In our examination of the witnesses of Jesus the Messiah, Simon Peter is a key witness. This man, the vocal leader of the disciples, is known for his impetuous nature, temper, and devotion to Jesus. Sometimes, however, his temper led Simon Peter into difficulties and occasionally interference in the mission of Jesus. In this instance, Jesus had foretold what would happen. Yet, after Peter’s witness (or lack thereof), John 18:15-17 reveals how Jesus restores Simon Peter and uses him powerfully for the kingdom.

A few verses later, in John 18:25027, the focus of the narrative returns to Peter, who was still in the courtyard of the High Priest. As with the first question/accusation of his being a disciple of Jesus, the second and third questions elicited the same response. Simon, Simon, you are so impetuous yet so endearing. You wear your heart on your sleeve and speak whatever is in your heart. Yet, Jesus foretold how Simon Peter would fail and deny Him three times within several short hours, although later in his life he would die for Him. Despite his weakness, Jesus loved him and revealed how he would be mighty in the kingdom of heaven. John probably included the accounts of Peter’s denials, even though the other gospels note the incident in their accounts, to explain why Jesus restored Peter to his place in the group of disciples. Also, John likely thought it important to show how Jesus can use even those who fail and even those closest to Him are capable of disappointing Him.

The events on the night of Jesus’ trial happened quickly amid much confusion. According to the accounts in the fourth gospel, after His arrest, Jesus was brought to the High Priest. Peter and another disciple followed the soldiers and others who took Jesus to the residence of the High Priest because of the late hour. There is some confusion about the sequence of events since Jesus was first brought before Annas, who had been the previous High Priest, before being taken before Caiaphas, the current High Priest. Josephus details the rapid successions in the office of High Priest. Josephus notes that, during the time of the third emperor, “he sent Valerius Gratus to be procurator of Judea and to succeed Annius Rufus. This man deprived Ananus (Annas in the New Testament) of the High Priesthood and appointed Ismael, the son of Phabi, to be High Priest. He also deprived him in a little time, and ordained Eleazar, the son of Ananus, who had been High Priest before, to be High Priest; which office, when he had held for a year, Gratus deprived him of it, and gave the High Priesthood to Simon, the son of Camithus; and when he had possessed that dignity no longer than a year, Joseph Caiaphas was made his successor.” [1] This indicates that the Romans would often replace, seemingly for little or no reason, the man serving as High Priest. “There had been a time, when the Jews were free, when the High Priest had held office for life; but when the Roman governors came, the office became a matter for contention and intrigue and bribery and corruption. It now went to the greatest sycophant and the highest bidder, to the man who was most willing to toe the line with the Roman governor.” [2] Despite these changes in the officiating High Priest during these years, Annas was the power behind the office as five of his sons, a grandson, and son-in-law, Caiaphas, held the office. For this reason, it is probable some Jews considered Annas the legitimate High Priest even though he did not have the title.

It is thought that the High Priest resided in the Hasmonean palace. The structure overlooks the Tyropoeon Valley and faces the Temple. The High Priest was the most important person to the Jews, even more than the Roman prefect, and would have had living quarters befitting such a position. This was part of the reason, along with the familial ties, that the two men lived at the same place. Hendriksen suggests the two may have even lived in the same palace. Annas and his family may have resided in one wing of the palace with Caiaphas and his family in another wing. In such a scenario, a prisoner could be taken from one wing of the palace to another without leaving the premises. This would correlate the accounts of the late night or early morning between the gospel accounts. Regardless of the reasons for these difficulties, the events of the late night or early morning remain somewhat confusing; however, the essential process remains undisputed. The home or palace of the High Priest had a gated courtyard with a doorkeeper. A doorkeeper was “standard in any household of means. In households of moderate means, a servant might fill this role among others, but larger estates might employ a full-time porter. A doorkeeper’s responsibility was to ask a visitor’s identity, especially when one came at night, and to observe who entered and exited the premises.” [3] As the High Priest resided in the Hasmonean palace, a doorkeeper would likely have been always stationed to monitor those who came and went from the grounds. The other disciple was apparently known by the High Priest, and he allowed the disciple entrance to the premises. It is possible the disciple John was known by the High Priest through his father, who owned a fishing business. He apparently owned at least one boat and several employees (Mark 1:20). “But how could John, a lowly fisherman, have been friendly with an elevated high priest? And how was it possible for him, one of Christ’s household, to frequent the house of the high priest?” [4] Not only for these reasons, but “would it not be also known that he was the favorite of Jesus and how then could he be admitted to the high priest’s palace without question when Peter was interrogated?” [5] The typical identification of the unidentified disciple is John, since he wrote the fourth gospel and this is his style of writing. It may be significant that the one who accompanied Peter and gained his admittance into the courtyard is referred to, not as the beloved disciple, the typical reference to John, but as another disciple. A couple of possible identities of this “other” disciple exist. One is Nicodemus, the ruler of the Jews who had met with Jesus earlier in His ministry. Another is Joseph of Arimathea, who was a Jew who became a believer. Jesus was buried in his tomb, indicating the degree of devotion this individual felt toward Jesus. Either of these men would have had reason to be at the residence of the High Priest and, more importantly, possessed the authority to authorize entrance for a stranger. Regardless of the identity of the unknown disciple, he was able gain access to the residence of the High Priest and had the authority to go to the doorkeeper and enable Peter to enter the courtyard of the palace. From the ensuing account, all this happened late at night, likely the second watch.

