A number of years ago we celebrated Thanksgiving with my wife’s aunt and uncle. At the dinner table, Aunt Doris, a very creative woman, confessed to having added a mystery ingredient to the dressing and offered five dollars to the first person who could identify it. After a number of incorrect attempts, my wife’s father solved the mystery. To her delight, Aunt Doris had disposed of some stale potato chips by adding them to the dressing.
The saints of Jesus Christ likewise find a “mystery” ingredient in living the Christian life—the ingredient of suffering. To some, suffering comes as a complete surprise. While others may not be surprised, they surely find suffering a mystery. The Scriptures inform us that the God who loves us and sent His Son to die for our sins has ordained that we suffer as saints. This truth is neither easy to understand nor to accept. Because of this, false teachers easily convince their audiences they can escape from suffering, and in its place, experience “success” in life. Peter addresses this error in his second epistle, warning that those who indulge the flesh and urge others to do likewise, with no fear of divine judgment, are false teachers who, along with their doctrine, must be avoided.
But here in his first epistle, Peter addresses suffering head-on. Peter writes that suffering is much more than just a necessary evil; suffering actually paves the way to glory. He even asserts that certain forms of suffering are glory, when that innocent suffering results from living righteously in an unrighteous world. Though suffering will never be a popular subject or an experience one seeks, Paul’s first epistle explains the necessity of suffering and the joy and peace of heart and soul possible in the midst of suffering.
Our introductory lesson concentrates on Peter, the author of this great epistle. After surveying briefly the Old Testament saint’s struggle with innocent suffering, we will turn to the teaching of our Lord in the Gospels concerning suffering and glory, especially considering this teaching in relationship to Peter. The “old Peter’s” actions and reactions to suffering and glory provide a dramatic contrast to the attitudes, actions, and inspired writings of the “new Peter” of Acts and 1 and 2 Peter. We shall see the process by which God brought Peter from being a disciple who strongly resisted suffering to an apostle who defends suffering, one who encourages the saints not only to endure, but to consider their trials a blessing in the integral plan and purpose of God for His people.
10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10-12).
The Old Testament saint had little difficulty with suffering as a consequence of sin. Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, suffering has been the result of sin (Genesis 3:14-19). God promised the nation Israel He would bless them if they kept His commandments (Deuteronomy 28:1-14), but He also warned of severe consequences for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). Suffering for sin may not have been a delightful thought, but it was no surprise. Indeed, the saints even prayed that God would bring suffering upon their enemies because of their sin (see Psalms 58, 69, 94, 109).
But the Old Testament saint had great difficulty with the innocent suffering of the righteous. Passages like Deuteronomy 28:1-15 and Psalm 91 could be understood as an assurance that those who live righteously will never suffer. The Book of Job dramatically illustrates that this simply is not the case. Joseph was one of the few Old Testament saints who understood that God could use his suffering at the hands of his brothers’ evil deeds to bring about good:
And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive (Genesis 50:20).
Though his brothers intended to kill Joseph, God used their actions to bring about the salvation of many.
Job’s wife had a very different response to innocent suffering. She urged her husband to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9). Satan could not understand innocent suffering either. He believed that if he could persuade God to take away the blessings Job had received and replace them with suffering, Job would indeed curse God and give up his faith (see Job 1 and 2, especially 1:9).
The psalmists struggled greatly over innocent suffering. David urges his fellow-Israelites in Psalm 37 not to agonize over the momentary prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous, for in the long run God will bless the righteous and punish the wicked. Asaph confesses in Psalm 73 his own personal struggle with the prosperity of the wicked and suffering of the righteous, before realizing that his suffering brought him nearer to God while the prosperity of the wicked caused them to turn from God. In the end, Asaph confesses that being near to God through suffering is far better than being far from Him through prosperity.
