In an effort to develop a fuller understanding of Peter’s life and ministry, this paper will systematically and comprehensively examine the biblical stories and scholarly information available to determine how Peter is portrayed in the New Testament: both positively and negatively. The goal of this paper will ultimately illuminate how even someone who denies they know Jesus, can still be used in a mighty way to advance the kingdom of God through the restoration and wholeness found in Christ Jesus. As the reader progresses through this assignment, keep in mind Jesus knew who would deny Him, who would betray Him, and even who would crucify Him, yet He still showed love and compassion to all. For Peter, this would be his saving grace and would position him in a place to continue the work Jesus had started.
Simon Peter’s name is mentioned one hundred and fifty-four times in scripture, second only to Jesus in the New Testament, and he was arguably one of the most interesting disciples. He was a man of action and principle, and rarely do you ever wonder where he stood on any issue. These direct, authoritative, and unwavering traits allowed to him to become a great leader, but they also provided many opportunities for him to fall short. Failure would become one of Peter’s greatest teachers, while also providing a wellspring of grace for the mission that lay ahead. When Jesus first met Peter, he was but a simple fisherman, but over the coming years, he would become an apostle and a fisher of men. Eventually, Peter would even go on to play a crucial role in the early church and the advancement of the Great Commission.
As Frank Lewis illustrates, “Peter’s preparation consisted first of all in the fact that he was a man of the common people. His home was in, or near, the busy commercial city of Capernaum, where he came into contact with all classes of men. The business of fishing… [Exposed] him to the dangers of the sea and… gave him a place among the hardy laborers of his time.” From the four Gospels and Acts, much can be learned about his life, and especially his early days as a believer. John Butler brilliantly contrasts the starting point and destination of this paper’s aim when he said, “[Peter] was long on zeal and short on knowledge, [but would eventually become] the firm and faithful rock spiritually that Christ, at Peter’s conversion, predicted he would be.”
The life of Peter can seem like the spiritual journey of a yo-yo, where one moment he is being praised and the very next thing he says causes him to be rebuked by Jesus Himself. According to Casimir Bernas, “While we still do not know for sure who was the first disciple to see the risen Jesus, Peter is often accorded that honor.” The intentionality of this restoration event is perplexing and one that this writer can easily picture being true. Peter had hit rock bottom, by doing the very thing he swore he would not do: denying Jesus. This of course was no surprise to Jesus for He had predicted the denial, so in order for true restoration to take place, a miraculous transforming redemptive act was needed, which would occur on the very shores where Peter first met the Messiah, now the Risen Lord.
Peter’s Spiritual Conversion
When conducting a proper biographical study of someone, it is extremely beneficial to trace the individual back to his or her physical birth, or at least present the genealogy of the family. In Peter’s case, our investigation instead begins with his spiritual birth because by the time he enters the metanarrative, he is already married and a fisherman by trade on the Sea of Galilee. While one’s physical birth is important, his or her spiritual awakening is a much grander event and transformation, as will be evidenced by the life and ministry of Peter. While his conversion did not involve losing his vision or a speaking donkey, it did posses several key components outlined below.
Dr. Alfred Plummer suggests, “In Church history, St. Peter is everything, and St. Andrew is nothing: [while posing the question,] would there have been an Apostle Peter without Andrew?” This is many rights is a valid question and something which could easily be overlooked. However, when Jesus is involved, there are no chance occurrences or coincidences because the Lord knows the end from the beginning.
Would Peter Meet Jesus Without Andrew?
Peter would have the honor of becoming the third disciple of Jesus, following his brother: Andrew and most likely John. While Andrew’s role in the early church is limited and no book in the canon bears his name, his contribution to Christianity as it is known today is undeniable. In a modern-day context, it would be similar to Mordecai Ham preaching a revival in Charlotte, North Carolina and leading Billy Graham to faith.
Once Andrew came to the realization he had found the Messiah, he immediately set out to find his brother, as is evidenced by John’s account. It is demonstrated, by this response, Jesus had made a substantial impact on Andrew and now he wanted to share that same realization with his brother. Brotherly love and the bonds brothers hold for each other would compel one to share with the other personal knowledge of the Messiah and salvation. This is a wonderful, motivating, and instructive account of a brother bringing a brother to Christ.
Acknowledgement of Jesus as Messiah
Finding the Messiah was the greatest discovery ever made in that time; to the Jews, He represented the hope they had waited so long for. It is tragic, so many had faith in the prophecy, yet were unable to see the Messiah Who walked among them. Since Andrew had proclaimed he had found the Messiah, this established he had some knowledge of the recognizable traits the Master must have.
John the Baptist’s Prophecy Fulfilled
John the Baptist was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, both of which were visited by the angel Gabriel, in some ways making them like the Patriarchs of the New Testament. His main message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” John’s primary role was prophesied from Isaiah 40:3, which spoke of a voice of one calling, “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” Malachi 3:1 also eludes to John the Baptist’s role in preparing the way for Jesus Christ as a forerunner.
Peter Verhoef illustrates how:
The notion that the great day of the Lord will be preceded by a “forerunner” is found only here and in 3:23, 24. In a somewhat different context the idea of the preparation of the way of the Lord is also found in Isa. 40:3 (cf. Isa. 57:14; 62:10). The notion rests upon an eastern custom of sending messengers ahead of a visiting king to inform the inhabitants of his coming and to pave the way, to make it passable, literally to remove all the obstacles.
