Peter Character Bible Study Background and Lessons
Meaning of name: Rock
Ancestry and family life: Peter had a brother named Andrew, who was also a disciple and introduced him to Jesus.
When and where he lived: Peter had the unique opportunity to live when Jesus came to the earth and saw him face to face. Israel was subject to Rome and chaffing under its rule. There were frequent riots and uprisings. Several influential parties rose up in Israel. The Pharisees were religious conservatives and were known for their piety. The Sadducees were more liberal and worked with Rome. They also denied the resurrection. The zealots were against any cooperation with Rome and were basically terrorists. All the religious-minded in Israel were expectantly waiting for the coming of the Messiah. It would have been an exciting time to live. Peter got to witness with his own eyes the Son of God incarnate, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.
Matthew 4:19 -And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
His time with Jesus transformed him from an uneducated and even fearful man into a courageous and faithful apostle who became instrumental in the establishment of the church.
Place in history: Peter was the unspoken leader of the twelve. It seems he was always the first to pipe up and answer Jesus’ questions or ask him questions. He was part of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples who witnessed the transfiguration (Matthew 17). He was singled out at the Last Supper and in the last verses of John (after Jesus’ resurrection) by Jesus for direct teaching. He evidently had a special position in the establishment of the church (Matthew 16:18-19).
He is the most well-known of the disciples, both for some of his blunders and for his outspoken faith. Peter preached the sermon at Pentecost, where three thousand believed (Acts 3). He also was instrumental in establishing the church in Samaria (Acts 8) and bringing the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10-11). These facts can help us to understand what it means that Peter has the “keys of heaven.”
Matthew 16:19 – I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Special traits: Outspoken, Excitable, Headstrong, “all-or-nothing,” miraculous gifts
1. Peter was headstrong and sometimes spoke before thinking (Mark 8:32-33, Mark 9:5) – Peter often spoke before he thought. He sometimes told Jesus what to do. Often he spoke in haste and said foolish things. He was a very outspoken person and was prone to get excited. These aren’t necessarily bad qualities and are essential for a leader. Yet because of these qualities, he sometimes went outside his correct place.
In one of the most clear examples of this, Peter took it upon himself to rebuke Jesus for suggesting that He was going to killed.
Matthew 16:21-23 – From that time Jesus 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 on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Needless to say, Jesus was not excited about being rebuked by Peter and strongly corrected him saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter had allowed his presumptuous and outspoken nature to take over and usurp Jesus’ authority.
Artist James Tissot’s Rendering of “Get Thee Behind Me Satan” – In the Public Domain
2. Weak in the flesh (though strong with the Spirit) (Mark 14:37-42, 14:66-72) – Peter had a strong Spirit and was committed to Christ. Yet at times his weak flesh took over (then Jesus often called him Simon) and caused him to do something he later regretted. He fell asleep in the garden when Jesus asked him to pray and denied Jesus three times. He chopped off the ear of the high priest’s slave. Much later, he feared the Jewish sect of believers and wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles. The worst of all of these things was when he denied Jesus three times.
All of these weaknesses remind us that Peter was flesh and blood like us. He was a human. In church history, he is often called, “Saint Peter.” Certainly, he was a saint, but he was only made so by Jesus.
3. Inconsistency – As Peter was growing in the Lord, he was inconsistent. He would have great success in faith or action and that would be followed by a failure. He started walking on the water toward Jesus and then looked around him and sank into the water. He declared his allegiance to Christ and then denied him three times. He brought the gospel to the Gentiles and then later wouldn’t eat with them. Part of this problem was caused because he was hasty and didn’t think things through.
These inconsistencies also remind us that Satan often attacks us when right after a spiritual success. At those times, we tend to be complacent and let down our guard.
Proverbs 16:18 – Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Strengths: Although Peter had some clear weaknesses, he also had many strengths.
Another example, is after the resurrection. Jesus appeared on the shore of the Sea of Galilee while Peter was fishing. Note his response.
John 21:7 – That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.
James Tissot Painting On Peter Throwing Himself Into The Sea – In the Public Domain
Peter was a no-holds-barred believer. No one can doubt that he was all in.
2. Committed – Peter may have fallen at times, but he was committed to Christ. He gave up his career and his home to follow and serve Christ. He became a full-time Christian worker.
