This passage in Matthew is one of the most contested passages in the New Testament. One issue surrounds Peter and the other deals with bind and loose. The Roman Catholic contention is that Jesus gave Peter the rank of Leader of the Church. Most others argue that Jesus was praising Peter for his statement of faith.
Let’s look at the literal translation of the Greek, starting at verse 17. And having answered Jesus said to him, Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood did not reveal to you but the father of me the one in the Heavens. And I also say to you that you are Petros and upon this Petra I will build of me the church and gates of Hades will not overcome it. United Bible Society Interlinear Translation
The two key words are Petros and Petra in Greek, and I left them in the Greek transliteration for emphasis. Petros refers to a large rock, larger than a stone; larger even than the stones used to build the walls of the Temple. The Greeks used it as a name. In English, we say, The Rock and Rocky.
Petra is the feminine form of Petros and is used to mean rock, any kind, any size. It was even used to mean bedrock.
That may have been what Jesus had in mind when he said, on this rock I will build my church. ESV
That brings us back to Peter, Rocky, for the whole quote is, Shim‘on Kefa answered, “You are the Mashiach, the Son of the living God.” “Shim‘on Bar-Yochanan,” Yeshua said to him, “how blessed you are! For no human being revealed this to you, no, it was my Father in heaven. I also tell you this: you are Kefa,” [which means ‘Rock,’] “and on this rock I will build my Community, and the gates of Sh’ol will not overcome it. CJB
It is good to look at this translation to get a sense of the actual words Jesus would have used. We know that he spoke Aramaic and Hebrew most of the time. His words were translated into Greek years later because that was the common language of the early church. That means that Jesus did not use the word Petros, but rather Kefa.
Note the word community instead of church. It is a more accurate translation of the Greek ekklesia which means congregation.
Note that Jesus named Simon the Rock early in the ministry, so this passage simply builds on that already existing name.
Also note that Jesus withdrew from home territory to Caesarea Philippi, a Roman city famous for rock quarries used to build many Roman temples. So, picture this exchange taking place in the Greek-Roman world where the church would soon take root. Jesus is sending us a message that the Good News is intended for every human on earth.
As to, I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, NIV remember that Jesus came from Heaven to earth with Good News. To Peter and the other apostles as well, Jesus gave the keys to understanding and witnessing to the Good News. Down the ages, millions of people have shared the keys.
Each of us has a share in spreading the Good News. It is up to us to accept on the faith of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah and act on that faith in whatever way God leads us.
Read my comments on the passage of Romans here.
Be righteous and do good.