They were a young bunch. Their leader was only 30 when He started putting the group together. The group itself was a seemingly random collection of males in their 20s.
Young. Unconverted, yet being trained in God’s way. Led by God’s Holy Spirit, yet not having its in-dwelling presence. It was at this stage of life that they were instructed in person by the Son of God.
As teenagers in God’s Church, you are in a similar position as these 12 disciples. A number of lessons from their lives relate directly to your life. We can learn much from one disciple in particular.
He was the outspoken, enthusiastic one—destined to be the leader of the 12. All 12 would fill the Church’s highest human office (apostle), but this one would have authority as chief. He possessed many strengths that he developed even before God’s Spirit dwelled within him. Yet he had much to learn before stepping into the highest position of human authority in God’s Church.
Jesus said, “Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone” (John 1:42). In other passages, Cephas is translated Peter.
Christ gave Simon the surname Peter because He had a special position for him to fill. Matthew 10:2 calls Simon, “The first … who is called Peter.” He was not first in order of being called—the Greek word for first actually indicates the leader or chief. Peter would end up being the chief apostle. Because of this, much is recorded about his life. He was given many opportunities to tag along with Christ in smaller groups to receive specialized instruction.
You can think of Simon Peter’s life in two phases: the early, unconverted “Simon” years and the later, converted “Peter” years.
All or Nothing
Simon was from Bethsaida, a city off the Sea of Galilee where another disciple, Philip, also lived (John 1:44). He was identified in Jerusalem as a Galilean by the way he spoke (Mark 14:70). He was also married (Mark 1:30), and the details given in the Bible indicate he lived with his wife, mother-in-law and brother Andrew—so he probably lived on a sizable estate. His fishing business also required he own a boat (Luke 5:3).
Simon Peter forsook all to follow Christ—a fact he was eager to remind Jesus of in Matthew 19:27. He was “all in” with Christ. He made God’s way of life his way of life. His personality was like that in many respects. When he did something, he went all out.
During Christ’s final Passover, when Christ started washing the disciples’ feet, Simon objected to Him “humiliating” Himself like that. But when Christ said to him, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” (John 13:8), Simon Peter responded, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head” (verse 9). Simon would have none of the foot washing until he was told it was a requirement to be part of Christ’s Work, and suddenly he wanted Christ to wash all of him!
That all-or-nothing characteristic—that enthusiasm—was a great advantage to Peter. It will also be a great advantage to you!
Later that night, Christ told Simon, “Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards” (verse 36). This bothered Simon: “Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake” (verse 37). In Luke’s account, Simon says, “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death” (Luke 22:33).
Simon expressed total commitment. At this time, however, he didn’t fully understand what was about to happen to Christ. Christ knew that His trial and crucifixion would temporarily cause Simon’s commitment to waver. Christ replied, “Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me” (verse 34).
Simon couldn’t believe he would deny knowing Christ. Later that evening, he stood up for Christ when the soldiers tried to arrest Him—he even took out his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant! (John 18:10-11).
Yet Simon Peter denied knowing Christ as the trial wore on, even to the point of swearing at those who identified him as one of Christ’s followers (Mark 14:71).
His human nature was getting the better of him here. He was afraid and ashamed to be associated with Christ; he cared what men thought of his associations. When our human nature overcomes us, we too become concerned with what other people think of us. We may even deny being a part of God’s Church so as not to be persecuted for what we believe.
Later in his life, however, Peter said: “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Peter 4:16). If anyone was qualified to say this, it was the man who at one time earlier in life was ashamed of Christ to the point of denying Him as he did. But by this point in his older years, he was far less concerned with men’s opinions.
Back to his denial of Christ: Once Simon Peter heard the rooster’s crow, he realized what he had done and “wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75). Peter was an emotional and passionate man—he was unashamed to shed tears when the occasion called for it. This was part of his bold personality.
Quick to Action
Three days after the crucifixion, Simon learned that Jesus’s tomb was empty. Immediately, he “arose … and ran unto the sepulchre” (Luke 24:12). John’s account also confirms that Simon took immediate action: “Then cometh Simon Peter … and went into the sepulchre …” (John 20:6). Simon did not waste any time in seeking to find out what was going on. We see the same quick-to-action approach some days later when Simon decided to “go a fishing” (John 21:3). Some of the disciples went with him, and they spent a fruitless night without catching any fish. In the morning, a man on shore told them to cast their net on the other side of the ship. This yielded a great catch. John, realizing that this man was the resurrected Christ, said to Simon Peter, “It is the Lord” (John 21:7). Simon didn’t waste any time: Hearing that it was the Lord, “he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.”