What This Meant for the Jews at the Time
The Jews had long awaited the arrival of the Messiah and during the Intertestamental period, anticipation only grew, so when Jesus entered the scene proclaiming Himself to be the Son of God; it was a game changer.
Changing of His Name
During Peter’s spiritual conversion experience, Jesus gave him the new name of Cephas in Aramaic. The best representations of this new name are found in Matthew 16:18, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” and Luke 6:14, “Simon, whom He also named Peter…”
Historical Significance of Name Changes
Throughout the Old Testament, we are presented with instances where God changes the name of someone, which indicates authority to the one doing the name changing, as was the case when God changed Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, and Jacob to Israel. This same tradition is evident in pharaohs renaming vassals, and Babylonian and Medo-Persian kings renaming their subjects. A stretch for modern day application would be brides taking their husband’s last name.
Authority of Jesus Demonstrated
The authority of Jesus must never be discounted. Humanity was bought with a heavy price and failure to submit to the Lord is often the root problem of failing to submit in other areas of life. John Butler adds, “Too often Christ is presented as nothing more than a fire escape from hell without the [recognition] that He is also Lord of our lives.”
Power of a Name Change in Peter’s Life
The changing of Peter’s name had great significance and over time would become evident. Butler suggests, “At least two very important truths were indicated by this change. They are the authority of Christ and the alteration of character.”
Peter’s Call to Ministry
From Marks’s account, we read, after John the Baptist had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew and Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” R.T. France illustrates how, “What Jesus issues here is not even an invitation, but rather a demand. Such a summons is more typical of a prophet than of a rabbi.”
Service requires sacrifice and Christ would often make sure everyone weighed the cost of following Him because there was no turning back once you did. This was the case with the rich young ruler, the man who wanted to bury his father before following Jesus, and for anyone not willing to sacrifice their all meant they were really asking Jesus to follow them.
The Loaning of His Boat
Serving Christ is often anything but convenient and in most things in life, God often tests His children in the small things before He tests them with the big things, as is demonstrated in the parable of the good steward, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”
Test #1: How Important Was Serving Christ to Peter?
Peter’s first test took place when Jesus asked to use his boat to speak to the multitudes that had amassed on the shore and this was the verifier of Peter’s resolve and commitment in what Jesus was trying to accomplish. It came at the end of the day, so Peter would have been busy and tired after working and Luke 5:5 establishes his efforts were in vain because he had not caught anything. For any normal person under these conditions, they would most likely just want to go home and forget about the waste of time and energy they just expended. Surprisingly, Peter immediately complied with Jesus’ request. This principle of priorities remains true and is the best indicator of what or who is the most important thing in one’s life.
Test #2: Was Peter Willing to Give Jesus Possessions?
The second test Peter passed was allowing Jesus to use his boat without hesitation. The test of surrendering one’s possessions for the work of God is one many people fail because they do not want to let go of their treasures. Jesus answered the rich young man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Test #3: Christ Tests in the Small Things Before the Big
Even seemingly small requests from the Lord have enormous impacts in one’s walk with the Lord. The only way to grow closer to the Lord and experience His many blessings is through obedience and if Peter had not allowed Jesus to simply borrow his boat, his role in the metanarrative may have ended here. Luke 16:10 illustrates that even the least important things matter too and until the small tests are passed through obedience and faithfulness, one will not advance to the bigger and better plans God has in store.
The Launching of His Boat
Time, talents, and treasure point to what is most important, and when they are pointed towards advancing the kingdom of God they will always have huge dividends. Peter learned this principle early in his walk with the Lord and saw that no service to the Lord went unrewarded.
God’s Commands Lead to Great Blessings
Peter’s character and faith grew exponentially during this encounter as he witnessed first-hand the rewards of the Lord. It is interesting in Luke 5:4 how Peter’s reward comes in the form of a command as Jesus tells him to, “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” It is almost as if his reward comes in the form of another test of faith and it is noteworthy to mention that God’s commands often led to blessings even if they required sacrifice to obey them. It is in this command; Peter takes a huge step outside of his comfort zone, by complying with the command of Jesus. Through an understanding of the geography and the time period, you would know the fishing was done at night, in the shallow water, so the fish could not see the nets. However, Jesus commanded Peter to go out to the deep water in the middle of the day and cast his nets. The people on shore watching would think Peter had lost his mind if he complied. This is often true with commands that challenge our faith, which is why one must never forget the Lord’s ways are higher and likely not our own.
Peter Begins Calling Jesus Master
Upon receiving this command, Peter addresses Jesus as Master, which showed an immense amount of respect, despite how ludicrous the instructions were. Peter submitted to the authority of Jesus and this step of faith is critical because it is easy to call Jesus Master of your life, but not follow it up with action indicative of obedience. Adherence to the Word of God is paramount to pleasing the Lord and another important qualification to serving the Lord.
