Category: Peter

jesus-with-crown-of-thorns2The Apostle Peter (died ca. 64). Quoted in the Gospel of Matthew. “You Are the Christ!”

Usually the better we get to know someone, the less perfect we find them. The opposite was true for those who walked with Jesus in the first century. Put yourself in Peter’s place.

Peter has lived with Jesus for months. He’s seen him tired, hungry, and thirsty; he’s seen him angry; he’s heard him ask questions to gather facts the way any other person does. In other words, Peter has seen Jesus as fully human. In spite of these facts, Peter declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” —a statement which is shocking to first-century Jewish ears.

Twenty centuries later, western readers may not feel the impact of those words as Peter’s Jewish contemporaries did. The success of Christianity will have made it commonplace to think of sons and daughters of God.

First-century cultures outside Israel might not feel the impact either. In Greek culture, a son of a god is likely to be a thug and lecher like Hercules, behaving no nobler than the worst idols in his diabolical pantheon. In far eastern cultures, almost anything useful or interesting can be treated as an object of worship. But coming out of a Jewish culture that has rejected idolatry, Peter’s words are extraordinary.

Peter’s Jewish contemporaries think of God as high above all highness, pure above all human purity. To be a son of God is to have the character of God. For Peter to say this is to say, “I see in you, Jesus, a moral and spiritual character that puts you on an equal footing with God—a partaker of his nature.” This is either an astute observation or a terrible blasphemy.

Christ’s immediate reaction, however, is to praise Simon Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon son of John, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Peter has recognized a radical truth about Christ’s person that millions of Christians have endorsed ever since.

A short time after Peter’s earth-shaking declaration, the Pharisees scheme to have Jesus executed. One reason they give for their action parallels Peter’s great confession. According to the Pharisees, Jesus deserves to die because, “You, being a man, make yourself equal to God.”

The Roman Catholic Church sees Peter as the first pope upon whom God had chosen to build His church (Matthew 16:18). It holds that he had authority (primacy) over the other apostles. The Roman Catholic Church maintains that sometime after the recorded events of the book of Acts, the Apostle Peter became the first bishop of Rome, and that the Roman bishop was accepted by the early church as the central authority among all of the churches. It teaches that God passed Peter’s apostolic authority to those who later filled his seat as bishop of Rome. This teaching that God passed on Peter’s apostolic authority to the subsequent bishops is referred to as “apostolic succession.”

The Roman Catholic Church also holds that Peter and the subsequent popes were and are infallible when addressing issues “ex cathedra,” from their position and authority as pope. It teaches that this infallibility gives the pope the ability to guide the church without error. The Roman Catholic Church claims that it can trace an unbroken line of popes back to St. Peter, citing this as evidence that it is the true church, since, according to their interpretation of Matthew 16:18, Christ built His church upon Peter.

But while Peter was central in the early spread of the gospel (part of the meaning behind Matthew 16:18-19), the teaching of Scripture, taken in context, nowhere declares that he was in authority over the other apostles, or over the church (having primacy). See Acts 15:1-23; Galatians 2:1-14; and 1 Peter 5:1-5. Nor is it ever taught in Scripture that the bishop of Rome, or any other bishop, was to have primacy over the church. Scripture does not even explicitly record Peter even being in Rome. Rather there is only one reference in Scripture of Peter writing from “Babylon,” a name sometimes applied to Rome (1 Peter 5:13). Primarily upon this and the historical rise of the influence of the Bishop of Rome come the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching of the primacy of the bishop of Rome. However, Scripture shows that Peter’s authority was shared by the other apostles (Ephesians 2:19-20), and the “loosing and binding” authority attributed to him was likewise shared by the local churches, not just their church leaders (see Matthew 18:15-19; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 13:10; Titus 2:15; 3:10-11).

Also, nowhere does Scripture state that, in order to keep the church from error, the authority of the apostles was passed on to those they ordained (the idea behind apostolic succession). Apostolic succession is “read into” those verses that the Roman Catholic Church uses to support this doctrine (2 Timothy 2:2; 4:2-5; Titus 1:5; 2:1; 2:15; 1 Timothy 5:19-22). Paul does NOT call on believers in various churches to receive Titus, Timothy, and other church leaders based on their authority as bishops or their having apostolic authority, but rather based upon their being fellow laborers with him (1 Corinthians 16:10; 16:16; 2 Corinthians 8:23).

What Scripture DOES teach is that false teachings would arise even from among church leaders, and that Christians were to compare the teachings of these later church leaders with Scripture, which alone is infallible (Matthew 5:18; Psalm 19:7-8; 119:160; Proverbs 30:5; John 17:17; 2 Peter 1:19-21). The Bible does not teach that the apostles were infallible, apart from what was written by them and incorporated into Scripture. Paul, in talking to the church leaders in the large city of Ephesus, makes note of coming false teachers. To fight against their error does NOT commend them to “the apostles and those who would carry on their authority”; rather, Paul commends them to “God and to the word of His grace” (Acts 20:28-32). It is Scripture that was to be the infallible measuring stick for teaching and practice (2 Timothy 3:16-17), not apostolic successors. It is by examining the Scriptures that teachings are shown to be true or false (Acts 17:10-12).

Was Peter the first pope? The answer, according to Scripture, is a clear and emphatic “no.” Peter nowhere claims supremacy over the other apostles. Nowhere in his writings (1 and 2 Peter) did the Apostle Peter claim any special role, authority, or power over the church. Nowhere in Scripture does Peter, or any other apostle, state that their apostolic authority would be passed on to successors. Yes, the Apostle Peter had a leadership role among the disciples. Yes, Peter played a crucial role in the early spread of the gospel (Acts chapters 1-10). Yes, Peter was the “rock” that Christ predicted he would be (Matthew 16:18). However, these truths about Peter in no way give support to the concept that Peter was the first pope, or that he was the “supreme leader” over the apostles, or that his authority would be passed on to the bishops of Rome. Peter himself points us all to the true Shepherd and Overseer of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:25).

