Who was Peter? Part 3: Peter in Acts
1 Peter 1:1
1 Peter Lesson #006
February 26, 2015
Before we begin, we’ll have a few moments of silent prayer. Scripture teaches how important it is for us to be in right relationship with God. A number of terms are used to describe this. It is fellowship with God which is a very active term. When you have a close relationship with someone, having fellowship with them is not just having a static relationship with them. It’s enjoying the benefits and blessings of that relationship. When we sin that is broken. That rapport goes away until we confess our sin. When we do, that rapport is instantly regained. It’s also described as walking by the Spirit or abiding in Christ, and it is a vital part of our spiritual life. Without it we are not growing or advancing in the spiritual life. We always begin with a few moments of silent prayer to give everyone the opportunity to make sure that they are in fellowship. Then I’ll open in prayer.
Let’s bow our heads together and go to the Lord in prayer. “Father, we’re so very grateful that we have this opportunity and time to come together to focus on You and on Your Word. We’re thankful that we have the New Testament, confident that it is Your Word, that it has been revealed by You and that You have preserved it down through the centuries. Father, as we come to Thy Word we know that You teach us in many different ways and that every word is designed for our edification and to strengthen us to one degree or another. Father, as we continue our study on the background of 1 Peter in terms of the study of its author Peter, we pray that You will help us to see the flow of spiritual growth in his life and understand how you used him in a unique and distinct way in the early Church. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
You might as well open your Bibles with me to Acts 1. Acts 1, and we’re in the 3rd phase and we’ll wrap it up tonight on the life of Peter. [Slide 4] Peter, as we’ve studied previously, was a fisherman, the son of Jonas or the son of John. He’s a brother of Andrew. They were among the first disciples that gathered around the Lord. Andrew is specifically stated to have been a disciple of John the Baptist. When John the Baptist introduced the Lord Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, both before, and then after the forty days of temptation in the wilderness, Andrew was there and witnessed that. He decided to leave John the Baptist and to follow Jesus. He got his brother to come with him, and so they were among the first disciples.
They were in a business, a profitable commercial fishing business, with their father as well as their partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee who also were disciples. So, it’s a close-knit group. They lived in Capernaum which was a fairly decent-sized village, a thriving commercial fishing village, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was about a year after the initial meeting with Jesus and following him that they were called to leave everything behind and to follow Him exclusively as part of the twelve disciples.
Peter is distinct and unique because he was said by the Lord Jesus Christ to be a leader in the group. The Lord Jesus Christ gave him a new name, PETROS or CEPHAS, in the Greek and Aramaic. He is seen in the gospel to be a leader of the twelve disciples. He is often the one who speaks. He is out-spoken, often he speaks before he thinks. As we think about Peter in the Gospels, we see a lot of problems in Peter’s life. He’s forthright. His enthusiasm overruns his thinking many times. But we see in his heart that he really wants to follow the Lord.
That’s why when the Lord comes walking out to the boat with the disciples in it in the midst of a storm in the night and Jesus is walking on the water, Peter wants to do that too. “Lord, let me come to You.” We see that level of enthusiasm. We also see the failures in Peter that instead of keeping his eyes on the Lord, he focuses on the waves and begins to sink beneath the water, which is a great picture – that we need to focus on the Lord to stay above the turmoil and the strife of life. But when we take our eyes off of the Lord, often the strife of life overwhelms us. This is the picture we see of Peter.
The Lord Jesus Christ warned Peter that he would betray Him or deny Him, and Peter said, “No, Lord. Not I.” Then he denied the Lord three times the night before the Lord went to the cross. We see him then not at the cross as John was at the cross. Peter is in hiding. Peter is fearful. Peter is overwhelmed by guilt. The next time, as I pointed out last time, the next time we see him is after the crucifixion, actually after the resurrection, early that Sunday morning when Mary Magdalene runs to get John and Peter. They run to the tomb. John stopped outside the door. Peter rushes headlong inside.
I pointed out last time that we know from two passages of Scripture, the passage related to the conversation Jesus had with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We don’t know who they were, but they were not part of the twelve. They were just other disciples. We also know from 1 Corinthians 15:4–6 that Jesus appeared to Peter before He appeared to the twelve. That indicates that it was the Lord Jesus Christ appearing to Peter in a private moment to forgive him of his denial.
Now the reason I pointed that out is that as we think our way through Peter in the gospels, we see Peter, warts and all. How many warts do we see in Acts? Not too many. The only wart I can see on Peter in Acts is that he’s a little hesitant to respond to the Lord’s command to go to the Gentiles or to treat the unclean as clean. He’s just a little hesitant. It doesn’t stop him. It doesn’t delay him. It just goes against all of his background, all of his training, everything that made him a Jew. After that, he has no problem at all anywhere in the book of Acts with going to the Gentiles after the Lord has told them they are now clean. We will look at a passage where he does fall by the wayside on that and has a confrontation with Paul that’s given to us in Galatians 2. But if we look at the book of Acts, we just don’t see any problems with Peter.
