“Upon This Rock”
Written by Perry B. Cotham
Caesarea Philippi was a city literally founded upon a rock. It was in that vicinity that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” (Matthew 16:13). Various answers were given. Some were saying that he was John the Baptist risen from the dead; others thought of him as Elijah; and still others said he was Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Then the Lord put the question directly to the disciples. ‘But who say ye that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). Then Peter made a most noble confession of his faith: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God?” Many things led Peter to this conclusion. He had seen the miracles of our Lord, thrilled to his matchless discourses, and be held his perfect life. Peter must have spoken the sentiments of all the other apostles, for none contradicted him.
Following Peter’s confession of faith in him as God’s Son, Jesus said:
“Blessed art thou,
Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my
Father who is in heaven. And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and
upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail
against it. I will give unto thee the
keys of the
This is a most significant passage of Scripture; note some clearly suggested truths about it.
I. The Church Was Founded by Christ
The first truth studied is that the church of the New Testament was built by Jesus Christ himself. To the apostles, Christ promised, “I will build my church.” The church founded by Christ is a divine organism and is in faith, doctrine, organization, worship, unity, and terms of membership just what the Lord would have it be. In this respect the church is perfect and cannot be improved. Thus, in establishing his church, the original and true church, he showed that no one ever had divine authority to originate a church.
When Christ spoke of building the
church he used a possessive term, “my
church.” The church is, therefore, Christ’s church, or
Grammatically, the expression, the
II. The Church Was Not Built upon Peter
Secondly, the church was not to be built upon Peter, but rather upon Peter’s confession—namely, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
When Jesus said, “Upon this rock,” he did not refer directly or personally to either himself or Peter. Then what is the rock? Undoubtedly it is the truth which Peter expressed. On that truth the church was built, and upon that truth it stands today. This fact is the bed-rock of Christianity. Jesus as the Son of God (not just a good man as the Modernists teach) is the truth that must be believed and confessed by every person in becoming a member of the church (Acts ; Romans,).
There are three Greek words in Matthew that need to be carefully noted:
1. Petros—translated “Peter”—a noun, masculine gender, meaning a rock, a piece of rock or a stone.
3. Ekklesia—translated “church”—a noun, feminine gender, meaning an assembly called together, or congregation. (cf. Acts , 39, 41.) Here the word means the assembly of the Lord’s people called out in a spiritual sense from the world.
Those who believe that the church was built upon Peter think that Christ said here: ‘Peter, you are a rock, and upon you I will build my church.” From this they infer the primacy of Peter over the other apostles and even over the whole church. But this is not what Jesus said.
Christ’s language precludes the supposition that Peter was the foundation of the church. Note: (1) Christ is the builder of his church; (2) the rock, which is the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is the foundation; and (3) Peter is at the gate, holding the keys. It is a rule of language that a person cannot occupy two different positions in the same illustration at the same time. Therefore, Peter is where Jesus placed him—namely, the gate keeper with the keys.
Hundreds of years before Christ was born, Isaiah prophesied: “Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner—stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” (Isaiah 28:16).
The apostle Peter applied this prophecy to Christ, declaring him to be the living stone upon whom Christians are built, the chief corner stone, elect, precious, which has been laid in Zion (Jerusalem). Christians are likewise living stones, built up a spiritual house, the church. This was Peter’s understanding of the language of Christ when he said, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” (1 Peter 2:3-8; cf. Acts 4:11-12; Ephesians 2:18-22.)
That the church is built upon Jesus
Christ as the Son of God, and not upon Simon Peter, is further confirmed by the
words of Paul to the church in
“For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians . (Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4.)
Paul laid this foundation in that city when he preached that Jesus was Christ (Acts 18:1-5).
So Christ said: “Thou art Peter [petros] and
upon this rock [
If infidels could disprove Peter’s confession that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” the whole church would fall into ruins immediately. By a figure of speech, this truth is the mighty rock on which Jesus built his church.
Ill. The Building o/ the Church Was Future
The third lesson to be learned from the text is that the church had not been built at the time of that conversation. “Will build” is future tense and implies building up from the foundation. Neither Abraham, Moses, nor John the Baptist built the Lord’s church. They had all been dead for some time when Christ said, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” John the Baptist was never a member of the church (Matthew ).
The church was established in
So man learns when, where,
whom the church was established. The church was built on Pentecost, in
IV. Christ Promised To
Furthermore, Christ spoke of the church in the singular number. In the sense of religious organizations differing one from another in name, doctrine and practice, Christ established only one. It is “church (singular), and not “churches” (plural). “Upon this rock I will build my church.” Although the New Testament speaks of many congregations, Jesus built but one church; and the Bible repeatedly emphasizes the oneness of the church. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12, 20, 27; 8:5, 6; Ephesians 1:22, 23; 4:4-6). There is one body. That body is the church. There is but one body, as there is but one Lord.
