Thursday, September 22, 2016

Upon This Rock

Not long after the death of John the Baptist, Christ led his disciples to the base of Mount Hermon in the northern reaches of Galilee. Soon he would ascend that mountain with Peter, James, and John and be transfigured before them. God the Father would be present to testify of His Beloved Son. Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist would appear to relay priesthood authority and keys. In short, the Church of Christ and the power to administer the ordinances thereof would be restored. Before the Church could be built however, the Savior sought an opportunity to lay the foundation.

At the base of the mountain was the city of Caesarea Phillipi. Though proximate to Israel, this was a Gentile resort city in the same vein as a modern Las Vegas. Since the time of Alexander the great several hundred years earlier, it had also become a place dedicated to the worship of Pan, the faun-like Greek god of nature and the wild often associated with sexuality. Unlike other Greek gods, Pan was worshiped almost exclusively in natural settings such as the hot springs present at Caesarea Phillipi. The springs at this site were so warm that they emitted a constant wave of steam through the entrance gates, which became known locally as the "Gates of Hades".

Had the disciples been aware of what was about to occur, they might have recognized the similarities between their setting in Caesarea Phillipi and their Israelite ancestors that worshiped a golden calf at the base of Mount Sinai. It was on Mount Sinai that God revealed himself to Moses. Now that same God sought to reveal himself to his disciples.

"Whom do men say that I the Son of man am," he asked. In that worldly setting, his disciples responded with worldly speculations. Then the Savior asked, "But whom say ye that I am?"

Peter responded resolutely, "Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

It is worth remembering that some time just prior to the 16-mile journey to Caesarea Phillipi, Peter had a life-changing spiritual experience. In the dark of night, exhausted from more than nine hours of rowing in a storm and surrounded by the fears of his peers, Peter had hearkened to the voice of the Lord to leave the boat and walk on water. Somewhere along the way, or perhaps gradually all along the way, Peter had prepared himself to receive and follow spiritual promptings. Now his confidence in those promptings allowed him to answer the Lord's inquiry with conviction.

The Lord commended Peter for his answer and emphasized that "flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." Christ continued:

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:18-19).

What was the rock that Christ would use to build his church? What was the foundation that had to be laid for the pending restoration to succeed?

Was it Peter himself, whose name means "small rock" in Greek? They were, after all, in a Greek city; but if Peter were the foundation wouldn't it be the Church of Peter rather than the Church of Christ?

Or did Christ mean the rock of the mountain where he would soon ascend with Peter, James and John to restore priesthood authority and keys? Certainly it would be hard to miss the large rock face that was the strength of Caesarea Phillipi. Was Christ simply hinting that his church would be restored on that mountain and that Peter would be present?

Or did Christ refer to the city built into the rock? Didn't the apostles build the church of Christ largely upon similar Gentile cities in Turkey, Greece and Syria after the ascension of Christ?

All of these theories and many more have been debated by scripture scholars for hundreds if not thousands of years. Perhaps all of them have some merit. Thankfully, the Lord taught the Prophet Joseph Smith the primary intention of this expression. He explained, "Jesus in His teachings says, 'Upon this rock I will build my Church...' What rock? Revelation" (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 195. emphasis added). 

Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. This is the rock emphasized by the Savior as the foundation of His Church. It was His Church. Peter would be chosen to serve as Christ's mouthpiece on the earth for a time, but the Savior himself would continue to lead the Church by revelation just as he had periodically revealed his will to Moses on Mount Sinai. 

Christ leads his restored church today through revelation to prophets, just as he has always done. As Joseph Smith testified, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded upon direct revelation, as the true Church of God has ever been, according to the Scriptures" (TPC: JS, 195). This distinguishes the Church from all other religious sects.

Likewise, we have the promise of our Creator and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, that if we will rely on the foundation of revelation in our lives the world will not prevail against us. Even if it seems as though we stand at the gates of hell, if we are prepared and willing to follow the promptings we receive the best is yet to come. There is a glorious experience for each of us at the top of the mountain.

Twice each year, living prophets address the Church to share the mind and will of the Lord as it has been revealed to them. If we are prepared and willing to follow the promptings we receive, the Lord will teach us what we need to do to get out of the boat, to be protected from the evils of the world and to see his plan from a higher altitude. As we are all children of God, we are all encouraged to listen to what the Lord has to say. Archived messages and information about how to view these messages live can be found at

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