The Life of the Apostle Peter

The story of Peter in the Bible is fascinating. His failings are not minimized, but still Peter shines as a man of faith and an example of zeal for God.

The apostle Peter, in many ways, was a lot like you and me. He was a small businessman, he had a wife, and he had partners in business. He was also dedicated to the truth, first following John the Baptist and then Jesus Christ.

Peter was a man of faith, dedicated to the truth of God, yet at the same time he made some rash and impetuous choices.

Interesting facts about Peter the apostle

When you look in the New Testament, Peter shows up all over the place.

It was Peter who objected to having his feet washed, but later agreed (John 13:6-10). It was Peter who cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest (John 18:10). It was Peter who noticed the withered fig tree (Mark 11:21).

Peter was one of the three who witnessed the transfiguration of Christ (Mark 9:2-6). And Peter saw the vision of the sheet filled with all kinds of animals (Acts 10:9-16).

Peter’s name was originally Simon, which meant “hearing” (Thayer’s). He was the son of a man named Jonah and was brought up in his father’s occupation, that of a fisherman (Matthew 4:18). In Matthew 8:14 we see where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, so we do know that he was married. We do not know if Peter had any children.

Peter and his brother Andrew were fishing partners with James and John, the sons of Zebedee (Luke 5:10). This is helpful to understand, as you’ll often see Peter, James and John grouped together. They had a previous, long-term friendship.

Peter’s calling

Andrew, Peter’s brother, was originally a disciple of John the Baptist. He told his brother that “we have found the Messiah” (John 1:35-41).

Jesus, upon meeting Simon, gave him the Aramaic name Cephas (Peter in Greek), “which is translated, A Stone” (verse 42).

Later, when Jesus chose His disciples, He reconfirmed Peter’s name change (Mark 3:13-19).

From that point forward, Peter was considered one of the prominent apostles. He is named first in every list of the apostles. We don’t know what led Jesus to name Peter first, whether it was his zeal, his energy or his absolute devotion to Christ. Whatever it was, Jesus also recognized Peter’s weaknesses and tendency to be rash at certain times.

Herein lies the paradox of Peter. One moment he was saying and doing the right things, and then, suddenly, his humanity would jump to the fore.

Peter correctly answers Jesus

In Matthew 16 Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” Peter correctly knew who Christ was: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It wasn’t human knowledge that told him that; it was spiritually discerned. For that, Christ praised him (Matthew 16:13-17).

But, shortly after Christ praised Peter, Peter felt he needed to rebuke Jesus for saying He would suffer and die. In return, Jesus said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (verses 21-23). “Satan” means adversary or accuser. Jesus strongly corrected Peter, telling him that his mind was not focused on the things of God.

Jesus and Peter walk on water

We see in another account, in Matthew 14, where Jesus had sent the disciples by boat, ahead of Him. The seas were rough, and sometime between 3 and 6 in the morning, Jesus came walking across the water toward the boat (Matthew 14:25-29).

Peter took the initiative and asked Christ to bid him to walk on the water. Without hesitation, he got out of the boat and began walking on the water!

What did that take, not only to ask to walk on the water, but to actually do it? It definitely wasn’t anything man said or did that prompted him to do that. It came from faith in God. However, almost immediately, Peter allowed his faith to weaken, and he began to sink (verses 30-31).

Peter experienced the wonder of walking on water. Other than Jesus, he is the only man recorded to have walked on water. He must have felt elated; he had confidence. He must have felt a surge of enthusiasm.

But then he got distracted, lost his focus and began to sink. The Bible doesn’t say how far he got, and it doesn’t say whether Christ carried Peter or helped him walk back to the boat. But remember, in the beginning, Peter stepped out on faith. He believed and was obedient.

Peter learned a lesson: whether he sank or walked on the water depended on where his focus was.

Peter denied Jesus

On the evening of Jesus’ last Passover, after the service had ended, Jesus said all of His disciples would stumble. It was Peter who said, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble” (Matthew 26:31-33).

Jesus replied that Peter wouldn’t just stumble, he would deny Him—and not just once, but three times. Yet Peter insisted, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” (verses 34-35).

But Peter did exactly as Jesus had predicted, denying Him three times before the rooster crowed. Peter was deeply ashamed of his behavior and “went out and wept bitterly” (verses 69-75).

Peter after the resurrection

Sometime shortly after Christ’s resurrection, seven of the apostles were together, and Peter suggested they go fishing. They fished all night and caught nothing.

The life of Peter can serve as inspiration and encouragement to us as we go forward in this troubled world.In the morning a stranger appeared on the shore and asked if they had any food. When they said no, He instructed them to cast their net one more time on the right side of the boat. The net came up overflowing, and it was at that point they recognized the stranger must be Jesus, and they made their way to shore.

