Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours. 2 Peter 1:1
The English poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captured an age-abiding truth when he wrote, “Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime. And, departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.” He’s right, and one man who left footprints stretching across 2000 miles of time was an unlikely candidate for success—a fisherman by trade. He was scarcely qualified to do more than perhaps organize the union of fisherman on Galilee until the day that Jesus walked by and said, “Follow me!” Then Peter got up, left his nets and followed Jesus Christ.
I love Peter because I can’t help but see in him the foibles and failures of human nature, my own included. Peter was impetuous, determined, and, at times, completely ahead of what God wanted done. He’s the one who stepped over the gunwale of the fishing boat on Galilee when he saw Jesus coming towards him, walking on the water. He was also the one who affirmed, “I’ll never deny you, Lord,” yet did so three times, as he stood outside the House of Caiaphas, the High Priest, when Jesus was taken prisoner in the Garden of Gethsemane. Can you relate to that?
God uses flawed vessels, and it was Peter who served as spokesman on the Day of Pentecost and became the leader of the fledgling church. In the book of Acts, which is the biography of the early church, Peter is prominent in the first half; Paul in the latter half. After Peter chaired the Council of Jerusalem where the church discussed the place of Gentiles in the church, Peter is not mentioned again by Luke, who wrote the book of Acts.
So what happened to Peter? Unquestionably Peter remained in Jerusalem, dealing with problems in the church, preaching and teaching. Though Scripture itself doesn’t mention this, tradition says that he went to Rome and there was martyred under the persecution of Nero in 64 A.D.
As this persecution was intensifying Peter felt that he had to instruct Christians on how you handle the “fiery trials” that were coming upon believers, and he dictated a letter to Silvanus, a scribe who recorded Peter’s words. It’s in your Bible today, known as 1 Peter. Reading between the lines you see the face of a mature believer, no longer impetuous, but steadfast, committed, and solid as a rock.
But the fact that this letter is called 1 Peter means there has to be a second, and there is. Shortly before his execution Peter writes again. He denounces false teachers who ridicule the return of Jesus Christ. He also says, “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:10). He describes something that was so far removed from the first century that those who read it could not have fathomed what it possibly meant.
Only the vision of a mushroom cloud, the result of an atomic explosion, brings what Peter wrote into clear focus—a nightmare that the world now lives with.
And how does Peter sign off the ledger? He concludes, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Paul was not using an empty complimentary close to what he wrote. What he said unquestionably described the very path he had taken, often a challenging, difficult one. God used the difficulties, the imprisonments, the persecution, the hardships, to produce a stalwart, strong elderly statesman upon whose confession that Christ was Lord, the church was built. Thank God for the growth that comes through difficulties. Some things come only through fiery trials. It’s still true.
Resource reading: 2 Peter 3:1-18