Jesus Verse by Verse

an expanded commentary on the Gospel of Matthew

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Digression 12: Peter The Rock

Remember that ‘Peter’s real name was Simon. ‘Peter’ was a name given to him by Jesus- ‘Simon the rock’ was how Jesus surnamed him. And the name stuck. He became known simply as ‘Peter’, the rock-man. “The fact that the word Kepha was translated into Greek is significant. It confirms that the word is not a proper name; proper names are usually not translated” (1). There are many examples of names being changed or added to, in reflection of the Divine perspective upon the individuals (Gen. 17:5,15; 32:28; Is. 62:2; 65:15). It was common for Jewish rabbis to give their disciples such new names. The Lord likewise surnamed the sons of Zebedee Boanerges. Although Peter seemed so unstable, he ‘dissembled’ due to fear even in Gal. 2:11, he had the potential to be a rock; the basic stability of the man’s tenacious basic faith was perceived by the Lord. We too will be given a new name, and it is for us to live up even now to the name of Jesus by which we have been surnamed in Christ. Even though it seems too good for us- we are to live up to the potential which the Lord sees in us. I even wonder whether it was the Lord’s renaming of Peter which inspired him to the spiritual ambition of Pentecost- to stand up in front of the Jerusalem crowd, with all the gossip about his own denial of Jesus staring him in the face, and so preach that he achieved the greatest mass conversions of all time. Perhaps ringing in his ears were the Lord’s words: ‘You, Simon, are the rock, and upon you, Simon-rock, I will build my church’. The Lord entrusts us with the Gospel, and we respond to this trust and belief which He shows in us. It’s like the schoolteacher telling the most disruptive child: ‘I’m going out of the classroom for 5 minutes. You’re in charge. And when I return I want there to be deathly silence’. And there likely will be. After the shock of the high calling wears off, the pupil often rises up to the unexpected trust given him [or her].  
We can construct a parallel: 

Upon this rock (of Peter fully and truly believing in Christ as Son of God, with all it implies)

I will build my church

When thou art converted

Strengthen thy brethren (Lk. 22:32)

[As Peter with hung head says] " thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee"