As soon as Peter gained admittance into the courtyard, his trouble or trial began. It started in a seemingly innocuous manner when the female doorkeeper questioned his identity. As a note, a female serving as a doorkeeper indicates that the place to which Jesus had been taken was a residence or palace, which would have been an appropriate dwelling for the High Priest. It would not have been the Temple grounds, because only men could serve in that role at the Temple. The reason for her question is unknown. Perhaps she thought Peter was one of the disciples, the unknown disciple had come out and brought Peter into the court, or his behavior had roused her suspicions. Lenski notes a possible motive for her questioning Peter was to make herself important and to bring shame to the men by observing what they failed to notice, namely the presence of a possible disciple of Jesus in the very courtyard of the High Priest. The presence of Peter, a stranger to the others, not a member of the arresting group, and likely looking very much out of place, probably made it obvious to those around him he was not one of them. To her inquiry, phrased in such a way as to solicit a negative response, the answer from Peter was, predictably, “I am not.” To be sure, “Peter’s attack with the sword may have made him fearful of being recognized, he is not in a position of legal difficulty, since there is no warrant for his arrest.” [6] Even the words Peter chose to speak in his denial are fascinating. He said “I am not” to the question, while Jesus said “I am” several times in His ministry. As Morris notes, it may have been that Peter was anticipating a challenge from a more potent interrogator as to the reason for his presence in the courtyard. The fact that a lowly slave girl, probably younger than he, asked the question shattered his confidence, and he took the path of least resistance. Once he answered in the negative, it was near impossible to reverse his position.

With this first denial apparently over, Peter remained in the courtyard. As it was night and it was cold, Peter, along with other people, found warmth from a charcoal fire. Jerusalem, being in the mountains and near the desert, even though warm during the day, quickly cooled at night. It was also probably windy, which would give the air an added chill. The mention of a fire also indicates this was a private area which would be consistent with the residence of the High Priest. By the light of the fire, probably because of his garb and his behavior, at least one person in the group thought he recognized him and asked whether he was a disciple of Jesus. This second denial was more emphatic and the gospel account notes he again said “I am not” a disciple, again in stark contrast to the words of Jesus: “I am.”

A few minutes later, a more credible individual, a family member of the man whose ear Peter had severed with his sword, apparently recognized Peter and asked whether Peter had been in the garden at the arrest of Jesus. Of the three questions, this challenge contained the greatest peril for Peter. If the testimony of this person were true, Peter could have been in legal jeopardy. This was surely the lowest point of the discipleship of Peter, a man who was supposed to be a witness of Jesus now being accused by someone who saw him act contrary to the ministry of Jesus. Peter, for the third time, denied the accusation; the other gospel accounts note his oaths and curses, and immediately thereafter a cock crowed. The sound of the cock revealed the meaning of the words of Jesus in John 13:36-38 saying Peter could not follow Jesus, yet would follow later, and a cock would crow when Peter had denied Him three times.