The Miraculous Catch of Fish
After fishing all night and catching nothing, Peter launched the boat back out into the deep waters according to the instructions he received from Jesus. The result was a catch that began to tear the net and almost sank the boat due to the size of the catch. In Luke 5:7, we see Peter call out to his partners for help bringing in the catch and we read he was astonished in the miracle Jesus had done. When Peter got back to shore, he was extremely humbled by the whole experience and fell at the feet of Jesus saying, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man.” As John Butler adds, “No one will serve Christ well who does not in heart prostrate himself before God as a great sinner unworthy of Divine benevolence.” A humble attitude is mandatory to serving God effectively because, “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The Leaving of His Boat
This final stage in the call of Peter to fulltime ministry with Jesus is a stage most people get stuck at. Letting go of the things of this temporal world to serve the Divine Creator is a small price to pay for the assurance of salvation and redemption. For Peter to leave his family, his livelihood, and his way of life to follow and serve Jesus, he had to be completely sure.
The Call From Jesus to, “Follow Me”
Two simple words: “Follow Me,” would be the first step and instructions for Peter in His fulltime service to the Lord. For any believer, these simple words must be at the core of one’s motives and actions because before one’s calling can truly be defined and realized. They must also be willing to follow in whatever direction the Lord may be calling. William Lane illustrates, “As the first act of the Galilean mission, Mark reports the calling of Simon and Andrew to be fishers of men… The call to come after someone implies discipleship because it is the disciple who breaks all other ties to follow his master as a servant.”
Christ’s Promise to Make Them Fishers of Men
For Peter, “Follow Me” led to him becoming a fisher of men, but this drive was formed out of his devotion to follow Jesus. By acknowledging his call, Christ promised to equip and give him the abilities he would need to fulfill his calling. Apart from God, Peter understood he was nothing and could do nothing. Still true today, only in and through Him can believers find value, significance, true purpose, and meaning.
The Call to Follow Christ Came After Their Largest Catch
Luke 5:11 illustrates how once they had brought their boats to land, they left everything to follow the Master. Most people would like to retire or get out of the game while they are on top, but Peter was in his prime and he had just hauled in a legendary catch. Despite all of that, he still chose to follow Jesus and paid a steep price to answer his calling. Following Jesus should never be the last resort nor what you do when things get difficult and now Peter had just passed another test by choosing to follow Jesus, despite hauling in the largest catch of their lives.
Peter’s Great Sacrifice Positions Him to Be a Great Leader
It is interesting to witness the character of Peter evolve, especially knowing what the future would hold for him. Despite Jesus knowing that Peter would ultimately deny Him, Jesus still made him one of His exclusive disciples. It is interesting the listing of all the disciples found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts that Peter’s name appears first, which would indicate he was viewed as the leader of the disciples after Jesus. Peter had humble beginnings as a fisherman, but through his willingness to serve and the giftings and equipping the Lord provided, he became an amazing leader in the early church.
Peter’s Mother-in-Law Falls Ill
There is some discrepancy in the Gospel accounts about when this event took place. Luke places it after Peter’s call to fulltime ministry, while Matthew and Mark place it before. Regardless of the chronological order, especially considering this was not something the Gospel writers paid special attention to, the reader can learn much from these texts, for example, Peter was married, because his mother-in-law is referenced. Also, in I Corinthians 9:5, Paul brings up the subject of wives accompanying the disciples and early apostles during their ministry.
In Luke 4:38, Simon’s mother-in-law is described as having a very high fever. Luke’s account carries substantially more detail, being he was a physician. From his description, we learn the fever was severe, it was common in that region, and the onset of symptoms was very sudden. For Peter, this must have been very difficult to handle, being that he had just left his family and livelihood to follow Jesus, depending on which synoptic account you use. For a lesser man, second thoughts would not be uncommon. One would naturally wonder if following Jesus meant trials and tribulation, then what was the point of serving? There are no promises that following Jesus will eliminate trials; in fact, Jesus promised His followers would experience heartache and persecution. In a fallen world, doing what is right and serving the Lord does not prohibit trials from taking place, since all trials are not the byproduct of sin or disobedience. Trials actually have the power to make a follower of Christ even more resolute in their drive for serving the Lord by using that trial as a testimony of God’s goodness and mercy.
Affliction and infirmities were often associated with sin in the Old Testament. With that stigma and the fact Peter had left home to follow the Messiah provides an early picture into the spiritual warfare Paul describes in Ephesians 6. Peter would later describe Satan as prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. The timing of this trial is no coincidence and as Butler points out, “If Satan cannot keep you from the blessing, he will then endeavor to keep you from the joy of the blessing.” The disciples had returned to Galilee expecting there to peace and tranquility, but things were far from their expectations. Modern day application reveals the instant the devil can inflict the most damage and cause the most harm is often when he attacks.
Christ’s Compassion Revealed
Luke 4:39 indicates the Satanic nature of this fever as Jesus rebukes it using similar language to cast out a demon at the synagogue in Luke 4:35. Joel Green explains how:
Luke paints this scene very much as an exorcism, even if no mention is made of demons per se. Jesus “bends over” the woman, signifying his authority over the fever, a practice paralleled in stories of exorcism. As Jesus “rebuked” the demon in the previous story (vv 35-36), so he “rebukes” this fever; just as the demon “went out” of the man, so the fever “departs” this woman. Clearly, Jesus’ ministry of “release” (4:18-19) has begun to take shape.
