There are four major documents written within a short time which give details of Jesus’ life, words, works and actions and speak of his death and resurrection. They contain eyewitness accounts of people who were with him, who saw him and who heard him. There are no other documents from this time which counter or contradict these writings. They, the documents, have been given name, a descriptive name which, for no reason has automatically invalidated them in the minds of many. Of all the writing about historical events these documents, called gospels, are the most extraordinary and viable. Other documents, written after the lives of the eyewitnesses, lend magical, mythical, legendary wording to Jesus’ life and the lives of his followers. These documents, the four gospels, do not.
All four documents, labeled Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, tell the story of Jesus’ last days and hours before his murder and his resurrection. They all give eyewitness accounts of the events leading up to his trial and crucifixion, his death, burial and resurrection which are neither fanciful nor convoluted. Peter’s denial of Jesus is a prime example.
Peter asserts his devotion for his master. When the group is told by Jesus one of them was going to betray him and Peter himself was going to deny knowing him, Peter countered with an absolute statement. “I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” [Luke 22:33 ESV]. Speaking of the spiritual battle fought in a physical, temporal world, Jesus responds with a prediction. He has already predicted accurately his trial, torture, death and resurrection though the prediction has yet to see its fulfillment. None of his followers actually believed him or perhaps were not paying attention to his words. Peter is no different. He has no concept of what Jesus is speaking. All he hears, I think, is an attack upon his character. How could Jesus suggest Peter would do such a thing? Has not Peter been the most devoted follower? Read Jesus’ prediction. “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” [Luke 22:34 ESV].
This is not an extraordinary prediction. Jesus does not say Peter will do something so out of the ordinary his action would be implausible. Jesus’ words are simple, direct. Before the first rooster crow, generally in the wee hours of the morning far ahead of the rising sun, Peter will deny three times his association with his master. At a time when all his followers would normally be sleeping, while Jesus prayed, Peter would be in a place where he would be tested by those who hated Jesus and he would fail the test.
Jesus does not absolve Peter of his future actions. He simply says what will happen. It is as if Jesus expected Peter to fail then encouraged him to continue following after the failure. It is going to happen. After it has happened don’t stop doing what you have been trained to do and don’t stop being what God has made you. Does God expect us to fail? And, yet, He still loves us with an eternal love beyond comprehension.
On the Mount of Olives, when the mob arrived to abduct Jesus, Peter, awakened from a sleep by a rush of adrenaline, his emotions still stinging from his master’s open rebuke, lashed out with a sword injuring a man. Jesus again rebuked him, healed the man and is led away without a fight. All of his followers, Peter included, except for Judas the betrayer, run away from the confrontation. All of them.
John tells us Peter and another follower (probably John) trail behind the mob to the High Priest’s home, where the illicit trial will take place. Knowing the High Priest, the one follower (probably John) gains entrance, brings Peter into the compound, so they can watch what will take place. Though they had run away they did return and place themselves in jeopardy, perhaps for sheer curiosity sake, by mingling with the mob which had just taken their master.
Try to visual the scene. It is still dark, early morning before sunrise. It is cold. Peter, who has cut off the ear trying to cut off the head of a man, part of a mob with torches and clubs and swords, is standing around with the same mob in an enclosed space. Perhaps he has covered his head, hidden himself or camouflaged himself in some way. He is standing next to a fire warming himself with the people he had just attacked. This is outrageous but not abnormal. Peter’s personality, stepping into experiences without thinking, shines. He may be trying to redeem himself, at least in his own mind. He doesn’t.
A servant girl first questioned Peter. After she studied him, looked hard at him, she placed him with Jesus. Peter responded by denying even knowing Jesus, as if it were the first time he’d ever laid eyes on the man. His statement is adamant, absolute, complete. “I do not know him” [Luke 22:57 ESV].
Next, a man looked at Peter and placed him with Jesus’ followers. He identified Peter, not with Jesus but with the group of men who followed Jesus. Peter had already denied knowing Jesus. Now, he denied knowing any of the people who followed Jesus. Peter responded to the man’s statement about being a follower of Jesus is also explicit and firm. “I am not!” [Luke 22:58 ESV].
Finally, about an hour later, while it is still dark another man confronted Peter. He identified Peter as a Galilean, after listening to him and recognizing his accent. There were probably lots of Galileans in Jerusalem for Passover, having traveled up for the celebration. But none of them are going to be awake at this time of night, sitting around a fire trying to stay warm, while another Galilean is mocked and ridiculed and questioned and condemned. “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean” [Luke 22:59 ESV].
Peter’s final denial judges even himself. “Man, I do not know what you are talking about” [Luke 22:60 ESV]. Peter said he could not be who the man thought he was. None of the evidence they had seen fit him. He is innocent of their accusation, a victim of mistaken identity, completely outside of any influence of Jesus, or Jesus’ followers, or even the land from which Jesus came.
Peter lied. Three times.
Not far away, though surrounded by his enemies, those who want him dead and were willing to compromise their relationship with God to have him murdered, Jesus glanced up and caught Peter’s eye. And a rooster crowed. And Peter is captured, tried, convicted, sentenced, undone. Jesus’ prediction was fulfilled. “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” [Luke 22:61-62 ESV].
Peter, one of the pillars of Christianity, a writer of Scripture, a martyr of Christ, had feet of clay. He was a liar. This is not a tall-tale, a myth, a legend. Jesus predicted Peter’s denial. It happened. Even Peter, as one of the eyewitnesses of Jesus found in the documents of Jesus’ life and work, confessed his failures and validated the truth of what actually happened. There is no evidence Peter ever contradicted the account of his denial of Jesus found in all four reliable documents.
It happened. So did Jesus’ death. So did Jesus’ resurrection. It happened.