“Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, ‘Before a cock crows, you will deny Me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.”
Even when a believer sins greatly, God is there to forgive and restore.
Peter’s denial of the Lord Jesus was a great tragedy. But Peter had already taken a number of steps toward denial before uttering a single word that repudiated Christ. First, he presumptuously boasted that he would never fall away (Matt. 26:33). Second, Peter was insubordinate to Jesus and blatantly refused to accept the Lord’s prediction of his disloyalty (v. 35). Third, he was prayerless in the Garden of Gethsemane (vv. 40–41). Fourth, he foolishly and unnecessarily wielded the sword to defend Jesus (vv. 51–52). Finally, Peter compromised himself and willfully went to a place (the high priest’s courtyard) of spiritual danger (v. 69), where his faith could be tested beyond its endurance.
As Peter tried to wait inconspicuously in the high priest’s courtyard, on three occasions he was confronted by other bystanders and accused of being one of Jesus’ followers. Peter’s reaction showed he had lost all sense of reality and awareness of God. Each accusation was a bit more incriminating and provoked a more vehement denial by Peter. After the third denial, according to the Lord’s providence, Peter’s slide was halted. A penetrating look from Jesus Himself (Luke 22:61) and his remembering of Jesus’ prediction that he would deny Him three times were enough to bring Peter to his senses. As our verse explains it, “he went out and wept bitterly.”
Peter’s tears were not merely tears of remorse—they indicated a true sorrow and turning from sin. It was not until he saw Christ’s face and remembered His words that Peter grasped the seriousness of his sin and repented. This is a profound lesson for you and me. Peter’s sin itself did not cause him to repent; his forgiveness and restoration came only when he turned from sin to God. After His resurrection, Jesus affirmed Peter’s restored love three times (John 21:15–17). This gift of restored fellowship through God’s gracious forgiveness is available to all believers (1 John 1:7, 9).
Suggestions for Prayer: Commit your thoughts and plans to God throughout the day so that you may avoid the kind of compromising situation Peter was in.
For Further Study: Read Psalm 51. How does David’s dealing with sin parallel what we saw about Peter’s coming to his senses? ✧ What verses from this psalm are especially helpful in seeing this parallel?
And he went out and wept bitterly. (26:75b)
The true Peter is not seen in his denial but in his repentance, the first stage of which was deep remorse. Finally realizing the grievousness of his sin, he turned from it in revulsion. Like Judas, he fled into the night; but unlike Judas, he returned to the Lord in faith. His faith had slipped and weakened, but it was genuine faith, and Jesus Himself had prayed that it would not fail (Luke 22:32).
When the magnitude of what he had done finally dawned on Judas, he experienced great regret and a kind of remorse. He probably wished he could live the last three years, and especially the last few hours, of his life over again. But he had no change of heart. He had never repented of his sins and received Jesus as Lord and Savior, and therefore, contrary to Peter, Judas had no faith to weaken. Jesus could not hold Judas because Judas never belonged to Him.
Overwhelmed by His Savior’s love and grace and by his own sin and unfaithfulness, Peter went out and wept bitterly. We are not told where he went or how long he stayed there. He may have returned to the Garden of Gethsemane, where earlier he had felt no need to pray. Wherever it was, it became a private place of confessing sin and seeking forgiveness.
Peter’s tragic experience in the garden teaches a profound lesson about self-trust and unpreparedness and about God’s forgiveness and restoration of a sinning saint. Although the awareness probably did not come to the disciple until his anguish subsided, he had learned never to distrust Jesus’ word again. It finally dawned on him that what the Lord said would happen would happen.
It was not until Peter saw the Lord’s face and remembered the Lord’s words that he came to his senses, acknowledged his sin and helplessness, and repented. His sin did not make him repent. Many people are very much conscious of sin in their lives, readily admitting its reality and its consequences. But until it is surrendered to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing, the mere acknowledgement of it will only drive a person deeper into despair and hopelessness and even deeper into sin. Forgiveness and restoration come only from turning from sin to God. That is why true preaching and teaching of the gospel is not simply calling people to turn from their sin. It is lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ so that, in His righteousness and grace, sinful men not only will discover the heinousness of their sin but also the only hope for its removal.
The Lord made good His promise that Peter’s faith would not fail. After appearing to the disciples several times after His resurrection, Jesus three times questioned Peter about his love for Him, just as Peter had three times denied that love. And just as he had thrice denied his love for Christ, Peter then thrice affirmed it (John 21:15–17).
Many years later, near the end of his life, Peter no doubt still remembered vividly that experience in the courtyard. The tragic event was probably in his mind as he admonished fellow believers: “Beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest … you fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:17–18).
26:75 The familiar sound pierced not only the quiet of the early hours but Peter’s heart as well. The deflated disciple, remembering what the Lord had said, went out and wept bitterly.
There is a seeming contradiction in the Gospels concerning the number and timing of the denials. In Matthew, Luke, and John, Jesus is reported as saying, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (Matt. 26:34; see also Luke 22:34; John 13:38). In Mark, the prediction is, “… before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times” (Mark 14:30).
Possibly there was more than one rooster crowing, one during the night and another at dawn. Also it is possible that the Gospels record at least six different denials by Peter. He denied Christ before: (1) a young woman (Matt. 26:69, 70; Mark 14:66–68); (2) another young woman (Matt. 26:71, 72; Mark 14:69, 70); (3) the crowd that stood by (Matt. 26:73, 74; Mark 14:70, 71); (4) a man (Luke 22:58); (5) another man (Luke 22:59, 60); (6) a servant of the high priest (John 18:26, 27). We believe this last man is different from the others because he said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” The others are not described as saying this.
 MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 26:69–75). Chicago: Moody Press.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1305–1306). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.