Charcoal Fire I

Charcoal Fire 1 & 2 (John 18:12-27 and 21:1-19)

These two paintings depict Peter’s denial of Jesus in John 18 and Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter in John 21. Both events take place in front of an anthrakian, the Greek word meaning charcoal fire. These are the only times this Greek word appears in the New Testament. 

In Charcoal Fire 1 Jesus is bound and taken at night to the house of the high priest (upper left corner) to be questioned. Peter (in orange) follows and remains in the courtyard, warming himself in front of the fire and is himself questioned by the servants.

The Greek written at the top of the painting are the words Jesus spoke three times to the high priest: ego eimi. I am. The bottom words are Peter’s three-fold denial: ouk eimi. Not me

As the sun comes up (upper right corner) the rooster crows, fulfilling Jesus’ prophetic words to Peter in John 13:38.

Charcoal Fire 2 takes place after the resurrection, on the shores of the the Sea of Galilee. Peter and several other disciples go fishing, and fish all night, but catch nothing (left half of the painting). Early in the morning Jesus stands on shore (center) in front of a charcoal fire and calls out to the fishermen, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” They obey and catch 153 fish! 

“The disciple whom Jesus loved” recognizes Jesus. Peter (in the water) jumps out of the boat and rushes to shore where Jesus is cooking fish and bread. After they eat, Jesus has a lengthy dialogue with Peter.

The Greek words on the top of the painting show Jesus’ questions to Peter: agapas me, agapas me, phileis me. Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you like me? Below are Peter’s responses. Each time he says, philo se. I like you. Perhaps this means that God understands our weakness and is patient as he calls us from friendship into sacrificial agape love.

Imagine standing in front of an anthrakian: you feel its warmth, hear the crackle, and watch the flickering light. The smoke assaults your nose and mouth, even your eyes. All your senses are engaged. Peter was probably oblivious to this as he stood, scared to death, in the courtyard of the high priest. But when Jesus meets him again in front of a charcoal fire, memories of his denial came flooding back. Jesus shows the tenderness of God’s compassion by returning Peter “to the scene of the crime” and reassuring him three times of their special relationship.