Online Bible College
Carelinks Home
FREE Literature
'Bible Lives' Home
Bible Books Home
Buy this Book!
Bible Lives  

13-4-3 The Letters Of Peter

Peter’s letters are packed with allusion, consciously and unconsciously, to the Gospel records. And yet closer analysis reveals that he has an undoubted fondness for two areas: the cross, and incidents which include his own weakness, both morally and intellectually. In this lies Peter’s power, and it must have made him quite some pastoral figure in the early ecclesias. He could plead with men, both in and out of the Faith, with a credibility that lay in his ready acceptance of his failures, and his evident acceptance of his Lord’s gracious forgiveness and teaching. Consider how he tells Ananias that Satan has filled his heart (Acts 5:3), alluding to what everyone full well knew: that Satan had desired to have him too, and in the denials he had pretty well capitulated (Lk. 22:31,32). Peter’s disciplining of Ananias, so soon after his own deference to the pressures of Satan as opposed to those of the Lord, would have been done surely in subdued, saddened and introspective tones. There also seem to be a number of unconscious allusions by Peter back to his own failures- e.g. “Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren” (Acts 12:17) was an allusion to the women being told to go and shew the news of the resurrection to the brethren and Peter, who was then in spiritual crisis. Those words, that fact, was ingrained upon Peter to the point that he unconsciously builds it in to his own words. Consider the following examples in the letters of Peter of how he uses the areas of his own failures as the material for exhortation: 

- Peter must have felt to the false teachers with whom he contended as he did towards Ananias. He warns that they even deny the Lord who bought them (2 Peter 2:1). They even do this- as if denying the Lord was the worst possible, imaginable sin. And it was the very thing which he had so publically done, three times, and had effectively done again when bowing to Judaist false teaching. They deny “the Lord”- and that had been Peter’s favourite title for Jesus during the ministry (see Peter And Christ). As he warned of the evil of the apostate brethren, his own sense of personal failure and frailty was so evidently shown. And yet it was no reason for him to simply say ‘So, I can’t judge, I can’t criticize another after what I did’. What he had learnt from the whole experience of forgiveness and grace was that the wondrous grace and atonement of Christ must at all costs be preached and preserved. Pliny records how Christians were asked to make a threefold denial of Christ (Epistles 10.97). It has been suggested that the account of Peter's threefold denials of Christ has been included in the Gospel records as an encouragement to those whose faith failed them that still there was a way back to restoration with the Lord Jesus, just as there had been for Peter. When Peter encourages his persecuted brethren to resist the "roaring lion" of Roman / Jewish persecution (1 Pet. 5:8), he is therefore to be seen as writing against a background in which he had actually failed the very test which his brethren were facing. Yet he can therefore even more powerfully encouraged them, because he had also experienced the Lord's restoring grace.

- And he goes on to speak of how these men loved “the reward of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:13), using the very same Greek phrase he had used earlier about how Judas betrayed the Lord for “the reward of iniquity” (Acts 1:18). Judas and Peter had committed in essence the same sin of denying their Lord, and at the very same time. Peter would have intensely been aware of this. And yet he holds up Judas as a prototype of all who fall, as if to say: ‘And there, but for the Lord’s grace, nearly went I. See the terror of it, and turn away from that road. I of all men can tell you that’. 

- These Judas types “are carried with a tempest [in] the mist of darkness” (2 Peter 2:13). The Greek for “carried with a tempest” only occurs elsewhere in Mk. 4:37 and Lk. 8:23 in description of how Peter and the disciples, proud of their sailing ability, were driven by the storm / whirlwind in the darkness. The Greek for “tempest” is highly specific- it refers only and specifically to the whirlwind storms which can arise on Galilee. Peter clearly intends the allusion back to the night when he too was driven in a Galilee whirlwind, and had been rebuked for his lack of faith. He is really saying that he too has been a condemned man and can relate to how they feel; yet he was converted out of it, and came to gracious forgiveness. And so, he implicitly appeals, can each of you my readers be. 

- He urges his brethren: “Gird yourselves with humility to serve one another” (1 Peter 5:5 RV). This is a clear reference to the Lord’s humility at the last supper. But it had been Peter who didn’t perceive it. Now, it is as if he pleads with his readers not to be as slow as he had been to perceive the supremacy of humility.  

- The letters of Peter urge his readers to “be mindful of the words which were spoken before” (2 Peter 3:2). Yet this is evidently alluding to the frequent references to the disciples being slow to “remember” [s.w. “mindful”] the words which their Lord had “spoken before” (Lk. 24:6,8; Jn. 2:17,22; 12:16). Indeed, the same word is used about Peter ‘remembering’ [s.w. “be mindful”] all too late, the words which his Lord had “spoken before” to him (Mt. 26:75). So Peter was aware that his readers knew that he had not ‘remembered’ the words his Lord had “spoken before” to him- and yet, knowing that, he exhorts his readers to ‘remember’ or ‘be mindful’ [s.w.] of words which had been previously spoken. His readers likely had memorized the Gospels by heart. And yet Peter asks them to learn from his mistake, not to be as slow to remember as the disciples had been, and he especially. This is the basis of powerful exhortation- a repentant life, not an appearance of sinlessness. 

- Peter had found it hard to accept that truly “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:37). And, as was well known, there had come a time when he had slipped back into the old mindset, and had once again respected persons by refusing to break bread with Gentiles. And yet he reminds his Jewish readers that their prayers ascend to a Father “who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work” (i.e. Jew or Gentile, 1 Pet. 1:17). He was asking them to learn what he had so slowly and falteringly come to accept as the articulation of the very same grace to the Gentiles which had been his salvation too. 

- He asks his sheep: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man…unto governors…as free…honour all men” (1 Pet. 2:13-17). This is all evident allusion to the way he had once felt that as free in Christ and in Israel, he didn’t need to submit to men and pay taxes. But the Lord had gently rebuked him, and provided the coin to pay for them both (Mt. 17:25-27). The Gospels records would have been well known amongst the early believers; there is a tradition that at least the Gospel of Mark was learnt by heart as part of instruction for baptism. Peter’s readers would have known of the incident, and now, here he is telling them to learn the lesson he had had to learn.  

- The letters of Peter recount the transfiguration experience, and tells his brethren that they need to take heed to the word (2 Pet. 1:16-18), just as he had to be almost rebuked: “This is my beloved Son: hear him”. Peter loved the word (see Peter: Bible Student), but so often didn’t hear it, and at the crucial moment didn’t remember his Lord’s word. He had said “at thy word” I will let down the net; but when he saw the huge catch, he was amazed; he realized that he hadn’t really believed his Lord’s word. And he knew he was simply “a sinful man”, worthy of condemnation for his lack of faith (“depart from me”). He had to be taught that his own natural abilities were nothing at all. He was taught this in relation to fishing (see Peter And The Cross), to his faithfulness, commitment to laying down his life for Christ. He was made to learn that he knew nothing as he ought to know. And he implicitly admits this to his readers, when he asks us to take heed of the word which we may think we well know, just as he had to. Peter learnt the lesson of the transfiguration, for he told the Jewish authorities that he had to hear God’s word rather than theirs (Acts 4:19).  

- ‘Be babes’ he exhorts, ‘and grow as they do’ (1 Pet. 2:2). The same word occurs in Lk. 18:15 in description of the “infants” whom Peter rebuked. The Lord’s response had been to tell Peter to be like them (Lk. 18:17). And, having been humbled into learning something of a child’s teachableness, a babe’s desire for the sincere milk, Peter now asks others to learn the lesson. 

- James and John had desired the senior places in the Lord’s Kingdom. “And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren”, and we can imagine Peter to have been the most indignant. For he had thought then that he loved the Lord more than any of the others (cp. Mt. 26:33; Jn. 21:15). “But (in admonition) Jesus called them unto him” and taught that only in the world did men worry about who was greatest and mind that others were over them, and went on to teach that the true greatness was in humility: “whosoever will be great among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life…” (Mt. 20:25-28). These words were lived out in epitome at the last supper- and again, Peter had objected to it. He had failed to grasp the Lord’s teaching here. And having learnt the lesson finally, he can teach others that they like their Lord should not ‘lord it’ over their brethren, but rather be clothed with humility after the pattern of the kneeling Lord in the upper room (1 Pet. 5:3,5). 

- They were to “be watchful” (1 Peter 5:8 RV), watching unto prayer as the end approaches (4:7), as Peter had not been watchful in the garden and had earnt the Lord’s rebuke for going to sleep praying (Mt. 26:40,41). They were to learn from his mistake. Their watchfulness was to be because the devil was prowling around, seeking whom he could desire (5:8). This was exactly the case with Peter: satan desired to have him, he should have prayed for strength but didn’t do so sufficiently (Lk. 22:31). He was warning his brethren that they were in exactly the situation he had been in, a few hours before he went into that fateful High Priest’s house. 

- The “day of visitation” is coming for us all, according to the letters of Peter (1 Peter 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. 

- They were to be ready always to give an answer to those who ask, albeit with fear (1 Pet. 3:15)- exactly what Peter failed to do on the night of the denials. 

- Peter, in a rare autobiographical comment on his life before conversion, admits that he “walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine…running with them (the Gentiles) to the same excess of riot” (1 Peter 4:3,4). He uses the same Greek word as in Lk. 15:13 regarding the riotous behaviour of the prodigal. He saw himself in that younger son, rejected by the Judaistic elder brother, who would not sit at meat in table fellowship with him. According to other NT allusion, we are to see the prodigal as a symbol of all of us who will ultimately sit at meat with the Father in His house. And yet Peter makes the link plain for all to see. 

And the power of David’s exhortations in later life was because he had been through the Bathsheba humiliation; James could tell others not to speak against their brother (James 4:11 RV) knowing full well he had done the same to Jesus, his brother. Preaching and pastoral work is so often powerfully achieved on the basis of having personally experienced grace.  

True Comfort

Not only in warning does Peter allude to his own weaknesses. The two on the way to Emmaus commented that they thought Christ would have “redeemed” Israel (Lk. 24:21). A.D. Norris makes a powerful case for one of those two being Peter (Peter: Fisher Of Men p.109). The only other time the Greek word is used is (again?) by Peter in 1 Pet. 1:18,19, where he reassures his weary sheep that “Ye were redeemed by the precious blood of Christ”- as if to say ‘it’s really all wonderfully true! I too doubted it, as you know. But I know now that it is true; even I was redeemed, from the shame of those denials, and so much else. Believe it with me!’. After all the Lord had taught about salvation, the eloquent and yet simple explanation of salvation in the Kingdom through His death, Peter and the others thought that His cross (“precious blood”) hadn’t brought redemption. How weak their understanding was, how slow they were. And Peter again is gently prodding from his own example and pattern of growth: ‘Can’t you see the reality of it all? Or are you still as inexplicably slow to see it all as I was?’.  

Looking back, it must have been shameful for Peter to recollect how he had sought to dissuade the Lord from going up to Jerusalem to die there for the world’s redemption. At that time the Lord had called him a rock, upon whose declaration of faith he would build his church, and then soon afterwards a stumbling-stone, an offence. Peter combines these two descriptions in styling the Lord “the head(stone) of the corner (upon which the ecclesia would be built), and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence” (1 Pet. 2:7,8). There is undoubted allusion to the very titles which the Lord had given Peter. And yet here Peter applies them both to the Lord Jesus, even the “rock of offence”. His point perhaps was to show that he saw Christ as manifest in him, and he being “in Christ”, even in his weakness. Nothing could separate Peter from the love of Christ; and therefore he merges the titles of Christ with those of himself, even when they describe his weakness. This was the unity that was possible between a man and his Lord, and Peter holds it up in inspiration to his readers.  

‘The Lord’ to Peter meant ‘the Lord Jesus’. He comforts them that the Lord knows how to deliver the Godly out of temptation (2 Pet. 2:9). Surely he was referring back to how the Lord Jesus had prayed for him, knowing the temptation that was to come upon him in the High Priest’s house, knowing Satan’s desire to have him (1). And although it might have seemed that in the short term Peter’s weakness rendered that prayer powerless, in fact in the end, his faith didn’t fail, just as the Lord had prayed. And so from his own example he could comfort his readers that surely their Lord knew how to deliver from temptation, even if like Lot and like Peter those he delivers may deserve to be left to the outcome of their own words and actions.  

