Astoundingly, it was Peterís letter we call 1 Peter that compared gentile Christians to the Jewish temple (1 Peter 2:1-10). He declared gentile Christians were Ďliving stonesí in Godís temple. He declared gentile Christians to be a holy priesthood existing to offer holy sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ.
Peter described gentile Christians with words and terms that Jewish people used only to describe the nation of Israelóa chosen race, a royal priesthood [in Israel, the office of king and priest were not to be combined], a holy nation, a people for Godís own possession, the people of God who had received His mercy. They who had not been a people now were Godís people with a specific objective: to declare Godís excellencies, to call attention to the One Who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. That entire declaration is more than remarkable. It is down right astounding!
Paul used the imagery of a temple in his letters [consider 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21-22]. However, Paulís uses of temple imagery were not as specific as were Peterís. That is astounding when Galatians 2:7 declared Paul was entrusted [by God] with the gospel to the uncircumcised [gentiles] and Peter with the gospel to the circumcised [Jews].
Consider a parallel in Peterís life as one of the twelve and as a Christian spokesman. In both instances he received a special revelation from God, and in both instances he discovered the responsibility of the special revelation to be heavy, extremely heavy. Neither revelation fulfilled Peterís personal expectations. In the case of each revelation, Peter after the revelation became a disappointment because his actions were deplorable. In each case, Peter had the faith to recover and yield.
Consider the first of Godís remarkable revelations to Peter. This one occurred in the time of Jesusí earthly ministry. In Matthew 16:17 Jesus confirmed Peter correctly understood Jesusí identity to be that of the Christ [Messiah]. Jesus declared this truth was revealed to Peter by God.
That was a heady affirmation! Of all the twelve, Peter realized an essential truth the other eleven did not comprehend. He comprehended this truth because God enabled him to comprehend it. In this instance, an act of God enabled Peter to know what he knew.
Peter had specific personal expectations concerning Jesus being the Christ, the son of the living God. Those personal expectations did NOT include Jesus dying! When Jesus informed the twelve of his coming death in Jerusalem, Peter dared take Jesus aside and rebuke him for saying such things (Matthew 16:21-23).
On his last night as an earthly human, Jesus told the twelve they all would desert him that evening. Peter found Jesusí prediction preposterous! The past week was quite successful. Jesusí enemies could not touch him. He appeared openly and publicly in Jerusalem as he taught, and his enemies could not stop him. His enemiesí efforts to discredit him backfired. Jesus was the most popular man in Jerusalem. How could the man who raised Lazarus from the dead be killed? How could the man welcomed into Jerusalem as was Jesus be deserted? Was Jesus not more powerful than all who opposed him? A confident, sincere Peter responded, ďThe others might run, but I will not!Ē Jesus responded, ďYes you will! Before the roster crows announcing the dawn, you will deny me three timesĒ (Matthew 26:34). Peter replied, ďI will never do thatóeven if it means dying with you!Ē (Matthew 26:35)
If Peter could have died the way he wished to die, he would have fought for Jesus to his death. When a fisherman fights trained military guards, he is ready to die. Peterís ineptitude in sword fighting was revealed by the fact that all he managed to do as he used violence to defend Jesus was to cut off a slaveís ear (Matthew 26:51). It was one thing to die defending Jesus. It was quite another to die by surrendering without a fight (Matthew 26:50-56). Jesus not only told Peter to put up his sword, but Jesus also healed the slave!
A distraught, fear filled Peter put up his sword and fled into the night.
Later, just as Jesus said, before the rooster crowed at dawn, Peter with increasing intensity denied ever knowing Jesus (Matthew 26:69-74).
When Peter heard the rooster crow, he remembered Jesusí prediction. He left Jesus and the scene of his denials as he bitterly wept (Matthew 26:75). Events simply did not happen as Peter expected!
Yet, this same man in this same city publicly affirmed without hesitation or shame that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah God promised Israel (Acts 2:14-36). He did this just a few days less than two months later!
Consider the parallel. As the church began in Jerusalem, Peter was the unquestionable leader in the Jerusalem congregation. He was a powerful, popular man! He migrated from the depths of failure in his denials to the heights of popularity in his affirmation that Jesus was Lord and Christ.
Peter was the principle spokesman on Pentecost (Acts 2:14, 38-41). Peter was the principle spokesman at the temple (Acts 3:12). Peter was the principle spokesman before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8). At the word of Peterís condemnation, the Christian Ananias fell dead (Acts 5:1-5). At the word of Peterís condemnation, the Christian Sapphira fell dead (Acts 5:7-10). People carried the sick into the streets hoping Peterís shadow would fall on the sick person (Acts 5:15). Peter healed the paralyzed Aeneas at Lydda resulting in extensive conversions (Acts 9:34-35). Peter resurrected Dorcas from the dead in Joppa resulting in numerous conversions (Acts 9:36-42).
