Jesus’s Prophecy Concerning Peter
Did Peter endorse Paul?
Whenever Paul is called into question, Christians Paulinian in most cases would inevitably brings up Peter and what he said about Paul’s letters that supposedly refers to them as Scripture. This is assuming that the book of 2 Peter is authentic. * (see footnote at end of chapter) I give the book the benefit of the doubt. The passage reads:
“…and account that the long suffering of our Lord is salvation as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” 2 Peter 3:15,16 NKJV
Before we get to the subject of Jesus’s prophecy to Peter, there are several things in this quote that should be pointed out. First, notice that there is only one issue clearly stated by Peter in which we know he is in agreement with Paul… the patience in persecution issue. Second, the “things hard to understand” are not identified in this short passage, much less outlined as to which position is correct and which is the twisted version.* Third, it is interesting to note that in spite of the fact that Peter has obviously read many of Paul’s epistles and is therefore fully aware of Paul claiming to be an apostle, Peter does not call him a fellow apostle, but instead calls him “brother“. Fourth, claiming that Peter was endorsing Paul’s letters, as the Holy Word of God is a bit of a stretch. Though the Greek word for “Scripture” does in fact mean “Holy Writings”, and the Greek word for “rest” means “the rest of any number or class under consideration”. When Peter said, “as they do”, he wasn’t doing anything more than comparing similarities in the way some people deal with both Paul’s writings and the Holy Word of God. If we are concerning ourselves with only this passage, just exactly what Peter thinks of Paul’s writings is somewhat up for grabs.*
* When this passage is quoted, it is seldom continued on to the next verse where Peter indicates which doctrine, in his view, is the “twisted” version;
“You therefore, beloved, since you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the law-less**. 2 Peter 3:17
** Some translations read “wicked”. The Greek word literally means “lawless”.
It must be admitted though that Peter is in fact being considerate and speaking favorably of Paul. And this is in spite of the fact that whenever Paul makes mention of Peter, Peter is never left in a positive light! Peter is obviously taking a stand against the law-less doctrine that many are deriving from Paul’s letters, but he continues to speak quite favorably of Paul. He apparently refuses to admit to himself or believe that Paul was in fact preaching that the Law had been superceded. In this, Peter would have been differing with James, or at best, attempting to smooth over the situation.
This brings us to a prophecy Jesus gave to Peter shortly before his ascension, the implications of which should cause us no surprise that Peter continues to be used to support Paul.
The Prophecy concerning Peter
In the last chapter of Johns’ gospel, Jesus made a prophecy concerning Peter, which has a definite connection to the subject at hand. Jesus said:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you bound yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch forth your hands, and another will bind you and take you where you do not wish.” John 21:18 NKJV
Question. If these few words concerning Peter’s future were all we had to go on, what could be determined from them? It could not include more than two things. One, Peter would be taken where he did not want to go. And two, it was not a good sounding prophecy. But wait! The narrative comes to the rescue with the interpretation of this prophecy in the very next sentence.
“This he spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God.” John 21:19
It first should be noted that these words of interpretation are not the words of Jesus, but are the commentary of the writer, John. It can be deduced from the remaining context that this interpretation concerning Peter’s martyrdom was generally accepted by all.
Here is the question. How could the disciples possibly get the idea of “death” from Jesus’s words? It may not have been a good sounding prophecy, but it certainly doesn’t give the picture of Peter dying. Tradition tells us that Peter was crucified up side down, but this is only a tradition. Even if this were true, one can find even less of this picture in Jesus’s words. Many translations read, “…you will stretch out your hands…” This is a classic example of how accepted traditional interpretations can play a very large albeit damaging role in the translating process. The Greek word translated “out” primarily means to stretch out in front toward something. The King James Version translates this most correctly, “…thou shalt stretch forth thy hands...”. This is hardly a picture of a crucifixion. Also, the chronological order of the events listed in the prophecy would be backwards if this were a picture of a crucifixion. This is easy to see when one reads one of today’s popular paraphrased versions which reads, “...when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and take you where you do not want to go.” It is hard to imagine someone dressing Peter while he is on a cross and then taking him some place that he doesn’t want to go. I’d figure he was there already! If this were a picture of a crucifixion, Jesus would have put it in the proper chronological order as he did in the fist part of his statement when he said to Peter, “...when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished…“. Notice how strange it would sound if Jesus had said, “when you were younger you walked were you wished (naked), and then dressed yourself”. If this were a picture of a crucifixion, Jesus would have said to Peter, ‘…when you are old, another will gird you and take you were you do not wish, and you will stretch out your hands.’