Mark 10:28 – Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”
Following Jesus full-time was not easy. Jesus Himself often had no place to rest His head. His disciples would have faced the same. Peter did not earn a salary, but he did receive the scorn of the religious leaders. It meant hard work, long hours, wearisome journeys, and intense opposition. Peter was committed.
Many believers today want to separate their spiritual life from their “real” or daily life. They just want a touch of Jesus. Peter wanted all of his life to be affected by Jesus.
John 13:9 – Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
Reflection – Does your relationship with Christ affect every aspect of your life? Or is there some part of your life that is your “own” and off limits?
3. Put God first – Peter did put Jesus first in his life most of the time. He did so at the risk of his own life. He put God ahead of his career.
One of the clearest examples of this is when the Jewish religious leaders commanded Peter to stop sharing about Christ. They tortured, threatened, and cajoled him. His classic response is a powerful lesson for us today to put God first.
Acts 5:29 – But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
4. Repentant – When Peter sinned by denying Christ, he later repented and reaffirmed his faith in Christ three times (John 21:15-19). Peter seems to have learned from his mistakes because over time he became more mature and courageous in His walk with the Lord and ministry for Him.
No one is perfect. We all sin and fall short. Biblical heroes of the faith were men and women like we are. Peter modeled what it means to repent. When he fall, he got up again and pressed in.
Proverbs 24:16 – For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.
Do not allow one defeat to defeat you more than once.
5. Persevered until the end of his life/transformed – Peter was transformed by his time with Jesus and especially when he was indwelled with the Holy Spirit. It is really a mark of a true believer to repent of sins, learn from mistakes, and grow throughout their life. Peter did these things. In the end, he gave his life to Christ.
9. Instrumental in Bringing Gospel to Samaria and the Gentiles (Acts 8, 10-11)
10. Peter’s affirmation of Jesus as Christ (Mark 8:29, Matt 16:16)
Mark 8:29-30 – And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
11. Raising Dorcas (Acts 9:40)
Look at the events listed above and study what lessons you can learn from these events.
How he died: John 21:18-19 is a prophecy that Peter would die as a martyr. The Bible doesn’t specifically record this death, but tradition says that Peter died as a martyr in Rome. He refused to be crucified head up because he didn’t consider himself worthy to die like Jesus did and was crucified upside-down.
Lessons from his life:
1. Think before we speak. Taking a few extra seconds on the front end can save a lot of hassle and problems on the back end.
2. Rely on the Spirit, ground ourselves in the Word.
I’ve conquered an empire but I’ve not been able to conquer myself.
—Peter the Great
We need His help to have victory. We can do great things for Him, but many times the worst temptations are from within.
3. Put the Lord first.
4. Look at Jesus, not at circumstances.
5. Jesus transformed Peter. We all have mistakes and are not perfect. Yet if we spend time with Jesus, He will transform us. God will transform us through the power of Scripture and the Spirit if we are willing.
Acts 4:13 – Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
When Jesus called Peter, his name was Simon. Jesus changed His name to Peter, which means rock.
John 1:42 – He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
For three years, Jesus called him “Rock.” Peter was not yet like a rock. In fact, he was far from it. He was inconsistent and volatile. Yet Jesus saw what He could be. Jesus saw the end goal.
It is much like a master sculptor. A sculptor looks at the raw materials of stone or wood and sees past their imperfections. He plans on how he will remove the excess and fashion a beautiful statue. Little by little, the sculptor chisels away and transforms the raw material into something beautiful.
Jesus did that with Peter. He saw what Peter could be and transformed Peter into that.
Jesus can and does the same thing with us. You and I are not a finished product yet. By God’s grace, we can be sanctified day-by-day.
6. If we have a strong will to serve God and strong faith in Him, He will use us despite our mistakes.
7. Repent of and forget past mistakes and push on to the future to strive to serve God (cf. Philippians 3:12-14)
8. We need not be afraid to stand for Christ before people around us. We should serve God rather than men. (Acts 4:19-20, 5:41). Peter even rejoiced to be found worthy to suffer for Christ.
9. Peter wasn’t afraid to go against culture when it went against the Bible (see sharing the gospel with the Gentiles and considering them clean Acts 11-12). We should examine culture in the light of the Bible.
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