John 18:15-27 – Peter’s Cheap Equivocation and Jesus’ Costly Grace – Part 1

Our text today develops two scenes for us simultaneously.
·  John does this by alternating between two scenes – A-B-A-B.
o   Jesus before the high priest (A)
o   Peter in the courtyard of the high priest’s palace (B)
·  His purpose is to compare and contrast these two parallel story lines.
·  We will gradually see why this is significant and how it plays out.

Before we start, however, I want to show where we are both in time and geographically.

The Timeline:
We are slowly moving from late Thursday night of Passover week into early Friday morning – the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.
·  Jesus has been arrested and transported to the High Priest’s palace.
·  His trial, which lasts all night, consists of both Jewish and Roman phases.

This is best seen in the following infographic from the FaithLife Study Bible:

The Geography:
Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane on the slopes of the Mount of Olives.
·  He was bound and then led back across the Kidron Valley.
·  From there He would have traveled south along the Temple mounts eastern wall.
·  He would have turned west, passing the mikvahs situated on the southern edge of the Temple mount.
·  Finally, He would have been led up a hill and a series of steps leading to the High Priest’s palace.

The following pics show some of Jesus’ likely route:

Temple Mount from Mount of Olives

Southern End of Temple Mount

Steps to Caiaphas’s Palace

High Priest’s Palace

It was in the courtyard of the High Priest’s Palace and within the Palace walls that our story takes place.
·  We will begin with Peter in the courtyard.


Peter – Scene 1:
John 18:15–18 (ESV) — 15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

John tells us that after Jesus’ arrest at least two disciples, Peter and one other, followed a bound Jesus to the “courtyard of the high priest” (vs. 15).
·  It is at this point that things go south for Peter.
·  He is recognized by the servant girl tending the gate.
·  She asks him, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you (vs. 17)?
·  His answer to the servant girl’s question is simply “I am not” one of this man’s disciples (vs. 17).
o   Scholars tell us the question was formulated in Greek so as to illicit a negative answer.

Then John describes an odd scene for us.
·  The servants and officers, who were just involved in the arrest of Jesus moments earlier, make a fire to keep warm.
o   It is the middle of the night and it is cold.
o   And the fact that we are told it is specifically a “charcoal fire” (vs. 18) seems to indicate that John’s account is an eyewitness account.
·  Peter, who just denied his association with Jesus to the servant girl, saddles up next to the very people who just arrested Jesus.
·  He did this, John tells us, because he is “warming himself” in the cold (vs. 18).
·  This brings us to scene two and Peter’s 2nd and 3rd denials.

Peter – Scene 2:
John 18:25–27 (ESV) — 25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

Again John tells us that Peter was “warming himself” – the reason he was standing with the servants and officers.
·  This time they, not the servant girl at the gate, ask Peter “You also are not one of his disciples, are you (vs. 25)?
·   Peter answers them, “I am not” (vs. 25) one of his disciples.
·  So for the second time Peter denies his association with Jesus.

Then John tells us that those at the fire ask the obvious question we have all been waiting for – “Did I not see you in the garden with him (vs. 26)?
·  Mark tells us Peter’s answer is unequivocal.
·  I do not know this man of whom you speak (Mark 14:71b).”
·  So for the third time, Peter denies any association with Jesus.
·  Alluding to the contrast of the cold night and the warm fire, the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery suggests that, “The cold night seems to pervade [Peter’s] spirit and strip his courage, as his fiery zeal turns to three chilling denials of his Master” – DBI.

At that moment, “…a rooster crowed” (vs. 27).
·  Luke also adds the detail that at this very moment Jesus, perhaps from a window, turned and looked at Peter.

Although John makes no mention of it, we know that Peter’s reaction to the conviction brought by the rooster’s crow and Jesus’ glance is intense.
·  Mark 14:72b (ESV) — 72b And he broke down and wept.
·  Matthew 26:75b (ESV) — 75b And he went out and wept bitterly.
·  Luke 22:62 (ESV) — 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.

So Why the Denials?
What is the reason for the them?
·  Or put another way, what does God want us to learn from Peter’s denials?
·  They are, after all, included in all four Gospels.
·  One reason is easy to determine.

(1) Peter’s denials were a fulfillment of Jesus’ words and thus a demonstration of Jesus’ divinity.
·  We only need to look at what Jesus told Peter earlier that evening to see this.
·  John 13:36–38 (ESV) — 36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.

Ok, that was the easy one.
·  To lay the groundwork for establishing more reasons, we need to exclude some commonly held views for Peter’s denials.
·  We call this “affirming the negative”.

(2) Peter’s denials were probably not because he feared for his life.
·  To demonstrate this we need to tease out some facts from the narrative.
·  Specifically with respect to:
o   The Other Disciple and Peter’s Own Actions.

(a) The Other Disciple:
·  In verse 15 John tells us that there was another disciple with Peter – the “other disciple”.
·  In verse 16, John tells us that this “other disciple” was Peter’s ticket into the high priest’s courtyard.
·  We see also that in verse 17 the servant girls question included the words, “you also”.
·  These pieces of information tell us that she recognized the “other disciple” and his association with Jesus.
·  In fact, her recognition of the “other disciple” probably led to her question Peter to begin with.
·  She merely wanted to know if Peter was a disciple too.
·  And D.A. Carson adds that Peter “may have viewed this first instance [at the gate] of self-distancing from the Master as a rite of admission to the courtyard; but once performed, it was easy to repeat, with rising vehemence” – D.A. Carson.

(b) Peter’s Own Actions:
Additionally, John tells us in verse 18 that Peter actually joined Jesus’ captors at the fire to keep warm.
·  John 18:18b (ESV) — 18b Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.
·  This means he didn’t leave – he came further into the courtyard.

So these two factors together seem to indicate that Peter was not gripped by a fear for his life.
·  Why?

Summary of reasons why Peter didn’t fear for his life:
·  (i) It would be very odd for him to stand next to the men that just arrested Jesus.
o   Especially having been the one to cut off a servant’s ear.
·  (ii) Had he feared for his life or safety, he could have left or never entered the courtyard.
o   As it is, he and the “other disciple” regrouped after Jesus’ arrest and felt it was safe enough to track down Jesus and see what was happening to Him.
o   So they entered the courtyard.
o   And at least Peter saddled up next to the fire.
o   Which was close enough to the palace to be seen by Jesus.
·  (ii) And what of the “other disciple”?
o   Apparently he had no such fear.
o   He was even so well known he was easily admitted into the courtyard.
o   And had enough pull to get Peter in as well.
·  (iv) Finally, scholars tell us that it was not against the law to be a disciple of a prominent teacher.
o   Even if the teacher was controversial like Jesus.

 (3) Peter’s denials were not because he was being asked to vouch for the identity of Jesus.
·  In other words, Peter did not deny Jesus was the Christ; Peter denied that he was His disciple.
·  This is an important point.
·  In fact, Beasley-Murray argues that “the theme [in our text] is not that Peter denied that Jesus is Lord or Messiah, but that he himself was his disciple” – Beasley-Murray.
·  This is a significant observation!

So what is left that can explain Peter’s denials and why they are so prominent in all four Gospels?
·  Nobody really knows; it is all speculation.
·  “Why he should deny being a disciple of Jesus is not immediately apparent” – John MacArthur.
·  But I have a theory.
·  And it involves a contrast between “cheap equivocation” and “costly grace”.

We will get into this contrast next week when we dive into Jesus’ “trial” before Annas and Caiaphas.