We worship the Lord through the study of His Word this morning, as we draw our thoughts to Him, to His revelation. And we’re looking for our text to the sixteenth chapter of Matthew, Matthew chapter 16. We began last time with a look at verses 18 through 20, a very, very important text in the Word of God. In order for us to have it in mind, I want to read chapter 16, verse 13, down through verse 20, and you follow along and prepare your heart for the Word of God.
“When Jesus came into the borders of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, ‘Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?’ And they said, ‘Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some Elijah; and others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He saith unto them, ‘But who say ye that I am?’ And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Blessed art thou, Simon bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee but my Father who is in heaven.
“‘And I say also unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Then charged He His disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Christ.”
As I told you last time, the key to the passage to which we look is found in verse 18 in the statement of our Lord, “I will build my church.” Throughout all of human history, God has been gathering a redeemed people. God has been collecting a righteous assembly. All of the forces of hell, all of the forces of Satan, all of the forces of the flesh, the world system have not been able to stop the fact that God has been collecting His redeemed community.
Now, listen. If the ultimate goal of the universe is to glorify God - and it is - if the ultimate reason why God made everything is for His glory, if all things are made by Him and for Him, if God has created man for His own glory, then we should not be surprised to see, as the purpose for all of human history, that God should be collecting a redeemed assembly of people who will be forever to the praise of His glory. And that is the theme of history, that is the rhyme and the reason of human existence.
Philosophers, historians through all the history of man have wondered why we exist, have questioned why it is that man is, what is the purpose. What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Dr. G. N. Clark, in his inaugural address at Cambridge, said, quote: “There is no secret and no plan in history to be discovered,” end quote. He’d come to the conclusion that there was no rhyme and reason. André Moreau (the French biographer, critic, and novelist) wrote, “The universe is indifferent. Who created it? Why are we here on this puny mudheap, spinning in infinite space? I have not the slightest idea, and I’m quite convinced no one else has, either,” end quote.
The ancient Greeks, of course, believed that life was a circle or a cycle, just kept going around and around and around. It was always repeating itself, going nowhere in particular, had no purpose, had no goal. It was an incomprehensible mystery. The French writer, Jean-Paul Sartre, taught that every man exists, he called it, in a water-tight compartment as an utterly isolated individual in the midst of a purposeless universe.
Now, with that kind of philosophy reigning rampant on our university campuses, is it any wonder that young people have reached the point of license, the point of despair where revolutionary violence and arson and rape spread death and destruction in our cities and college campuses throughout the nation and the world? Where almost overnight society has exploded in lawlessness and crime and riot and murder and the insanity of the drug culture? It’s the result of the philosophy of ignorance concerning the past and hopelessness concerning the future.
And I suppose nowhere is this so clearly seen today as in the writings of the French molecular biologist by the name of Jacques Monod, who is very often quoted by Francis Schaeffer. Monod says, “Man’s existence is due to the chance collision between minuscule particles of nucleic acid and proteins in a vast pre-biotic soup.” He says, “All of life results from interaction of pure chance and necessity. Man is utterly alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity out of which he emerged only by chance, his destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor is his duty. Man is the product of the impersonal plus time plus chance.”
You see, people in our society who are supposed to be erudite are trying to grapple with the reason for being. It’s one thing to decide that we came out of pre-biotic soup, it’s something else to try to figure out why. And most of them just come up with the reason there is no reason, there is no why, there is no purpose. And that’s why we have ultimate hedonism. But in the midst of this, we postulate the fact that every one of us was created for a very specific reason, and that reason was to glorify God.
And we are rebels to that reason, and so God, amidst all of this rebellious human society, is calling to Himself those who will become the redeemed assembly, who will forever and ever give Him glory. That’s the reason for history. That’s the purpose of human existence. We are called to glory. We are called, created to give God glory. That’s why the Bible says whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God. That’s why it says we are to confess Jesus as Lord to the glory of God the Father.
That’s why all we are and have and ever could possibly be ultimately is destined for the purpose of glorifying God because God is a worthy God and deserves glory. He has made men who can give Him eternally glory, who can reflect eternally the majesty and splendor and wonder of His glorious person. And out of the rebels that populate this world, God is collecting that redeemed community who will be obedient to give Him glory. And that’s the purpose for life, human life.
