Jesus and his Disciples: Denial and Restoration of Apostle Peter
The history of the Church can be connected to the apostles of Jesus and their time after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One of the people considered extremely essential to this history is the Apostle Peter. From the time spent with Jesus, Apostle Peter is portrayed in an image different from the other apostles. It could be said he was represented as the chosen one among all the apostles of Jesus. His affirmations of love for Christ and willingness to die in his place counters the actual reaction he presented during the arrest and trial of Jesus. From this perspective, it can be said that Peter engaged in a cyclic process involving acceptance, denial and reacceptance of Jesus as his savior. The denial and restoration of Apostle Peter brings to mind many aspects of contemporary theology that deserve to be explored. It is because of this reason that various studies have been conducted to analyze the link between the denial and the subsequent restoration of Peter as one of the apostles and the chosen one for the work of the Lord.
The early church considered Apostle Peter as one of the primary leaders be sides Paul and other apostles. He has been connected to the Papacy by the Roman Catholics who claim that he was instituted by Christ himself as the first Pope. While the Protestants do not attest to the Papacy claims, the major Churches all recognize Peter as a key saint in their liturgies and even consider him as the patron of various aspects of human life. These acceptance levels across religious denominations clearly indicate that there is more to the apostle than the fact the he was Jesus’ apostle like the others. Indeed this is a subject that requires exploration in that not only did the Apostle make some of the most outrageous comments while with Jesus, but that he was the one who was eventually directly charged with taking care of other followers. This is in spite of his triple denial of Jesus at the most crucial moment.
Although various studies have focused on the aspect of Peter’s denial and his restoration, there are still gaps in the literature that can only be filled through in-depth theological exploration. The story of Peter illustrates the unlimited mercy of God and how He can chose to make great or trifle regardless of one‘s situation. It shows the supremacy of God above all circumstances and all history. Through Peter, it is possible to see a manifestation of modern day Christianity and how repentance can result in mercy and grace for the sorrowful soul. The present study aims at determining the transformation of Apostle Peter from the denial to his restoration. Through a review of various pieces of literature, the study aims at filling albeit part of the literary gap that exists in previous literature. To achieve this objective, the study will be guided by three key questions which include:
What aspects of the life of Apostle Peter distinguish him from other Apostles?
How was the denial of Apostle Peter manifested in the Bible and what were the implications?
How does the restoration of Apostle Peter align with his denial?
Through this study, it will be possible to answer key questions about the life of Apostle Peter and how he came to be a key individual in the early church despite having denied Jesus three times. The study is justified due to its potential contribution to the academic and theological education. The study will be based on the Biblical chapter relating to the restoration of Apostle Peter i.e. John 21. Although this verse offers an explicit story about the final restoration of Apostle Peter himself, it is believed that the restoration of Peter cannot be understood without an understanding of why he needed restoration. This calls for a consideration of his denial as a prelude for his restoration. In order to understand why he had to be restored despite Jesus’ assertion that whoever denies him in public would be denied before the Father, it is important that the apostle be studied from the time of his calling to differentiate him from other apostles.
Various studies have shown Apostle Peter in a different light compared to other apostles. From the calling of Apostle Peter to his mission with Jesus and after the death of Jesus, it can be said that Peter was predisposed to being the ultimate leader of the apostles and the early church as a whole. It is on the basis of this that various religious factions recognize the supremacy of Saint Peter in their liturgy and identify him as one of the key saints in the history of the church. According to Brown and others, Apostle Peter is equally identified in Protestant and Roman Catholic churches as the predecessor to church leadership. Although the Protestant Churches do not identify with the Papacy as the Roman Catholics do, they recognize that saint Peter was the first of his kind to enter into trials and temptations and to eventually suffer for his faith. The life of Saint Peter is described distinctively in the Bible compared to the lives of other apostles.
For one, Saint Peter was the first apostle to be called by Jesus from his place of work. As such, his calling is described in details in all the four gospels. From the Bible commentary by Karris, Saint Peter presents so many differences in his life with Jesus that it is possible to distinguish him from the others on the basis of his actions. For instance, the marital status of all the other apostles is undisclosed except for Peter. The story about the Healing of Peter’s mother in law clearly indicates that he was married. Apart from this, he took his wife on mission after the death of Jesus Christ. Although the Bible does not lucidly explain the significance of his marital status to the mission, it is important to note that this could imply that he was capable of taking care of a family. It is also the apostle Peter who had the closest relationship with Jesus besides James and John. He is even described as the Apostle who was loved Jesus, in comparison to the Apostle who Jesus loved (John). Because of this closeness, Peter managed to be present at major events in the life of Jesus and to witness first hand every circumstance that Jesus went through.
