Springboarding off of the Apostle Paul’s life focus, clearly expressed in 1 Corinthians 2:2, Pastor Greg launched an “open-ended” message series on January 12th, 2020 – focusing on “Just Jesus.” He is walking us through the entire New Testament, pulling passages from the Old Testament for context, and keep us focused throughout the year on “Just Jesus.”
This is Just Jesus, Week 60, Matthew, Part 58 in the series. Today Pastor G covers Matthew 16:13-21. Jesus asks the Disciples what people think about Him. Then, He turns the question toward them. “Who do YOU say that I am?” Simon answers for the group and says “You are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus affirms Simon for this answer, gives him a new name and connects his prophetic words to the foundation of the church that Jesus will build upon this truth of His identity.
Welcome to week 61 of our Just Jesus series. This is Matthew Part 59. Last week we saw Jesus tangle with the Pharisees and Sadducees again and then we saw Him heal a multitude of Gentiles in the Decapolis. Then He miraculously fed this Gentile crowd of 4,000 men plus women and children. We talked about how this event, shortly after His prophetic theater conversation with the Canaanite woman before He healed her daughter, shows us conclusively He is not just the Savior of the Jews. He is the Savior of the World, Jew and Gentile alike. YAY GOD! So let’s dig into what comes next in Matthew 16:13 and following. If you are ready to hear what God has put on my heart to share with you today, please do me a favor and say “Hit Me Wit’ It G! I’m ready!”
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” ~ Matthew 16:13
Jesus uses His favorite Messianic Title for Himself once again here. As we’ve already discussed many times in our study of Matthew, this is a callback to a vision of the Old Testament Prophet Daniel. Remember, Daniel saw one like a Son of Man coming in the clouds and interacting with the Ancient of Days as God gave Him dominion over all of creation. That’s what Jesus is hearkening us back to every time He calls Himself “The Son of Man.” Who do people say that the Son of Man is? Who do people say that Jesus is? He engages us with this same question even today, 2,000 years later. Who do people say Jesus is?
I ask people that question a lot. As soon as a stranger finds out I’m a pastor I get a variety of responses. Some are already believers so we talk about Jesus and have a mini worship time as we testify about God and our relationship with Him through Jesus. Some are kind of nominal believers, what I call churchians rather than Christians. They’ve gone to church their whole life. They believe Jesus is the Son of God but that’s pretty much where their growth and spiritual knowledge and development stopped. Some are “used to be’s.” They either say “I used to be a churchgoer” which comes across like an apology. I know I’m supposed to go that but I don’t. Or they say “I used to be a Christian” indicating that their childhood exposure to Jesus never really stuck. They never really knew Him. They never really knew who He was. Most people though, when they ask me what I do, and I tell them I’m a pastor, they get uncomfortably silent and try to run away from me as quickly as they can. It’s tough for the one’s stuck beside me on an airplane.
Occasionally I get to have a conversation like the one Jesus is having with the disciples. “Who do you think Jesus is?” I get a plethora of answers. Some say He is a myth, a literary combination of a lot of different stories and personalities. Some say He was a good moral teacher. Some, those of other faiths, say He was a great prophet of God. Some say “Son of God” but they don’t really know what that means. Some, the Christians I speak with, can articulate who Jesus really is, both from the Scriptural account but also from their own personal relationship and experience with Him. Who do people say I am?
That’s what Jesus asks the disciples. Now, of course, as we’ve said many times, Jesus doesn’t need to quiz the disciples for this information. Of course, He already knows what all the people are saying about Him. So why does He ask the question if He already knows the answer? It’s a teaching moment, engaging the disciples in conversation. As they are telling Him what others are saying about Him, He is also priming their minds to think about who THEY think He is. The disciples answer:
And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” ~ Matthew 16:14
It is interesting that so many people think He is one of these prophets, back from the dead. All but John have been dead many hundreds of years. Technically Elijah was taken into the heavens without dying first but still, it is odd to me that so many need to connect Him to a previous prophet. Why can’t He just be a brand new prophet of God? People are going to think what people are going to think. I’ve heard some very weird answers and theories about Jesus over the years.
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” ~ Matthew 16:15
Aha! Here is the crux of the conversation. This is what it is all about. Jesus wants them to each consider this question. They’ve been following Him for quite some time at this point. They have listened to Him teach as one with authority. He has taught like no one else ever taught, with profound wisdom.
