The Foundation of the Church
Text: Matthew 16:13-19
Main Idea: The church is inextricably anchored in a proper confession of Jesus and has been sovereignly commissioned to carry out Jesus’ kingdom purposes.
I. The Church is Inextricably Anchored in a Proper Confession of Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:13–16)
II. The Church has been Commissioned to Carry Out Jesus’ Kingdom Purposes (Matthew 16:18–19)
A. What is this thing that Jesus calls the Church?
B. What do the gates of hell have to do with the Church?
C. What is Peter’s Role?
D. What are the Keys?
Good morning church, today we are launching into an 8-week series titled: “Rediscovering the Local Church.” The primary reason for this series is that we are going to be rewriting our Constitution and By-laws this year. Therefore, we can say that the primary goal of this series is to help you see how much the Bible has to say about the church and how we fulfill our calling as a local church. And while I admit that this series may not sound very exciting, it is my sincere hope that it will address many of the questions that you have had about the Church.
See, the truth of the matter is that every one of us has grown up with different views of the church. Some of those ideas are grounded in the teaching you received in your childhood church. Some of those ideas were absorbed from Christian friends and various sources in our culture. And some of those ideas are, in fact, the product of your personal frustrations with the local church.
And to be honest, I haven’t always been that excited about the local church. As a child I rarely engaged the preaching, I wanted cooler music, and I had difficult relationships with other kids in the church. I had good feelings for Jesus and had professed him as my Savior at an early age, but I really didn’t like the church. And as I grew older and even began my early years in ministry, I increasingly identified with the popular saying: “Christianity is all about having a relationship with Jesus not following a religion.”
There is a lot of truth in this saying. Right? Christianity is not about following a list of religious rites and rules so that we can be right with God. And Christianity, at its core, is about a living relationship with the risen and exalted Jesus Christ… This is what causes us to embrace this saying, right?
But the fundamental problem with this saying is at least three-fold:
One, it wrongfully portrays the Christian life as a primarily individualistic pursuit of piety and spiritual growth. As if we somehow go through our Christian life like spiritual Lone Rangers with no one but our Jesus-Tonto at our side.
Two, it wrongfully equates the organized worship and ministry of the local church with a dead, legalistic pursuit of man-centered religiosity.
Three, it seems to imply that the local church is completely unnecessary to the Christian life.
So as we turn to our text today, the first thing we are going to see about the church is that (main idea): The church is inextricably anchored in a proper confession of Jesus and has been commissioned by Jesus to carry out his kingdom purposes in the world.
The Church is Inextricably Anchored in a Proper Confession of Jesus (Matthew 16:13–16)
A Little Background
Before we press into these verses it’s important that we understand their placement in Matthew’s over all narrative. What I mean by this is that chapters 15–16 catalogue a string of frustrating disappointments. In the first part of chapter 15, the Scribes and Pharisees attack Jesus because he and his disciples are not observing the “tradition of the elders.” In the second half of the very same chapter, a pagan woman seems to grasp Jesus’ mission far better than his own disciples. And in the opening verses of chapter 16, the Pharisees and Sadducees mount a direct attack against Jesus, while his disciples appear to be utterly oblivious to the spiritual threat they pose.
See this is the context in which Jesus decides it’s time to pull his disciples from the front lines so that he can have an uninterrupted conversation about his true identity. Because he wants to see if his inner circle has any more discernment the swarming crowds.
An Important Contrast
Well, the first thing that we see in these verses is that the disciples seem to be well versed in the popular opinions of the day. And while these opinions were clearly wrong, their answers point us to the fact that (unlike the religious leaders who believed that Jesus was either insane or an agent of Satan himself) the crowds respected Jesus AND believed that God was actively working in his ministry.
But, the truth of the matter is that Jesus is not really concerned with the crowds. He is merely using the opinion of the crowds as a point of comparison with his disciples. Notice, he instantly follows up their answer with the contrastive question. They say I am “a prophet” but who do you say that I am?
