Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
There were two Caesareas. One was on the Mediterranean Sea. It was extravagant. Herod built it in the honor of Octavius. The other was Caesarea Philippi. Herod’s son built it in the honor of Tiberius. It was at the foot of Mount Hermon. Jesus traveled to Caesarea Philippi. It is about twenty-five miles north of Galilee.
Matthew does not give as many details of this account as Luke and Mark give. Mark says the conversation took place during the journey. Luke says it occurred during prayer. There is no problem reconciling these accounts. Jesus and His disciples were traveling. During the journey, they were in the region of Cesarea Philippi. In my imagination, I see them on the outskirts of the city. Not in the city proper. Jesus was praying. At the conclusion of the His prayer, He asked His disciples what were people saying about the Son of Man.
He asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Jesus had already identified Himself as the Son of Man. So Jesus is asking who do men say I am. In fact, that is the wording used by both Luke and Mark. Why did Jesus ask the question? Did He not know? Was He curious? Was Jesus wanting to know the scuttlebutt? This was not a request for information. This was a teaching moment.
The disciples responded that there was no unanimous agreement on the answer. Some thought Jesus was John the Baptist. They had not heard of John’s death. Some thought Jesus was Elijah or Jeremiah. Some thought Jesus was a prophet. There was no consensus.
Jesus then asked, “Who do y’all say I am?” That’s right “y’all” The you is plural. So the correct translation is the proper southern English, “y’all”.
Peter answered for the group. You are the Messiah.
In the past when Jesus spoke of Himself as the Christ it was in the third person. (Matthew 8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:29; 12:8,32,40; 13:37,41, et al.) Now He speaks in the first person.
Jesus taught like the great teacher He was. He did not ask the disciples what people thought because He wanted to know something. He asked to set the context for teaching He was the Messiah. Yes, He had already taught that. This was not a new teaching. But any good teacher, and for that matter, any good student knows repetition is key to learning.
We can see Peter’s answer under several different lights. The first is a dry clinical response. “You are the Messiah. You have already taught that and we know the answer.” We can see it repeated back as rote memorization. When I hear this passage preached that is the sense in which I hear it presented. That is because the other options are too dramatic to present from the pulpit. Another option is admiration. Peter knows the answer. But almost can’t believe he is in the presence of THE Messiah.
But the way that fits the context the best is Peter gets it. It is a sudden revelation. He may have known the answer before this but he did not understand it. But now, all of a sudden he not only knows the answer, he understands the answer.
Do you know that feeling when you suddenly understand something? When it becomes clear? When all the pieces fall in place? Have you ever been told something repeatedly then suddenly you understand it? Have you ever watched the expression on someone’s face who experiences that? That is how I see Peter’s face.
He suddenly realized who Jesus was. Everything fits. Yes, he had heard Jesus say he was the Son of Man. He was the Christ. But now it all made sense. His eyes widened. A look of joy and satisfaction came over him. He understood. This man Jesus was the God-man. This man Jesus was the son of the living God. Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. He was standing right there in front of him. He, Peter, had eaten a meal, talked to, and traveled with THE MESSIAH! The Messiah was his personal friend. He was so excited he was about to jump out of his skin. He understood!
Did Peter reach this understanding on his own? No. The Holy Spirit revealed it to him. He thought he figured it out. To him, it sure seemed like he was the one who figured it out. But no. The Holy Spirit revealed it. The Holy Spirit showed him.
That is what happens to us. We think we come to Christ. We think we turned our lives to Christ. We think we accepted Christ. But it is He who accepted us. All along it is the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ. (John 6:44; Ephesians 2:8-9; et al.) It is a gift we are given. We think we did something. We feel like we did something. But it was all God.
Peter’s confession is short. What else could he say? What else did he need to say? Jesus was the Christ the Son of the living God. If we understand Peter’s short confession we understand the good news. It is our salvation. He reconciles us to God by atoning for our sins. We understand Jesus, the Christ, obtained perfect righteousness for us.
Peter understood Jesus was the Messiah. But he still did not understand the work of the Messiah. He had partial knowledge. His understanding was incomplete.
