Part Two – Returning to Matthew 16
Happily, there is a way we can resolve this seeming impasse and at last understand what Jesus was saying to Peter, beginning with un-mixing some metaphors.

(i) Bedrock is singular; foundation stones are plural.

As seen above, there are two metaphors for foundations: bedrock and the collection of building stones laid as a foundation. Bedrock is singular, being solid or coherent rock that can be found by digging. Jesus contrasted it with sand that can be swept away by a flood:

“Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock [petra] and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. “But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.”1

Building stones, however, are multiple and are laid side by side:

Then the king commanded, and they quarried great stones, costly stones, to lay the foundation of the house with cut stones.2

Jesus is referred to as both bedrock and a building stone,3 the Cornerstone to which all the other foundation stones are aligned.4 Peter is a foundational building stone, along with all the other N.T. apostles and prophets such as Paul and Barnabas, but he is clearly neither the Cornerstone nor the bedrock for the whole church. Paul’s inspired metaphor5 is unequivocal:

For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.6

There is only one bedrock foundation and that’s Jesus.

(ii) We build on one; He builds on another.

In the parable about the house on the rock, we build on the rock by acting on Jesus’ words instead of just hearing them. Similarly in Paul’s metaphor of building:

…But each man must be careful how he builds on it For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s workIf any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.7

If what we build, i.e. our works, survives testing by fire, like gold, silver, and precious stones, we will saved and rewarded; if our works are instead burned up, like wood, hay, and straw, we will be saved but unrewarded.

In both of these exhortations, it is we who are to build carefully. However, in Matthew 16, it is Jesus who is doing the building. Where we’ve historically gone wrong is in not recognising He’s using another metaphor altogether, a metaphor based on His work-place, ‘the true tabernacle’:

Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man… the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation8

Let’s therefore look more carefully at Matthew 16 with this in mind.

The Third Metaphor
So far in considering Jesus’ words to Peter, we’ve focussed on petra and petros but look at what He said before He mentioned either:

I also say to you, you are Peter…9

These first few words are easily overlooked as insignificant but put them in context: Peter has just confessed the deity of Jesus as revealed to him by God the Father “who is in heaven”; now, God the Son is revealing to him who he is. He used to be “Simon Barjona”, which means “son of Jonah”; now he is “Peter” to whom the Father is speaking, teaching him as His reborn son, because of his faith in Jesus.

Notice the structure: Jesus deliberately mirrors Peter’s first revelation, “You are the Christ”, with His own, “You are Peter”. This is a whole other revelation. It is also relational and it is as essential, as foundational, as the first. As Bob Dylan sings in his classic, I and I, using the Rastafarian phrase taken from the revelation given to Moses at the burning bush, God is the ultimate “I AM”, relating to each of us as an “I am”, made in His image.10

This second revelation was never to be only for Peter. We all need it because Jesus said:

“…upon this rock [i.e. bedrock meaning immovable foundation] I will build My church…11

Today, ‘church’ often means a building but, as mentioned above, the Greek ekklesia means an assembly or gathering of people who have responded to a call. So when Jesus says He is going to build His ekklesia on “this rock”, He doesn’t mean all these people have to stand on Peter; He means that Peter is a prototype – every individual who comes to His call will, like Peter, be standing on their own two revelations:

(i) We each have to learn from the Father who Jesus is.

(ii) We each have to learn from Jesus who we are, in relationship to Him.

This foundation metaphor is not ‘Jesus Christ’, as in 1 Corinthians 3:11, nor is it ‘the apostles and prophets’ of Ephesians 2:20. This foundation, the third metaphor, requires two personal revelations because it is a relationship between Jesus and every individual believer, based on His forgiveness, as promised in the New Covenant:

“…But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.12

Let’s examine this more closely.

