By Zhang Jin
In Matthew 16:18-19 the Lord Jesus said: “And I say also to you, That you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Whenever I read these two verses, I would think: Why did thegive Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven? Since the Lord Jesus bestowed upon Peter such great authority, it means that the Lord Jesus approved of Peter’s faith and that Peter was a person after God’s heart. But I couldn’t understand why the Lord commended Peter since he had denied knowing the Lord three times before His crucifixion. I was very perplexed.
One day, I opened the Bible, and turned to Matthew 16, trying to find from the context the prerequisite and background for the Lord Jesus’ giving Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 16:13-19 records: “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?And they said, Some say that you are John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He said to them, But whom say you that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also to you, That you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” I read these verses repeatedly and pondered them carefully: Did the Lord Jesus approve of Peter because, of His disciples, only Peter recognized He was the Christ? Why did the Lord Jesus say that Peter was blessed and give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven after he answered Him by saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”? But I still could not figure out why the Lord approved of Peter’s faith, and didn’t know how I should pursue to receive the Lord’s approval of my faith. I asked all the preachers I knew these questions, but no one could give me a satisfying answer. I was very disappointed: Why do none of them know the answer? How then can they lead the believers onto the path of being approved by God? I felt that the prospects of mywere bleak, thinking: If only I could see the Lord Jesus and ask Him about that. …
Later, I finally found the reason that Peter gained God’s approval from a book, which says: “Why is it said that Peter is a fruit? Because he has something of worth, or something worth perfecting, he has a resolution to seek truth and has a firm will; he has reason, is willing to suffer hardship, and he rejoices in truth in his heart, and when he encounters something he will not let it go. These are all strong points.” “After a period of experience, Peter saw in Jesus many of the deeds of God, saw the loveliness of God, and saw much of God’s being in Jesus. So too did he see that the words of Jesus could not have been spoken by man, and that the work Jesus did could not have been done by man. In Jesus’ words and actions, furthermore, Peter saw much of the wisdom of God, and much divine work. During his experiences, he did not merely come to know himself, but also focused on observing the actions of Jesus, from which he discovered many new things; namely, that there were many expressions of the practical God in the work that God did through Jesus, and that Jesus’ words, actions, the ways He shepherded the churches and the work He carried out differed from any ordinary man. Thus, from Jesus he learned many lessons that he was supposed to learn, and by the time Jesus was about to be nailed to the cross, he had gained some knowledge of Jesus—a knowledge which was the basis of his lifelong loyalty to Jesus, and of his crucifixion upside down for the sake of Jesus.”
“Though there were three times when Peter denied knowing Christ, and though he tempted the Lord Jesus, such slight human weakness bore no relation to his nature, and did not affect his future pursuit, and cannot sufficiently prove that his temptation was an act of antichrist. Normal human weakness is something shared by all people in the world—do you expect Peter to be any different? … Though the many years of painful experiences of Peter are not recorded in the Bible, this does not prove that Peter did not have real experiences, or that Peter was not made perfect. How can the work of God be fully fathomed by man?” “Peter was made perfect through experiencing dealing and refinement. He said, ‘I must satisfy God’s desire at all times. In all that I do I only seek to satisfy God’s desire, and whether I am chastised, or judged, still I am happy to do so.’ Peter gave his all to God, and his work, words, and entire life were all for the sake of loving God. … What Peter cared about was the true love within his heart, and that which was practical and could be achieved. He did not care about whether he would receive a reward, but about whether his disposition could be changed. … The experiences of Peter were in order to achieve a true love and a true knowledge. His experiences were in order to gain a closer relationship to God, and to have a practical living out. … For God, the more that people seek a true love of God and complete obedience to God, which also means seeking to perform their duty as a creature of God, the more they are able to gain God’s approval.” From these words, I saw that Peter was a man who pursued the truth, and he was innocent and honest, had a resolution, could suffer hardship, and when he encountered something he would not let it go. He had many things worth being made perfect by God. In the process of his following God, he especially focused on pursuing to know God’s deeds, and thus he was certain of the identity of the Lord Jesus. His three denials of the Lord Jesus before His crucifixion were due to his normal human weakness. At that time, Judaism joined hands with the Roman government and crazily arrested the disciples of the Lord Jesus, and the disciples were in danger of losing their lives once they were caught. In that situation, anyone would be weak. When the Lord Jesus was taken by soldiers, all His disciples were so terrified that they fled away, except Peter who followed Him at a distance. Considering that Peter had followed the Lord Jesus for only about three years, it was a rare and precious thing that his faith could achieve that much. No matter how people judge Peter according to their conceptions, God clearly knows his heart of love for God and his true stature. The Lord Jesus, before going to the cross, told Peter that he would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed. The Lord knew that man living in the flesh has normal human weakness. God doesn’t remember man’s childishness and temporary weakness, but sees whether he truly rejoices in truth in his heart and looks at his humanity and the path he walks. In the little time before His crucifixion, the Lord Jesus still cared for His disciples. In the revelation of Peter, there was the Lord’s love and His kind intentions. The Lord Jesus knew Peter’s true stature—he had so little knowledge of Him that he did not understand His will and only had a positive belief in Him. If his believing in God was only a belief but not a true faith, he would be incapable of truly satisfying God and would even play the role of Satan to interrupt and disturb God’s work. Therefore, God created such an environment to reveal Peter for him to truly reflect upon his faith.
Peter was a man who sincerely believed in God. This revelation made him gain too much, and it was a major turning point of his faith in God. Through this revelation, He saw that he was so small of stature that he could not genuinely love God as his heart wished, which thus even more stirred up his will to pursue the truth. From then on, he committed his all into God’s hands and all that he did was for the sake of satisfying God. He paid no more attention to enjoying and blessings while believing God, but began to perseveringly pursue to know God. After experiencing hundreds of trials and refinements from God in his lifetime, he was made perfect by God and became a man who knew God best among the saints of ages past, and gained God’s approval. In the end he was nailed upside down on the cross, fulfilling his desire of loving God, and became an exemplar for all those pursuing to love God. From this I have understood that it was because God looked favorably upon Peter’s humanity and pursuit that God at that time gave Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. All the work God did on Peter achieved its proper effect, and Peter had a share of God’s kingdom because he pursued to know and love God.
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