Hence, the expression, the churches of Christ, means the local congregations belonging to Christ, which are all of the same faith and practice. The only unit of organization in the Lord’s church is the local congregation, independent in its government, directed by elders who serve under the supreme oversight of Christ. (cf. Acts .)
V. The Church Is the Saved
When Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church”. Just what did he have in mind to establish? The Bible, in answering this question, uses several designations in speaking of the institution or organism known as the Lord’s church. For example: 1. If the institution is viewed from the stand point of its relationship to the world, it is called the “church”; this means the “called out,” or those who are distinct from the world, having been called by the gospel (John ; 2 Thessalonians , 14).
2. If the organism is viewed from
the stand point of its government, it is properly called
the “kingdom,” with Christ the absolute king and all departments of government
(legislative, judicial and executive) vested in him (Matthew 23:18; 1 Corinthians 15:24, 25). “Church” and “kingdom” are
used by Christ in Matthew 18:18, 19 in
reference to the same institution. (Cf. Luke 22: 29, 30; 1 Corinthians 11:20;
Hebrews 12:23, 28) To be in the
3. If the church is spoken of from the stand point of its organization, it is called the “body,” with Christ as the head and all Christians members of this one body (Romans 12:4, 5).
4. If this institution is viewed from the stand point of a family it is called the “house of Cod,” or the family of the Lord, with all of God’s children being members of this family, the church (1 Timothy 3:15; Romans 8:14-17).
5. If the church is described from the stand point of its worship, it is properly called the “temple of Cod,” for God dwells in this building and is worshiped there (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 8:16; 1 Peter 2:5). The church is not a material building, or the meeting house (Acts ; ); it is a spiritual temple. In the New Testament the word “church” never refers to a material building.
6. If the organism is viewed In reference to its relationship to Christ, it is the bride of Christ, and individual members wear his name (Eph. -32; Acts ; 26:28; I Pet. ).
One can understand why the same institution is referred to by several designations, for a man can be a brother, a husband, a Lawyer, an American, a Christian, and a father. He is one man, yet considered from six different relationships.
The law of admission into the
Many think it is one thing to be saved but some thing different to be a member of the church. The popular idea regarding the church is that one church (that Is, denomination) is as good as any other, and that if one wants to become a member of any one of them, he will have to join it. All of these Ideas are the result of thinking in terms of denominationalism, without Bible knowledge.
The church that Jesus built, as described in the New Testament, is never referred to in the Bible as a denomination; and there is no record of anyone having joined it in the popular sense of the word.
The word church is used in two basic senses In the Bible: (1) In the universal sense, including all the saved (as in Matthew ; Ephesians ); (2) In the local congregational sense, applying to a particular group of Christians meeting and work ing together in a certain locality (as in 1 Corinthians 1:1, 2; Romans ; Revelation ). There is just one church—body of saved people—built by and belonging to Christ. No denomination can qualify for the church in either of the two senses in which the word is used in the New Testament. Some one has aptly said: “A Denomination is a religious body with extra-Biblical peculiarities distinguishing it from the church or religious body revealed in the Bible. It is utterly impossible for any denomination to exist without believing something, doing something, being something, saying some thing, or having something that is not In the Word of God. All denominations teach more or less of what is in the Bible; but the things they teach that are in the Bible do not make them denominations.”
Summarizing, the Bible teaches that the church is that saved body of people which has obeyed the gospel. Christ rules as head, and in His church His Spirit dwells. The church and the saved are the same—the saved are the church. In the church all Christians (saved people) are found. To obtain salvation, then, a person must become a member of that church. No one can become a Christian with out becoming a member of this church any more than one can become a child without becoming a member of a family. Moreover, salvation is to be obtained only in Christ’s kingdom, his church, which is the Lord’s family (Colossians , 14; 1 Timothy ).
A. THE NEW
Since Christ’s church is one body, it is not divided into different bodies, each having its own special name, organization, and beliefs. In the days of the apostles the Christians were not divided into a number of different organizations (churches), but they were members of the same church, the body of Christ. All of the early Christians were in the Lord’s church, but none of them were members of any denomination. Division among Christians was condemned (1 Corinthians ). Christ prayed that his disciples all be one (John , 21). People today should be simply Christians, members of the Lord’s church, without becoming members of any denomination. One can be in the Lord’s church and not be in a denomination of any kind.
Since Jesus established just one church, men have no right to establish other churches and claim that they are the Lord’s. Neither do they have any divine right to divide Christ’s church into denominations.
