59 Inside, the leading priests and the entire high council were trying to find witnesses who would lie about Jesus, so they could put him to death. 60 But even though they found many who agreed to give false witness, they could not use anyone’s testimony. Finally, two men came forward 61 who declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”
62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
64 Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
65 Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your verdict?”
“Guilty!” they shouted. “He deserves to die!”
67 Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him, 68 jeering, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?”
69 Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.”
70 But Peter denied it in front of everyone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
71 Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
72 Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. “I don’t even know the man,” he said.
73 A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.”
74 Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed.
75 Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.
This is perhaps the most artfully crafted passage in all of Matthew’s Gospel. You should take some time to appreciate the high art we have here, where meaning comes in layers and parallels and only comes by deep, prayerful reflection. To that end, I want to give you a few directional pointers without over commenting and ruining your own experience with Matthew’s masterpiece.
Matthew gives us the trial of Jesus and the denial of Peter together. Both face three rounds of questions and increasing tension. One example of the parallelism is in the second question for each. The high priest demands that Jesus take an oath and tell if he is the Christ or not. Jesus refuses to take any oath; he had already forbidden his followers from taking oaths. Yet at the same moment, Peter is taking an unsolicited oath in denying Jesus for the second time. The third level is the most tense. The servants of the high priest are beating Jesus, cursing, screaming, and demanding Jesus prophesy. Outside, Peter is also cursing and swearing and fulfilling the most recent prophecy Jesus had made.
There is a lot more here, paralleling how we are called to respond and how we are prone to respond, what faithful kingdom witness looks like and what failed kingdom witness looks like. This is Peter’s final appearance in Matthew’s Gospel. He has been Jesus’ closest disciple, the rock, the first one to confess Jesus as Messiah, the only one of the remaining eleven who even hung around. His failure was foretold but still seems surprising with its oaths and curses and movement further away from Jesus with each denial. At the last we see what a prophetic word can do, break through to us in the midst of our worst sin. Silent obedience and boisterous disobedience. I hope you spend some time letting this dual scene play out in your head like the best Hollywood drama you can imagine. There is truth here. Give your soul a chance to find it.
The New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.