Simon heard it was Christ, so he just jumped right into the water to swim toward Him!
Another part of Peter’s bold personality was how outspoken he was. Before being the first to speak up in disapproval of Christ washing feet, he was quick to rebuke Christ when Christ explained how He would be killed (Matthew 16:22).
When Simon was first being called, Jesus gave him instructions on how to catch fish. He reluctantly obeyed, saying, “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net” (Luke 5:5). After they caught so many fish that their net broke, Simon “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (verse 8). He was unashamed to eat his words of doubt and express how deeply this miracle had humbled him.
Simon was also first to speak out when the disciples saw Jesus walking on water: “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water” (Matthew 14:28). While there were probably many simpler ways Jesus could have proven Himself, Simon demanded something quite audacious. Nevertheless, Christ obliged and let Simon partake in this miracle.
These scriptures show us not only how outspoken and bold Peter was, they also show that he always sought to be in the center of the action. He wanted to do what Christ was doing.
But we also see that Simon had a lot to learn about faith. His doubt, as this passage records, led to him sinking (verse 30). Even still, his request that Christ prove Himself to them shows Simon was one who needed proof. This can be a good personality trait when used properly. We all must prove God’s truth for ourselves (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Natural (Carnal) Leader
Simon’s boldness made him a strong and self-assured leader. However, one of the biggest lessons he had to learn was God’s view of leadership. During his time as Jesus Christ’s disciple, we see a critical misunderstanding.
Just after Christ had given Simon Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19), he used his “authority” to rebuke Christ for saying He would be crucified. Simon didn’t think a leader should have to sacrifice his life. We saw the same attitude during the foot-washing ceremony. The leader is above having to wash someone else’s feet, Simon reasoned.
At one point, he and the other disciples rebuked parents for “wasting” Jesus’s time with little children (Mark 10:13-15). Clearly, Simon didn’t have a childlike attitude himself, nor did he see how a leader must be a servant.
Later in life, his letters to the Church prove he finally learned the vital principle of leadership that everyone must learn. After receiving God’s Spirit, he learned how a leader is a servant. He grew in mercy.
A Godly Leader
By the time Cornelius came to him and fell at Peter’s feet to worship him, Peter had the humility to say, “Stand up; I myself also am a man” (Acts 10:26). How easily he could have fallen back on his carnal prejudices and let this Gentile worship him.
In 1 Peter 5, he commands us all to “be clothed with humility” (verse 5). That Greek phrase implies wearing what a servant would wear—it brings to mind the image of Jesus girded with a towel in order to wash the disciples’ feet. This is a different Peter than the one who was once so concerned about his rank in the Kingdom—different than the one who was once offended to see Jesus washing feet.
Peter commanded husbands to dwell with their wives “according to knowledge” in 1 Peter 3:7. It is important, he said, for men to understand their wives—not to abuse their authority, but to give “honour unto the wife.” Men and women are, after all, “heirs together of the grace of life.”
Any prejudices he once had toward women, children or Gentiles were gone. After God showed him the Kingdom would be opened to the Gentiles, he said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).
Even when introducing himself in his second epistle, he wrote: “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). He uses his given name, then his Christ-given name, and he introduces himself as a servant before an apostle.
In that verse, he also puts the struggles of others in the Church on par with his own. This is a great leadership quality: letting others know that they are not alone in their efforts—that the leader is with them in those also. Someone with a selfish view of leadership would say, I’m up here, and you’re down there. But not the converted Peter.
“As every man hath received the gift, even so minister [serve] the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). Here he is exhorting us to use whatever gifts we have been given to serve. That’s what a minister is—a servant. Not a dictator.
Before his conversion, Peter was more interested in the status and rank of leadership than in being a servant whose main concern was to feed God’s flock. But with the Holy Spirit, he had God’s perspective on leadership.
After the Spirit of God descended on the 120 members of God’s Church on the day of Pentecost, we see a different Peter. Yet his boldness remained. Acts 4:13 mentions the “boldness of Peter and John.”
God multiplied his strengths, and any weaknesses associated with them began to evaporate. The strengths became more refined. This bold, action-oriented leader was still a man of action, but his actions were now tempered with humility and deeper thinking.
