UPON THIS ROCK
When Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, and others Elijah, still others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets. " He said to them, "But who do you say 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 Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16: 15-18).
What did Jesus say that He would build His church upon? He said, "Upon this rock I will build my church." Now, someone might ask: Just exactly what or who is the "rock" Jesus spoke of? Did He want it understood that He was going to build His church upon Peter? Or could the "rock" have reference to something else?
A brief examination of the original language reveals that the name "Peter" does indeed mean "rock." "Peter" is from the Greek "petros" which is masculine in gender and means a detached stone that might be thrown or easily moved. This "petros" for which Peter was named is different from the "rock" on which Jesus said He would build His church. That "rock" of verse 18 comes from the Greek "petra" which is feminine in gender and denotes a mass of rock. For example, Jesus used "petra" in Matthew 7:24-25 when He said, "Everyone that hears these words of mine and does them shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock, and the raid descended and the floods came and the winds blew and beat upon that house and it fell not for it was founded upon the rock." Jesus described the solid, immovable foundation that the wise man built his house upon - a rock! The same word He used to describe what He would build His church upon! If Jesus had wanted to indicate He would build His church on Peter, why would He have used a contrasting term? Wouldn't He have said, "Peter, I will build My church upon you?"
The meaning of the passage is clear: Peter was human - a good man, but not the foundation on which the church would be built. The Lord didn't intend to build His church upon Peter or any man. What then was "the rock" He spoke of? The "rock" was the divinely inspired statement that Peter had just made, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. " The church that Jesus said He would build would be built on the foundation that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. This is in harmony with what the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3: 11, "For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. " Jesus is the cornerstone of the church and He is also the foundation. Paul would write to the church in Ephesus that they were "no more strangers and sojourners but you are fellow-citizens with the saints and the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief corner-stone, in whom each individual building fitly framed together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord" (Ephesians 2: 19-20).
Was Peter part of the "building?" Certainly. He, along with the other apostles and prophets of the first century played a vital role in the formation and spread of New Testament Christianity. Was Paul the cornerstone of the church? No - Jesus Christ was. Was Peter the head of the church? No, Jesus was and still is. "And He is the head of the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He might have the preeminence (Colossians 1:18)." Had the church been built upon Peter or any human, it could not have endured. The church is made up of human beings but it was designed and constructed upon deity - not humanity! The church has endured and will continue to endure - because it was built upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God!