Jesus and His disciples journeyed from Bethsaida to Caesarea Philippi. It was on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. It was Gentile territory, complete with a shrine to a pagan god. It was also outside the territory of King Herod. The Lord would be safe to teach His disciples here, far from the grip of Jewish leadership.
Along the way, Jesus started asking His disciples questions about who they thought He was. It was a subject the entire nation of Israel was talking about. “‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’” He asked.
The disciples explained that many people thought He was John the Baptist. Others argued that He was the prophet Elijah, returned from the days of old. Still others said He was one of the other prophets, like Jeremiah. There were many guesses and rumors, but no one was sure. Then Jesus narrowed in on His true concern. He wanted to know who His own disciples, His loyal friends and followers, thought He was. “‘But what about you?’ He asked. ‘Who do you say that I am?’”
Simon Peter stepped out in faith as the spokesman for the rest of the disciples. He said, “‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’”
Wow. That was more than a normal sentence spoken in regular conversation. That was a declaration. Peter was speaking out of a conviction that he was beginning to stake his life on! He had grown in faith to believe that this Man he journeyed with was God Himself! What would it take for someone to convince you that he or she was actually the Most High God? What kind of goodness, what kind of insight and wisdom and power and holiness would they have to live by to get you to stake your life on it? Either Peter was right, or he was a total and utter fool! Aren’t you glad he was right?
It is important to remember that Peter wasn’t just speaking for himself. He was telling Jesus the conclusion the disciples had come to about Him as a whole. Every one of them was certain after their long hours of life with Jesus that He was the Son of God.
The first time Peter declared his belief, it was in the land of the Jews, at a moment when many of the Lord’s disciples had left Him. It was a declaration of faith that the Messiah of Israel’s prophetic promise had come…and Peter made it knowing that he was defying the will of the most powerful men in his nation. Now Peter was declaring it in Gentile territory, in a land infested with the power of demonic gods. The Son of the Most High God whose will cannot be thwarted had come to earth!
The great eternal truth was rising in Peter’s heart…this Jesus was the Lord of all creation, and now He was walking the earth as a Man. There was a reason the demonic hosts trembled in His presence.
Do you remember when it started for Peter? Do you remember the story when Peter was at the Jordan with his brother, following the ministry of John the Baptist? They were pursuing God in the best way they knew how, and they took a step of faith. That is where they met Jesus, and that was the beginning of it all. They got to walk all the way back home to Galilee with Him. Did they know then that they would give their lives to follow Him? Soon after, Jesus called out to them from the shore of Galilee as they were washing their nets. They were fishermen, and they were faithfully doing the job that God had given them. But when Jesus called, they dropped everything to join Him in the next step of faith that God provided.
God was using time and circumstances to craft the hearts of these men. At each stage, they had an opportunity to show the truth of their heart. Then one day, Jesus gave them the wonderful miracle of filling their nets with fish. Peter had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. He had spent his whole life fishing on the Sea of Galilee, and he understood what a miracle it was to suddenly capture so many shiny, slippery fish. His response to the miracle was to fall down on his knees before the Lord. Peter continued to courageously choose faith over the looming fears of what it meant to be associated with Jesus. As he did so, he grew in his confident assurance that Jesus was worthy of his trust. And in turn, Jesus began to entrust Peter and the other disciples with the message of the Gospel and the power to heal, which grew their faith even more!
These were the moments of Peter’s life that showed the growing belief in his heart, and that emerging faith was precious to God. For you see, the Lord rewards those who earnestly seek Him.
Jesus said to Peter, “‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.’”
Wow. There is a lot going on in this statement. Jesus said that God the Father in Heaven was the one who showed Peter the glorious truth about Jesus. It was divine revelation. Peter did not conjure his understanding from his own splendid wisdom or spiritual insight or study. He was blessed by the breathtaking honor of receiving it from God.
What a holy joy. Isn’t it amazing that the God who sits on the throne was paying attention to Peter, the friend of Jesus, and working in his heart even as Jesus was teaching him? Isn’t it amazing that He is doing that in your heart and mine right now? Even as the unbelieving of Israel muttered among themselves with their guesses at Scripture, Peter was learning directly from God. And God was going to use Peter in powerful ways to establish His church.
