by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
Ask yourself this question: Why is it so hard to believe that the three-person union that is God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) could by choice “create” the visible manifestation of Himself to be of a fully human nature, by willing choice void of divine nature, with a need to depend on the divine nature and authority of the other two persons of God? Is it because it would be too great a shock to our religious traditions and customs of what we claim to be sound doctrine and theology? Some will not even ask the questions or have a discussion about it; perhaps since such a discussion would lead to quarreling about doctrine. I am asking that you be open to asking the question guided by Scriptural truth, particularly that spoken of by Jesus himself about himself while flesh as a human being.
“I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.” John 5:30 (NLT)
So then, since we have a great High Priest (advocate) who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NLT)
In talking about the relationships of Jesus in the context of his humanity, we need to continually be mindful of how incredibly difficult and complex it must have been to be in his sandals while he lived as a person of selfish flesh. He must have been entrapped by temptation day and night.
While Jesus certainly had a number of interesting human relationships while living in his human experience; whether it be the close relationships with his earthly parents, friends and supporters of his ministry and the hundreds of disciples, of which the closest were the twelve, including perhaps his best friend and confidant, John; or whether it be adversarial relationships such as Pharisees and scribes; among the most complicated relationships of Christ during that time I suspect were with Peter and Mary Magdalene, which are of emphasis here.
Jesus had celebrity status in the latter days of his ministry. You might say that he was somewhat of an icon in his era. So many Jews had pinned their hopes on Jesus to lead them out from under the thumb of the Roman Empire. Crowds numbering into the thousands followed him wherever he went every day. I wonder how I would handle that.
What do we know about celebrities? They work their whole lives to be good enough at what they do to be famous and make reams of money, and then, when they have made it to the big time, they resist their fame and complain about it. They often plead to reporters and to their fans, “Please, please leave me alone and let me lead a normal life.” Huh?
I wonder if Jesus ever struggled with pride from all the attention he received. I would imagine he did in some form or another if he was “human enough” to genuinely experience temptation. He was considered a rebel by the mainstream society, which brought even greater attention. One thing we know, too, about famous rock stars, movie stars and athletes, is that there are those of the opposite sex throwing themselves at them willing to do just about anything to touch them and be close to them. I tend to think that Jesus had this dilemma with all of the popular attention he was receiving.
Early on in his ministry around the age of thirty, Jesus began to draw attention to himself by performing a miracle or two. I’m sure there were those who enjoyed the performance, even if they missed the point of what he was doing. As he grew in popularity and people began to follow him around, I would imagine that women found Jesus to be attractive and deliberately sought him out in that context. It must have been tempting even to Jesus as a single man.
There may be some at this moment a bit taken back that I’ve even gone there. I may be presumptuous in going there, but if Jesus was never tempted sexually as a man—a single man at that—then he was not tempted in every point common to the human experience as Scripture says he was (Hebrews 4:15). As a man tempted, I have no problem with this presumption.
The most interesting of the relationships Jesus had with women is his friendship with Mary Magdalene. I admit that there is something curiously fascinating in my own mind about the relationship Jesus had with Mary Magdalene. Did he sin in this relationship? No, he did not. Is it possible that Jesus could have had a physical attraction and/or feelings of fond affection for her? Not only possible but, in my opinion, likely. Is it possible that he may have felt (do I dare say?) sensual feelings for her? I dare say it is at least possible. He may have felt romantic love for her. Why not? As God, He invented romantic love. To feel it as a man would allow him to understand this kind of love as a human being, and to sympathize with our weakness when it comes to romantic love as well as the sensuality of it. I do not intend to refuel any controversy, but Mary had become a close dear friend as a disciple of Jesus. Would a fondness for Mary deter Jesus from his calling and purpose to redeem mankind? While it may have affected him in ways we will never know, clearly, it did not stall his mission.
If we are honest in our interpretation of Scripture, for Jesus to be tempted in “all points”, his sensual senses must have been awake, experiencing some degree of temptation. Once again, I do not write this to stir up controversy. I am simply being honest as a man. To more fully appreciate his sinless life in the flesh, I need to consider that Jesus struggled in the flesh and overcame his natural tendency to give in to selfish human desires.
