Category Archives: Good Friday

Peter’s Denial of the Lord

By Rev. David W. Millar

Apocalypse Explained 627.16

But it must be understood that every thing related concerning the passion of the Lord, signifies the mockery of Divine Truth, and therefore the falsification and adulteration of the Word, because the Lord, when in the world, was the Divine Truth itself, which is the Word in the church. For this reason He permitted the Jews to treat Him in the same way that they treated Divine Truth, or the Word, by its falsification and adulteration; for they applied every thing in the Word to their own loves, and ridiculed every truth that did not agree with their loves, just as they did the Messiah Himself, because He did not become king over the whole world, and exalt them, according to their interpretation and religion, in glory above all peoples and nations.

Peter represents our developing faith or understanding of what it means to live a spiritual life. The difficulty Peter had along with the rest of the disciples, with the prospect of Jesus’ death was his dependence on His physical presence for his life’s meaning. He could not conceive of a life without the Lord being accessible in His physicality. Of course denial speaks volumes of our response to the truth, particularly the truth about ourselves. Peter would not have considered himself weak, or for that matter a coward. Yet how often is it that our very strengths or that in which we trust to get us through life merely conceals our inadequacy. It easy to be strong and show courage when events are seemingly under our control, but when things get beyond us we can be left with very little resource to draw on and find it extremely difficult to trust the Lord.

Peter as our developing faith or understanding is at this stage a faith grounded in self reliance rather than a trust and reliance on the Lord. As such he represents a natural state of faith in this case and not a truly spiritual faith. We can see this in that Peter did not trust the Lord. Despite the Lord’s efforts to prepare him along with the other disciples for what was to occur in Jerusalem, even to the degree that the Lord had told him that he would actually deny Him three times, what occurred came as a complete shock. A natural faith or a faith grounded in self reliance needs to be broken before a person is able to enter into a true spiritual faith. We often think and say that we trust in the Lord, but it is not until we hit a crisis that the extent of that trust is determined. Had Peter trusted, he would not have entered into states of denial. Lets look at these for a moment;

There are described in this event three levels of denial:

1. there is the denial of Jesus the Galilean

2. there is then the denial of Jesus the Nazarene

3. followed by the denial of being one of “them”

In denial 2 and 3 Peter’s words are identical where he says “I do not know the Man” where as in denial 1 Peter says “I do not know what you are saying!”. It is also interesting to note where the denials are said to take place. In the case of the first denial, Peter is said to be “sat outside in the courtyard” the second denial occurs in his coming out into the gate or portal, it would appear this is also where the third denial occurred after which we are told that he heard the cock crow and was reminded of the Lord’s words that he would deny him three times, after this he goes outside and breaks down in much sorrow.

In the first denial Peter is approached by a servant girl, in the second case we are told simply another one (we know from the Gk that it is definitely a woman and more than likely another servant girl) spoke to those who where there concerning his association with Jesus. In the third denial we are told those who challenged him were those standing around.

The number three is significant and the heavenly doctrines tell us it speaks of that which is complete. Thus here, whatever this process represents and we will be looking at that in more detail in a moment, it is one that is complete from beginning to end. But first we see that this trial of Peter’s faith occurs within the bounds of the high priest’s palace. This speaks volumes regarding natural faith – it is seated within the domain of the high priest. This teaches us that a natural state of faith finds itself dominated by the loves of self and the world in their various manifestations within a religious context as this is what the high priest represents. The problem is that when we are in such a state we can’t see it. What these events teach us however is that the process whereby we move from a natural faith to a spiritual faith involves a breaking of our ownership of that which belongs to the Lord – such a breaking can only occur through trial or temptation. Peter here teaches us what natural understanding of spiritual things is like – his suffering arose from his personal attachment and devotion to the Lord and from the prospect of loosing all hope of achieving those natural ambitions or what he had come to believe he was to receive once Jesus became ruler over Israel. You see a natural faith stays strong while there is the prospect of achieving some worldly end. But with the arrest and trial of Jesus Peter’s aspirations, and he no doubt felt he deserved to be rewarded due to what he had given up to follow the Lord, were fast becoming nothing more than a phantasm or vapour.

Thus these events describe in some detail the process whereby the breaking of a natural understanding of spiritual things. A natural faith is a faith where a self centered perspective in regard to spiritual things is supported, whether that self centeredness exists at a personal or an organizational level. If an individual or a church is to move from a natural faith to a spiritual faith then it cannot avoid the process described here. We need to be brought to a place where we worship the Lord for the sake of others and not for ourselves. And to do this we have to be freed from the high priest or Caiaphas or self interest and its domain of influence in spiritual matters.

Names in the Word are wonderfully descriptive and this is certainly true of Caiaphas whose name means “hollowed out”. Here we see the true nature of religion built on self interest. For it is only interested in its forms and traditions so far as they are able to promote and support the very loves true religion seeks to demote – thus the interest only goes so far as external things for here the internal of the church, love to the Lord and love to the neighbour have no place. Without these loves at the center all religion is nothing but a hollow shell. This is seen in Caiaphas’ treatment of the embodiment of those loves standing before him in our Lord Jesus Christ. Caiaphas represents a hollow religious expression, professing to having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.

