The Trial of Peter

15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” 24 Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed. John 18:15-27 ESV

Jesus has been dragged before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest. Of the four gospel authors, John is the only one who records this meeting between Jesus and Annas. The Synoptics each have Jesus being brought before Caiaphas and then Pilate. John refers to Jesus’ appearance before Caiaphas (v. 24) but chooses not to provide any of the details concerning their meeting. It seems that John is more interested in the patriarch of the high priestly dynasty because Annas’ father/son relationship with Caiaphas, his son-in-law, echoes the many references to Jesus and His Father found in his gospel.

The setting is the residence of the high priest. Jesus has been brought to the home of the man who served in the same role as Aaron, the brother of Moses and the first high priest of Israel. God had ordained Aaron and his sons to serve as His priests, ministering on behalf of the people of Israel throughout the generations.

“I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” – Exodus 29:44-46 ESV

But over the centuries, the high priesthood had mirrored the spiritual state of the nation. They were just as guilty of apostasy and idolatry. Rather than maintain their consecrated status as God’s priests, they led the people in committing sins against the Almighty. And the prophet Hosea records God’s indictment against them.

“When the people bring their sin offerings, the priests get fed.
    So the priests are glad when the people sin!
‘And what the priests do, the people also do.’
    So now I will punish both priests and people
    for their wicked deeds.” – Hosea 4:8-9 NLT

“But like Adam, you broke my covenant
    and betrayed my trust.

“Gilead is a city of sinners,
    tracked with footprints of blood.
Priests form bands of robbers,
    waiting in ambush for their victims.
They murder travelers along the road to Shechem
    and practice every kind of sin.” – Hosea 6:7-9 NLT

And not much had changed by the time Jesus appeared in the courtyard of the high priest. As John has shown, the high priest and his fellow members of the Sanhadrin had no love for Jesus and they refused to accept His claims to be the Son of God. The whole reason Jesus stood before Annas with His hands bound like a criminal was that they saw Him as a threat to their way of life. When Jesus had ransacked the temple, turning over the tables of the moneychangers, the priests had seen this as a direct attack on their authority and power. So now, Jesus was about to stand for His crimes against the religious authorities of Israel.

But as John records, there was more than one person facing a trial this night. Peter, in the darkness of the courtyard, would also find himself undergoing intense interrogation and facing the very real prospect of suffering guilt by association. This entire scene brings to mind an earlier conversation between Jesus and Peter. It had taken place not long after Jesus and His disciples had shared their final Passover meal together. In sharing with the 11 men who remained at His side after Judas had left the room, Jesus made a shocking announcement to Peter.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” – Luke 22:31-32 ESV

This news left Peter stunned and indignant. And he responded with a strong sense of denial, declaring his willingness to lay down his life for Jesus.

Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” – Luke 22:33 ESV

But to Peter’s shock and embarrassment, Jesus prophesied a far different outcome.

“I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” – Luke 22:34 ESV

Now, that fateful moment had come. Peter and John had followed the procession from the garden, keeping to the shadows to avoid detection. But when they arrived at the high priest’s residence, John arranged for them to gain entrance because he was known to the servants of the high priest. John doesn’t disclose the nature of his relationship with the high priest but simply states that he was able to negotiate Peter’s entrance into the courtyard, an act of kindness Peter would probably regret.

As Peter made his way through the gate into the courtyard, a servant girl asks Peter a simple and somewhat harmless question.

“You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” – John 18:17 ESV

It seems that this girl had recognized John and knew him to be a disciple of Jesus. When John had asked her to allow his friend to enter the courtyard with him, she was curious to know if Peter was a disciple as well. There was no threat involved. She was pointing a finger of accusation against Peter. She was simply making small talk.

But Peter, in his heightened state of fear, immediately took her question as an accusation. And with a short and quick reply, he vehemently denied any association with Jesus.

“I am not.” – John 18:17 ESV

In his record of the night’s proceedings, John leaves Peter warming himself by a charcoal fire and shifts the scene inside, where Jesus stands before Annas. What takes place here is less a trial than an interrogation. Annas “questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching” (John 18:19 ESV). Just as the servant girl had asked Peter about his relationship with Jesus, Annas wants to know about Jesus’ relationship with the disciples. He has heard all the rumors concerning Jesus and now he wants to hear what Jesus has to say for Himself. Who were His disciples and what exactly had He been teaching them? Annas is wanting to know how this uneducated Rabbi from Nazareth has managed to attract such a large following in such a short period of time. The news of Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem before thousands of cheering people had not escaped Annas.

Jesus, unphased by His surroundings and unimpressed by the lofty reputation of His interrogator, simply replies: “Everyone knows what I teach. I have preached regularly in the synagogues and the Temple, where the people gather. I have not spoken in secret. Why are you asking me this question? Ask those who heard me. They know what I said” (John 18:20-21 NLT).

Jesus is not being disrespectful. He is simply stating that His days of teaching and explaining Himself are done. His witness concerning His ministry and identity is complete. He is done teaching and the final phase of His mission is about to begin. If Annas is looking for witnesses to vouch for who Jesus is, there are more than enough people who can speak on His behalf. And the time is quickly coming when the followers of Jesus will lift their voices and declare the good news of the gospel. But the words of Jesus recall the sad image of Peter, cowering in silent fear by the glow of the charcoal fire.

But Jesus’ response to Annas earned Him a slap in the face from the hand of one of the officers standing beside Him. His answer had come across as dishonoring and deserving of rebuke. His face still stinging from the guard’s physical abuse, Jesus calmly replied, “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?” (John 18:23 NLT).

This statement will establish the tone for the rest of the night’s proceedings. Jesus is going to be repeatedly questioned and physically abused. But as Pilate will clearly state, “I find no guilt in him” (John 19:4 ESV). Nothing Jesus has said over the last three years has been false. And what He said to Annas had not been disrespectful, He had simply been stating the truth. These trials would prove to be a mockery of justice. They were not interested in the truth. The one who claimed to be “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6) stood before them, but they would declare Him to be a liar and a deceiver. And in so doing, they would prove what Jesus had said about them earlier:

“…you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44 NLT

And with that, Annas sent Jesus to Caiaphas. But what about Peter? He is still standing by the fire, awaiting the final two of his “siftings” by Satan. And they come in quick succession. But rather than serve as a faithful witness to His friend and Messiah, Peter denies knowing Him…“and at once a rooster crowed” (John 18:27 ESV). 

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson