“And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-19).
This short passage of Scripture has been interpreted in varied ways. The differences seem to be due to the fancies of the reader more than to any difficulty in the text.
Today I want to deal with the identity of the rock mentioned in verse 18 – “upon this rock I will build my church”. Some say this rock was Peter, and that he was the first head of the church. Others say the rock is Peter’s statement “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Unfortunately, no support for either view can be found in other passages of Scripture. There are many defences to a rock in the Old and New Testaments, and they all point in another direction.
Psalm 118:22-23: “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.” This passage was cited by Jesus in Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10 and Luke 20:17. Peter quotes it twice, explicitly relating it to Jesus: Acts 4:11: “This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner,” and 1Peter 2:7-8: “Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.”
Isaiah 28:16: “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” The Apostle Paul quotes this verse as referring to Jesus in Romans 9:33: “As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.”
Other references to Jesus as a stone or foundation are found in 1Corinthians 3:11: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ,” Ephesians 2:20: “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone,” and 1Corinthians 10:4: “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”
It is entirely consistent with these and other verses to conclude that Jesus was referring to Himself as the solid rock upon which He would build His church. No other explanation fits.
Some people may be confused by the similarity between Petros, the Greek form of Peter’s name which means stone and petra, which is translated as rock. As I understand it from references that know Greek, petros refers to an individual stone and petra to a massive rock outcropping. A petros can be a building block of the church, only a petra can be the foundation.