The three areas in which the denials take place represent three levels of the natural or external man. The heavenly doctrines teach that we have an external man and an internal man. Peter’s struggle is illustrative of the Lord’s dealing’s with our external man. Each has a will, an understanding and a life that is expressed in actions and activity in the external world. Peter’s court yard encounter with the maid or servant girl is a denial at the level of the will, his denial in the portal or gate is a denial at the level of the understanding and the third denial is a denial in the external actions of ones life. Hence will understanding and life the denial is as far as the human mind is concern complete and utter.

If we read these words in their literal sense we will have difficulty seeing this story and Peter’s denial of the Lord in anything but a negative frame. We see the betrayal of a friend and perhaps we wonder how one who showed such boldness could at the point of the Lord’s hour of greatest need, disown Him.

Yet the spiritual content is far more positive in its expression. And to see if we need to ask ourselves what it is that Peter is actually saying. Remember this process describes the transformation of a person’s faith from a natural faith to a spiritual faith. The servant girl in the first denial is an affection belonging to the domain of the will, for a girl or woman in the Word corresponds to our affections. Peter’s response on the surface appears to be a lie, but is it. In the literal sense we certainly have that impression, but lets look at what is actually said, I am reading from the Concordant Literal New Testament which gives a much better rendering of the Greek;

“Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And one maid came to him, saying, “You also were with Jesus, the Galilean.” Yet he disowns Him in front of them all, saying, “Not aware am I what you are saying!”

Could it be that this disowning of the Lord is absolutely necessary if we are to move on. The term “disown” is interesting because it suggests a state of faith which claims ownership of the Lord. Think about it in this way – this denial is a disowning of the false ideas associated with a natural understanding of spiritual things. It is the Lord as Peter knew Him that is here being denied or disowned. Natural affinity and affection, aspirations, expectations – the nature of the relationship is here undergoing a necessary change if a natural faith is to become spiritual. There has to be a breaking that is so complete the mind is made ready to receive the Lord resurrected in a new way. What we are seeing here is a description of that process. Those in the house of Ciaiphas seek to have something in us by which they can exercise power over us. Remember Ciaiphas is external religion without internals.

While our faith is such that it finds itself in Ciaiphas’ courtyard we will be vulnerable. Peter is drawn into the courtyard because of his natural affections for Jesus. Spiritually understood, natural affections that hold too tightly to external forms and traditions will inhibit the Church being able to express its love in ways that benefit others and they constantly seek to entrap us- this is the servant girl of Ciaiphas’ courtyard, an affection that serves a ‘hollow’, merely external religious expression and interest. Here we see her trying to tempt Peter or our developing faith, to align himself with those natural ties he has to Jesus – the temptation for the Church is to hang onto forms and traditions which hinder it finding new forms of uses relevant to the generation she is commissioned to serve.

Peter’s resistance far from being despicable is in fact truly commendable as far as a spiritual understanding of the passage goes. To give up old forms, to weigh our traditions in the balance of usefulness in the light of our purpose or reason for being will always involve a struggle. It will involve much soul searching, grief and the sense of loss will be in proportion to the strength of the attachment. It can bring confusion and a sense of disorientation. The statements of Peter express this – his first statement is literally;

“I am not perceiving what you are saying!”

far from being a lie, is in fact spiritually quite true – Peter now hasn’t a clue who Jesus is – everything he thought and attributed to Jesus, his famous confession “Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God” has very little meaning at this point. Prior to the Lord’s arrest Peter probably thought he knew very well who Jesus was. His two other statements of denial in the literal sense are also spiritually statements of truth.

The two statements are identical and read “I do not know the Man” but literally they read

“I have not perceived the human!”

The Greek word for “man” in this statement is “anthropos” which literally means human.

“I have not perceived the Human” is a statement with powerful spiritual significance. For the Lord was yet to fully glorify His Human, something that would be accomplished through His death and resurrection. So the statement of Peter represents a statement of faith that releases Him finally from a purely natural idea of the Lord tied into his own goals and aspirations. The process is complete, Peter has disowned a sense of ownership over the things of the Lord and the Church, yes there is despair and grief as his sense of being is rocked to the core – but the scripture reads he came out, out from the house of Ciaiphas, out from the mixed motives that had brought him thus far and the result is a heart prepared to receive His Lord in His glorified Human a few days hence.

The lessons for us as a church are clear. We need to look at where our affections actually lie, to see if there are any elements of natural “ownership” over the things of the Lord that hinder our ability to reach out to others that they might have an encounter with the living God.


The Opening of the Graves Embellishment or Reality?

By Rev. Ian Arnold

“And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after his resurrection, they went into the city and appeared to many.” Matthew 27:51-53

hen we really – really – stop and think about it we cannot be surprised that this statement has had the Bible scholars scratching their heads and coming up with suggestions and explanations as to what it is actually saying to us. This is incredible. But is it embellishment or reality? Is it a flight of fancy or something that actually happened?

We rightly ask such questions! After all, none of the other Gospels make mention on this happening. There is no known outside verification that it did. There is no supporting documentation whatsoever.