That’s significant because after the Lord has His conversation with Peter in Matthew 16, it says He’s going to give him the keys of the kingdom. That indicates a special role of leadership that goes to Peter. That is what gets developed, and we see that in the book of Acts. It’s not anything like the Roman Catholic tradition that tries to claim he went to Rome and founded the church in Rome. There’s absolutely no historical evidence for that whatsoever. There’s no indication of any of the things that Roman Catholics claim, that Peter is the first pope or the first bishop of Rome.
In fact, I read in one account where there was a debate that took place between a protestant and a Roman Catholic priest focusing on the issue that the first pope, the first bishop of Rome, to make a claim to papal priority based upon the primacy of Peter doesn’t come about until around AD 250, and the bishop of Rome at that time was named Stephen. When this was brought up to the Roman Catholic priest in the debate he said, “That’s just because all of the popes before Stephen were too humble to mention it.” Ah, so that means all of the popes after him were arrogant? That’s the flipside. They just get caught, and hoist on their own petard no matter how they try to argue it because there’s no historical evidence of anything of a papal succession in Rome.
So, we’ve gone through Peter in the early part of his ministry with the Lord Jesus Christ. Last week we covered the last part where Jesus warned Peter he would deny Him, his denial, and his forgiveness. It’s interesting that on two specific occasions the issue of forgiveness was brought up and pointedly taught to Peter prior to his denial, so that’s really singled out.
Then we looked at the end last time in John 21, looking at the marching orders that the Lord Jesus Christ gave to Peter to love the Lord Jesus Christ and to obey Him by “feeding my sheep”. We looked at all the different nuances in those synonyms. Tonight, we’re continuing a third time on “Who was Peter?” because Peter was the author of 1 Peter. The first word in verse 1 is “Peter”. Peter is writing to the resident aliens who were scattered in the Diaspora in the area of the western and northwestern area of what is now Turkey.
We’ve looked at the background of Peter in the gospels, and tonight I want to go through Peter in Acts. We’re going to take a look at these different episodes. First of all we’re going to look at Peter’s leadership in the upper room. Basically what we’re going to see in Acts is this principle that Peter is given the keys to the kingdom. Keys represented authority that was given often by a landowner to his manager. We would say in Texas that the rancher would give his ranch manager the keys to the barn. The ranch manager’s responsibility would be to make sure that the cattle were fed and there were plenty of supplies in the barn. He would be in charge of distributing the supplies in the barn to the animals on the ranch. That is a pretty good depiction of this.
The keys, if they represent anything other than authority, they would represent the gospel itself. What we see in Acts is something very simple. As the door is opened to the Jews in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, as the door to the Church is opened to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, and then open to the Samaritans, and then open to the Gentiles, each time, in each event, it is Peter who is present. Peter is the authority, the one who is in authority over the other disciples.
When we come to the upper room in Acts 1, this is the story of the Ascension when the Lord Jesus Christ is taken up into heaven. In His last instructions to the disciples, He told them, referencing back to John the Baptist in verse 5, “John baptized with water but you shall be baptized [future tense] with the Holy Spirit, not many days from now.” That tells us right away that this baptism by the Spirit is something that had not ever happened before. I make a point out of that because there are some people, some in Covenant Theology, who try to read baptism of the Holy Spirit back into the Old Testament. There are some, since on Tuesday night about a month ago we completed our study on Dispensations by looking at Progressive Dispensationalism, there are even some Progressive Dispensationalists who have floated that idea.
What I have found interesting is a lack of clarity on the part of many dispensationalists to make the distinguishing mark of the Church Age the baptism of the Holy Spirit. That’s what starts it all. There’s something new that happens, something radical that happens. Romans 6, which we have studied, says that we’re identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection and therefore the sin nature is no longer an authority over us. We’re no longer slaves to the sin nature. That’s the baptism by the Holy Spirit. It never happened from the day that Adam sinned until the Day of Pentecost. It had never happened to any believer at any point in time. They were still just as much enslaved to their sin nature after they were saved as they were before. We are not.
That is a vital and significant truth for the Church Age believer. This is what Jesus is prophesying. He’s saying, 'This is what’s going to happen a few days from now.' As they come together, He says that they will “receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon them” in verse 8. “And they are to be witnesses…” That’s a legal term. They are to go forth as witnesses of Jesus in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, and then to the uttermost parts of the earth. Three circles of influence. Jerusalem is the tiniest area. Then broadening out to the areas surrounding Judea, Samaria and Judea. Then, even further still, to the end of the earth.
