Saint Peter Characteristics
Another look at Simon Peter
Diving into the characteristics of apostle Peter then we see that Apostle Peter was a man with certain glaring character faults. Simon was loud-mouthed, he was impetuous, he was boastful, he lacked humility, and he was unstable.
You might wonder why Jesus would want Simon for a disciple – but then, the characteristics of the 12 Apostles were not much better. (At this time, they were all young men with many of the faults of youth, but they were capable of changing.)
And we do see other sides of Simon’s character, which are more positive.
I think he was a generous man; he was warm and outgoing, he was enthusiastic, he was a man of strong emotions, and he was a natural leader.
But most important of all: he was devoted to Jesus.
Not all of us will have Peter’s gregarious and extrovert temperament, but we all can learn from Simon Peter’s life. So, let’s first look at some of Apostle Peter Characteristics:
“Impulsive” is the word you would use to describe Peter. Whenever a new situation arose, you could always guarantee that it would be Simon Peter who would jump in with both feet!
Remember when Jesus walked on water? It was Simon who said,
“Lord, command me to come to you on the water. “(Matthew 14: 22)
– and before you could say “Jack Robinson,” Simon stepped out of the boat and walked across the water towards Jesus. Now that is impulsive behavior.
On the night that Jesus was arrested, Simon Peter whipped out his sword and attacked the servant of the High Priest (John 18:10). That is impulsive behavior.
After Jesus rose from the dead, it was John who got to the empty tomb first, but he hesitated before going in. (He was a cautious character.)
Peter arrived after the apostle John and just rushed straight into the tomb. John then looked in as well, and it was John, not Peter, who understood what he saw and believe that Jesus was alive. Do you understand what I’m saying? Peter was the one who bounded into the tomb without really understanding.
There are many other occasions when we see examples of Peter’s impetuousness. He’s always the one who speaks up first. Sometimes that is a good thing – as when he confessed Jesus to be the Son of the Living God. But then later, we read about him remonstrating with Jesus for saying that he will be killed.
“this will never happen to you.”
Now for Jesus, this was a temptation to forgo the way of the Cross. Jesus saw this temptation as coming from the Devil, even though Peter said the words. He had to rebuke Peter, saying that he is in effect the mouthpiece of Satan. Unknowingly, Simon Peter was seeking to deflect Jesus from the path of duty and sacrifice.
So sometimes, Peter’s impulsive words were commendable – at other times, they were the opposite.
At the Transfiguration, we have an awe-inspiring occasion: Jesus is shining out with divine light and speaking to Moses and Elijah, who also shines out with heavenly glory. The other two disciples, James and John, are struck silent with awe. But Peter just comes out with whatever is in his mind! First, he just speaks a platitude:
“Lord, it’s good to be here with you up on the mountain.”
And then, he suggests making three shelters for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. He didn’t know what he was saying. It doesn’t make sense, and anyway, what did he think he was doing interrupting the conversation that Jesus was having with no less than Moses and Elijah? These were inappropriate words.
Peter’s reaction is always to open his mouth without first engaging his brain! And so, he did often act and speak without thinking. This was a great fault; you might think, and surely a disqualification to become the leader of the Apostolic Band. But apparently, Jesus saw things differently. He saw what Peter was capable of becoming – a Rock upon which he would be able to rely.
Arrogant and Boastful
Peter was always likely, in his enthusiasm, to bite off much more than he could chew. He was also arrogant and boastful. On one occasion, he claimed that he loved Jesus more than the others, that he would be more loyal to Jesus. Jesus had said how all his disciples were going to leave him when he was arrested.
And Peter said,
“All the others might run off Lord, but I will never abandon you. I will go to prison and death rather than leave you.”
Peter was in for a rude awakening. When it came down to the nitty-gritty, when Jesus was arrested, Peter ran off, just as the others did. Later, we read how he denied Jesus three times to save his skin. Where was all his boasted loyalty now? When the cock crowed, Peter remembered the words of Jesus, “Before the cock crows, you will deny that you know me three times. And he went out and wept bitterly.
This was a testing time for Peter – this was a turning point in his life. He was humbled. He realized he had failed to be a Rock. he had not lived up to the nickname the Lord has given him.
We see a change in Peter’s life after the Resurrection. The first significant event was when Jesus reinstated him as leader of the Apostolic Band. This happened on the lakeside in Galilee, where the risen Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Jesus. Peter replied three times that he did, and three times, he told him to take care of his lambs and feed his sheep.
