"You Are the Messiah"—"You Are the Rock"
Matthew 16: 13 — 20
The scene where the above words in the title were spoken is a secluded northern spot near Caesarea Philippi built by the Tetrarch Philip to honour and ingratiate himself to the "divine" Emperor of Rome.
At last Jesus is alone with his disciples for a few days. For nearly three years he has been revealing himself concerning his divinity. It is now time for Jesus to take a decisive step!
Some Notes On the Text
Bearing in mind the setting for this event, we need to note that when Jesus takes his disciples aside in this way, it is always for in-depth instruction, for rest, and for prayer: all in a harmonious balance. This occasion is no exception. As is so often the case, out of such a time together, momentous understandings arise.
Jesus asks his disciples:
"Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
They reply that he is referred to in a variety of ways such as: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. The answer is kind, but unsatisfactory. Why do the disciples (we are talking of the twelve apostles) not mention the belief that Jesus was the Messiah? Quite simply, Jesus had successfully demonstrated that he was definitely not the kind of messiah-figure they wanted to follow. As they came to realise that, they gradually gave up listening to him. The crowds were generally convinced that he was a holy man but definitely not the Messiah.
Jesus quietly, perhaps rather solemnly, accepts their reply. At an appropriate moment, equally quietly, he asks:
"But what about you. Who do you say I am?"
Without delay, having listened to all of Jesus' explanations as to why he is not the popular image of the Messiah who would lead Israel out of Roman bondage, and having listened to the gripes and bitter criticism of Jesus by many would-be followers, Simon (or Simon Peter, or even Peter as he was later called) now answers our Lord from the depths of his soul.
"You are the Anointed One. You are the Messiah (in Greek, Christ).
Clearly, warmed and profoundly moved by this beautiful declaration never before heard from human lips, Jesus in turn addresses Simon in words never before applied to a human being.
This is a beautiful and unique moment. Each man has attributed to the other a title of great Biblical significance. It is a critical moment as the Messiah is fully identified on the terms he chose.
It is also a turning point for the twelve and for Simon, who, in memory of this occasion, continued to be called Rock; or in English (retaining a link with the Greek text of this Gospel) Peter.
Sadly for the Church, one and a half millennia later, this single verse became the most hotly debated in the whole of Scripture.
Great cataclysmic eruptions within Christianity have taken place as factions have fought each other over its meaning, and caused irreparable damage. The gates of hell will not prevail over the Church but it had better not continue to pursue its current course of self-destruction, which is gaining a frightening momentum.
To help us in our meditation on this beautiful passage we offer in an appendix, four viewpoints. These will help us clarify our own understanding and respect that of others. (We urge our readers to read this appendix.)
Jesus adds to Peter's newly declared position within the twelve:
This amazing episode closes with our Lord demanding that the disciples do not tell anyone what they heard Peter say!
We close with a brief comment by Adam Clarke, commenting on "the gates of Hell", (verse 18):
In ancient times the gates of fortified cities were used to hold councils in, and were usually places of great strength. Our Lord's expression means, that neither the plots, stratagems, nor strength of Satan and his angels, should ever so far prevail as to destroy the sacred truths in the above confession. Sometimes the gates are taken for the troops which issue out from them: we may firmly believe, that though hell should open her gates, and vomit out her devil and all his angels, to fight against Christ and his saints, ruin and discomfiture must be the consequence on their part; as the arm of the Omnipotent must prevail.
Important reading: Appendix
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