13-1-3 Peter's Conversion
There is so much more implied in the statement that Peter “wept
bitterly” contained in those two words. The Lord’s comment that
satan had demanded to have the disciples, especially Peter (Lk.
22:31) is clearly based upon the experience of Job, whom satan also
demanded. The Lord saw a similarity between Job and Peter,
in that Job’s sufferings were to be repeated in their essence in
the experience of Peter. Only through that bitter weeping and reflection
upon it, corresponding in the Lord’s analogy to all that Job went
through, would Peter like Job emerge triumphant. Peter stood somewhere
that night, knowing he was condemned. Such a true, genuine sense
is a vital component in any conversion. He “went out” from the Lord.
“Went out” is the language of Judas going out (Jn. 13:30- in essence,
Peter and Judas did the same thing at the same time). Other prototypes
of the rejected likewise had gone out from the Lord. Cain ‘“went
out” (Gen. 4:16), as did Zedekiah in the judgment of Jerusalem (Jer.
39:4; 52:7). Esau went out from the land of Canaan into Edom, slinking
away from the face of his brother Jacob, sensing his righteousness
and his own carnality (Gen. 36:2-8). Yet Peter in this life “went
out” from the Lord (Mk. 14:68) and then some minutes later further
“went out and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:62), living out the very figure
of condemnation- and yet was able to repent and come back.
In this life we can be judged, condemned, weep...but still repent
of it and thereby change our eternal destiny. But at the final judgment:
it will be just too late. That ‘judgment’ will be a detailed statement
of the outcome of the ongoing investigative judgment which is going
on right now.
There are other connections between Peter’s position at this time
and that of the rejected before the judgement seat. He was ‘remaining
outside’ of the Palace where the Lord was (Mt. 26:29 AV “sat without”).
Yet the Greek exo translated “without” or “outside” is
elsewhere used about the rejected being “cast out” (Mt. 5:13; 13:48),
‘standing without’ with the door shut (Lk. 13:25,28), like a fruitless
branch cast out into the fire (Jn. 15:6). When we read that Peter
“went out” from the Lord’s presence (Mt. 26:75), the same Greek
word is used. The oaths which Peter used would probably have included
‘Before God!’. He was anticipating the judgment seat: before God
he admitted he did not know His Son. The “day of visitation”
is coming for us all (1 Pet. 2:12). The Greek is related to the
word describing how after the denials, Christ turned and looked
upon Peter (Lk. 22:61). This was for him his day of judgment, which
we must all pass through. He called down Divine curses upon
himself if he knew Jesus of Nazareth- and thus brought the
curse of God upon himself (the record of his cursing and swearing
refers to this rather than to the use of expletives). H.H. Rowley
has commented: “In Hebrew thought a curse was not the mere expression
of a wish; it was charged with power to work for its own fulfilment,
and once uttered it had passed beyond the power of its utterer,
and gone forth on its evil errand” (1).
The whole idea of ‘I don’t know Him’ must, sadly, be connected with
the Lord’s words in Mt. 7:23 and 25:41, where He tells the rejected:
“I never knew you”. By denying knowledge of the Saviour, Peter was
effectively agreeing that the verdict of condemnation could appropriately
be passed upon him. In one of his many allusions to the Gospels,
Paul wrote that “If we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Tim. 2:12).
Peter in this life denied his Lord in front of men (Mt.
26:70)- and the record of his failure intentionally looks back to
the Lord’s warning that whoever denies Him before men will
be denied by Him at judgment day (Mt. 10:33). He sinned, and in
the court of Heaven was condemned. Mt. 26:75 speaks of how Peter
“went out”- the same word is used about the condemned going out
of the Lord’s presence in the last day- Mt. 5:13; 13:48; Lk. 13:28;
Jn. 15:6; Rev. 22:15. Peter condemned himself.
But remember that Judas likewise “went out” into the darkness.
Judas is described as " standing with" those who ultimately
crucified Jesus in Jn 18:5. Interestingly the same idea occurs in
Jn. 18:18 where Peter is described as standing with essentially
the same group; point being, that Judas and Peter in essence did
the same thing, they both denied their Lord and stood with His enemies.
