One of you asked, “Why Was Peter Crucified Upside Down?” I assumed this question was piqued from something in the mini-series The Bible. I had watched part of the series. In preparation for this sermon, I watched the portions I had not seen. I wanted to know what the series had to say about Peter’s death.
On the very last episode of The Bible, the very last scene, the narrator was telling about the deaths of the Apostles. The narrator says that each of the Apostles died as the consequence of trying to share the Gospel. The narrator says that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome. I find it interesting that the series shared this information because it is not in the Bible. The details of Peter’s death are recorded in a book called the Acts of Peter.
There’s a few things I want to tell you about the Bible and the books that were and weren’t included in the Bible. The Bible is made up of 2 canons which are the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures. A canon comes from the Greek word for yardstick. A canon is like a measurement; it measures authority. The canon sets the authority for believers to identify a group around a set of beliefs and to fight heresy against the authority.
The early Christians used the Hebrew Scriptures as authority and re-interpreted their meaning by the way God acted in Jesus. Through the 1st century, the Hebrew Scriptures were the only Scriptures for Jews and Christians. The Apostles had been teaching and preaching about the Christian faith, but they were starting to die. Christians would need writings that carried on the authoritative teachings of the Apostles.
Documents were written and circulated through the churches from Jerusalem to Rome to Asia Minor. These writings could be traced back to an Apostle, being written by an Apostle. An Apostle would have known Jesus, was with Him from the beginning of His ministry, and could talk about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. There were books that were circulated regionally and some throughout all the churches.
When the final Christian canon was finalized, books were selected that were being used by more churches than other documents. They all agreed that God was present in the life of Jesus and that Jesus was the Son of God. By 100 AD, a collection was being circulated widely of the 4 Gospels and several of Paul’s letters. It wasn’t until the 4th century that the Christian canon as we know it was the authority of the Christian faith.
This book contains books that were read in some of the early Christian churches and can be traced back to the Apostles. They contain the teachings of the Apostles about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. They are valid Christian documents containing true Christian teachings but don’t carry the authority of being included in the Bible.
This book includes several Gospels, some letters, a few Revelation-like books, and a couple Acts. The book in the Bible we call Acts is also known as the Acts of the Apostles. It is about the actions of the Apostles after they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This book contains Acts that record the actions of specific Apostles, John, Paul, Thomas, and Peter. The story of Peter’s crucifixion is found in the Acts of Peter about his ministry of teaching. If any of you would like to read this, I’d be glad to lend it to you.
So, let me share the story of the Acts of Peter with you. The book focused on Peter’s encounter with a man named Simon the magician. The story begins with a congregation in Rome. They are talking about Simon the magician. They know he claims to have the power of God. Some wonder if he is Christ. The congregation was disturbed by the confusion Simon was creating among the believers. The leaders were concerned that Paul or one of his missionaries was not with them to help them discern the truth about Simon. They prayed that someone might come to the church and help them.
Peter was sent by the Lord to Rome. They were glad to have someone who could make known the sacred mysteries, see Satan’s workings, and strengthen the new believers’ faith.
Simon the magician was staying at the home of a Roman senator named Marcellus. Marcellus had been a friend of the poor sharing his wealth with those in need. He was known as the patron of the poor. Simon had convinced him that giving away his riches was a waste. Peter goes to Marcellus’ house to confront Simon knowing that Satan is at work in Simon’s magic. Simon would not come out to see Peter. Peter let loose a dog and he was animated with a human voice. Peter sent the dog in the house to tell Simon to come outside. At this, Marcellus fell down and repent before Peter. Marcellus had Simon the magician thrown out of his house.
There was a crowd watching the scene at Marcellus’ house. A man in the crowd was possessed by a devil which was making him laugh. Peter commanded the devil out of the man. In the events, a large marble statue of Caesar was broken to pieces. Marcellus feared that Caesar would find out about the accident and kill him. With Peter’s help, Marcellus called on the Name of the Lord and the statue was made whole again. After seeing a dog speak and the statue restored, the crowd asked for another sign so that they would know that Peter was, in fact, a servant of God.
