The Apostle Peter—Why So Loved by Many
“What was on his mind he came out with, a freeness of speech that likewise appeals to ever so many. And it must be said that, time and again, he spoke to the point.”
AMONG the most favored persons who ever walked the earth must be included the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
What blessings the twelve enjoyed as they accompanied their Lord and Master! They heard him expound God’s righteous principles, as in his Sermon on the Mount, listened to him explain his parables and saw him refute his religious opposers and castigate them for their sanctimonious hypocrisy. And then to observe Jesus day after day as he cured the sick, healed the lame, caused the blind to see and even raised the dead—what a privilege was theirs!
The inspired record of Jesus and his apostles contains no complete biographies of the twelve. If we know anything about them, it is only a few facts or some outstanding characteristics. For example, Nathanael was the Israelite “in whom there [was] no deceit.” (John 1:47) Matthew stands out because of his having been a tax collector, which, incidentally, only his account reveals. Thomas’ characteristic gave rise to the expression “doubting Thomas.” And John is well known as the apostle for whom Jesus had special affection. But Peter is the exception. Repeatedly his words, his actions, his personality comes to our attention in the Gospel accounts.
To begin with, Peter is referred to by name more than all the rest put together, upward of 180 times. More than that, whenever he and others are named, his name always comes first; and this is so whether all the others are named, or only three, two or one of them.
Doubtless there are good reasons for this being so. The Gospels indicate that Peter was far more outspoken than were any of the others and also that he was often the spokesman for his companions.
Peter is mentioned in the Scriptures in five different ways. His name “Peter” (which he alone bears) was given to him by his Lord and means “a stone, a piece of rock.” “Symeon” (Hebrew), “Simon” (Greek), has the meaning of “hearing.” (Gen. 29:33) He is also called “Cephas,” the Semitic equivalent of “Peter,” and many times the combination “Simon Peter” appears.
Peter’s father was named John (Jonah). Peter was from the fishing village or city of Bethsaida, situated on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was in the upper Jordan River valley that his brother Andrew, a disciple of John the Baptizer, introduced Peter to Jesus as the Messiah. It was at that time that Jesus gave Simon the name of Peter and from that time on he was a disciple, a follower of Jesus.—John 1:35-42.
Some months later, apparently, Jesus called Peter and his brother, as they were fishing, to leave their nets and follow him as ‘fishers of men.’ (Luke 5:1-11) Then, in the following year and after a night of prayer, Jesus chose Peter and eleven others to be apostles.—Luke 6:12-16.
PETER THE IMPULSIVE APOSTLE
Why do so many of us especially love Peter? It might be said that it is because of Peter’s “humanness.” Helping toward this end doubtless is the fact that we know so much more about Peter than about any of the rest. Endearing us to him is his warm, ardent nature. With it went an impulsiveness, at times even impetuousness. He was quick to transmit thought and feeling into actions, something that ever so many of us are prone to do.
Thus, when Jesus caused Peter and his companions to have a large catch of fish after having toiled in vain all night, Peter felt so overwhelmed that he fell down at the feet of Jesus and said: “Depart from me, because I am a sinful man, Lord.” (Luke 5:8) When Peter saw Jesus walking on top of the water, he asked Jesus to empower him to do the same, and Peter actually was able to do so, as long as he had sufficient faith. (Matt. 14:25-32) Then, when the mob came to arrest his Master, some of the other apostles asked, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (Luke 22:49) Not Peter. He at once struck with the sword, but with such poor precision that he cut off only the ear of the slave of the high priest.—John 18:10.
There was also the time when, after the resurrection, Jesus appeared as a stranger to a number of the apostles as they were fishing. He again caused them to have a large catch of fish. By this the apostle John recognized him and remarked that it was their Lord. Hearing this, Peter did not wait until the boat, heavy with fish, was pulled to the shore. At once Peter dove into the water and swam to shore to be with his Master. (John 21:1-8) No question about it, all such impulsiveness finds an empathetic response in many Bible lovers.
Peter was as ready to speak as he was to act. What was on his mind he came out with, a freeness of speech that likewise appeals to ever so many. And it must be said that, time and again, he spoke to the point. Peter may not have been highly educated, but he was an intelligent man, a thinker. A thinker? Yes, because we find him repeatedly asking meaningful questions; it takes thinking ability to do that. Thus on one occasion, when Jesus used an illustration, Peter asked Jesus to make the parable plain to them. (Matt. 15:15) On still another occasion, after Jesus had sounded a warning as to his return, it was Peter who asked, “Lord, are you saying this illustration to us or also to all?” (Luke 12:41) And it was Peter who asked on behalf of himself and his companions: “Look! We have left all things and followed you; what actually will there be for us?” Jesus assured them that Jehovah would indeed richly reward them both now and in the future.—Matt. 19:27; Mark 10:29, 30.
By his outspokenness Peter also revealed a keen appreciation of his Master. After Jesus had cursed a certain fig tree, it was Peter who called attention to the effectiveness of Jesus’ curse: “Rabbi, see! the fig tree that you cursed has withered up.” (Mark 11:21) When Jesus asked his apostles who they believed him to be, it was Peter who made that striking, confident confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16) Again, when Jesus asked his apostles if they would also leave him as other disciples had done, it was Peter who said: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life; and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68, 69) Surely all such appreciation and loyalty on the part of Peter cause us to love him.