But one repented real repentance, whereas the other couldn't muster
the faith for this. Lesson: We all deny the Lord, but the two paths
before us are those of either Peter or Judas. Peter of course is
our pattern. Paul says that none of the brethren 'stood with' him
when he was on trial, but " the Lord [Jesus] stood with me"
(2 Tim. 4:16,17). It seems to me that the Lord knew exactly what
it felt like to be left alone by your brethren, as happened to Him
in Gethsemane and at His trials; and so at Paul's trial He could
'stand with' him, based on His earthly experience of being left
to stand alone. In our lives likewise, the Lord acts to help us
based on His earthly experiences; He knows how we feel, because
He in essence went through it all. John maybe has the image of Judas
and Peter standing with the Lord's enemies in mind when he writes
that the redeemed shall stand with Jesus on Mount Zion (Rev. 14:1),
facing the hostile world.
Peter's self condemnation is brought out in yet finer detail by
considering what he meant when he thrice denied that he either knew
nor understood about Jesus (Mk. 14:68). By that time, everyone had
heard about Jesus- after all, the trial of Jesus was going on, and
all Jerusalem were waiting with bated breath for the outcome. And
there was Peter, standing by the fire in the High Priest's house,
with everyone talking about the Jesus affair. Peter hardly would've
meant 'Jesus? 'Jesus' who? Never heard of him. Dunno who you're
talking about'. What he therefore meant, or wished to be understood
as meaning, was that he didn't 'know' Jesus in a close sense, he
wasn't a disciple of Jesus, he didn't know nor understand Jesus,
i.e., he wasn't a follower of Jesus. When Peter tells the maid:
"I know not, neither understand what you say [about this Jesus]"
(Mk. 14:68), the other records interpret this as meaning that Peter
said that he didn't know Jesus. So we may have to interpret the
form of speech being used here; for Semitic speakers don't answer
questions in the same way and form as we may be accustomed to. The
"what you say" was about Jesus; and therefore Peter is
saying that he neither knows [closely] nor understands this Jesus.
And yet time and again, Peter's Lord had taught that those who did
not or would not 'know and understand' Him were those who were "outside",
unknown by Him, rejected. And Peter was saying, to save his skin,
'Yes, that's me'. And yet... Peter repented, and changed that verdict.
Mark’s record of the Lord’s trial is not merely a historical
account. It’s framed in terms of our need to testify for our
faith too. The Lord’s example in His time of suffering was
and is intended to be our example and inspiration, in that we are
to in a very practical sense enter into His sufferings. Mark records
the Lord’s prediction that His people would have to witness
before both Jewish and Gentile authorities (Mk. 13:9-13)- and then
Mark goes on in the next chapter to describe Jesus doing just this.
The Lord asked His suffering followers not to prepare speeches of
self-defence- perhaps exemplified and patterned for us in the way
that He remained silent before His accusers. Peter is recorded as
denying Christ three times- just as the Romans interrogated Christians
and asked them to three times deny Christ (2). The Christians were
also asked to curse, or anathematizein, Jesus (3). And when we read
of Peter’s cursing, the same word is used. We’re left
with the impression that Peter actually cursed Christ. And so Mark,
who was likely writing the Gospel on Peter’s behalf, is showing
that Peter, the leader of the church, actually pathetically failed
to follow his Lord at this time. And yet the Gospel of Mark was
being distributed to Christians who were being dragged before Jewish
and Roman courts. The idea was surely to give them an example and
encouragement from Peter’s failure, rather than portray a
positive example of a man overcoming the temptation to curse and
deny Christ. But this was how the Lord used Peter- as an example
from failure for all of us.
To The Cross
So knowing his condemnation, where did Peter go? Probably he could
quite easily have also gone and hung himself- for he was of that
personality type. But instead he went to the cross- for he was a
witness of the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet. 5:1), and his words
and writing consistently reflect the language of Golgotha’s awful
scene. There, in that personal, hidden observation of the cross,
probably disguised in the crowd, not daring to stand with John and
the women, his conversion began. Then his love for his Lord became
the more focused. Now he could do nothing- and his thinking
had been so full of doing until that point. All he could
do was to watch that death and know his own desperation, and somehow
believe in grace. “Who his own self bare our sins in his body up
on to the tree” (2:24 RVmg.) suggests the watching Peter reflecting,
as the Lord’s body was lifted up vertical, that his sins of denial
and pride were somehow with his Lord, being lifted up by Him. “For
Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust,
that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18) could well have been
written by Peter with a glance back at the way that after his denials,
he the unjust went to the crucifixion scene and reflected just this.