God was using Peter to do some mighty miracles. In one case, his shadow passed over the sick and healed them. Peter could have taken credit for that, but he knew God’s power worked through him.
We see—from a man once so concerned with others’ opinions that he denied knowing Jesus—someone willing to stand up to the authorities and say, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
He channeled his outspokenness and spoke up for God. In addition to remaining outspoken, becoming converted taught him that there is more to following God than just big talk. He learned that actions speak louder.
He teaches the women this in his first epistle: “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation [the original Greek means conduct] of the wives; While they behold your chaste [conduct] coupled with fear” (1 Peter 3:1-2). Women can do more with their actions to win their unconverted husbands over to God’s way than anything they could say.
In God’s sight, “a meek and quiet spirit” is of “great price” (verse 4). “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile” (verse 10). There is a time to speak out and a time to hold your tongue.
The Apostle Peter exhorts us to be people of action. Yes, be outspoken for God if the situation requires it, but let your actions speak more for you. Let that be what turns people on to God’s way of life.
The Bible Expert
Simon Peter wasn’t just bombastic and bossy. He had a strong mind that he disciplined in powerful ways even before conversion. Our youth can learn a fantastic lesson of how much a young mind without the indwelling Holy Spirit can be trained in God’s truth.
“Perhaps we think of the Apostle Peter as being bombastic—all personality. That is far from accurate,” Gerald Flurry wrote in his booklet The Epistles of Peter—A Living Hope.
Peter was an expert on Scripture and history—even before conversion. This attribute is evident in his two canonized epistles. “Notice what Lange’s Commentary says about Peter’s first epistle: ‘No portion of the New Testament is so thoroughly interwoven with quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. It contains, in 105 verses, 23 quotations—while the epistle to the Ephesians has only seven, and that to the Galatians only 13.’ Peter knew the Bible—probably more than any of the other apostles. He was much more than just personality. A major reason why he excelled was because of his understanding of Scripture” (ibid).
Peter’s growth in understanding the scriptures happened well before God’s Spirit entered his mind. As a young person, even without the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit, you too can learn to study the scriptures like Peter.
In his pre-conversion years, Peter had an intense desire to understand things thoroughly (Luke 7:40; Matthew 15:14-15; John 13:21-24). This led to a strong understanding of history. Later in life, he wrote, “Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance. … Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance” (2 Peter 1:12-13, 15).
He gave several examples from Old Testament history in his letters: fallen angels, Balaam, Noah and the Flood, Sodom and Lot.
As mentioned earlier, he quoted the Old Testament extensively (the Old Testament was the Bible in Peter’s day). In his letters, he quotes from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Psalms and Isaiah.
Even in his first Pentecost sermon, shortly after receiving the Holy Spirit, he quoted the Prophet Joel and two psalms of David. “He knew the Old Testament extremely well and quoted it frequently,” Mr. Flurry wrote. “He set an example of hope, and his profound Bible understanding stirs and inspires us today. Why was Peter chosen as chief apostle? One of the major reasons was that he knew the Bible!” (ibid).
Ready to Give an Answer
As a young person in God’s Church, I often heard the scripture quoted about how we needed to be “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” That admonition came from the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 3:15), and perhaps no other apostle in the first century was qualified to instruct us in that. Peter lived this instruction.
It is easy as a young person to cop out of living God’s way by using the excuse that you’re not baptized. And, true, without God’s Holy Spirit—as we see here with Peter—we are limited to a certain extent. Yet that didn’t stop Peter from knowing his history and knowing his Bible.
There are many facts, details, trivia and accounts that the unconverted mind can learn. There are a lot of details in those stories you can know, along with the spiritual lessons contained in them. We can continually get more depth out of the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath, the holy days, the understanding of physical laws (like clean and unclean meats), and we should be able—as a youth—to explain why we observe those laws to other unconverted people who ask us.
You can memorize foundational scriptures and become well-versed in where to find the basic highlights of the Bible. For example: Where does one find the Ten Commandments? The laws of clean and unclean meats? What is the resurrection chapter? What is the faith chapter?
“Peter was the chief apostle for good reason,” Mr. Flurry wrote. “Studying his epistles helps us understand how spiritually qualified he truly was for that position. God inspired him to give a view of the whole Bible that is remarkably comprehensive and quite deep” (ibid).
Start now to get that view of the whole Bible. Let it be on the tip of your tongue.
Man of Vision
Even before his conversion, Peter had strong hope in the future. You can develop that too. After he received God’s Spirit, that vision only grew stronger.
