Theme: God’s Sovereignty in Revelation
This week’s lessons show from Peter’s confession the need for personal faith and commitment to Christ, who alone is the foundation of the church’s belief and practice.
Scripture: Matthew 16:13-20
Now Peter’s confession was really so astounding that the Lord Jesus Christ had to say a word for the benefit of the others, so that they would know that Peter wasn’t merely running at the mouth. Peter was inclined to do that, you know—first to speak, and the quickest into error. In fact, a few minutes later he’s going to say something that is very wrong and produce quite a different response from his Master. But the Lord Jesus Christ, you see, knowing that this was important and knowing, perhaps, that the other disciples, who were well aware of Peter’s tendencies, wouldn’t know quite how to regard it, substantiated what Peter said. Jesus said to Peter, “That was a marvelous thing, and you are blessed because of it on the basis of that confession. But all of you need to know that the only reason Peter was able to make that confession is because it has been revealed to him by God.”
That’s the same today. Nobody can confess that Jesus Christ is Lord except the Father draws them to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit makes that clear to them. And on the other hand, all who make that confession, being so led by the Holy Spirit, are blessed by God–blessed with salvation, and every other way besides. This, in other words, gets to the center of what it means to trust Jesus. If you say at this point, “Well, Peter didn’t understand the cross,” that is true. He didn’t. He had to learn all of that, and in time he did. And Peter had to learn that he was not trustworthy himself, and in time he did learn that as well. But you see, so far as he had understanding, he trusted Jesus, and that trust of Jesus was absolute, and so Jesus pointed out that this was the work of the Holy Spirit and that the blessing of God was upon him as a result of it and in conjunction with it, just as is true today.
Sometimes people say, “Well, how much of the gospel do you have to understand in order to be a Christian?” That’s a debatable question, I suppose. I guess the real answer is that it’s not so much how much you understand but whether you believe what you do understand. And certainly that was the case here. If you said that you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and he died for me, I suppose that can be a bare minimum. But as you study the Scriptures, God makes clear other things about Jesus Christ, and those who have been taught by the Holy Spirit and are blessed by God will believe those things as well. Let’s never get into the habit of saying, “How little do I have to believe?” It’s like saying, “How little do I have to obey to have Jesus Christ as my Master?” You have to obey everything that Jesus says, if he’s your Master, and you have to believe everything that is taught in the Bible about him. Peter is expressing such understanding as he had.
Now that’s important, because at this point the Lord Jesus Christ began to teach them, first of all about his church, and secondly about the ministry as a result of which his church would be brought into being. This text here in verse 18 is extremely important, and has been the result of a great deal of discussion and writing in theological and biblical circles. Jesus, after he had told Peter that he was blessed and that what he had said had not been revealed to him by man but by his Father, went on to say, “I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades [or hell] will not overcome it.” Basically there are three views as to how that’s to be taken. What is it that Jesus says he’s going to build his church upon?
One view, the view of the Roman Catholic Church, is that Jesus said he was going to build his church upon Peter. Now the Roman Catholics have taken that text and have used it, really, as the foundational text for their doctrine of the papacy—that Peter was the first pope. After this he went to Rome and actually founded the papacy there in Rome, and that all who sit up on the see, the seat of Peter in Rome, are Peter’s successors, and they are the foundation upon which the church of Jesus Christ is built. From that has come, in time, the doctrine of papal infallibility, so that when a Pope teaches ex cathedra, that is from his throne in an official way, that is a binding and inerrant revelation somewhat equivalent to the revelation of Scripture itself.
There’s something of a Protestant version of that, not in the supremacy of Peter, of course, but in the teaching that God did in a certain sense actually build his church upon Peter. Generally, they refer to the opening chapters of Acts where Peter is prominent. And since Jesus goes on to talk about the keys of the kingdom, it’s been argued that Peter exercised the keys opening the door of the gospel to the Jews on Pentecost and to the Gentiles at Caesarea, and that in that sense the Lord Jesus Christ really did build his church using Peter. The problem with it, of course, is that to use Peter is not the same thing as to build it upon Peter, which is what text literally says.
The second interpretation of the verse is this. It says that it’s not that Jesus is going to build his church upon Peter, but, rather, he built his church upon Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is also a view of many Protestant commentators, and I would imagine there would be Roman Catholic commentators that would be attracted to it as well. Certainly they would say it’s not the strength of Peter as a man but, rather, what he has said concerning the supremacy of Christ. Now, there’s something to be said for that, because certainly there’s a great focus here upon the profession of Peter on this occasion. It’s the first time in Matthew that is said. And it would not be impossible for Jesus to have said, “Well that great confession, the first time I have heard that, is the foundation upon which everything else is now going to be built. Everyone who comes after you is going to make that same confession, because they are going to be led to it by the Holy Spirit, and they are going to trust me.” You see, in that sense you could say that the profession itself was the rock upon which the church is built.
Why is it necessary for the Holy Spirit to reveal biblical truth to us?
What is the Roman Catholic understanding of Matthew 16:18? What are some weaknesses of it?
Explain the second interpretation of v. 18.
Application: Pray for opportunities to share the gospel with someone who is unclear about it.
Key Point: Nobody can confess that Jesus Christ is Lord except the Father draws them to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit makes that clear to them. And on the other hand, all who make that confession, being so led by the Holy Spirit, are blessed by God–blessed with salvation, and every other way besides. This, in other words, gets to the center of what it means to trust Jesus.