Apostle Peter Becomes a Rock / Spiritual Meditations

This is a different perspective on Peter; one in which you may find some of your own personality traits. You may be a great leader in the making.

“Peter” was a sort of nickname. It means “rock” (patros is the Greek word for “a piece of rock, a stone”). John 1: 42 describes Jesus’ first face-to-face meeting with Simon Peter: “now when Jesus looked at him, he said, “you are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (Aramaic translates to “a stone”). And from then on, “Rock” was his nickname.

By nature, Simon was brash, vacillating, and undependable. Jesus changed Simon’s name, it appears, because he wanted the nickname to be a perpetual reminder to him about who he should be. And from that point on, whatever Jesus called him sent him a subtle message. If he called him Simon, he was signaling him that he was acting like his old self. If he called him Rock, he was commending him for acting the way he ought to be acting.

Peter was exactly like most Christians—both carnal and spiritual. This vacillating man—sometimes Simon, sometimes Peter—was the leader of the Twelve.

Simon Peter had a wife. We know this because in Luke 4: 38 Jesus healed his mother-in-law. The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9: 5 that Peter took his wife on his apostolic mission. That may indicate either that they had no children or that their children were already grown by that time.

We know Simon Peter was the leader of the Apostles—and not only from the fact that his name heads every list of the Twelve. We also have the explicit statement of Matthew 10: 2: “now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who was called Peter.” The word translated “first” in that verse is the Greek term protos. It doesn’t refer to the first in a list: it speaks of the chief, the leader of the group.

Peter’s name is mentioned in the Gospels more than any other name except Jesus. No one speaks as often as Peter, and no one is spoken to by the Lord as often as Peter. No disciple is more frequently rebuked by the Lord as Peter; and no disciple ever rebukes the Lord except Peter (Matthew 16: 22). No one else confessed Christ more boldly or acknowledged his lordship more explicitly; yet no other disciple ever verbally denied Christ as forcefully or as publicly as Peter did. No one is praised and blessed by Christ the way Peter was, yet Peter was also the only one Christ ever addressed as Satan. The Lord had more harsh things to say to Peter than to any of the others.

Peter’s Innate Character Traits

Peter had the God-given fabric of leadership woven into his personality. From the beginning there are certain rather obvious features in Simon Peter’s natural disposition that were critical to his leadership ability. These are not generally characteristics that can be developed merely by training; they are innate features of Peter’s temperament.

Peter the Curious

Leaders need to have an insatiable curiosity. They need to be people who are hungry to find answers. In the Gospel accounts, Peter asks more questions than all the other Apostles combined. It was usually Peter who asked the Lord to explain his difficult sayings (Matthew 15: 15; Luke 12: 41). It was Peter who asked how often he needed to forgive. It was Peter who asked what reward the disciples would get for having left everything to follow Jesus. It was Peter who asked about the withered fig tree. It was Peter who asked questions of the risen Christ. He always wanted to know more, to understand better. And that sort of inquisitiveness is a foundational element of a true leader.

Peter’s Initiative

Another necessary ingredient is initiative. If any man is wired for leadership, he will have drive, and vision, and energy.

There was that famous occasion when Jesus asked, “who do men say that I am?” (Matthew 16: 13). Several opinions were circulated among the people about that. “So they said, some may say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (vs. 14 ). Jesus then asked the disciples  in particular, “but who do you say that I am?” it was at that point that Peter boldly spoke out above the rest: “you are the Christ, the son of the living God” (vs. 16). The other disciples were still processing the question.

Peter was the first to ask questions and the first to try to answer questions. He was a man who always took the initiative, seize the moment, and charged ahead. That’s the stuff of leadership.

Peter the Involved

There is a third element of the raw material that makes a true leader: involvement. People cannot follow someone who remains distant. The true leader must show the way.