Possibly one denomination is as good as an other, but this does not prove that any of them is on an equality with the Lord’s church. Denominations are merely human institutions. They were founded far too late to be the church which Jesus built. Had men sought to restore the New Testament church instead of reforming into “Protestant” denominations, men would not know denominationalism today. Protestant denominations had their beginning in the sixteenth century, A. D.—some fifteen hundred years after Christ established his church. Christ’s church is revealed in the New Testament, but human denominations are not once mentioned there.
B. CHRISTS’ CHURCH CAN BE REPRODUCED
TODAY IN ANY NATION
Christians are made wherever Christ is preached, people believe in him, repent, confess him as the Son of God, and are baptized (immersed) into him. Hence, the instrument by which people are born anew, and by which the church is perpetuated, is the Word of God (James. ).
Jesus explained that the seed of
the kingdom is the word of God (Luke
If the same seed be planted in the
twentieth century, it will produce the same results that it produced in the
beginning. Man need not concern himself
with an attempt to trace the church all the way back to the apostles in order
to be certain that it is the same church. Plant the same seed, and the same results will
follow. The gospel produced Christians, or members of Christ’s church in the first
century. When that same simple message
is preached today, it will make Christians, members of the body of Christ. The true church in any community is the same
as the church read about in the Bible. Any
body of people that conforms to the New Testament pattern today, in name,
doctrine, worship, and practice, is in fact the
An identical reproduction of the church of the Lord, as it is described in the New Testament, would automatically destroy denominationalism. For, if all people were to practice and teach only what is authorized by the Scriptures, there would be no denominations. Since such can be accomplished, may God speed the day when all will be together in the one church built by Christ!
VI. The Gates Of Hades Could Not Prevail
In the sixth place, Jesus said: “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades [ King James Version has “hell”] shall not prevail against it” (Matthew ). Hades is the fixed abode of the departed spirits between death and the resurrection. Although the Scriptures teach that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against the perpetuity of the church (that is, it shall never die or become extinct), the context of this passage limits our understanding to the establishment of the Lord’s church. The gates of Hades shall not prevail against the building of the church; that is, the powers of the Hadean (unseen) world could not prevent Jesus from arising from the dead and building his church. Christ determined to build his church and the gates of Hades, the unseen world, could not prevent it.
It is true that neither death, nor any other power, has ever completely destroyed the church—nor shall they ever. The kingdom “shall stand forever” (Daniel ); it “cannot be moved” (Hebrews ). Although many members of the church did apostatize the in the centuries following the days of the apostles, just as the Lord had predicted, yet the Word of God, which is the seed of the kingdom, still lives because it is incorruptible. (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10; 1 Peter 1:23.) If there were no congregations to be found on this earth in any age since its origin, the potential was there, for the seed remained, and this seed Is eternal (Mark ). Proof of the theory of
church succession is both historically impossible and wholly unnecessary. But the assurance of the establishment and perpetuation of the church is far from a promise to make the church always in- fallible in all of her teachings.
VII. Peter Was Given the Keys of the Kingdom
The seventh lesson suggested by the passage in Matthew 16 is that Christ gave to Peter the keys of the kingdom. Keys denote power or authority. By the “kingdom of heaven” Christ did not mean the eternal kingdom of heaven after this life; He meant the church here upon this earth, the kingdom or body of Christ which is the family of God. Peter was promised the authority to tell people how to enter the church. The terms of pardon would be the same as the terms of induction into the kingdom. The Lord later promised this same power to all the apostles (Matthew ). Peter was not given any authority that was not likewise given to them. Yet, honor was bestowed upon him since he was the first to preach the gospel to the Israelites on Pentecost and the first to open the door of the church to the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius. (Cf. Acts 2 and Acts 10; 11:1-18.) With the keys he opened the doors of the church to both alike.
Literally translated the promise of Christ to Peter is, whatever you bind will have already been bound in heaven. . . That means the apostles announced to the world what had already been bound or loosed in heaven. Therefore, whatever Peter and the other apostles bound or loosed on earth was also bound, or loosed, or ratified in heaven—namely, the terms of salvation and all matters pertaining to the church. In their preaching the apostles were guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit (John I6:13), and consequently, their teaching recorded in the New Testament constitutes today the only rule of faith binding on Christians. This system of teaching is the “creed” of the Lord’s church.
A. WAS PETER A POPE?
It is true that Peter often obtained a personal prominence over the other apostles. His name appears first in all the lists of the apostles (Matthew 10:2-4) However, the question so often raised today is not, “Was Peter prominent?” but, “Was Peter the head of the church and are the bishops of Rome his successors?” Some think that Peter was the first pope, and upon him the church of our Lord was built, and to him and his successors all religious authority has been given.
