The Priesthood of All Believers, Part Four
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, August 4, 1996
Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew
esus Christ alone is the foundation of the Christian church. There is a church which claims it is founded upon St. Peter, to whom Christ gave the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:19), and teaches that salvation can only be found in a church which can claim succession from St. Peter. That church also teaches that salvation is deposited in the priesthood of that church, and to be saved one must come to the priesthood and partake of the sacraments. According to that church, of course, if one belongs to another church he or she cannot be saved.
This is not what the Scripture teaches. In this church we believe in sola scriptura, the absolute authority of Scripture alone, and the Scripture demonstrates that Jesus Christ, not Peter, is the foundation of the church. Peter was a sinner just like us--a sinner who was saved by grace.
Peter Is Not the Foundation
Who was Peter? We first meet him in John 1:40-42. "Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, 'We have found the Messiah' (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, 'You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas'" which is an Aramaic word that means Peter. Peter was a sinner who needed to be made alive by Jesus Christ. And Jesus, the living Stone did make Peter a living stone.
Peter had to receive revelation from God as to who Jesus Christ is. In Matthew 16 Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter, representing the rest of the apostles, proffered the answer: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." But in Matthew 16:17 we read, "Jesus replied, 'Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man but my Father in heaven.'" This confession which is necessary for salvation was not self-generated in Peter. It was given to Peter by God the Father as a revelation.
Peter was very conscious that he was just a man. In Acts 10 a centurion named Cornelius was divinely led to send for Peter, who was in Joppa, to come and minister to Cornelius and his household in Caesarea. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence to worship him. How did Peter respond? "'Stand up,' he said, 'I am only a man myself.'" Peter knew he was not God to be worshiped. Get up! he told Cornelius. You are doing a foolish thing and must stop, in other words. Kai ego autos anthropos eimi --I am just a man myself. Paul made a similar statement at the end of his life. After walking with God for many years and declaring his gospel, he wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst." I am the worst! I am just a man, saved by grace. It was true of Paul and it was true of Peter.
Peter was a fallible man. In the book of Galatians we read about a church in Syrian Antioch where Paul, Barnabas and others taught. Peter went there also and at first enjoyed a wonderful time of fellowship with the Gentile believers. He had no problem doing so because he knew the gospel declaration that in Christ there is no difference between Jews, Gentiles, masters and slaves--all are one in Jesus Christ. But when some men from the church of Jerusalem came and said that Jews were superior to the Gentiles, Peter's behavior changed. In Galatians 2 Paul wrote about this: "When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James," that is, the pastor of the Jerusalem church, "he used to eat with the Gentiles," meaning there was complete fellowship. "But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray" (Gal. 2:11-13). Peter was a man who was saved by grace, but he was still afraid of people. He practiced hypocrisy and had to be rebuked publicly by Paul.
How, then, can Peter be the foundation of the Christian church? A church built upon the foundation of Peter, or Paul, for that matter, is not going to be a great church. We all are sinners saved by grace, and Peter knew this. He was certainly an apostle, but Peter clearly acknowledged that he was just one of the elders of the church of Jesus Christ, as we see in 1 Peter 5:1 where he spoke of himself "as a fellow elder." Peter was not a pope and certainly he was not the foundation of Christ's church.
Who Is the Foundation?
Who is the foundation of the church? In Isaiah 28:16 we read, "So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: 'See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.'" This stone is a metaphor for a person. Who do you think that is, St. Peter or St. Paul? No, it is Jesus Christ. The foundation of the church is Jesus Christ himself.
Jesus identified himself with the stone of the Old Testament in Matthew 21. In the parable of the tenants, verse 37, we read how the owner finally sent his son to the wicked tenants. "'They will respect my son,' he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, 'This is the heir. Come let us kill him and take his inheritance.' So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?"
In this parable Jesus was speaking to the religious authorities about their rejection of him and their plans to kill him. He identified himself as the son. Then he asked the authorities what the owner of the vineyard, God the Father, should do the tenants. "'He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,' they replied, 'and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time. Jesus said to them, 'Have you never read in the Scripture: "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes"?'" He was quoting from Psalm 118:22 about a stone that the builders examined very, very carefully. What did they do at the end of the examination? They declared the stone worthless and threw it away. But that stone has become the capstone, the foundation stone, and the cornerstone, of a new edifice, the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus understood this and made it clear that he, the Son sent to them, was also the stone.
Was Authority Given to Peter Alone?
Another argument that people use to claim that Peter is the foundation of the church is to say that Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom, meaning the authority of the church, to St. Peter alone. Because this authority was given to Peter, they teach that the church founded upon Peter and his successors; that salvation comes through them; and that the priests, Peter's successors, are closer to God than ordinary people, so that ordinary people cannot go to God directly but must go through these priestly classes represented by Peter.