The All-Important Confession
And it is at this point, Peter, the spokesman for the Twelve responds with the most stunning reply: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Now, on the one hand, it’s important to point out that even though this is the first time that a figure in the story affirms that Jesus is God’s anointed Messiah (after all that is what Christ means); this is not the first time that this idea has popped into the disciples’ minds. All we have to do is look back at the events in Matthew 5, 7, and 11. In fact, if you read John 1:41–49, it becomes crystal clear that the disciples began following Jesus because they were hoping he was the long-promised Messiah.
But, on the other hand we need to see that while this verse marks a crucial stage in the disciples understanding of Jesus, it is doubtful that they grasped the full Christological depths of their answer. They can see but they cannot see the entire picture. In fact, this becomes crystal clear in the very next episode when Peter flies off the handle at the revelation that Jesus is going to suffer and die.
The fundamental key in Peter’s affirmation is this: the disciples are finally grasping the link between Jesus’ Messianic identity and his true deity. Jesus is more than a man he is the Son of the living God.
Therefore, what is the key difference between the disciples and the crowds? The disciples are finally beginning to realize that Jesus is God, while the crowds merely believe that Jesus is a great man sent by God. And it is this very contrast that separates true Christians apart from every other religion or religious pursuit.
Jesus is not a man who built a religion around his personal visions and revelations from God. He is not a man who emptied himself of all desire so that he could escape the brutal experience of life on this earth. He was not a man who discovered a secret hidden path to God for the moral and spiritual elite. Nor was he simply a virtuous man, great teacher, or counter-cultural religious reformer. If that is all Jesus is, we can choose to either follow or ignore his teaching. But if he is God, we should want to know the purpose of his coming! Which is exactly what he reveals in the following verses.
The Church has been Commissioned to Carry Out Jesus’ Kingdom Purpose (Matthew 16:17–19)
Now, for the sake of our focus on the church this morning, we are not going to really press into verse 17. The main thing I want you to see is that Peter and the other disciples are not necessarily smarter than the crowds because Jesus goes out of his way to make it clear that they are not. Rather, they are merely recipients of God’s gracious revelation. They know what they know and see what they see about Jesus (at this point in time) because God in his sovereign and good pleasure has revealed it to them in a way that he has not yet revealed to the crowds.
Yet, it is on account of this very revelation and affirmation (v. 16) that Jesus reveals something that the disciples were not fully expecting… The fact that he didn’t come to deliver Israel from Roman occupation or to reform Jewish worship in the Temple. No, he came to build an entirely new community that was going to conquer the gates of hell.
So as we turn to these verses, I see at least four questions:
- What is this thing that Jesus calls the Church?
- What do the gates of hell have to do with the Church?
- What is Peter’s Role?
- What are the Keys?
What is this thing that Jesus calls the Church?
Well, to being with. If we examine the Greek noun behind our English word church (ἐκκλησία), the first thing we see is that is a compound word. And if we look up the two root-words that comprise it, we quickly discover that the first half means “out from” and the second half means “call out.” In fact, over the years many of you have probably heard that church means “the called out ones OR those who have been called out.” Yet, while this is true in a strictly etymological sense, this definition does not really align with ekklesia’s usage in the Bible.
The Greek word ekklesia occurs 115 times in the New Testament. And scholars have clearly demonstrated that we can divide these occurrences into three distinct, but related uses.
First, ekklesia is used three times to denote to a political assembly.
Second, ekklesia is used two times to point back to the assembly of Israel in the OT.
Third, ekklesia is used 110 times to describe the assembly of Jesus’ followers, whether that be a local assembly of Jesus followers (the local church) OR “the community of all true believers for all time” (the universal church). Or as the Westminster Confession puts it:
WCF §25:1 The universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof…
Notice, what do we see in this? We see that the church is first-and-foremost a people NOT a place. The church is not this building. This building exists so that the people of God can assemble together in a specific geographic location to partner together in our disciple-making mission and to spur one another on in love and good deeds.
And given the fact that Jesus is the one who is building his church, we are able to see that the church is not an invention of man or an optional aspect of the Christian life. Rather, it is a fundamental part of God’s sovereign plan until he returns.
What do the gates of hell have to do with the Church?