Correlation of Peter’s and John’s prophecy
Going back to the question; How did the disciples get the idea of Peter’s death from Jesus’s words? We have the answer in the next few verses.
“Then Peter, turning around saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following… Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow me”. Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. John 21:20-23a
You see? Peter and the rest of them who were still scratching their heads over what was said about Peter, were smart enough to know that how Jesus answered the question about John would help them understand what he had said about Peter. Viola! If John was going to live until Jesus returned, that must mean that Peter’s negative prophecy meant he was going to die! It only stood to reason, and in fact it was pretty good logic. But it assumed that they clearly understood what Jesus was saying about John! How Jesus had answered the question about John definitely had a close correlation to what he had said about Peter, but the problem is that the disciples didn’t understand the prophecy concerning John either! This is obvious in light of the following text. Stay with me on this.
Unraveling John’s prophecy
Let’s focus on John’s prophecy. Many scholars agree that verse 24 was added by someone other than John. It was most likely John’s disciples shortly before, or more likely shortly after, John’s death. It reads:
“This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” John 21:24
The plural word “we” in this verse is very much out of place with the singular “I” of the very next verse. It reads:
“And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” John 21:25
This last statement of John has a very familiar ring to it. It sounds strikingly similar the last two verses of the preceding chapter.
“And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30,31
In the entire script of the book of John, there are no other passages that sound like these two. I believe that John had originally ended his record of the gospel at the end of chapter 20. But then he decided that in light what could still be written, he would add to his record what we have come to know as chapter 21. The reason I add this observation here is because it is important to note that John has set a precedent and shown us how he would tend to end his record. In chapter 20, he goes from a direct quote of Jesus in verse 29, to verse 30, and 31 as quoted above. I believe that the end of his record in chapter 21 is no different. This helps to understand what parts at the end of the 21st chapter are John’s and what parts were added later by others.
Getting back to the reason why John’s disciples added what they did. Apparently the death or prospect of John’s death was causing problems with the common interpretation of Jesus’s prophecy concerning him. Everyone thought John would not die. And now they were being forced to admit that maybe John and the others who had heard the prophecy that day might have misunderstood Jesus. No doubt they did not want John’s record to make Jesus look like a liar, and far be it from them to let the misunderstanding continue over what was probably no more than a case of missing one small word. So to remedy the problem they settled on the understanding that Jesus must have said, “If I will that he remain till I come…”
If in fact Jesus had said “If“, this would cause several problems for my thinking besides the fact that I think they completely misunderstood Jesus right from the start.
First, if indeed Jesus had clearly said, “If I will that he remain“, I find it hard to believe that any reasonable person would take this statement and run with it, claiming that Jesus had definitely said John would not die. If the “If” were common knowledge, reasonable thinking people wouldn’t push the hypothetical question to a definite statement. Yet it says in verse 23.
“Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple (John) would not die.”
Secondly, the statement of Jesus as recorded with the “if” is grammatically incorrect! If the statement of Jesus had started with the “if” as a hypothetical question, then the last half of the question should not have been stated as though it were following a definite statement. In short, if Jesus had said “If I will that he remain“, he should have continued to follow it with the hypothetical question; “what would that be to you?” But he didn’t. He said, “what is* that to you?”
* Note to those who know the word “is” is not found in the Greek text. In Greek, the definitive “is” may be, and regularly is assumed because the indefinite is always stated.
Here is what I believe happened. Jesus’s statement concerning John was no less a prophecy, nor was it any less definite than was his prophecy concerning Peter which started with… “Most assuredly, I say to you…“. I believe he said…
“I will that he (John) remain till I come! What is that to you?”
And everyone interpreted it just the way it sounded and subsequently used it to interpret what Jesus had said about Peter. Everyone including Peter himself. Peter continued to believe this interpretation until he did die a martyrs death. He mentions this in 2Peter 1:14
“…knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus the Messiah showed me.”
But when John was obviously coming to the end of his life and his disciples began to realize they had missed it somewhere, they thought to themselves and reasoned just like you or I would. I’m sure they thought to themselves… “Jesus must have said ‘if’, and the ‘if’ just wasn’t heard. The focus of his statement must not have been on John as thought. He must have been simply telling Peter to mind his own business.”
Read the account again and see if this doesn’t sound like what happened.
22 Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” 23 Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?” 24 This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. 25 And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
It appears that John’s disciples, in an attempt to try to remedy an apparent misunderstanding, added the “if” in verse 22, and all of verses 23 and 24 as highlighted. John’s original ending of what we know as chapter 21 read like this;
Jesus said to him, “I will that he remain till I come! What is that to you? You follow me”. And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
Now read the last three verses of the previous chapter where John had originally ended, and notice how it is uncluttered with explanatory apologetics… and notice the similar flow.
Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed.” Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.
If it is true that Jesus did not say “if“, but said, “I will that he (John) remain till I come“, we are left back at square one, admitting to the same difficulty in understanding that John’s disciples had. It doesn’t make sense. John died a long time ago! What could Jesus have meant by, “I will that he remain till I come.”
I must digress even further from Peter’s prophecy a little more here, but please hang with me and watch it all come together.
Past precedence for help
To help us understand what Jesus meant about John, let’s take a look at some other passages found in the Gospels where Jesus was completely misunderstood. It seems to have happened on a fairly regular basis. When trying to understand what Jesus meant by what he said, the greatest tool available to help us understand is the context in which a statement is found. What was said in the same scene before and after a curious statement will give us the best clues as to its meaning. We need to see that Jesus virtually always had an underlying theme threaded through his discourses. As will be shown, this could not be more true in respect to Peter’s and John’s prophecies.
When a passage seems to jump out of its context with no apparent connection to what was said before or after, red flags should go up. This is especially true in this first example found in both Matthew 24:34,35 and Luke 21: 32,33. After Jesus had prophesied concerning what was going to happen on earth just before he returned, he said:
“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled.”
The most common interpretation of this passage suggests that those in the future who are alive at the time the prophecies begin to come true would live to see all of them fulfilled. But Jesus had clearly said, “this generation“, and not that generation. Everyone who heard him that day heard him say that they would not pass away. They knew he was talking about them. It is only now, many hundreds of years after that generation has passed away that we feel forced to accept the current prevailing interpretation.
Any person with an interest in the events that must transpire at the close of this age is very familiar with these words and uses them to bolster the argument that Jesus will return in our lifetime. I personally still have plenty of good reason to believe he is coming soon, but I no longer use this passage as an argument for the case because it is not what Jesus meant. The people who were there that day heard him correctly!
Of those today who are familiar with these words of Jesus, the vast majority of them could not quote from memory the next verse, which was undoubtedly spoken in the very next breath. Yet virtually every one of them knows this passage and has likely quoted it as many times as the former verse. The reason is because there is no direct connection that one can draw between the traditional interpretations of these two statements. Yet it should be painfully obvious there must be a connection. Both verses together read:
“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.” Matt 24:34,35 NKJV
See the connection? The people heard Jesus correctly that day and they knew he was talking about them. But what has been missed is that Jesus was not referring to them and their physical bodies passing away. He was referring to them in a figure of speech. He was talking about that generation’s testimony and their record of the prophetic words he had spoken. Every time we pick up a Bible and read what Jesus had prophesied concerning events just before his return, we are seeing thisprophecy fulfilled in front of our eyes. We are in a figure, bringing to life that generation and their testimony of Jesus’s words. Neither has that generation’s testimony, nor Jesus’s words passed away! It is inconceivable to think that they still might when we consider the millions of Bibles in print all over the world and how close we are to Jesus’s return.
From this example alone, one can see the importance of not letting an interpretation stand alone out of its context.
What also needs to be seen in all of this and how it relates to John’s prophecy is that Jesus was not referring to the physical bodies of the people of that generation, but was speaking of their testimony. Also take notice of the words “pass away” and their correlation to the word “remain” in John’s prophecy. For what does not pass away, obviously must remain!
By now one might begin to see where this is going. But I would first like to further support this thesis with one more short example of a similar misunderstanding found in John. Here Jesus says:
“Most assuredly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. …for my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” …Therefore many of his disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying. Who can understand it?” John 6: 51,55,60 NKJV
Jesus gives the disciples the interpretation in verse 63.
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.”
Here again, in spite of the fact that Jesus had appeared emphatic that his flesh and blood were edible by using the word “indeed“, he was not literally talking about his physical flesh and blood. He was speaking about his words, his testimony. The same as in Matthew and Luke, when he spoke of the generation that would “not pass away”. He was not speaking of their literal physical bodies, but of their word, which was their testimony.
In John 15:16 Jesus said to his disciples:
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”
It was indeed Jesus’s will that John remain. And he has! Every time we read the gospel of John or the book of Revelation, Jesus’s words are being fulfilled in front of our eyes.
Back to Peter
Now that we understand Jesus’s prophecy concerning John, we should be able to use it to help interpret his prophecy concerning Peter. The disciples were right in assuming a connection between the two. But let’s go back to the beginning of the particular discourse in which both of these prophecies are found so we can see the beautiful underlying theme that Jesus had on his mind throughout the entire scene… and from which he never swerves from start to finish.