The psalmist is perplexed by Israel’s suffering in Psalm 44. Had the people of God sinned, their suffering would not be a dilemma, but the psalmist is convinced their innocent suffering has come from the hand of God, and he does not know how to handle it:
8 In God we have boasted all day long, And we will give thanks to Thy name forever. Selah. 9 Yet Thou hast rejected us and brought us to dishonor, And dost not go out with our armies. 10 Thou dost cause us to turn back from the adversary; And those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves. 11 Thou dost give us as sheep to be eaten, And hast scattered us among the nations. 12 Thou dost sell Thy people cheaply, And hast not profited by their sale. 13 Thou dost make us a reproach to our neighbors, A scoffing and a derision to those around us. 14 Thou dost make us a byword among the nations, A laughingstock among the peoples. 15 All day long my dishonor is before me, And my humiliation has overwhelmed me, 16 Because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles, Because of the presence of the enemy and the avenger. 17 All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten Thee, And we have not dealt falsely with Thy covenant. 18 Our heart has not turned back, And our steps have not deviated from Thy way, 19 Yet Thou hast crushed us in a place of jackals, And covered us with the shadow of death. 20 If we had forgotten the name of our God, Or extended our hands to a strange god; 21 Would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart. 22 But for Thy sake we are killed all day long; We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.1 23 Arouse Thyself, why dost Thou sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not reject us forever. 24 Why dost Thou hide Thy face, And forget our affliction and our oppression? 25 For our soul has sunk down into the dust; Our body cleaves to the earth. 26 Rise up, be our help, And redeem us for the sake of Thy lovingkindness (Psalm 44:8-26).
In 1 Peter 1:10-12, Peter writes of the Old Testament prophets’ struggles with innocent suffering. They simply could not comprehend how the Messiah could be described as both the glorious and victorious Ruler of Israel and as the suffering Savior:
7 “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee. 8 Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. 9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware” (Psalm 2:7-9).
1 The LORD says to my Lord; “Sit at My right hand, Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.” 2 The LORD will stretch forth Thy strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Thine enemies” (Psalm 110:1-2).
4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him (Isaiah 53:4-6, see verses 7-12).
Peter’s brother Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist (John 1:40), who had heard John speak of sin and the need for repentance. He had also heard John announce that the Messiah was soon to appear. Andrew must have shared much with Peter about the ministry and message of John the Baptist. Surely this intensified Peter’s interest and anticipation of Messiah’s coming. Who would not be eager for Messiah to come? Who would not give thought to what His arrival would mean?
When Andrew brought Peter to Jesus, the Savior did something He did for no other disciple—He changed Peter’s name:
He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which translated means Peter) (John 1:42).
Like Abram (Abraham) and Jacob (Israel) of old, Jesus was indicating to Peter that this meeting would lead to a relationship which would forever change Peter.
1 And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying, 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:1-12).
We should begin by observing that while Jesus taught the multitudes, His words were particularly addressed to His disciples, “who came to Him” (verse 1). These words, recorded by Matthew, seem to be some of the first of our Lord’s public teaching given at the outset of His ministry. How radically Jesus’ teaching contrasted with that of the scribes and Pharisees (see Matthew 5:17, 21-22, 27-28, etc.; 7:28-29).
The disciples, like the rest, must have been amazed by Jesus’ words spoken on that mountain. Those things Judaism viewed as blessed were not those Jesus called a blessing. Jesus taught that those who suffered would be blessed in the kingdom of God. He taught that the righteous who suffered innocently were blessed, (verses 10-12), and assured those who lived righteously and suffered persecution that they would come to glory. Incredibly, Jesus’ ministry and His kingdom were for sufferers. Certainly we would not expect to hear teaching such as this from someone who has just presented Himself to Israel as her Messiah. Nor would we expect His message to attract a crowd. How many would you expect to come were we to advertise this 1 Peter series on suffering?
Sometime later, Jesus summoned twelve men to be His disciples. Peter was the first disciple named (Matthew 12:2). With the other eleven, Peter was given authority over unclean spirits and the power to heal every kind of disease (10:1). Jesus then gave Peter and the others instructions as He sent them out (10:5-15). Immediately after this, Jesus foretold the suffering which would come as a result of identifying with Him:
16 Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves. 17 But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues; 18 and you shall even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they deliver you up, do not become anxious about how or what you will speak; for it shall be given you in that hour what you are to speak. 20 For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 21 And brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. 22 And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. 23 But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes. 24 A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household! 26 Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. 34 Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it (Matthew 10:16-39).
