MATTHEW 26:31-35
Pp Mark 14:26-31

On the road to Gethsemane
The crowing of the cock
Running away from the truth

The Passover celebrations had concluded with the singing of the second part of the Hallel according to normal Jewish tradition (Mtw 26:30) - if Jesus was following the procedure laid out for the meal in the Mishnah’s Pesahim chapter 10 - and those present at the meal now exited out into the streets of Jerusalem, making for the Mount of Olives on the eastern side of the city of Jerusalem and across the Kidron Valley.

If Judas is accepted as having returned to the meal as we noted on the previous web page, then he would have left the group as it made it’s way into the night, bound for the high priest’s house. If, on that evening, there were very few clouds in the sky, the city and road would have been illuminated by almost a full moon, so travelling wouldn’t have been difficult - each Jewish month began at the sighting of the new moon and ended with it’s waning so that the middle of the month would naturally witness the brightest night period. This being the night of the 15th of Nisan, the visibility should have been very good.

Both Matthew and Mark’s accounts need some explanation seeing as there’s an inference that they first went to the Mount of Olives before choosing to enter the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed (Mtw 26:30,36, Mark 14:26,32). Mtw 26:30 says specifically that

‘...they went out to the Mount of Olives’

while, after the incident which we’ll consider on this web page, Mtw 26:36 comments that

‘Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane...’

The picture one gets here - if we follow the traditional sites put forward as the garden’s location - is that Jesus ascended the mountain only to double-back and enter a place lower down the slopes with the eleven disciples.

However, this is reading too much into the two separated verses and it’s best to take the first as indicating that the band journeyed towards the mountain and that, arriving outside the garden, they went in. This places the prediction of Jesus that Peter would deny Him on the journey east towards Gethsemane (Mtw 26:31-35). Luke 22:39 record simply notes that

‘...[Jesus] came out [of the room] and went, as was His custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed Him’

missing out the conversation which they had on the way (the prophetic pronouncement of Peter’s denial is incorporated into the Passover meal - Luke 22:31-34 - and, although many would accept that Luke has positioned it here for his own reasons, there are enough differences between his account and that in both Matthew and Mark to consider it to be an earlier and separate incident where Peter was initially addressed directly). John 18:1 also notes that

‘...Jesus went forth with His disciples across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden which He and His disciples entered’

and they both show that what Matthew and Mark divide into two specific actions were actually one and the same. More interesting to the commentator is why Luke should note that Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives ‘as was His custom’ (Luke 22:39) for, if we assume that it’s the Garden of Gethsemane that’s being mentioned here, we don’t have a previous record that such an event was the normal custom of Jesus at all. However, John 18:2 notes that

‘...Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew [the garden]; for Jesus often met there with His disciples’

and we may not be going too far to think of the discourse concerning the destruction of the Temple and of the close of the age as taking place here (Matthew chapters 24 and 25) seeing as Jesus is recorded as being on the Mount of Olives (Mtw 24:3).

So it may have been the common practice of Jesus to stop at the Garden of Gethsemane on His journeyings away from Jerusalem to arrive at Bethany where He appears to have been lodging that year (Mtw 21:17, 26:6) but it certainly doesn’t appear to be true to assert, as Lukmor does, that Jesus often spent evenings and whole nights there for we have other statements above which show that He ‘lodged’ in the village of Bethany.

We need to clarify one other matter here for Luke 21:37 notes that Jesus

‘ night...went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet’

rather than as Matthew and Mark note that He stayed in Bethany. An answer to this problem can be found by comparing two other Scriptures, both of which were authored by Luke. Writing about the ascension, Luke 24:50 notes that

‘...He led them out as far as Bethany...’

but, in Acts 1:12, Luke records that the disciples

‘...returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet...’

What this shows us is that Bethany appears to have been associated with the Mount of Olives in first century Israel. Luke 19:29 makes this association in the same verse as well for we read there that

‘When [Jesus] drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet...’

