Read John 18:12–27.
Jesus has just been arrested, bound, and led to the home of Annas, the former high priest. As readers of John’s gospel, we have come to expect a good back-and-forth between Jesus and His opponents. But there is no lengthy conversation between Jesus and the Jewish leadership here. The “trial” we do see is brief, and there’s not much of a debate.
Jesus is going to be found guilty. It doesn’t really matter what He says to Annas or the other members of the Sanhedrin. A sentence of death is the foregone conclusion in the minds of those who planned His arrest and trial. Jesus Himself knows this. That’s why, when Annas questions Him about His teaching and His disciples—what He’s been saying and who He’s been saying it to—Jesus doesn’t play the game. He simply says, “I have spoken openly to the world” (v. 20). Jesus has taught publicly, and His accusers know very well what He’s been saying. He’s slapped, or possibly punched, because He won’t tremble in fear at Annas’ display of power. Still, Jesus is undeterred. His face is set firmly toward the cross.
John’s primary focus in this portion of his gospel is on another interrogation—that of Simon Peter. Earlier, during the evening meal, Jesus had predicted Simon would crumble under pressure and disown Him three times. Now, the fisherman is put to the test, though it’s not at the hands of the Jewish leadership or the Romans; he’s questioned by a couple of servants and some people warming themselves by a fire.
While Jesus will not deny His identity as the Messiah sent from God, Peter is all too quick to deny his identity as one of His disciples. Peter is caught in a place we’ve all been—between doing the right thing and playing it safe. He hasn’t run away like James or Andrew or the other disciples.* He wants to be near Jesus; he doesn’t want to leave his Master in His hour of need. On the other hand, Peter knows the Jewish religious authorities are out for blood; he doesn’t want to find himself standing beside Jesus, awaiting a sentence of death.
It goes against everything life trains us to believe, but the safest place we could ever be is standing next to Jesus—no matter what the minds of evil men intend to do to us. That’s what Peter is missing. Somewhere between his refusal to believe Jesus will die (despite Jesus’ repeated predictions; see Matthew 16:21–23; 17:22–23; 20:17–19; John 12:7–8; 13:33; 14:25) and his own drive to survive, Peter has missed the plot—though I can hardly blame him. I’ve missed it too, more times than I can count.
When I say “the plot,” I mean the plot of redemption’s story, stretching all the way back to Eden and out ahead of us into the new Jerusalem. You and I are caught up in this story, but the point of it is not mere survival; it’s life with God. That’s what Adam and Eve lost in the beginning, it’s what Jesus came to restore, and it’s what’s given to all who put their trust in Him. This life with God—this eternal life—is bigger than mere survival. Death cannot stop it. In fact, death has lost all its power where life with God is concerned.
It’s easy to read this account of Peter and see it as confined to a particular moment in time, but in truth, his is a test we each face nearly every day. In our interactions with family, neighbors, friends, and coworkers, are we denying Jesus by our words or our choices? Are we forgetting the plot of redemption’s story and living out of fear? The love of the Father is offered freely to us. It’s ours just as it was Jesus’ as He stood before hateful men—and if we embrace this love daily, we’ll find there’s no room left for fear.
* John 18:15–16 mentions “another disciple” who “was known to the high priest” and was there that night. Many Bible readers have assumed this must have been one of the Twelve, likely John, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. More on that later . . .