Let’s be honest. When someone exercises his Fifth Amendment right not to testify against himself, aren’t you inclined to think he is guilty? We ask ourselves, “Why would someone who is innocent be unwilling to tell the truth?” You may even wonder why there should be a Fifth Amendment. In our text, Jesus exercises what today would be known as His Fifth Amendment right not to testify against Himself. His interrogation helps us to understand why the Fifth Amendment is so important to every American. Once we understand why Jesus refused to respond to the questions put to Him, we will better understand what took place on the cross of Calvary.
In our text, both Jesus and Peter are questioned. Jesus is questioned by Annas, the most powerful religious leader in the land; Peter is questioned by servants and bystanders. Jesus keeps silent, but Peter speaks out. Jesus stands fast; Peter folds. In order to understand what is taking place at this time, I have summarized the contribution of each of the Gospels in the chart attached at the end of this lesson.126
The story of Peter’s failure begins sometime before his actual denials. Several contributing factors play a part in Peter’s failure which we should keep in mind as we read our text. First, there are our Lord’s predictions of Peter’s failure. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus tells His disciples that they will all fall away. Peter protests, seeking to assure Jesus that even though all the rest may fall away, he most certainly will not (Matthew 26:31-35; Mark 14:26-31). In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus informs Peter of Satan’s opposition, and of his failure, but assures Peter that He has prayed for him. He then instructs Peter to minister to his brethren after his restoration (Luke 22:31-34). In John’s Gospel (13:31-38), Jesus tells His disciples that He is going away, and that they cannot follow Him there. Peter asks Jesus why he cannot follow, assuring Jesus that he is willing to lay down his life for Him. Jesus then predicts Peter’s three denials.
Until now, I have always assumed that Jesus predicted Peter’s denials only once. When I consider all four of the Gospels, however, it appears that more than one prediction of Peter’s failure is made, and that not all of these predictions are made on the same occasion. I must confess I am tempted to say there may be as many as three separate predictions of Peter’s failure. How ironic, if this is true.
We then come to the prayer of our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Matthew (26:40-41), Mark (14:32-43), and Luke (22:39-46), Jesus exhorts His three disciples (especially Peter) to pray that they (he) not enter into temptation. You will recall that Jesus returns to His disciples, only to find them sleeping. When He awakens them, He once again urges them to pray. Three times Jesus went off to pray, after urging His disciples to pray with and for Him. At least twice, Jesus asked them to pray that they not enter into temptation (see Luke 22:40, 46). Could it be that Jesus warned Peter three times that he would fall, and then urged him to pray (three times) that he would not fall? If not three times, at least it was more than once.
We should not be shocked that Peter denied his Lord three times. Indeed, when all of the Gospels are taken into account, it would appear that Peter denied Jesus to more than three people, on three different occasions. Mark’s Gospel includes a very significant addition to the other accounts. Here, Jesus predicts that the rooster will crow twice before Peter denies Him thrice (14:30). Mark then informs us that the rooster did crow a first (14:68), and a second (14:72) time. This means that before Peter denied his Lord the last time, he was actually warned, though it would appear he completely missed this warning. Peter’s denials fulfilled our Lord’s prophecies of his fall, a warning which Jesus may have repeated three times. We all know that in John 21 Jesus will restore Peter to fellowship by means of a three-step process.
As we compare the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we see that each Gospel makes a unique contribution. In Matthew, Peter is given two reasons why he should put down the sword: (1) Jesus does not need to be defended by Peter; He could summon more than twelve legions of angels to rescue Him if He chose to do so; and, (2) Jesus must fulfill the Scriptures by His arrest and crucifixion. Mark tells us that the rooster crowed twice, not just once. Luke reports the presence of an angel, who ministered to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Luke, we find our Lord’s disclosure of Satan’s role in Peter’s failure, along with the assurance of our Lord’s intercession on his behalf, resulting in Peter’s restoration and future ministry. We are told that there are two swords in the disciples’ possession, one of which we know to be Peter’s. We also find the disciple’s question to Jesus, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” In Luke’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus restores the ear which Peter cut off. We also are informed of our Lord’s soul-stirring look at Peter, who had just denied Him.
John’s Gospel omits the prayer of our Lord in Gethsemane, recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels. John also makes no mention of Peter’s tears of remorse, after having denied his Lord. John’s Gospel is unique in recording our Lord’s “hearing” before Annas, former high priest, and the real power behind Caiaphas. John’s account of Peter’s denials incorporates a break between his first denial (18:15-18) and the last two (verses 25-27). John alternates between the interrogation of our Lord by Annas and the interrogation of Peter by those in the courtyard. It would seem that his purpose is to contrast these two questionings. John’s Gospel also mentions “the other disciple,” who many (including me) believe to be John himself. Only John’s Gospel records the restoration of Peter (John 21), though Paul mentions a private appearance of the risen Lord to Peter in 1 Corinthians 15:5.
Since I have pointed out the distinctive contributions of each Gospel based upon a comparison of all four accounts, let me go on to say a word about some apparent discrepancies in these accounts. Both Matthew and Mark tell us of Peter’s denials before: (1) a slave girl; (2) a slave girl;127 and (3) bystanders. John’s record of Peter’s denials involves: (1) a slave girl; (2) those warming themselves by the fire; and, (3) the slave who was a relative of Malchus. Critics and skeptics leap on this apparent discrepancy, claiming that the Bible is in error here because it contradicts itself. Such reasoning is not only foolish, it fails to grasp the dynamic nature of this event and the way each writer chooses to focus upon it.
