Lesson 5: Upon This Rock - Beginning of the Church and the Work of the Apostles
By Paul R. Blake
“When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, ‘Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ So they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’” (Matthew 16:13-19).
The Church is one of the most important of Bible matters. It was not an afterthought as some tend to believe, perhaps thinking that Jesus Christ could not establish His kingdom in the first century, so He made the Church as a temporary measure until the Kingdom could be fulfilled. However, the Church is a vital part of the panoramic, eon-spanning scheme of redemption of God the Father. It is the Kingdom to rule all kingdoms; it is the stone that struck the statute representing kingdoms of men in king Nebuchadnezzar’s vision that became a mountain that filled the entire earth. Ephesians 5:23-30 teaches that the Church is where salvation is found and maintained. It is Christ’s soul saving institution on earth; when we labor on behalf of the Church, we work directly for Jesus. It remains the most expensive organization in history, purchased with the most priceless substance in the universe... the blood of Deity. Jesus Christ promised to build it. The Church is critically important the Lord; it should be equally important to those who profess to believe and obey Him.
Jesus said, “Upon this rock...” He asked the apostles what men were saying about Him. They replied that men consider Him one of the great prophets. Jesus then asked what they understood about Him. On behalf of the apostles, Peter confessed Him to be the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God. It was a great confession made by a little man, and Jesus acknowledged as much when He said that Peter did not get that understanding from men, but rather from God, and tells Peter that he is blessed to know this. The confession made by Peter is the context, the topic, the theme, the object of discussion, the whole point of Christ’s discourse. Upon the solid foundation of the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, He would build His Church. Peter was merely a pillar in the Church; he is not the foundation (Galatians 2:9). Jesus is foundation upon which the Church is built (1Corinthians 3:10-11).
Jesus said, “I will build...” The Psalmist wrote: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1). The Church could not have been built by any man. The Savior promised to do it Himself within the lifetime of His apostles (Matthew 16:28). He told them to go to Jerusalem to wait for the power that would be the sign of its beginning (Luke 24:49); they waited in the city, and as He promised, the power came (Acts 2:1-4). With that power, they preached the Gospel for the first time and baptized a multitude of believers, and the Lord added them to His church (Acts 2:36-41, 47). Any church started after that is not the Lord’s Church. Thousands of churches exist because men are dissatisfied with God’s Builder and His Divine plans. The Church was built by Christ; all others are poor imitations.
Jesus said, “My Church...” The Church belongs to Christ. He holds the deed by purchasing with His shed blood (Acts 20:28). It wears His name: Christ, God the Son (Romans 16:16). Other churches wear the names of their founders or their defining doctrines. It is not the Christian’s church, John the Baptist’s church, Martin Luther’s church, et cetera; it is the Lord’s Church (Matthew 15:13). “My Church” is singular. The Old Testament prophets spoke of one church, not many (Isaiah 2:2-3; Daniel 2:44). The New Testament witnesses testify that there is only one church, not several (Ephesians 4:4, 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18).
Jesus said, “The gates of hades shall not prevail against it.” Death ends human plans and projects in this world (Ecclesiastes 9:10), but Christ was not merely a man (Hebrews 1:8; Colossians 2:9). The grave would not prevent Him from completing His work. Hades lost; Christ came back to finish His work of establishing His Church (Acts 2:31; 1Corinthians 15:19-20, 27).
Jesus said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” A key grants entrance for the holder; the lack of a key prevents access for those outside. Peter and the other apostles passed on the keys to the whole world by preaching the Gospel, beginning on Pentecost in Jerusalem. All of the keys must be used to enter the kingdom. Faith is essential (Hebrews 11:6; Romans 10:17; John 8:24). Repentance must be complete (Acts 17:30; Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38). Faith without confession saves no one (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 10:32-33). One must be baptized into Jesus Christ for the remission of sins in order to complete his salvation and be added to the Church (Acts 2:38, 47; Galatians 3:26-27; Mark 16:16).
Jesus said, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Peter and all of the apostles revealed God’s law as they were directed by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, 16:7, 13; 2Timothy 3:16-17; 2Peter 1:2-4). They did not teach the doctrines and commandments of men, but instead delivered the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27), making it essential that one continue in God’s law in order to remain saved (2John 9-11). The Lord Jesus Christ promised to build His Church, and He fulfilled His promise to the uttermost (1Corinthians 15:1-4). He ascended to His Father in Heaven, and His apostles continued His work of building the Church.
Peter and the apostles preached to a multitude of people on the first Pentecost after the ascension of Jesus; three thousand people repented and were baptized for the remission of their sins; and the Lord added them to the Church (Acts 2:36-41, 47). Within a short period of time, their number had risen to five thousand (Acts 4:4). Many of them were driven by persecution from the city of Jerusalem, but they carried the Gospel with them everywhere they went in Judea (Acts 8:4). Philip went to neighboring Samaria and carried the Gospel to Samaritans, the first time it had been shared with persons not of a strictly Jewish background (Acts 8:5-25). Peter was summoned by the Lord to Caesarea to preach the Gospel to Cornelius and his family, resulting in the salvation of the first Gentile converts (Acts 10).
In Acts 9, Saul of Tarsus obeyed the Gospel and was chosen by the Lord to be His apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15, 22:14-16). Acts 11:25 begins the account of his labor for the Lord, preaching the Gospel everywhere he went, starting local churches all over Europe and Asia and writing at least thirteen epistles in the New Testament. Through the work of Peter, Paul, the remaining eleven apostles, and with the help of their preaching companions, like Barnabas, Luke, Timothy, and many others, the Gospel was preached throughout the entire known world in about thirty-one years (Colossians 1:6, 23).
The same Gospel continues to be preached to this present moment. It continues to produce Christians who are added to the Church by the Lord. The Lord’s Church was established according to His promise, and it will remain in this world until He comes again (Daniel 2:44; 1Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Scriptures Used In Text
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