The statement that Jesus journeyed to the Mount of Olives ‘as was His custom’ needn’t mean anymore, therefore, than that He was journeying back across the valley to Bethany and that, having arrived at the garden of Gethsemane, He stopped to pray. The disciples certainly would have seen nothing strange in what was transpiring for the journey would have been what would have been expected.

Even Jesus delaying a while to pray in the garden wouldn’t have seemed out of place to them and it’s not difficult to see why Jesus’ words about watching (Mtw 26:38) wouldn’t have had anything about the situation which would have caused them to think trouble was at hand. His delay in the garden, therefore, shows that far from Jesus attempting to flee the danger which He was expecting as initiated by Judas, He was actually waiting for it to happen. Lukgel goes too far in quoting Schlatter in saying that Jesus

‘...betook Himself to the place where Judas was looking for Him’

if, by that, he means that Jesus had become predictable. As I’ve noted on previous web pages, the cloaking of the meal’s location should indicate that such secrecy was only necessary until all had been done. At the time that the Passover meal ended, there was no longer any need to remain secretive and, had Jesus simply continued up the Mount of Olives and onwards towards Bethany, it’s unlikely that Judas and the soldiers would ever have caught up with Him. Rather, it would appear that, upon leaving the room, the disciples knew they were going to Gethsemane for a time.

But, to return to the issue at hand, we need to deal with the short recorded discussion that Jesus had with the disciples - and individually with Peter - as the band journeyed across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives.

On the road to Gethsemane
Mtw 26:30-35, Mark 14:26-31

As previously noted above, the incident we’re dealing with on this web page took place as the band of disciples were travelling with Jesus from the city of Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives.

Luke 22:31-34 has often been taken to be a different version of Matthew and Mark’s record of events but this position is not without its difficulties for Luke’s account begins with a word spoken directly to Simon whereas Matthew and Mark begin with a statement that Jesus makes to all eleven. Luke also speaks about satan’s request to have Peter and of Jesus’ prayer that the disciple would be strengthened and might not stumble and fall with no chance of a restoration back into his former position.

Both Matthew and Mark conclude with the disciples echoing Peter’s words that they’d all remain faithful but the presence of the other eleven are totally absent from the entire Lukan discourse.

For these reasons, it seems best not to take Luke’s account (and John’s - John 13:36-38) as being simply a different version of what transpired on the road but an incident which took place - just as Luke’s chronology demands - at the paschal meal itself.

Jesus’ prediction that all the disciples would fall away needs some clarification, though. Mtw 26:56 concludes the arrest of Jesus with the words that

‘...all the disciples forsook Him and fled’

a clear fulfilment of the prophetic word which Jesus cites about the shepherd being struck and all the sheep being scattered (Mtw 26:31) but that they ‘fell away’ is difficult to prove from the Scriptures themselves.

While we know that Peter followed the band at some distance (Mtw 26:58) to see what would happen to Jesus and that, when he denied Jesus, he went out and wept bitterly that he hadn’t had the courage to stand up and acknowledge Him (Mtw 26:75), the same can’t be said of John, the brother of James.

It’s normally accepted that it was John who also followed the band of soldiers as they made for the high priest’s residence (John 18:15) and that it was he who made it possible for Peter to gain access to the courtyard (John 18:16). This seems to be unlikely, however, and we should look for a positive identification elsewhere.

When John is referred to but unnamed, the description of him being ‘the one whom Jesus loved’ is given him (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20) though, even here, there’s no definitive parallel that it’s this disciple which is being referred to - as far as I can tell, the only reason for such an identification with the phrase is John 21:20-24 where the disciple who Jesus loves is the one who writes the words

‘This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things...’

and, as the Gospel is called ‘John’, the identification is fairly certain. As John is also, by tradition, the last disciple who was believed to have died, John 21:23 points again towards such an identification.

