FROM CONFESSION TO DECEPTION
When we first read through this passage, we are struck by the fact that it tells us who Jesus is. The passage DOES do that. But that is not all it does. It tells us who WE are to be. You see, when you come to the place in your life where you finally see Jesus for who and what He really is, then YOU will be different. Knowing Jesus changes you.
Our story begins the Jesus coming to Caesarea Philippi: Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi... (Matthew 16:13). As you travel north from the Sea of Galilee, you will find the upper reaches of the Jordan River as it flows to the south. Moving upstream, you will find Lake Hula (which today has dried up). Moving even further northward, you would find yourself on the lower slopes of Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan River. Straddling these lower slopes was the Roman city of Caesarea Philippi.
The city was named after Julius Caesar. Indeed, there was even a temple in honor of Caesar and the Romans who lived there celebrated him as divine.
It was an international metropolis with Syrians, Jews, Greeks, and Romans. At least 14 temples to false gods were to be found in the city of Caesarea Philippi. The city was dedicated to the Greek deity Pan, the god of nature. It was in this setting that a penniless, homeless Nazarene asked a question of His disciples.
...He began asking His disciples, saying, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13b).
Who is Jesus? I'm not talking about His address and social security number (Jesus of Nazareth, SS: 777-03-0001). Who is He REALLY. There are a lot of varied opinions as to who Jesus is. But the important point today is who YOU think He is.
Who is Jesus? Men in that day had come up with a number of theories to explain this miracle-working rabbi from Nazareth.
And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14).
John the Baptist had come before Jesus. And as the ministry of Jesus had grown, the ministry of John the Baptist had waned until he was finally arrested by Herod Antipas and murdered. Driven by pangs of guilt, Herod Antipas had lately begun to wonder whether Jesus was really John the Baptist come back to life to haunt him.
Another theory was that Jesus was the reincarnation of Elijah or of Jeremiah or of one of the other prophets of the Old Testament.
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).
The first question was merely introductory. It was to get them thinking. But now He asks of them the key question. It matters not what other people think. What do YOU think?
Jesus does not allow them to sit on the fence. He forces them to a decision.
Have you made that decision? There comes a time when you have to get off the fence. To make no decision is to make a decision.
That fact that Jesus asks this question of His disciples at THIS point in His ministry is significant. This was a time of growing rejection. The religious leaders were beginning to mobilize against Jesus. This would naturally cause His disciples to wonder whether they had made the right decision in following Him. After all, they were going against the religious experts of the day.
PEOPLE WHO KNOW JESUS ARE PEOPLE OF CONTENT
And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16).
I think that I will scream the next time I hear some well-meaning saint say, “I don't think that we should focus on theology; we ought to just love Jesus.”
But which Jesus do you love? Peter loved Jesus and that was good. But what made it especially significant was the CONTENT of that love.
When Peter says, “You are the CHRIST” he is using the Greek word for the Hebrew term “Messiah.” For all the teaching that Jesus had given concerning Himself over the past three years of public ministry, He had never yet publicly announced Himself to be the promised Messiah of Israel or that He was the Son of God.
Why not? It was because He determined not to be a self-proclaimed Messiah. It was His actions and His person that made this proclamation on His behalf. For three years, the disciples lived with Him, ate with Him, traveled with Him and their conclusion at the end of that time is recorded here.
Christ - Messiah!!
Son of the Living God!
There is a principle here. It is that intimacy and knowledge go together. If you can get people next to Jesus, then Jesus will get them to the truth. Intimacy and knowledge go together.
I have a friend that rubs people the wrong way. He can walk into a group and immediately make 10 enemies. He is abrasive. He is like the fingernail scratching on the chalkboard. But I know him. And it is because I know him and understand him that I can be a close friend to him. I used to spend a lot of time explaining him to others. But I found a better way. I found that, if others will just get to know him, they will usually come to like him, too.
PEOPLE WHO KNOW JESUS ARE INCAPABLE OF KNOWING HIM ON THEIR OWN
And if you know Jesus, then you didn't come to know Him on your own, either.
And Jesus answered and 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).
Peter said that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But Peter didn't get that on his own. The reason that flesh and blood has not revealed this is because flesh and blood is incapable of revealing this.
Have you ever stopped to think about what we believe? We believe that a virgin got pregnant. We believe that God was born in a backwoods town. We believe that a dead man got up and walked.
A little boy came home from Sunday school and his mother asked him, “What did you learn today?” He replied, “I learned about Moses and the people of God crossing the Red Sea.” She said, “Tell me about it.”
He said, “Well, the Israelites had big warships and they unloaded their troops which went after the Egyptians and killed them all. Then they loaded up all the people of God and ferried them across the Red Sea and they sent out the Israeli Air Force and they wiped out the rest of the Egyptian forces.” The mother said, “They taught you that in Sunday school?” He replied, “Well, not exactly, but you wouldn't believe what they DID say.”
