“On This Rock, I Will Build My Church”—Matthew 16:18.

Matthew 16:18 (NKJV)

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. 

In the text above, our Lord promises to BUILD His Church “on this rock.” The identity of the rock to which He makes reference has been cause for much speculation. Some have opined that He was referring to Peter. “Peter” means “rock.” Jesus actually gave Peter that name. His birth name was Simon, son of Jonah (see vs. 17). Therefore, some have taught that by saying, “on this rock I will build My Church,” Jesus was stating that Peter would be the first Pope (i.e. the Church would be built on Peter). But this would be reading into the text what is not found there (an eisegesis).

The Jews were familiar with this imagery of the rock. Yahweh was often called “the Rock” in the Jewish Scriptures (Genesis to Malachi). For example, Deuteronomy 32:3-4 says, “For I proclaim the name of the Lord: ascribe greatness to our God. HE IS THE ROCK, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He.Vs. 15 calls Him “THE ROCK of his salvation.” This is referring to Jeshurun (another name for “Israel“).

In 2 Samuel 23:3, He is called “the Rock of Israel, “The God of Israel said, the ROCK OF ISRAEL spoke to me: ‘He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.’” Similiarly, Psalm 78:35 says, “Then they remembered THAT GOD WAS THEIR ROCK, and the Most High God their Redeemer.

It is obvious that Yahweh is called “the Rock” of His people in the Old Testament. The New Testament is also clear that Jesus, the Christ, is Yahweh in human flesh.

1 Timothy 3:16 (NKJV)

16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God (Who is “the Rock”) WAS MANIFESTED IN THE FLESH, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory. 

John 1:1, 14 (NKJV)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and THE WORD WAS GOD.  

14 And the Word (Who is God) BECAME 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.

John 1:1 & 14 describe Jesus (He is “the Word“). Vs. 18 says He has revealed the Father, “No one has seen God at any time. THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared (revealed or explained) Him.” He reveals the Father because He is the Father who became a MAN!

So, when Yahweh (who is the Rock) becomes a Man, it is no surprise that He refers to Himself as the Rock (in Matt 16:18). Paul does similarly, in 1 Corinthians 10, “And all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and THAT ROCK WAS CHRIST” (vs. 4). The Rock of the Old Testament is given an identity in the New—He is the Christ!


The Apostles And Their Foundation.


In Ephesians 2, Paul says that the Church was, “…built on the foundation of the apostles and (kai- who are) prophets (those who spoke inspiredly, by the Spirit), Jesus Christ Himself being the CHIEF CORNERSTONE” (vs. 20).

Now, what does “built on the foundation of the apostles and (who are) prophets” mean? Observe Paul does not say that the Apostles were the foundation of the Church. Rather, the Church is built on their foundation. What exactly is Paul referring to here? An explanation may be found in 1 Corinthians 3.

1 Corinthians 3:9-11 (NKJV)

9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you (the Church) are GOD’S BUILDING. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I HAVE LAID THE FOUNDATION, and ANOTHER BUILDS ON IT. But let each one take heed HOW HE BUILDS ON IT. 11 For NO OTHER FOUNDATION CAN ANYONE LAY than that which is laid, WHICH IS JESUS CHRIST. 

When Paul speaks of the Apostles’ “foundation,” he refers to the doctrinal foundation of the Church, which they laid i.e. teaching concerning Christ (vs. 11). God revealed the Christian faith (the Gospel) and its practice to the Apostles. He gave them what would form the foundational Truths and tenets of the Church. This is why they are often called foundational Apostles. Everything the Church is to believe and practise was revealed to them. They, in turn, wrote the same down (in Romans to Jude).

Ephesians 3:1-4 (NKJV)

1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— 2 if indeed you have heard of the DISPENSATION of the grace of God which was GIVEN TO ME for you, 3 how that BY REVELATION HE MADE KNOWN TO ME THE MYSTERY (the Gospel) (as I HAVE BRIEFLY WRITTEN ALREADY (in his Epistles), 4 by which, WHEN YOU READ (his Epistles), YOU MAY UNDERSTAND my KNOWLEDGE in the MYSTERY OF CHRIST.

All that the Church is to know about God was given to the Apostles and they documented this in their Epistles. Their writings form the doctrinal foundation of Christ’s Church today.

The Book of Revelation also refers to these foundational Apostles using metaphors.

Revelation 21:14 (NKJV)

14 Now the wall of the city had TWELVE FOUNDATIONS, and on them were the names of THE TWELVE APOSTLES OF THE LAMB.

This metaphorically refers to the fact that the Twelve Apostles were responsible for the doctrinal foundation of Christ’s Church (i.e. “the city of God“). Christ HIMSELF gave them that responsibility.

But observe that although the Apostles have laid the Church’s doctrinal foundation, THEY are NOT the foundation—Christ is! (1 Corin 3:11). This is why “the Rock” in Matthew 16:18 CANNOT be referring to Peter. Yahweh HIMSELF has ALWAYS been the Rock, not man, right from the Old Testament. Peter is not the Rock of Christ’s Church, Christ is! This means that the reader would need to understand what exactly Matthew 16:18 is saying.


Matthew 16:18—A Play On Words.


Matthew 16:18 (NKJV)

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.