But, in the case of the high priest’s residence and the following after the band of soldiers, no such description is given. Indeed, there may have been others in Gethsemane who chose to follow the procession to see what was about to transpire for Mark 14:51-52 mentions one such young man (not described as a disciple of Jesus) who fled when approached by the soldiers - what he was doing in the middle of night with just a loin cloth on is anyone’s guess (and it would have made a great story is newspapers had existed in that day and age) but it does give weight to the belief that the band of soldiers weren’t the only figures on the road.

So, to presume that the disciple who gained Peter access into the high priest’s courtyard was John is by no means certain. After all, although it isn’t impossible that he was known to the high priests, that he was from Galilee would point against such a possibility. Besides, John 18:15’s description that he was ‘known’, according to Dodd quoted in Johnmor

‘...implies something more than mere acquaintance. It means that the person so described was a member of the high priest’s circle, possibly a kinsman and himself of priestly birth or at any rate one who stood in intimate relations with the governing high priestly family’

and Johncar summarises this disciples’ relationship to the high priest as being

‘...a great deal more than a nodding acquaintance’

Most modern commentators would take the disciple as indiscernible and, probably, an unnamed disciple resident in Jerusalem. However, if we take the disciple as having to be one of the twelve, the only possible identification would have to be with Judas Iscariot and it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that the reason why he went to the high priest to offer assistance through the betrayal was that he was already in a close relationship with him before Jesus called him to be one of the inner twelve.

This cuts directly against most interpretations, I know, but Judas’ whereabouts after the arrest are a little hazy and there’s no reason to presume that he fled the scene through fear of being arrested along with Jesus when he was the one who was leading the band to the place where he knew He would be. Besides, he may even have felt that to go his own way when there were eleven disciples ‘on the loose’ might not be in his own interests of health and safety.

Having said that, Judas wasn’t instantly recognised by the disciples at the Passover feast as being the betrayer (John 13:27-30) and it’s only John to whom the information appears to have been revealed (John 13:21-26) for we nowhere read that the information he obtained from Jesus was passed on to Peter. Neither might they have witnessed Judas’ approach with the soldiers for they were sleeping at the point of their arrival (Mtw 26:45-47).

Therefore, although Judas Iscariot may not be the most obvious candidate for a positive identification of the disciple, he’s the only one we know of who could have had a relationship with the high priestly family which would have gained him access into the court and allowed him to admit others who he could vouch for.

This has been a fairly lengthy diversion to say something which is not relevant to John at all but, returning to my original point, it seems to have been only Peter (and, perhaps Judas) of the twelve who ended up in the High Priest’s courtyards and, immediately afterwards, the disciple fell away as Jesus foresaw (Mtw 26:75).

John, however, appears definitely at the cross (John 19:26) and seems to have joined with the crowds or accompanied the band of women at the cross for their own protection or mutual comfort - but we’re forced to accept Jesus’ words in Mtw 26:31 that the disciples all fell away and that, during the sabbath, there was no conviction to continue the work but simply a disillusionment in and sorrow for the things which had transpired.

John 16:32 also records Jesus’ words that He would be left alone and that each of the disciples would flee to their own houses, paying little regard for Him. This shouldn’t be taken to mean that they all fled for Galilee, though, and should be thought of more as the flight of individuals who made their way to places in or around Jerusalem where they thought they’d be safe for the time being - perhaps even back to the place where the meal had been eaten.

Jesus’ citing of the OT Scripture Zech 13:7 fits perfectly well into the context here of Jesus being removed from them and the followers being left to their own devices. However, in the context of the overall flow of Zechariah chapters 12 and 13, the passage seems to have originally referred to the removal of Israel’s military leader as I noted in my commentary on that passage but, when Zech 13:7-9 is taken as an individual unit, it’s seen plainly how the entire passage and not just the half verse which Jesus uses can be used to apply to the situation in which Jesus and the disciples will find themselves.

After all, YHWH’s declaration in Zech 13:7 that God Himself will smite the shepherd of His choosing is difficult to comprehend in any context apart from the cross, of which Isaiah wrote (Is 53:4,10)

‘...we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted...It was the will of the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief...’

