Peter’s Denial in Light of His Knowledge

On occasion, someone has warned me about having too much knowledge. Usually, the one who warns me is a well-meaning person who, in my mind, holds to some kind of incorrect/unbiblical dichotomy between the heart and the mind, concerned that my rigorous studies cannot lead me to a genuine experience with Jesus–or, worse, will lead me to reject the faith altogether (a la Bart Ehrman). Thus, for a person who thinks this way, emotional response or experience is often (unintentionally, I think) elevated above critical thinking and evaluation.

Today, I see the warning in a different light…from the Scriptures.

Consider Peter, the great apostle. At one point in his ministry, Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29) Probably representing the Twelve, Peter steps up to the microphone (I wonder if he was trembling as he spoke, or if he spoke with all the boldness he could muster?), “You are the Christ.” Reading through the Gospel of Mark, other than the demons, this is the first time anyone has correctly identified Jesus (except for the Father when Jesus was baptized). Matthew tells us more about this conversation; Jesus pronounces a blessing on Peter on the spot: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 16:17). So, Peter is portrayed as one who has been given special revelation about Jesus’ identity that no one else has been given! Remarkable!

Peter, who had this great revelation from the Father about Jesus’ true identity, of whom it could probably be said, “He has more knowledge than everybody else,” assures Jesus, “Even though they all fall away, I will not….If I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Mark 14:29, 31). Mark indicates that everyone else said the same thing, but he wants to highlight Peter in the story. Of course, we learn very soon that Peter does, in fact, deny Jesus. Three times within a very short span of time, Peter denies his Lord. (What Peter was doing publicly the rest of the disciples were doing secretly.)

Indeed, the last time before the rooster finished crowing, Peter even swore emphatically, “I do not know this man of whom you speak” (Mark 14:71). So, the one who had the great revelation, the one who had the most knowledge, perhaps the one who knew Jesus best, suddenly claims not to know this man.

He who had the most revelation about Jesus’ identity sinned the most flagrantly.

So, is more knowledge a bad thing?

The apostle Paul was also a man of great knowledge, even about Jesus, though he probably never met him before the resurrection. In fact, he even prayed for believers to increase their knowledge (e.g., Col 1:9-10; Eph 1:16-21; Phil 1:9-11). What happened to Peter? Luke gives us a behind-the-scenes look at what happened to Peter, as Jesus tells him, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Lk 22:31). Now, it appears that Satan actually demanded to have each of the disciples, since the “you” in Greek here is plural. But, Jesus singles out Peter and encourages him personally by giving him the responsibility of strengthening the rest of the disciples once he has repented. These eleven men knew Jesus better than anyone else on earth. Satan demanded to have them, to sift them like wheat. In other words, Satan desired to tear them to shreds, to break them into pieces, to devastate them utterly.

So, perhaps it’s not an inherent hindrance to one’s spiritual growth to eagerly seek more knowledge, particularly knowledge about God (i.e., theology). However, it may incur the wrath of the devil himself.

Better the wrath of the devil than the wrath of God!

Likewise, notice that Jesus assures Peter that he has prayed for him, that, in the midst of Satan’s sifting project, Peter’s faith would not fail. Jesus prayed for Peter! Likewise, we know that Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us (Rom 8:34, Heb 7:25). As if that weren’t enough, the Holy Spirit also intercedes for us, praying for the things we don’t even know to pray for (Rom 8:26-27)!

So, I suppose the end of the matter is this: those who pursue greater knowledge of God can expect Satan to desire to sift them like wheat; those who pursue greater knowledge of God can also expect that the King of the Universe, who graciously grants us any true knowledge that we acquire, and who has already defeated Satan in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah (Rom 8:31-39, 1 Cor 15:54-57, 1 Jn 3:8, Rev 12:10-11), will protect them (1 Jn 5:18). “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 Jn 4:4).

So may all of us be more diligent about pursuing the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ! And let us press on with complete confidence in our Savior’s willingness and ability to protect us from the evil one, to sanctify us wholly, and to keep us to the end of our sojourn in this world.

Published in: on August 29, 2009 at 5:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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