IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 2, Number 15, April 10 to April 16, 2000

COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 26:31-35

by Dr. Knox Chamblin

THE PREDICTION OF PETER'S DENIAL. 26:31-35.

I. THE SMITING OF THE SHEPHERD.

A. Zechariah's Prophecy.

Again Mt's Passion Narrative is illuminated by Zech, this time by 13:7, "'Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!' declares the LORD Almighty. 'Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones." In this extraordinary statement, Yahweh calls for the slaying of his own shepherd, the one he has appointed to rule on his behalf and who enjoys an especially close relationship to him. "What God in his law [Deut 13:1-6] requires of his people in their inflexible severity towards false prophets..., this he himself will practise in his relationship to his own shepherd" (D. R. Jones, quoted in Baldwin, TOTC, 197).

B. Zechariah in Matthew.

Zechariah's imperative now becomes an indicative, "I will strike the shepherd." Yahweh himself delivers the blow. To say that Jesus is murdered by his enemies (v. 4), does not fully explain the event. He is also handed over to death "by God's set purpose and foreknowledge" (Acts 2:23; cf. Rom 8:32). It is not just that God uses Jesus' enemies. The deepest and most mysterious interpretation of Jesus' death offered in the Bible, is that God the Father makes God the Son the personal object of his own wrath. "It was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer" (Isa 53:10a, cf. v. 4). No wonder Jesus shrinks in terror before the prospect of the cross (26:36-46).


II. THE SCATTERING OF THE SHEEP.

A. Zechariah's Prophecy.

With the smiting of the shepherd, his sheep are scattered; this happens by Yahweh's own hand (13:7b). Now that the shepherd is gone, his little flock is more vulnerable to oppression (cf. Baldwin, 198). But their suffering is intended for their refining (13:9).

B. Zechariah in Matthew.

Now that his "smiting" is imminent, predicts Jesus, his flock is about to scatter. "This very night you will all fall away on account of me" (v. 31; for the fulfillment see v. 56). But this very scattering, together with Peter's denial, will prove to be a means for humbling and refining them for the tasks that lie ahead for them.


III. THE THREAT TO PETER.

A. Peter the Representative Disciple.

In one sense, Peter is portrayed here as a typical disciple: not only he, but all the disciples are to abandon Jesus (v. 31). And not only he, but all the disciples, boast of their undying loyalty (v. 35). But in a more important sense, as demonstrated in earlier passages (notably 16:16-20), he is the representative of the Twelve. Thus here, just after Jesus has made his disturbing prophecy, it is Peter who speaks first (v. 33).

B. Peter the Boastful Disciple.

Precisely because he represents the others, and has been honored as primus inter pares (16:18), Peter stands in an extremely vulnerable position. Especially is he vulnerable to pride. Even though he typically represents the Twelve, here he distinguishes himself from the Twelve, as the one who (more than others) can be counted on to stand by Jesus till the very end (v. 33), even until death (v. 35, where the denial is most emphatic, with ou me). In his pride, Peter is all the more vulnerable to Satanic assault (IV. A. below).

C. Peter the Fallen Disciple.

"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (Prov 16:18; cf. 1 Cor 10:12). Peter's denial of Jesus is prophesied not as a possibility but as an absolute and imminent certainty (note the authoritative and solemn opening of v. 34, Amen lego soi). For the fulfillment, see 26:69-75.


IV. THE FAITHFULNESS OF JESUS.

A. Jesus Intercedes for Peter.

Lk 22:31-32 (without parallel in Mt) discloses (1) that Satan seeks to use all the disciples in his efforts to hinder the saving work of Jesus, (2) that Jesus combats that assault by interceding specifically for Peter, which clearly implies (3) that the brunt of Satan's assault is directed toward Peter, the representative of the Twelve, as a means of gaining the mastery over the others. Even as he perceives that Peter shall surely deny him (Lk 22:34), Jesus in mercy prays for him. Lk implies that had Jesus not interceded for Peter, he would have followed Judas down the path to destruction. See below on 26:69-75.

B. Jesus Restores the Disciples.

Jesus foresees that his followers will forsake him and flee. Yet at the very time he predicts their falling away, he also foretells their restoration by his initiative. "But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee" (v. 32). That the regathering has a salutary purpose is clear from the fulfillment in 28:16-20. As in the OT (cf. Hosea), Yahweh the faithful covenant-keeping God patiently restores his alienated people by his amazing grace.

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