They’ve seen Him do many miraculous things. He has healed multitudes of every possible ailment. He has cast out many demons from many people as well. He has transformed water into wine in an instant. He has multiplied a few fish and loaves of bread into enough to feed many thousands of people with tone left over, not just once, but twice. He has calmed the storm and the sea just with a command of His voice. He has walked on the surface of the water. He has even brought someone back from the dead. One would hope by this point, that it would be pretty darn obvious who He is to the Twelve. But, as I’ve pointed out several weeks in a row now, these guys can be pretty dim at times and miss what seems glaringly obvious to us.
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” ~ Matthew 16:16
Peter definitely produces the right answer. Jesus IS the Messiah that the Jewish people have been praying for and watching for, for thousands of years. More than that though, He is the Son of God. Miraculously conceived in a virgin mother, both human and divine.
Jesus affirms Peter for this spiritual insight, gives him a blessing, and prophecies about Peter’s future role in the Kingdom of God. Let’s talk about all this at one time. First, His blessing of Peter. In fact, Jesus says Peter has already been blessed by God because He has this knowledge.
And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. ~ Matthew 16:17
Jesus calls Simon Peter by his full birth name here. In Hebrew, his name was Shimeon bar Yonah. Shimeon son of Yonah. We transliterate it in English as Simon, son of Jonah. Jesus says no human wisdom brought Peter to this conclusion. The only way Peter could be fully aware of, and fully understand, Jesus’ true divine nature was because the Holy Spirit had revealed it to him in his heart. Paul has told us this same thing. He learned it from Jesus as well. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul said:
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. ~ 1 Corinthians 2:14
The Spirit draws us to God and reveals God to us. There is no way we can pull that off on human power and wisdom alone. Next, we’re going to see Jesus seemingly appoint Peter as the primary leader of His kingdom on earth and it seems to be in response to Peter being able to voice this truth about Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. They almost read like a reward for Peter being the first to express this truth about Jesus.
That seems very odd to me though, because back in chapter 14, right after Jesus and Peter return to the boat after walking on water, ALL TWELVE DISCIPLES exclaim that He is the Son of God and that was MANY days BEFORE this confession of Peter’s. Remember?
And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!” ~ Matthew 14:33
They worshiped Him as divine and proclaimed Him the Son of God way back then. So Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Son of God is not the first time any of them have come to this conclusion. Why should Peter get special attention or blessing for voicing it at this time? It IS the first time the titles Messiah and Son of God have been joined together in one simultaneous confession.
The title “Messiah” was very misunderstood at the time; most expected the Messiah to be a military leader who would deliver Israel from Roman rule. In fact, on several previous occasions, we see the multitudes begin to talk about having Jesus lead them in an armed rebellion to present Him as the true king of Israel and Jesus always stops those plans quickly, either by sending the crowds away or by leaving the scene quickly Himself. So, for now, CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING, I’d like you to remember, that Peter, even though he often seems to be the leader or at least the spokesman for the disciples, is NOT the first one to come to this conclusion about Jesus, that He is both Messiah and Son of God. Let’s continue. Jesus, after telling Peter He has been blessed by the Holy Spirit with this knowledge, says:
I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. ~ Matthew 16:18
As I said earlier, up to this point, Jesus and the disciples would have referred to Peter by His birth name of Shimeon or, in English, Simon. Here, Jesus uses a play on words, and gives Simon a new name. We see God do this in the Old Testament on two occasions as well. Abram is renamed Abraham. Sarai is renamed Sarah. Jacob is renamed Israel. Looking at the original Greek, this proclamation by Jesus says “you are Petros and upon this Petra I will build my ecclesia.” So, let’s talk about these three Greek words, PetrOS, PetrA and ecclesia. Ecclesia means church and we need to talk about that but let’s talk about petra and petros first.
Petra is a word that refers to a mass of connected rock, a solid or native rock, rising up through the earth, like a mountain or a cliff. We might think of this word as BEDROCK. Petros, on the other hand, is a detached stone, like a pebble or a small rock found along a pathway that someone can grasp in their hand and throw. It can also be understood as a small rock carved out of the larger bedrock. This distinction between petra and petros is important because there are two different schools of thought about this passage. Jesus says “on this rock I will build my church” right after He renames Peter “the rock.” So, many people interpret this as Jesus is going to build His church ON the disciple PETER. The Roman Catholic Church interprets it this way and even has a tradition that Peter was the first Pope of the church.