Instantly after that He is taken up to be in heaven. The disciples, after they get over the shock of watching the first person blast off into outer space from earth, went back to Jerusalem, crossing the Kidron Valley, walking up the slope of Mount Zion on the far side, headed back to wherever the location of the upper room was. [Slide 5] We’re given the last list of the disciples in verse 13, and Peter is the first one. In every list of the disciples, Peter is listed first, indicating his role of leadership among the disciples.
We’re told they continued in a lengthy prayer meeting for several days along with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers who weren’t believers until after the resurrection. During that time, they held the meeting with a number of other disciples who were joining them for this time of prayer. There were 120 there. This is when they made that decision to include another disciple to take the place of Judas Iscariot. We studied that in detail.
The point that I am making here is that Peter goes through a rationale from the Scripture as he does this, going back in verse 20, quoting from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 and arguing for the inclusion of a new member in their group. They choose Matthias as one of them, and he’s numbered with them among the eleven disciples. So he would have been part of their leadership group during the coming weeks, months, and years in Jerusalem. We never hear from him again, but frankly, we don’t hear from any of the others again either. So that’s it. That’s not an argument for whether or not he truly had the spiritual gift of apostleship. I’m not going to get off on that. I went through all the arguments on both sides in the lessons covering that back in Acts.
In Acts 2, the Day of Pentecost comes. This again brings in an important feature that we’re going to see continues throughout Acts and is important to understand. I’m going to develop this a lot more fully when we get into Peter. That feature is that the Jewish believers continued to observe the traditional holidays and feast days set aside in the Mosaic Law. Now they don’t do it because it’s in the Mosaic Law: they do it because that is their cultural history and tradition. You can do these things for many different reasons.
We studied that Paul vociferously refused to have Titus circumcised as a Gentile when the Judaizers were emphasizing that circumcision according to the Mosaic Law was a requirement for salvation or sanctification. That was the thinking of the Judiazers. They were basing it on the Mosaic Law. They were imposing the Mosaic Law on the Church, and Paul opposed that. When Timothy needed to be circumcised because he wasn't circumcised as a child, Paul unhesitatingly circumcised him. It wasn’t an erroneous theological issue at stake. Circumcision isn’t the sign of the Mosaic covenant. It’s included within the Mosaic covenant. It’s the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. If someone is a Jew, whether they are a believer or an unbeliever, they are still under the Abrahamic covenant. As such, the males should be circumcised because that is part of the Abrahamic covenant. It has absolutely nothing to do with salvation. It has absolutely nothing to do with your spiritual life. It has nothing to do with sanctification. That’s what we need to understand, because Peter is writing first 1 Peter to these scattered Jewish believers in the Diaspora.
There is a Jewish focus to 1 Peter that is distinct from, let’s say Ephesians, Galatians, or Romans. He’s writing to a Jewish group of Christians dealing with the specific issues that they were facing. Just as James did. James was writing to a Jewish audience. 2 Peter may be written to that same group. It’s not specifically stated at the beginning of the epistle. Hebrews is also clearly targeted to a Jewish Christian audience. We have to understand that. There are a lot of issues related to that. Even though these are believers, and even though they’ve been taught that the Law has ended, that Christ was the end of the Law, there’s nothing wrong, if you have the right theology, in going to observe the feast days at the Temple. They continued to do that. They continued to pray at the Temple. All of these different things were part of their spiritual life.
So they went to the Temple; but before they went, they were probably in the upper room praying before they went to the Temple that day, and there was a sudden rush of wind that they heard. It was like a tornado. It sounded like a freight train moving through the upper room. It filled the house, and then there was a visual effect as well. It appeared that there were tongues of fire that were over each one. At that point, Luke says they were filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s that word that we studied before: PIMPLEMI, which usually precedes speaking. It’s not the same word used in Ephesians 5:18 which is PLEROO. It has a different significance. They began to speak with other tongues.
That should be translated “with foreign languages” as the Spirit gave them utterance. They were speaking in known human languages. They were known and understood by the Jewish worshippers who had come to the Temple that day from all around the Diaspora. These are listed in Acts 2:9–11. From those who have studied linguistics, I’ve been told that there were twelve distinct language groups here and so that would make sense that each of the twelve was given the gift of speaking in a particular language so that they could speak to each of these twelve different language groups that were present in the Temple that day.
There were others though that rejected it. They just heard people speaking in what appeared to be gibberish to them. They accused them of being drunk, but it’s only 9:00 in the morning. Peter stood up and gives his first sermon. This is a remarkable sermon where he goes to Joel 2:28–29. He quotes from that to show a parallel between this miraculous work of God the Holy Spirit and what was predicted to take place at the end of the Tribulation period at the time of the Day of the Lord. All he’s doing is saying that this is like that, and there are similarities, and God the Holy Spirit can perform things of this nature.
Then he concludes by challenging the men there that they are to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. He identifies Him as the One who was delivered up by God’s determined purpose and foreknowledge, and that they crucified Him and put Him to death, but God raised Him up, and that this was prophesied from the Old Testament, quoting from David. Then he goes on and gives this gospel presentation, explaining who Jesus is and what His current role is. He explains that Jesus is now ascended into heaven [Acts 2:34–35] and seated at the right hand of the Father.
