Last week we began looking into why adults convert to the Catholic faith. In last week’s article we looked for the why in the simple history of Christianity. We concluded, based on simple secular history alone, that the only Christian religion from the first century until the year 1517 was the Catholic Church. This week we’re going to take a look at what scripture says.
Matthew 16:13-19: “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 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.’”
The above passage is incredibly pregnant. So much so, in fact, that there have been a countless number of books written about Matthew 16:13-19 alone. I mention that because the space we have available for this topic isn’t nearly enough to actually do the contents and meaning of this passage justice. However, I’ll give you enough here that you’ll have a basis for as much extensive research as you want to undertake on your own.
After Jesus asks His apostles what others are saying about Him, He then gets pointed and personal with them; He asks them who they say that He is. Only Peter alone answers the question. How Jesus responded to Peter’s profession of faith is extremely important.
It’s important to note first that this is one of the few passages where Jesus referred to Peter as Simon. This is because at their very first meeting Jesus gave Simon a new name: “One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, ‘So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas’” (which means Peter). From this point forward Jesus (everyone, in fact) referred to Simon as Peter. We’ll talk more about the name change in another article, but for now you need to realize that Jesus using Simon instead of Peter has great significance.
Whenever Peter made his profession of faith, notice Jesus’ response. Jesus didn’t merely say, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah.” Notice that He got excited: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!” Everybody seems to miss Jesus’ excitement. Why did He become excited? Because what He says next (“For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”) demonstrates that God the Father had selected Peter to hold the elevated position God the Son was about to confer.
What Jesus says to Peter next is the very most important thing—the cornerstone—in this passage. Jesus says to Peter, “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.”
Peter means “rock”, so Jesus could have said it this way: “And I tell you, you are Rock, and on this rock I will build my church…”. Then Jesus makes two astounding promises. The first promise is that Peter will hold the keys to the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven refers to the Church that Jesus was establishing, because there is no other way to reach heaven without going through this Church. Sure, those who, through no fault of their own, don’t know about the Church established by Christ or it’s importance can still be saved and go to heaven under certain strict conditions, but the only way anyone can get into heaven is ultimately through this divinely instituted Church. The bottom line is that Jesus was here making Peter the very first pope to steer and guide His Church when Jesus returned to heaven after the resurrection.
The second promise was the power of binding and loosing. “Binding and loosing” among the Rabbis of Jesus’s time meant to declare something “prohibited” or “permitted”. Here it plainly means that St. Peter, the Steward of the Lord’s house, the Church, has all the rights and powers of a divinely appointed steward. He doesn’t, like the Jewish Rabbis, declare probable, speculative opinions, but he has the right to teach and govern authoritatively, with the certainty of God’s approval “in heaven”. A law giving power is certainly implied by these words. This is yet but one more proof of the divine origin of the Catholic Church.
There is one thing that needs to be mentioned about the promises that Jesus made. In recent decades the Catholic Church has become irrelevant to most of the world, and even a majority of Catholics. The causes of this are many: the sex abuse scandal among priests, the evil coverups by bishops, the refusal of bishops to stand up for Catholic truth, and the scandal of “Catholic” politicians openly flaunting things like abortion and LBGT agendas that are opposed to Catholic teaching. The list of things driving people away from the Church can go on ad nauseam. The reason people allow these things to drive them away from the Church is because of a total and complete ignorance of the divine nature of the Catholic Church. But this is a topic for another time.
What I want to focus on is when Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. Many Catholics who still attend Mass and try to live the faith as best they can feel betrayed by Christ in this regard. Jesus promised that hell wouldn’t prevail, not that hell wouldn’t try. At present it seems like—feels like—the gates of hell have prevailed against the Church. Hell hasn’t prevailed, though. As long as there is a duly elected and installed pope (whether he chooses to imitate Peter or Judas), at least one bishop, at least one priest, and at least one layman to be shepherd by those men, hell has not and cannot prevail against the Church.
Next week you’ll see much of this material again as we continue to demonstrate the divine origins of the Catholic Church, and why adult converts continue to flow into her bosom.