While the others rowed, Peter jumped into the sea and swam to shore (John 21:1-8).

Think about the setting here from Peter’s perspective. On Passover night he had stood up and said he would never stumble because of Christ. Jesus had then told him that he’d deny Him three times before morning, and Peter had done just as Christ said. Since then Christ had died and had been resurrected and now was back among them.

Peter must have had conflicted feelings. He was overjoyed at seeing Christ again, yet at the same time he was ashamed, carrying the weight of having thoroughly messed up just days earlier. Would Jesus Christ say anything? Would He do anything? The whole act of Jesus’ feeding them breakfast must have been comforting. However, after the meal, Christ zeroed in on Peter (verses 15-17).

Jesus addressed him by his given name. He did not call him Cephas, or Peter, the name Christ had given him, but his original name, Simon, son of Jonah. This may have been to remind him that everything wasn’t as it had been.

Jesus Himself had given Simon the name of Peter, the stone. Here, Jesus was reminding Peter that at that moment, he wasn’t the stone, but was simply Simon.

In a few short verses, Christ encouraged Peter and gave him instruction and direction for going forward. What did Jesus say?

  1. Christ wanted Peter to confirm he loved Him. One of the two great commandments is to love God. Jesus wanted to make sure of Peter’s love of God.
  2. Christ also wanted to make sure Peter (and, by extension, all the ministers of the Church) would feed the flock—the members of His Church. Not just some of the flock. All of the flock.
  3. And, finally, Christ instructed Peter to follow Him.

Peter’s Pentecost sermon

Acts 2 describes the first Pentecost of the New Testament Church. The Holy Spirit was given in a powerful and spectacular way, and the Church was born.

Who was it that stood up and preached? It was Peter (Acts 2:14). Those who were there and heard his sermon were genuinely touched and asked what they should do since they realized that they were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. Peter powerfully called them to repentance and to be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit (verses 37-38).

From that point forward, Peter played a prominent part in the early Church. We find that, in addition to powerfully speaking, he went about healing (Acts 5:15; 9:32-34) and even restoring people to life (Acts 9:36-41).

Peter’s vision: God opens the door to the gentiles

Although Paul was commissioned as the apostle sent to the gentiles, it was Peter who was first shown that gentiles were now to be a part of the Church.

In those days Jews didn’t have anything to do with gentiles. In fact, Jews considered it to be against their law to associate with non-Jews (Acts 10:28). But in a vision Peter was shown that God was calling gentiles as well as Jews into His Church. Peter brought that revelation back to Jerusalem so the whole Church could now come to that understanding.

Peter shared meals with gentiles, and he was comfortable around gentiles even though he himself was a Jew (Acts 10:34-43; 11:11-18).

In Galatians 2:11-16 the apostle Paul recounted a time when Peter reverted to not eating with gentiles. But it seems reasonable to conclude that after Paul’s correction, Peter once again gave the gentiles the respect God expected from him.

Peter’s letters

Peter authored two of the books in the New Testament. These letters were written near the end of his life. He was committed to Christ and had been a leader in the Church for many years.

Peter relayed the same message he had received personally from Christ. He was interested in the genuineness and sincerity of the brethren’s faith. The elect Church members he was writing to loved Jesus Christ even though they were being tested, and even though they had never seen Him. Peter encouraged them to continue moving forward by following the words of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-9). For further study, see our articles “1 Peter” and “2 Peter.”

Death of Peter

Jesus Christ predicted Peter’s future and foretold how he would die (John 21:18-19). This was not spoken as something that perhaps might happen, but as being certain. Christ’s own words indicated that Peter would be martyred.

The Bible itself doesn’t tell us how Peter died. The most commonly accepted tradition says that Peter was crucified upside down. This tradition explains that Peter requested this form of martyrdom because he had denied Jesus and felt he was not worthy to die as Jesus had died. Again, this is only tradition, and the Bible does not confirm or deny that story.

Peter’s example, an inspiration for us

Peter was faithful, he was obedient, and he also grew in humility. It didn’t matter if he was a prominent apostle. He was able to admit when he was wrong, and he was able to change. It would appear that at times Peter struggled to be righteous and allowed his humanity to get the better of him. In spite of that, Peter was able to overcome, and he was used by God to become a powerful leader of the early Church. (For further information about Peter, read our article “On What Rock Did Christ Build His Church?”)

Christ knew what kind of person Peter was from the very first time they met. He knew Peter’s potential, and He knew that in spite of all the rash things Peter might do, that potential was still there.

Do you think it’s any less for us? The life of Peter can serve as inspiration and encouragement to us as we go forward in this troubled world.

About the Author

Justin Adkins

Justin Adkins is a pastor serving Church of God, a Worldwide Association, congregations in Little Rock and Sedgwick, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee.

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