Is Peter the head of the Church? And why couldn’t the disciples tell people Jesus was the Messiah?
Two difficulties in Sunday’s passage deserve more attention. As I mentioned in the sermon, some believe that Christ made Peter the head of the Church in these verses (specifically Matthew 16:18). I suggested instead that we should understand Christ to be saying that it is upon Peter as he makes this confession that Christ is building his Church, and not just Peter, but all the disciples. It cannot be just Peter. It must be Peter and his confession. I pointed to the fact that Christ addressed himself to all the disciples when he asked his question (“Who do you say that I am?” - the “you” is plural in Greek). I also cited Ephesians 2:19-21 as evidence of this, but there are other clues. For example, in verse 19 Jesus says to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven…” This is clearly said to Peter and so seems to support the argument that Jesus is singling Peter out. But in Matthew 18:18, Jesus gives this authority to bind and loose to all the disciples. This corroborates our reading of Paul in Ephesians 2. Furthermore, Paul’s account of his rebuke of Peter (Galatians 2:11-14) is not at all in accord with the idea that Christ made Peter the head of the Church. Not only did Paul rebuke him, but Paul says Peter was afraid of the Circumcision Party - hardly a description worthy of the head of the Church. No, Peter was not the head of the Church, but he was among the apostles, and together with them faithfully confessed the Christ to a lost and dying world. Therefore, he is numbered among those who are the foundation upon which Christ is building.
What about the secrecy Christ required concerning his identity? This secrecy is found elsewhere in the gospels. Mark records five instances of Christ charging people to tell no one who he was and what he was doing. The general consensus is that Christ knew that the crowds would misconstrue his mission if they knew he was the messiah. And we do see this happening frequently among his disciples and other followers. You see, if the Jewish and Roman leaders believed he was leading a revolt, they would seek to kill him. But it was not Jesus’ time yet, and so he restrains all of this talk to a certain degree. When it was Jesus’ time, however, we find that it is this very talk that is used to condemn him unjustly (Matthew 26:63).
Despite this command to keep quiet, there were plenty of people who knew who Jesus was. We see evidence of this throughout the gospels, not only among the Jews, but among the gentiles as well. There were certainly those to whom Jesus chose to reveal himself. There were others who were faithfully waiting for the Christ and recognized him when he arrived. The good news was not hampered by this secrecy - neither by accident, nor on purpose. It was not the lost sheep of Israel from whom Christ was keeping the good news, but those who would reject him.
All of this considered, it should be noted: The command to keep Jesus Christ a secret has long since expired. We have been commissioned by Christ, Matthew 28:19, to go into allthe world with this good news. May we do so this week and every week until Christ comes again!
Your fellow servant in Christ,