In the Book of Matthew, we read that Jesus and His disciples traveled to Caesarea Phillipi, which was located at the foot of Mount Hermon. This was also the location of the site of a famous shrine dedicated to the Roman god Pan, who pagans worshipped as the god of the wild, nature, and fertility. At the time of Christ, Caesarea Phillipi was a center of Greco-Roman culture and had a mostly pagan population.
Upon arriving at the famous pagan site, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matt. 16:13). As a group, the disciples responded, “Some say John the Baptist, and others, Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets” (Matt. 16:14). Jesus then asked, “But who do you say I am?” (Matt. 16:15). Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Jesus then said, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona [meaning son of John], because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is heaven” (Matt. 16:17).
Matthew used the Greek verb apokolypto, which means to “uncover, unveil, or reveal.” In the Book of Revelation, we see a related Greek noun apokolypsis, which means “a revelation or a disclosure of truth” (Rev. 1:1). As Jesus explained, Peter had received a disclosure of truth from God, the Father about the identity of Jesus. Then Jesus made this shocking statement, “And I also say to you that you are Peter [meaning, “rock or stone”] and upon this rock [Peter] I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt.16:18).
Shockingly, Jesus Christ announced that He was going to build His Church (or His called-out community) on Peter. Why Peter? I believe there are several reasons. First, the Church is built on disclosures of truth to willing recipients. These disclosures of truth come to people via the Holy Spirit from God. Disclosures of truth come to men and women who humbly seek God. The Church is built up by disclosures of truth and such humble individuals.
Over the centuries, many have been attracted to or have identified with Peter because he seemed so humanly average, impulsive, and prone to failure. He failed in almost every way, but he did not quit. He persevered in his spiritual journey.
In his book Saint Peter, The Underestimated Apostle, German Scholar Martin Hengel noted that Peter (by his various names) is mentioned in the New Testament 181 times, while Paul is mentioned 177 times. References to the other apostles or teachers are not even close in number. Of course, other than Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit, Peter and Paul are the two dominant personalities of the New Testament.
Further, Jesus was looking for a faithful witness, and Peter was that faithful witness. Shortly after Peter’s confession of Christ, Peter received one of his many rebukes from Jesus. Jesus foretold His death. Jesus explained that He was going to Jerusalem where He was going to suffer, die, and be raised on the third day. Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Jesus saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You!” (Matt. 16:22). But Jesus strongly admonished Peter saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s purposes, but men’s” (Matt. 16:23). In His rebuke, Jesus trained His faithful witness, Peter, to put the purposes of God before the purposes of men. Facing such a harsh rebuke, the vast majority would have quit following Jesus. Peter remained faithful.
At John 6:53, Jesus taught His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” In other words, authentic followers must be consumed and absorbed with Jesus. However, many were offended by such a strong use of figurative language. As a result, many departed and no longer followed Jesus (John 6:66). Then Jesus looked at the twelve and asked, “You do not want to leave also, do you?” (John 6:67). Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). As I explained in one of my earlier blogs, eternal life is much more than a never-ending life; it is a new type, kind, and quality of life. It is a life of fellowship with the Trinity. Jesus taught, “For the gate is narrow and the way is constricted that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:14). Peter was unusual, and he was willing to follow the narrow path himself, as well as lead others through the narrow gate. Like Peter, we must have perseverance, and Jesus Christ must be our highest priority. Peter had a unique fortitude.
However, we also note that Peter had some very public failures. Shortly before the arrest of Jesus, Peter dogmatically stated, “Even if they all [the other disciples] fall away because of You, I will never fall away!” (Matt. 26:33). Jesus replied to him, “Truly I say to you this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (Matt.26:34), and, of course, he did that very thing in Caiaphas’s courtyard (Matt. 26:69-74). In fact, the Gospels are full of Peter’s missteps and failures. Who provided these unforgettable stories of Peter’s shortcomings and failures? Remarkably, they came from Peter. He allowed his own reputation to suffer for our benefit. Jesus chose to build His Church upon a very honest and humble man.