Peter trusted that God was in control and he would learn even trials could produce blessings. Charles Spurgeon said it best, “The love of our wise Father is too great to deprive us of the sacred benefits of affliction.” Through trials, Satan attempts to destroy faith because anything God stands for, Satan will either try to destroy or counterfeit. However, when the trials and their outcomes are handed over to the Lord, He uses them for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
Service and Gratitude to the Master
Through this healing, Butler highlights several qualities of Jesus, which Peter recognized: “He is cognizant of our troubles, He has compassion for us in our troubles, He comforts us when we are troubled, He condemns our troublers, and He conquers our troubles.” Jesus truly transformed Peter’s house through this miraculous healing and in the process, Peter was eternally grateful for what Jesus had done.
Peter’s Life on the Sea
Between being a fisherman and now fulltime ministry with Jesus, much of Peter’s life was spent on the water, specifically the Sea of Galilee.
The Sending to the Sea
Shortly after Jesus miraculously fed the five thousand, he ordered His disciples in Matthew 14:22 to get into the boat and go to the western side of the Sea towards Capernaum. The crowds wanted to crown Christ as king, but only for materialistic reasons and not spiritual ones.
The Storm of the Sea
Once the disciples were a way from shore, the wind grew strong and the boat began to be battered by waves. Mark 6:48 depicts them rowing the oars as hard as they could, in an effort to break through the rough seas. However, by the fourth watch of the night, they had made little progress.
The Waves and Wind Still Know His Name
Christ is the only One able to bring peace in the midst of the storm. Despite the rough seas, in Matthew 14:25, Jesus came to them, walking on the sea. Obedience can often lead one into rough storms and it is during these seasons where one’s faith is either perfected or lost.
Assurance of Christ’s Help When in Need
Christ is completely aware of our struggles and it is only through Him that our help comes from. The disciples had just witnessed Jesus miraculously feed the five thousand and now as they looked out on the horizon, they saw a figure, which was Jesus walking on the very sea crashing the sides of their boat. One would think they would be excited to see their Master, but they were filled with fear as they thought He was a ghost.
Walking on the Sea
In Matthew 14:28, after hearing Jesus say it was He, Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Jesus walking on water appears in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John, but is left out of Luke. In all three gospels, it follows the narrative of the feeding of the five thousand and in all three accounts, as the disciples got into a ship to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus instead went up the mountain to pray alone. The disciples were scared to see Jesus, but He told them not to be afraid. In Matthew’s account, Peter asked Jesus for him to come on the water and when Jesus responded, Peter got out of the ship and walked on the water towards Jesus, but quickly he became afraid of the storm and began to sink when he took his eyes off of Jesus. When he called out to Jesus for help, Jesus graciously caught him and rebuked him for his lack of faith, and led him back to the ship, as the storm then turned to calm seas.
To Walk on Water, You Must Get Out of the Boat
Peter’s request seems a little unconventional, but ultimately he was trying to confirm if it was really Christ or not. There is no denying Peter believed wholeheartedly in the power and person of Jesus, after all the miracles and events he had witnessed. Butler points out, “[While] Peter had many faults, [his] lack of affection for Jesus Christ was not one of them.” While some have criticized Peter’s motives, it seems apparent that his intentions were pure and submissive and not an attempt to show off in front of the other disciples.
Obedience and Keeping Your Eye on the Prize
Peter was not going to take one step out onto the water until Jesus gave the command to do so. This act displays his recognition of the Lord’s divinity and that anything he did was only through the power of the Messiah. Despite being frightening, Peter still complied with the command and this is a lesson, which still holds true today: If God calls you to do something, He will give you exactly what you need to carry it out. This empowering is the only hope followers of Christ have in completing the task for which they are commissioned to do. Those who choose not to do what God commands will accomplish little to advance the kingdom of God.
Sinking In and Being Saved From the Sea
Peter failed to keep his eyes on Jesus; that is why he began to sink. There are an infinite number of things, which attempt to take one’s eyes off of Jesus and when they succeed, we are left trying to do things on our own, which is futile. Our help comes only from the Lord, Who made the heavens and the earth and the instant we try to do things on our own, we are left to either become prideful in thinking we do not need God and fail, or we immediately give up and fail because we forget we can only do all things through Christ Who gives us strength.
Peter began his walk on the water with faith, but the moment he let fear distract him, he became afraid and began to sink. Fear’s acronym is False Evidence Appearing Real, but for many the potential of embarrassment or humiliation, real or false, is enough to paralyze them from taking any step of faith. The one good thing Peter displayed was what to do when he was in need: He called out for Jesus to save him saying, “Lord, save me.”
Charles Spurgeon once said, “To walk on water is not an essential characteristic of faith, but to pray when you begin to sink is.” The moment one begins to pray, your focus goes back to Christ; that is why scripture says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Peter did not try to save himself before crying out to the Master to save him, which demonstrates prayers can be short and you can pray anywhere, at anytime, as long as your prayer is passionate, sincere, and fervent.
Calmness of the Sea
Before calmness came to the Sea, Peter was rebuked by Jesus for the little amount of faith he had. Despite this, the little amount of faith Peter had still allowed him to walk on water and in Matthew 17:20, Jesus said, “If our faith were just the size of a mustard seed, we could move mountains;” this was a foreshadowing of God’s kingdom coming into the world.
