It’s no doubt the experience of all disciples of the Lord Jesus who are zealous to follow the Master, that at times we are good examples of what we should be, and at other times we are not! Such was also the experience of the apostle Peter. To him the Lord said: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17), and a very short time later also: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a hindrance to Me; for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23). On the first occasion Peter was giving expression to the great truth of the deity of the Son of the living God; on the second occasion rebuking the Lord for telling of His future suffering, death and resurrection. Understanding so much, yet understanding so little! It is always so when feeble men seek to appreciate the majesty of Deity. The more we learn about Him, the more we appreciate how little we know Him and love Him.
Luke tells us that it was while the Lord Jesus was praying that He questioned the disciples about who men said that He was. They were at Caesarea Philippi, at one of the sources of the Jordan River, the river that brings the water of life to so much of Israel. What an appropriate place for the One who was the origin of “living water” to question those who would soon take His message to the world. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” When the Lord asks a question, it is not because He does not know the answer, but to teach the one He questions, and us. But the crucial question then and now is: “But who do you say that I am?” Each person must answer that question. And Peter stated the divinely revealed truth simply and clearly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. He is the anointed One, the Messiah, in whom “the whole fulness of Deity dwells bodily …” (Colossians 2:9). He is God, the Son.
The Lord asked about Himself as the Son of Man, a position to which He had stooped so very low; sadly, most only thought of Him as some man’s son! But Peter knew that this Son of Man was none other than the Son of God. How was he so sure? He later declared, “… we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).
He had certainly already seen the sick raised to health, even his own mother-in-law (Matthew 8:15); he had seen the mighty works in the blind receiving sight, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead being raised up (Matthew 11:5); he had seen the Lord walking on water and had ventured towards Him on the stormy seas; he had witnessed the wind cease the moment the Lord entered the boat and had proclaimed then with the others in the boat, “Truly, you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). But there was more to his conviction than just the things that he had witnessed, amazing though they were. God the Father had revealed this wonderful truth to him directly and personally. If there had been any doubt before, there was none now. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah …” You have had the Word of God communicated directly to you; you have had the Word of God illuminated before you; and you have received it by faith. There is no other way to receive God’s Word!
All who believe in the Lord Jesus, “this Rock” whom God smote, are built by Him into what He calls “My Church” in Matthew 16:18. How very personal! And it is a Church so intimately associated with Him as its Head that it is known as “the Church, which is His Body” (Ephesians 1:22,23). Peter was to learn more of this Church on the day of Pentecost when Christ would begin building it, having said at Caesarea Philippi, “I will build My Church”.
The Church, the Body, comprising all believers since Pentecost, is one over which the gates of Hades have no power (W.E. Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, states: “The importance and strength of gates made them viewed as synonymous with power. By metonymy, the gates stood for those who held government and administered justice there”). The gates of Hades (the place of dead ones) cannot rob this Church of its members; Christ, who is the Rock on which it stands and by whom it is built, has justly met and extinguished the power in these gates, so that they can have no power over the Church.
It is as a result of that divine revelation Peter was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, authority from the hand of the One who has all authority, and went out to the world and preached about the Christ, the Son of the living God. “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). Had he not been absolutely convinced of this Man’s identity, and the authority by which he spoke about Him, he could not have been an instrument of service in the divine Builder’s hand.
Those who accepted the message, and were thereby built by the Lord into this Body of believers, were loosed from sin, while others who rejected the message were bound in their sin. The tense of the verb indicates that the binding occurred in heaven before it ever occurred on earth: “and whatever you bind on earth shall be [having been] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be [having been] loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). Peter did not determine who was bound or loosed. But he confirmed what God in heaven had done: in revealing the truth of the gospel. And he knew it was so because he knew the One of whom he spoke was none other than the Christ, the Son of the living God. “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15). You bind what has been bound, and you loose what has been loosed. You have the keys of the authority of the Lord to do so.
Peter may well have thought that the kingdom of God was upon them, that this was the time when the Lord was going to restore it to Israel (Luke 19:11; see also Acts 1:6 where the actual question was asked). Here was the Anointed One; He was here to build; the gates of Hades were ineffective against His building; He had given Peter the keys and binding authority! What excitement! What a mountaintop experience! What a time to be alive! What a shock then when the Christ of God “began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21). Peter’s hopes were dashed. He was indignant and took the Lord aside to correct Him.
“Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” How can this happen to the Christ the Son of God? The Lord’s response indicates however that this was not simply Peter’s impetuous nature. There was a more significant battle going on, and it involved Satan, the enemy of God, the tempting Devil, ever on the prowl to destroy the work of Christ if possible. But, as it was impossible in the wilderness, so also now: “Get behind
me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Peter’s interest was that the Son of God should set up His kingdom now, and that he was going to be involved in it. Satan was interested in that too, for that would do away with the Cross by which he would be rendered powerless. What is God’s interest? “God our Savior … desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3,4). The suffering must come, the Cross must come, the tomb must come, and the Christ must be raised, for ever victorious over sin, death and the evil one, and be seated “at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).
In the hours and days after the Lord’s death, closeted behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, the disciples would begin to remember the words of the Lord. When it was announced to them that He was raised, and then when He appeared to them, and to Peter individually, and taught them, the whole thing made sense. And Peter, with the keys and with the message, went out to the world to preach about His Lord and Christ. What did he teach? He taught what the Lord had taught him. The disciple who wishes to go after the Lord must take up his own cross and follow Him. Some did that literally not many years afterwards, Peter included.
Indeed, Peter said to the Lord, “See, we have left everything and followed You” (Matthew 19:27). They’d left their families and homes and businesses. How quickly then went back to the things they had left when they forsook Him and fled on the night of His betrayal! But Peter repented and was able to teach the way of the disciple as the way of the Cross, that those who would be His disciples must deny themselves, and follow Him: follow Him through the waters of baptism; follow Him to the place where His authority as Son over God’s house is exercised; follow Him in spirit to the place where He performs the duties of High Priest; follow Him in a lifestyle that is “worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1), “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27, and “worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him” (Colossians 1:10). He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. When He commands, His authority is absolute. And we who love Him must obey Him!