13-2-2 Peter And Quo Vadis?
Yet it is an observable feature in the lives of many giants of faith
that they die with elements of weakness still (Samson with his unChristian
desire for personal vengeance would be the clearest example, or
Jacob speaking of how he took land from the Amorite with his strength
and his bow, when the Lord gave it to him by grace, cp. Ps. 44:3).
And in this matter of following the Lord to the cross, it could
be that even Peter faltered (1). Jn.
21:18,19 could be taken as meaning that Peter was to die the death
of crucifixion, which would be the final fulfilment of the charge
to ďfollow meĒ. Jn. 21:19 contains the observation that as he would
be led to that place of execution, it would be a death that ďthou
wouldest notĒ. The Lord foresaw that Peterís unwillingness to accept
the cross would surface even then. One of the most well attested
extra Biblical traditions about Peter is found in the apocryphal
ĎActs of Peterí. It is that as he was being led to crucifixion,
the Lord Jesus appeared to Peter, and Peter asked: ĎDomine, quo
vadis?í- ĎLord / Master, to where are we going?í (repeating his
words of Jn. 13:36), as if somehow even then, he found the final
acceptance of the cross hard. As indeed, it would be. In Jn. 13:36,
the Lord had answered the question by telling Peter that then, he
wasnít able to follow Him to death. But he would do so at a later
date. And that time had come, although it took a lifetime to reach.
This tradition has, to me, the ring of truth about it, from all
that we know of Peterís problem with the cross. And it exactly mirrors
our own difficulty in facing up to the stark realities of the life
of self-sacrifice and ultimate self-crucifixion to which we are
called, the question of Quo Vadis?. Only then, at the very very
end, did he realize that following Christ was a call to follow Him
to His cross. And another extra Biblical tradition has a similar
likelihood of truth: it is said that when finally Peter was brought
to the place of crucifixion, he insisted on being crucified upside
down, as he was unworthy to die the same death as his Lord. Another
tradition says that because of this unusual angle of crucifxion,
the nails fell out and Peter was offered the chance of release,
which he refused, and asked to be crucified with his Lord, still
upside down. If all this is so, he finally learnt the lesson which
we likewise struggle for a lifetime to learn: that following Christ
means going to His cross with Him, and in the process learning and
feeling through and through our unworthiness. And he learnt too
that to die with Christ is never forced upon us by the Lord who
bought us: in Peterís final, willing choice of death, as with our
day by day denials of the flesh for Christís sake, we make the choices
purely from our own volition. We alone decide, in the terror, pain
and difficulty of a genuine freewill, that thus it must be for us.
And for us, Quo Vadis?
(1) As an aside, there is an OT background to the
Lordís invitation to follow Him in the taking up of the cross and
following to the place of crucifixion. It is in the frequent references
to the faithful following after Yahweh Himself (e.g. Dt. 7:4; 2
Chron. 34:33). Itís as if the Lord was saying that the essence of
Yahweh was in the cross He carried. To follow Him to the end, to
live the life of cross carrying, leads us to Yahweh Himself. The
connection between the cross and God Himself is expanded upon in
People in Beyond Bible Basics.