Christ is history. History is His story. The maker of history, the people who are the architects of destiny are not the Pharaohs, not the kings, not the Nebuchadnezzars, not the Alexander the Greats, the Caesars, the Napoleons, the Churchills, the Hitlers. They don’t move history, they don’t make history. The architect of history is Jesus Christ who said, “I will continue to build my redeemed people.” That’s the reason for history. And if you’re not part of the redeemed people, you will be cast into hell forever. You will be removed if you refuse to give God glory. History is His story. That is the only explanation that makes sense.
Now, as we look at our text, Jesus is affirming this, but He’s not affirming it against a philosophical background like I’ve just done with you. He’s affirming it against a very specific religious background, most specifically related to the disciples to whom He speaks. For they had been trained from their earliest years to anticipate the coming of the Messiah. And they had been trained that when the Messiah comes, He will reign as King.
And He will be the anointed of God, and He will deliver His people from the bondage and the oppression which they’re under. He will bring righteousness. He will bring peace. He will bring prosperity. He will establish the throne of His father David and He will reign and rule, and there will be economic prosperity, and there will be religious prosperity, political prosperity, military prosperity. It’ll all happen when the Messiah comes, and these disciples were reared with that expectation, and then the Messiah came and none of that happened.
The people didn’t know who He was. They thought He was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets. The religious leaders, the Pharisees, the scribes and the others, hated Him, despised Him, wanted Him dead, mocked Him. Said He came right out of the pit of hell. He was Satanic.
You see, all their expectations were unfulfilled. And now they’re in Caesarea Philippi, it says in verse 13, which is the northeastern-most corner of the land of Palestine, and they’re in a kind of exile because things are so hot down in Galilee, they had to retreat to a place of safety and quiet. And the whole plan isn’t actually going the way they had thought it would go. And to make it worse, if they think it’s bad up to now, wait until they hear the speech that begins in verse 21 when Jesus starts to tell them He has to suffer and die.
And whatever may be left of their hopes after that speech, very difficult to hold onto. And that’s why Peter says, “Let it not be so, Lord, this shall not be unto thee.” You can’t mean it, Lord, you’re not going to die. And He goes on to say, “Yes, I am, get thee behind me, Satan.” “Not only am I going to die,” but in verse 24 He says, “you’re going to take up your cross,” and verse 25, “you’re going to have to lose your life for my sake.” This whole thing is all about death.
Now, in the midst of that kind of situation, you can imagine the disciples are going to wonder whether or not they’ve picked the right person and whether or not the plan hasn’t been totally destroyed. But we notice in verse 16 that they affirm they know who He is, “You are Christ, the Son of the living God.” But has the plan gone wrong? And so it is at this very juncture as Jesus moves into the shadow of the cross only a few months away and the time is drawing to a close that He spent with His disciples, it is at this moment that He reminds them, “I will continue to build my redeemed assembly.”
It’s a great confidence statement in the midst of what looked like a plan that wasn’t working out. “I’ll continue to build my church and the gates of Hades shall not be victorious over it.”
Now, this is to encourage and strengthen their hearts. And may I add that that same passage has been the strength and encouragement of many, many saints through all the years since it was written, who found themselves in a situation where they wondered whether God was not on the losing end of the battle, whether things were not working out for good but for bad, that has been the confident hope of all of us that Christ continues to gather together His redeemed people. And that is the rhyme and the reason of history, that there should be collected a redeemed community, the church of the firstborn, the assembly of the redeemed who forever and ever will be to the praise of His glory. And so our Lord gives them that confidence.
Now let’s look at this section from verses 18 to 20 again, as we did last week. And when Christ builds a church, what’s it like? Well, there’s several points, let’s go through them very quickly, the ones we did last week. First, we see the certainty of it. The church that Christ builds is a certain church. “I will build my church.” There’s certainty there. There’s the promise and power of God there. It is based on His faithfulness, we can count on it.
Secondly, we see the intimacy of it. “My” church, the personal pronoun, it’s His own personal possession. I love what Jesus said in John 6, “All that the Father gives to me shall come to me.” John 10, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and am known of them.” Intimacy. One, he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit, joint heirs with Jesus Christ. Hebrews 2, “He’s not ashamed to call us brothers.” And so there’s intimacy as well as certainty.
