15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
18 “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”
A few days ago, I came across someone who was asking what Jesus meant by “…I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Of course, we should notice right away the problem with such a question, because the verse they ask about is not complete. The full verse is shown above, and it plainly says “on this rock I will build my church…” Some folks have taken this verse out of context even further, asserting that Peter alone was the “rock” upon which Jesus built His church. But looked at in context, this verse tells us something else. Jesus is saying that our faith and our openness to the Holy Spirit will enable us to accept Jesus as the Christ, and that will keep us from being overwhelmed by death and the devil.
It starts with Peter’s recognition of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (v.16) That is the moment Jesus has been heading toward during His teaching of the disciples, that they should go beyond seeing Him as Teacher or Rabbi, and instead know Him as their Savior. Without that recognition, without that acceptance of Jesus as the true Son of God, as the only One who could bring them salvation, then all the teaching of righteousness would amount to nothing. His disciples–and for that matter, ALL followers of Jesus–need to go beyond mere following and acknowledge that the sole way to the Father is through the Son, Jesus Christ.
Simon Peter does just that, but he does not do it on his own. As Jesus points out, Peter has been led to this truth by the Father Himself, not by any logic or intellectual acumen. It is an important step for every believer to rely so wholly upon the leading of their heart, to be open to the Holy Spirit of God speaking to them. Jesus was not to pour out His Holy Spirit on the believers until after His death and resurrection, but Peter was open to hearing the voice of the Spirit speaking to him and urging him to faith in this Jesus who was the Christ–literally the “Anointed One” of God.
Simon, the son of Jonah, the fisherman from Galilee, was then to become “Peter,” a “rock.” He was a rock because he was the first of the foundation, a human cornerstone for the church Jesus was to build. But Peter was not to be alone in this faith and in this recognition of Jesus as the Christ. He would be joined by others, and on Pentecost joined by thousands. The numbers of the faithful would be built not on Peter himself, but on this faith and the leading of the Spirit of God that helps men to see Jesus as the Son of God. Simon bar-Jonah became a new man, became the rock-solid Peter who would be the leader of those first churches in Jerusalem. And so must we all be transformed from mere men into living stones that build up the church itself. (1 Peter 2:4-5)
This faith in Christ is our shield against the fiery darts of Satan. (Ephesians 6:16) It is the thing that enables us to stand up and persevere in the face of persecution and lawlessness. It is the foundation of all we do in Christ. Faith builds us up from who we once were into who we are to become, keeping us open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to do all that the Father has prepared for us to do.
Of course, the flip side of this is that NO church is built by Jesus WITHOUT faith in Him as the Christ, the One who died for our sins. Without that faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord, a church is not a church. Christ must be the center, be the sole Person we know and preach, “and Him crucified,” as Paul would say. (1 Corinthians 2:2) Without faith in Christ as the cornerstone, no church can survive or thrive. It is that Christ-centered faith that makes the church strong and solid, and that solidity is what keeps Hades from prevailing. But remove Christ from the church or from the lives of believers for even a second, and Satan and death will prevail.
We must stand firm in our faith in Jesus as the Christ, and we must reject any teaching that is not centered on Christ. If we treat Jesus as just a Teacher and Healer, as just another Prophet or Preacher, then we are weakening the foundations upon which Jesus built the church.
Therefore, let us be like Simon Peter, renewed into people whose faith is the solid rock upon which the church can stand. Let us know Jesus for who He truly is, and hold fast to that faith in Christ even though death itself tries to overwhelm us. Let us confess Jesus as our Lord and never forget that He has called us and revealed Himself to us by the will of the Father. Yes, and against such rock-solid faith, not even Hades shall prevail.
Heavenly Father, thank You that You have revealed Your Son to me. Thank You for allowing me to see with eyes of faith what I could not see with my own eyes. Lead me now to even greater faith, and embolden me to face the adversary with a stronger shield. Let my life be a living stone as part of a spiritual house built up in Your name. Amen.