In the New Testament, there is more written about Peter than any other figure, except for Jesus Christ. Peter is frequently portrayed in the scriptures as being rash and impulsive, but he was always motivated by his deep devotion to Jesus Christ and he had many good intentions.

PETER IN THE GOSPELS

Peter and the Ministry of Jesus

Peter, who was originally named Simon, seems to have been an ordinary fisherman from Galilee, as was his brother Andrew. Andrew was a follower of John the Baptist and. through John, Andrew quickly came to realise that Jesus was the Messiah. It was Andrew who introduced Peter to Jesus (John 1:35-42).

At their first meeting, Jesus changed Peter’s name from Simon to Peter (or Cephas), which means “rock” (John 1:42). Names are meaningful and important to the Jews and can have prophetic significance. A new name meant that there were going to be changes and new challenges in Peter’s life. Jesus declared that Peter’s vocation would no longer be as a fisherman, but as a “fisher” or “catcher of people” (Matt. 4:18-20; Mark 1:16-18; Luke 5:10b-11).

Peter and Andrew, along with the other ten of the twelve disciples, followed Jesus everywhere for the next three and a half years. They heard Jesus’ profound and revolutionary teachings. They heard Jesus’ messages to the crowds, as well as his many private exhortations and instructions. They heard the numerous parables that Jesus used to describe the Kingdom of God, as well as their explanations (Matt. 13:11; Mark 4:10-11, 34). They also heard many of Jesus’ prayers with his Father (e.g., John 17).

Peter and the other disciples saw the amazing miracles that Jesus did: healing the sick (including healing Peter’s own mother-in-law), driving out demons, feeding multitudes; as well as Jesus’ power of nature, even his power over death. The disciples also observed Jesus’ attitudes and behaviour of compassion, humility, and service as he welcomed children, treated women, as well as men, with dignity and honour, and ministered to outcasts.[1]

Like the other disciples, Peter was an eyewitness to Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension into heaven. In fact, Peter seems to have been especially chosen to be both the witness and the future preacher of the Resurrection (Mark 16:7; Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5).

Peter, James and John were the three disciples closest to Jesus, and they experienced and witnessed situations that the other disciples did not.[2] Peter is always mentioned first in lists of the Twelve in the Gospels. He is also mentioned first in the lists of Jesus’ three closest disciples  (e.g., Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33).

Peter and his Blunders

Despite the wealth of teaching, the astounding display of countless miracles, and Jesus’ continual example of love and compassion (e.g., John 21:25), the disciples frequently “didn’t get it.”  This seems to be especially true for Peter—or perhaps he was the only disciple honest enough to voice his numerous misunderstandings (Mark 9:32). Peter often acts as the spokesman for the Twelve (Matt. 15:15; 16:13-16, 18:21, 19:27; Mark 1:36-37; 8:27-29; 9:5-6; 10:28; 11:21; 14:29; Luke 5:5; 9:20; 12:41; 18:28). The Gospel of Mark, in particular, frequently reveals the slowness of the disciples to understand Jesus.

Peter often speaks too quickly and impulsively, before he has understood the situation. He did this at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9; Luke 9:28-36); when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17); just after Jesus had explained that he would suffer, die and rise again (Matt. 16:21-23; Mark 8:31-33); and there is also the temple tax incident (Matt. 17:24-7). (See also Matt. 26:31-35.) Peter’s erratic bravery caused him to cut off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest (Matt. 26:51-54; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:49-51; esp. John 18:10-11).

After Jesus’ arrest, Peter did have the courage to follow Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest’s palace, but then he became frightened by the questions of a servant girl. Fearing he would be recognised as a follower of Jesus, and perhaps be subject to the same brutal and humiliating treatment his master was currently receiving, Peter denied his relationship with Jesus, just as Jesus had foretold. Peter was bitterly sorry for this failure (Luke 22:61-62). This incident is an example of Peter’s ready enthusiasm, but also of his speedy collapse in the face of difficulties. Peter’s courage and faith had also failed him momentarily when he tried to walk on the water with Jesus. However, you have to admire his eagerness to even venture out on the storm-tossed sea with his Lord (Matt. 14:22-33).

