Jesus Predicts Peter’s Betrayal – Matthew 26:31-35

Peter’s betrayal is one of the most disturbing moments in the events leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion. In Matthew 26:31-35 Jesus predicts, in the next few hours, all the disciples will leave him, and Peter himself will deny him three times.

Peter’s Betrayal of Jesus

After the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples return to the Mount of Olives. Before the arrive at the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus predicts all the disciples will fall away, fulfilling the words of Zechariah 13:7.

In Zechariah 13:7, the Lord of Hosts commands a sword to strike “my shepherd,” when the shepherd is struck the sheep scatter and then “I will turn my hands against the “little ones.” The next few verses describe the little ones as tested in the fire and refined, resulting the declaration “they are my people.” In the original context, the little ones are the remnant of Israel who will suffer in the exile (only a third will survive), but in the coming eschatological age (Zech 14) they will be God’s refined-by-fire righteous remnant. If Jesus intends us to hear echoes of the whole context of Zechariah 13, then the little ones are Jesus’s disciples (cf. 25:40, 45), and the testing is the next few hours and days.

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus has warned his disciples about the danger of falling away, or stumbling” throughout Matthew. The ESV translates a future passive form of σκανδαλίζω (skandalizō) as “fall away.” In Matthew, it usually means something like “cause to sin” (Matt 5:29), in Matthew 18:6, “whoever causes a little on to sin,” and in 18:15-20 brothers who cause other brothers to sin.

But Jesus also tells them that he will be raised up, and that he will go back to Galilee before them (26:32). This anticipates the resurrection and the great commission (Matt 28:18-20).

Peter, however, disagrees with Jesus. Even if the other disciples fall away, Peter boldly claims he will never fall away. Jesus simply declares that by dawn, Peter will deny him three times, but Peter restates his resolve: even if he must die with him, he will not deny Jesus!

Robert Gundry recently analyzed every appearance of Peter in the Gospel of Matthew and argued that Matthew edited Mark’s narrative to present Peter as an example of a disciple who was very close to Jesus but ultimately failed to follow through on his commitment to Jesus. In the end, Peter is left “outside in the darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Although Gundry did not convince many readers Peter was a “false disciple and apostate,” Matthew certainly presents Peter as the most faithful disciple who boldly declares his loyalty before abandoning his master.

“Before the rooster crows” simply implies dawn. It is likely Caiaphas questions Jesus in the courtyard of his home, and Peter is nearby when he denies Jesus three times. According to the Mishnah, priests did not keep chickens in Jerusalem (perhaps because they might dig up unclean things when the scratch).

m. B. Qamma 7:7 C–D They do not rear chickens in Jerusalem, on account of the Holy Things, nor do priests [rear chickens] anywhere in the Land of Israel, because of the [necessity to preserve] the cleanness [of heave offering and certain other foods which are handed over to the priests].

It is possible this statement in the Mishnah (written about AD 250) reflects an ideal situation and priests did keep chickens in Jerusalem. But it is more likely that “when the rooster crows” is a proverbial way of saying “really early in the morning,” right around dawn. For example, If I get up at 4AM, I might say I was “up with the chickens” even though I do not own chickens.

Although we usually describe Peter as denying Jesus, and Judas as betraying Jesus, Peter’s denial just a few hours later is shocking after this bold declaration. But before dawn of that day, all the disciples will scatter like lost sheep and Peter will have denied Jesus three times.

3 thoughts on “Jesus Predicts Peter’s Betrayal – Matthew 26:31-35

  1. No one notices Peter attacked a mob. Alone. With one of the two swords they had. He said he would fight to the death, and he charged in. It was only after Jesus pulled the rug out from under him he went all 007 on the problem. Little did he know Jesus considered spies working undercover to be liars. He thought he was being clever, not cowardly, but we read his story with all the charity of homey badgers.

  2. Not quite there yet, but yes, he did attack (and it was not at all cowardly, in my opinion). Also, “with all the charity of homey badgers” is something I want to say more.

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