The Apostle Peter was a prominent Apostle during our Lord’s earthly ministry. He and his brother Andrew were fishermen, in partnership with James and John (Luke 5: 10). Peter was married (Mark 1: 29-31) and had a home in Capernaum (Mark 1: 21, 29). He and Andrew were followers of John the Baptist before becoming disciples of Jesus (John 1: 35-42). Peter, James and John were Jesus’ three closest Apostles. They were present with Jesus at the raising of the synagogue ruler’s daughter (Mark 5: 35-42), at the Transfiguration scene (Mark 9: 2-8) and were the ones who went further into the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus the night of His arrest (Mark 14: 32, 33). Peter wrote three books of the Bible – the Gospel of Mark (Mark acted as Peter’s amanuensis.), 1 Peter and 2 Peter.
Peter possessed both strengths and weaknesses of character. At times he exercised great faith, at other times he became fearful; at times he was courageous, at other times he was cowardly. Peter stepped out of the boat and began walking on the water to Jesus, but when he saw the wind he became afraid and started to sink (Matthew 14: 25-31); he confessed Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16: 13-16), but shortly after attempted to prevent Jesus from carrying out His sacrifice, thus temporarily siding with the Adversary (Matthew 16: 21-23); he confessed that he would never deny Jesus (Matthew 26: 35), but shortly after he denied Him three times (Matthew 26: 69-75); he introduced the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10), but later, out of fear, refused to eat with them (Galatians 2: 11-13).
Peter Confesses Jesus as Messiah
Toward the close of His ministry, Jesus wished to impress upon His disciples the great Truth – that He was the Messiah. He first asked, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” After receiving various responses He pointedly asked the question: “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter immediately responded, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus acknowledged the correctness of this, saying, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”
In our text (verse 18) Jesus said, “Thou art Peter.” Jesus here changes the Apostle’s name from Simon to Peter. The Greek word for Peter is petros which means a stone, or a piece of a rock. “And upon this rock I will build my church.” The Greek word for rock is petra which means the rock in mass, the foundation rock. Peter had just confessed Christ as the foundation “rock” upon which the spiritual temple of God would be built upon.
Keys of the Kingdom
As a reward for his confession of Jesus as Messiah, Peter was given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (verse 19). The word “key” in the Scriptures symbolizes that one who has been duly authorized has the power to open something. Peter was given the privilege and authority of opening the message and work of the Gospel to the Jews and later to the Gentiles. He used the first key on the day of Pentecost, when he opened the way for the Jews to enter Christ’s Church; and he used the second key three and one-half years later, when he opened the way for the Gentiles to enter into Christ’s Church, Cornelius and his household being the first Gentile converts.
On one of Jesus’ appearances to the Apostles following His resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times regarding his love for Him, and on each of the three times Peter affirmed his love. He was perhaps reminded that he had denied the Lord three times, and now the Lord was requiring him to confess his love for Him three times (John 21: 15-17). Jesus was not seeking to cause Peter any pain, but to bless him. Peter’s repentance and confession of his love for Jesus is abundantly testified by his subsequent loyalty even unto death. Tradition has it that he was condemned to be crucified, and that remembering how he had denied his Master, he felt that it would be too great an honor for him to share the same death as his Lord, so at his own request, he was crucified head downward.