IN THOSE DAYS, when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I, the Son of Man, am?” And the disciples said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. 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.”
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" ... "On this rock I will build My Church"
The disciples are asked a very important question, a question that we should be asking and answering as well, "Who do you say that I am?"
Who is Christ? Not, "Who He is to us," but "Who is He?" This question is not about how we feel about Him, rather how we understand the revelation we have received about Christ and through Christ, the revelation that is preserved in the teaching and life of the Church.
When presented with this question, the disciples were somewhat hesitant in their answer. They had witnessed enough miracles to realize that they were in the presence of someone greater than a mere human being. But, did they recognize divine power in Jesus?
Peter, as the de facto leader of the disciples (note, he wasn't the leader over them, but among them), answered Jesus' question, "You the Christ, the Son of the living God." From this answer we can definitely see that Jesus was seen as One anointed by God, chosen for a special purpose, the Messiah. Words "Christ" in Greek and "Messiah" in Hebrew mean the same thing - "the anointed one."
Kings were anointed at coronation and were seen as being selected by a divine will. The Savior was expected to be the anointed one as well because of the special mission He was to accomplish. What the people did not expect was that the Messiah would be the Son of God, and God Himself.
Therefore, Christ's question is significant because as the twelve closest people to Christ and His mission, they had to have a better understanding of Him than the general public. They couldn't have vague ideas, they couldn't have misguided ideas. They had to fully realize Who Jesus is.
Like most of Israel, the disciples were expecting a military hero (think of this idea like sort of first century Captain America). In their erroneous understanding, the Messiah would come on the clouds with the heavenly armies to destroy God's enemies and spill the blood of the Romans.
But this was not Who Christ was, as the apostles knew really well. He walked in humility, with no military or political power or connections. To see in Him the glorious Messiah could not come through the human insight. It could only come through the divine revelation. Peter's response, on the surface, seems like he got it, he realized Who Christ is. However, his, and other disciples', further actions, especially surrounding the betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion of their Teacher, clearly show that they did not, yet, recognize the divinity in Christ, that He is not just a Messiah, but God Himself. The fullness of the revelation would come a bit later, at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on all the disciples and opened their understanding. The understanding that has been preserved and passed on in the Church.
Christ's response to Peter's answer carries an important message, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church." There is a play on words here in Greek, "Peter" Petros and "rock" petra are synonyms. The meaning of Christ's words might not be immediately clear. But, one thing for sure, Jesus is not establishing His Church on Peter. For one, Peter would very clearly betray the Lord, just like the rest. For another, even in the times of the apostles, there is no evidence that Peter was held in any higher regard than any other apostle. Read Acts of the Apostles for more. And finally, Christ is the foundation of the Church, He is the rock upon which the Church and our faith rests. One of the names and images of Christ throughout the whole Bible and the liturgical hymns of the Church (which are based on the Bible) is Rock.
Therefore, what does Christ mean when He says that "on this rock I will build My Church." The Church has always understood these words to mean the rock to be not Peter, but his confession of faith. In order to be part of the Church, in order to be God's children, we need to have the same confession of Jesus. Who is He? He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
And so, Christ is the foundation of the Church, Peter's confession is the foundation of those who believe. How do we acquire this confession? Well, seek the Truth. This search, almost inevitably, will bring you to the Church. And the life of the Church, and our participating in this life, will provide all the necessary revelations from our Father in heaven. This is not a one time deal, it's rather a lifetime journey.
Yours in the Lord,