Ifit happened, think of the stir it would have caused. Can you imagine it? Surely there would have been a wholesale flocking to Golgotha and, subsequently, to the Christian cause. This is amazing. Presumably the “saints” is a reference to Moses and other leading Old Testament personalities. In truth it doesn’t seem possible that something as impressive as this would have been ignored by the other Gospel writers or quickly forgotten, as it seems to have been.

“And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after his resurrection, they went into the city and appeared to many.”

For years now these words and this amazing event that is being claimed to have happened has been dismissed as an embellishment. For some it tends to be bracketed along with the Lord’s post-Resurrection appearances, stretching credibility too far. “Come on” the scholars are inclined to say, “It just can’t have been so.” One respected commentator writes, “the passage has elicited various explanations…The approach currently most popular: these verses are a midrash, a symbolic representation of certain theological ideas about the triumph of Jesus and the dawning of a new age. But apart from questions of literary genre one wonders why the evangelist, if he had nothing historical to go on, did not invent a midrash with fewer problems.” (D. A. Carson, “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, on Matthew, page 581)

Since we are focusing on these events, all to do with Easter, it is valuable and helpful to bear this in mind:

We have teaching given in the Writings, or Heavenly Doctrines for The New Church, that from time to time there can be, and often has been, to all intents and purposes an unconscious “cross over” from events actually taking place in this physical world to things seen with the eyes of the spirit, or in the spiritual world. And this is one such instance of it happening. Someone saw this happening and reported it to Matthew, or Matthew saw it himself. It was as real as anything could be. But the crossover was unconscious. It wasn’t realized that what was being seen was being seen not in this world but in the spiritual world. It was a reality, but it was a reality on another level.

The question then arises, ‘What was this reality on another level?’

In a sense we will always find it difficult to get our minds around how it was, spiritually, for people 2000 years ago. We know this much from the Gospels, that outwardly, there was a dreadful sense of deadness about everything. We have only to think of how tradition-bound the Church of those times had become. It was all a matter of parroting the Scripture and going through the motions. Real, living, faith and goodness had been killed off. We can think back to a people caught up in dead, self-gratifying thinking and attitudes. Even if they wanted a way out, they couldn’t find it.

We in our day talk of people being pretty dead when they sit around and watch television all day.

Worship is itself dead if all it involves is repeating old worn out phrases and the mindless observance of rituals. Thinking is dead if all we are doing is repeating what others say. So, here is the picture; the spiritual picture; of those times.

It was as the result of His work on earth, successfully carried out, that the Lord changed all this.

He came to make it possible for people to think for themselves again. He came to restore the beauty, appeal, power and relevance of Divine Truth. He came to rekindle spiritual love in people’s hearts and to reawaken their confidence in a God who cared. He made it possible for Divine light to penetrate even to the natural and outermost level of human awareness and consciousness.

It wasn’t done easily. The very reason why the Lord became incarnate was so that He might confront the forces of darkness from hell so much in control and so casting their shadow over everything at that time. He confronted them and engaged them in temptation combats, one after another. He felt their influence; knew in Himself how powerful and alluring they could be; saw the extent of their grip on human nature; and yet overcame them and established His ascendancy over them. We hardly know of or read about what was going on within, but this is how it was. On the cross He gained His final and fullest victory. And, as He did so,

“behold, the veil of the temple was torn in tow from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after his resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”

Let yourself feel what is being said here. What we need to get in touch with is the over-rising sense of people being liberated; set free; and coming back to life.

“It is recorded in Matthew that after the passion of the Lord the tombs were opened, and many bodies of those that slept came out of their tombs, went into the holy city, and appeared to many. (Chapter 27:52, 53). The tombs being opened, and many bodies of them that slept appearing, has a similar signification to what which is stated in Ezekiel, where it is said that Jehovah would open the sepulchres and cause them to come up out of the sepulchres, namely the regeneration of the faithful and their resurrection unto life; not that the bodies themselves, which lay in the tombs, rose again, but that there was the appearance of this in order that both regeneration and resurrection unto life from the Lord might be signified.”(Apocalypse Explained 659:15)

How it was then it very much as it is with you and me today. There are attitudes, thoughts, feelings and yearnings we all have that are encased with grave clothes and laid in a grave.

Our yearning to relate better to others around us can be encased with mistrust because of bitter experience.

Our sense of usefulness and self-worth may be just about dead because of withering criticism of our foolish mistakes in the past.

Our thoughts and hopes for the future may have the shadows of fear falling heavily across them.

Our sense of purpose and meaning in life is so often laid to rest by cynicism and disappointment.

Let’s ask ourselves: how many saints – or saintly things – are buried in the grave-yards of hopelessness or disappointment or bad experience generally?

But now these can be liberated and set free. Now they can be brought back to life and vitality.

The thing is, the Lord overcame the powers of darkness then and He can overcome those same powers of darkness in us now.

What, then, of Good Friday?

It is all about the things of the Lord within us brought back to life; being raised out of the graves to which old hurts, cynicism, disappointments and bad experiences have consigned them. The Saviour of the world can become the Saviour of our world, restoring to life what was once dead.

“And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after his resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”