Luke 22:24–34: Who is the Greatest?, Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial
I don’t know how strict Luke’s timeline is—even though things happen one right after the other in the Gospels doesn’t mean they happened that way in real life; the authors only include the important bits—but in the last passage Jesus had warned the Apostles that one of them was going to betray him and they were trying to figure out who it would be. In this passage the opposite happens—at least they think it’s the opposite—and they now start arguing about which of them is the greatest.
Jesus, however, instructs them that Christianity doesn’t work the way the rest of the world works, so they need to reorient their thinking:
And he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
And then he goes even further, and singles out Peter—whom, we should remember, also goes by the name Simon:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” (verses 31–34)
Although I’m including both of these passages together in one post, the ESV splits them into two for a reason.
Who is the Greatest?
I say the Apostles thought that this argument was the opposite of the previous conversation (i.e. who was going to betray Jesus), because I think that’s how they would have thought of it. The opposite of “Jesus’ betrayer” would be “the best Apostle,” right? But, as Jesus points out, the fact that they’re having this discussion in the first place means that they don’t “get it.” If you’re trying to be “the greatest Apostle” you’re not focusing your energies in the right direction; if you were really following God’s heart, you’d be striving to serve others and keeping a low profile.
At least initially, we could probably be somewhat forgiven for thinking it would work differently. (On a blog where I talk about reading the Scriptures, “we could be forgiven” is probably not a phrase I should use…) As Jesus points out, things work very differently in the world, and that’s what many of us would be used to when we come to Christianity. And there’s a certain allure to the way the world does things, is there not? For good reasons and bad?
|Of course there is such thing as “good Christians” and “better Christians” and “the greatest Christian”—it just makes sense! Someone has to be the best, don’t they?||This is wrong-headed in its entire approach, but let’s say for a minute it were true: That God was somehow measuring Christians, from best to worst. It would be like the Sun in our solar system looking down at grains of sand on one of the beaches on Earth. True, yes, some of them are going to be bigger than others, but is the Sun really going to be impressed by the size of any grain of sand on Earth—even if it’s the biggest grain of sand that exists? Similarly, how is our righteousness going to look in comparison to God’s?|
|If people recognize me as a Super Christian™, it will give me a platform from which to proclaim the Gospel! I’ll have better ability to bring in more money and resources to help the Church!||We shouldn’t try to engineer reality the way we think it should work, we should simply obey God to the best of our abilities and let Him decide how He wants to perform His will; we might be surprised how often He can work without using our methods…|
|Being recognized as a Super Christian™ would be a reward, provided by God, showing that He approves of my work!||If we’re looking for such rewards from God, our hearts are likely in the wrong place. We don’t obey God or do His work because He’ll reward us, we do it because we’re His children, and we want to please him. When we get to heaven and He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” our reaction will be, “‘Good’? ‘Faithful’? I’m neither of those things!”|
If we were really trying to have this conversation in good faith, of course, we wouldn’t even need to be told this; we’d just follow Jesus’ example, and things would look a lot more obvious. He didn’t come to be served, he came to serve. Of course, that’s not a message that the typical person wants to hear…
Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial
And I have to wonder if Jesus singles out Peter here because he’s been taking on some kind of leadership role among the Apostles. (He definitely takes on a leadership role after Jesus’ resurrection.) Is it possible that Jesus is thinking, “Speaking of leaders, Peter’s getting a little ahead of himself?”
Regardless if Jesus was thinking this or not, Peter’s initial reaction is proof that he needs some correction. In fact, Jesus’ initial words are actually quite touching:
- Although Satan has been demanding to “have” Peter, Jesus has been praying for him—which should encourage anyone! If Jesus came and told me that He’d been praying for me… I can’t imagine anything more soothing to my soul than that!
- But what has Jesus prayed? That Peter’s faith wouldn’t fail. Given what was discussed above, about what it means to be a “great” Christian, this is, literally, going to make Peter “great.”
- And then, when Peter has “turned again,” he is to strengthen his brothers. Jesus is going beyond prayer, now, and getting into prophecy: Peter is going to have a rough patch, but then he’s going to be restored—in fact, he’ll be restored to such a position as will allow him to strengthen his brothers.
I would like to think that if I heard Jesus telling me something similar, my heart would melt and I’d be thankful to Him. “Really, Jesus? You’re praying for me? And I’m going to be able to strengthen others? Thank you, Lord!” However… my reaction would probably be more like Peter’s. “Fail? Me? Never! I’m ready to go with you to prison and to death!”
Which, as we now know, is exactly where Jesus was heading. That very night—Peter would have his opportunity within hours! But I think it’s clear that the only reason Peter made these claims is that he didn’t think prison or death were even possibilities for Jesus. Peter thought he was being hyperbolic, when in reality he was practically being prophetic!
And again, I have to wonder how Jesus felt, telling Peter that Peter would betray him before the next day, knowing that Peter didn’t believe him but that he was right nonetheless. Sad, or hurt, or betrayed, probably, but hopefully (humanly speaking) also hopeful and triumphant, knowing that the rest of his prophecy was going to come true as well: yes, Peter would betray him, that very night—but then, after His return, Peter would go on to be one of the leaders of Christ’s Church