Take, for example, the different accounts of the anointing of the feet of our Lord in the Gospels.128 There are discrepancies in the three parallel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and John, but none of these are without a reasonable explanation. In Matthew and Mark, a number of the disciples are unhappy with the “waste” of the perfume that is poured out on the feet of Jesus, and so they grumble among themselves. In John’s Gospel, we are told that Judas is the one who objects. There is no real conflict here. As our Lord’s feet were being anointed, Judas realized that he could have pilfered some or all of the proceeds had this perfume been sold instead of “wasted on Jesus” (as Judas would have reasoned). He was upset, and verbalized this to his fellow-disciples. Agreeing with Judas, they also began to grumble among themselves. John tells us how the grumbling started; Matthew and Mark describe how it spread.
In our text, John is seeking to show how the Lord’s prediction of Peter’s three-fold denial was fulfilled. There were three separate incidents, each of which included a denial of our Lord by Peter. But at least one denial was made to more than just one person (see Matthew 26:70) and may have been reiterated several times. In Peter’s second denial, one can see how the identification of Peter as a disciple of Jesus may have started with the slave girl, and then was taken up by those who stood nearby. Peter made his denial to the slave girl first, and then to the others who took up the question she initially raised. Matthew and Mark seem to have focused on the woman who initiated this confrontation, while John calls our attention to all those who joined in. While Matthew and Mark have the bystanders in the second denial, John has bystanders in the last denial. The order of the denials is not necessarily chronological. Precise chronological sequencing does not seem to be important to the Gospel writers, which was also true of other writings in those days. The fact is that Peter denied his Lord three times, just as Jesus said he would.
12 Then the squad of soldiers with their commanding officer and the officers of the Jewish religious leaders arrested Jesus and tied him up. 13 They brought him first to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 (Now it was Caiaphas who had advised the Jewish leaders that it was to their advantage that one man die for the people.)
Jesus has just agonized in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, and He is now making His way to meet the mob Judas is guiding in His direction. John does not even mention Judas’ kiss of betrayal. It was not this kiss that gave away Jesus’ identity; our Lord identified Himself to those who had come to arrest Him. Jesus acted with full authority, and it “disarmed” those surrounding Him, psychologically, if not literally. Twice Jesus asked who it was they sought (to arrest), and twice they named Him alone. Jesus then responded that if they had come only for Him, then His disciples should be released. It was at this crucial moment that Peter drew his sword and severed the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus immediately brought the situation under control by rebuking Peter and instructing him to holster his sword. Jesus was fully committed to “drink the cup that His Father had given Him” (18:11). Jesus was determined to be “lifted up” on a cross, thus providing the way of salvation that He and the Old Testament prophets had promised.
The Roman soldiers (mentioned only by John) may have kept their distance, unwilling to involve themselves in this arrest unless trouble broke out. Now, officers (the Jewish temple police?) place Jesus under arrest and tie His hands (as though this could restrain the Son of God!). Jesus is now led away to stand before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas (verse 14). Only John mentions this “hearing” before Annas. The Synoptic Gospels focus on the subsequent hearings before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. John’s only reference to Caiaphas is a passing one, reminding the reader that this fellow is the same man whose words were recorded earlier in John 11:
46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and reported to them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation.” 49 Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.” 51 (Now he did not say this on his own, but because he was high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered.) 53 So from that day they planned together to kill him (John 11:46-53).
John wants us to know that Caiaphas, before whom our Lord will stand trial, is a judge who has already made up his mind about Jesus. Caiaphas, by whom Jesus would be condemned to die, was a man who had already determined that Jesus must die. This is not going to be a just trial. That much is clear already. And so John tells us the only thing about Caiaphas that really matters – that his mind is already made up.
In recent weeks, a young man was preparing to stand trial for his role in the death of a mentally challenged young woman. Before the trial commenced, the judge made a statement to the effect that this young man was “not the brightest apple that had ever fallen off the tree.” Immediately, this defendant’s lawyers seized on this statement and had the judge disqualified, claiming that he was biased against their client. A new judge was quickly appointed. Surely we can see that Caiaphas was biased, having concluded that Jesus must not only be found guilty, but must be put to death—for being too popular with the people.
Why does John virtually ignore Caiaphas and focus instead on Annas? First of all, I believe that John dwells on Annas because he is the real power, the driving force, behind the condemnation of Jesus. Annas was not the high priest at this time; Caiaphas was, as John informs us in 11:49. Annas had been the high priest from A.D. 6 to A.D. 15. He was then deposed by the Roman prefect Valerius Gratius, according to Josephus. This did not mean that he was stripped of all his authority, however. In the years that followed, he succeeded in arranging for the appointment of each of his five sons as the high priest, followed by his son-in-law, Caiaphas.129 Annas was the real power so far as the office of high priest was concerned, and those who officially held the title of high priest were mere figureheads.
