Upon this rock

What did Yeshua mean when he said that Peter was the rock upon which he would build his assembly?

A portion of the painting, Apostle Peter in Prison, by Rembrandt (1631 Oil on panel, 58 x 48 cm Israel Museum, Jerusalem) via Slideshare

Simon Peter identified Yeshua as the Messiah, the Son of God. Yeshua responded by identifying Simon as “The Rock.” Punning off of His chief disciple’s nickname, the Master said to Simon, “I also say to you that you are Petros, and upon this petra (“rock,”) I will build My assembly” (Matthew 16:18).

The Master’s words appear to allude to an old parable about Abraham:

A parable: Once there was a king who was sought to build a palace. He began to dig, going further down, to lay a foundation, but he found only swampy soil. And so it was in many places. He was not able to build until he dug in one place, and there he found a bed of rock (petra). Thus he said, “I am building and placing foundations here,” and he built. So too, the Holy One, blessed be He, sought to create the world. He was sitting and scrutinizing the generation of Enosh and the generation of the flood, and He said, “For what shall I create the world and let those wicked men arise and vex me?” But when the Holy One, blessed be He, saw Abraham arise in the future, he said, “Behold, I have found petra to build upon and to lay the foundation of the world.” Thus he called Abraham “Rock,” as it says, [in Isaiah 51:1-2], “Look to the rock from which you were hewn,” and he called Israel “rocks.” (Yalkut Shimoni)

In what way is the disciple Simon Peter the foundation of the Master’s assembly? Peter was the first to proclaim Messiah to the Jewish people and the first to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles. Peter founded the first community in Jerusalem with his teachings, and he was likewise the apostle to the “circumcised,” that is, to the Jewish people.

The Greek word ekklesia does not literally mean “church,” it means “assembly,” a word the Torah commonly uses to describe the people of Israel. When we read the word “church” in our English Bibles, we need to remember that it denotes the Messianic community within the larger Jewish nation, if not the entire nation of Israel, not something outside of it. The “Assembly of Messiah” is the kingdom of Israel.

Peter also was the first to teach the Gospel to the Gentiles. He laid the foundation for the work among the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius, bringing them into the Assembly of Messiah.

This article originally appeared on First Fruits of Zion and is reposted with permission.