When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples how men identified Him. They gave various answers. Then Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered; “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This is the only time Jesus makes mention of His church, and He says it is established upon a rock.
The disciples have been with Jesus for some time now. They have been eyewitnesses of healings and exorcisms. They have heard the great Sermon on the Mount and pondered over His parables. They have participated in the miraculous feeding of thousands and have seen Him walk on water. They were alone with him now, away from the crowds that seemed always to gather. Perhaps they were walking along a road, or maybe they were grouped around a campfire, isolated, eating their supper. One may have been cooking, groups of two or three engaged in conversations, some sitting alone and wrapped up in their thoughts. Out of the blue, Jesus asks the question. “Who do men say that I am?” There might have been an uncomfortable silence, a cough or two perhaps, and then someone speaks up. “Some say that thou art John the Baptist, some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets.”
John the Baptist had by this time been beheaded. Elijah, who had performed miracles, confronted the prophets of Baal, and raised the dead centuries earlier, had been caught up in a whirlwind to God. Jeremiah in 586 BC had stood alone in Jerusalem prophesying its destruction and the surrender of the Jews to Babylon. Other prophets such as Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah were men of God, but had long since been dead. To be any of the men named would make Jesus a walking ghost, a shade from Sheol. Though they were great men (Jesus said John the Baptist was the greatest), they were all departed this life.
Perhaps a good ghost would be worth listening to and heeding, especially if it could heal, but the disciples at least knew He was flesh and blood, a man chosen by God as special with God’s hand upon him. His life might be worth imitating. He was a powerful Rabbi, a man like no other man who had ever been born, greater than Moses, David, or Abraham. They had seen Him restore sight, touch and heal lepers, multiply fish, and calm a storm He could stop others in their tracks, give them pause, and cause them to strive to be better for the moment.
The hammer comes down! Jesus gets personal. “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon is first to confess it. “Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one of Israel. He is the Son of the living God,” - God in the flesh. A revelation is upon Simon. Later he would falter but he would never forget. God the Father had spoken to his heart.
Jesus then changes Simon’s name to Peter, meaning a small stone. The blessed Peter is a vital pebble in God’s glorious church. “Upon this Rock,” meaning a large boulder, Jesus says, “I will build my church.” Peter was not the Rock but a confessor of it, a confessor through faith and revelation of the deity and salvation of Jesus, the Son of God. Ultimately it is upon this confession that the Church rests, and upon its truth, Christianity exists.
Matthew 16:13-18, Mark 8, Luke 9, Matthew 11:11