PETER IN MATTHEW
The Gospel according to Matthew is the most complete of Jesus life and ministry from a Jewish perspective and for Jewish Christians. At least four minds with different sources went into the compilation of the Gospel and placing it into the hands of Levi, a teacher and minister of the Levitical order. It is not just about the Holy One or Son of God but the teacher of all teachers – none like any other. Jesus is the Messiah according to God’s promises to Abraham’s seed. From start to finish, Jesus had come to restore the will and purpose of God for Israel in the creation of a new kingdom (Mt. 5:17-20).
Jesus began to preach after John the Baptist was put in prison. He moved from Nazareth to Capernaum where He began to tell people, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” One day, He took a stroll beside the Sea of Galilee and saw Peter and Andrew casting a net into the Lake and He said to them, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men. At once they left their nets and followed him.” That, according to Matthew, Peter’s journey with Jesus began (Mt. 4:12-20). It is also identical to Mark’s account (Mk. 1:14-17). It was important for Mathew that Simon was already known as a Peter or a solid man and that he was chosen first of all the disciples. Peter’s home was the first that welcomed Jesus and his mother- in- law was one of the first to be healed (Mt. 8:14). Otherwise, Jesus did not single him out but treated him as one of the twelve. After the Sermon on the Mount and some healing and personal concerns, the twelve are sent out to minister to the people of Israel with special instructions how to behave (Mt. 10). Up to this point Peter had made no attempt to excel. Following Jesus’ encounter with John the Baptist, several lessons about the kingdom through parables, the feeding of five thousand and the Jesus walking on water had Peter ready to step forward. He did step forward and fell into the water. He wanted to be like Jesus, but he did not have the faith to back him. Jesus had to rescue him when he cried out, “Lord save me!” What happened to Peter led the others that were in the boat to believe that Jesus “Truly was the Son of God,” (Mt. 14:25-32).
Peter’s drowning experience had a profound impact on him. He began to take a more active role among the twelve and he wanted to have Jesus explain things, particularly Jesus neglecting the tradition of the elders to wash hands before meals. Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.” “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “ Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes to the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean” (Mt. 15:1-20). This was not the last hurdle for Mr. Simpleton. One can rise to the occasion and then fall flat on one’s face. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And “Who do you say I am?” People did compare Jesus to John the Baptist, Elijah and Jeremiah: but, Peter had by far the best answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus was pleased with Peter’s answer and predicted what role he was going to play in the future. “Blessed are you, Simon son of John, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16:13-19).
Jesus had put Peter on the very top and it may have lifted his ego a little more than it should. Right after Jesus had predicted ultimate success for his church or kingdom He began talking about betrayal, death and a resurrection. “Peter took Jesus aside and declared, “Never, Lord! This will never happen to you!” Jesus turned and knocked Peter off his height, “Out of my sight, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man.” Then Jesus directed his intentions at all the disciples and informed them that all must face death in order to build his church (Mt. 16:21-28). His followers must at all times be prepared to discern from what God wants and what man wants. Peter apparently did not understand or take Jesus’ warning seriously. On the Mountain where His Lord appeared in heavenly form, he still taught like a man and suggested that they set up three earthly huts (Mt. 17:1-13). Peter had problems understanding Jesus and Matthew lists four areas that did not fit into the kind of kingdom Peter would have hoped for. Why did Jesus pay taxes when He did not have to, to God and Caesar (Mt. 17:24-27; 22:15-21)? How often was Peter to forgive if he was to please God (Mt. 18:21-35)? What reward would there be for a follower that helped build this struggling kingdom (Mt. 19:27-30). Then, Peter and the other disciples experienced the royal entrance of an earthly king into Jerusalem and before the day ends, Jesus tells them that all that earthly glory like the Temple and the city of Jerusalem will crumble into dust and so would the world (Mt. 21, 24). More incomprehensible was Jesus telling them that He too shall be removed from mother earth. With all that happening how could anyone conceive of a kingdom for which Jesus had not given them a blueprint? It was long after the resurrection of their Lord that they began to put the pieces together.
Peter still was hopeful that He would not give up on Jesus, even if his Lord is betrayed and mocked. After their last meal Jesus told them that the shepherd will be struck and the sheep will scatter, but they shall reassemble in Galilee. Peter insisted: “I will not!” Jesus replied, “Peter, before the rooster crows tonight, you will have denied me three times.” “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny that I known you.” In Gethsemane, Jesus took Peter and the Zebedees and asked them to stay awake. When Jesus returned from his first prayer He asked Peter, “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not yield to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:31-46). The disciples were not only weak in body but also disillusioned in mind and fled. Peter managed to end up in the High Priest’s court where Jesus was being mocked and tried. And he did insist three times that he did neither belong nor did he know Jesus. No one was present when Jesus returned from the dead and Jesus did not appear to the disciples until they returned to Galilee as the angel instructed the women to pass on the information to Jesus’ brother. In Galilee, on a mountain, all the disciples were commissioned (Mt. 28). Peter was no longer being singled out until John gave his version of Peter’s reinstatement as Jesus’ successor (Jn. 21). At least that was Matthew’s version of Peter. One must not expect a Levi to have as high an opinion of Peter as Luke and John had. In the tradition of the fathers, the Levi tribe was expected to lead and teach. Their great lawgiver was Moses from the tribe of Levi.