In Matthew 16 we read that Jesus took his disciples to the area of Caesarea, Phillipi, which was just north of the sea of Galillee and is the site of the source of the Jordan River. Here there are a number of deep caverns which the ancients referred to as the Gates of Hell. Here they believed the demons came up from hell.
Because it was a dark and mysterious place, there were pagan shrines built to the Roman Gods. In fact, at the time of Jesus, there would have been a statue of pan and a statue of Caesar. A god who thought he was man and a man who though he was god.It is no coincidence that it is at this place that Jesus asked a very important question. We begin in verse 13, “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesaria Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of man is?’ And they replied, as you’ll recall. Verse 15, “Then he said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ And Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Messiah, the Christ, the son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood [the natural] has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And further I tell you, you are Peter [Petros] and on this rock [petra] I will build my church, and the gates of hades 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.” And then verse 21, “And from that time Yeshua began to show his disciples that he must go up to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
First of all let’s make some observations. This is quite an interesting statement that Jesus makes. Provocative and full of many levels of meaning. It also strikes me as curious that it’s only here, near the end of his ministry, that he mentions the word ‘Church’ for the first time. In fact, only three times in our gospels do we find the word ‘Church.’ Why is it so infrequent? What is the relationship of the church to the kingdom. Why does Jesus mention it now?
Secondly, let me suggest to you that it’s not insignificant or coincidental that Jesus, from this point of the Jordan River, which in Hebrew means “the descending river,” Jesus is to descend, so to speak, all the way to the grave on our behalf. He’s going to go up to Jerusalem, up on a cross, and then be put into the grave. This is a high point of revelation, but Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover, a significant clue as to the origins and Hebraic dimensions of the church. Peter’s confession is a great one. In Luke 9:20, Luke actually uses the Hebrew version of Christ. Peter said to Jesus, you’re the Messiah-God.
The first thing you need to understand is that the revelation that Jesus was the Messiah was not something new. In fact, for some three years now he had been consistently, persistently and powerfully alluding to his messianic identity and his oneness with the Father. He was God’s divine agent who was ushering in God’s kingship, God’s rule, the kingdom of God.
So the revelation here that Jesus is so impressed with is conveyed to us by, what in Hebrew is called, a construct, where you take two nouns and you link them together inseparably; Messiah-God. You’re the divine Messiah. You’re Messiah-God! And Jesus undoubtedly with a smile upon his face said, “This is a revelation that comes supernaturally from my Father. Not in the natural flesh and blood.” Then he goes on to say, in response to this bold, courageous proclamation, “And you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.”
What is the rock on which Jesus is going to build the Church?
We will talk more about that next month in part 2.