DENYING ALLEGIANCE TO CHRIST BRINGS BITTER REMORSE
William Hendriksen: The theme “Peter’s experiences, words, and deeds during the night of Christ’s betrayal and shortly afterward” would provide material for several sermons. The “points” might be: Peter’s boast, Christ’s prediction concerning him, his boast repeated and strengthened, his failure in Gethsemane, his three denials, his bitter tears, and his restoration.
Homer Kent: The three denials occurred throughout the stages of the Jewish trials and are variously grouped by the Evangelists. The differences among the narratives argue strongly for independence of composition. Yet essential agreement can be found, and the details admit various ways of harmonization.
J. Ligon Duncan: Progression of sin:
- So first he’s overconfident.
- and then he’s underprepared.
- He’s underprepared by watchfulness.
- he’s underprepared in prayer.
- And then he’s compromised.
Suddenly, he’s in the company of unbelievers, and they begin challenging him on his relationship to Christ. And in the context of his overconfidence and his underpreparedness,
what happens? He falls.
R. T. France: The story is told with a vivid simplicity, in three escalating scenes. The pressure builds as the first challenge comes from a single servant girl, the second from another girl now appealing to the bystanders, and the third from a group of those bystanders coming at him together. And Peter’s response escalates accordingly: first comes an evasive denial, then a direct denial on oath, and finally a much stronger response which (see below) is probably to be understood as actually uttering a curse against Jesus. There is also physical movement “further and further away from Jesus” (Davies & Allison, 3.542), in that Peter is at first in the courtyard, then moves out to its gateway, and finally (v. 75) escapes right outside. So Peter has comprehensively failed the test of loyalty, and Jesus’ prediction has been exactly fulfilled.
Richard Gardner: The scene with Peter in Caiaphas’ courtyard is presented as a subplot that unfolds during the same time that Jesus’ hearing is going on. Such a juxtaposition of scenes invites the reader to contrast the calm and courageous witness Jesus bears with the sorry way Peter conducts himself. The form of the episode is a series of three statements to Peter by others in the courtyard tying him to Jesus and the disciples. Each challenge evokes a protest from Peter denying any connection.
Grant Osborne: The Sanhedrin trial has three foci—the splendid isolation and majestic demeanor of Jesus, the opposition of the leaders to the extent that they are willing to forego legal procedure in order to condemn Jesus, and the absolute failure of Peter. Both the leaders and Peter are set in contrast to Jesus, the suffering Servant of Yahweh. The great irony is that the very reasons for which they sought to kill Jesus are the greatest truths of history; by putting Jesus to trial and death they were fulfilling God’s plan of salvation and establishing the very church they wished to eradicate from this earth.
David Turner: In many cases Scripture presents the weaker moments of its heroes (e.g., Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon). Likewise, Matthew’s narrative does not omit the inconsistencies and failures of Jesus’s disciples. Jesus’s subsequent rehabilitation of Peter (cf. John 21:15–22) is not narrated by Matthew, and so the reader is left with yet another blunt testimony to the weakness of the disciples. This is tempered somewhat by the teaching on God’s forgiveness (Matt. 12:32) and the promise that Jesus will later meet the disciples in Galilee (26:32; 28:7, 10, 16). Peter’s denial typifies the weakness of all the disciples (26:35), yet their mission will go on if they are true to the resurrected Messiah and live by his power and presence (28:18–20).
Stanley Saunders: At the palace of Caiaphas, both Jesus and Peter face trials in which oaths play a central role. Soon after this, Judas will announce to the chief priests and elders his guilt for “betraying innocent blood” (27:4) and then proceed to hang himself. The trials of Jesus and Judas end effectively in death sentences; Peter’s trial will leave him physically unscathed, but scarred with the guilt of also having betrayed Jesus. These stories also put on trial the Jewish justice system, which is more concerned with power and appearances than with people or truth. These stories portray the diverse ways the various characters—Judas, Peter, the religious authorities—deal with their guilt for betraying, deserting, and condemning Jesus to death.
I. (:69-70) FIRST DENIAL – SIMPLE DENIAL
A. (:69) Challenge
“Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard,
and a certain servant-girl came to him and said,
‘You too were with Jesus the Galilean.’”
B. (:70) Denial
“But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you are talking about.’”
II. (:71-72) SECOND DENIAL – SWEARS AN OATH
A. (:71) Challenge
“And when he had gone out to the gateway,
another servant-girl saw him and said to those who were there,
‘This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.’”
Donald Hagner: Peter, apparently sensing imminent personal threat and wishing to avoid any further questioning, begins to leave the courtyard (ἐξελθόντα εἰς τὸν πυλῶνα, “having gone into the entrance”) only to be encountered by another servant girl who, recognizing him, makes the same charge, which is now, however, addressed to those standing there.
Grant Osborne: Another servant woman spies him, and the pressure intensifies. The first girl’s question was directed only to him, though his answer was to everyone around. This one tells all “those” in the vicinity that he is definitely one of Jesus’ followers. “Of Nazareth” intensifies the slight tone of contempt in “of Galilee” in v. 69. As exemplified in John 1:46 (“Can anything good come from [Nazareth]”) it was a little-known backwater town in Galilee, and something of that is likely in her comment. In light of 2:23 (“he will be called a Nazarene”), there may also be for Matthew’s readers a note of messianic identity that further defines vv. 62, 64 (see Nolland).
B. (:72) Denial
“And again he denied it with an oath, ‘I do not know the man.’”
Stu Weber: An oath in Jewish culture made God a party to the assertion, calling down the judgment of God if the words spoken were false. This was an ultimate oath of denial. Peter invited God’s curse on himself if he was not telling the truth when he said, I don’t know the man!
Leon Morris: Now he says not only that he does not know what the girl is talking about, but that he does not know Jesus. Embarked on this course of denial he is led further into evil; the first denial involved a lie, the second time Peter perjured himself. The first was no more than a declaration that he did not know what the girl was talking about; the second was a clear repudiation of Jesus.
III. (:73-74a) THIRD DENIAL – SWEARS AND CURSES
A. (:73) Challenge
“And a little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter,
‘Surely you too are one of them; for the way you talk gives you away.’”
B. (:74a) Denial
“Then he began to curse and swear, ‘I do not know the man!’”
R. T. France: Again Peter denies, and again he uses an oath. But this time Matthew’s wording goes further, and the verb “began” indicates a new element in this third denial. The verb “swear” alone would have indicated merely another oath as in v. 72, but it is preceded by katathematizō, a verb which occurs only here but is generally agreed to be synonymous with the verb used in the Marcan parallel, anathematizō, “to curse, anathematize” (and in the LXX “to devote,” especially to destruction). Anathematizō elsewhere is always a transitive verb requiring a direct object to denote the person cursed; cf. Paul’s use of anathema as a curse formula in 1 Cor 12:3; 16:22; Gal 1:8, 9, in each case applied to a person other than the speaker. If the verb here meant, as some versions have suggested, that Peter is putting himself under a curse if he is lying, it would require “himself” as object, as it has in Acts 21:12, 14, 21. Here, where the object is not expressed, it means that Peter is cursing someone other than himself, and the most natural sense in this context would be that he now began to curse Jesus, as a way of dissociating himself from him; this was precisely what Pliny later required those accused of being Christians to do, in order to prove their innocence (Pliny, Ep. 10.96.5; cf. also Justin, Apol. 1.31.6). Matthew and Mark, by leaving the object unexpressed, refrain from stating in so many words that Peter cursed Jesus, but it is hard to see what else the choice of these transitive verbs could be meant to convey.
Van Parunak: Whom is he cursing? We might think he’s invoking a curse on himself, but that’s already implied in taking an oath. Perhaps he is cursing those who are questioning him. More ominous is the suggestion that he directs his malicious speech against the Lord himself. Early in the second century, when it was a crime in the Roman empire to be a Christian, civil authorities would test a suspected believer by asking them to pray to the Roman gods, offer incense and wine to an image of the emperor, and declare a curse on Christ. Roman persecution began under Nero after the great fire of Rome in AD 64, perhaps earlier, and may have exploited such tactics. In addition, even during the life of our Lord, the Jews sought to elicit condemnation of Christ from his followers:
Joh 9:24 Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.
Sadly, it is likely that Peter’s cursing was directed at least in part against the Lord whom he had previously promised to defend.
IV. (:74b-75) COCK CROWS IN FULFILLMENT OF PROPHECY
A. (:74b) Peter’s Memory Triggered
“And immediately a cock crowed.”
B. (:75a) Peter’s Memory Refreshed
“And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said,
‘Before a cock crows, you will deny Me three times.’”
Just as Peter would deny the Lord three times, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him.
John 21:17-19 AV He saith unto him the third time, Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry [thee] whither thou wouldest not. 19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
David Turner: The rooster’s crow (Derrett 1983b) after this third denial immediately and excruciatingly reminds Peter of Jesus’s prediction (26:34). Peter boasted he would die before he denied Jesus, but he does not even respond truthfully to a query from a powerless servant girl. His bitter weeping as he departs may reflect not only his sorrow but also his belief that his curses will come upon him. (See Lampe 1972–73.)
C. (:75b) Peter’s Remorse
“And he went out and wept bitterly.”
Bitter weeping of Peter – how different from the intense distress Jesus suffered?
Once again, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak; easy to fail at moment of temptation.
Leon Morris: Matthew does not have Luke’s statement that Jesus looked at Peter at this moment (Luke 22:61), but he makes it clear that the crowing of the rooster brought home to Peter the fact that what Jesus prophesied had indeed taken place. He had been so confident that he would never deny his Lord, and now he had done so three times. Matthew joins Luke in saying that Peter went outside (the courtyard was no longer a place for the heart-broken apostle) and wept bitterly. But we should understand Peter’s tears as an expression of grief and repentance; by the following Sunday he was back with the followers of Jesus. It was his loyalty to Jesus, not his temporary repudiation of his leader, that showed the real Peter.
R.V.G. Tasker: At that moment a cock crowed, and the prophecy of Jesus, so lightly dismissed by Peter but a few hours before as something that could never happen, surged back to his memory to torture him with what was in truth a self-inflicted pain. He staggered out into the night and wept bitterly.
(27:1-2) POSTSCRIPT — JESUS LED AWAY TO PILATE
A. (:1) Rubber Stamp Morning Council
“Now when morning had come, all the chief priests and the elders of the people
took counsel against Jesus to put Him to death;”
Craig Blomberg: It is important to see these two verses as separate from vv. 3-10, contra the NIV section headings. Matthew 27:1-2 is actually linked more closely with the end of chap. 26 than with 27:3, but the verses can stand alone as a short passage reflecting a brief daytime reenactment by the Sanhedrin of the nighttime proceedings (cf. Luke 22:66-71). This hearing may have functioned like a “rubber stamp,” but at least it would have brought the proceedings more into conformity with the letter of the law.
B. (:2) Referring Jesus to Pilate
- Bound Him
“and they bound Him,”
- Led Him Away
“and led Him away,”
- Delivered Him Up
“and delivered Him up to Pilate the governor.”