“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. 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. 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.” (Matthew 16:17-19)
This passage of scripture is hotly debated in the religious world. You have the Roman Catholics saying that this passage teaches that Peter would be the first great leader (Pope) to the Roman Catholic Church. Others respond by saying that the “rock” that Jesus will build His church on is not Peter, but the truth that Peter spoke in His great confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mat 16:16). They believe it is only the truth of Jesus’ kingship that the church is built upon. So which is it? I believe neither gives us a full picture of what the context shows and that the truth is in the middle of the two positions. Often when we approach this passage, I believe we tend to over-react to what we believe is false teaching. I do agree that the passage is not saying that Peter was not the first “Pope” of a hierarchal organization/church. This text cannot be used to substantiate this claim because 1.) this passage is not talking about a physical head of an earthly organization (which became the Roman Catholic church hundreds of years later); and 2.) the rest of scripture does not show that Peter was the supreme bishop over all of Christ’s church & its bishops. The rest of the New Testament shows this was not the case. The only way, I believe, to come to the conclusion that the Roman Catholic church comes to is to read into the text their preconceived bias.
Also, this passage is not merely showing us that Peter’s confession is what the church is built upon. It shows us so much more than this. It DOES talk about Peter being given special authority from God, and we tend to completely ignore this fact as we respond to false teaching. Peter is told by Jesus, “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.” Jesus is giving Peter a special level of authority here. He is telling him that he would be given the keys to kingdom, which shows us that PETER would be the one to open the gates to the kingdom (with the “keys”) so men can enter. This is what ends up happening in the book of Acts. Peter, in Acts 2, uses the authority given to Him by Jesus, preaches the Gospel (the keys) to the Jews, and in Acts 10 He does the same with the Gentiles (Cornelius and His household). Peter opened up the door for all nations to enter the kingdom. It was the teachings that Peter gave (revealed to him by the Spirit); words that came from his mouth, which would begin the building of the church‘s “foundation.” Jesus chose Peter to be the one to do this.
So as we consider what Jesus is saying in Matthew 16, it is possible that Jesus is saying that Peter is “the rock” that Jesus would use to open the gates of the kingdom of heaven and to teach the people of God as an Apostle of Jesus. Jesus would build the great foundation of His church upon Peter’s inspired preaching. But this does not necessarily mean that Peter himself is the great first leader/pope of the church. Jesus is still the head of the church (Colossians 1:18) and is its builder and owner (Matthew 16:18-19), and Peter was only one man of many who Jesus used to build the foundation of the church. Peter may have started building the foundation, but he was not the only one who built upon it. In Ephesians 2:19-21, Paul says, "you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord.” This passage shows that all of the Apostles and prophets of Jesus are the foundation (the “rock”/authority) the church is built upon. They all gave us inspired teaching that Jesus used to build His church. They gave us the teaching that we must build our lives upon (Matthew 7:24-25). This passage says that these men are the ones the church is built upon, and Jesus is the cornerstone that gives every stone its direction. I do believe the teaching of all of these men (given by Jesus) is inferred in these passages, but it does show us the special place that these men had in God’s plan to build His church. Let’s not ignore this fact as we respond to false teaching about Peter and his contemporaries.
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