Thirdly, we saw the identity of the church. He calls it “church,” ekklesia from ek kaleō, to call out. The word is a general, nontechnical word. It’s used in many ways. It means a group called together for a certain meeting. The Greeks used it of a town meeting, of a meeting of the people of a certain city state to discuss their business. The word ekklesia, for example, appears in Acts 7:38 in reference to Israel. They’re called the ekklesia in the wilderness.
It appears in Acts 19. When the mob at Ephesus rioted, they’re called an ekklesia, a group of people gathered together, an assembly broke into a riot. In Hebrews 12:22 to 24, all the redeemed of all the ages gathered before the throne of God are called the church, the ekklesia?. So the word has a very general meaning, and I say that so you don’t make the mistake of identifying this verse just with the New Testament church. It’s a broader use than that because it was used in a very general sense. And the church isn’t even started until Acts chapter 2. What the Lord is saying is, “I will go on building my redeemed people, collecting my assembly.”
Now, if you want the technical use of the word “church,” you wait until you get to the book of Acts as it begins to emerge and then into the epistles as you find the very technical use. A parallel would be to look, for example, at the word “deacon,” and you see it in Acts 6 where certain men are chosen out to serve. It’s very nontechnical. Deacon, diakonos means servant, that’s all. They were chosen to serve. You get into 1 Timothy, and all of a sudden the deacon becomes an official title of an official office in the church.
So you go from a very general usage to one that becomes more particular, and the same is true with the word “church,” and here the Lord is saying, “I will continue to build my assembled people.” And I see the whole continuity here of all of redemptive history. The church is not yet apportioned out as it later will be in the book of Acts and in the epistles. So the Lord is building a church with certainty, with intimacy, and with identity. The redeemed people who’ve come to God by faith are intimate with Him and His church goes on to its fulfillment.
Now let’s look at a fourth point, and here we come to the heart of the text. And we’re going to really do a study, a Bible study more than anything else, not a lot of application, because we must understand this very-often-misunderstood text. The foundation of the church, what is the foundation of the church the Lord builds? Says it right in verse 18, “I say also unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”
Now, the Lord is going to build His church on a rock. The question we have is what is that rock, right? Now, the normal language appears to say, “You are Peter,” and Peter translated means stone, rock, “and upon this rock, I’ll build my church.” And so the very normal and first impression as you look at it is “You’re Peter. I’m going to build my church on you, Peter.” And at that point, some of us who are Protestants get a little bit anxious because we say, “Now, that’s what the Catholics say.”
And that’s what they say, to be sure. They say that this verse means the church is built on Peter. and therefore it establishes Peter as the first pope, the first head of the church. For example, Catholic theology says the pope is crowned with a triple crown, king of heaven, king of earth, and king of hell. He wields two swords, the spiritual and the temporal. The Lord conferred on Saint Peter the first place of honor and jurisdiction in the government of His whole church, and that same spiritual authority has always resided in the popes and bishops of Rome as being the successors of Saint Peter.
Consequently, says the Catholic theology, to be true followers of Christ, all Christians, both among the clergy and laity, must be in communion with the pope of Rome where Peter still rules in the person of his successor.
Now, that’s Catholic theology, that Peter here is given the papacy and that he established papal succession, and that every pope that’s come out of the Roman system and sat in Rome - and it gets confusing sometimes because there were as many as three at one time competing with each other - but supposedly has passed on Petrine authority, so that now when there is a pope there, he is a pope, as it were, who is from the loins of Peter and bears his same authority; therefore, he speaks authoritatively the truth of God, and when he speaks ex cathedra, it is as binding as the Bible. Now, that’s the papal system, and they get that out of this passage.
Now, frankly, I really don’t want to spend a lot of time arguing against that because it only comes out of the white spaces, not from the words here. Because it doesn’t say anything about that, not anything at all, and you almost don’t even want to dignify such stuff by commenting on it out of this passage, lest you should be at all thought - else you should think at all that there’s any hint of it here. There isn’t.
