THE FOUNDATION OF THE UNSTOPPABLE CHURCH IS THE APOSTLES (AS REPRESENTED BY PETER) WHO EMBRACED THE TRUE IDENTITY OF JESUS AND WERE DELEGATED AUTHORITY TO ENFORCE HIS TEACHING
Charles Swindoll: All of us have taken classes that have climaxed in a final exam. Quite often, that exam makes up the single most important grade in the course. Well-prepared exams help both the student and the teacher determine whether the teacher accomplished what he or she set out to teach and whether the student grasped the important points. It’s not uncommon for the final exam to have only a few questions, but these questions are probing and strategic, addressing the core matters of the course.
Day after day for many months, Jesus had been training His disciples. Moment by moment they heard His teaching, observed His actions, witnessed His miracles, and got to know Him up close and personal. He invited them into His world, allowing them to observe his methods of ministry and, hopefully, to learn His ways. Finally, the day came for their final exam, which consisted of one crucial questions. In fact, it’s life’s ultimate question for all people. How we answer this question will have everything to do with our eternal destiny.
Stanley Saunders: The disciples have had the secrets of the kingdom revealed to them (13:10–17) and they have repeatedly witnessed God’s power at work in Jesus, but they continue to demonstrate that their understanding is incomplete and their faith immature (cf., e.g., 15:33; 16:8–12). Jesus’ question about who “people” say he is forms a bookend with John the Baptizer’s question in 11:2 about whether Jesus is “the one coming.” Peter’s answer marks a definitive turning point in Matthew’s Gospel, alongside Jesus’ announcement of his impending death and resurrection in Jerusalem (16:21–28).
Stu Weber: This passage serves as a transitional section in Matthew’s Gospel. Peter’s confession summarized Jesus’ ministry up to this point. And Jesus’ announcement of the church began Jesus’ preparation of the disciples for their leadership roles in his absence. Jesus’ intention to build his church marks a major transition in God’s pursuit of his great plan of the ages. The old wineskin of Israel had been set on the shelf temporarily, while the new wineskin of the church was introduced.
Grant Osborne: The single central idea is Christology, the messiahship of Jesus; Matthew contains by far the longest confession, as Peter links Jesus as “Messiah” with Jesus as “the Son of the living God.” The second idea is discipleship, as Peter struggles with what that means. The third is blessing, as Jesus confers on Peter (and the church with which he is corporately identified) the authority of the kingdom power in Jesus.
Donald Hagner: The climax of the first main part of the Gospel is found in this resounding confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is this to which all (beginning especially with 4:17) has led. It is this that must be established with all possible fixity before the narrative takes that startling turn that will dominate the second half of the Gospel and that seems almost to contradict the point just established. With this supremely important confession of Jesus as Messiah, confirmed by Jesus’ declaration of the divinely certified truth of the confession (v. 17), it is not surprising that several other important ideas emerge, i.e., the church, the authority of Peter (and the other apostles), and inclusion or exclusion from the kingdom. For all of these—as indeed Christianity itself—are dependent on the identity of Jesus. It is because Jesus is who he is that Peter and the disciples can fulfill their calling and the church can be “built.”
(:13a) GEOGRAPHIC TRANSITION
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi,”
Richard Gardner: The northernmost boundary of ancient Israel. Known earlier as Paneas or Panion, the city of Caesarea Philippi was located at the foot of Mt. Hermon and had been rebuilt and renamed by Philip the Tetrarch (cf. Luke 3:1). The new name both honored the emperor, Caesar Augustus, and distinguished this Caesarea from the coastal city with the same name (cf. Acts 10:1).
Stanley Saunders: Matthew sets this story, significantly, in the region of Caesarea Philippi, where Herod the Great built a temple in honor of Caesar Augustus. Herod’s son Philip later enlarged the city and renamed it Caesarea. Josephus reports that after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, Jewish prisoners were thrown to the beasts in Caesarea Philippi (Josephus, Jewish War, 7:2:1 § 23–24). The setting of this story thus provides a pointed reminder of the conflict between God and the powers of this world.