So when they heard this, the response to Peter’s message, they were cut to the heart. They said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brothers, what shall we do?” Peter said, “Repent.” That’s, “y’all repent.” It’s very important to understand that it’s a second person plural command. Then it’s “let each one of you be baptized”. That’s singular. In other words all of you are to repent, that means turn to the Lord. And those who do should be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then the phrase “for the remission of sins” is tied to repentance, or turning, and the result would be that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the mark of the Church Age.
It’s still distinctively Jewish. In Acts 2:41, we’re told there were about 3,000 who responded to the gospel on that particular day. Now the next day, turn to chapter 3, this is the third point here, Peter and John go to the Temple the next day, and there’s a lame man outside the entry to the Temple at the Gate Beautiful. He’s begging alms, seeking to sustain himself. Peter and John fix their eyes on him and Peter very famously says in Acts 3:6, “Silver and gold I do not have but what I do have I give to you in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” He stands up, and he walks. The point of this is that it fits the pattern of Jesus’s miracles. The disciples have been invested with the power of the Messiah to carry on the Messiah’s ministry. They continue to perform miracles just as Jesus did. We studied all of this when we went through Acts.
We see again that Peter is the spokesperson. John doesn't say anything. John is going to disappear after a couple of more chapters, but John never says anything. It’s always Peter. Peter is presented as the leader here. So Peter is opening the door to salvation to the Church, to the kingdom, which we will all be in the kingdom eventually, through the gospel presentation in these chapters. That tells us by implication that the way to get into the door is through positive response to the gospel. It still has a kingdom influence or tone because Peter says that if they would repent and be converted [verse 19], then the times of refreshing would come from the presence of the Lord. It’s still an offering of the kingdom.
So in chapter 3 they heal the lame man. Peter is the key person at that particular time; and then this causes such a row, such a response, that the people and the priests and the captain of the Temple, including the Sadducees, decide to do something about this. So then they arrest Peter and John at the beginning of chapter 4. Then they are taken to the Sanhedrin. There’s a progress report given by Luke in Acts 4:4 which says, “Many of those who heard the Word believed and the number of the men, not counting the women and children, the number of men came to be about 5,000. Now we have in terms of numbers 8,000 who’ve become believers but probably many, many more. Maybe twice that many had become believers in just the first two days. The early Church was primarily Jewish and stays Jewish until Peter goes to Cornelius. That’s the first eight years of the Church. It’s primarily Jewish.
That’s important to understand. The first four or five decades the Church is still predominantly Jewish, especially in the area of the Levant. That’s in the news now because the President insists on calling ISIS, ISIL, and the “L” stands for Levant. That covers the whole area around the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Anyhow, Peter and John are arrested. They come before the Sanhedrin. Then in Acts 4:8 we read, “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit…” Again we have that word PIMPLEMI. It always comes before something is said. I think it’s close to inspiration. It may not be inspiration for inscripturating, writing down Scripture, but I think it’s close to inspiration. That the idea there.
So he addresses the rulers of the people, the Sanhedrin, the elders, and again he gives them the gospel. In Acts 4:11, he quotes from Psalm 118:22. In our study of Matthew, we saw that the first hint of the use of this verse is in Matthew 11:4 when Jesus is responding to John the Baptist. In Matthew 11:4-5 He responds to John the Baptist and uses a word indicating those who are offended by the ministry of Jesus and John the Baptist, which is the idea of the stone that is rejected by the builders. That’s the first hint in Jesus’ ministry referring to Psalm 118:22. Peter picks it up in this message, and he is going to quote it again in 1 Peter 2.
Then after quoting it he says, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there’s no other name in heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” The response to him is not positive by the Sanhedrin, and they are quite hostile to Peter and John. They recognize there is a serious problem because everyone saw the miracle, and they can’t do anything to them personally at this point so they just reprimand them and tell them not to speak at all or teach in the name of Jesus. They respond in Acts 4:19, “Whether it’s right in the sight of God to listen to you, rather than God, you judge; but we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
We see this courage now that Peter has that he didn’t have just a few weeks before when he was denying the Lord. Now he has seen the resurrected Lord, he’s been forgiven, and He is a changed person. That’s true for all the disciples. Instead of running and hiding, they are now completely changed because they have seen the risen Lord. Ten of the eleven were all martyred. That’s another evidence. People don’t give their lives for something that’s a lie or something that’s just manufactured. So all eleven gave their life for the gospel because they knew it to be true, because they were witnesses to the resurrection.
So in Acts 4 we see the boldness of Peter, and we see his response to the Sanhedrin. We see another example of Peter’s authority over Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1–4. This again shows Peter’s leadership. Ananias and Sapphira are a couple who sold a piece of property, and they wanted to be like Barnabas who was introduced at the end of the previous chapter. Barnabas had some land. He sold it and brought all the money to the church, and they wanted to get all of the approbation like Barnabas had; but they kept back some of the money. Now there wasn’t anything wrong with keeping it back, but they were deceiving everyone, implying they were giving it all to the church when in fact they kept some back.
So Peter says to Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart?” This is not demon possession. This is putting thoughts into his mind. “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit to keep back part of the price of the land? This was your land. You could have done whatever you wanted with it.” In verse 5, “Ananias heard the words and fell down and died.” Now Sapphira wasn’t with him. She comes in about three hours later and Peter questions her and says, “Did you sell the land for this much money?” She says, “We sure did.” Peter said, “Why have you conspired with your husband to test the Lord and the Holy Spirit? Because of that, you’re going to die as well.” She dies immediately as well, the sin unto death. The purpose of this is to put fear unto the congregation that this is the Word of God and they should not trifle with it. That’s the point in verse 11.
In verse 12, it gives us another progress report. It’s not just Peter and John. We read, “Through the hands of the apostles, many signs and wonders [all the apostles] were done among the people and they [the disciples] were all with one accord with them on Solomon’s porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them but the people esteemed them highly.” Verse 14, “Believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that [notice the miracle reference in verse 15] they brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and couches so at least the shadow of Peter might fall on some of them.” That indicates they’re carrying out the miraculous ministry of the calling card of the kingdom of God delegated to them from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then as a result of all of this, the High priests and Sadducees in the Sanhedrin become very upset with them. They arrest all of the apostles in Acts 5:18. Then an angel intervenes that night and releases them, and tells them to go to the Temple and proclaim the gospel and to teach the words of this life. They did that and the next morning they’re teaching. Of course, this confounds the Sanhedrin. They arrest them again and bring them back. Again they’re told in verse 28, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name and you fill Jerusalem with your doctrine and intend to bring this man’s blood on us?” In Acts 5:29, “But Peter [as the spokesperson] and the other apostles answered and said, ‘We ought to obey God rather than man’.”
He presents the gospel again. “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging Him on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” That’s the point. Forgiveness of sins. Peter has clearly understood this. The response to this was Gamaliel, who gave them wise counsel and said, “If this is of God, leave it alone because you can’t stop it. If it’s not of God it’ll die out on its own.”
In chapter 6 we see the selection of the six who are going to assist them. Peter is not specifically mentioned there. Chapter 7 is Stephen’s address right before he is stoned. Peter’s not mentioned there. We get to chapter 8. We’re told about Saul of Tarsus who is persecuting the church. Then we’re told about Phillip who is taken into the area of Samaria. [Slide 5] Here is Jerusalem, down here. This area to the south of Jerusalem is the area of Judea. The area just to the north of Judea up in this area is Samaria. Now Phillip takes the gospel to Samaria probably in this area, either here at Sychar or here at Sabastia, possibly here. This was still a dominant Roman city at the time, the site of ancient Samaria.
We went there on the last trip to Israel. It’s quite impressive. It’s a huge site, but no one wants to excavate it. The Arabs don’t want you coming in excavating it because you’ll just prove that the Jews have been there for thousands of years, so they don’t want anyone coming in excavating. Archaeologists don’t want to go in there because of all the troubles that can arise because of it, so it’s basically left un-excavated. There has been some work done in the past, and it’s remarkable to see the things that are there.
After there’s been this tremendous response to Phillip’s proclamation of the gospel, then they send to Jerusalem for Peter and John. When they hear what has been going on in Samaria, the apostles sent Peter and John to them. This is the last time we’re going to hear about John, but it’s not the last time we hear about Peter. Peter is there to open the door to the kingdom. It doesn’t mean the kingdom is there, but eventually we’re all going to be in the kingdom. Peter is opening the door with keys of the gospel. Peter and John will go. When they come, verse 15, “They pray for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.”
See, the Holy Spirit doesn’t come upon them like it did at Pentecost until Peter and the apostles from Jerusalem show up to show there’s a unity in the Church. The Jews, you remember, hated the Samaritans. They’re half-breeds. They’re not really Jews. They had their own canon of Scripture. They only go through the first five books of Moses. They reject the rest of it. They say the only place to put the Temple is on Mount Gerazim. Some of us have been up on Mount Gerazim and walked through the remains of the Temple up there. They had their own calendar; and they did it their own way. It wasn’t fully according to the Law of Moses. The Jews didn’t want to have anything to do with them.
The point here is that there’s unity in the body of Christ and that Samaritans are equally a part of the body of Christ. Just like the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, they received the Holy Spirit in the same way. In Acts 8:16 Luke says, “For as yet, He [Holy Spirit] had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they [Peter and John] laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” So Peter is there to open the doors to the kingdom to the Samaritan believers in Acts 8.
