This is the word of the Lord

Matthew 16:13–20 ESV
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

We have a lot happening in this passage and I am tempted to split it up into three sermons, one on Peter’s revelation, one on the establishment of the Church, and the other on the commission of the Church.?
But sometimes, it is more beneficial for us that I do not divide the bread across three weeks because it may not satisfy the hunger of our souls, because it increases the possibility that we won’t see the passage as a whole. And I think, in this case, you need to see this passage as a whole.


Matthew 16:13–14 ESV
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

  • district of Caesarea Philippi – Jesus was now about 40km north of Galilee at Philippi. This district was a centre of pagan worship of Baal, the Greek god Pan, and of Caesar the Emporer. In fact, the name of the district till a recent while before this incident was Paneas, and it was changed to Caesarea Philippi by Philip the Tetrarch (one of Herod Antipas’ brothers). He changed the name in honour of himself and Caesar.
    Taking Mark 8:27 into account, they were on the outskirts of Philippi and were yet to enter into Philippi proper.
    Also, Luke gives us additional information in
    Luke 9:18 ESV
    18 Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
    So, they were on the outskirts of Philippi and Jesus was praying alone. And this entire exchange with the disciple takes place as soon as Jesus is done praying.
    Therefore, it seems only logical to assume that there is some connection between Jesus’ prayer and the discourse that immediately follows it.
    We are not told the contents of that prayer, but we are told the outcome of that discourse and judging by Jesus’ response, it could be that this outcome is a direct answer to Jesus’ prayer.
    As John MacArthur puts it, at the crossroads of heathenism and Judaism, Jesus left a time of intimate fellowship with his Father to confront his disciples. I like these kinds of pictures or symbolism. On the borders between Godless legalism (of the true religion) and idolatry (of pagan religions), between misunderstanding and false understanding, between so-called Christians and those that worship other gods, Jesus was having an intimate time of prayer.
    And this time of prayer yielded a singular question,
  •  “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” – This is the question for every culture, including our own. Who do we say the Son of Man is?
    •  The ‘Son of Man’ was a phrase that Jesus repeatedly used to refer to himself, and it has been used in the Bible to refer to others like
      Daniel 7:13 ESV
      13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
      Unlike the phrase ‘Son of God’, the phrase ‘Son of Man’ signified the humanity of the coming Messiah. Jesus is truly man. But the phrase when applied to Christ with the definite article ‘the Son of Man’ signifies the divinity of the use here. This Son of Man, therefore, has the right to forgive sins.
      Matthew 9:6 ESV
      6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”
      He is the Lord of the Sabbath,
      Mark 2:28 ESV
      28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
      He saves lives,
      Luke 19:10 ESV
      10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
      He was raised from the grave,
      Mark 9:9 ESV
      9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
      And he judges,
      John 5:27 ESV
      27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.
  • It is a significant question in the face of nominal Christianity and pagan worship – who do we believe Jesus Christ is?
    The first instance of this question is directed at the cultural consensus. Who do ‘people’ in general say that Jesus is?
    The world has many answers to this question. In Jesus’ time,
  • Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
    It has always been the folly of humanity that we try to give Jesus an elevated position in our minds but end up disgracing Christ. Being likened to John the Baptist, Elijah or Jeremiah was not them thinking less about Christ. They revered him highly as one among the prophets but sadly this was only a mockery of Christ’s excellency.
    He brought a message similar to John the Baptist, displayed the zeal and power of Elijah, while others saw his laments over the Jews’ blindness; and so he was likened to one of these three prophets or one of the other prophets, and in each of these cases, the people saw him only as a harbinger to what is really to come. They saw him as the forerunner to the coming of the actual Messiah.
    An elevated view concerning Christ that falls short of who he actually is, is a disgrace to his holiness.
    The cultural census had failed and the disciples were able to tell where they failed. This is one reason why we have to be students of the culture we live in. Jesus expected his disciples to be aware of the cultural beliefs surrounding them.
  • Now we also know that Jesus does not give any further response to a cultural consensus to the disciple’s answer. The cultural misbelief is used by Jesus here to pose a second question, a more important one to all of us.
    Matthew 16:15 ESV
    15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
  • This then is the more important question. Regardless of what the cultural census may be, we have to confess who Jesus is.
  • The conjunction ‘but’ here suggests a comparison between a cultural consensus and the consensus of his disciples. “If that’s what the world says, what do you have to say”.
    We know many who puppet the cultural consensus (within the local church or outside) either to please men or because they really don’t know any better.
    In view of the cultural belief of Christ, the question is what do you believe?
  • This ‘you’ here is in the plural. Jesus is not asking one of his followers, he is asking his followers collectively. In other words, this is the question to the church.
    And, upon the answer to this question rests the foundation of the church. The deep and inextinguishable flame of God’s lampstand placed in the local church is ignited by the Spirit when we answer this question rightly. If we cannot say who Jesus is accurate, we have no business planting or being within the church.

