This is part of a series studying Peter’s life and ministry. Click here for the entire series.
The setting is the courtyard of the High Priest:
Peter was with John and others (possibly the temple police and soldiers) in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house while Jesus was on trial upstairs (Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-18, 25-27). One of the high priest’s servant girls recognized Peter, “You were also with that Nazarene [Galilean], Jesus” (Mark 14:67). Peter replied, “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about” (vs. 68), using formal legal language.
A second time a servant girl saw him and said to those nearby, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth” (Matthew 26:71). Peter’s reaction was even more intense: “He denied it again, with an oath: I don’t know the man” (Matthew 26:72). We don’t know the wording of Peter’s oath, but using oaths (curses on one who would break a promise) was common in Jewish life. Sadly, the word for “man” here is a term better translated the disdainful term “fellow!”
Before Peter’s third denial, someone obviously heard him talking and remarked, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away” (Matthew 26:73). Peter’s response is shocking: “He began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!” This time he called down curses on himself!
Before we judge Peter too harshly, we need to understand what he was facing. First, Luke tells us Peter was with those who had arrested Jesus (22:54-55), likely still clutching their swords and clubs. Second, Peter was now in the courtyard of the high priest whose servant Peter had maimed in Gethsemane. One word from Malchus and Peter would be in trouble with the high priest. Third, Peter was in the inner sanctum of Jewish religious leadership. The 71 members of the Sanhedrin were trying Peter’s rabbi just yards away from him. That was a pretty intimidating setting for a fisherman from Bethsaida!
Peter had no sooner finished his third denial when a rooster crowed for the second time (Mark 14:72). Luke tells us “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times’” (22:60-61). The brawny fisherman went out alone and bawled his eyes out, overcome with remorse and humility (vs. 62)
Peter was courageous enough to be in the right place—close to where Jesus was being tried—to protect Jesus, but unfortunately he said the wrong things in the right place!
Do you think you could have withstood the pressure Peter faced?
Have you ever denied you were a Christ-follower? If so, how did you respond after that?