Simon Peter and “another disciple,” most likely the Apostle John, followed the band of soldiers and religious leaders who arrested Jesus to the “courtyard of the high priest” (John 18:15). A servant girl soon asked Peter if he was a disciple of Jesus, and Peter denied that he was (vv. 16–18).
This did not end the matter, for John tells us in today’s passage that Peter was questioned about his association with Jesus again. Apparently, more than one figure posed the question a second time, for John reports that “they” asked Peter whether he was one of Jesus’ disciples (v. 25). Perhaps the servant girl had been unsatisfied with Peter’s response and was able to get several people in the crowded courtyard to think that they had seen Peter with Jesus before. In any case, Peter denied knowing Jesus a second time (v. 25).
The disciple’s denials did not stop there, for one final person asked Peter if he knew Jesus. In so doing, this person, whom John identifies as a relative of Malchus, stated that he believed that he had seen Peter in the garden with our Lord (v. 26; see v. 10). Peter, afraid of what might happen if people knew he was Christ’s disciple, denied Jesus a third time, just as Jesus predicted (v. 27; see 13:36–38).
By moving back and forth between Peter’s denials and Christ’s testimony before Annas, John allows us to see a stark contrast between the Savior and one of His most well-known disciples. Jesus did not back down when His life was at risk but stood up to the high priest and his kangaroo court (18:19–24). Peter, on the other hand, could not bear witness to the truth under less severe circumstances. He was not questioned by a person with authority like the high priest but only by servants. He was not facing a tribunal seeking his death (vv. 17–18, 25–27). Jesus could stand for justice against the powerful when He knew it would cost Him His life, but Peter proved himself a coward.
Jesus’ perfection and Peter’s failure are instructive. Lest we think that we must prove ourselves worthy before Christ will save us, we recall that Jesus died for sinners, even sinners such as Peter who deny Him. Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary John that Jesus “had no need to die for people who are sinless, for there are no such people. He gave Himself for people who have it in them to betray Him, people like you and me. However, He will never betray those on whom He sets His love, but will love them faithfully for all time.”
Even some professing Christians act as if they must prove themselves worthy before Christ will receive them into His kingdom. Yet, the whole point of the gospel is that Jesus died for the unworthy, for sinners of all kinds. We need not make ourselves worthy before Christ will save us, for indeed we could not make ourselves worthy even if we tried. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That is the good news of the gospel.