And then the next event is at the end of chapter 9. Chapter 9 gives us, for the most part, the conversion of the Apostle Paul. This is in approximately the summer of AD 35 which is two years after the resurrection and the ascension of the Lord. Saul is saved at the beginning of the chapter. Then he begins to preach the gospel in the synagogues. He causes a lot of disruption because he’s very aggressive in his evangelism, so he heads out and goes back home to Taurus.
Then in Acts 9:32 we come back to Peter. It came to pass that Peter was traveling through all the parts and came down to the saints who dwelt down in Lydda. Now Lydda is on the highway. [Slide 5] This is basically this red line you see here. So if you’ve ever driven along that highway, you’ve gone right by Lydda. Joppa here is where modern Tel Aviv is. It surrounds the old port of Joppa. He’s in Lydda. This is probably about 20 miles from Joppa which is where Peter is staying at the time.
He hears about this man Aeneas who is paralyzed and can’t get out of bed. So Peter tells him that Jesus, the Messiah [verse 34 Yeshua Hamashiach] heals you. “Rise and make your bed.” He arose immediately and all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon heard about this. This is the Plain of Sharon in this area. Word spread rapidly.
Then we’re told that at Joppa there’s a woman who has been very instrumental in dealing with the needs of the saints and is well respected. She’s done a lot of charitable deeds. In Judaism, this is known as tsedaqah or righteous deeds. She’s done a lot of good deeds, charitable deeds that are honored here. She’s a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and she dies. They laid her in the upper room. Now we studied how the houses at that time in Israel were laid out, that there was usually this upper room. That’s like the one where the Lord and the disciples celebrated Passover and where they met in Acts 1. There’s this upper room that was used as a guest room or a meeting room or a special time when family and friends were over. That’s where they laid her out.
Peter came in and has everyone leave the room. He kneels over her and prays over her and says to her, “Tabitha.” This was another form of her name. “Arise.” She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and got up and he raises her up. As a result of that miracle, we’re told in Acts 9:42, “It became known throughout all Joppa and many believed on the Lord.” So again, Peter is present. He continues to stay with Simon, the Tanner.
Then we get to the earth shattering event, which is dealing with the Gentiles. This is important as the leading as to basically one of the last things we know about Peter in the New Testament. So he is having his time of reflection and prayer during the day. He’s staying with Simon the Tanner. “About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming and saying Cornelius, pay attention, there’s a group of men coming to Joppa. They’re going to be looking for you and you need to follow them.” Then he’s told about this.
The next day, Peter has a vision about the sixth hour. He sees in this vision this tablecloth coming down from heaven with all kinds of really good food on it. It’s all treif. It’s not kosher. You have lobster, shrimp, fried catfish, and bacon. All kinds of good stuff forbidden by the Law. God says to Peter that he’s to rise, kill, and eat. He has live animals there. He’s supposed to kill them so it’s okay to slaughter animals to eat. Just want to make sure if anyone wonders about that. You always have people who come out of the pagan environment around us and somehow think it’s wrong to kill animals to eat. God authorized it in the Noahic covenant and authorizes it here with Peter. There’s pigs there, and he’s supposed to kill those animals that are alive and eat.
Peter says, “No, no, Lord. I can’t do that. I’ve never eaten anything common.” The Greek word there for common is KOINE, the same word when we talk about Koine Greek, the common language. “I never eat anything common or unclean.” Then the Lord said to him, “What God has cleansed you cannot call common.” So you can’t talk about bacon or lobster or shrimp as common anymore. It doesn’t have anything to do with diet or learning how to cook it properly, or kill it properly, or anything else. It has to do with the fact that the Mosaic Law is no longer in effect, and the dietary laws are no longer in effect. The distinctions between clean and unclean are no longer relevant to the spiritual life of Church Age believers because the Law is no longer in effect. Three times God has to tell Peter this before he finally gets the point.
Then the men come from Caesarea which is further up the coast here, all the way to the top of our map, the beautiful remains of Caesarea-Maritima, Caesarea-by-the-Sea. Peter goes there to meet a centurion. Centurions were usually representations of the Roman army, not positive, but this is a man described in verse 22 as a just man who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews. He’s not a proselyte of the gate, the highest form, but he’s very, very focused, very positive.
Peter then takes the gospel to them. While he is preaching to them, they respond to the gospel. As a result of that, God the Holy Spirit comes upon them, and they are saved. Look down to Acts 9:44, “While Peter was still speaking these words the Holy Spirit fell upon all of those who heard the word and those of the circumcision who believed were astonished.” This sets up that division among the Jewish believers. They are the circumcision. They still think the Law is in effect, and they still think the gospel is primarily a Jewish thing. Now this has blown their whole paradigm, their whole framework; and they’re seeing these Gentiles who are being brought in. They’re just flabbergasted because the gift of the Holy Spirit is being poured out on the Gentiles in the same way that it was to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, and to the Samaritans on what’s called the Samaritan Pentecost, and now the Gentiles. And who is there each time? It’s Peter.
