When Jesus came to the coast of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples a momentous question: "Whom do men say that I am?" (Matt. 16: 13). The disciples reported what others said as to Jesus identity (vs. 14). However, Jesus placed the focus on them, "But whom say ye that I am? (vs. 15). Peter then confidently answered: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (vs. 16). Jesus then commends Peter and confirms Peters answer (vs. 17). Jesus then enunciated: "And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (vs. 18).
What does "upon this rock I will build my church" mean? The word "rock" obviously stands for foundation. A solid foundation is vitally important (Matt. 7: 24-27. Lk. 6: 46-49). A rock foundation was the ultimate, lasting foundation. Notice that this rock was to be the foundation for the church Jesus would build. Since the church is no better than its foundation, the right foundation was imperative.
Peter was the foundation. Some contend Peter was the rock upon "which" Jesus would build his church. The word "Peter" (petros) does mean stone. Peter was a mere man. Peter stood in the way of Jesus sacrificial offering, denied the Lord, and sinned publicly (Matt. 16: 21-23, 26: 69-75, Gal. 2: 11-14). Does the church rest on Peter, a man? Back to "upon this rock." When Jesus said, "upon this rock I will build my church ," he used a different word in the original ("rock" here is petra). W.E. Vine comments on Petros ("Peter") and petra: "Petra denotes a mass of rock, as distinct from petros, a detached stone or boulder, or a stone that might be thrown or easily moved..." (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Petros and petra also differ in grammar, petros (Peter) is masculine, referring to Peter and petra (upon this "rock") is feminine gender. Jesus did not build his church on a stone which could be easily thrown away (petros, Peter), but on a mass of rock (petra).
Jesus, the Son of God, is the foundation. The context of Matthew 16: 18, the testimony regarding Christs identity, involves Jesus being "the Son of the living God" (vs. 16). The Jews knew that Jesus claim to be the Son of God necessarily meant Jesus partook of the same nature as his Father He was himself divine (Jn. 10: 36). Hence, they sought to stone him for blasphemy (ibid.). Mr. Vine continues his comments on petros and petra, " in Matt. 16: 18, metaphorically, of Christ and the testimony concerning him; here the distinction between petra, concerning the Lord himself, and petros, the apostle, is clear" (ibid.). In fact, Paul wrote of Jesus, "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Cor. 3: 11). Furthermore, Jesus is expressly called the spiritual Rock (I Cor. 10: 4, petra).
Jesus is the proper foundation for the church. The Father was well pleased with Jesus (Matt. 3: 17), we are to hear Jesus (Matt. 17: 5, Acts 3: 22, 23), and Jesus is the mediator between God and man (I Tim. 2: 5). Moreover, Jesus is the perfect sacrifice (Heb. 9: 27, 28), great shepherd (I Pet. 5: 4), and the sinless one who offered perfect obedience (Heb. 4: 15, 5: 8, 9). "Upon this rock," then, identifies Jesus as the foundation of the church, not man, any man! Jesus is also the head of the church and the savior of the body (Eph. 5: 23).
The church is predicated on Jesus deity ("Son of the living God," Matt. 16: 16). The deity of Jesus may be viewed in three areas:
Jesus the Logos enjoyed deity in his preincarnate state. Jesus claimed pre-existence. He identified himself as the "I am" (Jn. 8: 58, cp. Ex. 3: 14). The Word, Logos, was with God in the beginning (Jn. 1: 1, "with," pros, literally face to face with God, suggesting equality). John also added, " and the Word was God" (theous, divine, vs. 1). The Word is Jesus (vss. 4-13).
Jesus was deity during his incarnate state. John continued to write regarding Jesus the Word: " and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth" (Jn. 1: 14). Paul wrote thus of Jesus while Jesus was in the flesh (body): "For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2: 9, "Godhead" is derived from theotes, state of being God). Hence, Thomas response to Jesus was appropriate, "My Lord and my God" (Jn. 20: 28).
Jesus possesses deity in his glorified state. Jesus was indeed resurrected from the tomb to "sit on his throne" (Davids throne in heaven, Acts 2: 30, 31). Jesus was thus "made both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2: 36). All are under subjugation to the victorious and august Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords (I Pet. 3: 33, I Tim. 6: 15).
Beloved, Jesus is the Rock upon whom the church is built. Jesus is "the same yesterday, and today, and for ever" (Heb. 13: 8). Churches established by men are built on the sand and they are plants which God did not plant and they shall be rooted up (Matt. 15: 13). Jesus church, however, stands because it is built on a rock, the deity of Jesus (Matt. 16: 13-18)!