To some, it might sound like heresy to consider at all that Jesus, as an adolescent and then as a grown adult man, would have to wrestle with the issue of lust. Think about it, even Satan tempted Jesus with a lust for power at the outset of his ministry. Pride and lust are prime sources of considerable temptation for men. Men of faith are chronicled throughout history as having struggled with, and given in to, pride and lust from Adam to Abraham to Samson to David to Solomon, and throughout the generations to people of faith we have seen fall.
Jesus was bigger in popularity and fame than all of them. If I am to believe that Jesus was tempted in every way so as to be able to fully sympathize with my human experience, then he was tempted as well to give in to selfish pride, selfish ambition, and even selfish passions. Yet he never did. The addictive seduction of temptation on Jesus was powerful, yet he resisted each and every time. It was not merely a given that Jesus endured in the flesh without having sinned. Let’s not take that for granted. As I’ve said, when we can better comprehend this, we can more fully appreciate the sinless life of Christ.
Peter, the disciple of faith
Simon Peter, another disciple of Jesus, also had a special relationship with Christ during his time on earth. Peter, known as Simon until Jesus began calling him Peter, had heard of Jesus healing people. When Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a severe fever, he sent a message to Jesus, requesting that he come to his house. According to Scripture (Luke 4:38-39), Jesus left the synagogue, where I suppose he was worshipping, arrived at Simon’s home, and stood over his mother-in-law and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She was healed, and got up immediately to serve Jesus and care for those at her home.
Early on in his ministry, Jesus was developing a growing following. Jesus knew he needed help and began to recruit a team that he could rely on to support his ministry. The crowd followed Jesus to a lake called Gennesaret where he noticed two boats unattended. He climbed into one of the boats while the fishermen were washing their nets.
It was probably in the early light of morning, after the fishermen had worked through the night. Jesus was talking to the crowd that morning from the boat, Simon’s boat. He asked Simon to push away from shore a bit as he continued teaching the crowd that gathered along the shore.
When Simon Peter and his co-workers returned to the boat, Jesus stopped speaking to the crowd.
He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let your nets down for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catchers of men.” So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him. Luke 5: 4-11 (NKJV)
What fascinates me about the relationship Simon Peter strikes up with Jesus here is what it will cost him to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Simon was a married man. He was a family man. He was employed and a responsible provider for his family. The Bible says he “forsook all” to go into a traveling ministry with Jesus. Synonyms for the word ‘forsake’ include words like, abandon, renounce, and disown. Did Simon literally abandon his family to follow Jesus? Did he disown his wife who he loved?
This could not have been an easy decision in this man’s life. It took incredible courage, not only on Simon Peter’s part, but the courage and commitment to the ministry of Jesus on the part of his entire family. They didn’t know the man Jesus all that long, but they were confident that he was special. He healed Simon’s mother-in-law. And he provided Simon’s family with such a phenomenal catch of fish that financially his family could have lived off the profits of that single day’s catch for some time.
Simon Peter was going into the kind of service that, on many occasions, definitely proved to be a battle. He humbled himself, leaving everything that was comfortable—the life he knew and loved—to venture into unfamiliar territory with a group of men, some he barely knew, serving the people with the man Jesus, who Simon believed in from the depths of his soul.
Jesus led by example. He taught Simon how to forgive and even how to love his enemies. He taught Simon how to pray, and how to have confidence in God by faith.
It is important to appreciate the culture of the day in which Simon Peter was living. The Roman Empire was the governing state over the Jewish people. Its territory extended well over two thousand miles from as far west as Spain, up to what is now Great Britain, throughout most of Europe, including France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey.
Rome’s rule extended into the Middle East by what is known today as Israel, Syria, Jordan, and into Asia to the east. It also covered vast territory along the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, including what today is Libya and Egypt.
The Jews longed to be a nation again, to be an independent state, something that would not occur until 1948 after World War II. But back in the day of Christ, the Jews saw Jesus as a powerful force, their deliverer from the rule of the Romans. As their Messiah, believing Jews eagerly anticipated becoming an independent state again under the reign of their new King, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. They had even hoped to have the military might capable of dealing with Rome, as the Israel of their ancestors had defeated their enemies with God on their side.
