When Jesus and His disciples came to the coast of Caesarea Philippi, he asked them two questions. He first asked, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” After receiving the answer, He then asked, “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter spoke up and answered the question saying, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Jesus then said, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:13-18). There are enough pertinent points to ponder in this text to write pages in discussion of, but we wish to pay attention to just a couple in which there is often much misunderstanding and error.
First, we wish to consider the rock that Jesus said that He would build His church upon. For centuries there have been those that have taught that Peter is the rock upon which the Lord would build His church. At first glance, without proper study and consideration, it may well seem that the text is saying that., especially when one understands that the name “Peter” and the word “rock” come from the same Greek root word. However, when one puts forth a little effort and study it will become evident that such is not the case. When speaking of building upon a rock, reference is being made to the firmness and stability of the foundation upon which something is built. Jesus used the same imagery when He said, “Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock” (Luke 6:47-48). Peter certainly would not be a very solid foundation upon which to build the church. Paul told the Corinthian brethren, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 3:11).
Now concerning the fact that Peter’s name and the word rock come from the same root word, we need to realize that though they come from the same root word, they are different and have different meanings. When Jesus first recruited Peter as one of His chosen twelve, He said, “Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone” (John 1:42). “Cephas” is an Aramaic name and is the equivalent of the Greek name Peter. As stated, it is defined as a stone. The word translated rock, it not a small stone, but a whole ledge of rock, something solid enough to build upon. Now, the final proof that Peter is not the rock is found in the fact that the word Peter is masculine gender and the word rock is feminine gender. They cannot refer to the same thing.
So, what is the rock? It is that truth that Peter had just stated, that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). That truth is the foundation upon which all of Christianity rest. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written in order to lay that very foundation. John concluded his account saying, “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).
We wish to consider briefly a second issue from this text that is often misused. The phrase, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” that is found at the end of verse eighteen is often misunderstood. Many have used this to indicate how the Lord’s church, also known as the kingdom as it was called in the next verse, would never be destroyed. Now, it is a fact that the Lord’s kingdom or church will never be destroyed. When Daniel prophesied of the establishment of the kingdom he said, “in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed” (Dan. 2:44). There is no doubt that the church shall see victory, but that is not what the Lord is speaking of in this verse. The question is what is the “it” over which the gates of hell shall not prevail? We need to first understand what the “gates of hell” is. The word “hell” in this text is the word Hades, which means the spiritual realm. The gate to the spiritual realm is obviously physical death. Therefore, Jesus is saying that death will not prevail against “it”. The statement that Jesus had just made prior to the part about the gates of hell not prevailing against it is that He would build His church. It is the building of the church that the gates of hell shall not prevail against. Though the Jews were to falsely arrest Jesus and take Him as an innocent man to the cross to die, it would not stop the church from being built. Following this teaching, Jesus began showing His apostles those very things that would happen to Him. (Matt. 16:21). His followers were not to waver when He died on the cross, for the promises that He had made would be fulfilled. Death cannot stop Him. He will be victorious.
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