For the past two days I’ve talked about the Apostle Peter.
Good old Peter, whose spirit is so excited about Christ, but whose flesh is so, so weak. But, remember, he’s not the only one.
And then there’s something else about Peter that struck me profoundly.
Peter was destined for both great things and horrible, unspeakable things.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he warned his disciples what life would be like for them if they were faithful.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” – John 15:18
“If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you . . .” – John 15:20
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matt. 5:11, 12
These statements were prophesies for ALL of Jesus’ disciples for all times until his return.
But Peter was set apart from all the others by Jesus, as an example to follow, and not to follow. During two particular heart-to-hearts, Jesus tells Peter just how special he was to the future of the ministry and mission of God.
Jesus prophesies Peter’s status
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus asks the disciples who they think he really is, and Jesus let’s them answer, but he’s really interested in Peter’s response.
After Peter responded to Jesus’ identity question with “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16: 16), Jesus issued the following proclamation:
“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matt. 16: 17-19
Now, there is much debate over Peter’s actual role in the church as foretold by Christ.
- Catholics believe that this passage justifies Peter as the first Pope of the church.
- Protestants believe that this passage indicates a need for confession that Christ is God, and Peter is one of many appointed leaders of the first church.
I don’t want to debate theological differences with this passage, but rather emphasize that Peter was indeed singled out by Christ as a leader of the church and that Peter’s authority, as well as all of the disciples’ authority, came from God himself and not man.
So, Peter’s probably feeling pretty good about himself right about now. He was just given the greatest news anyone could possibly receive. “He” was just given the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” and what could be better than that?
Oh, but how quickly the mighty fall. Peter denies and abandons Christ in Christ’s last hours of desperation, and then doubts his whole purpose.
And then Christ is resurrected and Peter and all of the disciples have a mixed-range of emotions, ending with sheer joy and conviction. But this isn’t the end of Peter’s prophesy, but far.
Jesus Prophesies Peter’s fate
After Jesus was raised from the dead, John tells a story that seems too fantastical, but has great significance.
Jesus has breakfast with the disciples (John 21:8-15). Yup. Jesus, recently raised from the dead eats. (This signifies that Christ is not a ghost at this time, but rather fully raised from the dead, fully alive forever more). And he’s happy to share one last meal with his friends who are his adopted family. I imagine great camaraderie around the campfire with lots of laughing, joking and celebrating. I imagine great love for one another in all of their hearts. And I imagine Peter remembering that Christ gave him those precious “keys”.
As I read further in John’s final chapter, I imagine scenes from several movies in which a parent is dying and calls their children to their side, giving them final life instructions and bits of wisdom.
But Jesus’ parting wisdom is not good news for the disciples, and Jesus once again singles Peter out as the object of the lesson.
Remember those times that Jesus told them that that they were going to be persecuted? Apparently, Jesus felt that they might have forgotten that, especially Peter.
Just like in the Matthew 16 passage where Jesus repeatedly asks the disciples who they think Jesus is, Jesus repeatedly asks Peter if Peter loves him. Again, Peter answers favorably to Jesus, but Jesus says this:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” – John 21:18
What’s this mean?
Simply put, Jesus was indicating that Peter would be crucified much like Jesus was with his arms stretched out upon a cross and carried to his death, clothed in the same manner Jesus was at his crucifixion.
There is a legend that tells how Peter was indeed crucified, but upside down because he did not feel worthy to die the same way Christ did. But many scholars dispute this legend. not How Peter was crucified has little weight. The fact remains, he was crucified just as Jesus predicted.
(Art: “Crucifixion of St. Peter” 1604-1605; Guido Reni; public domain)
The Final Lesson
For whatever reason, Jesus singled Peter out as an example of so many lessons. This does not mean that these lessons were only meant for Peter.
All but one of the original twelve disciples went on to lead the church in the first years in some capacity. All were expected to confess Christ as their savior and living God. And nearly all of them faced similar fates of persecution and martyrdom for their faith in Christ.
The lesson we can learn from Peter is that Jesus showed that he will raise up leaders in his church. Just like Peter, the leaders in the church are fallible humans. The leaders of the church are not gods themselves, but are given authority in the church by God. That’s the good news.
The not so good news is that, if you are a leader in the church, or a faithful follower of Christ, then you can expect to be persecuted, and maybe even killed because of your faith.
Just as persecution was a reality for Peter and the rest of the disciples, it’s still true for Christians today.
But there’s one more thing I left out of the story.
Words of Assurance
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet in a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live . . .” – John 14:18, 19
“The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. . . Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – John 14: 25-27
“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” – Luke 12:11, 12
Persecution can be very, very scary. But just as Christ left the Holy Spirit to guide Peter and the other disciples, the Holy Spirit is here for you, too. This is especially true during times of persecution. Have no fear, God is with you.
Go now, just as the disciples did, serving God and living in this peace.