Imitate Their Faith
He Was Loyal in the Face of Tests
PETER gazed anxiously around at the faces of Jesus’ audience. They were in the synagogue in Capernaum. Peter’s home was in this town; his fishing business was here, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; many of his friends, relatives, and business acquaintances lived here. No doubt Peter was eager for his townsmen to see Jesus as he did, to share the thrill of learning about God’s Kingdom from the greatest of all teachers. No such outcome seemed likely today.
Many had stopped listening. Some were murmuring audibly, objecting to the thrust of Jesus’ message. Most troubling to Peter, though, was the reaction of some of Jesus’ own disciples. Their faces no longer bore that happy expression of enlightenment, the thrill of discovery, the joy of learning the truth. Now, they looked upset, even bitter. Some spoke up, calling Jesus’ speech shocking. Refusing to listen anymore, they left the synagogue—and left off following Jesus as well.
It was a difficult time for Peter and for his fellow apostles. Peter did not fully grasp what Jesus said that day. No doubt he could see why Jesus’ words if taken at face value might seem offensive. What, though, would Peter do? It was not the first time that his loyalty to his Master was tested, nor would it be the last. Let us see how Peter’s faith helped him to rise to such challenges and remain loyal.
Loyal When Others Turned Disloyal
Peter often found himself surprised by Jesus. Again and again, his Master acted and spoke in a way that was contrary to what people expected of Him. Just a day earlier, Jesus had miraculously fed a crowd of thousands. In response, they had attempted to make him king. Yet, he surprised many by withdrawing and compelling his disciples to board a boat and sail toward Capernaum. As the disciples made their way over water during the night, Jesus surprised them again by walking across the stormy Sea of Galilee, giving Peter an important lesson in faith. *
In the morning, they soon found that those crowds had followed them around the lake. Evidently, though, the people were driven by a desire to see Jesus produce food miraculously again, not by any hunger for spiritual truths. Jesus rebuked them for their materialistic spirit. That discussion continued in the synagogue in Capernaum, where Jesus again went against expectations in an effort to teach a vital but difficult truth.
Jesus wanted those people to see him, not as a source of mere physical food, but as a spiritual provision from God, as the one whose life and death as a man would make eternal life possible for others. So he gave an illustration, comparing himself to manna, the bread that came down from heaven in Moses’ day. When some objected, he used a vivid illustration, explaining that it was necessary to partake of his flesh and his blood in order to attain life. It was at this point that the objections became insistent. Some said: “This speech is shocking; who can listen to it?” Many of Jesus’ own disciples decided to quit following him. *—John 6:48-60, 66.
What would Peter do? He too must have been baffled by Jesus’ words. He did not yet grasp that Jesus must die in order to carry out God’s will. Yet, was Peter tempted to slink off like those fickle disciples who left Jesus that day? No; something important set Peter apart from those men. What was it?
Jesus turned to his apostles and said: “You do not want to go also, do you?” (John 6:67) He addressed the 12, but it was Peter who spoke up. It was often so. Peter may have been the oldest of them. In any case, he was certainly the most outspoken of the group; rarely, it seems, did Peter hesitate to say what was on his mind. In this case, what was on his mind was this beautiful and memorable statement: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life.”—John 6:68.
Do not those words touch your heart? Peter’s faith in Jesus had helped him to build a sterling quality—loyalty. Peter saw clearly that there was no Savior other than Jesus and that Jesus saved by means of his sayings—his teachings about the Kingdom of God. Peter knew that even if there were some things that puzzled him, there was nowhere else to go if he wanted God’s favor and the blessing of everlasting life.
Is that how you feel? Sadly, many in today’s world claim to love Jesus but fail the test of loyalty. Genuine loyalty to Christ requires that we share Peter’s view of Jesus’ teachings. We need to learn them, to grasp their meaning, and to live by them—even when they surprise us by running contrary to our expectations or personal preferences. Only by proving loyal can we hope to attain to the everlasting life that Jesus wants for us.
