Was Peter the ROCK of the Church?
It is often said that Peter was the Rock upon which the church was built, and it comes from Matthew 16:18. Here, Yeshua (Jesus) had just asked the disciples who people were saying he was. They replied in various ways, and then Yeshua asked Peter, the son (bar) of Jonah, and his reply was so inspired.
Let’s read it.
Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ (Anointed One, the Messiah), the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
20 Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.
So on the basis of verse 18, many have taught and believed that Peter is the Rock upon which the church of God has been built. But is that so? Last time we looked into the “gates of hades (hell) shall not prevail against it”. Remember that? And how gates don’t attack? This time, let’s look at whether or not Peter was the rock undergirding the church.
A little background is in order. Peter’s original name was Simon or – in Hebrew – Simeon, son of Jonah”. Yeshua actually renamed him Cephas, an Aramaic name which means “stone”, a pebble, or a small rock is what it refers to. When this was translated to Greek, Cephas becomes the Greek equivalent – “Petros”, where get the anglicized (English) name “Peter”.
See Strong’s #4074 –for Petros/Peter -- “A piece of a rock, a detached stone or boulder. It always means a stone, never a rock… it is a large stone, a piece or fragment of a rock such as a man might throw”
Folks, you don’t build a church or a fellowship on a fragment of rock. No, you need a “petra’- a massive rock.
“Petra” – 4073 – A MASS of rock, a projecting rock, cliff.
Now please keep these distinctions clearly in your mind.
But again, the name Yeshua actually gave Peter was originally an Aramaic name -- Cephas (stone). So his original name was Simon, changed by Yeshua to Cephas or Petros – so that’s where we get “Simon Peter”. Let’s read it.
“One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, "You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas" (which is translated, A Stone).
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Now let’s look again at Yeshua’s actual words.
Matthew 16:18—“I say you are Petros (little stone, pebble), and on this ROCK (petra) I will build my church…”
Who will build the church of God? The Messiah will. He said so. “I will build my church”. Upon what? A small stone? No, he says on this ROCK. The Greek word here is “petra” not “petros”. Petra, though similar to petros, means a massive rock, a cliff, something like the massive monoliths you would see in the ancient Idumean rock city of Petra, now a famous tourist attraction in Jordan.
Remember Jesus taught us how the WISE man built his house upon the ROCK. Not just A rock but THE Rock (Matthew 7:24). The Greek word there – once again, is not Petros (Peter) but Petra (ROCK, massive rock). Would God not build his church, which is the House of God, upon the Rock, who is Christ? Of course. That Petra – the massive rock – was not Peter.
Peter is one of my heroes. I love his enthusiasm and charisma. He was a great leader, a great apostle. Love him! But he is not the Rock upon which God would build HIS House. All-wise God would build his House – the church -- on THE ROCK that is Christ.
And from one end of the Bible to the next, who is the ROCK of our salvation? Who is our Rock? Who is our strong fortress? Is it Peter? No.
1 Cor. 10:4 says “and that Rock was Christ”.
And who are we told is the foundation of the church, the all-important cornerstone foundation?
Isaiah 28:16 says clearly – “thus says the Lord GOD (Adonai YHVH): ‘Behold I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a SURE FOUNDATION…”
In the New Testament, that sure foundation always points back to Yeshua, the Son of God. Open up your own Bible and see how Peter HIMSELF, in 1 Peter 2:4-8 uses this very same passage from Isaiah 28:16 to expound how that passage clearly pointed to the Messiah Jesus Christ.
This is Peter HIMSELF saying it, under divine inspiration. 1 Peter 2:4 begins with “Coming to HIM, a living stone, rejected by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also as living stones…” and then Peter goes on in verses 6-8 to show how Yeshua was indeed the chief cornerstone and a Rock of offense.
Another interesting piece in all of this is where Yeshua was when he made the statement. He was at the base of Mt. Hermon in Caesarea Philippi, not to be confused with the Caesarea on the coast. The one near Mt. Hermon is now called Banias. I’ve been there twice. The River flows strongly there and all around you, you can see lots of small rocks and pebbles. And further up is a massive rock, and of course beyond that is Mt. Hermon itself.
I can picture Yeshua picking up a small rock from the riverbed, motioning to Peter and saying, “you are a rock alright, Peter, and I like that about you. But on this ROCK (pointing back to himself) I will build my church”.
Otherwise, all the many scriptures that point to Yeshua as our ROCK and as the chief foundation of the church just don’t make sense. Peter and the other apostles and prophets also form the foundation, but the chief foundation is Christ himself.
Peter was certainly instrumental in laying the foundation of the ekklesia in his famous sermon in Acts 2 on Pentecost, and as he preached the gospel to Cornelius in Acts 10. But Peter remained humble. Paul felt able to withstand Peter to his face when Peter was in the wrong (Gal. 2:11). Peter would certainly not ever claim infallibility. And James, the brother of Jesus, was the leader of the Jerusalem church, and whose advice the elders followed (Acts 15) in a controversial time about circumcision.
I would add this: I’ve been in “St Peter’s Basilica” in Rome several times. You know what? Peter would be appalled to have his name attached to that building with all of its gold and silver and priceless works of art. He would be appalled to be called the first Pope (he truly was not). He would not choose any connection to the way the popes in the last two millennia have behaved and lived – all professing to be in the line of succession from Peter himself. The true Peter would have had nothing to do with it, I’m sure.
Peter was a part of the foundation – along with the other apostles and prophets – but Christ himself was the chief cornerstone – as Ephesians 2:20 clearly teaches us.
So here, at Light on the Rock, we teach that Rock is Christ (1 Cor. 10:4), and HE is the One we magnify as the Rock upon which God’s church has been built. And in so doing, as we honor the Messiah the Son of God – we also honor his God and Father, God Most High (John 5:23).