Jesus—His Life and Message: Gethsemane (Part 3)
February 15, 2022
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: Gethsemane (Part 3)
Jesus’ Trial and Peter’s Denial
Each of the four Gospels1 gives an account of Jesus’ trial, conducted by the Jewish religious leadership. While the Gospels cover the same event, each includes aspects not covered in the others. The focus in this post will be on the account in the Gospel of Matthew, and additional points from the other Gospels will be included.
Just before Jesus’ trial, Judas came with a crowd armed with swords and clubs in order to arrest Jesus.2
Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered.3
While the office of high priest traditionally stemmed from Aaron, Moses’ brother, in Jesus’ time the high priest was appointed by the Romans. Caiaphas served as high priest for eighteen years, AD 18–36, which was the longest time any high priest in that period held office. It was at his house where the scribes and the elders had gathered.
The Gospels of Mark and Luke don’t mention Caiaphas by name; rather they refer to him as the high priest. In the Gospel of John, we read that those who arrested Jesus first led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.4 Annas had previously been high priest and was very influential. Over time, four of his sons held the position of chief priest, as did his son-in-law, Caiaphas, who was chief priest at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Earlier in the Gospel of John, Caiaphas stated:
“You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”5
When Jesus was apprehended, the Gospel of Matthew tells us that Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end.6 The Gospel of Mark adds that he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire.7 The Gospel of John tells us that Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, 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.8
According to the Gospel of John, Peter and another disciple who is unnamed (many commentators believe it was John) followed Jesus and His captors to the courtyard of the high priest. This was presumably at the house of Caiaphas. The courtyard was likely an enclosed but unroofed area attached to the house. After gaining entrance to the courtyard, Peter sat by the fire.
Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.”'9
The focus of the Gospel account moved from Peter back to Jesus’ trial. As it was night, it was unlikely that the whole Council, the full Sanhedrin, was present. It probably means that those who were present consisted of representatives of all the parts of the Sanhedrin, as only a third of the membership was necessary to pass judgment in a case which could result in a death sentence.
We are told that the witnesses against Jesus at His trial gave false testimony. Eventually though, two witnesses came forward with information which was considered valid. “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” Because both witnesses made this statement, it was legally considered valid evidence, as seen by the response of the high priest.
And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?”10
In the Gospel of Mark, witnesses brought up the same statement which Jesus made about destroying and rebuilding the temple,11 yet even about this their testimony did not agree.12 Throughout all of this interrogation and physical abuse, we are told that Jesus remained silent and made no answer.13—At least not until this point.
And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so.”14
The high priest, having stood up, which showed he was taking control of the situation, demanded a response from Jesus under oath. To swear by the living God was as solemn an oath as could possibly be sworn.15 Caiaphas’ question addressed the heart of Jesus’ mission, and he asked if Jesus was the Messiah (the Christ), the Son of God (the Son of the Blessed in Mark). The question from the high priest regarding a religious matter was a legitimate question, yet it was difficult to answer because Jesus’ understanding of Messiah and the high priest’s understanding were very different. So for Jesus to say either yes or no could be misunderstood. So Jesus’ “you have said so” basically means “That is your word, not mine,” or “Yes, but not in the way you mean.”
Jesus then added,
But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.16
His response consists of two Old Testament verses. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool;”17 and I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.18 In saying that the Son of Man will be seen seated at the right hand of Power, Jesus was referring to the right hand of God.
Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.”19
In response to the high priest’s demand, Jesus confirmed that He is the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God and the Son of Man. Because what Jesus said in His response to the high priest was considered blasphemy, Caiaphas tore his robes. According to the law, the high priest was not to tear his clothes, not even when he was mourning the dead.20 It was an action taken only in extreme cases,21 and blasphemy was such a case. The Sanhedrin was required to express their response verbally, that Jesus was guilty, and they were required to state the punishment: “He deserves death.”
Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”22
In the Gospel of Luke, we read that the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him.23 According to the Gospel of Matthew, it seems that some members of the Sanhedrin were involved in spitting on and hitting Jesus, while the Gospel of Luke indicates that it was the guards who took part in this.
The Gospel of John tells us:
The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.”24
Though it is not specifically stated, it’s likely that the high priest wanted to find out all he could about Jesus’ disciples. Would they keep Jesus’ teaching alive after He was executed? Were they a united group and therefore a danger? Should they be rounded up and questioned? It was this chief priest who earlier in this Gospel had made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.25
Jesus continued speaking to the high priest, saying:
“Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”26
While the high priest didn’t respond to Jesus, one of the officers who was standing near Jesus slapped Him in the face. He likely felt that Jesus was being disrespectful to the high priest.
Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”27
At this point, the focus moves from Jesus’ trial to Peter’s denial. As mentioned earlier, Peter had gained access to the courtyard and was warming himself by the fire.
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.”28
As Peter was sitting in the courtyard, a servant girl approached him. In the Gospel of Luke, we’re told that a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.”29 After staring at him for some time, the servant girl stated that Peter was associated with Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark, we’re told that the rooster crowed.30 This was the first of Peter’s three denials.
And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.”31
The encounter with the servant girl likely made Peter feel uncomfortable, which may have caused him to move away from the warmth of the fire and to go out to the entrance. However, another servant girl recognized him and announced to those who were standing around the entrance that he was with Jesus. Peter’s response was more emphatic, as he denied it with an oath. His first denial involved a lie, and his second denial was perjury, as he swore an oath that he didn’t know Jesus.
After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed.32
In the Gospel of Luke, we read that after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.33
Peter emphatically denied knowing Jesus and went as far as swearing that he didn’t know Him. Some authors interpret this to mean that Peter went as far as to curse Jesus in order to dissociate himself from Him. In each of the four Gospels, Peter denies knowing Jesus.34
And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.35
Due to the pressure of the moment, Peter had allowed his loyalty to Jesus to be compromised and he had denied Jesus. Upon hearing the rooster crow and remembering what Jesus had said, Peter was devastated and felt instant remorse over his denials. Each of the Synoptic Gospels36 makes reference to his sorrow. He went out and wept bitterly.37 He broke down and wept.38 Thankfully, as we will see, by the following Sunday Peter was reunited with the other followers of Jesus.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.
3 Matthew 26:57.
4 John 18:13.
5 John 11:49–50.
6 Matthew 26:58.
7 Mark 14:54.
8 John 18:15–16.
9 Matthew 26:59–61.
10 Matthew 26:62.
11 Mark 14:58.
12 Mark 14:59.
13 Mark 14:61; also Matthew 26:63.
14 Matthew 26:63–64. See also Mark 14:61–62.
15 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 683.
16 Matthew 26:64.
17 Psalm 110:1.
18 Daniel 7:13.
19 Matthew 26:65–66.
20 Leviticus 21:10–11.
21 Numbers 14:4–7, 2 Kings 18:37–19:1, Leviticus 21:10–11.
22 Matthew 26:67–68.
23 Luke 22:63–65. See also Mark 14:65, John 18:22–23.
24 John 18:19–20.
25 John 12:10–11.
26 John 18:21–22.
27 John 18:23.
28 Matthew 26:69–70.
29 Luke 22:56.
30 Mark 14:68.
31 Matthew 26:71–72.
32 Matthew 26:73–74.
33 Luke 22:59–60.
34 Matthew 26:74; Mark 14:71; Luke 22:57–60; John 18:25–27.
35 Matthew 26:75.
36 Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
37 Matthew 26:75, Luke 22:62.
38 Mark 14:72.