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Who is "the rock"? Peter or Jesus? (Matthew 16:18)

 

This is a very good question, and one that has troubled many Christians for years. Some will tell you that Peter is the rock on which Jesus laid the foundation for His church, while others will reject this claim. The Roman Catholics go so far as to say that Peter was more than just the rock; They suggest that Christ designated Peter as the first pope. Is this the truth?

Let's take a look at what the Bible actually teaches in Matthew 16. In verse 13, Jesus asks His disciples "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" They responded by saying that some people thought Christ was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. "He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? 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." (verses 15-18)

At first glance, it may appear that Jesus was referring to Peter as "the rock", but we have to keep in mind that the New Testament was written in Greek, not English. This is one instance where the original wording reveals the true meaning of what is being said. The Greek word for Peter is petros, which means "a pebble" or a small stone. On the other hand, the Greek word that Jesus used for rock is petra, meaning "a massive rock" or bedrock. Now we can see that there is an obvious difference! Peter was correct when he stated that Jesus was "the Christ" and it was this profession of truth that the church would be founded upon: Jesus Christ "the chief cornerstone" (Matthew 21:42). Jesus was talking about building His church upon the solid bedrock, not a small pebble.

"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock." (Matthew 7:24-25)

Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 3:11 "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." We can't look to a mere human being as the foundation of the Christian church! "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man." (Psalm 118:8). Like David said, "The Lord is my rock" (Psalm 18:2) "And who is a rock, except our God?" (Psalm 18:31).

Peter was not "rock solid" at this point in time. If we read on in Matthew 16, just a few verses after Jesus spoke of the rock, we find Christ rebuking Peter for trying to hinder His ministry: "But He turned and said to Peter, Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." (Matthew 16:23) Later, it was Peter who denied three times that he even knew Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75). So he obviously had some growing to do in his relationship with the Lord, and Jesus knew that (Luke 22:31-32).

Now it is true that every believer of Jesus Christ is a stone in the great building of God, His church. Peter himself tells us that Jesus is the "cornerstone", and we are also stones resting on the foundation of Christ: "Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame." (1 Peter 1:4-6)

Paul adds to this illustration: "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Peter was not the "rock" that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 16, but he was one of the many that would be among the body of believers throughout time. We are all "rocks" in God's church, but Jesus is the Rock spoken of in Isaiah 32:1-2 (NLT) "Look, a righteous king is coming! And honest princes will rule under him. 2 He will shelter Israel from the storm and the wind. He will refresh her as a river in the desert and as the cool shadow of a large rock in a hot and weary land."  (See also Deuteronomy 32:18, Psalm 94:22, 1 Corinthians 10:4)

 

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