He Appeared to Peter
Denial and repentance
The Lord who knows the weakness of mankind knew that Peter, His enthusiastic and zealous disciple, would betray Him three times within a few minutes in front of a servant girl with other servants, and not in front of dangerous authorities. Thus, He warned him saying, “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” (Lk 22:31,32). Peter, being self-confident much more than in his weakness, responded saying, “Lord, I am ready to go with you, both to prison and to death” (Lk 22:33). He was confident in himself, in his love to God, in his steadfastness, and that he was the most steadfast among all the disciples. Therefore, he argued with the Lord when He said, “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times”. But he spoke more vehemently, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”… and they all said likewise (Mk 14:30,31; Matt 26:34,35).
Maybe Peter thought that denying Christ is impossible for him, or may be, through humility, he may think that he could fall in other sins - but not this one, he did not believe that he could reach this level. Who could think that this great saint could deny Him? He who was praised by the Lord when he declared the divinity of Christ by saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:17-19); received the authority of binding and loosing sin as one of the twelve (Matt 18:18); was considered as one of the pillars of the church (Gal 2:9); who was full of zeal and enthusiasm, who cut the ear of the high priest’s servant to defend Christ a while ago (Jn 18:10)… Could he deny Christ?! If this saint denied, shouldn’t we humble ourselves?! Shouldn’t we feel that we are not stronger than those who fell and be watchful? If there were times we didn’t fall it was because God was and is always supporting us, so we should realize that it wasn’t because of our personal power, capabilities and resistance. Let us say with the Psalmist. “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side… then they would have swallowed us alive… Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth” (Ps 124:1,2,6).
Our Lord Jesus, who knows the weakness of our nature, knows that the words “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny You” are just an expression of external enthusiasm, or a good desire from Peter, but the will wasn’t really matching the enthusiasm and desire, and the heart may be shaken, and its weakness will be obvious if the challenge is strong. When the Lord wanted to indicate to him the seriousness of the situation, He said to him, “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail” (Lk 22:32). These words are very powerful and effective, especially if it were said to a great saint like Peter. The Lord didn’t use the words “…should not weaken” or “…shaken” because it expresses the truth. Peter’s denial was best among the worst, and it was the result of the prayer that his faith would not fail. It is God's power, not our own, that preserves us, and it preserves the humble. Thus, it is good to hear Christ saying to the Father, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition” (Jn 17:12). Yes, the power of God protected them, not their power or piety or watchfulness, not even their wisdom, or will, or their love for God. May You, O Lord, preserve us as You preserved them, and lead us as You led them.
Peter denied Christ out of weakness and fear, while his heart was loving Him (Jn 21:17). In addition, he didn’t lose hope in his salvation, but rather he repented with precious and bitter tears before God, “The Lord turned and looked at Peter, then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ So Peter went out and wept bitterly” (Lk22:61,62). Maybe the reason that triggered this strong repentance is remembering the words of the Lord, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:5,7).
He appeared to Peter
When the angel spoke to the women at the tomb, after the Resurrection of the Lord, Peter was mentioned by name, as the angel told them, “Go, tell His disciples - and Peter - that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him" (Mk 16:7). This was not a distinction of Peter from the rest of the disciples, but there is no doubt that Peter was in a state of shame from himself, and needed someone to comfort him in his distress, assuring him that his repentance was accepted, and encourage him to meet the risen Lord, as if he needed a personal invitation to stop hiding and meet Him, as Adam did after falling (Gen 3:8).
The Lord really intended to give special attention to Peter, because Peter was worried about his fate after his denial, blasphemy, and curses (Matt. 26:74), fearing that he would perish according to the Lord’s saying, “He who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (Lk 12:9). This is why the Lord appeared specifically to him on Sunday of the Resurrection, according to what the Evangelist Luke said about the two disciples of Emmaus when they met with the disciples on the evening of the Resurrection Sunday, and found them saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” (Lk 24:34), which was confirmed by the Apostle Paul in his listing of the apparitions of the Lord after His Resurrection, as he said, “He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve” (1Cor 15:4,5).
Indeed, the Lord appeared to Peter in a special appearance, on the day of Resurrection, and before His appearance to the rest of the disciples, according to the previous biblical texts - but where and when?
The Evangelist St. Luke, at the beginning of the same chapter, states that Peter went to the tomb to verify the Resurrection of the Lord, after Mary Magdalene and others reported on His Resurrection, “And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them. But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened” (Lk 24:11,12). The details of this event are more clearly stated by what the Evangelist John mentioned after Mary Magdalene reporting, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him” (Jn 20:2). She said this, despite the fact that the Lord had appeared to her with the other Mary, where they both held Him by the feet and prostrated to Him (Matt 28:9)... but as soon as Magdalene heard the rumor, that filled Jerusalem, that the body was stolen according to what the bribed guards said (Matt 28:13-15), she doubted the Resurrection. Then Peter and John ran to the tomb. When Peter entered the tomb, he saw the linen cloths placed there in its arrangements, and the handkerchief was folded in a place by itself (Jn 20:3-7). This was enough to cause them to believe in the Resurrection and disproof the idea of theft. As John outran Peter to arrive to the tomb first, most probably due to his love and longing, as well as his young age, maybe he also preceded him on returning to Jerusalem with his longing, bearing the confirmed news of the Resurrection of the Lord. Here we can conclude that the Lord appeared to Peter privately, during his return from the tomb, to assure him of the acceptance of his repentance.
Tend My sheep
We do not know what happened between them in this special meeting. Moreover, the Lord also appeared twice to the disciples in the upper room, and Peter was among them (Jn 20:19-29), but no direct conversation took place between the Lord and Peter. On the other hand, we see another appearance to Peter among seven disciples, after the day of Resurrection, at the Sea of Tiberias in Galilee (Jn 21:1-19), and we do not know the timing of its occurrence. There was a conversation that took place between the Lord and Peter, when the Lord asked him three times, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” (v.15). When Peter answered, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love you,” the Lord’s response was, “Feed My lambs... Tend My sheep... Feed My sheep” (v.15-17). This phrase which Jesus said to him three times is to remind Peter of his denial for three times. His question to Peter, “Do you love me more than these” (v.15) is a rebuke for what Peter had said, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble... Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You” (Matt 26:33-35; Mk 14: 29-31). In the sphere of reprimand, we notice that the Lord Jesus called him three times by his old name, saying, “Simon, son of Jonah...” (v.15-17), exactly as He called him to warn him for his denial (Lk 22:31,32). For that, Peter was saddened because he understood the intention of the Lord (v.17). If this phrase “Tend My sheep” was used for glorification or granting supremacy over others, he supposed to be rejoicing and not to be sadden.
The Lord Christ did not say to Peter, “Tend My sheep,” to make him superior of the universal church, but rather to return him back to his apostleship - which he almost lost due to his denial. With this phrase, the Lord equated him with the rest of the Apostles, as he was subject to the fulfillment of the word of the Lord, “He who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (Lk 12:9). Hence, Peter became sure of acceptance of his repentance and his return to his apostolic rank to preach the good news of the Kingdom until his martyrdom, which Jesus had foretold by saying, “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish” (v.18). Here, the Evangelist John commented on this, by saying, “This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God” (v19).