Hi I’m Josh Hawkins and this is Episode 83 of Opening Up the Gospels. In episode 82 we looked at the all-important confession of Peter on the road to Casearea Philippi. I talked about how the confession of Jesus as the Christ was not a novel confession or a new epiphany that Peter had, but rather it was a tested confession. Everything the Twelve had been through recently set them up to easily believe that Jesus was not the promised king they were looking for. Yet Peter affirms that they still believe He is, and Jesus goes on to say that God is the only one who could have revealed that to them. Their confidence that Jesus was indeed the promised king from David’s line was severely tested but it didn’t fail. In today’s episode we are going to continue looking at Matthew 16 and what Jesus says immediately after Peter’s confession. This portion of scripture is often misunderstood and misinterpreted, so I hope today I can bring some clarity and help you understand it a little better. Let’s read from Matthew 16:
"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."
(Matthew 16:16–20 ESV)
Jesus makes some pretty important statements here, so let’s break them down a bit. First, Jesus says “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” First, there’s a play on words here in the original Greek. I’m not sure how this would have come out in Aramaic, since that’s probably what Jesus would have been speaking. But in Greek, the word “Peter” is “petros”, and the word for “rock” is the word “petra”. Obviously these two words sound similar. I think Jesus is indicating something about Peter’s character and affirming it based on what’s just happened. Remember, Peter and the other disciples have been “beaten up” in a sense, yet they emerged through uncertainty, through rejection, through confusion, and through persecution still standing firm in their belief of who Jesus was. It’s this tested belief in Jesus as the Christ that will characterize His church. The word for “church” in the Greek is “ekklesia”, and simply means “assembly” or “congregation". When we think “church”, we mostly think “organization” or “institution”. As a result of that, this is one of the main passages that Catholics use to describe something called “apostolic succession”, saying that the spiritual authority granted to Peter has been uninterrupted and transmitted down through to the popes and bishops of the Roman Catholic church. While I respect my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ, I don’t think that’s how Peter and the first century Apostles would have understood Jesus’ words here. The Old Testament often speaks of the “assembly” or the “congregation” of Israel or of the righteous in passages like Psalm 1 verse 5. I think this is one of the main things Jesus was referring to here - this “assembly” is the group of those who rightly see and confess Jesus’ identity as that final king from David’s line who will rule over Israel from Jerusalem.
Jesus goes on to say that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. In many parts of the body of Christ, this verse is interpreted offensively. Some say this verse is speaking about the church as the God-appointed entity to plunder hell and rescue sinners from the flames, or that believers go to war against the powers of darkness and that the gates of hell won’t be able to withstand the assault of the church. While it is true that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood and that we do preach the Gospel to sinners and they will be saved from eternal destruction if they continue in the faith, I don’t believe Jesus is speaking about His assembly being offensive here. Why? Well the phrase “gates of hell” was a way the Old Testament described death and the grave. For example, check out what King Hezekiah wrote after he had recovered from being sick:
"A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, after he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness: I said, In the middle of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years. I said, I shall not see the Lord, the Lord in the land of the living; I shall look on man no more among the inhabitants of the world."
(Isaiah 38:9–11 ESV)
Also, check out what Job says using a similar phrase:
"My days are past; my plans are broken off, the desires of my heart. They make night into day: ‘The light,’ they say, ‘is near to the darkness.’ If I hope for Sheol as my house, if I make my bed in darkness, if I say to the pit, ‘You are my father,’ and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’ where then is my hope? Who will see my hope? Will it go down to the bars of Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?”"
(Job 17:11–16 ESV)
Do you see what Hezekiah and Job are both saying here? They are talking about physical death and using the picture of the gates or bars of Sheol as something trapping them in. So what I believe Jesus is saying to Peter is that for the assembly He is building who professes Jesus as the Christ even through testing, trial, and persecution, death and the grave will not be their portion. Death and hell will not “hold them in”, as bars or locked gates hold in prisoners in a prison. This is exactly what Jesus has been saying already throughout the Gospels. The verse we all know - John 3:16 - those who believe that the Christ, the son of man will be lifted up will not perish but will have eternal life. Jesus will raise them up at the last day to live forever. So what’s in view here has nothing to do with the assembly being a powerful offensive force, but being certain of their resurrection because of their confession of faith in Jesus.
