“Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for You.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied Me three times.” (John 13:36–38, ESV)
Jesus had said previously that He was going to leave and when He does that no one would be able to find Him. The Jews, not knowing what He meant, wondered where He thought He could escape to that He would be unfindable. His disciples had been told in many ways that His time was close and that He was going to return to the Father, and do so without them, but they didn’t get it. Here Peter asks Jesus where He was going as Jesus had just told them again what He had told the Jews. “Where I am going you cannot come.”
This time in responding to Peter He added one very important word, “Now.” Jesus did not say that they could not follow Him EVER, but for NOW they couldn’t. For a season, which we know varied with each of them, they were going to remain before ultimately joining Him. Jesus affirmed this by adding, “but you will follow Me afterward.” Of course, He did not mean a day or an hour later, but later in the sense that each of them had yet to die and enter His presence. This is how the transition was going to be made. On the day that they stepped out of their bodies they would step into His presence. Some like John would have a long time to wait, dying over sixty years later.
Peter would not settle for a not now answer. He pushed Jesus as to why He could not follow Him right then. He insisted that He indeed was willing to lay down his life for Jesus. He would be right there with Him in whatever He had to encounter or endure. There was nothing that Peter would not face for Jesus, according to Peter. But Jesus knew better. He answered Peter asking if he really would lay down his life for Him, and without giving Peter a chance to respond with a, “Surely I would,” Jesus told Him that before morning came he would have already denied Him three times.
Near the end of his life Peter wrote about the path that he had followed in serving Christ. “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:16–21, ESV)
Peter had lived many years with the promise that he would follow Jesus and that he would go after Him. In all of those years he did not lose hope or wonder if he got it wrong. He trusted that God had that timing in His hands and that He would do just as He said. In chapter 2 of his last letter he wrote not about his own impending death, but the hope of all believers that the Lord would return to take all believers with Him. “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Peter 3:8–10, ESV)
Consider the last words of Peter after having followed Christ in hope for so many years. “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,” … “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:14-125, 18, ESV)
Peter lived with the confidence that there truly is an “afterward”