Introduction. Read Matthew16 13-20

I found this the most difficult passage in all three gospels that I have studied. It is important to understand the meaning of all the expressions used: Son of Man, Son of God, Messiah, gates of hades, binding and loosing, keys of the kingdom. Above all one has to understand what Jesus meant by the play on words involving Peter's name; a perplexing subject indeed!

(1) What Jesus calls himself.

Jesus, and no one else, used the title, "The Son of Man." This is a puzzling term which has baffled scholars through the ages.

It is an expression that has its origin in the Old Testament. God addressed Ezekiel as the, 'Son of Man', over and over again. See Ez2v1to11.

If someone referred to me as the son of Pastor F.C.M. Reed they might do so to acknowledge that I was his representative or to describe my relationship to him and his other sons. So when God calls Ezekiel the son of man he is confirming the prophet as the people's representative and reminding him of his common humanity along with his Jewish brothers.

I believe Jesus chose this name, Son of Man, because he is our representative and because it describes his relationship with us. Jesus affirms by it, his connection with all men in sympathy, fortunes and destiny. He identifies with us all as our brother, fellow sufferer and saviour. There is something truly comforting, uplifting and inspiring in the words recorded by Mark: "For the Son of Man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." Mk10v45.

When Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice on Calvary's cross he did so as our representative and as our brother.

It is also possible that Jesus liked to use the phrase, Son of Man, because it was enigmatic. He avoided calling himself, the Messiah, because there were so many dangerous misconceptions about this title. Indeed, after Peter had confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Master told his disciples not to broadcast the fact. See Mt16v20.

(2) The important question.

(a) The world's view.

Jesus questioned his disciples about his status at Caesarea Philippi - a town 25 miles North East of the Sea of Galilee. It was a place of many religious associations:

  • The area was scattered with temples to Baal the old Canaanite deity - one who controlled the weather and fertility.

  • A great cavern near the town, originally known as Panias, was reputably the birth place of Pan the Greek god of nature and the wild.

  • In the town, itself, was a great temple of white marble to the godhead of Caesar.

William Barclay writes in his commentary on Matthew: It is as if Jesus deliberately set himself against the background of the world's religions in all their history and their splendour, and demanded to be compared with them, and have the verdict given in his favour. There are few scenes where Jesus' consciousness of his own divinity shines out with a more dazzling light.

The situation today is little changed from the time of Jesus:

  • Idols are still worshipped in religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. Some secularists idolise things - like their home, their car, their computer.

  • Many worship the fruit of man's imagination and creative genius as did the ancient Greeks. For some, attendance at the opera, the ballet, the theatre, a festival of music or a pop concert is a great spiritual experience.

  • The cult of personality is as strong as it ever was. Jeremy Corbyn is idolised by the young. During the last election campaign his appearances were greeted with something approaching messianic fervour. Why do we do it? To single someone out for the adulation that should be reserved for God invariably ends in bitter regret.

Jesus ALONE among men conquered death, rose from the grave, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father. He is waiting to return. What a day that will be! When he comes in power EVERY KNEE will bow to him.

(b) The opinion of religious people.

Jesus asked his disciples: "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" Jesus is inquiring what the Jewish people were saying about him. The Jews were religious, they believed in God and did not share the Gentile's penchant for idolatry. Their opinions are interesting and surprising. Let us examine them; some said Jesus was:

  • John the Baptist. Now what could they mean by that? The people were not thinking in terms of the bodily resurrection of John the Baptist. John and Jesus had been alive TOGETHER. Jesus had likened John the Baptist to Elijah although there is no evidence anyone thought that John was a bodily resurrected Elijah. Indeed there is confusion over what the Jews believed about resurrection. According to Josephus, who himself was a Pharisee, the Pharisees held that only the soul was immortal and the souls of good people would be reincarnated and "pass into other bodies. So when people said Jesus was John the Baptist they probably meant John the Baptist lived again in Jesus.