REPEATEDLY GETS SET STRAIGHT
However, Peter also, time and again, spoke out of turn or ill-advisedly, requiring that Jesus set him straight. Never did Peter remonstrate on such occasions, but he humbly accepted the correction, all of which further makes us feel a kinship with him. Thus, when Jesus told his apostles about what lay before him, that he would suffer many things, be killed and on the third day be raised from the dead, the well-meaning Peter took him aside and, rebuking him, said: “Be kind to yourself, Lord; you will not have this destiny at all.” Yes, he meant well, but how mistaken he was! So mistaken that Jesus felt it necessary to say to him: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.” (Matt. 16:21-23) Here again, how often might we have meant well, only to find out that it was a mistaken kindness!
On another occasion Peter wondered about having to forgive his brother so often. Did he need to forgive “Up to seven times?” Jesus set him straight: “I say to you, not, Up to seven times, but, Up to seventy-seven times.” How easy it is for us to appreciate the way Peter must have felt, especially if someone close to us repeatedly transgresses against us!—Matt. 18:21, 22.
Once Jesus felt strength going out of him by means of which a certain woman was cured due to her faith. So Jesus asked, “Who was it that touched me?” Peter implied a reproof of Jesus, saying, “Instructor, the crowds are hemming you in and closely pressing you.” In other words, ‘Jesus, what a foolish question to ask!’ But Jesus corrected Peter, saying in effect, ‘I know what I’m talking about!’ Then the woman made herself known, at which Jesus said to her: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go your way in peace.” Was not Peter like us at times, making an objection because of not being familiar with all the facts?—Luke 8:43-48.
Similarly Peter spoke out of turn when Jesus, after celebrating the last passover with his apostles, began washing their feet. Peter had seen Jesus wash and dry the feet of some of the others. So Peter told Jesus, “You will certainly never wash my feet.” In fact, Jesus had to admonish him twice on that occasion. Peter meant well, but he was mistaken.—John 13:5-10.
On that same evening Peter further spoke ill-advisedly. Jesus told his apostles that they would all be stumbled that night. But Peter felt so sure of his loyalty for his Master that he just could not endure the thought that he would desert his Master. Others might, but not he! When Jesus added that Peter would even disown him three times, Peter made it still stronger: “Even if I should have to die with you, I will by no means disown you.”—Matt. 26:31-35.
Yet Peter was to learn of his own weakness. Doubtless, had he been brought before a judge and asked about Jesus he would have handled matters in a fine manner. But what happened was so unexpected. Nine of the apostles had fled. Only John and Peter had followed Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, and there a servant girl said to him, “You, too, were with Jesus the Galilean.” In turn, others also accused him. The circumstances, the time, who said it, and most likely how they said it, all combined to throw Peter off guard, causing him not only to deny his Master three times, but even to swear that he did “not know the man!” Right after that, the cock crowed. It had all happened even as Jesus had foretold. At the very time, Luke tells us, “The Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” Peter “went outside and wept bitterly.” There was no rationalizing on his part, no inventing excuses, just humble, contrite repentance. Certainly all who have wept bitterly because of some serious wrongdoing feel a kinship with Peter and can appreciate how he felt at that time.—Luke 22:61, 62; Matt. 26:69-75.
STRENGTH COMBINED WITH WEAKNESS
Truly the Bible’s description of Peter makes absorbing reading. His record is a wonderful revelation of human nature and of what God’s spirit can do for imperfect humans. As serious as was Peter’s transgression, he did not let it cause him to become so discouraged as to quit. He kept his humility and his love for his Master. This is further seen in what took place after Jesus’ resurrection and his appearing to Peter and some others on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Peter humbly accepted the reproof implied by Jesus’ asking him three times if he loved him and then commanding him to “feed my little sheep.”—John 21:15-17.
Time and again Peter had taken the lead among the twelve. Thus, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven it was Peter who initiated the action of replacing Judas by Matthias. On the day of Pentecost it was Peter who was the spokesman for the twelve, there using one of the “keys of the kingdom” Jesus had previously committed to him. Later on, he made further use of these keys by bringing the good news to the first uncircumcised Gentile converts, Cornelius and his household.—Acts 1:15-26; 2:14-40; 10:1-48; Matt. 16:19.
We find Peter speaking out boldly in connection with a miracle in which he and John healed a man lame from birth. (Acts 3:12-26) When brought before the rulers, Peter and John were so outspoken that the rulers started to wonder. Then they “began to recognize about them that they used to be with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) And repeatedly Peter and his companions reminded the rulers that their first obedience was to God. In fact, in the first eleven chapters of the book of Acts 1-11 we find Peter giving six speeches. No wonder that Herod Agrippa I had him arrested and intended to do away with him! But God had other things in mind for Peter and so he sent an angel to deliver him.—Acts 12:3-17.
Peter also played a prominent role in the meeting of the governing body of the Christian congregation to consider the question of circumcision for the Gentiles. (Acts 15:7-11) However, not long thereafter we find him letting the fear of man, fear of certain Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, cause him to compromise his principles by withdrawing from association with Gentile Christians. This weakness prompted the apostle Paul to give Peter a stinging rebuke seemingly in front of the entire congregation where this happened. (Gal. 2:11-14) Here again, we note the “humanness” of Peter. All who at one time or another have yielded to the fear of man can empathize with Peter’s example and take comfort and benefit from it.
In conclusion, we must not overlook the two fine letters that Peter wrote and which contain so much valuable information and encouraging admonition, especially to all who suffer for righteousness’ sake. These letters cause us to appreciate Peter still more. Truly the apostle Peter was a most lovable person, greatly used by his God and his Master, in spite of his weaknesses. What an encouragement his life is to all who try hard to follow their Master even as Peter did!—1 Pet. 2:21.