Peter the fisherman, disciple, apostle and rock

Introduction

Peter is among the disciples of Jesus whose lives are cherished by many Christians. Majority of authors focus on Simon Peter's life as a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ, a courageous and a vibrant Apostle who led the early church after Jesus ascended to heaven. They also focus on the persecution incident where he denied knowing Jesus three times before the cock crew as Jesus predicted.[1] However, very few publications describe his daily routine schedule as a father, husband, a brother, and a dedicated fisherman. The life, actions, and beliefs of Peter enlighten Christians in equal measure. For instance, his resolve to abandon fishing and become a fisher of men inspires many people to work for God. His walk with Jesus despite the eminent misgivings or misunderstandings also inculcate a culture of dedication to God’s work. Even though Peter’s faith was put to question when he denied Jesus three times, he remained an exemplary disciple, a dedicated fisher of men, apostle, and a rock of salvation.

Peter the Everyday Man

Peter was born in 1 AD in the village of Bethsaida in Syria and died while at Rome, Italy. He was a descendant of Jonah, the prophet and a brother to Andrew. Peter had a beautiful wife, though her name is not disclosed. The books of the gospel record that Jesus visited the house of Peter where he found Peter’s mother-in-law hailing from fever. In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul collaborate similar detail when he says: “don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the lord’s brothers and Cephas?[2]” Cephas in this context means Peter as it is an Aramaic word, which means Peter. Before he met Jesus Christ, Peter was living with his brother in Capernaum where they were working as fishermen.

According to the gospel of Mark and Mathew, Jesus met Peter and his brother Andrew at the Sea of Galilee while they were fishing and decided to convert them from fishers of fish to fishers of men. However, the gospel of John gives a different story on how Peter met with Jesus. As noted in John 1: 40-42, Peter’s brother, Andrew, who had heard the stories of Jesus from John the Baptist, took him to Jesus. Jesus and his disciples likely relied on the skills and experience that Peter had as a fisherman for their frequent travels, which they made using a boat.[3] In Luke 8: 22-25, the Bible contemplates that Peter and other disciples believed that the storm they experienced in the company of Jesus was going to kill them because their knowledge about the weather, water, and boat could not save them.[4] Despite the long walk with Jesus, it is interesting that Peter still went back to his old ways of living. The book of John 21:3 reveals that Peter and other disciples decided to resume fishing after the resurrection of Jesus since there was no one they could follow.[5] Jesus literally found them fishing when he appeared to Peter, John, James, Nathanael, and 2 other disciples after the resurrection. The gospel of John says that Peter dove into the water when he learned it was Jesus on the shore and swam to him, just like any other ordinary person could react.

It is normal for a person to have loved ones, acquaintances and friends, and so was Peter. The fisher of men was a close friend to Jesus, although he betrayed him three times. The fisher of men together with John and James were formidable and trusted allies of Jesus.[6] The three disciples are the ones who knew the positive successes of Jesus and the hardships that he went through to accomplish the will of his father. The three were also acquainted with Jesus’ fears and strengths, which made his betrayal by James and Peter on Good Friday painful. However, out of the three disciples, it can be said that Peter was the best friend to Jesus on earth. From the first day Peter became a disciple, he never left Jesus. He followed Jesus everywhere he went, including the extreme moments when Jesus walked on water, which he later tried in vain.[7] Although his doubts made him begin to sink, Peter remains to be the only disciple who went to the extremes as a faithful follower of Jesus.

Peter the Disciple

Peter was one of the three trusted disciples of Jesus Christ. The other two disciples in the inner circle of Jesus were John and James – sons of Zebedee. Being close to Jesus gave Peter and the other two disciples the privilege to witness things that other disciples never saw, including raising the dead, the transfiguration and Jesus’ most desperate moment in the Garden of Gethsemane.[8] Owing to his trust, Jesus called Peter “Cephas” an Aramaic name that means a “Rock” upon translation. Jesus refers to Peter again as the Rock in the gospel of Mathew and Luke when Peter correctly identified him as the promised Messiah. Mathew 16:17-18 says, “…And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church” and “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven”.[9] The Catholics argue that the phrase was an explicit promise made by Jesus to make Peter the first Pope or the first leader of the church. Others argue that Jesus simply meant that he would give Peter authority over other Apostles.

After Jesus accomplished his mission on earth and ascended to heaven, Peter together with John and James became the pillars of the early Christian Church. The three disciples were called to provide guidance whenever major decisions concerning the Church needed to be made. That is why Paul appealed to Peter, John, and James’ authority when he wanted to demonstrate his primacy to the Galatians, calling the three “those esteemed as pillars”.[10] Despite being a leader and a spokesperson for other disciples, Peter had a failure of courage. In one of the incidents in the Bible, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times when he was confronted in the High Priest’s Courtyard. A similar incident of lack of courage in the face of danger can be witnessed when Peter sank beneath the waves when he tried to walk on water.

