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Peter’s Profession of Faith

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  • Peter’s Profession of Faith

    Peter’s Profession of Faith

    In each gospel Peter makes a profession of faith in Christ:

    Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (Mt 16:16)

    Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” (Mk 8:29)

    And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” (Lk 9:20)

    Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:28)

    However Matthew’s gospel has many details that are not in the other accounts. These are important so I will take Matthew’s account (Mt 16:13-19)
    13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” 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.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 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.”

    But first there are three important points to note:
    1. Matthew is a Jew, writing to Jews. His gospel is full of references to the Old Testament to show how Jesus fulfils prophecies. Some are explicit and some are not. But they would have been noticed by his Jewish audience

    2. The theme of kingdom runs through Matthew’s gospel. Jesus is not just the Messiah but the promised Davidic king. He starts his gospel “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

    It is Matthew who records the visit of the Magi who ask Herod “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” (Mt 2:2)

    3. A painting is not a photograph. By that I meant is photograph is a literal record of something. A painting is an interpretation with the elements in the picture selected and composed to give more information than the bare picture. In the same way the writers of scripture were not just journalists recording an event but they selected the elements they present to give more information than was on the surface. We have to look below that surface and consider each verse carefully.

    With those points in mind let us go through this passage.

    13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?"
    Caesarea Philippi is at the far north of Israel, a long way, probably 3 days walking from Capernaum. In Matthew’s gospel this incident is the only one reported at Caesarea Philippi so this exchange seems to have been the main purpose of his visit. We’ll see why later.

    Jesus starts obliquely, asking them "Who do men say that the Son of man is?"
    Jesus constantly refers to himself as the Son of Man, but only Matthew uses this phrase leading up to Peter’s profession of faith. Matthew is pointing it up as important. Why?

    The ‘Son of Man’ recalls Daniel’s prophecy (Dan 7:13-14)
    "I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven
    there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days
    and was presented before him.
    And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom,
    that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him;
    his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away,
    and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed."
    The Son of Man is the promised future Davidic king

    This passage in Daniel comes in the middle of Daniels vision of the four beasts and their explanation. Daniel is particularly concerned with the fourth beast “terrible and dreadful and exceedingly strong; and it had great iron teeth”. This fourth beast is Rome.

    14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." The apostles give various answers to his question.

    15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" A direct question to them. Only one person answers him.

    16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
    Peter who replies and defines who Jesus is, a definition we still use today.

    17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. Jesus commends Peter for his answer and blesses him. Note that Peter is the only one to reply and as a direct revelation from the Father.

    18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,…..
    Now Jesus continues to address Peter and in return defines who Peter is. He is Rock, and furthermore the rock on which Jesus will build his Church.

    Now we come back to the point about Caesarea Philippi. In that place where there is a massive cliff face, at the base of which were various temples to pagan gods. One of these was erected by Herod the Great to the Emperor of Rome, Augustus Caesar. (Ancient Caesarea Philippi - Background Bible Study (Bible History Online)).

    Jesus is contrasting these temples, built on rock to the one he will build on Peter the Rock.

    Moreover Caesarea Phillipi, the ancient city of Paneas, was enlarged by Philip the Tetrach renamed Caesarea Philippi to honour the Emperor Tiberius Caesar and his own name of Philip. What Jesus and the apostles were looking at was not just an old pagan shrine, but represented Rome, the fourth beast of Daniel’s prophecy.

    Jesus is making a powerful visual statement. It is Rome that his Church will confront and Rome that will be the centre of his Church.

    But Peter the Rock?

    In John 1:42 Jesus renames Peter from Simon to Kephas (Aramaic for Rock – a big rock)
    Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Kephas”
    Renaming someone is always significant in the Bible.

    St. Paul refers to Kephas in 8 places in both his first letter to the Corinthians and in his letter to the Galations. For example:
    “and that he appeared to Kephas, then to the twelve.” (1Cor 15:5)
    “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Kephas” (Gal 1:18)
    “and when James and Kephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars” (Gal 2:9)

    As Protestants often point out, in the Bible it is Jesus who called the Rock
    "For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ" (1Cor 10:4)

    In calling Peter “Rock”, and telling him that he will build his Church on Peter, Jesus is declaring that Peter is the leader of the Apostles and his representative on Earth. He goes on the confirm this:
    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.” (Mt 16:19)

    Peter is the only apostle given the keys, and the only apostles singularly given the power to bind and loose.

    This wasn’t the first time God chose someone to be his representative before people.
    "The Lord answered him [Moses], See! I have made you as God to Pharaoh" (Ex 7:1).
    God made Moses as God to Pharaoh. In other words Moses was representing God to Pharoah,
    The Lord also told him, “I am coming to you in a dense cloud, so that when the people hear me speaking with you, they may always have faith in you also. (Ex 19:9)

    Protestants also object that the word for Peter in the Greek is petros which means a small stone, not rock and that the Greek word for rock (as in “on this rock”) is petra. Peter is therefore not a rock. There are two points to make about this:

    1. Although in ancient Greek the distinction may have been significant, by NT times the two words were interchangeable. Moreover it would have been inappropriate for Peter to have been called by the feminine petra rather than the masculine petros. In addition there was a word in regular use for stone, if that is what Jesus meant (lithos – see Jn 19:13)

    2. More importantly Jesus did not call Peter either Petra or Petros but the Aramaic Kephas. (meaning Rock). So the above would have been “you are Kephas, and on this kephas I will build my Church”.




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