Christ’s Presence Brought Peace to the Sea
When Peter and Christ returned to the boat, calmness came upon the Sea. After Christ had saved them, all the disciples began to worship Jesus. In fact, Butler points out, “[Today,] when someone gets saved, meaning Christ has brought peace between him or her and God, they will worship Christ, but if there is failure to worship, [then] their confession of salvation is suspect.”
Peter Recognizes Jesus as the Prince of Peace
This saving act is a great representation of what occurs when one allows the Prince of peace into their lives. Only Jesus had omnipotent power and sovereignty over all of nature.
Peter made two of the greatest confessions of faith during the earthly ministry of Jesus. The location and timing of each of these confessions make them significant because they declared who Jesus really was and ultimately became the foundation of Peter’s ethos.
The first confession of faith was made in Capernaum and is recorded in John 6:66-69. This was a well-known area on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee and the site near where Jesus had previously multiplied the loaves of bread and fish to feed the five thousand. Here Jesus was trying to teach the people He was the bread of life, but the crowds were more interested in filling their stomachs. Because the people did not care about the spiritual bread of life Jesus was offering, they began to grumble and leave.
Peter’s Heart Was Set on Serving Christ
It was here; Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Without missing a beat, Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Peter’s Devotion to Christ Was Affirmed
Peter was completely devoted to following Jesus and while Peter had many flaws, his love, devotion, and affection to Jesus were not one of them.
Peter’s confessions revealed several characteristics about the person of Jesus:
Jesus as God
In John 6:69, the Son of the living God clearly portrays the Deity of Jesus Christ. This topic was a highly debated subject during that time among the Jews, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes.
Jesus as Messiah
The Messiah was the anointed one and Peter believed Jesus was the new Davidic King that was prophesied by the Old Testament prophets. Many people of that day were blind to the Messiah they had waited so long for because they were waiting for a literal military King over Israel who would defeat their enemies and rule with righteousness. However, even though Jesus wore no official crown, Peter still viewed Him as though He did.
Jesus as Savior
Peter’s final words portray Jesus as the redeemer of mankind who made redemption and salvation possible. Peter recognized Jesus was the only way and Jesus confirmed this when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Peter’s Faith and Assurance Revealed
Peter told Jesus we believe and we are sure, which displayed an immense amount of certainty and faith. Butler adds, “True faith can speak with certainty, for it is based on facts—not mere wistful thinking. It is unbelief that lacks certainty. Unbelief is never sure about anything.” One’s faith leads to assurance and “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Without faith, it is impossible to please God and here Peter’s faith has grown exponentially since his last lesson of walking on water.
The second confession of faith occurred at Caesarea Philippi and is recorded in Matthew 16:13-19. Tucker Ferda demonstrates, “Peter is blessed only because ‘the Father in Heaven’ has given Peter knowledge not possible by ‘flesh and blood.’ In other words, Jesus blesses Peter because of the way Peter came to this discovery: illumination from the Father of lights. Here Peter is the vessel of the Holy Spirit.” R. T. France adds to this illumination showing how:
Peter’s declaration in v. 16 marks the climax of the gradual recognition of the Messiah by his disciples during the Galilean period. And the new note of suffering, death and resurrection as the messianic mission which is first sounded in 16:21 will set the tone for the rest of the narrative. Galilee with its enthusiastic crowds has been left behind, and Jerusalem with its hostile religious authorities lies ahead.
Significance of This Location
Caesarea Philippi was a place full of pagan idols, temples, and where horrible sacrifices and the blood of babies flowed down the streams, yet it is here Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Here again, the popular answer is not the right one and even though this pagan site was located on the southern slope of Mount Hermon, where the transfiguration account would soon occur, it was currently only known for polytheistic paganism.
Who Do Others Say I Am?
Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” After this declaration, Jesus told his disciples, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
Peter’s Reply is Praised
This question was a test of sorts because the disciples had been with Jesus for some time now, but what lay ahead was much more dangerous than anything they had previously encountered, so Jesus wanted to make sure they were fully aware of what they were getting into. This pivotal question would indicate how well they had learned. Most people of the day thought Jesus, if anyone else, was one of the prophets who had come back to life including: John the Baptist, Jeremiah, or Elijah, so when Peter answered, “You are Christ, the Son of the living God” he was praised and Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” The very next verse contains the first occurrence of the word church in Matthew’s account, as Jesus says, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Butler demonstrates how this verse displays the important truths about the foundation of the church, the endurance of the church, and the authority of the church.
Peter’s Next Statement is Rebuked
In Matthew 16:21-28, Jesus predicts his own death and Peter tries to tell Jesus this shall never happen to You. To this statement, “Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Peter’s statement was rooted out of pride and ignorance to what God was trying to accomplish through Jesus and Peter’s lack of understanding also revealed the other disciples’ ignorance in what Christ was trying to accomplish at Calvary. The word rebuke used here is the same word used for casting out demons, so it was a sharp discipline from Christ.
Pain and Suffering Revealed
Though Peter quickly rose to the front of the class, he did not stay there long because shortly after Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again,” Peter again displayed his arrogance, lack of understanding, and pride. Jesus made it clear, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” William Lane points out:
Mark describes Peter’s impetuous action in sharp terms, employing the same strong vocable used throughout the Gospel in connection with the silencing of the demons: he rebuked Jesus (cf. 1:25; 3:12). How difficult it was to reconcile the designation “Messiah” and suffering is well illustrated by the Targum to Isa. 53, where the positive statements are interpreted to refer to King Messiah but the sufferings to the people. The rebuke indicates that Jesus’ declaration was radically new and that the disciples were totally unprepared to receive it: a rejected Messiah was incompatible with Jewish convictions and hopes. Peter’s reaction was therefore understandable but presumptuous, and it is not allowed to stand.