We believe some things that no one would believe were it not for the fact that they are TRUE and that GOD has taught them to us.
Jesus says to Peter, “If My Father hadn't told you this, then you wouldn't know it.” This is grace. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, it is because God gave it to you. You didn't believe because you were...
You believed because it was given to you.
PEOPLE WHO KNOW JESUS ARE CONFESSIONAL
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18).
Peter had just said, SU EI ("You are..."). Jesus responds in exactly the same way. There is a play on words here. It is based on the name "Peter" (PETROS). It means "Rock."
This was not Peter's real name. His real name was Simon. But when he first became a disciple, Jesus gave him a nickname. And now, he explains the meaning behind that nickname.
Who is the rock upon which the church is to be built? There are several possibilities:
1. Peter is the rock.
This is the stance of the Roman Catholic Church. It is because of this verse that they claim Peter as the first pope and they say this verse establishes the entire line of popes.
This passage DOES teach that Peter was to be the leader of this group of disciples who would be used by God to change the world. If you can't see this, then you are trying to change the text.
The Bible teaches that God's method of moving is through anointed individuals, not through anointed committees. God raises up a man. He works through that man.
Every movement in church history can be traced to a man who led that movement. God raises up a man who will follow Him. And that man leads people to God.
Peter was such a man. This passage teaches this. But it does NOT teach that this leadership is transferable to anyone else. It isn't.
2. Christ is the rock.
1 Corinthians 10:4 speaks of the Israelites in the wilderness - how they ate and drank from food and drink that God provided, "for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ."
3. The Confessional statement that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
It is true that there is a sense in which this confessional statement is at the very foundation of the Christian church. Go to any cult and ask them, "Who is Jesus?" and you will find a deviation from this central teaching.
Which one of these positions is the correct one? I'm inclined to think that all three are. Peter WAS acting as the rock as he led the other disciples in confessing Jesus as Messiah (of course, we shall also see that he acts as Satan before the end of this chapter).
And Jesus IS the rock of our salvation. And He is the rock BECAUSE of who He is - the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus says, “I will BUILD My church.” God promises growth. Christ is in the business of building churches.
Notice that Jesus calls it “MY Church.” It is His church. We sometimes get to thinking that we are indispensable. “How did God ever create the heavens and the earth without me?”
The church is HIS possession. His fingerprints are on the blueprints of the church. He has possession, title and deed. And the implication is clear: Don't mess with His church or else!
PEOPLE WHO KNOW JESUS ARE CONQUERORS
“...and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18).
When you spoke of gates in the ancient world, it was a reference to a place of council and leadership and judgment. This all took place at the city gates. This was the place where the elders of the city would meet.
There was a time when I used to read this passage and think that it described a church as a fortress with the bad guys attacking from the outside and trying to break through our gates.
But it doesn't say this at all. It is not the gates of the church which are described here. These are the gates of hell. And they aren't attacking anything (you've never been attacked by a gate, have you?). The gates of hell are not attacking. The gates of hell are trying to withstand the battering ram of the gospel. They are crumbling before the onslaught of the teaching that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Don't miss this! We are not on the defensive. We are not seeking to "hold ground." We are advancing!!! The weapons of this warfare are...
The gift of Salvation
And we have a promise that the victory will be ours. That is the message of the book of Revelation - JESUS WINS! This is not a new message. It was promised from the echoing prophecies of the Old Testament.
The promise started in Genesis 3:15 where God said that the Seed of the woman would one day destroy the Serpent and his works. But it did not stop there. There was also a promise of how the Seed of the woman would destroy the gates of the enemies of God. Abraham was given this promise:
16 “By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (Genesis 22:16-18).
The promise that was given to Abraham is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus and in those who are the spiritual heirs of Abraham.
PEOPLE WHO KNOW JESUS ARE CONFIDENT
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven...” (Matthew 16:19a).
Did you notice the transition from “church” to “kingdom”? In the previous verse, Jesus was speaking of building His church. Now He is speaking of authority within His kingdom. Why? It is because the church is the outward manifestation of God's kingdom on earth today.
Jesus is still speaking to Peter alone, not to Peter and the rest of the disciples. He says, “I will give YOU (singular) the keys of the kingdom...” However, in Matthew 18:18 this same thing will be used of ALL the disciples.
The reason that the gates of Hell will not be able to withstand the attacks of the church is that the church has been given the keys to a much greater kingdom.
Every time a person is led to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, the gates of Hell take another beating and the gates of heaven are opened to admit another citizen.
The reference to the “keys of the kingdom” was not a new concept to Peter or the disciples. It was a concept which came from the Older Testament. The Lord had offered to give Eliakim the keys to the kingdom of David.
Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder,
When he open no one will shut,
When he shuts no one will open. (Isaiah 22:22).
Eliakim was being called to the position of high priest. He was to be a steward for the Lord. In the same way, Peter is being called to be a steward of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is an application here for you. You have also been called to be a keeper of the keys. You have the opportunity to unlock the kingdom for another.