It is very likely that Annas and his family were the owners of the Temple Bazaar, which would explain a great deal:
It is probable that it was Annas who had established, for reasons of personal gain, the traffic of the bazaar within the Temple courts which Jesus had so sternly denounced.130
‘If the stalls in the Temple which Jesus had overturned really were the property of Annas and his family, no doubt Annas used his position to arrange that Jesus should be brought to him first, that he might gloat over the downfall of the presumptuous Galilaean’131
15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed them as they brought Jesus to Annas. (Now the other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, and he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard.) 16 But Simon Peter was left standing outside by the door. So the other disciple who was acquainted with the high priest came out and spoke to the slave girl who watched the door, and brought Peter inside. 17 The girl who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, “You’re not one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” He replied, “I am not!” 18 (Now the slaves and the officers were standing around a charcoal fire they had made, warming themselves because it was cold. Peter was standing with them, warming himself too.)
All but two of our Lord’s disciples fled for their lives (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50). Peter and “another disciple” have followed Jesus to the palace of Annas. We will probably not go wrong if we assume that the “other disciple” is John, although we cannot be certain. The “other disciple” is said to have been acquainted with the high priest.132 We are not told how this came to pass, but we have no reason to doubt it. It would appear that John’s father had a fairly successful fishing business, and this may be the way John’s life intersected that of the high priest.133
John’s acquaintance with the high priest got him into the courtyard of Annas, while Peter remained at the entrance. John came back to where Peter was waiting and spoke to the slave girl, who was the doorkeeper. He no doubt indicated to this girl that Peter was with him, and that it was okay to let him into the courtyard also. The doorkeeper allows Peter to enter, but perhaps with some hesitation. She seems to have recognized John (the “other disciple”) as an acquaintance of the high priest. She also must have known that John was a disciple of Jesus (note the “too” in verse 17). It was a risky thing for any disciple of Jesus to be seen in public at this time, and even more dangerous to be seen in close proximity to Jesus and to the officers who arrested Him. A disciple of Jesus who was recognized as such could be arrested, simply for being one of His disciples. A disciple who lingered in the area where Jesus was being held might trigger suspicions that there was a plot to bring about our Lord’s escape.
And so when John came back to the doorway of the courtyard and instructed the slave girl to let Peter enter, this young woman may have had some reservations. Something causes her to phrase the question she asks in a way that supposes Peter will deny being one of our Lord’s disciples. Thus, this slave girl asks Peter, “You’re not one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” (verse 17). Perhaps without even thinking, Peter gave her the answer she seemed to expect: “I am not!”134 It happened so quickly that Peter may hardly have realized how much trouble two words135 could cause. The slave girl seems to accept Peter’s denial, at least for the moment. John goes on in verse 18 to describe the setting more fully. It was obviously cold that night, and there was a charcoal fire burning in the courtyard. Warming themselves around this fire were some of the slaves and some officers. Peter was there by the fire with them, warming himself.
The term “officers” is the same one used in 18:3 for the “officers” who came out with the chief priests and Pharisees to arrest Jesus. It is these “officers” who bound Jesus and took Him into custody (18:12). The term “slaves” is the same term found in 18:10, in referring to the high priest’s “slave.” Peter now finds himself in a very awkward (not to mention dangerous) situation. He is right back where he was a few hours before – surrounded by those who arrested Jesus, and who could just as easily arrest him now.
I have heard some of the sermons that Peter’s presence at this charcoal fire has inspired, and I’m not altogether convinced by some of the “lessons” that are extracted from this text. Peter, we are told, was warming himself by the enemy’s fire. This is supposed to warn us about getting too friendly with the world. Is Peter so wrong to be where he is? I’m not so sure. First, let’s give Peter credit for putting himself in harm’s way by being there in the courtyard of Annas’ palace. Peter’s use of his sword a little earlier that night had drawn attention to himself. Some of those standing around the fire may have been involved in the arrest of our Lord. If so, they would have been much more likely to recognize Peter as the fellow who severed the ear of Malchus. (Malchus himself may have been close by, for he was a servant of the high priest.) This courtyard was a dangerous place for Peter to be. Let us not think of Peter as a coward for being there.136 And so far as the enemy’s fire is concerned, let us not require that Peter stand somewhere else on that bone-chilling evening, shivering in the cold. I believe that John is simply setting the scene for Peter’s next denial, which is taken up in verses 25-27. These same people who are standing around the charcoal fire in verse 18 are those who will begin to question Peter about his relationship to Jesus in verses 25-27.
It is interesting to observe the providential hand of God in all of this. What were the chances that any of our Lord’s disciples would avoid arrest, and later be allowed to stand in the courtyard of the high priest as Jesus is being questioned? God had orchestrated matters so that John (or one of the disciples) was personally acquainted with the high priest and, on the basis of this relationship, was allowed to enter the high priest’s courtyard and to bring Peter along with him. It is here, in this courtyard, that our Lord’s prophecies about Peter’s denials are fulfilled. Once again, God’s providential hand is evident in the life of our Lord, so that every prophecy pertaining to Him is fulfilled exactly.
19 While this was happening, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus replied, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I always taught in the synagogues and in the temple courts, where all the Jewish people assemble together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said. Look, these know what I said.” 22 When Jesus had said this, one of the high priest’s officers who stood nearby slapped him and said, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus replied, “If I have said something wrong, confirm what is wrong. But if I spoke correctly, why do you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him, still tied up, to Caiaphas the high priest.
