Peter Denies Knowing Jesus Bible Story Study Guide

Peter's failure leads to forgiveness and a beautiful restoration

Peter Denies Jesus
The Second Denial of Peter by James Tissot.

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All four Gospels record an episode of the Apostle Peter denying Jesus three times on the night of Christ's betrayal in the courtyard of the high priest. In each account, his first denial is in response to the challenge of a servant girl. Immediately following the third denial, a rooster crows, causing Peter to remember the Lord's prediction. Peter then goes away and weeps with bitter remorse.

Question for Reflection

After Peter's denial, the Lord lovingly forgave and restored him to a place of trust. Do you feel like you've failed the Lord so miserably that there's no hope for you? Let Peter's story encourage you. No matter how far you’ve fallen, or how deep your shame, Jesus will forgive and restore you and give you a purpose in his service.

Scripture References

The story of Peter's denial of Christ is told in the following passages of Scripture: Matthew 26:33-35, 69-75; Mark 14:29-31,66-72; Luke 22:31-34, 54-62; John 13:36-38, 18:25-27, 21:15-19.

Peter Denies Jesus Story Summary

Jesus Christ and his disciples had just finished the Last Supper. Jesus revealed Judas Iscariot as the apostle who would betray him.

Then Jesus made a disturbing prediction. He said all his disciples would abandon him during his time of trial. The impetuous Peter vowed that even if the others fell away, he would remain loyal to Jesus no matter what:

"Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." (Luke 22:33, NIV)

Jesus replied that before the rooster crowed, Peter would deny him three times.

Later that night, a mob came and arrested Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of Malchus, the high priest's servant. Jesus told Peter to put his sword away. Then Jesus was taken away to the house of Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest.

Following from a distance, Peter sneaked into the courtyard of Caiaphas. A servant girl saw Peter warming himself by a fire and accused him of being with Jesus. Peter quickly denied it.

Later, Peter was again accused of being with Jesus. He immediately denied it. Finally, a third person said Peter's Galilean accent gave him away as a follower of the Nazarene. Calling curses down upon himself, Peter vehemently denied that he knew Jesus.

At that moment a rooster crowed. When he heard it, Peter went out and wept bitterly.

After Jesus' resurrection from the dead, Peter and six other disciples were fishing on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus appeared to them on the shore, next to a charcoal fire. Peter dove in the water, swimming to shore to meet him:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
(John 21:15-19, NIV)

This gentle exchange between Jesus and Peter showed that the apostle was forgiven and restored to his place of leadership. Three times Peter had denied the Lord. Now, three times he affirms his love for Jesus. Likewise, three times the Lord commissions Peter to care for the flock.

Lessons from the Story

The story emphasizes that despite our own human weaknesses, failures, and sins, Jesus Christ is eager to forgive us and restore our relationship with him. The Lord's command to Peter to take care of his sheep meant that Peter had been fully forgiven and restored. No matter what mistakes we make in the past, no matter how far we fall, Jesus wants to restore us to a place of trust.

Points of Interest

  • All four Gospels include this episode, but only John mentions Peter's restoration by Jesus.
  • The accusers vary in the four accounts; however, Peter's frightened reaction to them is consistent. He was terrified that he might suffer the same fate as Jesus.
  • Peter denied Jesus three times and reaffirmed his love for Jesus three times. Jesus used the word "agape" in his first two questions and "phileo" in the third one as if asking, "Are you really my friend?" 
  • In both his denials and restoration, Peter sat by a fire. Fire can symbolize destruction in the Bible but also cleansing and the Holy Spirit.
  • Jesus predicted how Peter would die. Tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome after he boldly proclaimed his faith in Jesus and refused to recant.