Simon Peter is often picked on for his faults. From get thee behind me to denying thrice, Peter seems to get it wrong a lot. A humble but rough-around-the-edges fisherman, it takes him a while to catch on sometimes. Drowning and instigating a bloodbath are just a few of the consequences only barely escaped through the intervention of Jesus. He is repeatedly chastised by the Savior, and yet, the record has more specific encounters between Christ and Peter than any other apostle.
Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth (Hebrews 12:6). And he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble (Alma 32:15). Why was Peter so often chastised? Because the Lord loved him, and because Peter chose to be humble and constantly tried to expand his discipleship even if it put him in a place to be chastised. This isn’t a bad thing. Being chastised doesn’t mean we’re weak, it means we’re trying and making mistakes and repenting, which is exactly what we are here to do. Peter tried. Sometimes he stumbled, but he was always trying.
When Christ said he would suffer upon his return to Jerusalem, it was Peter who stood up firm and steadfast and said it didn’t have to be that way, as if to say he would die rather than let his friend suffer. He was chastised for not understanding the eternal nature of Christ’s mission, yet he was still the only one to speak up in defense of the Savior. (Matthew 16:21–23)
When Christ walked on water, Peter was the only one with enough faith to ask to be called, and then to come when called. He got out of the boat in the middle of a storm. Sure, he nearly drowned for not having the faith equal to keep going, but he was on the water when no one else was, and he cried out for help from Jesus when he started to sink instead of giving in and swimming for the boat. What incredible faith he had to even be there! (Matthew 14:28–31)
When the soldiers came to take Christ away, Peter was the one to try to defend him. He still didn’t quite understand the practical nature of Christ’s teachings to love one’s enemies. His gut reaction was to protect his friend, a noble feeling for sure though technically not a right one.
Peter, so distraught at the death which Christ most certainly faced, refused to believe that he would deny knowing Christ. He would rather die at Christ’s side than deny him. It is surely this sentiment that leads him to pull his sword when the soldiers come to take him away. He wanted to prove his devotion to his friend. In that moment, Christ again teaches him that violence is not the answer, and that even with multitudes of angels at his command, his mission must be fulfilled. (Matthew 26:33–35, 51–54)
The disciples all fled, or at least most of them did. We don’t know what each of them were thinking, but we do know that Peter and two others followed him. One of these was a disciple and was known by Caiaphas. He followed Christ into the palace. The other was a young man who was immediately attacked and fled for his life. Peter, surely in turmoil, waited at the door. The disciple who knew Caiaphas told the maid who kept the door to bring Peter in, and she did. She was the first one to ask him if he knew Jesus. (John 18:15–17; Mark 14:50–52)
Knowing that he might be turned in and forced to testify or otherwise interfere with Christ’s plans, or perhaps simply not wanting to be found out or worried he might be charged for something relating to his encounter with Malchus’ ear, Peter denies their relationship. Three times he is confronted as he tries to be near his friend and three times he denies knowing him.
At the sound of the cock crowing, Christ turns and sees his friend in the palace. Their eyes meet. Peter remembers Christ’s prediction of the denials, and his faculties fail him. He leaves weeping. He weeps bitterly. (Luke 22:61–62)
He had followed Christ. It was this fact, this devotion and act of true friendship that put him once again in a position to be chastised. And Christ, knowing his friend and that he would follow, told Peter what would happen.
I’m sure Peter felt horribly conflicted about having said he didn’t know the Savior. He mustn’t get involved, he shouldn’t even be there, and he certainly shouldn’t testify when Christ himself was remaining silent. How that must have hurt him! The one who was always the first to follow and the first to defend now had to lie about the one thing he cherishes the most. And Christ knew he would.
I imagine him thinking of how horrible and weak he must be, how ashamed he was, but then I imagine Christ’s love piercing his harsh conscious to say, “But you followed, and I knew you would follow. I knew you would deny me, not because you are weak, but because you are strong. I love you, and I know you loved me enough to be here. Thou art Peter.” Then those predictions and chastisements of failings turn to a bittersweet testimony of Peter’s faith and loyalty.
Peter weeps bitterly because his friend will die and he is powerless to stop it. He weeps because his dedication is once again not enough to preserve his friend. He weeps because his heart is broken, but his friend’s last look in the palace brings him comfort. Christ saw him there. He followed just as Christ knew he would. And even though Peter could not fight against all those who would persecute his Savior and friend, his heart found solace in knowing that Christ knew how devoted he was. “He knew how much I loved him” becomes the caption to the images of those final scenes emblazoned on his mind forever. Peter weeps.
Later, when Christ’s faithful female followers tell the apostles that he has risen, it was Peter who ran directly into the sepulchre to find his friend. Even though John had run faster and beat him there (John 20:4–8), Peter runs by him to enter the tomb first, completely unafraid and determined to see his friend again. Still later, when the apostles had gone fishing thinking Christ is gone for good, John recognizes the Savior on the shores but it is Peter who jumps in the water to swim to meet him (John 21:4–8).
During this final meeting, Christ asks Peter three times if he loves him, almost as a merciful response to Peter’s three denials, a chance to make it right. Peter, still grieved by the memory of that horrible night of denial but also enlivened by it, confidently and emphatically declares, “Yea Lord, thou knowest that I love thee!” (John 21:15–17)
Christ’s final words to his true friend are a commentary on Peter’s discipleship, a declaration of Peter’s nature, and a command dear to his heart. The one thing Peter did best was the last thing Christ asked of him. “Follow thou me.” (John 21:21–22)
“Thou art Peter. Follow me.”