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What is the Rock in Matthew 16:18?

The Mosaic law was as tightly bound to the enmity between God and all humanity as it was to the enmity between Jews and gentiles. When its holy, righteous, and good decrees encountered a humanity under the power of the world, the devil, and the flesh, they served only to reveal the depth of humanity’s rebellion against God and the gravity of the penalty for that rebellion. When Christ died on the cross, he set the law aside, and in so doing, he not only created a new people unified across ethnic barriers but also removed the case against all humanity codified in the Mosaic law. When Christ set aside the law through his death on the cross, therefore, he reconciled to God all who believed the gospel, whether Jew or gentile. This culminated in his utter destruction of the cosmic forces that started this hostility.

Now in Psalm 22:12-13 we read that: "the vicious bulls of Bashan have encircled me. Their mouths are opened wide toward me, like roaring and attacking lions." The name “Bashan” literally means, “the place of the serpent.” Bashan was conceived as the location of the bottomless pit. This is precisely the same region [“Caesarea Philippi” in Matthew 16:13], where Jesus declares: “it is on this rock that I will build my congregation, and the powers of hell will not withstand it” [Matthew 16:18].

It is on the cross where Jesus refers to Psalm 22 as a messianic fulfilment of his death [Matthew 27:46]. These “bulls” are metaphorical descriptions of demons [Amos 4:1-3], and the image of Christ’s death is more striking than a surface level idea of what happened visually. Those who surrounded Christ at the cross weren’t just the Jews and gentiles, but the “locusts” and their “king” opening their “mouths” toward Christ like “lions” [imagery from Revelation 9] on the very location referred to as the bottomless pit. They are not winning, but rather, Christ is defeating them.

Hence Paul states: “Even when you were dead because of your offenses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with him when he forgave us all of our offenses, having erased the charges that were brought against us, along with their obligations that were hostile to us. He took those charges away when he nailed them to the cross. And when he had disarmed the rulers and the authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross.” [Colossians 2:13-15].

Thus Chrysostom expresses this beautifully in his own words: “No expression could be more authoritative or more emphatic. His death, he says, killed the enmity, wounded and destroyed it. He did not give the task to another. And he not only did the work but suffered for it. He did not say that he dissolved it; he did not say that he put an end to it, but he used the much more forceful expression: He killed! This shows that it need not ever rise again.”

Samuel Gandy’s hymn His be the Victor's Name [1837]:

1 His be the “victor’s name,”

Who fought our fight alone;

Triumphant saints no honour claim;

His conquest was His own.

2 He hell in hell laid low;

Made sin, He sin o’erthrew:

Bow’d to the grave, destroy’d it so,

And death, by dying, slew.

3 What though the accuser roar

Of ills that we have done;

We know them well, and thousands more;

Jehovah findeth none.

4 Sin, Satan, Death appear

To harass and appal;

Yet since the gracious Lord is near,

Backward they go, and fall.

5 We meet them face to face,

Through Jesus’ conquest blest;

March in the triumph of His grace,

Right onward to our rest.

6 Bless, bless the Conqueror slain;

Slain in His victory!

Who lived, who died, who lives again,

For thee, His church, for thee!

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