During the life of Jesus, it is the Apostle Peter who is reported as trying to prevent Jesus from talking about his death, trying to walk on water like Jesus did, offering to die in the place of Jesus, trying to prevent Jesus from washing his feet during the last supper and accompanying Jesus to many places in private. The presence of Peter at key events such as the transfiguration, the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the final prayer session at Gethsemane signifies that this apostle was set apart from the others from the time of his call. The theological precepts behind this distinction are only deductible from the eventual turn out of events. The mistakes made by Peter through the cutting of the palace official’s ear and denial of Jesus were not sufficient to deny him the grace that he had been prepared form since the time of his calling to the time of his denial.
The denial of Apostle Peter has been the subject of many theological studies due to the stark contrast between his previous declarations of undying support for Jesus. For instance, Elwell asserts that Peter’s denial of Jesus is also one of the factors that set him apart from other disciples. The contrast between the bold statements of protection, the courage to cut off the guard’s ear and the denial clearly sets him on a higher pedestal of the disciples’ comparison. From the various discourses on this denial, it can be said that the denial felt heavier due to the fact that it was Peter and not any other disciple who denied Jesus. According to Kittel, Bromiley and Friedrich, Peter has an exceptional personality, guided by the desire to believe yet victimized by his fear. Other studies and books have also discussed the subject of Peter’s denial with some claiming that the denial was to serve as the basis for his declaration of love following the resurrection.
The account of Peter’s denial as given by the NSV Bible indicates that the denial was three fold. There are various other instances in which triple actions occurred in the life of Peter and through which he was able to be more connected with Jesus. From the commentary by Karris, the denial of knowledge about Jesus contrasts the previous declaration that Jesus was the son of God and the Messiah. When all other disciples could only report who others say Jesus was; Peter was able to clearly identify Jesus as the Messiah and the Prophet. At one point during the ministry of Jesus, Peter even said that even though others may leave, he could not leave Jesus as He had the words of eternal life. This declaration and the later denial can effectively relate to human nature to deny alliances for self protection and or other selfish interests. While Peter may be blamed for the denial, it is important to note that his denial could have been precedence for greatness and higher levels of broken heartedness. Youngblood represents Peter’s behavior from the point of view that it was necessary to prevent the overall perception that one is perfect.
The discussion of Peter’s denial has also been based on the nature of the action itself. From the accounts represented in the Bible, the denial was three fold to varying audiences. Despite the difficulty in finding out what significance this triple denial had especially through different audiences, it is still possible to link this denial to the coming glorification. Brown describes Peter’s denial while giving a historical description of the Apostle. For instance, it is reported that the denials occurred on accusation that he had been an ally of Jesus. There could have been reasons behind this denial that are unknown to anyone. However, the key deduction to be made is that Peter acted out of fear. Through the first denial after accusation by a female servant, it can be said that Peter acted out of ignorance. As Kittel and others claim, the initial denial could have been aimed at driving away suspicion and subsequently managing to hang around until later. The second denial came only moments later to the same servant girl and a few other people. This denial came with oath and swearing that he was never with Jesus. This second denial can be linked to fear and apprehension resulting from the increasing accusations despite having denied Jesus during the first accusation. Finally, Peter denies Jesus in the presence of a crowd around a coal fire. The third denial was more vehement and accompanied by cursing and swearing. After this, the Bible says that Peter cried bitterly.
In narrating and discussing the cries of Peter after the denial, Broda and Smith refer to repentance and remorse for sin. According to these authors, the cock crow reminded Peter of the prediction Jesus had done during the last supper and he realized he had faltered. During the prediction, Peter argued that he would never leave Jesus no matter what circumstances were to come. Realizing that he had actually violated this promise made Peter to be affected so much emotionally that he shed tears. As Walter says, Peter experienced a stint of emotional turmoil and turbulence which can only be related to heart rending repentance. From the comments by Broda and Smith, the tears showed a sign of mourning and a need for comfort from God. This is synonymous to the repenting of sins and seeking forgiveness respectively. From the succeeding events, it can be assumed that this end was achieved. Through the experiences reported after the resurrection, it could be said that Peter had been re-energized through his faltering and later renewal in the face of resurrection and taking care of the church.
The discrepancies between Apostle Peter and other apostles continued to grow even after the death of Jesus. In every instance, Peter stood out tall in the face of trials, due to the assumed and eventually given authority to lead the early church. According to an account given by Grant, Saint Peter performed so many activities that set him apart from the others after the death of Christ. In particular, the experiences and interactions of Peter with the resurrected Jesus also indicate an inclination towards restoration and overall leadership. In can be said that the tears shed in repentance were to indicate human limitations and the process through which God can release people from the feelings of guilt. Although he had denied Jesus at the Sanhedrin, Peter was the first apostle to enter into the tomb of Jesus and to confirm the resurrection. Moreover, other actions such as taking the lead in finding a replacement for Judas Iscariot and giving the leader’s speech during Pentecost can only be achieved after receiving authority from the most senior person in the group. In this case, since Peter had not yet been explicitly declared the overall authority among the apostles, it can be concluded that the actions of Peter also indicated the acceptance of his leadership by the other apostles.
