Today is Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving to each of you who read this. There is much to be thankful for today. I am especially thankful for God's work to save me. I am thankful for His Word and for His people who teach it and live in it. There is no fellowship like that which comes by the cross of Christ through Jesus. I'm thankful for my wife and children. I'm thankful for good food and so many wondrous things God gives us to enjoy on this holiday. I am hoping you can join us in a prayer of thankfulness to God for all of the things He has done in his mercy with so much patience and love. We are so needy, yet God has given us all we need in the person Christ Jesus. There is no lack. Today's blog continues to look at God's work in changing names and the prophecy it tells us of what He is going to do in the particular man He names and in the world as a result. We shift to the New Testament and look at Jesus' work in the New Covenant. Tomorrow we will begin to explore the personal link for every believer. God bless you and your family this holiday and may you enjoy Him and be satisfied!
The New Covenant Name(s)
The New Covenant which came with Christ is very similar to the Old Covenant in many ways. One of the ways it shares similarities is in regard to Jesus re-naming men who He called into ministry and changing their names as He sent them out to build His assembly of people, the Church. Two such men were Simon Peter, called Cephas, and Paul called Saul. This commissioning practice led to building the church through two different leaders who ministered to two different groups.
Peter (Rock), not Simon, son of John
Jesus gathered His disciples together. When he did this, He called a man named Simon. The name Simon means “hearing” in Hebrew. Apparently he did hear God’s call to follow Jesus. But Jesus renamed Simon when he met him. His new name was the Aramaic word Cephas which means “rock”. He didn’t just re-name him, he instead prophesied that Peter would be foundational to the building of the church. Later, Peter would proclaim Jesus to be the Christ, the Messiah, the son of the living God. Interesting enough is Jesus’ response and clarification: “Blessed are you Simon bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” What was the blessing? Jesus stated it: “You are Peter and on this petra I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Notice I used the word petra where the English translations use the word rock. There is importance hidden in Jesus’ words, just as it was to be found in digging into the names he changed.
Peter, translated from Petros in the Greek, means “a small rock” in its original language. This is different from John’s clarification in the initial naming in John 1:42. John notes Jesus called Simon “Cephas”. This is Aramaic and simply means rock. It doesn’t have the meaning of being big or small attached, but “Petros” does. Petra is a foundation boulder. This is an interesting word play Jesus is using to get the truth of what He is foretelling will come to be. Let’s try to restate it with some original word meanings and clarification inserted into the text to see what it means. “You are “small rock” and on this “foundation boulder” I will build my “assembly/ a gathering of citizens from their homes into some public place”, and the gates of “the unseen place, referring to the (invisible) realm in which all the dead reside, i.e. the present dwelling place of all the departed (deceased)” will not prevail against it (the foundation boulder).” So what is the foundation boulder Jesus is going to build His church on? Is it the person Peter or is it something else? The truth about Jesus that Peter testified in response to Jesus question of who Peter said He (Jesus) is tells us the truth. Jesus is the cornerstone of the church. Everything is built upon Him. But the name Jesus, with its special meaning, is a pointer as well. It’s the gospel testimony that is the key to the kingdom. Jesus true identity and work is what sets men free. Peter’s testimony was to be the foundation stone that would assemble the first “living stones” of the church. Fulfilling this prophecy in Acts 2, Peter testifies to the identity and truth of what Jesus came and accomplished. After his first sermon on Pentecost in Jerusalem there were three thousand added to the assembly’s number that day.
The little rock God used to build his church is the same man who once was a stumbling rock to Jesus. After rightly testifying Jesus as Lord and being declared the rock Jesus would found his church on, Peter shows he does not really understand what the Christ was here to do.
“21 From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.
22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.””
The difference between a stumbling block and a little living stone God builds His church with is properly understanding the work of salvation—the cross. To think one can wear a crown without a cross is to not know our sin and to not understand God’s justice. Salvation would come as is promised in Jesus’s name for He was to be named Jesus because it means and prophecies: Jehovah (Yahweh) Saves. But He does it by bearing our cross in our place. This is the righteousness of God. Wicked men like you and I have broken God’s righteous law and justice must be meted out. But God is also merciful and a savior. Salvation doesn’t come from simply not punishing sin. It comes by dying under the wrath of the Good Judge in the place of sinners. We will look at the other name Jesus was to be called as well.
Before that, we will address another New Testament apostle whose name was changed. I don’t know if you read the verses in the footnotes, but if you did, you see reference to another stone on whom Jesus would build His church—Paul.
Paul, not Saul
Saul of Tarsus was a Hebrew of Hebrews and very zealous. He was an intense persecutor of believers. Acts notes he held the coats of the assembly of people who stoned Stephen as Stephen testified of Christ. There is an interesting change that takes place in Acts 13. The Holy Spirit calls Saul and Barnabas into ministry. They have a special mission: they would go to the Gentiles. But in the midst of several multi-named people, the Scripture refers to Saul as also called Paul. Saul was his Hebrew name. Paul was his Roman name. He would be referred to as Paul from that point on. The shift in name reference also shifts us to see the mission of God moving from the Jews alone, out to the Gentiles. But let’s look at the names and how the tie might give us some background.
Saul was the first human king of Israel. Saul had a dramatic shift in his life as well. He was selected because of his outward appearance. The Israelites looked on him and he seemed to look like what a king looks like. They did not look on the heart. Time and power would ultimately reveal the truth about Saul. As he grew in power, he became increasingly wicked. This was not always true of Saul. Samuel stated, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the LORD anoint you king over Israel?” Saul had transitioned from little in his own eyes to big. He thought he was above the LORD. He did not obey God, but had become a god in his own eyes. He was rejected because he had become a slave to men and not God. His obedient actions, if you might call them that, were not made in worship to God, but to worship of the men who praised him and gave him his position.
So what of the name Paul? Paul means “little” or “small”. Whereas, Saul was destroyed as he became prideful and feared man, Paul would become small in this transition and would have no praise in the eyes of the man and system from which He came. He abandoned his Hebrew of Hebrews background by taking on the Roman name Paul and it would be his life mission to fight for the gospel inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God. Where Paul would bear the testimony of the identity and work of Christ to the Jews, Paul would bring the message to the Gentiles. One assembly made up of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue is the result.
God’s revelation of His planned and trustworthy work in our world is a great study, but there is another name change that not only opens up the plan for understanding what was done, but personally applies to every believer today.
 JOHN 1:42
 MATTHEW 16:15-16
 MATTHEW 16:17
 MATTHEW 16:18
 Footnote on MATTHEW 16:18 in The MacArthur Study Bible Twentieth Anniversary Edition on page 1423.
 Translation of the Greek word “ekklesian” from the word “ekklesia” from lexicon at www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/ekklesia.html
 1 PETER 2:4-12; EPHESIANS 2:20-22; PSALM 118:22; ISAIAH 28:16; ROMANS 9:33
 1 PETER 2:5
 ACTS 2
 MATTHEW 16:21-23
 MATTHEW 1:21
 ACTS 13:9
 1 SAMUEL 15
 1 SAMUEL 15:17b
 1 SAMUEL 15:18-26
 I was greatly helped in my research by the article at www.bibleq.net/answer/1923/