Bibliotheca Sacra 153 (October-December 1996) 435-48.
Copyright © 1996 by
JESUS, JUDAS, AND PETER:
CHARACTER BY CONTRAST
IN THE FOURTH GOSPEL
This article explores the narrative relationship between
three key figures in the Gospel of John: Jesus, Judas, and Peter.
As these characters interact, patterns of contrast gradually
A literary "character" is the sum of "external signs" pre-
sented by a text that "correspond to and reveal an otherwise hid-
den inner nature."1 Literary characters are therefore complexes
of personal traits that correspond to the readers' experience of in-
dividuals in the "real world." Booth's influential book, The
Rhetoric of Fiction, discusses two means by which narratives re-
veal character: "telling" and "showing."2 "Telling" occurs when
the narrator makes direct evaluative statements or gives infor-
mation not normally available in the readers' experience.
"Showing" occurs when the narrator offers selective information
about the actions of the characters and allows readers to draw
conclusions from them. By combining "telling" and "showing"
the author enables readers to develop "both intrinsic and contex-
tual knowledge" of the characters.3
The kind of "telling" a narrator can offer is related to the
narrator's perspective on the story. The narrator of the Gospel of
John is "omniscient," which is important in relation to his
Tom Thatcher is Instructor in Biblical Studies, Cincinnati Bible Seminary,
1 J. Hillis Miller, Ariadne's Thread, Story Lines (
sity Press, 1992), 31-32. This is Miller's description of the "typical" concept of
"character" in literary criticism, in contrast to his own poststructuralist outlook.
3 W. J. Harvey, Character and the Novel (London: Chatto & Windus, 1965), 32.
436 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October—December 1996
knowledge of the inner life of the characters portrayed in John.4
Modern "historical" narratives generally note the internal pro-
cesses of characters only as these may be deduced from their ac-
tions, giving an aura of greater "objectivity." An author may,
however, grant the narrator access to the minds of the characters,
allowing direct exposition of their thoughts and motives. The
Gospel of John exercises the latter option, frequently stopping the
action to specify the nature or significance of events in "asides,"
direct statements to the audience.5 This invites the audience to
evaluate the characters' actions based on the internal thought pro-
cesses that provoked them.
The narrator reinforces direct "telling" statements by "show-
ing" the readers how the characters respond to each other and to
various situations. Booth and Harvey provide a matrix for ana-
lyzing the actions of characters by "contrast." Booth describes the
effect of "distance." "In any reading experience there is an im-
plied dialogue among author, narrator, the other characters, and
the reader. Each of these can range, in relation to each of the oth-
ers, from identification to complete opposition, on any axis of
value."6 Readers may learn about characters by observing the
and degree of distance between them.
paradigm for defining such distance. Three broad character
types that interact in narrative are "background characters,"
"protagonists," and "ficelles." Background characters are anon-
ymous voices, present only to perform some necessary plot func-
tion and generally typifying the social environment. In John,
this category includes "the crowd" and "the Jews." The protago-
nist is consistently elevated above this group as an individual
who interacts with others.7 Jesus is the protagonist in the Gospel of
John, as seen in His interactions with other characters of varying
depth. The audience tends to empathize with the protagonist Jesus
and to distance itself from those who are distant from Jesus.
4 The "narrator" is here distinguished from John, the Fourth Evangelist, in that
"narrator" is a literary feature of the text itself which the author, John, utilized in
telling the story. R. Alan Culpepper's basic definition is convenient: the narrator
is "the voice that tells the story and speaks to the reader" (Anatomy of the Fourth
5 John utilized 193 telling asides to perform several narrative functions. Func-
tions that involve characterization include character labels, reasons for or signifi-
cance of discourse, and reasons for or significance of actions (Tom Thatcher, "A
New Look at Asides in the Fourth Gospel," Bibliotheca Sacra 151 [October—Decem-
ber 1994]: 433—39).
6 Booth, Rhetoric of Fiction, 155. "Other" characters here means "other than the
narrator" in cases where the narrator is fully dramatized.
