This feast day commemorates the martyrdom of the two great apostles, assigned by tradition to the same day of June in the year 67. According to medieval tradition, they had been imprisoned in the famous Mamertine Prison of Rome and both had foreseen their approaching death. Saint Peter was crucified; Saint Paul, a Roman citizen, was slain by the sword. Since at least the year 354, this day has been set aside to honor Peter and Paul.
Peter (then Simon) was a hot-tempered, unschooled fisherman who became one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and a bold, self-controlled preacher. It was his brother Andrew who originally brought Simon to Jesus, saying, “We have found the Messiah.” In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus called upon Simon and his brother Andrew to be “fishers of men.” Jesus addressed Simon by the name Peter (Cephas in Aramaic, Petros [rock] in Greek) and said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Peter was so transformed by the Spirit that he was able to sleep soundly in prison, even in the face of death. In Acts 12:7, the angel that God sent to rescue Peter had to strike him on the side in order to wake him up! Popular culture references often depict Peter as gatekeeper of the entrance to heaven, but that symbolism is not found in traditional religious art.
Paul was a former Pharisee named Saul, who had previously condemned and put to death Jesus’ disciples. Paul was so changed by his conversion that he was willing to offer his very life for the sake of the gospel. Paul was perhaps the most influential early Christian missionary. But as the Apostle Paul endeavored to preach the Gospel of Jesus, he was constantly being hindered. He was opposed, persecuted, shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, deserted, slandered, scorned, threatened, and imprisoned. Someone else under those circumstances would have given up. Yet Paul was not willing to quit. “Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me…” (Philippians 3:13-14, NIV) Paul didn’t look back – he looked forward. Even when his fate was uncertain, he remained calm, accepting, and ever-trusting in God’s faithfulness.
Peter & Paul DVD – Follow these two very different yet highly influential early church leaders over three world-changing decades. The film is fairly accurate in its portrayal of Biblical events.
Additional Study Questions:
What were the differences between Peter & Paul and the nature of their apostleship?
Why was Peter martyred the way he was?
Why is Paul called the people’s apostle?