I. (:13b-16) FINAL EXAM – CONFESSING THE TRUE IDENTITY OF JESUS
A. (:13) Primary Issue = Identity of Jesus
“He began asking His disciples, saying, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’”
Donald Hagner: Jesus takes the initiative by directly asking the question that has been in the minds of the disciples (and the readers of the Gospel) from the beginning of his ministry. What were people saying about him? How did they classify him, having seen him heal and heard him teach?
John MacArthur: “He asked His disciples, saying, ‘Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?’” He uses the term Son of man to refer to Himself – it, by the way, is used 80 plus times in the New Testament, and so it is the Lord’s most common designation of Himself, and although it is definitely a prophetic title of Messiah taken from Daniel 7:13 and 14, He uses it more as a sign of His humiliation, as a sign of His identification with humanity. . .
He wants the general opinions of men as they fall short of reality as a backdrop for the truth, which the disciples will give. And what He’s really seeking is the confession that they ought to make with their lips from their heart after nearly two and a half years of being with Him. He’s after a verdict. He’s after a confidence statement, a supreme confession of who He is. It’s time for that now, the lessons are over, the course has reached its climax, now is the test.
B. (:14) Popular Views of the Identity of Jesus
“And they said,”
Richard Gardner: When Jesus poses the first question, the disciples respond with a list of popular views. In each case, people are identifying Jesus with an earlier figure in Israel’s history who has supposedly returned to life or whose role is fulfilled anew in him. He could be John the Baptist (the view Herod espouses in 14:2), or Elijah (whose return was promised in Mai. 4:5-6), or Jeremiah (who is depicted in 2 Macc. 15:13-16 as alive and active in heaven), or another such figure (cf. Deut. 18:15-22). Common to each of these popular views is the idea that Jesus is a prophet. While this is true in one sense, it is an insufficient view from the standpoint of the Gospels. It confines Jesus to the roles and possibilities of the old era.
J. Ligon Duncan: What’s the problem with each of these designations that are being given to Jesus by the crowd? Well, there are basically two problems with them. First of all, notice that each of these relate Jesus to some famous and respected figure in Israel’s past, but every single one of them fails to recognize the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Yes, He may be like John or like Elijah or like Jeremiah or like one of the prophets, but He is far greater. In fact, He is unique. There is no one like Him. He is in a class by Himself. So every single one of these designations by the crowd–it’s not that they’re unflattering, it’s not that they’re mean spirited. I’m sure that these people meant to say these as compliments. But they fail to see the uniqueness of Christ.
And secondly, notice that every single one of these designations mixes truth with error. I mean it’s a truth that He was like Jeremiah or like Elijah or like John the Baptist, but the only truth is to say a half-truth, because it doesn’t tell the whole story. And as Patrick tells us, “A half-truth masquerading as a whole truth is a whole lie.” We don’t understand Christ if we only think that He was a great teacher, a great prophet, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. He was much more than that. And so every single one of these designations falls short.
- John the Baptist
“Some say John the Baptist;”
“and others, Elijah;”
John MacArthur: By the way, if you were to go to a Jewish Passover today, you would see at the Jewish Passover table, an empty chair, and if you were to ask the host why there is an empty chair during the Passover in which no one sits, he would tell you it is the chair for Elijah, and they are waiting for Elijah to show up because when he takes his seat, the Messiah is not far behind. And that’s based on Malachi 4.