Jesus, Judas, and Peter: Character by Contrast in the Fourth Gospel 437
Peter and Judas are "ficelles." Ficelles serve as personal
contact points between the protagonist and the anonymous back-
ground world. This contact is achieved in various ways. A ficelle
may, for example, typify conventional wisdom or morality, high-
lighting the protagonist's insight or moral or spiritual being. The
protagonist's uniqueness is thus typified through the common-
ness of the ficelles, who are "members of the ordinary, bread-
and-butter life in which the otherwise remote experience [of the
protagonist] . . . is set."8 The narrator of the Fourth Gospel filters
Jesus' luminous brilliance through the responses of characters
near Him. At the same time the way in which they refract Jesus'
light reveals their own nature. Jesus, Judas, and Peter are thus
mutually defined as they encounter one another.
The narrator in John used "telling" asides in a number of ways to
characterize Jesus' thinking. Primary among these is a group of
"telling" asides that indicate that Jesus did not follow a human
agenda. A pattern is established at 2:23-25, as many in Jerusa-
lem, marveling over Jesus' powerful signs, "believed [e]pi<stu-
san] on His name." But the narrator, revealing Jesus' mind,
stated that Jesus "did not entrust [ou]k e]pi<steuen] Himself to them";
in fact Jesus had no desire for anyone to testify about Him because
"He knew what was in a person." After Jesus fed the five thou-
sand, the crowd, "seeing the sign," acclaimed Him the "coming
prophet" (6:14-15). This prompted Jesus to withdraw to the wilder-
ness because, according to the narrator, He knew they sought to
make Him king, a human agenda He specifically avoided.
This refusal to follow a human agenda is perhaps most ex-
plicit in those asides where the narrator "tells" about Jesus' per-
sonal human interests. After Martha and Mary had urged Jesus
to save their brother Lazarus (11:3), the narrator suddenly re-
vealed that Jesus "loved" (h]ga<pa) them (11:5). But the odd transi-
tion from verse 5 to verse 6 implies a connection between Jesus'
love and His delay in coming to Lazarus.9 Although Jesus had a
deep personal interest in going to Lazarus, He repressed this
concern so that God the Father might be glorified. After Martha,
Mary, and "the Jews" appeared before Him in confusion and
tears, the narrator stated that Jesus was "moved in spirit and
8 Ibid., 63-68.
9 Raymond Brown notes that "as vss. 5 and 6 now stand, they offer a paradox" (The
Gospel according to John (i-xii), Anchor Bible [
438 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October—December 1996
disturbed" (e]nbrimh<sato t&? pneu<mati kai> e[ta<racen e[auto>n, v.
33), so much so that He wept (v. 35). The narrator reiterated this
sentiment as Jesus arrived at Lazarus' tomb amidst the Jews' ex-
clamations that He could have saved His friend (v. 38).
Jesus controlled interactions with other people because He
knew both their thoughts and His own plans at every point. Jesus
asked Philip where they would find food for the massive crowd
(6:5). Before recording Philip's response, the narrator quickly
intruded to tell the audience that Jesus was not seeking Philip's
advice but was "testing him," as He already knew what He would
do (v. 6). Jesus' control of situations was sometimes said to be
linked to the fact that He knows hearts. So after the miraculous
feeding, Jesus withdrew, knowing they would want to make Him
king (v. 15); the narrative, however, indicated no such intention,
saying only that the people connected Jesus with "the Prophet."
Jesus' "Bread from heaven" speech in the
agogue, many people grumbled because Jesus' words were hard to
understand (v. 60). This provoked Jesus to expose the disbelief of
some (vv. 61-64a), which prompted the narrator to explain imme-
diately that Jesus knew from the very beginning who did not be-
lieve and who it was that would betray Him (v. 64b). The "traitor"
motif that develops around Judas resonates with a number of
asides which tell that Jesus was aware of and had control over
what Judas would do. After Jesus said, "Did I Myself not choose
you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?" (6:70), the narrator
told that Jesus referred specifically to Judas, the direct object of
e@legen (v. 71). At the footwashing, Jesus refused Peter's request
for a bath by informing him that he was clean, but not all were.
The narrator then stated that Jesus said this because He knew "the
one betraying Him" (13:11), by now an epithet for Judas Iscariot.
More positively, Jesus also knew that Peter would be fully re-
stored and would "glorify God" by his death (21:19).