Of course, Scripture does not record Peter ever bring in Rome. It never describes Peter as being first and foremost of the apostles or as the all authoritative leader of the early Christian church. The truth is, Peter was not the first pope, and Peter did not start the Roman Catholic Church. The origin of the Catholic Church is not in the teachings of Peter or any other apostle. If Peter truly was the founder of the Roman Catholic Church, that church would be in full agreement with what Peter taught but they are not. Jesus is not saying Peter is the foundation upon which He is building His church. When we understand the Greek Jesus essentially says “Simon, you are a small detached pebble of a massive bedrock. On that bedrock I will build my church.” So, the church is not being built on Simon Peter.
The church is being built on this metaphorical bedrock. That leads us to the other possible interpretation of this passage, the one I believe is correct. The petra – the bedrock foundational stone on which Jesus will build His church is the TRUTH that Simon just professed. Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus is the Son of God. On this truth, on this revelation, on this solid bedrock foundation, the church will be built. Jesus, is the Son of God, and the Son of Man. He is both human and divine. He is the Messiah, the Savior of the world. That is the bedrock truth Peter has just professed and that revelation is what Jesus’ church will be built upon. Every one of us, as disciples of Jesus, have also made that same proclamation of faith when we recognized and professed Jesus as our Lord and Savior, our Messiah, and our God. That’s what Jesus is saying. I hope you get that distinction. Peter is not the foundation of the church. Jesus, as Messiah and Son of God, is the foundation of the church.
Then, Jesus says, on this foundation I will build My ecclesia. Let’s talk about this Greek word ecclesia. This is the first time it is used in Matthew’s Gospel. He only uses it two more times in Matthew 18. Matthew is the only evangelist to use it. It doesn’t occur again until Acts 5. The Greek word ecclesia means a religious assembly or congregation. Literally the term means “those who have been called out” or “those who have been called forth.” In the Christian sense, this word refers to those who are called out from the world and called forth to come to God. The ecclesia is a gathering of believers in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
If we are going to call ourselves part of the church, if we are going to call ourselves Christians, we must agree with Peter on this central, foundational point. This must be our answer to Jesus when He asks us “Who do you say that I am? You are the messiah and the Son of God. You are my Lord and Savior.” As Paul writes in Romans 10:9
… if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved … ~ Romans 10:9
Back to Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus continues speaking to Peter and the other disciples.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” ~ Matthew 16:19
Again, there is some debate about this verse. To whom is Jesus speaking here? Is this directed solely to Peter or is this statement to all the disciples? Again, the Roman Catholic Church interprets this as directed solely to Peter. Peter alone will have the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever Peter binds on earth and looses on earth shall be bound or loosed in heaven. Again, there is no other scriptural evidence that Peter was ever seen as the premier apostle or as the core, primary leader of the first-century church. In fact, in Matthew 18:18 Jesus gives the same exact assertion to all the disciples.
Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. ~ Matthew 18:18
Jesus goes on to say:
“Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” ~ Matthew 18:19-20
So, all of the evidence seems to indicate this statement about the keys of the kingdom and the ability bind or loose things is a power and authority Jesus is giving to all of His disciples, possibly to all of US disciples, even two thousand years later. Then look at what happens.
Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ. ~ Matthew 16:20
This is sometimes referred to as “The Messianic Secret.” Jesus wanted His “messiahness” kept secret at times. We will see why in the verses that follow as Jesus begins to warn the disciples of His impending death. Look at verse 21.
From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. ~ Matthew 16:21
Jesus knows once His claim to be the Messiah is out, the corrupt powers of Jerusalem will want Him silenced. He represents a threat to their status quo. While this is a key part of His incarnation and ministry purpose on earth, it is critical that His crucifixion takes place in the fullness of time, on God’s timetable. That’s why we see Jesus, many times, in the Gospels, telling those enlightened people who GET who He is, not to share this truth just yet. While He fully intends to die on the cross He wants to make sure it happens at the exact right time without people rushing the timeline.
We’ve talked many times about how Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies about the Messiah and how He fulfilled all the key elements of all the feasts of the Lord. He needed to make sure His death occurred on the first day of Passover and His resurrection occurred at First Fruits on the third day of Passover to fulfill the full purpose of His life and ministry. Eventually, Jesus wants everyone to share with the world that He is the Messiah and the Son of God but in these last days of His earthy life, He needs to guide the narrative appropriately to preserve His plans for our salvation and the establishment of a new covenant. How do the disciples respond to this news that Jesus is going to be persecuted and tortured and killed by the elders and priests and scribes? THAT’s what we’re going to talk about next week! So, you have to come back next week and hear the rest of the story?