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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 36–38
Verses 36–38

In these verses we have,

I. Peter’s curiosity, and the check given to that.

1. Peter’s question was bold and blunt (John 13:36): Lord, whither goest thou? referring to what Christ had said (John 13:33), Whither I go, you cannot come. The practical instructions Christ had given them concerning brotherly love he overlooks, and asks no questions upon them, but fastens upon that concerning which Christ purposely kept them in the dark. Note, It is a common fault among us to be more inquisitive concerning things secret, which belong to God only, than concerning things revealed, which belong to us and our children, more desirous to have our curiosity gratified than our consciences directed, to know what is done in heaven than what we may do to get thither. It is easy to observe it in the converse of Christians, how soon a discourse of that which is plain and edifying is dropped, and no more said to it, the subject is exhausted; which in a matter of doubtful disputation runs into an endless strife of words.

2. Christ’s answer was instructive. He did not gratify him with any particular account of the world he was going to, nor ever foretold his glories and joys so distinctly as he did his sufferings, but said what he had said before (John 13:36): Let this suffice, thou canst not follow me now, but shalt follow me hereafter, (1.) We may understand it of his following him to the cross: “Thou hast not yet strength enough of faith and resolution to drink of my cup;” and it appeared so by his cowardice when Christ was suffering. For this reason, when Christ was seized, he provided for the safety of his disciples. Let these go their way, because they could not follow him now. Christ considers the frame of his disciples, and will not cut out for them that work and hardship which they are not as yet fit for; the day shall be as the strength is. Peter, though designed for martyrdom, cannot follow Christ now, not being come to his full growth, but he shall follow him hereafter; he shall be crucified at last, like his Master. Let him not think that because he escapes suffering now he shall never suffer. From our missing the cross once, we must not infer that we shall never meet it; we may be reserved for greater trials than we have yet known. (2.) We may understand it of his following him to the crown. Christ was now going to his glory, and Peter was very desirous to go with him: “No,” saith Christ, “thou canst not follow me now, thou art not yet ripe for heaven, nor hast thou finished thy work on earth. The forerunner must first enter to prepare a place for thee, but thou shalt follow me afterwards, after thou hast fought the good fight, and at the time appointed.” Note, Believers must not expect to be glorified as soon as they are effectually called, for there is a wilderness between the Red Sea and Canaan.

II. Peter’s confidence, and the check given to that.

1. Peter makes a daring protestation of his constancy. He is not content to be left behind, but asks, “Lord why cannot I follow thee now? Dost thou question my sincerity and resolution? I promise thee, if there be occasion, I will lay down my life for thy sake.” Some think Peter had a conceit, as the Jews had in a like case (John 7:35), that Christ was designing a journey or voyage into some remote country, and that he declared his resolution to go along with him wherever he went; but, having heard his Master so often speak of his own sufferings, surely he could not understand him any otherwise than of his going away by death; and he resolves as Thomas did that he will go and die with him; and better die with him than live without him. See here, (1.) What an affectionate love Peter had to our Lord Jesus: “I will lay down my life for thy sake, and I can do no more.” I believe Peter spoke as he thought, and though he was inconsiderate he was not insincere, in his resolution. Note, Christ should be dearer to us than our own lives, which therefore, when we are called to it, we should be willing to lay down for his sake, Acts 20:24. (2.) How ill he took it to have it questioned, intimated in that expostulation, “Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? Dost thou suspect my fidelity to thee?” 1 Sam. 29:8. Note, It is with regret that true love hears its own sincerity arraigned, as John 21:17. Christ had indeed said that one of them was a devil, but he was discovered, and gone out, and therefore Peter thinks he may speak with the more assurance of his own sincerity; “Lord, I am resolved I will never leave thee, and therefore why cannot I follow thee?” We are apt to think that we can do any thing, and take it amiss to be told that this and the other we cannot do, whereas without Christ we can do nothing.

2. Christ gives him a surprising prediction of his inconstancy, John 13:38. Jesus Christ knows us better than we know ourselves, and has many ways of discovering those to themselves whom he loves, and will hide pride from. (1.) He upbraids Peter with his confidence: Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Me thinks, he seems to have said this with a smile: “Peter, thy promises are too large, too lavish to be relied on; thou dost not consider with what reluctancy and struggle a life is laid down, and what a hard task it is to die; not so soon done as said.” Christ hereby puts Peter upon second thoughts, not that he might retract his resolution, or recede from it, but that he might insert into it that necessary proviso, “Lord, thy grace enabling me, I will lay down my life for thy sake.” “Wilt thou undertake to die for me? What! thou that trembledst to walk upon the water to me? What! thou that, when sufferings were spoken of, criedst out, Be it far from thee, Lord? It was an easy thing to leave thy boats and nets to follow me, but not so easy to lay down thy life.” His Master himself struggled when it came to his, and the disciple is not greater than his Lord. Note, It is good for us to shame ourselves out of our presumptuous confidence in ourselves. Shall a bruised reed set up for a pillar, or a sickly child undertake to be a champion? What a fool am I to talk so big. (2.) He plainly foretels his cowardice in the critical hour. To stop the mouth of his boasting, lest Peter should say it again, Yea Master, that I will, Christ solemnly asserts it with, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, the cock shall not crow till thou hast denied me thrice. He does not say as afterwards, This night, for it seems to have been two nights before the passover; but, “Shortly thou wilt have denied me thrice within the space of one night; nay, within so short a space as between the first and last crowing of the cock: The cock shall not crow, shall not have crowed his crowing out, till thou has again and again denied me, and that for fear of suffering.” The crowing of the cock is mentioned, [1.] To intimate that the trial in which he would miscarry thus should be in the night, which was an improbable circumstance, but Christ’s foretelling it was an instance of his infallible foresight. [2.] Because the crowing of the cock was to be the occasion of his repentance, which of itself would not have been if Christ had not put this into the prediction. Christ not only foresaw that Judas would betray him though he only in heart designed it, but he foresaw that Peter would deny him though he did not design it, but the contrary. He knows not only the wickedness of sinners, but the weakness of saints. Christ told Peter, First, That he would deny him, would renounce and abjure him: “Thou wilt not only not follow me still, but wilt be ashamed to own that ever thou didst follow me.” Secondly, That he would do this not once only by a hasty slip of the tongue, but after he had paused would repeat it a second and third time; and it proved too true. We commonly give it as a reason why the prophecies of scripture are expressed darkly and figuratively, because, if they did plainly describe the event, the accomplishment would thereby either be defeated or necessitated by a fatality inconsistent with human liberty; and yet this plain and express prophecy of Peter’s denying Christ did neither, nor did in the least make Christ accessary to Peter’s sin. But we may well imagine what a mortification it was to Peter’s confidence of his own courage to be told this, and to be told it in such a manner that he durst not contradict it, else he would have said as Hazael, What! is thy servant a dog? This could not but fill him with confusion. Note, The most secure are commonly the least safe; and those most shamefully betray their own weakness that most confidently presume upon their own strength, 1 Cor. 10:12.