The words, “While this was happening,” are significant. They inform us that the interrogation of Peter (by the slave girl) and the interrogation of our Lord are taking place simultaneously. John chooses to alternate between one interrogation and the other in order to place our Lord’s responses in juxtaposition to those of Peter. Peter fails, while our Lord stands fast.
The nature of the questions asked by Annas is revealing: “The high priest therefore questioned Jesus about His disciples and about His teaching” (John 18:19). It was obvious, even to Pilate, that the real issue behind the trial of Jesus is that of jealousy. The Jewish religious leaders are jealous of our Lord’s prestige, popularity, and power (Matthew 27:18). The religious leaders have become greatly distressed by the tremendous influence of this Galilean. Annas therefore questions Jesus about His disciples. He seems to care more about the number of those following Jesus than about the content of His teaching. If George Gallup had lived in those days, Annas would have employed him full-time as a pollster. Here was a man who cared a great deal about public opinion, not because he cared about what the people thought, but because he cared about his power and position (see 11:48).
Jesus carefully avoided any reference to His disciples,137 probably in order to protect them. There was no need to question Jesus concerning His teaching. He had spoken publicly, for all to hear and judge His words (verse 20). He did not have two teachings – one for His disciples and another for public consumption.138
There is an important legal issue here, however, because this hearing is illegal:
“Barclay says: ‘One curious feature of legal procedure in the Sanhedrin was that the man involved was held to be absolutely innocent, and, indeed, not even on trial, until the evidence of the witnesses had been stated and confirmed. The argument about the case could only begin when the testimony of the witnesses was given and confirmed. That is the point of the conversation between Jesus and Annas in John 18:19-21. Jesus in that incident was reminding Annas that he had no right to ask him anything until the evidence of witnesses had been taken and found to agree’ (op. cit., p. 58).”139
It was because His interrogation was illegal that Jesus responded to Annas, “Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; behold these know what I said” (John 18:21). In Jewish justice, as in our own system, no one can be compelled to testify against himself. Annas was seeking to compel Jesus to testify against Himself. Jesus rightly refused to respond to this kind of questioning. One of the officers who stood by considered the response of Jesus to be insolent, and so he struck Him (verse 22).
This slap explains why the Fifth Amendment (or some counterpart) is important. The officer who struck Jesus is probably acting out of habit. If there is no such thing as a Fifth Amendment right, then a person can be compelled to testify against himself. If the person refuses to cooperate by giving the kind of “testimony” the “examiners” are seeking, then force is applied, until the testimony conforms to what the interrogators want. When Fifth Amendment rights do not exist, or are violated, “interrogation” becomes synonymous with physical abuse and torture. This is precisely what we see in the New Testament (see Acts 22:24, 29), and today.
Some have accused Jesus of not following His own instruction to “turn the other cheek” here. May I suggest that the actions of Jesus here are an excellent commentary on His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. There Jesus taught that one should never lash back or seek to retaliate for personal insults. But here, it was not a matter of insult so much as a question of obeying the law. Jesus would not allow this injustice to go unnoticed. He is putting this matter on record. It was not a matter of personal feelings in this situation, but one of principle. We see Paul conducting himself in a similar fashion in Acts 16.
I believe there is another reason John records our Lord’s response to Annas. Annas is the most powerful religious leader in Jerusalem at the time. Annas supposes that he is in charge, and that by using (or abusing) his authority, he can force Jesus to testify against Himself, thereby making a case for Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. In this whole exchange, Annas gets absolutely nothing from Jesus. Jesus rightly refuses to answer Annas’ questions and thereby assist this corrupt religious leader in making a case against Him. Even beyond this, as this interview comes to a conclusion, we find that while Annas has not been able to indict Jesus for any wrongdoing, Jesus has instead indicted the high priest, for wrongfully conducting this trial and for allowing the guard to strike Him. Once again, Jesus has turned the tables (pardon the pun)140 on the high priest.
John’s account of the Jewish segment of Jesus’ trials is selective and condensed. Jesus was brought before Annas, no doubt the leader of the Jewish opposition to our Lord. This was no trial at all, but a mere ‘fishing expedition’ by which the “high priest” had hoped to gather evidence for the trial to come. As Jesus was led away to stand before Caiaphas—the official high priest—Annas must have felt extremely frustrated. All he got out of Jesus was a rebuke for his abuse of power and for breaking Jewish law in his handling of this case.
25 Meanwhile Simon Peter was standing in the courtyard warming himself. They said to him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?” Peter denied it and said, “I am not!” 26 One of the high priest’s slaves, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the orchard with him?” 27 So Peter denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed.
The spotlight shifts back to Peter. Annas has been grilling Jesus, hoping to compel Him to incriminate Himself. Jesus has not only refused to do this, He has indicted Annas for violating the law. (How humiliating for an expert in the law to be indicted for law-breaking, and particularly by one you are seeking to indict!) Peter, on the other hand, is not doing so well. His first denial in verse 17 does not seem to have alarmed Peter, nor to have laid to rest questions concerning his allegiance. And so John takes us back to where he left us in verse 18 —to the charcoal fire, where a number of slaves and officers are warming themselves.
