MATTHEW 16:13-20  


Matthew 16:13-20

The Rock and Builder
of His church

The controversy in this passage revolves around the PERSON or THING upon which Christ will build His church. The primary choices are:

1. Peter's confession, "you are the Christ . . ."
2. Peter himself.
3. The faith of believers as evidenced by Peter's confession.
4. Christ Himself.

Choice #2 (Peter) is the Roman Catholic position, which makes Peter the foundation of the Christian church and accordingly places upon him, the highest authority in Christian doctrine and practice, under Christ Himself. Thus, also originated the practice of apostolic succession, which finds a continuous successor to Peter who wields that same unquestionable authority (the Pope).

The NIV Bible commentary suggests that avoiding the interpretation that Peter is the Rock is an overreaction on the part of the Reformers, and has little basis in scripture. The natural reading is that Peter is the rock.

Whether the motive for anything that the reformers did can be truly ascertained is another issue, however, the idea that "the natural reading is that Peter is the rock," is quite flawed. For anyone who truly sees the significance of Deuteronomy 32:4 and the chain of revelation centered around Messiah THE ROCK, there can be no doubt that Jesus and Jesus alone is The Rock upon which He builds His church. Only this understanding keeps the glory focused on Jesus Christ and showcases HIM as the center of God's redemption plan for the human race.

Verse 13,

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He {began} asking His disciples, saying, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"

The title Son of Man is a Messianic title that speaks of either a representation of God to man, or the actual person of the Messiah.

It was used in the Old Testament for some of the prophets, as they functioned as God's personal Messianic representatives to the people.

Jesus claimed and used the title, and in the context of His teaching and work, went far beyond the idea of Messianic representation, but instead established Himself clearly as the Messiah come in the flesh.


Verse 14-16,

And they said, "Some {say} John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." 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."

Peter recognizes both the title, Son of Man, as well as the person and work of Jesus, as indications that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Son of God.

The title, The Christ (christos), means the anointed one, and refers specifically to one who has been specially chosen by God for a specific service. The kings of Israel were christos, anointed of God, as were the prophets. But there was always the specific promise of a christos who is THE anointed one, the very person of God come down to the earth in human body, whose job it was to bring spiritual life to the world, reconciling both Jew and Gentile to God by being the sin-bearing Savior of the world.

Peter's understanding of Jesus' true personage is assisted by God the Father, but it is based on perception of the truths revealed by and about Jesus.


Verse 17a

And Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona,

The word, blessed, is makarios, and means to be the possessor of great happiness. This is not a pronouncement of blessing, but a recognition of experience; the experience of true inner joy based on knowledge and comprehension of vital spiritual truth.


Verse 17b

because flesh and blood did not reveal {this} to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

What Jesus means by this is that it is not the source of human viewpoint that Peter is aware of the Messiah-ship of Jesus, but based on the Father's teaching THROUGH the facts and circumstances about Jesus.

Jesus is telling Peter that the happiness that is his through understanding the Messiah-ship of Jesus is based on divine viewpoint and not on the subjective, emotional, and distorted perceptions of men.


Verse 18,

"And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.


1. I say to you that you are petros (masculine singular noun), a stone.
This is a name change for Simon to communicate a sturdiness of character and resolve. It was not changed to portend any special foundation activity in building the church.
This name was probably "coined" by Jesus just for Simon. The word Petros does not occur in the LXX at all. In fact, as a name, it is certainly not pre-Christ. But of course, the original name given to Him by Jesus was the Aramaic, Kephas - and, Petros, is simply the Greek equivalent. I suggest that it was so coined in order to make a clear distinction between Peter's rock-like character and THE ROCK (petra) Himself, Jesus.

2. and upon this (feminine singular demonstrative pronoun): which finds its antecedent AFTER rather than before, which is totally acceptable in the Greek. The antecedent for the word, THIS, has been the subject of great controversy over the years, but I will here represent the view that THE ROCK refers to Jesus Himself and not to Peter, to his confession, or to what God revealed to him.

3. Now what follows is a very common but very significant word that is usually overlooked by those trying to explain this passage. It is the definite article, THE, and should be translated, "This The Rock."

The article is in the feminine singular form and agrees with the demonstrative pronoun that precedes it.