“But we were hoping that it was He (Jesus) who was going to redeem Israel.” Luke 14:21 (NKJV)
Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Jesus, saying, “Lord, will You at this time (post resurrection) restore the kingdom of Israel?” Acts 1:6 (NKJV)
Simon Peter hoped to reign with Christ in this restored kingdom (statehood) of Israel when that day of independence would finally come. Simon had the privilege of traveling with Jesus from city to city proclaiming that Jesus was sent by God to heal the sick, forgive sins, perform signs and wonders, and to be King, leading all people to the Father. There would be no mistake that Jesus had ‘other-worldly’ capability and power.
While traveling by boat, Jesus and his disciples encountered a mighty storm. Their boat was thrown about like a play toy in the sea. The Bible says that the boat was covered with the waves, but Jesus was asleep. The disciples were in fear for their lives as they believed this gale would rip their boat to shreds and that they would be swallowed up by the sea.
The disciples, in a panic, woke Jesus from his sleep, saying to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Mark 4:38 (NKJV)
“Lord save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” Matthew 8:25-27 (NKJV)
This is an amazing event in the lives of these men who were in a panic, scared to death on that boat. It must have blown their minds that Jesus could remain asleep through such a vicious storm. The difference is that Jesus was the source of their belief and faith.
In this story, it is clear that the disciples had in fact learned something about who they were in the midst of their dire circumstances, compared to who Jesus was. They knew they were powerless, and were at the mercy of the wind and waves of the sea. They admitted their powerlessness to Jesus when they pleaded with him to save them. They evidently believed that Jesus could help them as they woke him up and cried out emphatically, “Lord save us!” Where they lacked, it seems, was in their confidence that Jesus would rescue them by the power and authority given by God the Father. They woke him up, and asked him, “Do You not care that we‘re going to die in this storm?” (Mark 4:38).
The disciples, in this case, hit rock bottom. Unless Jesus intervened, they would die. They had one option. They were committed to trusting him for their recovery from the perilous sea. Jesus did for them just what they needed. He saved them from the threat of death as he commanded the wind to settle down, which it did since even the wind was subject to the authority of Almighty God who imparted his authority to his Son. So I suppose the question is, “Would I rather be in the storm in the boat with Jesus, even when it might seem to me that He isn’t paying attention that the boat is filling with water and about to sink, or would I prefer to be in the storm on the shore (solid ground) without Him? Either way I am in the middle of the storm.
Walk on water, lately?
Well, feeding thousands of people and cleaning up after them was a great deal of work. Now it was about time to have some fun, time to play. For Peter, it was time for a swim.
Now immediately Jesus had His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side. And when He sent the multitudes away, He went up to the mountain by Himself to pray. By evening, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea tossed by the waves, for the wind was opposing them. Now in the forth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. And immediately Jesus spoke to them, “Cheer up, it’s Me! Don’t be afraid.”
And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, Lord save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Jesus, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:22-33 (NKJV)
I love this story. What a moment in the relationship Jesus had with Peter. We can all agree that Peter was the one that had enough faith to get out of the boat. There were two people in the Bible that walked on water. Jesus, of course, but the other person that walked on water was Peter. We often focus on the fact that Peter doubted and began to sink. We tend to forget that Peter’s faith in Christ was quite impressive. Peter did indeed walk on water—an impossible feat.
Peter recognized that Jesus was doing something that was impossible for him to do. He could admit that it was outside of the realm of his own ability to walk on water. Peter shouted out to Jesus, “If it’s You, Lord, command me to walk on the water.” Peter believed that only Jesus could command the water to support his body so that he could walk on it. Jesus responded to Peter, “The water’s nice, come on in!” Peter committed to trusting Jesus. He got out of the boat and walked on the water. Peter did well trusting Jesus until he realized he was walking in the middle of the sea surrounded by waves blown about by boisterous winds, and he became overwhelmed by his circumstance and wavered in his commitment to trust Jesus to help him with his problem.
Gripped by fear, Peter dropped like a rock, but Scripture assures us that Jesus was right there to catch him. As soon as Peter began to sink he reached up and Jesus caught him. He would not let Peter drown in his circumstance.