Matthew 16:16–17 ESV
16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

  • Simon answers promptly. He was the most emphatic and most outspoken among the twelve. He was known to often speak in haste, and Jesus has scolded him at times for the same.
    But in this instance, his immediate answer pleased Jesus.
  • You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. – Simon gives a bold and unapologetic response.
    If the Son of Man refers to the humanity of the Messiah, the ‘Son of the living God’ refers to the divinity of the Messiah. This is Simon looking at Jesus and declaring, “You are God! You are one with him”.
    There is a thing to such a declaration that makes it more than a punchline for Christian pride. Who is Jesus Christ? Is he Lord? If he is Lord, then are you proving that in the way you live your life?
    Or do you confess him Lord but treat him like Elijah and Jeremiah and one of the other prophets?
  • Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
    Jesus calls the son of Jonah blessed! Blessed is he who makes such a confession, who declares the Son of God for who he is.
    Why are they blessed? Because (for) flesh and blood have not revealed this. This revelation is not of intellectual reasoning, though it for sure involves it. Man cannot reason his way to this confession, it must be revealed to us supernaturally from Heaven.
    Jonathan Edward has an entire sermon on this text called “A Divine and Supernatural Light”.

    •  It is rational to suppose, that it should be beyond a man’s power to obtain this knowledge and light by the mere strength of natural reason; for it is not a thing that belongs to reason, to see the beauty and loveliness of spiritual things; it is not a speculative thing, but depends on the sense of the heart.
    • It is rational to suppose, that this blessing should be immediately from God; for there is no gift or benefit that is in itself so nearly related to the divine nature, there is nothing the creature receives that is so much of God, of his nature, so much a participation of the deity: it is a kind of emanation of God’s beauty, and is related to God as the light is to the sun.
  • This gift of knowing God is a revelation that the Spirit of God is pleased to give. It is more than mere intellectual assent, it is more than human agreement or signing a church covenant, it is more adding “Christian” to your social media profile; it is a divine awakening to the inescapable knowledge of who God is.
    Simon is not here putting two & two together. Something’s awakened inside of him. Through the most natural and ordinary way (for Simon did not have an ecstatic experience at that time), the supernatural hand of God had touched him somewhere deep within his soul.
    Unlike Simon’s usual urges to blurt out things that came from his flesh, he was moved as he always was to blurt out this truth but it did not come from his flesh. It came from the Father in Heaven.

Matthew 16:18 ESV
18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

  • Now there is much debate on this verse. The Catholic church uses this verse to say that Peter is the rock on which Christ was going to build his church, and so they abuse the seat of Peter by electing Pope to sit on that throne of authority over the church.
    The protestant church denies this interpretation and says that the play of words here in Greek signifies something different. Peter here is translated from (Petros) and the rock is translated from (petra). Both words mean rock but the use of two different words they say is suggestive that Jesus is referring to another rock, namely Peter’s faith in making this confession.
    Other theologians like John Piper pointed out that the rock is referring to Peter’s confession itself, that the proclamation that Jesus is the Son of God is the rock on which Christ will build the church.
    There is good debate among renowned theologians and so, each one of you will have to make up your own mind on what this verse means.

