Upon This Rock…What Rock is that?
by Lonnie Lane
Things were going really well in Yeshua’s ministry, and the miracles were increasing and it seemed like almost all in Israel were following Him, or at least talking about Him. The air of expectation was electric with assurance that the redemption of Israel was finally “at hand.” Surely Yeshua was the King they had been waiting for. He would overturn Roman dominance of Israel. Surely their enemies would be crushed under the hand of God now that their King would reign. They knew the Scriptures, that God would one day destroy the sinners and vindicate the righteous. Surely Yeshua would be the one to do it, if ever anyone could.
He was King David all over again, only far more. David had conquered all Israel’s enemies and brought peace and sovereignty to the nation. This would be more. This man was not only to be King, He was Messiah. David had been anointed by Samuel as God’s King over Israel, but this Man seemed to be anointed by God Himself! David didn’t do the miracles that Yeshua did. David didn’t raise the dead. Plus Yeshua was King Solomon all over again too, but far more. Even Solomon’s wisdom didn’t carry the authority of God that Yeshua’s wisdom did. Solomon had inherited the kingdom of his father, but Israel was under Roman rule, not God’s sovereign rule. They knew what it meant when Yeshua talked all the time of the Kingdom of God being established. God was all about Israel. Israel was His Kingdom, certainly not Rome with its many pagan gods. And Yeshua, they were sure, was about to fully establish God’s Kingdom, once and for all. This was the expectation of the whole nation, including those who feared He might actually pull it off and ruin what they had going for themselves.
“Who do the people say that I am?” Yeshua asked His disciples (Mark 8:27). They told him, dead guys like John, Elijah, or one of the prophets. “But who do you say that I am?” He then asked (:29). I can see Peter’s mind flashing images of what he had heard all his life the Messiah would accomplish, and what he had been seeing unfolding with all the power that Yeshua wielded. “He wants to know if we really understand He’s the One,” Peter’s thinking to himself, “because we’re who will be right there with Him when it happens.”
“You are the Messiah!” Peter exclaims, to which Yeshua joyfully responds, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17, 18). Wow, Peter’s now congratulating himself: “Right on, Pete. You’re the favored one, you with the understanding of what’s really happening here, Father God Himself told me this. Me! I am so going to be a part of what He’s about to do!” To make it even better, Yeshua looks him squarely in the eyes and says, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18). Can you imagine how Peter’s fertile mind must have been spinning with what this could mean? “I’m the guy He’s going to use to build His Kingdom. I’m the one. And not even hell will overpower what we, me and Him together are about to accomplish! So that’s why He’s always calls me Rocky.”
OK, time out for a little Jewish roots, and some Greek, teaching here. First of all, Yeshua did say He would build upon “this rock.” This nickname He gave Simon (pronounced shee-mone) in Hebrew is Kefa. The word kaf, of which Kefa (pronounced keh FAH) is a derivative, means a rock small enough to be lifted with one hand. The Greek for Kefa is Petros, from which we get “Peter.’ The Latin is Cephas. So that’s: Hebrew — Kefa; Greek — Petros; Latin — Cephas; English — Peter, for a small hand-held sized stone.
References are also made in Scripture to the Messiah as being a (The) rock. That word would be tzor, meaning a huge rocky cliff. (It’s the word used if you were singing “Rock of Ages” in Hebrew). There’s yet another word for rock and that is the word ehven, meaning a large cut stone used in construction, particularly the cornerstone. All Israel knew that the cornerstone of Israel meant Messiah, for Isaiah had proclaimed, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone (ehven) for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed” (Isaiah 28:16).
The word, “disturbed” in Hebrew is koosh, meaning to hurry, to be eager with excitement, to make haste. When we’re disturbed, we’re usually in some press to fix it, to change things so we eliminate what’s disturbing us. It’s pretty clear that those who were not favorable to Yeshua were in fact “disturbed” by Him, enough to want to plot to murder Him. That’s pretty disturbed. And they surely acted in a hurry to get that mock trial over with to get Him out of the way, thinking they would no longer be “disturbed” by Him.
On the other hand, as our faith is founded more and more on Yeshua as the cornerstone that anchors our lives and keeps us “square” with Him, we are less and less “disturbed” or “in a hurry” about things because we have learned to pray and trust in Him and rest in Him while we wait for Him to work out what concerns us. That’s why Paul, who ought to know, told us to “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).
So, Peter wasn’t nicknamed anything remotely equivalent to Messiah. He was a smaller, less significant stone
“And we can have no true understanding of who Yeshua is unless the Father imparts it to us.”
than the Cornerstone. What then was Yeshua saying? What was the rock upon which He was building? Peter had just told Yeshua, “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29). It was this rock of revelation of who Yeshua is that Peter received from the Father! That’s the rock upon which the church stands. And we can have no true understanding of who Yeshua is unless the Father imparts it to us. Yeshua said, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65). But once we have that revelation in our own hands (like a small rock, so to speak), not only are our lives changed, but we are meant to change the lives of those around us.
