The Denial of Denial
While they were in this upper room, Jesus said that one of them would betray Him, causing all the apostles to begin to question which one it would be.1 Peter, wanting to know the answer, but apparently not willing to ask Jesus himself, told John to ask for him—and when Jesus gave the answer, Peter apparently still didn’t get it.2 But soon thereafter, having left the upper room and gone to Mt. Olivet,3 Jesus told the apostles that He was going away. Peter didn’t understand, and said, “Lord, where are you going?” To this, the Lord replied “Where I go, you [Peter] can’t follow me now; but you will follow me later.”4 Jesus was about to be murdered, and this could be seen as a prophecy that Peter will also be murdered for his faith.5
Still not quite understanding what Jesus meant, Peter said, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for your sake!”6 Jesus looked at Peter and spoke directly to him:
“Simon, Simon;7 Look, Satan has demanded you [apostles], so that he might sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you [Peter], so that your [Peter’s] faith doesn’t fail. And when you [Peter] have returned, strengthen your brethren.”8
It is in this statement that Peter is given a special commission unique to him—he is commissioned to strengthen, to encourage, to uplift the other apostles after the death of Jesus. Jesus knew that they would all forsake Him (and He will say as much momentarily), but He had been praying for Peter so that Peter would have the strength to not completely lose his faith, and so that he would be able to build up the other apostles—the apostles who would have been very depressed and in need of encouragement.
But also in this statement is a prophecy that Peter would have a need to return. That is, Peter was going to go astray. This pronouncement is what caused Peter to say, “Lord, I’m ready to go with you, both into prison and to death.”9
The Lord replied by saying that not just Peter, but all the apostles (Judas had already left) would “stumble because of [Him] this night.”10 But Peter spoke up again, “Although all of them shall stumble, yet not I!”11 Peter’s self-exaltation was about to be deflated, because Jesus replied with perhaps the most memorable words spoken to Peter in the entire Bible:
“Truly I say to you [Peter], that this day—even in this [very] night—before the cock crows twice, you shall deny me—deny that you [even] know me—three times!”12
Then Peter replied again, this time vehemently,13 “Even though I might die with you, yet I won’t deny you!” And the rest of the apostles said the same thing.14 But it wasn’t too long after this that they all abandoned their Lord.15
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 Luke 22:21-23.
2 John 13:21-30. The apostles thought that Jesus had sent Judas on an errand; even at this late hour, they didn’t understand that Judas was the one who would betray the Lord. See the chapter on Judas Iscariot for more details.
3 See Matthew 26:30-35; Mark 14:26-31; and compare them with Luke 22:31-34.
4 John 13:33, 36. The pronouns in this verse are singular, showing that Jesus is speaking directly to Peter, not to the other apostles.
5 Regardless of whether this is a prophecy of how Peter would die, it is a prophecy that Peter would die as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ—otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to follow Jesus where He was going: heaven.
6 John 13:37.
7 Jesus calls him “Simon,” probably to emphasize that Peter isn’t going to be much of a “rock” during the events which were about to happen. But then Jesus says, “When you return, strengthen your brethren,” or in other words, “be a rock for your brethren.”
8 Luke 22:31-32. The pronouns in the Greek show that Satan asked for all the apostles, but that Jesus prayed for Peter specifically.
9 Luke 22:33.
10 Mark 14:27. The word “stumble” is the Greek word skandalizo, where we get “scandalize.” They would act as though it was a scandal to follow Jesus.
11 Mark 14:29. Peter elevates himself over the rest of the apostles by saying this, Even if they are scandalized by you, I won’t ever be! This makes Jesus’ next statement even more powerful, for it shows the truth of Jesus’ statement that “Whoever exalts himself shall be brought low” (Luke 14:11).
12 Mark 14:30. The phrase “deny that you [even] know me” comes directly from Luke 22:34. Mark’s account says “before the cock crows twice.” The other biblical writers just say “before the cock crows.” This supposed contradiction has been sufficiently explained and harmonized in many places. See Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pages 339-341, and Eric Lyon’s The Anvil Rings: Answers to Alleged Bible Discrepancies, Volume 1, pages 74-78.
13 Mark 14:31 mentions that Peter got vehement in this response.
14 Matthew 26:35
15 Matthew 26:56.