- Jeremiah or One of the Prophets
“but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”
R. T. France: One surprising element, which is peculiar to Matthew, is the singling out of Jeremiah as a model for understanding Jesus. Jeremiah was, of course a prominent OT prophet, but why choose him rather than, say, Isaiah, with whom Jesus has himself implicitly compared his own ministry in the quotation in 13:13–15? The answer may be found in the peculiar nature of Jeremiah’s message, which has made his name proverbial as a prophet of doom, and in the sustained opposition he encountered among his own people. In particular, Jeremiah incurred fierce hostility by predicting the downfall of Judah and the destruction of the temple, and a similar message will become an increasing feature of Jesus’ ministry as Matthew relates it. The three parables directed against the current Jewish leadership in 21:28 – 22:14 will be followed by the denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees in ch. 23 with its warning of a climactic judgment to come, and the explicit prediction of the total destruction of the temple (23:34 – 24:2; note the echo of Jer 22:5 in 23:38). It will be as a threat to the temple that Jesus will be tried (26:61) and derided on the cross (27:40). While this remains in the future as far as the narrative sequence is concerned, we have already heard Jesus’ cryptic comment that “something greater than the temple is here,” (12:6) and his threat of judgment on Galilean towns in 11:20–24. It is not very surprising that some people, whether in admiration or in disparagement, might have seen him already as a second Jeremiah; as the story continues the identification will become even more apt.
C. (:15-16) Preeminent Confession of the Identity of Jesus as the Messiah
“He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’
And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’”
Richard Gardner: So it is that Jesus continues to probe with his second question: What do you my followers see as you behold me at work? The answer Peter gives as the disciples’ spokesperson has already been anticipated in 14:33. Here, however, as a direct response to Jesus’ inquiry, the words take on added significance. More than a prophet, Jesus is the Messiah, one with authority to fulfill Israel’s prophetic hope. Like the anointed kings who preceded him, therefore, he may be called God’s Son (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14; Pss. 2:7; 89:26-27), but with a status far exceeding theirs. His sonship is not merely one of adoption, the result of an act of coronation, but a sonship that comes from a unique and intimate relationship with God (cf. 11:27). He is the Son of the living God par excellence, because the living and life-giving God has been present in his life from the very beginning (cf. 1:18-25).
Charles Swindoll: Though Peter was in way over his head theologically, he didn’t hesitate to state the truth. I’m not sure Peter was fully aware of what it meant that Jesus was the Messiah. Surely he understood its implications for Jesus’ kingship in relation to being the descendant of David, but whether Peter knew that Jesus was also the anointed Prophet and the anointed, eternal High Priest, we can’t be sure. And when Peter called Jesus the “Son of the Living God,” did he have a full knowledge of Jesus’ divine Sonship as the second person of the Trinity, co-eternal with the Father? Certainly Peter understood that Jesus was greater than any human he had ever met, that he had been sent by God, and that He was the Son of God in the sense that He was the descendant of David destined to be enthroned as the Messiah. But it may very well be that Peter spoke more than he knew when he confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.
Donald Hagner: This answer differs categorically from those offered by the people. That is, here Jesus is not identified as one of the figures involved in the coming of the end times, but as the coming one, the determinative person who brings with him the messianic age and the transformation of the present order.
John MacArthur: This isn’t just Peter, this is Peter gathering up the consensus of the – of the disciples, speaking in their behalf. I like the fact that it calls him Simon Peter. It gives a very official character to the confession. This is a very official, formal confession. Simon Peter, his full name, says: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It’s a formal confession, and it demands a formal designation, not an offhanded one. This is the consensus.
II. (:17-19) FUTURE VISION FOR THE UNSTOPPABLE BUILDING OF JESUS’ CHURCH
“And Jesus answered and said to him,”
A. (:17) Beatitude – Spiritual Truth Depends on Revelation from the Father
“Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you,
but My Father who is in heaven.”
Stu Weber: He immediately pronounced Peter blessed, meaning that Peter had been the recipient of God’s favor or blessing in the form of truth revealed to Peter’s mind. It was not man who revealed this to Peter. The truth of Jesus’ identity is one of the “secrets” of 13:11, easily understandable once it is revealed. But it is undiscoverable by natural, human means until God chooses to make it known. Only my Father in heaven was the source of such understanding about the Son. Here “my Father” took on extra significance in light of Peter’s confession of Jesus as “the Son of the living God.”
Grant Osborne: In light of the insight God has granted to Simon, Jesus pronounces a beatitude (see on 5:3), i.e., God’s blessing, on him. As already noted in 5:3–12, μακάριος is not human happiness but divine favor, though the joy and fortunate status of the individual is a by-product. It combines religious ecstasy and human joy.
