Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” (John 13:36-38)
Even those with just an elementary knowledge of Scripture have probably heard or read about Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus Christ immediately prior to His crucifixion. Equally true is people’s awareness of Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s self-same denial. The account, which is also recorded in Matthew 26:34-35; Mark 14:30-31; Luke 22:33-34, occurred during Jesus’ upper room discourse with the disciples.
If you have been following our study in the Gospel of John, you know that we are presently in John 13. The apostle writes that Jesus humbled Himself by washing each of His disciples’ feet: including Judas’. He also announced that one of His disciples, Judas, would betray Him.
With emotions running high, as you might imagine, Jesus then stated, in John 13:33 that He was going away and where He was going the disciples could not come. As usual, Peter spoke first in response and said, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”
Notice that Jesus did not say that Peter, and presumably all of the other eleven disciples, could not ever go to where Jesus was going. He said, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Take note of the word “now.” The word “now” is an adverb and means presently or immediately. We should also note that the personal pronoun “you” remains in the singular form indicating that Jesus was particularly speaking to Peter at this moment.
Jesus told Peter that while He was going to go to the Father, Peter could not go at this time, but would do so “afterward.” The word “afterward” is also an adverb and means later. Jesus was saying to Peter that while Jesus’ earthly work was coming to a conclusion, Peter’s was just set to begin. The apostle would have much to do before it was time for him to follow Christ to heaven. This would include Peter’s own martyrdom (John 21:18-19).
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “His (Jesus’) work was nearly finished; theirs was just beginning (Matt. 28:16–20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47). Particularly, Peter had a work to do (John 21:15–19). Only Jesus, as the sinless sacrifice for the trespasses of the world, could go to the cross and die (1 Peter 2:22–24). Also, only he could be glorified in the presence of the Father with the glory that he possessed before his incarnation (see John 12:41; 17:1–5).
However, and this is where the text takes a decisive turn, Peter was not satisfied with Jesus’ answer. He once again sought to elevate himself and boldly announced “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”
Ouch! In response to Peter’s dramatic declaration was Jesus’ reasoned response pertaining to Peter’s trust and confidence in his own strength. Jesus used the familiar phrase “truly, truly” to emphasize that His predictive words were emphatically true. Rather than lay down his life for the Lord at this moment in his life, Peter would deny he even knew Jesus. It would be an act similar to Judas betraying Christ. Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “Peter is undoubtedly sincere, but he does not know his own spiritual weakness and vulnerability to fear.”
Do you know your own spiritual weaknesses and vulnerabilities? Whatever we do for the Lord, we cannot and must not seek to so in our own abilities and strength. We must ever recognize our dependence upon Him. We must always recognize our responsibility to glorify Him.
2 Corinthians 4:5-7 says, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
As clay pots, let us continually depend on the One who uses us for His own glory. He even uses our failures.
Soli deo Gloria!