The salvation of the people of the land of Israel (Zech 13:9) is dependant upon the smiting of the Shepherd for so the passage concludes. Without that affliction, there can be no restoration of the people into a covenant relationship with God.

Salvation is made available through the affliction of God’s Shepherd and it’s received through the mourning of individuals (not corporate groups - Zech 12:12-14) when they consider the work of the cross. As such, it fits well into the context of the next few hours and points not only to the leader’s affliction but that, at the hand of God Himself, salvation might be brought to the nation of Israel.

Jesus also speaks of Galilee as they journey towards Gethsemane in the context of His resurrection, instructing the disciples that

‘...after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee’

which is brought back to their attention via Mary Magdalene and ‘the other Mary’ in Mtw 28:7, is repeated by Jesus Himself to the disciples in Mtw 28:10 in Jerusalem and fulfilled in Mtw 28:16 where the eleven disciples arrive at the mountain specified and meet with Him. This last meeting, because of the mention of ‘My brethren’ in Mtw 28:10, may have been the appearance of Jesus (I Cor 15:6) to

‘...more than five hundred brethren at one time’

even though Paul’s list is neither complete nor exhaustive. The reason for meeting in Galilee is difficult to imagine except that that was the place where most of His ministry was done and, presumably, where most of His disciples would be resident. It also looks beyond the cross to what the Church refers to as ‘the Great Commission’ (Mtw 28:18-20), a fulfilment of Zech 12:7-9 that sees, in the affliction of the Shepherd, the salvation of God’s people.

Mark’s Gospel also follows these post-resurrection appearances very loosely but the fulfilment of the Galilee meeting on the mountain is missing from his narrative as it is from both Luke and John - though the latter does record an appearance by the Sea of Galilee (John chapter 21).

Jesus’ instructions, then, seem to be directed solely to the effect of continuing the proclamation of the message of the Gospel rather than simply being a confirmation that He’s risen from the grave, this taking place at least a handful of times before they ever met with Him in Galilee.

The crowing of the cock
Mtw 26:34, Mark 14:30, Luke 22:34, John 13:38

We need to clarify what it was that Jesus predicted concerning Peter and the cock crow for it’s often been a point at which it’s been difficult for commentators to find a satisfactory harmony. To begin with, we need to note that there were at least two different occasions on which Jesus spoke about Peter’s denial and its relationship to the crowing of the cock - the first of which took place during the Passover meal and which is recorded by both Luke and John, and the second which is recorded by both Matthew and Mark and which occurred as they journeyed across the Kidron Valley for the Garden of Gethsemane.

Firstly, then, both Luke 22:34 and John 13:38 record similar details. Luke has Jesus saying

‘...the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know Me’

while John writes that Jesus said that

‘...the cock will not crow, till you have denied Me three times’

The only substantial difference in the two accounts is that Luke is careful to note that Jesus’ prediction concerned ‘this day’, Friday, and that it wasn’t to be thought of as confined to some future time when circumstances might be different.

Apart from this, both Luke and John saw Jesus as saying that Peter would deny three times that he knew Jesus and that it would occur before the cock crowed.

Mtw 26:34 also bears witness to the same facts, the author recording Jesus’ words on the way to Gethsemane as

‘...this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times’

where there’s a renewed urgency in His prophetic utterance, not just confining the denial to the day which would end with the following sundown but within the confines of the dark period by his phrase ‘this very night’. Of course, by the mention of the cock crow, both Luke and John must also be referring to the night time but it’s only here that the immediacy of the situation is brought home with more force to Peter. Mark 14:30, however, represents the real problem for there the author records Jesus’ words (my italics) as

‘...this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny Me three times’

supported by the normally rejected original words added to the end of Mark 14:68 (which, as will be seen below, are better to accept as original) that

‘...the cock crowed’

and the universally accepted words of Mark 14:72 that, immediately after his third denial of knowing Jesus