Well, scholars have debated the meaning of this promise throughout the history of the Church. On the one hand, many have taken it to be a promise that no matter what happens in this life, Satan will never defeat the church. And while I think this is certainly true, I do not think it is exactly what Jesus was trying to say. What I mean by this is that “gates” are defensive structures. They are fortifications against attack. Therefore, it seems most likely that Jesus is saying that all the powers of hell will not be able to thwart the advance of the gospel.
Colossians 1:13–14 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
See, the gates of hell will not prevail means that hell cannot bind and hold hell-bound sinners in their rebellion, depravity, and lostness. The church will overcome hell’s defenses as Jesus builds his church by wrenching wretched sinners from the hand of Satan himself through the Spirit-empowered proclamation of the gospel: “Jesus lived died and rose again for sinners, and God will forgive you if you turn and trust in Jesus.”
Friends, please don’t miss the power in this promise. We live in a post Christians age. And our culture, for the most part, does not believe the church is a positive influence in society. It’s easy to start withdrawing from the world and our intentional interactions with unbelievers. It’s easy to think we need to start building walls, digging motes, and installing guard towers around the church if we are going to survive.
But what do we see in this promise? We see the promise that nothing can stop the advance of the gospel because Christ is determined to build his church. Yet, as we turn our attention to the second two questions we see that Jesus builds his church through the very members of his church… beginning with Peter.
What is Peter’s Role?
The reason we have to ask this question is because, the most contested question in this entire passage this: “What is the relationship between Peter and this rock upon which Jesus will build his church?” Is this “rock”: (i) the Father, (ii) Jesus himself, (iii) Jesus’ teaching, (iv) Peter’s confession, or (v) Peter himself?
This question begins with the fact that Jesus is giving Simon a new name, just like God renamed Abram, Abraham (Gen 17:5) and Jacob, Israel (Gen 32:28). And in each of these OT instances, the new name indicated that the person had a new status or role in God’s plan— that’s the biblical function of renaming. Therefore, the text seems to be saying that Peter is going to have a special place in God’s plan. In fact, this seems to be supported in the Greek text itself because Peter (petros) and rock (petra) come from the same root word.
See it appears as though Jesus is saying that Peter will have a unique, foundational role in the Church. But, it is at this very point that the conflict begins. And to be honest most of this disagreement flows from the Reformers’ rightful rejectionof the Roman Catholic doctrines of Apostolic Succession (i.e., the belief that the Popes are the rightful successors of Peter himself) and Papal infallibility (i.e., the belief that the Pope is God’s appointed and inerrant spokesman for the entire church). This is why almost every Protestant sermon on this passage points away from Peter to Peter’s profession that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God.
But, as D.A. Carson, one of the most prominent Free-church and NT scholars of our age, helpfully observes: If it were not for Protestant reactions against the extremes of Roman Catholic interpretation, it is doubtful whether anyone would have taken “rock” to be anything or anyone other than Peter…But he goes on to say: at the very same time we need to be clear that the text says absolutely nothing about Peter’s successors, infallibility, or exclusive authority. After all while it’s true that Peter is the first to make this formal confession AND maintains a position of prominence in the early years of the church. Peter submits himself to the direction of other the apostles (Acts 8:14), is held accountable for his actions by the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1–18) and is openly rebuked by Paul (Gal 2:11–14).
So let me take a minute to tie this answer together. Jesus is setting Peter apart as the first leader/rock upon which Jesus himself is going to build his church. But, he is not doing this because Peter is morally OR spiritually superior to the other disciples. No, he’s doing it because Peter is already recognized as the disciples’ spokesman and he the first disciple to declare that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
What are The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven?
Well at the most basic level, we all know what keys are for, they are used to restrict or grant access. We use them to lock and unlock our homes and to start and turn off our cars.
But, in the ancient world the only people that could afford locks and keys were kings and the richest citizens of the kingdom. And in most cases, the King or rich person didn’t carry their keys, rather they entrusted them to a chief steward who acted on the behalf of his master. In light of this we can say that keys were a sign of considerable —but almost always delegated— authority to grant or restrict access.