I work at the Seaport Fire Station where I work as the shift Battalion Chief in charge of all of the fire companies on my shift. When you first walk into the station, you find yourself in a small foyer with locked doors leading to the rest of the fire station. And if you ever go there, that is as far as you will go because the doors to the inner offices are locked. But I hold the keps to those doors. I have both the ability and the authority to take you through.
God has given us some tremendous authority. We are children of the living God. We move the God who moves mountains. He answers our prayers.
“...and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19b).
To what kind of "binding" and "loosing" does this refer? There are several possibilities:
1. The binding and loosing of Satan's power and dominion.
Jesus had already spoken in parabolic form of the necessity of binding up a strong man before you go in and rob his house (Matthew 12:29). He said this in a context of having cast a demon from a man, thus exhibiting a "binding" of Satan.
In the same way, the apostle Paul speaks of delivering an unrepentant sinner over to the clutches of Satan (1 Corinthians 5:5).
2. Permitting and Forbidding Certain Practices.
The rabbis of that day often used these terms to speak about what was permitted and what was forbidden under the Law. Thus, they "bound" certain activities (forbidding them) and the "loosed" other activities (permitting them).
In the same way, this could be viewed as giving Peter and the other apostles the authority to make decisions regarding the life of the church. They did exactly this when they "loosed" the yoke of the law toward the Gentiles and also "bound" those same Gentiles from acts of idolatry and from the eating of meat from which blood had not been removed (Acts 15:19-20).
Which interpretation is correct? I don't know. I think that it is entirely possible that they BOTH are.
Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ. (Matthew 16:20).
This was in keeping with the program of Jesus. He was not a self-proclaimed Messiah. And this made it all the more significant when others recognized Him as Messiah.
Even at His trial before Caiaphas, it would be the high priest himself who would ask the unbidden question: "Are you the Christ, the Son of God?" (Matthew 26:63).
And Jesus would reply in the affirmative, pointing out, "It came unbidden from your own lips!"
PEOPLE WHO KNOW JESUS KNOW HIM BECAUSE OF THE CROSS
From that time Jesus Christ 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.
And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.”
But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's.” (Matthew 16:21-23).
When Peter had said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God," it had been the result of a revelation from God. Now Jesus addresses him and calls him "Satan." He recognized that what Peter is now saying is not something that he has come up with on his own but also had an outside source. That source is Satan. The same Peter who had received a revelation from God now received a revelation from Satan.
There is a lesson here. Just because you receive a supernatural revelation does not mean that it comes from God. There was a supernatural force at work here. The disciples couldn't see it, but Jesus could. It was his majesty - the prince and power of the kingdom of darkness - Satan.
He was the same one who had come to the woman in the Garden of Eden. She saw only a smooth-talking serpent, but the real power behind the snake in the grass was this fallen angel whom we know as Satan.
You remember the story. He came to the woman and questioned God's command. "I can't believe that God really said that!" And once the woman had begun to also question, he blatantly denied - What? He denied death! "You shall not surely die!"
Do you see the pattern? He is doing exactly the same thing here! He is denying death. He is denying the judgment of God. He is saying, "You don't really have to worry about paying for sin or dying on the cross - get that out of your mind because you won't die!"
Do you see what is at stake here? You are! Your salvation. Your eternal life with God. If Jesus does not go to the cross, then He will not be a sacrifice for your sins. If He does not die for your sins, then you must pay the penalty for your own sins. The penalty for your sins is DEATH. Not merely physical death. But spiritual death for all time and eternity.
The good news is that Jesus did not fall prey to the temptation. He stood firm against it. And salvation HAS been provided.
Satan no longer tries to tempt Jesus. He no longer visits the garden of Eden. He has another target. It is YOU. And His lie is still the same:
"You don't really have to worry about sin's penalty.”
“You can ignore the specter of death. What you don't know can't hurt you."
"I'm okay; you're okay."
"You will not surely die."
And now, the question is what YOU will do. Will you listen to the lie of Satan? Or will you look to Jesus, the author and finisher of faith?
A ship was moving through the dark midnight sea when a light was seen on the horizon directly in their path of travel. The captain ordered his signalman to flash out a message. “Please change your course 10 degrees to the north.” An answering signal was flashed saying, “Please change your course 10 degrees to the south.”
The captain was a little annoyed and flashed back, “Please change your course 10 degrees to the north; I am a captain.” Again the answering signal, “Please change your course 10 degrees to the south; I am a seaman second class.” Now the captain was really angry and he flashed out, “Please change your course 10 degrees to the north; this is a battleship.” The reply came back, “Please change your course 10 degrees to the south; this is a lighthouse.”
God is a lighthouse. And he doesn't change just because you want Him to. He IS the Light. Ignore His warning, and you will end up on the Rocks. Trust in Him, and He will bring you safely to THE Rock.