When Peter Was Converted

“Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.”
—Mark 16:7

APRIL 15 WAS THE DAY this year when millions throughout the world were reminded once more that nearly two thousand years ago the mighty power of God raised his Son Christ Jesus from the dead. The enemies of Jesus who put him to death thought they had made an end to this man’s claims to being the Son of God and the King of Israel, but they were wrong. While they were jealous of his popularity among the common people, and feared the extent to which his eloquence and miracles might tend to undermine their power and prestige, they had not realized that Divine power would nullify the result of their wicked assault against Jesus by raising him from the dead.

By this miracle God said to the people of that day, and to those of every generation since who have learned about it, that nothing, not even death, can interfere with the ultimate and glorious triumph of his loving purpose to enlighten and bless all the families of the earth. In his sermon on Mars’ Hill, Paul foretold a future day of enlightenment and trial for the world. He added that God hath given all men assurance concerning this by raising Jesus from the dead.—Acts 17:31

Through the power of the Heavenly Father, the Creator, the resurrection of Jesus was a demonstration of the ability of God to fulfill all his gracious promises, and that ultimately there shall be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust, that ere the kingdom work of the resurrected King of kings is finished, death itself will be destroyed. (I Cor. 15:25,26; Acts 24:15) Jesus gave us this same significance of his resurrection when he said, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, … and have the keys of hell and of death.”—Rev. 1:18


The resurrection of Jesus Christ was more than a demonstration of Divine power over death. It also revealed the triumph of the Divine principle of love over the humanly conceived principle of self-interest. This is brought forcibly to our attention in the instructions given by the “young man” (Mark 16:5) to the women who went early to the tomb on that memorable first day of the week with “sweet spices, that they might … anoint him.” (Mark 16:1) He said, ‘Tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee.’

That Peter should be singled out for special mention in this announcement of Jesus’ resurrection, helps to bring into focus a most revealing chain of circumstances in which Peter played a leading role. The fact that he was to be especially informed concerning Jesus’ resurrection constitutes one of the important links in this chain, the first link being the occasion when this ardent, fearless disciple of the Master tried to dissuade his Lord from going to Jerusalem where his enemies were plotting to kill him.

When Jesus announced his intention to surrender voluntarily to his enemies Peter rebuked his Master, saying, “Be it far from thee, Lord.” (Matt. 16:22) To Peter this was an incredible thing for the Master to do. He was sincere and ardent in his belief that Jesus was the foretold Messiah, the One who had come to be the King of Israel and of all nations. Being a fisherman, Peter may not have been too well acquainted with historical precedents, but he would certainly know that no great ruler or emperor of the past had ever attained his high position of authority over nations by surrendering to those who opposed him.

As Peter saw it, how could Jesus ever support a government on his “shoulder,” the increase of which there would be “no end,” if he allowed the religious rulers of Israel to put him to death? How could a dead king dash the nations to pieces “like a potter’s vessel,” as had been foretold of Jesus? (Isa. 9:6,7; Ps. 2:9) How could a dead king “have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth?”—Ps. 72:8


Peter’s reasoning was simply human. From the fall of man in the Garden of Eden down to his own day, man had practiced no other principle but self-interest, and self-protection. Abraham had used carnal weapons and soldiers to rescue Lot. Joshua used the army of Israel to drive the Canaanites from the promised land. Saul had killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands in delivering Israel from her enemies. Could Peter be expected to have any other viewpoint than the one which he expressed?

But Jesus did! When advised by Peter not to go to Jerusalem and expose himself to his enemies, Jesus said to him, “Get thee behind me, Satan: … thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Matt. 16:23) Jesus did not mean that Peter was actually Satan, but merely that he was being guided by a principle that had its origin with Satan, the principle of self first, or selfishness.

Through the ages from the fall of man until now, the two great principles have existed—selfishness and love. God is the sponsor of the principle of love, while Satan is the mastermind which set the principle of selfishness into operation. Its first manifestation was in the sin of our first parents. Self-interest induced them to disobey God’s law. An unselfish attitude in the situation involved would have protected them from sin.

Many noble people throughout the ages of the past saw the vision of love and were moved to action by it. The record of the lives of the Ancient Worthies indicates that the will of God for them was put ahead of self-interest, even when this resulted in cruel persecutions, privation, and death. The three Hebrews, for example, whom Nebuchadnezzar threatened to cast into a fiery furnace, declared that even if God did not protect them in that furnace they would not bow down to worship the image the king had set up.

