After Jesus came, fulfilling the old covenant and inaugurating the new covenant, there was an issue that would need to be resolved. The issue was of public recognition. In the old covenant, the nation of Israel was God’s people, and they were supposed to represent God on earth (Ex. 19:5-6). The nation of Israel was easy to recognize. They had God’s law, they had circumcision, they had their genealogies and ethnic identity, and they sometimes had a land.
Jesus, who represented God perfectly (Matt. 3:17), inaugurated a new covenant. Through our union with Christ, the church is supposed to represent God on earth (Matt. 5:48). But unlike the nation of Israel, the church is not as easy to recognize. Anyone can claim to have faith in Christ, even the unregenerate, and Jesus warns us about this in Matt. 7:21-23.
So who really belongs to the church? And who has the authority to say so on this side of heaven?
Jesus resolves this in Matt. 16:16-19, which says:
Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered 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 tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Notice the following:
- Peter was able to recognize that Jesus was God’s representative.
- Jesus teaches that God gave Peter the ability to recognize God’s representative.
- Therefore, Jesus says that the church will be established through Peter, who is able to recognize God’s representatives.
- Jesus gives Peter some kind of authority (keys of the kingdom), presumably related to the task of establishing the church.
- Jesus explains that whatever Peter declares authoritatively on earth will, so it shall be in heaven. Again this presumably goes only as far as it relates to the task of establishing the church.
So how does this resolve the issue of public recognition? The important lesson here is that God gives the ability to know Christ, and those who live in Christ. In Matt. 16., he at least gives Peter the authority to recognize who is God’s representatives, with heaven’s approval.
The next question is: Does only Peter have this authority?
Next, we will see how this authority is also in the hands of the church.