Why Did “Peter” become “Cephas”?
Tom: Our topic for this segment is The Gospel of Salvation, and we’re going through certain verses in the Gospel of John which relate to the salvation we have in Christ. Of particular concern are verses that tell us about Jesus and the salvation that He brings.
Dave, I want to pick up with—we’re in chapter one, we’re going to look at verse 42: “And he brought him to Jesus, and when Jesus beheld him, he said [and of course, we’re talking about Simon Peter]…”
Dave: Andrew is bringing his brother, Simon.
Tom: Right. “And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon, the son of Jonah. Thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation a stone.”
Now, Dave, this is interesting. Why would Jesus, in effect, change Peter’s name here? Or at least underscore this aspect of his name?
Dave: Well, I suppose it would be a number of reasons, depending upon whether you’re a Catholic or a protestant or an unbeliever. The Catholic would say, “Well, because He was the foundation stone upon which the church was built.” But that, in fact, was not even believed by the Catholic Church until many, many centuries down the line. A stone is not a very good foundation. In fact, in Matthew 16, it’s a contrast. “You are Peter [this is a small stone], and on this rock [this huge Gibraltar] I will build my church,” in contrast. But Peter himself tells us in his epistle, “We are living stones, built into this temple of God.”
It’s an analogy. We’re like stones, and Jesus was saying, “Peter, you’re going to be one of the stones that will be built into the church.” I don’t know that I could say more than that. Maybe you have more to offer on that, Tom.
Tom: No, I don’t. [Laughing] Verse 43: “The day following, Jesus would go forth into Galilee and findeth Phillip, and saith unto him, Follow me. Now, Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. And Philip findeth Nathaniel and said unto him, We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
Dave: Just stop there for a second. He wasn’t the son of Joseph. Interesting that the Bible would put that in there. They could have left it out. I do a lot of editing of what I’ve written, and I try to cut out things like that, that would seem to confuse. But at this point, he doesn’t know about the virgin birth. He doesn’t understand that, but he thinks he’s found the Messiah. He doesn’t have a very good understanding of who the Messiah is, and I think you see in these men a gradual awakening, a gradual dawning of truth in their hearts, but anyway…
Tom: Well, Dave, you really see these men wrestling with the whole situation….
Tom: As you say, they weren’t … they understood some of the scriptures, but they didn’t understand fully what the scriptures taught about the Messiah.
Dave: Yeah. We know that Jesus had to be born of a virgin. If he were a man, he would be a sinner, he would have to die for his own sins. We know—we quoted earlier in the program from Isaiah, where it says that this child that would be born: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” He is the mighty God! But they didn’t understand that. But, see, if you were—if this was a setup, if it was something that you put together…
Tom: Contrived, right.
Dave: Right, contrived, centuries later, like some of these scholars try to tell us…you wouldn’t have had that in there. “The son of Joseph.” Wait a minute! But the Bible is recording accurately what he said. This is what he said. He doesn’t know at this point. And he is going to…he’s going to find out who Jesus really is
Tom: And, Dave, there’s a problem here for Nathaniel, verse 46: “And Nathaniel said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? And Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
But there’s a whole issue. Nazareth?
Dave: Yeah, well, the rabbis—remember when they were arguing, debating, in John 11. They’re having that debate there, and Nicodemus was leaning a little in the direction of maybe Jesus could be the Messiah. They said, “Search the scriptures. Go back and look. No prophet comes out of Galilee, comes out of Nazareth. The Messiah has to be born in Bethlehem.”
Well, He was born in Bethlehem, but they didn’t know that. And Nathaniel doesn’t know it. And all Philip can say—he doesn’t know the facts either! He can’t say, “Well, wait a minute! Let me tell you something. He really was born in Bethlehem of a virgin…” He doesn’t know that! All he can say is, “Come and see. Talk to Him. Check Him out, and you’ll see.”
And Jesus says—He sees Nathaniel coming to Him. Now, Jesus is going to show Nathaniel something, and He says, “Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile.” Almost like he’s teasing him.
Tom: Dave, can I back up for just a second?
Dave: Yeah, okay.
Tom: You see, these men were not cynics…
Tom: …but they had a healthy skepticism. And this is what we encourage here in this program: Well, fine, you don’t have all the answers. We don’t have all the answers. But we know where the answers are, if we’ll be diligent and seek them out. That’s why not only do I like Nathaniel’s question, but I like Philip’s response: “Come and see! Let’s search this out, let’s check this out!”
Dave: Well, Jesus—it seems like flattering: “Behold an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile.” Well, Nathaniel is not going to take that kind of flattery. And he says, “Wait a minute! How do you know me? Why are you saying this?”
Jesus says, “Before Philip called you when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Whoa! Wait a minute! Nathaniel is convinced. He says, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God. Thou art the King of Israel.”
Tom: Now, wait a minute, Dave. It seems to me that…what is Nathaniel thinking here? How could this have impressed him? We’re not given a lot of the details. Is this just some…is it just some miraculous vision that he thinks took place, or…?
Dave: Well, today people would say, “Oh, he was a psychic.” Let’s go on to finish it here, because that explains it: “Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee I saw thee under the fig tree believest thou? Thou shalt see greater things than these. And he said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Now, “Rabbi, you are the son of God. You’re the king of Israel.” Jesus didn’t say, “Well, Nathaniel. I mean, it’s not quite that good, you know. I just have psychic powers.” Or like some of the New Agers would say, “That’s just human potential. We all have that possibility.”
Jesus is accepting that, and He’s accepting the reasoning that Nathaniel has: “If you can tell me who I am before I’ve been introduced, and if you saw me, miles away, under that fig tree in my back yard before Philip called me, on that basis I know you must be the Messiah, the one that we’re looking for.”
Now, today it gets all confused, because we have people that Jesus foretold—He said, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name and in your name we cast out devils, and in your name we did miracles? I will say, ‘I never knew you.’”
So, we have a lot of phonies out there, unfortunately, sadly—professing Christians who claim to be miracle workers, and so forth, but when you investigate it, it isn’t really true. Or we have people thinking, Well, but even psychic power—even Satan can do these powers. No, a real miracle, the real truth, comes only from God. And Nathaniel recognized that.
I know we’re out of time. It’s a pity we can’t deal with this in more depth, because it really requires that.
Tom: And, Dave, this is a subject that we could wrestle with, and…let me go on to verse 51, and we can pick up…we’ll end this up next week: “And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, hereafter ye shall see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
These men were in for just a wonderful, wonderful experience.
Dave: Of course, this brings us back to Jacob when he saw that ladder and the angels going up and down. Jesus is saying He’s the ladder. He’s the way. And they’re going to have a full understanding of who He really is, eventually.