Denying Jesus

KEY VERSE: “Then saith the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples? He saith, I am not.” —John 18:17


DURING THE CLOSING days of his earthly ministry, Jesus began to inform his disciples about his impending death. He told “how he must go into Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.”—Matt. 16:21

This, of course, did not meet the understanding of Peter as to the course marked out in the Scriptures for the Christ. And, never hesitant to express himself, we read that he went to Jesus and began to rebuke him, saying, “Be it far from thee, Lord [Margin, ‘pity thyself’] this shall not be unto thee.”

Jesus’ reaction to this well-intentioned effort of the devoted Peter to dissuade him from the course he saw clearly marked out in the Scriptures was instantaneous and emphatic. “He turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offense [a stumbling-block] unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”

When, later, Jesus told them of his death, and added that it would be by crucifixion, we read that they were “exceedingly sorrowful.” They were “amazed” as they followed him on the last Passover journey to Jerusalem; that “they understood none of those things”—the whys and wherefores, no doubt, of Jesus’ determination to go amongst his enemies.—Mark 10:32; Luke 18:36

We find Peter on the night of the betrayal, remonstrating with the Lord when the latter said they would all desert him, and assuring him that though his life would be in danger for following Jesus, yet he would not deny him. And we read, “Likewise also said they all.” (Matt. 26:35; Mark 14:31) They had determined to be faithful and loyal to their Master, even unto death!—Luke 24:49

Two other events on that fateful night were among the more important experiences of Peter: the one in the Garden of Gethsemane; the other in the High Priest’s palace to which Jesus was taken after his arrest. After the Gethsemane experience the multitude, led by Judas, approached to apprehend Jesus. Peter no doubt had in mind the Lord’s earlier instructions regarding the swords. He now asked, “Lord, shall we smite with the sword?” and, not waiting for a reply, the impetuous disciple “smote the servant of the High Priest, and cut off his right ear.” This was an attempt to save Jesus’ life.

“Jesus [said] unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11) Peter then followed his Lord to the High Priest’s palace, there to be pointed out as a member of Jesus’ company. In the presence of that Master he loved, he denied that he even knew him. How remarkable a combination of qualities we find in Peter! Love and courage had brought him into imminent danger, and yet he denied with an oath the one whom but a few hours before he had assured that, “though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. … Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee.”—Matt. 26:33-35

Peter evidently still had in mind to attempt a rescue of Jesus from this fatal situation, and in his desperation went even to the point of making a denial of knowing the Lord. Just then Jesus came into view under guard of soldiers, and he looked at Peter. How that look cut him to the heart! He knew, from Jesus’ face, that any further attempt on his part to save his Master would fail—that Jesus was determined to give up his life. As the cock crowed, Peter remembered that Jesus had warned him that “before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice,” and he went out “and wept bitterly.”—Matt. 26:75

Cephas, or Peter—“a rock”—was the name Jesus gave Simon when he was first brought to him. (John 1:42, Margin) How little he seemed to deserve that name in some of the tests the Lord applied. But Jesus saw the true character, the animating principle of reverence for God. He loved Peter, and Peter loved his Master. Jesus could wait for Peter’s development with patience and kindly helpfulness.

His was, perhaps, an unusually complex and contradictory set of human impulses and dispositions to begin with. But the Lord led him in such a way, overruling his experiences, instructing him through his Word and his providences, that he entirely overcame those conflicting dispositions as far as his heart was concerned; and the new set of impulses and godlike dispositions were gradually crystallized into a rock-like character—immovable, unchangeable, prepared as a “living stone” for the Temple of God.—I Pet. 2:4,5, Diaglott

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