Loyal When Corrected
Not long after that busy time, Jesus led his apostles and some disciples on a long trek northward. The snowcapped peak of Mount Hermon, at the northernmost limit of the Promised Land, was at times visible even from the blue waters of the Sea of Galilee. Gradually, that mountain loomed higher as the group approached, following the rising terrain up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. * In this lovely setting, with a perspective over much of the Promised Land to the south, Jesus asked his followers an important question.
“Who are the crowds saying that I am?” he wanted to know. We can just imagine Peter looking into Jesus’ keen eyes, sensing again his Master’s kindness and his powerful, clear intelligence. Jesus was interested in the conclusions his audiences were drawing from what they saw and heard. Jesus’ disciples answered the question, repeating some of the popular misconceptions surrounding Jesus’ identity. But Jesus wanted to know more. Were his closest followers making the same mistakes? “You, though, who do you say I am?” he asked.—Luke 9:18-22.
Again, Peter was quick to respond. He put into clear, bold words the conclusion that had formed in the hearts of many there. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he said. We can imagine Jesus giving Peter a smile of approval as he commended him warmly. Jesus reminded Peter that it was Jehovah God—no man—who had made this vital truth so plain to those with genuine faith. Peter had been enabled to discern one of the greatest truths Jehovah had yet revealed—the identity of the long-promised Messiah, or Christ!—Matthew 16:16, 17.
This Christ was the one called in ancient prophecy a stone that the builders would reject. (Psalm 118:22; Luke 20:17) With such prophecies in mind, Jesus revealed that Jehovah would establish a congregation on the very stone, or rock-mass, that Peter had just identified. * Then he bestowed on Peter some very important privileges in that congregation. He did not give Peter primacy over the other apostles, as some have assumed, but he gave him responsibilities. He gave Peter “the keys of the kingdom.” (Matthew 16:19) It would be Peter’s job to open the hope of entering God’s Kingdom to three different fields of mankind—first to the Jews, then to the Samaritans, and finally to the Gentiles, or non-Jews.
However, Jesus later stated that those given much would have more to answer for, and the truth of those words is borne out in Peter’s case. (Luke 12:48) Jesus continued to reveal vital truths about the Messiah, including the certainty of his own impending suffering and death at Jerusalem. Peter was disturbed to hear such things. He took Jesus aside and rebuked him, saying: “Be kind to yourself, Lord; you will not have this destiny at all.”—Matthew 16:21, 22.
Peter surely meant well, so Jesus’ reply must have come as a surprise. He turned his back on Peter, looked at the rest of the disciples—who had likely been thinking something similar—and said: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.” (Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:32, 33) Jesus’ words contain practical counsel for us all. It is only too easy to allow human thinking to take priority over godly thinking. If we do so, even when we mean to help, we may inadvertently become proponents of Satan’s purpose rather than God’s. How, though, did Peter respond?
He surely knew that Jesus was not calling him Satan the Devil in any literal sense. After all, Jesus did not speak to Peter as he had to Satan. To Satan, Jesus had said: “Go away”; to Peter, he said: “Get behind me.” (Matthew 4:10) Jesus did not cast off this apostle in whom he saw a great deal of good, but He simply corrected his wrong thinking in this matter. It is not hard to see that Peter needed to stop getting in front of his Master as a stumbling block and get back behind him as a supportive follower.
Did Peter argue, get angry, or sulk? No; he humbly accepted correction. He thus demonstrated loyalty again. All those who follow Christ will need correction at times. Only if we humbly accept discipline and learn from it can we continue to grow closer to Jesus Christ and his Father, Jehovah God.—Proverbs 4:13.
Jesus soon made another startling statement: “Truly I say to you that there are some of those standing here that will not taste death at all until first they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28) No doubt those words filled Peter with curiosity. What could Jesus possibly mean? Perhaps Peter wondered if the strong correction he had just received meant that no such special privileges would be coming his way.
About a week later, however, Jesus took James, John, and Peter up into “a lofty mountain”—perhaps Mount Hermon, which was just a few miles distant. It was likely nighttime, since the three men were combating sleepiness. But as Jesus prayed, something happened that drove away any drowsiness.—Matthew 17:1; Luke 9:28, 29, 32.
