30 June 2014

Matthew 16:13-19

β€œ[Jesus said,] β€˜And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’” (vv. 18-19)


The event in today's passage marks a watershed in the discipleship of Simon son of Jonah, and of the whole mission of Jesus. For here, in the final part of Jesus' time with his disciples before he heads off to Jerusalem, he is able to assess exactly how well Simon has understood who he is. Having prepared his disciples for their ongoing task which Jesus knows they will have after he is gone, he appoints Simon as a leader for them. And in doing so, he gives Simon a new name: 'Rock'. (The Greek word for rock, 'petros', gives us the name Peter.)

This passage is called the 'confession' of Peter - in other words, Peter is asked to say what he really thinks about Jesus. What is he secretly thinking?

Peter tells Jesus that others think Jesus is a prophet come back to life. Some - including King Herod (see Matthew 14:1-2) - thought he might be John the Baptist. (Clearly they had not been present at Jesus' Baptism by John (Matthew 3:13-17)!) Others expected Elijah - the last words of the Old Testament promise that he would come again (Malachi 4:5-6). Or even Jeremiah - who had appeared in a dream to strengthen Judas Maccabeus in his fight for God's kingdom (2 Maccabees 15:13-16).

But Peter has been inspired by God to see Jesus as far more than a mere resurrected prophet. Jesus is none other than the Messiah, the Son of God. And death itself ("the gates of Hades") cannot challenge this faith.

So Jesus gives Simon Peter the authority he needs to lead the Church-community of the kingdom of heaven: 'binding' and 'loosing' is related to church membership (Matthew 18:15-20). The key was the symbol of the office of the Master of the Royal Palace - what he opens no one will close, and what he closes no one will open (Isaiah 22:20-22).

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of St Peter who was an inspiration in faith - in order that what he began with Christ's authority at Caesarea Philippi may be continued today. 

To Ponder

  • Who do you say Jesus is?
  • The commission of Peter in verse 18 is one of the most discussed verses in Matthew's Gospel. What does it mean to you?
  • Can people have faith in Jesus as the Son of God only if God reveals this to them? Why or why not?

Bible notes author

The Revd Neil Cockling

Neil spent 20 years as a circuit minister before becoming the District Development Enabler for the Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist District. He now works full-time for the NHS as a Consultant Lead Chaplain in mental health, leading a multi-faith team of 14 chaplains working in 10 hospitals in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.