Matthew 16:13-28 Part 3

“Who are men saying the Son of Man to be?” Jesus asks His apostles.  Their answers include all the superstitions of the Jews concerning the martyred prophets.  And this in a place where they had a “pan-oramic” view of Greek mythology.

And then Jesus asks them “But you, who do you say Me to be?”  And Simon Peter, answering for the group, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of God the Living.”

Then Jesus, looking at Simon, says that he is blessed.  That word is “makarios,” which means that Peter has been greatly benefited by having received favor and value from God.  And the benefit, in this case, is that Simon son of Jonah, a man of human origin – a created being – has been given knowledge of the Divine, Self-existent and Independent One!  The Living “I shall be that I shall be” has uncovered His essential “hiddenness” to the creature “anthropos” – man.  And, now, that creature stands in a state of “seeing” the transcendant “other” Who has been “uncovered” to him!

Now, before we go on to verse eighteen I want to expend a little more energy and time on this subject of the Revelation of the intrinsic and radical “hiddenness” of God; because, as we can see from this dialogue between Jesus and Simon Peter, nothing is more basic to the Christian faith!  And yet, at the same time, it is one of the more difficult for us to understand!

I am reminded of so many mandates of God in His Word which are just so unintelligible and impenetrable to “flesh and blood.”  We are told to “mount up” unto the pure and clear knowledge of God; and “to pray without ceasing”; and to come into the presence of God with boldness; and that our true citizenship is in the heavenlies with God; and that, since Christ has been raised from the dead and was received into the heavens, we, too, are to ascend, in mind and heart, into the heavens to be with God in Christ!

But fallen, created flesh and blood will not even see the difference between “pan-theism” and the self-disclosure of God in His Own creation!  Our new-age environmentalism today is simply a warmed-over pantheism represented by the city in which Jesus said these very things to Peter and the rest of His apostles!  Pantheism says that nature is god and god is nature; and mankind is a part of nature – therefore man is god!  And when man aligns himself, in perfect harmony with the rest of nature, then we’ll all be perfectly one!

But that is diametrically opposed to the facts.  Nature is not God.  Nature is a creation of the transcendant God, and it all bears the imprint of His very person.  Creation is a self-disclosure of God!  And man cannot, and will not, be excused for refusing to worship and glorify Him as a response!

The Psalmist, again and again, proclaims that God has engraved unmistakable marks of His glory on His creation!  The heavens are stretched out as His Royal Tent; He has laid the beams of His chambers on the waters; He has made the clouds His chariot; He rides on the wings of the wind; and the winds and lightening bolts are His swift messengers.  The heavens are called His palace (Psalm one hundred four).  And one can’t contemplate the expanse of the universe without being overwhelmed by its boundless size and brightness – all used in Scripture as a description of the multitudes around the Throne singing and giving praise and worship to Almighty God!

And you find the same kind of language with regard to the earth itself and the creatures that live on it.  The lion is the Biblical symbol of the Lion of Judah in His Royal Power.  The lamb is the symbol of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.  Panthers, bears, eagles, sparrows – all speak in the language of God and are self-disclosing!  He conceived them and made them.

And that’s no less true with the plant world.  The vine, for example, is a shadow of the True Vine – cut off and engrafted according to God’s Will and counsel.  Green trees are symbols of men with their roots sunk deeply into the Law of God and whose branches reach up to glorify their Maker.  The mustard seed is a picture of the marvelous growth of the Kingdom.  Thorns and rocks speak their own language; the wheat and the zizanium; the treading of the grapes; the winnowing of the seed; the crushing of the olives.

That man’s own life is full of the symbolic language of God, we need be reminded only of the relation of man and wife in marriage as a picture and shadow of the eternal relationship between Christ and the Church.  And the relationship of children to parents as symbolic of the relationship of people to God!  We need but to open our eyes to see the self-disclosure of God in everything that He has made!  It’s all stamped with His Self-disclosure.

As another example, consider colors.  White is the color of cleanness and holiness and victory.  Black is the color of sin and death; red, the color of wrath, blood and judgment.  Everything in creation reflects His thought!

In mathematics, three is the number symbolic of God, and of unity and diversity; seven of qualitative perfection; twelve of quantitative perfection.  There are seven days in a week, seven notes in an octave, seven colors in a rainbow!  Four is the number of earth; and there are four winds and four seasons, and four corners of the earth – as represented by the four points of the compass.  And I think it not unusual that there were four kingdoms of earth before the coming of the fifth and eternal Kingdom of Christ.

And when we have witnessed all these highly visible things (and many hundreds of others not mentioned) it would do us well to consider the less visible ones, since they, too, are the language of self-disclosure.  For example, with the help of a microscope we can see the orderly rushing of mighty rivers of water flowing through the arteries of a ten-thousandth of an inch of one leaf.  Each particle of dust falling off a chalkboard, examined with a microscope, reveal a shell which once was the home of life!