We are not to suppose that Peter was more human-minded than the other disciples. He saw no way for Jesus to become king of Israel other than to stand up for his rights, and to fight for them, if need be. Jesus’ proposed plan of surrender was unthinkable so far as Peter was concerned, and he did not hesitate to tell his beloved Master what he thought about it. And then, gradually, yet firmly, Jesus began to point out to Peter a better way, the way of love.

After telling him that the viewpoint he had expressed was a human one, and not in harmony with God, Jesus added that those who endeavor to save their lives shall lose them, while they who lose their lives (voluntarily) shall save, or “find,” them. (Matt. 16:25) How very strange this reasoning must have sounded to Peter! How could one possibly ‘find’ his life by losing it?

So far as the record goes, nothing more was said along this line at the time, either by Peter or Jesus. But neither of them forgot this rather animated exchange of viewpoints. As circumstances later reveal, however, Peter’s mind was not changed. He still believed that Jesus was making a mistake; while Jesus, on the other hand, was still intent on helping Peter to gain the right viewpoint.


Arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples gathered in the “upper room” (Mark 14:15) to celebrate the Passover. While there, he talked to them heart-to-heart on many important issues pertaining to their relationship to him and their future career of service as his disciples and ambassadors. Addressing Peter he said, “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”—Luke 22:31,32

Peter was not yet ‘converted.’ There were many vital points of truth that none of the disciples had yet comprehended. Even in that ‘upper room,’ when the atmosphere was charged with tension and their hearts were gripped with apprehension as to what might happen to their beloved Master, they were still overly concerned as to who would be greatest in the kingdom. They all needed to be converted!


Perhaps by singling out Peter as the one to whom he made this remark, Jesus had especially in mind Peter’s outspoken opposition to the course his Master was taking. Probably the others also failed to understand why Jesus should so recklessly expose himself to danger, but they were not endeavoring to hinder him. Peter, on the other hand, had spoken out sharply against it, and later used force to block Jesus’ voluntary offering of himself for death.

This was at the gate of the Garden of Gethsemane, when Peter drew his sword and cut off an ear from the servant of the high priest. Jesus knew that Peter’s attitude of opposition would lead him to make this effort, so purposely made sure that he would have the opportunity. With his disciples in the upper room, Jesus asked them how many swords they had, and the reply was, “Two.” (Luke 22:38) He indicated that this would be sufficient.

One of those swords was held by Peter, and when the mob moved to lay hands on his Master he vigorously went into action against them. This was Jesus’ opportunity to continue the lesson he was teaching this beloved disciple. He commanded Peter to put away his sword, and besides, miraculously healed the wound Peter had inflicted by the one savage thrust he had made at the high priest’s servant.

In further explanation to Peter, Jesus said, “They that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” (Matt. 26:52) This was very similar to Jesus’ previous statement to Peter in which he explained that those who endeavor to save their lives shall lose them. In order to establish even more definitely in Peter’s mind that he was voluntarily giving up his life in order to save it, Jesus said, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But [if I do this] how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?”—Matt. 26:53,54

Peter, however, was not yet converted. He had heard his Master tell him that his viewpoint was not in harmony with God’s will and way, but he was not convinced. He did not believe that the Messiah could save his life by losing it; that is, by voluntarily surrendering to his enemies and allowing them to put him to death. And now that these enemies had come out from Jerusalem to Gethsemane to arrest his Lord, he did all he could to foil their intentions, putting up his sword only when commanded to do so by the One whom he loved more than he loved life itself.

To obey a command is one thing, but to be at heart in harmony with it is another. Peter doubtless still felt that a great mistake was being made. His vision of Messianic glory and a worldwide kingdom of righteousness which would begin at Jerusalem must have become very dim as with aching heart he saw them lead away to trial and to death him whom he thought was to be King of kings.

Because he loved the Master, and because he had declared his willingness to die for him, we find this confused, but still unconverted, fisherman following Jesus into the judgment hall. Then the test came and he denied him whom he loved. His verbal and physical opposition to the Master’s announced intentions had been frustrated, and he had been severely rebuked by the One whom he was convinced was “the Christ, the Son of the living God;” (Matt. 16:16) but he was loathe to leave his Lord alone with his enemies.

Jesus still had this beloved disciple in training. In the upper room he had forecast that Peter would deny him. Peter vigorously insisted that he would never do such a thing, and doubtless was pained that Jesus suggested its possibility. But in his mixed feelings of fear and confusion he did exactly as his Master had prophesied. Then Jesus looked at Peter in a manner which reminded him of his forecast. This must have caused him to realize that after all, Jesus knew a great deal more about the whole situation than he did: and he wept bitterly over the tragic mistake he had made.


