In Peter’s reactions in John 18, we see the picture of a religious man operating in his own strength and understanding. He has believed in Jesus, He has spent years at His feet learning, and yet he is still clueless and weak. On our own, we are all that man. There is no amount of understanding, no amount of commitment we can wield on our own that will cut it.
Place yourself in Peter’s shoes. You have been with Jesus, heard His incredibly powerful teaching, witnessed His incredibly powerful wonders, and now the thing you have feared is happening. You have been betrayed. An entire cohort of soldiers have come to arrest Jesus. But when Jesus declares who He is, they all fall to their knees! You know He can’t lose! You have begun to understand that He is indeed the Messiah; He is God.
So Peter jumps in to begin the revolution.
Peter’s problem is that he is clueless about God’s plan. God’s ways—the Bible repeatedly tells us—are not our own. If we live our faith according to our understanding, our ideas, our abilities; we are fooling ourselves. We are religious people much like any other religious person following false ideas and false gods. Because we are following our own ideas of a god we have created.
Jesus stops Peter and surrenders to the soldiers. God’s plan hinges on Jesus offering Himself as a sacrifice for the world. The only path to victory lies through the cross; through death. Jesus has told His disciples this on multiple occasions, but they were incapable of understanding this. So, when Jesus follows God’s plan, it destroys Peter’s faith. Not his faith in Christ, but rather his faith in his own idea of who Christ should be. That is why Peter denies Christ that night.
At that point Peter can either abandon his faith altogether or he can stay open to the hope that his understanding was lacking. The denial of Christ demonstrates a loss of faith, but the fact that Peter stays close and follows Jesus into the courts where he is then compelled to deny Him demonstrates Peter’s desperation. He has lost his own idea of who Christ is, but he has no alternative. He can’t completely give up hope.
And that is where we would rather be. When we think we understand God completely, we deny ourselves growth. We become incapable of learning more of who God is. We build our own ideas of God upon our own incomplete understanding of who God is. We fail to see His plans due to all our own ideas and plans cluttering our view.
True faith is less about our understanding of what God is going to do and more about a complete trust in what He has done and that He will see us through things that make no sense to our ignorance.