In Matthew 16:16 Peter articulates the key article of Faith for the early Christian church.
“You are the Messiah,
the Son of the living God!”
the Son of the living God!”
This declaration by Peter is not the first time this idea has shown up in the book of Matthew. Other characters seeking Jesus’ help, healing or wisdom have said as much. One key story – in which all the disciples worship Jesus and declare His divine nature is found in Matthew 14:33. Having seen Jesus walk on water and still a raging storm – they all fall at his feet, worship Him and say, “Truly you are the Son of God.” The unique thing happening in Matthew 16:16 is that Peter formulates it as a statement of faith: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." This is the core tenant of the Christian faith - and upon this Rock of Truth the church is built.
In His reply, Jesus makes it clear that in that moment Peter’s heart was right with God. They were in right relationship and God’s Word was able to flow through Peter. In telling this story about Peter, Matthew is giving the reader further understanding of ultimate verse of the Beatitudes (Matthew 7:21-23) in which Matthew shows that the most dangerous thing for a human to have is a knowledge of Jesus without a relationship with Jesus. Jesus explains there will be people who believe they should be welcomed into His Kingdom but are not. Why? Because He didn’t know them. They were doing miracles, driving out demons and prophesying – all in the name of Jesus! But Jesus says, “I never knew you!” To follow Jesus faithfully we need two Rocks: To know the "Rock Hard Truth" about Jesus and have a "Rock Solid Relationship" with Jesus. Truth without relationship becomes an anvil of pride tied around your neck, pulling you into the depths of the sea – where all sin ends up, in the long run!
Just moments later – in the hearing / reading of the Gospel of Matthew – Peter is chastised by Jesus for bringing up an old temptation that is very real for Jesus. Just as the Devil said in Matthew 4:9 – Jesus can have the entire world without dying. He just needs to bow the knee to someone other than the Father. This was Satan’s ultimate temptation. Dying isn’t easy for anyone – particularly the Son of God who is sinless and undeserving of Death. Peter telling Jesus to stop talking about Death and that “this will never happen to you!” caused Jesus to call Peter Satan.
Not because Peter was Satan. But, because he was speaking words Satan had spoken – and providing a temptation that Jesus knew all too well. This verse should clear up, for anyone wondering, whether Peter is the Rock on which the church is built. Not at all. One-minute Peter speaks from God, then he speaks for the Devil. Peter is just like you and me – human. The only thing worth building your faith on is the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.
After rebuking Peter, Jesus turns to the rest of the disciples and says (Matthew 16:24) that anyone who wants to be a true follower of Jesus must put all selfish ambition aside, pickup your own cross and follow in His footsteps. Our cross is to pair ourselves with Him – being yoked with Jesus. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus calls the disciples to take His yoke (understanding of Law) on themselves and to leave their own understanding behind. This is how we combine Truth and Relationship. If we choose to keep relying on ourselves and our own personal goals, we will be tied to our own list of achievements for our sense of self and personal value. If, on the other hand, we choose to put Jesus’ yoke around our neck we will be guided into His Kingdom through truth and humility – by letting Him lead us – like one ox yoked to another who knows where he is going and what he is doing.
Matthew isn’t done explaining the Rock to his readers just yet. In Matthew 17:1-9 we are, again, taken back to the final temptation. It says that Jesus takes Peter, James and John and led them up a “high mountain.” The last time the phrase “high mountain” was used in Matthew was when Satan took Jesus up a “high mountain” to show Him all that could be His if He would only bow down. Nobody would need to die. Jesus only needed to kneel before Satan and all power over Earth would be given to Him (said the Devil, of course!). But this time, on THIS “high mountain” Peter, James and John watch as Jesus is lit from within, Moses and Elijah appear and start talking to Jesus and then a bright cloud envelopes them and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him. Listen to him.” The disciples fall on their faces – like in the boat – worshiping. Then Jesus goes over, touches them and tells them to get up. All has returned to normal and Jesus stands alone with them.
It's fairly clear. Jesus is the way to the Kingdom. This is no homeless, wandering vagabond with a few good ideas. This is the Messiah, the Son of God – and those who follow Him are following the God of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) and living within the pleasure of God by worshiping His Son, Jesus Christ.
Matthew really leaves no room for any other interpretation of “upon this Rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18) than this: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God and He alone defeated death and the Devil! Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Rock.
Let us be about building a Rock Solid Relationship with Him so that all the Rock Hard Truth about Him, the Law and the Prophets lead us into the Kingdom instead of leaving us outside – wondering what we missed. Those left outside in Matthew 7:23 didn’t get the facts wrong. They knew everything there was to know about God, the Law and the Prophets. It’s not that they missed out on knowing something. They missed out on knowing someone. Jesus. The Messiah. The Son of God. Without Him there is nothing beyond death. No Jesus, no life.
Know Jesus, know life.
Build on this Rock!