Peter Denies Jesus

In his book The Six Trials of Jesus, John Lawrence posits that when you take the gospel narrative as a whole from all 4 gospels, Jesus was put on trial six times in the span of about 4 hours: the trial before Annas, twice before the Sanhedrin, once before Herod and twice before Pilate (not in that order). Most authorities agree this was the case. In Luke 22.54-62, Luke takes us to the first trial before Annas (Lawrence says this is the first trial). But instead of focusing on Jesus in that trial, Luke has a different focus: Peter. Again, Lawrence offers that Peter did not deny Jesus three times but he denies Jesus a total of eight times during the course of the night. Each gospel writer is content to merely record three in their gospel inasmuch as Jesus prophesies a threefold denial (Luke 22.34). Says Lawrence, “It took only three [denials] to fulfill the prediction of Christ, and to record more than this would only be adding insult to an already pathetic situation.” And that is what we find in Luke; he records three of Peter’s denials.

The First Denial

Jesus has been arrested and is being led away to the house of the high priest (v.54a). There seems to be difficulty concerning the high priesthood – was Annas or Caiaphas high priest. From what we gather, Annas was supposed to be the high priest (a life-long position, similar to our Supreme Court justices) but because of Roman interference, Caiaphas, Annas’ son-in-law, was in the position by Roman nomination. Hence, it would seem they exercised chief authority jointly in the Jewish councils as well as the high priest’s palace.

Meanwhile, while Jesus stands before Annas (for more detail on this trial, see John 18.19-24), Peter is “following at a distance” (v.54b). In Matthew’s account, we get the motive for Peter’s continued pursuit of Jesus, even after capture: “to see the end” (Matt 26.58b). Probably sorrow filled and anxious, Peter is able to procur entrance into the courtyard. But, tragically, his pursuit is not coupled with the same zeal and boldness he has shown earlier in the evening (Luke 22.33) or with prayer for guidance or divine aid. Rather, drawing near to fire for it is cold (John 18.18), he takes his seat “among them” (v.55). Peter mingles with those who are not disciples of Jesus; indeed, the followers of the Lord have scattered and Peter sits down with the enemy, as it were.

All four gospel writers tell us that the first challenge came from a slave girl. She was “looking at him closely” or “stared at him” (NRSV). This captures exactly what was happening – this girl was closely scrutenizing Peter, as if he looked familiar or had some distinguishing characteristic which she recognized. Curious, did Peter know he was under the hot stare of this slave girl. Did his face become flush or perspiration break forth on his brow? Did the tension build between the two? At best we can only speculate. But then it hits her. “This man was also with him” (v.56). By him she means, of course, Jesus. And now, Peter, here is your time to “shine for Jesus” we might say. Here is his opportunity to “be a light in a dark world,” again, as we might say. Bear your testimony, testify, tell what Jesus has done for you, and all those other Christian-ese terms we have come up with.  

In one sense, this is an indictment of how we today have cluttered up a simple concept of confessing Christ before men. In another sense, this is a reminder of just how much like Peter we are at times. Peter’s response (and ours) should have been something akin to what Jesus says when questioned: “You have said so.” Instead, he caves, denying that he has ever known Jesus. The force of the language used is such that Peter is saying he has not known nor knows Jesus. He is saying has had nothing to do with Jesus.

The Second Denial

Some time passes. It does not appear that in Luke’s account Peter leaves the fire. Some unidentified person now points Peter out again as someone who had been one of those who followed with Jesus. And again, his response should have, “Right, you say it yourself.” But instead, Peter denies yet again. Taking the complete gospel narrative, it would seem this denial comes after a few other denials previous. Lawrence has this as the sixth denial out of eight. Nevertheless, Peter addresses this man (“Man” and “woman” in this context is merely a way of addressing someone politely, similar to our modern “Sir” or “Madam”) and says, “I am not” one of the followers of Jesus.

