‘That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it.'(Mt.16.18,16)
In order to understand the verse we need to fix our attention on the verse preceding it and what leads to the verse 21. ‘From this time forth began Jesus to show…and be raised again on the third day.’ Jesus knew his time on the earth was coming to a close and he wanted his disciples to see him from a different standpoint. They were to testify him after his death and resurrection not as the Messiah but as the Risen Christ. Their Jewish background sat well with them to proclaim the coming of Jesus as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophesies((2 Sam.7:16; Rom1:3). They knew he was the seed of David and according to the Davidic covenant, his throne would be established forever. Having known their mindset Jesus challenged them with a question,’ But who say ye that I am?(vs.15)
In the verse 21 he revealed what awaited him shortly. Sufferings and death that awaited him was to be seen something that ran parallel to the covenant God made with David. They were to see him not as the covenanted King of a kingdom promised to the Jews but as the Rock on which his Church was to be built. For the disciples the news was quite shocking. He made St. Peter realize that he did not naturally appreciate the will of God. He still retained of his old self.
The risen Christ was soon to be seated on the right hand of God in th heavenly places.(Eph. 1:20)
In this context we need to understand Jesus’ assertion before Pilate,’My kingdom is not of this world.'(Jn.18:36). It was to be realized only after his ascension. In the gospel of Luke we read that he commanded his disciples to wait in Jerusalem till ‘ye be endued with power from on high.'(Lk.24:49)
This was the signal for the beginning of the Church Age.
Towards this purpose they were to continue in his absence their ministry as before but as mentioned earlier with a different emphasis placed on it. Founding of the Church came on the day of Pentecost with a visible sign of outpouring of Holy Spirit. The latter sign struck all those who were assembled with wonder.(Ac.2:7-11) When St. Peter stood up to explain he quoted Joel where emphasis was different to the Psalms that he quoted towards the end. (Ac.2:25-36). Jesus ‘the fruit of his loins’ was both Lord and Christ. By conquering death he had broken the middle wall of earthly kingdom and of heaven. Holy Spirit endued them with power so the church would be proof against the work of Satan. ‘The gates of hades shall not prevail.’
Peter was not the Rock but the risen Christ.
Coming back to the key verses the emphasis was on the Church and Peter of course had a role to play. Peter was only petros a stone,- a play of upon the Greek word, but he was petra, meaning the Rock in Greek.
It is of this Rock St.Paul speaks,’that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.'(1 Cor.10:4) ( Note: St. Paul when he makes this assertion, the symbolic value of Rock could not have been lost on any. He was referring to an unforgettable incident during the wanderings of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. Jesus was ever present as the manner Manna and the water was found in a miraculous manner through their sojourn. In the same vein the Rock that Moses smote with his rod was Jesus Christ. It became however a Rock of offense in the case of Moses since he did not honor God. It is what St.Peter echoes ‘stumbling stone'(1 Pe.2:4-8))
The disciples needed to be prepared for the Great Commission(Mt.28:17-19) Jesus was coming to that crucial point in his earthly ministry and it was important that the disciples were mentally prepared to understand their role in the ushering of the Church Age. His great Commission was prefaced with his authority,’All authority is given unto me in heaven and the earth.(vs.18) In short the Davidic Covenant and the Church were invested in him. He was the Rock of Ages of the Old Covenant and of the Church. It has only one foundation that is Christ.(1 Cor.3:11)
This is the Rock that Daniel explained as ‘cut without hands’ that smashed world empires to powder.( Dan.2:32)
Was Peter the Rock upon which Jesus wanted to build his church? No it was not. St. Peter himself rejects that notion that many has entertained as Gospel Truth. Nothing can be farther than truth than to assign St.Peter as the foundation of the Church either on this earth or above. The first epistle of Peter opens with his authority: he is only an apostle and elect.
This begs a question : if St. Peter did not found a church that can beat back the onslaught of hell or hades what is the role of earthly churches, considering that there is only one Church. (to be continued)