Theme: Our Foundation
In this week’s lesson we reveal the Rock of the Church.
Matthew 16: 15-18
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 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.”
Foremost among the important teachings of this chapter is Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ. As we read in yesterday’s lesson, Jesus approached the matter by asking two probing questions. We have already looked at the first of these questions: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Now Jesus asked His second question: “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (v.15). It was at this point that Peter spoke for the rest and gave his classic answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v.16). Peter’s answer did two things, both forcefully. First, it identified Jesus as the Messiah, the one who was to reign forever on the throne of His great ancestor David. Second, and even more importantly, it identified Jesus as divine: “the Son of the living God.” It is that combination of ideas that makes Peter’s confession so important, for he was confessing that Jesus was no mere man but God himself come to save his people.
In the Greek text this is as forceful as any confession could be. It is only ten words, but in it the definite article occurs four times, like this: “You are the Christ, the Son of the God, the living One.” This was so true and so important a confession that Jesus pointed out that it was not in the same category as other things Peter was in the habit of blurting out, most of which were wrong. He told Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” (v.17). It was the result of a specific divine revelation.
So also today. The first and most important thing any person needs to understand about Jesus is that he is the Son of God, “very God of very God,” as one of the ancient creeds puts it. That is because the value of His work, dying for sin, depends on who He is. If He is not God, His death would have no more value than any other person’s death. But because He is God His death has infinite value and is indeed able to take away sins.
Do you see that? Can you believe it? If you can, it is because God has revealed it to you Himself. It is because He is blessing you by bringing you from death to spiritual life, just as He was blessing Peter. Salvation is God’s work from the beginning to the end.
So far so good. But now, what do we do about the problems that everyone knows are in these verses? To start with, what did Jesus mean when he said to Peter, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”?1 There are three main interpretations. Let’s look at the first two in the remainder of today’s lesson.
1. Peter is the rock. The Roman Catholic Church concludes from this verse that Jesus appointed Peter and his successors to be head of the church, the popes. But it is possible to believe that “rock” refers to Peter without the implications Catholics draw from it. Quite a few Protestant interpreters are willing to think of Peter as the rock but only in the sense that he was the first to make this confession and thus became, along with the other apostles, a foundation on which the church would eventually be built. Paul described the church as being “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). D. A. Carson and William Hendricksen think this is the right interpretation, though they make clear that “the text says nothing about Peter’s successors, infallibility, or exclusive authority.”2
2. Peter’s confession is the rock. This has been the majority view among Protestants. R. V. Tasker wrote, “The faith that was expressed by him was the rock upon which he would build his church.”3 Surprisingly, this was also the view of a large number of the early Catholic fathers. John A. Broadus is informative here. He quotes Chrysostom as saying, “On this rock; that is, on the faith of his confession. . .He did not say upon Peter, for it was not upon man, but upon his faith.” Broadus also cites Gregory of Nyssa, Isidore of Pelusium, Hilary, Theodoret, Theophanes, Theophylact and John of Damascus as having held to this interpretation”4
1The literature on these verses embraces hundreds if not thousands of books and articles. William Hendricksen has a representative list in his commentary, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), p.644.
2D.A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol 8, Matthew, Mark, Luke (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), p.368, and William Hendricksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), p.647
3R.V. Tasker The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1961), p.158.
4John A. Broadus, Commentary on Matthew (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1990), p.356.
What was Peter’s answer and what did this answer encompass?
How do we know Peter’s confession is correct?
What gives Christ’s death value?
Summarize two main interpretations of Jesus’ statement to Peter in v. 18.
Why is it significant to you that a sometimes blunderer like Peter is the first to recognize Jesus as the Christ?
If you can [believe it], it is because God has revealed it to you himself. It is because he is blessing you by bringing you from death to spiritual life, just as he was blessing Peter.