“You Must Be Born Again…”
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus had spelled out to Nicodemus our need to become new beings to relate to God, in familiar but often misunderstood words:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.13

We are all naturally “born of water”, John later using this phrase to prove that Jesus was “born of the flesh”, i.e. that He was fully human as well as fully God.14 However, if we want to enter the kingdom of God, we have to be “born again”,15 this time of the Spirit. As mentioned above, this is the key, the only way in which anyone can enter the kingdom – it doesn’t require any connection to Peter or any supposed successors other than to follow his example in receiving these two revelations. This is so important that the Holy Spirit personally confirms it to each one of us as soon as we are born again:

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…16

John also wrote of our need of this inner witness, the Holy Spirit, who was prefigured in the Old Covenant by the holy anointing oil poured out on those God was empowering but who now lives within every believer to personally teach each one of us:

These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.17

The Holy Spirit is not only to teach us who we are now, ‘children of God… and fellow-heirs with Christ’, but He is also to teach us about ‘those who are trying to deceive’ us so we can ‘abide’, or remain, in Christ. We see then that the second revelation, only received when we are born of the Spirit and thus made fit for the kingdom, is as essential as the first. It also distinguishes us from Satan and his demons who know the first revelation very well, because they inhabit the spiritual realm, but they will never know the second.

Looking again at Matthew 16, we see that when Jesus gives Simon, son of Jonah, his new name as Peter, son of our Father in heaven, He is affirming he has been born again. Not only has he now entered the kingdom of God but, Jesus adds, this is going to help him withstand “the gates of Hades”, as we will consider soon.

We can also see these two foundational revelations wonderfully illustrated, foreshadowed in Israel’s mobile temple in the wilderness, the Tabernacle of Moses. This Tabernacle, we are told, was created to be an earthly copy of Messiah’s real Tabernacle in which Jesus serves as our great High Priest:

…a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man… Those who offer the gifts according to the Law, …serve a copy and foreshadowing of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain”… But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation…18

The Tabernacle’s Foundation
It’s very easy to overlook this as a foundation altogether, firstly because in our 21st Century Gentile minds, our foundations today are usually immovable concrete slabs, and secondly, because our Bible translations refer to ‘sockets’ or ‘bases’. We have to remember that the fabulous tent of God, the Tabernacle with its inner plating of solid gold, was dismantlable and mobile, being held in place by ropes and pegs so that its boards and pillars needed mobile sockets or bases to prevent them being driven into the ground or desert sand. However, 1st Century Jews would have known all about this because Moses’ Tabernacle loomed large in their history.19 They were reminded every year by the Feast of Tabernacles, when they erected and lived in much simpler tabernacles made of leafy branches, that God had lived this way in their midst for the forty years in the wilderness.20

(i) This foundation was hugely expensive

God instructed Moses to stand the Tabernacle on one hundred talents of precious silver. A talent was a weight of about 30 kgs (66 lbs) and one talent of silver was about 20 years’ wages for a labourer.21 One hundred talents was therefore over three tonnes and 2,000 years’ wages. In New Zealand today, the equivalent would be about NZ$90 million or US$62.28 million.[/note]Today’s labourer averages NZ$45,000 p.a. If calculated from the price of silver today, US$17 an ounce, the total would be only NZ$2.6 million (US$1.8 million) but our very different standards of living don’t accurately reflect the one hundred talents’ actual purchasing power.[/note] This was a very expensive foundation and designed to be noticed.

(ii) It was ‘ransom’ or ‘atonement money’

The silver was collected at Israel’s first census of fighting-age men, representing households:

“When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them. This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel… as a contribution to the LORD… The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the LORD to make atonement for yourselves. You shall take the atonement money from the sons of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the sons of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves.”22

A half-shekel was approximately two days’ wages and when 603,550 men each gave one, it became the huge total required for the Tabernacle’s foundation:

The silver of those of the congregation who were numbered was 100 talents and 1,775 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary; a beka a head (that is, half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary), for each one who passed over to those who were numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for 603,550 men.23

We see then the Tabernacle’s foundation signified that the only basis for relating to God is through ransom or atonement. This is why Jesus explained His mission in life as paying that for us:

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”24

Peter explained further:

…you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold… but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.25

Accordingly, just as the Tabernacle’s foundation foreshadowed redemption, so too the foundation of every individual in the ekklesia points to the atonement or redemption paid by Jesus.

(iii) Each board stood on two foundations

Every Tabernacle board stood on not one but two cast foundations, each made of a talent of silver26 and laid side by side – if one was removed, its board would lean on its neighbour. Put another way, without two very precious silver foundations, the boards of the Tabernacle could not independently stand upright.