That’s Luke’s point. Peter is opening the door to the kingdom to the Gentiles now. I’m not saying the kingdom is here. The kingdom will come when Jesus comes, but we will be there. The way to get there is to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior, and then you’ll be in the kingdom when it comes. That’s the point. So the door’s open. The entry into the Church for Jews, Samaritan, and Greek.
In chapter 11 Peter goes back to Jerusalem and has a confrontation because the observant Jews there just can’t believe this, so he defends it. He explains what happened. They respond to it, and he applies to it the baptism statement by John the Baptist that Christ would come and baptize with the Spirit in verse 16. He identifies all of that, and as a result of that, he says that God has granted to the Gentiles repentance for life. They accept that. There’s going to be continued problems with this.
Now we skip to chapter 12 and in Acts 12, Herod Agrippa the 1st, the king, ingratiates himself to the Jews; so he kills James, the brother of John, who is the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Peter is the leader of the apostles, but James is the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He is martyred. Then he [Herod] arrested Peter and put Peter in prison.
That night, as Peter is bound, he’s heard that they’ve escaped before, so Herod wants to make sure that they’re not going to escape like they did before. He binds Peter. There’s a guard on each side, and his arms are chained to the guards, and his feet are chained to the guards. I can’t imagine how that would be comfortable. It appears that Peter is dozing off and he has to be awakened pretty hard. He gets slapped on the side. The word there: he “struck” Peter on the side and raised him up and said “wake up!” Peter is pretty relaxed now, trusting in the Lord even though he’s chained in prison between a couple of Roman guards; he’s not sitting there worrying. He’s managed to put it in the Lord’s hands and trust in the Lord.
The Lord sends an angel who frees him, and at the same time there’s a prayer meeting going on in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark – Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark. When he gets to the door, he knocks on the door. This is one of those great humorous scenes. A servant girl named Rhoda comes to the door and answers it. She says, “Who’s there?” Peter says, “It’s me, Peter.” She recognizes his voice and gets so excited that instead of opening the door to let him in, she runs back to tell everyone. Peter is outside going, “Wait. When are they going to let me in?” She goes back and they say no, no, no, it can’t be. He’s in prison. Would God answer our prayers? No, not a chance. They say it’s his angel and Peter kept pounding on the door. Finally they open the door and let him in, and there was quite a time of rejoicing.
As a result of this, Peter probably went into hiding or left town. Herod kept searching for him and couldn’t find him. Then Herod decided to leave Jerusalem and go back to Caesarea. Then he dies a horrible, painful death because he’s beginning to get delusions of deity, and God’s not going to let him cause a problem for the Church. The result of all this, verse 24, “The Word of God grew and multiplied.”
The next time we see Peter is in chapter 13. We see Paul and Barnabas going off on their first missionary journey in chapters 13 and 14. In chapter 15 we’re back in Jerusalem. Back with this conflict, 'what do we do with the uncircumcised?' They have what’s known as the first Jerusalem Council. The apostles are there. The leaders of the church in Jerusalem are there. Paul and Barnabas are there. Peter is there. How do we treat the Gentiles because the Jews are very fastidious still? They’re eating according to the Law. That’s their tradition.
That doesn’t mean they were all assigning some sort of spiritual value to it. That’s just the way they grew up eating. Some of us grew up eating frog legs and raw oysters. People who come from other part of the country just can’t quite get into that when they come down to southeast Texas. They can’t understand the value and the joy of eating frog legs and raw oysters. That doesn’t mean it’s a spiritual issue. It’s their culture. It’s their background. It’s their tradition. We have that as part of the problem. You have observant Jews who have one way of doing things historically, and Gentiles who don’t. How do you put the two together? What are the issues? So they’re hammering out these issues.
The first person to stand up and talk is Peter in Acts 15:7, “When there had been much dispute Peter rose up and said, ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the Word of the gospel and believe.” He goes back and reminds them of what happened with Cornelius. He straightens them out, saying the Gentiles “come through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and we’re not supposed to put a yoke on their neck.” Verse 10, “Why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither their fathers nor we were able to bear?” Everyone sits there quietly realizing that “Yeah, we made a mistake.” Then Barnabas and Paul stood up and said basically the same thing, describing all the ways God was working through them among the Gentiles.
Then James, the author of the epistle of James and the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, said, “Men and brothers, listen to me. Simon has proclaimed how God has first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.” He reminds them of all this, and they basically come to the conclusion that they are only going to ask the Gentiles to avoid eating any meat that still has the blood in it and to avoid adultery and to respect the Jews in what they’re observing. Verse 28, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.” Number one, abstain from things offered to idols. Two, abstain from blood. Three, abstain from things strangled. Four, sexual immorality, and if you keep yourselves from these things, you’ll do well.' That way, if they can follow that, we can have harmony in the church. Jew and Gentile can worship together. That’s the last time we hear about Peter in the book of Acts. From this time it’s all about Paul.