To set the scene, Jesus has appeared to his disciples the third time after his resurrection, and this time while they were fishing. He fills their net with fish then says, “Come eat breakfast.” After breakfast they get up and go for a walk. The discourse begins.
Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs”. He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Most assuredly I say to you, when you were younger, you bound yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch forth your hands, and another will bind you and take you where you do not wish.” John 21:15-18
Is it not obvious, that what was on Jesus’s mind in this scene is the feeding of his sheep after he left? And how else could Peter possibly accomplish this other than by telling others of what he had seen and heard? Again the issue is the same. Jesus was concerned about Peter’s words, his testimony, his record of what he had seen and heard over the previous three and one half years. This is the very same underlying theme of John’s prophecy as has been shown. It was John’s word… his testimony… his record that would remain intact until Jesus returned. Not his physical body.
This entire scene begins with Jesus talking about someone’s testimony, and it ends with Jesus’s prophecy about someone’s testimony. All that is left between is Jesus’s prophecy concerning Peter! Would it not be safe to assume that he was speaking about Peter’s testimony as opposed to Peter physically?
Before continuing, there is one more interesting fact should be added to this equation.
In the Gospel of John, it is recorded 25 times that Jesus used the emphatic phrase, “most assuredly, I say to you…“. The King James translation reads, “verily, verily, I say to you…“. In the passage we are dealing with, this phrase is used for the last time in the gospel as an introduction to Peter’s prophecy. In every other instance in which this strong introduction is used, what is said by Jesus immediately following it has a direct connection to something that was said earlier in the same discourse. In other words, it cannot be found that Jesus just up and threw out a bit of information in this manner for free without something having been said previously to precipitate it. In this last case there is no exception to the well established rule. But we would have to make the first exception here if we were to except the traditional interpretation of Peter’s prophecy. The old interpretation is clearly an issue of how Peter would die. Peter’s feeding of the sheep with his word and testimony has no relevance or connection to the thought of how Peter might die.
Now we have from both before and after the prophecy, strong evidence to suggest that what Jesus said to Peter has nothing to do with Peter’s physical life and death. Instead it had everything to do with his word and testimony, which are the care and feeding of Jesus’s sheep.
So what did Jesus mean when he said to Peter:
“…Feed my sheep. Most assuredly I say to you, when you were younger, you bound yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch forth your hands, and another will bind you and lead you where you do not wish.”
Jesus was saying to Peter that if he loved him, he should feed his sheep by telling them the truth about what he had seen and heard for the past three and a half years while being with him. But beware, in the future when Peter was older, he would stretch forth his hands to feed the sheep and “another” would “bind” him and take him where he did not want to go. And where could that be other than away from feeding the sheep as he should? Jesus was in effect saying to Peter… ‘Your accurate testimony to my sheep is very important to me. But someone will come along to turn you from this mission. That direction, you do not want to go!’
After Jesus had spoken this prophecy to him, he said, “Follow me”. But Peter immediately began to concern himself with John. It would appear that this question was indicative of the lack of focused stability in Peter which would ultimately lead to his being led into error by someone else, because Jesus answered the question with… “I will that he remain till I come! What is that to you? You follow me.”
Now that we understand Jesus’s prophecy concerning Peter, the question remains: Who is the “other” that was to come along and bind Peter and take him away from feeding the sheep with the truth as he should? You guessed it. It was none other than the false apostle, and liar… Paul!
Paul binds Peter
So how did Paul bind Peter and take him where he did not want to go? He continues to do it today! It is in the same way that Jesus’s prophecy concerning John is fulfilled every time we read the Gospel of John. For John (his testimony) has remained! Every time someone quotes Peter’s words from 2Peter 3:15,16, claiming that Peter called Paul’s writings Holy Scripture, they are fulfilling Jesus’s prophecy concerning Peter. For it is they who are helping Paul to bind Peter, and are taking Peter (his testimony) where neither he nor Jesus wanted him to go! Which is in support of Paul…, against the Law!
Seeing that the disciples who heard Jesus’s prophecy concerning Peter completely misunderstood it, and how their interpretation has been considered infallible down through the ages, I can’t help but wonder how few there are who have understood Jesus’s words since he spoke them. http://www.judaismvschristianity.com/index.htm#
* Foot Note. There are those who maintain that the book of 2 Peter is not authentic based on its grammatical structure and the treatment it received by the early “Church Fathers”. The issue is neither here nor there when it comes to the prophecy that Jesus gave to Peter as found in the Gospel of John, which book is relatively unquestioned in its authenticity. Interestingly enough, Jesus’s prophecy is fulfilled either way, whether Peter actually penned these words or not. Peter is still being bound by this passage and taken where he does not want to go… in support of Paul, against the law!