Jesus came to the disciples one night out in the middle of the sea of Galilee, walking on the water in the midst of a violent storm. Who out of all the disciples jumped out of the boat? Peter. The rest of the disciples were still clinging to their seats trying to make sure they didn’t fall overboard in the storm. But Peter was out of the boat without a second thought. That is involvement. Only after he left the boat and walked some distance did Peter think about the danger and start to sink.

People often look at this incident and criticize Peter’s lack of faith. But let’s give him credit for having faith to leave that boat in the first place. Before we disparage Peter for the weakness that almost brought him down, we ought to remember where he was when he began to sink.

This was the raw fabric of which Peter was made: an insatiable inquisitiveness, a willingness to take the initiative, and a passion to be personally involved. Now it is up to the Lord to train and shape him.

The Life Experiences That Shape a True Leader

How did the Lord take a man cut from such rough fabric and refine him into a leader? For one thing, he made sure Peter had the kind of life experiences that formed him into the leader Christ wanted him to be. It is in this sense that true leaders are made, not just born. The Apostle Peter learned a lot through hard experience.

For example, Jesus announced to the disciples that he was going to Jerusalem, where he would be turned over to the chief priests and scribes and be killed. Upon hearing this, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him saying “Far be it from you, Lord; this should not happen to you!” Peter’s sentiment is perfectly understandable. But he was thinking only from a human standpoint. He did not know the plan of God. Without realizing it, he was trying to dissuade Christ from the very thing he came to earth to do. As usual, he was speaking when he ought to have been listening. Jesus’s words to Peter were as stern as anything he’d ever spoken to any individual. “He turned and said to Peter, ‘get behind me Satan! You are an offense to me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.’”

On the night of Jesus’ arrest, Peter learned the hard way that he was humanly weak and could not trust his own resolve. After declaring in front of everyone that he would never deny Christ, he denied him anyway, and he punctuated his denials with passionate curses. Thus, Peter learned how watchful and careful he must be to rely only on the Lord’s strength.

At the same time, he learned that despite his own sinful tendencies and spiritual weaknesses, the Lord wanted to use him and would sustain him and preserve him no matter what.

All those things Peter learned by experience. Sometimes the experiences were bitter, distressing, humiliating, and painful.  Other times they were encouraging, uplifting, and perfectly glorious — such as when Peter saw Christ’s divine brilliance on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The Personal Qualities That Define a True Leader


Lasting leadership is grounded in character. Character produces respect. Respect produces trust. And trust motivates followers.

Even in the purely human realm, most people recognize that true leadership is properly associated with character qualities like integrity, trustworthiness, respectability, unselfishness, humility, self-discipline, self-control, and courage.

Peter’s character was molded and shaped after the example he had witnessed in Christ. He had the raw material for becoming a leader, and that was important. His life experiences helped hone and sharpen his natural leadership abilities, and that was also vital. But the real key to everything — the essential foundation upon which true leadership always rises or falls is character.


Another quality of a spiritual leader that was developed in Peter was submission.  Leaders tend to be confident and aggressive. They naturally dominate. Peter was quick to speak and quick to act. As we have seen, he was a man of initiative. That means he was always inclined to try to take control of every situation. To balance that side of him, the Lord taught him submission. Peter learned this lesson well.

Years later in 1 Peter 2: 13-18, he wrote:

“Therefore, submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bond servants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.”

This was the same lesson Peter learn from Christ. He is the same man who once struggled over the idea of Jesus paying taxes.


Another character quality Peter learned was restraint. Most people with natural leadership abilities do not naturally excel when it comes to exercising restraint. Self-control, discipline, moderation, and reserve don’t necessarily come naturally to someone who lives life at the head of the pack.

The Lord more or less put a bit in Peter’s mouth and taught him restraint. This is one of the main reasons Peter bore the brunt of so many rebukes when he spoke too soon or acted too hastily. The Lord was constantly teaching him restraint.

Peter learned much that night in the Garden of Gethsemane when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Later in life he would write, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps. ‘who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth; who, when he was reviled, did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but committed himself to Him who judges righteously’” (1 Peter 2: 21-23).

