[Author’s note: The following fictional “dialogue” between the apostle Peter and his interlocutor, Boso, concerns events leading up to and including the betrayal and arrest of Jesus on Thursday of Passion Week. For the setting, I imagine a recorded interview or informal deposition taking place in the modern day as Peter reflects back on his own perspective of events. Several gaps in the biblical story have been filled in with plausible explanations or outright speculations. I do not allege that my creative additions have any basis in demonstrable history.]
BOSO: Where were you the day Jesus was crucified?
PETER: I was hiding.
PETER: With the Cyrenes.
BOSO: Okay. I guess I need us to back up a little, then. Go back to the Thursday before the crucifixion. You spent the Passover with Jesus and the rest of the disciples, correct?
PETER: That’s correct. We were all there. Most of us to the end.
BOSO: Most of you?
PETER: Yes. I saw Judas leave a little early. Jesus said something to him and he slipped out quietly. I just assumed he was going downstairs to take care of something in the house, but he never came back.
BOSO: What was the mood like during dinner?
PETER: Normally Passover is ponderous, but joyous. This one was, well, somber. It recalls our nation’s flight from Egypt, when the Lord passed over the Hebrew children and meted out judgment on the firstborn Egyptian children.
BOSO: I’m familiar with it. But what made this particular celebration so serious?
PETER: Jesus kept talking about his betrayal and arrest and execution. I guess I just couldn’t take it. He told us we were all going to fall away that night. He quoted from the prophet Zechariah: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” But I wasn’t going to accept that. I said, “Even if everybody at this table falls away from you, I’ll never fall away.” And I meant it. I meant it with all my heart. But Jesus responded without skipping a beat—“Simon, listen to me. This night, before the rooster finishes its morning crowing, you’ll personally deny me three times.”
BOSO: Ouch. How’d that make you feel?
PETER: Horrible. Right in front of everybody. They all heard it. I think Nathaniel even snickered.
BOSO: So what’d you do?
PETER: Well, I had to save face in front of the rest of the disciples. I mean, that’s what I thought at the time. It was really pretty stupid. I just met Jesus’s challenge—that’s how I took it. I thought he was trying to challenge me, bring out a greater level of personal commitment. So I pounded on the table and said even louder, “Even if I need to die with you, I won’t deny you!” Then several of the other disciples agreed. Nathaniel even said, “Of course we’d die with you, Rabbi.”
BOSO: And what did Jesus say?
PETER: He just stared at me. It was a strange look, like he was looking straight through my eyes, reading my thoughts. I couldn’t keep my gaze fixed on his. All I knew is that I had made a promise and I would keep it no matter what. I wouldn’t abandon him that night, regardless of what happened.
BOSO: So what did happen, then?
PETER: Do you want me to tell you what Jesus said in that chamber? He said a lot of important things that…
BOSO: Actually, we have John’s testimony. I’ll cover that with him. I’m really interested in what happened after you left that upstairs room. Where’d you go?
PETER: Well, we left the home of Mary of Cyrene and headed across the KidronValley toward the garden.
BOSO: Whose garden?
PETER: Oh. It was her garden—the garden of Mary of Cyrene—the mother of John the younger—we call him “Mark” after his father. It also helped us later distinguish him from John, the son of Zebedee. It got old saying “John, bar-Zebedee,” so we just started calling him “John the elder” and John, son of Mary we called “John Mark,” or just “Mark.” Anyway, Mary of Cyrene, Mark’s mother, was also the aunt of Barnabas.
BOSO: That was the same family where you had the Passover supper, right? And with whom you had been trying to work out a deal to sell fish in Jerusalem.
PETER: Right. I was going to supply them, their guests, and their laborers with fish. See, her husband—the elder Mark—had passed by then, but Barnabas and some hired laborers, most of whom had moved in from Cyrene, helped run the olive press. I didn’t mention it, but they had a rather large home and enough space for us to hold the Passover meal. And they also owned the huge walled garden near the foot of the Mount of Olives. We often retreated there to pray and talk . . . and sleep. It was sort of our sanctuary. That night we went back to that garden—the whole lot of us, except Judas. Some of the hired workers often slept there during the nights, and Mary’s son, Mark, was there that night sleeping in order to make room for all the guests in the main home in Jerusalem. The accommodations at the garden were actually quite comfortable. We had stayed there often over the previous few years, and the family had become strong supporters of Jesus’s work.
