Matthew 16 is one of the most famous passages in all the Bible. Here we have Peter’s great confession: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (16), and Christ’s great promise: "I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (18). We also have here a controversy with Rome which identifies the person of Peter as the rock on which the church is built. Then, after claiming that the pope is the true successor of Peter, they argue for papal primacy (that he is Christ’s vicar and representative), papal authority (that he wields the two swords of church and state) and papal infallibility (that he cannot err when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals). Since they claim that Christ promised to build the church of Rome with the pope at its head, then everyone (you included!) ought to join the Roman church.
In Matthew 16, Jesus and His disciples enter the region of Caesarea Philippi (13). He asks a short question: "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" (13). The disciples reply that not everyone agrees. Some reckon that He is John the Baptist risen from the dead (as Herod thought; 14:2). Others say He is Elijah (wrongly interpreting Malachi 4:5) or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. All of these views are wrong. Moreover, the Pharisees claimed that Jesus was empowered by Beelzebub (Matt. 12:24), but the disciples were not asked what these false teachers thought.
Then Jesus asked a more personal and penetrating question of the twelve: "But whom say ye that I am?" (16:15). Simon Peter answered for himself and for his companions, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (16). This is an amazing confession from several perspectives. First, there is the content of the confession. Consider the titles Peter ascribes to Jesus: "the Christ" and "the Son of the living God" (16)! Second, there is the timing of this confession. Peter is here speaking during the days of Christ’s humiliation and before His resurrection, ascension and pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and when, as verse 14 makes clear, most of the people sinfully misunderstood Him. Yet Peter rightly confesses, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (16)! Third, there is the origin of this confession. Peter was a mere man, the son of Jonah, and the true identity of Jesus could only be grasped by divine grace: "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (17). In other words, Peter only understood who Jesus was by a divine and spiritual light (as Jonathan Edwards once put it). Through Jesus’ teachings and miracles, the Father sovereignly and effectually illumined Peter’s heart by the Holy Spirit. Blessed is Peter to be chosen to have such wonderful knowledge, when most remain in darkness! Fourth, this confession is also remarkable because of its location: Caesarea Philippi. This city was named after Caesar Augustus (a Roman emperor) and Philip (the tetrarch). It was situated north of Galilee in Gentile lands. This great, divinely-wrought confession of who Jesus was would later spread from the Jews to the Gentiles, throughout the Roman empire and into all the world, including us!
Christ utters these marvellous words: "thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (18). Contrary to Rome, the rock on which Christ builds His church is not the person of Peter. Rome would need to prove that Peter was in Rome; that the apostle was a bishop in Rome (though the Bible knows of no such office of bishop as understood by Rome, and the office of an apostle includes an itinerant ministry); that Peter appointed a successor as bishop of Rome, giving him papal authority; and that this succession has been maintained unbroken for 2,000 years (despite papal schisms involving two or three rivals claiming the see of Rome at the same time). Even if all these things could be proved (which they cannot), Rome would still have to prove that papal doctrine is scriptural—man’s free will; human merit; justification by faith and works; universal, ineffectual atonement; transubstantiation; idol worship; Mariolatry; purgatory; and all the rest of her "damnable heresies" (II Peter 2:1).
Think also of the idea of the "rock" on which Christ builds His church. A rock on which you erect a building is its foundation. The foundation determines the shape and strength of the building. Now consider a building which has as its foundation: man, sinful man, heretical men (like the popes), monsters of impiety (as many of the popes are, even according to Roman Catholic historians and theologians). Such a foundation means that the church that is built upon it is man-centred. Thus Rome teaches salvation by man’s free will, man’s merit, man’s obtaining indulgences and man’s temporal sufferings in the fires of purgatory. Roman Catholicism teaches bowing down to man-made idols, especially the virgin Mary (who is portrayed as a goddess, being immaculately conceived and assumed bodily into heaven), as well as the worship of a man, the pope (for he is given more than a merely human honour). The mass is thoroughly man-centred too: a mere man makes bread into Christ (transubstantiation) and a fallen man offers Christ as an unbloody sacrifice for the sins of the living and the dead. There is also Rome’s man-made tradition and her man-made hierarchy, with the pope at the head of the church as the "Holy Father" and "Vicar of Christ."
- Volume: 11
- Issue: 10
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
Address7 Lislunnan Road
State or ProvinceCo.Antrim
Zip CodeBT42 3NR
Telephone(01144) 28 25 891851