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?" So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 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. 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. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.
- Matthew 16:13-20
In yesterday's reading, Matthew's gospel tells us that Jesus was asked by Pharisees and Sadducees for a sign from heaven, in order to test Him. He told them that they can see the signs in the sky for the weather. But He then added, "Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times." They will receive no sign but that of Jonah, He told them. Later, with His disciples, He told them, "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees." The disciples fail to understand, and they say among themselves that it's because they've forgotten to take bread with them. Jesus reminds them of His feeding miracles -- and then they understand that the "leaven" of the Pharisees and Sadducees is their doctrine.
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?" Jesus asks the great question. We have seen in yesterday's reading the contrast between the type of faith that the Pharisees and Sadducees have (they demand a test, a sign from Jesus), and the faith of these much more simple, less educated men who are Christ's disciples. This question, in its most profound sense, is one asked of each of us. Who is He? But note, Jesus asks them who "the world" says He is.
So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" The gospel teaches us the difference here between the opinions of the crowds, and that of the disciples. Jesus explicitly asks for one and then the other.
Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 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." Peter makes his great confession of faith, speaking for all of the disciples. And here we have a great pronouncement: the Father has revealed this to Peter. My study bible says that "Jesus' messianic identity and divinity, the mystery hidden from eternity, cannot be truly known by human reason, but only by God's revelation. Christ means 'the Anointed One.' Christ is the Son of the living God, whom the Father has anointed with the Holy Spirit." Christ and Messiah both mean "Anointed One." It is an awesome revelation here that these simple men, in Peter, have revealed to them a direct communication -- however deeply within the heart -- from the Father. This is a depth of relatedness directly between an unknowable God in God's full divinity, and a man, one of whom Jesus called "you of little faith" in yesterday's reading.
"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." The words Peter and rock constitute a play on words here in both Aramaic and Greek: they are petros and petra. The rock is this foundation of covenant in faith between man and God, even God the Father, in this revelation of faith. Within that bond the "gates of Hades" cannot prevail -- these are the powers of death, of evil and sinfulness. My study bible adds: "In the Old Testament gates suggest a fortified city. hence, by shattering the gates, Christ is opening the stronghold of death to set free the souls of righteous men. In all the Gospels, church is mentioned twice by the Lord, here and in 18:17, describing the true Israel whose citizenship is heavenly. She is the body of Christ, the divine-human organism, and to her comes the call of Jesus for the whole of mankind to abide with Him and in Him (Eph. 1:23)."
"And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ. Jesus' statement here conveys a great depth of understanding of just what this bond is and will do -- this bond that breaks even the gates of Hades. My study bible points out that binding and loosing is a reference to the teaching, sacramental and administrative powers of the Apostles which were transmitted to the bishops of the Church. It also says, "Keys of the kingdom clearly implies a special authority given to Peter himself, but never separated from his confession of faith. While Peter was a leader of the disciples and of the early Church, all the apostles were empowered with Christ's authority (18:18)." Keys imply another interesting play on the idea of the gates of a fortified city -- while the gates of Hades cannot prevail against this bond, in addition Christ gives to them the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Binding and loosing are also words of bond, of covenant; they imply a heavenly authority given to the word carried in true faith. But, we note, as yet they are to tell no one this great secret!
My study bible points out regarding the Messiah or Christ that this anointing is foreseen in glimpses in the Old Testament. It notes, "David says, 'Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions' (Ps. 45:7). Isaiah, speaing in the name of the Lord, says,'The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me' (Is. 61:1)." However we wish to interpret the confession of faith and its authority, or even the words of the prophets, one thing is clear here: there is a distinction between the type of faith shown by the leadership, and the type of faith found in Peter's confession. This is a bond of covenant within the heart, that is revealed within a person. When Jesus speaks of the spiritual eyes and ears that are so important to each person (as in, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"), He repeats the words of the prophets as well. It all goes to the state of the heart. These words are not words meant to punish or penalize; they are meant to awaken, to call people to a state of receptiveness for holy things, the things of heaven. In yesterday's reading, Jesus chastises the Pharisees and Sadducees for looking to the face of heaven, but seeing only the sky. Let us remember that we are called to "Remember God" and to hold minds and hearts receptive to the things of the Spirit. What word in your heart might you find today? Pray in the inner chamber, to the Father who sees in secret.