Again, that was heady stuff! Once again, Peter was prominent, influential, and powerful [just as he was during Jesusí ministry]. The Peter who could not see himself denying Jesus also could not see himself lacking influence among Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
Once again, Peter received a perplexing revelation from God in Acts 10. God told him three times not to regard that which God cleansed as common or unclean. The Spirit instructed Peter to accompany three gentiles calling for himóand to do so without asking questions (Acts 10:19-20). A thoroughly confused, bewildered Peter did as God directed. He followed the three men to a gentileís home, but he did not understand why he was there (Acts 10:28-29). A little later he understood another truth guaranteed to evoke an emotional reactionóGod loved gentiles as much as He loved Jews (Acts 10:34-35).
Peter knew how controversial his actions were. He took six Jewish Christians with him to be witnesses (Acts 11:12). He acquired confirmation from his witnesses prior to administering baptism (Acts 10:47-48). How much more confident could an influential Christian be? Peter had quite a support arsenalóhis position in the church at Jerusalem; his impressive deeds; a revelation from God; a communication/directive from Godís Spirit; a clear understanding of Godís will; the coming of the Spirit on the gentiles; six Jewish Christian witnesses; and human support for his decision.
However, Peter quickly learned he crossed a highly emotional line that bankrupted his credibility in the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem. All the impressive credentials, acts, and prestige Peter had in his recent past meant nothing. The line he crossed was not about the baptism of gentiles, but about his social association with gentilesóspecifically about eating with gentiles (Acts 11:1-3).
Peter told his Jewish Christian confronters about the vision; they were unmoved. Peter told them the message of the vision; they were unmoved. Peter told them about the message from the Spirit; they were unmoved. Peter referred to his Jewish Christian witnesses; they were unmoved. He told them about Corneliusí instruction from the angel; they were unmoved. Only when they heard about the Holy Spirit coming upon the gentiles did they quieten down (Acts 11:18). That resolved the furor concerning the Cornelius event, but in no way did it defuse the crisis.
Perhaps it was coincidence. Perhaps it was the fact that the author of Acts was selective in the information he used [this does not imply his information was incorrect, but that it was not always comprehensive]. Whatever the reason, Peter was not again mentioned as the leader of the Jerusalem church. In the future, James was in that role. In Acts 15 when discussion concerning Jew-gentile Christian association reached another crisis point, Peter was a witness. James was in charge of the meeting.
Once again, a revelation from God was costly to Peter because it placed him in controversial circumstances leading to highly emotional situations. To Peter, the entire matter was devastating. His word could not solve a crisis in the Jewish Christian community. Some regarded his actions as suspicious, and some regarded his actions as detestable. The independent man who was influential, powerful, and prestigious became distrusted. Regardless of Peterís revelation, his Jewish Christian brothers were certain they held a superior understanding of Godís purposes.
Paulís letter to the Galatian congregations made Peterís predicament quite clear. At some point Peter visited the gentile congregation in Antioch. In the early part of his visit, he had full fellowship with gentile Christians [including table fellowship]. However, when he learned that James was sending a delegation of Jewish Christians from the Jerusalem congregation to Antioch, Peter withdrew from his association with gentile Christians (Galatians 2:12).
Why? Paul said Peter was afraid Ďof the party of the circumcision.í Paul told Peter to his face that his actions were hypocritical. Yet, Peter was quite forceful and influential in his hypocritical act. He convinced several Jewish Christians, including Barnabas (!!!), to participate in this withdrawal from gentile Christians. [Barnabas was a good man who was glad then he witnessed Godís work among the gentiles at Antioch! (Acts 11:23-24) Barnabas was Ďhand pickedí by God to be one of the first missionaries to gentiles! (Acts 13:1-3)]
Peterís motive: fear! Why? He knew the price of associating with gentiles Christians!
Later Peter wrote 1 Peter to encourage gentile Christians. It was in this letter that he declared gentile Christians were Ďliving stonesí in Godís temple. At last, again, Peter had a renewed understanding of Godís intent and the courage to accept Godís intent.
The focus should not be on Peterís weakness. He was no weaker than most of us! The focus should be on the emotional, controversial nature of the Jewish Christian-gentile Christian conflict. The pressure this matter placed on many Christians, including Paul as well as Peter, was enormous.
Peterís cycle was consistent: revelation from God, personal expectation, disillusionment, horrible behavior, and recovery in the faith of understanding. If we are honest, many of us identify with his journey. If we are honest, we realize too often our actions fail to honor Godís intent. If we are honest, we know that we flee from emotional pressure far too frequently.
Chapter 13 Chapter Fifteen