Jesus said to Peter, “Upon this rock, I will build my church.” Who or what is the rock and the church built upon it? See Matthew 16:13-19.
For centuries, theologians have debated the meaning of the “rock” and the church built upon it. But for Cayleb, age 6, the interpretation is obvious: “Jesus was telling Peter to take some rocks and build a church.”
Cayleb is on the right track without even knowing it. Living rocks are the building material of Jesus’ church. Peter himself calls Christians “living stones,” who serve as building material for a spiritual house and priesthood. All the living stones are fitted into place around a living cornerstone, Jesus Christ (I Peter 2:4-8).
Today, many people think of a church as a beautiful building with stained-glass windows where people meet on Sunday. But if you were a Christian during the first 250 years after Christ walked the earth, you would never have seen a church building. They didn’t exist.
The first Christians met secretly in homes, fields and even caves to avoid arrests by Roman authorities. After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, buildings called churches were erected.
Christians thrived in the first and second century under persecution when they met secretly in small, informal home settings. In many cases, the intimacy of close fellowship was lost when Christians assembled in larger buildings that became known as churches.
“I think that Jesus was telling Peter that he (Peter) was the rock because his name means ‘rock,’” says Hillary, 12.
The rock upon which Jesus would build his church could refer to Peter, since Jesus changed Peter’s name to “petros” meaning “rock.” This would make Peter the foundation of the church. But is that what Jesus meant? Scholars and theologians have battled over this point for ages. It’s a bigger fight than all the “Rocky” movies combined.
Actually, Jesus used one form of the word “rock” (petra) for the rock on which he would build his church, and another (petros) for Peter. According to George Abbott-Smith’s Greek lexicon, “petra” means “a mass of … rock” as distinct from “petros,” “a detached stone or boulder.”
Immediately after Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah, he rebuked Jesus for saying he would be killed. Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Even after Jesus’ resurrection, the apostle Paul admonished Peter in front of the Galatian Christians for compromising the truth of the gospel. If Peter is the rock on which the church is built, the church rests upon an earthquake fault line.
Before Jesus said, “Upon this rock, I will build my church,” he asked his disciples what people were saying about him. Then, Jesus asked them who they thought he was. Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
This is the essence of the gospel and the bedrock of the church (see I Corinthians 3:11). In other words, Jesus reinterprets Peter’s declaration: “You are Peter (a piece of the rock), and on this rock (the fact that I am the Messiah, the Son of the living God), I will build my church.”
As Ashley, 12, says: “I think Jesus meant that he was the rock and that we, his house, should build our lives upon him.”
Think about this: Peter’s confession is the foundation of the church — Jesus is the Christ (Messiah).
Memorize this truth: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
Ask this question: Is Jesus Christ your foundation?
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