After his resurrection, Jesus lovingly and patiently restored Peter, and he charged Peter with the care of his flock (John 21:15-17; cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-4). Peter, with all his faults, as well as his strengths, was Jesus’ choice as a future leader of the church (Matt. 16:18-19).

Peter’s finest moment before Pentecost was when he had the revelation that Jesus truly was the Messiah and Son of God (Matt. 16:13-19; Mark 8:27-29; Luke 9:18-20). My favourite declaration of his, however, is where Peter expresses his faith, devotion and allegiance to Christ and says, “Lord to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68).

PETER IN THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

Peter and the Power of the Holy Spirit

When Jesus returned to heaven, Peter took over the leadership of the community of believers at Jerusalem. There were at least 120 believers at that time, and perhaps as many as 500 (Acts 1:15; cf. 1 Cor 15:6). As usual, Peter is listed first in the list of disciples (Acts 1:13).

After waiting in Jerusalem as Jesus had commanded, the group of 120 were all spectacularly filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Many people had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival of Pentecost. These people heard the believers all speaking in other languages; foreign languages that were recognised by the pilgrims who had travelled to Jerusalem from distant lands.

Peter, newly baptised with the Holy Spirit, stood up with the other disciples and boldly addressed the gathering crowd. (This may have occurred in the Temple courts.) Peter had listened to countless messages given by Jesus, who was an excellent and powerful teacher. Now he was to put his training to use, aided supernaturally by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, 15:7-14). As a result of Peter’s message, 3000 people became believers in Jesus. They were baptised, and the church was born.

In Acts 4:4 we read that within a short space of time the number of believers had risen to 5000, not including women and children. This growth was mainly due to the Holy Spirit working through the teaching of Peter and John. When Peter confidently defended his faith before the Jewish council, the Jewish elders were amazed at Peter and John’s courage.

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  Acts 4:13

Peter and the other disciples taught and proclaimed the gospel daily, and some of Peter’s messages (or their summaries) are recorded in the book of Acts. (See Acts 1:15-22, 2:14-40; 3:12-26, 4:8-12, 5:29-32, 5:42, 10:34-43,11:4-17, 15:7-11.)

Peter’s speeches after Pentecost are full of wisdom and insight. There is no trace of the foolish, blundering Peter who was continually misunderstanding Jesus’ teachings. And Peter’s courage would no longer fail him, despite the difficulties, threats and persecutions that were to follow (Acts 4:18-21, 5:18, 5:40, 12:1-11).

All of the apostles performed miraculous signs and wonders, and all of the people who came to them for healing or deliverance were healed and set free (Acts 5:12, 16; 2 Cor. 12:12). However, Peter, especially, was known for the miracles he performed (Act 3:1-10; 4:22, 9:32-42). So much so that “people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by” (Acts 5:15).

The Gospel and the Gentiles

Jesus, with only a few of notable exceptions (Matt. 8:5-13,15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30; Luke 7:1-10; John 4:4-42), had made a point of only ministering to the Jews and he had taught His disciples to do the same (Matt. 10:5-6, 15:24). Jesus had fulfilled the Old Covenant and inaugurated the New Covenant in a Jewish context, but now that the Covenant had been ratified with Jesus’ death and resurrection, as well as with the coming of the Holy Spirit, it was time to take the Gospel to the nations: to the Gentiles.

Peter needed a great deal of persuading to realise that the Gentiles could become Christian disciples. We can see in Acts chapter 10 that God had to supernaturally intervene every step of the way to show Peter that the Gentiles were included in his plan of salvation. Peter was obedient, however, and went to the house of Cornelius and preached to the Gentiles assembled there. (He took six other people with him so that, including himself, there were seven witnesses to this significant chapter in the history of the early church.)

When the Gentiles were all filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter fully accepted that the Gospel was for them also.  He said: “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34b-35).