An important aspect of Jesus' resistance to human agendas
and His control of other characters concerns His "hour," which
the narrator associated with His death. Jesus knew His "hour."
After Jesus had claimed that He is from God and knows God, "the
Jews" sought to seize Him but could not do so because, as the nar-
rator told, "His hour had not yet arrived" (7:30). This explanation
recurs at 8:20b, where the Pharisees could not silence Jesus' of-
fensive claims. John 13:1 is significant in this light, as the nar-
rator told that Jesus knew His hour had finally come, and that He
had loved His own even until the very end. Here Jesus' "hour" is
explicitly the hour "that He should be lifted up," again in accord
with the divine agenda.
Because Jesus had a divinely appointed time to die, and be-
Jesus, Judas, and Peter: Character by Contrast in the Fourth Gospel 439
cause He has complete control over everything, He had complete
control over His manner of death as well. After Jesus mentioned
that He would be "lifted up" and would "draw all people" to Him-
self, the narrator stated that "He was saying this to indicate the
of death by which He was to die" (12:33). The
scene as recorded in John is actually a voluntary surrender, as
Jesus faced the mob "knowing all the things that were coming
upon Him" (18:4). He displayed power, knocking the posse to the
ground, to fulfill the promise of 6:39 (cf. 17:12) that none of those
entrusted to Him would be lost (18:9). When the Jews insisted that
Pilate try Jesus because they could not execute Him, the narrator
postured their complaint in terms of Jesus' control (18:32): the
Romans must kill Him because He had stated that He would be
"lifted up" on a cross. Jesus' power over death made the events of
His execution almost mechanical. The soldiers who cast lots over
His garments had little choice in the matter because they did this,
as the narrator explained, "so that Scripture would be fulfilled"
(19:24). Sometime later, Jesus, knowing that "all things had al-
ready been accomplished," fulfilled one more prophecy by say-
ing, "I thirst" (19:28). That the soldiers did not break Jesus' legs
but pierced Him with a spear is explained in 19:36–37 as further
prophetic fulfillment: they could not do the former and must do the
latter. The readers are thus given the impression that Jesus had a
list of "things to do" before He died.
Jesus' sovereignty may be explained by the narrator's insis-
tence that He is divine and knows Himself to be so. In the contro-
over the healing at
ther always works and I work" (5:17), which provoked "the Jews"
to seek to kill Him. The narrator explained their fury by stating
that Jesus had violated the Sabbath and had "made Himself equal
to God" (5:18).10 Before the footwashing the narrator told that Je-
sus knew God had put all things under His power, and that He
was "from God and was returning to God" (13:3). Jesus knew who
He was and what He would do.
JUDAS AND PETER
The narrator of the Gospel of John provided many telling asides
about Judas, all of which characterize the paradox of the disciple
who from the beginning was a traitor. After Jesus' "Bread from
heaven" speech, He enigmatically revealed that a devil was in
His entourage (6:70), and the narrator intervened to explain that
10 In one sense the narrator's remark here functions to explain the motive of "the
Jews." At the same time, however, the causal o!ti in 5:18 is not conditioned ("because
they supposed," etc.), and the aside introduces the Sonship/equality topos in the
speech of Jesus that follows (5:19-47).
440 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1996
this was Judas (v. 71), the first reference to him in the Fourth
Gospel. In Lazarus' house Judas objected to the anointing of Jesus'
feet (12:4-6), and the narrator noted three things about Judas: Ju-
das was the group treasurer, a trusted position; Judas had be-
trayed this trust by embezzling funds; and Judas actually did not
care about the poor. In both references, however, Judas is also de-
scribed as a disciple, in fact one of "the Twelve." Before Jesus'
footwashing, the narrator told that the devil had already put it into
Judas' heart to betray Jesus (13:2), and later, in connection with
the sopped bread, that Satan entered Judas (13:27).
Unlike Judas, Peter's mind appeared closed to the narrator,
as his inner thoughts and motives were almost never revealed.
The references to the "disciples" in 13:22, 28–29 apparently in-
clude Peter, who acted as their spokesman and shared their igno-
rance of Judas' intention. In 20:9 the narrator told that Peter and
the "beloved disciple" did not understand the empty tomb, al-
though the latter "believed." Other than this, however, the audi-
ence is left to evaluate Peter's actions without the narrator's aid.
