By Bruce Edwards, Jr.
Many things have been said in regard to the character of the apostle Peter. Such epithets as “impetuous,” “brash,” “impulsive,” “tempestuous,” “aggressive,” and so on, have been uttered with respect to Peter and his manner. Perhaps, however, the one term that fits him most properly is the term human. It has been observed that “the character of Peter is one of the most vividly drawn and charming in the New Testament …. His sheer humanness has made him one of the most beloved and winsome members of the apostolic band.1
There is much in Peter that endears him to one. His eagerness and aggressiveness at once command one’s attention; yet it is these very attributes that foster the inconsistencies of Peter’s behavior. Guided by quick impulse rather than logical reasoning, Peter was a man of action not a passive bystander. In his boldness he manifests the overwhelming self-confidence which made him an unconscious leader of the troupe which the Lord had appointed to be His apostles. Indeed it is significant that in the listings of the twelve Peter is always named first (cf. Mk. 3:16-19; Lk. 6:14-16; Mt. 10:2-4; Acts 1:13-14). Thus, Peter was naturally the unofficial spokesman of the group when Jesus directed pertinent questions to His chosen messengers.
All these facts simply point out that the incidents and circumstances in which one finds Peter are natural outgrowths of Peter’s strong character traits; but this is yet another way to reiterate that Peter was human. One can identify with him more than any other apostle or evangelist in the New Testament. Paul, in all his accomplishments and eventful journeys, seems at times superhuman. Of what may be known of the other apostles there is little which might give one a true picture of their personalities. Consequently, the life of Peter serves as a stirring chronicle of the triumph of determined faith and love for the Lord over an unbalanced impetuosity and zeal.
As John records the first meeting of the Lord and His future disciple, one finds Jesus addressed him thus, “Thou art Simon, the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas;” John then adds a significant parenthetical explanation, “which is by interpretation, Peter,” meaning “rock or stone.” At this point Peter was far from being as stable and steadfast as a rock-but the Lord knows how to transform men for His service; “He (Christ) managed the tumultuous and fluctuating elements of his (Peter’s) character as a perfect rider does a high nettled horse. He transformed a nature as unstable as water into the consistency of a rock.” 2
In a sense, the life of Peter is an essay on the growth and maturation of the Christian. The story of Peter and his work as an apostle parallels the stormy life of every Christian whose faith is tried and tested. What the Lord worked in Peter can be worked in the life of every man who commits his life to the obedience of his Lord and Master. The purpose of this article will be to examine certain incidents in the life of Peter and determine their contribution to the development of the strong faith and hope he evidenced in his two epistles. Such incidents no doubt left indelible impressions upon the mind of one like Peter and thus their influences cannot be underestimated. It is thus affirmed that through the study of Peter and his evolution from an impulsive, vacillating disciple to an humble, mature Christian one may find greater strength and determination to serve the Master.
Peter and Faith
Peter addresses his second epistle “to them that have obtained a like precious faith with us . . . . ” His thoughts in the remainder of the paragraph (vss. 2-11) reflect the inward maturity and growth that the apostle had experienced through his life. Peter realized that a mature faith does not develop overnight, but rather in the patience of a life lived in obedience to Christ. In view of the “precious and exceeding great promises” that God has granted to His people, Peter exhorts those of “like precious” faith to add in all diligence virtue to their faith and “in virtue knowledge; and in knowledge self-control; and in self-control patience; and in patience godliness; and in godliness brotherly kindness; and in brotherly kindness love.” Thus, Peter realized the diligence required in strengthening and maintaining a mature faith, “Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble . . . .”
However, the strong faith Peter manifests in this second epistle was not always characteristic of his personality. Early in his discipleship, Peter’s impulsive devotion led him into innumerable situations which revealed his true deficiency of faith. In Mt. 14, we find the disciples adrift upon the sea during a strong wind. Their Master then began to walk out to them upon the sea at the fourth watch. When Jesus identified himself, impetuous Peter answered, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee upon the waters.” As Jesus beckoned him, Peter began his walk upon the water only to become afraid midway through his trek; at this point he began to sink and called out, “Lord, save me.” As Jesus took hold of him, He rebuked Peter, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” As the babe in Christ who struggles in his weak faith to please the Lord, Peter did not possess the mature faith required to finish his walk on the sea.
In this example, one may see the importance of exhorting and encouraging those who are not yet able to claim a strong, mature faith. Like Peter, such Christians need to be nurtured and admonished to the end that they may “grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15).
Peter and the Sense of Sin
Throughout Peter’s two epistles there is a manifestation of a profound sense of sin and the need for redemption. Peter knew what sin was, as he himself, through the weakness of the flesh, fell victim to the beguiling of Satan. In Luke 5:8, Peter, after witnessing the wonderful draught of fishes, fell at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Peter’s own awareness of sin and the necessity of salvation from that sin became more acute in his subsequent denial of the Lord. In Mark 14, the gospel writer records the utter repudiation of the Lord which Peter exhibited, even to the point of cursing and swearing. Here is boastful, exuberant Peter who earlier had told Jesus, “Although all be offended, yet will not I . . . . If I must die with thee, I will not deny thee” (Mk. 14:29,21), now denying Him. However, as the cock crew, Peter remembered the words of his Lord and went out and wept bitterly-he realized the grievous nature of his sin.
Consequently, there is no one better equipped to speak of the need or the preciousness of redemption than Peter. In essence, there is very little difference between the sin of Judas and the sin of Peter; the subsequent actions of the two men, however, illustrate the two possible roads one may travel: Peter repented, Judas did not. Against his background, Peter may well speak of the glorious nature of redemption, “knowing that ye were redeemed, not with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18, 19).
Much is made of the conversion of Paul and its traumatic effect upon him, but who may know the weight of sin better than Peter? Who may discuss forgiveness with more understanding than he who himself asked the Lord, “how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times?” (Mt. 18:29) It is thus shown that the apostle Peter was well acquainted with the destructive power of sin and the sweet salvation Christ wrought with His blood. This awareness helped to increase Peter’s faith and commitment to the Lord as it may well serve those who heed Peter’s words.
Peter and the Foundation of the Church
For centuries, Rome has laid claim to Peter as the first Pope in lieu of Mt. 16:18. Peter, they would contend, is the “rock” upon which Christ built His church, Peter was the foundation! Consequently, millions of Roman Catholics throughout the history of their apostasy have put their faith in no less than a “stable, tried stone” as impulsive, impetuous Peter! Peter was well aware of his limitations and himself put aside this absurd fallacy in the second chapter of his first epistle: ‘. . . unto whom coming, a living stone, rejected indeed of men, but with God elect, precious, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Because it is contained in scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: And he that believeth on him shall not be put to shame. For you therefore that believe is the preciousness: but for such as disbelieve, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; and, A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; for they stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed” (1 Pet. 2:4-8). Peter’s faith was not grounded in the stability of any man- for he realized that there is only one true foundation of the church, “For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Thus, the Christian who desires a strong faith, a firmly maturing faith places his trust in the true rock, namely Christ Jesus!
Peter and Humility
Peter exhorted his readers to “gird themselves with humility” (1 Pet. 5:5). He no doubt recalled the unforgettable lesson of humility which Jesus had taught them as recorded in John 13: ‘Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he came forth from God, and goeth unto God, riseth from supper, and layeth aside his garments; and he took a towel, and girded himself. Then he poureth water into the basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded …. So when he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and sat down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, A servant is not greater than his lord; neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them “(Jn. 13:3-5; 12-17). At this time neither Peter nor the other disciples fully understood the implication of Christ’s example; but later, upon mature reflection, Peter would realize the humility necessary to obedient faith. “Yea all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Pet. 5:5-6). Such is the humble attitude of submissiveness that breeds a maturing, ever-increasing faith.
Peter and the Sufferings of Christ with the Glories That Should Follow
Peter informs his readers that he was an eye-witness of the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet. 5:1). Peter was there; he saw the pain, the humiliation, the agony of the forsaken Son of God. Such an experience would be forever etched in the mind of the apostle. His cognizance of the suffering of Christ for the sins of mankind led him to an ever-deepening, ever increasing appreciation of His sacrifice. Peter could not but strengthen his faith in his recollection: “For this is acceptable, if for conscience toward God a man endureth griefs, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye sin, and are buffeted for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree, that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Pet. 2:19-24). Upon the basis of this testimony, the reader may yet increase his own faith, but this is only one side of the canvas which Peter is painting. Peter speaks of the prophets who spoke “beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them” (1 Pet. 1:11). Peter saw more than the humiliation and apparent defeat of the Messiah-he also witnessed the transfiguration! Peter’s mature faith was not predicated upon a morbid contemplation of Christ’s sufferings, but rather a strong trust in God’s approval of His Son, Jesus: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there was borne such a voice to him by the Majestic Glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom 1 am well pleased: and this voice we ourselves heard borne out of heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount” (2 Pet. 1:16-18).
