THE CONVERSION OF PETER

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, March 27, 2011

“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).


I have recently preached a series of three sermons on Christ going to Jerusalem to die. They are hyperlinked here for easy access – “Determined to Suffer;” “The Fear of the Disciples;” and “This Saying Was Hid From Them.” The first of these is introductory. The second and third focus on the fear and unbelief of the Disciples. It is clear that the Disciples did not believe the Gospel until Christ rose from the dead. Christ had said,

“The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him” (Mark 9:31-32).

Commenting on “They understood not that saying [of the Gospel] and were afraid to ask him,” Dr. A. T. Robertson said,

They continued not to understand. They were agnostics [unbelievers] on the subject of [Christ’s] death and resurrection even after the Transfiguration...As they came down the mountain they were puzzled again at the Master’s allusion to his resurrection (Mark 9:10). Matthew 17:23 notes that “they were exceeding sorry” to hear Jesus talk [about His death and resurrection] but Mark adds that they “were afraid to ask him” (A. T. Robertson, Litt.D., Word Pictures in the New Testament, Broadman Press, 1930, volume I, p. 344; note on Mark 9:32).

The Disciples did not believe the Gospel of Christ until after His resurrection. 

Dr. J. Vernon McGee said the Disciples were not born again (regenerated) until they met the resurrected Christ on Easter evening.  Dr. McGee said, “I personally believe that at the moment Christ breathed on them [John 20:22] these men were regenerated. Before this, they had not been indwelt by the Spirit of God” (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, volume IV, p. 498; note on John 20:21). Based on my study of the Scriptures, I too am convinced that Simon Peter was not born again and converted until he encountered Jesus on Easter evening. Note again the text,

“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).

Satan had already taken Judas, “Then entered Satan into Judas” (Luke 22:3). Now, Jesus says to Peter, “Satan hath desired to have you [also], that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). During Christ’s suffering, Peter would go through “violent and continuous shaking” like that of a sieve (Dr. R. C. H. Lenski). Peter had some faith, and Christ prayed that what faith he had would “fail not.” Peter’s faith was what Spurgeon called, “faith before faith,” that is, illumination before conversion. God had already illuminated Peter, giving him enough faith to say, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Now Christ prayed for Peter that his incipient faith would not be snuffed out by Satan before he was regenerated and converted on Easter evening,

“And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren”
       (Luke 22:32).

This is not the usual interpretation of that verse. Yet I think it is the true one. Please bear with me to the end, before you judge my conclusion. Here are three points that lead me to believe that Christ, in our text, is speaking of Simon Peter’s real conversion on Easter evening.

I. First, this verse refers to Peter’s conversion because the King James Bible and the 1599 Geneva Bible correctly translate the Greek word as “converted.”

I know that the NIV translates it as “turned back” and the NASV translates it “turned again.” But that troubled me. It seemed inconsistent, since the root of the word in Greek is the same as Acts 15:3, which speaks of “the conversion of the Gentiles.” Why should the Greek words “epistrephō,” “epistrophe,” respectively, be translated “turned” in Luke 22:32 and “converted” in Acts 15:3? I think the reason is simple enough – it was obvious that the Gentiles were indeed “converted.” “Turning” would not do. But when the modern translators came to Peter their new-evangelical presuppositions would not let them use the old KJV and 1599 Geneva Bible word, “converted.” To me the modern versions are a weak accommodation rather than a proper translation. Dr. Bernard Ramm said, “Hermeneutics is the science and art of Biblical interpretation” (Bernard Ramm, Ph.D., Protestant Biblical Interpretation, Baker Book House, 1970 edition, page 1). Dr. Ramm also said, “The Reformers proclaimed that Scripture interprets Scripture.” One of the principles of hermeneutics is to let Scripture interpret Scripture. If scholars translate “the conversion of the Gentiles” in Acts 15:3, then they should also translate Luke 22:32 “when thou art converted,” as the more reliably translated 1599 Geneva Bible and King James Bible do! Even the New King James has it wrong. They use “conversion” for the Gentiles, but “have returned” for Peter in Luke 22:32. Once again, this is why I always preach from the King James Bible! To paraphrase Moody, the KJV sheds a great deal of light on the modern translations! I have found this to be true time and again.

“I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).

My friend, it isn’t just the Gentiles who need to be converted! It’s old Peter too! It isn’t just people out there on the street that need to be converted. Oh, no, there are people in this church, right here this morning, who need to be converted, not "turned again"! Converted! Jesus said, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). You must be regenerated and converted or you “cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

“When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren”
       (Luke 22:32).

II.  Second, this verse shows that no one is converted by following Jesus, baptism, or even Divine illumination. 

That’s the second lesson we learn from Peter’s conversion. Roman Catholics and many “decisionist” Baptists and Protestants think Peter was converted when he followed Jesus. The Bible says,

“As he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him” (Mark 1:16-18).

To think the Disciples were saved by following Jesus is the error of Pelagianism, and it is a common error in many churches today. Yes, Peter and Andrew “forsook their nets, and followed him” (Mark 1:18). But we are not converted by any human act like that. Judas, the “son of perdition,” also followed Him, but he was not converted. Luke’s Gospel called him “Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor” (Luke 6:16). Jesus called him “a devil” (John 6:70).

