Peter Denies the Lord Three Times
After Judas betrayed the Lord, Peter--with faltering faith--denied Christ three times. Join us as we consider this tragic night in the life of a great apostle.

After Jesus was betrayed and arrested, we learn from John' account of the gospel - "And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest" (John 18:15). The events of this section of text happened simultaneously with the beginning portion of Jesus' Jewish trial (which we studied recently). Although he is not specifically identified, most believe that John was the other apostle who followed Jesus after His arrest and that he simply chooses to speak of himself impersonally (e.g., Mark 14:51; John 21:20ff).

"But Peter stood at the door outside. Then the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in" (John 18:16). John apparently was acquainted with the household of the high priest since he is able to enter into the courtyard and indirectly bring Peter in. John was evidently indifferent to any personal loss he might suffer by being identified as a disciple of Jesus, but such was not the case with Peter at this time. It was customary in that day to have female porters at the houses of the great or rich (e.g., Acts 12:13). It has been observed by some that John would have shown a truer kindness to Peter had he let him stay outside (and thus avoid the strong temptations of denying Christ).

"Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, 'You are not also one of this Man's disciples, are you?'" (John 18:17). The doorkeeper evidently recognized John as a disciple, and suspected that Peter was also a follower since John had requested that he be brought in. She asked Peter this question upon his entrance and he responded cowardly by saying - "I am not." This is a sad contrast to the strong affirmation that Jesus made in Mark 14:62. Here is Peter's first denial of the three that Jesus predicted (cf. Matt. 26:34).

"Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coal stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves. And Peter stood with them and warmed himself" (John 18:18). Although Peter's faith is already faltering in that he does not want to be identified as a follower of Christ at this time, he still loved Jesus enough to desire to see what would happen to Him. It is pitiful that Peter would choose the company of the Lord's enemies (rather than John's) while Jesus is on trial for His life!

In the first denial Mark mentioned, Peter claimed to not know or understand what they were saying to him (cf. Mark 14:68). He then proceeded to go out on the porch, and a rooster crowed. This is the first of two crowings that Mark alone mentions (cf. 14:72; John 13:38). It appears that this first crowing didn't penetrate Peter's mind and alert him that he was already beginning to fulfill that which Jesus had predicted. Is Mark incorrect in mentioning two crowings since the other writers only mention one? The answer is "no." Although man typically focuses on the crowing of roosters early in the morning (after 3 AM), it is sometimes the case that roosters also crow around midnight. Mark does not contradict the other writers but simply provides more information than the others on this point. They only mention the commonly referred to hour for roosters to crow.

Let it be observed that although it is certainly accurate to state that Peter denied Christ three times, it is difficult to harmonize the four inspired accounts together without concluding that Peter actually denied the Lord more than three times. A solution to this difficulty may be that since some of these denials happened with little time between them, they are considered together as only being one of the three denials foretold.

Matthew records that while Peter was out on the porch, someone said - "This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth" (Matt. 26:71). Peter denied the statement with an oath, saying - "I do not know the Man!" (Matt. 26:72).

"And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, 'Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you'" (Matt. 26:73). Someone confidently affirmed that Peter was a disciple of Jesus, for his speech gave him away as a Galilean (cf. Luke 22:59). Interestingly enough, the fact that Peter was a Galilean and present for this occasion caused the people to correctly assume that he was a follower of Jesus.

John 18:26 records - "One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, 'Did I not see you in the garden with Him?'" This inquiry would have put more pressure on Peter to deny an association with Jesus, for if he admitted to being the one who assaulted Malchus, he might have been arrested.

"Then he began to curse and swear, saying, 'I do not know the Man!' Immediately a rooster crowed" (Matt. 26:74). Peter feels overwhelmed by people continually associating him with Jesus and he loses his temper. He should have considered being associated with Jesus as a complement, but he didn't in these hours of weakness. He again made an oath and this time even uttered a curse against himself (e.g., he may have said something like this: "I swear, I promise with an oath that I do not know this Man and if I am not telling the truth, may I be declared accursed before God, indeed, may the curses of God be brought down upon me!"). He is not using profanity (which also would have been terrible) but is doing something even stronger and more profound. Peter has, for the moment, forgotten about his love for the Lord. His thoughts are focused on attempting to validate his denials. Whether the people believed him after this outburst is unknown. In our world today, one of the quickest methods one can use to disassociate himself from Jesus is to unbridle the tongue and let profanity and words of hatred flow.

"And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, 'Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times'" (Luke 22:61). This had to be one of the most traumatic moments of Peter's life. When he made eye contact with Jesus, Peter remembered the Lord's loving tenderness and prediction. Peter, in a moment of realization, knows the blackness of his denials, and perhaps even more burdensome is the fact that he knows that Jesus knows. "So Peter went out and wept bitterly" (Luke 22:62). Peter is jarred out of his state of denial and did what any other genuine disciple would have done.

Some would say that there is really no difference between the sins of Peter and Judas on this evening. While it is undeniable that they both failed terribly--one in denying Christ and the other in betraying Him--there is a great deal of difference between their sins. The sin of Peter was not premeditated; he sinned through fear and weakness of faith. Judas, on the other hand, sinned according to plan and purpose. Also, afterward, the response of these two men is significantly different. Judas did not repent in order to be forgiven, but Peter did. Yes, they were both sorrowful after committing their sins, but Judas didn't turn from his sin. Instead, his "solution" was to go out and hang himself (cf. Matt. 27:5). Peter, on the other hand, went out and wept bitterly, but his repentance is clearly seen in that he gave the rest of his life in faithful service to His Lord that he had denied (cf. II Cor. 7:10).

Dear friends, if every Christian would put forth effort to avoid the mistakes that Peter committed (i.e., don't be boastful about yourself, pray without ceasing, follow Christ as closely as you can, and choose your companions wisely), many sins would be prevented today. Above all, when (not if) you sin, don't make the mistake that Judas did--repent and obtain God's pardon (cf. I John 1:7-9)! Peter failed miserably, but he came back to the Lord and was forgiven. Judas failed miserably, but he never came back to the Lord for forgiveness even though he could have (and should have).

One might also add that Peter's faith failed because he did not fully understand what Jesus was doing. Peter was certainly in a state of confusion after being told not to fight for Jesus as he had been eager to do in the garden. Also, Peter was surely having difficulty making sense of the passiveness of Jesus. Questions such as: "Why didn't He resist arrest?" and "Why isn't He defending Himself?" probably consumed his thoughts. Peter likely was having doubts about Jesus as the Messiah, and this caused his courage to crumble.

The wise will learn from both the failures and successes of this great apostle! Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.