Here is something else to think about. How far was Jesus from the boat when Peter got out and began walking on water? Jesus was far enough away that the disciples were not sure they recognized him. Remember, Peter said, “If it’s you…” Wherever Jesus was in the sea relative to his distance from the boat, Peter walked on water to within an arm’s length of Jesus. I don’t know but Peter may have walked some distance before he sank and was caught. While it was definitely a teaching moment, I tend to think Jesus had a smile on his face when he said to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
I imagine that Jesus displayed a grin, perhaps even chuckling, as if to say to Peter, “What’s the problem, big guy, you’re only walking on water?” Peter walked on water! The Bible says Jesus was received into the boat, but what about Peter? Peter walked on water together with Jesus back to the boat. I’m sure Peter was still quite frightened even as he walked with Jesus back to the boat. I’ll even guess that Peter hung on for dear life to the arm of Christ as they walked. I’ll say more about this later.
My friend, Pastor Fran Leeman, has said that if it was him on the boat in the storm, he’d be screaming out, “Lord, if it’s you, do something extraordinary and save us again!” Instead, Peter said, “Lord, if it’s you call me to do something extraordinary because I believe in you to empower me to be special.” Jesus replied, “Come out of the safety of your life and be special.” What an awesome example of relationship between Jesus and those of us who choose to trust in Him.
Let’s also observe here the special relationship that Jesus had with his Heavenly Father. We tend to talk about the faith required by Peter to walk on water and to believe in Jesus to command the water to support his ability to walk on it. What we tend not to pay attention to is the faith that Jesus, a man of mortal flesh, had in his Father God to command the water to support his ability to walk on it. Jesus, in his human nature, could not simply walk on water. He needed the power of supernatural God to empower his natural human body to do such a thing. We know that at some point Peter lacked faith and “began” to sink. In that moment, Peter reached up and took the hand of Jesus who was reaching down to him. This is a symbol to us of the entire human experience of Christ. Jesus would not be human if there were not times he might have doubted. Jesus expressed an element of doubt, and for certain, great concern in the garden prior to his arrest.
I believe that throughout the human experience of Jesus that he had his hand extended upward to God the Father, who was always at every moment extending his hand to his Son imparting divine authority. Just as Peter and Jesus locked hands to prevent Peter from sinking, Jesus locked hands with his Father to keep from sinking in his humanity. Just as Peter walked on water hand in hand with his Lord, Jesus walked on water hand in hand with God throughout his lifetime as a human being, right up until he took our sin which changed everything.
Simon and his friends continued to witness firsthand the source of their faith—the man they believed in—demonstrating power not of this world. They came to trust that all is possible as long as they were with Christ, staking their very lives in the hope of what he promised them.
Simon and his fellow disciples and friends would grow in their commitment and steadfastness to the ministry of Jesus. As they would see miracles and healings, their expectations grew and their imaginations ran wild. If even the forces of nature obeyed the commands of Jesus, who were the Romans of mere flesh and blood to stand up to him. They grew by faith in their sure certainty that Jesus would indeed be their king. It wasn’t a matter of if but of when.
Jesus asked the question to his disciples,
“Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I also say this to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:15-18 (NKJV)
By now, Peter had seen enough to know in his spirit that Jesus was indeed the Christ. Jesus said, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven.” This revelation is not simply a deduction that Peter arrived at in his own mind, this was revealed to him by faith. Peter needed to have a genuinely spiritual relationship with the Father in order to hear from him concerning God’s Son.
When Peter said, “You are the Christ” he acknowledged that Jesus is sent from God to deliver God’s people. By faith, Peter came to believe that Jesus was sent by the Father with full authority and power given him by God. For Peter and the disciples, this meant that Jesus had power and authority over all things, including the Roman government, and that he would someday be, not only king of the Jews, but King over all, as he was sent by God. First, however, as far as Peter and the disciples were concerned, Jesus the Christ (the word ‘Christ’ means ‘Messiah’, and ‘Messiah’ means ‘to redeem’, ‘to save’, ‘to deliver’), would deliver the chosen people of God from under the reign of the Roman Empire and reestablish Israel as an independent state.
