That Peter occupied a position of leadership in the early Church no one will doubt, although the Book of the Acts makes it clear that in the sphere of evangelism Paul took the ascendency, whilst James (not the Apostle) early occupied a place of influence in the Jerusalem Church.
Peter always appears first in the lists of apostles in Holy Scripture. His very nature seems to demand that he takes the initiative. Since he was a man of action and also of quick speech, the combination of these two often caused him to speak before he thought, and not infrequently his outbursts brought rebuke. The Mount of Transfiguration is an illustration of this and the rebuke in this instance came from God Himself.
It is impossible in a comparatively short article to deal with all the incidents in this man’s life; it is proposed, therefore, to highlight some of the most important.
His Introduction to Christ
The Synoptic Gospels record the call of Peter, and if we had these only the impression would be gained that the Lord Jesus appeared suddenly upon Peter’s horizon and made such an impact that immediately, without any previous acquaintance, Peter left all and followed Him. The Gospel of John, however, records the fact that it was shortly after the baptism of the Lord Jesus that Peter was first introduced to Him. His brother Andrew led him to Christ. The Lord Jesus, who reads the heart and knows the possibilities in men, gave Peter a new name: no longer Simon but Peter – a man of stone, but not a foundation stone to the degree claimed by the Roman church. Rather he was used of God in combination with others to lay the foundation of revealed truth, so that believers are ‘built upon the foundation of the apostles’, Eph. 2. 20. He himself makes it clear in his first epistle that the most important stone in the building is Christ, I Pet. 2. 4-6.
The change of character foretold in this new name was gradual and not immediate. He needed the education and training given by the Lord and also the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit before his character could become like that displayed at Pentecost, liven then it must be observed that (as with us), the old nature was with him to the end, for the Epistle to the Galatians shows us that he did not stand firm in the matter of fellowship with the Gentiles, despite the vision vouchsafed to him at the time of the visit of the messengers from Cornelius.
Does the account in Luke 5 allude to a different occasion from that given in Matthew 4 and Mark 1? If so, Matthew and Mark refer to a call to service of a limited duration while Luke gives us the decision to abandon all and follow Him.
The Lord Jesus walked by the sea side, crowds pressing upon Him to hear the Word of God. He stepped into Peter’s boat and asked him to put off from the shore. Sitting down in the boat He preached to the people. Afterwards Peter was told to launch out into the deep for a draught. It is important to observe Peter’s reluctance. He is an experienced fisherman -he has toiled all night and caught nothing. Now One, who is not a fisherman by trade, tells him at the wrong time (early morning) to go to the wrong place (the deep)! With reluctance he launched forth, showing his scepticism, but at the same time acknowledging Christ as Captain – would there be veiled sarcasm or implied rebuke in the title? The subsequent miracle showed him that to doubt the Lord’s ability was sinful. That he realized the distance between the Lord and himself is revealed in the request ‘Depart from me’; at the same time he realized his utter need of Christ and fell at His knees addressing Him as Lord. At the promise ‘henceforth thou shalt catch men’ in order to keep them alive, Peter abandoned his boat and, with his companions, followed Christ.
The call of Peter is perhaps the most significant feature in his life. A modern writer puts it ‘There is a straight line from Moses’s call to the call of Isaiah and the call of Peter. The important feature in all these stories is similar. The aim of the call is to send a man on a specific mission. The first point in every case is an encounter with the Holy One. It is in the truest and the deepest sense a miracle and produces something in the life of the person it comes to; it gives a new direction to this life and it changes the destiny of a community through the work and devotion of the person called’.
Other highlights of his life and training are his commission to apostleship and his great confession of the Lord Jesus as the Son of the Living God – a confession which produced the promise of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. This promise found its fulfilment, for example, in the preaching of the Gospel at Pentecost and also, particularly, in preaching to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius. That the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, despite Peter’s confusion, made a profound impression can be seen from the reference to the Holy Mount in his second epistle.
Despite the warnings of Christ, Peter thought himself equal to any situation. He under-estimated the power of the enemy and ultimately the proud boaster, who declared he would be faithful though all others defected, succumbed to the accusation of a serving maid. He denied his Lord. The causes of his fall were self-sufficiency; sleeping in the garden when he should have been watching and praying; the sifting of Satan; following afar off. ‘Following’ is a key to the life of Peter. A good leader is one who is first and foremost the follower of another. Observe his own exhortation in 1 Peter 2. 21, that we should follow the steps of Christ.
The Lord Jesus not only prophesied his fall but also his restoration. In connection with his denial of Christ one should note the fire of coals and the thrice repeated question, for they also have their part in his restoration.
Restoration and Recommission
The denial of his Lord had a tremendous effect upon Peter. His bitter weeping was not the matter of a moment; it was deep seated. Hence follows the Lord’s commission on the Resurrection morn, ‘Go tell my disciples and Peter’. But the full restoration and recommission took place upon the shores of the sea where he first received the call of Christ. The heart searching questions of Christ followed an indication that Christ-directed service is successful service. It followed ministry to the body – a good breakfast and a warm fire – and gives us a pattern for dealing with those who have fallen. The Lord did not require any promises for the future, nor any excuses for the past. He showed clearly that Peter’s loyalty was no greater than that of the others, but nevertheless accepted, without reservation, the plain declaration of affection. The recommission gave an additional charge, namely that of shepherding the lambs and sheep. The statement of Christ concerning Peter catching men alive finds its fulfilment at Pentecost. The promise with regard to the keys is kept in the house of Cornelius when the doors are opened to the Gentiles. The strengthening and shepherding of the scattered people of God takes place in the two epistles that carry Peter’s name, and consists of ministering Christ, particularly as the Shepherd and Bishop, and also as the suffering Lamb, the Redeemer and Example of His people.