This passage of Scripture has a lot of depth to it, and wars have been fought over its meaning. I’ll try to be as fair as I can with people who disagree with me, but it’s really important to get this right.
Jesus was speaking with his disciples, and I always imagine him sitting around a campfire after a hard day’s work of healing and teaching. Before going forward together with him, however, they needed to get straight in their own minds who and what he was. We can stand at the periphery only so long: At some point we have to make a choice as to who he is. We can visit church services, read our Bibles, and do a lot of “seeking” and investigating, but eventually we have to come to terms with what he was claiming about himself. He wasn’t just a nice teacher or a good man, since that’s the one thing he could never be. As C. S. Lewis so famously put it, a man who claimed that things that Jesus claimed about himself would be a lunatic on the level of a man who says he’s a poached egg, or else he'd be the Devil himself. The only other alternative is that he’s the Lord of heaven and earth, and he’s the Savior we all desperately need.
When Peter made what’s called "the Great Confession," Jesus’ response is very instructive. He didn’t rebuke or correct his assertion. On the contrary, he blessed him for it. People who are witnessing to nonbelievers, please take note: Jesus specifically told him that Peter's confession was a revelation from the Father himself. We can’t reason our way into this blessed conclusion, and no one else can convince us of it. This doesn’t discount the value of trying to make the Good News as appealing as possible, nor does it dismiss apologetics (presenting the case for Christianity in a logical way). But ultimately the results of our efforts have to be given over to our Father and that person’s response to him. This really does take the pressure off you when you think about it.
And no, despite what the Roman Catholic church teaches, Peter is not the “Rock” upon which Jesus is building his church. There is absolutely no way that the Source of all wisdom would entrust the construction of his church to a flawed human being. There are other explanations which make a lot more sense: The “rock” could be either the truth of Peter’s confession or the Lord Jesus himself. I tend to lean towards the second one, since God refers to himself as our Rock several places in Scripture.
And please notice who's building the church. Ultimately it is not the pastor or preacher, nor any evangelistic program that builds the church. He can use those things, but he's the One who does this. Again, this takes the pressure off us, but it also should keep us humble whenever we see a church increase in size.
Let me make a final note about verse 19, and I’ll say something else that some people, especially the Roman Catholic church, will heartily dispute. The Greek could go one of two ways: “Whatever you bind on earth will be loosed in heaven” or “Whatever you bind on earth will have been loosed in heaven.” In other words, either we or heaven (a shorthand term for God) takes the initiative on binding and loosing. To those people who think we do the binding/loosing, do you really think we command, and God just obeys? Um, no. Quite frankly, I don’t want to really take the initiative on anything when it come to things like this. I believe that "heaven" (our Savior God) binds and looses, and we proclaim to people what he's revealed to us. And that’s the way it should be.
Lord Jesus, you lead and I follow. I thank you and praise you that the Enemy’s camp is under siege, not your Kingdom. The gates of his kingdom will not prevail against the advance of your church. Thank you for making me part of that.
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