Three passages in the Gospel of John include Jesus, Judas, and
Peter together: 6:59–71; 13:20–36; 18:1–11. Four scenes portray
interaction between Jesus and Peter without Judas (1:42; 13:4–19;
18:12–27; 21), and one scene (12:1–8) describes an encounter be-
tween Jesus and Judas without Peter. The contrasts between these
characters in these scenes may be analyzed in three dimensions.
The first is space, which includes all aspects of "staging." The
second is direct discourse, as identity is often revealed by the way
characters communicate with each other. The third dimension is
"control," the amount of authority a character exercises in a
given context. "Control" is a less obvious category, but since the
narrator consistently told that Jesus was notable for His control
over every situation, this becomes an important factor in His in-
teractions with other individuals.
Peter is introduced during his first encounter with Jesus, when
Andrew brought Peter, his brother, to Jesus. Simon said nothing,
but Jesus made two statements, each with the emphatic su<: "you
are [su< ei]] Simon"; and "you shall be called [su> klhqh<s^]
Cephas." By changing Simon's name, Jesus specified their rela-
tionship. Ancient cultures generally associated naming with
power over the one named. Even in the Old Testament "the giving
of a new name has a direct relation to the role the [one] so desig-
Jesus, Judas, and Peter: Character by Contrast in the Fourth Gospel 441
nated will play."11 Simon's new name was therefore "not so much
a merely predictive utterance as what Jesus will make of him."12
Whether Simon would live up to the title is not intimated. It is
clear from the beginning, however, that Jesus desired priority in
This passage includes two attempts to "control" Jesus via dis-
course. After Jesus' words about the Bread of life, the narrator
stated that a number of "disciples" in the audience were scandal-
ized and sought to minimize Jesus by implying that no one could
understand such "difficult" teaching (v. 60). Jesus, however, was
not surprised by their grumblings, and He exposed their unbelief.
Rather than repenting, the chastised disciples "turned back"
(a]ph?lqon ei]j ta> o]pi<sw, v. 66) on Him. This reflects their defiant
inability to accept Him and His teaching. While they could not
control Jesus, they would not be controlled by Him either.
Since the crowd lacked faith, Jesus turned to challenge the
Twelve: "You do not want to go away also, do you?" (v. 67). Jesus
knew their thoughts, so no response was necessary. Peter, how-
ever, supposed a certain pathos in Jesus' question. So he tried to
comfort Jesus by assuring Him that he and the others would re-
main with Him because they realized He is "the Holy One of God"
(v. 69). But Jesus emphatically rejected Peter's confession on two
counts (v. 70). First, the Twelve must not suppose they had
"chosen" to follow Jesus; He had chosen them. Second, Peter was
unaware that a "devil" lurked in their midst. Having control
over the rejection and acceptance of His message, Jesus did not
patronize Peter's encouraging perspective.
Peter's confession, though genuine, was imperceptive. He
was unable to please His Master because he did not understand
the control structure of the relationship. Judas, on the other hand,
is first presented in the Gospel of John in 6:71 as the epitome of the
general rejection that had just occurred. Not only the synagogue
"disciples," but even one of the chosen Twelve would turn away
from Jesus' proclamation. Ironically, Judas would live up to the
epithet Jesus had given him.
When Jesus was in Lazarus' home for a banquet, Lazarus and
apparently also Judas reclined at the table. The hostess, Mary, po-
11 Ibid., 80; see Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word
(New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1988), 33.
12 D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991),
442 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA/ October—December 1996
sitioned herself on the floor near Jesus and began to anoint His
feet with a fragrant perfume. Mary's posture, emphasizing her
humility and devotion, is a touchstone for the contrasting re-
sponses she provoked.
Judas challenged Mary but directed his criticism to Jesus by
asking why the Master allowed such excess. Judas sought to con-
trol both Jesus and Mary by forcing the Savior to rebuke her. As
already noted, the narrator exposed Judas' hypocrisy to the audi-
ence. Jesus, however, refrained from exposing Judas to the guests
at the banquet; instead, He clarified His authority over both Judas
and Mary (v. 7). After His curt imperative to Judas, "Leave her
alone!" (a@fej au]th<n), He indicated that Mary's excess was justi-
fied because she had saved the ointment for the special occasion of
Jesus' burial anointing. Since Mary was apparently unaware of
Jesus' impending death, the statement shows Jesus' authority to
reinterpret her devotion. Mary's faith, if imperceptive, was cer-
tainly genuine, whereas Judas was imperceptive and hypocriti-
cal. Both individuals helped "prepare" for Jesus' burial, and He
understood their respective roles much better than they did.