The Third Denial

More time passes, Luke says “about an hour” and someone else identifies Peter as a follower of Jesus. But this time it is because “he is a Galilean.” How did he know that? Scholars suggest that Peter had an accent. Mind you, Peter is from up north around the Sea of Galilee while Jerusalem is in the south in the land of Israel. Further, Peter is a fisherman whereas these are “city-folk” in Jerusalem. So Peter probably had a slight variation in his speech pattern. It is no different than today. Americans speak English but we can recognize a northeast accent or southern accent. So here is Peter with his northern fisherman accent which gives him away. This stranger concludes this Galilean fellow must have been with Jesus. He “insists” upon this fact (v.59).

Peter’s way of denying this time is slightly different. Previously, its been “I don’t know” and “I’m not one of them (the disciples).” Now its this answer of increduity: “What are you talking about?” I can almost picture a half-hearted laugh from Peter – “You gotta be kidding me. Me with him? Yeah, right.” How many Christians, with a little laugh, do the same thing? “Me? A Christian? Yeah, right. What are you talking about?”

Several things happen now “immediately” following this. As the words are coming out of his mouth, Peter hears a rooster crow. Imagine, mid-sentence, a rooster crows. Surprise and shame probably sweep over Peter. But that’s not all. Jesus, seemingly in transit from one high priest to another, turns inn Peter’s direction and they lock eyes. Perhaps this last denial of Peter’s reached the ears of the Lord. Perhaps He just knew. Either case, Jesus and his old friend make eye contact. In an instant, the words of Jesus rush through Peter, piercing his mind: “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” The words of Jesus coupled with the look from Jesus is unbearable for Peter. He flees the scene, devastated and broken, weeping bitterly. I believe that word “bitterly” points out that Peter really did not want to fail here when he does he is deeply grieved because of it. Peter, the “rock” of the Twelve, has fallen.

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Agony and Arrest in the Garden

Some say it is as late as 1 AM when Jesus and His disciples finally arrive at the Garden of Gethsemane. Of course, that is pure supposition; we have no way of knowing what time it was. We only know it is late at night when it is dark. Jesus goes out to the Mount of Olives “as was his custom” (Luke 22.39). Indeed, John sheds more light on this custom of Jesus when he says, “Jesus often met there (in the garden across the Kidron Valley) with his disciples” (John 18.2). This was their meeting place, a place of respite and renewal. It was where Jesus would withdraw in order to pray (see Luke 21.37) and even lodge there. It was a familiar place which His disciples and He knew. Sadly, it is the place where He will face His greatest trial, agony, betrayal, and arrest (Luke 22.39-53).

Behold the Agony of Jesus

Jesus arrives at the place where all this will take place. From the other accounts we get various details about this event: we know He told eight of His disciples to “sit here” while He went away to pray (Matt 26.36). We know He took with Him the three (Peter, James, and John) a little further into the Garden while He continued to be more sorrowful and troubled (Matt 26.37). We know Jesus was scared to death of what was coming (Matt 26.38) and that His three were also to watch and pray with Him (Matt 26.38, 41; Luke 22.40) while He withdrew about a stone’s throw away so He could pray (Luke 22.41).  

Luke’s account of the prayer of Jesus different from the other gospel writers’ accounts but we should find no contradiction here, simply a slight variation of of the prayer of Jesus. His prayer, as recorded, is short and to the point yet full of agony and anguish of a man facing death. Jesus addresses God Almighty as “Father.” It is a tender term but also tied up is the reverence due God. And when Jesus utters the word in prayer, it shows us that special relationship between the Father in Heaven and the Son of God on earth.