Aside from the actions of Peter himself, the actions of Jesus after resurrection are what link him to the eventual restoration. The actions would not have any spiritual impact without the expression of Jesus himself. The Gospel of John Chapter 21 describes the ultimate restoration of Apostle Peter through the words of Jesus. In this chapter, Jesus clearly asks Peter to ‘Feed his sheep’ following affirmations of love by the apostle. Paul Barnett describes the restoration as re-commissioning of Peter. In this regard, the description is given to allude to the probability that the role of shepherd had been given before through the re-naming of Peter as the rock upon which the church would be built. The approach taken by Jesus during the restoration of Peter is considered to be both stern and forgiving. Forgiving through assumption of the past denial and stern through the demand for a love affirmation prior to restoration. The context within which the restoration happens is likened to than in which the denial occurred through the presence of a coal fire used to roast fish for food and in the presence of many people.
During the re-commissioning process, Jesus asked Peter to affirm his love for him three times as he had denied him three times. Although Jesus does not mention this as his reason for questioning Peter’s love, the apostle himself became irritated for being asked three times. According to Hendriksen, the triple affirmation of love can only imply a subjective attachment to the answers given by the apostle. When Jesus questions his love, the intention may not have been to make him realize his mistakes but to bring to his attention the forgiveness received. Moreover, despite the many affirmations of love, it was not expected that Jesus would place Peter at task taking care of his sheep following the denial. Peter had even left the synagogue to go back to fishing following the death of Jesus and the threats of the authorities. However, the works done by Peter after the re-commissioning indicate that the restoration was not in vain. Watson identifies some of the works done by Peter after his restoration such as the healing of the crippled beggar, restoration of Tabitha the disciple to life, and various other works of faith. All the actions carried out by Peter after restoration are linked to the promise made by Jesus that whoever believed in Him could perform numerous works of faith including healing the sick and driving out demons in His name. The actions of Peter can thus be linked to strength of faith in Jesus.
Although the study has sufficiently answered the previously outlined research questions, the key question that should be asked is however still unanswered. How was such a person who was considered fearful and probably of limited faith based on his actions of denial and fear be regarded worthy of tending Jesus’ sheep? To answer this question effectively, the explanations of the restoration and denial aspects can only be drawn from the theological understanding of concepts. From the study of Apostle Peter’s life as presented through the Bible and various other accounts, the apostle was pre-disposed to be a leader among the other apostles. Although Jesus loved Apostle John, Peter loved the Lord immensely. This is clearly seen through his actions prior to the arrest and the denial of Jesus. Although all other disciples were present during various activities, the love that Peter had for Jesus is outstanding because of various unique features it presents. For instance, among the 12 apostles, only Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about his death. Even though Jesus referred to him as Satan by then, it can clearly be said to have been out of love that he spoke. In addition to this, Peter is the only one who offered to die for Jesus during the last supper.
Apart from the aspect of love, Peter’s faith was also great. This can be connected to the recognition of Jesus as the Messiah and son of God, different from the postulations of all other apostles. Another instance of faith in Jesus is seen through his efforts to walk on water and subsequent calling of Jesus to assist and reference to Jesus as his Lord while refusing to be washed by him. Also, it is Peter who suggested that they build altars at the place of transfiguration. These factors clearly set Peter apart from other apostles and also show that he had the potential to lead in faith and love of God. The actions of Peter during the denial only go further to explain how human he was, and the fact that his restoration was not due to his effectiveness but because of the mercy and Grace of God.
The restoration of Peter is also an interesting subject through its mechanism. The triple questioning can be linked to the three denials. Each affirmation of love counters a denial at the Sanhedrin. On the other hand, a theological perspective described by William Hendriksen relates the three affirmations to three different scenarios. The question ‘Do you love me more than these?’ can be linked to three different factors as in the three questioning instances. First, it could mean more than his love for other disciples. It could also mean more than how much all the other disciples love Jesus or more than his love for his fishing gear since the restoration occurred at the sea shore after fishing. In each instance, Peter replied in the affirmative. This could be taken to relate also to the three types of love i.e. agape, filial and erotic love. In this context, a declaration of love in all the three aspects shows an ultimate self giving, unconditional love that can be hampered by nothing. This self-giving can be linked to Peter’s acceptance to suffer and ultimately be crucified because of the word of God.