    This tells us that in some respects Jesus was like the Baptist. They were both zealous reformers. Both declared kingdom values and did so fearlessly. John and Jesus spoke with authority.

  • Elijah. Once again it likely that the Jews thought that the spirit of Elijah lived on in Jesus. There isn't a great resemblance between Jesus and Elijah. Both appeared on the scene suddenly, faced great opposition from the authorities and exercised miraculous powers. However Elijah left no great legacy of teaching.

    It is likely some of Jesus' supporters hoped he was Elijah or, as I am inclined to believe, campaigned in the spirit of Elijah, because of the prophecy in in Malachi 4 1-6. Malachi prophesied that Elijah would be sent before the great and dreadful day of the Lord when the wicked would be destroyed. Hopefully this meant the Romans!

    Today, in Britain, there are those longing for a second day of the Lord and the arrival on the scene of a political leader to stand up for traditional Christian values and freedoms - someone to put to flight all Christianities' enemies.

  • Jeremiah. I can well understand why some folk thought Jesus was a second Jeremiah. The prophet was consistently opposed by kings Jehoikin and Zedekiah along with their officials. Jeremiah seemed to be fighting a losing battle. His advice was rejected. He was despised and rejected of men.

    Jesus too, was despised and rejected. The Jewish leaders, the scholarly Pharisees and liberal priests, were bitterly opposed to Jesus. They hated him.

    Today in Britain there is a growing hatred of evangelical Christianity. The D.U.P. has been called the nasty party by BBC journalists because of its opposition to abortion and Gay Marriage. Mr Farren, when leader of the Liberal Party, was asked if he considered homosexuality a sin? The implication was that if he did then he wasn't fit to lead a political party. Sadly he gave in! Christian leaders need to take on those who wish to discriminate against Christians and bar them from public life and the professions.

Just a note in passing. I think one of the reasons the disciples were so surprised by Jesus' bodily resurrection was because it was not something that was widely believed in.

(c) Your opinion.

Jesus asked his disciples: "But what about you? Who do you say that I am." v15.

How would Christians in Britain today respond to this question? I think very many would answer the question in terms of their relationship with Jesus. They would say, "He is my best friend - my confident - my guide - my inspiration." There would probably be a lack of comments on Jesus' status and authority. At least 50% of church goers, who according to a recent survey didn't believe in the resurrection, would be unable to say that Jesus was the resurrection and the life. An even greater % would reject Jesus' authority on sexuality and marriage.

How many Christians would say of Jesus with Thomas: "My Lord and my God."

(2) The right answer.

Peter gave Jesus the right answer: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

(a) Jesus was and is the Messiah - the anointed one.

  • First of all what does this mean? Oil was used to anoint the priests in order to set them apart for service. See Ex30and31. Samuel anointed David with oil to be king of Israel. He was the one chosen by God and set apart to rule God's people.

    So if Jesus was God's anointed he had been chosen for an important task.

  • What was the task? Well, it seems likely that the Messiah was expected, under God, to fulfil Old Testament prophecy. The trouble is that some prophecies emphasise the kingship of the Messiah and others his role as the suffering servant. So, according to Jer23v5and6 the anointed one will be the king who rules wisely.

    We have a different picture in Isaiah 53. Here Jesus is the suffering servant. Yet it was the LORD'S will to crush him and cause him to suffer.

    The sacrificial system was going to be fulfilled by the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.

    The Jews in the time of Jesus were fixated on a Messiah who would reign over them in place of the Romans. They did not realise that Jesus would reign in the hearts of men but only after his rejection by the Jews and his sacrificial death. God said in Is53v12and13: "Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. He bore the sin of many and was numbered wiht the transgressors."

    Peter undoubtedly saw Jesus as the one God would install on the throne of Israel. He did not include a sacrificial death in God's plans. When Jesus went on to talk about his death and resurrection, Peter said, "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you."

