“But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” Luke 22:32
As Satan did with Job, he approached God to ask for permission to assail Peter: “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32–NKJ–brackets added). Some liberal theologians believe that Jesus Christ’s prayer failed to accomplish what He had requested of His Father. They surmise this because Peter denied Jesus three times, only moments after Jesus had prayed for him (Luke 22:55-60). Their foolish conjecture [heresy], if it were true, certainly would place Christ’s deity and omnipotence in question. It is true however, that Peter miserably failed by denying Jesus Christ in the ensuing moments leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. However, after the Lord’s resurrection and during His re-appearance, He mercifully and graciously restored Peter (Jn. 21:15-17). Jesus instructed Peter to adorn self-sacrificing allegiance to Him and to encourage and instruct the brethren. Thereafter, Peter’s faith proved to be a bedrock, in which believers can look to him [his epistles] for guidance and hope.
In this article I plan to show that Jesus prayer was indeed effectual and was evidence of God’s forgiveness, because He restored Peter to a high level of trust shepherding many of God’s flock. For instance, in the book of Acts, especially after Pentecost, when Christ had poured out the Holy Spirit upon Peter and 119 other disciples in the Upper Room (Acts 2:1-4, 17, 33), from that day on, Peter boldly preached the gospel of Christ, amidst extreme hostility and persecution. He evidenced strong agapē love and faith in Jesus–the type of love Jesus sought, when He asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” (Jn. 21:15-17). In fact, not only did Peter preach with power, but it’s obvious that he was given the authority [from above], to offer repentance and forgiveness. The Bible records three separate occasions where Peter addressed the multitude, Jewish leaders and the Sanhedrin [Israel’s highest religious governing body]. He courageously indicted them for murdering Jesus. But he also offered them repentance and forgiveness (Acts 2:23, 39, 3:14-15, 19, 5:31-32). Interestingly, Peter was the first to speak the gospel to the men of Judea and Jerusalem after the 120 were miraculously filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:14-39). He went from cowardly denying Christ, to courageously confronting Jesus’ murderers and offering those responsible reconciliation to God! What an incredible picture of God’s restoring forgiving mercy! Not only did God re-commission Peter, but He gave him unique and significant responsibilities as a leader.
It’s mind-boggling to ponder that Peter, even though only a human instrument, was divinely commissioned to make such a profound gesture to Israel, on God’s behalf (Acts 5:31-32). What on the surface appeared to be a unilateral decision on the part of Peter, was ostensively instigated by divine transmission. Scripture states that only God could grant repentance and only God could forgive sins [Mark 2:7, Luke 5:21]. Yet Peter, who, not too long prior, acted cowardly and denied Christ [for fear of persecution], was filled with the Holy Spirit empowered and entrusted to speak for the Almighty God. The “Promise”, the Holy Spirit, that Jesus said would come, came with force and transformed Peter into a valiant warrior [Acts 1:4, 8]. Ever since that miraculous event at Pentecost, he spoke boldly, manifested a thorough knowledge of the OT Scriptures, confidently leading the eleven other disciples and the newly born church.
The liberal theologians who believe Jesus’ prayer failed, not only have to deny Peter’s restoration in John 21 and boldness in gospel proclamation post-Pentecost, but also have to disregard the two powerful epistles he authored. When he wrote those epistles, the church was facing horrific persecution. Aside from the envious unbelieving Jewish oppression following Pentecost, Christians were under increasing Roman tyranny. Peters letters were circulated to the “Diaspora” and believers who were being severely persecuted and expelled from Jerusalem in massive numbers. (1 Pet. 1:1, 2 Pet. 3:2–cf. Acts 8:1). Both letters encouraged, strengthened and warned the brethren that the persecution they were suffering, was ultimately caused by their adversary, the devil: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Peter begins his first epistle with twelve verses of God’s salvific hope, which arguably are among the richest in the entire New Testament (1 Pet. 1-12). The theology section of the epistle is succinct, profound, and encourages its reader of God’s guaranteed and everlasting salvation. With that hope-filled promise, Peter then instructs believers in Christ how to live in a hostile and volatile environment with much suffering. He not only encouraged believers scattered from Jerusalem due to castigation, but in all parts of the world where Christians were undergoing trials. (1 Pet. 5:9).
In fact, for two thousand years Christians have received hope, comfort and assurance as they read Peter’s first epistle. Not only are there extraordinary examples of Peter’s restoration found in the book of Acts, but also conveyed through his epistles: “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Pet. 5:10-11).
When Satan approached God and “demanded” permission to assail Peter, Jesus said to Peter: “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:32–NKJ). It stands to reason that Peter’s incredible faith and ability to encourage and strengthen the brethren, provides substantial evidence that he was forgiven and restored. Moreover, his boldness and authoritativeness is evidence that Jesus’ prayer was answered. But what is utterly amazing is that Jesus prayed not only for Peter and the other 11 disciples, but He also prayed for “all” who would believe in Him: “I do not ask in behalf of these alone [12 disciples], but for those also who believe in Me through their word…Father, I desire that they also [all believers], whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me; for Thou didst love Me before the foundation of the world.” (Jn. 17:20, 24–brackets added). Amen!