Peter’s main ministry was to the Jews. On the other hand, Paul’s main mission was to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Gal. 2:7-8). The church of Christ would grow to become a universal body made up from believers from all over the globe, of every language and race. We are all one in Christ (Rom. 10:12; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-28; Col. 3:11-12a; Rev. 5:9c-10, 7:9).

Peter makes a seemingly brief appearance at the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, and gives some expert advice when the leaders had to decide about the teachings of the Judaisers. The Judaisers taught that the Gentiles had to convert to Judaism first, and the men circumcised, before they could be accepted into the church. The council rejected these teachings, but they did introduce a few regulations to help facilitate fellowship between Jewish and Gentile believers. At this time, around 50 AD, Jesus’ brother James had replaced Peter as the main leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17, 15:13, 21:18; Gal. 2:12).

Paul reveals a serious lapse in Peter’s ministry in Galatians 2:11-16. While Peter had stood firm against the criticism in Acts 11:2-3 of associating with Gentiles, it seems that he was later swayed by some Judaisers and began to withdraw from fellowship with Gentile believers. This error appears to have been short-lived, however.

Peter’s Missionary Travels and Writings

After Herod Agrippa’s persecution of Peter, where it appears he would have certainly been killed without God’s supernatural intervention, Peter mostly disappears from the book of Acts, and his ministry is difficult to track. Peter had told those assembled at the house of Mary[4], John Mark’s mother, to tell James, the brother of Jesus, about his miraculous escape from prison and then it enigmatically states that Peter “left for another place” (Acts 12:17). These words may signal the beginning of Peter’s ministry outside of Jerusalem and the territory of Israel. Peter, accompanied by his wife,[5] continued to minister courageously and powerfully wherever God was leading.

Peter’s first epistle was addressed to the people living in northern Asia Minor, indicating that he probably ministered there at some time. 1 Corinthians 1:12 suggests that Peter had preached in Corinth also.

Peter was no longer unstable and unwise. He had become the “rock” Jesus had prophesied about; and through Peter’s ministry many thousands of people had become Christians, both Jews and Gentiles. An impressive “catch” for a former fisherman.

John Mark had a long association with Peter and the two were very close (1 Pet. 5:13). There is little doubt that Peter had a huge influence in helping Mark write his gospel. In fact the main source of Mark’s Gospel seems to have been the preaching of Peter. Tradition holds that Peter himself authored two letters that are included in the New Testament.[6] He wrote these letters to encourage and support Christians who were suffering terribly and he encourages them to be steadfast and self-controlled (1 Pet. 1:13, 4:7, 5:8-9). Peter is probably speaking from personal experience when he writes that “Christ . . . will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast (1 Pet. 5:10).

Peter maintained his enthusiasm and devotion to Christ right up to the end. It is traditionally believed that he was martyred in Rome around 65 AD for his unwavering and steadfast faith.

Peter is a wonderful example to us of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, which can change a blundering fisherman into a powerful apostle and highly successful preacher of the gospel. Peter is a much loved Bible character and his life and legacy has had a unique and invaluable impact in the church.


Endnotes

[1] Jesus ministered to outcasts such as the Samaritan woman at the well, Zaccheus the tax collector, the Syrophoenician woman, the woman with a haemorrhage, and people with leprosy, etc.

[2] E.g., Bringing Jairus’s daughter back to life (Matt. 5:37; Luke 8:51), the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-9; Mark 8:2-10; Luke 9:28), Jesus praying in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:37; Mark 14:33).

[3] This Herod, Agrippa I, was the grandson of Herod the Great. (Herod the Great was the ruler of Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth.)

[4] Mary’s spacious house was well known as a center for Christian worship and fellowship in Jerusalem. Some speculate that the first Christians met regularly at Mary’s house after Jesus’ ascension (return to heaven), and that it was here that they chose a replacement for Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:14ff). Were the Christians meeting at Mary’s house on the Day of Pentecost? Or at the Temple  Courts?

[5] Believing women and wives often travelled and ministered alongside men (Mark 1:30; 1 Cor. 9:5; cf. Luke 8:1-3 ). More on this here.

[6] Introduction and notes to my Bible study on 1 Peter are available on this site here.

© 20th of January 2010, Margaret Mowczko


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