This week’s text is Matthew 16:13-20. This is the tale of Peter’s declaration of who he thinks Jesus is. Really it is more of a final exam. Jesus is moving ever closer to the final act of His earthly ministry, and He has gathered the crew and asks them who do people say that He is. They give a variety of answers from the Hebrew tradition. Then He asks who do you say that I am?
This is when Peter answers and gives his declaration. Peter states that “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Verse 16). For this Jesus blesses Peter, for he has stated this out of his faith. Jesus then changes Simon to Peter and predicts that “on this rock I will build my church” (Verse 18). Not even the gates of Hell will prevail against it. It appears that Simon/Peter, at least, has passed this exam and is ready to serve.
A Lot to Unpack
This is a relatively short passage, yet it contains a lot for us to consider. First, there is where all this takes place. It is in the district of Caesarea Philippi. It was in what is now the Golan Heights, and is largely uninhabited. During this time it was a city enlarged by Philip, who was one of the sons of Herod the Great, and was serving as the ruler of one of the client states under Roman rule. He so named it in honor of Emperor Augustus. It was literally a pagan settlement atop a strategically placed rock.
I think it notable that Jesus holds this discussion on top of a pagan rock, for it is upon the ashes of paganism that Jesus will build His church. This could be the meaning of verse 18’s “on this rock” statement. It is possible that Jesus meant by rock, Peter’s declaration of Jesus as Messiah. That is, Peter’s faith. Either way (or perhaps both) it is a powerful message about Jesus and His ministry.
Second, we have the imagery of the gates of Hell. Most people think of the gates as something that we stand behind for protection, as in Fortress Christendom. This is erroneous. These are the Gates of Hell. Satan is hiding behind these gates. Yet Jesus states clearly that those gates shall not prevail against His church. That is those gates will not hold. This changes the imagery. We are the ones battering those gates, we are the ones breaking them down. Those gates will not prevail against the spiritual assault that Jesus calls us to. Our call is to live out our witness to Jesus by destroying the Gates of Hell and bringing Satan out into the light for all to see his ugliness. We do this one act of love, one act of inclusion, one act of worship and service at a time. Ours is not a church behind gates, in a defensive position. Ours is to be a church on the move, a church pursuing evil and destroying it with love, the love of God through His Son Jesus the Christ. This is the true punch that this text possesses.
What is Our Declaration?
The question, like most questions regarding Scripture, is what does this mean? We have seen some of what it means by examining the text. The next step in looking at a passage is to see what it means for us today. Peter, out of faith, gave his declaration of who Jesus is, the Son of the living God. Jesus affirms this and blesses Peter for his faith. Jesus then gives us a firm declaration of His own, that we will not fail if we act on our faith. So I would suggest that this passage should affirm us in our faith in Jesus as Lord, and give us the hope that we can live out that faith in ways that will destroy that which is evil in this world, the power of God and His people being stronger than any gate that Satan could erect. All this is simply powerful imagery confirming that our call is to believe, then obey.
Praise Be to God