And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Matt. 16:18,19
The Book of Acts shows the unfolding of this ministry of the Apostles, and we see Peter exercising a leadership role, and also acting as the doorkeeper in the house of the Lord, the one who unlocked the door and opened the kingdom of Heaven first to Jerusalem and all Judea, then to the Samaritans, then to the uttermost, that is to the Gentiles, those who once had been far off, strangers and foreigners to the covenant (Eph. 3:17f).
In the second chapter of Acts it is Peter, on the day of Pentecost, who unlocked the door for his own people, the Jews. It was his sermon that unlocked the door of the kingdom of God, and opened it to those who heard, Jews and proselytes. In the third chapter another sermon following the miraculous healing of a crippled man unlocked the door again, and the Church was firmly established in Jerusalem, and growing among the Jews.
In chapter eight, it is Phillip who preaches to the people of Samaria, and who baptizes them; but when he needs the Apostles to come and Confirm (as we would say it) the new Christians, the Apostles send Peter and John from among them. It is instructive that Peter, although he was the leader in obvious and visible ways, was not exercising authority over his equals, the other Apostles. For, in being sent he showed that he submitted to the others as a group, rather than telling them that he had decided to act on his own. "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) " (Acts 8:14-16)
The Greek word translated "sent" is ἀποστέλλω (apostellō), and this tells us that Peter was "sent" along with John bearing the authority of the Apostles as a group; that they were apostles of the Apostles. The difference here between leadership and authority is quite obvious. From the text we see that Peter had been acting as a leader by setting the pace and exercising gifts, but, he was acting under the authority of the Apostolic College. Otherwise he would tell them his plans rather than being sent.
Nonetheless, his presence in Samaria, to Confirm the converted and baptized people, places him within the pattern outlined by the Risen Lord Jesus Christ; for after the kingdom of God was unlocked to the Jews, it was unlocked to those next in line, the Samaritans. For this the man who was the Rock was present, fulfilling the special calling that he had. He continued in the work of unlocking the door to the Samaritans, along with John. "And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans." (v.25)
Finally, it was Peter who unlocked the door, and allowed the Gentiles into the kingdom of God. At the house of the Roman Centurion, a "God Fearer" named Cornelius, the amazing story unfolds that begins with an angelic visitation and ends with a repeat of the Sovereign work of God that had happened on Pentecost. "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 10:44,45)
Contrary to a new popular way of twisting the Scripture to create an apologetic for heresies such as Women's Ordination and Same Sex Blessing, there was no long period of confusion or disagreement. As soon as Peter explained to the other Apostles what had happened, they accepted the whole event as a revelation from God. "Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." (Acts 11:17,18) At that moment the teaching of the Church was established on the matter, based on revelation.
There was no "period of discernment" that can be used to justify innovations, nor any period of confusion. Later, in the fifteenth chapter, the heresy of those who taught contrary to what Peter and the other Apostles had established so clearly in chapter eleven, was a sudden shocking new teaching that contradicted the teaching the Church had lived by during those years in between. The Jerusalem Council in chapter fifteen was not called to sort out the question of what to do with the Gentiles, but rather how to defend the young Church's Apostolic teaching against heresy. Hence the words of the letter from that Council: "Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment...(Acts 15:24)."
The anecdote related by St. Paul when writing to the Galatians (Gal. 2:11f) had nothing to do with the heresy described in Acts chapter fifteen, though it might give a glimpse of a cultural problem that allowed the heresy to arise. Nonetheless, the issue was one of abiding by the teaching of the Church based on revelation as it had been established, and that even Peter himself, being only human, needed help in remembering that.
For our main point of this study, however, it was the presence of Peter in the house of Cornelius unlocking the kingdom of Heaven to the uttermost parts of the earth that matters. Even though Paul (Gal. 2:7) would take over the main work of establishing churches as a witness to Christ "unto the uttermost parts of the earth," it was Christ building His Church on the Rock, Who had appointed Peter to open the door with the keys.
Beyond that, we have nothing in Scripture that gives significance to Peter above the significance it gives to the other Apostles. The focus in the Book of Acts shifts to Paul, because the writer, Luke (who, contrary to popular misinformation, certainly was not some gentile convert later on) was really telling his own story as a quiet witness who "having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first," gave us his testimony of those things he had lived through.
Yes, we know that the Council of Chalcedon was so impressed with Leo's Tome that they said, "Peter has spoken through Leo." But, standing where that quotation is to be found, it gives recognition only to the apostolic teaching he had faithfully transmitted (as every bishop should). I have no reason to doubt the tradition that Peter died a martyr's death in Rome, nor would I care to challenge the report from antiquity that he spent his last years or months there. But, nothing other than eisegesis can fill in the wide gulf between the Scriptures and any connection to men who supposedly are his successors in the see of Rome; nor, even if I grant Rome's assertion simply for argument's sake, could I accept the enormous claims associated with their eisegesis.