In this text, we find no response on the part of Peter or any of the other disciples. In the euphoria of the moment, Jesus’ words simply went in one ear and out the other. They were His disciples! They were given authority over demons and power to heal every disease! How could suffering and rejection possibly come their way? Time would make this all too clear, and Jesus would not allow them to think otherwise. He would continue to speak of His suffering, and theirs, even though they did not understand at the time.
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He began asking His disciples, saying, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.
21 From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22 And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” 23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. 26 For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds. 28 Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:13-28).
Over the time they had followed Jesus, Peter and the other disciples came to recognize that Jesus was far more than an ordinary man. When, at Jesus’ instructions, Peter and his friends caught a great harvest of fish, he declared, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8). From that time on, Peter ceased fishing for fish and followed Jesus constantly (5:11). When Jesus stilled the storm, the disciples were amazed and said to one another, “Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him? (Luke 8:25). Peter and the others heard the demons declare that Jesus was the “Son of God” (see Matthew 8:29). First we read of 5,000 (Matthew 14:13-21) and then 4,000 (Matthew 15:29-39) being fed.
Now was the time for the disciples to declare their faith, and Peter, in his usual fashion, was their spokesman. Jesus began by asking His disciples who men thought He was. They responded with the views most commonly held by the people: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets (Matthew 16:14). Pressing further, Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” (16:15).
Jesus had not specifically asked Peter, but typically, Peter was the one who blurted out the conviction of his heart and that of his peers: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16). There it was, out in the open. Jesus was the promised Messiah, just as the Old Testament prophets had foretold and just as John the Baptist had indicated. All evidence pointed in the same direction.
Jesus commended Peter for his decision, not because of his human wisdom, but because God Himself had revealed this truth to him (16:17). Then He reaffirmed the name He had given Peter the first time they met and promised him a prominent place in the kingdom of heaven. He also instructed the disciples not to reveal this truth to others. They were to arrive at their conclusions as Peter had done, based upon the testimony of the Scriptures, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ words and deeds.
The disciples were not prepared to hear Jesus’ next words. It was not that He had not told them of His suffering and death. It was just that suffering and death seemed totally incompatible with the confession He had just made—that this same Jesus really was the promised Messiah, the King of the Jews.
Indeed, Jesus was very specific about His suffering and death on this occasion. He informed them not only of His rejection and suffering in general, but that His rejection would come from none other than Israel’s leaders. He also told them He would be killed and raised from the dead on the third day (16:21). Matthew tells us Jesus not only revealed His coming death and resurrection, but that from this time on Jesus continually spoke to His disciples about it. His rejection, crucifixion and resurrection were the natural outcome of His identity as Messiah. It was His calling, His destiny, as had been foretold by the prophets.
Peter saw things in a very different light; Jesus told Peter he saw things from a merely human point of view rather than from a divine perspective (16:23). Peter had ceased to think of Jesus as his Messiah, taking Him aside and speaking to Him as though He were misguided and incompetent. He would straighten Jesus out, no doubt even looking to his fellow disciples for support. But Jesus strongly rebuked Peter (Mark 8:33), even telling him he was serving as Satan’s spokesman by his response.
At this point, Jesus pressed the matter of suffering beyond Himself to all who would faithfully follow Him (16:24-27). Soon He would “take up His cross,” and every true disciple must follow Him by taking up his own cross. Just as Messiah must suffer, so must those who trust in Him and become His followers.
The principle Jesus laid down transformed the thinking of His followers, including Peter, when it was finally understood and acted upon. In effect, He told them that one must follow Him by faith. If one tries to save His life and avoid suffering and death, he will lose it. One’s life could only be saved by giving up his life. The taking up of one’s cross is the way to one’s crown. Both for Messiah, and His followers, suffering is the way to glory.
For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and WILL THEN RECOMPENSE EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS (Matthew 16:27).
28 And some eight days after these sayings, it came about that He took along Peter and John and James, and went up to the mountain to pray. 29 And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. 30 And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, 31 who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. 33 And it came about, as these were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not realizing what he was saying. 34 And while he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen (Luke 9:28-36).
