Peter’s Denial of Christ

Studies in First Peter

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1 ESV)

Luke 22:31-34, 54-62 (see also Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75; Mark 14:27-31, 66-72; John 13:37-38; 18:15-18, 25-27

It is the night before Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. Jesus knows what will happen in a few hours, having foreseen His coming trial, execution and resurrection. For this reason He came as a man. He and His disciples are eating the Passover meal. Passover is a physical representation of a spiritual reality. God instituted the Passover as an annual celebration, so the Jews would remember when He brought their nation out of Egypt. God instructed the Jews to eat the first Passover meal before the last plague to strike the nation of Egypt and before Pharaoh before released the Jewish people. When the Angel of death passed over the land, He struck down the first born of all who had not covered the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a sacrificed lamb.

For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:12-13 ESV)

God knew what He was going to do from creation and the fall of Adam and Eve, and systematically told His people and the world the events that would accomplish His redemption of those who are His. Passover is an annual reminder that God has redeemed those who are His by the blood of His Son. Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples before He became the sacrificed Passover lamb whose blood covers those redeemed by God.

During the meal Jesus predicted Peter’s denial of his relationship with Him. Jesus used Peter’s given name twice. Then He tells us something we could never know had He not divulged the facts. Satan had demanded from God that it might tempt Peter. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat”  (Luke 22:31 ESV). Demanded means to be given over for torture or punishment. Satan is concentrating its strength on the leader of the disciples in an attempt to destroy the continuity Jesus had built into the group over the years of His ministry. Like Job, Satan wanted to tempt and try Peter to see if his faith was real or a fabrication. Like Job, God gave permission for Satan to do its work (see Job 1:6-22 and 2:1-10).

Jesus does not leave Peter to his own strengths. Faith is a conduit God uses, through which God delivers all the tools needed to live for God in a world that hates God and persecutes Christians. Jesus tells Peter that “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32 ESV). Jesus’ prayer is eternally powerful. Though Peter must endure the assaults and attacks of the enemy, through the strength provided by God, he will endure. If Peter had to rely upon his own strength, his failure was assured. Peter received God’s strength in him under God’s control. He would fall because of his sin, but would rise again to work for God because of God’s strength. Knowing this, Jesus gave Peter his marching orders. His purpose was to strengthen your brothers, all those who follow Christ and must endure the assaults of the Deceiver.

In Peter’s mind and heart there was no possibility of him rejecting Jesus. Peter made a brash statement, boasting of something he would soon regret.  This is a characteristic of very person who tries to live for Christ using their own human strength and wisdom. “Peter said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death’” (Luke 22:33 ESV). Peter declared he was ready to die for Christ. He heard Jesus tell them they must pick up their crosses and follow Him. Having followed Jesus this far, he was convinced of his willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for Jesus.

Jesus, knowing the hearts of men, allows for temporary failure to build eternal success. Jesus knows what will actually happen because He is God and knows all things. “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:34 ESV). Roosters do not just crow as day is breaking but while it is still dark in the early morning hours. Peter, adamantly convinced he would never forsake Jesus, denied he knew Jesus three times before the rooster crowed, while it was still dark.

This prediction must have devastated Peter’s sensibilities. He could easily have been angry and hurt by what Jesus told him. In his mind and heart, he would do what he said he would do. When Jesus was arrested, it was Peter who struck the servant of the High Priest with a sword. “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?’” (John 18:10-11 ESV). Peter was rebuked by Jesus, even after being told to bring a sword, because he used the sword. His discouragement and confusion must have been great.

But Peter had already heard Jesus’ words. He may not have remembered them until later. “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32 ESV). God used his failings to prepare him for greater service.

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