Peter possessed an all-round expertise; a man of action with acuity in doing business. It was no wonder that he demonstrated a strong sense of self-reliance. He rated his views highly and yet we see that in his association with Jesus he became spiritually schooled in the virtue of humility. It is the tendency of humanity to over-rate its mental ability. Even in the exercise of great mental power it cannot discern the thought and intent of the divine mind. It misreads the things of God. The natural man is a non-starter in matters of the Lord’s way and his unsearchable purposes. From many of his instinctive conclusions Peter had to back down and learn from his vulnerability to error. We trace through the details of the New Testament Peter’s descent from hubris to humbleness. It is a moving pilgrimage through stages of grace for the lovable apostle.
Three incidents stand out from several that illustrate Peter’s education in dependence upon the Lord for understanding of the deep things of God. A person must be born of the Spirit and taught by the Spirit in order to grasp spiritual realities. When Jesus posed the question, “Who do you say I am?” to his disciples, Peter answered, “You are the Christ” (Mark 9:29). Here in Mark’s Gospel we detect something of the developing modesty of Peter, for he is the informant behind Mark’s account of the ministry of Messiah. Peter does not embellish the narrative, but Matthew adds detail to the story, both Peter’s confession and Jesus’ reply: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but my Father in heaven” (Matt 16:17ff). Peter eliminates any tendency to pride in his standing before God. It is alien to him suggest any tendency to boasting in divine enablement received. Yet, when he is at fault a short while later, and rebuked by Jesus for issuing rebuke at him, Peter is willing to confess his presumptuous sinfulness, “Get behind me Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (cf Matt 16:23).
Such an address from the Lord Jesus would be witheringly radical and hurtful but Peter does not shy away from his shame. He lapsed so quickly into contradicting Jesus’ exposition of his saving assignment. He had no insight into his redemptive suffering, death, and rising again. He thought as a mere mortal and had no comprehension of the divine method of human salvation. Peter, accordingly, learned of the spiritual blindness of natural man even when he hears the very word of God (Matt 16:21-22). Without grace our minds are helpless. We are totally blind to the truth of the Gospel.
But how Peter progressed in his understanding of the divine purpose of God realized in the Lord Jesus Christ. At Pentecost there was full assent to the way of salvation: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead… ” (Acts 2:22-24). Peter learned cautiousness with words but boldness in the Gospel.