Now what about the last thing that Jesus speaks: “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”. I think this verse is another one that's often grossly misunderstood by some believers today, and that’s because of the words “binding” and “loosing”. For years I thought this verse was talking about spiritual warfare and using prayer to put spiritual handcuffs on demons and speaking declarations that release angels from heaven. That’s not at all what these words meant for the Jewish people. “Binding” and “loosing” had to do with how rabbis would interpret and apply the Law of Moses. If we were to use another set of words to describe binding and loosing, it would simply be to forbid and to permit. Jewish authorities in Jesus’ day would read the Law and if a specific item or action was not addressed directly, they would make a decision about that action based on the Law and either forbid or permit that action. In other words, rabbis would take the Law and apply it to every day life. This is what “binding and loosing” meant. Hillel and Shammai, two of the big rabbis with the largest followings in Biblical times, were said to bind and loose often. The early church did this in Acts 15 when the apostles met to decide how to deal with Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus. Jesus does it as well in the Sermon on the Mount - he binds anger to murder, for instance, when He says “The Law says don’t murder. But it’s not just about not murdering guys, if you get angry, it’s like you're murdering someone”. So what is Jesus saying here in Matthew 16? This has nothing to do with angels and demons and fighting against them in prayer. Jesus is saying “Peter, when I raise you from the dead and my kingdom is established and you are in a position of authority making decisions for what to permit and forbid according to the Law, God is going to back up your decision”. Does that make sense?
Matthew says that Jesus strictly charged them to tell no one that He was the Christ. Again, it’s like Jesus is purposely keeping His rightful identity a secret from the masses. Why? Because of what He has to do first, which is exactly what He goes on to talk about in the next verse in Matthew 16:
"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.”"
(Matthew 16:21–23 ESV)
This is extremely important - it’s at this moment in the story of the Gospels that Jesus’ very first prediction of suffering happens. Matthew says “from that time”. From the time when, in the disciples' understanding, Jesus’ identity had been tested so severely. After everything had happened in Capernaum, when He left Galilee and forsook it for good, it was from that time forward that Jesus began to give them the answer to the question they had been asking all along. That was “Jesus, if you are the Christ, why are you doing what you’re doing?”. From then on He showed them that He had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the Jewish authorities, be killed, and then be raised on the third day. Jesus had not explained what He was doing before. So Peter confesses, and Jesus says “you’re right Peter, now let me tell you all it means - it is right that you see me as the king of Israel. I am going to do everything you believe the prophets have said about me but before entering into my glory as the king of Israel, I have to go to Jerusalem and suffer.”
It’s critical to see here that Jesus is not rebuking their conception of His identity as the rightful king of Israel who will rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem, He’s just saying that their understanding is incomplete. As we will see in the next part of the passage in verse 27, Jesus affirms that He will come in glory. He’s not saying “oh foolish Peter, you thought all along I was going to be the king of Israel in Zion reigning over the nations, like all the prophets say. But I really have a spiritual kingdom that’s inaugurated through suffering. Oh how foolish you are Peter, but I love you anyways.” The kingdom is never spiritualized, and I believe that is a total misunderstanding of what Jesus is saying.
Now what does Peter do next? He takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him. Why? Well don’t forget, according to 2 Samuel 7, the king from David’s line would rule from David’s throne forever. But now Jesus is saying He’s going to go die at the hands of the Jews. Do you see how this would have been so offensive to Peter’s mind? The Messiah, the Christ, that final Davidic king was not supposed to die! He is supposed to reign forever! Well, Jesus says that He will - though Peter doesn’t understand it quite yet. The idea of the Messiah suffering before entering into his glory is what the disciples have to wrestle with now. As we'll see, Jesus will predict His suffering several more times before He actually goes to the cross next April.
Well we’re out of time for today, but come back next time as we continue to follow the journey of Jesus in the last year of His ministry. In the meantime, you can find all the other episodes in this series on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com. God bless.