Feed my sheep / lambs
Follow me to the cross, die my death with me

Building up the church, strengthening the brethren, feeding the sheep- this is the life of the cross. Self-giving to others, all the way. Peter often shows that he is the pattern of every true convert; all must strengthen their brethren, feed the sheep, and thereby the ecclesia will be built up upon them too. Thus the Lord’s words “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” can be read as meaning ‘on this type of rock and confession as you exhibit and will more fully show, I will build up the ecclesia’. This is why Peter can tell all his readers to build up the house (ecclesia) of God (1 Pet. 2:5 Gk.), just as it had been promised he would after his conversion. Having promised that the ecclesia would be built up upon the rock of Peter’s faith, the Lord promised him the keys of the Kingdom to enable this to happen. But He repeated this promise to the others, as if to confirm that what He meant was that all who follow Peter’s pattern would quite naturally have the same abilities and achieve the same end, without consciously trying to do so.
Peter is presented to us in the Gospels as a believer who several times failed, who was unstable, and whose spirituality soared up and down. Yet the Lord nicknamed him “Peter”. Because ‘Peter’ is a common name now, it is hard to appreciate that before the Lord coined this nickname, ‘Peter’ didn’t exist as a name. “Neither Petros in Greek nor Kepha in Aramaic is a normal proper name”(2) . Likewise C.T. Grant: “Petros was not used as a name at that time” (3). Simon / Shimon obviously existed- but not ‘Peter’. The Lord Jesus was nicknaming Simon ‘the rock’, or, ‘Rocky’. The American ‘Rocky’ is rather similar- it wasn’t a proper name in the English language, then it began being used as a nickname, and now it is becoming accepted as a personal name. Why, then, did the Lord nickname the most apparently unstable of the disciples ‘Rocky’? Surely because He perceived, in His generous and gracious way, that beneath all the surface instability, the ups and downs of loyalty to Him, there was a wonderful base stability and rock-like faith and commitment to Him in this man. May we learn likewise to discern our brethren, and also discern the rock-likeness of the man Simon. And we may also take some comfort that for all our mess ups, we are seen by our Lord for who we basically are. And of course, it is Jesus Himself who is “the rock”, just as He is the shepherd, and yet He calls Simon the shepherd (Jn. 10:11,14 cp. 21:15-17). He wished for Peter the rock to perceive that He truly was willing and eager to manifest Himself through him. Perhaps this is why John records Peter’s name change as occurring at the beginning of the ministry, whereas Matthew places it over halfway through- as if the Lord needed to encourage Peter, as Jacob needed to be encouraged, to believe that his name really had changed in God’s perception of things.   It has been pointed out that the name ‘Simon’ was “the commonest male name by far in 1st century Palestine”; and that Peter was “originally not a name in its own right but simply the Greek word used to translate the Apostle Simon’s Aramaic nickname, Kepha, meaning ‘rock’” (4). What this means is that the most mundane name was taken, and the owner of it given a totally unique and new name. And yet each of us are granted a new and totally personal name by the Lord, reflecting our essential personality; and this name will be confirmed at judgment day. The same researcher, who extensively surveyed all Palestinian personal names in the first century through study of inscriptions etc., came to observe that many of the new names given to Jewish converts were names which she never found given to anyone else- they were freak names. There is the case of John Mark- ‘Mark’ was “a name not otherwise known among Palestinian Jews”, and yet he was given it. This suggests to me that it was a practice to give a convert a new name, either a made up name like ‘Peter’ [‘Rocky’] which nobody had used before, or a name quite ethnically inappropriate to them as a Jew or Gentile. This would have paraded before the world their unity and the radical transformation that had overtaken them through their personality-changing encounter with the living Jesus.   The great paradox that Peter was named ‘rock’ and yet was in some ways so un-rock like is carried over by him being called a ‘pillar’ in the new temple of God which the Lord Jesus built (Gal. 2:9). And yet he, the pillar, collapsed under pressure from the Judaizer brethren. Yet ultimately, he was the rock and pillar. And we need to see each other’s temporary failings in the same way. Significantly, Rev. 3:12 promises to each believer that they will be made a pillar in God’s temple; Peter is being set up, by this allusion to Gal. 2:9, as a pattern for us all. 
Peter And The Stone Of Daniel 2
