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)
One of the most famous things Jesus ever said was “Follow me.” He said it over and over. So much that it was recorded more than twenty times in the New Testament. Jesus says it first to Peter (Matthew 4:19). Perhaps this is why Peter is so confused when he hears Jesus saying he cannot follow Him where He is going. No one can.
Some people think Jesus is talking about ascending to the Father in this text, but that misses the context. Jesus is on His way to the cross. Satan has already entered Judas and he is on his way to betray Jesus as these words are spoken. Eventually He will transition to talk about going “to prepare a place for you” but the context here is His betrayal and crucifixion, not the ascension.
When Peter says he will “lay down his life for Jesus” he thinks he is willing to die to save Him. Could anything be more backwards? Sadly our thinking is often just as twisted. Like Peter we make all kinds of bold promises to God. We talk about living for Jesus and even dying for Jesus. We talk about “working on our relationship with God” (if I never hear that phrase again I will die happy). All of these things are simply vain attempts to follow Jesus where He says we cannot go.