  • A salutary lesson. We mustn't chose the bits about Jesus that appeal to us and ignore, or even reject, other aspects of his ministry. For example, in the account of the woman taken in adultery in John's gospel, Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you." This strongly appeals to the liberal wing of the church. However, they do not find so appealing his final words to the woman, "Go and sin no more."

(b) Jesus was the Son of the living God.

Very little is written in the Old Testament to suggest that the Messiah would be the Son of God. It is not the first time Jesus was called the Son of God by the disciples. This is what Nathanael called Jesus on being introduced to him: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel." Jn1v49. It was the awe-struck exclamation of the disciples as Jesus came to them over the storm tossed waves and stilled the Galilean storm: "Truly you are the Son of God." Mt14v33. Peter's statement, unlike the others, was not made in the excitement of the moment; rather it was a considered appraisal.

Just as the expression, 'Son of Man', indicates that Jesus is mankind's representative and has the closest possible relationship with us, so the expression, 'Son of God', means Jesus is God's representative and has the closest possible relationship with Him.

Just what Nathanael, the disciples and Peter understood by the title, 'Son of God' is not certain. The relationship of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit remains a mystery - three persons, one God.

However, I believe Peter did acknowledge Jesus' authority when he called him the, 'Son of God. This is something Jesus himself was very aware of. He had divine authority to fulfil the Law, cleanse the Temple, forgive sins, raise the dead and call for total submission to his will.

Jesus must be absolutely central to our belief and devotion as Christians. We owe him steadfast allegiance and total obedience. We cannot pick and choose which parts of his teaching we are going to accept. No one else is the 'Son of God'. Jesus is God's one and only Son. None has more authority than Jesus - it is never appropriate for Christians to 'move on' with the spirit of the times.

(c) A truth revealed and not deduced.

Jesus said to Peter: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but my Father in heaven."

Things were not looking very promising for Jesus. The religious leaders had rejected him. Jesus retreated into Gentile country to avoid his enemies. The Master had spent much time in prayer and had decided to inform his disciples of his impending death and resurrection. So Peter's affirmation of Jesus' special status was a blessing.

  • It was a blessing to Peter. There is always a blessing for those who confess Christ. I was truly blessed at my baptism as an adult in a way an infant sprinkled with water could never be. I made a commitment when I was baptised by immersion and my church rejoiced with me.

  • It was a blessing to Jesus that, notwithstanding the opposition of the religious authorities, Peter still believed in him. Whenever a person makes a commitment to Jesus it brings joy to him. There is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repents.

  • It was a blessing from God. His Spirit convinced Peter of Jesus' exalted status.

    We mustn't think the Spirit is inactive today. No one can put their faith in Jesus without an awakening from God's Spirit. How Western Europe needs the Spirit to act in revival power today.

(4) Some truths about the church.

Jesus said: "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."

Few verses of Scripture have given rise to more controversy than this one!

(a) The foundation of the church.

The church is the company of men and women committed to Jesus. It consists of believers who are in fellowship with Jesus and one another. The church is made up of the redeemed people of God.

Jesus builds his church through his saving work at Calvary, his resurrection from the dead and the gift of his Spirit. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1Cor3v10.

This might be rather confusing to some. Paul seems to be saying both he and Jesus laid the foundation of the church! It helps to read Eph2v19to22 where Paul describes Jesus as the chief corner stone and the apostles and prophets laying the foundation of the church with reference to him.

The church is based on Jesus teaching, example and saving work. We sing:

          The church's one foundation
          Is Jesus Christ our Lord:
          She is His new creation
          by water and the word;
          From heaven he came and sort her
          To be his holy bride;
          With his own blood he bought her,
          and for her life He died.

So, Paul and the apostles contribute to the church's foundation by preaching the gospel and making it clear how people should respond to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

The first person to do this was Peter on the Day of Pentecost. He was used by God's Spirit to establish the church. At the conclusion of his great sermon the people who were there asked, "Brothers what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptised, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the Holy Spirit."