The Church would be made up of the people of the New Covenant, who put their faith in Jesus Christ. After His death and resurrection, Jesus would ascend into Heaven and take His seat of majesty at the right hand of God the Father. Ten days after His ascension…on the Day of Pentecost…the Father and the Son would send the Holy Spirit to the small band of believers that had put their faith in Jesus. In the power of the Spirit, the disciples would go out and proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection all over Jerusalem. Thousands would respond to their message by faith, and so the Church of the Living God would be established on earth. As the first to proclaim by faith that Jesus was the Messiah, Peter had the privilege of being the rock upon which the Church was founded.
It is interesting that Jesus said that the gates of Hell would not be able to overcome the work of the Church. When does a gate ever overcome anything? Gates are locked to keep things out.
When Adam and Eve gave their allegiance to Satan, they handed the world that God had given them to take care of over to Satan, as well. Jesus called Satan the prince of this world for a reason (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). It is his kingdom…a kingdom of darkness (Col 1:13). Christ’s work of salvation was a rescue mission into enemy territory. He was invading a world that has been given over to God’s enemy. Jesus explained to Peter that the Gates of Hell…the evil and destructive ways of Satan that work to keep the shining, holy goodness of God out, would not be able to stop the Invasion of God’s Love. In the end, Satan was going to lose, and the Church would be powerful part of it!
In the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible that tells us about the end of time when Christ brings His final victory, it says that Satan will be defeated by the Blood of the Lamb and the testimony of believers who gave their lives for the message of Christ. Hell and death will ultimately have no power over the salvation work of our Lord! The final victory for all who choose faithfulness to Christ is certain.
“‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’”
What are the keys to the Kingdom? Well, if we look at what the Lord called Peter to do for the rest of his life, we see that the keys are a symbol for the proclamation of the Good News of God’s Kingdom. When the Gospel is proclaimed, it opens the doors to the hearts of those who are lost! The Gospel has power. It is the knowledge of the Truth that is really True. When people respond to it, they are expressing the same faith that we see in Peter. They become a part of God’s covenant family, the Church, and transfer from the Kingdom of Darkness, the realm of Satan’s destructive rule, to the Kingdom of Light, where God reigns in power, holiness, and love.
The scribes and Pharisees were doing the exact opposite of this. Jesus Himself was declaring the truth, but they kept closing the door of their hearts to His Kingdom. Later on in Matthew 23, Jesus will sternly rebuke them for standing in the doorway of faith and blocking it so that others could not go through. But the faithful in Christ will be busy unlocking the door to the Kingdom so that others can freely come in.
This is how the Apostle Paul, another great servant of Christ, described it many years later. First he explained that faith comes from hearing the Word of God. Then He said:
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe with your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”
But there is a problem. How can anyone confess faith in Jesus if they have never heard about Him? This is how Paul asked the question:
“How then will they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”
Wow. The wonderful thing is that Peter would truly end up with beautiful feet! After Jesus died and rose again, Peter would be the disciple who first proclaimed the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit to the Jews (in Acts 2), to the Samaritans (in Acts 8), and to the Gentiles (in Acts 10). He unlocked to door to the Kingdom to every people group, making the way for the Gospel to be preached throughout the whole world!
But Jesus said even more. What did He mean when He said that the things Peter bound on earth would be bound in Heaven, and the things he loosed on earth would be loosed in Heaven? There are several different ways that scholars understand this passage. It might be a way of saying that as the new faith of Christianity moved away from it’s Jewish roots, the followers of Christ would have authority to establish God’s new revelations for how His people would live under the New Covenant. They would no longer follow the strict codes of the Mosaic law…so what would their new guidelines be under the Gospel of Grace? Others understand these passages as a description of spiritual empowerment against the work of Satan (see Ephesians 6:10-20 to check out how the Apostle Paul describes it). What we know for sure is that Christ gave Peter and all the millions of believers who have expressed the same faith in Jesus a remarkable role to play in our world. As members of the Church we have the honored and empowered responsibility to be a part of the spread of God’s Kingdom against the warring destruction of God’s enemy.