Yeshua warned His disciples that a time would come when they would feel pressure to deny their allegiance to Him. Beginning with Simon Peter on the night of His arrest, disciples of the Master have felt that pressure. The Sanhedrin admonished the Twelve, ordering them not to speak in the name of Yeshua. In the late first century, confessing faith in Yeshua constituted grounds for ejection from the synagogue, but renouncing His name guaranteed an ongoing place in the community.
The Roman government instituted a policy of arresting people suspected of faith in Messiah and interrogating them before a tribunal. If a suspected “Christian” disowned the name of Yeshua and bowed to an idol, the Roman authorities released him or her. If not, the disciple faced a death sentence. Presumably, since Judaism was a legal religion, Rome required Jewish believers only to disown their allegiance to Yeshua.
When the Master comes at the advent of the Messianic Age, He will deny those who have denied Him: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). The scene is similar to His description of the Messianic Banquet from which He will expel His unworthy disciples, saying, “I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from me, all you evildoers” (Luke 13:27).
Luke’s version of the saying has both a positive and a negative formulation:
And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. (Luke 12:8-9)
What did He mean when He said that He will deny us before the angels of God? In this context, the “angels of God” constitute the heavenly court over which the LORD presides. “Before the angels of God” is a Jewish circumlocution that simply means “before God.” The throne of judgment is in view. In this court, the Son of Man will vouch for those whom He has known to be His faithful disciples, but those who have abandoned Him must stand or fall on their own merit.
Despite these strong words, the gospel reader must remember Simon Peter denied the Master three times before men, but through repentance and the grace of God, he found restoration. When the Son of Man comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels, he will not be ashamed of Simon Peter nor deny Him before the Father. Neither will He deny those who, having once stumbled, have returned to the flock of his disciples.