To grasp what our Lord seeks to pass across here, we would need to go back to the original language (Greek). Jesus actually uses a play on words here (a pun). Two different Greek words are used for “rock” in the text: one for “peter,” and another in the second phrase “on this rock.

The word “Peter” translates the Greek word “petros” (Πέτρος) which means “a small stone, usually found on a pathway.

Now, when Jesus says “and on this rock I will build My church,” He uses a different Greek word for “rock” here (“petra“). “Petra” (πέτρα) is the feminine form of “petros” (Πέτρος). It refers to a cliff or boulder (a much larger stone than “petros“). So, Matthew 16:18 literally says in the Greek:

And I also say to you that you are a small stone, and on this large cliff I will build My church…

The word “and” used here translates the Greek “kai” (καὶ). It could also mean “moreover” or “futhermore” (it does not always function as a copula). Therefore, the text may be better read this way:

And I also say to you that you are a small stone. Moreover (or furthermore), on this large cliff I will build My church…

Obviously, Jesus is CONTRASTING between Peter and Himself here; Peter is the small stone, HE IS the large cliff upon which His Church will be built.


Peter: The Stone Metaphor And Its Meaning.


Why did Jesus call Simon “a stone” (“Peter”)? The antecedent text reveals the answer.

Matthew 16:13-14 (NKJV)

13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do MEN say that I, the Son of Man, AM?” 14 So they said, “SOME SAY John the Baptist, SOME Elijah, AND OTHERS Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

The people had UNSTABLE opinions about who Jesus was. But Peter was different:

Matthew 16:15-18 (NKJV)

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 (a stone).

The word “stone” (“petros“) in the Jewish thought was used to describe what is firm, rigid or unchanging. So Jesus calls Peter a stone (i.e. “firm“) because unlike the people (whose opinion of Him CONTINUALLY changed), Peter’s opinion of Jesus remained the same—He saw Him as the Son of God, irrespective of what others were saying! His opinion was RIGID, unchanging, firm like a stone. He is called a “stone” (stable) because his opinion of Jesus did not fluctuate.

So, Jesus called Simon “Peter” (or stone) as a METAPHOR, because of his unchanging and constant opinion/resolution about Him. This does not mean Peter is the foundation or the Rock upon which the Church would be built. We have already seen that Jesus (who is Yahweh in the flesh) is that Rock (Petra, large cliff or boulder) upon which the Church would be built.

Peter (an Apostle) would help lay the foundation (i.e. he would teach concerning Christ). But the foundation ITSELF would be Christ Jesus.


“On THIS Rock” And Jesus’ Speech Mannerisms.


Some might argue that Jesus said “…and ON THIS ROCK I will build My church…” The word “this” is a demonstrative pronoun (e.g. this is my brother), therefore He must have been referring to someone external to Himself (i.e. Peter). But notice that this is not the only instance in which Jesus speaks this way. Observe the following texts:

John 6:58 (NKJV)

58 THIS is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats THIS BREAD will live forever.”

John 2:19 (NKJV)

19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy THIS temple, and in three days I will raise IT up.” 

In these instances, the word “this” refers to the Speaker Himself (the Lord Jesus). Jesus is fond of speaking this way, particularly when using metaphors to describe Himself. Therefore, it is not farfetched to understand Matthew 16:18 similiarly; when He says “On THIS Rock,” He was referring to HIMSELF.

If Jesus were referring to Peter, He would have said, “You are Petros, and on this Petros I will build My church” or “You are Petros, and on YOU I will build My church.” But He doesn’t. Christ’s Church would not be built (or founded) on men, but on Christ Himself.


Christ Builds His Church In Death & Resurrection.


It is clear from Matthew 16:18 that Christ Himself would build (or establish) His Church. How does He do so? The same text tells us. It continues, “…and (kai- that is) the gates of Hades (the grave) shall not prevail against it.

Our Lord began building His Church by dying for us. This is His love for the Church—His sacrifice in death (Eph 5:25). But the gates of Hades (i.e. the grave) could not prevail against it (the building).

The gate was the power center of a city in ancient Israel, where court proceedings and deliberations were carried out (see Deu 22:13-15, Ruth 4:1, 11). “Gates” later became a metaphor for power in the Jewish thought. So when He says, “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it,” He means, “the power of the grave/death will not prevail against it (i.e. His building).” The grave would not stop Him from building His Church, and it didn’t—He was raised from the dead! The power of death could not stop His building!

And now, having been raised and having received power over death, He saves all who believe on Him, calling them forth from the authority of sin, death and the devil (Col 1:12-14, Heb 2:14-15). The grave has no power over them anymore (John 5:24, Rom 8:38-39, 1 Corin 15:50-57). These ones form His Church (i.e. His “called-out ones“).

This is how Christ “built” (or established) His Church. He builds or establishes His Church in His death and resurrection. Peter couldn’t do this. None of the other Apostles could do this—only HE could!

The Apostles laid the foundation for what the Church is to believe, but only because Jesus HIMSELF authorized them too. Jesus remains the Head of His Church (Eph 1:22, 4:15, 5:23, Col 1:18) and its foundation (Psalm 118:22). It is evident that Peter did not think himself to be the “rock upon which the Church would be built.” He calls Jesus that Rock in 1 Peter 2:6-8. By calling Jesus the “Rock” (vs. 8), he clarifies Matthew 16:18.


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2022.


No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *