Peter, His Legacy

This is our final session with Peter and an eyewitness to the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus.

Last week, we took a look at the transfiguration and Pentecost.  Today, let’s take a few more looks at Peter’s ministry.

Acts 12 tells us, “Peter, therefore, was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.”  {Acts 12:5}

Notice that the church is praying for Peter without ceasing.

Peter and the disciples gladly suffered for the Christ

“And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.  And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.  And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.”  {Acts 5:6-8}

An angel led Peter from prison

“But Peter, being designed for further services, was safe; though he seemed now marked out for a speedy sacrifice.”  {Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary.}

“And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.  And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.”  {Acts 5:11-12}

“But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.”  {Acts 5:16}

The believers were amazed that Peter was knocking on their door

We are told in verse 19 that Herod could not find Peter.   God clearly protected him and Peter was smart enough to know to get out of town as soon as he was able.

“God’s providence leaves room for the use of our prudence, though he has undertaken to perform and perfect what he has begun. These Christians continued in prayer for Peter, for they were truly in earnest. Thus men ought always to pray, and not to faint. As long as we are kept waiting for a mercy, we must continue praying for it. But sometimes that which we most earnestly wish for, we are most backward to believe.”  {Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary}

From here the gospels are quiet on what happens to Peter for a number of years to come.

Peter and John traveled to share the gospel

Acts 8:14 tells us that “Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John.”  So after escaping prison, did Peter return to Samaria?  We are not told.

At some point he clearly returned to Jerusalem.  This may have been home base where his wife and family resided.

In Galatians 1:18, Paul writes “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.”

Paul and Peter clearly knew one another.  Before Paul’s conversion, when he was Saul, he probably tried to persecute Peter and the other apostles.  After his conversion, “Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.”  {Acts 9:19}  We are not told who these disciples were, but Peter may have been among them.

Galatians 2:7-11 tells of a disagreement over circumcision between Paul and Peter.  “But

Peter brought many to Christ

contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;

(For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)…  But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.”

“Notwithstanding Peter’s character, yet, when Paul saw him acting so as to hurt the truth of the gospel and the peace of the church, he was not afraid to reprove him. When he saw that Peter and the others did not live up to that principle which the gospel taught, and which they professed, namely, That by the death of Christ the partition wall between Jew and Gentile was taken down, and the observance of the law of Moses was no longer in force; as Peter’s offence was public, he publicly

people came to Peter for healing

reproved him. There is a very great difference between the prudence of St. Paul, who bore with, and used for a time, the ceremonies of the law as not sinful, and the timid conduct of St. Peter, who, by withdrawing from the Gentiles, led others to think that these ceremonies were necessary.”   {Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary.}

We know of Paul’s travels to spread the gospel, but the scriptures are quiet on where Peter went.  However, he began his epistles with what may have been a clue to some of his travels.

Peter served Christ the remainder of his life

Peter wrote 1 & 2 Peter, which he begins “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia”  {1 Peter 1:1}.   So this may be a clue as to where he has been all of these years. These churches are classified as some of the first in the area, occurring even before the time of Pentecost by most accounts.

These areas are between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea in Asia minor.

1 Peter 5:13 “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.”   Many scholars believe that the reference to Babylon may be a pagan reference to Rome.  We do know that Peter was married, so it is possible that he has a son named Marcus.  However, this has never been proven or disproven.

Saint Peter from Wikipedia

Peter ends his last epistle by saying, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.”  {2 Peter 3:18}

Some scholars believe that Peter did not write the epistles because he is viewed as an illiterate fisherman.  If Peter did not physically write the epistles, that is not to say that he did not dictate them.

The Gospel of Mark is believed to be based on the memories of Peter, which John Mark then wrote.

The rest of what we know about the apostle Peter comes to us from historians and not from the Bible.  So, let’s take a lot at a few of these historical sources.

“John Vidmar, a Roman Catholic scholar, writes: “Catholic scholars agree that Peter had an authority that superseded that of the other apostles. Peter is their spokesman at several events, he conducts the election of Matthias, his opinion in the debate over converting Gentiles was crucial, etc.”   Those of the Roman Catholic faith view Peter as the first pope.  According to Wikipedia,

The Calling of Peter by Caravaggio from Wikipedia

“The Catholic Church speaks of the pope, the bishop of Rome, as the successor of Saint Peter. This is often interpreted to imply that Peter was the first Bishop of Rome. However, it is also said that the institution of the papacy is not dependent on the idea that Peter was Bishop of Rome or even on his ever having been in Rome. While accepting that Peter came to Rome and was martyred there, scholars find no historical evidence that he held episcopal office there.”

The Apostolic Fathers state, “Irenaeus of Lyons wrote in the 2nd century that Peter and Paul had been the founders of the Church in Rome and had appointed Linus as succeeding bishop.”

Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio from Wikipedia

In the Church History Book VI, Clement of Alexandria states that “Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome. (A.D. 190)”

Lactantius, in his book called Of the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, written around 318, noted that “And while Nero reigned, the Apostle Peter came to Rome, and, through the power of God committed unto him, wrought certain miracles, and, by turning many to the true religion, built up a faithful and steadfast temple unto the Lord.”

Early church tradition states that Peter died of crucifixion, believing to have occurred at the time of the Great Fire of Rome in 64AD.  He is believed to have been crucified upside down, feeling unworthy to die the same way as his Lord.  In the 2nd Century,  Prescription Against Heretics, Tertullian wrote that “Peter endured a passion like his Lord’s.”

Peter of Alexandria, who was bishop of Alexandria and died around A.D. 311, wrote an

what is believed to be the tomb of Saint Peter from Wikipedia

epistle on Penance, in which he says: “Peter, the first of the apostles, having been often apprehended, and thrown into prison, and treated with ignominy, was last of all crucified at Rome”.

Catholic tradition holds that Peter’s inverted crucifixion occurred at the spot now occupied by the Clementine Chapel in the grottoes of Saint Peter’s Basilica, with the burial in Saint Peter’s tomb nearby.

Tradition also locates his burial place where the Basilica of Saint Peter was later built, directly beneath the Basilica’s high altar.

St. Peter’s Bascillica from Wikipedia

According to Wikipedia, “In the early 4th century, the Emperor Constantine I decided to honour Peter with a large basilica. Because the precise location of Peter’s burial was so firmly fixed in the belief of the Christians of Rome, the church to house the basilica had to be erected on a site that was not convenient to construction. The slope of the Vatican Hill had to be excavated, even though the church could much more easily have been built on level ground only slightly to the south. There were also moral and legal issues, such as demolishing a cemetery to make room for the building. The focal point of the Basilica, both in its original form and in its later complete reconstruction, is the altar located over what is said to be the point of Peter’s burial.”

“In 1950, human bones were found buried underneath the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. The

Statue of Saint Peter from Wikipedia

bones have been claimed by many to have been those of Peter. In the 1960s, some previously discarded debris from the excavations beneath St Peter’s Basilica were re-examined, and the bones of a male person were identified. A forensic examination found them to be a male of about 61 years of age from the 1st century. This caused Pope Paul VI in 1968 to announce them most likely to be the relics of Apostle Peter. On November 24, 2013, Pope Francis revealed these relics of nine bone fragments for the first time in public during a Mass celebrated in St. Peter’s Square.”

Going back to the scriptures, what we do know is that Peter was within the inner circle of Jesus.  He is always listed with James and John in this circle.  Peter is also listed first in any list that includes the apostles, indicating a place of honor and authority.

Jesus renamed him from Simon to Peter, stating upon him “upon this rock I will build my church.”  Peter had a major role after the Pentecost in leading the apostles and bringing many to Christ.  So much so that Roman Catholics regard him as the first pope.

Saint Peter by Dirck van Baburen from Wikipedia

So, Peter clearly built up the church, but he learned how to reign in his compulsive nature and humble himself.  He made everything about Christ and not about himself.  That is the true definition of unselfishness.

How much of yourself are you willing to make about Christ?







Peter left a lasting legacy of faith and service Share on X

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