vatican hill

Is It Peter “The Rock” or Peter “The Connector”?

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.

Matthew 16:18

Jesus said Peter the Apostle; And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church. True enough, it was Peter that built the church after Christ rose into heaven. Simple enough on Jesus’s part to say this and for it to happen. But there is more to Peter, than just being The Rock. He was a complex person, with very obvious human weaknesses and strengths, to undergird why Jesus picked Peter.

In fact, I don’t believe it was just that he was Peter, The Rock. He was also Peter, The Connector.

Before we get too far, a brief biography about Peter.

His given name was Simon and not Peter. He was a fisherman from Bethsaida. In the book of John, Peter was the first one called, along with his brother Andrew. Peter was married; we know this because Jesus healed his mother-in-law in Capernaum. (Luke 4:38)

So how did Simon become known as Peter? Well, Jesus gave him the name. Jesus actually called him Kepha, in Aramaic. In Greek it is Cephas and in Latin it is Petrus. Leading to the English name of Peter. Kepha in Aramaic means rock and some researchers will say it actually means Jewel.

Peter was also the first to speak when Jesus asked a question, in many ways the one who spoke or asked a question for the other Apostles. Acting in a way as the leader of the other eleven. It was Peter, who left the boat to see if he could walk on water. When Jesus asked, Who do you say I am?, it was Peter who answered.

But Peter didn’t always get things right.

He failed at walking on water. He denied knowing Jesus before the cock crowed three times, during the trial of Jesus. Many times Peter would say something, and Jesus would rebuke him. Peter’s failures are actually identifiable to those of us in the 21st century. How many times do we try to be faithful, but fall short? How many times does Jesus help us, but we deny him? To me, this is an important connector with Peter. Peter, The Rock failed many times and Jesus never gave up on him, nor will Jesus with us.

In fact, after the resurrection, Peter returned to fishing. Only to be visited by the risen Christ, who told him how to fish. Near the end of the Gospel of John, Peter and Jesus have a final chat. Jesus asks Peter, Do you love me? Perhaps we can understand why. But three times Jesus asks this question of Peter, and after two half-hearted answers, Peter finally gets it right. Then Jesus says to Peter, feed my lambs.

After this scene, we find Peter in Acts as the early leader of the church. He had become a persuasive speaker. In fact, after one sermon he converted three thousand people.

But his greatest accomplishment was helping Paul get permission to convert the Gentile community. Initially, the new Christians of Judea believed that to be a true Christian you must also follow Jewish traditions. Things like being circumcised. Paul’s argument was that this wasn’t part of the message of Jesus and certainly would slow the growth of Christianity. Through Peter’s help, Paul was given the freedom to spread Christianity throughout the Roman empire without the need for new converts to follow traditional Jewish customs.

Freeing Christianity to become a global religion.

Again, Peter became the go-between to connect early Christians with an emerging part of Christianity, the Gentile world. His role as the mediator freed Christianity from being a backwater sect in Judea to an international religion.

One of the most controversial aspects about Peter centers around whether or not he was ever really in Rome and was he the first Pope. Well, he actually did visit and live in Rome late in life. While there is no Biblical account that he was there, there are plenty of non-biblical accounts that he was in Rome.

A gentleman, named Ignatius from Antioch, who knew both Peter and Paul, wrote about Peter’s time in Rome. As well, other early Christian historians like, Irenaeus of Lyons and Clement of Alexandria also give accounts of Peter being Rome.

Historians place Peter’s death in Rome as it is written about by Tertullian, an ancient Christian historian. The accounts state that Peter was crucified in Nero’s garden.

Interestingly, Peter asked that he be crucified upside-down because he felt he wasn’t worthy enough to be crucified in the same way Jesus was crucified.

In 325 Ad, after Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, he had a basilica erected on Peter’s burial site. Yes, St. Peters Basilica of today sits on top of the burial site and was built on a hillside called Vatican hill, the present site of the Vatican.

Jesus called Peter The Rock.

But I think we can extend this to The Connector as well. In Peter’s lifetime he served this function many times. First, as the go-between in many ways between Jesus and the other Apostles. Second, as the person who got all sides to agree that Paul could spread the message of Jesus without the requirement of circumcision. And finally, for each of us, Paul’s human imperfections never prevented Jesus from giving up on Peter. Constantly pursuing Peter in spite of his human frailties.

As Jesus does with us as well!

Listen to the Full Podcast – The Apostle Paul – Episode 3 of Great Christians of the Past

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Jan Tielens on Unsplash

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