What Yeshua did not mean was that Peter was to be the father of faith, or that he was to be the first Pope. Pope simply means papa or padre. It was not Peter himself, but what Peter had come to understand about Yeshua that Yeshua would build upon. Even though Peter understood Yeshua to be the Messiah and even called Him “the Son of God” (Matt 26:63), he could have no idea at that point that Yeshua was literally The Son of God, divinity come in the flesh. Still, it is on Yeshua, not any man, that the Kingdom is established, exists and maintains, even forever. It is the revelation of who Yeshua is upon which the foundation and cornerstone are laid, not upon Peter as the Roman Catholic Church has affirmed for millennia.
A revelation is something that isn’t learned, but is suddenly grasped, in a moment, a ‘knowing’ that is sure. In this case, it comes from above, from the Father Himself. It is the grasp of the knowledge that Yeshua is the Anointed Son of Almighty God, and Lord of all there is, against which the gates of Hades cannot prevail. Nothing, not even hell itself can change that. Once truth is apprehended, lies are exposed as what they are. The truth is, Yeshua is the truth! And accordingly, if Peter wasn’t the rock, but the understanding of Yeshua as Lord is, then no “apostolic succession” of men can be the rock either. Apostolic succession means that every pope after Peter carries the same anointing and authority as Peter did as, what is considered to be, the head over the church. This isn’t even historically correct because James (Jacob) was actually leader of the church in Jerusalem, not Peter.
History proves that pope’s were respectively generally godly or corrupt, benevolent or cruel, humble or despicably prideful and full of pomp. Some brought life to the people while others were murderers. Pope’s have influenced history for good or for evil. Sometimes when a Pope could have done what Yeshua would have done and stood for right, especially considering the authority they have, they didn’t. During the Nazi regime, for instance, the Vatican basically took a position of “neutrality,” occasionally making statements against Hitler or the massacre of the Jews, but not doing anything to try and stop the atrocities, even when the Pope reportedly knew beforehand, even from the beginning. Does that sound like things that Peter, who was Jewish lets not forget, would be happy to have accredited to those who were supposedly acting in his name?
But my point is (sorry, I got carried away), that God never meant for any man to carry such authority or influence over people’s lives. That would include some of the most intimate aspects of people’s lives, or their relationships with God, that the Popes have wielded. Only the Holy Spirit was meant to do that. And no man of God was ever meant to command such political power, especially world-wide power, in the name of Peter or not, as the Popes have commanded. Peter couldn’t even have begun to imagine what would evolve from Yeshua’s words, “upon this rock” being misinterpreted as “upon this man Peter.”
But are Protestants free from the authority of man having co-opted the authority of the Holy Spirit? Let me ask you a question, if I may. Have you ever felt to do or say something that you were pretty sure came from the Lord but you didn’t for fear of what your pastor would think or say? Or if you’re a pastor reading this, did you ever feel that your people looked more to you for solutions, strength or comfort than they knew how to trust the Holy Spirit for? Have you ever felt that the yoke of ministry wasn’t easy or light?
Could it be that we’re still under some structure that makes us look to a man who has been elevated to a position that was never the Lord’s intention for His people? There was no way that the number of apostles listed in the New Testament could possible have “pastored” the thousands that came to faith among the first believers. The believers were a Spirit led group of people who looked to God and acted in freedom to share the Good News without fear. This all went on while learning from the teachings of the apostles when possible, but the way they DAILY impacted the people around them, they were under the inspiration and influence of the Holy Spirit and were following His lead, from glory to glory. They certainly weren’t limited to waiting for the okay from Peter or James or whoever. That was the beauty of it all, especially after the restrictions and legalism they had been under. They were under the Lordship of the Spirit: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17). To use the famous words of a particular movie, they were living and acting in FREEDOM!!!
This doesn’t mean we don’t have leaders. Of course we do. But they’re meant to be roles in which we serve our brothers and sisters, not any position above others. It’s not to be a hierarchical system and certainly not one that usurps the place the Spirit of God is meant to fill.
Yeshua as the risen glorified Lord made a very clear statement about how He views hierarchy when He spoke of, “the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I…hate” (Rev. 2, 15). Hate?! Pretty scary coming from Almighty God, wouldn’t you think? He hates sin. He hates pride. He hates divorce. And He hates the deeds of the Nicolaitans. So what is it about the Nicolaitans that caused the Lord to respond so vehemently? Taking the word apart will help. The Greek word nikao means to conquer or over come and the word laos means people, where we get the word laity from. Put the two words together and they mean to overcome or conquer the people. It can also mean the destruction of the people. It is likely that Yeshua used this word as a description of the practices taking place, rather than identifying a group who used this word of themselves.
