The First Apostle to be Called. Peter's given name was Symeon or Simon. His father's name was Jonah <Matt. 16:17; John 1:42>. Simon's brother, Andrew, also joined Jesus as a disciple <Mark 1:16>. The family probably lived at Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee <Mark 1:21,29>, although it is possible they lived in Bethsaida <John 1:44>.
Peter was married, because the gospels mention that Jesus healed his mother-in-law <Matt. 8:14-15>. The apostle Paul later mentioned that Peter took his wife on his missionary travels <1 Cor. 9:5>. Peter and Andrew were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, and perhaps in partnership with James and John, the sons of Zebedee <Luke 5:10>. In the midst of his labor as a fisherman, Peter received a call from Jesus that changed his life <Luke 5:8>.
The Gospel of John reports that Andrew and Peter were disciples of John the Baptist before they joined Jesus. John also reports that Peter was introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew, who had already recognized Jesus to be the Messiah <John 1:35-42>. Whether Andrew and Peter knew Jesus because they were disciples of John is uncertain. But it is clear that they followed Jesus because of His distinctive authority.
The First Among the Apostles. Jesus apparently gathered His followers in two stages: first as disciples (learners or apprentices), and later as apostles (commissioned representatives). Peter was the first disciple to be called <Mark 1:16-18> and the first to be named an apostle <Mark 3:14-16>. His name heads every list of the Twelve in the New Testament. He was apparently the strongest individual in the band. He frequently served as a spokesman for the disciples, and he was their recognized leader <Mark 1:36; Luke 22:32>. Typical of Peter's dominant personality was his readiness to walk to Jesus on the water <Matt. 14:28>, and to ask Jesus the awkward question of how often he should forgive a sinning brother <Matt. 18:21>.
An inner circle of three apostles existed among the Twelve. Peter was also the leader of this small group. The trio-- Peter, James, and John-- was present with Jesus on a number of occasions. They witnessed the raising of a young girl from the dead <Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51>; they were present at Jesus' transfiguration <Matt. 17:1-2>; and they were present during Jesus' agony in Gethsemane <Matt. 26:37; Mark 14:33>. During Jesus' final week in Jerusalem, two of the three, Peter and John, were sent to make preparations for their last meal together <Luke 22:8>.
The First Apostle to Recognize Jesus as Messiah. The purpose of Jesus' existence in the flesh was that people would come to a true picture of who God is and what He has done for man's salvation. The first apostle to recognize that was Peter. He confessed Jesus as Lord in the region of Caesarea Philippi <Matt. 16:13-17>.
Jesus began the process which would lead to Peter's awareness by asking a non-threatening question, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" <Matt. 16:13>. After the disciples voiced various rumors, Jesus put a more personal question to them, "But who do you say that I am?" <Matt. 16:15>. Peter confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God. According to Matthew, it was because of this confession that Jesus renamed Simon, Cephas (in Aramaic) or Peter (in Greek), meaning "rock."
Why Jesus called Simon a "rock" is not altogether clear. Peter's character was not always rock-like, as his denial of Jesus indicates. His new name probably referred to something that, by God's grace, he would become-- Peter, a rock.
The First Apostle to Witness the Resurrection. How ironic that the one who denied Jesus most vehemently in His hour of suffering should be the first person to witness to His resurrection from the dead. Yet according to Luke <Luke 24:34> and Paul <1 Cor. 15:5>, Peter was the first apostle to see the risen Lord. We can only marvel at the grace of God in granting such a blessing to one who did not seem to deserve it. Peter's witnessing of the resurrection was a sign of his personal restoration to fellowship with Christ. It also confirmed His appointment by God to serve as a leader in the emerging church.
The First Apostle to Proclaim Salvation to the Gentiles. The earliest information about the early church comes from the Book of Acts. This shows clearly that Peter continued to exercise a key leadership role in the church for a number of years. Indeed, the first 11 chapters of Acts are built around the activity of the apostle Peter.
When the Holy Spirit visited the church in Samaria, the apostles sent Peter and John to verify its authenticity <Acts 8:14-25>. But this event was only a prelude to the one event which concluded Peter's story in the New Testament: the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles <Acts 10--11>. The chain of events that happened before the bestowal of the Holy Spirit on Gentile believers-- beginning with Peter's staying in the house of a man of "unclean" profession <Acts 9:43>, continuing with his vision of "unclean" foods <Acts 10:9-16>, and climaxing in his realization that no human being, Gentile included, ought to be considered "unclean" <Acts 10:34-48>-- is a masterpiece of storytelling. It demonstrates the triumph of God's grace to bring about change in stubborn hearts and the hardened social customs of Jewish believers.
Following the death of James, the brother of John, and Peter's miraculous release from prison <Acts 12>, Peter drops out of the narrative of Acts. Luke reports that he "went to another place" <Acts 12:17>. We know, however, that Peter did not drop out of active service in the early church.
Peter probably broadened his ministry, once the mantle of leadership of the Jerusalem church fell from his shoulders to those of James, the Lord's brother. Peter played a key role at the Council of Jerusalem <Acts 15; Galatians 2>, which decided in favor of granting church membership to Gentiles without first requiring them to become Jews. Paul mentioned a visit of Peter to Antioch of Syria <Gal. 2:11>, and he may even refer to a mission of Peter to Corinth <1 Cor. 1:12>. Peter dropped into the background in the Book of Acts not because his ministry ended. Luke, the writer of Acts, simply began to trace the course of the gospel's spread to Gentile Rome through the ministry of the apostle Paul.
Peter in Rome: The First to Inspire the Writing of a Gospel. According to early Christian tradition, Peter went to Rome, where he died. Only once in the New Testament do we hear of Peter's being in Rome. Even in this case, Rome is referred to as "Babylon" <1 Pet. 5:13>. Little is known of Peter's activities in Rome, although Papias, writing about A. D. 125, stated that Peter's preaching inspired the writing of the first gospel, drafted by Mark, who was Peter's interpreter in Rome.
This early and generally reliable tradition supports the pioneer role played by Peter throughout his life and ministry. A number of other works-the Preaching of Peter, the Gospel of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Acts of Peter, and the Epistle of Peter to James-- are apocryphal in nature. They cannot be accepted as trustworthy sources of information for the life and thought of the apostle.
Peter the First Pope? Whether Peter was the first pope of Rome is a question which can be answered by a study of church history, not by the New Testament. Jesus' statement to Peter in <Matthew 16:18>, "You are Peter ('petros' - little rock) , and on this rock ('petra' - big rock = Revelation Of Christ the King) I will build My church," does not mention papal succession. But it does emphasize Peter's prominent role in the founding of the church.
(from Nelson's Illustrated
(Copyright (C) 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
For a study of Peter's life in terms of suffering until his martyrdom see Sufferings in Peter's Life and as seen in this Epistle.
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