Those who accepted Peter's message were baptised and about 3000 were added to the church that day. So, the apostle laid the foundation for the future church by establishing it first in Jerusalem from whence it would spread and grow.

So to return to what Jesus said: "And, I tell you that you are Peter (petrus), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church."

We need to remember that Jesus renamed Simon, Peter or Petrus. This was not a name in vogue at the time - so it is what we might call a nickname. What did Jesus mean by calling Peter, the rock? There is a rock - a huge boulder - in the Suffolk village of Hartest. It is made of granite and was brought to Suffolk by an ice sheet and dumped in Hartest when the ice melted. It is said that in the 18th century it was discovered, put on a sledge and dragged by horses to its present location on the village green.

The Hartest stone is a fixture. You can depend upon it being always there. It is not going to change. It is an indispensable part of the Hartest story.

I think Peter was a rock in this sense: a colourful character, intensely loyal to Jesus and utterly devoted to the cause. When Jesus lost support after his discourse on the, 'Bread of Life', he asked his disciples: "You do not want to leave me too, do you?" ... Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." Jn6v67and68. It is this attitude that made Peter, a rock.

We are just left with the enigmatic little phrase, on this rock(petra) I will build my church. What is the 'this' referring to? Jesus didn't say to Peter, "You will be the bedrock, on which I build my church." The 'this' refers to what it is that builds the church in its entirety - not just laying the foundations. The church has been built as people exercise faith in Jesus and receive his Spirit. This is what Peter had just done. He had been enlightened and exercised faith. This is what happened on the Day of Pentecost and has continued to happen through the centuries. So the 'this' refers to belief in Jesus and commitment to him. It is the stratum that runs through the church. It is what cements the lively stones (believers) together that Peter mentions in the second chapter of his first epistle.

Jesus forecasts that the church becomes so strong that the "Gates of Hades will not overcome it." Hades is the state of death and the gates of a citadel is where its strength lies. So Jesus is saying that not even the power of death will vanquish the church.

Persecution and death have been the devil's weapons against the followers of Jesus. Christians have been targeted for 2000 years and are targeted still. "But," says Jesus, "No amount of discrimination, imprisonment or persecution - even to death - will destroy my church."

(b) Admittance into the church.

Jesus told Peter, "I will give you the keys to the kingdom."

The person who had the keys to a great building, like a palace, had the authority on whom to admit and refuse admittance. Peter was given the authority to make clear who could be admitted to Christ's Kingdom. People who wanted to become subjects of the King had to: "Repent and be baptised, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will recieve the Holy Spirit." Acts2v38.

Later, when Peter addressed Cornelius, his family and friends, Peter said: Everyone who believes in him (Jesus) receives forgiveness of sins through his name." Acts10v43.

Church membership is open to all who believe in Jesus.

(c) The church's discipline.

Jesus further told Peter, Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." I am indebted to William Barclay, for the meaning of these words of Jesus to Peter. 'To bind' was to declare as forbidden. 'To loose' was to declare as allowed. The duty of binding and loosing meant Peter would have to take decisions about the church's life and practice which would have far reaching consequences. He was involved in several important matters in the early church: The appointment of deacons, the deceit of Ananias and Sapphira, ministry to the Gentiles, the circumcision of Gentile converts.

Later, the apostle Paul exercised discipline in the Gentile churches. He deals with a variety of errors in his first epistle to the Corinthians - and very interesting reading it makes.

Christian leaders should be prepared in our day to speak out against beliefs and practices that weaken the church and bring Jesus into disrepute. There are a great many issues that could be addressed. It is easy to criticise the leaders of other churches. We might wish the Archbishop of Canterbury to remind his flock that it is wrong to recite the Creed without believing it. I wish my fellow Grace Baptists took a more enlightened view of Genesis 1 and the Flood. See Articles section of website.