Even in the transfiguration, however, the Son of God had not complete glory. The resurrection of the dead Savior confirmed His testimony, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). Yes, Peter had seen His glory at the transfiguration and had witnessed the sufferings of his Master at the cross, but the crowning, faith-building incident that was the culmination of the Messiah’s part in the scheme of redemption was the resurrection.
What unforgettable memories Peter must have had concerning this stupefying event that changed the course of mankind! The angel that spoke to Mary made special mention of Peter who no doubt felt as an outcast for his betrayal (Mk. 16:7). When Peter heard that his Master’s body was missing, he and John ran to the tomb exuberantly; while John remained outside and carefully stooped to look in, Peter boisterously ran into the tomb to see for himself (Jn. 20:3-10). Characteristically, the Lord appeared first to Peter (Lk. 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5) before any of the other disciples. Thus, Peter had a vivid treasure house of memories from which to paint the complete picture of the Master and His work.
In pondering the things he had seen and heard, Peter grew in faith; in relating these things to others in sermons and epistles, he evokes a maturing faith in those who would believe: “. . . but insomuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s .sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory also ye may rejoice with exceeding joy. If ye are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are ye; because the Spirit of glory and the Spirit of God resteth upon you” (I Pet. 4:13, 14). As with Peter, the maturing faith of a Christian will ultimately enable him to be “a partaker of the glory to be revealed” (1 Pet. 5:1).
Peter and Civil Government
Part of the devotion of a Christian is to learn to accept and obey authority. A mature faith leads one to obey and submit whenever the edict of a man to whom one is bound does not conflict with the law of God. To this end, Peter exhorted his readers who faced a severe, “fiery” trial to be subject to civil government: “Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s .sake: whether to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evil-doers and for praise to them that do well. For so is the will of God, that by well-doing ye should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free. and not using your freedom for a cloak of tvvckedness. but as bondservants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (I Pet. 2:13-I 7).
The principles which Peter pronounces here he learned by no less a source than his Lord and Master! Matthew records in his gospel the incident at Capernaum in which Peter was asked by the publicans whether his Master paid the temple tax. After replying in the affirmative, Peter returns to his Lord for the half-Shekel: ‘And when he came into the house. Jesus spake first to him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? the kings of the earth, from whom do they receive toll or tribute? from their sons, or from ,strangers? And when he said, From strangers, Jesus said unto him. Therefore the sons are free. But, lest we cause them to stumble. go thou to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a shekel: that take, and give unto them for me and thee “(Mt. 17:25-27).
Who had more right to disobey the civil and religious law concerning the temple tax than Jesus, whose Father owned the temple? Yet, Jesus would not disobey these authorities that no one should stumble. It is for the Christian “to do well” to fight against “the ignorance of foolish men.” To Peter, the mature, steadfast faith worked the very principle his Master had taught in His own life.
The early discipleship of the apostle Peter is filled with the sins and mistakes of judgment and reasoning which characterize all those who are born again into God’s family. Babes in Christ do not magically attain to a full realization and appreciation of God’s will; it is only through subsequent diligence in study, the full commitment of the heart to God, and a humble, submissive acquiesence to His will whereby one may obtain a mature faith.
Peter knew the trials of faith, the profound severity of sin, and the dire need of salvation; he found his security in a deep abiding faith in the vicarious atonement of Christ on the cross, the foundation of His church being His own claim to deity. Peter’s mature faith manifested itself in humble submission to God and man. He could be sympathetic, yet firm to the erring child, for he had known sin, “and the God of all grace, who called you unto His eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, strengthen you” (1 Pet. 5:10).
In the evening of his life, Peter could write to his brethren in Christ, then and now, and exhort them to a mature faith centered solely in Christ, that through obedience to the truth, the proof of their faith, “being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7).
1. D.F. Hiebart, “Simon Peter,” The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1967), p. 642.
2. W.S. Mc Birnie, The Search for the 12 Apostles (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1973). p. 45.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:26, p. 9-12
May 2, 1974