When in 5:1 he comments that he witnessed the sufferings of Christ,
he could be saying that therefore these thoughts were his thoughts
as he witnessed it: the just suffering for him the unjust, to bring
him back to God. And then there was that graciously unrecorded appearing
of the risen Lord to Peter (1 Cor. 15:5; Lk. 24:34). These passages
suggest that the Lord simply appeared to Him, without words. It
was simply the assurance that was there in the look on the face
of the Lord. And now, finally, this interview with the Lord,
where specific questions were asked.
There are times between parents and children, brothers, sisters,
boyfriend and girlfriend, newly marrieds, old married couples wedded
for a lifetime…when there is a slip by one party. An unusually hard
and hurtful word, a sentence quite inappropriately said in public
that betrays, that denies. And then a private meeting. The hung
head on the one hand, and the soft, sincere, seeking question from
the offended party: Do you love me? And the hung head mouths something
to the effect that yes, you know that I love you, more now than
ever before. All these so human scenes are but dim reflections of
the Lord’s meeting with Peter. Here was the Son of God, with eyes
as a blazing fire, the One who truly knew and discerned all things,
and before Him was the Peter who had undoubtedly denied Him, with
oath and curses. Surely as he answered the questions, he did so
with tears, with a lump in the thorat that would have made his voice
sound so distorted and childlike. Do you love me? That was the question.
Do you love me more than the others? You once thought you did. And
finally he has to say from the heart: You (of all men) know all
things. You really and truly do. And you know that I love you. I
can’t say to what degree, you can judge that. Now I realize I’m
not stronger than my brethren, and I didn’t love you as much as
I thought. But then, you know all things. And you know that, all
the same, I truly love you. Peter links conversion with repentance
(Acts 3:19; see too Mk. 4:12; James 5:19,20). Although it is graciously
unrecorded, it is left unspoken that Peter repented of his denials;
and of his self-assurance, and of his feeling better than his brethren,
and of so much else…
And this was conversion. Peter had been converted before, of course.
The Lord spoke of conversion as really seeing, really hearing, really
understanding, and commented that the disciples had reached this
point (Mt. 13:15,16). But he also told them that they needed to
be converted and become as children, knowing they knew nothing as
they ought to know (Mt. 18:3). After seeing what happened to the
sons of Sceva, it would appear that some who had ‘believed’ went
up to a higher level of commitment: “Many also of them that had
believed came, confessing and declaring their deeds. And not a few
of them that practised magical arts brought their books together,
and burned them” (Acts 19:18,19 RV). This would seem to imply that
despite having ‘believed’, perhaps with the same level of shallow
conviction as some ‘believed’ in the teaching of Jesus during His
ministry, their faith wasn’t so deep. They were taken up to an altogether
higher level of commitment, resulting in ‘confessing and declaring’,
and quitting their involvement with magic.
There are levels up the ladder, and Peter came to the higher conversion
which we must all come to. As he stood with bowed head, converted
to a child, knowing his own frailty, knowing the Lord’s grace and
his love of all the Lord was and is, he was converted. The Lord
then could tell him to go on following Him, and to feed
His sheep. Now Peter was converted, he could strengthen his brethren.
Surely Peter had found the Lord’s words strange when he first heard
them: “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren”. He thought
he was already converted; he was sure of it (4).
And you and me thought likewise when we rose from the water of baptism.
It concerns me, it worries me no end, that in our preaching of the
Gospel we seem to merely be teaching propositional truth-
one God, no trinity, baptism by immersion, resurrection, no immortal
soul…all of which is quite true and necessary to a true understanding
of the Gospel. And our interviewing of candidates ensures that their
understanding is in harmony with the statements in the Statement
of Faith…and so they are baptized, and go off as many of us did
to debate with the likes of JWs and Adventists the truths which
they have learnt. But this is not the full message of the Gospel.
The full message is life with Christ, with His life as your life,
with your heart and soul given over to fellowship with Him in every
sense, to the glorification of God’s Name. It means knowing your
desperation, bowing with an unpretended shame before His righteousness
and meekly rising up in service to the brotherhood. This was conversion
for Peter, and it must be for each of us (5).
There will be some who in the last day will really think they have
misheard: “I never knew you”. Never. They knew the right
propositions, they fought for the preservation of those doctrines,
they can say that they “kept” the talent given them (the same word
is used about ‘keeping’ the faith in the pastorals); but they never
knew their Lord. And therefore He never knew them. For all their
knowledge, they never knew Him. They never bowed before Him. They
never said to Him: You know that I love you. Have you said those
words, and felt them? Have you wept for your wretched inadequacy?
