The second book of Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, has given rise to much scholarly reflection as to why there is so little reference to Peter in the second half of the book. This was when he went into hiding, having been mysteriously delivered from prison by God's own messenger. Actually, the question can be extended to include most of the twelve.
From Acts 12 to the end, Luke composes a narrative that traces Paul's journeys, and concludes with his house-confinement with his own soldier guarding him (28:16). However, it seems to me, that it is possible to get side-tracked by the name that has been affixed to this book. Instead, I suggest we should look carefully at what the book itself teaches.
It is not just Peter about whom Luke is silent but also the apostle John. James, John's brother, was murdered by Herod. He was the other "thunder child", as Jesus referred to these sons of Zebedee. James' letter may have been initially penned in the wake Saul's persecution as recorded in Acts 8 and before the events that led to Peter's imprisonment in Acts 12:1-5. From its content it could well have been written by the other son of Zebedee. Zebedee's wife had wanted the two to go all the way with Jesus in bringing in the Kingdom of God, and her attempt to broker places at Jesus' right and left hand had provoked jealousy and competitive grumbling among the twelve. Jesus had rejected the mother's proposal but what the gospels tell us is that he rebuked the disciples in a most incisive fashion, implying that in their response to the mother's suggestion they were well on the way to living like covetous gentiles, seeking preferment and getting the top jobs. And in that context, James' letter certainly bespeaks the ethic that James the son of Zebedee had to learn, even to the death. But it could also be that the writer of this Letter of James, the "brother of Jesus", was the one who became leader of the Jerusalem church, after Herod had killed James and imprisoned Peter. No doubt John also had to watch his step.
But what are we to say about Luke's attitude to Peter in Acts? Or for that matter, what about his lack of attention to John? There will, of course, be argument about the chronology of events, and also the chronology of what was written when and so on. But I don't think that is the primary concern here. The primary concern is Luke's attitude in the writing of the Acts of the Apostles. it can be found right there at the beginning of the book.
My first book, O Theophilus, covered all that Jesus began to do and teach, until he was taken up, after he had issued instructions to the apostles chosen through the Holy Spirit.
In these terms, the clear implication is that this book is going to be about what Jesus continued to do after His departure. And we can say, quite simply, that what we have in that book, as with the other books and letters of the New Testament as well, is an account of the actions and transactions, what we might call the "proceedings", that took place under apostolic authority. It seems quite likely that Luke was content to allow these others to make their own contribution. Meanwhile, he would give an account of how Paul's contribution became an integral part of the witness to Jesus Christ in those formative years.
Luke therefore doesn't pre-empt the accounts of John, Peter and James. They were quite capable of providing their own accounts. And I think, as I have indicated in this commentary on Peter's two letters, that we here confront the extended testimony of an eyewitness, a former fisherman from Capernaum in Lake Galilee, whose life became dominated by the gift of friendship showered upon him by his Rabbi, his Master, his Shepherd, the resurrected and Ascended Lord, Israel's Messiah, the Ruler of the Princes of the Earth, just as the prophets had foretold.
"For what Jesus continued to do". In other words, says Luke, having read my first book, telling what Jesus initially did, now read this and it will tell you what He, by His spirit, continued to achieve.
And Peter too is part of Jesus' work. Consider what this man went through? After realising just how much he had failed his Master, he had to stand by helplessly and watch as the crowd condemned the Innocent. And all the while God's own Chosen, with greater strength and power to call upon, did not retaliate with insults and He refrained from launching forth into any accusations against those whose hearts were set against their Lord. Those same people were living as if they were non-thinking animals, one minute allowing themselves to be captured and the next ready for slaughter. They spoke contemptuously of matters about which they were completely ignorant, and in their destructive actions nothing is more certain than their self-destruction. They will be fully paid out in evil for all their evil ways. They may consider it gratifying to whoop it up in riotous luxury for a season presuming that can see them. And here they are feasting in the midst of the table the Lord has set to force-feed themselves on their own delusions (compare what I have written here with the language Peter uses in II Peter 2:9-16).
That's how he explains the situation that confronts the Good News in his two letters. And this is the same man who stood up at Pentecost and declared the free availability of the Lord's amnesty to these very same people. Nothing has changed except he is simply reiterating the promise of the Lord in the face of the resistance that is going to be launched from among those who need to hear by those who will not hear.
For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.
I guess that by putting it in that way, this reading of Peter's letter implies that opposition will rage. Yes and I think that Peter is also writing in the anticipation that his own days were numbered. He writes as if he were living on a knife edge. But by this stage, when these were written, we see a man pacified, a shepherd who has learned the shepherd's art of looking after the sheep from the Good Shepherd Himself. And he is open to being evaluated according to the same standards that he enjoins upon others called to the shepherding work among God's flock. The work is to
shepherd the flock which is God's, not by pressure-tactics but voluntarily, just as God Himself has done. Not with dog-eat-dog competitiveness, but with the eager intention of helping, instead of an approach that presumes to be boss over its own patch (I Peter 5:1-3).
And we might note that Peter has found peace as one of the lord's flock, in the protection of the Most High. Thus he deeply encouraged because He has been reassured by the Chief Shepherd Himself that
When He appears [we] will all be crowned with a status whose brilliance will never fade.