B. (:18) Bedrock (Foundation) of the Unstoppable Church
- Beginning of the Church
“And I also say to you that you are Peter,”
Stanley Saunders: In the Old Testament, both Abram and Jacob received new names, and both were associated with the birth of a new people (Gen. 17; 32:22–32). Peter now gets his name (cf. 4:18; 10:2). It is a play on the words for a round stone (petros) and a rock (petra). Peter himself, not just his confession, is the round stone that will serve as the foundation stone for the building that is Jesus’ assembly.
- Foundation of the Church
“and upon this rock I will build My church;”
Evangelical Protestants have an innate reaction against seeing Jesus identifying Peter as the foundation of the church [even if you view Peter as representative of the body of apostles]. They want to guard against the errors of Catholicism and the arguments supporting the popery. But that is an overreaction to the natural exegesis of this passage.
Leon Morris: The big question is the meaning of this rock. Does it mean the man Peter? Or the faith Peter has just professed? Or is it the teaching of Jesus (as in 7:24)? Or Jesus himself? Each of the views has been argued passionately by some exegetes, often maintaining at the same time that other views can be espoused only by people who refuse to accept the plain meaning of the Greek. Clearly this is a place where we must tread carefully and keep in mind the possibility of interpreting the passage in ways other than the one that appeals to us.
Stu Weber: Upon this statement the Roman Catholic church has based its doctrine of Peter being appointed the first in a long line of popes. Jesus’ statements of Peter’s authority in the next verse provide the basis for the Roman Catholic church’s erroneous teachings regarding the authority of the papal office.
And, equally in error, many Protestants have reacted against the Roman Catholic interpretation by going to the other extreme, allowing the “rock” (petra) to mean anything but Peter himself.
Matthew’s record of Jesus’ wordplay on Peter’s name is significant. Petros is a masculine singular noun. Petra is feminine. And while clearly related, they represent a distinction. The masculine singular form refers to Peter as one singular rock. The feminine form may be understood to represent bedrock or a rock quarry. It is reasonable to understand Jesus’ statement to mean that Peter was one rock among a rock quarry (the disciples). It was upon this quarry of disciples (cf. “living stones,” 1 Pet. 2:5) and their understanding of Peter’s confession that Jesus would build his church. . .
It is critical to understand that the words church and kingdom are two different words referring to two different realities. They are not synonymous or interchangeable. And the one (church) does not replace the other (kingdom). “Church” refers to a people; “kingdom” refers to a reign. Furthermore, the church does not subsume the kingdom, although it is part of it. Nor does the church replace the nation of Israel in the unfolding of the kingdom. Any attempt to make it so must require major allegorizing of the covenants (rather than interpreting them consistently and literally), which results in significant doctrinal error.
The church does not render God’s covenant with David (2 Sam. 7) and David’s kingdom obsolete. The Son of David will rule from David’s throne (Israel) over the earth, and the church (the king’s bride) will share in it, but the church cannot replace it. “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:25-29). A study of the usages of the words basileia (kingdom) and ekklesia (church) will demonstrate a great difference between the two.
William Barclay: Jesus did not mean that the Church depended on Peter, as it depended on Himself, and on God the Rock, alone. He did mean that the Church began with Peter; in that sense Peter is the foundation of the Church.
R. T. France: Here, as we have noted, Peter is acting as spokesman for the whole group. Yet it is Peter, not the Twelve, who is declared to be the foundation rock. So how does this corporate apostolic foundation relate to a specific foundational role for Peter alone? Matthew has made it clear in 10:2 that Peter comes “first” among the Twelve. Throughout the gospel he is mentioned far more often than any other disciple, and regularly takes the lead. In the early chapters of Acts it is Peter who leads the disciple group in Jerusalem, and it is he who takes the initiative in the key developments which will constitute the church as a new, international body of the people of God through faith in Jesus: note especially his role in the bringing in of Samaritans (Acts 8:14–25) and Gentiles (Acts 10:1 – 11:18; 15:7–11). By the time James takes over as president of the Jerusalem church, the foundation has been laid. In principle all the apostles constituted the foundation, with Jesus as the cornerstone, but as a matter of historical fact it was on Peter’s leadership that the earliest phase of the church’s development would depend, and that personal role, fulfilling his name “Rock,” is appropriately celebrated by Jesus’ words here.
