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Towards his crucifixion, Christ warns of denial and betrayal amongst some of his disciples. First, it's Judas, followed by Peter, who actually falls into the trap

KJV Matthew 26:14-16

Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, 15 And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.16 And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him.

KJV Matthew 26:69-70

Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. 70 But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest.

In both situations, Christ had warned of dire consequences for betrayal and the one who denied him

KJV Matthew 10:33

But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

KJV Matthew 26:24

The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.

There seems to be a correlation between the two situations carried out by his trusted disciples who both felt remorse/repented after their actions

KJV Matthew 27:3

Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,

KJV Matthew 26:75

And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.

Apart from Peter's turnaround, could their transgression be viewed on the same level?

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    In purely legal terms: Juda's betrayal puts Jesus in real physical danger, whereas Peter's denial is spiritual and made under distress.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 9:39

3 Answers 3

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There are different Greek words for 'repentance'. For Judas, the word in Matthew 27:3 means "to be careful, or concerned with". That is, to be full of care about a concerning matter. It is not the same word for "having another mind" - metanoeo, as in Matthew 12:21, or metanoia, as in Matthew 9:11 (See Young's Concordance, p.808)

The Bible shows an important difference with regard to those two types of repentance. This text shows what type Judas had, and what type Peter had. Paul wrote to Christians:

"Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death." 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 K.J.V.

Judas had worldly sorrow - regret - despair. It stopped short of godly sorrow. Peter sorrowed unto repentance and was spared the condemnation of Judas because, prior to Peter's denial, Jesus had prayed to the Father for Peter. That was because Satan had desired to sift Peter as wheat - Luke 22:31. Conversely, before Judas arranged to betray Christ, the Lord had already stated that it would have been better for that betrayer never to have been born.

Jesus own words about those two men show that there was a crucial difference between them. Their respective sins were not "on the same level". They both sinned grievously, but upon realising this, their reactions were opposite. Judas had Satan enter into him and became a son of perdition. Peter had Christ praying to the Father "that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." (Luke 22:31-32)

Yes, both men were deeply sorry but Judas only had worldly sorrow which "worketh death", while Peter had "godly sorrow that worketh repentance to salvation", which he never later regretted.

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Of course. And as you say, the difference was that Peter, when given the opportunity, repented, whereas Judas did not.

There is a parallel in the Garden of Eden. God did not, as Genesis tells us, immediately condemn Adam and Eve. He gives them three opportunities to repent: first when He asks where Adam is (3:9-1), then when he asks Adam what he did (3:11), and finally when he asks Eve what she has done (3:13). Only when both of them evade God's question and do not confess are they punished, and even then they are not cursed. Judas also had the opportunity to confess directly to Jesus in a different Garden (of Gethsemane), but he did not then nor confess within himself anytime thereafter. Rather, he despaired of God's mercy and ended his own life.

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  • Good answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 22:22
  • I think that Adam and Eve's example is a matter of (Christian) interpretation - I doubt there is evidence that repentance was kept in mind when the text was written.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 9:41
  • "[Peter] repented, whereas Judas did not". — If refusing the payment and then hanging oneself doesn't count as repentance, what does? Just because it takes a while to realize the enormity of what one has done doesn't make that repentance any less real or sincere. And Matthew 27;3 explicitly says "[Judas] repented himself", but nothing says that Peter actually repented (as opposed to simply feeling bad). It seems that Judas's repentance was stronger than Peter's (who continued being impulsive and self aggrandizing for years). Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 13:13
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    Repentence means acknowledging ones sinfulness and reorienting oneself towards God, not punishing oneself. Suicide is the ultimate rejection of God's mercy.
    – user33515
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 14:34
  • @user33515 - are you so definite that 'Suicide is the ultimate rejection of God's mercy'? What about 'Suicide is the desperation of finding no God's mercy' or 'Suicide is the self-awareness of unworthy to receive God's mercy'? Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 14:09
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Peter

Peter was full of self-esteem and, perhaps as a result, very impetuous.

When Jesus humbles himself before the Disciples, Peter at first makes a big show about it, but then when Jesus insists, he than asks for even more from him:

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
— John 13:6–9 (NLT throughout)

When the Disciples argued about which of them would be the greatest, Jesus responded directly to Simon (Peter):

Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them.

