Commentaries and Scripture
This is Part 1 in a series of 6 on 1st Peter. Scripture quotes unless otherwise noted are from the English Standard Version (ESV) of The Holy Bible, Crossway Bibles, 2001. Commentaries Used: 1-2 Peter, R.C. Sproul, Crossway, 2011; 1 Peter, Wayne Grudem, Inter-Varsity Press, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 1988); James and 1-2 Peter, Charles R. Swindoll, Tyndale House Publisher, 2014; 1 Peter, I. Howard Marshall, Inter-Varsity Press, 1991.
About the Apostle Peter
The New Testament documents provide significant information about Simon (later called Peter), but not a lot about his early life. We know he and his brother, Andrew (a Greek name) were born and grew up in Bethsaida. Their father’s name was Jonah, and the family earned their living by fishing. Bethsaida’s population was mixed, Greeks and Jews. Simon’s family no doubt interacted with both groups and sold them fish. At some point, Simon married and moved to Capernaum, a few miles west of Bethsaida, still on the coast of the lake. Simon, Andrew, and their father, Jonah, appear to have been partners with James and John and their father Zebedee in a fishing enterprise. Jointly, they had a number of boats and hired helpers.
The Calling of Andrew, John, and Peter
According to the Gospel of John, Andrew and John were disciples of John the Baptist. In fact, Andrew met Jesus through John the Baptist. He was so excited he immediately sought his brother, Simon, and brought him to Jesus. As recorded in John 1:42, “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter.)” The next time we read of Peter, he and Andrew are at the Sea of Galilee casting their net into the sea. Jesus called them to follow him and become fishers of men. They left their nets and followed him (Mark 1:16-18).
The most complete description of Jesus calling Peter is in Luke 5:1-11
“On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”[a] 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.Luke 5:1-11
James and John Called
The brothers, James and John, were called about the same time as Peter and Andrew. James is John’s older brother They are sons of Zebedee (Mark 1:19). From comparing Matthew 27:56 with Mark 15:40 and 16:1, it appears their mother’s name was Salome. Comparing Mark 15:40 with John 19:25, it seems Salome is Jesus’ mother’s sister. If this identification is correct, then James and John are Jesus’ first cousins on His mother’s side. Jesus also called eight others to become his intimate disciples, making a total of twelve. Among the twelve, Peter, James, and John formed an inner circle with a close relationship to Jesus. Peter quickly became the spokesperson for the twelve. He was bold, quick to speak, willing to ask questions no one else would ask (Matthew 15:15, 18:21, and 19:27).
Peter was married and lived in the area of Capernaum. When in that region, Jesus made Peter and his wife’s home His ministry headquarters (Mark 1:29-32). The inner circle of Peter, James, and John were with Jesus in almost every situation, including being with Him on the Mount of Transfiguration and the Garden of Gethsemane. It was Peter who first made the great confession “you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16).
At times, Peter’s impulsiveness got him into trouble. Peter’s faith was vigorous. Like most people, he also experienced human uncertainty and doubt. His tendency to doubt is perhaps most clear in the “walking on water” incident when doubt caused him to sink (Matthew 14:27-31). When Jesus revealed to His disciples His impending death and resurrection (Matthew 16:21), it was such a shock to Peter and so much against what he believed about the Christ, that he took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him (Matthew 16:22). Jesus in turn severely rebuked Peter for setting his mind on man’s interests not God’s.
Peter’s Zeal for Jesus, His Failure, and His Restoration
Peter’s great zeal and loyalty to Jesus led him to make promises he couldn’t keep. On the night of His betrayal Jesus speaking prophetically said that without exception all His disciples would fall away that night. Peter’s desire to be loyal and steadfast was strong and he immediately said that though all the others should fall away, he never would fall away. Jesus responded that before the rooster would crow, Peter would deny Him not once but three times. Peter, not realizing Jesus statement was prophetic, declared that even if he must die he would not deny Jesus (Matthew 26:33-34). But Peter like the others was humanly weak. In the face of life-threatening danger, Peter simply could not do what he declared he would do. When Jesus was arrested, Peter found courage to follow the arresting party into the courtyard of the High Priest Caiaphas. While Jesus was being interrogated, bystanders pointed out Peter as a follower of Jesus. Peter denied it three times. A cock began to crow. Peter realizing what he had done began to weep bitterly. He had fulfilled Jesus prophecy (Matthew 26:69-75). Peter is broken and ready for restoration.
God demonstrates His restorative grace immediately after the resurrection. An angel at the empty tomb tells the women, who have come to the tomb, to tell the disciples and specifically Peter that Jesus is going before him to Galilee where he will see Him, just as he was told. (Mark 16:7) The message is for all the disciples, but Peter is specifically singled out by name to receive the news that Jesus is risen from the dead. Then, in His first resurrected appearance to one of the twelve, Jesus appears to Peter.
The climax of Peter’s restoration occurs after sharing breakfast by an open fire with the risen Jesus and the other disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him more than the other disciples. Jesus uses the word agapao for unconditional love. This choice underscored the kind of superior devotion Peter had claimed when he promised never to abandon Jesus no matter what happened. Peter remembering his recent denial of Jesus was apparently ashamed of his former claim to have greater devotion than the other disciples. So Peter replies that Jesus knows that he, Peter, loves Him. But Peter chooses another word for love, the word phileo, which signifies brotherly love. This word choice is one of true humility and was just what Jesus sought from Peter. Jesus tells Peter to “Tend my lambs.” (John 21:15) Peter had denied Jesus three times on that dreadful night of terror. Jesus continues to question Peter and asks three times about his devotion (John 21:15-17). Twice Jesus uses agapao in his question, but the third time Jesus switches to the phileo that Peter used. In this way Jesus acknowledges Peter’s new state of humility and reassures Peter that he is restored to his position of leadership among the disciples. From that point forward, Peter stands out as a true shepherd of Christ’s sheep, tending the lambs as a humble servant-leader. The variation in the word used for love is interesting, but surely the amazing thing is that Jesus reaches out to the one who three times had denied Him.
Peter on the Day of Pentecost
After Jesus’ ascension Peter took the lead in choosing someone to replace Judas as the twelfth disciple (Acts 1:15). On the day of Pentecost, after receiving the Holy Spirit, the apostles were speaking in tongues and exhibiting other signs of the Spirit. Unbelieving Jews derided the meaning of the miraculous signs of the Spirit, declaring the disciples to be drunk. Peter gave strong testimony explaining what was really happening (Acts 2:14). His mighty sermon led to about 3000 converts. After Pentecost, Peter was widely recognized as leader of the infant church.
Peter Sometimes Slow to Understand
Peter sometimes needed a little prodding to understand and do what God required. God repeated a vision to Peter three times as preparation for him to preach the gospel to the Roman centurion Cornelius and his family. After the visions, Peter in 40 AD went to Cornelius. The entire family was converted and baptized (Acts 10:9-48).
Peter’s Occasional Lapses
As he matured in the faith, Peter had occasional lapses. At Antioch Paul had to publicly rebuke Peter for hypocrisy in withdrawing himself from Gentile believers when Jewish believers arrived from James in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:12-13).
We know that Paul’s rebuke was effective because in the Scripture record of the Jerusalem Council (49 AD), Peter made it emphatically clear that the gospel of grace was for the Gentiles apart from the works of the Law (Acts 15:7-11). Though he remained the Apostle to the Jews, Peter also became a champion of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Peter vigorously defended preaching to the Gentiles, even when Jewish Christians doubted it was the right thing to do.
Peter’s Influence on the Developing Church
After Jesus restored him, Peter exercised great influence on the development of the church during its infant years. Consider examples from Acts. Peter’s preaching at Pentecost resulted in some 3000 conversions (Acts2). He healed a lame man at the Temple (Acts 3), courageously defied the Sanhedrin and refused to stop preaching about Jesus (Acts 4), and presided over the grim task of dealing with the deception of Ananias and Sapphire (Acts 5). Peter confirmed the gospel to the Samaritans, and dealt with the deceit of Simon the Magician (Acts 8). He healed the sick and raised the dead in Lydda, Sharon, and Joppa (Acts 9). He reached out to Gentiles and worked for the universal offer of the gospel (Acts 10).
Two New Testament Letters
Peter wrote two New Testament letters. In addition, Mark, who worked with Peter, wrote the Gospel of Mark based on reminisces he heard from Peter. Peter’s influence in the infant church was large and effective. The book of Acts records a lot about Peter and his early ministry.
God’s Gift of a Second Chance to Peter
God, in His grace, provided Peter with a second chance. It could all have ended for Peter at dawn that Good Friday morning when the rooster crowed – but God had other plans. A part of those plans includes Peter’s letters.
Along with Paul, Peter Ministered to Gentiles
We think of Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles and indeed he was. But the first recorded conversion of Gentiles was through Peter’s preaching to Cornelius the Roman Centurion and his family. At the Jerusalem Council in 49 AD, Peter in agreement with Paul defended preaching the gospel of grace to Gentiles without requiring them to adhere to the works of the law.
Introduction to 1 Peter
Peter wrote about 63 AD from Rome (referred to in the letter as Babylon, a common pseudonym among Christians for Rome). Some other dates to keep in mind in studying 1st Peter: James wrote his letter about 45 AD. Paul was converted in 38 AD. Most of Paul’s letters were written between about 50 AD and 61 AD. The letters of James and Paul would have been familiar to Peter. Nero was emperor (54-68 AD) when Peter wrote his first letter. The Jerusalem Council was in 49 AD. James was martyred about 62 AD. Paul was martyred early in 67 AD. Peter martyred early in 68 AD by being crucified upside down. In 66 AD the Jewish war with Rome began and in 70 AD Jerusalem was conquered and the Temple destroyed.
Beginning of Persecution of Christians
Most early Christians were Jews. They worshipped in their homes but also continued to attend synagogues. Romans considered followers of Jesus to be a sect of Judaism. That fact protected Christians from being required to worship the emperor. Judaism was the one religion in the empire excused from emperor worship. Instead Jews were permitted to offer prayers for the emperor. As a sect of Judaism, early Christians were afforded the same opportunity. Eventually conflict between Jews and Christians led to Christians being expelled from synagogues and treated as lawbreakers. That led to Rome treating Christians as a separate religion and hence subject to the requirement of emperor worship. That was forbidden to Christians. Persecution was the consequence. Widespread persecution by the Romans began under Nero about 64 AD (not long after 1 Peter was written). The persecution was based on believers refusal to worship the emperor and their steadfast declaration that they had no king but Christ.
Situation when Peter Wrote
From a human perspective the future was looking dark when Peter wrote this letter of hope to the churches in the eastern Roman provinces. Silvanus (also known as Silas) assisted Peter in writing( or perhaps was the messenger who delivered the letter). Silvanus was at times a close associate of the Apostle Paul.
There was a common Roman saying, often still heard today, that “While there is life, there is hope.” This adage certainly contains an element of truth. People can survive without much food, water, shelter, clothing, transportation, and even affection. The example and testimony of Victor Frankel who survived horrible treatment in Nazi concentration camps shows us that. But, in truth, as Frankel observed in his writings, not everyone has hope, and without hope, most die. Genuine hope that gives purpose to life seems to be necessary to sustain life.
Peter Writes of Hope
Peter knew everyone’s urgent need for hope. Conditions were bad and getting worse steadily. He went straight to the point, declaring believers to have been born again into a “living hope,” a hope that is imperishable and unfading. In the living Christ, there is living hope, a hope firmly grounded in the reality of a risen savior and His promises. That living hope is fed through the living Word of God.
Hope, Faith, and Love in all Circumstances
Hope is one of the three great Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love (1 Cor 13:13). A Christian’s living hope is in fact both a present and future-oriented dimension of faith and love. Hope for a Christian is not abstract. It is focused on specific promises of God, particularly the promise that He cares for us and we cannot fall out of His hand, the promise of Christ’s return and the promise of our future resurrection from the dead (1 Peter1:3, 21, 3:15). As Peter develops this letter, he has a great deal to say about how possessing that living hope should impact our lives. For example, believers should strive in all circumstances to continue to grow in their trust in God as demonstrated by their obedience to Him (Jesus connects love and obedience – if you love Me you will obey my commands – John 14:15). Believers should strive for holiness as God is holy. In the face of trials, have faith, be obedient, and have patience – Faith to establish right belief – Obedience to direct actions. – Patient trust in the Lord for comfort in sufferings.