The young Simon Peter was with Jesus when many of the disciples turned away. “Will ye also go away?” Jesus asked the 12 disciples (John 6:67). Outspoken Peter answered on behalf of the group: “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (verses 68-69).
People stop walking in God’s way for various reasons, but the real question we must ask—which Peter asked—is: Who has the words of eternal life? Peter had a firm understanding of his purpose: to be born into God’s Family as an immortal spirit being.
Many young people in God’s Church knew where to find “the words of eternal life,” and they knew they couldn’t find them anywhere else. They have grown up as strong fixtures in God’s Family. You can have the same kind of positive vision for the future!
Peter’s love for the vision grew exponentially stronger when Christ gave him a glimpse of the coming World Tomorrow. This can be found in Matthew 16:28 through chapter 17:8. You can read how this vision thrilled Peter! Later, it stirred him to write more powerfully about this future—and motivated him even to die for this cause.
Notice also the pre-conversion Peter in this account: He was so excited about the World Tomorrow that he was ready to start building a place for Moses and Elijah to live (verse 4)! He was deeply moved by this vision because his mind had already been focused on God’s coming Kingdom.
Does the vision of the World Tomorrow motivate you this way? Are you ready to start building it now? You can start building it in the way you live, the environment you create in your home, and the relationships you build with others. The character you develop will flow right on into the World Tomorrow.
Stronger Vision to Come
After receiving the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, Peter’s vision of the future became even stronger. That vision would be the heart of his leadership as the Church’s chief apostle.
In his first epistle, Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope [“a living hope”—rsv] by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
This was a “living hope” to Peter—rooted in the fact that because Christ was resurrected to eternal life, we can be too (see 1 Corinthians 15:13-18). Those begotten by God’s Holy Spirit are destined to be resurrected to real life. That’s real hope!
“Peter was about to be martyred when he wrote his epistles. Then he was the epitome of hope. What a turnaround! Few—if any—of Christ’s disciples have ever had more hope. No matter how hopeless you may think it is, wait on Christ and He will turn it around! … But we must be patient to find that hope. We must follow Peter’s example and it will reward us with the most ecstatic hope man’s mind could ever imagine! … We need what Peter had” (The Epistles of Peter—A Living Hope).
Peter was a positive man—focused on the next world. “If our mind is just on the things of this world, we will become mired in depression, stress and discouragement. But that is not how God thinks. The Holy Spirit led Peter to dig that hope out of the Bible” (ibid).
His mind was on the end time (1 Peter 1:5). Peter helped us understand how God is outside of time by explaining that a day is like a thousand years to God, and a thousand years like a day (2 Peter 3:7).
“This understanding,” Mr. Flurry wrote, “is at the heart of why Peter became the chief apostle” (ibid). Because of that vision he was such a motivating and inspiring leader.
Look at these other inspiring statements from Peter! As he was about to die, he expressed it in terms of “shortly I must put off this my tabernacle” (2 Peter 1:14). He was about to be executed brutally, and he viewed it as simply putting off this fleshly “tabernacle” and putting on immortality.
He spoke of the transformation humans will undergo when changed into Spirit a few verses later: “… until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts” (verse 19). Soon, God’s people will be transformed into radiant beings that shine brighter than the dawn! Peter saw that vividly. In this same passage, he talks about how these things are not “cunningly devised fables” (verse 16). This is not well-written fiction; he knew because he was among the “eyewitnesses of his majesty”—referring to that moment on the mountain where he saw Christ’s Second Coming in a vision. He knew the kind of radiance that Christ had was the same glory awaiting him!
Be Like Peter!
Peter writes to those who had “obtained like precious faith with us” (2 Peter 1:1). As Mr. Flurry explained, “We can possess the same towering faith that Peter and the other spiritual giants of the Bible had!”
You can have the same vision, hope and faith Peter had. Develop this vision of the future now.
As we have seen, you can exemplify Peter’s younger strengths. Be bold, outspoken in the right way, and passionate young people of action. Become experts in Bible history and prophecy. Be young people who crave understanding. Grow in keeping the letter of the law, but also grow in mercy and patience toward others. Work toward receiving God’s Holy Spirit as you are presently being led by this power. Have more faith than fear. Have more of a servant attitude than one who wants to be served. And have the hope and vision of the future when that “day star” will arise in your heart—when you will shine as the sun and step into powerful positions of leadership over the entire world!