By now Peter had been given several lessons designed to help him grasp the better and Divine viewpoint of love, but he was not yet converted. His righteous soul rebelled against the thought that Jesus, the One who did no wrong, who had spent his time and strength in naught else but doing good, should be put to death as a malefactor. Since Jesus had actually been crucified, Peter probably had more cause than ever to wonder about the philosophy that one could save, or find, his life by losing it. Certainly Jesus had lost his life. That seemed certain and final!

But there were other lessons to follow. Love had triumphed over selfishness, and God had raised Jesus from the dead. The selfishness of the world had been overcome by him who gave his life a ransom for all. He who loved God supremely and therefore delighted to do the will of God in dying to redeem Adam and his race from death; he who had voluntarily ‘lost’ his life, had ‘found’ it, and now he was ‘alive for evermore.’

Now it was possible to tell Peter that he might know how right the Master was in the course which he voluntarily and lovingly took. Tell him in order that he may be helped to realize that although it had appeared to him that Jesus had lost his life, and foolishly so, he actually followed the only course which could have saved his life and gained for him high exaltation to glory, honor, and immortality. It was important that all the disciples be informed of Jesus’ resurrection, but it was especially so in Peter’s case, for it was another step leading to his ultimate conversion.


Jesus appeared to his disciples on several occasions after his resurrection, and on one of these he continued his instructions to Peter and gave him a special commission to serve the brethren, to “feed my sheep.” (John 21:16) This commission was in keeping with what he had said to Peter in the upper room—‘When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.’ While Peter was not yet converted, he was learning, and his heart was mellowing under the tender guidance of the Lord’s providence.

At this touching meeting Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. There was seemingly a good reason for this. To be rebuked by Jesus as Peter had been, even to the point of having the Master say to him, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan,’ could have left a little resentment in his heart. But even if this had been temporarily so, it had all melted under the tender and sympathetic influence of the Holy Spirit, as manifested in the resurrected Jesus.

“Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee,” insistently replied Peter, when Jesus asked him essentially the same question the third time. (John 21:17) ‘Thou knowest all things!’ How well Peter realized this. He had not believed that the Lord could save his life by losing it, but now he knew that Jesus had been right. In the upper room the Master forecast Peter’s denial, and despite his vigorous protest in which he declared his willingness to die with him rather than deny him, Peter was again proven wrong.—Mark 14:29-31


Jesus knew ‘all things.’ Peter now realized this, and knew that his Master could look into his heart and read his motives better than he could himself. He had not understood why the Lord should voluntarily suffer and die, and he had done all he could to oppose what looked to him like a very unwise course; but he had never ceased to love his Master. His heart was right, even though his reasoning had been wrong; and since Jesus had demonstrated his ability to read his heart, Peter was a little perturbed over being asked three times to affirm his love.

But this was a part of his training, another of those lessons by which he was gradually being brought to that full understanding which would enable him later to strengthen the brethren. To declare his love for Jesus before his brethren would help to strengthen his own resolve to be a faithful follower of his Lord, regardless of the cost. As Peter was later to discover, the commission given him as an under shepherd to feed the Lord’s sheep would ultimately cost him life itself.

Jesus continued the lesson, saying to Peter, “When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.” (John 21:18) John adds the explanation that this statement by Jesus was a forecast of the kind of death Peter would die. John added, “And when he [Jesus] had spoken this, he saith unto him [Peter], Follow me.”—vs. 19

In the statement to Peter ‘when thou shalt be old,’ Jesus did not use the word to describe old age, but one which conveys the thought of aging, or becoming old. The contrast which he makes is between Peter’s youthful, inexperienced outlook and the manner in which this would change as he matured in experience and in his understanding of the Divine will and purpose. Peter had been accustomed to deciding for himself what was best to be done and what course he should take. ‘Thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest,’ Jesus said to him.

This had been largely true of Peter even after he became a follower of Jesus. To him, Jesus was the promised Messiah, destined to be the King in the most powerful, glorious, and all-embracing kingdom this earth had ever seen. When Jesus indicated that he would give himself up to die it seemed to Peter that his Master had lost the vision of his purpose in coming to earth, so he undertook the task of preventing what he thought would be a tragedy. He girded himself for this task of interference, but had failed. He had been accustomed to having his own way, but this time he was thwarted. In the Lord’s providence, however, it was one of the experiences leading to his conversion.