The spatial aspects of the footwashing are carefully noted and
intensified by a shift from the present to the past tense in 13:12. As
the scene opened, Jesus was reclining at the table with His disci-
ples. He then rose, put on a towel, moved to a basin, drew water,
positioned Himself below each disciple in turn to wash his feet,
and then returned to his original position of honor at the table.
Brown suggests that this is the only reference in ancient litera-
ture to the footwashing of a "client" by a "patron."13 Peter's reac-
tion to this unusual sequence of events prompted a dialogue that
emphasized Peter's ignorance and Jesus' understanding of the
approaching "hour" (13:1).
Peter's first two comments (13:6, 8) were intended to prohibit
Jesus. Ku<rie su< mou combines a vocative with su< in the emphatic
position, creating urgency: The Master was not to wash Peter's
feet; rather, Peter must wash Jesus. Although Peter's response re-
vealed a genuine concern for Jesus' honor, it also exposed his re-
sistance to Jesus' control and threatened to ruin Jesus' illustra-
tion. Since Peter did not know what would happen to Jesus (13:7),
he could not accept this symbolic precursor. He then unwittingly
verified Jesus' response, "you do not understand now," by com-
manding, "Never [ou] mh> . . . ei]j to>n ai]w?na] shall you wash my
13 Raymond Brown, The Gospel according to John (xiii-xxi), Anchor Bible
(Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970), 564-65; and Carson, The Gospel according to
Jesus, Judas, and Peter: Character by Contrast on the Fourth Gospel 443
feet" (v. 8). Remarkably Jesus' submissive posture did not di-
minish His control of the disciple who sat above Him, and Peter's
obstinacy was met with a threat (v. 8). "No part with Me" builds on
a Jewish eschatological inheritance motif.14 The footwashing
carried a deeper promise of kingdom blessing, which Jesus has
power to withhold. Peter, however, believed such blessing was un-
der his own authority, as indicated by his third response (v. 9). If
washing secures eschatological blessing, Peter demanded the
fullest blessing possible. But whereas he could not stop Jesus from
washing his feet, neither could he compel Him to wash his hands
and head. The Lord assured the disciple that, despite his mis-
guided attempt at usurpation, he was "clean" (v. 10); one of them,
however, would reject his inheritance. Having returned to His
seat, Jesus explained the washing in reference to His authority
over them as Teacher and Master (o[ dida<skaloj kai> o[ ku<rioj)
(vv. 13-14). Jesus retained full control in both positions—that of
the servant and that of the master—thereby defining the
connection between service and authority.
This sequence involves two significant exchanges, one between
Jesus and Judas and one between Jesus and Peter. Opening with
an "amen" saying (13:20), Jesus then predicted that one of those at
the table would betray Him. The disciples were stunned, as the
offender was not obvious to them (v. 22). Peter sought to interro-
gate Jesus through John, but apparently Peter could not hear the
answer. After answering John, however, Jesus spoke to Judas
loudly enough for all to hear: "What you do, do [poi<hson] quickly"
(v. 27). "By having Judas depart from the Supper only after Jesus
has told him to leave, John stresses Jesus' control over his [own]
destiny,"15 and over Judas' destiny as well. Jesus commanded
Judas to betray Him, demonstrating His control at this crisis
point. Having eaten Jesus' bread, Judas departed into the "night"
(v. 30). His treachery, however, would not endanger Jesus; quite
the contrary, it would lead to Jesus' "glorification" (13:31-32).
Having dispatched Judas, Jesus turned to the disciples to give
them necessary information before He went away. This began
with the "new command" that His followers are to be remarkable
in their love for one another (v. 34). But ironically, Peter, unlike
Judas, was not willing to receive a command from Jesus (v. 36).
