NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verse 32: “But after I am killed, I will rise from death. Then I will go up into Galilee. I will be there before you get there.”
Now the Master puts a qualifier at the end of His portend of their forsaking Him in His hour of need. He tells them that they will meet again back in the familiar territory of Galilee. Not only that, but He says to them, I’ll get there before you do. This promise was promptly forgotten by the disciples in the midst of Christ’s other announcements. Later, at the tomb, He had to remind them again through Mary Magdalene. If they would have retained it and trusted in it, perhaps their faith would not have waned so fast. Therefore, since Christ has given us a promise that He will return to gather us together to be with Him forever. Let us learn from this incident that He is true to His word.
Chrysostom has this to say about the effect of this promise: “Jesus does not permit them to become sorrowful but immediately says, ‘But after I have risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.’ For He does not immediately appear from heaven on a single occasion and then depart to a distant country. Rather, He promises to come in resurrected form to the same nation in which He had also been crucified, and nearly to the same place. All this was to give complete assurance that He had indeed been crucified and that He indeed rose again, thereby to comfort them more abundantly when in sorrow. Therefore also He specified “to Galilee,” in order that being freed from the fears of the Jews they might believe His saying. This is why He indeed appeared there.”1
Most of us have had the experience of someone texting or calling us saying: “I’ll be waiting for you at the entrance of the restaurant, or I’ll wait for you to meet me at their office.” So we start our journey fully expecting to see them standing at the entrance or sitting in their when we arrive. This is basically what Jesus was saying to His disciples. He wanted to meet them in Galilee to tell them about His plans of going back to the Father. That He would be gone for awhile, but they should not worry, He will be back. You would think this would have given the disciples all the faith and confidence they needed to endure and cope with His crucifixion and death. But unfortunately, it did not turn out that way.
Verse 33: Peter answered, “All the other followers may lose their faith in you. But my faith will never be shaken.”
But Peter, “The Rock”, as Jesus called him, wanted his Lord to know that he would not allow his Master make this journey alone. This strong fisherman wanted to impress Jesus with his promise that nothing would keep him from being there when He needed him. So Peter blurts out both his oath of loyalty and a simultaneous indictment of the other disciples for not having the courage to do the same. We are not told how they reacted, but we do find out that Jesus was not fooled. Perhaps our Lord had these words of Solomon flash through His mind: “You might call many people your ‘friends,’ but it is hard to find someone who can really be trusted.”2
Early church scholars have a number of opinions on what happened here. For instance, Origen writes: “The other disciples only fell away from Jesus, but Peter, who thought that he could begin with deceit and end up with the truth, both fell away from Jesus and also denied Him because of the audacious promise he made that he would never fall away. It was not only out of carelessness but almost also out of vileness that he said, ‘Even if all fall away because of you, I will not fall away.’ He made a rash promise because he did not know the deceitfulness of human nature. This is why Peter didn’t simply fall away from Jesus or even deny him once but abandoned Him so completely that he denied him three times.”3
I doubt that Jesus felt insulted by Peter’s prattle on unconditional loyalty because He knew this brash and bold fisherman was earnest and really planned to carry out his oath of allegiance. But, no doubt all of us have heard the old saying spawned by the writings of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (c. 1150 AD): “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Origen then goes on to say: “It seems to me that Jesus’ other disciples had the foresight and wisdom (when it was first said ‘you will fall away because of me tonight’) not to profess that they would never fall away, for they saw the truth of Jesus’ prediction. But because only to Peter alone was it said, ‘Truly I tell you, before the cock crows you will deny me three times,’ they eventually promised along with Peter, ‘Even if we have to die with you, we will not deny you.’ The difference between Peter and the other disciples is this: Peter did not acquiesce even after Jesus prophesied that he would deny Him three times before the cock crowed. The others, however, who were not included in this prophecy or in things said only to Peter, responded with a promise which did not seek to make a liar out of the Lord, as Peter’s promise did.”4
Early church scholar Chrysostom had this view: “Peter then spoke confidently and elevated himself above the rest by saying, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ It may be that in some degree his bravado sprang from jealousy. For at the supper, they were all talking about which one of them was the greater. This passion for recognition was still troubling them. Therefore, Jesus resisted Peter, not compelling him to a future denial—God forbid! But He left him destitute of His help, convicting human nature.”5
To put Chrysostom’s statement another way, we might say that if you make a promise or vow to God that even you are not sure you can keep, and later on it is proven that it was not obtainable, then don’t expect God to demand that you keep your oath. Such promises depend on your strength and commitment alone. So don’t blame your heavenly Father when what you pledge out of jealousy, pride, or even anger does not come to fruition. You made it, so you must live with its success or failure. That’s what happened to Peter.
Verse 34: Jesus answered, “The truth is, tonight you will say you don’t know me. You will deny me three times before the rooster crows.”
Was Christ’s prediction of Peter’s pending denial derived from the fact that Christ foresaw this incident or was this a pronouncement on the part of our Lord in order to prove an eternal point? Owing to Peter’s personality, temperament and nature, both what he said here and what happened later were typical of Peter’s tendencies. The spontaneity with which Christ responded to Peter’s statement of commitment leads me to believe that Jesus foresaw what was inevitable, based on His spending the past three years with Peter.
Therefore, Peter would have denied Christ anyway, even if it had not been predicted it beforehand. This gives us a glimpse into the foreknowledge of God. He didn’t have to vacillate on where Jesus was going to be born; He didn’t need to take a chance on whether or not Jesus would die on a cross, God knows every option at play in every set of circumstances to the point that He can look out into the future and see where we will be and what will be at any given point in our lives. Should this frighten us? No, it should encourage us to believe when He said He will never leave us or forsake us.6
2 Proverbs 20:6
3 Origen: Commentary on Matthew 88
5 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 82.3
6 Matthew 28:20