Simon Peter’s Confession
In Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked a question that men have been arguing for nearly 2,000 years: “Who do you say that I am?” The apostles had told Him what others said about Him: that He was John the immerser, or Elijah, or one of the prophets. But He was most interested in what they said about Him. It must be remembered that they had all already confessed that Jesus was the Son of God after He walked on the water and then stopped the wind.1 And the next day Peter himself had confessed, “We know that you are that Christ, the Son of the living God.”2 Both of those events, though, had extenuating circumstances—the first one was right after a very impressive miracle; the second was right after they saw many disciples abandon Him, and they were asked point-blank if they were going to abandon Him too. Here at Caesarea, there aren’t any of those stressful outside circumstances—it’s just Jesus asking them a simple question.3
Peter is the one who speaks up: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”4 The response of Jesus is a confirmation of (1) what Peter said, and (2) that Peter truly believed it:
“You are blessed, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood hasn’t revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”5
This is high praise for Peter, quite the contrast to “Oh ye of little faith,” and it improves beyond that:
“You are Peter, and upon this rock [the fact which you just confessed] I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you [Peter] the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be [that which] has been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be [that which] has been loosed in heaven.6
So not only did Jesus pronounce a blessing on Peter, He also gave him a promise that he would be the one to open the door to the kingdom (which he did, both for the Jews and the Gentiles),7 to publicly unlock the mystery of the gospel as revealed in Jesus Christ,8 and to proclaim the laws of the kingdom (that which is bound) and forgiveness of sins (that which is loosed) in the kingdom.9 The other apostles also exercised this authority, but it was Peter who did it first in Acts 2.
After Jesus gave this great blessing to Peter, something interesting took place—Jesus commanded all of them not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah, instead telling them that He must go to Jerusalem, be mistreated by the Jewish leaders, and then be executed; but that He would be resurrected on the third day. Peter didn’t like what Jesus had to say, so he pulled Jesus aside,10 away from the other apostles, and started to rebuke Him!11 He said, “Mercy to you, Lord! This thing shall not ever happen to you!”12 But Jesus turned to face him13 and said sternly:
“Get yourself behind me, Satan. You are an offense to me, because you don’t think about the things that are of God, but those that are of men!”14
Jesus called Peter an “offense,” or a “stumbling-block,” something that was trying to keep Him from fulfilling His mission to save mankind through His death and resurrection. The Greek word Jesus uses is skandalon—which is where we get the word scandal.
Within just a short amount of time, Jesus goes from praising Peter, blessing him, and foretelling some of the amazing work that he would be doing in the Kingdom, to calling him “Satan,” and accusing him of trying to derail God’s plan. Peter’s ups and downs in faith and understanding certainly continue.15
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 Matthew 14:32-33
2 John 6:68-69.
3 Matthew 16:13-15. Some might contend that Jesus is putting them on the spot, and thus adding some extenuating circumstances, but if that’s true, then He was also putting them on the spot by asking them who others said that He was just two verses earlier.
4 Matthew 16:16.
5 Matthew 16:17.
6 Matthew 16:18-19. This entire statement of Jesus is spoken to Peter, and Peter alone—the pronouns are all in the singular case. In chapter 18, much of this is repeated to the rest of the apostles as a group. The argument of the Catholics, that Peter had exclusive binding and loosing power, falls apart in the light of Matthew 18:18. Additionally, the verb tenses also destroy their doctrine that Peter had the ability to make laws for the church. The verse literally says that whatever Peter would bind on earth [future tense] would be that which was already bound in heaven [perfect tense—something which started in the past and continued to the present]. So, far from Jesus saying that Peter would be able to create church doctrine and practice, He is actually saying that Peter (and later He would include the rest of the apostles) would be an official proclaimer of the commands of God—it is a prophecy of their inspiration and place of leadership in the church.
7 See Acts 2 and Acts 10-11. Though this promise was given to Peter, he was not the exclusive one to open the door for people to enter. Every time the gospel is proclaimed to someone who hasn’t heard it before, the one proclaiming it is using the keys to the kingdom. Philip, for example, is the one who opened the door to the kingdom in order to let the Samaritans into it (Acts 8).
8 As is evidenced by the opposition of the religious leaders, the abandonment of some of His disciples after hearing some “hard sayings,” and even the lack of understanding among Jesus’ closest followers, none of the Jews understood the spiritual purpose behind the coming of the Messiah, His death, and that He would be resurrected and ascend into heaven—that is, until the gospel began to be proclaimed starting at Pentecost. Peter, on that day, unlocked a mystery about a prophecy of David which pointed toward the Christ—which he proved applied to Jesus. On that day, he unlocked the mystery of when and what Joel 2:28-32 was specifically talking about. Many Old Testament passages began to be unlocked to the minds of those who were willing to listen to Peter’s sermons. This promise of inspiration was also given to the other apostles (John 16:12-13), and they, too, unlocked the mysteries of many Old Testament prophecies for their hearers/readers.
9 See the footnote at John 20:23 in the NET Bible. See also Coffman’s Commentary on Matthew 16:19.
10 Lange says: “Then Peter took Him;—προσλαβόμενος.—He laid his hand upon Him, or seized Him from behind, as if he would have moved Him by main force to alter His purpose. He stopped the Master in this manner for the purpose of remonstrating with Him” (Lange’s Commentary on Matthew 18:22, emphasis mine).
11 McGarvey says of this exchange: “Evidently Peter regarded Jesus as overcome by a fit of despondency, and felt that such talk would utterly dishearten the disciples if it were persisted in. His love, therefore, prompted him to lead Jesus to one side and deal plainly with him. In so doing, Peter overstepped the laws of discipleship and assumed that he knew better than the Master what course to pursue.” (Fourfold Gospel, page 414).
12 Matthew 16:22. The modern Literal Version (2016 beta edition) says “God will be lenient to you…” (the words in italics being supplied by the translators). Strong’s definition says that it is a Hebrew idiom, meaning “God be gracious!” in averting a catastrophe. Miles Coverdale’s translation (1535) says, “LORD, favor thyself, let not this happen unto thee” (note: I have taken the liberty of updating the spelling. Originally, it said “LORDE, fauour thy self, let not this happen vnto thee.”) The New American Standard Bible says “God forbid it, Lord!”
13 Mark’s account includes Jesus turning to face the disciples (Mark 8:33). So it appears that Jesus was facing Peter initially, then turned to look at the other apostles, and turned back to face Peter to issue the stinging rebuke.
14 Matthew 16:23. The pronouns in this stinging rebuke are in the singular—this is directed solely at Peter.
15 This whole incident from Matthew 16:13-23 puts an interesting spin on the Catholic doctrine of the church being built on Peter—because ultimately, they’d have to admit that it is built on Satan, based on what Jesus actually said.