Jesus’ Life-Changing Relationship with Simon Peter by Chris Pain

Chris Pain, June 2007

The transformation of Simon, a Galilean fisherman, to Peter, leader of a religious movement prepared to challenge and defy the Jewish and Roman authorities, is a story of enduring power and has provided hope and inspiration for Christians throughout the ages. In this article we can only highlight some key moments in the relationship between Jesus and Simon Peter that caused this transformation.

A Call To Follow Jesus

jesus_washing_peters_feet_ford_maddox_brownMark and Matthew’s description of the call of Peter and Andrew is brief. Jesus sees them, calls them and they obey. The gospel writers clearly intend to portray Jesus’ authority as the one who calls and the appropriate response to this call. For our purposes it is the content of the call that is important; it is first and foremost a call to follow Jesus, to be in relationship with him. This is the foundation of all the other aspects of the relationship that we will explore. In fact the call to follow Jesus is so important that Jesus’ last words to Peter, recorded this time in John’s gospel, are also ‘Follow me.’

Jesus seeks a relationship with Peter, but its particular shape is inevitably defined by the fact that Jesus is the Master, Peter the disciple. Jesus prophetically calls Peter to a new way of life and living as a fisher of men. It is significant that Jesus tells Peter of his new role so early in their master–disciple relationship. He wants Peter to be clear about the nature of their relationship and the goal towards which they are aiming.

To this end, Jesus renames Simon. He knew that Simon was not yet the rock ( petros ), but needed to be shaped and trained into that character and role. A key purpose, therefore, for Jesus in his relationship with Peter is to accomplish this training so that Peter becomes the rock, able to fulfil his calling as a fisher of men.

Given that Jesus gives Peter a unique role, we might also expect to see him giving particular attention to Peter and his development as a disciple and there are hints of this in the gospel accounts. Peter is one of the ‘inner circle’ with James and John. They are singled out to spend extra time with Jesus and are given the privilege of seeing the raising of the Synagogue Ruler’s daughter from the dead, witnessing the Transfiguration, and keeping watch with Jesus in Gethsemane. They receive teaching along with Andrew about the end of the age. Peter also has a one-to-one question-and-answer session with Jesus about the Temple Tax and has the privilege, apparently unique among the disciples, of hosting Jesus.

Peter’s Confession And Jesus’ Rebuke

A crucial moment in the relationship between Jesus and Peter is Peter’s confession. Luke often shows Jesus in prayer at key points, including prior to Peter’s confession. The implication is that Jesus’ prayers are answered in some way by it. Jesus has prayed to the Father, who has given Peter insight to understand that Jesus is the Messiah.

The confession that Peter makes, as spokesman for the disciples, is a significant one. As a result, Jesus appoints Peter to a key role in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus reaffirms Peter as the rock because he understands who Jesus is; it is the quality of his relationship with Jesus, based on the knowledge revealed to him, that makes him suitable for this role.

However, when Peter presumes to take Jesus to one side and rebuke him for talking of dying, Jesus’ response is sharp and immediate ‘Get behind me Satan!’ The strength of this response is shocking; how should it be explained?

One possible explanation is that Jesus is himself struggling with this aspect of his vocation (as we see clearly in Gethsemane) and needs to be decisive in resisting the temptation that Peter offers, just as he was when directly tempted by Satan. A further explanation is that Jesus knows Peter’s need to accept Jesus’ words and authority if he is to become the rock and fisher of men that he should. Peter unwittingly stands in opposition to the central act of Jesus’ vocation from the Father and needs to understand the peril of doing so. Any lesser or gentler rebuke to Peter would have been a disservice to him, underplaying the seriousness of his actions.

Peter’s strength of character also requires a sustained moulding process. Whilst we are not told why Peter is so opposed to the idea of Jesus dying, it seems likely that he is expecting Jesus to be some kind of political Messiah, and that Jesus’ exaltation to the throne of Israel will also mean glory for Peter, reinforcing the need for Jesus’ strong correction. We can also see the extent of the change that takes place in Peter for he eventually submits to Jesus’ will and no longer seeks his own glory. [1]

Walking On Water

Peter’s strength of character was also an asset and on another occasion we see Jesus seeking to channel it towards a deeper faith. In this incident, recorded by Matthew, Peter and the other disciples have spent a busy period of ministry with Jesus. They have tried to take rest together in a solitary place, but the crowds have continued to pursue them. Jesus then involves the disciples in an amazing miracle when he feeds over 5,000 people, before dismissing them to cross the lake in a boat.