At Peter’s reaction to His suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus responded with a promise of His transfiguration. He promised that some of those with Him would soon behold His glory and witness a foretaste of the kingdom which Jesus was yet to establish on the earth:
“Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:28).
Eight days after Peter’s great confession, Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him to the mountain to pray. While Jesus was praying, He was transformed before them. The word “glory” best describes what they saw (see Luke 9:31, 32). Jesus, Moses, and Elijah all appeared in a glorious radiance, a foretaste of the glory yet to come.
This glory was not inconsistent with the suffering of which the Lord Jesus had spoken earlier. Indeed, this glory was intertwined with His suffering. Notice the subject of the conversation which took place between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah:
Who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31).
They were speaking of Jesus’ exodus, of Jesus’ glorious death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. The suffering of which Jesus spoke not only led to glory, it was glorious. In Jesus Christ, suffering and glory meet.
31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 And he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” 34 And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the cock will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.”
35 And He said to them, “When I sent you out without purse and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” And they said, “No, nothing.” 36 And He said to them, “But now, let him who has a purse take it along, likewise also a bag, and let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one. 37 “For I tell you, that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.”
47 While He was still speaking, behold, a multitude came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was preceding them; and he approached Jesus to kiss Him. 48 But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 And when those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And a certain one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered and said, “Stop! No more of this.” And He touched his ear and healed him. 52 And Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders who had come against Him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as against a robber? 53 While I was with you daily in the temple, you did not lay hands on Me; but this hour and the power of darkness are yours.”
54 And having arrested Him, they led Him away, and brought Him to the house of the high priest; but Peter was following at a distance. 55 And after they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter was sitting among them. 56 And a certain servant-girl, seeing him as he sat in the firelight, and looking intently at him, said, “This man was with Him too.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.” 58 And a little later, another saw him and said, “You are one of them too!” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” 59 And after about an hour had passed, another man began to insist, saying, “Certainly this man also was with Him, for he is a Galilean too.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, a cock crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a cock crows today, you will deny Me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:31-34, 35-38, 47-53, 54-62).
Jesus observed the Passover quietly with His disciples shortly before His death. At the table, He told them many confusing and distressing things, even that He was eager to eat this Passover with them before He suffered (22:15). He instructed them to partake of the bread as His body and to drink the cup as His blood (22:17-20). He spoke of separation from them and of not partaking of the cup again until He came again (22:16-18). Even more troubling, He told them one of them would betray Him (22:21-22). Their discussion of who might betray Jesus degenerated into a debate over who among them was the greatest (22:23-24).
Jesus assured His disciples that their suffering with Him would result in a share in the glory of the kingdom which was to come:
28 “And you are those who have stood by Me in My trials; 29 and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you 30 that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:28-30).
With these words, Jesus again linked suffering with glory.
Elation over the promise of the kingdom of God and their prominent role was quickly swept away by our Lord’s strong words of warning to Peter. Satan had demanded to “sift” the disciples2 like wheat, Jesus said. But He also told Peter He had prayed for him, that his faith would not fail. Though he would deny his Lord, he would repent and be restored, and become a source of strength to his brethren.
Peter refused to even consider the possibility of his failure under pressure, insisting he would remain faithful and at the Lord’s side, even though it meant prison or even death. But the Lord knew better and told Peter he would deny Him three times before the cock crowed that very day (22:34).
Now that the kind of kingdom He had come to establish was clear, Jesus contrasts in verses 35-38 the beginning of His earthly ministry with the way things would be. When He first sent out the disciples, they were to take nothing with them as they would be welcomed by some and their physical needs met. Now Jesus was about to be rejected as a criminal, and they too would be viewed with contempt. From now on, they must plan to provide for their own needs and prepare for hostility and opposition. Failing to grasp the full implications of Jesus’ words, the disciples responded as best they could at the time. They produced two swords. They could protect themselves! They could handle opposition!
