The Hero Betrayed

| Mark 14:27-34,37-38,43,48-50

Lesson Focus: This lesson will challenge you to be on guard against spiritual weakness and to practice spiritual disciplines.

Unaware of the Danger: Mark 14:27-31.

[27]  And Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ [28]  But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee."

[29]  Peter said to him, "Even though they all fall away, I will not." [30]  And Jesus said to him, "Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times."

[31]  But he said emphatically, "If I must die with you, I will not deny you." And they all said the same.  [ESV]

[27-28]  Peter acts as spokesman for the disciples and his bravado and subsequent defection typify those of the Twelve. This conversation between Jesus and Peter forms a continuation and counterpart to the conversation of verses 17-21. Prior to the Passover meal Jesus informed the disciples, one of you will betray me [18]; now He informs them, you will all fall away. Both the self-oblation of Jesus in the Passover meal and His verbal admonitions before and after bring the disciples face to face with the imminence of their own infidelity. The word translated fall away means “to cause to stumble.” It does not mean that the disciples will willfully defect but that external factors will act upon them and cause them to fall away temporarily. Jesus warns the disciples to guard against the kind of sinfulness of which most of us are most guilty: sins of weakness and irresoluteness rather than sins of intention. We do not plan on sinning, but neither do we hold the fort when we ought. Jesus follows and fortifies His admonition with a quotation from Zechariah 13:7 concerning the shepherd and the sheep. In its original context, Zechariah 13:7 referred to the martyrdom of the eschatological good shepherd. The first person singular, I will strike, means that God will strike Jesus as the shepherd – or allow Him to be struck – in fulfillment of His plan. This quotation thus repeats the paradox of 14:21, where evil is used by God to fulfill His greater purpose. The quotation of Zechariah 13:7 also provides a further glimpse into Jesus’ understanding of His passion: that His suffering is ordained by God. Finally, the quotation contains a warning to the disciples, who will be scattered; and beyond the warning a consolation, for Jesus shows compassion on sheep without a shepherd. The consolation continues in verse 28 with the prediction of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Beyond the passion, and in accordance with the Scripture, Jesus sees a renewal and completion of the call to discipleship. The kingdom of God that Jesus brings and embodies cannot be scuttled by human failure. He who first called the apostolic band at the Sea of Galilee [1:16] will again call and reestablish them at the Sea of Galilee [16:7]. It is there, not in Jerusalem or in the temple, that Jesus will reconstitute His followers.

[29-31]  Whenever Jesus predicts His passion in Mark, the disciples respond with self-assertion and conceit rather than with humility [8:31-32; 9:31-34; 10:33-37]. A similar pattern reemerges in Peter’s bluster that he will not fall away. His rejoinder in verse 29 is only slightly less rude than his rebuke of Jesus after the first passion prediction, and its insinuation is even more insulting of the other disciples. Even though they all fall away suggests that Peter is not surprised at the thought of the defection of the other disciples. Perhaps he even expects it of them. At any rate, he does not defend their cause. What he staunchly defends is his cause, I will not. Peter thinks of himself as the exception to the rule. Jesus interrupts Peter with Truly, I tell you, this very night … you will deny me three times. A threefold denial is not a momentary slip of weakness. Peter makes even a stronger protest: If I must die with you. Such claims are more easily made in ease and safety than in the crucible of temptation and opposition. In Peter’s case the claim will be put to shame a short while later in the presence of a servant girl. He is not alone in the boast, however, for they all said the same.

Asleep in the Danger: Mark 14:32-38.

[32]  And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." [33]  And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. [34]  And he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch." [35]  And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. [36]  And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." [37]  And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? [38]  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."  [ESV]

[32-35]  Jesus and the disciples enter an olive grove called Gethsemane. It lay east of the Kidron brook at the foot of the Mount of Olives and was a familiar place for Jesus and His followers to gather [Luke 22:39; John 18:1-2]. Jesus commands the disciples, Sit here while I pray. The prayers of Jesus in Mark are all set in times of decision and crises, this being the most traumatic. Separating Himself from the Twelve, Jesus takes Peter, James and John to be alone with Him. These three disciples form an inner circle among the disciples and figure prominently in Mark on previous special occasions [5:37; 9:2; 13:3]. In Gethsemane Jesus is besieged with intense spiritual affliction. He began to be greatly distressed and troubled. Withdrawing from the three disciples, Jesus collapses on the earth in prayer that the ordeal before Him might be avoided. Nothing in all the Bible compares to Jesus’ agony and anguish in Gethsemane – neither the laments of the Psalms, nor the broken heart of Abraham as he prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, nor David’s grief at the death of his son Absalom. The grim realism of Gethsemane is a guarantee of its historicity. We can scarcely imagine early Christians, and especially Mark, who accentuates Jesus’ divine authority, inventing a story of such torment. The very torment provides a sad clue to Jesus’ understanding of His impending death. Why, we may ask, is Jesus so assailed by the prospect of His death? Surely we all know individuals who face the prospect of their deaths with greater composure and courage than does Jesus. Why does Jesus, who has foreseen His death and marched resolutely to Jerusalem to meet it, now quail before it? The answer must be that Jesus is aware of facing something more than simply His own death. In Mark 10:45 He spoke of the purpose of the Son of Man to give his life as a ransom for many. That was the objective description of His purpose; now we hear the subjective experience of it. In Gethsemane Jesus must make the first payment of that ransom, to will to become the sin-bearer for humanity. Jesus stands before the final consequence of being the Servant of God, wounded for our transgressions; crushed for our iniquities [Isa. 53:5]. It is one thing, fearful as it will be, to answer for our own sins before a holy and almighty God; who can imagine what it would be like to stand before God to answer for every sin and crime and act of malice and injury and cowardice and evil in the world? In bearing this sin, Jesus necessarily experiences an abandonment and darkness of cosmic proportions. The worst prospect of becoming the sin-bearer for humanity is that it spells complete alienation from God, an alienation that will shortly echo above the desolate landscape of Calvary, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? [15:34]. Not His own mortality, but the specter of identifying with sinners so fully as to become the object of God’s wrath against sin – it is this that overwhelms Jesus’ soul even to death.