‘...the cock crowed a second time’

Mark seems to put the prediction and fulfilment of the denial of Peter as occurring after a second cock crow and not, as the other three, before the cock had crowed even once. The solution, however, lies in the specific time of the night to which first, second and third cock crow referred. Markcol comments that

‘To those bred in the country, second cock crow is a point of time, very distinct from the drowsy first cock crow of midnight’

and he goes on in commenting on Mark 14:72 to observe that it means ‘true dawn’ which is supported in the text by the opening words of chapter 15 if it’s taken as being an action which immediately follows on (which is uncertain). Marklane lists the classical references of Ecclesiazusae 390ff (by Aristophanes) and Satires ix 107ff (by Juvenal) to demonstrate his assertion that a double cock-crowing was used as a designation of time in the night and, in his comments on Mark 14:72, that Yoma 21a in the Babylonian Talmud reports people setting out on a night journey at first, second and third cock crow. However, the Mishnah seems to know of only the one cock crow which took place towards sunrise (Yoma 1:8, Sukkah 5:4, Tamid 1:2).

Ungers lists (first) cock crow as 3am and second cock crow as 4.30am where twilight is timed at 5.40am and sunrise as 6am, but it’s also been suggested (see the footnote in Marklane) that

‘...the reference is to a bugle signal for the changing of the guard which would be clearly audible throughout the city...’

as the third of the four Roman night watches was designated as ‘cock crow’ corresponding to a time from approximately midnight to 3am - though whether it was given this name because the cock crow was at the beginning, end or at frequent intervals throughout the three hour period is uncertain from ancient sources. Evidence for a solution for this, however, comes from more comments the author makes on Mark 14:72 in a modern day observation over a twelve year period from a book published in 1963 that

‘...the cock crows at three distinct times, first about a half hour after midnight [12.30am], a second time about an hour later [1.30am] and a third time an hour after the second [2.30am]. Each crowing lasts from 3-5 minutes, after which all is quiet again’

If we are to assume that crowing cocks haven’t changed their habits in the intervening two thousand years, we can see that the third watch would have been called ‘cock crow’ not because of the advent of dawn but because there were three specific occasions during the period when it took place.

Mark’s specific mention of the cock crowing the second time, therefore, is probably a specific notation of time - our 1.30am - and that, for whatever reason, the first cock crow may not have been heard by the band of disciples as they first ate their Passover meal and then journeyed across the Kidron Valley.

This second assertion is more unlikely than possible, however and it’s better to accept that Matthew, Luke and John’s record found the specific mention of the time unimportant when compiling their own accounts of the life and death of Jesus.

What Mark has done, however, is to show that Jesus was in the high priest’s residence by 1.30am and that, between the first and third denial, a period of approximately one hour has transpired for the last clause of Mark 14:68 - taken as being original - places him here at this time.

When we discussed the Passover order of service on the previous web page, I quoted Pesahim 10:9 which states that

‘After midnight the Passover offering renders the hands unclean’

so that the meal would have had to have been completed by this time. If Mark 14:68’s disputed clause (see above) is accepted as original, Jesus must be placed in the Garden of Gethsemane at the latest around midnight for there to be enough time for the soldiers to have brought their prisoner to the high priest’s residence back across the Kidron Valley.

If it isn’t accepted as original, the arrest could have occurred a little while later and the denial compressed into a shorter time period. My own personal opinion is that Mark’s words are original and that the event recorded for us in Mtw 26:30-35 as occurring on their journey to the garden took place sometime before 11.45pm.

Running away from the truth

For all Peter’s great strengths - he moved in revelation (Mtw 16:13-17, John 6:66-69), he was courageous (Mtw 14:28-29) and he was willing to give up everything to follow Jesus (Luke 5:9-11, Mark 10:28) - he had weaknesses that caused him to stumble - his great revelation of who the Christ is, in which Jesus observed that he was a rock to build on (Mtw 16:13-17) was followed by his statement that he knew better than God’s Messiah, showing himself to be a rock to stumble over (Mtw 16:21-23).

