A Lesson in Unbelief

It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that we see the culmination of one of Jesus’ disciple’s unbelief in who Jesus was. It was also the beginning of unbelief in another of Jesus’ disciples. Judas was the one who betrayed Jesus to the Chief Priests, and Peter, ready to go to war in the garden for Him, would, just hours later, deny ever knowing Him. They both repented of their unbelief, but both had vastly different hearts in their repentance. In order to understand why they struggled with unbelief, we need to go back to the beginning of Jesus’ relationship with His disciples.

Peter and his brother Andrew were Jesus’ first choice for his disciples. In Matthew 4:18 they were fishing and Jesus called to Peter and Andrew and told them that he would make them fishers of men. Immediately, they dropped their nets and followed Jesus. It was in that action of immediately dropping their nets that we see Peter’s zeal for Jesus and his excitement to follow Him. Regarding Judas, there isn’t much written in the Gospels about him other than his role as the betrayer of Jesus to the Chief Priests. I can only imagine the absolute rush it was for the twelve disciples to witness Christ’s miracles and hear his revolutionary teaching! They witnessed Jesus walk on water, calm the seas, heal countless people, feed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish, and raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus even gave his disciples authority to cast out unclean spirits, and to heal every disease and every affliction. These disciples were in the Savior of the world’s inner circle. What an incredible privilege that must have been!

However, in Matthew 16 we see that the disciples clearly don’t understand what Christ has come to earth to do. In verse 13, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answer him, “People say that you are John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the Prophets.” Then Jesus asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” In verse 16 Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then just a few verses later Jesus tells his disciples for the first time that he must go to Jerusalem. There he will be killed and raised again on the third day. After hearing this Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him saying, “This will never happen to you!” Peter was clearly taught something different about the coming Messiah. We have to believe the other eleven were thinking the same as Peter: “Jesus isn’t going to die! He’s going to defeat the Romans, free the Israelites, and establish His Kingdom!” They were confused and Jesus tries several times to help them understand that he must die. In Matthew 17:12, Jesus tells them again that he will die and be raised on the third day. Matthew says that this causes the disciples great distress. They simply had a different belief as to how the Messiah was going to go about saving His people.

As the time is drawing near for Jesus to enter Jerusalem, He tells his disciples again that He must die and rise again on the third day. The disciples were still in disbelief, and I imagine Judas’ unbelief began to multiply.  He had imagined being in the inner circle of the Messiah where he would have a place of authority in the Kingdom that he believed Jesus was coming to establish. And so, as Jesus enters Jerusalem and condemns the Pharisees, Sadducees, Chief Priests, and elders, they have finally had enough and plot to kill Jesus. And Judas, with his unbelief complete, agrees to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

Peter, on the other hand, still refuses to accept that Jesus will die. He still believes that Jesus will defeat the Romans and free the Israelites. At the Last Supper, after they had eaten together and had partaken in the first communion, Jesus tells his disciples that they will all fall away. Peter says in Matthew 26:33, “though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus says to Peter, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter is having none of it and says, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Matt. 26:33-35).

That brings us back to the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas has just kissed Jesus, signifying to the chief priests and elders that Jesus is the one they want. As one of the crowd comes to take Jesus, Peter is ready to go to war. He pulls out his sword and strikes a man, cutting off his ear. Jesus tells Peter to put away the sword and heals the man’s ear. At this time, Jesus is led away to Caiaphas’ house and all his disciples flee except for Peter. Matthew 26:58 tells us that Peter followed at a distance to see what was going to happen to Jesus. Peter is able to hear Jesus being questioned by Caiaphas and wonders why Jesus chooses not to defend himself. Peter’s confusion has finally given way to unbelief. As Peter leaves Caiaphas’ house, he encounters three different groups of people who say he was with Jesus, and Peter adamantly denies knowing Jesus all three times. As the third denial leaves his mouth, a rooster crows and Peter weeps. Peter has just done what Christ said he would do and what Peter said would never come to pass. Just hours before, Peter was willing to die with Jesus and now he was unwilling to claim he ever knew Jesus. Peter was devastated by his lack of faith in who Christ was!

Both Judas and Peter battled unbelief in who Jesus was and who He said He was. They had come to the table with an idea of what the Messiah was supposed to look like and what the Messiah was supposed to do.  Both were unable to accept the reality of what Christ was going to do and what the Messiah was actually sent to do on behalf of sinners. We learn so much from Judas and Peter. First in their sin of unbelief and second in their repentance. In their unbelief we learn that we need to trust that Jesus is who He says He is and that He is everything that He says He is. We need to know that He is all that we need and all that truly brings us happiness. There are countless ways that our unbelief will manifest itself as we journey through life and we will constantly need to repent for that unbelief. This is where we can learn from Judas and Peter as well.  Matthew 27:3-5 tells us that Judas went to the chief priests and told them that he had sinned by betraying innocent blood and threw down the thirty pieces of silver and went out and hanged himself. Judas was sorry for what he had done. He was sorry for his unbelief. But his repentance was ungodly. He believed that the only way he could repent of his sin was to take his own life. Even in his repentance he was playing God and revealing to us that he still did not believe that Jesus was who He said He was. He did not believe that he could be forgiven. He did not believe that Jesus could heal his soul.

Peter on the other hand displayed true repentance. As soon as he heard the rooster crow, he wept. His belief was back! It was in that moment that he trusted Jesus even though he didn’t understand and even though he didn’t like what was happening. He grieved his denial of Jesus but didn’t wallow in his grief. Peter is the rock on which Christ built his church (Matt. 16:18)! Peter’s sin did not define him. His repentance and belief in Jesus is what defined him. Judas gave us an example of how not to act when we recognize we have sinned. However, Peter gives us a beautiful portrait of recognizing our sin, grieving over our sin, and knowing we are forgiven–pressing on daily, free to make much of our Savior who died for us!