The disciples have encountered a storm and have been battling the weather for many hours. When Jesus approaches them it is between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. They must have been physically exhausted, not only from their ministry, but also from their fight with the storm. They possibly feel abandoned by Jesus. However, their principal emotion when they see what they believe to be a ghost approaching is fear. In Peter this emotion is quickly reversed when he sees that it is Jesus. His instinct is to get to where Jesus is. Whilst we might consider that his behaviour is just another example of typically impulsive Peter, and the request to walk with Jesus on such rough and stormy water an ill-considered gesture, Jesus does not condemn but seeks to encourage his faith.

Peter’s question ‘Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water’ assumes that it is Jesus and should be read as a statement of faith, rather than an identity check. [2] Jesus’ response of ‘Come’ is entirely consistent with his initial call for Peter to follow him. Peter, inconsistent with this calling at other moments, wants to obey now in this unusual situation. This ‘getting-out-of-the-boat’ faith that he displays is precisely the kind he will need later on and Jesus’ response to Peter’s subsequent failure is not to condemn his initial faith, but the inconsistency and double-mindedness that he displays in sustaining it. [3] Jesus wants more of this kind of faith from Peter.

Peter’s Denial And Restoration

Whilst all of Jesus’ interactions with Peter can be understood as being loving and motivated by Peter’s best interests, a few insights noted by the gospel writers show us the depth of his concern. Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial is one example of this. At the time it was given, it clearly dispirited and concerned Peter and the other disciples. In retrospect, however, Peter would have been reassured that although Jesus knew in advance of his betrayal, it did not disqualify him from a relationship with Jesus, or a position as his disciple.

Luke’s account gives us particular insight. Jesus begins his prediction with the words ‘Simon, Simon’. The repetition demonstrates a sense of grief, of kindness and of love; Luke uses it to highlight moments of particular emotion that Jesus experiences. Here, Jesus is particularly moved by the trial that he knows Peter will undergo and his use of Simon, rather than Peter, underlines this. All of Simon’s progress towards becoming Peter will be knocked back in this one incident.

Although Satan has asked to sift all the disciples (the Greek ‘you’ is plural), Jesus has prayed for Simon especially that his faith will not fail. Jesus is concerned to guard his relationship with Peter, which, at the moment of his testing and in the future, will be based upon faith. We have already noted Luke’s theme of demonstrating the nature and effectiveness of Jesus’ prayer life as a major source of blessing to his disciples. Luke is clear: Peter will survive the ordeal because Jesus has prayed for him. It displays one of the ways in which his relationship with Peter and his relationship with the Father interact. Jesus has particular concern for Peter in his trial as he will be the only disciple to betray Jesus in such a public fashion. He is also concerned that Peter will come through his ordeal and become the rock he should be. Jesus expects Peter to eventually strengthen the other disciples.

Jesus’ concern and love for Peter is also shown in his post-resurrection conversation in John 21. He takes the time aside (although possibly not out of earshot of the other disciples) to reinstate Peter and demonstrate his forgiveness. Although Peter is hurt by Jesus’ third repetition of his question ‘Do you love me?’, Jesus is gently forcing a threefold declaration of his love that mirrors his threefold denial.

Furthermore, the repetition requires Peter to declare ‘Lord you know all things…’ and throw himself in reliance back on Jesus. Rather than the previous episodes where Peter has demonstrated a penchant for extravagant claims of loyalty, here he keeps the declaration simple and appeals to Jesus to weigh his words. There has been progress in Peter’s relationship with Jesus as Peter responds in a more appropriate manner than he has on previous occasions.

Thus, even in this brief overview, we can see how his relationship with Jesus brought about a dramatic change in Simon Peter.

If you would like to learn more about Peter’s relationship with Jesus and other lessons from Jesus’ relationships, see the new Jubilee Centre report, Towards an understanding of Jesus’ relationships

[1] cf. Acts 5:41.

[2] Hagner, Matthew 14–28 , p.424.

[3] Hagner, p.424.

