Questions and observations for discussion:
Although Peter was impetuous, ambitious, and could be even rashly violent, Jesus saw through this roughness a faithful commitment and loyalty and a teachable spirit that would make him not just a leader among the disciples but a faithful witness of God’s grace to the world.
1. In what sense did Jesus refer to Peter as a rock on which he would build his community of believers? What are the keys of the kingdom and the powers of ‘binding’ and ‘releasing’ given to Peter? How can Peter be God’s spokesman one minute and Satans’s spokesman the next?
Mat 16:13-23 is an episode in the interaction between the disciples and Jesus that is full of insight and irony, inspiration and blindness, paradox and parody. This is a story that marks a pivotal transition in the overall dynamics of Mark’s structure as a Gospel. Mark 8:27 ff marks the transition from Jesus as a dynamic, wonderworking hero to the anti-hero of the Suffering Servant Messiah. In especially Matthew and Mark’s accounts it is important to observe the events that precede and follow this important passage. Note especially that the transfiguration account follows closely after it. Was this given as an assurance especially to Peter, James, and John after the troubling revelation by Jesus that he would be rejected by the Jewish leadership and be put to death? Luke’s account in Luke 9:18 ff. is not as dramatic. Is it significant that in Mat 18:18 the same authority of binding and releasing is given to all the disciples?
2. What do we know about Peter’s role in the mission of the church after the resurrection?
After Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1 it is Peter who takes the initiative to replace Judas by another witness of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. Also, after the disciples had been filled by the Spirit, it was Peter who stood up to address the Jewish witnesses of this event in Acts 2. His message mirrors that of John the Baptist, “Repent, and be baptized,” only now this is to be done “in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). It was Peter together with John who healed the lame man outside the temple gate (Acts 3:1-10), an event that occasioned another address to the onlookers to repent for the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ (Acts 3:11 ff.). This in turn lead to their arrest and witness before the rulers and elders of the people.
Over and over Luke records how Peter and the others were filled with the Holy Spirit in all their speaking, decisions and activity (Acts 4:8, Act 4:31, Acts 13:2-4). It was the Holy Spirit that both gave Peter the vision and commission to preach to the Gentile Cornelius and his family and also authenticated this mission by being obviously manifested in these Gentiles (Acts 11:5-18).
3. What happens to Peter’s leadership role eventually? How does he both help and hinder Paul’s mission to the Gentiles?
The last we hear of Peter in Acts is at the Council in Acts 15 where he defends Paul’s mission to the Gentiles from the same circumcision faction that had criticized his mission to Cornelius (Acts 15:5 and Acts 11:2-3). James is now in power (Acts 15:19, “I have decided”!). The issue was far from settled as we learn from Gal 2:1-14. When the circumcision supporters come from James to Antioch, even Peter and Barnabas back off from table fellowship with the Gentile believers and Peter is publically rebuked by Paul!
4. What testimony is there to Peter’s subsequent mission and message?
From Gal 2:9 indicates that Peter’s subsequent mission is primarily to Jews. 1 Cor 1:12 may support this. However, his letter 1 Peter is addressed to Christians suffering in the northern provinces of Asia Minor (1 Peter 1:1) who are ostensibly Gentiles (1 Peter 2:10). Did Peter actually work in those areas? We do not know. What we know is that he came very much to terms with the path of suffering that leads to glory in Jesus Messiahship that he found so troubling in Matthew 16. This theme permeates 1 Peter (see 1 Peter 1:6-7, 1 Peter 1:10-11, 1 Peter 1:20-21, 1 Peter 2:12, 1 Peter 4:12-14, 1 Peter 5:1, 1 Peter 5:6, 1 Peter 5:10). It was a glory he believed in so firmly that he sealed it according to tradition by refusing to be crucified rightside up like Christ, but upside down when martyred in Rome.