Peter can’t be the head of the church, Christ is. And Peter - no Peter, no earthly individual on his own can hold up the whole church by his authority. So Protestants very often approach this text, and the one thing they want to do is make sure that we get rid of the thought that the church is built on Peter, right? So what they’ll say, and this is a very common interpretation, “Thou art Peter,” petros, it’s a masculine form of the word, “and upon this rock,” petra different word, different form of the same root, “I will build my church.”
And so the traditional interpretation then has been, “You are petros,” which means stone, “but upon this petra” - and Liddell and Scott, for example, who give us Greek meanings, say it means a rock bed or a rocky mountain or a rocky peak. In other words, “You’re a stone, but upon a rocky peak or a rocky mountain, I’m going to build my church,” so that the statement is a contrast. “You’re a little rock. I’m going to build my church on a big rock.”
And then they go back to the antecedent in verse 16, the confession of Peter, and they say that is the rock bed, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And so the Lord is saying, “You’re a little rock. Upon that rock bed confession of the reality of my deity, I’m going to build my church.”
Now, that’s fair to do that with the text because there is a difference in those two words. And I really don’t have a problem with that viewpoint. If you want to hold that viewpoint, that’s fine. In fact, I think at one time or other in my life, I’ve probably held that viewpoint, too. But as I’ve been studying it lately, I’ve kind of been thinking along another direction. And I’ll show you what sort of shook me up. In Ephesians 2:20, as I began to think this through, we have a very interesting statement.
It says here that the household of God - or the temple of God or the church of Christ, whatever you want to call it - verse 20 of Ephesians 2 - is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. Now, follow my thinking. In Ephesians 2:20, it says the church is built upon the foundation of whom? The apostles. It says there, then, the very thing we’re trying to make it not say in Matthew 16. You understand that?
You say, “Well, now wait a minute, in Matthew 16 it just says Peter.” Yes, but what have we been saying all along in this passage as we looked at it? When Peter spoke, he spoke on behalf of the whole group, did he not? And Peter spoke the consensus of the group, and when Christ replied to Peter, in a very real sense, He replied to the group. And so I really don’t feel that uncomfortable if you just say, “You’re Peter, and upon this rock, I’ll build my church.”
You say, “Well, then how do you account for the petra/petros difference?” Well, petros has to be used in the case of Peter because it’s a masculine form and he’s a man. And so linguistically, we won’t have a problem saying, “You’re a rock, and upon that rock, I’ll build my church.” Now, if we accept that, all we’re saying, then, there is the very same thing it says in Ephesians 2:20, very same thing, that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles, Peter being representative of them. And Peter was sort of a major representative, wouldn’t you agree?
I mean, for example, when you go into the book of Acts, you’ll find his name mentioned 50 times in the first twelve chapters of Acts - 50 times. And you will find that the sermon he preached on the day of Pentecost was not just Peter but it was Peter speaking on behalf of all those who believed, wasn’t it? For they all held to that same message and as a result three thousand were converted. It was again through the testimony of Peter in John, chiefly of Peter, that two thousand more were added later to the church in chapter 4.
It was through the testimony and ministry of Peter that the lame man was healed. It was through Peter’s leadership that the election of Matthias took place to replace Judas. It was the heroic message of Peter before the Sanhedrin. And so, you see, Peter was a key person and was acting as a representative of the ministry of all of them. So I don’t really have a problem with the Lord saying - so I could take either view, the Lord saying to Peter, “You’re the rock and on that rock I’ll build my church.” And then saying the same thing essentially as we saw in Ephesians 2:20.
And now comes the key question, but in what sense is the church built on the apostles, Peter being the leader of them? The Roman Catholics say it is built on his rank, or his elevation to authority, or his elevation to office, or his elevation to worthiness, or his elevation to some high-level position. But the Bible doesn’t say that. If it was built on the apostles, it was not built on their persons - not built on their persons, but built on their what? Teaching, right?
That’s why when the early church came together, they did not worship the apostles, Acts 2:42, they studied the apostles’ what? Doctrine and teaching. So that what He is really saying is, “You’re Peter and I can build my church on you as one of the foundation stones because you have affirmed ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ and you didn’t get it,” verse 17 says, “from flesh and blood, you got it from my Father who is in heaven. And since you are the vehicle through whom the Father is revealing His truth, I can build my church on that.”
