Peter: ‘I Don’t Know the Man!”

Posted on December 10, 2021

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By David Ettinger

How Could He?
It’s difficult to imagine just how close the disciple (and later apostle) Peter was to Jesus. Jesus spent three years pouring into Peter everything he would need to carry on Jesus’ work after our Lord returned to heaven.

Jesus chose Peter. Peter laughed with Jesus. He ate with Jesus. He rejoiced with Jesus. He mourned with Jesus. He shared embraces with Jesus. He witnessed all of Jesus’ miracles and listened to all of His sermons. He was told of heavenly truths the simple fisherman could never have fathomed if Jesus had not enlightened him. He saw Jesus transfigured before his very eyes and reveal His true heavenly glory.

James Farentino as Peter in “Jesus of Nazareth”

And, after three years together, Peter denied Jesus. Three times! How could have he have possibly done that?

The answer is simple: Peter was a human being. Like you. Like us. In the same circumstances, we would have denied Christ. Fear is powerful, and fear is what temporarily conquered Peter. Earlier that evening, Jesus told Peter with certainly he would deny Jesus. Peter dismissed the prophecy, swearing it would never – could never – happen. But it did.

Peter’s Beginnings
Peter had come a long way in three years. Growing up as Simon bar (son of) Jonah, Peter was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. He was from the town of Bethsaida[1] but eventually moved to Capernaum. Along with Chorazin, the three towns on the northern edge of the sea proved a haven for fisherman, but Capernaum was the jewel of the three.

Capernaum was little more than a swamp before Rome brought order to it, helping transform the town into a large fishing village and busy trading center located 2½ miles south of the Jordan River. Capernaum became one of the most prosperous and crowded districts in all of Israel, primarily because it lay on the great Via Maris highway between Damascus and Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean Sea.

And Capernaum was the place where Jesus would call Peter to follow Him. Though Peter was “just” a fisherman, Jesus saw in him a heart that would bleed for Him, a soul that would burn for Him, and a life that would eventually die for and glorify Him. Sure, Peter had plenty of faults. He was very emotional and often had trouble controlling his tongue. However, he was inspired by zeal for the Rabbi of Nazareth he loved so dearly.

Peter’s Zeal
Jesus told His followers, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31). Peter didn’t like such talk – he loved Jesus too much to think about life without Him. Therefore, Peter said, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:23). Jesus rebuked Peter for allowing Satan to work through him by trying to hinder God’s plan for redemption.

disciples
Jesus and His disciples from the movie “Jesus of Nazareth.

But Jesus was not angry with Peter. He loved Him, and loved him dearly. Even though Peter misspoke, Jesus knew that Peter’s heart was exactly where it should be. He had already confessed to the deity of Christ,[2] so faith was never an issue.

Human weakness was. Peter was flesh and blood and lived in a world of flesh and blood. When Jesus’ ministry at last reached its final week and Jesus was nearing His crucifixion, Peter began to fear. The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead and, with Him, His followers.

And despite his later betrayal, Peter was the only one willing to fight for Jesus. When Jesus was arrested, Peter grabbed a sword and “struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear” (Luke 22:50). Misguided? Yes. Foolish? Yes. So much so that Jesus rebuked him. But how Jesus must have loved Peter’s zeal and devotion to Him! At least he had tried.

But when his meager effort failed and Jesus was led away to His eventual death, Peter fell apart. When accused of being Jesus’ associate, he feared death and denied the accusation three times. He punctuated the third denial with the words: “I don’t know the man!” (Matthew 26:72).

As a result, Peter “wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75). Three days later, however, Jesus rose from the dead just as He said He would. One of His first objectives was to restore Peter, which He did three times ­– one for each denial.[3]

Peter would go on to become one of the Lord’s fiercest apostles and preachers in the early days of the Church. From his simple beginnings as a fisherman, he became one of the most influential men the world would ever know!

[1] John 1:44

[2] Matthew 16:16

[3] John 21:15-19