Day 30 – Peter and the Keys

Today’s reading: Matthew 16

There is a whole lot in Matthew 16 which we read today.

First, the Pharisees and Scribes come to Jesus seeking a sign.  Jesus says that no sign will be given to “an evil and unfaithful generation”.  He says that the only sign will be the sign of Jonah, which is of course Jonah spending the night in the belly of a whale, which corresponds to Jesus dying and being placed in the tomb only to be resurrected.  However, we need to understand this verse in context.  It is not that “no sign will be given”.  Jesus has already done and will continue to do multiple miracles that can and should be taken as signs of who He is.  What Jesus is saying is that the signs are already there and no special or definitive sign will be given, apart from the resurrection that will force or compel the Pharisees and Scribes to convert.  We hear echoes of this today, namely from modern day atheists.  The simple argument they make, “If God is real, why doesn’t he just appear and prove it.”  But because we have free will, we should not expect such a sign.


Next, Jesus speaks of the leaven of the Pharisees.  Sometimes people float this passage as a proof that elsewhere when Jesus speaks of bread He is talking about his teaching or His Word.  In fact, it proves the opposite.  In the passage Jesus speaks of both instances of the multiplication of the loaves.  Thus, this discussion is clearly coming after the working of that miracle.  We know from the gospel of John that the Bread of Life discourse came right after the first multiplication of the loaves and the feeding of the five thousand.  Thus the reason the Apostles are taking Jesus literally here when He talks about the leaven of the Pharisees is because they clearly took him literally before at the Bread of Life discourse.  In fact, here Jesus confirms that at the time of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes, the time when He gave the Bread of Life discourse, He was not speaking about bread.

Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread?

The Matthew ends the exchange by explaining that know they understood that as to the Pharisees he was speaking of their teaching.

Next we come to the famous “Peter the Rock” exchange.  Because there is so much here we will review it line by line.

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

Where this is happening is very interesting.  Caesarea Philippi used to be called Paneas.  In is a gentile town to the north of the sea of Galilee.  Originally named for the pagan god Pan, it had been renamed to honor Philip the son of Herod the Great.  The city is meant to reflect the old pagan gods and the civil “gods” of emperors, kings and government.  In the town there is a great whole in the ground from which steam rises.  Locals had tried to find the bottom and never could.  The called it the entrance to the underworld or hell.  On top of the hole is a large rock hill.  In the sides of the hill they carved out coves and put idols to pagan gods.  On the top of the hill was a pagan temple.  Jesus has this exchange with Peter in front of this whole.  He is quite literally saying, all this – the pagan gods, the cult of making kings into gods and hell itself will not stand against me.

14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Here is Peter’s confession of faith.  Notice, it casts away all doubt that Jesus might just be another great prophet.  Notice also, that it is Peter who answers for the whole group.

17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar- Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Here Jesus says that Peter is blessed.  He has received this revelation and had the faith to accept it and articulate it directly from God.

18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Literally translated this line would say, “And I tell you, you are Rock and on this rock I will build my Church…”.  This verse is probably one of the most written about and discussed verses in the bible.  Some people point out that in Greek the word “rock” is Petra but the original Greek of the NT renders the word “Petros” which means small stone.  Thus, they argue that Jesus is not saying that Peter is the rock on which the Church will be built but one of many little stones that will comprise the Church.  This argument is flawed for several reasons.  First, the Greek is rendered as “Petros” simply because it is the masculine version of the word.  In Greek, like in Spanish, French, Italian, etc., words can have gender.  Peter couldn’t be rendered Petra simply because it is feminine.  Second, the use of “Petros” for small stone did not come into common use until after the writing of the New Testament.  Thus, it is improper to interpret “Petros” as small stone in the context.  Third, strictly speaking Jesus didn’t name Peter with the name “Petros”.  Jesus spoke Aramaic, a dialect of Hebrew.  Jesus names Peter with the Aramaic word Cephas (or Kepha), which means rock and has no gender.  We know this because, John in his gospel reminds us, “He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).”(John 1:42).

Furthermore if you look at all three lines in this discourse by Jesus, you see that all three lines are blessings of Peter.  It would be odd for Jesus to bless Peter in the first sentence, tear him down in the second, and bless him again in the third.  It makes much more sense if Jesus blesses him three times.  We see this again when Peter denies Jesus three times and then after the Resurrection, Jesus blesses him again three times after Peter says the three times ‘I love you’.

Finally, Jesus statement to Peter is not just a renaming of him as Rock but it is ALSO A PROPHECY.  Peter will travel to Rome, where he will be crucified and buried.  The grave will be lost but 300 years later, a small church will be built on what is thought to be the spot of his burial.  That Church will fall into disrepair and eventually a new Church will be built in its spot.  About 1,000 years later that Church too will fall into disrepair and during the renaissance a third Church will be built on the site.  The third church is the Vatican.  In 1968 while digging in the basement to do repairs an ancient Roman street will be discovered.  A street that will lead to a tomb.  A tomb that holds the petrified bones of St. Peter.  Bones on which the weight of 2,000 of earth, rock, and carved stone have pressed down turning the bones to rock.  Without having known where that tomb was it will turn out that the main alter of the Vatican will have been built directly over the tomb.  “And on this rock I will build by Church”.

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Jesus promises to give Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  In ancient Israel the king had a royal steward.  The steward was identified by the steward wearing the keys to the castle on a rope across his chest.  The keys were passed on when one steward died and a new steward was appointed.  We can see this in Isiah 22:15-25.  The steward had complete authority over all the kings affairs and possession.  When he spoke it was as if the king spoke.  Jesus is the new king and Peter is therefore his new steward.  Notice that the keys are only given to Peter, not the other Apostles.

Jesus gives Peter the power to bind and loose.  This is a Jewish idiom meaning that the person had authority, particularly authority to teach.  So what Peter teaches is “bound in heaven”.  Heaven being perfect, can have no error.  This means Peter cannot teach error.  Notice, it does not mean Peter is perfect.  He can and we will see him make mistakes.  But it does mean that Peter cannot teach error about Jesus and the gospel.    Here, the literal translation is very helpful.  It says,

19 and I will give to thee the keys of the reign of the heavens, and whatever thou may bind upon the earth shall BE HAVING BEEN BOUND in the heavens, and whatever thou may loose upon the earth shall BE HAVING BEEN loosed in the heavens.’

Thus we see just as God the Father revealed to Peter the truth about who Jesus was so it is Peters role to reveal the truth THAT ALREADY EXISTS IN HEAVEN.  In his teaching, Peter does not make up new truth but revels that which is already true.    Thus, Peter, and the subsequent Popes after him, can be said to be infallible because they reveal what is true about God.

20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Jesus often does this and we tend to find it curious.  However, Jesus usually does this when he is among the Jews or when he doesn’t want his identity to publicized among the Jews.  He does this because He knows that if the Jews really understand who He is they will seek to revolt and make him king.  Jesus does not want that.  He has not come for that purpose.  In fact, we see in the very next verse that it is after this that Jesus begins to tell the Apostles that he will have to suffer and die on the cross.

Tomorrow: Matthew 17

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