Day 293 (again): Why Does Jesus Call Peter Simon Bar-Jonah in Matthew 16?

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭16‬:‭4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭16‬:‭17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In Matthew 16, Jesus tells the Pharisees and Sadducees who ask Him to show them a sign that “no sign will be given to [them] except the sign of Jonah” (verse 4). This is a repeat of an earlier scene in Matthew (Matthew 12:38-42); only this time, Jesus doesn’t give the extended explanation of what He means by the sign of Jonah:

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40)

My question was, why repeat it at all? As I’ve said before, every word matters in the gospels. What is said, when it’s said, what is left out. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the human writers wrote exactly what God intended. So there has to be a reason.

A possible answer may be that in Matthew 16:17, Jesus calls Peter “Simon Bar-Jonah” for the first and only time in Scripture.

So is it a coincidence that Matthew repeats the “sign of Jonah” phrase, and calls Peter “Simon son of Jonah” just thirteen verses later? Again, in God’s inspired Word, there are no coincidences. Let’s look at the two stories:

Peter has just made his great confession of Christ. It’s a great moment for him. He gets a new name. No longer is he Simon, son of Jonah, the prophet who was swallowed by a fish. Now he’s Peter, a name which means “rock.” And Jesus is going to build his church on this rock (see Day 293: What Did Jesus Mean by “Upon This Rock?”).

Only, Peter doesn’t always seem very rock-like. Just a few verses later, Jesus is going to rebuke him and compare him to Satan (see Matthew 16:23).

Later, Peter will sink even lower. Given a chance to speak up for Jesus, he denies him three times (see Matthew 26:69-75). Overcome with grief and shame, Peter flees the courtyard and weeps bitterly.

So let’s think about Jonah. He was given a message. He didn’t want to proclaim it. So he ran, and was swallowed by a fish, where he stayed for three days. Then, the fish spits him back onto the beach, and God reinstates him as a prophet, giving him the same message he did at the beginning. (See Jonah 2:10-3:1)

On the night Jesus was arrested, Peter was truly the son of Jonah. He was warming himself at a charcoal fire (John 18:18), when a servant girl asked him if he was one of Jesus’ disciples. At that moment, the Rock, who had once stood at the Gates of Hell and proclaimed Jesus as the Christ, had a golden opportunity to deliver God’s message. Instead, he denied that he even knew Jesus. Then he ran away and “wept bitterly.”

I would imagine he spent the next three days feeling like he had sunk about as low as a person could sink.

Kind of like being in the belly of a fish.

After Jesus was resurrected, John’s gospel records an amazing scene between Jesus and Peter; a scene that “just so happened” to take place on a beach.

And involved fish.

And a charcoal fire.

“When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.”
‭‭John‬ ‭21‬:‭9‬-‭11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

And there on the beach, Jesus reinstated Peter. He gave Peter three chances to confess his love for Jesus—one for every time Peter had denied him. Then, just as God gave Jonah the same message as He had given him at the beginning (“Go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach against it”); Jesus repeated the same words to Peter in John 21:19 as He did in Matthew 4:19: “Follow me.”

Beloved, we are all going to have our share of “Sons of Jonah” moments. Times when God tells us to do something, and we let fear, or selfishness, or rebellion swallow us up. But sin has a way of chewing us up and spitting us out, leaving us empty and washed up.

That’s when Jesus says, “Come have breakfast.” He lovingly restores. He extends His invitation to follow Him. And we go from being a son of Jonah to a child of the king.





One response to “Day 293 (again): Why Does Jesus Call Peter Simon Bar-Jonah in Matthew 16?”

  1. […] The footnote gives three options for where else the story might fall. Some manuscripts have the story at the end of John. But this makes no sense narratively, because it places it after the resurrection, and would make the awkward jump from Galilee (where Jesus reinstated Peter, see Day 293). […]

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