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Category: News and Reviews

June, 2007

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  1. peter says:

    this was a good read and enjoyable, I do have a correction to add I believe though, my name being as such has led me to investigate the name and I have come to the conclusion that Peter does not mean rock.Jesus does NOT call Peter the rock nor imply that the church will be built on his foundation, Jesus is referring to himself as Jesus knows that Peter knows who he is he is confirming to Peter that yes I am that rock upon which the church will be built, I believe the demonic catholic church usuing the garbage versions of the word of GOD Alexandrian texts not the Antioch version is why it has been received as such as they read it wrongly and claim him to be the first pope

    • peter says:

      almost correct. the rock is the new testament teachings of salvation through Christ. peter means stone not rock, therefor the rock is the words of the new testament and peter being the stone(like the tablets of the old testament being stone and the rock on the stone being the word of god, ie commandments) peters teachings in the early church led to the compilation of the first bible. Lucifer however infaltrated not long after peter died. We all know how that went. Interesting that there is not mention of the cross in the new testament and no mention of peter incorporating it in the first church people praying through him (pope). infact you could say when the cross was incorporated was the time lucifer had infiltrated. there is reference to the worship of crosses thousands of years before Christ. something to think about, for we are instructed not to make any images.
      Exodus 20:4
      “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

  2. pamela murray says:

    what was peter achievements and success
    what was his limitations and/or failures
    what was his leadership styles;strengths
    what was his personality & character traits
    what scope of influence and applicable lessons
    what is his biblical model/example

  3. Kieran Ring says:

    My intuition on this subject is as follows and is rooted in the first meeting between our Lord and Simon.

    The significance in our Master’s renaming of Simon is in its typology. Simon was to be “petrified”. In essence transformed from organic temporal (fallen) matter to precious (eternal) stone.

    In nature, Petrified wood (from the Greek root petro meaning “rock” or “stone”; literally “wood turned into stone”) is the name given to a special type of fossilized remains of terrestrial vegetation. It is the result of a tree or tree-like plants having completely transitioned to stone by the process of permineralization. All the organic materials have been replaced with minerals (mostly a silicate, such as quartz), while retaining the original structure of the stem tissue. Unlike other types of fossils which are typically impressions or compressions, petrified wood is a three-dimensional representation of the original organic material. (wiki)

    see: http://www.todayswhisper.com/img/misc/a_rare_opal_petrified_piece_of_wood/a_rare_opal_petrified_piece_of_wood_4.jpg

    Peter eventually saw this deeper meaning. In his first epistle he writes:

    1 Peter 2: 5: ‘You yourselves also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house into a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’

    We, the believers in Christ, are living stones, like Christ, through regeneration and transformation. We were created of clay (Rom. 9:21). But at regeneration, we received the seed of the divine life, which by its growing in us transforms us into living stones. (footnote from Recovery version of the Bible)

    At Peter’s conversion the Lord gave him a new name, Peter — a stone (John 1:42); and when Peter received the revelation concerning Christ, the Lord revealed further that He was the rock — a stone (Matt. 16:16-18). By these two incidents, Peter received the impression that both Christ and His believers are (precious)stones for God’s building.

    God’s building is both the Church and the new Jerusalem.

    The new Jerusalem is described in Revelation 21 by John as:

    10-11 ‘Having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, as clear as crystal.

    19-20 ‘The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every precious stone: the first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst’

    The precious stones are not the light but the light-bearers. They do not have light in themselves, but the light, which is God, has been wrought into them and shines out through them. This indicates that since we are part of the coming New Jerusalem, we must be transformed into precious stones, with God being wrought into our being as the shining light, that we may be the light-bearer shining as God’s expression.

    The journey from living to precious stones is, therefore, one of transformation. Human beings are changed by what they eat, their source of nourishment. We need to be nourished in our soul through the mind and also in our spirit, by feeding on Christ as the words with either milk or solid food day by day that we may grow unto salvation, unto maturity for glorification.

    A living stone is one that not only possesses life but also grows in life. This is Christ for God’s building. Here Peter changed his metaphor from a seed, which is of the vegetable life (1:23-24), to a stone, which is of the minerals. The seed is for life-planting; the stone is for building (v. 5). Peter’s thought went on from life-planting to God’s building. As life to us, Christ is the seed; for God’s building, He is the stone. After receiving Him as the seed of life, we need to grow that we may experience Him as the stone living in us. Thus He will make us also living stones, transformed with His stone nature, that we may be built together with others as a spiritual house upon Him as both the foundation and the cornerstone (Isa. 28:16).

    Scripture references and commentary are from the Recovery version.

    In Him

    Kieran

    Church in Dublin

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