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The Apostle Peter

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Peter the Apostle An apostle of Jesus Christ and one of the three named pillars of the early church in Jerusalem, along with James and John. Peter was the first Christian missionary to the Gentiles, a Christian missionary to the Jews, and a Christian martyr in Rome.
Peter was as unlikely a man as any to become one of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers and to lead a movement that would change the world for all time. He was a crude and probably only basically educated man, although he was also a man of great abilities.
Peter is called by four names in the New Testament. His Hebrew name was Simeon (שמעון), although the Greek New Testament renders this as Simon (Σίμων). His Hebrew cognomen was Kepha (כפא), “Rock,” which is transliterated in the Greek as Cephas (Κηφᾶς). This is translated into the Greek for “Rock,” Petros (Πέτρος), which becomes Peter in English. Thus in English translations of the Bible he is in various passages called Simon, Cephas, and Peter.
Introduction to Peter
Simon Peter is one of Jesus’ first disciples and later becomes the spokesman of the Twelve. Although Jesus gives Simon the name “Peter” (“rock”; Πέτρος, Petros; in Matt 16:18; Mark 3:16;
Matthew 16:18 KJV 1900
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Mark 3:16 KJV 1900
And Simon he surnamed Peter;
and Κηϕᾶς, Kēphas; in John 1:42),
John 1:42 KJV 1900
And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.
His ability to live up to his name (rock) is often in doubt in the Gospels. Why do I say that?
Peter’s rebuke of the Lord (Matt 16:22–23; Mark 8:32–33), his falling asleep in the garden (Matt 26:40; Mark 14:37), his attack on Malchus (Mark 14:47; John 18:10–11), and his denial of Jesus (Matt 26:69–75; Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:55–61; John 18:15–27) all support this perception.
However, Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter in John 21:15–17 (“Do you love Me … feed My sheep”) communicates His confidence in and selection of him as the head of the early church.
Luke demonstrates this in the book of Acts, which portrays Peter as a bold proclaimer of the gospel (Acts 2:14–41; 3:12–26; 4:8–21), a miracle worker (Acts 3:1–11; 9:32–35, 38–42), an authoritative figure in the early church (Acts 1:15–26; 5:3–10; 8:14–17; 15:7–11), the first missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1–45), and a missionary to the Jews outside of Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). Ultimately, Peter demonstrates his total devotion as a follower of Jesus when he dies a martyr’s death in Rome .
Peter in the New Testament
The New Testament provides limited information on Peter’s life and background before his call to discipleship. The Apostle Peter was a crude and probably only basically educated man, although he was also a man of great abilities. Luke 5:10 says:
Luke 5:10 KJV 1900
And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
Peter was a partner with Zebedee and his sons (Luke 5:10) in a very successful fishing business, as is witnessed by the fact that he owned his own boat (Luke 5:3).
Luke 5:3 KJV 1900
And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
A fishing boat was an extremely expensive item, and few Galilean fishermen could afford to own one. Peter grew up in Bethsaida (Βηθσαϊδά, Bēthsaida), a fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He was the son of Jonas (Matt. 16:17) and the brother of Andrew, who lived with him (Mark 1:29). We know that he was married, because Jesus healed his mother-in-law (Luke 4:38),
Luke 4:38 KJV 1900
And he arose out of the synagogue, and entered into Simon’s house. And Simon’s wife’s mother was taken with a great fever; and they besought him for her.
and Paul referred to Peter bringing his wife with him on various journeys (1 Cor. 9:5).
1 Corinthians 9:5 KJV 1900
Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
They lived in Capernaum, the village that Jesus chose to be his home after he was rejected in Nazareth (Matt. 4:13).
Matthew 4:13 KJV 1900
And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim:
Peter and Andrew lived in Capernaum and were business partners with Zebedee and his sons James and John at the time that the four were called to become followers of Jesus. There is some evidence that Zebedee’s wife Salome was Jesus’ aunt. Since Capernaum was only about a day’s journey from Nazareth, it is entirely possible that Jesus knew Zebedee, his sons James and John, and their friends Peter and Andrew for many years before Jesus called them to be his disciples. Jesus and Peter may have played together when they were boys.
The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all tell the story of Jesus’ calling Peter, Andrew, James, and John to be his disciples as he was walking along the Sea of Galilee, and they immediately dropped what they were doing and followed him.
The four were part of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers, although Andrew seems to have taken the least important place among the four (see Twelve Apostles, The).
John places the meeting of Jesus and Peter at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when he was baptized by John the Baptist. According to John, two of the Baptist’s disciples left him to follow Jesus (John 1:35ff.).
John 1:35–37 KJV 1900
Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.
One of them was Andrew (the other is unnamed), who then brought his brother Simon to Jesus.
