One of the most illustrious personalities of the Bible is Simon Bar-Jona, better known as the Apostle Peter, who was a colorful character and a rough and rugged fisherman, filled with energy and action. During his first years under Christ’s personal leadership and teaching, Peter was outspoken about what he thought was right or should be done, and was by far the most outspoken of the apostles.
After Peter had followed Jesus for three full years, he underwent a dramatic transformation. To explore this change, we begin at the closing hours of Jesus’ ministry on Earth, at the last supper He ate with His disciples, only a few hours before His arrest and eventual crucifixion.
Knowing that He would soon be crucified and suffer death for the sins of the world, Jesus looked at each of His disciples and sadly but firmly said, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered’” (Matthew 26:31).
Upon hearing this, and overestimating his own faith and strength, Peter boldly proclaimed, “Though all men desert You, yet I will not!” But Jesus, knowing what was to come, answered quietly, “I say to you that before the cock crows, you will have denied Me three times” (Matthew 26:33–35). Peter was shocked at such a prediction and insisted, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both into prison and to death” (Luke 22:31–33).
But Jesus’ prophecy was soon fulfilled. That very night, as Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying with His disciples, a band of soldiers sent by the chief priests and elders came with a multitude carrying swords and clubs and torches. They seized Jesus, and all His disciples, filled with fear, fled for their lives into the night.
As Jesus was taken away to the palace of the high priest, Peter, trying to gather his courage, “followed Him afar off” (Mark 14:54). Arriving at the palace, Peter stood by the door, hoping to see the court proceedings from a distance. A woman gatekeeper at the palace door noticed the nervous and distraught figure, and looking suspiciously at Peter, asked, “Aren’t you one of this man’s disciples?” “No, I’m not!” Peter exclaimed.
Moments later, as Peter stood warming himself by the fire which the night guards had made, another woman said to the men who stood by, “This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth! He is one of them.” But Peter swore before them, “I do not know the man!”
As the situation became more tense, a man who had been present when Jesus was captured pointed out Peter and loudly questioned him, “Didn’t I see you in the Garden of Gethsemane with Him?” Others who stood in the crowd joined in the accusation, saying, “Surely you are one of them! We can tell by your accent that you’re a Galilean.” Desperately, Peter began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, vehemently insisting, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I know nothing about this man!” (Mark 14:70–71).
No sooner had he finished his denial than the cock began to crow. And the Lord, as He was being led by His captors to another part of the palace, turned and looked directly at Peter. Immediately Peter recalled Jesus’ words, “Before the cock crows, you will have denied Me three times.” When he realized what he’d done, Peter could barely control his grief. As tears began to well up in his eyes, he stumbled for the door, then ran blindly into the night. Finally, in a deserted alley beneath the walls of Jerusalem, he sank to the ground and wept bitterly (Luke 22:59–62).
Three days after His trial and brutal crucifixion, Jesus victoriously arose from the dead. His disciples, meanwhile, were huddled in a small room, hidden away “for fear of the Jews.” But knowing their hiding place, Jesus boldly appeared to them. It was then that the transformation of their lives began.
For the next forty days, after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus walked among His disciples, encouraging their hearts and explaining details of their mission now that He would be leaving them. And on the fortieth day, just before ascending into heaven, He told the disciples to return to Jerusalem, saying, “Wait for the promise of the Father, until you are strengthened with power from on high. For you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8).
The apostles returned to Jerusalem, and with well over 120 other disciples and their women and children, stayed in an upper room praying and waiting in obedience to Jesus’ final command before His departure. Ten days later, an awesome manifestation of God’s power occurred: “A sound like the rushing of a mighty wind filled the whole house where they were, and they saw the appearance of many tongues of fire that rested upon every one of them. And they all were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:2–4).
This was what they’d been waiting for—the supernatural strength from the Lord to enable them to continue His work now that He had departed. At that time, Peter’s heart and life were also transformed by the Holy Spirit of God, as he was empowered to lead the disciples in one of the most phenomenal witnessing adventures of all times.
