How Did Peter Die and Why Is it Significant?
- Clarence L. Haynes Jr. Contributing Writer
- 2021 18 Aug
There is much that can be said and written about the life of Peter. One thing that you cannot say is that he was a man of few words because he was never afraid to speak his mind. Though Peter had his shaky moments, after Pentecost and being filled with the Holy Spirit he became a different person. He was emboldened and empowered and even though he still made mistakes along the way like we all do, he was still used mightily by God.
Peter was a pillar of the early church and was one of its most important leaders. While we have some good glimpses from the Scriptures into the life of Peter, the Bible does not tell us much about how Peter died. How did Peter die and what is the significance of it?
We do get one quick look because Jesus did give us a forewarning about how Peter would eventually die. However, to gather more information it requires you to turn to historical accounts to try to discover the story of how Peter died. According to most historical accounts we know he was crucified and over the years it has been told that he was crucified upside down because he didn’t feel worthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus was. What we need to discover is, is this the stuff of legend or is this how Peter died? Unfortunately, this is not something that is verifiable by Scripture because the Bible does not address this topic. However, as I mentioned the Bible does give us glimpses into Peter’s life and lets us know a little about the way Peter would die.
The Call of Peter
In order to answer the question of how did Peter die, it’s important to look at a few parallels in Peter’s life that I find interesting and I hope you will too. The first thing I would like to point to is Peter’s first encounter with Jesus. In Matthew 4:18-21 and also Luke 5:1-11 you are brought into the moment where Jesus calls Peter, who was among the first disciples that Jesus called. Here is a portion of the story from Luke 5.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
From the beginning, the request Jesus made of Peter was to follow him and the Bible tells us he left everything to follow Jesus. I want to draw your attention to a simple comparison between Peter’s first encounter with Jesus and one of the last encounters he had.
Jesus Foreshadows How Peter Would Die
The Gospel of John records one of the last recorded interactions Peter had with Jesus. I want you to pay attention to the parallels.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. – John 21:4-6
It is interesting that the first encounter with Jesus and one of the last encounters with Jesus are very similar. For some reason, they both had to do with fishing. Once Peter realized it was Jesus on the shore, he made his way quickly to the shore. While they were sitting on the shore enjoying breakfast Jesus had a conversation with Peter and he made the same request of Peter that he did in their first encounter.
Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” – John 21:18-19
Within this verse Jesus was giving an indication as to the type of death Peter would experience, which I will go into more detail in a moment. Notice however what Jesus requested of Peter, “Follow me!” Whether in life or in death the one constant that Jesus asked of Peter as well as all of us, is that we would follow him.
How Did Peter Die?
The first indication of Peter dying by crucifixion comes directly from these verses in John. According to historical records, Peter died in Rome in AD 64 and he died under the reign of Emperor Nero. By the time Peter died in AD 64 many of the other apostles, possibly all of them, except for John had been martyred. While the time and place of his death are certain, the manner of his death, mainly being crucified upside down is not as certain. Here is what the website Evidence for Christianity wrote about this:
“The early church fathers are unanimous in claiming that Peter died in Rome, by crucifixion, during the persecution of Nero in AD 64. As for crucifixion upside down, that is also testified to, but the evidence is weaker for this particular form of crucifixion. The apocryphal Acts of Peter is the earliest reference to crucifixion of Peter upside down.”
There were other early church writers who testified to Peter dying in Rome but there is not as much evidence to support that Peter died by being crucified upside down. While we know he died a martyr we will have to place the fact of him dying upside down in the category of could be true but not sure if it is true.
So, how did Peter die? While we may never know exactly how Peter died, meaning whether he was just crucified, or crucified upside down, there is one thing we do know about Peter’s life and Peter’s death: they both glorified God. Without question, this is the most important point to Peter’s life. This should be an inspiration to us and a challenge that in the moments we all live and in the last breaths we take on this earth that everything we do would be to glorify God and bring honor to his name. According to Jesus, that is what Peter did when he died:
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all things for the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.