Remembering The Word

One of the themes in Peter’s second letter, written as it was at the very end of his life (2 Pet. 1:14), was that of the need to “remember” the words of the Lord Jesus (2 Pet. 1:12,13,15; 2:3; 3:1). This was with evident allusion (the same word is used) to the way that on his shameful night, Peter had remembered the word of Christ, and wept those bitter tears of ineffable regret (Lk. 22:61). As Paul in his time of dying remembering his row with Mark (2 Tim. 4:11), so awareness of sinfulness is a sign of spiritual maturity in us all (2). Peter knew some of his sheep were weary with the way, and needed a like repentance and subsequent energizing which he had known. He was wishing all his readers (and that includes us) a path of growth that followed his. He had always known the words of Christ; indeed, he had loved them. He shows himself an enthusiast for Bible study and reflection on the Lord’s words (see Peter: Bible Student). But he didn’t remember them in that they weren’t living as a compelling force within his conscience. After his first denial and the cock crowing, surely he ‘remembered’ the Lord’s words: that before the cock crowed twice, he would deny Him thrice. He must have shrugged off that first cock crowing as coincidence, sure he wouldn’t deny again. And then the second denial- well, there was no cock crow, so, don’t worry… But he wasn’t aware enough of his own liability to failure to have the Lord’s warning words in the forefront of his mind. He didn’t pause to reflect that the cock would soon crow again, and therefore he would be sorely tempted to make the third denial. He knew the word of the Lord, but failed to remember it. And this he now realized. And he urges his readers to learn more quickly and less painfully what he had to be forced to learn.  

When dealing with the tricky ecclesial situation which arose over the admission of the Gentiles, Peter had truth and right on his side. But in his account of what happened to the elders, he constantly makes allusion to his own failures. “Then remembered I the word of  the Lord, how that he said…” is an unmistakeable reference to his remembering of the Lord’s word all too late after his denials. It’s as if he was saying: ‘And there I was again, not remembering the Lord’s word, not facing up to what it obviously implied, almost denying Him again by hesitating to accept these Gentiles’. He comments that the vision of the unclean animals came “even to me”, as if he was the least worthy to have been involved with this work. 

The point of all this is that we will only strengthen our brethren as Peter did after ‘conversion’ in the sense of facing up to our own sinfulness (see Peter’s Conversion). “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren”, the Lord had said (Lk. 22:32). His appeal for repentance and conversion was evidently allusive to his own experience of conversion (Lk. 22:32 cp. Acts 3:19; 9:35). He invited them to seek forgiveness for their denial of their Lord, just as he had done. He dearly wished them to follow his pattern, and know the grace he now did. He reminds his sheep of how they are now “returned” (s.w. ‘converted’) to the Lord Jesus (1 Pet. 2:25), just as he had been. Now Peter was converted, he was strengthening his brethren. This theme of strengthening was evident in Peter’s letters (s.w. 1 Pet. 5:10; 2 Pet. 1:12; 3:17). Some of his last written words were that “ established in the present truth” (2 Pet. 1:12); he uses the same Greek word which the Lord used when He asked Peter so strengthen his brethren (Lk. 22:32). Peter at the very end knew that he had made it. His awareness of his own failures was at the root of his appreciation of his Lord’s grace, and this was the motive power behind all his pastoral work. We’re all priests, Peter reminds us (1 Pet. 2:5); we’re all converts, and therefore strengtheners of our brethren. But it can be that we are nervous to show any chink in our armour. A speaking bother who frankly confesses an intimate failure would likely not be asked to speak again. Some would twitch in awkwardness as he made his confession from the platform. We’re all fine, we’re all obedient, just a few surface failures, and we want to help you and teach you…that’s the feeling so many a church, gathering and member can give. When if we are honest, we each have some huge skeletons in our cupboards. We all struggle, if we know the call of Christ at all, with the frailty and laziness of our natures, with a low, low pain threshold, over which we so easily say ‘this shall not be unto thee’. What I am suggesting is a more frank admission of failure, more open and unashamed personal testimony to the Lord’s grace and the newness of life that there is daily in Him (not to the exclusion of the ministry of the word, of course), a preaching and exhortation by example to our brethren.  


(1) Not only did the Lord pray that Peter’s faith wouldn’t fail. He repeatedly made the point in the lead up to Peter’s temptations that His disciples really did know Him (Jn. 14:7,17; 15:21; 17:3), and He taught them that all men must know they were His disciples, if they truly were (Jn. 13:35). He was trying to strengthen Peter against the trial He knew would come: to deny that he knew Him. Likewise we may try to strengthen those prone to specific temptation, but the power of it depends on their recognition of their own weakness, and whether they have ears to hear. It would seem Peter didn’t, so confident was he of his own strength.

(2) One wonders about the way that Peter describes the apostate believer as drunk in the day time (2 Pet. 2:13), when he had dismissed with a confident logic the claim that he was drunk at Pentecost by saying that it couldn’t possibly be so, because it was early in the day and people can only get drunk at night (Acts 2:15). Could it be that his perception of sinfulness and the grossness of this present evil world had increased by the end of his life?