The intrinsic mutuality in which the people of God are meant to live life together is likened to all the parts of a healthy body working together. It becomes clear that this kind of life would be, in fact, destroyed by some men overlording the rest and putting them in subjection. No longer would the people of God be responding to the Spirit of God, and therefore, the work of God would not be what is going on. The church as God intended would cease to be. What replaced God’s way became a marriage of what was called “the church” with the State to make it the State religion. This was comprised of all manner of accompanying legislated rules and requirements which had nothing to do with God or His Kingdom. Once the hierarchy was introduced, rarely have we ever seen what took place in the first century and if it did, never did it last. We’ve attempted all kinds of ways to get back to the “acts of Acts” and power and righteousness again being ours, but it’s never really worked. Is it possible that the expectation that the role of one person (generally the pastor), whose job it is to officially hear from God and to be the professional doers of the God-things, is a factor that keeps us from any expectation that God would use us to do what it is that God would want us to do? If we don’t expect Him to speak to us and tell us to do something we’ve never thought we could do, then we aren’t likely to hear His voice telling us to do it, are we? We’d have no faith to fuel such a thing. All because of the “deeds of the Nicolaitans.”
Yeshua made His Nicolaitan statement to the body of believers in Ephesus, the very place where Paul and Barnabas spent two years teaching and ministering. Apollos had preached there with power (Acts 18:24-28). It would seem that they were accustomed to apostolic authority being with them. When it’s by the Spirit, as when
Without the Spirit, there is nothing but the flesh with which to operate.”
Paul was there, there’s freedom, but when you try and recreate what God did by institutionalizing it, the flesh rules, not the spirit. Without the Spirit, there is nothing but the flesh with which to operate. And so what resulted was a socially religious elite ruling over the rest of the people in a kind of “pecking order” if you will. Another way to speak of the Nicolaitans would be “those who prevail over the people.” What began as a few men wanting to be sure the church ran as they thought it should, soon developed into a clerical system and in time evolved into a papal hierarchy of priests and clergy who lorded their (not God’s) authority over the flock in many ways. It is unfortunate that the Protestants didn’t “protest” about more than they did. They maintained a good bit of the hierarchical structure found in Catholicism. Yet at times various denominations have exhibited more or less of it their own form of sometimes oppressive leadership roles and “coverings.”
Forgive me if I seemed disrespectful of Peter, putting those words in his mouth earlier, but it was meant to show that men, and sometimes women (we’re not exempt) can miss entirely the whole message behind Yeshua’s coming to earth. And that is to return us to the Father, to reconnect us with God so that we know He is Lord, so that all can be put in divine order for those who come to God. Divine order means no one is above anyone else, regardless of the role (e.g. job) God has given each of us. No one gets the glory but God! When we really find out who God is, we give up trying to be god of our own lives — or of other’s lives. We will defer entirely to His all-importance, in the reverential fear of the Lord. This means we’re following the leading of the Holy Spirit.
No one but the Spirit of God in all His holiness and love is to “lord” it over people, for no one else is Lord! We may do things for the Lord but if we are truly surrendered to Him, we will fear touching the glory that goes to Him. “Touch not the glory.” The church, or at least its leaders whether they be really Christians or not, throughout history has sought its own glory through outward expressions. What do you think those cathedrals were about? And lofty spires, to send your thoughts heaven-ward. But do they change characters to be more godly? Do all those visuals really teach us what Yeshua was like? Quite the contrary. The whole concept of pomp and outward beauty says nothing about inner character. All that talent, energy and resources did not accomplish the real work of the Spirit.
The Kingdom is always first about Yeshua. No one else. While we don’t come to this full understanding immediately upon being born again, revelation of this continues to unfold to us as we grow to know Him more and more. Without this revelation of Yeshua, ultimately there is no Kingdom of God and there is really no “church” on the earth. People may call themselves “Christians” and even meet on that basis, but unless they have received from God the revelation that leads to them being “Born-again” based on the revelation that Yeshua is Lord so that they make Him Lord of their own lives as well, there is no real community of those who are indwelt by the Spirit of God, and therefore no “church.”
However, and this is HUGE, the counterpart of all that is the wonderful reality that when we have an encounter with the King of all kings, the Leader of all leaders, and begin to understand just what His Kingdom is really about and that, as has been said, “the ground is always level in front of the cross,” none of us higher than any other, there is a place and a ministry for everyone. Not one of us is to be a last row member of the Body. None of us is a step child of the Father. We are all equally accepted and we each have access to the Spirit of God without favoritism.
I had a dream recently. In old Philadelphia, where I grew up, there are churches from the Colonial days in which the pews had little gates on them so that each pew area of maybe six feet across, was a section unto itself. In the dream I saw angels walking up the aisle unlocking each little gate that has kept the people in the pews. So get ready, folks. God has loosed us from what has held us back from acting like those in the Book of Acts. Believe Him for it. Ask Him what He has for you to do DAILY. Yeshua brought signs and wonders to the world of unbelievers to introduce them to His Father. By the power of His Spirit, we are about to do the same thing.
Reprint of this article is permitted as long as you use the following; Use by permission by Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2009.
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.