In Matthew 16:13 Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” After providing various responses, Jesus goes a little deeper, “but who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus response to this has been the focus of much confusion over the past couple thousand years, and continues to bring confusion to us. Jesus said, “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 say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:17-18)
The real confusion comes from a misinterpretation of what the rock is upon which Jesus was going to build His church. Was it Peter? Jesus does say, you are Peter (which means rock, Petros) and upon this rock. Or, as I believe we will see through this study, was Jesus telling them that the church would be founded upon the fact that He was the Son of God, just as Peter had confessed.
Before we look at the rock in depth, it is important to note what Jesus says at the end this statement. “I will build My church.” The church belongs to Jesus. Acts 20:28 indicates that the church was purchased with the blood of Christ. He paid for it, and it is His. Ephesians 1:22-23 tell us that God, “put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Here Paul compares the relationship between Christ and the church to a head and its body. The head directs the rest of the body. It owns the movements of the body. Each of us are owners of our own bodies, so too Christ owns the church, which he purchased, and directs its movements. Paul continues in Ephesians 5 describing the relationship that exists as that between a husband and a wife. Ephesians 5:23-27,
For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
As we consider what foundation the church was built upon, we must remember that Christ is the owner of this body. He determined where the church would be, and how it was to function. And when He receives her to Himself, she will be a glorious church, for no man made institutions or ideas can come between Christ and His body.
In Acts 2 Peter states unequivocally that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead by the power of God, just as David had prophesied would come through his line, and now this Jesus is both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22-36). This cut the men of Israel to the heart (verse 37), because they realized now who it was they had crucified, and so they asked Peter what they should do. Peter answers them, “Repent and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” The Lord added them, and daily added others who were being saved, to the church (Acts 2:47). Was it Peter that added them to the church? Certainly not. Was it Peter that was the foundation upon which they could be saved? The passage certainly does not indicate that. What it does tell us is that these men heard that Jesus, whom they had crucified, was raised from the dead by the power of God, and that He was now both Lord and Christ. The foundation for their salvation was in the power of God to raise Him from the dead. Consider what Paul says in Romans 1:4, “and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” Here was the proof that Jesus was the Son of God. He defeated death, and Hades could not keep His soul (Acts 2:31-32). Therefore, based upon the witness of the apostles and prophets, declaring Jesus to be the Son of God, the Prophet to come in the likeness of Moses (Deuteronomy 18:17-18), the Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).
Christ’s body, the church, was founded upon the solid fact (the rock) that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he was declared to be such by the resurrection from the dead. Paul states how important this fact is in I Corinthians 15:17, “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” Without the resurrection from the dead, there is no declaration that Jesus is the Son of God, and without that fact, there is no basis for the church to be established and grow into a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:21).
Jesus was not answering who would be the leader of the church, or what person would help establish the church, when He said, “upon this rock I will build my church.” What he meant for us to understand was that the church is founded upon Him being the Son of God, crucified for our sins, paying the price for us with His blood, and then resurrected out of the grave by the power of God.
Therefore, because Jesus is the head of the body, and the foundation upon which the house stands, it must be that there is only one true church. A head can only have one body if it is to properly function. A foundation cannot have but one house to support. Ephesians 4:4 states, “there is one body and one Spirit; just as you were called in one hope of your calling.” The church is the Lord’s. It is His body and no one else’s. Man may create what they believe to be the body of Christ, but if it does not comply with the will of God, how can it be! The question we must then ask ourselves is, are we “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:21) Or do we find ourselves strangers and foreigners, perhaps members of a body, but not finding Christ at the head.
May we all study the scriptures diligently to determine how our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ set up His church, and what we must be if we so desire to be a part of His kingdom.