The words of the slave girl now seem to be taken up by those standing nearby, who may have heard her begin to question Peter: “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?” (verse 25). They, too, indicate by the form of their question that they expect a negative answer. Peter has already committed himself, and now he finds it necessary to reiterate his denial. Were he to change his answer, this would raise other questions, questions like, “Why did you lie to the doorkeeper earlier? What are you trying to hide? What are you doing here?”
The recent White House scandal vividly illustrates how a simple initial denial has to be reiterated more and more emphatically. Here is Peter, trapped by his own words. No one expected to hear that Peter was devoted to Jesus, and that he was willing to lay down his life for Him. And so when he is asked about his relationship with Jesus, the question is phrased in a way that makes his denial the “path of least resistance.” From this point on, things begin to snowball.
One of the high priest’s slaves—and a relative of Malchus—knows better. He must have been standing very close to Malchus (and thus to Peter) when Peter drew his sword and severed the slave’s ear. He was there in the Garden of Gethsemane when the arrest was made. He knew that Peter was there, too, with Jesus. Peter was a disciple of Jesus! This man was sure of it. The form of the question now changes. Unlike the first two questions, which expected Peter to answer in the negative, this fellow asks in a way that informs Peter he expects a response in the affirmative.141 It would therefore be correct to read this man’s question in this way: “I did see you there in the orchard with him, didn’t I?” Peter decides to stick to his story, and so he denies his relationship to Jesus for the third time. Immediately thereafter, the rooster crows.
How gracious John is here in dealing with Peter’s failure. You will remember that these men are both fishermen; they have already worked together (Luke 22:8), and they will work together very closely in the Book of Acts (3:1, 3, 11; 4:13, 19; 8:14). John does not tell us that Peter found it necessary to underscore his lie with cursing (see Matthew 26:73), that Jesus looked at Peter from a distance (Luke 22:61), or that after the rooster crowed Peter went out and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:74-75). The Synoptic Gospels supply all of these details. I believe John’s purpose in recording the denials of Peter is not to make Peter look bad, but rather to contrast Peter’s testimony with that of Jesus and show how Jesus’ words of prophecy are, once again, fulfilled exactly.
There are many lessons to be learned from our text. Let me highlight a few.
First, Peter’s failure here is Elijah-like. I have heard a number of sermons on Elijah, and especially about his “failure” as described in 1 Kings 19. Many of the attempts to explain the reasons for Elijah’s failure in this text are based upon physical factors. We are told that Elijah had not eaten properly and had not gotten enough rest. (What a great text to make a pitch for a paid vacation to Hawaii!) I believe that Elijah’s hunger and fatigue are the result of his failure, not its cause. I believe Elijah was angry with God because he made a gallant effort to save the nation, and God did not bless this effort with success. Let me explain.
God did not instruct Elijah to confront Ahab and Jezebel and the false prophets by arranging for a contest on Mount Carmel. God told Elijah to announce to Ahab that the rains would stop (1 Kings 17:1-2), and then in the third year of the famine, God ordered Elijah to announce to Ahab that it would rain (1 Kings 18:1). The contest on Mount Carmel seems to have been Elijah’s inspiration. God graciously answered Elijah’s request that fire come down from heaven and consume his offering, but this dramatic display of God’s power did not bring about the repentance of Ahab and Jezebel, or the nation Israel. When Jezebel threatened to kill him, Elijah knew that he had not succeeded in turning the nation to God. He was angry and disappointed. He had made a valiant effort to turn the nation around, and God had not blessed it with success. As a result, Elijah attempted to turn in his badge and quit. He wanted to resign as a prophet, and even to resign from life.
God does graciously provide Elijah with a good meal and some much-needed sleep, but this is not the solution to his problem. In chapter 19, God instructs Elijah through what He does and says to him on Mount Horeb (19:8ff.). He teaches Elijah that He does not restrict Himself to speaking and acting only through spectacular means—the great wind, the earthquake, or the fire. He also speaks through the gentle breeze and the still small voice. God did not need Elijah to do something spectacular, like challenging the false prophets to a contest on Mount Carmel. God simply asked Elijah to speak to the king, and then to pray for rain. God would later bring about great changes in the nation, but this would not be through Elijah; this would come about through others such as Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha (19:15-18).
I see Peter’s failure in our text as being very similar to that of Elijah. Peter had made some bold claims about his loyalty to Jesus. By his use of his sword and his presence in the courtyard of Annas, Peter acted with bravery and heroism. It is my opinion that just as Elijah expected God to bless his contest on Mount Carmel with success, Peter expected our Lord to bless his bravery when he drew his sword, taking on not only the temple police and a Jewish mob, but the Roman army as well. As he sat there in that courtyard and saw how things were going, it must have suddenly dawned on Peter that Jesus was not going to rescue Himself. Jesus was letting all of this happen without making any effort to defend Himself. Peter courageously attempted to save Jesus from arrest, and yet all he got in return from Jesus was a rebuke. I believe Peter’s failure is his reaction to our Lord’s refusal to applaud or to grant success to his acts of heroism.
