Matthew 16:13-19 (NLT)
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” 15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”
Jesus began by asking His disciples what men were saying as to His identity. The replies ran the gamut from John the Baptist, to Elijah, to Jeremiah, to one of the other prophets. To the average person, He was one among many. Good, but not the Best. Great, but not the Greatest. A prophet, but not the Prophet.
Then He asked the disciples who they believed He was. This brought from Simon Peter the historic confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” In other words, He was Israel’s Christ, God the Son…the Anointed One and the Saviour for all mankind.
Our Lord pronounced a blessing on Simon (Peter) for his revelation. The fisherman had not arrived at this concept of the Lord Jesus through intellect or native wisdom; it had been supernaturally revealed to him by God the Father. But the Son had something important to say to Peter also. So Jesus added, “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it..”
We all know that more controversy has swirled around this verse than almost any other verse in the Gospel. The question is, “Who or what is the rock?” Part of the problem arises from the fact that the Greek words for ‘Peter’ and for ‘rock’ are similar, but the meanings are different. The first, petros, (Peter) means a stone or loose rock; the second, petra, (Rock) means rock, such as a rocky ledge. So what Jesus really said was “… you are Peter (stone), and on this rock I will build My church.” He did not say He would build His church on a stone (Peter), but on a rock.
If Peter is not the rock, then what is? If we stick to the context, the obvious answer is that the rock is Peter’s confession that Christ is the Son of the living God, the truth on which the church is founded. Ephesians 2:20 teaches that the church is built on Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone. Its statement that we are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets refers not to them, but to the foundation laid in their teachings concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ is spoken of as a Rock in 1 Corinthians 10:4. In this connection, remember, Jesus was talking to Jews. If we trace the figurative use of the word rock through Hebrew Scriptures, we find that it is never used symbolically of man, but always of God. So here at Caesarea Philippi, it is not upon Peter that the Church is built. Jesus did not trifle with figures of speech. He took up their old Hebrew illustration—rock, always the symbol of Deity—and said, “Upon God Himself —Christ, the Son of the living God—I will build my church.”
Peter never spoke of himself as the foundation of the church. Twice he referred to Christ as a Stone (Acts 4:11, 12; 1 Pet. 2:4–8), but then the figure is different; the stone is the head of the corner, not the foundation.
“I will build My church” v18. Here we have the first mention of the church in the Bible. It did not exist in the OT. The church, still future when Jesus spoke these words, was formed on the Day of Pentecost and is composed of all true believers in Christ, both Jew and Gentile. A distinct society known as the body and bride of Christ, it has a unique heavenly calling and destiny.
“All the powers of hell will not conquer it” v18. May be understood in two ways. First, the gates of Hades are pictured in an unsuccessful offensive against the church—the church will survive all attacks upon it. Or the church itself may be pictured as taking the offensive and coming off the victor. In either case, the powers of death will be defeated each and every time – His church, will stand the test of time.
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” v19. The implications of this significant verse are diverse and need to be understood. Jesus’ terminology has elements of symbolism and entails a complex Greek construction; therefore, different interpretations are viable.
Keys denote authority. Through Peter, a representative of the church throughout the ages, Jesus is passing on to His church His authority or control to bind and too loose on earth. The Greek construction behind will be bound and will be loosed indicates that Jesus is the One who has activated the provisions through His Cross; the church is then charged with implementation of what He has released through His life, death, and resurrection.
Clearly rabbinic in imagery, binding and loosing have to do with forbidding or permitting. In other words, Jesus is stating that the church will be empowered to continue in the privileged responsibility of leavening the earth with His kingdom power and provision. For example, if someone is bound by sin, the church can “loose” him by preaching the provision of freedom from sin in Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:14). If someone is indwelt by a demon, the church can “bind” the demon by commanding its departure (Acts 16:18), realizing that Jesus alone made this provision possible (Matt. 12:29). How the church binds and looses is diverse and would most certainly extend far beyond the mere use of these terms in prayerful petitions. But, bind and loose we should and it would do us well to clearly understand what it means and how to effectively activate it.