What Is the Bible’s View?
Who Is the Rock-Mass?
“You are Peter,” said Jesus Christ, “and on this rock-mass I will build my congregation.” (Matt. 16:18) Just who is the one upon whom the congregation is built? This question can be answered by considering the context of Jesus’ words and other scriptures that speak of the “rock-mass.”
The Son of God had asked his disciples: “Who are men saying the Son of man is?” Their reply: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “You, though, who do you say I am?” Jesus continued. Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” At this point Jesus said: “Happy you are, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but my Father who is in the heavens did. Also, I say to you, You are Peter, and on this rock-mass I will build my congregation, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens.”—Matt. 16:13-19.
Note what was being discussed—the identity of the “Son of man.” Peter correctly identified Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Because this had been revealed to Peter by the Father, evidently through the operation of the holy spirit, the Son of God could speak of Simon Peter as “happy.” Peter’s happiness was one of a spiritual kind, testifying to his having an approved standing with the Father.
Then comes the statement about the rock-mass, which Jesus preceded with the words: “I say to you, You are Peter.” Does this mean that the Son of God now changed the subject under consideration from his own identity to that of Peter? This does not appear to have been the case. Why not? Because after directing his comments to Peter, Jesus, according to the Bible record, “sternly charged the disciples not to say to anybody that he was the Christ.” (Matt. 16:20) So the whole import of what was being discussed continued to be the identity of Jesus, the “Son of man.”
But what did Jesus mean when he said, “You are Peter”? The name Peter was not originally borne by “Simon son of Jonah.” it was given to him by the Son of God when he was called to be a disciple. John 1:42 reports: “When Jesus looked upon him he said: ‘You are Simon the son of John [Jonah]; you will be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” As Simon Peter had correctly identified Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” so Jesus now identified Simon by the name that he had given him, “Peter.” In view of Simon’s confession of faith in Jesus, the name “Peter” (meaning “stone” or “rock,” that is, a separate stone or boulder) was most appropriate. It revealed that Simon, in the conviction expressed, had the firmness and solidity characteristic of stone and, therefore, could be of fine service to the Son of God. The name “Peter” identified Simon as to who he was just as correctly as the expression “the Christ, the Son of the living God” identified Jesus.
The Son of God, though, did not then go on to say, ‘and on you, Peter, I will build my congregation.’ No. He said, “on this rock-mass I will build my congregation.” Since the subject under consideration was the identity of Jesus, the “rock-mass” must have been the one whom Peter acknowledged as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”* In other words, Jesus was saying, ‘Upon the rock-mass, which you, Peter, confess, I will build my congregation.’
This understanding is also confirmed by Jesus’ saying that “the gates of Hades will not overpower” the congregation. In a revelation to the apostle John, the Son of God states: “I have the keys of death and of Hades.” (Rev. 1:18) Hence, because it is built on the one who can release its members from Hades and death, the congregation cannot be overpowered by or permanently restrained in Hades.
Manifestly, the “keys of the kingdom” that were given to Peter could not have been the “keys of death and of Hades.” They must have related to opening up the opportunity for individuals to enter the kingdom. Jesus’ words at Luke 11:52 point to what these “keys” are. He said to Jewish religious leaders who refused to take advantage of Kingdom opportunities: “You took away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not go in, and those going in you hindered!” In keeping with the fact that “keys” were committed to Peter, this apostle was the one who, on the day of Pentecost of 33 C.E., gave knowledge to the assembled .Jews and Jewish proselytes about gaining entrance into the kingdom of the heavens and, in 36 C.E., was the one who imparted such vital knowledge to the first Gentile converts, Cornelius and his household, as well as his intimate friends.—Acts 2:14-41; 10:19-48.
Other parts of the Bible provide additional evidence that the rock-mass definitely is the Christ. The apostle Peter refers to fellow believers as “coming to [Jesus Christ] as to a living stone, rejected, it is true, by men, but chosen, precious, with God.” These Christians “as living stones are being built up a spiritual house.” (1 Pet. 2:4, 5) The apostle Paul made the same point when writing to Christians at Ephesus: “You have been built up upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, while Christ Jesus himself is the foundation cornerstone.” (Eph. 2:20) Referring to the rock-mass from which the Israelites at two different locations received a miraculous supply of water, Paul wrote: “They used to drink from the spiritual rock-mass that followed them, and that rock-mass meant [was a prophetic type of] the Christ.”—1 Cor. 10:4; Ex. 17:5–7; Num. 20:1-11.
The combined testimony of the Scriptures thus makes it clear that Jesus, the one whom Peter acknowledged as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” is the rock-mass. It is on him that the congregation is built, with the apostles, including Peter, serving as a secondary foundation.
Augustine (354-430 C.E.), usually called “Saint Augustine,” at one time believed that Peter was the rock-mass but later changed his view. He wrote: “The rock is not so named from Peter, but Peter from the rock (non enim a Petro petra, sed Petrus a petra), even as Christ is not so called after the Christian, but the Christian after Christ. For the reason with the Lord says, ‘On this rock I will build my church,’ is that Peter had said: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ On this rock, which thou hast confessed, says he, I will build my church. For Christ was the rock (petra enim erat Christus), upon which also Peter himself was built; for other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”