Upon this Rock

July 11, 2007

by Ann

The LDS church teaches that when Jesus said to Peter, “Behold, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,” that Jesus was talking about revelation. But I was raised Catholic, and I still like the idea that it was a play on words. “Peter, you’re a rock. When I’m gone, you’re in charge.”

Peter is a wonderfully drawn character; one of the most fully realized in the New Testament. We get to follow his development, from devoted but unsure follower to frightened companion of the condemned to bold witness of the Messiah. He’s just a regular guy, working in the family business with his brother Andrew. It’s hard and erratic work, and one day when the two of them are sweating over the nets, an itinerant preacher wanders over and says, “Follow me, and you’ll catch men.” Peter and Andrew dropped their nets and followed along. They and ten others lived, slept, and drank with Jesus for the rest of his mortal ministry.

The stories we hear most about Peter are often told in a criticizing tone. Jesus came walking along the water, and Peter wanted to join him. He did…but then he freaked out. “What am I doing? I’m in the Sea of Galilee, for Pete’s sake. I could drown.” And he starts to sink, and begs Jesus to save him. Of course, Jesus does (they’re friends!) but then he chastises Peter for his lack of faith. Peter is probably embarrassed, and glad not to be drowned. We think to ourselves, “I would have had enough faith.”

Another commonly told story is the story of Jesus asking Peter three times if he loves Jesus. Each time Peter says “Yes,” and by the third time he’s a little upset. Knowing what he’ll be doing soon, we think to ourselves, “Don’t be so sure of yourself, Peter.”

The third story is the hardest. Hardest for Jesus, hardest for Peter. Peter has just rashly cut off the ear of a Roman slave when Jesus is being arrested. Jesus heals the slave, and tells Peter to put down his arms. At a distance, Peter and some of the disciples follow behind, to see what will happen. People recognize him. “Hey, weren’t you with him?” “I know you…you were with that criminal.” “I’m sure I saw you with him earlier.” Each time, Peter’s fear grows. What is going to happen to Jesus? What are they going to do to him? These are the Romans; they don’t mess around. It’s the middle of the night and there are all these people and it’s the big city and he’s afraid. So he feigns ignorance. “I don’t know him.” “I don’t know him.” “I don’t know him!” And then the rooster crows, and he remembers Jesus saying what he would do, what he was so annoyed and hurt to hear. And he weeps and weeps and weeps. For Jesus, who he loves, and for himself, too weak to admit to loving his friend.

We would have done better. We would not have denied Jesus.

I contrast this Peter with man we see after the resurrection and ascension and Pentecost.

The healer:

“Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.”

The seer:

And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

The witness:

And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, if we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

We see in Peter, from the time he is called to the end of the Acts, the story of his conversion. Peter lived and walked and ate and learned from Jesus, but when the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Godhead, was imparted to the disciples on the tenth day after the Acsension, then Peter was converted. He became everything that Jesus saw was in him all along.

The story of Peter is a story of great hope for me. He is everyman, and what he becomes is possible for all of us.



  1. There used to be a talk that circulated by Spencer W. Kimball suggesting that when Christ told Peter he would deny him three times, these were instructions he was to follow. It was necessary for Peter and the fledgling Church that he not be arrested. SWK finds it inconsistent with the character of Peter that he would actually deny that he knew Jesus.

  2. I sort of agree with you that it was a play on words. But there is more to it than what you think. Joseph Fielding McKonkie (sp?) in his book of Gospel Symbolism points out that in the Celestial Kingdom we are all to receive our own Urim and Thumin, a rock for revelation. That’s what Peter became for the church, a rock of revelation, or as we say nowadays, a Prophet, Seer and Revelator.

  3. Peter is my fave as well. No one’s lifetime progression and developement is chronicled anywhere near as completely in the scriptures. He shows all the best and worst of what it is to be an imperfect person struggling to grow better, and achieving it. Peter Rocks! (pun intended).

  4. My heart always breaks when I read/hear the story of Peter’s denial.

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