He pleads with the Father, if He is willing, if there is any other way for the plan of God to save man can be accomplished, then remove the cup from Him. Again, as seen in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus in all His humanity is scared to death of what is going to happen next. And we see His perfect humanity in these words, begging God to take away “this cup” which is the the cup of the wrath of God to be poured out fully on the Christ for the sins of humanity. Is the cross the only means to bring salvation to lost and dying humanity? If there is another way…

But there is not. Only through  the cross of Christ can man find redemption, forgiveness, salvation. Hence, Jesus says, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” He wants what the Father wants. That is, His will is the same as the Father’s will.  And when Jesus communicates that he desires the Father’s will to be done, he is not speaking of  yet future event, although that is certainly caught up in that. He is pointing to the present reality. The strength of this petition is “Father…let your will keep on being done.” God’s will have been done in the life of Christ and it will continue to be done. And the prayer of Jesus is answered.

Jesus is in agony so intense that his “sweat became like great drops of blood” (v.44). Various commentators demonstrate how even modern medicine (as well as ancient) know of this condition in which the blood mixes with the sweat. Others say this is simile; His sweat only appeared to be like blood, there was no actual blood. Whatever the case, the agony of Christ is intense. He has petitioned for divine help and he recieves it in the form of an angel who strengthens Him for the mission ahead. He is in such great mental stress and the emotional burden is so great. There is intense anxiety and grief, sorrow and sadness. Surely, what lies ahead is weighing upon Jesus as it would weigh upon any of us. But also, perhaps, the greatest weight of all was the knowledge that without what comes next, man because of sin will be eternally condemned if Jesus does not follow through with it.

I ask: how close is Jesus to losing this thing? Some would answer that He’s not. He’s the Son of God. He has to go through with it. I ask: does He? Unless Jesus has the freedom of choice, the freedom to chose to do what is right and fulfill the will of God or do what is wrong and walk out of the garden, He is not fully human. The battle for mankind’s salvation is in the balance. What does the Scripture Jesus did to ensure He is obedient? He prayed! He prayed continuously. He prayed earnestly. He prayed deeply. He prayed with intensity. He prayed eagerly, like a hungry man devouring a meal. If it took the Son of God this kind of prayer to ensure He fulfilled the Father’s mission, I ask you, brethren, what right have we to think we can get by with less?

There is a change affected by the earnest and eager prayers of Jesus recorded in v.45-46. He rises from His prayers to find His disciples have neglected theirs. I think of a parable He had told them before recorded in Luke 18.1-8 about praying always and not losing heart. At the end of that parable He asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” When the Son of Man returned from His prayers, what did He find? When Jesus comes back for the final time, what will he find of His people?

Jesus is ready for the what is next. In Luke’s account, He urges His disciples to wake up and pray so as not enter into temptation. In Matthew’s account, we see the triumphant Christ, ready to face to His betrayer and those ready to take him captive (Matt 26.46). And while He is giving exhortation to His disciples, the mob shows up.

Behold the Arrest of Jesus

Jesus entered the garden one disciple light. Judas, earlier in the evening, went away out into the dark night to perform his deed in betraying Jesus (John 13.30). He now returns but he’s not alone; he got a whole crowd of people from the chief priests, scribes, and elders of the people. Scholars say that this crowd was probably composed of Roman legionaries and Levitical guards (an armed force of temple police). Luke tells us the chief priests and elders have come out too. Judas is out front leading this cohort. He came near to Jesus in order to kiss him, the signal for those with him to capture the one he kissed. Jesus asks him, “Would you betray the Son of Man of kiss?” This sign is superfluousas John records that Jesus tells them plainly He is the one they are looking for (John 18.4-8). No doubt that the two apostles who wrote a gospel account found this point startling – he came from us! He was one of us! And he was a traitor!

The disciples seem to be keely aware of “what would follow” (arrest) and believe something needs to be done. They ask, “Shall we strike with the sword?” It would seem that they were all questioning what to do. Should we strike or not? Before Jesus can give an answer, one of them steps forward, draws a sword and strikes. It is John who tells us it is Peter, although you  would not have to use your imagination too much to figure that out; he was the hot-head of the group who was always eager to speak or act. He cuts of the right ear of the the high priest’s servant. Again,  it John who tells us his name is Malchus. The words of Jesus in v.51 are debated. What did He say? Some translations say “No more of this.” In other words, no more bloodshed and battle. Others say, “Suffer (allow) ye thus far.” Some commentators say this is Jesus addressing His disciples – let this happen, it must happen. Others say it was for the crowd – let me heal this man. It would seem he is speaking to His disciples in answer to their question and haste of acting, the violence stops and He heals the servant’s ear.