Donald Hagner: The rock imagery implies both stability and endurance (cf. 7:24–25), even before the gates of Hades (see below). . . “Rock” of course refers here not to Peter’s character, as will become clear later in the narrative, but to his office and function (see too France) as leader of the apostles.
John MacArthur: this is a message of great hope that the beleaguered, persecuted, martyred, rejected, maligned, poor, ignoble people of God are still going to go on, and when they look like losers, you just aren’t looking close enough. There’s victory at the end.
- the certainty of Jesus building His church
- the intimacy of Jesus building His church
- the identity of the church Jesus will build – my assembled, redeemed people – speaks to the continuity of the people of God
- Destiny of the Church
“and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.”
Richard Gardner: The promise Jesus gives in verse 18 is to build a durable community which he calls my church (cf. 18:17; 1 Cor. 1:2; Acts 9:31). The Greek word for church is ekklēsia, the same word used for the assembly of Israel in the LXX (cf. Deut. 31:30; Judg. 20:2; 1 Kings 8:14). What Jesus promises, then, is to reconstruct the people of God, to fashion a messianic community of faith with its own foundation and destiny. And Peter is somehow related to this building project. As the NRSV and NIV footnotes indicate, verse 18 begins with a provocative play on words: You are Peter (Petros), Jesus says, and on this rock (petra) I will build my church. Petros is a masculine noun meaning stone or rock, and so usable as a male name; petra is a feminine noun conveying the idea of a rock foundation (as in 7:24).
The key question here is whether the rock foundation of the church is Peter himself, or something to be distinguished from Peter. If the latter, Jesus could be speaking of Peter’s faith, or of the revelation Peter received. It is more likely, however, that the rock on which Jesus promises to build the church is in fact Peter himself, Peter the first disciple (cf. 4:18; 10:2), who represents the whole group of disciples from which the church will be formed. At least four considerations support this view:
(1) When a person in the biblical story receives a new name, the name points to a new identity or role for that person (cf. Gen. 17:5-6, 15-16; 32:27-28). It is thus natural to relate the name Peter receives to a role he will have in the founding of the church.
(2) The Aramaic saying which likely lies behind the Greek text here would have used one and the same word for both Peter and rock (the word kepha), thus identifying the two. (It is from the Aramaic word that the name Cephas is derived, the name Paul uses for Peter in his letters; cf. 1 Cor. 1:12; Gal. 1:18.)
(3) The view that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles is found elsewhere in the NT (Eph. 2:20). Further, there is evidence that Peter was revered as one of the pillars of the church among believers in Judea (cf. Gal. 2:9).
(4) The OT speaks of Abraham as the rock from which Israel was hewn (Isa. 51:1-2), and it is fitting that the first disciple to respond to Jesus should be identified in the same manner. Like Abraham, Peter signifies the origin of a special people, a people through whom God will bless all the nations. . .
As a metaphor, therefore, the gates of Hades represent the threat of destruction, in the face of which one seeks a secure place (cf. Isa. 28:14-22; 1QH 6:23-27; IQS 8:7). According to Jesus, the community he builds is such a place, capable of withstanding destruction. However fierce the floodwaters that beat against the church, its foundation is secure, and it will not be overwhelmed.
Leon Morris: Jesus is giving his followers the assurance that nothing in this world or the next can overthrow the church.
C. (:19) Bestowing of Authority
- Investiture of Authority – Keys to the Kingdom
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven;”
Richard Gardner: To understand the text correctly, we need to recall Peter’s function throughout 16:13-20. He serves as the representative of the disciples as a group. When Peter, therefore, receives the keys and the power to bind and loose, he does so on behalf of the church. To put it another way, the saying in verse 19 does not grant Peter special authority in the church, but grants the church special authority within history.
