And I say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades (death) will not overpower it [by preventing the resurrection of the Christ].
This is a very well known, and powerful Bible verse. In fact, I have written on it before, but from a completely different perspective. But because I believe that one Scripture can speak to us on multiple levels, I have no problem accepting both viewpoints.
First, let's establish the context in which Jesus is speaking. He has just asked one of His Disciples, Simon, son of Jonah, who men claim Jesus to be, and Simon bar-Jonah has answered that some say He is John the Baptist, while others say He is Elijah, Jeremiah, or another of God's prophets. But, Christ wants to know who Simon bar-Jonah says He is, and Simon answers truthfully, and correctly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
Simon then receives Jesus's blessing because he had received that knowledge directly from the Father, Himself, rather than man. And then Jesus bestows upon Simon bar-Jonah a worthy designation ... calling him Peter, which in Greek, was Petros, meaning a specific, detached large fragment of rock. It is my opinion, that by bestowing that appellation on Peter, Jesus is signifying that Peter will be a solid, substantial disciple, fixed and stayed, and one that can be counted on for strength and stability in the face of opposition that will come concerning Him.
This statement is followed by a comma, which in grammar is used for separating parts of a sentence such as clauses, and items in lists, particularly when there are three or more items listed. Well we have three items listed here: 1) proclaiming Peter as a rock, or Petros (masculine form of the word), 2) on this rock, or Petra (feminine form of the word, meaning "a massive rock; a high rocky peak) Jesus will build His Church, and 3) the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Besides the difference, in Greek, between Petros and Petra, this is the first indication that the second mention of "the rock" is different than the first.
For as long as I can remember, the Church has taught that Jesus was declaring that He was building His Church upon Peter's leadership (whose name meant "rock"). In fact, the Roman Catholic Church sees Peter as the first pope upon whom God had chosen to build His church, and that Peter had supremacy over the other apostles. I'm sorry, but I do not see that in Scripture.
Rather, it makes more sense to me that Jesus is praising Peter for his steadfastness and his faith, and then announces that He, Himself, will be the bedrock or cornerstone of His Church. I can now read this simple sentence in a new light, and picture what it is portraying ... Jesus with His hand on Peter's shoulder, saying "Yes, you are a rock". Then, pointing to Himself, says, "And it is on this rock that I will build My church". Perhaps he laid his hand on his breast, as he did in John 2:19, Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
Peter, himself, identifies Jesus as "the chief cornerstone" in 1 Peter 2, and refers to all believers as "living stones". There is no other rock upon which the Church stands. It is imperative that we understand that Christ is both the Founder and the Foundation of the Church. It just seems logical to me that Jesus was praising Peter for his accurate statement about Him, and was introducing His work of building the church upon Himself.
And then because it is His Church, and He is the cornerstone and foundation upon which it is built, He goes on to declare that the forces of death and darkness can't prevail against or conquer the Church. I like how the Greek New Testament states this truth: And the councils of the unseen world cannot overpower it. That certainly speaks to my understanding of the principalities, authorities, and rulers of wickedness in the spiritual realm that Paul refers to in Ephesians 6.
Another way to look at what Jesus is saying is that this is a declaration that neither the plots, strategies, nor strength of Satan and his angels, will ever destroy the sacred truths of the Gospel Message; that Jesus is the Son of God, He died to pay for our sins, and He was resurrected by the power of God.
We get the sense that Jesus is promising to preserve and secure His Church -- that while the world still exists, Christ will have a Church in it, in spite of all the opposition of the powers of darkness... They shall not prevail against it.
This is the philosophical and psychological explanation of this profound Scripture. But as I mentioned at the beginning, there is a different perspective. And it happens to be the historical perspective, which sees this verse in the context of where they were standing when Jesus was speaking. At the time that I wrote that post, I was convinced that the historical perspective was the correct one. But I now believe that both perspectives have validity and have no problem accepting both positions as Truth, because neither invalidates the supremacy of Christ or His Church. I believe that the Truth of the Bible is big enough to accommodate several levels of understanding. That is what makes it such an amazing testament of our God!
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