Yes, Judas and Peter followed Jesus for three years, but neither one of them believed the Gospel. Listen to Luke 18:31-34,

“Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken” (Luke 18:31-34).

“This saying was hid from them.” What “saying”? The words of the Gospel, that Christ would be put to death and rise from the dead on the third day. Peter and Judas had made a “decision” to follow Christ, but still the Gospel “was hid from them.”

My friend, you can “go forward” in a service and still not be born again. You can decide to follow Christ and still not be converted. You can even say a “sinner’s prayer” and still be unsaved. Why? Because these are all human works, and we are not converted by human works! The Bible says,

“By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Bible says,

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour”
       (Titus 3:5-6).

You cannot be saved by following Jesus, or by any other human work. I myself tried to be saved that way, and it didn’t work. I was a Baptist preacher for over three years before Christ saved me by His grace! Then I was drawn to Christ by God, and washed clean from my sins by Christ’s Blood.

“But,” someone says, “Peter was baptized.” Yes, I know. So was Judas. And I was also baptized – seven years before I was converted! “But,” says another, “Peter had faith to say, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16) – and Jesus said that God had ‘revealed it’ to him” (Matthew 16:17). Yes, I know. And God also revealed that to me long before I was converted. Notice also that God has revealed this much about Christ to demons, “And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God...for they knew that he was Christ” (Luke 4:41). The demons said the same thing that Peter said about Jesus. So Peter did not know much more about Jesus than a demon before he was converted.

We are not converted by following Jesus. We are not converted by being baptized. And we are not converted by believing things about Christ. Peter had experienced all those things. And yet Jesus said to him,

“When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren”
       (Luke 22:32).

III. Third, this verse should be seen in the context of the whole narrative of the four Gospels.

In the four Gospels you will see that Jesus plainly told Peter and the others that He was going to Jerusalem to die and rise from the dead on the third day. That was repeated by Jesus five times to Peter and the others in Matthew 16:21; 17:12; 17:22-23; 20:18-19; and 20:28. Dr. J. Vernon McGee said of Peter and the others, “In spite of this intensive instruction, the disciples failed to grasp the significance of [the Gospel] until after the resurrection” (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, volume IV, p. 93; note on Matthew 16:21).

“When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren”
       (Luke 22:32).

“Well,” someone says, “where does the Bible say that Peter was converted after the resurrection of Jesus?” Why, it is as plain as the nose on your face, near the end of all four Gospels! Luke makes this especially clear,

“And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them. And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:36-45).

And John adds,

“Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost”
     (John 20:19-22).

It was on Easter evening that the resurrected Christ appeared to Peter and the others, and showed them the nail wounds in His hands, and the spear wound in His side. Then He opened their understanding of the Old Testament prophesies concerning His crucifixion. Then He breathed on them and they received the Holy Spirit. In that moment Peter was finally regenerated (born again) and converted. So strong was the work of God’s Spirit, and the impression made by seeing Jesus’ risen body, with the nail prints in His hands and the wound in His side, that Peter no longer had any doubt. Years later, Peter wrote with great confidence that Christ “bare our sins in his own body on the tree...by whose stripes ye were healed” (I Peter 2:24). That shows us Peter was truly converted! After his conversion on Easter evening Peter never again denied Christ. He preached to the end of his life. After going through a great deal of suffering he was crucified upside down, and ended his life faithfully proclaiming Christ.  

One more thing. Jesus had said to Peter, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). Just this thought – when you are truly converted it is not proved so much by what you say, nor yet so much by what you feel. The real proof of conversion is this – can you strengthen others? Can you help others? At the end of John’s Gospel the risen Christ said to Peter, “Lovest thou me?” Peter said, “Lord, thou knowest...that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). From that point on Peter never wavered. He preached the Gospel and led others to Christ for the rest of his life. If you are truly converted, you will be enabled to strengthen others – and be a real help and blessing to the lost. If that fruit is completely lacking in your life, then you have not been truly converted. All you have is words. You have still not encountered “Jesus Christ himself” (Ephesians 2:20). We pray that God will draw you to Jesus for cleansing from sin by His Blood! Amen. 

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers’ sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

You may email Dr. Hymers at rlhymersjr@sbcglobal.net, (Click Here)
or you may write to him at P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015.
Or phone him at (818)352-0452.

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Luke 22:31-34.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“The Attraction of the Cross” (by Samuel Stennett, 1727-1795).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE CONVERSION OF PETER

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).

(Mark 9:31-32, 10; Matthew 17:23; Luke 22:3; Matthew 16:16)

I.   First, this verse refers to Peter’s conversion because the King James Bible
 and the 1599 Geneva Bible correctly translate the Greek word as
“converted,” Acts 15:3.

II.  Second, this verse shows that no one is converted by following Jesus,
baptism, or even Divine illumination, Mark 1:16-18; Luke 6:16;
John 6:70; Luke 18:31-34; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-6; Matthew 16:16, 17;
Luke 4:41.

III. Third, this verse should be seen in the context of the whole narrative of
the four Gospels, Matthew 16:21; 17:12, 22-23, 20:18-19, 28;
Luke 24:36-45; John 20:19-22; I Peter 2:24; John 21:17; Ephesians 2:20.