And, in Mtw 17:24-27, his impetuosity to defend the Master no matter what the question was, led him into a place where, by his words, he denied that Jesus was God’s Son - simply because he didn’t think through the implications of his words until after it was too late.

In the present passage, Jesus directly reveals Peter’s weakness to him - and not only to him but to all the disciples (Mtw 26:31) - that although he relies upon his own strength, it won’t be sufficient to see him through the temptation and trial which was shortly to come upon them all.

But Peter is being false to the truth about himself and, in his self-confidence, refuses to accept and acknowledge it. It may be true of others - so he reasons - but not of himself.

When it all took place as Jesus had said it would (Mark 14:72), Peter came face to face with the truth about himself and could run away no longer. That conflict made him realise that he was weak and, from that moment on, God was able to use him far more than he ever could have done when he refused to be honest about the type of person he was. At times, God also must show believers their own weaknesses so that they can learn to rely upon God Himself - and not themselves - for power to overcome.

In John 21:15-19, Peter’s honesty comes across, for he finds himself unwilling to proclaim that he loves Jesus (where there’s an interplay between two Greek words - Jesus uses a verb which means ‘to love’ in His first two questions whereas all Peter’s replies and Jesus’ final question use a verb which means ‘to care for’). Rather, while he knows he cares for Him, he realises that at some point in the future his love may again fade away and he may let Jesus down.

Jesus’ words that he would go on to suffer martyrdom are all the more loving for, having admitted his weakness, Jesus is saying in effect that there would come a time when his love would hold out, dying a martyr’s death just as he’d sworn to do the night of the betrayal (Mtw 26:35).

Similarly, when a follower of Christ is honest before God the Father concerning their own weaknesses, then He is in a position to do something about it on their behalf. God calls men and women to be realists and not to run away from the truth about themselves and be blinded to what they think they are. As the apostle Paul said (II Cor 12:9-10)

‘...I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong’

for in weakness, the power of God is made known and experienced to overcome the deficiency. This concept of power being made known to God’s faithful is also echoed in other places in the Scriptures. Most notable is probably Jacob in Gen 32:22-32.

Jacob wanted to be blessed by YHWH (Gen 32:26) but He had to lead him into a revelation and understanding of who he really was - that is, a supplanter and deceiver, the true meaning of his name (Gen 32:27) - and change him (Gen 32:28) before He would be in a position to be able to bless him (Gen 32:29). Although Jacob had been running away from the truth about himself for years, that night at Penuel he came face to face with it and found himself changed because of his confession before God, carrying in himself from that day a significant weakness to remind him of his necessary dependency upon God (Gen 32:32).

The great prophet Elijah, also, came face to face with his weakness in I Kings chapter 19. When Jezebel threatened him after the confrontation with Ba’al’s prophets on Mount Carmel, he realised that nothing had changed in Israel and that they were still the same old nation at heart. Fleeing for his safety (I Kings 19:8) he arrived at the mountain of God and was confronted by YHWH and was honest enough to admit how he felt - that only he had remained faithful to God (I Kings 19:14 - or, so he thought). But God corrected His erring prophet (I Kings 19:18) and restored him back into his role as a prophet (I Kings 19:15-16).

In all man’s dealings with God, honesty is the what He requires - not a blatant and open declaration which emanates from the pride and stubbornness of man’s heart, but a simple acknowledgement of the individual state of the life before Him that God might address the problem with a dynamic and empowering solution.

Such is all that’s required in a man’s repentance when he first comes to acknowledge the work of Jesus Christ on the cross (I John 1:8). A man repents when he’s honest enough to admit that he’s unable to do anything about his sin and turns to God for forgiveness. Many people run away from the truth about themselves throughout their lives but, when a man faces up to this great truth, God is able to meet him where he is and save him.

For all fuller discussion of the ‘break’ in the life of Peter and of how he found transformation after his greatest failure, see my notes here.