On hearing Jesus’ statement that they would all fall away, Peter and the remaining disciples all declared emphatically that they would be loyal to Jesus no matter what. Peter went so far as to vow that he’d be faithful even if everyone else was not. This, of course, is when Jesus told Peter he’d deny Him three times before the rooster crowed twice.
I’ve been giving this passage some thought, and I’ve decided I don’t think Jesus meant this as an accusation. I don’t see Him pointing His finger in Peter’s face and shaming him or the other disciples. And I don’t really think that He was expressing disappointment in Peter and the other disciples either; He knew them better than they knew themselves. How could they have ever let Him down if He never expected them to stay faithful? In fact, for this reason, I’m not even sure Jesus’ words to Peter had to have been a set in stone prophecy. (Stay with me here.)
What if . . . really . . . what if, instead of becoming defensive, arguing with Jesus, and adamantly declaring his loyalty a second time, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (v. 31), what if Peter had stopped to think about Jesus’ words? What if, instead of saying never, Peter had said, “I don’t want to do that. Lord, help me!”?
Maybe, just maybe, Jesus was making a simple statement about Peter’s character as Jesus knew it, letting Peter know what would emerge from his nature if Peter refused to listen, learn, and change. If that was the case, then maybe, just maybe, if Peter had paid attention and taken Jesus’ words as a warning to heed, maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t have denied Jesus at all. Peter’s refusal to do so was his first denial—a denial of the truth about Himself that Jesus had graciously revealed—a truth that quite possibly could have been changed had Peter accepted it and asked for Jesus’ help.
I wonder if maybe this is why Jesus later asked Peter three times if he loved Him. (See John 21:15-17.) This passage is often referred to as Peter’s reinstatement. Through the dialogue, Jesus takes action to forgive Peter by restoring their relationship and recommissioning Peter to serve. I’ve heard it taught that perhaps Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him three times because Peter denied Him three times. I know that Jesus used different Greek words for love within the dialogue, both translated the same in English. And I’ve heard a few different explanations about why He may have done this.
But . . . what if . . . also . . . Jesus simply wanted Peter to slow down this time before giving an impulsive answer, before making a declaration that time would prove he didn’t really mean?
Jesus loved Peter. He told Peter what he needed to know about himself, so that he could be aware and make better, more informed choices. So that Peter could change. When Peter denied the truth about himself, resulting in his denial of Christ, Jesus graciously gave him another opportunity to see and process truth, so Peter could grow into the person God intended him to be.
Jesus does the same for us. He warns us, so we can make better choices. He reinstates us when we fail. He loves us and patiently leads us, helping us mature into the people we were meant to be.
Lord, You know me better than I know myself. When you reveal character flaws that could lead to sin, help me slow down and listen. Help me change, so my actions will honor, not hurt, You. And thank You for loving, patient, restoration whenever I fail. I’m following You, Lord. I love You. Amen.