Have you ever attempted to do something “for God” that you thought was really commendable, only to have your efforts miserably fail? How often Christians look at a situation and think that God is in trouble, and that He desperately needs our help. And when we are in such crisis situations, we are tempted to act in a way that is inconsistent with God’s will and His word. And so we act impulsively, presuming that God will bless, that He must bless. And when He allows us to fall flat on our faces, we are angry and hurt, and this is the time when we are tempted to give it all up and to deny Him. Let us beware of assuming that we know better than God how He should work in a given situation. Let us beware of assuming that God is obliged to bless our efforts, no matter how heroic they appear, when our efforts are contrary to His plan.
Second, let us bear in mind that Peter’s failure is little different from that of the other disciples. It is very easy to cast stones at Peter for his denials, but let us keep in mind that all of the disciples forsook our Lord. In one sense, we may have to concede that Peter and John are the “best of a bad bunch.” These two men chose to risk following Jesus and being near Him during His trials before Annas, Caiaphas, and the Jewish Sanhedrin. Lest we feel a little smug when we read of Peter’s denials, let me ask how many opportunities you and I have had to “stand up and testify of our faith in Jesus Christ,” and yet we have chosen to remain silent? We are not that different from Peter.
Third, in spite of how wrong Peter was to deny his Lord, it appears as though God providentially used his denials for good. We know that “God causes all things to work together for good …” (Romans 8:28). We know that what men intend for evil, God can use for good (see Genesis 50:20). I believe that God used Peter’s denial for good, in spite of the fact that it was sin. The normal course of events would have been for the disciples of our Lord to have been arrested, and perhaps crucified, along with Jesus. John portrays the release of the eleven disciples not only as the fulfillment of our Lord’s own words, but also as a miracle, proof of the Savior’s sovereignty. Peter’s denials may have been instrumental in putting the Jewish religious leaders’ minds to rest regarding any ongoing threat that the disciples of Jesus may have posed. After all, if only a few hours after Jesus’ arrest His most loyal follower denies Him, then they may very well feel justified in assuming that the “Jesus movement” is as good as dead. From Peter’s actions and words, they may have felt it was better to let the disciples live than to attempt to arrest and execute them. If the leading disciple has already given up, then surely the others are soon to follow, or so it seems.
Fourth, Peter’s failure here is typical of the way men usually fail. Peter had been repeatedly warned about his denial. Even when told by the Lord Jesus that he would fail, Peter confidently affirmed his loyalty, even to death. I believe Peter meant what he said. But in spite of Peter’s resolve, he did fail. How did this happen? How did Peter fail to see this coming? I think we must say that, at the time, Peter did not see his actions for what they were. He did not realize what he was doing until after the rooster crowed and the Lord looked him in the eye.
Peter’s failure was progressive. He failed by degrees over a period of time. Each step in his failure led to the next. And yet each step, in and of itself, did not seem so terrible. As I look through the Bible, and at the failures of men today, it seems quite evident that those sins which appear to have happened “suddenly” and “unexpectedly” usually have come about much more gradually. Take David’s sin with Bathsheba, for example. It may appear that David acted on impulse, and indeed he did. But David was not supposed to be sleeping late in his palace. David was supposed to be out in the field with his men, at war. David should have been with Uriah, in the battlefield, and not with Uriah’s wife, in his bedroom. Peter’s fall took place a step at a time, and each step, in and of itself, did not seem so terrible—until it was too late.
I am reminded of the warnings to the nave in the Book of Proverbs. Time and time again, we are exhorted to consider the path we are on. There are only two paths: the path which leads to life, and the path which leads to death. Satan (portrayed by the seductress in Proverbs) has a way of camouflaging the path of sin, which leads to death, so that it appears to offer us what we really want. Those who are wise will heed the warnings of Scripture and consider the destination of the path they are on. Peter was on the wrong path, and he went his way—step by step—until he found himself denying the One he loved, the One he said he would never deny, and never intended to deny. Let us beware of those small steps we take in the wrong direction, and let us give heed to where they will lead us. In the Scriptures, the false path is clearly labeled, as is the path of life.
Fifth, this text gives us insight into the unique contribution of the Gospel of John. When studying a book of the Bible, it is always profitable to ask and to answer the question, “What is the unique contribution of this book to the overall message of the Bible?” In the case of one of the Gospels, this is a more obvious question because there are four different accounts of the same subject matter, covering the same period of time. Why did the Spirit of God find it important for us to have the Gospel of John, in addition to the Synoptic Gospels? Our text has helped me to identify some of the unique contributions of the Book of John to the teachings of Scripture.
The entire Gospel of John is about “witnesses” and “testimony.” In chapter 1, Jesus is introduced, not as a babe in the manger (as with Matthew and Luke), but as the Logos, the word made flesh. Jesus is the supreme witness, the full and final testimony of God to men:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 5 And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it. … 14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. 15 John testified about him and cried out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” 16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only One, himself God, who is in the presence of the Father, has made God known (John 1:1-5, 14-18).
Repeatedly in this Gospel, Jesus claims to have spoken the words the Father has given Him to reveal to men:
11 “I tell you the solemn truth, we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. … 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he does not give the Spirit sparingly” (John 3:11, 34).
“If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know about my teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak from my own authority” (John 7:17).
28 Then Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak just what the Father taught me. 29 And the one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do those things that please him” (John 8:28-29).
