JESUS, Foundation of Faith

     One of the most climactic moments in the relationship of Jesus Christ with His twelve disciples seems to come out of nowhere in the middle of the 16th chapter of Matthew. Here we find Jesus and His disciples about forty miles north of the Sea of Galilee near the Jewish border in an area of Gentiles (non Jews). As they are nearing the outskirts of Caesarea-Philippi they pass stone monuments to various kings, generals and other great men. There were inscriptions of battles won and other notable accomplishments.

     Suddenly Jesus stops and asks His disciples this question, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" (16:13). Their response revealed that the mass of people had a very high opinion of Jesus Christ. They considered Him to be one of God’s great prophets Who had returned to life for some great purpose for the people of Israel.

  • Some people say He was John the Baptist (who had been killed by king Herod)
  • Some say he was the prophet Elijah (who had been caught up to heaven some 850 years previous)
  • Some say he was the prophet Jeremiah (who had been dead for some 600 years)
  • Some say that He was one of the other prophets.

     For all the awe and respect they had for Jesus Christ these opinions were woefully short of the mark.

     Jesus pauses to scan the face of each of His twelve disciples, and asks, "But who do YOU say that I am?" (16:15). Without any hesitation Peter answers confidently as the foreman of the jury of twelve, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (16:16). To his answer Jesus responds just as quickly, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonan (i.e., son of Jonah) for flesh and blood has not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you will loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." (16:17-19).

     These words of Jesus have been a topic of debate from the earliest days of the Christian era. What or Who is the rock upon which the church is built? What are "the keys of the kingdom" which Jesus gave to Peter?" What is involved in the authority "to bind and to loose" and to whom was the authority passed on?"

I.  Who Is The Rock Upon Which The Church Is Built?

"The Rock" has been interpreted in three ways:

1. Peter Is "The Rock" Upon Which The Church Is Built.
      When Peter first became a follower, Jesus gave special emphasis to the name He gave him. (See John 1:42). ". . .you are Peter…". Peter, in the language Jesus used is "petros", (a piece of rock). In addition, Peter’s spiritual nature was mature and sensitive enough to receive revelation from God. His understanding that Jesus was "the Christ, the Son of the living God" had been revealed to him by the heavenly Father.

Jesus also gave to him the keys of the kingdom of heaven and bestowed on him the authority to bind and loose. Yet there are some things that cause us to be uneasy with this interpretation.

Jesus used the word "petra" (a mass of rock*) for the rock upon which He would build His church. "Petros" signified a stone that could be quite large, but was unattached and could be moved by man. "Petra" signified a massive and immovable strata of rock.

Peter Was An Unstable Rock.

      Observe how Peter could so quickly revert to his fleshly nature. Before his conversation with Jesus is over Peter vacillates to his fleshly nature in which he received the teaching of Satan and vigorously opposed Jesus. For the first time Jesus revealed plainly 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 the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to you." But He (Jesus) turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are not setting your mind on God’s interest, but man’s.’".  16:

This was not an isolated experience in Peter’s vacillating character. Other significant times were:

  • In the garden of Gethsemane  he was sleeping while Jesus agonized (Matthew 27:40)
  • When Jesus was taken prisoner in the house of Caiphas, Peter denied that he knew Jesus…with cursing.  (Matthew 26:74)
  • At Antioch he caved into Jewish Christian legalists.  (Galatians 2:11-13).

     Hence, we conclude that Peter was a rock foundation for only one wall of the church. (See Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1st Peter 2:4-8 and Revelation 21:14) This was only possible because he was built on an immovable Rock foundation that could not be shaken. Peter was a rock, but Jesus was the bedrock.

What about the keys to the kingdom?

     Keys open doors and Peter used those keys to open the door of the kingdom to Jews at Pentecost. He powerfully preached the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and concluded, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified." Acts 2:36.

     Peter used those keys again to open the doors of the kingdom to Gentiles (non Jews). To the house of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion (officer over 100 soldiers) Peter preached the same gospel he did to the Jews and climaxed his message with these words, "Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name every one who believes in Him has received forgiveness of sins." (Acts 10:43). From this point the doors to the kingdom have been opened wide.