Peter had denied his Lord three times: now Jesus reassures him that he is forgiven three times. Not only that, but Jesus will entrust to Peter the pastoral care of the early Church. What a risk for the Lord to take: to give the job to unreliable, boastful blustering Peter! But the Lord knew what he was doing.
Peter had denied Jesus rather than face imprisonment or death, but now Jesus predicts that he will one day die as a martyr for his faith in Jesus:
Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you dressed and went where you wanted; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him,
‘Follow me!’ (John 21:18-19)
Filled with the Spirit
And Peter did indeed follow Jesus. Just a few weeks later, we find him standing up on the Day of Pentecost, filled with the Spirit and boldly speaking to a crowd.
“With the help of evil men, you nailed him to a cross,”
Peter said to the crowd. (Acts 2: 23).
Yes, he actually is brave enough to accuse them of crucifying Christ. Later, when he speaks to the crowd after the healing of the man at the Temple, he says,
“You killed the one who gives life! But God raised him from death.”
Once again, he is bold enough to make the direct accusation of the people that they had crucified Jesus.
Then, when he and John were brought before the Jewish leaders, once again, he said,
“You nailed him to the Cross. But God raised him from death. (Acts 4:10)
All fear of reprisal is now gone, and Peter boldly testifies to Christ. He truly is becoming a Rock.
One of the characteristics that I have not yet mentioned is that of Peter’s xenophobia. In this respect, he was very much the same as most of the Jews of his day. They tended to despise the Gentiles. They prided themselves on being God’s people: the Jews. They thought they were superior to everyone else. And so, there was a certain degree of xenophobia. They weren’t supposed to fraternize with Gentiles, to sit down at the table with them, nor to have any kind of fellowship with them.
Now, Peter was orthodox in his practice of the Jewish Faith, and he didn’t cease to keep the Jewish ritual laws of diet and custom after he became a follower of Jesus. Indeed, all the first Christians were Jews, and they had all been circumcised.
However, the time came when the Holy Spirit led some of these Jewish Christians to go out to preach to the Gentiles and the Jews. And so, it was that non-Jews were coming to faith in Christ. At this time, Peter has his famous vision of a cloth or sheet coming down from heaven.
The Spirit of God wanted to get Peter out of his xenophobic rut and start welcoming Gentile believers into his house, to sit at the table with them and have fellowship with them. This was a very big thing to ask from a very observant Jew!
In his vision, Peter sees what looks like a huge sheet lowered down to earth from heaven. In the sheet, he sees all sorts of animals that were considered unclean by the Jews. I imagine there would have been pigs and rats as well as all kinds of unclean birds and reptiles. A voice from heaven said:
“Get up, Peter, kill and eat!”
“Lord, I have never eaten anything that isn’t holy or clean.”
The voice said:
“God has made these things clean. Don’t you call them unclean?”
This vision was repeated two more times, and then Peter came out of the trance that he was in. And just then messengers came asking Peter to go to the house of Cornelius the Centurion, to tell him and all his Gentile relatives and friends about Jesus. (You can read about all this in Acts, Chapter 10).
The upshot of it all was that Peter went to Cornelius’ house and told the people there the message of salvation. When they heard Peter’s words, they believed in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit came upon them – a sure sign that God had accepted them. The Holy Spirit had made it known to the early Church that the Gentiles were just as welcome as the Jews in God’s Kingdom.
And so, Peter was changed forever from being a narrow, xenophobic Jew to become one who welcomed Gentile believers and had fellowship with them. (It is true that later on, we find him backtracking a little bit when he met some very extreme Jewish Christians. Peter compromised his position at that time.)
But he has definitely changed. He has become one who will welcome anyone who believes in Jesus – whatever their race or origin. His whole approach has changed.
The Lesson of Humility and Submission
By the time we get to the Epistles of Peter, at the end of the New Testament, written when Peter was getting to be an old man, we see one who has learned the lesson of humility, submission to God and being prepared to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.
In his youth, he had been as unstable as water, but he became the Rock on which the Church was built in his maturity. He had been a young man when he first met Jesus – probably only in his early twenties – he had been full of immaturity and pride. But God that taken hold of him and changed them. He became Peter the Rock.
Summary Characteristics of Apostle Peter
Apostle Peter’s good qualities and his bad qualities were two sides of the same coin. And we are all like this – we all have unique personalities, and that personality will have both strengths and weaknesses.
Our personalities need to be submitted to God so that the Holy Spirit can work to produce the Fruit of the Spirit in us. Then the positive aspects of our personality will show up, and we will help to build up the body of Christ, the fellowship of the Church.
Resources Characteristics of Apostle Peter