Peter Denies He Is a Follower of Jesus (18:15-18)

Peter and John follow as Jesus is brought before Annas. John's familiarity with the high priest, or at least with his household, enables him to enter with Jesus and to get Peter admitted also (vv. 15-16). The one who reclined next to Jesus a few hours earlier at the meal (13:23) continues to be close to him. But his going back out to bring Peter in shows that he, like his master, is also concerned for others, in particular this fellow believer. The love evident in this gesture reveals John's character as a true disciple and as one to whose care Jesus can entrust other disciples, indeed even his mother (19:27).

Presumably John returns to the room where Jesus is being questioned, which leaves Peter in the courtyard with the servants and others. It is not said whether Peter was unable to enter the room with John or whether he chose to remain outside. The latter seems unlikely, given Peter's character, but the arrest has shaken him. He is now sifted, beginning with a question from the woman who attended the door (v. 17). She asks, literally, "You also are not one of the disciples of this man, are you?" Her expression "this man" (tou anthropou toutou, left out of the NIV) seems to suggest some disdain, as does the use of me ("not"), here with the sense, "surely not you too." But, of course, there would be little other reason for a stranger to be there in the courtyard in the middle of a cold night. Furthermore, the fact that she says "you also" (kai sy, also missing from the NIV) most likely indicates that she knows John is a disciple of Jesus.

In this account, therefore, it seems to be Peter's association with John, the unnamed disciple, that draws attention to his relation to Jesus. John himself shows no concern about her feelings regarding his discipleship, for he not only was admitted by her, but also came back to get Peter in. While Peter's attack with the sword (18:10) may have made him fearful of being recognized, he is not in a position of legal difficulty, since there is no warrant for his arrest. Nor is there indication that he was physically threatened by this woman or the others. He has no such excuses for his denial. He who a few hours earlier had said he would die for Jesus (13:37) now denies any association with him purely out of fear of what people would think. John, like Luke, is gentle in his account of Peter's denials, leaving out the curses and oaths he used (Mt 26:74 par. Mk 14:71); and John will give prominence to Peter's restoration (21:15-19). But this does not mean that John takes the denial less seriously than Matthew or Mark do. The very terms of the restoration ("Do you love me?") show the enormity of the denials and also stand in contrast to the love that John shows in this scene as he sticks close to Jesus even in his disgrace.

After Peter's first denial, John's narrative switches back to what is going on inside between Annas and Jesus. Peter is outside warming himself at a charcoal fire (anthrakia, v. 18). A charcoal fire gives off warmth but little light. This dim fire, along with the darkness in the garden, helps account for Peter's not being recognized immediately by the relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off (v. 26). The darkness of the courtyard may also have a symbolic significance, for it means Peter is outside in the half-light while John is inside with the Light of the World. Peter is not denigrated in this Gospel, but he does "serve as a foil for the behavior of another disciple who is never deflected from his following of Jesus" (Brown 1994:1:623). In the half-light, separated from Jesus, Peter encounters temptation for which he does not have the resources to resist. The only hope for any of us in the time of temptation is to remain close to Jesus.

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