4. Rock: petra is a feminine singular noun, and refers to a large rock or bedrock, and a stone, when used in parallel with lithos.

The change from the masculine (petros) to the feminine (petra) is dramatic and with the definite article draws even more significance to it. Indeed, it will remind any person who is oriented to the Old testament, of Deuteronomy 32:4, The Rock. In addition, the dramatic situation should be taken into consideration. Imagine Jesus, as He talks to Peter, placing His hand upon His chest as He says, "upon This The Rock."

There is a strong contrast here between Peter "a" rock and "THE" Rock who is Christ; the same ROCK who, as the chief corner stone (foundation), is a petra of offense to the Jewish unbelievers (Rom. 9:33). Jesus is the foundation rock upon which the church is built (1 Peter 2:6-8).
All throughout the Old Testament, THE ROCK is the God of Israel; a common and descriptive title for the revealed member of the Godhead. Deuteronomy 32:4; 1 Samuel 2:2; Isaiah 44:8

A. The ROCK is a title that reflects the dependability of the Godhead on behalf of those who trust in Him. Deuteronomy 32:3-4

1. Verse 3: The Character (name) of The LORD (Yahweh)
2. Verse 4: Ascribe greatness to our God (elohim)
3. Verse 4: a God of faithfulness (el)

B. This revelation of God as THE ROCK is actually the pre-incarnate Messiah as the revealed member of the Godhead.
The same word, Petra, is used for Christ at 1 Corinthians 10:4, with no concern for the feminine form,

"And all drank the same spiritual drink,
for they were drinking from a spiritual petra (rock)
which was following them; and the petra was Christ."

C. He is the ROCK of physical deliverance for Israel: Deuteronomy 32:5-18 Genesis 49:24

D. He is the ROCK of salvation for the nation of Israel:

1. Isaiah 28:16
2. But when He is rejected by the nation, the ROCK becomes a stone of judgment for them and the blessing is extended to others. Psalm 118:22; Matthew 21:42-44

3. It is significant that at Deuteronomy 32:19-22, which is the first reference to Israel being replaced by someone else (as quoted at Romans 10:19), God's rejection of them is prefaced by their own rejection of THE ROCK who begot them, verse 18.

And how nicely this correlates with Psalm 118:22-24; Mat. 21:42-44; Acts 4:11-12; Rom. 9:3-33 with Is. 8:13-18; 28:16-17; 1Pet. 2:4-10.

All of these refer to Israel being replaced by the church, a new priestly body (house) BUILT upon the foundation of the rock of offense; the cornerstone rejected by the builders (Israel).

E. Thus He becomes the foundation for the church: Ephesians 2:20-22; 1 Corinthians 3:11

F. He is the ROCK of experiential provision for believers:

1. Isaiah 26:3-4
2. Psalm 144:1-4
3. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4

G. He is the ROCK of stumbling and judgment for the unbeliever. Isaiah 8:14; 1 Peter 2:8

H. He is a ROCK of judgment at His second coming. Daniel 2:34-35

I. The symbolism of the rock carries a double focus in the Old test.

1. Exodus 17:1-7 salvation provision
2. Numbers 20:1-13 experiential provision based on salvation


It is claimed that the presence of the definite article in the Greek has no significance because the gospel of Matthew is believed to have been originally written in Aramaic, and Jesus spoke the words to Peter in Aramaic where Peter and rock are the same word.

Assuming that this is true for the moment, since the translation into the Greek preserves the exact meaning and intent of the Aramaic, then in the Aramaic, the definite article would be present and IT alone would be enough to set up the contrast. Furthermore, the vividness of face-to-face conversation would add clarification to the hearer, and the presence of the definite article makes an obvious impact. What the Greek has done for us here (assuming the Aramaic original, whether verbal or written) is to ensure that the distinction is made between "you are a rock" and "this THE ROCK".

By the way, the use of a feminine noun for a male person does not violate any gender rules in the Greek. The issue of feminine gender with nouns has to do with word formation and not ACTUAL gender.

The claim that Peter is the person upon whom Christ builds His church, not only clashes against the NATURAL contextual, historical and theological reference to Messiah as THE ROCK, but is contrary to what the rest of the New Testament says as well.
The issue with Peter is not stone vs. rock, but simply a NEW name.


3. "And the gates of THE GRAVE will not prevail."