The Road That Lay Ahead
Jesus goes on to say, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then He will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Forgiveness Comes Only After Repentance
Peter asked the Lord how many times he should forgive someone who sinned against him. This was not uncommon during that time frame where some rabbis instructed people to forgive anywhere from three to seven times based on Amos 1:3 and 2:1. Butler demonstrates, “This attitude of forgiveness seems more concerned about forgiving too much [rather] than about forgiving enough. It is of the same sick spirit, which prompts people to seek the minimum requirement to satisfy God in regards to their duty.”
Peter’s Fall and Restoration
The night before Christ’s crucifixion was rough for Peter and he would never forget the things he said and acted upon because they were in direct opposition to everything Christ had taught him.
Peter Refuses When the Master Attempts to Wash His Feet
The Passover observance in the Upper Room did not start off well. The very first thing, which should have occurred when the disciples and Christ came into the Upper Room, was the washing of their feet. While the basin, towel, and water were present, no one volunteered to do the washing of the feet and there was no servant present. It was common in every home to have the feet washed after spending the day out on the dusty paths and normally a servant tended to this lowly task. However, that night in the Upper Room there were only Christ and the twelve disciples and considering Jesus was the rabbi, one of the disciples should have stepped up to do the task. None did, so Jesus would cleanse the disciples’ feet and this illuminated the beginning of Peter’s spiritual decline.
Peter’s Lack of Hearing and Understanding
It is not unusual for Peter to act surprised when the Master went to wash his feet based on the customs of that day, but Jesus was no ordinary Teacher and what He was trying to teach His disciples went beyond any customs. Jesus came to serve, not be served; it was all backwards. Christ should be having His feet washed, not washing others’ feet. To ease Peter’s mind, Jesus tells him, “What I do, you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” This statement makes one wonder how much will be revealed about this life on the other side of eternity.
Peter’s Lack of Humility
Peter displayed immense arrogance again proclaiming Jesus shall never wash his feet. This response was rooted out of an ungracious and stubborn heart, which stemmed from not truly listening to or understanding what Jesus was trying to teach them. Butler highlights how oftentimes, “False humility [is a] crafty attitude to disguise rebellion.” After Peter’s fake lack of humility fails, he attempts to go to the other extreme by wanting to wash all of Jesus’ body. The lesson of stop digging once you are in a hole did not apply to Peter; he was all in whatever he decided to do: good or bad.
Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial
Scripture records that Peter made four emphatic declarations of loyalty to Jesus Christ on the night before the crucifixion. These declarations said Peter would be faithful to Jesus Christ no matter what. Early that evening Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”
Peter’s Declaration of Loyalty
Peter’s declarations of loyalty reminds us, it is the habit of humanity, when at the time someone is experiencing serious decline in their spiritual health, to gravitate to the other extreme and be extra outspoken. As Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” Then Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter replied to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples.”
The first two declarations of loyalty to Christ by Peter occurred in the Upper Room. The first declaration in the Upper Room came after Christ had informed Peter that He was praying that Peter’s faith would not fail. The next declaration came when Christ was telling the disciples that He was going to leave them because He was going back to heaven and they could not go with Him now, but they would someday join Him later.
Mount of Olives
The third and fourth declarations occurred on or near the Mount of Olives. The third declaration was Christ telling the disciples that when the Shepherd was smitten the sheep would be scattered. The fourth declaration came after Christ had informed Peter he would deny Christ three times.
Satan Aims to Sift Peter as Wheat
Only the Gospel of Luke reports the words of Christ regarding His praying for Peter. Luke reported that in the Upper Room “The Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not. And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” This should have been a warning to Peter that he had an adversary who wanted to destroy him and his testimony. But Peter, instead of paying attention to the warning, demonstrated complete disrespect and disregard for the words of Christ, by insisting that he would always be loyal.
Peter’s Display of Arrogance
The warning Christ gave Peter applies to every follower of Christ. Everyone needs to take to heart what Christ said about Satan and his evil work against the saints of God. Do not discount the truth of Satan working against God’s children, but take this advice very seriously. If you do, you will revaluate the places you go, the people you fellowship with, and the practices you pursue; and you will daily pray for spiritual strength.
Peter Believed He Was Too Strong to Fail
The words “fail not,” which Christ used here, come from one Greek word from which we get the English word “eclipse.” This gives us a great picture of the evil Satan would do to us. Instead of faith shining brightly out of one’s life for others to see, Satan wants to eclipse it causing humanity to sin so we have no light or testimony to bear witness to.
Pride and Lack of Humility Were His Downfall
Peter thought he knew more than Christ. In making each of his declarations of loyalty, Peter was arguing with Christ. When Christ said He was praying for Peter, Peter’s declaration of loyalty argued that he did not need Christ’s prayers and that the warning Christ gave was not needed. When Christ told him he could not go with Him, Peter argued by his declaration that he could. In fact, when Christ made the two predictions on or near the Mount of Olives, Peter’s declarations of loyalty argued that Christ’s predictions would not come true. It has been said, “To argue with the Word of the Divine is gross pride. It exalts man’s wisdom above God’s wisdom.” It says we know more than God and better than God. Peter also made it clear in the third of his four declarations that he revered himself better than the others, failing to realize pride would ultimately lead to his fall.