What about Peter’s authority to bind and loose"

We first notice that Jesus spoke in the perfect tense. "whatever you shall bind on earth will have been bound in heaven…" This referred to the apostle’s authority to state what was permitted in the church and what was not. This was based on the revelation they would receive concerning New Testament truth (See John 16:13) . This authority was bestowed by Jesus on the other apostles in John 20:22,23. Jesus also indicated that after New Testament revelation was complete this authority would be bestowed on local churches (See Matthew 18:15-18).

     Peter was a rock and when walking in his spiritual nature empowered by the Holy Spirit and was used mightily by God.

2.  The second way  scholars have identified the Rock upon which the church is built ---Jesus Himself.

Jesus said, "…you are Peter (petros a piece of a rock) and on this rock (petra – a mass of rock) I will build My church." We have seen that Peter did not qualify as a mass of immovable rock. It also seems strange that Jesus would make any mortal man the foundation upon which His entire church is built. In others metaphors of the church we find that the church is a flock and Jesus is the Shepherd; the church is Christ’s body and He is the head; the church is the bride and He is the Bridegroom. It follows that in the metaphor of the church being a building of living stones that Jesus is the foundation on which the church is built. The church is His church and He is the One building it.

Jesus  Declared To Be The Foundation Upon Which Believers Build Their Lives And Hopes.

     The apostle Paul reminded the Christians at Corinth that "as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation…" 1st Corinthians 3:10. He went on to state what that foundation was. "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (3:11) Paul was saying that neither he nor any other apostle could lay a foundation upon which believers could safely build their lives and hopes other than Jesus Christ.

Peter said Jesus was the stone upon which believers are built.

      Peter was inspired of God to write two books which have brought great blessing to believers. He made several very humble references to himself. Not once does he claim to be the rock upon which the church is built. Instead, he wrote, "l...As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, ...Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house…" 1st Peter 2:2, 4-5a. Peter is saying to all born again believers that they, like him, are living stones, built on the immovable foundation stone of Jesus

3.  Confession Of Faith That Peter Made.
The Third Way In Which Scholars Have Identified The Rock Upon Which The Church Is Built.
Whether we agree with this interpretation or not we must agree that there were three factors at work:
      1). God supernaturally revealed to Peter that Jesus Christ was the Son of the living God.
      2). Peter accepted and agreed with this revelation.
      3). Peter openly confessed his faith that this revelation was true.
     It is also true that the church is composed of those saved through faith in Jesus Christ. The meaning of church is "called-out ones". In the purest sense it refers to those people who have been called out from under "the curse of the law" (Galatians 3:13) and placed into Christ where there is "no more condemnation" (Romans 8:1) When the subject of salvation is under discussion in our New Testament it invariably connects salvation with personal faith in Jesus Christ. "But as many as received Him (Jesus Christ) to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name." (John 1:12) Scores of other verses could be quoted if space allowed). When even the worst of sinners receives Jesus Christ as their Savior by faith they are brought into an inseparable relationship with Christ.

II. How Can We Build Our Lives And Hopes On An Unshakeable Foundation?

  1. Allow God to reveal to us that Jesus is the Son of the living God. This is what the 12 disciples did. They followed Him, listened to Him and watched Him. As we seek the truth in God’s word; listen to those gifted to teach God’s word, and receive the truth God reveals to us, God will bring us to a spiritual understanding.
  2. Openly and joyfully confess our faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God Who died for our sins on the cross and rose again to be our living Savior.
  3. Commit to living according to the teachings of Jesus as He gives us understanding and power to do so. Most of us are aware of the wise man who built on a rock and the foolish man who built on the sand. When the storms came the wise man’s house did not fall but the house of the foolish man did. We also need to be aware of the beginning words of Jesus to this story. "Therefore every one who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them may be compared to a wise man…"

     There are many storms of life and none of us are exempt. Contention, conflict, rejection, betrayal, slander, sickness, death, etc. will assault our foundation. Those whose lives and hopes are built on the immovable foundation of Jesus Christ will not see their house fall. Their knees may tremble during the storms but their Rock will not tremble beneath their feet.

     The greatest storm of all is God’s Great White Throne Judgment. Those who have built their hopes for eternity on any other foundation than personal faith in Jesus Christ will find their foundation forever swept away.

Make Jesus the Rock of your salvation today.

Copyright © 2002 Thomas E Berry
All Scriptures quoted from NKJV unless otherwise noted

    Copyright © 2008 Truth Helpers Inc.