The Jewish authorities arrested Jesus and led him away to the house of the high priest, and Peter followed at some distance (Luke 22:54). It would be an error to say that the Apostles were cowards. They were, indeed, willing to die with Jesus or be arrested with him, but all this was in the context of unbelief. They simply didn’t believe what Jesus told them, i.e. that their hearts had forsaken the way he taught them (Mark 14:50). They were acting like men and not messengers of heaven. They took on the posture of rebels, willing to fight their enemies with swords. This is the world’s way to attain victory, but Jesus claims to be our ‘Way’(cf. John 14:6) – i.e. his example points to victory. If, then, Peter followed Jesus (Luke 22:54; cf. Matthew 26:58), it was in the context of unbelief not an expression of loyalty. His posture was that of a rebel, and he followed Jesus as a spy, not a disciple.
After entering the house of the high priest, Peter was probably uncomfortable and tried to blend in with the others, as he warmed himself at the fire (Luke 22:54-55; Mark 14:54). He was a spy and wished to see the end of the matter (cf. Matthew 26:58), perhaps in order to know how to gather the people together in an effort to free Jesus. While he was doing so, which is what he perceived to be the right thing to do, even the brave thing to do, the young woman who let him in the gate kept staring at him (Luke 22:56; Mark 14:67). Finally, she asked, “Are not you also one of this man’s disciples?” but Peter said “I am not” (John 18:17); but she kept looking at him and said to those standing by, “This man was also with him!” but Peter kept denying it saying “Woman, I know him not!” (Luke 22:55-57).
Doesn’t it always seem to be the case that, when you try to hide something that makes you uncomfortable, one person will keep hammering at you until you lose all sense of self-respect? This is what was happening to Peter. The woman just would not let up and said: “You were with Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee” (emphasis mine), but Peter denied it all saying, “I do not know, nor do I understand what you are saying!” (Mark 14:67-68; Matthew 26:69-70), and then Peter left them to go out onto the porch, and the cock crowed (Mark 14:68).
Peter simply didn’t want to become known, because that would have spoiled the big plan. Therefore, he denied being Jesus’ disciple (Luke 22:57). Anonymity was important, if he were to continue his spying out the matter (cf. Matthew 26:58). Peter justified himself by placing what he believed to be the greater good before his integrity. While this was happening below, Jesus was being interrogated by Annas just above Peter’s head (Mark 14:66). Everything that was done by either group was done within earshot and in full view of the other.
A short time later and while Peter pondered these things on the porch, another maid said to the men at the fire that he was one of them, “he was also with Jesus of Nazareth” (Matthew 26:71; Mark 14:69). Then one of the men asked, “Are you also one of his disciples?” but Peter denied it again saying, “I am not!” (John 18:25), but another argued saying, “You are also of them,” but Peter denied it again saying, “I am not!” (Luke 22:58) and swore: “I do not know the man!” (Matthew 26:72).
Finally, about an hour later (Luke 22:59), one of the servants of the high priest came over to the group. He was relative of Malchus, whose ear Peter had cut off (John 18:10, 26). When he saw Peter, he asked, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” Another at the fire said confidently, “It is true. This fellow was with him. He is a Galilean, for his speech betrays him” (Matthew 26:74; Mark 14:71; Luke 22:60). Nevertheless, Peter began to swear and call down a curse upon himself, if what he said wasn’t so. He replied “I know not what you say, and I do not know this man of whom you speak” (Matthew 26:74; Mark 14:71; Luke 22:60). While this third denial was yet upon his lips, the cock crowed (Luke 22:60). Peter stopped speaking immediately and was probably pointing at Jesus to emphasize what he said, and Jesus turned toward him and looked upon Peter. As their eyes met, Peter remembered, and filled with remorse over what had happened, he ran out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:61-62).
At this point my thoughts go back to when the Lord passed the bread and the cup at the table, telling the disciples, “Remember Me…” Later he washed the disciples feet as they contended with one another over who was the greatest. Although we are many within the Body of Christ (Romans 12:5; 1Corinthians 12:27), we are one bread (1Corinthians 10:17). All of us are partakers of our Head (Ephesians 4:15-16), who is that One Bread (1Corinthians 10:17). Throughout our history, we have always fallen into the same trap the Apostles kept falling into, namely: “Who is the greatest!” and “Though all deny you, yet I will not!” Will we ever learn? Will we ever stop denying Christ in one another? Will Baptists ever consider Roman Catholics Christian, and will Catholics ever stop saying Protestants are rebels? Will any of us feel free to eat the Lord’s Supper together and Remember HIM.