Upon Jesus’ being arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, the apostles abandon him, fleeing in fear. However, two of them stop their flight. They are Peter “as well as another disciple,” evidently the apostle John. (John 18:15; 19:35; 21:24) They may catch up with Jesus as he is taken to the home of Annas. When Annas sends Jesus to High Priest Caiaphas, Peter and John follow at a distance. They are likely torn between fear for their own lives and concern for what will happen to their Master.
John is known to the high priest and is thus able to gain entrance into the courtyard at Caiaphas’ house. Peter remains outside at the door until John returns and speaks to a servant girl who is acting as doorkeeper. Then Peter is allowed to enter.
It is cold this night, so those in the courtyard have a charcoal fire burning. Peter sits with them to keep warm as he waits “to see the outcome” of Jesus’ trial. (Matthew 26:58) Now, in the light of the fire, the doorkeeper who let Peter in gets a better look at him. “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” she demands. (John 18:17) And she is not alone in recognizing Peter and accusing him of being with Jesus.—Matthew 26:69, 71-73; Mark 14:70.
This greatly upsets Peter. He is trying to be inconspicuous, even withdrawing to the entryway. So Peter denies that he was with Jesus, at one point saying: “Neither do I know him nor do I understand what you are talking about.” (Mark 14:67, 68) He also starts to “curse and swear,” meaning that he is willing to take an oath that his words are true and to face calamity if they are not.—Matthew 26:74.
Meanwhile, Jesus’ trial is in progress, apparently in a part of Caiaphas’ house that is above the courtyard. Peter and the others waiting below may see the comings and goings of various witnesses who are brought in to testify.
Peter’s Galilean accent is an indication that his denial is false. Moreover, one in the group is related to Malchus, whose ear Peter cut off. So the charge is leveled against Peter: “I saw you in the garden with him, did I not?” When Peter denies this for a third time, a rooster crows, as was foretold.—John 13:38; 18:26, 27.
At that point, Jesus apparently is on a balcony overlooking the courtyard. The Lord turns and looks straight at Peter, which must pierce Peter to the core. He recalls what Jesus said only a few hours earlier in the upper room. Imagine how Peter feels as the realization of what he has done crashes down on him! Peter goes outside and weeps bitterly.—Luke 22:61, 62.
How could this happen? How could Peter—who was so certain of his spiritual strength and loyalty—deny his Master? Truth is being distorted, and Jesus is being depicted as a vile criminal. When Peter could have stood up for an innocent man, he turned his back on the very One who has “sayings of everlasting life.”—John 6:68.
Peter’s tragic experience shows that even a person of faith and devotion can be thrown off balance if he is not properly prepared for unexpected trials or temptations. May what Peter went through serve as a warning to all of God’s servants!