The temptation is to always read the gospels together. There is nothing wrong with that, and much to be gained by seeing side by side how each Gospel tells a story. However, we can miss their distinct voices if we only read in parallel or harmony.
So while riding the bike that goes nowhere at the gym, I was looking again at the text. This is by the way a good place to study because there are fewer interruptions at the gym than at the office.
What I saw was that there is in John 18 an interplay between Jesus, Judas and Peter.
In John 13, the foot washing passage when Peter said, “wash all of me” Jesus said that had all been bathed (forgiven) except for one (Judas – John 13:11).Shortly thereafter Jesus predicts his betrayal, and Judas leaves (v. 18ff). Immediately after that there is a discussion between Jesus and Peter where Peter says, “I will lay down my life for you” and Jesus answered, “Will you really…?” and predicts Peter’s triple denial.
In John 17, Jesus was praying for the disciples and said, “None of them has been lost except the one doomed to destruction…” (17:12)
In John 18 there is a comparison set up. In 18:1-12, Jesus seems to initiate his arrest. As the soldiers came with Judas to the garden, he went them. At the same time he sought to defend his followers from trouble (v. 8) This was so “the words he had spoken would be fulfilled, ‘I have not lost one of those you gave me.'” (v. 9)
Then Peter draws a sword – fulfilling his own imagined role as hero and defender. Jesus rebuked him. Then follows Jesus arrest. Verses 15-17 alternate between Jesus defense before Annas and Caiaphas and Peter’s denials.
- Jesus and Annas – v. 12-14
- Peter and his first denial v. 15-18
- Jesus at Caiaphas – v. 19-24
- Peter and his second and third denials – v. 25-27
In the center of all of this – and while Jesus himself is under trial and death looms – he shows concern not to lose any of those who have been given to him. Highlighting his own obedience vs the weakness of Peter and the lack of faith of Judas.
Peter appears again at Easter, at the report of the empty tomb, he and John race to the tomb. In chapter 21 there is an encounter between the Lord and Peter where the three-fold denial is made a three-fold affirmation.
The question is not for us, “Am I to imitate Jesus?” because he stands when all fall away. It is rather “Am I his or not?” John’s gospel emphasizes that the connection to Christ must be by belief – and that alone explains the difference between Peter and Judas.