One of the beautiful imageries we have in scripture is of Jesus being our Rock. Israel is quenched while fainting of thirst in the dry, hot desert from The Rock. The everlasting covenant of Israel is signed by God Himself on The Rock. Moses is protected by the cleft in The Rock. Over and over God is called a rock or stone. He is called by this title more than the title of Redeemer or Savior!
King David calls him Rock:
“For who is God, but the LORD ? And who is a rock, except our God.” Ps.18:31
Prophet Isaiah calls him Rock:
“You will have songs as in the night when you keep the festival, And gladness of heart as when one marches to the sound of the flute, To go to the mountain of the LORD, to the Rock of Israel.” Isaiah 30:29 NAS
Prophet Habakkuk calls him Rock:
“Are You not from everlasting, O LORD, my God, my Holy One ? We will not die. You, O LORD, have appointed them to judge ; And You, O Rock, have established them to correct.” Hab. 1:12 NAS
See: Ex. 17:6; 33:22; Num. 20:8-12; Deu. 8:15; 32:4,13-15, 18, 30-31, 37; I Sam. 2:2; 22:2-3, 32, 47; 23: 3; Ps. 18:2, 46; 19:14; 28:1; 31:2-3; 40:2, 9; 62: 2, 6-7; 71:3; 78:35; 81:16; 89:26; 92:15; 94:22, 95:1; 144:1. Isa. 17:10; 26:4, 30:29.
This title of Jesus as The Rock is one of strength, endurance, power and is used in the sense that of a stone foundation/cornerstone. (I Kings 5:17; 7:9-10; Isa. 28:16; Zech. 10:4, Luke 6:28-29; Matt. 21:42, Eph. 2:20, 1 Peter 2:4-8; Rev. 21:14, 19.) The title of Rock is one of the Old Testaments most significant titles that prophesy of the coming Messiah. That is why when we look at Matthew 16 we have to keep this title in mind.
In Matthew 16, the setting is right outside the city of Cesarea Phillippi about twenty-five miles south of the Sea of Galilee. With the backdrop of the huge sheared cliffs at the base of Mount Hermon, this area was famous for the abundant water that gushed from inside the cliffs and eventually fed the Jordan River. It is here where Jesus asked his disciples who He was.
It was Simon who replied to Jesus. “You are the Christ, Son of the living God.”
Here, this disciple is not simply saying that Jesus is God’s son, but he is acknowledging Jesus’ title as Messiah. “Christ” is not a name but a title. Simon Peter is saying “You, Jesus, are the fulfillment of the Jewish Savior and are the anointed one.” Jesus responds to Simon’s recognition by giving him a title also:
Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to 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 to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.
Simon is not being renamed in the same way the Old Testament fathers of God’s people were like Abraham from Abram or Israel from Jacob. Peter is not a last name or a new Christianized/Hellenized name, like the Saul to Paul situation. (Interestingly, there is no evidence that up until that time Kephas, the Aramaic word Jesus actually used, was a name. It’s definition is “rock.” The word is then translated into Greek as Peter. ) Jesus was crowning Simon with a title, just as Simon had done with Him. Throughout the New Testament the preeminent Apostle is hailed as Simon Peter--his name followed by his title, like Jesus Christ.
Think about that. Jesus was giving Peter the same title He had been referred to throughout the Old Testament. Jesus was handing the title over to Peter, not giving it up, but sharing it with him as a new, eternal, powerful cornerstone and foundation of His Kingdom--the Rock in which living water flows. He is not making him equal to God, of course. No Christian could accept that. However, Jesus is setting Peter as head of a mighty people of God, in the same category as Moses.
When Christians suggest that Peter was not really the preeminent Apostle, they simply are not aware that each time the disciples spoke the name Peter or Simon Peter they were fully cognizant of the fact that they were using a title. His name went into their minds as Simon the Rock on which the church would be founded.
1 Many Christians assume Jesus was dubbing Peter as “the little rock” because the translation into Greek from the original Aramaic demands a feminine gender. But there was no difference in wording in the original language. Jesus said that Simon was Kephas/Cephas and on this Kephas/Cephas I will build my kingdom or church community.
[Interesting Aside Note: notice in verse 20, that Jesus warns the disciples that they should tell no one His own title of the “Christ” but he made no restrictions upon Simon’s title.]
Matthew 16: 21 From that time Jesus began to shew to his disciples, that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the ancients and scribes and chief priests, and be put to death, and the third day rise again. 22 And Peter taking him, began to rebuke him, saying: Lord, be it far from thee, this shall not be unto thee. 23 Who turning, said to Peter: Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men.
Almost immediately after crowning Simon with the title, the Rock, Jesus calls him Satan. This seems to be a bit of an overreaction to Peter not understanding the Messianic prophecies, right? Perhaps the point here is that Jesus DID just distinguish Simon as his chief apostle. Jesus was known for his tenderness with the worst of sinners and saving his most biting criticisms for his leaders.
As the newly appointed leader of God’s people and foundation of the church, Peter is tempting Jesus just like Satan had in the desert. Peter is wanting Jesus to rely on his own human understanding and power. Peter thought it counterintuitive, unreasonable and against Israel’s understanding of prophecy for the Messiah, the Christ to suffer and die.
In no uncertain terms, Jesus needed Peter to realize that his scriptural assumptions of prophecy were from the depths of hell. As leader of the Kingdom of Heaven, Peter had no rights to derive conclusions from his own infinitesimal perspective. Peter must learn full submission and obedience to God who alone is trustworthy.
Here is a poignant foreshadowing of both Luther and all other Reformers who looked to their own understanding of what scripture says. Perhaps that is why Peter later will warn us not to try and interpret prophecy ourselves:
So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. I Peter 1:19-21.
After rebuking Peter, Jesus softens and explains to his disciples the cost of this new election to the Kingdom:
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it. For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels: and then will he render to every man according to his works. Amen I say to you, there are some of them that stand here, that shall not taste death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. Matthew 16:24-28.
Jesus is not jumping subject. Though he is speaking to Peter, he is also addressing all his disciples. Following Christ and taking up your cross will mean putting to death your own desires, opinions, rights and what seems reasonable to you. Yet when the decision is made to die to self, your life is saved and you will stand on the Rock, both of Jesus and Peter!