Jesus began to change before their eyes. His face started to shine, to glow, until it became as brilliant as the sun. His clothes too were glistening white. Then two figures appeared with Jesus, one representing Moses and the other, Elijah. They conversed with him about “his departure that he was destined to fulfill at Jerusalem”—evidently his death and resurrection. How clear it was that Peter had been wrong to deny that Jesus had such a painful experience ahead of him!—Luke 9:30, 31.
Peter felt compelled to participate somehow in this extraordinary vision. It looked as if Moses and Elijah were parting from Jesus. So Peter spoke up: “Instructor, it is fine for us to be here, so let us erect three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Of course, these visionary representations of two of Jehovah’s long-dead servants did not need tents. Peter really did not know what he was saying. Are you not drawn to the man, though, for his enthusiastic and warm spirit?—Luke 9:33.
He and James and John received another reward that night. A cloud formed and loomed over them on the mountain. From it came a voice—the voice of Jehovah God! He said: “This is my Son, the one that has been chosen. Listen to him.” Then the vision was over, and they were alone with Jesus on the mountain.—Luke 9:34-36.
What a gift that vision was for Peter—and for us! Decades later he wrote of the privilege he had that night of being one of the “eyewitnesses of his magnificence,” actually seeing a preview of Jesus as a glorious heavenly King. That vision confirmed many prophecies of God’s Word and strengthened Peter’s faith for the trials he had yet to face. (2 Peter 1:16-19) It can do the same for us if, like Peter, we remain loyal to the Master whom Jehovah has appointed over us, learning from him, accepting his discipline and correction, and humbly following him day by day.
^ par. 7 See the article “Imitate Their Faith—He Fought Against Fear and Doubt,” in the October 1, 2009, issue of The Watchtower.
^ par. 9 The inconstancy of the crowd at the synagogue is evident when we compare their reactions to Jesus’ speech here with their expressions just the day before when they enthusiastically proclaimed him a prophet of God.—John 6:14.
^ par. 15 From the shores of the Sea of Galilee, that 30-mile journey took the group from about 700 feet [210 m] below sea level to some 1,150 feet [350 m] above, through regions of great natural beauty.
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Who Is the Rock-Mass?
“I say to you, You are Peter, and on this rock-mass I will build my congregation.” (Matthew 16:18) Those words, which Jesus spoke to his apostle Peter, have often been taken to mean that Peter would be the foundation of the Christian congregation. The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus was giving Peter primacy over the other apostles, making him, in effect, the first pope. Thus, in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Jesus’ words are emblazoned in Latin on the inside of the dome, in letters taller than a man.
Did Jesus mean that Peter was the rock-mass upon which Jesus would build his congregation? No. Consider three reasons why we may be certain on this point. First, the other apostles were present, and they drew no such meaning from Jesus’ words. If Jesus gave Peter primacy in front of them all, then why did they later argue repeatedly over which one of them seemed to be greatest? (Mark 9:33-35; Luke 22:24-26) Second, the apostle Paul later showed that the rock-mass was, not Peter, but Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11; 10:4) Third, decades later Peter himself showed that he did not think that he was the rock-mass. Rather, he wrote that Jesus was the long-foretold “foundation cornerstone” chosen by God himself.—1 Peter 2:4-8.
Still, some insist that since Peter’s name means “Rock,” Jesus was identifying him as the rock-mass. In fact, though, Peter’s name is not a synonym for the word “rock-mass” used in the same verse. Peter’s name means “A Piece of Rock,” and it is a masculine noun; the word rendered “rock-mass” is a feminine noun. How, then, are Jesus’ words to be understood? In effect, he was saying to Peter: “You, the one I called Peter, or Rock, have discerned the true identity of the ‘rock-mass,’ the Christ, who will serve as the foundation of the Christian congregation.” What a privilege Peter had in helping to reveal such an important truth!
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Peter proved loyal even when he had to be corrected
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Peter’s loyalty was rewarded with a thrilling vision