So, the church is built. And it’s built on those apostles initially who affirmed the divine revelation coming from God and thus laid the foundation that is spoken of in Ephesians 2:20. So when we look at Ephesians 2:20 and we see the foundation of the church being the apostles and prophets, it isn’t their rank and it isn’t their office and it isn’t their title, it is the fact that they laid that foundation because they proclaimed the Word of God, so much so that they themselves were in many ways inseparable from their very message.
I think Martin Luther said it well. He said, “All who agree with the confession of Peter are Peters themselves, setting a sure foundation.” And I believe that the Lord is still building His church and putting up those living stones that Peter talks about, He’s still building His church on those people who affirm the revelation of God about Christ to be true.
To look at it another way, a group of people who do not believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God have no place where Christ can build His church. And so it’s a moot point. If you want to take the view you are a little stone and I’ll build it on the rock of your confession, or if you want to say you’re one with your confession, and you, Peter, can become a foundation because of your confession, because you’re living by the revelation of God, because you’re affirming the truth that the Father reveals to you, you are laying that foundation.
Either way, you come up with the same thing. And so the foundation of the church is the revelation of God as given to us through the apostles. And today we lay down that foundation by establishing God’s Word, we keep it there.
In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul approaches it from a little different angle when he says, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid which is Christ Jesus.” That’s not - that appears initially to be a direct contradiction to Ephesians 2:20. Here you have the apostles’ and prophets’ foundation, here you have Christ the foundation. There’s no contradiction at all. The only reason the apostles and prophets were allowed to be the foundation stones was because they affirmed the reality of Christ as the true foundation.
So I believe the Lord is collecting all of those disciples into that confession and He says you’ve said it, Peter, and it’s upon that affirmation of divine revelation about who I am as the Son of the living God that I can build my church. What is this saying in a sense? It’s saying that the Lord builds His church on His truth, but always has chosen to reveal His truth through His people so that they become inseparable from that truth. His people are one with Christ. The apostles were so intimately attached to Jesus Christ that in one place Christ is the foundation and in another place, they’re the foundation.
They were so intimately attached with and so true to His Word that in one place His Word is a sure foundation, in another place, the apostles are the foundation. But whether it’s Christ or the apostles or the Word, it’s all saying the same thing because all were inseparably linked. Do you understand? And the Lord is still building His church on people who confess His Word, who confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the deity of Jesus Christ, the Word of God. He’s still building the church on the foundation of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the apostles.
Now, the one thing we know here is that He didn’t establish the primacy of Peter. And I’ll show you why. Look at chapter 18 of Matthew, verse 1, “At the same time came the disciples to Jesus saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?’” Now, stop there.
If you go back to verse 19 of chapter 16, it says “I will give you, Peter, the keys of the Kingdom of heaven.” The Catholics say that’s papal authority, the authority to open and close and control. So if Peter was given the keys to the Kingdom, and the disciples come to Jesus and they say, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom?” there’s one thing for sure about that question, they wouldn’t ask it if they already knew who it was, right? So the point is, they didn’t have any idea that Peter was being given some papal primacy or they wouldn’t have even asked the question. You understand what I’m saying?
Now follow Jesus’ answer. Did Jesus say, “You know who it is, it’s Peter, don’t you remember what I said to you the other day?” No. Jesus called a little child, the most obscure kind of answer. Set him in the midst and said, “Verily I say unto you, unless you be converted and become as little children you shall not enter into the Kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
So who’s the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven? Whoever. Whoever humbles himself like a little child. He didn’t say Peter, did He? So whatever was going on in the dialogue in chapter 16 certainly didn’t assign to Peter any great primacy in the Kingdom. And there you have the indication that the Lord didn’t intend that.
Now go to chapter 20 of the book of Matthew and verse 20, “Then came to Him the mother of Zebedee’s children,” that’s James and John’s mother and the sons are tagging along and they worshiped and they desired a certain thing, and they came with their mother to get this request, “And He said unto her, ‘What wilt thou?’” - What do you want? – “She said to Him, ‘Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand and the other on thy left in the Kingdom.’” Now, what is she asking? She’s saying, “Would you let James and John be the primary ones in the Kingdom?”