As explained by Professor Martin Hengel, the first Gospel published was the Gospel of Mark, and Mark was a disciple of Peter. The Gospel of Mark was written in Rome. Professor Hengel believes that the Gospel of Mark was published around AD 70. Others think that it was published closer to AD 60. Most importantly, as the first published Gospel, Mark provided the basic information for both Luke and Matthew’s gospel. For example, Hengel asserts that Matthew makes use of 80 percent of Mark. Similarly, the Gospel of Luke is highly dependent on Mark. Within all the Gospels, Peter is clearly the key and most important disciple. However, as stated before, the stories are often uncomplimentary to Peter. Professor Hengel noted that some scholars have questioned Peter’s connection with Mark’s gospel because it appears to be so anti-Peter. Instead, Hengel writes that the Gospel of Mark was based on “a recognized authority who was instrumental in this brand-new movement.” The Gospels often show Peter in a negative light because Jesus taught Peter to put the purposes of God before the purposes of men. Peter’s humility is remarkable. Yes, upon such a man Christ built His Church.
Further, as stated above, Paul and Peter are the dominant human personalities of the New Testament. As such, their relationship assumes a critical role. Paul was not one of the original Twelve, and Paul did not have a relationship with the pre-resurrected Christ. Importantly, Paul persecuted the Church and played a role in the stoning of Stephen. In hindsight, we know that Jesus Christ planned for Paul to play a critical role in building up His Church. About three years after his conversion, Paul visited with Peter for about 15 days (Gal. 1:18). Paul would have learned from Peter important pre-resurrection facts about Jesus’ earthly ministry. However, their relationship was not always smooth. In Antioch, Paul gave a very harsh public rebuke of Peter’s lack of table fellowship with Gentile believers when certain Jewish Christians visited from Jerusalem (Gal. 2:11-15). To further pour salt into the wound, Paul again publicly mentioned Peter’s failure in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Most often, such a public rebuke would forever destroy the chance of a warm and friendly relationship between two such strong-willed men. However, we see no evidence that Peter ever retaliated against Paul. Others may have found reasons to discredit or separate from Paul, but Peter always took the high road. As an example, we only need to look a Peter’s remarks about Paul in Peter’s second and last epistle. Peter wrote,
Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found spotless and blameless by Him, at peace, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which there are some things that are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of Scripture, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:14-16)
Jesus gave Peter His stamp of approval, and a little over 30 years later, Peter gave his stamp of approval to Paul’s letters. Do you remember what Jesus told Peter? Jesus said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind [forbid or disapprove] on earth shall have been bound [forbidden or disapproved] in heaven, and whatever you loose [permit or approve] on earth shall have been loosed [permitted or approved] in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). Jesus Christ chose Peter to be the gatekeeper and protector of the faith during the key formative years.
A rift between Paul and Peter would have been disastrous for the Church. Such a dramatic rift was a real possibility. Instead, Peter lovingly embraced Paul and accepted all of Paul’s letter’s as Scripture. In the history of the Church, this was a fantastic development. Our Lord was incredibly wise to build His Church on such a humble man and faithful witness. As Peter wrote, God gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). Peter did not have the IQ or education of Paul. Apparently, Peter was highly dependent on his amanuensis (skilled writer) to compose his letters. He was a fallible human, but he loved God with all of his heart, and he loved others with a heart of forgiveness. Both Peter and Paul were martyred during the Neronian Persecutions. The leadership of the burgeoning Church was extinguished, but their message lived on through the Scripture, thanks in no small part to the incredible humility of Christ’s uniquely faithful witness, Peter, a foundational stone.
 “Caesarea Phillipi.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Volume One: A-D, Gen. Editor Geoffrey W. Bromiley, et al., William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988
 “G601 – apokalyptō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (NASB20).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 22 Mar, 2021. <https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G601&t=NASB20>.
 “G602 – apokalypsis – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (NASB20).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 22 Mar, 2021. <https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G602&t=NASB20>.
 “G4074 – petros – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (NASB20).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 22 Mar, 2021. <https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4074&t=NASB20>.
 Hengel, Martin. “Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle.” iPad Ed. Translated by Thomas H. Trapp, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2006, English Translation 2010, pp. 156-158 of 2652.
 Hengel, pp. 387-494 of 2652.
 Hengel, pp. 404-406 of 2652.
 Hengel, pp. 404-406 of 2652.
 Hengel, pp. 431-434 of 2652.
 Hengel, pp. 431-434 of 2652.
The featured artwork on this post was graciously provided for public use by the National Gallery of Art. Painting titled Saint Peter, c. 1468 by Marco Zoppo. https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.414.html