69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. – Matthew 26:69-75 ESV
When Jesus had been dragged before the high priest and the Sanhedrin, two of His disciples had followed close behind. Upon their arrival at the home of Caiaphas, Peter had remained outside the door entering into the courtyard of the house. But in John’s gospel account, he indicates that the second disciple was known by the high priest and was granted access into the inner courtyard. He convinced one of the servants of Caiaphas to let Peter enter as well. So, Peter was not alone that night. It is likely that John was the second disciple to whom he mentions, referring to himself in the third person, as he does so often in his gospel.
But as Jesus was undergoing questioning by the high priest, Peter and John were waiting outside in the courtyard, along with the guards who had arrested Jesus. As they waited, a servant girl approached Peter and, recognizing him as one of the disciples of Jesus, pointed him out to all who were there. But Peter vehemently denied it, saying, “I do not know what you mean” (Matthew 26:70 ESV). A few minutes later, another servant girl pointed out Peter as a follower of Jesus, but this time Peter even denied having any knowledge of Jesus. When another bystander heard Peter’s Galilean accent, he also accused Peter of being one of Jesus’ disciples. A charge Peter strongly denied. “Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man’” (Matthew 26:74 ESV).
And a rooster crowed.
The sound of a rooster crowing would have been normal and natural to everyone in the courtyard because the morning was fast approaching. But for Peter, it was a horrific sound that reminded him of the words of Jesus.
“Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” – Matthew 26:34 ESV
Peter immediately recognized that he had broken the solemn and boastful oath he had made to Jesus just hours earlier.
“Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” – Matthew 26:35 ESV
He had denied his friend, teacher, and Messiah. In the face of intense pressure and possible arrest, Peter had denied even knowing Jesus. It was just as Jesus had warned in the garden: Peter’s spirit had been willing, but his flesh had proven to be weak (Matthew 26:41).
Peter had meant what he said. He had been sincere and well-intentioned. But this night was no ordinary night and the circumstances surrounding it had been completely unexpected and had left Peter confused and scared. His world was crumbling around him. All his hopes and dreams for the future were crashing in on him. The mob mentality that pervaded the courtyard that night had gotten to him. He feared for his life and, before he knew it, he had done the unexpected and unthinkable: He had denied Jesus. And the rooster had crowed.
But Peter had not been alone in His denial of Jesus. In fact, the entire scene is marked by a fierce rejection of Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. Even the servant girl who approached Peter had referred to Jesus as “the Galilean.” To the citizens of Jerusalem, anyone from Galilee was looked down upon as a country bumpkin – a rural, uneducated hick from the sticks. They even had a different accent when they spoke. They were unsophisticated and lacked culture. Even Nathanael, one of the disciples of Jesus, had expressed doubt when he heard that Jesus was from a small town in the region of Galilee.
“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”– John 1:46 NLT
Nazareth, located in Galilee, had a less-than-stellar reputation among the more sophisticated Jews. And that night, in the courtyard of the high priest, you can see the mounting resentment toward Jesus, this upstart revolutionary from Galilee.
The denial of Jesus is the theme of this entire chapter. If John was the second disciple in the courtyard that night, you don’t hear him speaking up for Jesus. He didn’t come to Peter’s defense. The rest of the disciples were long gone, having fled the Garden of Gethsemane in order to seek refuge somewhere in the city, in hopes of avoiding discovery.
Everyone was denying Jesus. Including Caiaphas and his fellow members of the Sanhedrin. They saw Him as a blasphemer, a radical lunatic who was claiming to be the Son of God. But, in their minds, His claims made Him worthy of death, not devotion. His boasts of being divine had earned Him their resentment, not respect. His miracles had left them unimpressed and convinced that He was in league with the devil himself.
As Jesus stood before the religious high council of the Jews, He was alone. Long gone were the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9 ESV). In just a few hours, He would hear the very same people shouting, “Crucify him!” And all of this was in fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, the prophet.
He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care. – Isaiah 53:3 NLT
John, most likely the second, unnamed disciple in the courtyard that night, would later write:
He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT
And just hours later, as Jesus hung dying on the cross, He would shout, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 ESV). His words would be a direct quote from a psalm written by David, His ancestor. And later on, in that same psalm we find these words:
But I am a worm and not a man.
I am scorned and despised by all!
Everyone who sees me mocks me.
They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
“Is this the one who relies on the Lord?
Then let the Lord save him!
If the Lord loves him so much,
let the Lord rescue him!” – Psalm 22:6-8 NLT
“Is this the one?”
That question sums up this entire section of Matthew 26. Was Jesus the Messiah? Was He the Son of God and the Savior of the world? Was this itinerant rabbi from Nazareth the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world?
You can sense the sarcasm and harsh denial in the words. “Is this the one?” Jesus did not fit their expectations. He was not impressive to look at. He was not regal and royal in bearing. Instead of an army, He was surrounded by a ragtag group of hapless disciples. This man could not be the Messiah.
In this passage, we see everyone denying the very one whom God had sent to provide the way of salvation. They were rejecting their Messiah and Savior. Jesus, the hope of the world, was being denied by the world. Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, was spurned by the people of Israel. Jesus, the disciples’ Master and Lord, had been abandoned by them. He was alone. But He was undeterred. He remained committed to His cause and fully willing to follow through on His Father’s plan to bring redemption to a fallen world.
The rooster had crowed. The morning was coming. The end was near. The day of redemption was drawing close. But rejection had to proceed glorification. Crucifixion had to come before the resurrection. Persecution and execution were required so that men might receive absolution and justification before God.
For Peter, the crowing of the rooster was the end of a horrible night. But for God, it was the beginning of a new day that would bring salvation to a lost and dying world. The sun was going to rise on the hill of Golgotha, where the Son of God would hang on a cruel Roman cross. Jesus, the unblemished sacrifice offered by God as payment for the sins of mankind, would fulfill His destiny and secure the hope of eternity for all who would believe in Him rather than deny Him.
It was not the end, but just the beginning.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.