Peter, the Rock and the Keys By Markos Boussios
2.The Rock and the Roman Catholic Position
3.The Keys and the Great Misunderstanding
Somewhere in the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, a city about 120 miles north of Jerusalem, Jesus asked His disciples: «Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom 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-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which 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 hell 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.» (Mat. 16: 13-19).
It is worth noting that Jesus didn't ask his disciples such a question at the beginning of His public ministry, but rather after He had performed a lot of miracles in front of their eyes and taught them a number of important doctrines. It is also essential to state here that Jesus didn't ask this question because He wanted or needed to know, for He knew all things, but rather in order to have Peter utter the great truth that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Also, we should observe that Christ didn't ask Whom did the Scribes and Pharisees say that He was, because their prejudice and hostility was given and known. It was the common people's opinion about Him that counted, for that was unprejudiced and objective.
From the opinions about Jesus mentioned above it becomes evident that the dominant estimation the people had of Him was that of a forerunner of the Messiah and not of the promised and long-expected Messiah himself. Of course there were those among the people who said: «This is the Christ» (John 7: 41), but these constituted a very small minority and expressed their opinion with doubt, hesitation and great reservation. And let us not forget that the Lord asked His disciples to tell Him Whom the people at large said that He was, not ignoring the fact that there were those who had believed on Him as the Christ of God. This we see on several occasions in the gospels where we read: «Many believed on Him» etc. There was a rabbinical tradition, also, that said nine servants of God had been caught up in heaven without dying, and that one or more of them were to come back to earth to prepare the way for the Messiah. We know that the Bible mentions two such persons, Enoch and Elias, and a lot of speculation has been on their possible coming back before Christ, and Herod's fear of John the Baptist's resurrection in the Person of Jesus, after hearing of the mighty works He did, being placed within that framework, had been spread widely among the people. In all these opinions the common idea was that Jesus was only one of those, a forerunner of the Messiah, but not at all the Messiah himself.
Then the Lord, leaving aside the people's opinions, turned to His disciples and asked them: «But whom say ye that I am?» (v.15). Then Peter, representing the whole company of the disciples present, answered: «Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God» (v.16). And it is evident that the Lord places special emphasis on «ye», showing to them then, as well as to us now, how interested He is in His followers' having the right opinion about His Person, and that on that knowledge depends their salvation or perdition.
And though the Lord asked this question of all the disciples present, the answer came from Simon Peter, known for his forwardness and spontaneity. The two titles «The Christ» and «The Son of the living God», contained in his answer, are not absolutely identical, though the one presupposes the other. «The Son of the living God» is, no doubt, superior to «The Christ». Peter, using the definite article, that is, saying Thou art «The» Christ, «The» Son of the living God, was clearly expressing the faith of the disciples in Jesus' divine origin. A similar confession had been made by the disciples not much earlier when Jesus' presence calmed the raging sea of Galilee: «Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.» (Mat.14: 33). It is to be pointed out here that the article «The» is not in the original. This explains why the Lord didn't pronounce them «blessed» then. That confession was general and vague, as the designation «son of God» was not applied only to the Messiah. It in no way expressed a belief in the uniqueness of Jesus, as did Peter's confession. It was the product of awe and a deep impression the miracle had made in their hearts and minds. There was no divine revelation there. But with Peter's testimony things were altogether different. His profession of Jesus' being «The Christ» and «The Son of the living God», along with emphasizing the uniqueness of Christ, could not be but a revelation of God, Jesus' Heavenly Father. And that was the reason why the Lord pronounced Peter «blessed».
When Jesus was down here on earth, to the eyes of all those that came in touch with Him in one way or another, appeared as nothing more than a man. A prophet yes, a teacher yes, a worker of miracles yes, but nothing beyond the bounds of humanity. So, there was need of divine revelation in order for anyone to believe on Him as the Christ and the Son of the living God.
2.The Rock and the position of the Roman Catholic Church
We now come to consider what the Lord said to Peter next: «And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church: and the gates of hell 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.» (Mat. 16: 18, 19). These words of Jesus have caused great confusion and deep division in Christendom even from the first centuries. At first the Bishops of Rome, and later the Popes, contended, as they do even to this date, that Peter was the founder and first bishop (pastor) of the church in Rome. This position, of course, is altogether arbitrary and lacks any biblical or historical evidence. I think Paul's Epistle to the Romans is enough to mention here. This Epistle was written in Corinth about the year A.D. 60, and whereas Paul sends salutations to so many believers by name, not a hint is made to Peter. Could that happen if Peter was the Bishop of the church? Even if at that time he had been away from Rome, Paul would still have made some reference to him if he was so closely related to the church in Rome!
