On This Rock I Will Build My Church

Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21

DIG: Why did some people think that Yeshua was John the Baptist? Elijah, or Jeremiah? What was significant about Peter’s confession? How does basic Greek grammar show that the Church cannot be built upon Kefa? What are other biblical and historical proofs that Peter was not the first pope? Who is the Rock? How did standing in the River Panias at the base of Mount Hermon illustrate what Christ was talking about? What does the gates of Sh’ol mean? In what ways do we see Peter using the keys of the kingdom of heaven? What special authority did the Lord give to Kefa? Why did Jesus tell His apostles not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah?

REFLECT: When did Jesus become more than just a name in the Bible to you? Who do you say Christ is? In what ways is your life built on the Rock? Are there those around you who are confused about who Yeshua is? How can you show them the Rock in your life? Can your position in the Lord be lost because of sin in your life?

This file will illustrate the first stage of the partial sight of Isra’el. There will be a clear distinction between how the crowds of people view Messiah and how the apostles view Messiah.

As Jesus started the final phase of His ministry to Isra’el, He and His apostles went north about thirty miles to the villages around Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13a). There, the Lord was safe from annoyance by Herod Antipas, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. There He could prepare His talmidim for His coming crucifixion just a little over six months ahead. They removed themselves from the region around the Sea of Galilee and went north about thirty miles to Caesarea Philippi, whichis at the foot of Mount Hermon, the highest mountain in the Holy Land. Its highest peak is about 9,000 feet above sea level. Since it was at the headwaters of the Jordan River, the area is striking in its beauty. It had an abundance of fresh water flowing from underground springs through the impressive cliff that surrounds it. Summer was approaching and the two-day journey followed a well-traveled Roman road on the east side of the Hulah Valley.

Because of its extreme northern location, pagan Gentiles largely inhabited the area of Caesarea Philippi, but Yeshua was not there to minister to them but to His talmidim. It was the center of idolatrous worship. In the Israelite period, the tribe of Dan settled in the area and often fell prey to the pagan influences at its border. The town of Caesarea was built on the ridge that overshadowed a river below. Herod's son Philip, developed the area into a retreat and named it Caesarea Philippi not only to honor the Caesar, but also to distinguish it from Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast. Later occupants named the place after the pagan god “Pan” and built many altars for worship. Their idol Pan had the hindquarters and horns of a goat and the torso and face of a man. It became known as Panias, or the place of the flute player Pan.

Due to the Muslim conquest of the area in the seventh century, Panias became Banias because they have no “P” sound in their alphabet. It is still called Banias today. In New Covenant times, however, the River Panias flowed out from a cave at the base of Mount Hermon. A century ago a major earthquake caused the river to shift. So today no river flows from the cave. But at the time of Christ, the River Panias flowed out and came out of that cave and broke up the stones of the river. As a result, the stream where Jesus and His apostles were standing was just filled with little stones or pebbles.

In the last section, the Lord had warned His talmidim about three kinds of leaven. Here He tests the apostles in light of the lies of the Pharisees, Sadducees and the Herodians (see Fw – The Leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees). It was a rather strange, yet appropriate setting for the ensuing dialogue between Yeshua and the Twelve.

Once when Jesus was praying in private and His apostles came to Him. They had obviously been talking among themselves. As a good rabbi, Yeshua started the discussion by posing a question. He asked them: Who do the crowds of people say the Son of Man is (Mt 16:13b; Mark 8:27; Luke 9:18)? This question was designed to prepare the way for another more important one to follow. The Lord knew that the people did not think He was the Messiah. They were expecting a different kind of Savior, one who would free them from the bondage of Roman dependence and make them a free nation.

The Twelve, in mingling among the people, had heard many opinions expressed about Him. The apostles replied quite frankly: Some say John the Baptist. This had been the immediate conclusion of Herod Antipas when He heard about the wonderful works of the Lord. And His opinion was reflected in others also. Yet others, impressed with Christ’s fiery denunciation of sin, and call of repentance, thought He was Elijah, who had gone to heaven in a chariot of fire (Second Kings 2:11), and in the popular tradition, would return as the forerunner of the Messiah. And still others detected the sorrowful preaching of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. A larger group could not identify Him with any one prophet and were content to speak about Him as one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life (Mattityahu 16:14; Mark 8:28; Luke 9:19).

