In the Scriptures, Simon Peter is always listed first in any list given of the apostles. He is certainly a striking figure, and no attempt to tell the story of the new covenant community would be complete without him. It is hard to imagine him as anything but a large man, but whether he was physically big or not, he is always big in the story.
Family and Background
His father’s name was Jonah (Matt. 16:17). His original name was apparently Symeon (Acts 15:14), and it appears that he adopted the Greek name Simon because it had a similar sound to his Hebrew name. His brother Andrew simply had a Greek name. He was from the town of Bethsaida (John 1:4), an overwhelmingly Greek city. But he also had a home up in the north, in Capernaum on the sea of Galilee (Mk. 1:21ff). Both towns were lakeside, where he could work as a fisherman, and there would be in both places abundant contact with Gentiles. Simon spoke with a thick Galilean accent (Mk. 14:70). He had been brought up in a pious home (Acts 10:14). His brother Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist (John 1:39f), and it is likely that Simon had been affected by that ministry as well (Acts 1:22).
INITIAL CONTACT WITH CHRIST
It appears that Simon was first introduced to Christ by the agency of his brother Andrew (John 1:41). This previous contact with Christ makes his response when Christ called him away from his vocation a bit more intelligible (Mark 1:16f). After he was called out of Israel, he was then called (again) to be numbered among the Twelve (Mk. 3: 16ff).
It was after he became a disciple that he received (from Christ) the Aramaic name of Cephas (1 Cor. 1:12; 15:5; Gal. 2:9). This name means ‘rock’ or ‘stone,’ and usually shows up in the New Testament in its Greek equivalent, which would be Peter. It appears from John 1:42 that Jesus named him this at their first encounter. John usually calls him Simon Peter. And Mark calls him Simon up to (3:16), and Peter almost entirely thereafter. This is important because the Gospel of Mark should probably be understood as a rendition of Peter’s account of the life of Christ.
OVERVIEW OF HIS LIFE
As mentioned earlier, Peter is always named first in any list of disciples. He was not only chosen to be numbered among the Twelve, but he was also one of the three members of an inner circle around the Master (Mk. 5:37; 9:2; 14:33). He followed Christ faithfully throughout His three-year ministry in Palestine. One event during that time which had an enormous impact on Peter was the Transfiguration (1 Pet. 5:1; 2 Pet. 1:16ff). The great confession Peter gave was marked out by the Lord as the “rock” upon which the church would be built ( (Matt. 16:18ff). Near the end of the Lord’s ministry, when Christ prophecied that His disciples would all be scattered, Peter rashly promised that he would do no such thing (Mark 14:29). But of course, when it came down to the point, Peter collapsed and denied the Lord. When the rooster crowed, Peter immediately recognized his sin and went out and wept bitterly. After the resurrection, the Lord graciously restored Peter to his position among the disciples—which of course had been forfeited. The Lord not only restored Peter to ministry, but had also visited him personally (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5)
After the resurrection and ascension, Peter took the lead in the early days of the church (Acts 1:15ff). He is the principal preacher (2:124ff; 3:12ff). He is the spokesmen who answers the Jewish authorities (4:8ff). He presided over the administration of discipline (5:3ff). He also showed great leadership in the first mission work at Samaria (8:14ff). All this said, however, he was present at the Jerusalem council, but was not the president (Acts 15)—James was. After Peter broke out of prison, he disappeared (Acts 12:17). We know that he made it to Antioch (Gal. 2:11ff), and he may have made it to Corinth (1 Cor. 1:12). He had a tight connection with the Christians in northern Asia Minor (1 Pet. 1:1), and we know that he was back in Jerusalem for the council.
This man named Rock was noteworthy for his impulsive devotion to Christ (Mt. 14:28; Mk. 14:29; Luke 5:8; John 21:7). He was the kind of man who naturally speaks up when a group is addressed. He acted as a spokesman for the Twelve on numerous occasions (Matt. 15:15; 18:21; Mk1:36f; 8:29; 9:5; 10:28; 11:21; 14:29ff; Luke 5:5; 12:41). His impulsive nature was seen in his failings as well.
We know the apostle Peter directly from three main sources. The first would be the content of his preaching in the book of Acts. The other two sources would be the two epistles he wrote. The stylistic differences between the two letters have been noted from the time of the early church, but there is no real trouble here. Silvanus (or Silas) helped Peter in some fashion with 1 Peter. Silas was a long-time co-laborer with the apostle Paul. Both letters were written in the 60s, right at the end of Peter’s life. Although it is not included in the New Testament, we may reliably say that Peter died at Rome in the first Roman persecution of the church under Nero.
SHORT CATECHISM FOR LITTLE SAINTS
What kind of disciple was the apostle Peter?
Why did Jesus go to the cross?
Because He saw the joy set before Him.
Why Did Peter not keep his promise to Jesus?
Because he tried to love Jesus in his own strength.