A Tale of Two Trials

54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.

63 Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. 64 They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” 65 And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him. Luke 22:54-65 ESV

One disciple had made an ill-fated attempt to thwart the plans of the Sanhedrin by brandishing a sword, but all he had managed to do was maim an innocent and unarmed servant. After Jesus miraculously replaced the man’s severed ear, the disciples scattered into the night, just as He had said they would (Mark 14:27). Only two of them would remain close enough to watch what happened to their teacher and friend. The apostle John would later disclose that “Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple” (John 18:15 ESV). And that second disciple was most likely John himself. These two men witnessed Jesus being manhandled by the armed guards and led away into the night. Then they followed at a distance, being careful to stay in the shadows and out of the flickering glow of the torches that illuminated the face of Jesus as He was unceremoniously escorted to the home of the high priest.

It is John, a likely eyewitness to the events that followed, who provides a more detailed description of the identities of those who arrested Jesus that night.

So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. – John 18:12-13 ESV

Though Annas was technically the former high priest, he still retained the title in a ceremonial sense. It might be more accurate to consider him the high priest emeritus. Upon His arrest, Jesus was led to the home of Annas. It seems clear from Luke’s account that both Annas and Caiaphas had been in the garden that night. These two powerful men, along with officers of the temple and elders, had accompanied the guards to Gethsemane in order to see that arrest of Jesus went according to their plan.

John indicates that Jesus was first taken to the home of Annas. There are some who believe that Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, resided in the royal palace of the high priest. So, Jesus would have been taken to a single location where He was initially given a brief hearing before the former high priest. This appears to have been a show of respect on the part of Caiaphas, providing his father-in-law with the privilege of being the first to interrogate the prisoner. But eventually, Jesus was led before Caiaphas, who would play the primary role in the questioning and sentencing of Jesus. Caiaphas would serve as the judge, with the rest of the Sanhedrin acting as the jury.

But as Jesus was led into the presence of His enemies, Peter and John were able to gain access to the inner courtyard of the high priest’s palace. John describes the scene in his gospel account.

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, but Peter stood outside at the door. – John 18:15-16 ESV

As John did throughout his gospel, he refers to himself in the third person, omitting his name but clearly indicating that he had first-hand knowledge of the events surrounding Jesus’ arrest and Peter’s denial. For some unexplained reason, John was an acquaintance of the high priest and, when recognized by one of the servants at the gate, he was allowed entry into the courtyard. He then arranged for Peter to join him. There, in the glow of a nearby fire, Peter and John would have ringside seats to the trial of the Son of God. But, little did Peter know that he was about to undergo his own interrogation, which would leave him exposed and condemned as a traitor.

As Jesus was being blindfolded, beaten, and mocked (Luke 18:63-64), Peter took a seat near the fire. As he attempted to keep himself warm on this cold and dismal night, he suddenly found himself in a heated exchange that would change his life forever. It all began with the servant girl who had been at the gate when Peter entered the courtyard. She asked, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” (John 18:17 ESV). This unexpected and uncomfortable question caught Peter off guard and he immediately responded, “Woman, I do not know him” (Luke 22:57 ESV). This exchange must have left Peter in a cold sweat, yet he drew closer to the fire. Peter simply wanted to be left alone. Standing in the courtyard of the powerful high priest, Peter knew he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. His Master had been arrested and was in the middle of an intense interrogation, and it appeared that all of Jesus’ predictions about His trials, suffering, and death were about to take place. Which led Peter to assume he might be next. So, when the next person shouted, “You also are one of them,” Peter immediately responded, “Man, I am not” (Luke 22:58 ESV).

According to Luke, Peter was given a brief respite. An hour passed, but it must have been an agonizingly slow 60 minutes filled with dread and foreboding. It is not clear whether Peter understood the gravity of what had just taken place. There’s no way of knowing if he realized he was two-thirds of the way into fulfilling the prediction Jesus had made in the upper room.

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

Yet, when the hour had passed and Peter had just begun to calm down from his two earlier encounters, a third individual confronted him. John indicates that it was “One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off” (John 18:26 ESV). This man had been in the garden that night and immediately recognized Peter as the sword-wielding lunatic who had cut off his relative’s ear. This led him to ask, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” (John 18:26 ESV). He was certain that Peter was the culprit, even declaring that Peter appeared to be a Galilean, just like Jesus (Luke 22:59). But, true to form, “Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed” (John 18:27 ESV).

Each of the gospel authors portrays this seminal moment in slightly different ways. Mark lets us know that Peter had reached the end of his patience and defended his answer with a life-threatening curse.

“A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know this man you’re talking about!” – Mark 14:71 NLT

Matthew simply states that Peter denied any knowledge of Jesus. And Luke reports that Peter claimed total ignorance of the whole affair.

“Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” – Luke 22:60 ESV

But in each case, the outcome is the same.

…the rooster crowed – Luke 22:60 ESV

And immediately the rooster crowed. – Matthew 26:74 ESV

And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. – Mark 14:72 ESV

…and at once a rooster crowed. – John 18:27 ESV

Only Luke adds the sobering detail that must have delivered the final blow to the already shell-shocked Peter. 

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” – Luke 22:61 ESV

For just a split second, the eyes of Peter and Jesus connected – just long enough for Peter to see and feel the love of His Master and to recognize the weight of what he had just done. He had done what he swore he would not do. The brash and bold disciple, who had declared his unwavering allegiance to Jesus and had drawn his sword in the garden, had just denied any knowledge of Him. In an attempt to save his own skin, Peter had turned his back on the Lamb of God. It seems likely that in that brief moment of time, Peter’s mind recalled the words that Jesus had spoken some time earlier.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13 ESV

Yet, out of fear of death, Peter had chosen to lie and deny any knowledge of Jesus. That decision would haunt Peter, and the image of Jesus’ piercing, yet loving eyes would be impossible to forget. And Luke indicates that Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62 ESV). Peter had been put on trial and condemned as a traitor. No one in the crowd that night had passed a sentence on Peter. He was not apprehended and put in chains. He was not led into the presence of the high priest. No, he was allowed to disappear into the night, a shamed and broken man. His own words had condemned him. That momentary glance from Jesus had not been one of disappointment or condemnation but of love.

Jesus knew something Peter didn’t know. He had predicted Peter’s denial but had also told of the eventual restoration of his faith.

“I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” – Luke 22:32 NLT

The key to Peter’s restoration would be Jesus’ crucifixion. The very thing Peter had tried to prevent would be the only thing that would restore his hope, renew his faith, and redirect the trajectory of his life.  

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

2 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Trials

  1. Pingback: A Tale of Two Trials — Devotionary | Talmidimblogging

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