How differently that is from the young man who grabbed a sword and cut off the ear of a temple slave. Peter had learned the lesson of restraint.


We can observe in Peter a tremendous amount of self-confidence. It is obvious by the way he jumps in with answers to all questions. It is obvious in most of his actions, such as when he stepped out of the boat and began to walk on water. It became obvious in the worst and most disastrous way on that fateful occasion when Jesus foretold that his disciples would forsake him.

But the Lord used all of this to make Peter humble. And when Peter wrote his first Epistle, he said, “be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5: 5-6). Peter specifically told church leaders, “{don’t act like} lords over those entrusted to you, but [be] examples to the flock”. Humility became one of the virtues that characterized Peter’s life, his message, and his leadership style.


Peter also learned love. All the disciples struggled with learning that true spiritual leadership means loving service to one another. The real leader is someone who serves, not someone who demands to be waited upon. This truth was wrapped in the symbolism of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. The central lesson was about the way love ought to be shown. Jesus’ example was a consummate act of loving, lowly service.

Later that evening, after Judas had left, Jesus told the other eleven, “a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”.

Did Peter learn to love? He certainly did. Love became one of the hallmarks of his teaching. In 1 Peter 4:8 he wrote, “above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins”.

The Greek word translated “fervent” in that verse is ektenes, Meaning “stretched to the limit.” Peter was urging us to love to the maximum of our capacity. The love he spoke of is not about a feeling. It’s not about how we respond to people who are naturally lovable. It’s about a love that covers and compensates for others’ failures and weaknesses. “Love will cover a multitude of sins.”


Another important characteristic that Peter needed to learn was compassion. On the night of Jesus’s arrest, Peter arrogantly insisted that he would never stumble. Yet despite his protestations, before the night was over, he denied Jesus, and his whole world was severely shaken. His ego was deflated. His self-confidence was annihilated. His pride suffered, but his faith never failed.

What was this all about? Jesus was equipping Peter to strengthen the brethren. People with natural leadership abilities often tend to be short on compassion, lousy comforters, and impatient with others as they pursue their goals. Peter needed to learn compassion through his own ordeal, so that when it was over, he could strengthen others in theirs. By experience he learned to be compassionate, tender hearted, gracious, kind, and comforting to others who were lacerated by sin and personal failure.


Finally, Peter had to learn courage. You can practically see the birth of real courage in Peter’s heart at Pentecost when he was filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Prior to that, he had shown flashes of a fickle kind of courage. He impetuously drew his sword in front of a multitude of armed soldiers one minute but denied Jesus when challenged by a servant girl a few hours later. His courage, like everything in his life, was marred by instability.  The Holy Spirit made all the difference.

The Rock Emerges

As Peter learned all these lessons and his character was transformed — as he became the man Christ wanted him to be — he gradually changed from Simon into Rock. He learned submission, restraint, humility, love, compassion, and courage from the Lord’s example. And because of the Holy Spirit’s work in his heart, he become a great leader.

He preached at Pentecost and 3000 people were saved (Acts 2: 14-41). He and John healed a lame man (Acts 3: 1-10). He was so powerful that people were healed in his shadow (Acts 5: 15-16). He raised Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9: 36-42). He introduced the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10). And he wrote two epistles, 1 and 2 Peter, in which he featured the very same lessons he had learned from the Lord about true character.

The Death of Apostle Peter

How did Peter’s life end? We know that Jesus told Peter he would die as a martyr (John 21: 18-19). But scripture doesn’t record the death of Peter. All the records of early church history indicate that Peter was crucified. Eusebius cites the testimony of Clement , who says that before Peter was crucified, he was forced to watch the crucifixion of his own wife. As he watched her being led to her death, Clement says, Peter called to her by name saying, “remember the Lord.” When it was Peter’s turn to die, he pleaded to be crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy to die as his Lord had died. And thus, he was nailed to a cross head downward.

I encourage you to reread the book of Acts for a greater appreciation of the matured Peter as well as background to the future posts you will find here about the other Apostles.

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Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur

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