As in the footwashing, Jesus contrasted Peter's "now" with
"later." The verbs shift from the plural in verse 33 to Peter alone
14 Brown, The Gospel according to John (xiii-xxi), 565-66.
15 Ibid., 578.
444 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1996
in verse 36. Peter would, indeed, eventually follow Jesus in a
very specific way. But again Jesus' first answer was not enough,
and Peter called this temporal distinction into question: Why not
now? (v. 37). Indeed, Judas could fulfill his role "now," but Peter
required further preparation. Jesus first attempted to assert au-
thority over Peter in light of the task: the disciple was not yet able
to go where Jesus was going, whether willing to die or not (v. 36).
When Peter insisted, Jesus leveled His claim by exposing Peter's
ignorance (v. 38). Not only did Peter misunderstand what Jesus
and Judas would do; he did not realize that he himself would do
the very opposite of what he boasted!
"Control" in this pericope is associated with knowledge. Je-
sus knew what He would do, what Judas would do, and what Peter
would do. Judas knew what he would do, although he did not know
its significance. Peter, by contrast, knew nothing of the future,
neither what Jesus and Judas would do nor what he himself would
do. So he could not respond properly. Judas would become the un-
witting catalyst of Jesus' glorification, while Peter resisted the
very plan that would end in his Master's exaltation. Thus in a
sense Peter's good intentions were worse than Judas' treachery.
Jesus' arrest, as recorded in John, engaged all three characters in
a complex spatial matrix. Jesus and the disciples moved across
a walled enclosure. As a defined space in which Jesus met with
His disciples, the garden indicates intimacy. The narrator told
that Judas knew this place because he had frequently been there
with Jesus (18:2). Now, however, Judas was outside, approaching
the area in the darkness with torches and lamps. He had. come to
meet Jesus at the garden, but no longer as a disciple.
In the Synoptic Gospels, the garden is seen as a place of grief
and distress (Matt. 26:36-44; Mark 14:32-39; Luke 22:41-44). But
in John's account Jesus confidently left the enclosure to confront
His attackers, suggesting conviction and control. Jesus, not Ju-
das, initiated the dialogue, interrogating the posse as to whom
they sought (18:4; cf. Mark 14:43-46). The mob, not Judas, re-
sponded to His question (John 18:5a). At the height of the drama,
the narrator stopped for a stage direction, telling that "Judas the
betrayer stood with them" (v. 5b). Judas stood blatantly opposite
Jesus with those who were knocked to the ground by Jesus' identi-
fication, "I am He" (e]gw< ei]mi, v. 6). Jesus would allow Judas to
fulfill his intention, but only on His terms. These are defined
after the second e]gw< ei]mi, indicating Jesus' desire and ability to
protect His disciples even when He must not protect Himself (v.
Jesus, Judas, and Peter: Character by Contrast in the Fourth Gospel 445
8). Having secured their release, Jesus was ready to turn Himself
over. But Peter, ready neither to be released nor to see Jesus ar-
rested, interpreted the show of force as a call to arms. The Synop-
tics mention his attack (Matt. 26:51; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:49-50),
but only John named Peter and Malchus. Remarkably the sol-
diers did not move to punish Peter, but Jesus did, as Peter was
again spoiling the plan. Jesus did not need Peter's "help." The
rhetorical question that closes the scene ("Shall I not drink the cup
the Father has given Me?" John 18:11) stresses His willingness to
Judas made his final appearance in the darkness at Jesus'
feet. He had confronted Jesus with diabolical intentions, but
thereby ironically presented Him with the Father's cup. Peter also
confronted Jesus, but his attempt to "rescue" Him threatened to
ruin His mission. Neither Judas nor Peter could control Jesus
with the sword, because Jesus had accepted the Father's task.
This scene combines space and dialogue to contrast Peter's and
Jesus' control. Jesus was bound and taken to the home of Annas,
and He apparently remained bound throughout the episode (18:12,
24). Peter, by contrast, moved freely. He followed the mob and
was not arrested as he moved about Annas's courtyard. His pres-
ence at the fire, however, suggests he was in the wrong place; the
courtyard was cold (v. 18) and dark, and Peter stood among the
associates of the high priest as Jesus was taken within. Peter's
separation from Jesus and fellowship with the enemy situated
him to fulfill Jesus' prediction.