Simon Peter was one of the first followers of Jesus Christ. He was an outspoken  and ardent disciple, one of Jesus’ closest friends, an apostle, and a “pillar”  of the church (Galatians  2:9). Peter was enthusiastic, strong-willed, impulsive, and, at times,  brash. But for all his strengths, Peter had several failings in his life. Still,  the Lord who chose him continued to mold him into exactly who He intended Peter  to be.

Simon was originally from Bethsaida (John 1:44) and  lived in Capernaum (Mark 1:29),  both cities on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. He was married (1 Corinthians 9:5),  and he and James and John were partners in a profitable fishing business (Luke 5:10). Simon met Jesus  through his brother Andrew, who had followed Jesus after hearing John the  Baptist proclaim that Jesus was the Lamb of God (John  1:35-36). Andrew immediately went to find his brother to bring him to Jesus.  Upon meeting Simon, Jesus gave him a new name: Cephas (Aramaic) or Peter  (Greek), which means “rock” (John  1:40-42). Later, Jesus officially called Peter to follow Him, producing a  miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-7).  Immediately, Peter left everything behind to follow the Lord (verse 11).

For the next three years, Peter lived as a disciple of the Lord Jesus. Being a  natural-born leader, Peter became the de facto spokesman for the Twelve  (Matthew  15:15, 18:21, 19:27; Mark 11:21; Luke 8:45, 12:41; John 6:68, 13:6-9, 36). More significantly, it  was Peter who first confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,”  a truth which Jesus said was divinely revealed to Peter (Matthew  16:16-17).

Peter was part of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples,  along with James and John. Only those three were present when Jesus raised the  daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:37) and  when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain (Matthew  17:1). Peter and John were given the special task of preparing the final  Passover meal (Luke  22:8).

In several instances, Peter showed himself to be impetuous to  the point of rashness. For example, it was Peter who left the boat to walk on  the water to Jesus (Matthew  14:28-29)—and promptly took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink (verse 30).  It was Peter who took Jesus aside to rebuke Him for speaking of His death (Matthew 16:22)—and was  swiftly corrected by the Lord (verse 23). It was Peter who suggested erecting  three tabernacles to honor Moses, Elijah, and Jesus (Matthew 17:4)—and fell to  the ground in fearful silence at God’s glory (verses 5-6). It was Peter who drew  his sword and attacked the servant of the high priest (John 18:10)—and was immediately told to sheath his weapon  (verse 11). It was Peter who boasted that he would never forsake the Lord, even  if everyone else did (Matthew  26:33)—and later denied three times that he even knew the Lord (verses  70-74).

Through all of Peter’s ups and downs, the Lord Jesus remained  his loving Lord and faithful Guide. Jesus reaffirmed Simon as Peter, the “Rock,”  in Matthew  16:18-19, promising that he would be instrumental in establishing Jesus’  Church. After His resurrection, Jesus specifically named Peter as one who needed  to hear the good news (Mark 16:7).  And, repeating the miracle of the large catch of fish, Jesus made a special  point of forgiving and restoring Peter and re-commissioning him as an apostle  (John 21:6, 15-17).

On the day  of Pentecost, Peter was the main speaker to the crowd in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14ff), and the Church began with an influx of  about 3,000 new believers (verse 41). Later, Peter healed a lame beggar (Acts 3)  and preached boldly before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4). Even arrest, beatings, and  threats could not dampen Peter’s resolve to preach the risen Christ (Acts 5).

Jesus’ promise that Peter would be foundational in building the Church  was fulfilled in three stages: Peter preached on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  Then, he was present when the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8).  Finally, he was summoned to the home of the Roman centurion Cornelius, who also  believed and received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10). In this way, Peter “unlocked”  three different worlds and opened the door of the Church to Jews, Samaritans,  and Gentiles.

Even as an apostle, Peter experienced some growing pains.  At first, he had resisted taking the gospel to Cornelius, a Gentile. However,  when he saw the Romans receive the Holy Spirit in the same manner he had, Peter  concluded that “God does not show favoritism” (Acts 10:34).  After that, Peter strongly defended the Gentiles’ position as believers and was  adamant that they did not need to conform to Jewish law (Acts 15:7-11).

Another episode of growth in Peter’s life concerns his visit to Antioch, where  he enjoyed the fellowship of Gentile believers. However, when some legalistic  Jews arrived in Antioch, Peter, to appease them, withdrew from the Gentile  Christians. The Apostle Paul saw this as hypocrisy and called it such to Peter’s  face (Galatians  2:11-14).

Later in life, Peter spent time with John Mark (1 Peter 5:13), who wrote  the gospel of Mark based on Peter’s remembrances of his time with Jesus. Peter  wrote two inspired epistles, 1 and 2 Peter, between A.D. 60 and 68. Jesus said  that Peter would die a martyr’s death (John  21:18-19)—a prophecy fulfilled, presumably, during Nero’s reign. Tradition  has it that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome, and, although such the  story may be true, there is no scriptural or historical witness to the  particulars of Peter’s death.

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. “There is no fear in  love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John  4:18).

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. “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown  himself” (2 Timothy  2:13).

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. “I will instruct you and teach you  in the way you should go” (Psalm  32:8).

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. “He who began a good work in you will  carry it on to completion” (Philippians  1:6).

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.” But then they  took note that Peter “had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).  Being with Jesus makes all the difference.