Jesus stood in Caesarea Philippi at a place known as the Gates of Hell, asking His disciples some incredibly important questions. The Gates of Hell was a red, gray and black hill, a rock formation with ledges carved into it where the Greeks and Romans had placed statues to their pagan gods. Exiting the base of the rock formation was a river. It was here at this spot that Jesus brought His disciples to teach them some amazing things about Himself, about reality, about overcoming the forces of evil, and about the building of His church.
Matthew 16:13-20 (ESV)
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 And Jesus answered 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 tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
This question that Jesus asked His disciples is critical for us to think about today. Many people will acknowledge that Jesus was an upright person, a remarkable teacher, a wise counselor, and a person willing to sacrifice Himself for His cause. Some will even admit that He was a prophet, a holy man, a miracle worker, a person with a divine spark. But a person who is not a follower of Jesus Christ will stop short of saying who He really is. Consider these questions:
- When the disciples answered the question (v 14), what is significant about each of the people they mentioned?
- Who do people around the world say that Jesus is?
- Who do leaders in your nation say that Jesus is?
- Who do people in your community say that Jesus is?
- Who do your friends say that Jesus is?
“Who do you say that I am?”
With His next question, Jesus was getting personal with His disciples. His first question got them thinking. The second stopped them dead in their tracks. They were speechless, everyone except for Peter. He answered the question with precision, clarity and boldness. He hit it right on target. He said to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Yes! Yes! Yes!
Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the one who came to take away our sins. He is much different than those false, pagan gods whose statues were displayed near the Gates of Hell. Jesus is the Son of God, literally God-in-the-flesh. He lived a perfect life, He took our sins upon Himself, He resurrected from the dead, He ascended into Heaven’s glory, and He draws people to saving faith in Him.
- Who do you say that Jesus is?
- Why is your answer important?
“You didn’t come up with that answer yourself”
Jesus knew that it was God who had put that answer in Peter’s mind and on his lips. Peter was a guy who was always willing to speak, but he didn’t always get it right. This time Peter got it right. He had never said a more true statement in all of His life.
- Describe a time when God showed you a huge truth, either through a sermon or by reading the Bible, etc. What was the truth? How did you feel when you shared it with someone?
- How does Jesus’ response to Peter in verse 17 encourage you to keep looking to God for help on the big questions in life? In other words, do you think God can reveal things to you the way He did to Peter?
Jesus then describes the foundational truth upon which His church would be built. He says to Peter (whose name means “little pebble”) that upon THIS ROCK (the Greek word means “big stone”) I will build my church. The rock that Jesus is building the church upon is the confession that Peter makes. The church is founded upon this truth: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living GOD.
- Think about the significance of the phrase “Jesus is the Christ.” What does that mean for all of humanity? What does it mean for you?
- Think about the significance of the phrase “the Son of the living God.” What does that mean for all of humanity? What does it mean for you?
Jesus knew that He was more powerful that all of the forces of evil. In another incredible passage of the Bible, Romans 8:31-39, we read of how we are more than conquerors through Christ and how nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And in Ephesians 1:20-23, we are reminded that Jesus is the head of His body, the church.
- What implications does Matthew 16:18 have for you personally?
- What implications does Matthew 16:18 have for the church worldwide (all of the followers of Christ)?
- What implications does Matthew 16:18 have for your local church?
- Read Romans 8:31-39. What do you learn from this passage?
- Read Ephesians 1:20-23. What do you learn from this passage?
In verse 19, when Jesus talks with Peter about keys to the kingdom, about binding and loosening things, He is simply affirming that those who know the truth of salvation, of who Jesus is, of what the Bible says — those people can teach it with authority. Peter and all of the followers of Jesus throughout history (including you!) have been able to stand firmly on the Word of God for this authority.
In verse 20, Jesus says something surprising. He tells the disciples to keep this truth of Him being the Christ a secret. The reason for that was to allow the proper time for all of the events of His arrest, crucifixion and resurrection to unfold right on GOD’s timetable. Truly now Jesus tells us to go to all the world to tell the good news that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God!
- Think about your life. To whom has GOD sent you to be a witness for Him?
- How do you share with others that Jesus is not just the “key” to salvation, but He is the only way to salvation?
- Who is someone you are praying for, that they might place their faith in Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, to receive the salvation and eternal life that He offers?