Two Silver Foundations
In the Scriptures, gold and silver are not only a means of purchasing but sometimes hold symbolic meanings. Gold, being the most precious, signifies worship or worth-ship, i.e. the highest worth we give to anything, of God Himself, or our faith in Him.27 This is why the Tabernacle and Temple were lined throughout with gold and all utensils used within them were made of gold. Silver, however, signifies His words:

The words of the LORD are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.28

This is why the two trumpets that summoned Israel or announced their next move were made of silver29 – Israel were to live by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God30 which, as Jesus taught, is always to be confirmed by at least two witnesses.31 Israel’s gathering to the silver trumpets’ call also made them God’s ekklesia (from Grk, ek, out, from; kaleo, to call), i.e. an assembly or gathering of people who have responded to His call.

What then do the two foundation talents of precious silver signify? Two distinct words of God, i.e. the two revelations given to every individual born again of the Spirit, the true foundation on which Jesus is building every individual in His ekklesia. And it is this foundation that can enable us to withstand every onslaught of “the gates of Hades”.

The Gates of Hades
This is another Jewish idiom which is often misunderstood. Over the years, I’ve heard many try to explain that we don’t have to worry about these gates because they are defensive, not offensive; as static, inanimate objects, they can’t attack anyone, so Jesus must have meant the gates can’t withstand us when we attack them. Trouble is, the Greek, katischuo, is offensive, meaning to overpower, overcome, or prevail.

We should be asking then what did ‘gates’ mean to Jesus’ original Jewish hearers, and how does knowing who Jesus is and who we are in Him defend us against them?

(i) Gates.

Remember where Boaz went when he wanted to be officially recognised as Ruth’s redeemer – Bethlehem’s town gate.32 That’s because, in those days, the city gates were an assembly point where the elders and judges sat, to render public decisions and give advice.33 Accordingly, wisdom was to be heard ‘at the entrance of the gates in the city’34 and ‘beside the gates, at the opening to the city’.35 To the Jewish mind, therefore, gates were not always inanimate objects – Isaiah wrote that Jerusalem’s “gates will lament and mourn”,36 and Jeremiah, that Judah’s “gates languish”.37 The gates symbolised the collective wisdom resident in each city.

‘Hades’ is a Greek word meaning literally ‘unseen’ and is the usual N.T. term for the place of departed spirits.38 ‘The gates of Hades’ are therefore the ‘gates of death’,39 further described to Job by God:

“Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?”40

Entering these ‘gates of deep darkness’ for us, Jesus ‘descended to the lower parts of the earth’,41 in the abyss,42 which in Greek, abussos, is literally bottomless. They are also where Satan and demons emerge onto the earth and are sent back through to their place.43 It could well be that Jesus taught this at Caesarea Philippi because, as mentioned earlier, this city, dedicated to worship Augustus in 14 AD, was built around a substantial spring considered to be bottomless.44

We find then that the metaphor Jesus used of the “gates of Hades” refers to the collective wisdom of the unseen realm of Satan and the forces of darkness.45 He is ‘full of wisdom’46 and ‘craftiness’.47 so we all have to be built on, and remain on, the two revelations to avoid being overpowered by his craftiness and schemes.48

(ii) Our defence.

Underneath all the complexities of temptation, Satan has two simple ways of attacking us. First, he tries by every possible means to prevent us from calling on Jesus as God to be saved:

The god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image [Grk, eikon] of God.49

Jesus is the living icon, the visible image of the invisible God.50 This is absolutely essential for us all:

…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved… for the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed”. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved”51

We have to call on Jesus as God to be saved. When I did this in 1973, trusting that He could hear me, and He responded, I moved from hoping to knowing He’d been raised from the dead.

Second, when Satan fails to stop us becoming followers of Jesus, he tries to tempt us away from Jesus, as Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth:

I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.52

Our best defence then is to keep our faith uncomplicated, to remain devoted to Jesus – even a child can do this. However, as Paul says above, Satan ‘blinds the minds’ and tries to ‘lead astray’ our minds. Obviously, he can tempt us with pleasures, or money, or success, as he did Jesus,53 but in Part 3, we will focus on temptations regarding our identity. Before we do, however, let’s summarise what we’ve established so far.

We find that:

(i) In Jesus’ parable, He alone is the bedrock on which we are to build the metaphorical houses of our lives by hearing and acting on His words – if we don’t, the storms and floods of life will reveal that we built on sand (Matt 7:24-27). Peter’s not mentioned.

