DUNCAN/The confession of the kingdom
Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 16:13-20. Here in Caessarea Phillipi, the Lord Jesus has one goal in mind. Jesus is desiring to confirm in the hearts and minds of His disciples what He has been teaching to them about who He is over the last months of His ministry. We see here first, that the knowledge of God is a gift. Second, only the Lord can give us a saving knowledge of His Son. And third, confession is the very foundation of the church.
I. The Knowledge of God Is a Gift
In verses 13-14 we see the first question that Jesus asks the disciples. And here in these verses, verses 13 and 14 we see the crowds view of Jesus. Here we learn the important lesson that the knowledge of God is a gift. Notice as Jesus takes the disciples aside here in Matthew 16 beginning in verse 13, He’s going to teach them three things. If you look at verses 13-20, you will see that He concentrates there on teaching them about His person, teaching them about His identity, teaching them about His true nature, who He was. But then if you look at the next few verses, from verses 21-23, you’ll see that He moves on to teach them about His work.
Notice here how the person and work of Christ are tied together. If you don’t understand the one you cannot understand the other. The other does not make sense unless you have a grasp of who He is. In verses 24-28, you will see that Christ goes on to teach His disciples about the cost of discipleship. Once there in Cessarea Phillipi Jesus asks the disciples this question: who do people think that I am? The disciples give Jesus four representative answers that are being given in the crowds. And we find these answers by the way in the gospels in various places. First of all, they say that some people are saying that He is John the Baptist. Then the disciples go on to say that other people are saying that Jesus is Elijah. And then the disciples say that people are saying He is Jeremiah.
What’s the problem with each of these designations that are being given to Jesus by the crowd? It’s not enough to think highly of Christ. If we’re going to be Christians, if we’re going to be disciples of the Lord Jesus, if we’re going to follow Him, we must embrace Him as He has revealed himself in the gospel. We do not follow after a Christ that we have invented in our imaginations, we do not follow after a Christ who is merely a great moral teacher. We follow after a Christ who claimed and demonstrated that He was the very Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the nations. That’s the Christ that we worship. And we must realize that anything less, any less of an ascription is actually to reject Christ.
II. Only the Lord Can Give Us a Saving Knowledge of His Son
We also learn that only God can reveal to you the divinity of Christ and the meaning of His claims. These people had watched Christ do miracle after miracle. They had heard His teaching.
They had seen His miracles. He had demonstrated Himself clearly to be the one that He claimed to be, and yet the crowds did not accept His testimony and His works. And so we learn that only the Lord Himself can give us a saving knowledge of the Lord. Why? Because knowledge is a gift. Saving knowledge is a gift of the Lord. That’s not all we learn in this passage.
If you’ll look to verses 15-16, you’ll see the apostles’ confession of Jesus Christ. In response to Jesus’ question, they had first given Jesus the estimation of the crowds, and then Jesus asked them another question, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers the question as a spokesman for the group, and he answers it with tremendous conciseness, and yet with great profundity and power: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is a profound statement, and I want you to look at both parts of it.
First of all, he says, “You are the Christ.” By saying that, He is saying that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the one prophesied by all the prophets. He is the long-awaited deliverer of all God’s people. Peter goes on to say, secondly, “You are the Christ.” He is saying that Jesus is God’s unique Son in a sense not applicable to any other human being. No lesser estimation of Christ will do. Every true Christian acknowledges the divinity of Christ. Every true Christian acknowledges that Jesus is the Messiah. This means not merely assenting to that truth, it means not merely saying that truth, and it means not merely not disagreeing with that truth. It means embracing that truth, believing it with all our souls from the very bottom of and committing our lives to him as the Christ, the Son of the living God.
III. Confession Is the Very Foundation of the Church
In verses 17-20 we see that the apostolic proclamation of that confession is the very foundation of the church. Notice in verse 17, after Peter has spoken these words, that the very first thing that Jesus stresses in His blessing of Peter, is that Peter didn’t figure that out on his own. Peter’s confession was the result of the enlightening work of God in his heart. Jesus says something that has caused great controversy for many years. He says, if you’ll look at verse 18, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church and the gates of hell will not overpower it.” I believe that what He is saying there is that He will build His church on the apostles and upon the apostolic teaching.
We can say that the rock refers to Peter and the other apostles in view of their confession as the proximate foundation of the church. In other words, all through the New Testament it makes it clear that Jesus is the foundation of the church. In this passage notice that Jesus is speaking of Himself as the owner and the builder of the church, and He sees His apostles as a part of that body of people that He is building the church. He sees them as the foundation.
The apostolic testimony cannot be changed. It cannot be altered, and anyone who comes along and says that Christianity is founded on a different truth, on a different foundation than that which Jesus vested to the apostles is a liar. The foundation of the faith has been laid by Christ in the teaching and the proclamation of the apostles, and no one can alter it. We can only embrace it.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at email@example.com.