Peter, Apostle with the Keys
WHAT changes occurred! From unknown fisherman to prominent apostle of Jesus Christ! From fisher of fish to fisher of men! What a transformation in the life of this man Simon whose surname was even changed to Peter! His whole career, including his desires, motives, ambitions and outlook on life, was radically altered. Unspeakable blessings, favors and privileges came his way. The unlettered and ordinary man became a confounder of this world’s wise men and the possessor of miraculous powers of life and death. In addition, he was entrusted with special keys of knowledge to unlock sacred secrets of God. So study the life, personality, disposition and propensities of this man Peter and it will aid you in transforming your own self from this old world of sin and death to the new world of righteousness and life.
Hidden as it is in the shadows of obscurity, little is known of Simon’s early life. Some think he was between 30 and 40 years old when he became a disciple of Christ. His father’s name was Jonah. Simon Bar-Jonah’s home town was Bethsaida, on the northern shore of Galilee. There he engaged in the fishing business with his brother Andrew and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John. Simon was a married man and in nearby Capernaum his mother-in-law lived in a rather large home.—Matt. 8:14; 16:17, NW; John 1:44.
The occupation of fishing, though perhaps a humble one, was by no means servile, nor was it incompatible with a mind of high intellect and culture. Education was compulsory for all Jewish lads, so while Simon did not attend special rabbinical schools to obtain letters or degrees in theology, yet he had a good knowledge of the all-important things in life, namely, the holy scriptures that set forth Jehovah’s dealings with his chosen people, and especially His precious promises concerning the coming Messiah.
We are therefore not surprised when first introduced to Simon to find him one of John the Baptist’s disciples prepared to receive Christ. In the fall of A.D. 29 when John cried out, “See, the Lamb of God!” Peter was among the first to accept him, and it was then that Christ first told Simon: “‘You will be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” (John 1:35-44, NW) Six months later Christ extended to him and his companions the invitation: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men,” and immediately Peter abandoned everything and took up the ministry. (Matt. 4:18-20; Mark 1:16-18; Luke 5:1-11, NW) Accepting that call to full-time service marked the beginning of an entirely new and most joyful and blessed period in Peter’s life.—Matt. 19:27-29.
Just consider a few of Peter’s wonderful privileges. As one of the twelve apostles he was given authority “over unclean spirits” to cure “every kind of disease”, and was sent forth to teach and preach in the name of Christ. (Matt. 10:1-11:1; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:13, 14, NW) So, many times he was the first to speak in the name of the others; as, for example, “Jesus said to the twelve: ‘You do not want to go also, do you?’ Simon Peter answered him: ‘Master, Whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life.’” (Matt. 15:15; 18:21; Mark 11:21; Luke 8:45; 12:41; John 6:67, 68, NW) Peter was one of the three apostles who witnessed the raising of Jairus’ daughter, who observed the transfiguration scene in the mountain, who was taken aside to witness Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane. (Matt. 17:1-6; 26:36-45; Mark 5:35-37) Peter and John were the ones dispatched to prepare for the last passover. (Luke 22:7-13) It was Peter that was sent to catch the fish having the 68-cent silver coin for the temple tax.—Matt. 17:24-27, NW.
It was also Peter’s happy privilege, by divine revelation, to identify Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God”. He was then given two symbolic “keys” which he used later on to unlock knowledge for both Jews and Gentiles concerning the heavenly kingdom, and his use of these keys was confirmed beforehand in heaven.—Matt. 16:13-20, NW.
And so for three years Christ taught and trained Peter in the way that leads to life, even disciplining and rebuking him when he erred. When walking upon the water, Peter began to sink and Jesus reproved him, saying: “You with little faith, why did you give way to doubt?” (Matt. 14:28-31, NW) Again, when Jesus told how he must suffer and die, Peter protested: “Be kind to yourself, Master; you will not have this destiny at all.” It was therefore necessary that he be rebuked for his old-world thinking: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumblingblock to me,” Jesus told him, “because you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.”—Matt. 16:21-23; Mark 8:31-33, NW.
Jesus’ ministry had about ended. It was the last night. Only a few hours remained. So, the passover finished, Jesus proceeded to wash the apostles’ feet, notwithstanding Peter’s objection at first. (John 13:3-11) The account then reads: “Jesus said to them: ‘All of you will be stumbled in connection with me on this night.’” But Peter protested that even if all the others stumbled, yet he would never fall. He was pretty sure of himself. Nevertheless, Jesus replied: “On this night, before a cock crows, you will disown me three times.”—Matt. 26:31-35, NW.