Peter’s relationship with Jesus would soon take a twist. Jesus began to clue his disciples in on what it would cost for him to redeem his people. He spoke of how he would need to go to Jerusalem and suffer a great deal at the hands of the elders and chief priests, and that ultimately he would be killed. Neither Peter, nor his friends, understood that the people of God extended beyond the Jews. They really had no comprehension that Jesus was sent to redeem—or bring freedom—to all mankind from the beginning to the end of time. They did not comprehend that Jesus was the blameless sacrifice, the price to be paid for the forgiveness of all our sin. Peter even argued with Jesus, suggesting that he was being a bit extreme in talking about his death.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord; this shall not happen to you.” Matthew 16:22 (NKJV)
Peter must have been thinking, “Come on, let’s get real here. A hurricane-like storm in the midst of the waves couldn’t kill you. In fact, you told the raging storm to shush, and it immediately became calm. If you can command the forces of nature, if you can heal the sick and cast out demons, how is it that the Romans or anyone can have their way with you?”
But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Matthew 16:23 (NKJV)
On the one hand Jesus is assuring Peter that he did hear from God, when he referred to Jesus as the Christ, but then on the other hand, Jesus told Peter that he was not focused on God by faith, but rather was relying on his own understanding. So which is it? It’s both. We can be full of faith trusting in God, but then when the crisis hits, as we become distracted by our anxiety and apprehension, we tend to take our eyes off God to “better” focus in on our problem. We can get lost in our doubt and argue with God. “Even you can’t fix this Lord, it’s so bad …I mean, it is really bad this time!”
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on the earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:8-11 (NKJV)
Peter, nor the rest of the disciples, really had any idea, after everything they’d experienced, that Jesus would actually die at the hand of the Romans. Everything they had hoped and dreamed was hinging on Jesus establishing his kingdom on earth, thereby setting the Jews free once again.
Followers of Jesus expected him to be the Christ. Not only the disciples, but thousands of people followed and supported the ministry of Jesus. Many gave of their possessions and resources to his ministry. Many were excommunicated from their families for following a man who made outrageous claims of being sent by God to be the King of the Jews. For Jesus to die would be to invalidate such claims. It would mean that those who followed him, would be made fools of by him should he die and not deliver on his promise to be their king. The death of Jesus was simply unacceptable since it would render their independence from the Romans impossible from their point of view.
Jesus calls his disciples, friends
I believe the disciples, friends of Jesus, may have had a similar mindset. They were not ready or willing to give up the dream. Again Jesus would speak from his heart about what it meant to sacrifice himself through his death.
Look to these words of Jesus, spoken so eloquently to these friends who he loved.
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay one’s life down for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I call you My friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” John 15:9-16 (NKJV)
To be referred to by Jesus as a friend of his must have meant the world to these guys. Jesus was the Christ who would be king. Peter, John, James, Mary Magdalene, and friends were on the inside with Jesus. Together with him, the disciples would lead the Jewish people to freedom as an independent people once again. What a privilege it would be to serve Christ, the King of kings. In time they would indeed serve the King of kings, but not as they had expected. When Jesus entered the holy city of Jerusalem on a donkey as a peaceful king, it was as though the day of reckoning was at hand. Jesus would restore his Jewish friends by delivering them from the hand of those brutally oppressive Romans, right?
Why would Peter deny Christ?
The disciples gathered together to honor the Passover in what we affectionately refer to as “The Last Supper.” The disciples had no idea, really, what would ensue.
Jesus said that night,
“All of you will be made to stumble this night because of Me, for it is written, ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble, I will not be.” Jesus said to Peter, “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” But Peter spoke more vehemently, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny you.” And the rest of the disciples said likewise. Mark 14:27-31 (NKJV)
Peter’s denial of Christ in the temple courtyard is well-documented. It is written about in each of the four Gospels. But Peter’s uncertainty about Jesus was visible and thusly written about. The rest of the disciples, except Peter and John, had fled the scene.
Why would Peter deny Christ, his Savior?
It is generally felt that Peter feared for his life and so he denied knowing Jesus in order to save himself. Peter had been through so much with Jesus. He experienced first hand the awesome power given to Jesus by God the Father. He had seen miracles; he’d seen the lame walk, the blind see, the mute talk, and the deaf hear. He had seen demons cast out of a person and driven into a herd of pigs that drown themselves into the sea for fear of what Jesus would do to them next. Peter heard the actual voice of God at least twice. He saw Jesus command the forces of nature. He saw Jesus raise a man and a twelve-year-old girl from the dead. Peter walked on water with Jesus! Peter would boldly attack the leader of a battalion of soldiers with a sword at the time of Christ’s arrest.