Peter the Apostle

Peter, as an apostle, played the leading role among the other apostles. His primacy, which is also known as Petrine primacy, placed him in the position of preeminence. During Jesus’s ministry as well as in the early church, Peter was the most influential and prominent disciple.[11] In addition, Biblical evidence affirm the leadership and primacy role that Peter played in the formation of the apostolic church. For instance, in Mathew 16:7, an angel mentions St. Peter as the leader of the apostles. In the lists of apostles as evident in Mark 3:16 and Luke 6:14, his name occurs first and is mentioned severally, while Judas Iscariot’s name appears last.[12] Additionally, Peter got the privilege to be the first apostle to enter the empty tomb after Jesus arose. Therefore, Peter acted as a unifying factor in growing Christianity.

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Peter is depicted in the Bible as the leader of the early church. First, Jesus calls Peter the Rock, in which he (Jesus the architect) would build his place of worship, making him a visible foundation of the early church. In Mathew 16:19, Peter is given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, signaling the administrative authority. Additionally, Peter is the first leader of the early church because Jesus left him as the Chief Shepherd (John 21:15-17). Jesus commissioned him to look after his flock and lead the initial church to prosperity.[13] Consequently, in Luke 22:32, Jesus urged Peter to strengthen the Christian brethren in the early church. Therefore, after Pentecost, Peter was the first to speak and preach the gospel in the early church.

During the apostolic age, an incident occurred in the city of Antioch between Peter and Paul that threatened to erode the former’s role as a leading light in the Christianity context. As noted in Galatians 2:11-13, Paul rebuked Peter, who used to eat with the gentiles after he decided to share meals with them no more.[14] This is because he feared how people in the circumcision group would view him. On the contrary, the Antioch-based Jewish Christians did not rebuke Peter. They sided with him and supported his decision to seize eating with the gentiles, including Barnabas, who was Paul’s long-time associate friend. Peter was later seen as the Patriarch of Antioch by the subsequent traditions of Christianity that he advanced. Following the history of the Corinthian Church, Peter is identified as a primary contributor. A renowned bishop of Corinth affirmed this fact during 165-174 A.D. The bishop declared that Peter and Paul were the founders of the Church of Corinth and Rome. They then lived in Corinth, but later moved to Italy, where they lived until their death.

Although Simon Peter denied Jesus at a crucial moment when he needed to stand firmly by him, he later adhered to the teachings of Jesus. He also stood by him even when he was convicted of his sermon during the Pentecost.[15] He chose to stand by Christ and made it clear to the Jewish leaders that he was not doubtful about God’s promise to send them the Holy Ghost. Consequently, he would not be intimidated for taking a stand of any nature as manifest in Acts 2:32-33.[16] Through the manifestation of the Holy Spirit during the Pentecost, many individuals were transformed into Christianity. The progress received strong resistance from Jewish leaders who later arrested and persecuted Peter during the time of Passover.

Peter the Rock (Illustration of Forgiveness)

Peter’s worst moments during Jesus’ ministry, maybe when he betrayed Christ by denying knowing him three times. His action did not depict or assert the unwavering strength of a rock that Jesus believed he was when he named him Cephas. His low moment is captured in Luke 21:61. According to the verse, Jesus turned and looked at Peter; only for him to realize that, he had done what he said he would not do.[17] However, as a man of faith, Peter believed that God would forgive him upon request. He remembered Jesus’ teaching to forgive up to seventy times seven, according to Mathew 18:21-22. He also embraced the spirit of forgiveness at a personal level.

Peter had a lot to learn from Jesus’ teachings that enabled him to be wise in his leading role in the early church. For instance, when he was taught about the principle of forgiving seventy times seven, Jesus was not literal. He was not telling him to keep records of the number of times he is victimized but meant that love does not have a limit to forgiveness, 1Corinthians 13:4-5. Peter understood that divine mercy needed the softhearted and a sense of humility.[18] He learned about humility when Jesus humbly washed the disciples’ feet, a job that was meant for the servants. Peter also learned about patience when he asked Jesus to wash his feet, hands, and head too, John 13:1-17. The lessons that Peter learned from his walk with Jesus made him lay a strong foundation for wisdom in the ministry.

Peter was named the Rock in which Jesus would build his Church; however, there are moments when Peter behaved like non-Christian.[19] One of these incidents was during the emotional agony of Jesus in the garden Gethsemane. At the time, Jesus was disappointed with Peter, James, and John, whom he had chosen to keep on the watch as he prayed since they fell asleep repeatedly. Jesus empathetically observed and forgave them, Mark 14:32-41. Another scenario when Peter acted like a non-Christian was when the armed mob arrived to arrest Jesus. Instead of being discrete and taking caution, he lopped off one of a slave’s ear. Interestingly, Jesus did not condemn him much, instead, he corrected him calmly. Jesus then healed the slave and later reminded Peter about the principle of nonaggression.

