“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’ Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.’” (Genesis 17:1-5)
We know that this is the beginning of the Covenant that God made with Israel through Abram. Later in the chapter, God will also give Sarai, Abraham’s wife a new name, Sarah. The names are significant: the name Abram means “Noble Father,” but Abraham means, “Father of Many.” Sarai, is “Princess” and Sarah becomes, “Mother of Nations.” A change in the name was not only God calling them His own and into his plan for salvation, but it was also a declaration, a prophecy if you will, of what they were to become and accomplish. So with this history, we know that when Jesus changes Simon’s name, something more is being said.
Jesus and the disciples had come to Caesarea Philippi and Jesus asked the disciples who the people were saying that he was. They respond, John the Baptist, one of the prophets and so on, but Jesus does not stop there, for he then asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter.” Peter got the gold star and because of that Jesus changed his name and declared what Peter was to become and what work he intended on accomplishing through him, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
The name Simon means, “he has heard,” and as Jesus indicates in his response to Simon/Peter, the name Peter means “Rock.” This name indicates that it is upon Peter and the confession of Jesus as Messiah, that the Lord will build His Church.
Later, the Apostle Paul—whose name was also changed!—will speak of building: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.” But he also indicates that the confession of Jesus is the rock, the foundation, the cornerstone, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
There are many blocks that go into building a church. The bible, the creeds, the traditions, the people, the clergy, the prayer book and more, but if the foundation is not Jesus, the rest is worthless. The same is true of our individual faith and practices. We can pray in different ways, worship in different ways, all the way down to reading different translations of the Bible, but if the rock of our faith is not Jesus… well, it is like the house built on sandy ground: “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
In keeping the faith, this covenant and in confessing Jesus as Messiah, the Lord also ‘changes our name,’ pointing us to what we are to become and sharing with us the work we are to accomplish.