It was not really in character for Peter to be afraid, or to shy away from a challenge. Sure there was intense fear, but the fear was in the realization that their world was caving in. I believe there was something else going on within Peter that profoundly affected him. He was certain that Jesus was chosen by God to lead the Jews to be a free and independent nation once again as the prophets predicted. He gave up everything to follow and serve with him. There must have been days and nights when he deeply missed his wife and kids. He left it all behind for a greater calling. He loved Jesus with all of his heart. Peter believed in him. He believed in the mission. Jesus was the Christ who would be king and deliver the Jews.
Suddenly, everything changed. It started to sink in for Peter in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus even sounded like a dead man walking.
Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed by sorrow, to the point of death.” Mark 14:33-34 (NKJV)
Jesus was no longer using metaphors or talking in parables to make his point. The point he was communicating was that he knew his betrayer was coming and he was deeply agonized in his human spirit. It was time. He would be beaten and tortured, and executed on a cross with nails in both ankles and hands (archeological evidence suggests victims of crucifixion straddled the cross and nails were driven into each ankle connecting them to each side of the cross) in order to fulfill the words of the prophets. Jesus was a mere man who desperately needed his friends to support him and pray for him.
Jesus went a little further and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. He prayed, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but Your will be done.” Mark 14:35-36 (NKJV)
Peter heard his dear friend praying in agony. Peter had never seen his master and friend behave this way before. Wherever they were, or whatever they were doing, Jesus was always in command. Now Jesus seemed to be falling apart at the seams. Even an angel hoped to strengthen Jesus. But even the angel was helpless to provide him with sufficient comfort or strength needed in such a time as this.
Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground. Then when He rose up from prayer, and came to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. Luke 22:43-45 (NKJV)
Jesus must have felt utterly alone. He could have felt alienated by his friends. He likely sensed their lack of confidence in him at this point because of their unbelief in his eternal kingdom.
Peter, James and John woke up and may have been mystified by what they saw. The man they believed would one day be king and restore them as a nation, was a mess. He was in such agony and torment that his body could not contain it. Perhaps he had developed sores or blisters of some kind on his skin from the stress to his body from anticipation of the immense torture to come, that “great drops of blood” fell to the ground.
Right up the moment of Christ’s arrest, Peter witnessed the power of God on Jesus as he knocked his captors down to the ground. That’s right, the army sent by the high priest to arrest Jesus spent time flat on their backs while attempting to apprehend Him.
When Jesus finished praying, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered. And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples. Then Judas having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon him, went forward and said to them, “Who is it that you are seeking?” They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I AM He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, stood with them.
Now when He said to them, “I AM He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Then He asked them again, “Who is it that you are seeking?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let my friends go their way.” Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, Malchus, and cut off his right ear. But Jesus responded and said, “Permit even this.”
And He touched his ear and healed him. John 18:3-10, Luke 22:51 (NKJV)
This is an amazing look into the event when Jesus surrendered to the battalion of soldiers the chief priest sent to apprehend Him. According to John’s gospel, Jesus walked ahead of his disciples, and asked, “Who are you looking for?” When they answered, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Jesus responded, “I AM he.” Then something incredible happened. The power given him by his Father hit this well-armed battalion with a mighty force like a mighty wind causing the soldiers to stumble back and down they went.
Peter saw his Lord Jesus win a battle against hundreds of armed soldiers with the two words that most represent the sovereign authority and supreme power and control of Almighty God. The moment Jesus spoke the words, “I AM”, in the full authority given him by his Heavenly Father, the army of Rome found itself pinned to the ground in a defeated position. What Peter, and Judas for that matter, must have thought and felt about their chances to be finally free of the Romans one can only imagine.
Then Jesus, on his feet looking down at them, asked again, “Who did you say you were looking for?” They replied, “Uh, Jesus of Nazareth?” Jesus responded, “You found me, now here are the conditions for my arrest…First of all, your weapons and armor are of no use here. You are flat on your back and you can’t move, so when I let you up, you might as well put them away. Second, you’re going to let my friends go.” Of course, I have paraphrased what he said.
At that point, with the troop of the high priest pinned down under the power of God, Peter drew his sword and swung at the head of Malchus, the servant of the high priest. Malchus turned his head and Peter’s sword clipped his ear. His opponent was defenseless against Jesus, pinned down by the power of God. Jesus would reprimand Peter for getting involved in his business. You see, Jesus was about his Father’s business.
