Theme: Jesus Christ the Foundation
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
And then there’s the third interpretation, and this is the one I hold to. I recognize some of the weaknesses of it, but this is the view that the foundation upon which the church is built, the rock, is not Peter but actually the Lord Jesus Christ. Now there’s some support for that in a slight change of wording that you find here. When Jesus turns to Peter and says, “You are Peter,” that word Peter in the Greek language is a slight variation of the word for rock and it actually means a certain kind of rock itself. The word is petros, and that’s usually explained as being a kind of stone, a rock that you might very well pick up in your hand. His real name was Simon, Simon Peter, and it really means “Simon the rock.” So Jesus was saying to him, “Now your name is Peter. You’re the rock.” But he said, “Upon this rock,” and at this point he doesn’t use the word petros, the word for stone in its masculine form, but he changes it from the masculine to the feminine and he says, “But upon this petra,” “I’m going to build my church.” Now petra generally means not merely stone, and certainly not a stone that you would hold in your hand but the bedrock upon which anything would be built. This is the kind of rock you would seek for the foundation of a house.
There’s a play on words that Jesus is making. He would be saying to Peter that you are a rock all right. You’re a little rock. You’re solid, but you’re movable. I’m going to build my church upon myself, because I am the rock that is the foundation upon which a man may safely build. There are, as I say, some arguments against that view, one of them being that Jesus spoke not in Greek but in Aramaic. And it’s been argued that that distinction doesn’t exist in Aramaic. Now that’s questionable whether it exists in Aramaic or not. It’s not quite as clear in Aramaic as it is in the Greek language, but I would argue that if it was translated this way in Greek it’s to make a point in the Greek language that Jesus in one way or another made in the language he was speaking.
But let me give the reasons why I think that it should be taken in the third way, the way that I’ve just indicated. First of all, this is Matthew’s teaching in the rest of the book. If you look ahead to the twenty-first chapter you’ll find Jesus there quoting an Old Testament text that refers to a stone and using it in reference to himself. In Matthew 21:42 we read: “Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures “The stone the builders rejected, has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes”’?”
Now it’s very obvious in that context that he’s thinking of himself. He’s the stone the builders rejected, but this is the stone, himself, upon which God is going to construct his church. Or again, I take you back to a passage that’s even better known, at the very end of the Sermon on the Mount in the seventh chapter of Matthew. Jesus is comparing those who hear his word and build upon it to those who don’t. And he’s saying that those who hear his word and obey it are like those who build upon a rock, a foundation, identifying himself with his teachings. Thus, when the storm comes their house is not swept away because it’s built on a solid foundation. But for those who build on sand, when the storm comes their house is swept away. Now that’s not a one-on-one correlation with what is said here in Matthew 16, but it strikes me that it is significant. Those are the only two other places in the Gospel where a reference is made to a rock or a stone, and the reference is to Jesus Christ and not to Peter.
Now my second reason for holding to this view is that this was Peter’s own teaching. I suppose Peter was particularly sensitive to this because people would misunderstand in his day as people misunderstand today, and they might very well have said to Peter on more than one occasion, “Say, Peter, I understand that Jesus said that you are the rock upon which he is going to build his church.” And Peter, I sense, was aware of that misunderstanding, so when he had opportunity he did what he could do to correct it. In Acts 4 he is giving his great sermon before the Sanhedrin, where in verse 10 he says to this august body of people, “Know this, you and everyone else in Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God has raised from the dead, that this man stands before you completely healed. He [that is Jesus] is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’” So standing there before the Sanhedrin he did not say I, Peter, am the rock upon which Jesus is going to build his church, but, rather, he is the rock that you rejected but which God chose and is using.
And then if you go to 1 Peter 2, you’ll find it in even stronger language. In verses 4-6 he puts together a collection of verses that refer to Jesus as the rock. He says that Jesus is the living stone who has been rejected by man but chosen by God. He is the stone laid in Zion that becomes a cornerstone and a capstone who is also a stumbling block for those who do not believe. So both Matthew and Peter make very clear that Jesus and not Peter is the rock.
What is the third interpretation of v. 18?
For what reasons does Dr. Boice prefer this view?
Application: In what ways do you observe people acting as if they or other people are the foundation upon which truth or reality is built? Even in the church, do you see people acting as if they are the foundation of authority, rather than Christ and what he teaches in his Word?