This is a reference to the power of "physical death" over the church, the body of Christ, ie, the invisible church, comprised of all who have trusted in Christ as savior. It is directly fulfilled via resurrection. 1 Cor. 15:54-57

O death where is your victory?
O death where is your sting?
The sting of death is the sin
and the power of the sin is the law.
But thanks be to God who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.


And it will be ultimately and completely resolved at the last judgment, when both the people and the location of physical death (hades) will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:13-14).

There are some who think that the "gates of hell" refers to the power of Satan over the church. This is totally false. Satan has no authority OVER or IN "hell." Satan does not RULE in hell, but rather it is the place of ultimate judgment for him as well as all who reject Christ as Savior. Furthermore, since it is believed by many that the forces of Satan (gates of hell) cannot prevail against the church, and THAT church is believed to be the Roman Catholic Church, then the church cannot ever be corrupted or polluted, but will always preserve within its fold the unadulterated truth of God. But since the interpretation of Jesus' words are misunderstood, so is the conclusion, and in fact, the church has been corrupted and polluted by much false doctrine. In fact, that very corruption is not better represented than in the Roman Catholic Church itself.

The truth of God is NOT preserved within the fold of any church organization, but ONLY in the written word of God as found in the original languages of the 66 books of the Bible. The church is the administrator of that TRUTH through the Holy Spirit, but not the guarantor of that truth.


Verse 19

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

This is the divine commission to organize and manage the church from the time that it begins at the Day of Pentecost in 30 AD until the apostolic era comes to an end with the death of John.

This "binding" and "losing" is simply an expression for carrying out the divine prerogatives of apostolic authority, which reflect that which is designed by God for the formative period of the church. The Greek literally says, "Whatever you shall bind on earth shall HAVE BEEN BOUND in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall HAVE BEEN LOOSED in heaven." This translation reflects the perfect periphrastic verbal construction, which is a present indicative of eimi followed by a perfect passive participle of the verb (bind and loose, respectively).

A common error in trying to make Peter the foundation of the church, is a failure to see that this very same "keys of the kingdom" authority is given to all the disciples just a few weeks later at Matthew 18:18 with the very same language and using the plural of the pronoun, you. Accordingly, the foundation of the church is the apostles (plural) and prophets (Eph. 2:20) with Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone.

Verse 20

Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.

The reason for this instruction is to avoid distractions by having to deal with the antagonists who are seeking to destroy Jesus. Not that He would have any trouble escaping from them, as was demonstrated on several occasions, but Jesus did not want the distraction of dealing with the nay-sayers for His time was not yet at hand. The disciples' ministry of PUBLIC proclamation of Jesus as the Christ, was commissioned and carried out earlier in His ministry as is recorded at Matthew 10:5ff. As of this moment, He no longer wants them to be publicly proclaiming Him as the Messiah. He will do that Himself most uniquely when he enters Jerusalem for His final week of ministry before the crucifixion.


To summarize,

The church is built on a perfect foundation. That foundation is Christ Himself as the chief corner stone, which is what He has in view in this passage, and then the New Testament apostles and prophets as the foundation structure, which He does not have in view.
It is not Peter, for ALL the apostles are given the divine "keys of the kingdom" and the responsibility to build the church with Christ as the foundation (Mat. 18:18).
It is not the faith of the saints that is the foundation, for there is no confirming proof in the rest of the New Testament to that effect.

Granted, we do not participate in the structure unless and until we believe in Christ, but the structure is still in place, independent from us and our faith.

"The faith of the saints" was not a foundation factor when the church began at Pentecost AD 30. Jesus started with those who were already believers (the 120) and then sent the Holy Spirit upon them which put them all into "the body" and began the structure. Is this not where the church "began" to be built? Are we to view the fact that these were already believers in Christ as the foundation?

At Eph. 2.18-20

Verse 18,

"for through Him (by faith -v. 8) we both have our access . . "

Our faith initiates our entrance into God's household.


Verse 20,

"having been built upon the foundation"

Our faith initiates the action of God to put us on the foundation through the work of the Spirit.

The foundation is Jesus, and then the apostles as those who received the special revelation for God's NEW evangelistic house which would be comprised of all who believe in Christ as Savior, both Jew and Gentile.

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İRon Wallace, Anyone is free to reproduce this material and distribute it,
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