Peter saw a smoked tuna hanging in a window of the house. He told the crowd that when they saw the fish swimming they would know that he spoke the truth. He took the fish and threw it in a pond. The smoked tuna came alive and swam around the pond.
That night, Jesus came to Peter. Jesus told him that many followers had come back to their faith and others were converted by the events of the day. Jesus told Peter that on the next Sabbath Peter would have a contest with Simon. Through that contest, Peter is told that many with come to faith.
Sometime later that week, Peter found believers reading the gospel. It doesn’t say which gospel was being read, but here is evidence that a document was being circulated that was a gospel written by one of the Apostles. Peter tells the crowd that it must be explained. He proceeds to interpret the gospel for them. Peter ends with these words:
“This Jesus you have, brethren, the door, the light, the way, the bread, the water, the life, the resurrection, the refreshment, the pearl, the treasure, the seed, the abundance, the grain of mustard seed, the vine, the plough, the grace, the faith, the word; he is everything and there is none greater than He; to Him be praise in all eternity. Amen.”
On the Sabbath, many gathered, senators, prefects, officers, believers, and others, in a stadium, each seat costing a piece of gold. The crowd demanded that Simon and Peter show them who is the true God. Peter and Simon engage in a little smack talk. Peter tells the crowd that once Simon had seen the miracles that he and Paul had been performing and Simon had offered to pay them money to have their power. Simon tells the crowd that they are much too smart to believe a man that speaks about a simple Nazarene, a carpenter from Judea; he asks the crowd, “Is God born? Is God crucified?” Peter spoke of the prophets who had proclaimed that God would be born.
The prefect Agrippa gave the terms of the contest. The prefect sent a servant to the men. Simon was asked to kill him and Peter was asked to revive him. Simon whispered in the man’s ear and he fell dead. Peter said to the crowd, “my God and Lord Jesus Christ…is doing many signs and miracles through me to turn you from your sins.” Peter instructed Agrippa to take the boys hand, so Agrippa held the servant’s hand and he rose and was restored to life.
A mother in the crowd cried out that her one and only son had died. She begged Peter to revive her son. Slaves brought her son to Peter. Peter put Simon on the spot and asked Simon to revive her son. Simon asked the crowd to cast Peter out and burn him if he is able to raise the boy. Simon was able to get the boy to sit up and open his eyes then he laid back down. The boy remained dead. Peter raised the boy to life. The crowd wanted to burn Simon, but Peter reminded the crowd to love our enemies.
The next day Simon was going out to the sacred way to ascend before the crowds. Peter went out to the place. Simon rose. Peter cried out to God, “If you allow him to do what he has undertaken all who believed in you shall be overthrown [by his] signs and wonders. Let him fall down and break his leg in 3 places.” And, Simon fell and broke his leg in 3 places. Simon ended his life.
Peter remained in Rome teaching and many were added daily to the multitude that believed. The concubines of the prefect Agrippa became Christians and began to withdraw from Agrippa. Xanthippe, the wife of Albinus, also refused to sleep with her husband. The women and men who followed Peter served God through chastity and purity. Albinus went to Agrippa and they plotted to kill Peter because his teachings were causing their women to refuse them.
Peter was arrested for godlessness and condemned to die by crucifixion. Peter prayed and spoke to the believers who gathered to save him. He encouraged them to allow persevere in the faith and allow his death to come as the Lord willed. Peter was crucified hanging upside down.
So the question is, “Why?” At this point in the story, we know that someone is writing their account of the event. Peter wasn’t writing while hanging on the cross. The book says that Peter told the crowd he requested to be hung upside on the cross because of something Jesus had said. Peter said something about the first man being born. Then, Peter said something about Jesus saying that the one who makes the right as left and the left as right and the top as the bottom and the front as the back will know the kingdom.
I’m not sure about all that. Legend has it that Peter requested to be crucified hanging upside down because he didn’t think he was worthy to die the same death as Jesus had. He was not worthy of dying the same death. Most of all, he was not worthy of the Gospel. But, he was willing to die trying to spread the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ.