“Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
Open up the New Testament to Matthew 16:13-20 and read what follows. This passage of scripture has been the flame of many heated arguments between denominations throughout the years. Catholics adamantly ascribe the “rock” of v. 18 to Peter, claiming this passage is the scriptural pointer to Peter as the first archbishop (pope) of the church. Protestants and Churches of Christ consistently teach the “rock” of v. 18 is none other than Christ Jesus. In this study, lean in and listen to the whispering voice of the Christ, speaking through the pen of Matthew, as He dispels all doubt with His artful allusions to the Old Testament.
From the very first verse (13), notice the conversation is entirely about, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” The question is not, “Who do men say that you, the Son of Jonah, are?” The “Son of Man” title is a direct allusion to prophecy from Daniel 7. There in Daniel 7:13-14, the Son of Man comes in the clouds, sits by the Ancient of Days, and is given dominion, glory, and an everlasting kingdom. Peter himself recognizes Jesus to be the fulfillment of the Messianic king in Acts 2:34-36. In the gospel of Matthew, the “Son of Man” title is Jesus’ favorite title for Himself, as He no doubt hints with each use of this title that Jesus is the Son of Man that Daniel prophesied about. “Son of Man” appears 82 times across all four gospels and 30 times in Matthew alone (Quarles, Charles. A Theology of Matthew. P & R Publishing, 2013, pp. 89). During a later conversation in Matthew 16, Jesus makes a second allusion to Daniel 7, as He makes reference to His coming for judgment (Mt. 16:27-28). Daniel’s picture of the Son of Man is undoubtedly a heavy influence in Matthew 16, and the backdrop for Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 16:13-20.
Now, keep Daniel’s book of prophecy close to the mind’s eye while the “rock” of Matthew 16:18 is examined. If the traditional Catholic distinction that Peter is the rock of v. 18 is true, then this is what happens in the conversation of Matthew 16:13-20. Jesus asks, “Who is the Son of Man,” proceeds to answer a completely different question as He discusses the fact that Peter is the foundation of the church, and when it is all said and done, He has not answered the question, “Who is the Son of Man?” This is illogical. This absent-mindedness sounds like something an average Joe might do, but not the antics of the Son of Man-Jesus Christ. Instead, this more orderly flow of thought proceeds from the mind of Jesus and rhymes with logic. Jesus asks, “Who is the Son of Man?” The Son of Man naturally reminds a faithful Jew like Peter of Daniel’s prophecy in Daniel 7. Jesus then proceeds to answer His question by identifying the Son of Man in Daniel 7 with the stone in Daniel 2. If one is a careful reader, he will notice the theme of Daniel is the Kingdom of Heaven. He will also take note that Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 are two separate visions that compliment each other, telling the same story from a different perspective. In Daniel 2, there is a stone that strikes a great image representing the kingdoms of the earth (Daniel 2:44-45). The stone grows into a great mountain (2:35), and this represents the beginning of the kingdom of God (2:44-45). The rock in Daniel 2:34, 36, and 45 represents Jesus Christ, the Son of Man. Just as Daniel says, “You (Nebuchadnezzar) are this head of gold,” in v.38, so Jesus is the stone. To speak of the head of a kingdom is to speak of the kingdom itself. This is illustrated by Paul in Eph. 1:22-23, where Jesus is called the head of the church. The same thing said of the stone in Daniel 2:44-45 is a parallel to what is said of the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14, and these are the prophecies directly alluded to by Jesus in Matthew 16:18.
Perhaps the allusion to Daniel goes over the head of most people. Consider a simpler question. Is Jesus God? Yes, even Catholics believe Jesus is deity. If Jesus is talking to a group of Jewish disciples who have listened to the Old Testament in the synagogue their whole life, and Jesus says His kingdom will be built on a “rock”, what Biblical reference would come to Peter’s mind? Here is the answer. Peter would, without doubt, think of the oh-so-many references to God and the future Messiah as the Rock of Israel. There are a host of Old Testament prophets that ascribe this everlasting, solid and immovable “Rock” status to God and Messiah (i.e. Gen. 49:24; Deut. 32:15; 2 Sam. 23:3; Ps. 62:7; 78:35; Isaiah 8:14; 28:16; 44:8). Furthermore, Jesus had, on a previous occasion, compared His teachings to the foundation of a house built on a “rock” (Matt. 7:24-25). Jesus is the Rock, “the stone the builders rejected” (Ps. 188:22; Acts 4:11): the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:19-21).
There seems to be little room for doubt. If the disciples do not immediately think of Daniel’s Son of Man prophecy, certainly Daniel’s prophecy of the stone in Daniel 2, coupled with the plethora of references to God and Messiah as the “Rock” of Israel, would reveal the answer to the question of Matthew 16:13, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” The question was answered decisively for these Jews; thus, they are instructed not to reveal this new knowledge of the Christ until the time is ripe (Matthew 16:20). Read the Old and New Testaments together, and do not let faith rest on the traditions of men.