“I am telling you the things I have seen while with my Father, but you are practicing the things you have heard from your father” (John 8:38).
49 “For I have not spoken from my own authority, but the Father himself who sent me has commanded me what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. Thus the things I say, I say just as the Father has told me” (John 12:49-50).
“The person who does not love me does not obey my words. And the word you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me” (John 14:24).
8 “Because I have given them the words you have given me. They accepted them and really understand that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. … 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, because they do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world” (John 17:8, 14).
If John’s Gospel is about the witness of Jesus, then I must take note of the fact that in John’s Gospel, there is no account of our Lord’s baptism. There is no account of our Lord’s transfiguration. There is no “Great Confession” from the lips of Peter. And the one time that the Father audibly bears witness to the Son it is regarding His death:
27 “Now my soul is greatly distressed. And what should I say? ‘Father, deliver me from this hour’? No, but for this very reason I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard the voice said that it had thundered. Others said that an angel had spoken to him. 30 Jesus said, “This voice has not come for my benefit but for yours. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 (Now he said this to indicate clearly what kind of death he was going to die.) (John 12:27-33)
The great confession in John is not that of Peter, nor that of any man, though there are many confessions that Jesus is the Son of God. The “great confession” in John is the confession of our Lord Himself:
13 I charge you before God who gives life to all things and Christ Jesus who made his good confession before Pontius Pilate, 14 to keep this command without fault or failure until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 that the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, will reveal at the right time. 16 He alone possesses immortality and lives in unapproachable light, whom no human has ever seen or is able to see. To him be honor and eternal power! Amen (1 Timothy 6:13-16, emphasis mine).
In the Gospel of John, the great witness is our Lord Jesus Himself. And the “great confession” is made by our Lord, not Peter. Indeed, one could say that John has structured his argument in such as way as to place the “great confession” of our Lord alongside the “great denial” of Peter. The question put to Peter is, “Are you His disciple?” to which Peter responds, “I am not.” The question put to Jesus is, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And our Lord’s answer is, “Yes, I am.”142
I was troubled by the fact that in the Gospels Jesus says very little in response to the questions which He is asked. In effect, Jesus takes the Fifth Amendment. How can Jesus bear testimony to Himself as the Messiah by keeping silent? And then I remembered the prophecy of Isaiah: “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7, NKJV).
Legally, Jesus was not required to defend Himself, just as He was not required to offer testimony against Himself. Biblically, Jesus had to remain silent in order to fulfill prophecy. Our Lord’s purpose was not to defend Himself and avoid the cross; it was to give His life as a ransom for many. Jesus kept quiet because it was the Father’s will for Him to die on that cross, bearing the guilt and punishment for sinners like you and me.
Looking at it another way, Jesus made His “great confession,” not by speaking words in His defense, but by His deeds. From the very beginning, Jesus came to this earth to die in the sinner’s place. In John, Jesus repeatedly speaks of His death on the cross (see John 3:14-16; 8:28; 12:34). His death on the cross of Calvary was our Lord’s “great confession.” This was, as it were, God’s final word (see Hebrews 1:1-2; 2:1-4). After His resurrection and ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the testimony of the apostles was about the cross of Christ.
The question John’s Gospel poses to its readers is this: “How do you stand in relation to Jesus as the promised Messiah, the King of the Jews?” There is no more important question in all the world. Your eternal destiny is determined by your answer to this question. As we read this text about the trial of our Lord, it is no longer Jesus who is on trial, nor the Jewish religious leaders, nor Annas, nor Pilate, nor Peter—it is you who are on trial. When Jesus Christ comes again, and you stand before the judgment bar of God, He will want to know only one thing from you: “What have you done with My Son?” This is the question you must answer. John tells you what your answer should be:
32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men who had been crucified with Jesus, first the one and then the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out immediately. 35 And the person who saw it has testified (and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth), so that you also may believe. 36 For these things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled, “Not a bone of his will be broken.” 37 And again another scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced” (John 19:32-37, emphasis mine).
30 Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples that are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31, emphasis mine).
Prediction of Peter’s Denial
26:30-35 Sang hymn, going out to Mount of Olives (30).
Jesus: “All will fall away.” Peter: “Even if all fall away, not me.” Jesus: “Peter, you will deny me three times.” Peter: “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.”
14:26-31 Sang hymn, going out to Mount of Olives (26). Jesus: “You will all fall away …” (27).
Peter: “Even if they all fall away, I will not.” (29)
Jesus: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times” (30).
Peter (emphatically): “Even if I must die, I will not deny you” (31).
22:31-34 Dispute over who is greatest (24). Peter informed of Satan’s opposition and Lord’s intercession. He will fail, but will be restored—strengthen brethren (31-32). Peter is ready to go to prison with Jesus and die (33). Jesus foretells Peter’s denial (34). Jesus’ statement about buying a sword (36).
13:31-38 In the upper room. Jesus has told of His departure; they can’t follow (33). Peter asks why he can’t follow. He will lay down his life for Jesus (37). Jesus predicts Peter’s denial 3 times, before rooster crows (38).
26:40-41 Jesus took three with Him, told of His anguish, asked them to watch with Him. “Pray that you will not come to time of testing.”