The dust particles from a moth’s wing are feathers – each as perfect as a plume off a peacock or an ostrich.  In the eye of a butterfly have been found thirty-four thousand perfect lenses – each with the capability of vision!

All of these things, from the littlest to the greatest, declare the Creator Who lavishes upon them the beauties of His Own glorious Person.  All of this is what the apostle Paul means when he says in Romans chapter one, verse nineteen, “What men need to know concerning God has been disclosed to them… for one and all gaze upon His invisible nature, known from the creation of the world, even unto His eternal Power and divinity.”

The reason why the author of the letter to the Hebrews elegantly calls the universe “the appearance of things invisible” is that this skillful creating and ordering of the universe is, for us, a sort of “mirror”, or analogy, in which we can contemplate God, Who is otherwise hidden!  The reason why David attributes to the heavenly creatures a language known to every nation (Psalm nineteen, verse two) is that therein lies an attestation of divinity so apparent that it ought not to escape the gaze of even the most stupid heathen tribe! (Calvin)

But it is that, even though totally irrational creature and inanimate objects give us constant instruction as to the glory and power of God, rational man refuses to see!  And He then worships the creation, or the creature, rather than the Creator Himself!  By the wonderful workmanship of Creation, including man himself, the knowledge of God is sown into the eyes and minds of every man.  And yet man refuses to see – fighting against the self-disclosure of the Author of it all – and preferring his own profane interpretation!  And by doing so, he snatches away the glory of it all – and the glory and praise due to its Creator!

And, in addition to all that, God, in graciousness and loving-kindness, has given man a written disclosure of Himself – culminating in the Word being made flesh among us!  And, now, the unbeliever in the Christian world – the New Heavens and the New Earth – is not only surrounded by the self-disclosure of God in Creation, but he is bombarded by the Sword of the Spirit, the Gospel of Christ!  And since he refuses to do the will of the One Who has revealed Himself, he carries around in himself the greater condemnation!

But then God, Whose grace is even greater than our sin, and Whose forbearance mightier than our obstinacy, reveals His hiddenness to the world by His Word and Spirit.  He “blesses” men by enlightening their eyes and giving them virtue and worth in His Son Jesus.  By the removal of that concealment, man then walks by the light of the Word of God; and turning, too, to the light of creation, he then finds that they both speak the same language!  They both, loudly and visibly, proclaim the Sovereignty and Providence of the Self-existent “I AM THAT I AM”.

Jesus said to Peter, “…Flesh and blood did not reveal to you, but My Father in the Heavens.”  “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah”… you who originate from your father – you who are of “flesh and blood” – you who refuse to see the glory of God in His Creation or in His Son.  You are “blessed” because My Father uncovered it to you.  He was gracious and merciful and longsuffering with you and opened your eyes so that you might see.  Even though you suppressed the truth of God’s self-disclosure in all of His creation; and even though you would not listen to Him and walk in all His written Word through the prophets of old; and even though you would not acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ – the Son of God the Living One, My Father has condescended to open your eyes to see Him in all His glory!  And He has revealed to you that “I AM” has come in the flesh.

“And moreover, I say to you that you are Petros (Peter); and upon this Petra (rock) will I build My Church, and Hades’ gates shall not prevail against it.” (verse eighteen)

Theologians and institutions and preachers and laymen alike have struggled with the interpretation of this verse for centuries.  And I must say that without going through what we’ve just done with regard to the Creator / creature distinction, and without paying close attention to the words and the grammar, very grave results have occurred for the Church of Christ.

The Church at Rome has equated Petros and Petra.  Their interpretation is that the words are the same, and that the man, “flesh and blood”, is “the Rock”.  Therefore the Word of God should read, you are Peter, and upon this man I will build My Church….  And, therefore, the incarnation of the authority of the man, Peter, has sat upon the throne of the Pontiff of Rome ever since.  The Papal throne is the rock upon which is built the Church of Jesus Christ – according to Rome.  And when the one on that throne speaks from the chair, it is Peter, himself, who speaks infallibly!

But let’s look at the text and see if it says that!  The word “Petros” is masculine; it is the name of a man; and it means a single stone.  But by the word “Petra”, Jesus changes to the feminine gender!  And the word doesn’t mean “a single stone”, but “a rock ridge, or foundation” – very similar to the rock upon which the temple is built in Jerusalem on Mount Zion!

So the words are not the same.  Neither can they be equal.  Neither can they be interpreted as identical!  And to equate them is, arguably, a gross distortion of the grammar of the text – not to mention the theology!  Jesus changes the word for a reason; and that reason is to guard against equating the two!

You see, if Peter’s nature is “flesh and blood”; and if he descended from his father, a man; and if he had to receive a special dispensation of grace in order to understand the truth (as any other man would), that is, if Peter was one whose nature was such that the hiddenness of God had to be unveiled to him as it is to us; then Peter’s nature is not “Petra”!

