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Life of Peter

Boundary Layer

Various Scripture

Lesson audio

In the world of physics there is an extremely useful method which goes by the general name of the "boundary layer." It simply means that much can be learned by studying the point at which a transition is made. On Easter Sunday Peter went through a boundary layer. Before Easter he is a despairing man bearing a great deal of shame. After the scene at the Sea of Galilee he is a redeemed man. But hidden in plain sight is the boundary layer: Easter Sunday. Usually, little thought is given to Peter's actions or words on this day. Indeed, the Gospels record rather little about his actions. But what little there is can be seen to be the seed of the man who was to become Peter.

Run to the Tomb

John 20:1-8 NASB  Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene *came early to the tomb, while it *was still dark, and *saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.  (2)  So she *ran and *came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and *said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him."  (3)  So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb.  (4)  The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first;  (5)  and stooping and looking in, he *saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in.  (6)  And so Simon Peter also *came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he *saw the linen wrappings lying there,  (7)  and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.  (8)  So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.


Status of Women

It is difficult for the modern Christian to understand the change in the status of women from the time of the Scriptures until today. Until the Industrial Revolution most women would clearly have understood the difficulty the women at the tomb had. We may examine some of the changes, which might explain why the apostles had such great difficulty in thinking the women were anything but babbling, emotional idiots.

·         Women were much more sheltered in this time. Something of this can be seen in fundamentalist Islam today; the idea that a woman should not go out without a male escort, that she should be decently covered and (by our standards) overly modest. In a mixed group, men did all the talking. We cannot imagine this today.

·         Women were under authority. It was understood by both men and women that the only woman who could possibly be on her own authority was a widow. Divorce was disgraceful; women were to be under the authority of their father (or other, older male relative) until they became submissive to the authority of their husband. If you wanted to know put a woman thought, you asked her husband.

·         Because they were presumed to be flighty and unreliable, they were considered poor witnesses. Indeed, one of the arguments for the truth of the gospel is the fact that women were the first at the tomb. If you were constructing a fraud, you would've sent men to be the first at the tomb.

So you can see why the apostles were reluctant to take the women's word for it. Yet — they were ready to call them liars either. The situation was sufficiently extraordinary that John and Peter run to the tomb.

The Curious Incident of the Grave Clothes

To understand what Peter and John saw, we must understand something of the funeral customs of the time. A body was laid in a tomb for a period of about a year. Before being put their, the body would be them Paul was spices and then wrapped in what amounted to an oversized Ace bandage. The head was then covered with a cloth and the body laid in the tomb. In about a year, the closest female relative would be given the rather gruesome chore scraping the remaining flesh off the bones and placing the bones in an ossuary. A body which been the tomb three days would, one supposes, have seen some decay (retarded by the embalming spices). But it would still be recognizable as a body — and as such be capable of being stolen.

It is likely enough that John and Peter would think that someone had stolen the body of Jesus from the tomb. The motive for such a theft on the part of anyone but the disciples is hard to understand — but the entire situation made no sense in the first place; that's why they went to investigate. Perhaps they thought that some member of the Pharisees decided to commit the ultimate sacrilege and denying Jesus a decent burial. One thing is certain: the tomb is empty.

We thus come to the curious incident of the grave clothes. Let's suppose you wanted to steal this body. Does the remaining evidence fit with this theory? Well, you would take the head cloth off in order to verify that you had the right body. You might even be a tidy little sort who would roll up the head cloth. (Some translations have the word "folded"; it actually means rolled.) So, if you are that neat, why do you unwrap the body? After all, it's a rather bloody mess. Wouldn't it make more sense to carry it wrapped? This is particularly true in Jewish society, where touching the body would make you unclean.

It is not unlikely that Peter and John saw the results and wondered precisely about these things. One thing is sure: the question of the resurrection was not settled for Peter by the evidence inside the tomb. John — who is clearly the better thinker of the two — probably reasoned it out this way.

Peter Sees

There is a curious contrast between the two Greek words used to describe how John and Peter looked into the tomb. In John's case, the word means to take a glancing look. In this case a different word is used; it means to look steadily something, and then discover what it is — and be satisfied with the result. John saw the obvious; Peter did not. But let's give Peter his credit; he took a long hard look at things. He went away puzzled and deeply unsatisfied.

It's a curious contradiction. The apostle who was capable of much more complex thought quickly comes to the right, simple answer. The man who likes his answers in black and white suddenly sees an entirely gray world. It's the beginning of his transition; he has hit the boundary layer.