Jesus gave Simon the cognomen Cephas, “Rock,” which became translated from the Greek as Peter. The giving of a cognomen was taken very seriously in those days, so it would seem that Jesus recognized Peter’s strength of character despite his flaws and was willing to establish him as a source of strength to the others.
It is apparent that from the beginning Peter was the foremost of the apostles. He often spoke for the group; when he rebuked Jesus for talking about his suffering and death, Jesus looked at the disciples and then rebuked Peter (Mark 8:32), recognizing that Peter’s thoughts reflected the mind of the group.
Mark 8:32–34 KJV 1900
And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men. And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
He was also the first mentioned in most passages that name disciples, and he was the first in the inner circle. Only Peter, James, and John were invited to witness the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:37),
Mark 5:37 KJV 1900
And he suffered no man to follow him, save Peter, and James, and John the brother of James.
and only they were with Jesus at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28)
Luke 9:28 KJV 1900
And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.
and in the Garden of Gethsemene (Mark 14:33).
Mark 14:33 KJV 1900
And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy;
Although he was impetuous, hot-tempered (John 18:10 ),
John 18:10 KJV 1900
Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.
and occasionally fearful (Matt. 14:29–30),
Matthew 14:29–30 KJV 1900
And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
Peter had a natural leadership ability and a devotion to Jesus and his teachings that was unparalleled among Jesus’ followers. He often understood Jesus’ teachings more quickly than the rest, and he had insights that clearly demonstrated an innate grasp of the nature of his master (Matt. 16:16).
Matthew 16:16 KJV 1900
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
On the other hand, his rashness also often led him to miss the point completely (Matt. 17:4).
Matthew 17:4 KJV 1900
Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
In a moment of terror he three times denied even knowing Jesus. This is one of the things that endears him to so many people—he was completely human, with all the flaws and warts that all humans have, yet despite this he was a paragon of faith and strength.
It is noteworthy that he denied Jesus three times, yet shortly after the Resurrection Jesus asked him, “Peter, do you love me?” He asked this three times (the significance of the number could not have escaped Peter). When Peter affirmed that he did, Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15ff.).
John 21:15 KJV 1900
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
Peter’s prominence is demonstrated in many other ways. It was his house to which Jesus went in Capernaum, it was his boat from which Jesus preached to the crowd on the shore, and it was to Peter that Jesus entrusted “the keys of the kingdom.”
Peter was the first to come to Jesus’ defense at his arrest, and it was Peter who gathered the disciples together again when they fled. Although he let his fear get the best of him and denied knowing Jesus, he quickly rallied, accepted and confronted his weakness, and again became the leader of the twelve.
He was one of the first witnesses of the Resurrection, and it was he whom Jesus commanded, “Feed my sheep.” In the formative days of the church, Paul was the theologian and James the administrator, but it was unquestionably Peter who was the bond that represented the unity of the church.
After the Resurrection of Jesus, in Acts chapter 1, the disciples were gathered together on the Day of Pentecost, an important Jewish feast that was observed fifty days after Passover. They were huddled together in hiding, in fear of the Jews who had agitated for the death of Jesus. Peter had rallied them together and had been a source of strength and courage, but they were nonetheless frightened and confused about what to do next (Acts 1:15ff.).
Acts 1:15 KJV 1900
And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)
In Acts 1, Peter demonstrates his leadership among the disciples as they pray together, seeking guidance from God. Peter leads the group (about 120 people) to select from among themselves an apostle to replace Judas. Agreeing with Peter, the group takes steps to fill the void, finally selecting Matthias as the new apostle to accompany the remaining eleven.
In Acts 2, Peter, along with the other followers of Jesus, are filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Standing with the other 11 apostles, Peter preaches in response to the questions of the crowd, explaining to them the meaning of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Peter’s leadership resulted in about 3,000 people being added to the early church.
Once again, in Acts 3, Peter is the chief character. Peter and John are headed to the temple to pray when they meet a man who is lame from birth. Peter tells the man to “get up and walk,” and he is healed. Peter then uses the attention garnered from this miracle as an opportunity to evangelize the crowd.
Acts 4 continues the story with Peter and John being arrested. The following day they are taken to a gathering where all the rulers, elders, and scribes of Jerusalem are present, along with Caiaphas, the high priest.
Peter boldly proclaims the story of Jesus and His salvation. The leaders threaten them and demand that they cease teaching about Jesus. Peter and John refuse but are ultimately released.
Acts 5 portrays Peter as discerning and powerful. Ananias presents an offering to the church in a misleading and deceitful manner. Peter calls out the lie, and Ananias subsequently dies at his feet.