Now listen, you know what this tells me? This tells me that James and John also never thought Jesus gave any particular primacy to Peter or they wouldn’t have been there asking that question. You see? So neither James nor John nor their mother nor the rest of the disciples nor Jesus Himself ever meant that that should be construed from that passage as all of these indications tell us.
And then what about Peter? Did he think he was made pope? Hardly. In 1 Peter 5, he writes, “The elders who are among you I exhort who am also an elder.” What are you saying, Peter? You’re the pope. No, no, I’m just one with all the rest of you guys. I’m just another witness of the sufferings of Christ, a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed, and I’m just telling you feed the flock which is among you, take the oversight not by constraint but willingly, not for filthy lucre but of a ready mind, and neither as being lords over the charge committed to you but be an example to the flock.
And then he goes on to say God resists the proud, gives grace to the humble, so humble yourselves. He’s not pulling rank, he’s saying I’m just one like you, and I’m just telling you don’t do it as a lord over the flock, do it as a faithful shepherd, humble yourself, don’t be proud. Listen, that’s not speaking ex cathedra, that’s humility.
So, the disciples never perceived Matthew 16 as giving Peter primacy. James and John never perceived it that way and they were intimate with Jesus. Peter never perceived it that way or he wouldn’t have said what he said in 1 Peter 5. And the Lord Himself never perceived it that way or He wouldn’t have said the greatest in the Kingdom is anybody who humbles himself like a little child.
So we learn that the church, then, is built on the foundation. And the foundation is the doctrine revealed by God through those who were the foundational men, Peter being their leader and representative of the whole of them.
Now, that brings us to the next feature and this will expand the one you’ve just studied. I call this the invincibility of the church. When Christ builds the church, it is invincible. I just love this. Watch verse 18, before we get to 19, verse 18, “And the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Now, you’ve heard sermons on that. Let me see if I can kind of get you to think clearly about it.
I remember hearing about a whole dramatized scene where the church is here and here comes the devil and all his demons and all their forces and they are attacking the church and they’re blasting and firing away at the church, and that was supposedly the imagery here but it is not so because it says the gates of Hades will not overpower, overcome, hold in, conquer - whatever. Now, when an army comes to attack, they don’t carry their gates from their city and throw the gates at the enemy. I mean gates are not weapons, you understand that? Gates are not weapons.
Gates are used to hold people in like in prison gates, jail gates. And so the gates refer to something that’s going to try to keep the church captive. And what is that something? They’re the gates of Hades. What is Hades? Hades simply means the abode of the dead. It’s the same as the word Sheol. It isn’t talking about the torment of eternal hell, it’s simply the term used for the grave. It is never used specifically to speak of the torment of hell, it is the grave, the place of the dead, the realm of the dead, the place where all go when they die.
And so what it’s saying is this: Death can’t hold in God’s redeemed people. See it? The gates of the grave can’t keep us. And that is - that’s the heart and soul of everything for the Christian, right? That there is victory through the grave, life after death. That’s why Jesus died. John 14:19, “Because I live, ye shall live” - what? – “also.” And that’s the whole point, that the worst that the devil can do to the church is to do what? Kill it, martyr, kill us. He has the power of death, Hebrews 2:14. And Satan will try to kill Christians, destroy the church, but the gates of Hades can’t hold it in.
It’ll burst out just like Christ burst out of the grave the third day. That’s Acts 2, verse 24, that great word of Peter talking about Jesus Christ whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death because it was not possible that He should be held by it. Do you see? It wasn’t possible for death to hold Christ, and it isn’t possible for death to hold us. And that’s why we cry out with Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? But thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory.” That’s the great hope of the Christian.
No, no, this is a promise of resurrection and it’s a very fitting one because He’s just going to talk about the fact that He’s going to die, He’s going to be killed, and He’s going to be raised the third day. And later on He’s going to say to them, men are going to kill you, they’re going to destroy you, they’re going to throw you out of the synagogues, you’re going to have to give up your life, it says in verse 25, you may lose your life for my sake.
And with all of the death that’s coming on their scene, the death of Christ, most of the apostles died as martyrs, with all of that anticipation, He is saying to them, “I will be building my church and the gates of the grave will never hold it in.”
