What Happened to Peter?

Remember Peter at the end of Luke’s Gospel. Picture him, cowering when asked if he knew Jesus, stuttering and cussing to distance himself from the man whom hours before we swore he’d never leave.

Now, in your mind, put that Peter next to the Peter we find at the beginning of Acts, standing among the apostles, serving as their spokesman, speaking the gospel with clarity and conviction in the face of threats and opposition. 

This is astonishing enough to need a closer look.

A Closer Look 

Think back more specifically to Luke 22, the chapter of Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denial. Recall how Luke juxtaposes the two. They come right after one another, Judas in Luke 22:47–53 and Peter in Luke 22:54–62. These events are put right beside each other, both terrible, both forms of betrayal, and Peter is only mentioned one other time in the Gospel. 

And now, jump back to Acts again. The book opens up and Luke is talking about the disciples. Ironically, from the start, what do we see?

We see Peter and Judas mentioned again, except this time, Peter is opening the Scriptures and leading the apostles in choosing a replacement for Judas.

We see both of these men betray Jesus in Luke 22, and now we see both of these men in Acts 1, but one is leading the apostles and the other is being replaced (by the one leading the apostles). Peter has become the chief spokesman, and throughout Acts over and over again we Peter standing, speaking, leading.

What has happened to this man from Luke 22 to Acts 1?

That Last Mention

Well, there is that one last mention of Peter in the Gospel of Luke after he denies Jesus. It’s Luke 24:10. For the context of this scene, the angels have appeared to the women and told them about the resurrection of Jesus. And then, of course, they come back and tell the apostles. Luke 24:10,

Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, [11] but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. [12] But Peter rose [the original word here is anistemi, and it means to stand or to rise, so Peter rises, he stands] and [he] ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

The next time we see Peter’s name is in Acts 1:15 and in fascinating fashion the text begins, Acts 1:15,

“In those days, Peter stood up.”

It is anistemi — the same word as in Luke 24:12 for "rose." 

Once Fallen, Now Standing

Peter who had fallen is now Peter who is standing, and the reason why — the difference in Peter — is that he ran and stooped and looked into a tomb that was empty. Jesus is raised from the dead. This has made all the difference. 

And so we should know about the Book of Acts that there would be no Book of Acts if there were not a risen Jesus. Peter knew that. He saw the empty tomb, he saw the risen Christ, and now he is going to replace Judas with someone else who, as Acts 1:22 tells us, has also seen the resurrected Christ. That’s the game-changer. Jesus has been raised from the dead.

This means for us that it doesn’t matter how low we may have fallen, because Jesus is raised, we can stand. Do you believe that? Do you see Peter? He ruined everything. He turned his back on Jesus. He was done. But then he ran and he stooped and he looked, and his life was never the same. Jesus full of grace, Jesus risen from the dead, took Peter, and said, I’ve got a job for you. Feed my sheep. I’ve got plans for you, Peter.

And in the same way, Jesus full of grace, is saying this to us. That no matter how bad we may have messed things up, no matter where we are right now, Jesus is alive and he wants us. He wants you.

For more on Peter and Acts 1, check out the sermon, “Not the Same.”