That Peter died a martyr's death, as did Paul too, under Nero in Rome, about A.D. 67 to 68, is not mentioned in the New Testament, neither can there be any authentic historical evidence produced in support of the fact, but as it is something rather non-essential in regard to truth, we have no difficulty to accept it. Furthermore, Origen says that, Peter, not being a Roman citizen, was sentenced to die by crucifixion, and not deeming himself worthy to die as his Lord did, he petitioned to be crucified with his head down, a petition that was surely granted him.
Of what has been thus far said, one can easily see that the contention of the Roman Catholic Church about Peter is unfounded and unworthy of any further consideration. Besides, it is not shared by any of the other branches of Christendom.
But what did Jesus really mean when He said to Peter: «Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church?» (v.18). In the Greek there is a distinction between πέτρα (petra), a massive living rock, and πέτρος (petros), a detached, but large, fragment. Actually, we have a play upon the words and what Jesus meant was not that He was going to build His church upon Peter, but rather upon this petra (rock), meaning the great truth Peter uttered about His being the Christ, the Son of the living God. This truth, revealed to Peter by God, was to be the foundation upon which the church was to be built. In other words, this is the gospel of Christ which is: «the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth» (Rom. 1: 16).
3. The Keys and the great misunderstanding
Now we come to examine what the keys were, and what the Lord meant when He said to Peter: «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.» The Kingdom of Heaven is the Kingdom of God in its visible form. The Kingdom of Heaven comprises all the local churches that through the preaching of the gospel would be established all over the world from the time of Christ's earthly ministry to the Rapture, ending up in the Millennium, which will be its final stage. One enters the Kingdom of Heaven by simply professing Christ as one's Savior and being scripturally baptized.Whereas for one to see and enter the Kingdom of God one has to be "born again...of water and of the Spirit" (John 3: 3,5). The keys Jesus promised to give Peter have nothing to do with heaven or paradise, and they were only two. Α key is a badge of power and authority (cf. Isa.22: 22, Rev. 3: 7) and by that Jesus simply meant Peter would, through the preaching of the gospel, the truth, in other words, that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God, and, consequently, the only Savior; he would open the door of the Kingdom of Heaven to the Jews and Proselytes on the day of Pentecost as well as to the Gentiles in Caesarea at the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius (Act 10). These keys symbolized also the authority Jesus gave His apostles, Peter more specifically, not as a leader, but rather as primus inter pares, in their capacity as founders of local churches, to receive new members into the fold of Christianity, as well as to excommunicate unworthy ones, as we see in First Corinthians chapter five. These same words the Lord repeated a little later in chapter 18 verses 15-18. For better understanding we quote the whole passage: «Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.» The plural number shows that Jesus gave this authority of «binding» and «loosing», through the apostles, to the local churches, which were to exercise it according to what has been stated above. Also, after He was risen from the dead, in one of His several appearances to His apostles, the Lord said: «As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.» (John 20: 21-23). And these words have the same meaning as we have explained above. One thing is absolutely certain, however, that in all the passages we have thus far referred to, there is nothing to indicate that they meant confession to a priest or any other church agents on the part of the individual sinner or believer. Nowhere in the New Testament have we one instance of any of the apostles or other church ministers say: «In the name of Jesus your sins are forgiven»! On the contrary, when in Samaria Simon the sorcerer offered the apostles Peter and John money in order to receive the power to lay his hands on people and impart to them the Holy Ghost, as he had seen the apostles do, Peter's answer was: «Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity» (Acts 8: 20-22). Here, if the apostles had understood Jesus' words about «binding» and «loosing» of sins as they came to be interpreted later, that is, as instituting the sacramental confession to a priest or any other church agent, Peter would, undoubtedly, had called Simon to repent and confess his sins to him and not suggested that he do it directly to God. I think that this case alone would be enough to refute this false doctrine and practice and show clearly that what was stated above is the real meaning of the authority Jesus gave His apostles, who, in turn, conveyed that authority to the local churches.
In further corroboration of our position we mention the fact that sacramental confession was unknown to Christianity during the first two or three centuries and its introduction was gradual and not without strong opposition on the part of churches and Christian leaders.
1. The Lord didn't say He would build His church on Peter, but on the truth Peter uttered that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God.2. The keys were only two and had nothing to do with heaven or paradise. As symbols of authority they were to be understood as Peter being used of God to open the door of the Kingdom of Heaven to the Jews and Proselytes on the day of Pentecost and then to the Gentiles in Caesarea at the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius.3. The authority Jesus gave to Peter was to be shared with the rest of the apostles and by them conveyed to the local assemblies that were to be established by the preaching of the gospel. This is the truth about the subject in consideration that an unbiased study of the New Testament would reveal to all sincere and unprejudiced students of God's word. By Markos Boussios