One of those swords seems to have belonged to Peter, for he will shortly put it to use. In a short time, the disciples were in the Garden of Gethsemene, where Jesus prayed and where Judas betrayed his Lord. After Judas identified the Savior with a kiss, the soldiers moved in to arrest him. Peter would have none of this. While the others were asking if Jesus wished them to put up a fight, Peter drew his sword and put it to use. Peter was a fisherman, not a fighter. All he managed to do was to cut off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest (John 18:10). Jesus rebuked Peter, telling him it was His will to drink the cup which the Father had given Him (John 18:11). Jesus then healed the servant’s ear (Luke 22:51).
A word must be said in defense of Peter. Peter was no coward. He was not afraid to fight. He surely was willing to die. How could he expect to take on the large, heavily armed crowd which had gathered to arrest Jesus (Mark 14:43)? While the others were asking whether to resist, Peter was already wielding his sword. He was unable to grasp that he was to passively suffer, committing himself to God rather than taking up his own defense. Whatever Peter’s failure on this matter, he seems to have stood head and shoulders above his peers, until his denial.
From that point on, Peter followed Jesus from a distance (Luke 22:54). As Peter stood around waiting to see what would become of Jesus, he warmed himself by the fire kindled by others. Peter was easily recognized as a Galilean by his appearance and his accent. When those who stood about realized Peter was one of Jesus’ disciples, they asked him if this was so. Three times Peter denied knowing his Lord, and then the cock crowed just as Jesus had said. At the moment of his last denial, Jesus looked toward Peter, catching his eye (Luke 22:61). Peter went out and wept bitterly, realizing he had done exactly what Jesus had said—and what he had insisted he would not do.
Jesus took personal interest in Peter’s restoration of which He had spoken earlier (Luke 22:32). When the angel appeared to the women who came to the Lord’s tomb, he specifically instructed them to tell Peter of the Savior’s resurrection. Did Peter wonder if Jesus still considered him a disciple? Let him hear these words spoken by the angel:
“But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He said to you’” (Mark 16:7).
The Scriptures also tell us that Jesus made a personal appearance to Peter:
“… The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon” (Luke 24:34).
“… and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:5).
After His resurrection, Jesus explained the relationship of suffering and glory in His ministry:
25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:25-27; see also verses 44-48).
Peter is particularly prominent in John 21, where Peter and some of the disciples went fishing, and Jesus virtually repeated the miracle of Luke 5 by catching a great harvest of fish by simply obeying the command of Christ. It may well be that Peter’s conversion took place in Luke 5, for there he acknowledged his sin and left his career to follow Jesus. Did Peter wonder how he stood with Jesus? Peter was as secure as he was the first day he believed.
Later in John 21, Jesus questioned Peter concerning his love for Him. Three times He told Peter that if he loved Him he should tend His sheep. Peter was not only saved, he was given a ministry. The verses immediately following catch my attention:
18 “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” 19 Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”
20 Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21 Peter therefore seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” (John 21:18-22).
Peter may have been willing to accept the concept of suffering, but he did not yet have a biblical perspective on suffering. He did not yet understand the sovereignty of God in suffering. He may have been willing to suffer, but he seems to have felt that John needed to suffer to the same degree. Jesus told Peter that was not his business. He must leave such matters to God.
Little did Peter know what the passage of time would bring. Peter, James, and John, the three men in the inner circle of our Lord, each had a different lot to suffer. James and John were brothers. All shared a similar experience with Jesus. And yet James would die first, without writing any books, seemingly with no great achievements (see Acts 12:1-2). Peter, on the other hand, was arrested by the same cruel despot and slated for the same kind of death. Peter was delivered from this sentence of death, but James was not spared. James wrote no books; Peter wrote 2; John wrote 5. Peter did die some time after James; John seems to have died last of all. God is sovereign in the suffering of His saints.
At the end of the Gospels, we find Peter forgiven and restored, but the evidence of his transformation is not found in the Gospels. Peter’s transformation becomes quite evident in his preaching and practice in the Book of Acts and his profound writings in 1 and 2 Peter.
Imagine Peter now, standing at Pentecost declaring with great power that Jesus is the Messiah and Israel’s leaders have rejected Him. Peter declares that Jesus not only fulfilled the purpose of God in His death, burial, and resurrection, but that He also fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning His first coming.