The Church of Jesus Christ is not built subjectively on a man!  If the Church was built on the nature and character of the apostle Peter, then it would, indeed, be in deep trouble – as the Roman Church is; because the character of Peter left a great deal to be desired, as verses twenty-two and twenty-three show.  And there are many, many other examples in Scripture of Peter’s nature to lead us to believe that if the Church were built on him, like the Church in Rome it would have all been apostate long ago.

And, further, as an aside, the facts of Scripture indicate that the apostle Peter was the apostle to the Jews – not to the Gentiles in Rome!  And he faded from prominence very quickly in order to give way to the greatest of the apostles – Paul!  And if Paul – the acclaimed apostle to the Gentiles – whose life was terminated while teaching the Church of Rome, if Paul was not the primary apostle and chief presbyter at Rome, then somebody has done the most terrible revision in the annals of history!

So from the example of grammar; from the example of Theology; and from the example of history, Petros and Petra are not the same!  The man, Peter, and the Rock foundation of the Church cannot be identified as equal!  Just as a sidelight, here, Romanists will argue that Peter was the first of any man to confess that Jesus was the Son of God, which according to some, adds great weight to their argument that He was the chief apostle and head of the Church.  But they forget about John chapter one and verses forty-nine through fifty-one where it is clear that Nathaniel was the very first to confess!  So, does that make Nathaniel co-chair of the Roman Church?  The Greek Orthodox Church seems to believe that there is another pontiff other than the one in Rome!  Maybe its beginning was from the man – Nathaniel.

Now, there are other interpretations of this verse eighteen which are also faulty, although not as historically damaging to the Church as the Roman interpretation.  One of those is that Peter’s “confession” is that upon which the Church is built – that “confession” of Jesus Christ is the “Petra”, or Rock foundation, upon which the Church rests.  And that, as men “confess” similarly, they become a part of the Church as it is built!

But that interpretation is entirely faulty, because “Petra” doesn’t mean the continued building of the Church – it means the Rock foundation!  It means that upon which all the rest of the Church is built.  So the confessions of Christians down through the centuries cannot be equated with “Petra”!

And the same can be said for that interpretation which says that Peter’s “faith” is the “Petra” upon which the Church of Jesus Christ is built.  For the same reason the confession of Christians down through the centuries cannot be the Rock Foundation upon which the Church is built so the “faith” of Christians cannot be the Rock Foundation!  These interpretations, and others, are Protestant attempts to refute the Roman Church’s; arguments that Peter was the first pontiff of the Church, and that he, personally, and his successors, are the Rock!

Apparently there were already problems and divisions in the Churches about this in the early days, because Paul warned the Corinthians, chapter one of his first letter, not to be divided in their allegiance to one of the apostles!

So, what is the answer – the interpretation of Jesus’ words – which fits the grammar and the Theology of the texts and the history?  Well the answers are found in the text itself, and the words of the apostle Peter himself, and in the words of the Revelation to St. John.

First, let’s look at the words of Peter in the second chapter of his first letter to the Jewish refugees scattered among the nations.  He says there that a new temple is being built in Zion, the Chief Corner Stone of which is Jesus Christ Himself – the Rock around which the remainder of the foundation is laid; and that these elect refugees from Israel are a holy priesthood and “lively stones” built up into a spiritual house – the New Temple in which sacrifices are made which are acceptable to God by Jesus Christ!

Now, the only piece which Peter leaves out is the rest of the foundation – which is laid around the Chief Corner Stone – and the single stones; and that is supplied to us by John in the twenty-first chapter of His Revelation.

And in that chapter what is being revealed to John is the New Heavens and the New Earth, and the New Jerusalem.  And the description of the city includes its foundation which is described like this: 


“…and the wall of the city had twelve foundations (stones), and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”


So what we see emerging here isn’t the simplistic and dangerous interpretations of Romanism and historic Protestantism, but a very complex convergence of Biblical metaphors which can only be explained like this:  with an allusion to the huge ridge of solid rock upon which the temple in Jerusalem was built, the New Temple of God, made without hands, in the New City of God and in the New Heavens and the New Earth, has, at its very issue, the special and gracious disclosure of God to twelve men represented by the spokesman Peter.  And the focus of that revelation of the Living God was His Son the Christ, Who is said to be the Chief Corner of the foundation rock of the temple!  And the apostles, representing the elect of the twelve tribes of Israel, are the first fruits and the remaining stones of the foundation of the Church!  The Ecclesia – the Church – is made up of “living stones” – a “royal (or holy) priesthood” – built upon the Rock Foundation of the apostles, the Chief Cornerstone for which is The Son of God!

So the “Petra” upon which Christ will build His Church is the twelve, minus one in Judas – plus one in Paul, who had originally been “blessed” by the Revelation of the Father.  And the “Chief Stone” around which the Rock foundation would be laid is “I SHALL BE THAT I SHALL BE – the Self-disclosure of Yahveh – the Word of God made flesh.

Next time we meet in public worship of God our Father, we’ll continue to look into these things; and we’ll even take a look at the gates of hell itself – although we won’t go in.