Peter’s declaration of faith (Matthew 16:13-20)

Summary

In the region of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus said that Peter was blessed as this was revealed to him by God. He added, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church". Jesus promised Peter that he would be given authority, then warned them not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

Understanding the text

Jesus wanted to know whether his disciples understood who he was, but first he asked them what other people were saying. The disciples gave four answers, all citing people from the Bible who were dead by this time.

  1. John the Baptist – Herod’s son Antipas had been responsible for his death, but some people thought he had come alive again
  2. Elijah – a prophet from the Old Testament thought by Jews to return to Earth to welcome the Messiah
  3. Jeremiah – another Old Testament prophet, he suffered for delivering God’s message and spoke of the need for a new covenant between God and His people
  4. One of the other prophets

What do the disciples think?

Peter, often the spokesperson for the disciples, answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The disciples have spent time with Jesus listening to his teaching and witnessing his miracles. However, Jesus says that it is God who has helped Peter to understand this. Jesus praises Peter for speaking out and makes important promises concerning Peter and the Church. He says, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church".

In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, the name Peter is Petros. This is also the word used for ‘rock’ in Greek, so Jesus is making a play on words here.

What does this mean?

The Christian Church today is divided on the issue.

  • Some say that the word ‘rock’ does not literally refer to Peter but to his words when he declared that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son. Jesus meant that the foundation of the Church was to be this faith.
  • Peter himself is like the first rock in God’s building. Jesus is the foundation and God’s building is the Church. Peter was the first person to declare that he believed in Jesus and he became an important leader and teacher in the early Church. On the day of Pentecost, he was the first to start preaching and over 3000 converts were made on that day.
  • The Roman Catholic Church teaches that at Caesarea Philippi Peter was made the first Pope and the keys on the papal coats of arms are a symbol of the authority he was given. This authority, Catholics believe, has been passed down through generation after generation of Popes right down to the present day. The Pope, as God’s representative on Earth, has the power to forgive sin and permit or prohibit things on Earth.