Summary: When Jesus met Simon, he named him "Peter", or "Rock", even though Peter's character at that time was decidedly un-rocklike. But Jesus saw what he would become, just as he sees as, not only as we are but as what we will become in Him.
The first thing we notice in these seven verses is the number of references to stones. Living stones. Precious stones. Corner stones. Stones that are chosen by God but rejected by men. A stone that causes people to stumble and fall. Now, think about that for a moment. Why would that be? Why would Peter have a special interest in the qualities of different types of stones? Well, what was Peter’s name before he met Jesus? It was Simon. But Jesus gave him a new name, “Peter”. That’s petros in Greek, which means stone, or “rock”. Let’s look at that passage in John’s gospel, chapter one, verses 40-42:
“40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).” – John 1:40-42
“Cephas” is an Aramaic word which means stone, and so as John explains, when translated from Aramaic into Greek, it becomes petros, or in English, Peter. So from the time he met Jesus, his name was Simon Peter, or Simon the Rock.
All right. The name which Jesus gave Simon was intended to indicate something about his character. And in fact, names in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, often have special significance. I’ll give you a couple of examples. In the creation story, Genesis 3:20, we read this:
“Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.”
The word “Eve” likely meant “living”, and so that’s what Adam called her.
Later in Genesis we read of an encounter that the patriarch Jacob had with God, in which he literally wrestled with God. Yes. Look it up, it’s in the Bible. Strange but true. Would you want to try that? I would not. I think I’d prefer to wrestle with Dwayne Johnson. But Jacob did. And God gave him a new name as a result. As well as a limp, by the way.
“27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” – Genesis 32:27-28
In this case, the word “Israel” likely meant “he struggles with God”. That was the significance of Jacob’s new name; he was now Israel the God-wrestler.
One more example. In the account of Jesus’ birth, we read that an angel appeared to Joseph and instructed him, concerning his wife Mary, that “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”(John 1:21). “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua”, which means, “the Lord saves”.
And so when Jesus gave Simon a new name, it wasn’t random, it had significance. But the ironic thing about this name, Peter, is that Simon, at this time and for a long time afterward, was decidedly un-rocklike. What are the qualities we would associate with someone called, “the Rock”? Stability, perhaps. We would expect such a person to be solid and dependable. Firm, strong, reliable. But Peter was not any of those things. He was not stable. He was not solid or dependable. He was not reliable. On the contrary, he was a man of extremes; rash, impulsive, changeable. And that’s a puzzle. Why would Jesus assign this name to a man whose character did not reflect the qualities which the name implied? Did he make a mistake?
I’m going to give you several examples of this from Peter’s life, because it’s important that we be fully convinced on this point.
A well-known and tragic example of Peter’s unsteady nature is his denial of Jesus. In Mark’s account of the Last Supper, we read this exchange (Mark 14:27-31)
“27 “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered. 28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
29 Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”
30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”
31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”
At this point, there is no question in Peter’s mind concerning his devotion to Christ. He is certain. He is absolutely committed, even unto death. “Even if all fall away” — even if everyone else sitting around this table abandons you— “I will not”. I wonder how the others reacted to that declaration, by the way. And then, more emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you”. Under no circumstances, Jesus, will my commitment falter. It is absolute.