14:32-42 Jesus to the three: “I am deeply grieved, even to point of death. Remain here and stay alert with me” (34).
“Peter, why are you sleeping?” (37). Pray not to come into temptation (38).
22:39-46 To all: “Pray that you may not fall into temptation” (40). Angel appears to Jesus (43). Jesus rebukes, “pray not to enter temptation” (46).
No Gethsemane scene
Cutting off of man’s ear
26:51-54 An unnamed disciple cuts off ear of the slave of the high priest. Jesus orders him to put back his sword, for two reasons: (1) He could call more than 12 legions of angels, and (2) The Scriptures must be fulfilled.
14:43-52 Bystander cut off ear of high priest’s slave (47). Jesus rebukes those arresting Him for coming with arms, as if after a robber (48-49). Disciples flee, including one young man who they tried to arrest, but ran off naked (50-52).
“Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (49).
One of them struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his right ear (50). Jesus: “Stop this!”
Jesus heals the ear (51).
18:8-11 Jesus is securing the release of disciples (8-9). Peter pulls his sword, cuts off right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave (10). Jesus orders Peter to put up sword. He must fulfill the Father’s purpose (11).
26:57-75 Jesus taken to Caiaphas (26:57). Peter was following Jesus at a distance (58). He sat with officers while Jesus was questioned (59-67).
Slave girl: “You were with Jesus the Galilean, too” (69).
Peter: “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” (70).
Another slave girl: “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth” (71).
Peter (with an oath): “I do not know the man!” (72).
Those standing there: “You really are one of them too, because your accent shows it clearly” (73).
Peter: Began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” (74). Rooster crowed, Peter remembered, wept bitterly (74-75).
14:43-65 Jesus led “to the high priest” (14:53). Peter followed from a distance (66-72). Peter in the courtyard.
One of high priest’s slave girls: “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus” (67). Peter: “I don’t know or understand what you are talking about” (68).
ROOSTER CROWS FIRST TIME (68).
Slave girl: “This man is one of them” (69). Peter denied it again (70).
Bystanders: “Truly you are one of them, for you are also a Galilean” (70). Peter cursed and swore: “I do not know this man you are talking about!” (71).
ROOSTER CROWS SECOND TIME, Peter remembers, weeps.
22:54-62 Jesus taken to “the high priest’s house.” Peter follows at a distance, sits among them (54-55).
Slave girl: “This man was with him, too!” (56). Peter: “Woman, I don’t know him!” (57).
Later, someone else: “You are one of them too!” Peter: “Mister, I am not!” (58).
Still another insisted, “Certainly this man was with him too; for he too is a Galilean!” (59). Peter: “Mister, I do not know what you are talking about!” Rooster crowed while he was still speaking (60).
The Lord turned and looked at Peter, he re-membered, and went out, weeping bitterly (61-62).
18:13-27 Jesus brought to Annas (13), then sent to Caiaphas (24).
Peter and another disciple follow Jesus and are in the inner courtyard (15-16).
Slave girl/doorkeeper (to whom other disciple had spoken): “You’re not one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” Peter: “I am not!” (17).
Jesus interrogated by Annas, sent to Caiaphas (18-24).
Those warming themselves by the fire: “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?” (18, 25). Peter: “I am not!” (25).
High priest’s slave (relative of the former earless one): “Did I not see you in the orchard with him?” (26). Peter denied it, rooster crowed (27).
No mention of weeping.
129 Originally, the high priest held the office for his lifetime, but under Roman rule the high priest was appointed whenever the Roman ruler saw fit. The Jews may have refused to accept anyone but Annas as the true high priest, which would explain his powerful role in the nation, and in the death of Jesus.
132 “The other disciple had the advantage of being known to the high priest, and it seems agreed that the word known means more than casual acquaintance. It seems to indicate that the man belonged to the high priest’s circle.” Leon Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), IV, p. 613.
133 Some have conjectured that John came to Jerusalem, where he sold fish to the high priest’s family. That would explain John’s words here, perhaps. It could also be as simple as the high priest owning a vacation cottage on the Sea of Galilee, where John met and befriended one his sons, and thereby became known to the family. John does not wish to elaborate on such matters. He only tells us that the “other disciple” and the high priest were somehow acquainted.
136 “‘No one should wonder that he followed, or cry him up for his manliness. But the wonder was that matter of Peter, that being in such fear, he came even as far as the hall, when the others had retreated. His coming thither was caused by love, his not entering within by distress and fear’ (LXXXIII. 2; p. 308).” Chrysostom, cited in Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p. 751, fn. 29.
138 This is not to deny the fact that Jesus veiled His teaching due to the rejection of His words (cf. Mark 4:1-25, 33-34). The point here is that there was no duplicity in His teaching. He taught His disciples in much more depth and detail than the masses, but His teaching was consistent. He had no hidden agenda.
141 This staggering and sudden thrust expects an affirmative answer by the use of ouk, not mh as in verses 17 and 25, but Peter's previous denials with the knowledge that he was observed by a kinsman of Malchus, whom he had tried to kill (verse 10), drove him to the third flat denial that he knew Jesus, this time with cursing and swearing (Mark 14:71; Matthew 26:74). Peter was in dire peril now of arrest himself for attempt to kill. Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), vol. V, p. 290.