Traditional Judaism has never held to a teaching of reincarnation; however, there is a belief (even in the TaNaKh) that there may be a resurrection appearance of special individuals (for example Elijah appearing again in Malachi 4:5-6). If truth be told, common tradition reminds us that Eliyahu will come again to announce the arrival of King Messiah (see my commentary on Revelation Bw – See, I Will Send You the Prophet Elijah Before the LORD Comes), as seen in the Cup of Elijah at the Passover seder every spring. It could also be that the people were looking at Yeshua as one ministering in the same spirit and power as the previous prophets.856

The people could not find a contemporary great enough with whom to compare Jesus except John who had been recently beheaded. But in their blindness they had not been able to think of Him as the expectant One, especially since the Great Sanhedrin already rejected His messianic claims. So Yeshua posed a follow-up question to bring the discussion close to home: But what about you? He asked. Who do you say I AM (Matthew 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20)? The Greek is even more emphatic, it literally reads: But you, who do you say that I AM? Upon their answer much depended.857

There may be some confusion over who Jesus is today, but there was no confusion among His closest talmidim who lived with Him for three years. Simon Peter answered, saying: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Mattityahu 16:16; Mark 8:30b; Luke 9:21). Once again, the Greek is even more emphatic, reading: You are the Messiah, the Son, of the God, the living One. This is rather astounding as one reflects on this declaration! Yeshua of Nazareth did many miracles in Isra’el, yet He is more than a prophet. He taught many beautiful truths to the people, yet He is more than an exalted rabbi. Simon affirms that he believed Yeshua to be the long-promised Meshiach. Without a doubt this confession also marked the highpoint of Kefa’s faith. Never afterwards, until Christ’s resurrection, did it reach such heights.

Now Peter certainly did not understand the full implication of his declaration. It was, however, a clear break from the people. At that point Jesus began to clarify. It was as if He were saying, “Now that you have come to this understanding, I AM going to tell you the role of the Messiah.” And in the very next section, Jesus predicts His death and begins to define the suffering role of the Messiah.

It is important to understand that if Peter’s declaration were wrong, Yeshua would have most certainly corrected him. But Simon was not corrected - he was blessed. Jesus replied: Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven (Matthew 16:17). Peter’s confession was not from human logic, but from divine illumination. The truth that Simon had just confessed was the foundation upon which Christ would build His Church. He meant that Peter had seen the basic essential truth concerning His Person, the essential truth upon which the Church would be founded, and nothing would be able to overthrow that truth, not even all the forces of evil that might fight against it. Peter was the first among the twelve apostles to see the Lord as the Messiah. Jesus commended him for that spiritual insight, and said His Church would be founded upon that fact. And that was a far different thing than founding the Church on Peter.

Using Peter’s name and making, as it were, a play upon words, Jesus said to Him: And I tell you that you are Peter (Mattityahu 16:18a). One can only imagine the Lord standing at the foot of the massive cliff at Caesarea Philippi and bending down to pick up one of the many smaller pebbles. It would have been a graphic object lesson as He held up a small stone as a symbol of Peter and then pointed to the massive cliff as symbolic of his confession of Christ’s messiahship.

The interpretation of the Catholic Church, that the Church was founded upon Peter and that he was the first pope, violates basic Greek grammar. Peter or petros is a masculine noun and means a small stone or pebble. Jesus was saying, “Peter, you are a small stone or pebble, just like these in the River Panias.”

And on this Rock I will build My Church (Matthew 16:18b). The word rock or petra is a feminine noun and means a massive immovable cliff, rock or ledge, just like the one overshadowing them at Caesarea Philippi as Jesus spoke. The basic rules of Greek grammar state that a masculine modifies a masculine, a feminine modifies and feminine, and a neuter modifies a neuter. You cannot have a masculine noun modifying a feminine noun or visa versa; thus, it cannot be grammatically possible that the Church was being built upon Peter. Yeshua made two complete, separate statements. He said: you are Peter or Petros (masculine noun) and on this rock (change of gender, indicating change of subject) I will build My Church. Had Christ intended to say that the Church would be founded on Peter, it would have been ridiculous for Him to have shifted to the feminine form of the word in the middle of the sentence, saying, if we may translate literally and somewhat fancifully, “And I tell you that you are Mr. Rock, and on this, Mrs. Rock, I will build My Church.”

What Jesus was really saying was this: You are Petros, a rock-like man, and on this petra, this huge Gibraltar-like rock, My deity, I will build My Church.

No, without a doubt, the Bible tells us plainly that the Church is not built upon Peter, but that it is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). And again, for no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ (First Corinthians 3:11). It is interesting to notice that some of the early Church fathers, Augustine and Jerome among them, understood the Rock not to be built upon Peter, but Jesus Christ. Others, of course, gave the papal interpretation. But this shows that there was no “unanimous consent of the fathers,” as the Roman Catholic Church claims.

This is the first time the word Church is used in the Bible and it is in the future tense. Covenant theology, or replacement theology, teaches that the Church existed since Adam and therefore the Church has always been the “true Isra’el.” But here, Yeshua indicates the Church is future, it will not begin until the festival of Shavu'ot when all of the Jews gathered there were filled with the Ruach HaKodesh (Acts 2:1-47). Replacement theology teaches that all the promises to Isra’el have been forfeited because of her sin. The caution there would be that if Isra’el can lose her salvation because of her sin, we could lose our salvation because of our sin! However, the Word of God strongly teaches that the believer is secure in Christ (see Ms – The Eternal Security of the Believer). Rabbi Sha’ul writes: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (which includes us), will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

Whenever the word Rock is used in the TaNaKh, it is a picture of the Messiah (Genesis 49:24; Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:8; Deuteronomy 32:4 and 13; Second Samuel 22:2; Psalms 18:2, 19:14, 40:2, 61:2 and 92:15; Isaiah 26:4 and 51:1). The Church, then, was not being built upon Peter, but upon the Messiah. More specifically, on what Peter had just said about the Messiah (Peter’s Confession of Christ). You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church (Mattityahu 16:18 KJV). On what basis, then, does the Roman church establish their doctrine of papal succession from Peter forward? To start with, they ignore any accountability for their interpretation by ignoring the original language - the Greek text.

These are the notes taken from the Catholic bible to interpret this verse: The Aramaic word kepa, meaning rock and transliterated into Greek as Kephasis is the name by which Peter is called in the Pauline letters (First Corinthians 1:12; 3:22, 9:5, 15:5; Galatians 1:18; 2:9, 11 and 14, except in Galatians 2:7-8 where he is called Peter). It is translated as petrosor Peter in John 1:42. The presumed original Aramaic of Jesus’ statement would have been, in English, “You are the Rock (Kefa) and upon this rock (Kefa), I will build My church.” The Greek text probably means the same, for the difference in gender between the masculine noun petros (Peter’s new name), and the feminine noun petra (rock) may be due simply to the unsuitability of using a feminine noun as the proper name of a male. While the two words were generally used with slightly different nuances, they were also used interchangeably with the same meaning “rock.”

You would hope that a doctrine as important as this one is to the Roman church that they would do a little more than presume what the original language meant. And to say that the Greek text probably means that the words are the same is at best bad scholarship, and at worst irresponsible beyond comprehension. It seems to me that they were not trying to draw meaning out of the text (exegesis), but to read their own meaning into the text. The reason the Catholic Church uses the Latin Vulgate translation instead of the Greek translation is because the Greek translation differentiates between Peter (petros) and rock (petra), the Vulgate does not. In Latin Vulgate translation they are the same word, so the Roman church falsely says that Peter is the Rock on which the Church was built. Five other significant points need to be made before leaving this vital topic.

First, Peter never claimed to be the pope in his own writings (First Peter 1:1, 5:1-3). It seems inconceivable that if he had been the pope, “the supreme head of the church taking the place of Christ on earth,” he would have declared that fact in his letters. On the contrary, Peter refers to himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ (of which there were eleven others, and later Rabbi Sha’ul was commissioned by Yeshua as an apostle to the Gentiles), and a fellow elder, that is, simply as a minister of Christ.

Secondly, it is very interesting to notice Paul’s attitude toward Peter. Paul was called to be an apostle at a later time, after the Church had begun. Yet Kefa had nothing to do with that choice, as he surely would have if he had been the pope. Paul was easily the greatest of the apostles, having written more of the New Covenant than Peter did. And on one occasion Paul publically rebuked Peter (Galatians 2:11-14 and 16). In other words, Paul gave the “Holy Father” a “dressing down” in front of them all, accusing him of not walking in the truth of the Gospel. Surely that was no way to talk to a pope! Imagine anyone today, even a cardinal, taking on himself to rebuke and instruct the pope with such language! Just who did Paul think he was that he could rebuke the Vicar of Christ for ungodly conduct? If Kefa were the pope it would have been Paul’s duty and the duty of the other apostles to recognize him as such and teach only what he approved. Obviously Paul did not regard Peter as infallible in faith and morals, or recognize his supremacy in any way.

