“You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas.”
Andrew and his older brother, Simon, were from the town of Bethsaida near the Sea of Galilee. It was a small fishing town, and Andrew and Simon were both fisherman. In fact, the name “Bethsaida” means “house of fishing” in Hebrew.
Before he met Jesus, Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. His brother, Simon, may have also been a disciple of the Baptist, but the Bible doesn’t say so specifically. However, we know that Simon must have been hanging around somewhere close by to where John was baptizing on the day when Andrew first met Jesus, because Andrew managed to fetch him that very afternoon and bring him to the place where Jesus was staying. Upon meeting Simon, Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas.”
“You are Simon son of John.” – People did not really use surnames in Bible times. So when someone wanted to distinguish someone from others who shared the same name, they would link the name with another identifier, such as their relative, or the town they came from, or their occupation. “Simon” was a very popular name in those days. In fact, the New Testament contains references to at least nine different individuals with that name!
“You will be called Cephas.” – “Cephas” is an Aramaic word that means “stone” and is translated as “Petros” in Greek. The name “Peter” is just the English form of “Petros.” “Cephas,” “Petros,” and “Peter” can all be used interchangeably, for they all mean exactly the same thing.
In giving Simon this name, Jesus demonstrates yet another divine characteristic, that of forecasting someone’s future by giving them a new name. The Bible provides us with several examples where God has done this – Abram (“high father”) was changed to Abraham (“father of a multitude”), Sarai (“my princess”) was changed to Sarah (“mother of nations”), and Jacob (“supplanter”) was changed to Israel (“power with God”). As God, Jesus could look at Simon and know who he was, where he came from, and where he was going.
It is interesting to note that, even though it was Jesus who declared that Simon would be called “Peter,” there are only two examples in scripture where he actually addressed him by that name (Matthew 16:18, Luke 22:34). And all the gospel writers continuously reference him as “Simon” or “Simon Peter.” However, this new name definitely served as a framework for Peter’s future life and identity, for the old name rarely occurs in any of the New Testament accounts which take place after Pentecost. From thenceforth, he is just “Peter.”
I think Peter must have spent a lot of time throughout the rest of his life pondering the deeper implications of his new name. It is Peter who refers to Christ as “the Living Stone,” and who goes on to encourage other believers in his epistles, telling us that we, also, are like living stones, and that together we are all being built up into a spiritual house. (1 Peter 2:4-8).