Now drop the eyes of your imagination from Peter’s face to his side. Can you imagine him standing with his sword strapped to his side or conspicuously bulging from under his garments? What has happened to the sword? I would venture Peter may have never carried it again. His trust now is in a sovereign God. He no longer dreads opposition or even death. He no longer feels the need to defend himself. When Peter was first arrested for preaching in the name of Jesus, he boldly proclaimed that Jesus had been raised from the dead, proof that He was the Messiah. He accused his persecutors of resisting God. They took note of his confidence, along with that of John, and remembered they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). When commanded to no longer preach in the name of Jesus, they politely refused. When threatened and released, they joined their brethren and rejoiced at the privilege of suffering on behalf of the Savior. Their prayers were not for safety, but for boldness:
27 “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur. 29 And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, 30 while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:27-30).
When they were arrested the second time, God released them from prison in a miraculous way. They did not go off to hide, but at His instruction went back to the temple to preach about Jesus (Acts 5:19-20). Standing confidently before the Sanhedrin, they reiterated the message they had previously spoken. They refused to be silenced, and when threatened and beaten, they went on their way rejoicing:
40 And they took his [Gamaliel’s] advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them to speak no more in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:40-42).
Acts 12 records that Herod had put James to death, arrested Peter, and was soon to execute him. There we also see the account of Peter’s divine deliverance. Of interest and amusement is the condition in which the angel of the Lord found Peter when he came to rescue him; Peter was sleeping (Acts 12:6)! The “old Peter” would have been trying to saw through the cell bars or pick the locks of his chains, even tunnel his way out of that prison. Instead, the “new Peter” was sound asleep. This Peter is not the same man we knew in the Gospels.
Peter’s conduct in Acts is completely consistent with his teaching in his first epistle. Consider what he has to say about suffering in each of his five chapters:
Chapter 1: Suffering is the will of God, which purifies our faith, to the glory of God (verses 6-9).
Chapter 2: Suffering for sin is condemned (verse 20), but innocent suffering is commended and commanded (verse 19). Our Lord Himself is the example set before us (verses 21-25).
Chapter 3: Suffering is a blessing (verse 14), which may open the door for bearing witness to our faith (verse 15) and lead to the salvation of others, even as our Lord’s suffering brought about salvation. Suffering was the path to glory for our Lord, as it will be for us (verses 18-22).
Chapter 4: Suffering is an encouragement to us, because it occurs when godless men are threatened by the change God produces in our lives (verses 1-4). Suffering should not be a surprise but a cause for rejoicing (verses 12-14).
Chapter 5: Suffering is the experience shared by believers in the whole body of Christ around the world (verse 9). After we have suffered, we shall enter into His eternal glory, knowing that God Himself will confirm, strengthen, and establish us (verse 10).
How great was the change in Peter’s attitude toward suffering from the Gospels to his attitude in Acts and his two epistles. During the years Peter followed Jesus, he resisted suffering and rebuked Jesus for speaking about His own suffering. Now, in his first epistle, Peter selects suffering as the topic of his book. No longer is there avoidance of suffering, but rather a rejoicing in the midst of suffering and enduring to the glory of God.
What a great encouragement Peter’s epistles are to us, for they bear witness to the power of God to change lives. It was not that Peter’s personality changed all that much, but his thinking and actions changed radically, based on his understanding of God. Jesus had told him after His transfiguration that his thinking was man-centered. His thinking was also self-centered. Peter did not want Jesus to talk about suffering and death because it would mean suffering and perhaps death for Peter. He did not want for Jesus what might also be for him. But by the time we reach Peter’s epistles, we find Peter defending the very suffering he had avoided. Indeed, we find him declaring suffering for Christ’s sake not only to be the will of God but the cause for rejoicing:
6 “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;” (1 Peter 1:6,7).
Peter changed, from a man who sought Jesus for power, prestige, and prosperity to a man who counted rejection, suffering, and death for Christ’s sake a great privilege and a blessing. If there was hope for Peter to change, there is hope for anyone. God could change Peter, and He can, and will, change those who belong to Him.