Thirdly, the other apostles also seem totally unaware that Peter was the head of the Church. Nowhere do they acknowledge his authority. And nowhere does he attempt to exercise authority over them. The council in Jerusalem in Acts 15 reveals quite clearly how the Church operated in those days. Had the present papal hierarchy been in place, there would have been no need for a council in the first place. The church at Antioch would have written a letter to Kefa, the bishop of Rome, and he would have issued a papal bull settling the matter. And of all the churches the one at Antioch was the last that should have appealed to Tziyon. For according to Roman Catholic legend Peter was bishop in Antioch for seven years before transferring his authority to Rome. But the appeal was made to a church council at Jerusalem, not to Peter. And James presided and announced the decision, not Peter. In fact, Kefa didn’t even so much as express an opinion. He did not attempt to make any infallible pronouncements although the subject under discussion was a vital matter of faith. Also, after the council in Tziyon, Kefa is never again mentioned in the book of Acts! That would be a pretty strange way for a pope to act.

Fourthly, according to Roman Catholic tradition, Peter was the first bishop of Rome. His pontificate supposedly lasted for twenty-five years until he was martyred in Rome in 67 AD. The remarkable thing, however, about Peter’s alleged reign as pope in Rome, is that the New Covenant does not say one single word about it. The word Rome appears only nine times in the Bible, and never is Kefa mentioned in connection with it. There is no mention to Rome in either of Peter’s letters. But Paul’s journey to Rome is recorded in great detail in Acts 27 and 28. In fact, there is no evidence in the New Covenant, nor any historical proof of any kind, that Peter was ever in Rome.

Lastly, the most compelling reason for believing that Peter was never in Rome is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans. According to Roman Catholic tradition, Kefa reigned as pope in Rome from 42 to 67 AD. It is generally agreed that Paul’s letter to the church in Rome was written in the year 58 AD, at the very height of Peter’s alleged reign there. He did not address his letter to Peter, as he should have if he was pope, but to the believers in Rome. How strange for a missionary to write to a church and not mention its pastor! That would have been an inexcusable insult. What would we think of a missionary today who would dare to write a congregation in a distant city and without mentioning their pastor, tell them that he was anxious to go there so that he might bare some fruit among them even as he had seen in his own community (Romans 1:13), that he was anxious to instruct and strengthen them, and that he was anxious to preach to Gospel there where it had not been preached before? How would the pastor feel if he knew that such greetings had been sent to 27 of his most prominent members, but not him? Would he stand for such unethical actions? Even more so the pope! If Peter had been ministering in the church at Rome for 16 years, why did Paul write to the people of the church in these words: I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong (Romans 1:11). Would that not be an insult to Kefa? Would it not be presumptuous for Paul to go over the head of the pope? And if Peter had been there for 16 years, why was it necessary for Paul to go there at all, especially since in his letter he says that he does not build on another’s foundation: it has always been my ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation (Romans 15:20). At the conclusion of his letter to the Roman church, Paul sends greetings to the 27 people mentioned above, including some women. But he does not mention Kefa at all.

And again, had Peter been pope in Rome prior to, or at the time Paul arrived there as a prisoner in 61 AD, Paul could not have failed to mention him, for in the letters written in Rome during his imprisonment - Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon – he gives quite a list of his fellow-workers in Rome and Peter’s name is not among them. He spent two whole years there as a prisoner and welcomed all who came to see him (Acts 28:30). Nor does he mention Peter in his second letter to Timothy, which was written form Rome during his second imprisonment, in 67 AD, the year that Peter is alleged to have suffered martyrdom in Rome, and shortly before his own death (Second Timothy 4:6-8). He says that all his friends had abandoned him, and that only Luke was with him (Second Timothy 4:10-11). Where was Peter? If he was the pope in Rome when Paul was a prisoner, why did Peter not call on Paul and offer aid? What kind of spiritual leader would that be?

