March 26, 2024

Peter, Who Denied Him

Sinclair Ferguson
Peter, Who Denied Him

On the same night, Judas betrayed Jesus and Peter denied Him. Why did one die in despair while the other was saved? Today, Sinclair Ferguson examines the reason behind Peter’s restoration and our own: the intercession of Christ.


We’re thinking this week about some of the people who met Jesus during the last week of His life. Some of them, like Judas, had known Him for a few years. He was the Apostle who betrayed Him, you remember. Today I want to think about someone else who had probably known him even longer: Simon Peter.

It’s interesting that in Matthew’s gospel, the verb betrayed is used in connection with Judas’ act I think about fourteen different times, but the verb deny is used in connection with Simon Peter only I think twice: once when Peter says he’d die before denying Jesus and once when Jesus tells him he will deny Him three times by cockcrow. I say it’s interesting because if you’d been walking the streets of Jerusalem after Jesus’ arrest and trial, you might well have encountered two very distraught Apostles, full of self-recrimination. We’re told that Judas regretted what he had done and we’re told that after Simon Peter had denied Jesus, he went out and wept bitterly.

So here’s a question: If you’d encountered both these men, would you have been able to tell that one of them would take his life in despair while the other would be saved? Put it another way: Is the difference between denying Jesus and betraying Jesus a difference in magnitude or a difference in kind? Or put it yet another way: How come Peter denied Jesus and yet was saved, whereas Judas betrayed Jesus and was damned?

I said yesterday there was a mystery to Judas’ sin. We’re told that Satan’s hand was instrumental in what happened, but Satan was also involved in Peter’s sin. Jesus told him that Satan had demanded to have Peter to sift him like wheat, and in some ways Peter’s failure was much more straightforward, wasn’t it? He crumbled before a servant girl. The stakes were high. He must have been afraid that if he confessed he was a disciple of Jesus, he might suffer the same fate that Jesus was suffering. He didn’t have deep-seated complex motivation to deny he knew Jesus; he was simply afraid.

But Scripture doesn’t tell us Peter was saved because his failure was more straightforward, more normal than Judas’, more like our kind of sin. Nor does Scripture say that Peter was saved because he was regenerate, although Jesus made it clear in the upper room that he was, whereas Judas apparently was not. Peter’s regeneration didn’t preserve him from falling and failing.

Now, Jesus explained to Peter why and how he would be saved, an explanation that must have been an anchor to his soul that dark Jerusalem night. Peter was saved because Jesus prayed for him. Put another way, Peter’s salvation wasn’t guaranteed by what was done in him, but by what Jesus did for him.

There’s a message there for all of us: Our security doesn’t lie in ourselves. It doesn’t even lie in what God has done within us, wonderful although that is. It lies in Jesus and His intercession for us. Remember what Hebrews says: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who drawn near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).

Peter was learning a great lesson we need to learn too: It’s not by our regeneration that we are preserved. It’s not even by our faith that we are preserved, although the power of God that keeps us does work through faith. No, it’s Christ who saves us—the Christ who died for us, who rose again for us, who is at God’s right hand for us, who makes intercession for us. That’s why nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that’s why we can sing:

When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the wrong within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died,
My guilty soul is counted free;
And God, the Just, is satisfied
To look at Him and pardon me.

That’s Jesus’ intercession for us. His very presence before God, the Lion King who became the Lamb who was slain—that’s the intercession we need. Remember that if you’ve stumbled and fallen. Look to Him and you will live.