How desperately needed today is the lesson Peter learned. The Peter found in the Gospels epitomizes the church and Christians today. We look to Jesus for the relief of our pain and our ticket to success in life. Contemporary American Christians are wimpy. We whine and fuss over conditions most of the people of the world would find beyond their highest hopes. The smallest pain or inconvenience sends us reeling into introspection and therapy. Suffering greatly for Christ and His gospel moved the early church to prayer and to praise:
41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:41-42, see also 4:23-30).
Peter’s second epistle addresses those things many professing Christians desire. There we find that which is not a part of the true gospel—the self-indulgent fleshly seductions of the false teachers who themselves are slaves of the flesh. The epistles of Peter are needed as much or more today than in the first century.
The “old Peter” graphically illustrates the way we selectively “hear.” Old Testament prophets, as Peter confesses in his first epistle (1:10-12), spoke of the suffering and glory of Messiah even though they could not reconcile these two themes. Our Lord Himself spoke often of His suffering and glory, as well as that of His disciples. Peter heard what Jesus had to say about suffering, but he simply laid it aside as inconsistent with his own selfish desires. We may learn some important truth as though for the first time, when it is actually the same truth we have heard over and over again. Discovering the key to Peter’s change of heart and mind may help to change our lives as well.
What changed Peter from the man in the Gospels to the Peter of his epistles? A clue is found in observing that the “old Peter” is described in the Gospels, while the “new Peter” is found in Acts and his two epistles. The “old Peter” was the man we find before Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, and before the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The “new Peter” is post-Pentecost. The “new Peter” not only has witnessed the gospel, he has experienced it. The “new Peter” preached these words:
38 “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself” (Acts 2:38-39).
The “old Peter” became the “new Peter” in the same way we are transformed from the “old us” to the “new us:”
Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).
When one has experienced the new birth through saving faith in Jesus Christ, suffering as a Christian is seen in a totally different light. Listen to these words of the apostle Paul:
19 For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:19-21).
7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).
Only when we experience the gospel by faith in Christ does suffering make any sense at all, and only then do we willingly accept the suffering God brings into our lives. The suffering of Jesus Christ is precious to us because we know we have been saved by His suffering, and suffering is transformed from gory to glory.
Jesus put it this way:
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field. 45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, 46 and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).
Have you found your treasure in Christ? Have you trusted in His suffering, death and resurrection for your salvation? If you have, then and only then, will you be able to understand the glory of suffering for righteousness sake. Then, and only then, will you grasp the beauty and wonder in these words from the lips of our Lord:
10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
Peter’s great change also came after His denial of his Lord. Peter had trusted in himself rather than in Jesus. After his failure, Peter came to distrust himself and his faithfulness, and trust in the One who had died for Him, who is altogether faithful. Only when we cease to trust in ourselves and trust in Him who suffered for our sins will we be saved and understand the glory of innocent suffering.
Each week our church celebrates the Lord’s Supper. Every week we remember His incarnation, His suffering, His death, and His resurrection and ascension. We do this in obedience to our Lord’s command and in conformity to the practice of the early church (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; Acts 20:7). Some may wonder why our Lord would have His church continually focus on His suffering. I suggest it is to put our suffering into proper perspective. For the Christian, suffering should be measured in comparison to Christ’s suffering; the degree to which we suffer is the measure of the difference between our righteousness and the sin of a fallen world.
Innocent suffering will always be a mystery to the unsaved, to those outside of Christ. More than this, innocent suffering is repulsive to the unbeliever and avoided at all cost. Innocent suffering for the sake of Christ can only be understood from within the faith by those who are in Christ. For those who belong to Christ, suffering is a privilege God has granted to us, which we gratefully accept:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24).
May God grant to us the perspective He gave Peter in Acts and 1 and 2 Peter. May we say with Peter:
3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled, and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ 8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:3-8).
1 The reader will take note that this text is quoted in Romans 8:36, with reference to the (innocent) suffering of the saints for the cause of Christ.
2 The “you” is plural in the statement, “sift you like wheat.” The “you” in “I have prayed for you” is singular. Satan wanted, indeed demanded, to destroy all of the disciples. Jesus prayed for Peter’s faith, that it would not fail, so that after his restoration he could be a source of strength to his brethren.