Charles Swindoll: referring primarily to Peter’s authority on earth to open up membership in the physical, visible, earthly community that would become known as the church, in keeping with God’s heavenly initiative. Let me explain. The “doors” of the church would be unlocked when Peter invited believing, repentant Jews into the fold on Pentecost – Acts 2:38-41.
Next, Peter would unlock the “doors” of the church for the Samaritans, a group of people descended from the mixture of Israelites and Gentiles following the Exile. Philip had preached the gospel in Samaria, and many had believed and were baptized. The book of Acts records Peter’s involvement form that point – Acts 8:14-17.
Finally, Peter would unlock the “doors” of the church to the Gentiles when he ordered the Roman centurion Cornelius and other Gentile believers in Jesus to be baptized – Acts 10:46-48.
- Implementation of Authority – Binding and Loosing
a. In Terms of Binding
“and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,”
Grant Osborne: Probably the best interpretation is to bring together this image of evangelism with that of discipleship, i.e., the authority of Peter and the church to declare the kingdom truths as they interpret and proclaim Jesus’ teaching, guiding the new community regarding what is forbidden and what is permitted in both doctrine and conduct (thus including discipline in the church, cf. 18:18).
Van Parunak: Now we turn to the unusual tense of the Greek verbs. They are not simple futures, but future perfects, “shall have been.” The simple future would suggest that Peter (and in ch. 18, the other disciples) have the power to make something permitted or forbidden. But the future perfect shows that they are binding things that have already been bound in heaven, and loosing things that heaven has already loosed. Their authority is not to create new rules, but (like stewards) to grant access to the contents of the heavenly storehouse.
b. In Terms of Loosing
“and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Richard Gardner: The metaphor of binding and loosing sometimes refers to casting out demons, but here reflects a usage that comes out of the synagogue. In this context, binding and loosing could refer either to
(1) the forbidding and permitting of certain actions, or
(2) the imposing and lifting of a sentence of excommunication.
In short, the authority to bind and loose is the authority of a community to establish and enforce norms for its life. According to Matthew, Jesus gives the church this kind of authority, authority ratified in heaven itself. As a result, the church can interpret Scripture and make community decisions without looking to the synagogue.
Leon Morris: Jesus meant that the new community would exercise divinely given authority both in regulating its internal affairs and in deciding who would be admitted to and who excluded from its membership.
(:20) EPILOGUE – INJUNCTION TO SILENCE REGARDING THE IDENTITY OF JESUS AS THE MESSIAH
“Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.”
Richard Gardner: Only after the cross will the true nature of Jesus’ messiahship be understood. Until that time, the political connotations of the title Messiah could arouse false expectations and hinder Jesus from fulfilling his mission.
Stu Weber: He wanted people to come to a knowledge of his identity based on the right motive— personal repentance rather than political zeal. Furthermore, while Jesus was headed for Jerusalem and the cross, he may have been guarding against the possibility of uninformed enthusiasm on the part of the multitudes interfering with his intentions.
Leon Morris: Matthew rounds off the episode, as do Mark and Luke, with Jesus giving the disciples firm instruction to tell nobody that he was the Messiah. Matthew’s favorite Then (see on 2:7) moves on to the next point. Jesus gave the Twelve firm instruction that they were not to disclose the conversation. There is some emphasis on he in the expression that he was the Messiah: he and no other was the Messiah. This was a fact, and he had admitted it among the disciples. But the term could all too easily be misinterpreted and understood, for example, in political terms. If the disciples had gone out proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah, both they and their hearers would have thought of a glorious, conquering Messiah. They would have looked for armies and bloodshed and victories. To know that Jesus was the Messiah was one thing; to understand what messiahship really meant was quite another. To have proclaimed Jesus’ messiahship would have been to invite misunderstanding. Better by far for Jesus to get on with the completion of his mission and to keep the knowledge that he was the Messiah within the inner circle. The disciples are to follow the same path as the Master: he knew he was the Messiah, but he did not proclaim it publicly; they are to take up the same position.