It is interesting to watch Peter’s behavior in the Gospel records. He is so impetuous, seemingly so ready to stand with Christ and declare his loyalty to him. Of all the Apostles, he is the most endearing, perhaps because, more than any of the others, he is willing to go on record, to act at once, rather than wait to see which way popular opinion was trending. No doubt, because of this characteristic, the Gospels record Peter doing three great things: making a great claim, making a great boast, and making a great error.
All the Gospel narratives record Peter making the great claim that Jesus was the Messiah (Christ) the son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16), and Jesus replied that he would build his Church upon Peter’s confession—i.e. upon that great fact that Jesus is the Messiah or the Christ. In Peter’s first epistle it is this very claim that he uses to show how great a salvation comes to those who believe in Peter’s Jesus, whom Peters readers have not seen (1Peter 1:8; cf. John 20:29).
Once again all four Gospel accounts record Peter’s great boast that he was ready to be imprisoned or die for the Lord (Luke 22:33). Nevertheless, when the chips were down, when Jesus showed that his disciples would not act violently in his name (Luke 22:50-51), and that Jesus would permit himself to be drawn into a seemingly senseless fate (Luke 22:54), all, including Peter, forsook him and fled (Mark 14:50).
Sometimes suffering seems worthwhile, if we are able to see its end, and the end is worth the sacrifice. We can even choose such a fate (cf. Acts 21:13) and be glad about it. What parent wouldn’t gladly choose to suffer to save his child’s life? On the other hand, who would choose to suffer senselessly? When there doesn’t seem to be any honor in the event, who would choose to suffer? Peter was ready to go to war for Christ, but stumbled when he found there didn’t seem to be any honor in dying for his friend. Later, in his first epistle Peter would advise his readers to think it not strange to have one’s faith tried (1Peter 4:12). He seems to be pointing out that our loyalty to Christ is often tried in an unexpected manner—a manner which is not to our liking, a manner in which there seems to be no honor. Endure it anyway, because, in doing so, we are made partakers in the seemingly senseless (from a human point of view) sufferings of Christ (1Peter 4:13)
Finally, Peter’s great error is recorded in all the Gospel accounts, as well (cf. John 18:25, 27). Peter denied knowing the Lord. I think, if all of us could read the script of our lives before we live through certain key events, we probably wouldn’t make the great mistakes we make in life that have so great an effect upon us afterward. After the disciples fled and left Jesus to his fate, Peter, perhaps even telling the others what he was about to do, followed Jesus at a distance, wanting to see how things would develop (Matthew 26:58).
Peter wanted to see how the matter would end, perhaps to report back to the others, so they could organize the people to demand Jesus’ release. Under such a circumstance, therefore, it would have been important that Peter was not found out by the enemy. Hence, Peter’s denials and great error. No doubt, Peter would never have denied (G720 – arneomai; cf. Mark 14:70-71) knowing Jesus, if he fought in an open battle with him, but under clandestine activity, when exposure was undesirable, such a denial seemed necessary—if Peter’s plan was to be successful. Nevertheless, the denial, not the covert plan, came to be important in what eventually transpired.
In his first epistle Peter exhorted the elders to feed the flock (1Peter 5:1-2), which is what the Lord told Peter to do when he appeared to Peter after the resurrection to restore him to his office as Jesus’ apostle (John 21:15-17). It seems that much of the persecution that developed in the five Roman provinces addressed in Peter’s letter (1Peter 1:1) involved false doctrine (cf. 2Peter 2:1-2), which denied (G720 – same word used of Peter in the Gospels) Jesus. It seems that anything that is untrue that would cause us to deny Jesus is uncovered and set at naught by preaching the truth. Speaking the Truth (cf. John 14:6) reveals that we are living stones, as though we were cut from the same Rock upon whom we are founded (1Corinthians 10:4; 1Peter 2:4-7; cf. Ephesians 2:20).