Quite a lot of ink has been spilled over Peter’s temporary denial of Christ, as recorded in all four Gospels. Perhaps Peter’s behavior was such a human desire self-preservation that we can all identify with it. Personally, when it comes to pain being inflicted, I’m a big coward. I can’t help asking myself if I would have exhibited any more courage than Peter did, if I were confronted with a similar situation. At least Peter’s denial ultimately resulted in “Godly sorrow” and repentance, in contrast to Judas’ remorse and despair, leading to suicide.
Peter’s denial of Jesus and his regeneration are indirectly re-visited in John 21, where the resurrected Savior visited Peter and some other disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus asked three times if Peter loved him, using a form of the Greek word agape the first two times, to indicate a profound, spiritual love. Each time Peter replied with a form of the Greek word, phileo, indicating friendship.
It’s easy to see that the three questions and responses spoken here by this seaside cooking fire correspond to Peter’s three verbal denials of Jesus by the warming fire in the courtyard of the high priest, Caiaphas. Jesus’ follow-up instructions to “feed my sheep” indicate Peter’s regeneration and readiness to do so (with a little help on the roof-top in Acts 10).
At the same time, perhaps his inability to use that powerful word agape indicates the need for Jesus to take Peter as he was and allow Peter to grow in faith and commitment. Fortunately, the Lord is willing to do the same with us as we stumble along in our pursuit of faithful service.
Incidentally, a segment on Peter appeared in CNN’s recent Sunday night documentary series called “Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, and Forgery.” This specific episode focused on the supposed discovery of Peter’s bones in the Vatican. Although “finding Jesus” was not the topic here, the segment did involve the Catholic hierarchy’s “faith” that these indeed are the bones of Peter.
However, the documentary’s narrator pointed out the lack of proof that Peter was even in Rome. Peter’s first epistle does mention his being in Babylon (5:13), although that could be a symbolic name for Rome, as in Revelation 14 and 17.
More telling from the standpoint of “fact” is the CNN narrator’s statement that the first group of forensic investigators was skeptical that the bones belonged to Peter, while a second investigator was convinced, without any compelling evidence, that they were Peter’s bones. Consequently, the Catholic Church enshrined them and recently displayed the bones but refuses to let experts conduct carbon dating tests to determine whether the bones date from the first century A.D.
While all this speculation may be interesting to some of us, biblically-centered faith doesn’t depend on the validity of shrines and relics but on the validity of what the New Testament reveals to us about Peter and his contemporaries, and especially how it helps us to “find” Jesus Himself.