Did Peter Have a Reason to Fear the High Priest? (Y1.T2.D55)
Unsplash; "Egor Myznik"
Absolutely. The high priest had the power to execute—and not just rapists or killers. Deuteronomy 17:12 states:
The man who does presumptuously in not listening to the priest who stands to minister there before Yahweh your God, or to the judge, even that man shall die.
In today's reading, Peter had followed Jesus into the high priest's courtyard. He watched as they question his Master (someone more innocent than himself.) And when Jesus told the high priest to ask his followers about what he taught—"Behold, they know the things which I said" (John 18:21)—one of the officers slapped him.
Peter recognized the danger Jesus faced—and not only Jesus but anyone willing to defend him. So in the heat of the moment, this fiercely loyal disciple swears—more than once—that he doesn't know the Lord.
But why would he do this? Was he a coward?
No. Before Jesus' arrest, this man pulled out a sword to defend the Savior against a detachment of soldiers (John 18:10).
So why the flip-flop?
Blame the amygdala—"a roughly almond-shaped mass of gray matter inside each cerebral hemisphere, involved with the experiencing of emotions."
According to neuroscientificallychallenged.com:
Research suggests that information about potentially frightening things in the environment can reach the amygdala before we are even consciously aware that there’s anything to be afraid of. There is a pathway that runs from the thalamus to the amygdala, and sensory information about fearful stimuli may be sent along this pathway to the amygdala before it is consciously processed by the cerebral cortex. This allows for the initiation of a fear reaction before we even have time to think about what it is that’s so frightening. This type of reflexive response can be useful if we really are in great danger.
It's highly probable that when Peter was in the garden, he was acting out of a genuine desire to protect Jesus without his brain having time to process the danger of death.
After Jesus steps in and calms the emotion, Peter proceeds to follow the soldiers, allowing his heightened amygdala to move from reactive to anxious—about Jesus and himself. Consider this additional paragraph from the website listed above:
It shouldn't be too surprising (given its role in fear processing) that the amygdala might also play a role in anxiety. While fear is considered a response to a threat that is present, anxiety involves the dread that accompanies thinking about a potential threat—one that may or may not ever materialize.
I can relate. I've responded to less-fatal circumstances with a fight-flight-or-freeze response associated with the amygdala.
Peter had every reason to fear the high priest on the violent night of Jesus' arrest. But this loyal disciple's life was not governed by fear. He was human and had a natural reaction to the dangers before him.
Jesus Understands Our Fears
58b and [Peter] entered in and sat with the officers, to see the end. (Matthew 26:58b)
66a As Peter was in the courtyard below, (Mark 14:66a)
56a A certain servant girl (Luke 22:56a)
68b He went out on the porch, and the rooster crowed. (Mark 14:68b)
19 The high priest therefore asked Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where the Jews always meet. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them. Behold, they know the things which I said.”
22 When he had said this, one of the officers standing by slapped Jesus with his hand, saying, “Do you answer the high priest like that?” (John 18:19–22)
8 If there arises a matter too hard for you in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise, and go up to the place which Yahweh your God chooses. 9 You shall come to the priests who are Levites and to the judge who shall be in those days. You shall inquire, and they shall give you the verdict. 10 You shall do according to the decisions of the verdict which they shall give you from that place which Yahweh chooses. You shall observe to do according to all that they shall teach you. 11 According to the decisions of the law which they shall teach you, and according to the judgment which they shall tell you, you shall do. You shall not turn away from the sentence which they announce to you, to the right hand, nor to the left. 12 The man who does presumptuously in not listening to the priest who stands to minister there before Yahweh your God, or to the judge, even that man shall die. You shall put away the evil from Israel. 13 All the people shall hear and fear, and do no more presumptuously. (Deuteronomy 17:8–13)
23 Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken evil, testify of the evil; but if well, why do you beat me?” (John 18:23)
25a Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. (John 18:25a)
71a When he had gone out onto the porch, (Matthew 26:71a)
69 The maid saw him, and began again to tell those who stood by, “This is one of them.” (Mark 14:69)
26 One of the servants of the high priest, being a relative of him whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” (John 18:26)
61a The Lord turned and looked at Peter. (Luke 22:61a)
You gave me a spirit—not of fear but of power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). Help me overcome the moments when I find myself resisting the good I desire to do and instead act in a way contrary to that spirit (Romans 7:19–20). When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You (Psalm 56:3). Your love sustains and defends me.
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