Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). (John 1:40-42 NIV)
Prophecies of a coming Messiah who would rule over Israel and the nations and set things right in the world. Rumors of unusual encounters with wise men and shepherds. A wild man of the desert preaching and baptizing at the Jordan. A fresh breath of anticipation was beginning to blow — at least, for those who were ready to breathe.
Andrew was learning to inhale. He had been one of the disciples of John the Baptist and heard him speak of Jesus of Nazareth as the “Lamb of God” and “God’s Chosen One.” He and another, who also heard John, followed Jesus. Literally. By the end of the day they had become his disciples. They began to understand what — and who — it was they were seeking, and discovered in Jesus an abiding place for their lives.
The first thing Andrew did after entering this new life with Rabbi Jesus was to go find his brother Simon. He was a man on a mission — he must tell him the good news: “We have found the Messiah.”
Messiah is a Hebrew term, so John the Evangelist interprets it into Greek, the language in which the Gospel According to John was originally written. The Greek term for Messiah is Christ (actually, both “Messiah” and “Christ” are anglicized versions of the original Hebrew and Greek forms). More important, though, is what Messiah and Christ mean, and what they refer to. Both words mean “Anointed,” and refer to the one God promised to anoint as King over all (see Psalm 2).
Simon was, no doubt, familiar with the promises of a coming Messiah, as every good Jew was in those days, although there were differing ideas about what the fulfillment of those promises would look like. However, he does not appear to have been a follower of John the Baptist, as Andrew had been. Perhaps he was wearied by the various speculations about Messiah. Perhaps he was jaded by the religious/political factions and intrigues of his day. Maybe he was even losing faith that Messiah would ever appear at all. After all, it had been a long time coming.
And now here was Andrew bursting in upon him to announce, “We have found him. We have found Messiah!” Then in a “come and see” moment, Andrew brought him to meet Jesus. Simon would not return home the same.
Jesus “looked at” Simon. More than a glance, it was penetrating. Jesus was studying him, discerning him, perceiving him. The Greek word is the same one used about what had happened the day before when John the Baptist was with Andrew and another disciple. John, “looking at” Jesus, announced to them, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:36).
Seeing Simon, Jesus understood something about him that Simon did not understand about himself, something that had not up to this point been revealed in his life. Then Jesus spoke it out: “You are Simon son of John.” Simon knew that well enough, of course. He had lived with it all his life. But then Jesus added, “You will be called Cephas.”
It was a life-changing moment for Simon. Jesus identified who he was, but then he announced not just what he would be called but who he would be. Indeed, in that moment, Jesus was calling forth that new identity in him, prophesying it over him, speaking a powerful word of destiny to him.
The name Cephas comes from an Aramaic word, kepha. The Gospel of John translates it into Greek for us: Peter (again, “Cephas” and “Peter” are anglicized forms for the original Aramaic and Greek words). Both words mean the same thing: Simon would be called Rock!
Peter was a passionate but impulsive man, and probably not the sort we would consider as possessing the strength of stability. He had a rocky personality and it was a bit humorous to call him Rock. Like calling a fat man Slim. Or a tall man Shorty. Or a bald man Curly. Yet, Rock is what Simon would be called — Jesus was calling it to be. All that was needed was for Simon to follow Jesus into that new reality.