By including the denial account, Matthew warns disciples against apostasy in the face of persecution. By placing two responses to betrayal side by side, Matthew also points out how disciples should respond to failures of their discipleship. Peter wept with remorse (v. 75); Judas killed himself (27:5). Only the former was able to return to Jesus.Even Disciples Must Watch Lest They Fall (26:69-74) In this account Peter cares more about his own life than about his Lord's honor, and this is unacceptable for a disciple (10:32-33). Peter sought to be a disciple: while Jesus' enemies "assembled" or "gathered" (26:57; compare 13:40), Peter "followed" (compare 4:19; 8:22), though from "a distance, . . . to see the outcome," or the "end" (telos; 26:58). That he would renounce his faith before one of minimal social status (a "slave girl"; Matthew underlines this point with two servant girls--26:69, 71) increases the heinousness of the denial. Peter's wording does the same; "I do not know what you say" and similar formulas represent an emphatic form standard in Jewish law "for formal, legal denial" (as in m. Sebu`ot 8:3, 6; Smith 1951:35). Denials with cursing imply not profanity but invoking a curse upon himself if he were lying (Beare 1981:524)--directly violating Jesus' teaching in 5:33-37. Most significantly, Peter was denying the Lord he had promised never to deny (10:33; 26:35).
Peter had hoped to follow a Messiah whose kingdom did not involve the cross (16:22); thus he proved unprepared when the time came to take up his cross and follow the Lord (16:24; compare Dewey 1976:111). That Peter illustrates Jesus' teaching about discipleship in 16:24-27 indicates his function as a paradigm for us: only by counting the cost of following Jesus, only by watching and praying, will we be ready when the hour comes for us to share the sufferings of our Lord for his name's sake.The Appropriate Response to Failure Is Repentance (26:75) By placing the failures of Peter and Judas side by side, Matthew presents Peter's response to his failure as the appropriate model for disciples. The exposure of our weakness is cause for repentance (v. 75; compare 26:31-32), not sorrow unto death (27:5; compare 2 Cor 7:10). Peter's example warns us to be ready for testing; but it also summons us to start afresh if we have failed, and to show mercy to those who have already stumbled but wish to return to the way of Christ (compare 18:10-35).