Christ showed how delighted He was with Peter’s confession. Here Rome errs. They contend Jesus said he would build His church on Peter. NO! Christ built his church on Himself. First, the Matthew account is the only account where the statement is made. Neither Mark nor Luke contains it. That is foundational. So it seems reasonable to assume other writers would confirm it. But then again Christ only needed to say it once for it to be true.
But Peter never assumed the dominant leadership role. That is not to diminish Peter’s role. Peter played an important role. But James was the head of the church in Jerusalem. Peter was an apostle. But he still needed correction by Paul (1 Galatians 2:11) As an apostle Peter held authority. But He was not THE authority by any means.
Jesus does not give Simon the name Peter here. Simon already had that nickname. (Matthew 10:2; John 1:43). When Jesus said “on this rock, I will build my church” He was not referring to Peter. He was referring to the truth which Peter stated.
This is easier to see in the Greek. Peter (Petros) is a smaller rock. But Christ said He built His church on “Petra” a large rock. Strong’s Greek dictionary defines Petros as a piece of rock. Petra is a mass of rock. Christ is building His church on a massive rock of which Peter is part.
If Rome had not abused this passage there would be no doubt about this understanding. This referred to what Peter exclaimed not to Peter. Peter makes this point in his first epistle. All believers are living stones.
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.1 Peter 2:4-8
When Peter told Jesus He cannot go to the cross. Jesus does not call him a stone. Jesus calls him Satan. Peter was not a foundational rock. He was a stumbling stone.
Jesus uses two metaphors to exclaim to power which He, Jesus, gave to Peter. The first is Peter has the keys to the kingdom of heaven. The second is the power to bind and loose. These two metaphors can be and have been misunderstood and abused.
Christ gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. The keys refer to knowing the good news. Christ also said the scribes and Pharisees had the key. But they refused to use them and in fact inhibited others. (Luke 11:52) The keys were not given to Peter alone. Christ gave the keys to all the apostles. Peter did hold a special place. He was the first to exercise apostleship after our Lord’s resurrection. (Act 1:15) And he preached the kingdom of heaven, both to the Jews, (Act 2:14) and to the Gentiles, (Act 10:34)
Some have made the second metaphor more troublesome. The apostles were given the power to bind and loose. Some understand it, and other verses (John 20:23; Matthew 18:18; 1 Corinthians 5:4-58; 2 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:8; Revelation 11:6) as Christ gave the apostles the power to forgive sins. This right and power belong to God alone. Rome abuses this even further. They claim that power is passed down to those they call the successor to Peter or the Pope. They claim the Pope is the power to forgive sins. Pope exercises this power by dispensing mercy from the treasury of merit. That is not only wrong, but it is also blasphemous.
The answer is easy if we apply the normal rules of hermeneutics. Regular readers of this site know there are three rules for interrupting scripture. They are context, context, and context. Christ said the apostles had the keys to the kingdom of heaven. The keys are the knowledge of God. Just as the Pharisees and scribes had the keys. The Pharisees could have freed the people by teaching the word of God. But instead, they hid the word and thus bound the people.
Paul teaches the same in Romans.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?Romans 10:14
So we too have the power to bind and lose. This is a great honor and a great responsibility.
To this point, Jesus only taught He was the Christ. Now He teaches what that means. He must suffer. Not only must He suffer but He must suffer from the hands of the most religious and honorable men. No one expected that. They had studied. They were learned. They were the ones everyone looked for who and what the Messiah was to be. No one thought they would be the one to kill the Messiah. They should have been the first to receive Him.
No one thought the Messiah was to suffer. The Messiah was to save. The Messiah was to restore. That was the position Peter came from. “Jesus you got it wrong. You can’t die. If you are dead you cannot save us.”
Peter was excited. He understood Jesus was the Messiah. But misunderstanding Messiah-ship caused him to go from blessed to Satanic.
We need to examine our understanding. We need to let scripture correct us. Otherwise, our faulty religious understanding causes us to do Satan’s work. Let us not fall into complacency. We see those who studied diligently (Scribes and Pharisees) erred. Even those close to Jesus Himself allow their beliefs to override Christ. We must conform our lives and beliefs to scripture and not conform scripture to our beliefs.