He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”Matthew 16:15–18
Throughout my life, I have heard that the rock upon which the church was built was the contents of Peter’s confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And while I totally agree that Jesus is the chief cornerstone, I believe we miss out on a potentially wonderful lesson when we don’t take a step back and reevaluate this interpretation, an interpretation, by the way, which is typically given to counter the Latin church’s claim that Peter was the first pope.
The Apostles Were the Foundation of the Church
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.Ephesians 2:19–22
And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.Revelation 21:14
So, while Jesus is definitely the chief cornerstone, it is also true that the house of God is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.
Christians have a tendency to interpret Scripture in a reactionary way. That is, instead of going to the text to see what is says, they may hear an opinion they disagree with, so they go to the Bible looking to refute that view. This is similar to a man who was walking down a road with his friend, and while they were walking, his friend fell into the ditch. To keep himself from falling into the same ditch, he ran to the other side of the road and fell in himself. Often, when we try to disprove a false conclusion, we end up going to a different extreme.
This has happened, in my estimation, with Matthew 16:18. In an attempt to disprove a doctrine, we have overcorrected and missed a potentially beautiful truth.
Here’s the truth of the matter: saying that Peter is a rock upon which the church is built does not negate that Jesus is the chief cornerstone, and it doesn’t make Peter into the first pope. In fact, Peter and the other apostles were the foundation upon which the church was built according to Paul in Ephesians 3 and John in Revelation 21.
Was the church built upon the fact that Jesus is the Christ? Of course, but it was also built upon the apostles and prophets. Now, let’s see how that teaches us an awesome truth about ourselves.
What God Can Do with a Small Stone
As you may have heard, Peter means stone (Gk: Petros). The word “rock” in Matthew 16 means bed-rock (Gk: petra). As Ulrich Luz points out in his commentary, the original audience “would have wondered how one can build something on a round stone” (Hermeneia).
But that’s the point isn’t it?
Despite his flaws, his doubts, his shortcomings, and despite even his name, Peter would go on to be featured as one of the key apostles in the Book of Acts. Paul even recognized him as the apostle to the circumcision in Galatians 2.
With man it is impossible to build a house on a round stone, but with God all things are possible.
If He can use someone like Peter to His glory, then why not Daniel? Why not you? Why not the person you least expect?
In baseball, the rule is that after three strikes, you are out. Peter messed up much more than just three times, but Jesus was confident that the fisherman he called would grow into a mighty stone.
Perhaps this is why Peter wrote, “And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4–5).
Peter recognized that the Christians to whom he wrote were spiritual stones (Gk: lithos) as well. We as children of God are His temple, and each of us are as precious as the last in His eyes.
A New Community
Perhaps one reason why we have been offended by this interpretation in the past is that we look at the church as a business instead of a community or family. If we saw the church as a family or community of believers, we could really understand what Jesus is getting at: “Peter, I’m starting a new family, and I’m going to start it with people like you. It’s not going to be made exclusively made up of people who look like you, talk like you, or share your heritage, but the kingdom will be unlocked for anyone who makes the confession you did.”
And God used Peter to do just that, didn’t He? It was Peter who is featured in the first part of Acts, and it was him who first went to the Gentiles.
Thank God for our chief cornerstone, Jesus! But we also thank God for Peter and the other apostles who dedicated their lives to following Jesus and who make up the foundation of the family of which we are all members!