Garden of Gethsemane
Though Peter had protested intensely that he would remain loyal to Christ at all times, it did not take long after these declarations to discover that Peter was more talk than walk. The first outward manifestation of failure in his loyalty came in the Garden of Gethsemane. There he failed to perform a simple duty of keeping watch and praying. Christ asked this of His inner circle: Peter, James, and John and none of them complied.
Peter Failed to Listen and Understand Christ’s Warning
The three disciples were to basically do two things: watch and pray. To watch means to be alert to any sign of danger and to take action accordingly. To pray here is to petition God for help. Christ, in His second exhortation of their duties, gave the three disciples some extra incentive for earnest watching and praying. He said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” That should have inspired them to pray if nothing else did. But Peter, along with James and John, did not take the exhortation seriously and instead slept. Being overconfident and ignoring our spiritual weaknesses leads to spiritual disaster and it makes us easy prey for Satan.
Peter’s First Failure Came in Failing to Keep Watch and Pray
After an hour of praying, Christ came back to check on Peter and the other two disciples. What He found was not good, and it brought forth another rebuke.
Christ Rebukes Peter for Sleeping
By now, Peter had grown accustomed to the rebukes of Jesus, but this rebuke was directed specifically at him, even though the others had fallen asleep as well. While this rebuke was sharp and should have shamed them into performing their task, Peter and the other two did not improve their obedience. After a second session in prayer, Christ came back to them and found them asleep again and neither of them knew how to answer Jesus.
Peter Cuts Off Malchus, the High Priest’s Servant’s Ear
It is hard not to picture Peter swinging his sword before Christ even had a chance to answer a question regarding the use of the sword. Given his past, it would seem logical Peter did not wait for an answer to the question, but instead started swinging his sword right away because he was moved by the emotions and the situation of the hour rather than by the command of Christ. Scripture reveals, “Peter took his sword, drew it, and cut the high priest’s servant’s right ear off and again Peter is rebuked.”
Peter’s Actions Reveal His Lack of Control and Christ Rebukes Peter Again
One cannot help but see pride behind this deed. Peter had boasted he would remain faithful even if all the other disciples abandoned Christ, but Jesus had already told the disciples this must happen in order for the scriptures to be fulfilled; the time had finally come.
Christ Touches and Heals Malchus’ Ear
This part of the narrative reveals the paradigm between the sword of steel versus the sword of the Spirit’s power. This deed was contrary to God’s wishes and demonstrates the Gospel will conquer men not by the sword of steel but by “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Peter Denies Jesus
After the sword incident, the continual decline in Peter’s spiritual condition shows up in his drifting fellowship with Christ. As Jesus is taken away, Peter follows close enough to see Jesus, but not be seen by Jesus. This description in Matthew’s statement clearly represents the distance between Christ and Peter.
Disciples Are Sheep Without a Shepherd
As prophesied, all the disciples fled, but Peter and John follow Jesus at a distance as He is taken. Peter stood at the door outside the court and he sat with the servants instead of going with John, which demonstrated he was even distancing himself from the other disciples. Eventually Peter’s physical coldness overcome his spiritual coldness as he goes to warm himself by the fire. In the first denial, Peter demonstrates even the most loyal fall. The fact that Peter, one of the elite disciples, denied the Lord should warn us that we, too, can be guilty of great infidelity to Christ. If we do not stop spiritual delinquency before a stronghold forms, it will blossom into a full-grown act of betrayal. Sin when left unchecked, always gets worse and will eventually lead to untold depths of depraved behavior.
After denying being with Jesus, in Peter’s second denial, he denies being one of Jesus’ disciples. It becomes apparent, each time Peter told a lie, the easier it became. In the final denial, Peter denies even knowing Christ and immediately the rooster crowed as prophesied causing Peter to become convicted and weep bitter tears. Over the course of these denials, Peter deserted Christ by his denials, and he abandoned Christ when he was needed the most. Matthew and Mark even report that Peter tried to enforce his denials with a defiled tongue.
Peter’s Realization of What He Had Just Done
Right after the third denial, Peter came under great conviction of his sin and went out and wept bitterly. The season of his sin was short; but the fruits of bitterness and brokenness were heavy. A. T. Robertson articulates, “One of the tragedies of the Cross is the bleeding heart of Peter.”
The Rooster Crowed and Peter Becomes Convicted and Weeps Bitterly
What brought Peter under conviction and to tears? Luke tells us that it was not only the cock crowing that woke Peter up. It was also the Lord looking at Peter. “And immediately, while he yet spoke [his last denial], the cock crew. And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said unto him, before the cockcrows, thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.”
Peter’s Life Without Christ
While Peter’s denials were terrible, we must credit Peter with the fact that he became immediately convicted about his sin when the cock crowed and the Lord looked at him. This is a sharp contrast to many sinners today as they are so hardened by their sin that they never come under conviction, no matter what seems to confront them.