    • But I find myself in more agreement with men like R.C Sproul who believe that the ‘rock’ here in fact refers to Peter.
      One of the reasons is that the two words for ‘rock’ would not be significant if the actual conversation that Jesus had with Simon was in Aramaic.
    • If it were not for the abuse of the Catholic church, would that not have been the most regular reading of the text?
    • I am nearer to John Piper’s interpretation but I do not believe that the rock is a symbol of an inanimate proclamation or faith. Faith floating in the air, or a faithful proclamation sounding in the streets does not build churches without men who receive them. The church is not built merely on faith, it is built on faithful men. Both the ‘faith’ component and the ‘man’ component are necessary.
  • You are Peter – Jesus gives Simon a name.
    Proverbs 22:1 ESV
    1 A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.
    The ‘name’ of an individual always holds great significance in the Bible. It points to the identification of an individual. Sadly, in our time, it is nothing more than a unique callsign to distinguish each other.
    But biblical naming always went deeper than uniqueness. It spoke about the character of the individual. This is also why we see God renaming people, Abram became Abraham (Genesis 17:5), Sarai became Sarah (Genesis 17:15), Jacob became Israel (Genesis 32:28), Hosea became Joshua (Numbers 13:16), and arguably Saul became Paul (Acts 13:9).
    Here, Jesus gives Simon a name – Petros, which means ‘rock’. A rock is a symbol of strength. It is rigid and powerful, not easily swayed.
    But even after being given such a name, just a few verses below Jesus rebukes him harshly (in v23). The foundation rock was scolded for being a stumbling block. So, you should tell me something about this rock.
  • and on this rock I will build my church. – Matthew, however, does use another word for the rock here which is a word that refers to a much larger rock like a cliff or a large boulder.
    Matthew then must be bringing us more clarity to Jesus’ saying, that Simon Bar-Jonah, the man of flesh, is not the foundation of the church, instead Simon Peter, the man of revelation, the man of God’s blessing is the foundation.
    Like small rocks that belong on the cliff, faithful men belong on the cliff of faith and blessing. Like the branch attached to the vine is not on its own, so the Petros is not without the Petra.
    When a man is saved, he is in a sense just an ordinary man, but he is extraordinary for having touched the hem of divinity. There is nothing special about him except Christ who now dwells inside him.
    I believe that what Matthew is pointing to with the play of Greek words here is to show us that faithful Peters is the bedrock of Christ’s church.

    • Another reason why I refer to Peter(s) is that we know this deep into church history that Peter is gone and the Pope is no foundation. We have seen in the book of Acts and down through church history that God is pleased to build his church on the foundation of rocks like Peter who has revealed Christ as their blessing.
      1 Peter 2:4–8 ESV
      4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
      We are all ‘living stones being built up as a spiritual house. We are the stones that God uses to build his church. And Christ is our chief stone, our cornerstone.
      It is not strange for me to see Jesus bless Peter, rename him and give him a promise.
      Luke 22:31–32 ESV
      31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
      This is what touching the hem of Christ looks like for the believer. This Peter is the rock on which Christ is pleased to build.
      The Bible refers to him as ‘Peter’ when he displays faith and ‘Simon’ when he stumbles. Simon with all his flaws and instabilities would be strengthened by Christ as Peter.
    • Furthermore, because Peter is a man, the church that Christ builds on top of him is not universal but local. So, Jesus’ promise of building his church here is specifically local in nature. Upon the Peters throughout the generation, Jesus will build his churches.
  • I will build my church – O brothers and sisters! Did you hear that? Let this be the final word for all of humanity for all of life. Jesus will build his church.
  • I – Do you understand who is the one that makes this proclamation?
    Revelation 5:11–14 ESV
    11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
    will build – This is the sovereign will of the Almighty! He has decided it and declared it! God is in the business of building his church, what are you doing?
    Every Christian and every Christian organisation that circumvents the church is in violation of the divine decree of the living God who has declared once and for all that he will build his church.
    my – The church belongs to him. She is his bride! The church belongs to no man, no pastor, no eldership, no culture, no generation, no denomination; she is his alone.
    church – The word here means the ‘assembly’. This is the gathering of Christians and so with the use of this word and in reference to Peter, “the local church is mine”, declares Christ our Lord.
  • As John Piper points out, Jesus made this declaration on the outskirts of Philippi, and that district would have a church and it would be built on individuals like,
    Lydia: The Lord opened her heart to give heed to the word (Acts 16:14).
    The demon-possessed slave girl: “‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.” (Acts 16:18)
    The jailer: At midnight Paul and Silas were singing in their cell to God, and God blew the doors off the cells with an earthquake—and of the heart of the jailer.
    Living Stones!
  • And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it
    •  the text refers typically to the ‘exit’ gate of Hades. The gate from which the vile of hell spills out. Hell shall not prevail against the building of the church.
      These rocks will stand the storms of hell.
    • But this phrase is used in the OT to refer to death. It would also be right then for this statement to mean that death has no hold over us, these gates cannot keep us just as they could not keep Christ.
      Acts 2:24 ESV
      24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
    • But this phrase could also have a third meaning. The gates of a city were raised also as a defence against the attacks of the enemy. The gates of Hell surrounding the kingdom of Satan are raised then to defend themselves against the advancement of the church, and their defences shall not hold, it shall not prevail against the advancement of the Gospel and the kingdom of God.

Matthew 16:19–20 ESV

  • 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
    The church shall gather the saints for eternity with Christ and dispel the wicked for an eternity without him.