Not long thereafter when the mobsters came to seize Christ, Peter whipped out his sword and slashed off one of their ears. Peter thought he was out to prove he was willing to die for his Master, but instead he was out of order. (John 18:10, 11, NW) If Peter wanted to prove his integrity he would have a threefold opportunity shortly, down in the courtyard of the high priest. Three times, and most vehemently, Peter there denied he ever knew Christ; but the crowing of the cock brought him to his senses, and he went out and wept in bitter repentance.—Matt. 26:69-75.
Shortly after Christ’s resurrection Peter visited the empty tomb, puzzled and bewildered, for he did not understand what had occurred. (Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-10; 1 Cor. 15:3-8) Not until Jesus materialized and explained matters to the disciples did they fully appreciate the resurrection of Christ. On one such occasion Jesus asked Peter whether he loved Him. “Yes, Master, you know I have affection for you,” answered Peter. Three times Jesus asked the question, and each time when Peter assured the Lord that he truly loved him, Jesus commanded that he prove it by feeding the Lord’s “young lambs” and “little sheep”.—John 21:1-17, NW.
APOSTOLIC CAREER FULL OF ACTIVITY
All of this training and disciplining was not given to Peter for no purpose. He had much work ahead of him. He was one of those who had been told by Christ, “You will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NW) The extra responsibility of apostleship also rested upon the husky shoulders of this “fisher of men”, and in this capacity Peter arranged that another should be chosen to take the place of wicked Judas.—Acts 1:15-26.
And then there were those keys of knowledge entrusted to Peter. The first was used at Pentecost. A great noise like the rushing of the wind, tongues of fire upon the heads of those assembled, then a startled and bewildered multitude of many nationalities gathering to hear the gospel in their own languages—what was the meaning of all this? Peter stood up and with the first “key” skillfully unlocked their understanding, calling out: “Repent, and let each one of you be baptized,” and “Get saved from this crooked generation”. The door of opportunity thus opened, about 3,000 Jews entered and were baptized.—Acts 2:1-41, NW.
Fired with holy spirit Peter used his miraculous gifts of healing and powers of perception to convince others that Jehovah is God and his Chief Agent and Dispenser of life is the resurrected Christ. Boldly he preached and worked wonders in the public places, curing every kind of disease, the lame too, and even raising the dead. (Acts 3:1-16; 5:12-16; 9:32-42) Threats, arrests, floggings and persecution by the envious and wicked clergy class did not stop him. When commanded not to preach, Peter told the religious court: “Whether it is righteous in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, make your decision. But as for us, we cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.” “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 4:19; 5:29, NW) Among the congregation, too, Peter was no less zealous in discharging his responsibilities, as, for instance, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts 5:1-11) Again, when Peter and John were sent as servants to the brothers in Samaria that they might receive holy spirit, and a misguided Simon tried to obtain the apostolic powers with bribery, Peter declared: “May your silver perish with you.”—Acts 8:14-20, NW.
It was now high time for Gentile nations to learn of Jehovah’s way of salvation; so the apostle entrusted with the “keys” was called upon to use the second one and open the way. He did so, and Cornelius, the Roman soldier, and his household were the first non-Jews to enter the high calling to the heavenly kingdom. (Acts 10:1-11:18) Shortly thereafter Peter was imprisoned by Herod, and he would have been put to death had not Jehovah’s angel miraculously set him free. (Acts 12:1-17) Peter’s work was not yet finished.
Except when called in off the road due to a question concerning circumcision of non-Jews, it seems Peter spent most of the remainder of his life among Jewish communities outside Jerusalem. (Acts 15:1-21; Gal. 2:7-9) There is not a particle of evidence, however, that he ever reached Rome, but we do know that in Babylon he wrote two letters shortly before he died. (1 Pet. 5:13) In them he makes it plain that Christ, not Peter, is the “foundation cornerstone” of the church. (1 Pet. 2:4-6) Nowhere does he claim primacy or infallibility, nor does he speak of a successor to whom he gave his “keys”. Contrariwise, Peter was theocratic, and a good example for all Christians in meekness, humility and repentance, and in zeal and devotion to the interests of the new world.