The Crisis of the Christ
The Crisis of the Christ (Matthew 16:13-20)
This time marks the crisis of the public ministry of the Christ. "From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed him" (John 6:66). Six months before the cross, no class of people understood the message or mission of Jesus. Thus, Jesus took the twelve to Caesarea Philippi—a safe, pleasant, isolated area in the far north. He intended to see whether they understood and would commit to Him.
Short of the cross and resurrection, no other event in Jesus' ministry stands on equal ground with this episode. It reveals the insufficiency of all human speculation about Christ and the necessity of divine revelation to know Christ. God lays the foundation for His church in the divine revelation concerning Jesus Christ.
I. This Crisis Reveals the Insufficiency of Human Speculation About Jesus Christ (vv. 13-14)
The critical question of life concerns the Christ: "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" Jesus asked this question for information, affirmation, and education. He did not use His supernatural powers for information when natural inquiry would suffice. At that lonely moment, He sought the affirmation of His closest followers. He intended their education by contrasting the popular confession with the disciple's question.
The inadequacy of speculation characterizes the crowd. Then and now, the mass of people know only insufficient speculation about Jesus Christ. There are some earmarks of human speculation in the answers given by the first followers of Jesus.
Some see in Christ a mere repetition of what God has done before. Unaided human opinion cannot see a wholly, new departure in Jesus Christ. He was like John the Baptist in His mysterious birth and call for repentance. He was like Elijah in His confrontation with religious leaders. He was like Jeremiah in His personal grief over religious barrenness and hypocrisy. Because of that, people have seen in Jesus no more than another religious leader. Human speculation about Christ always places Him in an insufficient category.
Some see in Christ a reduction of what God has done before. For some, He was "one of the prophets" (v. 14). The language suggests a class of people who see in Christ no more than one in a long succession of religious spokespersons. In His own lifetime, people saw in Him only "Josephs son." Some even identified Him with a demon. Mere human reflection on Christ never discovers who He is.
II. The Sufficiency of Divine Revelation About Jesus Christ (vv. 15-17)
There is only one acceptable identification of Jesus Christ: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v. 16). Peter identified Jesus of Nazareth with the promised, predicted, and expected, anointed Messiah of the Old Testament. But Peter went beyond that. He said something about the Messiah that no Old Testament Hebrew ever confessed or expected. Peter confessed the Godhead of the Messiah, the Deity of Jesus Christ. This is especially significant in light of the surroundings. The most ancient worship of nature gods and the most recent worship of Caesar surrounded the location of this confession.
There is only one source for this revelation about Jesus Christ. Humanity in its feebleness, weakness, fallibility, and fragility ("flesh and blood" v. 17, KJV) can never make this discovery or confession about Christ. There is nothing in human reason, education, tradition, or observation that would compel one to confess this about Jesus of Nazareth.
Every confession of Jesus Christ is an act of God invading and illuminating the mind of the confessor. God, Himself, lifts the veil and parts the curtain, or you cannot grasp or confess the God head of Jesus Christ. In that sense, you do not "decide to become a Christian." No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44).
III. The Permanency of the Foundation of Jesus Christ (vv. 18-19)
Those confessing the Godhead of Jesus Christ constitute the foundation of His church. The person and truth about Jesus Christ is the only adequate foundation for His church. The first layers of the foundation are the apostles and the prophets (Eph. 2:20). Luther: "All Christians are Peters on account of the confession Peter here makes, which is the rock on which Peter and all Peters are built."
Christ's relationship to His church is one of construction. "I will build my church." We do not build His true church. Men may build large, ecclesiastical organizations on the basis of human attraction, but only Jesus Christ builds His church.
Christ's relationship to His church is one of possession: "My church. . . . " The only owner of the local church or the whole assembly of all believers in the earth is Jesus Christ, not a pastor, board, or denomination.
Christ's relationship through His church is one of confrontation: "the gates of [hell] will not overcome it" (v. 18). The unseen world of death and the grave swallow every generation, but they will never swallow the church of a living Lord.