Well, speaking of ambitious Peter (see A Burger King World), there’s an interesting conversation that he has with Jesus on the night of our Lord’s betrayal. After washing his disciple’s feet, and after Judas flees the Upper Room to betray our Savior, Jesus begins to teach them concerning his departure. He says he is going somewhere and they cannot follow him (John 13:33). It is again Peter who chimes in and says, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I go, you are not able to follow me now, but later you will follow me” (vs. 36). Discontent with this answer, Peter boldly declares he would lay his life down for the sake of Jesus. And in an extraordinary rebuke, Jesus almost hurls his words back at him–You would lay down your life for my sake–and declares that before the rooster crows Peter would deny him three times.
That’s an interesting interaction, and we can, to a degree, sympathize with Peter. For over three years he’d followed Jesus everywhere. He was, after all his Rabbi, his Master and teacher. Now Jesus says he couldn’t follow, and that would make any loyal disciple confused. But here’s what I think the Lord is saying. In the immediate context the event that is casting its dark shadow on this night is the crucifixion of Jesus, spoken of in terms of his “glorification” (vs. 31). This is a single and unique event in the history of redemption and Jesus has to go forward alone. It’s not him and his disciples who must tread the wine press of Yahweh’s fury; it’s not him and his disciples that must be obedient to death on the cross; it’s not him and his disciples who must become the incarnation of the divine curse; it’s not him and his disciples that must enter the forsakeness of the Father; it’s not him and his disciples that need to go to that place where sin is atoned for and the debt is paid. No, they cannot go, because he’s doing it for them. Jesus must do it alone.
That isn’t to say we have absolutely no part in where Jesus is going. Rather, by faith his life becomes our life and his death our death, and so we follow, not in accomplishing the work of redemption–he goes ahead of us, but we follow in faith. And that’s the only way we can do it. Again Peter, quite unknowingly, is trying to stop the course of redemptive history, he’s trying to stop the predetermined plan of God to save sinners by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. And don’t we, in our own way, try to do the same thing? Try to appease God, try to pay our own debt by our own good deeds, try to balance the scales with works, try to earn forgiveness by weeping over sin, try to atone with our own lives. But Jesus says “No, where I go you cannot follow, but you will follow me afterwards.”