Bibliotheca Sacra 153 (October-December 1996) 435-48.

          Copyright © 1996 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.




                JESUS, JUDAS, AND PETER:


                  IN THE FOURTH GOSPEL


                                               Tom Thatcher


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,

Cincinnati, Ohio.


1 J. Hillis Miller, Ariadne's Thread, Story Lines (New Haven, CT: Yale Univer-

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.

2 Wayne Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

1961), 3-9.

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

kind and degree of distance between them. Harvey suggests a

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

Gospel [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983], 16).

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.

7 Harvey, Character and the Novel, 56-57.


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 [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 19661,



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."

After Jesus' "Bread from heaven" speech in the Capernaum syn-

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

kind of death by which He was to die" (12:33). The Gethsemane

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-

versy over the healing at Bethesda, Jesus remarked that "My Fa-

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.



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.


JOHN 1:42

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

their relationship.


JOHN 6:59-71

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.


JOHN 12:1-8

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.


JOHN 13:4-19

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

John, 462-63.

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.


JOHN 13:24-38

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.


JOHN 18:1-11

Jesus' arrest, as recorded in John, engaged all three characters in

a complex spatial matrix. Jesus and the disciples moved across

the Kidron Valley and entered a garden, which may have been in

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.


JOHN 18:12—27

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

and Peter that began in verse 7. Carson suggests that the sudden

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.

This material is cited with gracious permission from:             x!

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204  

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