Peter is Overcome With Guilt
With such burdens on his heart, Peter would find life very difficult to live in those three days Christ was in the grave. He would be ashamed to show his face in public, for his denial was no secret. Nothing would bring the slightest comfort to his troubled heart because his guilt would weigh heavily upon him. Also, if he were like many of us, he would be filled with hollow regrets and at times have wished he had never met Christ.
Peter Sees Jesus
Christ’s private appearance to Peter speaks of the great desire Christ has to rescue the wayward and brokenhearted. When a person sins, he or she often goes to one of two extremes. Either they become hardened in heart and try to excuse or justify their sin, or they become convicted of their wrong and become overwhelmed by sorrow of heart. If Satan cannot get the sinner to play down the sinfulness of his or her sin, then he goes to the other extreme and tries to get the sinner to think their sin is too great for God to forgive.
The Private Appearance
Why did Christ appear to Peter alone and so soon after the resurrection? Obviously, because Peter needed special help after his disastrous performance the night before the crucifixion in which he denied Christ three times. Peter was broken up because of his great failure. He, more than the other disciples, needed encouragement from Christ, especially reassurance that Christ was alive and that Peter was still one of His disciples.
Jesus Restores Peter
We see Jesus is still serving them even after the resurrection. It was at the fire that Peter heard the rooster crow, and it will be at a fire the Lord would restore him.
Peter Returns to Fishing
During the forty days between Christ’s resurrection and ascension, Christ worked another fishing miracle on the Sea of Galilee. This was His third fishing miracle associated with this sea, for He had performed two other fishing miracles there before the crucifixion. Peter was involved in all three of these miracles.
Return to Galilee
The first fishing miracle was the record catch of fish, leading to the call of Peter to be disciple of Jesus Christ. The second fishing miracle was Peter’s catching the fish with the coin in its mouth, to pay the temple tax. Now in this third fishing miracle is another great catch of fish. This final miraculous catch of fish led to Peter and Christ’s three-fold restoration account.
Another Miraculous Catch
In John 21:3, the failure in fishing scenario is replayed and John was first to recognize the Lord due to his ability to discern, as he regularly put facts together quickly and regularly deducted proper conclusions, as he did with the grave clothes of Jesus, declaring He had risen.
Peter’s Triple Denial and Three-fold Restoration
After a night of barren fishing, things suddenly changed. They went from empty nets to a net full of fish: 153 to be exact. Jesus has appeared twice to all the disciples without restoring Peter, so now in front of everyone He commences a process by asking the question, “Do you love Me?” Jesus is addressing him publicly for a number of reasons.
During this dialogue, we are presented with two types of love: Agape and Phileo. Agape speaks of the most powerful, noblest type of love: sacrificial love. Agape love is more than a feeling—it is an act of the will. This is the love that God has for His people and that prompted the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus, for the sins of humanity. Jesus was Agape love personified and Christians are to love one another with the same Agape love.
Phileo love refers to brotherly love and is most often exhibited in a close friendship. Best friends will display this generous and affectionate love for each other as each seeks to make the other happy. The Scriptural account of David and Jonathan is an excellent illustration of Phileo love. Each time Jesus is asking him if he Agapao him, Peter cannot bring himself to say yes. Peter could only respond as a brother.
The third time he instead asks if you Phileo me? Peter was especially grieved the third time Jesus asked because he already said he Phileo’s Him. Peter’s heart was wounded, knowing how he had disappointed the Lord. Yet the Lord was using these three questions to re-commission him for his restoration and future ministry. Jesus then again encourages him to “feed His sheep” and take care for their welfare: the mature believers, and the young believers.
This paper has illustrated the good, the bad, and the ugly events of Peter’s life and many believers can relate to Peter on some, if not multiple levels. Seeing the multitude of events in Peter’s story reveals mountain top experiences, where God’s presence is radiant and everywhere, to the bottomless abyss, where coldness and darkness are around every turn. As most people have found, life rarely follows a straight line; it is instead full of twists and turns.
Through Edward Gibbon’s account, we find, “One hundred and fifty years after the glorious deaths of St. Peter and St. Paul, the Vatican and the Ostian road were distinguished by the tombs, or rather by the trophies, of those spiritual heroes.” Regardless of the path one takes, Peter’s life demonstrates, God’s plan and purpose did not change based on his failures. The same is true with believes today, as God promises to use anything for good when we serve Him and are called according to His purpose.
Pat Marrin does a brilliant job highlighting Peter’s mountaintop and valley experiences:
Walking on water, Peter proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah and being called the rock and keeper of the keys, and Peter being sharply rebuked for resisting Jesus’ prediction of his coming suffering and death… Jesus’ most trusted disciple; the story of the miraculous catch of fish; the healing of his mother-in-law; his presence with James and John at the Transfiguration; the raising of the daughter of Jairus; at the Last Supper, his reluctance to let Jesus wash his feet; his boast that he would never deny Jesus, then his triple denial; his key role as witness to the Resurrection, including his poignant reconciliation and commissioning by Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias.
The Story and life of Peter is one of the greatest examples in the Bible of God’s amazing unconditional love and complete restoration and it should be reassuring to followers of Christ, that the same love, acceptance, and forgiveness Peter experienced is available to all who ask. The restoration Peter underwent demonstrated how love for Christ and others were ultimately the prerequisites for serving.
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