I hope, earnestly, that each reader has, and does. And if we have,
we know conversion. And like Peter we will stand up and quite naturally
witness to all “the words of this life”, full of God’s word (12
out of the 22 verses devoted to Peter’s speech in Acts 2 are simply
him quoting Scripture), pouring it out to men in the earnest hope
that they will share our path of conversion.
Peter And Conversion
The Lord spoke of conversion as really seeing, really hearing,
really understanding, and commented that the disciples had reached
this point (Mt. 13:15,16)
But they needed to be converted and become as children, knowing
they knew nothing as they ought to know (Mt. 18:3).
“When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren”
At the cross men “returned”, s.w. convert
We later read that Peter only really believed on Jesus as Lord
at Pentecost. Yet he had called Jesus Lord and Master well before
this. It seems that only then did Peter go up to a higher level
in faith, and only then did he perceive Jesus as Lord,
which inspired that faith: “the like gift as he did also unto us
when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ…the Gentiles also…repented
unto life” (Acts 11:17,18 RV). It was at Pentecost that Peter saw
himself as having repented / converted, to a higher level.
Paul Tournier has
some relevant comment about conversion and re-conversion: “Conversion
is never an act done once and for all, never an isolated, measurable
fact. It is really growth, which needs time to develop- sometimes
a long time. In very rare cases one can expect sudden transformations
visible to the naked eye. That fruit that ripens altogether too
quickly is premature, and soon falls" (6).
It may seem that this isn’t true- a new convert shows such
apparent joy and zeal. But psychologically, it’s clear that ‘new
converts’ are often full of a zeal which doesn’t necessarily come
directly from the new set of beliefs which they hold [although it
can and should come from this]. The energy behind their new dynamism
can come from the fact they’ve revolted against their background
[e.g. when a Moslem becomes a Christian], their parents, a worldview
that they feel to have crushed them, and on which they can now get
their own back. I’m not scorning the joy and zeal of conversion
to Christ; I’m just sounding caveats.
(1) H.H. Rowley,
The Book Of Job (London: Nelson, 1976) p. 38. However, Mk. 14:71 can be read as meaning that Peter actually cursed Christ, as well as taking an oath that he didn't know Him. Commenting on the verb form of anathematizein there, Raymond Brown comments: "[it] should be taken transitively with 'Jesus' understood as the object: Peter cursed Jesus and took an oath that he had no personal acquaintance with him" - R.E. Brown, The Death Of The Messiah (Garden City: Doubleday, 1994) p. 605. I find it significant that the most awful detail about Peter's denials is provided in Mark's record, which I have suggested elsewhere is in fact Peter's record of the Gospel, written up by Mark.
(2) Quotations from Pliny to this intent in A.N.
Sherwin-White, Roman Society And Roman Law In The New Testament
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978) pp. 25,26.
(3) E. Bammel, The Trial Of Jesus (London: SCM, 1970) pp.
(4) Another example of Peter coming
to deeply know something which he had only theoretically known is
in his perception of the Lord’s resurrection. Peter knew Jesus had
risen, and he had met him and been “glad” when he saw the Lord,
and in some form had joyfully proclaimed the news to the others.
But “when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s
coat unto him (for he was naked) and did cast himself into the sea”
(Jn. 21:7), and then meets the Lord and as it were they settle the
score relating to his denials. Again by a fire, the three fold “lovest
thou me?” probed Peter’s denials, and the threefold commission to
“feed my sheep” confirmed his total re-enstatement to grace. The
whole flavour of this record would make it seem that this was the
first time Peter had met the risen Lord. But it clearly wasn’t.
Surely the point is that like us, we can know theoretically that
Christ rose; we can be sure of it. But the personal implications
in terms of confession of sin and service to that risen Lord can
be lost on us, to the point that we don’t really accept
that Christ is risen, even if in theory we do know and confess it.
(5) There is reason to think that
like Paul, Peter is held up as a pattern for all who would afterwards
believe. The way Peter is brought to Jesus and named by him has
evident connection with the bringing of Eve [cp. the whole bride
of Christ] to Adam [cp. Christ] to be named (Gen. 2:22,23 = Jn.
1;41,42). The way he remembers the word of the Lord at the time
of his denials comfortably links with the way the Comforter was
to bring to rememberance the word of the Lord to all His people.
It’s as if all comforted by the Comforter find their representative
in Peter in the heat of his denials.
(6) Paul Tournier, The
Person Reborn (New York: Harper & Row, 1975) p. 84.