One of the most reassuring symbols of strength is the image of a rock. For many years a prominent insurance company has featured the image of a rock in its corporate logo. A popular auto manufacturer has long touted its trucks as being “like a rock.” We even use this imagery in our conversations, saying that something is “solid as a rock.”
This same imagery is found throughout the scriptures to depict the faithfulness of God. He is extolled in the psalms as our rock, meaning that He is unshakable and will always be able to sustain His people. In the same way, the Lord Jesus used the idea of a rock to illustrate the assurance His disciples have when they give themselves in obedience to God’s will. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount He said that one who heard His word and obeyed it would be like a man who built his house on a rock, and it would survive all the storms of life (Mt. 7:24-27).
The Lord used a rock to illustrate another important teaching in Mt. 16:17, 18. At that time the Lord asked the disciples who the people thought He was. He then asked them who they thought He was. When Peter confessed that they believed He was the Son of God, the Lord replied, “Blessed are you Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
Some have taken these words to mean that the Lord was going to establish His church on Peter, whose name means “rock.” However, this is not what the Lord meant. We know this because the Lord used two different Greek words for “rock” in this statement. The Greek word for Peter’s name is petros, which means a rock, or stone, or pebble. The Greek word He used for the rock upon which His church would be built is petra, which means a bedrock or foundation stone.
The Lord’s church, then, is built upon an unshakable foundation. In the context of these verses, that unshakable foundation is the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. The church stands upon this truth. Jesus is the Son of God, and the church is built upon Him, as Paul declared in 1 Cor. 3:11, where he said, “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Therefore, the church will not be overcome by the power of Hades, which is the grave.
This point is essential to our faith. A church built upon a mere man, even one as great as Peter, cannot long stand. Neither can it survive the power of death. We see this in countless instances in which a man builds an organization that ultimately fails upon his death. Only one person was ever raised from the dead, never to die again, and that person is Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:7, 8). Because He is never to die again, He is the master over death, and His church is unaffected by the curse of death.
Since the church is built upon this rock, we have full confidence as we go about preaching the gospel and serving the Lord as His people. Whatever Satan may hurl at us, the church will survive because we are founded upon the rock, Jesus Christ. He upholds us and sustains us in every circumstance of life, and as a result, we have an unshakable hope for eternity.
Like the man of whom Jesus spoke at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, let us hear and do all that the Lord commands so our spiritual house will be founded upon the rock.