Last year, the Sunday morning Bible class I attend studied First and Second Peter. It was not a study of the epistles, 1 and 2 Peter, as you might surmise, but a little play on words to learn more about the man, Peter, from his life before Jesus came into his life and his life after Jesus came into his life. This was a remarkable study in humanity and salvation. I have added some historical information to the class material. I hope you enjoy this synopsis.
“First” Peter’s Life Before Christ
The apostle Peter may have been the most outspoken of the twelve apostles in Jesus’ ministry on earth. He certainly became one of the boldest witnesses for the faith. The beginnings of the first Peter were certainly humble in origin. He was born about 1 B.C. and died sometime around A.D. 67.
Peter was originally named Simon. Jesus was the one who changed Peter’s name. Peter means “rock” or literally “Petros.” He was a Galilean fisherman and was the brother of Andrew. The brothers came from the village of Bethsaida (John 1:43, 12:21). Peter was married. He was also a follower of John the Baptist. Peter, like all humans before their calling, was a sinful man. In fact, he was ashamed of his sinfulness in the presence of Jesus (Luke 5:6-8). Peter was perhaps the very first disciple whom Jesus called along with his brother, Andrew. Peter left his career as a fisherman to follow Jesus.
Fishermen at that time were gruff, unkempt, vile, shabbily dressed, and often used vulgar language. The fisherman of the first century was a man’s man. They were full of vigor and had boisterous tempers. This is perhaps why James and his brother John were called the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17). Theirs’ was a rough life since fishing was a very physically demanding job. They must have been somewhat fearless, too, because some of the storms that came quickly upon the Sea of Galilee were fierce and furious. They often caught the fishermen by surprise and could easily capsize the 20 to 30-foot boats they used.
Peter was always putting his foot in his mouth but one thing you could say about Peter was that when Jesus told them (Peter and Andrew) to “follow me” they simply walked away and left everything they had without a second thought (Luke 5:9-1). Consider the fact that this meant that they left everything – their other family members, all their fishing boats, their fishing nets, and all the accessories that came with their trade. How many would today be willing to leave their own business to follow someone who had simply asked them to follow him?
Peter’s Life with Christ
Yes, Peter was among the first disciples called by Jesus and he was frequently their spokesman – for good or bad. One thing that he is credited with is the special insight that he had concerning Jesus’ identity. Peter was the first to call Jesus the Son of the Living God – the Messiah (Mark 8:29, Luke 9:20, Matt. 16:16-17).
As a point of interest, in the Greek, “Peter” is Petros (“detached stone”) and “rock” is Petra. (“bedrock”). The bedrock of the church is the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10:1-4.
When Jesus called him, Peter knew that He was of God and felt unworthy to be in Jesus’ presence (Luke 5:6-8). Even so, Jesus did not hesitate and told Peter and Andrew that He would make them “fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17).
Peter was bold but often in the wrong. Once he even rebuked the Lord and said that he was willing to die for Jesus even though at the arrest and trial of Jesus he denied Him three times (Matt. 16:21-22). Jesus loved the disciples and knew which of those whom would remain loyal to him and those who would betray him (Judas Iscariot). Peter was an eyewitness to the many miracles that Jesus did, and also witnessed the Glory, along with John and James, in the Transfiguration. This was where Jesus’ humanity was peeled back to reveal the glory of His Divinity (Matt. 17:1-9).
“Second” Peter’s Glorious Ending
In the days leading up to Peter’s death, almost all the apostles had been martyred. Jesus actually predicted Peter’s death by crucifixion when He said that “when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and take you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18-19)? The church historians, Tertullian, Origen, and Eusebius, state that Peter was stretched out by his hands; he was dressed in prison garb, he was taken where no one wanted to go (a crucifixion) and was crucified. It is said that he wanted to be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same way that the Lord Jesus Christ had been.
From an arrogant, cocky, impetuous man, Peter became a humble, willing, obedient servant of the Lord even to death. He rejoiced in that day of his death, knowing that he would be reunited with his beloved Savior. This was a lifetime of about 65 years – of which his last thirty-three would be devoted to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, no one could even be a priest until they were thirty years of age. David became king at age thirty and this age is near the peak of mental and physical abilities.
Peter was not completely sinful before he met Jesus, nor was he completely holy even after years of faithful service. Peter, like us, was a mixture of resistance and submission, fear and faith, pride and humility, falling flat and standing tall. The lowly fisherman became a mighty fisher of men – and one that changed and shaped the world forever and is still proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ through the gospel written by Mark, the book of Acts, and through the epistles of 1 and 2 Peter.