The fact that a battalion of troops were on hand to arrest Jesus, suggests that they arrived expecting a battle. Even though it was the middle of the night, they were not taking any chances. If these forces were to come against an army they were prepared to defeat them. Jesus did not have an army, though, he had his friends. Jesus then offered himself in surrender to these same troops whom he could have so easily defeated. They would take him and beat him to within an inch of his life, the Bible says. Peter, along with his friend John, saw it all. Peter must have been devastated as he witnessed his Savior and King endure such unimaginable internal torment. He must have wondered, “How can this be?” as he watched the kingdom and prospective rule of Jesus, the Christ, unravel before his eyes.
Peter would soon deny knowing Jesus, just as Jesus said he would. What I believe Jesus understood is that, while Peter was adamant about proclaiming Jesus to be the Christ, he would soon have doubt about Jesus as the king of what he believed was an earthly kingdom. Let us once again examine what the Bible says pertaining to Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus Christ.
And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and went into the courtyard of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door outside. Then the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept the gate, and brought Peter in. Then the servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, “This man was also with Him.” But Peter denied Him, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.” John 18:15-16, Luke 22:56-57 (NKJV)
Peter would emphatically deny knowing Jesus two more times. He denied also being one of those associated with being close to Jesus. It is interesting that the servant girl refers to Peter as also being with Jesus. Why does this passage say “also”? It does so because John was also there with Peter in the courtyard. The servants of the high priest likely knew John. They knew John as being closely associated with Jesus? So, if the other disciple is John, why isn’t he scared? He’s the writer here. And if the other disciple is indeed John, he even used his connection to the high priest as his pass to get into the courtyard. Peter wanted in, and John talked to the gatekeeper and was able to get Peter in. It’s as if, John said to her, “This man is with me,” and she figured it was alright to let him in.
Some scholars will argue that the other disciple was Nicodemus or someone else. That, of course, is possible. It makes more sense to me however that the other disciple was someone who was out with Jesus during the night and into the early hours of the morning. John and Peter were often together with Jesus, and it makes sense that they were together in this circumstance, as well. If it can be established that the other disciple is John, then it can be established that fear is not the primary motivating provocation for Peter’s denial of the man he worshipped for three years and believed would be the new king of the new Israel. In Peter’s mind, it was a matter of seeing what Jesus would do next to free himself and the nation of Israel. But then he would look on in horror as Jesus, Peter’s friend and leader, would be tortured like anything he’d ever witnessed before in his life.
This was an ending to a dream that Peter never would have imagined. Jesus no longer even looked like the man Peter knew. It seemed that everything he knew was either a gross deception, miscalculation, or wasn’t real. What if, in the mind of Peter, Jesus was a prophet that performed signs and wonders, but in the end was never meant to be king? What if he was sent by God to replace John the Baptist to call all men to repent, but became misguided and was never intended by God to be the Messiah, the Christ? What if Peter and his friends were wrong about that? Could it be that these were real questions that tested and bewildered the mind of Peter? Could it be that Peter and his friends misunderstood Jesus to be the Christ? They did not have spiritual discernment and indeed did not conceive what it would take for Jesus to release all people from their obsession with themselves—that Jesus was required to die to accomplish the full mission of his coming.
Peter may have felt like he really didn’t know much about anything at that point. He may have felt betrayed by his friend Jesus and feeling like he didn’t know him at all. His heart was broken. He may have been feeling like he’d been made a fool of because of all he had sacrificed to follow a man that wasn’t all he made himself out to be. (Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, may have found it to be tantamount to treason that Jesus would lay down and give up the fight to defeat the Romans. Judas took his misunderstanding of Christ’s mission and purpose to the fullest extent and turned him over to be punished, resulting in his execution.)
Here is something to think about. Like Peter, the high priest and his servants are Jews. The servants of the high priest may have been persuaded by those in authority that Jesus is a blasphemer, misdirecting thousands of people with claims that he was sent by God to be a king for the Jews. The servant girl and others in the courtyard, rather than pose a threat to Peter and John, may have felt sorry for their Jewish “friends”, and having pity on them, said, “You were with Jesus, right? How sad. You must be horrified learning he wasn’t who you thought he was.”