Isn’t that a great truth? This is the promise of resurrection. Everyone who loves the Lord Jesus Christ leaves this world to enter into God’s glorious world, absent from the body, is instantly what? Present with the Lord. Far better to depart and be with Jesus Christ. And we wait just the redemption of the body when Jesus returns to take us to be with Him, our bodies rise out of the grave to be joined with the spirits that are already with Jesus Christ in that glorified form in which we shall give Him praise and glory forever and ever and ever.
In Revelation 1:18, it says that when Jesus died and rose again, He said, “I am He that liveth and was dead and am alive forevermore, amen, and have the keys of Hades and death.” He has the keys, you see. He went down and took them from the devil, Hebrews 2:14, He destroyed the one who had the power of death. He took the keys and now He unlocks the grave and lets His own out. That’s our hope.
And as the song writer said in The Church Triumphant, “Many a foolish conqueror has made the mistake of thinking that because he has driven the church of Jesus Christ out of sight that he has stilled its voice and snuffed out its life, but the powerful current of a rushing river is never diminished because it is forced to flow underground.” And there will be ultimately a bursting out of the church, and all the redeemed throng will gather at the foot of the throne of God forever and ever and ever and ever. And Hades and the grave and death will never hold us. That’s our hope.
Now, you know how important that was to this little group of guys? They were going to look back, and the day would come when they would be in the heat of that battle, and the Holy Spirit would fulfill the promise that Jesus made. That He, when He comes, will bring all things to your remembrance. And I imagine there were times in the midst of their dying for the cause of Jesus Christ when they could hear the echo coming down through their minds of the words of Jesus Christ, “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”
And so we see when Jesus builds a church, there is certainty, there is intimacy, there is identity, there is foundation, there is invincibility. Now look at the authority of it, verse 19. This is a great, great statement, the authority of it. He’s still talking to Peter as representative of the group, “And I will give unto you, Peter, the keys of the Kingdom of heaven.” That’s authority, folks. You can lock it up and you can unlock it. “And whatever you bind,” that means you forbid it, “shall be bound in heaven. And whatever you loose,” that means you permit it, “shall be loosed in heaven.”
You say, “Now, wait a minute, that’s a lot of power to give one guy. No wonder the Catholics got that out of there. You mean you’ve got the keys to the Kingdom of heaven and you can say who’s in and who’s out?” That’s right. “And you can say you can’t do that, that’s forbidden; you can do that, that’s permitted? You mean you have the authority to say that? You mean Peter was given that authority?” That’s right.
Let me take you a step further. John chapter 20, this will even amaze you more. It isn’t only Peter, follow this, look what He says, “Whosoever sins you remit, they’re remitted unto them; and whosoever sins you retain, they’re retained.” Now He’s gone beyond Peter and He’s given all of them authority to say your sins are on you, your sins are off of you, your sins bind you, your sins are loosed from you, you are forgiven, you are not forgiven. “You mean to tell me He gave those men the right to say that to somebody? Your sins are forgiven, your sins are not forgiven?” That’s right. That’s right.
Now go back to Matthew 18 and I’ll show you something even more amazing - even more amazing. Look what it says, verse 17, and it’s talking about discipline, you go to a person, he doesn’t respond, you take two or three witnesses, doesn’t respond, if he neglects to hear, Matthew 18:17, tell it unto the church, the whole redeemed assembly. And if he neglects to hear them, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a tax collector.
So, He says, now look, you tell the whole assembly to go to that man and confront him about his sin and tell him he can’t do that. What does that mean? You go to that man and say, “Hey, your sins are bound on you, you’re still sinning, you’re out of line with God’s Word, you are to repent, you are to turn from that.” And you say, “You mean we have the authority to do that? We’re supposed to go out and tell people that? Boy, that’s - ooh, I worry about doing that.” And that’s why verse 18 is there. “So verily I say to the whole church, whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been already bound in heaven; and whatever you shall loose on earth shall have been already loosed in heaven.”
Now wait a minute. First He said that to Peter. Then He said it to all of them. Then He said it to the whole duly constituted assembly of redeemed people. You mean we can go into the world and say your sins are bound on you, your sins are loosed from you, your sins are forgiven, your sins are not forgiven, you can do that, you can’t do that? What authority.
