The Rock, Old and New Testament


Jesus often made references to the scriptures in his teachings and in fact spoke words form the psalms as he hung dying on the cross. In Deuteronomy, in the song of Witness God uses the word Rock (capitalized) is used referring to Himself and rock (lower case), referring to false gods. (Deuteronomy 32)

Do you think Jesus' use of the word Rock in commissioning Peter as the foundation of His church is a reference to the ancient scriptures?


Here's the Rock

A word study of the Old Testament shows the importance of the rock as an image of foundational authority and strength. In Genesis 49:24 the patriarch Jacob, blessing his sons, says that Joseph’s arm is strong in battle because it is upheld by "the shepherd, the rock of Israel." The shepherd and the rock are symbols of God’s care and support for his people.

For Moses, the rock is a solid place to stand and a secure hiding place (Ex 33:21-22), and for the people of Israel, the rock is a miraculous source of refreshment and life (Ex 17:6). Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord is a rock who is perfect, who fathers his children, and who provides an abundant life for them (Dt 32:4,13,15,18).

The great psalmist King David refers time and again to the Lord as his rock, his fortress, and his deliverer (2 Sm 22:2; Ps 18, 19 et al). The psalmist praises God for he has lifted his feet from the miry clay and set them firm upon a rock (Ps 40:2). Throughout the Psalms the rock becomes a predominant image for the solid, secure, and trustworthy Lord of Israel.

The prophet Isaiah echoes the psalmist, and for him too the Lord is the rock. Shelter is found in the shadow of a rock in a dry and thirsty land (Is 32:2), while God is likened to the "Rock eternal" (Is 26:4), and the Lord is the rock from which the people of Israel are hewn (Is 51:1). Habakkuk reaffirms that the Lord is the rock (Hb 1:12), and at the end of the Old Testament, the prophet Zechariah says that God will make Jerusalem an immoveable rock for all nations (Zec 12:3).

In the Old Testament the powerful image of the rock repeatedly refers to God himself. In the New Testament, Paul unlocks the image of the rock and says clearly that the foundation stone is Jesus Christ himself (Rom 9:33, 1 Cor 10:4). The incarnate Christ is the manifestation of the rock who is God. He therefore has the authority to name someone who will share his rock-like status.

In the context of the whole Old Testament, Jesus the rock gives his teaching about the rock. Specifically, the important passage of Isaiah 51 describes God as the "rock from which [the people of Israel] are hewn," but they are told to "look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gave you birth." Stephen Ray’s masterful work Upon This Rock piles up evidence showing that the Jewish teachers repeatedly referred to Abraham as the God-appointed foundation stone of the Jewish people. God was the ultimate rock, but Abraham was his earthly presence. Just as Abram was given a new name to indicate his new foundational status, so Jesus gives Simon a new name—Rock —to indicate his foundational status in the new covenant.


Here's the Delegate:

The second strand in the braided rope of Petrine authority is the image of steward. The steward in a royal household appears throughout the Old Testament record. The patriarch Joseph works with a steward in the palace in Egypt. King Saul has a steward, as does the prince Mephibosheth, but the most important image of steward in the Old Testament for understanding Matthew 16 is in Isaiah 22.

There the prophet foretells the fall of one royal steward and the succession of another. Shebna is being replaced by Eliakim, and the prophet says to the rejected Shebna, "I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open" (Is 22:21-22).

The true holder of the keys to the kingdom is the king himself, and in the Book of Revelation we see that the risen and glorified Christ holds the power of the keys—the power to bind and loose. John has a vision of Christ who says, "I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades" (Rv 1:18).

So the king holds the keys of the kingdom, but he delegates his power to the steward, and the keys of the kingdom are the symbol of this delegated authority. The keys not only opened all the doors, but they provided access to the store houses and financial resources of the king. In addition, the keys of the kingdom were worn on a sash that was a ceremonial badge of office. The passage from Isaiah and the customs all reveal that the role of the royal steward was an office given by the king, and that it was a successive office—the keys being handed to the next steward as a sign of the continuing delegated authority of the king himself (See "A Successive Ministry," above).

Isaiah 22 provides the Old Testament context that Jesus’ disciples would have understood completely as he quoted this particular passage in Matthew 16. When Jesus said to Peter, "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," his disciples would recognize the passage from Isaiah. They would understand that not only was Jesus calling himself the King of his kingdom, but that he was appointing Peter as his royal steward. That John in Revelation sees the ascended and glorified Christ holding the eternal keys only confirms the intention of Jesus to delegate that power to Peter—the foundation stone of his Church.

Catholic scholars are not alone in interpreting Matthew 16:17-19 as a direct quotation of Isaiah 22. Stephen Ray, in Upon This Rock, cites numerous Protestant biblical scholars who support this understanding and affirm that Jesus is delegating his authority over life and death, heaven and hell, to the founder of his Church on earth.


Here's the Shepherd:

The third strand in the strong rope of scriptural support for papal authority is the image of the Good Shepherd. This powerful image is so abundant in the Old Testament that this short article cannot begin to recount all the references. Suffice it to say that the Hebrews were a nomadic-shepherd people, and the images of the lamb and the shepherd are woven in and through their story at every glance. From the beginning God himself is seen to be the shepherd of his people.

In Genesis 48 the old man Jacob, before blessing his sons, says that the Lord God of his fathers has been his shepherd his whole life long. The prophet Micah sees the people of Israel as "sheep without a shepherd," and the shepherd King David calls the Lord his shepherd (Ps 23 et al). The prophet Isaiah says that the sovereign Lord will "tend his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms, and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young" (Is 40:11).

The theme of the Lord being the Good Shepherd reaches its Old Testament climax in the Book of Ezekiel. Earlier, Jeremiah the prophet had raged against the corrupt leadership of the people of Israel. They were wicked and abusive shepherds, but in the Book of Ezekiel God himself promises to be the shepherd of his people Israel.

So the Lord says,

As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness . . . I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. (Ez 34:12,16)

Finally, the Lord’s servant, the Son of David, will come and be the shepherd of the lost flock.

I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. (Ez 34:22-24)

One of the clearest signs, therefore, of Christ’s self-knowledge as the Son of God is when he calls himself the Good Shepherd. In story after story Jesus uses the image of the Good Shepherd to refer to his own ministry. He explicitly calls himself the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11,14) who has come to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 15:24). He tells the story of the lost sheep, placing himself in the story as the divine Shepherd who fulfills Ezekiel’s prophecy (Lk 15). The author of the Letter to the Hebrews calls Christ the Great Shepherd of the Sheep (Heb 13:20). Peter calls Jesus the Shepherd and overseer of souls (1 Pt 2:25), and in the Book of Revelation, the Lamb on the throne is also the Shepherd of the lost souls (Rv 7:17).

When Jesus Christ, after his Resurrection, then solemnly instructs Peter to "feed my lambs, watch over my sheep, feed my sheep" (Jn 21:15-17), the ramifications are enormous. Throughout the Old Testament, God himself is understood to be the Good Shepherd. He promises to come and be the shepherd of his people through his servant David. When Jesus Christ, the Son of David, fulfills this prophecy, God’s promise is kept. Then before Jesus returns to heaven, he commands Peter to take charge of his pastoral ministry. Now Peter will undertake the role of Good Shepherd in Christ’s place.

All these were by Father Dwight Longnecker

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