The third in a series of papers I did for my Gospel of Mark class. Peter has always been my favorite Bible character, and I’ve always enjoyed this story–but it wasn’t until I really dug into the subtext during this class that I felt I began to really understand the depth of what this story can mean for me–and everyone–today.
As the third chapter of the Gospel of Mark progresses, we see that John-Mark continues with his logical structure. Now that Jesus and His message of the Kingdom have been introduced (Chapter 1) and the basic conflict/antagonist has entered the scene (Chapter 2), John-Mark begins to not-so-slowly dig deeper into both the message and the opposition. While the conflicts in Chapter 2 were fairly straightforward and all dealt with a similar theme, the stories recounted in Chapter 3 get steadily more complex. Jesus begins to preach on the new Kingdom definition of healing on the Sabbath (v.1-6), the “unforgivable sin” of blaspheming the Holy Spirit (v.20-30), and Jesus’ true “mother and brothers” (v.31-35). John-Mark wastes no time in testing our commitment to be “new wineskins ready for new wine.”
But in the midst of all this counterculture theology, John-Mark gives us a respite to recount a story that must have had some personal significance to him, although his brevity doesn’t belay his emotions. In v.13-19, Jesus officially commissions the Twelve Apostles, giving them authority over demons and charging them with the responsibility of “heralding” His Kingdom. During this process Jesus renames several of the apostles, including Simon, now called Peter, who we know to be John-Mark’s future mentor and friend. It’s a bit surprising that John-Mark does not spend more time on this momentous event; however, since the incident is referenced in more detail in both Matthew (16:13-20) and John (1:42), we can nonetheless surmise that Peter must have told the story frequently and with fondness.
Drawing on Matthew and John’s accounts of the story, we know that Jesus’ renaming of Peter had great significance. This is no surprise, as Scripture makes it abundantly clear that names are extremely important to God. God calls Himself a variety of names to teach us aspects of Himself; we use a variety of names to address God depending on our relationship with Him; and people and places are frequently given names with prophetic meanings or meanings intended to invoke remembrance. In general, we observe that God, and the Mediterranean culture in which Jesus walked, believed the meaning of someone’s name to be indicative, if not prophetic, of that person’s life, an emphasis that is lost on our Western culture that largely chooses names for their aesthetic, family significance, or cultural origin. This explains why God, on more than one occasion, gave someone a new name.
In Peter’s case, we learn from Matthew’s account that Jesus called Simon “Peter” as a prophetic statement about the church cornerstone that Simon would one day become. This revelation is incredibly beautiful, because not only does it show that God had destined a wonderful future and purpose for Peter, but also because it reminds us that God calls us based on who we can become, not based on who we are.
Peter, at this time, is anything but “a stone.” He is impulsive, quick to speak, and hardly stable. But Jesus did not call him to “follow Me” based on merits Peter currently possessed—nor did any faults he carried disqualify him. Jesus was speaking into existence over Peter’s life what will be, which is the very function of biblical prophecy.
And, perhaps, if we are willing to get “out of the boat,” follow, and listen, we will hear God speak a new name over us—along with the new future, hope, and purpose that comes with it.