The “death” (vs. 19) that Peter should die was a sacrificial one, resulting from his full surrender to the Divine will, as suggested by the stretching forth of his hands and allowing another to gird him—a beautiful symbol of surrender, of resignation, and a willingness to be girded for service and to be led by the Lord. Such a leading would mean that Peter’s death would be a sacrificial one, that he would be “planted together” in the likeness of Jesus’ death (Rom. 6:5), that he would “fall like one of the princes,” that is, Prince Jesus.—Ps. 82:7

Peter’s nature rebelled against such a death. He tried to prevent Jesus from thus dying, saying to him, ‘Be it far from thee, Lord,’ and later going into action with his sword in an effort to prevent the Master’s arrest and crucifixion. Jesus knew that Peter would be converted, that he would see the beauty of the way of love. He knew that when Peter did get the vision, and became convinced that the way for a Christian to save his life is to lose it in voluntary sacrifice, he would be in the forefront of the Christian warfare of love against selfishness.

So it turned out. Peter finally was converted. This occurred at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the waiting church. Jesus had prophesied what would occur in this connection. He had said that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. It would bring to their remembrance the things which he had said to them. He said to Peter—‘Whosoever will lose his life … shall find it;’ ‘All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword;’ ‘Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee;’ ‘Follow me’ into death.

With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, all these statements by the Master, and the circumstances with which they were associated, were brought into focus in Peter’s mind, and caused to shine with a meaning which previously had been impossible for him to grasp. His viewpoint had been that of a natural man, but now he had spiritual vision; and in the light and inspiration of that vision he stretched forth his hands for the Lord to gird him for the new service of love to which he had been called.

In the upper room Peter sincerely professed his willingness to die with the Master. But what he meant then was that he would gladly die in a fighting—even though futile—attempt to save the Master’s life. He would gird himself, and die endeavoring to carry out his own will. But now it was different. He was still willing to die, not in fighting the Lord’s way of love, but by yielding to it. He was now willing, as Jesus was, to be led to the slaughter along the road of self-sacrifice, until he was fully and completely ‘planted together’ in the ‘likeness’ of Jesus’ death.

Being converted, he was prepared to strengthen the brethren, and he did so in an outstanding lesson on Christian sacrifice and what it means in the light of the Divine plan. This lesson is in his first epistle. Here he speaks of the “salvation” which is the “end” of Christian faith—that salvation which is obtainable only by losing one’s life. It was this salvation, he explains, that the prophets foretold when they prophesied “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.”—I Pet. 1:9-11


Peter now realized that Jesus had suffered and died in keeping with these prophecies, and also that he had entered into the foretold “glory”—that God “raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.” (vs. 21) Peter not only now saw how obedience to the Divine way of love had resulted in Jesus’ resurrection and glorification, but he had learned that the same opportunity of sacrifice and the same hope of glory had been extended to all the Master’s followers. They are to be stones in a spiritual temple.

It is our privilege to suffer, not for wrongdoing, but for right doing—“For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.”—I Pet. 2:20,21

Prior to Pentecost, Peter’s great struggle with himself was his insistence that it was a tragedy to suffer for right doing. Now he was converted, and the way of love had been revealed to him. He knew that suffering for righteousness’ sake was the only true way to the “great salvation” (Heb. 2:3) and to ‘glory.’ This he now knew and declared, was the “better” way, the way that was shown to us by Jesus, the way every Christian must take in order to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.—I Pet. 3:17,18

It seemed very strange to Peter when Jesus, the foretold King of kings, announced his intention of giving himself up to be killed; but now that he was converted he was able to strengthen the brethren by writing, “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.”—I Pet. 4:12,13

In his younger days Peter was accustomed to having his own way, and very willfully so. He was master of his own destiny, or thought so. He girded himself. But now he had learned of a better way. He had learned that the will of God was better for him than his own will, and that this was also true of all the consecrated. So he wrote, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” If, by doing this, you seem to be led into situations and experiences that are too difficult to bear, cast “all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”—I Pet. 5:6,7

The way of love, as demonstrated in self-sacrifice even unto death, had triumphed. In following this way, Jesus made the supreme sacrifice. He lost his life, but it had been found. All the disciples rejoiced as they learned the good news of their Master’s resurrection; but, under Divine providence, it was to mean more to Peter than to the others. To him it was one of the evidences that Jesus knew ‘all things,’ and therefore knew that if he lost his life voluntarily he would find it on the exalted plane of glory and immortality.

May this be one of the great lessons of Jesus’ resurrection to us, and being so, may we be strengthened to continue on in that way in which we are being led by God through his Spirit—the narrow way, the way which, through death, leads to immortality and to glory. As we go forward in this way, let us remember that the mighty power of God which raised Jesus from the dead is now enlisted on our behalf, to give us daily strength, to supplement our weakness, to give us courage to endure unto the end, and finally, to lift us up together with him who is now exalted to the right hand of the throne of God.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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