Theme: Our Foundation
In this week’s lesson we reveal the Rock of the Church.
“Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this 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 Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.”
Peter was not the rock, but he did have an important role to play. Specifically, he was given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” with the added promise, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (v. 19). Whatever does that mean? Does it mean that Peter was given the exclusive and daunting privilege of determining who would get to heaven and who would not? Was Jesus really placing the eternal destinies of other men and women in Peter’s hands?
Here again there are three major interpretations.
1. Peter and his successors have been given authority to receive or exclude individual people from salvation. This is the position of the Roman Catholic Church. Strict Catholicism teaches that there is no salvation apart from the fellowship of the church. Therefore, to be excluded from the church by excommunication is to be severed from the body of Christ; a person dying in that state will go to hell. Priests have this authority over their flock, but ultimately this power resides in the pope alone.
2. Ministers have authority to announce forgiveness of sins to those who repent of sin and trust Christ. This is the Protestant position, and it finds expression in the parts of Protestant services called the confession of sin and the declaration of pardon. The Heidelberg Catechism contains a classic statement of it: “How is the kingdom of heaven opened and shut by the preaching of the gospel?” Answer:
By proclaiming and openly witnessing, according to the command of Christ, to believers, one and all, that, whenever they receive the promise of the gospel by a true faith, all their sins are really forgiven them of God for the sake of Christ’s merits; and on the contrary, by proclaiming and witnessing to all unbelievers and such as do not sincerely repent that the wrath of God and eternal condemnation abide on them so long as they are not converted. (answer to question 84)
3. Peter used the keys by opening the door of the gospel to Jews by his preaching at Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2, and by opening the door of the gospel to Gentiles by his preaching in the house of Cornelius, recorded in Acts 10. Peter was the apostle to the Jews, so he preached to the Jews first. But although he was the apostle to the Jews, Peter was also the first to bring the gospel to a strictly Gentile audience.
This is a minority view among Protestants, but it is held by no less a careful and distinguished evangelical scholar than John Stott, among others. Writing on Acts 10 Stott says, “We have already watched Peter use these keys effectively, opening the kingdom to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost and then to the Sanhedrin soon afterwards. Now he is to use them again to open the kingdom to Gentiles; by evangelizing and baptizing Cornelius, the first Gentile convert.”’
At the end of this section of the gospel Matthew records that Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. There was a reason for that then. The people had mistaken ideas about what the Messiah would be like and what he would do. Jesus did not want to be pressed into their false patterns of expectation. But that was then. This is now. And today there is no reason to preserve the Messianic secret. On the contrary, there is every reason and, in fact, even Christ’s own command, to proclaim it. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He is the sinner’s Savior. Therefore, to repent of sin and believe on him is to pass from death to life and to find salvation. To reject him is to perish forever.
List and explain three interpretations of Peter’s role in being given the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
Why did Jesus instruct his disciples not to reveal his identity as Christ?
What are we to do regarding Jesus’ identity?
To repent of sin and believe on him is to pass from death to life and to find salvation. T0 reject him is to perish forever.