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”
— Luke 22:24,31–32

Jesus was obviously well aware of Peter's personality, and so when Peter tried to outdo the other Disciples with a declaration of loyalty, Jesus said something to help him to recognize his faults:

On the way, Jesus told them, “Tonight all of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter — this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
“No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same.
— Matthew 26:31,33–35

That night, again Peter reacts immediately with actions that make him stand out from the others:

“I told you that I AM he,” Jesus said. “And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” He did this to fulfill his own statement: “I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.” Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave.
— John 18:8–10

Later, outside Jesus's trial, not wanting the people there to think less of him, Peter denies being a member of the Christians, just as Jesus had predicted:

The woman asked Peter, “You’re not one of that man’s disciples, are you?” “No,” he said, “I am not.”
— John 18:17

Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying — I don’t know this man you’re talking about!”
— Mark 14:71

Meanwhile, as Simon Peter was standing by the fire warming himself, they asked him again, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it, saying, “No, I am not.” But one of the household slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Didn’t I see you out there in the olive grove with Jesus?” Again Peter denied it. And immediately a rooster crowed.
— John 18:25–27

And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.
— Luke 22:62

Peter is upset about what happened, but was it because he felt it necessary to deny his association with the Christians, or was it because he remembered the big deal he had made about "I will never deny you!", and was now embarrassed about what the other Disciples will think of him.

There is no repentance here, only a temporary loss of face. He makes no changes to his character and continues in his high self-esteem and impetuosity.

A few days later, upon hearing of Jesus's missing body, John and Peter rushed to the tomb. John arrived first and hesitated to enter, but Peter went in without a pause:

They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed — for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead.
— John 20:4–9

For several years Peter continued this way, such as being afraid of letting James's friends see that he was eating with Gentiles. Not that there was anything wrong with doing so, but Peter knew that these people from Jerusalem wouldn't immediately understand that God's religion is no longer only for the Jews, and they would get a bad first impression of him:

When [Peter] first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
— Galatians 2:12,13

Acting quickly isn't always a bad thing though:

Peter saw his opportunity and addressed the crowd. …
— Acts 3:12

And much later in life we see that Peter appears to have finally changed his attitude, as Jesus had previously prayed for:

I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers: — Luke 22:31–32

But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name!
— 1 Peter 4:16

Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.
— 1 Peter 5:3

Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. …
— 2 Peter 3:18


Peter's denial of Jesus was actually much more serious than it might at first appear.

Judaism has a "choose life" principle for when one is faced with a serious dilemma. For instance, if one is starving to death, then eating abominations is permitted in order to save one's life. It would still be wrong, but death would be worse.

But there is an exception to this principle. If someone forced you to choose between being killed or eating unclean meat, then you should choose death, as the situation was deliberately set up as a demonstration of denying your faith.

Denying one's faith is worse than death, and that is exactly what Peter did. Even so, it took him years to actually repent (change attitude and actions) of what he had done.

Judas

Judas never truly had faith in Jesus's divinity, and was noticeably different from the other Disciples:

“That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor — he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.
— John 12:5–6

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
— Matthew 26:14–16

and he went to the leading priests and captains of the Temple guard to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them.
— Luke 22:4

Jesus would certainly have been aware of this, but he was using Judas to serve a purpose:

While they were eating, [Jesus] said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”
— Matthew 26:21

For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”
— Matthew 26:24

Jesus allowed Satan to work through Judas:

It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.”
— John 13:2,27

It was Judas's weak character and lack of faith that allowed Satan to influence him and to betray Jesus:

And even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests and elders of the people. The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss.” So Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss. Jesus said, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.” Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him.
— Matthew 26:47–50

Once the deed was done though, Satan left Judas, and Judas realized the enormity of what he had done:

When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.” “What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.” Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple …
— Matthew 27:3–5

Judas would have to live with this terrible guilt for the rest of his life. He could be filled with remorse, could repent and change his ways, but he could never undo the harm he had caused.

When Jesus had said, "how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”, he wasn't cursing Judas, he was sharing his pain.

No human could bear such guilt:

Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.
— Matthew 27:5

But Jesus knew that, an eye-blink later, Judas would regain consciousness in the Kingdom of God at the end of the Millennium, as part of the second resurrection. He (and the vast majority of mankind that had never been given an opportunity for salvation), would be taught God's way by the saints, who had been resurrected as immortal spirit beings in the first resurrection at Jesus's return.

Given what Judas had gone through, and how enormous his repentance, it's almost certain that he would be a fast learner and would soon accept and receive salvation.

Could Peter's denial be classified in the same level as the betrayal of Judas?

It could, but perhaps shouldn't be.

Judas was never a true believer in Christ, and his act of betrayal was actually part of Jesus's plan. Betrayal was simply another part of his personal immorality and poor character. As a person, he was neither better nor worse than billions of other people. But his personal repentance was sincere, immediate, and extreme.

Peter was a true believer in Christ (ask and he would have told you himself that no one could have more faith than he had). His denial was confirmation that his faith actually wasn't strong, yet even so it took him years to accept and proclaim the correct attitude:

But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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