(ii) Similarly, Paul writes of bedrock that ‘no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor 3:11). This time, however, it’s fire that will test the quality of our works. If we devote ourselves to selfish pursuits, they will burn like ‘wood, hay, and straw’ – we will be saved but without reward. Everything we truly do for Jesus, however, will survive like ‘gold, silver, and precious stones’ – we will be saved and rewarded (1 Cor 3:12-15). Again, Peter’s not mentioned.

(iii) In the second metaphor, the Temple’s foundation stones, Jesus is the Cornerstone and, although Peter’s not specifically mentioned, he’s clearly included as metaphorical rock, along with all the other N.T. apostles and prophets, because he’s a foundational building stone (Eph 2:20-22, 1 Pet 2:4-6, Rev 21:14). Every one of us who believes is also metaphorical rock, not foundational but a ‘living stone’ in this spiritual Temple (1 Pet 2:5).

(iv) In Matthew 16, Jesus uses a third foundation metaphor, a foundation which He’s laying in Peter as a prototype of all who trust in Him: it’s a personal relationship with every individual believer, based on His forgiveness of our sins. Explicitly promised in the New Covenant, it is also prefigured by the precious, solid silver foundations of the Tabernacle which had two distinct components: we each need a revelation from our heavenly Father as to who Jesus is, and from Jesus, a revelation of who He is making us to be.

(v) Each of these three metaphorical foundations will be tested severely and that is their primary purpose – to help us withstand whatever happens to us in this life. Their true nature is often only revealed when tested to the limit: the house on rock or sand, by floods and storms; our lives and works, by fire; the spiritual Temple, by false teachings and prophecies; and our faith in Jesus and His work in us, by the gates of Hades.

Read Part 3 >>

  1. Luke 6:47-49, emphasis added.
  2. 1 Kin 5:17, emphasis added
  3. 1 Cor 10:4, Matt 21:42
  4. Eph 2:20
  5. 2 Pet 3:15-16
  6. 1 Cor 3:11, emphasis added
  7. 1 Cor 3:10-15, emphasis added
  8. Heb 8:1-2, 9:11, emphasis added
  9. Matt 16:18
  10. Ex 3:1-14
  11. Matt 16:18
  12. Jer 31:33-34, emphasis added
  13. John 3:5-6
  14. 1 John 5:6
  15. John 3:3
  16. Rom 8:16-17
  17. 1 John 2:26-27
  18. Heb 8:1-5, quoting Ex 25:9; 9:11, emphasis added. See also Acts 7:44
  19. e.g. Heb 8:5-9:21
  20. Lev 23:40-43
  21. A labourer earned a denarius a day (Matt 20:2)
  22. Ex 30:12-16, emphasis added
  23. Ex 38:25-28. The 100 talents became the foundation and the remaining 1,775 shekels were made into hooks, tops, and bands on the pillars.
  24. Matt 20:28
  25. 1 Pet 1:18-19
  26. Ex 26:19-25
  27. 1 Pet 1:7, Rev 3:18
  28. Psa 12:6
  29. Num 10:2
  30. Deut 8:3
  31. Matt 18:16
  32. Ruth 4:1
  33. Deut 17:5, 22:15, 25:7, Prov 31:23, Zech 8:16
  34. Prov 1:21
  35. Prov 8:3
  36. Isa 3:26
  37. Jer 14:2
  38. e.g. Jesus’ teaching about Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31)
  39. Psa 9:13, 107:18
  40. Job 38:17
  41. Eph 4:9
  42. Rom 10:7
  43. Rev 9:1-11, 20:3 & 7; Luke 8:31
  44. Josephus: ‘a dark cave opens itself; within which there is an horrible precipice, that descends abruptly to a vast depth; it contains a mighty quantity of water, which is immovable; and when any body lets down any thing to measure the depth of the earth beneath the water, no length of cord is sufficient to reach it’ (Wars, I, 21:3)
  45. Eph 6:12
  46. Ezek 28:12
  47. 2 Cor 11:3
  48. 2 Cor 2:11
  49. 2 Cor 4:4, emphasis added
  50. Col 1:15
  51. Rom 10:9-13, emphasis added
  52. 2 Cor 11:3
  53. Matt 4:1-11