Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 6
THE STUPENDOUS TRUTH
We have been studying the prophecies concerning the Messiah and the effect they would have had on Simon Bar Jonah. The man who had been raised on stories of God separating the Red Sea for his people; of God destroying the walls of Jericho for Joshua’s army; of God holding the sun in the heavens so a victory could be won; this man would certainly see meaning in the power of the Messiah to still a tempest.
The Confession — Something New
But the fact that Jesus was the Messiah was something believed by all the twelve. Simon was not the first to make this claim for Jesus. Phillip had stated this fact to Nathaniel some time before. Simon’s confession was to include something else. There was a prophecy that Christ was to be born of a virgin. Jesus then was direct from God.
Now even then, before the days of modern biology, men knew that like begets like. A bird makes a nest, but he begets another bird. If Jesus were begotten of God then he must be divine in his own right. The stupendous truth that Simon first attested to was not the Messianic so much as the divine nature of Christ. His confession first stated that Jesus was the Christ, but, as already noted, he was not the first to do this. The great force of his new faith lay in the fact that he believed Jesus to be God.
Jesus, who read the hearts and minds of men, knew what was in Simon’s. It was time to draw him out. He asks the question, “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?” The various answers to this question are a telling commentary on the impact of Jesus’ personality on the men of his day. But since they recognized the power of Christ, saw his miracles, and were impressed by his personality and teaching, why did not more of them recognize the Messiah? I think the answer lies in the confusion concerning his birth. This is why Matthew is at such pains to explain that Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem and why he happened to have grown up in Nazareth of Galilee. In all the history of the Jews no great prophet had ever come out of Galilee. Prophecy was very specific that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David (Matt. 2). Led to believe that Jesus was a native of Nazareth, many people could not believe He was the promised Christ.
Who Is Jesus?
Obviously, however, these answers did not satisfy Jesus. His next question puts the responsibility of faith right on the shoulders of the men who knew him best. But “whom say ye that I am?” The insistence of Jesus at this point is significant. There is a modern school of thought which argues that it does not matter who Jesus was. The only important thing is to follow his teaching. This school of thought overlooks the fact that the matter of his identity is central to the teaching of Jesus. It may not matter to them, but it evidently mattered to Jesus ‑-very much.
It was in this moment that God reached out and took hold of the mind of Simon Peter. Already Simon has seen and thought many things that prepared him for this confession. Yet from the words of Jesus we are informed that the actual confession was the result of a direct inspiration from God. Simon speaks, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
“Praise to Christ as God”
Instantly Jesus places his enthusiastic approval on this answer. He hails it as an inspiration from God. “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” Jesus knew the power of this faith. It was many years later that Pliny the Younger, Governor of Bithynia, wrote to the Emperor Trajan. There has been much controversy over the authenticity of the letter. We can well see why. It was supposedly written in 110 A. D. In it are these words, concerning Christians in Bithynia. “They are accustomed to meet on a fixed day before daylight to sing a hymn of praise to Christ as God.” It is this faith that gave the early Christians courage to suffer persecution. It is this faith in Christ as God that has kept Christianity alive through the centuries. Knowing this, Jesus next promises that upon the great truth Simon has just stated he will build a great assembly that will last forever. Not even the gates of death shall be able to topple it. To Simon, at that time, this promise would have meant a great earthly kingdom. That is why later he drew his sword in Gethsemane. To him the mob that came to capture Jesus represented a threat to the kingdom, certainly not a means to it. That is why the crucifixion seemed such a death blow to all his hopes and dreams.
Eternal and Indestructible
But there was coming a time when Simon would understand. Certainly we can look back and see the fulfillment of this prophecy. We see it not only in the resurrection of Christ but in all history since. Kingdom after kingdom, power after power has risen against the Kingdom of Christ and tried to destroy it. From its own ranks heresies have grown. It has been fought by fashion and the spirit of every age. But the Church endures. Pagan Rome sought to destroy it by force and persecution but succeeded only in driving it underground. Voltaire sought to destroy it by wit and intellect but died screaming inanities to the God he had denied. Papal corruption sought to rot it away. Protestant schisms sought to divide it out of existence. Modernism would laugh it to scorn.
But always we remember the words of the angel to Joseph, “They are dead who sought the young child’s life.” We go a little farther and read, “, . . when Herod was dead.” One after another the enemies of the kingdom perish. Herods die, but Christ lives on forever. “In the last of these kings, oh King, shall the Lord set up a Kingdom which shall never pass away.” We turn again to Matthew 16 and read, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” We know in our souls it is true.