Simon Peter, Simon-the-rock, emphasized in his first epistle that Jesus was the real rock / stone. But he clearly saw himself as manifesting Jesus in his work of founding the church of Jesus- as we are all manifestations of Jesus in our witness. It could be that Simon-rock was the man through whom the church was founded- for the mass conversions on Pentecost and straight afterwards were not repeated it seems. From those conversions the world-wide church came into being. Those converts, who were from “every nation under heaven”, took the message back home with them. And later, through his preaching to Cornelius, it was Peter who “opened the door of faith to the Gentiles”. Before Peter and the apostles, the gates of the grave would open (Mt. 16:18); and yet as Jesus makes clear, it is He personally who has the keys of the grave and of death. The Pharisees had shut the door to the Kingdom (Mt. 23:13), but Peter and the apostles had the keys to open it again. It was perhaps Peter’s putting together of these two sayings of Jesus that gave him the courage to stand up and preach as he did to the Jews- the door had been shut, but the Lord had given him the keys to open it. For all his sense of personal inadequacy, he couldn’t just sit and toy with the keys in his hand. Thus the work of Jesus was manifested through that of His zealous apostles and Peter. Through the Pentecost conversions, the reign of Jesus in the lives of men and women, the power of the Kingdom life, spread world-wide due to the witness of that man who was so, so aware of his failure, and who likely considered that he ought to be left on the back-burner for a while after his shameful denials. This all leads to the inevitable connection with the vision of Daniel 2. A stone hits the kingdoms of men and spreads to form a world-wide Kingdom. Lk. 20:17 describes Jesus as the stone who became the headstone, in His impact upon men and women here and now. It could be that the feet part of iron and part of clay refers to the Roman empire rather than a system of affairs that arose after the Roman empire ended. The 10 toes of the image correspond to the 10 horns of the beast in Revelation- and the horns were part of the beast / fourth empire, just as the toes had the iron element in them. Note that the legs are described as representing “the fourth empire” (Dan. 2:40), but the feet are not called “the fifth empire”. Indeed the toes are spoken of as representing how “the Kingdom shall be divided…” (Dan. 2:41), implying they are part of the fourth kingdom (Rome) spoken of in the preceding verse. The heralding of Christ’s ministry with the words “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and His talk of it ‘coming upon’ people, being entered, received, unexpectedly found, and ‘coming’ (Mk. 1:15; Lk. 11:20; Mk. 10:23-25; Mk. 10:15; Mt. 13:44-46; Lk. 11:2) would likely all have been understood as a reference to Dan. 2:44 and maybe 7:27. Likewise Mt. 12:28: “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom has already come to you”. In the person of Jesus, the Kingdom of God was amongst the people of Palestine. The Kaddish, an old Jewish prayer, was much recited by Jesus’ contemporaries: “May God establish his Kingdom in your lifetime and in your days, speedily and at a near time”. Jesus was surely alluding to this in declaring that in a sense, the Kingdom had now come nigh. He described those who responded to the Kingdom Gospel as entering into a marriage supper (Mk. 2:18,19; Lk. 14:12-24), which was a well-known figure for the future Messianic Kingdom (Is. 25:6-9). By eating / fellowshipping with Him in faith, His followers were in prospect enjoying the Kingdom life.  
John Baptist had described the Lord’s work as a fan that would sweep the chaff away- replete with reference to Daniel’s words about the sweeping away of the Kingdoms of men. The future political Kingdom of God will of course only be established at the Lord’s return. The vision can only have its total fulfilment then. But the essence of that Kingdom, the reigning of God in the lives of Christ’s people, those who lived out the spirit of all the parables which described what “the Kingdom of God” was to be like in the lives of mortal men and women…this began with the founding of the church of Christ. And this momentous act began in the conversions at Pentecost, made by Simon-rock. In the work of the disciples it would be true for Israel that “the Kingdom of Heaven has come near” (Mt. 11:4; 10:7). Peter as the leading and representative disciple likewise brought the Kingdom near and real to men and women in his preaching. Dan. 2:35 RVmg. speaks of how “the stone became a great rock”. Unstable, nervous,  mixed up Peter became the great rock of Christ, insofar as Simon manifested Him to the world in his preaching. Peter was the epitome of what would happen in the lives of countless others who would become “in Christ”.  
Whether or not one fully accepts the interpretation of Daniel 2 offered above, the essence of the lesson and the encouragement remains. That a man whose tremendous sense of unworthiness, awkwardness and embarrassment would have held back many a man in Christ, rose up to the challenge of witness. And he did it through gripping on firmly, even desperately, to his Lord’s promise to him- that he was really Simon-rock, the one with the keys that could open the Kingdom’s gates to people. And so he rose up and witnessed, and in doing so he manifested Jesus… and his Lord blessed mightily the witness he made. And each of us are in Christ, the true and mighty rock / stone. We each can manifest him as Peter did. For it is on each of us that He builds His church.
(1) Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr (London: S.C.M., 1962) p. 21).
(2) R.E. Brown, The Gospel According to John [New York: Doubleday, 1981 ed., p. 76].
(3) C.T. Grant, ‘The nature of the Universal church’, Emmaus Journal Vol. 7 No. 1, Summer 1998.
(4) Margaret Williams, Palestinian Personal Names in Acts in Richard Bauckham, ed. The Book of Acts Vol. 4 pp. 93, 104 (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1995).