Simon Peter: The Rock of the Church
October 13 in Christian History.
On October 13, 64, the Apostle Peter was martyred at the hands of emperor Nero in Rome.
While Peter was traditionally said to have died in AD 67, convincing archeological research surfaced in the 1960s, and his death is now universally attributed to this earlier date. If you want to read an article by Giovanni Ricciardi summarizing this research, here’s a link: https://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/PETEMART.HTM. All this is to say that the death of Peter is a real historical and relatively well documented event that had profound implications on the young church.
Peter, or Simon, as he was originally named, was a simple fisherman on the sea of Galilee. Fishermen had a reputation of being rough and uncultured. They had to be courageous, as the sea of Galilee was known for its unexpected and dangerous tempests. Despite this occupational hazard, fishermen like Simon were extremely poor.
When Jesus called Simon and his brother Andrew to follow him, they obeyed with a brash boldness that would characterize Simon for his entire ministry. Jesus later changed his name to Peter, or “rock”. Peter was always the most outspoken of the disciples. He was marked by high moments of insight and faith and low moments of failure and foolishness. The gospel of Mark is commonly assumed to be the eye-witness account of Peter as related to Mark, Peter’s companion later in life.
It was Peter who became the leader of the disciples following the assentation of Christ. Peter’s famous sermon on the day of Pentecost coincided with the Holy Spirit’s powerful entrance into Christian history in a new way, and the conversion of three thousand Jews (Acts 2). Later, it was Peter who was given a vision and an assignment that marked the inclusion of the gentiles into the new covenant and the kingdom of heaven (Acts 10).
Peter was no perfect apostle. No doctrine of papal infallibility can be honestly applied to this bold and bumbling ex-fisherman. Even after the day of Pentecost, Paul had to rebuke Peter for refusing to associate with Gentiles to impress the Jewish legalists. However, the fact that God chose to use Peter in a more powerful and pivotal way than any other person in the New Testament should be an encouragement to all of us. One does not have to be a spiritual juggernaut to be used by God. Instead, one must boldly follow Jesus with simple trust and fierce obedience.
In July of AD 64, a great fire destroyed much of Rome. Nero blamed the Christians for this disaster, although many historians suggest that Nero himself was to blame. Whatever the case, Nero used this event as an excuse to crack down on the growing group of Christians who refused to pay him worship as a god.
On October 13 of that year, a bloody exhibition was held at the Vatican Circus. This date marked the 10th anniversary of Nero’s rise to power and as a special treat for the Roman onlookers, the leader of the Christian faith was crucified publicly. According to some ancient sources, Peter was unwilling to die in the same way as Christ and requested to be crucified upside down.
His body was thrown in a criminal’s grave. Today, the towering domes and majestic statues of Saint Peter’s Basilica stand over the sight of his humble grave. His death only served to enliven the church, and the Christian faith would soon grow to dominate the empire.
Verse of the day: Mark 1:17-18
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed Him.