There was a great religious festival going on in the streets of Jerusalem at that time, and visitors from many foreign nations had come for the annual celebration of the Jewish Feast of the Harvest. When Peter stepped into the streets with the 120 disciples—now filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit—they all supernaturally began to speak in the languages of the multitudes visiting Jerusalem that day, yet none of the disciples had ever known how to speak those languages! And the disciples boldly witnessed to the crowds about the wonderful news of God’s love in Jesus and His message of eternal salvation.
Then Peter leaped up on the steps of a nearby building, raised his hands, and shouted to the enormous crowd, bringing a hush over them all. He began to speak to them with the authority and conviction of the Holy Spirit, and an astounding 3,000 people were not only saved, but committed themselves that very day to serve the Lord as His disciples.
Peter had been transformed from a man who after the arrest of Jesus had denied Him three times. But now he stood before thousands—in the very city where Jesus had been crucified—boldly proclaiming God’s message to all! As the Lord had promised, they had received power after the Holy Spirit had come upon them.
Peter had gone through the most severe testing and trials of his life only a few short weeks before, but there was no longer time for remorse. A tremendous explosion of witnessing and leading others into God’s kingdom was underway, and the Lord was working through him in ways that Peter had never dreamed would be possible. He had stepped into his role of “strengthening his brethren,” just as the Lord had prayed that he would (Luke 22:32).
Not only was Peter encouraged, but the disciples were overjoyed to see God’s Spirit at work to bring people to faith in Christ! Jesus had entrusted them with the Great Commission, and He was empowering them to do so: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20).
After the Holy Spirit came upon them, they experienced a strength of faith that surpassed the days when Jesus had walked among them. While Jesus was no longer with them physically, He was closer than ever before! They remembered the words He’d spoken to them before, “It is necessary that I go away, for if I go not away, the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, will not come unto you. But you do know Him, for He abides with you and will be in you. And he that believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also. And greater works than these shall you do, because I go to My Father” (John 16:7; 14:12, 16–17).
Not long after gaining over 3,000 new converts to their movement in just one day, there came another day in which a man who was lame from birth was instantly healed by Peter and John, to the astonishment of the multitudes who witnessed this miracle. When Peter spoke to the huge crowd that saw this miracle, 5,000 more joined ranks with the disciples, increasing their number to over 8,000 men, not counting women and children! Truly these were the “greater works” Jesus had spoken of! Jesus was no longer merely with them, but He was in them through the Holy Spirit.
In the days that followed, Peter and John faced a wave of persecution from the same religious leaders who had crucified their Savior. But there was no fear this time or denial. Peter stood before their councils testifying with such courage and authority of the Spirit that the Bible says, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Why did they marvel? Because they saw that same power in them that Jesus had manifested when He walked the Earth.
And the wonderful thing about this story is that the power of the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses is available to everyone who receives it. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). “If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13).
Whatever got accomplished by the disciples after Jesus’ ascension was the result of Christ that lived first with them, and then in them. “For we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). We all certainly need the infilling or baptism of God’s love and His precious Holy Spirit to have the strength to be His follower.
The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to give you the power to be a witness. But the baptism of the Holy Spirit also helps you greatly in your personal relationship with the Lord. It helps you to communicate with God through prayer, and gives you much greater understanding when you read God’s Word (John 16:13).
“Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” (Acts 19:2). Have you received the overflowing power of God’s Spirit in your own heart since you received Jesus and were saved? You can ask God for the infilling of the Holy Spirit by praying a prayer like this one:
Dear Jesus, thank You for Your precious gift of the Holy Spirit. I ask that You fill me with Your Spirit so that I can love You more, follow You more closely, and have greater power to tell others about Your love and salvation. In Your name I pray. Amen.
From an article in Treasures, published by the Family International in 1987. Adapted and republished April 2023.