Biblical doctrines Christianity The Papacy

Who is the rock?

One of the most misunderstood passages of Scripture is the account when the Apostle Peter acknowledges Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. The Father through Holy Spirit reveals to Peter who Jesus is  (Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-20; John 6:66-71).


This is the passage where Jesus speaks of building His church upon a rock, and where He gives to Peter the “keys to the kingdom.” The Papacy falsely claims this as proof of their claim to be the lawful head of Christ’s Church on Earth.  The Roman Church also claims a continuous succession of popes from Peter, who they claim as their first pope. In addition they assert that Jesus giving Peter the “keys” means that Peter, at that time, was given temporal authority over the whole Christian Church. Thus that same authority passed to all succeeding Bishops of Rome, popes, who claim to be Christ’s representative on Earth, or actually a substitute Christ.

The real question in this passage is: Who is the rock?  Who is the rock upon which Christ has built His church?

Matthew 16:13-20 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? 14 And they said, Some say that You are John the Baptist: some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. 15 He says to them, But whom say you that I am? 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona [son of John]: for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but My Father which is in heaven. 18 And I say also to you, That you are Peter [ Πέτρος (petros), meaning a (piece of) rock (a stone)], and upon this rock [πέτρα (petra), meaning a (massive) rock like a rock cliff] I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail  against it. 19 And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 20 Then charged He His disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Christ. (KJVER)

When questioning His disciples Simon Peter says of Jesus “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v.16). This is revealed to him, not through communication with other humans but by our Father God in heaven (v.17). This is fact number one to take note of. Then Jesus calls Peter ‘petros‘ in Greek, which means a piece of rock or stone (v.18). That is deliberate as a comparison to what He says next. “…upon this rock I will build My church” (v.18). In this case the word translated ‘rock’ is the Greek word ‘petra,’ which means a massive rock like a cliff face, hence a gigantic solid rock foundation. 

Ancient city of Petra in Jordan. Credit: Wikipedia
Ancient city of Petra in Jordan. Credit: Wikipedia

Jesus Christ is the foundation stone

The rock city, Petra, in Jordan is very famous. It is illustrative of the solid rock foundation Jesus was laying for the construction of His Church on Earth. But His Church is not made from physical stones or bricks and cement but “living stones,” meaning those who repent of their sins and give their hearts to Christ.

This is something Peter perfectly understood. Christ’s Church was not to be built on him, just one little rock, a pebble, but made of the souls won for Christ. Peter wrote:

1 Peter 2:5 You also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

This is supported also by:

Luke 19:40 And He answered and said to them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

God is building His Church with lively living stones, not dead heartless stones like all those empty and dead church buildings today.  God said He would change our stony hearts to one of flesh in all those who turn their minds and hearts over to Christ.

Ezekiel 36:26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

The Papacy and the Romish churchmen cannot understand this, because they, like many Romanised evangelicals, cannot see in the spirit. They are continuing to build a temporal earthly kingdom for God, but he requires no such thing.

Acts 7:49 Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool: what house will you build Me? says the Lord: or what is the place of My rest?

Rodin's The Gates of Hell. Credit: Wikipedia
Rodin’s The Gates of Hell. Credit: Wikipedia

God does not desire the Church build Him a temple on earth or all these dead church buildings. His Church is a spiritual fellowship of the true believers on Earth. It is a militant evangelising church, who are not part of the world but pressing into the Kingdom of God. Jesus continued saying “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (v.18).  The Greek word translated ‘prevail’ is given the meaning ‘overcome’ in my lexicon. This must have drifted from its original meaning. At the time of the KJV translation it must have meant ‘to withstand’. You can see this from the context. There are no literal “gates of hell.” So the image is not one of the gates attacking the Church but of the Church conquering the Devil’s strongholds in the hearts of man. Thus the correct picture here is the gates of hell crumbling at the onslaught of the true Church attacking its very foundations. Hell’s gates cannot withstand, or could not survive, in that sense ‘prevail’ under attack, of the onslaught of the Church’s powerful witness. Thus ‘prevail’ is a much better choice of word than ‘overcome,’ as many translations use. Of course, this is not a temporal earthly war but a spiritual one, where God guarantees the victory.

But there is more to this passage. When Jesus said, “… upon this rock I will build My church” (v.18) it not only has the illustration of the solid rock foundation, but that that foundation is Christ. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone—the most important stone for any building from which all measurements are made in rightly constructing the building. The cornerstone is laid first as part of the foundation.

Ephesians 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;

Peter acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ. That fact is the substance of the foundation of His Church. That fact is that Jesus is the Christ. The rest of the stones in the foundation as the believing Church, the apostles and prophets, both Jews and Gentiles, with which Jesus is building His Church.

The word ‘church’ comes from the Greek word ἐκκλησία (ekklésia), which means an assembly of believers. It is not a stone or concrete building. It is not an earthly organisation or denomination. Christ is not building any institution of man. But He is calling his followers out of darkness into His marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9).

So quite clearly the Roman Catholics and the antichrist papacy got it wrong. The Apostle Peter was a leader in the primitive Church but it was not built on a ‘little rock’ but an infinitely stronger foundation—Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.

The Keys

Well, what about the “keys of the kingdom” (v.19)? Isn’t that like the Mayor of your city having the keys to the city, hence being the one in control?

Again, this expression does not have an earthly meaning but a spiritual one. Jesus is telling Peter, and by extension the rest of His disciples, to open the doors to the kingdom of God for the believers, anyone one who will come, to enter. Keys are used to open doors.

To just see the kingdom you must be born again (have you eyes opened in the spirit), and to enter you must definitely be born the second time (John 3).  The first birth was of the flesh, but the second birth of the spirit.

The Roman Catholics pervert the meaning of what Jesus said here on the “keys” claiming an earthly temporal power passed to the popes in a continuous unbroken succession from Peter. But of course, the claim back to Peter is without substance. I am sure Peter would be insulted by such a claim. He was no sinless saint but he certainly did not want to lead a godless earthly organisation, such as the Church of Rome.

Power to bind and loose

Roman Catholic apologists claim that the scripture saying “whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (v.19) gives them authority on earth to forgive sins. This is one of the verses they use in support of priests hearing confessions and offering absolution of those sins.

But that passage means God has given us believers, through His Spirit, the power and authority to pray for those in need of salvation, for both their physical healing and their spiritual healing. All authority comes from and is in the Name of Jesus Christ. He paid for it with His death on the Cross. Not any man/pope or earthly entity.

John 14:13 And whatsoever you shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

And we need no earthly priesthood. Jesus Christ is our high priest—our connection to God.

Hebrews 4:14,15  Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

We need no other–no church, no angels, no priests, no popes, no man. We have Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.

By John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.