Matthew 26:34, Luke 22:34, and John 13:38 all record Jesus telling Peter, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Mark words it differently, which has led to some confusion. Mark 14:30 says, “And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times’” (emphasis added). Then, when the first servant girl questioned Peter about his relationship to Jesus, “he denied it, saying, ‘I neither know nor understand what you mean.’ And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed” (Mark 14:68). Later, after Peter’s third denial, “immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept” (verse 72). Did the rooster crow once or twice, and what is the significance of that crowing?
Since we know that all Scripture is God-breathed and therefore accurate (2 Timothy 3:16), we can rest assured that there are always explanations for seeming inconsistencies. In biblical days, roosters were common within the towns and cities. The first crowing often occurred around midnight. The second crowing could be expected before daybreak. Jesus’ prediction about Peter’s denials meant that Peter would have opportunities all night long to repeat the validating claim he made when he told Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). However, despite three opportunities, the overconfident Peter denied His Lord every time. When daylight came, Jesus’ mock trial was over, and Peter lost his opportunities to defend Jesus as he had claimed he would do (Mark 14:29).
Jesus did not say that Peter would deny Him before any rooster’s crow. So the report of a first crowing does not negate the validity of Jesus’ words. In those days, when someone made the comment “before the rooster crows,” it would have been commonly understood to mean the crowing at daybreak. But morning was not the only time roosters crowed. As anyone who has lived on a farm can attest, roosters crow whenever they feel like it. A rooster can crow when he senses danger, when another rooster threatens his flock, or simply because he got his days and nights mixed up. So it is perfectly understandable that Jesus would have been precise in prophesying to Peter that a rooster would actually crow twice during the time Peter was denying Him.
The first crowing would not have been noticed by Peter at that moment, since people were used to hearing roosters at random times. It is similar to how people living near train tracks get used to hearing the noise of trains and stop noticing the sound. But when the morning rooster crowed, Peter was struck with the accuracy of Jesus’ words, and he went out and wept bitterly.
It is also noteworthy that Mark was a close associate of Peter’s (1 Peter 5:13) and would have obtained many details for his Gospel from Peter himself. After the fact, Peter would have considered the first crowing more significant than he did at the time. Jesus’ prophetic words must have played over and over in his head as he then recalled the first crowing and then the second. It seems likely that, in his retelling of that night to Mark, Peter would have made mention of both crowings. Mark does not in any way contradict the other accounts, which only mention the second crowing. The second crowing was the most important one, since it marked the end of Peter’s testing.
Because of the prominence of the story of Peter and the rooster, recorded in all four Gospels, the rooster, or cock, has at times been used as a Christian symbol. Some churches even place a rooster atop their steeples. Used as a symbol, the rooster represents the weakness of man and the grace of Christ in forgiving sinners. Peter three times denied his Lord and Savior, but he was forgiven, restored, and sent out to live for the glory of God (John 21:15–19). The rooster reminds us that Christ extends hope to sinners everywhere.
The rooster, used as a Christian symbol, can also represent watchfulness. Before His arrest, Jesus prayed in the garden and asked His disciples to do the same. But He found them sleeping, and He said to Peter, “Are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Mark 14:37–38). Later that night, Peter did indeed fall into temptation, and the rooster’s crow served as his spiritual wake-up call. The rooster can still be a reminder today that we must watch and pray and live as children of light: “You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5).
The rooster could also be seen as proclaiming the start of a new day. In Christ, all things become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). A new day of forgiveness and grace has dawned, and believers, saved by grace, proclaim the good news to a world in need of light.
Jesus is never impressed with our fleshly bravado such as Peter expressed in Matthew 26:35. Jesus knows our hearts better than we do (Matthew 9:4; Luke 9:47). But, even though He knows the ways we will fail Him, our Lord does not stop loving us or using us to further His message. Those rooster crowings must have haunted Peter for many years and may have helped him stay humble, watchful, and committed to his calling. Our past failures can be battle scars in our lives as well, propelling us toward greater devotion and stricter loyalty to Jesus when we recall how much we have been forgiven (see Luke 7:47).