kingdom” mean?