Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus appears in all four Gospels (cf. Matt 26:70-74; Mk 14:68-72; Lk 22:57-60; Jn 18:17, 25-26). According to John’s account, when Jesus appears to his disciples after the resurrection, he presents Peter with three questions and responses that parallel Peter’s three denials (see Jn 21:15-17). In this way, John shows that the post-resurrection encounter between Yeshua and Kefa repairs their relationship. Along with the clear parallel between Peter’s three denials and Jesus’ three responses, the Gospel writer also includes references to a “coal-burning fire” that links the two scenes and highlights the power of divine mercy.
Immediately following Peter’s first denial, John includes a detail that interrupts the disciple’s discourse: “Now the servants and officers [of the high priest] had made a coal-burning fire (ἀνθρακιά; anthrakiá) because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself” (Jn 18:18). On the one hand, as Peter warms himself by the fire, he aligns himself with the same priestly “servants” (δοῦλοι; douloi) who arrest Jesus, and “officers” (ὑπηρέται; huperétai) who call for his crucifixion (cf. Jn 18:10, 26; 19:6). Thus, John shows that Peter’s denials are tantamount to participation in his master’s judgment and death. On the other hand, John’s mention of the “coal-burning fire” (ἀνθρακιά; anthrakiá) also anticipates Peter’s forthcoming renewal.
After Jesus’ death, the disciples embark on a nighttime fishing trip, but catch nothing. In the morning, the resurrected Jesus appears on the shore and the fishermen meet him along with an enormous catch of fish (see Jn 21:3-8). Then, “when [the disciples] got out [of the boat] onto land, they saw a coal-burning fire (ἀνθρακιά; anthrakiá) in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread” (Jn 21:9). It is next to this coal-burning fire that Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” (cf. Jn 21:15-17), and Peter affirms his love for Yeshua three times, thereby reversing the tragic threefold denial. John’s first coal-burning fire signifies the grave implications of Peter’s denial, but the second underscores divine forgiveness and Peter’s lasting reconciliation with the Messiah.
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