The Rock Fails His Master
“Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” (v. 75).- Matthew 26:69–75
Apparently, one reason Caiaphas and the other priests and elders become incensed during the trial of Jesus is His pledge that even they will one day recognize Him, whom they now deny, as Messiah. This seems to be one of our Lord’s points in Matthew 26:64. His promise that the Sanhedrin will see Him on the clouds likely alludes to several things, including Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70 and Jesus’ being seated at the right hand of the Father (the session of Christ). Moreover, Daniel 7:13–14, wherein the Son of Man judges creation, is clearly being echoed. Jesus is saying that the Jewish leaders who judge Him will one day be judged by Him. They cannot take this role reversal, and so they spit on Him at the close of their trial (Matt. 26:67–68).
As the trial of our Savior winds down, the “trial” of another is beginning. Peter’s actions at this moment are under Matthew’s spotlight in today’s passage, and we note that he, unlike the rest of the disciples, at least has continued to follow the Lord at a distance (vv. 56, 58). Matthew Henry notes that this does not bode well for the one whom Jesus once called His rock (16:13–20): “To follow [Christ] afar off, is by little and little to go back from him.” Peter’s hearing before the servants in the courtyard manifests the truth of this observation.
Peter faces the testimony of three observers just like Jesus did (Caiaphas, two witnesses; vv. 57–64, 69–74), but that is where the similarity of the two trials ends. Christ continues to affirm the truth throughout His hearing before powerful and influential men; Peter denies it before female servants, people of low status in that culture. Ultimately, Peter fulfills Jesus’ prediction and denies his Lord three times because he has relied on his own power, not on the Spirit of God, proving, John Calvin says, that any man “who is not supported by the hand of God, will instantly fall by a slight gale or the rustling of a falling leaf.”
Yet hope remains for Peter. Though he has sinned greatly, his tears (v. 75) and later restoration (John 21:15–19) show a repentant heart. No matter the depth of our sin, while we draw breath it is never too late to return to the Lord. He mercifully forgives all, without exception, who mourn their transgressions.
John Calvin says Peter’s rash vow to remain with the Lord (Matt. 26:33) and subsequent failure encourage us not to rely on our own weakness, but to earnestly rely on the Spirit. It is easy to say that we will never deny the Lord. But our flesh is weak, and we should not think ourselves strong apart from the strength He alone can give us. We have all denied Him in some way; let us therefore lean on His Spirit that we may never do so again.
Passages for Further Study
2 Cor. 7:10