66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. – Mark 14:66-72 ESV
As Jesus was standing before the Sanhedrin undergoing interrogation by the high priest, Peter had remained in the courtyard, attempting to keep himself warm by the fire while also keeping his identity hidden from the servants and guards who had participated in the arrest of Jesus. Peter and John had been the only disciples to follow Jesus after His arrest in the garden. All the others had fled into the night. Yet Peter was anything but brave. And as the night wore on, his fear began to get the best of him. He so wanted to stand by his Master and honor his commitment to defend Him to the end. But in the darkness of the courtyard, surrounded by armed guards and servants of the high priest, Peter felt alone and afraid. He had no way of knowing what was happening inside the walls of Caiaphas’ residence, but it seems likely that servants of the high priest were bringing regular reports of the proceedings to those waiting in the courtyard. The normally-impulsive Peter, who had drawn his sword and cut off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants, now cowered in the darkness, wondering how everything had gone so wrong.
His mind must have been flooded with memories as he thought back over the last 3-1/2 years of his life with Jesus. He could vividly recall the day when he and his brother Andrew were casting their net into the sea of Galilee, and Jesus had called out to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17 ESV). That had proved to be a life-changing moment for them. They had left their nets behind and become disciples of this Rabbi from Nazareth. And over the following years, they had seen Him perform inexplicable miracles, deliver powerful messages, and provide convincing proof that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. But now, Peter’s hopes of a new King and a renewed Kingdom of Israel were on the verge of collapse. Jesus was standing before the Jewish high council with His hands bound and His Messianic claims fully rejected by these powerful religious leaders. And all Peter could do was wonder about what might have been.
But suddenly, Peter’s contemplation was interrupted by a voice. A young servant girl, recognizing Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples, pointed to him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus” (Mark 14:67 ESV). His cover was blown. And in a state of fear, Peter responded, “I neither know nor understand what you mean” (Mark 14:68 ESV). He pleaded ignorance. In essence, he claimed not to know what she was talking about. Hoping to avoid any further interaction with the girl, Peter made his way to the exit, and as soon as he did, the rooster crowed for the first time.
But the girl, more convinced than ever that Peter was a disciple of Jesus persisted with her claim.
“This man is one of them.” – Mark 14:69 ESV
And you can almost feel the growing sense of panic taking over Peter. He feels trapped. The walls were closing in. And Matthew records that Peter not only denied the girl’s words, but he swore an oath, saying, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:72 ESV). And then the rest of the crowd began to join in the chorus of accusations, shouting, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean” (Mark 14:70 ESV). Suddenly, all eyes were focused on him. And, under normal circumstances, Peter would have enjoyed being the center of attention. But not on this night. So, “he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man of whom you speak’” (Mark 14:71 ESV). And the rooster crowed a second and final time.
That naturally occurring sound must have pierced Peter’s ears like an air-raid siren, providing a jarring and unwelcome reminder of what Jesus has said earlier.
“Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” – Mark 14:30 ESV
Totally unaware of the significance of his words, Peter had denied Jesus three separate times and, in so doing, had unwittingly fulfilled the Lord’s prediction. And as he considered the weight of his actions, Peter “broke down and wept” (Mark 14:72 ESV). He was devastated. This man, who took such pride in his faithfulness and who had guaranteed his steadfastness to the end, had caved under pressure. In the garden, he had slept while Jesus grieved and prayed. In the courtyard, he had lied while Jesus was tried and condemned.
From this point forward, Peter disappears from the scene, and he will not reappear until Jesus has resurrected from the dead. With his actions in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter became the representative for all the disciples. This man, who at one point had boldly proclaimed to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV), had just denied even knowing Him. But other than John, Peter had been the only one of the disciples who even bothered to show up that night at the high priest’s house. They had all abandoned Jesus, leaving Him to suffer the pain and agony of the cross alone. Each of them would go into hiding. And it seems that only John would be brave enough to make a personal appearance at the crucifixion of Jesus.
But these men were not failures. They were simply sinners in need of a Savior. And Jesus was preparing to offer His life as their atoning sacrifice so that they might receive the indwelling power of the Spirit of God. He would die so that they might live. He would remain faithful to His mission despite their unfaithfulness. He would keep His commitment to His Father’s will so that they might receive power from on high. Peter walked away, defeated and discouraged. He had lost the battle with fear. But Jesus was about to win the victory over sin and death and restore hope to all who, like Peter, find themselves wallowing in hopelessness and despair.
Peter himself would later write these powerfully encouraging words:
If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is. – 2 Peter 2:13 NLT
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.