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Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament

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Matthew 16:18

And I also say unto thee (k'agw de soi legw).
"The emphasis is not on 'Thou art Peter' over against 'Thou art the Christ,' but on Kagw: 'The Father hath revealed to thee one truth, and I also tell you another" (McNeile). Jesus calls Peter here by the name that he had said he would have (John 1:42). Peter (Petrov) is simply the Greek word for Cephas (Aramaic). Then it was prophecy, now it is fact. In verse 17 Jesus addresses him as "Simon Bar-Jonah," his full patronymic (Aramaic) name. But Jesus has a purpose now in using his nickname "Peter" which he had himself given him. Jesus makes a remarkable play on Peter's name, a pun in fact, that has caused volumes of controversy and endless theological strife.

On this rock (epi tauthi thi petrai)
Jesus says, a ledge or cliff of rock like that in 7:24 on which the wise man built his house. Petrov is usually a smaller detachment of the massive ledge. But too much must not be made of this point since Jesus probably spoke Aramaic to Peter which draws no such distinction (Khpa). What did Jesus mean by this word-play?
I will build my church (oikodomhsw mou thn ekklhsian).
It is the figure of a building and he uses the word ekklhsian which occurs in the New Testament usually of a local organization, but sometimes in a more general sense. What is the sense here in which Jesus uses it? The word originally meant "assembly" (Acts 19:39), but it came to be applied to an "unassembled assembly" as in Acts 8:3 for the Christians persecuted by Saul from house to house. "And the name for the new Israel, ekklhsia, in His mouth is not an anachronism. It is an old familiar name for the congregation of Israel found in Deut. (Deuteronomy 18:16; 23:2) and Psalms, both books well known to Jesus" (Bruce). It is interesting to observe that in Psalms 89:1ff most of the important words employed by Jesus on this occasion occur in the LXX text. So oikodomhsw in Psalms 89:5; ekklhsia in Psalms 89:6; katisxuw in Psalms 89:22; Xristov in Psalms 89:39,52; aidhv in Psalms 89:49 (ek xeirov aidou). If one is puzzled over the use of "building" with the word ekklhsia it will be helpful to turn to 1 Peter 2:5. Peter, the very one to whom Jesus is here speaking, writing to the Christians in the five Roman provinces in Asia (1 Peter 1:1), says: "You are built a spiritual house" (oikodomeiste oikov pneumatikov). It is difficult to resist the impression that Peter recalls the words of Jesus to him on this memorable occasion. Further on (1 Peter 2:9) he speaks of them as an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, showing beyond controversy that Peter's use of building a spiritual house is general, not local. This is undoubtedly the picture in the mind of Christ here in 16:18. It is a great spiritual house, Christ's Israel, not the Jewish nation, which he describes. What is the rock on which Christ will build his vast temple? Not on Peter alone or mainly or primarily. Peter by his confession was furnished with the illustration for the rock on which His church will rest. It is the same kind of faith that Peter has just confessed. The perpetuity of this church general is guaranteed.
The gates of Hades (pulai aidou)

shall not prevail against it (ou katisxusousin authv).
Each word here creates difficulty. Hades is technically the unseen world, the Hebrew Sheol, the land of the departed, that is death. Paul uses tanate in 1 Corinthians 15:55 in quoting Hosea 13:14 for aidh. It is not common in the papyri, but it is common on tombstones in Asia Minor, "doubtless a survival of its use in the old Greek religion" (Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary). The ancient pagans divided Hades (a privative and idein, to see, abode of the unseen) into Elysium and Tartarus as the Jews put both Abraham's bosom and Gehenna in Sheol or Hades (cf. Luke 16:25). Christ was in Hades (Acts 2:27,31), not in Gehenna. We have here the figure of two buildings, the Church of Christ on the Rock, the House of Death (Hades). "In the Old Testament the 'gates of Hades' (Sheol) never bears any other meaning (Isaiah 38:10; Wisd. 16:3; 3Macc. 5:51) than death," McNeile claims. See also Psalms 9:13; 107:18; Job 38:17 (pulai tanatou pulwroi aidou). It is not the picture of Hades attacking Christ's church, but of death's possible victory over the church. "The ekklhsia is built upon the Messiahship of her master, and death, the gates of Hades, will not prevail against her by keeping Him imprisoned. It was a mysterious truth, which He will soon tell them in plain words (verse 21); it is echoed in Acts 2:24,31" (McNeile). Christ's church will prevail and survive because He will burst the gates of Hades and come forth conqueror. He will ever live and be the guarantor of the perpetuity of His people or church. The verb katisxuw (literally have strength against, isxuw from isxuv and kat-) occurs also in Luke 21:36; 23:23. It appears in the ancient Greek, the LXX, and in the papyri with the accusative and is used in the modern Greek with the sense of gaining the mastery over. The wealth of imagery in Matthew 16:18 makes it difficult to decide each detail, but the main point is clear. The ekklhsia which consists of those confessing Christ as Peter has just done will not cease. The gates of Hades or bars of Sheol will not close down on it. Christ will rise and will keep his church alive. Sublime Porte used to be the title of Turkish power in Constantinople.

 


Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)

Bibliography Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 16:18". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/rwp/view.cgi?book=mt&chapter=016&verse=018>. Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960.

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