Tell the Disciples and Peter

Mark 16:5-7 NASB  Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed.  (6)  And he *said to them, "Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.  (7)  "But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'"


Mary Magdalene

Much has been written of the fact that Christ's first appearance after the resurrection was to Mary Magdalene. It's not just that she's a woman; it's that historically she has been considered what used to be delicately called a "fallen woman." Many writers have seen in this action an instance of Christ caring for his primary mission: to seek and save the lost. It is as if he is saying that his care is for the meek and lowly — and that's where he'll start. It is a fascinating fact: the church starts with the common folk, the prostitutes, the poor and those of no influence whatsoever. Taken as a whole today, the church appears to the world as a place of pomp and hierarchy.


Peter, to put it simply, is ashamed of himself. He has betrayed his Lord. Just when he thought that Jesus death put an end to the matter, he gets this report from the women at the tomb. A shame descends into dejection — and at the same time he is very puzzled as to what is going on.

Compassion for Peter

It is against that backdrop that we must pay attention to those two little words I have highlighted in the passage above. Some writers have interpreted this to mean that, at the time, Christ did not consider Peter to be his disciple. In my opinion, this is a misinterpretation. What Jesus has done is a fine bit of compassion. He has taken the one disciple who has betrayed him, who is feeling the worst of all his followers, and inserted into his message of personal note just for him. Peter's need is the greatest amongst all the disciples; Christ therefore takes the time to insert a small but important message to Peter.

Compassion is sometimes shown best in the details. Our particular church congregation considers compassion something which is done by a large group of people for a large group people. Christ here does the opposite; it just to words he reaches out in compassion to the man needs him most.

A Meeting Undescribed

You probably have not heard of this meeting; let me present the scriptural evidence.

Luke 24:32-35 NASB  They said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?"  (33)  And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them,  (34)  saying, "The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon."  (35)  They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.


1 Corinthians 15:3-5 NASB  (3)  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  (4)  and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,  (5)  and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.



These are the only two passages in the Bible that document the personal meeting Peter had with Jesus on Easter Sunday. We know that it must of been on Easter Sunday, because Paul tells us that he appeared to Peter (Cephas) and then to the twelve disciples as a whole. We know that it was Easter Sunday because of what the two disciples on the road had to say (that's the tail end of their story in the passage from Luke.) It might seem like a minor thing — and this writer was personally unaware of it until preparing this study — but I suspect it was very important to Peter. These two passages represent everything we know about that meeting. In other words, all we really know is that it happened. We don't know the content – even though much of Peter's thought appears in the Gospel of Mark.

Why a Separate Meeting?

We may make some reasonable speculation about this meeting. We know that it was not concerning Peter's restoration to full fellowship with Christ as head of the disciples; that takes place later. So if this meeting concerned that, we would not have the scene described later. Some suggestions have been made, largely based on the character of Christ himself.

·         It may simply be just a case of special love and favor. Peter is a likable fellow; more than that, he is a natural leader of the disciples. Perhaps Christ wanted to affirm that both to Peter and the rest of the disciples.

·         The most common speculation is that he wanted to comfort him in his time of distress. That is a very encouraging thought. How often the Christian assumed that because he has sinned he is cut off from the comfort of Christ. Not true! Here is the man who betrayed Christ; and yet Christ comes to him. Should not the sinner always apply to Christ for comfort?

·         Perhaps it's just a case of timing. It may be that Christ wanted to really Peter's distress as soon as possible, and the best way to do this was in private. Managers quickly learn the rule, "praise in public, correct in private." Maybe that's just what Jesus was doing.

·         It's also possible, as one writer put it, that what Christ had to say was "too sacred to record." Paul, in one instance, tells us of a revelation which he is not permitted to repeat. Perhaps Peter got the same thing.

About Christ

May we close this little lesson with some thoughts about Christ himself?

·         Let's state the obvious: Christ cares about each and every one of us. It is his holy desire that not one should be lost. In dealing with Peter we may have an example of leaving the 99 to search for the one.

·         Christ is quick to show compassion and give comfort. We often imagine. As being like ourselves. It's hard it's us to be passionate, and we like to take our time about it. If this applies to our compassion, think how long delayed our comfort is! It is not so with our Lord Jesus Christ. With that example it should not be so with us.

·         We know that Christ came to seek and save the lost. We sometimes forget that even the experienced Christian can be counted on "the lost." We often tell the person who is not a Christian that it is impossible to be too great a sinner for Christ. Sometimes we need to tell ourselves the same thing.

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