That our Lord did not give to Peter any ecclesiastical primacy (as claimed by some religionists) is evident from the following Scriptural reasons:
1. Matthew does not teach that Peter is the foundation of
the church. It is not “petros,” a fragment, but “
2. The other apostles had the baptism of the Spirit directly from Christ and were equally inspired to bind and loose. (Matthew 18:18; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8; )
The only preeminence, then, Peter had was the honor of first opening the doors of the gospel to the world.1
3. The other apostles had no idea that Christ intended to set Peter over them as their head, or as the head of the church. At a date later than the conversation at Casarea Philippi Salome and her two sons came to Christ and requested that they should obtain the high places in the kingdom (Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45). Even at the Last Supper there was a contention among the Twelve as to who should be accounted the greatest (Luke -30). It seems strange that if Christ had already given this place to Peter they did not know of it. Christ told the disciples, however, that “all ye are brethren” and true greatness is attained through humble service; that no man among them should exercise authority over the others (Matthew 18:1-4).
4. Peter called himself an apostle—one among several (1 Peter 1:1), a servant of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1), and a fellow elder (1 Peter 5:1). But he never spoke of himself as the head of the church on earth nor exercised any authority over the other apostles. He also said that Christians were living stones, not built upon himself as Pope but on Christ (1 Peter 2:3-8).
5. Peter was a married man; he had a wife and a mother-in-law (Matthew ). He still had a wife several years after the church had been established (1 Corinthians 9:5). This is contrary to the practice of those who claim to be the successors of Peter. But if Peter were the first pope or bishop, as some affirm, then he must have been married, for the Bible says that a bishop must be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2-5; Titus 1:6). Either way it would refute the present day claims of the papacy.
6. Contrary to the spirit of popery, which to day delights in human worship, Peter would not accept worship from man; neither was his personal life without error, for Paul with stood him to the face because he was to be blamed, a thing that could not have happened had Peter been infallible. (See Acts 10:25, 26; Galatians 2:11.)
7. Since Paul stated that he was not in the least inferior to the chiefest of the apostles, was Paul head of the church too? (See 2 Corinthians 11:5; ) He was not. However, if any were to be the head over the church composed primarily of Gentiles, it would be Paul, for he was the one chosen by the Lord to be the apostle to the Gentile nations.
The fact is, the ecclesiastical supremacy of Peter is nowhere affirmed by Christ, claimed by Peter, or acknowledged by the rest of the apostles. Peter was not the head of the church in any sense.
After the church was established and the apostles guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit, they never referred to Peter as theft head or the head of the church. They did teach, however, that Christ is “head of the body, the church. . . that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Colossians1:18).
Suppose all that is sometimes
alleged to be taught in Matthew
concerning the primacy of Peter were granted.
There is still a lack of evidence to show that Peter was ever the bishop
As further evidence that Simon
Peter was not the first bishop of
(3) Paul, a few years later, went
Christ is the only universal head of the church, who has all authority, and he lives forever in heaven; the headquarters of the church is in heaven. Christ’s church has no earthly headquarters. (Cf. Philippians 3:20, RSV.)
After his resurrection, Christ said he himself had all authority both in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). The church does not have a head on earth and a head in heaven. To speak of the church as visible” and “invisible,” with a “visible” and “in visible” head, is to use expressions unknown to the Bible. No individual on earth has ever been granted the privilege of exercising authority over Christ’s church. Neither has God given to any man or any set of men the right to make Laws for his church. The Bible declares that the church is subject to Christ (Ephesians ). Hence, no mere, fallible man serves as head of the Lord’s church.
B. WHEN WAS THE FIRST POPE?
The word “pope” means “father.” Jesus said: “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9; cf. Psalms 111:9).
The Lord condemned all honorary
titles of an official nature, as well as all kinds of religious garb. The “big I and little you” idea is the thing
that led to popery. But popery did not
come about until centuries after the death of the apostles. According to history the title of “Pope” (as
it is used today) came about in the following way: In A.D. 533, Justinian
bestowed upon the bishop of
A dose study of church history
shows that the system of government of the Roman Church is much more like the
system of the old
The papacy rests upon three assumptions: (1) That Peter had supreme authority in the church; (2) that Peter was the first bishop (or Pope) of Rome; and (3) that the peculiar powers of Peter passed at his death from his person to his successor in the office he vacated, and, in turn, to his successors. They are all false. Consequently, the claim to church authority rests entirely upon a fallacious foundation, easily exposed by the simplicity of the Bible’s teaching.
The foundation of any building is the secret of its strength and durability. The finest structure if erected on a weak foundation cannot stand. The Lord’s church, the grandest and most glorious institution that has ever appeared on this earth, is built upon a divine foundation, Christ—a bed-rock that cannot be moved.
“Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalms 127:1).
And Jesus said,
“Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up (Matthew ; cf. Matthew -27).
Many and severe have been the
storms which have beat against the
Some on their fame or their treasure or their land; Mine’s on the Rock that forever shall stand, Jesus the “Rock of Ages”.
1Albert Barnes, Notes on
the New Testament, vol. I;