Who was Peter in the Bible?

One day while Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee He saw two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew casting their fishing net into the water. He called out to them, "'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Immediately they left their nets and followed him" (Matthew 4:19–20).

Simon Peter and Andrew were the first disciples Jesus called. From the Gospels we can piece together that they were from Bethsaida in Galilee (John 1:44). They were fishermen and worked alongside the sons of Zebedee, James and John (Luke 5:10). In addition, Peter was married (Mark 1:30; 1 Corinthians 9:5). Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist and upon hearing John declare Jesus as the Messiah, Andrew and another disciple followed Jesus and spent the day with Him. Andrew went to his brother and shared the news that they'd found the Messiah. He brought Peter to Jesus (John 1:35–42). "Jesus looked at him and said, 'You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas' (which means Peter)" (John 1:42).

While Simon Peter and Andrew were still fishermen, Jesus joined them in their boat and told them to cast out their net even though they had not been able to catch anything. To their great surprise their nets were filled to overflowing. Simon Peter was overcome and fell to Jesus' feet, admitting that he was a sinful man and unworthy to serve Jesus. However, Jesus declared that they would now be fishers of men (Luke 5:1–11).

Peter functioned as the leader among Jesus' twelve disciples, both during Jesus' earthly ministry and after His ascension. Peter was passionate and impulsive, eager to follow Jesus and yet still very naive to what it meant to walk down that road. Like a rookie quarterback his record was full of great victories and terrible failures. Yet, Jesus patiently and faithfully mentored Peter as he matured into the man God would use to be a pillar of His church.

Peter was the disciple who stepped out of the boat into stormy waters walking towards Jesus. He began to sink after failing to trust in Jesus, but Jesus caught him (Matthew 14:22–33). He was one of the first to recognize Jesus as the Son of God, declaring, "'You are the Christ'' (Mark 8:29). Along with John and James, Peter was in Jesus' innermost circle and one of His closest friends. As such, he was present when Jesus resurrected Jairus' daughter from the dead (Mark 5:35–43) and when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain (Luke 9:28–36). In Jesus' final days, Peter was tasked with preparing the Passover feast (Luke 22:8) and keeping watch as Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36–46).

Nonetheless, Peter was human and not immune to the consequences of sin. In impulsive ignorance he rebuked Jesus for predicting His own death and was in turn rebuked by Jesus (Matthew 16:21–23). In the garden of Gethsemane he fell asleep despite Jesus' instructions to keep watch (Mark 14:32–42). When Judas and the Roman soldiers arrived to arrest Jesus, Peter attacked the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear, which Jesus healed (John 18:10; Luke 22:50–51). Finally, even though he had pledged only hours before to be loyal to Jesus, even to the point of death, Peter denied knowing Him three times when He needed him most (Matthew 26:31–35, 69–75).

Thankfully because of God's grace, Peter's story does not end there. When Jesus resurrected from the dead He specifically said that Peter needed to hear the news (Mark 16:7). Jesus sought Peter out and appeared to him (Luke 24:34). Not only did Jesus forgive Peter, but He redeemed and restored Peter and promised to still build His church with Peter as a rock. Three times he asked Peter if he loved Him, and three times Peter said yes. The Greek is particularly meaningful as Jesus and Peter each used different words for "love" in the first two questions, but used the same word in the third. Jesus told Peter to care for His sheep (John 21:15–17).

After Jesus' resurrection and ascension, Peter spoke boldly, sharing the message of Christ and bringing people to salvation (Acts 2). He was empowered with the Holy Spirit to perform miracles and evangelize. He organized and mentored other believers, sending them out to take the message of Christ to the ends of the earth. He preached first to the Jewish community and specifically the Sanhedrin religious leaders, thus bringing the news of salvation to God's chosen people. Peter was present when the Holy Spirit came upon the Samaritans (Acts 8) and the Gentiles (Acts 10). This was a fulfillment of Jesus' promise that Peter would be foundational in building the church (Matthew 16:17–19). It also demonstrates a fulfillment of Jesus' last words to the apostles, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

Peter still had some setbacks in maturing. At first he was hesitant to share the gospel with Gentiles or non-Jewish communities. However, God directly sent him to the house of a Roman centurion. After witnessing the centurion and his family accept the message of Christ, Peter knew that salvation was intended for all people (Acts 10). When men from Judea were saying that circumcision was required for salvation, Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them. They travelled to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders to discuss the matter. Peter was adamant that Gentiles received salvation the same way as Jewish believers—by God's grace through faith. Gentile believers were not to be placed under the Mosaic law (Acts 15). Even so, it seems Peter later avoided eating with Gentiles in order to appease some Jewish leaders (Galatians 2:11–14). Peter was like all of us in our spiritual growth—we make strides forward and take steps back, but God is always faithful to teach and grow us; we need only be faithful to listen to Him and follow Him.

Later in his life Peter assisted John Mark in writing the Gospel of Mark, giving eyewitness account of Jesus' ministry. He also wrote 1 and 2 Peter between AD 60—68, instructing the churches he had helped develop. As predicted by Jesus, Peter died as a martyr (John 21:18–19). Tradition says that he was crucified upside down.

Jesus' call to Peter was, "Follow me" (John 21:19). Peter was just a common, sinful man who by his own power failed. Yet empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus, he did great things for the kingdom of God. Just as Christ called Peter, giving him a new name and purpose, so He calls each one of us. Are you ready to follow Him?

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