SIMON PETER IN ACTS
Acts is Luke’s account of the actual building of God’s kingdom on earth. There were five major reasons why Peter was of tremendous importance to the Gentiles and Luke was the only writer that recorded them. First, Simon Peter knew who Jesus was from the beginning, and not when He asked his disciples who He was (Lk. 9:20). Second, Peter began to lead some 120 believers in Jesus before Pentecost (Ac. 1:15-17). Third, Peter made Jesus as the Savior of mankind public on the day of Pentecost (Ac. 2:14-41). Fourth, Peter took the message to Cornelius (Ac. 10). And fifth, Peter’s testimony at the first Council in Jerusalem led to the admission of the Gentile Christians (Ac. 15:1-35). The last four reasons are in Acts. Acts is not an appendix, but a continuation of the message concerning Jesus to Theophilus (friend of God). The disciples did not grasp why the Christ had come. The Risen Son of Man spent forty days to explain what the kingdom was all about but without much success. They still wanted to know, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” Jesus’ answer was, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After having given the eleven specific instructions as to their task, a cloud took up their Lord and out of their sight. While the disciples were gazing into the sky, two men in white, similar to the two in Luke 24:4, said to them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? The same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Ac. 1:1-11). It is rather apparent that the first infusion of the Holy Spirit did not open the disciples’ minds (Jn. 20:21-23). What would the second infusion of the Holy Spirit do?
Luke wanted the followers of Jesus to know that Peter did get the hint. We are told that Peter stood up and reorganized 120 believers into a vital organization. The first thing he did was to fill the seat that was left vacant by Judas. They found justification for replacing him in Psalm 109:8. Out of two eligible men, the lot fell on Matthias. Once more, they were ready with apostolic leadership for the kingdom of Israel to commence (Ac. 1:12-26). They had to be ready because they believed that Jesus was on his way back. Jesus did come back but not in a physical body but through his representative the Holy Spirit. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated (split up) and came to rest on each one of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (languages) as the Spirit enabled them” (Ac. 2:1-4). The word “Pentecost” is the Greek for the Jewish feast of Weeks that was celebrated fifty days after the Passover. It drew people from all over to Jerusalem. The God–fearing Jews understood the Spirit’s language, but the godless mocked and regarded the followers of Jesus as being drunk. The Peter that stood up to defend his fellow believers’ behavior and his Lord proved to be more than a match for the unbelievers and those that had disposed of Jesus, the Christ. He told the crowd that it was too early to be inebriated and what they were seeing was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit predicted by the prophet Joel 2:28-32. This event was evidence that Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had crucified, God had resurrected to have Him sit on his right in glory as Israel’s eternal King. Peter used Psalm 16:8-11 and 110:1 to show that king David also predicted that the Christ was also his Lord. Great fear fell on the people and they wanted to know what they could do. Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” He pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Some three thousand responded and were baptized into the church (Ac. 2:1-41). The movement became large enough to hold services in Solomon’s Colonnade in the Temple. It was once more a house of prayer.
Peter assumed the role of an Elijah (Ac. 3-4). On his way to a prayer meeting with John, a crippled beggar was healed in the name of Jesus. People began to look at Peter as the miracle worker and he had to explain, “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” Again, Peter directed them to believe in the name of Jesus. “It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given complete healing to him, as you can all see.” The miracle increased their membership to five thousand and more that alarmed the religious leaders. The Romans, at this time showed no interest or concern about the new peaceful movement. The high priest’s family alone had Peter and John brought before the leaders and demanded, “By what power or what name did you do this?” They were not facing a timid Peter or John, but men empowered by the Holy Spirit telling the leaders that the man they had killed was the reason why the cripple was healed and that they had rejected the one that God had set up as the corner or capstone (Ps. 118:22). Out of Peter’s mouth came the most precious words a human could utter. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” The leaders realized that Jesus was behind their bravery and commanded them to stop using His name. Peter and John responded, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Following the encounter with the religious elite, the believers held a huge prayer meeting and experienced another filling of the Holy Spirit, similar to Pentecost (Ac. 4:31). By now they became more than just one in faith. They began to share each other’s properties and formed a community similar to communism (Ac. 2:42-47; 4:32-5:11). This included the tragic death of Ananias and Sapphira. The Gospels have no evidence that Jesus would have done what Peter did. The community grew too large and seven more leaders were appointed to serve the Aramaic – speaking widows. One of the seven was Stephen who was stoned for believing and proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. Saul, who became Paul, was present at the stoning (Ac. 6:1-8:1). Peter was still popular. People believed that his shadow could heal. The other disciples also did miracles in the name of Jesus. However, public opinion began to change and the new believers were afraid to meet openly. Too many sick and poor found their way to Jerusalem and faith without bread does not feed the hungry. The apostles became targeted for persecution. Peter was jailed and escaped miraculously. This time Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, counseled to let Peter go and see where God would lead the movement (Ac. 5:12-42). The Lord did scatter the apostles with the help of the political situation. Peter was shipped off to Samaria where he encountered the sorcerer Simon (Ac. 8:9-25). He returned briefly to Jerusalem where he was introduced to Saul, who became Paul. Next, Peter went to Lydda and Sharon were he healed Aeneas and in Joppa and where he raised Tabitha from the dead (Ac. 9:26-42).
Peter’s second biggest task was to bring the Gospel to Cornelius a Roman commander of a garrison (Ac. 10:1-11:20). Before that, the apostles preached only to Jews and so did Paul (Ac. 18:5-7). In a vision he was told three times to eat food that was unclean. Peter refused and a voice reminded him, “Do not call anything unclean that God has made clean.” While he meditated, emissaries from Cornelius urged Peter to go with them to their master. During that same time that Peter was in a trance, Cornelius had an angelic appearance ordering him to send for Peter. When Peter began to witness about Jesus the Christ, the Holy Spirit came down on everyone that heard the message in the same way it had come down on Jews at Pentecost. Hereinafter, it became Peter’s task to defend the Gentile Pentecost, for the Judaisers insisted that the Gentiles be circumcised before they could become Christians (Ac, 10-11). Back in Jerusalem, Herod the king pleased the Jews by arresting some of the followers of Jesus and had James Zebedee beheaded. When Peter returned, he too was imprisoned but escaped miraculously. He left word to James, brother of Jesus, and left the city (Ac. 12). The Judaisers continued to trouble Gentile believers. Paul with a delegation went to Jerusalem and the first Council of Christians gathered to free Gentile believers from the Jewish yoke (Ac. 15:1-35). It was Peter’s testimony about the Gentile Pentecost that led the Council decide in favor of the Gentile Christians. “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” This by no means was easy to a people that came out of beliefs were such practices were basic. Peter, who would not touch anything impure, had after all retained healthy Jewish rituals. According to his fellow apostles, no one challenged him as the first leader of Jesus’ church.