There’s one other episode that took place just prior to the Jerusalem Council. There’s debate among theologians and Bible scholars, but most, no, I won’t say most; but most conservatives with whom I’ve consulted and dealt with in reading through all the different literature, say that Peter fails in maintaining his decorum around the Gentiles and Jews badly, and Paul has to reprimand him in Galatians 2. It doesn’t seem an event like Galatians 2 would happen after all of this that has gone on at the Jerusalem Council. So most people put the events in Galatians 2 occurring probably six months to a year before the Jerusalem Council.
So as we wrap up, I just want to go over to Galatians 2:11 very briefly, to point out what happened there. This is a situation where Peter has now gone up north to Antioch. Antioch is not on this map. It’s all the way up to the north in Syria where there’s now a large church comprised both of Jews and Gentiles. Peter came to Antioch, and Paul says in verse 11 that he had to challenge Peter. In Galatians 2:12, the reason is given, “That beforehand certain men had come from James [the church in Jerusalem, the half-brother of the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ]…” Up to this point Peter was having a great time socializing in eating with the Gentiles. Now, an observant Jew under the Law would not ever eat with the Gentiles, wouldn’t go into a Gentile’s house, and wouldn’t have anything to do with a Gentile. Now that they understand that the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile is broken down, Peter is thoroughly enjoying grace, and he’s enjoying getting up every morning and having a BLT. He’s enjoying having lobster for dinner and pork chops and fried pork chops, and everything else you get in the south. He was enjoying all that kind of food. But once these representatives from the church in Jerusalem came, he began to feel very self-conscious, and he gradually.... The use of the imperfect tense here indicates it’s a gradual process. It says he quit having such a good time. His conscience was bothering him because his conscience was formed before he understood grace and was under the Law. Now he’s thinking that maybe he shouldn’t do this. So he separates himself from the Gentiles, and Paul says, “Hearing those of the circumcision.” The rest of the Jews also played along with him. He’s influenced all the Jews in Antioch, and so now they’re not having anything to do with the Gentiles.
They’re all one in the body of Christ. Peter has created this division that has occurred in the church at Antioch, so Paul has to straighten this out. Verse 14, Paul says, “When I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of all of them…” Now why did he confront Peter publicly instead of individually? Because it had become a public issue. It was no longer a private issue. It was a public issue causing a great public division within the body of Christ, so it had to be hammered out in public. And he said to Peter, “If you being a Jew live in the manner of Gentiles and not as Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We are Jews by nature and not sinners like the Gentiles because we know that a man is not justified by works of the Law but by Jesus Christ.” So he’s applying the doctrine of justification by faith alone that’s not related to the Law and saying Peter, you’re dead wrong. Peter, in humility, responded and repented, which in the Biblical sense means to change your mind and going back to doing it the right way.
So that’s the background on Peter. So what we’ve learned when we study all of this about Peter is that Peter is, as Acts 2 points out, the apostle to the circumcised. He is the apostle to the Jews, and Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles. So Peter has a particular ministry to Jewish believers. In the background to understanding1 Peter, we have a lot of people who want to say that Peter wrote this from Rome to Christians in Rome and that he is writing to a mixed group of Gentile and Jewish believers. The reality is that he specifically states, using two terms, a term for aliens, which is a term applied to Jews that were scattered in the Diaspora, and the term Diaspora in the first verse. He’s writing to Jewish believers to specifically address issues that they would have, but they relate to all of us in the body of Christ. As he does that, he is going to draw on these back experiences and issues, and we’ll be referring back to them many times as we hit different passages. What Peter has learned, which is going to be a major issue in 1 Peter, is that we have to learn to live today in light of eternity. When Peter saw the Lord Jesus Christ transfigured in his glory, he got a foretaste, a preview of coming attractions in the Millennial Kingdom; and that thread runs all through 1 Peter: that you may encounter all kind of suffering, some deserved, a lot undeserved in this life, but don’t let that get you down. Focus on the end game, which is when we’re going to realize our inheritance in the coming kingdom. That’s the focal point. We’ll continue in verse 1 next time.
“Father, thank you for this time to study these things, to be reminded of grace that Peter learned. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is not based on who we are or what we’ve done. It’s not based on Jew or Gentile. It’s based exclusively upon everything Jesus did on the Cross, and that salvation is by faith alone, believing on His work on the cross. Father, we pray you will help us to understand these things. Give us a desire to go back and re-read Acts and to rethink through Peter’s life and to make these things a part of our soul, memorizing some of these great statements Peter made in Acts, that they may be part of our thinking and embedded in our soul so God the Holy Spirit can use that to recall these things in times when we need it, times of testing. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”