WHAT AUTHORITY DID JESUS GIVE PETER?
My wife and I have the great blessing of godly older spiritual authority that knows us, loves us, and oversees us like mature spiritual fathers and mothers. One of these men had been faithfully serving his church for decades when the time of transition came. Wanting to learn as much as I could from the succession, I jumped on a plane to spend a few days with our pastor and his successor. The handoff was as smooth as an Olympic track relay team, and I am happy to report that the church is flourishing with a new senior leader.
Passing the baton from one leader to the next is hard enough, but handing it from Jesus Christ to anyone else has to stand as the most precarious leadership handoff in history. After His resurrection and before His ascension, the Lord Jesus needed to decide who He would hand the baton to. After defeating death, Jesus appeared in person to meet with Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5). Following Peter’s denial of Jesus, the gospel of John also closes with the epic face-to- face, reconciliation, “do you love me?” conversation between Jesus and Peter where he is commissioned to lead and feed the people of God. Peter had dropped the baton before Jesus died and needed to pick it up again. In this we see that ministry leaders are not perfect, but that God in His grace uses their imperfections to help them qualify for even greater ministry by learning through erring.
Church history picks up the story of the disciples after Jesus returned to Heaven in the book of Acts, which might be better titled the Acts of the Holy Spirit as He is the moving force pushing the message and ministry of Jesus to the nations. Acts opens with Peter clearly stepping forward as the leader of early Christianity to preach the legend-making and legacy-changing sermon on Pentecost (Acts 1:15). Seemingly no one questioned or opposed his leadership because He was appointed by Jesus and anointed by the Spirit.
God the Holy Spirit then fell from Heaven on the people in conjunction with Peter’s preaching, as Jesus’ prayer that the Kingdom would come was being fulfilled (Acts 2). Once the Spirit of God baptized the early church, just like Jesus after His baptism, the people of God were empowered to continue Jesus’ ministry under the leadership of His hand-selected successor, Peter. From that moment onward, Peter is the preacher, leader, and public figure of the Church without question or opposition (2:14; 3:12). Peter is the one who represents Christ and Christianity to the Jewish leaders (4:8) and serves as the public authority for things such as the discipline of a married couple that died for lying to the Holy Spirit (5:3). God the Holy Spirit worked mightily through the early church, but the person who is most noted for having the hand of God rest upon them in power is none other than Peter (5:15).
As the gospel of Jesus Christ moved out of the Jewish nation to the nations of the earth, just as God had promised to Abraham, it is Peter who is prominent in leading mission work to new regions like Samaria and beyond (8:14). Over and over, the Spirit of God anoints Peter with power and appoints Peter for leadership. The moral of the story is more than your personality, past, or problems; it’s the presence and power of God that makes a great leader. The lack of jockeying for position and power after Jesus ascended is rather shocking. There has never been a bigger leadership vacuum in human history, yet there was a supernatural degree of unity and submission to authority that the church has, sadly, struggled to maintain ever since. Peter was not perfect, but he filled the leadership vacuum left by Jesus’ ascension and every Christian in world history has benefitted from him.