The three denials of Peter confirmed that Jesus would suffer and die alone. Jesus took a path that only He could travel and on which nobody could accompany. After the sound of the cock, Peter realized what he had done. This gospel does not reveal his reaction, unlike Mark and Luke. Interestingly, this gospel’s account of the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus, does not mention the feelings or emotions of any of the participants in the events, with the exception of Pilate’s fear. Because understanding Peter’s reaction to his realization of his denials of Jesus is important to understand his testimony, following are Mark 14:72 and Luke 22:61-62 of his denials. As these verses recount, as soon as Peter heard the cock crow, he realized he had done exactly what Jesus foretold. Several commentators suggest an alternative meaning to a rooster being the cock crowing. Apparently, the Romans have four watches during the night, which are 6 pm to 9 pm, 9 pm to midnight, midnight to 3 am, and 3 am to 6 am. References to these watches are found several times in the New Testament. After the third watch ended at three o’clock in the morning, the guard changed, and a trumpet blew. The trumpet call in both Latin and Greek translates to “cockcrow.” It is possible Jesus meant that Peter would deny Him three times before three o’clock in the morning. Keener notes that “cockcrowing was a negative omen to the superstitious in some parts of the empire, but more critically here, the cockcrowing also signaled early morning, when leading representatives of the municipal authority could bring Jesus before Pilate.” [7] This would make sense as the time line of the night of Jesus’ arrest and Peter’s denials would be consistent with this. So, when the trumpet call sounded the beginning of the fourth watch, Peter undoubtedly heard it and realized what he had done. “Peter, because of his unconsidered impetuosity and his miserable failure, serves to thrust Jesus, with His readiness to fulfill the divine will, and His persistence on this road, into an even more radiant light.” [8]

Despite Peter’s bold actions, several passages in the fourth gospel reveal the possible true importance or role of Peter. He was the second disciple chosen. When the Greeks sought to meet Jesus and learn more as we read in John 12:20-22, it was Philip and Andrew who handled the situation. In John 13:23-25, Peter asks another disciple, presumably the Apostle John, to question Jesus about the identity of the betrayer. It was not Peter who gained admittance to the courtyard of the High Priest, but someone else. It was not Peter who first came to the empty tomb, but another arrived first at the scene. At the end of the fourth gospel, it was another disciple who recognized Jesus standing on the shore, although Peter, true to his nature in John 21:5-7, jumps into the water to swim to shore to be with Jesus. This same impetuousness can be seen when he used a sword to cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant during the arrest of Jesus. “These data suggest that Peter is not the more prominent person of this group. He seems never to be favored with revelation and esoteric knowledge.” [9] Along the same lines, Matthew Henry questions the validity of concept of the Church being built on the faith of Peter (Matthew 16:18). Referring to the name “Cephas” (“Rock”) that Jesus gave him, Henry writes that “this no more proves that Peter was the singular or only rock upon which the church is built than the calling of James and John ‘Boanerges’ (Sons of Thunder) proves them the only sons of thunder.” [10] Rather, it likely referred to the level of commitment or resolution by which Peter and those like him gave to Jesus; but this level of commitment was only possible, as Matthew Henry pointed out, through grace.

Despite these criticisms of this apostle, we can note three things in Peter’s defense. First, none of the other disciples, with the exception of Peter, followed Jesus when He was arrested; second, he loved Jesus as his actions plainly revealed; and third, he tried vainly to defend Jesus. Despite these virtues, it is somewhat amazing Peter chose to remain associated with the other disciples after his actions in the courtyard. Yet he was one of the first to run to the tomb of Jesus when it was reported the Lord’s body was missing. It is doubtful whether Peter remembered that Jesus had foretold of his three denials and that he could not follow Him now, but he would follow Him later. This short passage of the words of Jesus is yet another indication of His divinity because He knew Peter would fail Him three times, yet would follow later.

After the resurrection and several post-resurrection appearances to the disciples and others, Jesus spent some of His last moments with the disciples. In his conversation with Peter, John 21:15-19 tells dthat Jesus reveals His love for Peter, restores him to his position, and gives him new responsibilities. This passage reveals how Simon Peter, after leaving the ministry like the other disciples, was drawn back to service and his role as a disciple by a loving Savior who gave Peter his marching orders in the form of the three parts – feeding sheep, feeding lambs, and guiding the sheep.



Copyright 2016 © Craig B. Manning. All Rights Reserved.