Many Christians today would instead follow Christ at a distance despite knowing his ideals, the underlying commandments, and expectations. Majority of individuals tend to be closer to Jesus, yet remain fragile based on their actions. They behave just like Peter, who denied any knowledge of Jesus despite being one of the closest disciples. Peter and the other apostles also fled away when the mob took Jesus but followed at a distance when Jesus was taken for questioning to the High Priest Annas.[20] This is a reflection of how active the church is, but then very fragile to God. The truth is that for Christians to follow Christ properly, they must stick with Him as close as possible. Additionally, regardless of the consequences, they should always emulate the Lord’s examples and follow him in truth and spirit as captured in 1Peter 2:21.

Conclusion

Ultimately, Peter was a leader who was among the most preferred by Jesus. Though no much information is disclosed about his family, it is evident in the books of the gospel that Peter was the son of John and brother to Andrew. He met with Jesus at the Sea of Galilee where he was fishing with his brother. He abandoned his trade with minimal reservations and followed Jesus, who made him a fisher of men. His dedication and deliberate desire to walk with Jesus earned him a higher position in Christ's heart and among other apostles. He worked hard and brought more people to Christ. As a consequence, Jesus named him Cephas, which means a rock. His steadfastness enabled him to be the foundation stone of the early church and the propagator of forgiveness, just like Christ taught. Although Peter denied Jesus three times, thus depicting his dwindling faith, he restored his relationship with Christ by believing and following the ordained teachings, such as those touching on forgiveness. Therefore, Peter remains an influential figure in the lives of Christians to date based on his life history as a fisherman, disciple, apostle, and the rock of salvation.

Bibliography

Armstrong, Dave. Top 20 Biblical Evidences for the Primacy of St. Peter. January 8, 2018. http://www.ncregister.com/blog/darmstrong/top-20-biblical-evidences-for-the-primacy-of-st.-peter.

Davids, Peter. "Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle." The Evangelical Theological

Society. 54, no. 3 (2011): 639-641

Gray, Tim. Peter: Keys to Following Jesus. New York: Ignatius Press, 2016.

Hengel, Martin. Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle. n.d.

Helyer, Larry. The Life and Witness of Peter. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012.

Maxwell, John. The Maxwell Leadership Bible. 2nd edition. Nashville, TN: Maxwell

Motivation Inc., 2007

Mazzalongo, Mike. Persecution of Peter and Apostles. October 15, 2017. https://bibletalk.tv/persecution-of-peter-and-apostles.

Miller, Stephen. The Complete Guide to the Bible: An Illustrated, Easy-to-Follow Reference

Covering Both the Old and New Testaments. Phoenix, AZ: Barbour Books, 2007.

Strathearn, Gaye. “Peter and Paul in Antioch,” in The Ministry of Peter the Chief Apostle. Edited by Frank F. Judd, Eric D. Huntsman and Shon D. Hopkin. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2014. https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/ministry-peter-chief-apostle/12-peter-and-paul-antioch.

[1] Hengel, Martin. Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle. n.d.

[2] Tim Gray, Peter: Keys to Following Jesus (New York: Ignatius Press, 2016), 5.

[3] Larry Helyer, The Life and Witness of Peter (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 19.

[4] Peter Davids, "Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle," The Evangelical Theological Society 54, no. 3 (2011): 639.

[5] Davids, 640.

[6] Helyer, The Life and Witness of Peter, 21.

[7] Stephen Miller, The Complete Guide to the Bible (Phoenix, AZ: Barbour Books, 2007), 1.

[8] John Maxwell, The Maxwell Leadership Bible. 2nd edition. (Nashville, TN: Maxwell Motivation Inc., 2007), 5.

[9] Helyer, The Life and Witness of Peter, 33.

[10] Maxwell, The Maxwell Leadership Bible, 6.

[11] Dave Armstrong, Top 20 Biblical Evidences for the Primacy of St. Peter. January 8, 2018, http://www.ncregister.com/blog/darmstrong/top-20-biblical-evidences-for-the-primacy-of-st.-peter

[12] Armstrong.

[13] Armstrong.

[14] Gaye Strathearn, Peter and Paul in Antioch. 2014, https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/ministry-peter-chief-apostle/12-peter-and-paul-antioch.

[15] Mike Mazzalongo, Persecution of Peter and Apostles. October 15, 2017, https://bibletalk.tv/persecution-of-peter-and-apostles.

[16] Strathearn, Peter and Paul in Antioch.

[17] Miller, The Complete Guide to the Bible, 1.

[18] Gray, Peter: Keys to Following Jesus, 12.

[19] Gray, 15.

[20] Mazzalongo, Persecution of Peter and Apostles.