BOSO: This is all very interesting. But please continue with your account. I think I got the big picture. I’ll ask you if I need more detail.
PETER: Sorry. Well, we all wanted to go to sleep, but Jesus wanted to pray. I mean, we had a large meal and several glasses of wine. We were tired. But Jesus asked James, John, and me to join him in prayer apart from the rest of the group.
BOSO: Describe, then, what happened.
PETER: Well, Jesus was obviously quite distressed. He said to us something like, “My heart is grieved to the point of death!” And he told us to remain there, keep watch for him, and pray that we didn’t fall into temptation.
BOSO: Did he tell you why he was so distressed?
PETER: No. We should have asked, but we didn’t. Remember, he had been talking about getting arrested and executed for some time… off and on.
BOSO: And you didn’t take him seriously?
PETER: Well, yes and no. We knew the authorities didn’t like him. And I mean the Jewish authorities, especially those in Jerusalem. They were afraid of him. Remember, they’d had a lot of experience with Messiah wannabes and zealots starting uprisings and riots. They weren’t hot on the idea of another group from Galilee stirring up trouble. So we knew they would love to keep him out of the city or even arrest him if they had some reason for it. But the Romans sort of found the Jewish concerns a bit annoying, even frustrating. They cared nothing for the debates among the Rabbis, and as long as people were peaceful, they didn’t care what they were teaching. In fact, on several occasions Roman soldiers or spies even listened in on Jesus’s teaching. They heard nothing but grace, repentance, peace, forgiveness, mercy, love. Jesus even told the crowd to pay all their taxes to Caesar! The Romans had no reason to arrest Jesus, much less crucify him.
BOSO: So why do you think Jesus kept talking about his being arrested and crucified? What were you and the rest of the Twelve thinking?
PETER: Well, Andrew and I actually had this conversation one night. We both thought Jesus was just acknowledging how controversial he was. We thought he was telling us that the potential was there for a major confrontation, like, “Boy, if I keep doing these things those people are going to want me dead!”
BOSO: But didn’t Jesus also mention rising again?
PETER: Yeah. In hindsight I guess we should have understood that better. He said he was going to be crucified and rise again on the third day. But you see, we all believed in the general resurrection on the last day—that all people, righteous and wicked, would be raised from their graves and judged or rewarded. We just thought Jesus was saying he was going to be arrested and executed, but that he would rise again in the resurrection.
BOSO: So in your mind “third day” meant “last day”?
PETER: Sort of. We didn’t know what that meant. Not one of us thought he literally meant on the third day after he died he would come back to life.
BOSO: I don’t understand. What did you think he meant by “third day”?
PETER: I don’t know. Matthew thought Jesus was making some kind of reference to the third day of creation in Genesis. That’s when God gathered water into one place, let the dry land appear, and then produced plants and trees on the dry land. He thought maybe Jesus was trying to say that separation of the wicked and righteous after the general resurrection was like the separation of the waters and the land . . . and that the plants and trees on the land was the symbol for the blessing of the righteous in the coming kingdom.
BOSO: Did you buy that?
PETER: Not me. But Matthew was always pretty good at coming up with these interesting interpretations. We used to call him the “pearl-stringer” because of the way he would weave together these passages. He knew his Scriptures, I’ll grant him that. But he sort of fancied himself a Rabbi of sorts.
BOSO: So Matthew was the only one with any kind of answer for what was meant by “the third day”?
PETER: Well, Thomas actually asked Jesus, “Master, is the ‘third day’ also ‘the last day’?” And the Lord answered, “Thomas, the third day is the first day.”
BOSO: Which meant?
PETER: Not a clue. We took it to mean we had no business asking that question. So we stopped. We figured he would tell us what he meant eventually.
BOSO: Did you have your own opinion about this?
PETER: Yeah. I actually thought by “day” Jesus meant “age.” So, the “first day” or “first age” began with creation and ended with the flood, when the heavens and earth at that time were destroyed with water. We’re now living in the second age until the Day of the Lord comes with fire. That judgment will bring the dawn of the third age, or the “third day.” This made the most sense to me.
BOSO: But none of you thought Jesus meant he was literally going to die one day and rise again a few days later—apart from the general resurrection of all humans?
PETER: Not a one of us. That category didn’t exist for us.
[To be concluded . . . ]