Then Jesus addresses the mob which has come out against Him. They have come out armed with swords and clubs, as if they were going out against a “robber.” Interesting Jesus says that when in a few hours he will be standing with a criminal named Barabbas who will  be released instead of Jesus. Jesus then points out to them that what He has been doing has not been done in a corner or behind closed doors; He’s been out front and among the people, “in the temple” and yet these men never laid a finger on Him! In essence, Jesus is calling them cowards, afraid of the people (see Luke 20.19). So they had to do their dirty deed in the dark, behind closed doors and in secret. Jesus knows; so do they. “But this is your hour and the power of darkness.” Jesus’ hour has finally come (see john 13.1) when He would be handed over to these men for their triumph. And the power by which they are doing these things is by the power of the kingdom of darkness. And here is the moral value of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus: He volunteers Himself and surrenders to their dark deed. He willingly went with them though the end of the line was a cross.

Last Supper with Jesus, pt.3

Supper is nearly over. It is nearly time for Jesus to head out to the garden where He will be arrested. But before He goes, He has some final words for His disciples including a startling revelation and prophecy concerning His disciples, especially Peter. In Luke 22.31-38, we have the final discourse of Jesus around the supper table.

The Savior’s Prophecy concerning Peter

“Simon, Simon” is a for emphasis. We saw this earlier in the Gospel of Luke (cf. 10.41) when Jesus addressed Martha. The redoubling is emphatic. And notice that Jesus calls Peter by his “old” name: Simon. It has been said that this name means “pebble” as opposed to Peter which means “rock” or “stone.” Could Jesus be subtly reminding and even repremanding Peter concerning what is coming, that he will act like a pebble, not a rock. Possibly. Or is it understood that Simon and Peter both refer to the same person and are interchangable? Inasmuch as Jesus seems to make no distinction between the two when addressing Peter and his impending fall (v.31, 34: He is Simon, then Peter and in both verses Jesus addresses Peter fall), there does not seem to be a necessity to make that distinction.

The startling revelation Jesus has for Simon is that “Satan has demanded to have you.” Several things should be noted here: first, “you” in this verse (v.31, used twice) is plural in the original language. It is something akin to “y’all” in Texas. Hence, Satan has asked not for Simon Peter only, but for the whole group of disciples. Second, Satan asked to have them for himself. At first blush this would seem incredulous. But when you read that phrase, think Job in the Old Testament when Satan appeared before God and God doted on Job as being a man unlike any other on earth. And Satan asked to try him. That’s what we have here: Jesus knows what is ahead for this band of followers and knows that Satan wants to pick them apart like he did Job. There is coming a time of testing for His disciples and indeed has come upon them. Satan has tempted Judas and won him to the kingdom of darkness. Will others follow?

Jesus, though, assures them that He has been praying for them in v.32. This word has do with begging and pleading. Think of all the times Jesus went off to a lonely place to pray (4.42; 6.12; 9.29; 11.1; et al) which was a common practice in the ministry of Jesus. How often did the Lord wrestle in prayer and plead of the Father on behalf of His disciples? It should be noted that Jesus speaks specifically to Peter; the pronoun “you” in v.32 is singular. Others say that this singular use of the “you” is really Jesus speaking to the group as a whole, a single unit. Whatever the case, no doubt Jesus has prayed concerning all of them and their faith, that it “may not fail.” Would they all fall? Certainly. All desert Jesus in the garden. But Peter’s would be especially great, this noted in Jesus’ words in v.34. But his fall would not bring hopeless despair but deep remorse and repentance. He would return, change his beliefs and ways, and turn back to God. When he has done that he is to “strengthen your brothers.” Establish them and make their conviction stronger.

