Sunday, January 29, 2017

Peter's denial, a little clarity

I hope to provide a little clarity to how we read about Jesus' prediction that Peter would deny him. For most of us, we read that prediction through lenses of how we have been taught rather than by what we have read in the Bible.

I will give special focus here to the record of Jesus' prediction as it appears in the book of Luke. All four Gospels record the prediction but Luke includes a detail about Peter's restoration. Peter's restoration seems to also be predicted.
31 “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:31-34 (NRSV)
Peter voices a kind of objection in verse 33. In Matthew and Mark, Peter's protest is that he will not desert. Matthew follows Mark's order in which Jesus informs the disciples that they will all desert (Mark 14:27 = Matthew 26:31). John's record resembles Luke's in that Peter claims that he is willing to die for Jesus (John 13:37). However, John's record seems to come from a different witness than Mark, possibly that of the beloved disciple who was present at the time of the conversation.

In all four cases, Peter's denial is predicted and the sign of the morning rooster crow is offered.

We know the story. Peter did indeed deny Jesus and the rooster crowed.

Here is how we tend to read the Lord's prediction. We read that Jesus foresaw Peter's denial as a fixed feature of the future. Fortunately, that kind of predictive foresight is not taught in the Bible. Fixed-future foresight is definitely not taught in this passage. All we need do to see that Peter's denials were not certain is to look down the page a couple verses to Luke 22:40 where Jesus took the disciples to the Mount of Olives and went off alone to pray, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). He told the disciples to pray. The suggested prayer was for God to keep them from the time of trial.
When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” (Luke 22:40. see also Luke 22:46)
If Peter's denials were that certain, Jesus would be asking Peter to pray for something that could not possibly be answered in a good way.

The obvious conclusion is that Jesus' prediction of Peter's denials was not a prediction of something that was fixed in the future; but it was something that could be changed now that Peter was warned about it. The lesson for us, especially in light of Peter's claim that he would never desert is that Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. Indeed, we who have children know what it means to know our children better than our children know themselves. Thus, it is also possible for a friend or fellow Christian to know me better than I know myself. If we brag about our loyalty to God, we should watch out (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Did Jesus "foreknow" Peter's denials? Yes, in the Biblical meaning of the word "foreknow" (which does not appear in this passage; but it is inferred). Foreknow [Greek, proginōskō] means to know something in a predictive way. Sometimes, the word is simply translated as "know" because the predictive aspect in context is too soft. Consider these examples.
"All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. They have known [proginōskō] for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I have belonged to the strictest sect of our religion and lived as a Pharisee." (Acts 26:4-5)
You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned [proginōskō], beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. (2 Peter 3:17)
Simple foreknowledge in the Bible usually means an anticipatory prediction that can be changed if the people involved make different decisions than anticipated (foreknown).

In few places in the Bible, God foreknows something that people will do but actual events do not work out as God anticipated. We don't need many examples of God being surprised by people's choices in order to undo the notion that foreknowledge is exhaustive and definite. We need only one. I offer Jeremiah 3:6-7.
6 The LORD said to me in the days of King Josiah: Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and played the whore there? 7 And I thought, “After she has done all this she will return to me”; but she did not return, and her false sister Judah saw it.
In the above example, God fully anticipated that Israel would return to God after they had their little season of pegging out. Boy, was God surprised when they did not repent! God thought they would; but they did not. When God foreknows someone's future behavior, actual events may turn out some other way. In the case of Peter's denial, Peter might have taken Jesus' prediction as a warning and assessed himself. He might have cautiously considered that he is not as strong as he thinks and he might have spent more time praying to be spared temptation and, if tempted, that God will give him the strength to endure it. Then, the rooster might have crowed without Peter having denied Jesus.

The above quote from Jeremiah is pertinent to the other prediction mentioned in Luke. Jesus predicted that Peter would repent (Luke 22:32). Did Peter's repentance have to go down as Jesus predicted? It was no more a certainty than was Israel's repentance in Jeremiah 3:6-7. However, Jesus knew Peter well enough to be fairly certain that Peter would repent. He was not at all certain about what kind of disciple Peter would be after his repentance. Many people who have fallen away, after they repent, they return in a broken state. They come back as ineffective Christians. Here is where Jesus steps in and gives Peter direction. "When once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." If I may paraphrase, "When you turn back, you will feel pain and shame for a long time. Don't let those feelings prevent you from working for your brothers. Strengthen them." Darrell Bock (InterVarsity Press Commentary on the New Testament, Luke) says, "Peter will be able to strengthen fellow believers after his fall because he will understand how easy it is to fall."

Let us not overlook this point. Jesus did not predict that Peter would be a great strengthener of the brothers. He commanded Peter to take on that role.

Real repentance is a major theme in Luke. It is not enough to repent. It is not enough to be baptized. Repentance must be visible in the converted person's actions. Many people came to John the Baptist repenting and being baptized. John said what they have done is not the end of the story. There is more to do.
Luke 3:7-14
7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
That is our lesson from Peter's ordeal. He fell and he repented. We fall and repent. Now, let's get to work.

No comments:

Post a Comment