Both Jesus and Peter were interrogated about discipleship.
Annas questioned Jesus "about His disciples, and about His
teaching" (v. 19). But since Jesus had determined the status of His
followers at the arrest, He did not respond, moving instead to the
doctrinal question. Rather than apologizing for His teachings,
Jesus returned a command: "Ask those who heard Me" (v. 21). Je-
sus had spoken openly, which was the opposite of their present tac-
tic (v. 20). He would not be controlled, even by a high priest. This
response offended a nearby official, who attempted to silence Je-
sus by striking Him (v. 22). Jesus' response revealed His author-
ity over the entire proceeding. Arrested, bound, in the dwelling of
the leader of the Jews, now physically abused, Jesus turned to the
offender with a command, "Bear witness [martu<rhson, singular
imperative] if I spoke wrongly," and a counter interrogation, "But
if rightly, why do you strike Me?" (v. 24). Annas, frustrated by Je-
sus' authoritative presence, sent Him to his son-in-law.
Jesus had ordered Annas to question "those who heard," and
446 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October—December 1996
such an interrogation was going on in the courtyard. Immedi-
ately before and after Jesus' trial, Peter was asked if he had a re-
lationship with "this man" (vv. 17, 25). Both questions open with
mh<, expecting the answer no. The first was asked by a slave girl
who guarded the gate, the second by a group of servants who were
curious about the trial inside and the identity of the stranger at
their fire. Though neither question was explicitly hostile, Peter
fell under the control of the enemy. The form of his denial
parallels the "I am" sayings in the Gospel of John. When asked if
he was a disciple of Jesus, Peter twice responded ou]k ei]mi< (vv. 17,
25), denying not what Jesus is but what he himself was. The third
question, a repercussion of his act against Malchus, prompted the
denial that he was with Jesus in the garden, the place of fellowship
(vv. 26–27). Peter's tears and grief recorded in the Synoptics
(Matt. 26:75; Mark 14:72; Luke 22:62) are absent from the Fourth
Gospel, eclipsed by the cockcrow, which underlined Peter's
denial. Jesus denied nothing, while Peter denied everything.
Peter's spatial positions in 21:1–14 reflect shifting control. On
land he initiated action among the disciples by suggesting a fish-
ing expedition. His leadership of the group, however, produced
little result after considerable effort (v. 3). Suddenly a stranger
appeared and ordered them to cast their net on the right side of the
boat. Obeying, the disciples were successful. Hearing that it was
Jesus, Peter threw himself into the sea in a fit of exuberance. On
shore, Jesus commanded the disciples to bring fish; Peter
returned to the boat; and back on shore he ate the meal Jesus
ordered, afraid to ask who He was (v. 12). But Peter's malleabil-
ity in this episode set the stage for the next scene, as the narration
in verses 15–22 finishes the encounter on the shore between Jesus
Peter that began in verse 7.
shift of focus to the weighted boat (v. 8) is an "indication of eye-
witness testimony."16 Beyond this, it serves to defer confrontation
between Jesus and Peter until the following critical dialogue.
In sharp contrast to the clear staging marks in 21:1–14, the
spatial structure of verses 15–22 is unusually difficult. Jesus and
Peter were apparently still beside the sea, but were now alone, it
seems, at some distance from the other disciples. They seem to
have been walking, and at one point Peter turned and observed
that John was following them out of earshot (v. 20). This dearth of
stage direction dramatizes the exchange.
Jesus initiated dialogue with a question (v. 15). His reference
16 Carson, The Gospel according to John, 671.
Jesus, Judas, and Peter: Character by Contrast in the Fourth Gospel 447
to Peter as "Simon son of John" returns to their initial encounter
recorded in 1:42. The old designation indicates a need to redefine
their relationship, which is first explored in terms of degree: "Do
you love [a]gap%?j] Me more than these?" "These" is certainly mas-
culine, possibly referring to the other disciples ("do you love Me
more than they love Me?"). But Peter did not want to answer in
these terms; in fact he could not. Rather, he appealed to Jesus'
knowledge: "You Yourself know that I love [fi<lew] You" (v. 15).
