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13. Peter
13.1 Peter’s Conversion || 13-1-1 Peter The Rock || 13-1-2 Peter Our Example || 13-1-3 Peter's Coversion || 13-2-1 Peter And The Cross || 13-2-2 Peter And Quo Vadis? || 13.3 Peter’s Preaching: 13-3-1 Peter’s Preaching || 13-3-2 Peter And The Stone Of Daniel 2 || 13-3-3 Peter's Realization Of Sinfulness || 13-3-4  Appreciation Of Christ’s Exaltation || 13.4 Peter The Shepherd: 13-4-1 Peter The Shepherd || 13-4-2 Peter And The Judaizers || 13-4-3 The Letters Of Peter || 13-5-1 Peter And Christ || 13-5-2 Peter And The Titles Of Christ || 13-6 Peter: Bible Student || 13-7 Walking On Water


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. 66-71.

(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.