That’s right. That’s right. You say, “Well, now wait a minute. Where did we get that authority? How in the world can we have that authority?” I’ll tell you how. Very simple. Where is all of the truth needed to apply to every situation? It’s in the Word of God, isn’t it? It says what you’re doing shall have already been done where? In heaven. You want to know how we can know what heaven is approving and disapproving? It’s right here, isn’t it? I have the authority, if a person comes up to me, I can say to that person, “Have you received Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” If he says yes, I say then your sins are forgiven, your sins are loosed.
If someone says to me, “I have never received Jesus Christ,” I have the authority based on the Word of God to say to that individual your sins are retained, your sins are not forgiven. And I have the authority to know that what I said to that individual, heaven has already said because heaven has revealed it right here. That’s that authority. It is not some authority isolated from the Word of God. That’s why the promise of the keys came on the heels of a divine revelation from the Father.
As long as the Father is giving you the Word on the basis of the revelation of the Father, you have the authority. And I can say to a person you are forbidden to do that. Why? Because the Bible says so. I can say to another person you’re free to do that because the Bible says so.
So that Peter had that right. The disciples had that right. So does the church because we have heaven’s word on the matter. You understand? So it isn’t some authority based on title. It isn’t some authority based on office, or some human worthiness, or some elevation, or some intelligence level, or some wisdom level. It is that the authority of the church lies in the fact that the church has heaven’s word on everything and it can take heaven’s word and make it authoritative in the lives of people.
Now, beloved, that is why we never compromise the Word of God because it’s the only authority we have. And God has put His church in the world and given His church His Word so that His church can stand as a light, as a standard setting the pattern that is God’s pattern. We pray thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and it can be as we enact heaven’s decisions by the implementation of this Word of God which is authoritative.
That’s why I say so often that the church has to take God seriously. We’re God’s standard in the world. And we have to say to this world you can’t do that. Your sins are bound on you. That’s what heaven says in this Book and heaven is in agreement with us, it’s already settled there.
So the church is the authority of the world. That’s right. And those who are in the church are authoritative in the world as long as they enforce the Word of the living God revealed to them through the Spirit. And so we have authority. And we don’t worry about what the world says, we’re not going to change our message. We’re not going to compromise. Our reason to exist in this world is to glorify God and we glorify God when we hold up the standard of His Word, don’t we?
A final thought. We’ve seen the certainty of it, the intimacy of it, the identity of it, the foundation, the invincibility, the authority, finally, and just a word on this, would you look at verse 20 and see the spirituality of it? The church of Jesus Christ is a spiritual entity. “Then charged He His disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Christ.” Now, why did He tell them not to do that? I mean, some of us have been waiting for years for a command like that so we could step instantly into obedience because we never tell anybody about it.
And you wonder, well, how can you square that off with the command later, go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature? Why does He say don’t tell anybody that I’m Jesus the Christ? Why? Because the people were looking for a political economic Messiah. And He says, look, don’t tell them I’m the Christ, their expectations are warped and all it does is confuse them and put pressure in the wrong area. We are not a political earthly economic kingdom. It’s a spiritual reality and that’s part of the problem. People don’t understand the spiritual dimension.
His Messiahship, they thought, was primarily political, military, economic, earthly. He said it’s spiritual, it’s spiritual. And so they really couldn’t say anything, you know, when they gathered in the upper room, and He appeared to them and they waited and He told them, He said, “You wait until the Holy Spirit comes and then you go.” There really wasn’t a lot of witnessing going on up to that time because the people’s expectations were so warped. And I guess that’s why I get very, very nervous when I see politics mixed with Christianity because ours is a spiritual message, a message of Christ the Son of the living God.
And we will not offer any other Jesus than that One who is revealed in the Scripture. Oh, what a church Christ is building, a spiritual church, a church with authority, a church with invincibility, a church with a foundation on the revelation of the living God as granted by the Spirit through His apostles and continuing to be built on those who confess the same truth. A church with identity, the sum of all the redeemed of all the ages, a church with intimacy, those who are the personal possessions of Jesus Christ, and a church with certainty, it will be built. He will bring us to glory, will He not? That’s His promise.
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