Question: Matthew 16: 18 reads:
“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.”
Is Jesus here saying that the Apostle Peter is the rock upon which He would build His Church?
Answer: Verses 13-17 consist of a conversation between Jesus and His disciples in which Jesus asks them who men say that He is. After they gave him various answers, He asks them directly who they say that He is. Simon Peter immediately speaks up and declares, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus commends him for that good confession, followed by His statement in verse 18:
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter.” The Greek word for Peter is petros which means a stone, or a piece of a rock. It is here where Jesus changes his name from Simon Barjona to Peter.
“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. Peter disclaims any such distinction or usurpation of the Lord’s rightful place as the foundation of the Church. We note his own testimony in 1 Peter 2: 4-6 in which he speaks of all the members of Christ’s body as living stones to be built upon that foundation (Christ):
4. “To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, 5. Ye also, as lively [living] stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up [spiritual – omitted in the oldest manuscripts] sacrifices, acceptable to God by Christ Jesus. 6. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.”
The last part of verse 18 reads: “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Here is a promise that the gates of death (hades) would not prevail against the Lord’s true Church. She has suffered the fiercest persecutions all down throughout the Gospel Age, yet the Lord has always preserved His people. Though the gates of death have not prevailed against the Church as a whole, they have temporarily done so against its individual members, even against its Head, the Lord. But they cannot prevail everlastingly, for our Lord prevailed over hades (the grave) on the third day, in His resurrection (by the Father’s power), and the Church was also promised that He who raised up the Lord Jesus would also raise up His Church (2 Corinthians 4: 14).