Without further study, it would appear that Jesus is saying that the church is built upon Peter. However, with further study, the words of Jesus become more apparent. First, let’s go back to the original language. The original Greek words will help us understand the conversation as it was intended. Second, let’s find some other instances within God’s Word that confirms our findings.
Peter was given his name by Jesus; it was not his original name. Peter’s original name was Simon (a Hebrew name). Jesus gave Simon the name Cephas which is translated Peter (John 1:42, NASB). The name Cephas (Greek is Petros) means “a stone”. The Greek word for rock is petra which differs in that it means “a large rock”. With the help of the original text it reads like this, “I also say to you that you are Peter (a stone), and upon this rock (petra or large rock) I will build My church. Jesus used this symbolism to reveal that the church is built upon Him. Peter is a small stone and part of the building of the church, but Jesus is the strong and solid foundation that we can put all faith and assurance upon. In context, Jesus was confirming the statement of Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”(vs 16). Jesus is addressing the statement of faith proclaimed by Peter.
It was not uncommon for Jesus to use symbolism as He used here. He also used it when He spoke of rebuilding the Temple in three days; He was referring to Himself as the Temple and His resurrection in three days of His death (John 2:19, NASB). We are not to worship Peter. Peter acknowledged that he is nothing more than human as when Cornelius knelt before him, “But Peter raised him up, saying, “ Stand up; I too am just a man.” (Acts 10:24-26, NASB).
The Apostle Paul confirms our study in his letter to the Corinthians, “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11, NASB). Paul also confirms in 1 Corinthians 15:14-17 that the message of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is the foundation of our faith. Without Jesus, His death and His resurrection from the dead; this is all in vain and our words are worthless.