Musings on Matthew 16:18

“…on this rock I will build my church” (Matt 16.18; italics added).[1] What is the rock to which Jesus refers? Is it a play on the name Petra (rock), which is the meaning of Peter? Or is “the rock” to which Jesus refers; Jesus the Christ?

An important aspect the reader must consider is the topic under question. What is the topic? Who is Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus asks first, “Who do the people say that I am?” (Matt 16.13). He then asks, “Who do you [my disciples] say that I am?” (Matt 16.15). That right there is the topic (focus) of the whole dialogue, in case you missed it.

Peter’s answer is quick and to the point, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16.16). Jesus immediately praises Simon Peter’s answer, and explains that this conclusion was not of natural origin “…flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 16.17). The Lord then identifies Peter, this son of Jonah, making the aforementioned declaration, “and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16.18; italics added).

We are full circle. What or rather who is the “rock” to which Jesus refers? Is the rock Peter? Certainly, the book of Acts demonstrates the leadership qualities associated with Peter, starting with his message on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2). Or is “the rock” still found in the original question that Jesus posed to his disciples? “Who…am I?”

If Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, then what is the proper designation for Him found in the Old Testament?

Well, there are actually quite a bit. Jesus is called the root and/or the branch of Jesse, the son of David (cf. Isa 11.10; Zech 3.8; 6.12). Jesus is said to be the “messenger of the covenant” (Mal 3.1). Jesus is identified as the shepherd who will guide and protect the children of God (cf. Psa 23; Zech 13.7; Mic 5.4; John 10). Along with the many metaphoric titles attributed to him, Jesus is likewise called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9.6). The one that ought to catch our attention however, is that Jesus is referred to as the rock which was uncut by human hands that grows into a great mountain (Dan 2 34-35, 44-5). Jesus is the precious cornerstone upon which the leaders of Israel stumble, and foolish men of all nations reject (Psa 118.22; Isa 28.16; Zech 10.4; also see 1Cor 1.22-24).

Which makes more sense? To inject our own wisdom on the subject of what Jesus might mean by Peter as the rock? Or to build our thinking upon a biblical witness? Doesn’t it seem much more likely that Jesus is the rock, uncut and un-fashioned by human hands…that precious cornerstone that the supposed[2] builders reject? Yes, it does. And if we are willing to accept this truth we find that this is precisely the conclusion that Peter himself draws in his own teaching on several occasions:

  • “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone” (Acts 4.11).
  • “For it stands in Scripture: Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’” (1Pet 2.6-7).

And as Scripture testifies there is no other foundation that a person may be built upon (or a group of people) that is more secure than that which God has established: “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1Cor 3.11; also see Rom 9.33; 1Cor 10.4). To put one more proverbial nail in the coffin for those that teach that Jesus cannot be the rock to which the conversation between him and his disciples referred to I will close with Christ’s own testimony:

Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: “he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6.46-49).

The fact remains that “There is none holy like the Lord; there is none besides [Him]; there is no rock like our God” (1Sam 2.2). The rock is Jesus Christ, and the citizenry of His Kingdom are those that believe in Him. To put anything in place of Jesus as Lord is to live a life of foolishness. To suppose that you can build anything of lasting worth apart from Him is one of the greatest deceptions that the devil has laid at the foot of human beings. Not to mention the great contention and confusion wrongly interpreting this passage has caused throughout the centuries.


[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[2] I use the word “supposed” because had they been true builders rather than false builders (blind guides), then they would have believed the testimony of Jesus and believed in Him. Instead they chose to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1.18).