Peter, thinking, “I thought I knew Him, but now I’m not sure about anything,” responded to the servant girl, “I’m not sure I knew the man at all.” Perhaps someone else in the crowd noticed Peter and immediately recognized him as someone who followed Jesus, who by this time was either quite a famous or infamous figure in Jerusalem during the Passover week depending on whether one believed or disbelieved (thinking Jesus to be zealous blaspheming fool). A disbeliever in the crowd may have pointed at Peter and mocked him, saying something like, “This fool ran around with Jesus for years acting like they were gonna save the world or something.” And Peter responded, “I don’t know anymore…I just don’t know this man.” Then a third antagonist chimes in, “You thought you were really something, didn’t you, following ‘the son of God’ (said sarcastically) around like some blathering idiot. Peter, Scripture says… began to curse and swear and says, “I don’t know the man!” Matthew 26:34 (NKJV)
Pardon the language, but it could have sounded like: “Damn it, I didn’t know that man!” Then, the Bible says, the rooster crowed, and Peter thought of his friend, Jesus, who he loved. Peter might have heard the groaning of his friend as he was whipped and beaten. He remembered that his friend said that he would deny him three times before the rooster crows.
Peter left the courtyard and wept bitterly. Matthew 26:75 (NKJV)
Peter wept bitterly why, because he denied Christ like Jesus said he would? I’m sure that was at least part of it. I also believe Peter was absolutely devastated by what he’d just witnessed. His “king” was being tortured and could not be the redeemer, the promised Messiah, which Peter believed he was. He was watching his dear friend suffer a ferocious beating. At the same time, Peter may have felt betrayed by this well-trusted friend, and could have doubted the essence of what Jesus claimed to be. Peter called him Master, a term of authority, believing Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. Imagine if your spouse, your best friend, or your pastor perhaps, turns out not to be what you thought him or her to be—that you’d been had. Peter must have been extremely conflicted as he considered Jesus to be the Christ.
We have had this notion that when the eyes of Peter met those of Jesus that Peter then felt incredible shame and remorse and regret for having denied his Lord Jesus. That may have been the case. I tend to have the opinion, though, that while Peter experienced remorse and regret, it centered on his own feeling of having been betrayed and rejected by the one man who had the ability to change the world. He may have felt that Jesus betrayed not only him but all Jews still suffering under the heavy hand of the Roman Empire. As Peter would watch Jesus die, he could see the hopes of millions dying with him.
Could Jesus have sensed this in Peter, even when he predicted that Peter would waver to the point of denying him those three times? I believe Jesus had this insight and that it broke his heart. I believe, even as Jesus predicted to Peter that he would deny him, he had a lump in his throat and his eyes full of tears. Jesus may have known that he would be grossly misunderstood by even those closest to him but it couldn’t have made things any easier. Peter denied Jesus, not out of fear for himself, but from a broken heart as he saw the fate of his people and the hope of salvation for the Jews vanish as Jesus was being taken away to die. Peter missed the point, which in the moment must have been eating into the heart of his Savior.
Peter denied Jesus, not out of fear for himself, but from a broken heart as he saw the fate of his people and the hope of salvation for the Jews vanish as Jesus was being taken away to die. Peter missed the point, which in the moment must have been eating into the heart of his Savior.
Perhaps the cruelest torture of all, was the emotional suffering Jesus must have experienced in his keen awareness that hundreds, maybe thousands of people, including his closest friends, felt betrayed by him for not living up to the promise that he would be their king and bring freedom to them from their Roman oppression. Feeling so misunderstood as perhaps a villain in the moment he was acting as Savior must have broken the heart of Jesus. In the end he was left alone to die.
Note: There were so many more relationships of Jesus that could have been explored here. The relationship that Jesus had with John, the beloved disciple that may have been closest and most dependable to Jesus. He likely was with Jesus when Jesus met with Nicodemus, the Pharisee (in its own right a relationship worth exploring). There were the relationships Jesus had with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. What about the relationships Jesus had with Zacchaeus, Judas (Christ’s betrayer), the thief on the cross, and the list goes on. This is a fascinating study that I hope to write about in the not-too-distant-future.
Continue reading by clicking Sympathetic Savior – Christ’s Sacrifice.