Isaiah 22:20–22In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, 21 and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. (In this instance God is entrusting the “keys” to Eliakim)
In this, we are able to see that Jesus is appointing Peter to be a “chief steward” of the early church. And as we read through the early chapters of Acts we see this very stewardship play out in the life of the early church.
- Peter is the one who opens the door of the kingdom to the Jews on Pentecost (Acts 2).
- Peter is the one who welcomes the hated Samaritans into the church (Acts 8).
- Peter is the one that God uses to tear down the wall between Jews and Gentiles by preaching the gospel to the Gentiles and welcoming them into the Church (Acts 10).”
In fact, as we look at these encounters in light of Matthew 16, we are able to see that the keys of the kingdom is two-fold, it’s the authority to affirm the what and who of the gospel— the authority to confirm the fundamental message and doctrines of the gospel (the what) and to officially welcome gospel believers into the church of Jesus Christ (the who).
But, lest we think that this new authority belongs to Peter and Peter alone, Jesus himself makes it clear in Matthew 18, that these keys —that this delegated authority to affirm “the what” and “the who” of the gospel— ultimately belong to the assembly of local church.
Matthew 18:15–20 If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you (plural), whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Notice, the promises in Matthew 18 are not directed to a random group of Christians who meet at a coffee shop to study the Bible and pray NOR are they directed toward a group of bishops. They are directed to the local assembly of Christians. In other words, the promise “that God is with 2 or three” (as we are going to see later in this study) is the promise that the local church is God appointed authority to guard and proclaim the fundamental message of the gospel AND to officially affirm and welcome gospel believers into the church of Jesus Christ.
In closing, I’d like to draw out three implications that flow from this text.
One, even though the church at large does not have a perfect record of purity, holiness, faithfulness, and obedience, the church is God’s primary means to accomplish his gospel purposes in this world. The church is not one of many ways God is working out his kingdom purposes, it is the fundamental way. Which means there will never be a time in history when the church will become obsolete or utterly ineffective because Jesus is building his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!
But, at the same time that does not mean that individual churches and denominations will not fail, fall apart, or wander into apostasy. They have and they will. Right? But, when it comes down to it why do these churches fail? In most cases it’s because they stop guarding the what and the who of the gospel and start prioritizing other causes.
Two, in regards to our constitutional rewrite this year. We are undertaking it in the full awareness that the church operates the best and glorifies God the most when we follow his instructions. What I mean by this is that we are not trying to draft up a set of documents according to our own wisdom or the worlds design. No, to the contrary we simply want our documents to reflect God’s revealed design for the church.
Finally, I want to remind everyone that this study and this process is ultimately directed toward our God-given mission as a church. We do not get to decide what success and failure are, God does. And Olympic, I want nothing more than for usto hear, as a church, on the final day, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into your rest.”
 Knox J. Chamberlin, Matthew: A Mentor Commentary, Mentor Commentaries (Ross-Shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2010), 815.
 “Jesus seeks from his followers an answer markedly different from the popular judgments of 16:14: the use of hymeis together with legete (which itself identifies the subject) makes the address emphatic; the placing of hymeis at the opening of the question (contrast the position of hoi anthrōpoi in the question of v. 13) strengthens the emphasis;” (Chamberlin, Matthew, 816).
 Chamberlin, Matthew, 816.
 Matthew 5:17–48; 7:21–23; 11:2–6. See also D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositors Bible Commentary: Matthew-Mark, Revised., ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 418.
 “Matthew surely acclaims Jesus’ deity in this text (as throughout his gospel). There is good reason to believe Peter does as well: see the comments on 16:17, also on 14:33, where Peter and the other disciples worship Jesus as the Son of God (theou huios); (Chamberlin, Matthew, 817).
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Second. (Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 2020), 1047.
 Daniel M. Doriani, Matthew, Volumes 1 & 2, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani (Philippsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2008), 2:89.
 Carson, “Matthew,” 418–19. Cf. Chamberlin, Matthew, 820–21.
 Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 627.
 Osborne, Matthew, 628.