Three hours later, Ananias’ wife, Sapphira, dies in a similar manner. Peter becomes so powerful that the sick and possessed are healed merely with the touch of his shadow (5:15). Later in the chapter, Peter rebukes the council of Pharisees (5:29), only to be beaten along with other believers who were present (5:40).
In Acts 8, Peter and John travel to Samaria to verify that the people there have received the Word of God. A man identified as Simon the Magician observes the giving of the Holy Spirit by Peter and wishes to obtain this gift through financial means. The account ends with Peter severely rebuking Simon for his inappropriate request.
In Acts 9, Peter visits the believers in Lydda and heals a man who was paralyzed for eight years. After hearing about a deceased believer in the nearby town of Joppa, Peter travels to her deathbed. He prays and commands the woman to “get up,” and she returns to life. Because of Peter’s mighty deeds, many people believe in Jesus.
Acts 10 tells the story of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius. After Peter receives a vision from the Lord, men from Cornelius’ household invite Peter to be their guest. Peter agrees, travels to Cornelius’ residence, and proclaims the message of Jesus as relevant to all nations (ἔθνος, ethnos).
As Peter is preaching, the Holy Spirit is given to those present in Cornelius’ household, including Gentiles. This marks the third time that Peter has been involved in the giving of the Holy Spirit—in Jerusalem among the Jews, in Samaria among the Samaritans, and in Caesarea among the Gentiles. But when Peter returns to Jerusalem, he is challenged by some Jewish Christians regarding his visit to Gentiles.
Acts 11 records his response to their misgivings. Once again, Acts shows how highly respected Peter is among his peers, as they marvel that God has seen fit to give the Holy Spirit to Gentiles.
Acts 12 records King Herod’s (Agrippa I) opposition to the fledgling church and to Peter as its leader. Herod arrests Peter with the intention of executing him. However, Peter is miraculously saved by an angel who leads him out of prison unscathed.
Following a brief meeting with some believers, Peter departs to another place (12:17). Although the narrative does not specify his destination, there has been much speculation; Rome, Antioch, Mesopotamia, Corinth, and Edessa are all possibilities.
Peter makes one final appearance in Acts 15. Here, the Jerusalem council convenes to discuss how the Gentiles are to be included among the people of God. Peter’s speech resolves the matter following much debate.
He recounts how God used him to include the Gentiles without any additional “yoke.” Barnabas and Paul affirm Peter’s conclusion with their testimony. James, the brother of Jesus, confirms the work of God and among the Gentiles, with the added declaration that they need not be circumcised to join the people of God.
Peter’s influence, coupled with James’ interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, signals a decisive shift in the early church with permanent ramifications.
1 & 2nd Peter
Peter’s last mission is not recorded in the Bible, but the strength of tradition is almost incontrovertible. It was not to the Jews at all, but to Rome.
1 Peter 5:13 KJV 1900
The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.
Rome was in effect the heart of the world at that time. There is little information on why he went there or how long he stayed, although very strong ancient tradition says that he died there.
The tradition goes on to say that he died in Nero’s persecution at the same time as Paul, and that he was martyred by being crucified upside-down. There is no reason to doubt this, and archaeological studies have given further strength to the ancient tradition that the bones in St. Peter’s Basilica that are claimed to be his may be genuine.
Paul, who unquestionably went to Rome, makes no mention of Peter’s presence. We may infer from this that Peter had not been there before Paul arrived and was not there at least in the earlier part of Paul’s time there.
What can we learn from Peter’s life? Here are a few lessons:
Jesus overcomes fear. Whether stepping out of a boat onto a tossing sea or stepping across the threshold of a Gentile home for the first time, Peter found courage in following Christ.
1 John 4:18 KJV 1900
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
Jesus forgives unfaithfulness. After he had boasted of his fidelity, Peter fervently denied the Lord three times. It seemed that Peter had burned his bridges, but Jesus lovingly rebuilt them and restored Peter to service. Peter was a former failure, but, with Jesus, failure is not the end.
2 Timothy 2:13 KJV 1900
If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.
Jesus patiently teaches. Over and over, Peter needed correction, and the Lord gave it with patience, firmness, and love. The Master Teacher looks for students willing to learn.
Psalm 32:8 KJV 1900
I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.
Jesus sees us as He intends us to be. The very first time they met, Jesus called Simon “Peter.” The rough and reckless fisherman was, in Jesus’ eyes, a firm and faithful rock.
Philippians 1:6 KJV 1900
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:
Jesus uses unlikely heroes. Peter was a fisherman from Galilee, but Jesus called him to be a fisher of men (Luke 5:10). Because Peter was willing to leave all he had to follow Jesus, God used him in great ways. As Peter preached, people were amazed at his boldness because he was “unschooled” and “ordinary.”
Acts 4:13 KJV 1900
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.
But then they took note that Peter “had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Being with Jesus makes all the difference.
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