All of this makes it quite clear that Peter was never in Rome at all, even though the Vatican has publicly unveiled a handful of bone fragments purportedly belonging to him. Not one of the early church fathers gives any support to the belief that Peter was bishop in Rome until Jerome in the fifth century. Du Pin, a Roman Catholic historian, acknowledges “the primacy of Peter is not recorded by the early church writers, Justin Martyr (139 AD), Irenaeus (178 AD), Clement of Alexandria (190 AD), or others of the most ancient fathers.” Catholicism builds her foundation neither on biblical teaching, nor upon the facts of history, but like the Oral Law, only on the unfounded traditions of men (Mark 7:8).858

And the gates of Sh’ol will not overcome it (Mattityahu 16:18c). The gates of Sh’ol is an idiom of the TaNaKh for physical death (Psalms 9:13, 107:18; Job 38:17; Isaiah 38:10; Jonah 2:6b). Neither Peter’s death, the death of the apostles, or even the death of Christ, could stop the Church from being built. This was implied partial blindness in the teaching of Jesus. He will start to address that partial blindness in the next file.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 16:19a). Whenever the words key or keys is used symbolically in the Bible, it always symbolizes the authority to open or close doors (Judges 3:25; First Chronicles 9:27; Isaiah 22:20-24; Matt 16:19a; Revelation 1:18, 3:7, 9:1 and 20:1). Peter will be responsible to open the doors of the Church. He will have a special role in the book of Acts. In the Dispensation of the Torah, humanity was divided into two groups, Jews and Gentiles. But in the Dispensation of Grace, because of what went on in the intertestamental period, there were three groups of people, Jews, Gentiles and Samaritans (Matthew 10:5-6). Peter would be the key person (pun intended) in bringing in the Jews (Acts 2), the Samaritans (Acts 8), and the Gentiles (Acts 10) into the Church by receiving the Holy Spirit. Once he opened the door it stayed open.

Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Mattityahu 16:19b). The perfect tense is used here, meaning that whatever is already God’s decision in heaven will be revealed to the apostles on earth. It literally says: Whatever you prohibit on earth will have already been prohibited in heaven. The terms binding and loosing were common in the rabbinic writing of that day. From the Jewish frame of reference, the terms binding and loosing were used by the rabbis in two ways: judicially and legislatively. Judicially, to bind meant to punish, and to loose meant to release from punishment. Legislatively, to bind meant to forbid something, and to loose meant to permit it. In fact, the Pharisees claimed binding and loosing for themselves, but God really never gave it to them. At that time Jesus gave this special authority to Peter alone. After His resurrection Christ gave the unique authority to bind and loose in legislative matters and in judicial punishment to the other apostles. Once the talmidim died, however, that authority died with them.

The apostles exercised this authority legislatively to permit and forbid. And we can see Peter exercising judicial authority in Acts 5 where Peter bound Ananias and Sapphira for punishment because they lied to the Holy Spirit. As a result, Peter bound them for punishment using his apostolic authority and they were killed.

Today many people take this concept of binding and loosing out of context and talk about binding and loosing demons. First we are told to resist, not bind, the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7). There is no suggestion in the Scriptures that we should bind the Destroyer of souls. Even Michael was told not to enter into spiritual battle with Satan. Jude reminds us: But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him but said, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 9)! Theoretically, even if we could bind the Adversary it seems that somebody keeps loosening him after he is bound! No, the context here is not satanic activity, but apostolic authority.859

Later in the epistles, we find the apostles binding and loosing. First, we see Peter practiced binding when he forbid Ananias and Sapphira to lie about keeping part of the money that was supposed to go to the needy in the church at Jerusalem when they sold a piece of property. When Kefa confronted them, they individually fell down dead for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11). Like raising the dead, I don’t see anyone in the Church doing this today. Secondly, Paul confronted, or forbid, Judaizers from attacking believers in the Church (Galatians 1:1 to 2:21); and Paul and Barnabas confronted, or forbid, a group of Judaizers from imposing all of the 613 commandments in the Torah as being obligatory on believers at the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-21).

Once the Great Sanhedrin rejected Christ, His ministry changed dramatically (see En – Four Drastic Changes in Christ’s Ministry). The second change concerned the people for whom He performed the miracles to verify His messiahship. Before His rejection, Jesus performed miracles for the benefit of the people and did not ask for a demonstration of faith; but afterwards, He only performed miracles on the basis of individual need and a demonstration of faith. So the emphasis changed from the multitudes without faith, to individuals with faith. Therefore, Jesus warned His twelve apostles not to tell [the multitudes] that He was the Messiah (Mt 16:20; Mark 8:30b).

Peter’s confession illustrates that Isra’el has partial sight concerning the Messiah, but they also have partial blindness, as we shall see in the next file.


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