Peter, who once had boasted above the others that he would lay
down his life, now appealed to what Jesus knew in spite of what
Peter had done. Jesus reiterated without reference to the others, as
Peter preferred, but still used the disciple's old name: "Simon son
of John, do you love [a]gap%?j] Me?" (v. 16). The form of Peter's an-
swer did not change even though Jesus had adjusted the question.
Having allowed Peter to omit the words "more than these,"
Jesus permitted him to select an appropriate verb. While it may be
wrong to press the distinction between a]gapa<w and file<w in this
context, the variation in terms is part of a gradual transforma-
tion of Jesus' questions into Peter's answer:
Jesus: Simon of John, a]gap%?j me more than these?
Peter: Lord, You know that filw? se.
Jesus: Simon of John, a]gap%?j me?
Peter: Lord, You know that filw? se.
Jesus: Simon of John, filei?j me?
While the meanings may be synonymous, Jesus appropriated
Peter's word for "love." Now that Peter was willing to define him-
self in reference to Jesus' complete knowledge of him, he could
contribute to the terms of the relationship. Peter's final answer
was his first step toward restoration. In verse 17 the narrator
opened Peter's mind for the first time, revealing that Jesus had
"grieved" him. Grief motivated his complete submission. Jesus
knew that Peter loved Him because, as Peter said, "You Yourself
know all things." Jesus knows, and Peter loves.
Peter's confession, "I am not this man's disciple," climaxed
his resistance of Jesus' control. Now, having confessed who Jesus
is and what he himself was, he was ready to receive a commis-
sion. While Jesus' three commands exchanged imperative verbs
and accusative objects, the final "My" in verses 15–17 is con-
stant. Peter would take Jesus' place as shepherd of the Master's
flock. This calling would end in the ultimate act of submission
(vv. 18–19). The final command, "Follow Me" (v. 19), extended
Jesus' control beyond the end of the story. The cost of discipleship
would be high for Simon, but in its consummation he would show
himself a true "Peter," able at last to "glorify God" (v. 19).
448 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October—December 1996
True to his old self, however, Peter attempted to move Jesus
from this painful subject. Despite the vagueness of Jesus' proph-
ecy (v. 18), Peter soon realized the implications of His words (v.
21). Knowing that he would "follow" his Master in death, he won-
dered about the fate of the beloved disciple. But Jesus rebuked this
attempt (v. 22). Peter's fate would correspond to his role as shep-
herd, and John's fate would, presumably, be appropriate to his
mission as well. Jesus' final command urged Peter to fulfill his
task in reference only to himself, even to the point of death:: "You
follow Me" (v. 22).
In the Gospel of John, Judas is the consummate hypocrite. By con-
sistently telling the motives behind the apparently genuine ac-
tions of Judas, the narrator revealed a gross hypocrisy and indif-
ference to Jesus and the needs of others. Although a relationship
with Jesus had offered Judas some financial benefit, he would ul-
timately become the epitome of those who reject the truth. Ironi-
cally, however, his schemes could not harm Jesus. In fact Jesus
knew and controlled everything Judas did and He used Judas as
a tool for His own "glorification." Hypocrisy is dangerous only to
the hypocrite, not to the plan of God.
Unlike Judas, the audience knows almost nothing of Peter's
inner life, and all judgments must be made on the basis of his
actions. Because observation is the normal means of determin-
ing the motives of individuals, this silence makes Peter a bit
more "real" to the audience than Judas. Before Jesus' death, Peter
was the pinnacle of ignorance: he did not suspect Judas, he did not
understand Jesus, and he misjudged his own abilities. So in
contrast to Judas, every expression of Peter's genuine devotion
threatened to foil Jesus' plan. But despite his ignorance, he re-
mained "clean" through sincere devotion, which overcame even
his rejection of the Master. After Jesus' death, Peter's repentance
led to a new commission and calling. Restored, he could then
truly "glorify God."
Jesus, like Judas, acted according to the Father's divine plan;
unlike Judas and Peter, He fully understood what the plan in-
volved. Knowing the outcome of all things, He was able to fulfill
the Father's will, often against His own. The most notable feature
about Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, however, is the control He dis-
played over all persons and situations. Neither the treachery or
stubbornness of His own disciples, nor the ridicule or machina-
tions of "the Jews," could hinder him from moving toward His
"hour" on the cross.
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