Trinity in the Bible is used in several instances to relate to completion. For instance, the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit represents a complete cycle, self sufficient in its own. Similarly, the death of Jesus after three hours on the cross and His resurrection after three days in the tomb all signify completion. Peter’s denial in three instances could be taken to signify complete denial while his three affirmations of love signify an overall reversal of the denial. This comes at the end of his life with Jesus and at the beginning of his work in mission. It can thus be concluded that the complete declaration of love warrants lifelong recognition, restoration and re-commissioning. Peter thus remains to be the most outstanding apostle in all the religions due to his distinguished life in mission as well as in death.
Barnett, Paul. The Shepherd King. Sydney South: Aquila Press, 2005.
Broda, Mark and Gordon Smith. Repentance in Christian Theology. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2006.
Brown, John. A Dictionary Of The Holy Bible: Containing An Historical Account Of The Persons, A Geographical And Historical Account Of The Places, A Literal, Critical, And Systematical Description Of Other Objects, Whether Natural, Artificial, Civil, Religious, Or Military, And An Explanation Of the Appellative Terms mentioned in the Old and New Testament. Nabu Press, 2011.
Brown, Raymond, Karl Donfried and John Henry Reumann. Peter in the New Testament: A Collaborative Assessment by Protestant and Roman Catholic Scholars. Minneapolis: Augsburgh Publishing House, 1973.
Elwell, Walter. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Ed. USA: Baker Academy, 2001.
Grant, Michael. Saint Peter: A Biography. New York: Scribner, 1995.
Hendriksen, William. The Gospel of John. London: Banner of Truth, 1961.
Karris, Robert. The Collegeville Bible Commentary: New Testament Based on the New American Bible. Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1992.
Kittel, Gerhard, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume. William E. Eerdmans Publishing House, 1980.
Perkines, Pheme. Peter: Apostle for the whole Church: Studies on Personalities of the New Testament. Columbia S.C: University of South Carolina Press, 1994.
Powell, Mark Allan. Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary and Theological Survey. Baker Publishing Group, 2009.
Watson, Richard. A Biblical and theological dictionary: explanatory of the history, manners, and customs of the Jews, and neighboring nations. With an account of the most remarkable places and persons mentioned in Sacred Scripture; an exposition of the principal doctrines of Christianity: and notices of Jewish and Christian sects and heresies. New York: Lane and Scott Publishers, 1849.
Youngblood, Ronald. Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary: New and Enhanced Edition. Dallas: Thomas Nelson, 1831.
Raymond Brown, Karl Donfried and John Henry Reumann. Peter in the New Testament: A Collaborative Assessment by Protestant and Roman Catholic Scholars, (Minneapolis: Augsburgh Publishing House, 1973) 26.
Pheme Perkines. Peter: Apostle for the whole Church: Studies on Personalities of the New Testament, (Columbia S.C: University of South Carolina Press, 1994) 101.
Robert Karris. The Collegeville Bible Commentary: New Testament Based on the New American Bible, (Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1992) 218.
Raymond Brown et al., 116.
Walter Elwell. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Ed, (USA: Baker Academy, 2001) 719.
 Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume, (William E. Eerdmans Publishing House, 1980) 663.
 Robert Karris, p. 219.
 Ronald Youngblood. Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary: New and Enhanced Edition, (Dallas: Thomas Nelson, 1831) 64.
 John Brown. A Dictionary Of The Holy Bible: Containing An Historical Account Of The Persons, A Geographical And Historical Account Of The Places, A Literal, Critical, And Systematical Description Of Other Objects, Whether Natural, Artificial, Civil, Religious, Or Military, And An Explanation Of the Appellative Terms mentioned in the Old and New Testament, (Nabu Press, 2011) 332.
 Gerhard Kittel and Others, p. 641.
Mark Broda and Gordon Smith. Repentance in Christian Theology, (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2006) 223.
 Mark Broda and Gordon Smith, p. 223.
Michael Grant. Saint Peter: A Biography, (New York: Scribner, 1995) 96.
 Paul Barnett. The Shepherd King, (Sydney South: Aquila Press, 2005) 73.
 Paul Barnett, p. 73.
William Hendriksen. The Gospel of John, (London: Banner of Truth, 1961) 105.
 Richard Watson. A Biblical and theological dictionary: explanatory of the history, manners, and customs of the Jews, and neighboring nations. With an account of the most remarkable places and persons mentioned in Sacred Scripture; an exposition of the principal doctrines of Christianity: and notices of Jewish and Christian sects and heresies, (New York: Lane and Scott Publishers, 1849) 492.
 The Bible, New Standard Version.
 Mark Allan Powell. Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary and Theological Survey, (Baker Publishing Group, 2009) 257.
 William Hendriksen, p. 106.