“But Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. One of the slave-girls approached him saying, ‘You were also with Jesus the Galilean.’”
“And Peter was down in the courtyard and one of the slave-girls came and saw Peter warming himself. Looking at him intently she said, ‘You are with the Nazarine, Jesus.’”
“And a certain slave-girl saw him sitting towards the light and looking intently at him said, ‘This man was also with him!’”
“The slave-girl that was at the door said to Peter, ‘Aren’t you also from the disciples of this man?’ He said, ‘I am not.’”
This is the first of the challenges that leads to the first of Peter’s denials. Though John includes the challenge and the denial in the same verse, we will be focusing right now on the challenge. In the arrangement of the verses above, I have taken John 18:17 out of order not to imply a rearrangement of events, but to better group the discussions around the challenges to Peter. It seems, based on the accounts, that this first challenge takes place as Jesus is being questioned by Annas, so the rearrangement should not cause too much difficulty for us.
The same thing can be said of the slave-girl that questions Peter. Some would suggest that these are two separate denials — one taking place at the doorway when Peter comes in and one taking place at the fire where he is sitting. Yet, the only thing that the language of the doorway really implies is in connection to the slave-girl. She is not any slave-girl in general, but the slave-girl from the doorway — whom we see referred to in John 18:16 as “the doorkeeper.” Perhaps Peter’s appearance did not register with her right away or was not clear in the lower light by the doorway, but something also did not sit well with her and she followed him to the fire to confirm her suspicions.
This reading would be affirmed by the language of Mark and Luke who write of her “looking intently” at Peter. She wants to make clear her suspicions and will follow up with a question that is little more than a veiled accusation. Remember, this courtyard is hostile territory and the mob filling the court is out for blood. Thus, this question should not be seen as an innocent matter — she is making an accusation that could have cost Peter his life (a life he had earlier that evening promised to give, though it was not God’s time). How Peter responds next is inexcusable in many ways, but reasonable at least on human terms, but we get ahead of ourselves.
This is the first of the accusations or challenges — two more will come for Peter. Such is how Satan sifts Peter like wheat, but such is also how God teaches his own faith, trust, humility, and obedience. What Satan intends for evil; God intends for good. What an amazing God we serve.