The confession of Peter that Jesus was “…the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16) was to catapult him to the forefront of leadership in the neo-Christian movement of later years. The elevation of Peter to a position of leadership in a new “religion” known as catholicism (universal church) has been a point of contention among many Believers. As the early church experienced growing pains, many interpretations of Scriptures evolved into sects or camps of religious expression. Each of these groups would promote their own understanding of Biblical Truths. One group in particular would promote the historical Peter as the first Pope of their organization. As that group elevated Peter to human sainthood, others would answer with words like “apostasy” and “false religion.” The tolerance level of Believers toward each other has always been so thin that even a look would convey distaste and rejection of each other.
What did Jesus mean when He told Peter that “… thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church…..I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven…?” (Matt. 16:18,19) Jesus told Peter that his confession was based on revelation from God and not from anything he had learned or acquired by himself. What Jesus was expressing to Peter was that the confession he made that Jesus was the Christ (anointed one, Messiah) would be the foundation of the church (Believers). It would not be upon Peter himself, but upon his confession.
Peter had always tripped, stumbled, and fallen throughout his life. Even after Pentecost, he compromised his positional authority by shunning the Gentiles with whom he had been eating a meal when Jewish leadership made a surprise visit to Antioch. Paul confronted and chastised him for his hypocrisy. (Gal. 2: 11-21) Peter was an Apostle (I Peter 1:1) but not a figure head between man and God. The Scripture points out that sometime after Pentecost, James became the leader of the Church. (Acts 15:13,19; 21:18) One would readily surmise that if Peter was, in fact, the first divinely appointed “head” of the Church it was only for a short time.
When Jesus stated that “…I will build my church…,” (Matt. 16:18) He was, in fact, prophesying God’s intent. Jesus was saying that the Church would be built upon Him. The author and builder of the Church would be God Himself. Peter, in writing his first epistle, would put things into perspective by saying that Jesus was chosen of God to be a “living stone,” the “chief corner stone.” He further stated that Believers would be as “lively stones” that would be built up upon the foundation of Jesus Himself. (I Peter 2:4-8)
When Jesus told Peter that He would give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, He was talking about the authority given to everyone who acknowledges He is the Christ. When the Believer realizes the position in which he has been placed, the world will stand at the Believers’ mercy, knowing that we have access to what has been bound or loosed in heaven and the authority to bind or loose it on earth. (Matt. 16:19)