Peter, it would appear since the Greek simply says “he,” speaks up and says that he’s ready for confinement and crucifixion with Jesus. But Jesus knows (someone has called Jesus “the Heart-reader”) and makes a startling prophecy concerning Peter. “The rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that know me.” There is no article in the Greek before “rooster” which paints the picture even more graphically – before any rooster crows this day. There is some difficulty in Mark’s account inasmuch as he says the rooster will not crow twice before Peter’s denials but there is no contradiction if you consider that Mark is perhaps more specific (some say Mark used Peter as a source of information and who would know better than Peter) and the other gospel writers are not specific or the word “twice” in Mark is a scribal addition. Nevertheless, the strength of the denial should not be overlooked – “utterly deny.” Certainly, Petrer’s denial of even knowing Jesus would fit this.

The Scripture’s Prophecy concerning Jesus

Jesus now reminds of the provincial care of God in their lives. He refers them to earlier in their work when he sent them out. This is recorded in Luke 10.1ff when they went out without moneybag, knapsack, or sandals. So Jesus reminds them of this and asks if they lacked anything. They admit that they lacked nothing, hence they were supplied in their needs. Unfortunately, televangelists and health/wealth propsperity preachers love to twist Scriptures like these to say God will grant all your wants. This is not what Jesus is saying at all. And when you read the account which Jesus points to in Luke 10, this becomes clear that what was needed (food, drink, shelter) was met by the providence of God.

Now, though, Jesus addresses them concerning those very things they were not to have before. Grab those things and even a sword. Sell your cloak and buy a sword with the money. What’s that about? It would seem this is a warning of things to come. Before they had their needs met by people in the town or villiage they visited. Now it would be different. They would not be greeted with open arms and would have to supply their own need. The sword appears to metaphor for the defense of the message. Indeed, the word of Jude fit appropriately: “Contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Those things they did not need (money, clothes) will no longer be supplied, but instead they will have to supply it from their own means. Before they may have been greeted and treated well, now they may have to reasonably defend themselves. This seems to be the force of the words of Jesus in light of His overall teaching and what we see later in the garden when Peter tries to use a sword.

The reason it will be like this and the attitude of people will be different toward the disciples is because of what Jesus will do in fulfilling the Scriptures. The message of the cross will be a stumbling block to Jews and offensive to Gentiles (1 Cor 1.23). When Jesus quotes from Isaiah 53.12 in Luke 22.37, He is pointing toward His impending suffering on the cross. He would be numbered with transgressors in His death inasmuch as He was crucified between two theives. Those things written in the past which came from the lips of God are binding. When God spoke them, He was legislating human history and speaking as the One who is outside space and time, who can declare the end from the beginning. And so even as Jesus speaks these words, they find fulfillment (presently) and will find fulfillment (future) in the crucifixion. And the “me” in this passage is emphatic. Jesus and only Jesus can fulfill these prophecies.

The disciples hear about swords and someone takes inventory of their supply. They seem to miss the who part about fulfillment of the prophecy in Jesus and also the figurative nature of the bags, sacks, and swords Jesus was referring to. They have two swords and almost seem proud of it, like children who are showing off their toys. And their seems to some anticipation in their exclamation, like “finally, we get to do what we’ve been waiting for” or “finally, Jesus will start acting like the Messiah we have been waiting for.” Jesus’ words of “It is enough” seem to be His way of closing the subject for now. They’ve missed it. And so for now the case will shut to be reopened in the garden when Peter will use a sword to try and take off the head of the high priest’s servant and Jesus will impart one more lesson about the sword. But for now, “It is enough.”

Supper is over. Lessons and traditions have been imparted. Some of them have been missed, but some of them haven’t. All that is fuzzy or vague will come to light and be clear in a short time. But next we will see Jesus take yet another step deeper into the darkness that surrounds His final hours before the cross. Next we move into the garden.