It is true that in Matthew 16 Jesus was speaking to Peter alone. In verse 19 he said, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." In the context and in the Greek text it is very clear that Jesus is speaking to one person, St. Peter. What was he saying? To you, Peter, I will give the keys of the kingdom, and you can bind and you can loose, meaning you can admit people to the kingdom of God and give them salvation or you can expel them.
But was this authority really given to St. Peter alone? In Matthew 18:18 Jesus speaks again about this authority, but in this passage he is clearly speaking to all the apostles. "I tell you the truth," Jesus said, and in the Greek "you" is plural, "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." So no matter what this authority is, whatever these keys represent, in Matthew 18:18 we are told that it is an authority given to all the apostles. To say that this authority was given to only one apostle and that therefore only the church founded on him is the real church is simply not true.
What Did Peter Say about the Foundation of the Church?
In 1 Peter 2:6-8 Peter himself addresses the issue of the foundation of the church. He begins, "For in Scripture it says. . ." We must first note that when Peter, Paul, and even Jesus Christ quoted the Old Testament in support of their argument, that was the final word, because the Old Testament is the inspired word of God. So here Peter quoted Isaiah 28:6, "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." He was speaking about Jesus Christ. According to St. Peter the foundation of the church is not Peter, but Jesus Christ. That is very clear.
He continues, "Now to you who believe, this stone is precious." Certainly Peter was not speaking about himself. Was he saying that Peter is precious? No! "To you who believe," Jesus Christ is precious. Why? They were redeemed, we are told elsewhere in this epistle, "with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18-19). So Peter writes, "Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,' and, 'A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.'" We must note that word Peter uses for rock is petra. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock"--here the word is also petra, meaning not just a rock but a massive rock-- "I will build my church." So Peter used the same word in his epistle, "a stone that causes men to stumble, a rock"--a massive foundation stone-- "that makes them fall."
In his inspired letter Peter did not identify himself as the foundation of the church. He would say he was made a living stone, like every other believer, but the living Stone is Jesus Christ alone. That was Peter's argument, and he quoted all of the Old Testament stone passages and identified them with Jesus Christ.
What Did Paul Say?
St. Paul also used Old Testament stone imagery in his writings. Did he think that it applied to the apostle Peter, or to Jesus Christ? In Romans 9 he wrote, "What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the 'stumbling stone. . .'" These people looked at Jesus Christ, witnessed his miracles, examined everything, and rejected him. "They stumbled over the 'stumbling stone,' and like Peter, Paul then gives the final proof from the Old Testament: "As it is written: 'See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.'" Here again is the quotation from Isaiah 28:16, and in the context we know that Paul is referring not to Peter, Paul, or any of the apostles but to Jesus Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 Paul wrote concerning the foundation of the church. "By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building upon it. But each one should be careful how he builds, for no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ." Here, again, we read that there is only one foundation, but it is not Peter. Jesus Christ alone is the foundation. Paul writes about this again in Ephesians 2:19-22: "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. . . ." What does "the foundation of the apostles and prophets" mean? It means the gospel, the authoritative revelation. If you were saying the foundation of the church is Peter, you would have to note here that Paul is not even referring to one person, but rather, to apostles and prophets. But in this context the meaning is not people but their preaching of the gospel. Paul continues, "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord." This is the same idea Peter is talking about in 1 Peter 2. "And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." So Paul clearly says that the foundation of the church is Jesus Christ, and as his people are made alive, they are built into an edifice that is rising to become a dwelling place of God.
In 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 Paul also alludes to the rock imagery: "For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them. . ." Who was the rock? "That rock was Christ."
Jesus Is the Only Foundation
We must, therefore, make this point: The apostle Peter, the apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ himself declared that Jesus is the foundation and the builder of the church. Jesus is the stone which the builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone, the capstone, and the foundation stone. He is also the builder of the church as he said in Matthew 16:18, "I will build my church," building us "like living stones. . . into a spiritual house" (1 Peter 2:5).
The claim that a particular person, a particular priest, is the foundation and head of Christ's church is false. It is a claim that Peter himself did not make. It is a claim that no apostle or prophet ever made. In fact, we have clear evidence that the rock, the foundation of the church, is Jesus Christ, as he said himself. To claim that a particular denomination is the only church is false. To claim that a particular person is infallible is false, although the Roman Catholic church makes that claim when the pope speaks ex cathedra . To claim that salvation is obtained from sacraments offered by a priestly class who alone can approach God directly is also false. A person is saved by believing the gospel--"Faith comes by hearing"--hearing of the gospel proclaimed by someone. To claim that a believer in Christ cannot have immediate and direct access to the throne of grace is false, because we find the contrary command in the Scriptures: "Let us, then, approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). And to say that we must have a human priest to represent us before God is false also. Jesus Christ alone is our great high priest.
Jesus is the foundation stone, the living stone, who makes us alive and nourishes our life as we trust in him. So in 1 Peter 2:4 Peter said, "As you come to him. . ." meaning coming to Jesus Christ. It is not coming to a priest, a pastor, a pope or a church. To claim that only one particular person holds the keys of the kingdom is false.
The Stumbling Stone
Not only is Jesus Christ the only the foundation stone upon which the church is built, but he is also a stone that makes people stumble and fall. You see, everyone must reckon with this stone. Either you are built upon him or you fall on him. There is no other way.
Like the builders Peter refers to in 1 Peter 2:7, many people have examined Jesus by studying his life and reading the Bible. In the nineteenth century, many people, especially German scholars, spent their whole lives examining Jesus and writing books about his life. They examined him closely and thoroughly. What did they conclude? That Jesus was worthless, just a man. They may have even said he was a little crazy. They stumbled on the Stone. These nineteenth century New Testament scholars were worshipers of science. They stumbled at Jesus' claims that he is the Messiah, that he is God, that he is virgin born, that he is sinless, that salvation is through his death on the cross, and that there is a final judgment. They stumbled on the truth that there is a heaven and a hell, that there is no other Savior, and that Christ rose from the dead. They said there could not be any miracles at all, and for anyone to claim he rose from the dead was mythology.
They stumbled at Christ's claim that he is the King of kings, the sovereign Lord of the universe, and that he is the coming Judge. They believed in their own philosophies which said that man is good, man is able, and man can become God. Their eyes were blinded by Satan and they failed to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in the gospel. They rejected this Stone, this foundation stone, this living stone.
At the same time they were rejecting Christ, what else were these scholars doing? Oh, they were busy. They were very busy building on the sand of human philosophies, on the sand of atheism, and on the sand of thinking all ideas have equal validity. Do not we do the same thing today? What do our modern philosophies tell us? They say, whatever one believes is okay; whatever one's religion is, is all right; and there is equal validity to all ideas.
There Is No Escape
But can the nineteenth century scholars and unbelievers today escape this Stone they rejected? No. Wherever they go, they will bump into it and stumble over it. Paul spoke about the wise people of the world in 1 Corinthians 1: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.' Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:18-25).
A person can study Jesus Christ thoroughly, and yet finally reject him because, in his mind, Christ makes such stupendous, transcendent claims. He claims that he is God, that he is sinless, that he is the Judge and Savior of the world, that there is a heaven and hell, and that all will be raised up and will stand before him. But although a person can reject all that, he or she will never escape Jesus Christ. Where can anyone go from his presence? we read in Psalm 139. We will face him here, and we will face him hereafter.
All must face this living Stone in the great judgment. He is the Judge. If individuals continue to reject him, if they refuse to believe in him, and if they refuse to come and worship him, this rock shall surely make them fall. That is what Peter is telling us in 1 Peter 2:7, "Now you who believe this stone is precious," because it brings salvation, "but to those who do not believe, 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,' and, 'A stone that causes them to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.'"
Jesus spoke about this fall. In Matthew 21 he identified himself with the stone of the Old Testament, and then said, "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you" because they rejected this stone, "and given to a people who will produce its fruit." Then he said, "He who falls on this stone" meaning the stone, Jesus Christ, spoken in the Old Testament as the foundation of the church "will be broken to pieces." You bump into it, you fall on it, and you are broken.
I used to think this verse meant that those who trust in Christ will be broken in a proper manner, but others on whom the stone fell would be pulverized. But that is not really the meaning. When you reject this stone you will bump into him, stumble over him, and fall on him even in this world. He will cause you to fall and will break you here and now, but that is not the end of your bumping into him. In the hereafter this stone will come and fall on you. That speaks of eternal judgment. The unbelieving people of this world who conveniently rejected Jesus Christ will be judged forever. So Jesus says, "He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed," and that time is coming.
What Is Your View of Christ?
What about you? Have you studied this Stone? Have you examined the Scriptures which speak about him? We see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in the gospel, and even today you have heard the gospel preached to you. What is your opinion?
We are told that those who trust shall not be ashamed but be saved. They will be built into this Stone. "Everyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock," Jesus said in Matthew 7:24. The foundation is Jesus Christ. The rain, the flood, the typhoon, the tornado, the hurricane may come, but we are secure. We are not anxious, but fearless, bold, and courageous. We are unshakable, because we have been built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, the eternal God, our Savior and our Lord.
If you reject him, you cannot escape. You will bump into him on a daily basis and he will break you into pieces here, and will pulverize you when he comes as your Judge. Everyone shall hear his voice, and those who are in the graves will rise to face him. There is nowhere we can go from his presence.
May God help us to be serious in our searching of the Scriptures. May he reveal to us as he revealed to St. Peter that his Son is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the only Savior. May his Son be precious to us as we trust in him for our salvation. May the eyes of our understanding be enlightened that we may bow down and worship the only foundation of the church and the Savior of our souls, Jesus Christ the Lord.
Thank you for reading. If you found this content useful or encouraging, let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The "NIV" and "New International Version" are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™