[36-38]  Another clue to Jesus’ understanding of the cross emerges from His reference to His death as the hour and the cup [35-36]. Taken from the vocabulary of apocalyptic literature, hour and cup speak of the ultimate purposes of God associated with the end of time. They refer here to Jesus’ messianic destiny as the ransom for many [10:45] and being betrayed into the hands of sinners [14:41] in order to redeem sinners. Only in Mark does Jesus call God Abba, a term of intimacy, trust, and affection that was not characteristic of Jewish prayers. Abba provides crystal clarity into Jesus’ consciousness of being God’s Son, and of His willingness to drink the bitter cup of suffering as an inescapable consequence of His complete trust in the Father and obedience to His will. The divine power and authority that have characterized His life is now returned to the Father, in trust that the purpose of His life will be consummated in the self-surrender of His death. Gethsemane presents us with a uniquely human interplay between the heart of the Son and the will of the Father. Jesus’ prayer is not the result of calm absorption into an all-encompassing divine presence, but an intense struggle with the frightful reality of God’s will and what it means fully to submit to it. The fundamental humanness of the prayer is evident in His imploring God in direct address, Remove this cup from me. That is a prayer for God not to strike the shepherd [14:27]. Is it possible for Jesus to fulfill God’s will in all ways but this one, or in some other way? Perhaps, as with Isaac, the sacrifice can be averted even though the arm of Abraham is raised for the dagger’s plunge. The plea of Jesus suggests that He is genuinely tempted to forsake the role of the suffering servant. Nevertheless, His will to obey the Father is stronger than His desire to serve Himself. Throughout His ministry He has disavowed every exit ramp from the pathway of suffering servanthood, including the temptation to remain with Moses and Elijah in glory [9:2-8]. His will conforms to His knowledge of God’s will, to undergo the baptism [10:38], to accept the cup [36], to meet the hour [35]. In words reminiscent of the prayer He earlier taught the disciples [Matt. 6:10], not what I will, but what you will. The spiritual danger of the hour is not limited to Jesus. There is also danger for the disciples, a lesser and different danger to be sure, but danger nevertheless. Three times Jesus warns Peter, James and John to watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. Three times Jesus finds them asleep, surely a prelude to Peter’s three forthcoming denials. No wonder Jesus calls the chief apostle Simon and not Peter, for in Gethsemane he has not lived up to his name; he is not a Rock. The admonition to watch and pray for the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak is a necessary reminder that trusting and obeying God are not default responses of disciples of Jesus, but ongoing struggles against temptation and weakness.

Fleeing Danger: Mark 14:43,48-50.

[43]  And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. [48]  And Jesus said to them, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? [49]  Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled." [50]  And they all left him and fled.  [ESV]

[43]  Guided by Judas, who possessed knowledge both of the place and the wanted person, the arresting party arrived in Gethsemane to take Jesus into custody. The warrant for Jesus’ arrest had been issued by the Sanhedrin, which is indicated by the comprehensive designation the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. That the Jewish authorities alone were responsible for the measures taken against Jesus is corroborated by the detail that He was taken directly to the house of the high priest. In addition to the Temple police, who were Levites, the Sanhedrin had at its disposal auxiliary police or servants of the court who were assigned the task of maintaining public order beyond the Temple precincts. They were authorized to make arrests, lead accused persons to the court, guard prisoners and carry out sentences imposed by the court. The arresting party in Gethsemane must have consisted of armed court attendants of this kind.

[48-50]  Jesus indignantly protested the unusual show of force which had been mustered against Him, as if He were an armed robber. Paradoxically, He had been available for arrest for at least two weeks prior to the Passover since He had been teaching publicly in the Temple each day. The contrast between the surprise armed attack by night and Jesus’ daily appearance in the Temple indicates that the precautions taken by the auxiliary police were unwarranted and unnecessary, while the affirmation day after day I was with you in the temple demonstrates that Jesus’ captors were Jewish. The comment that this was done that Scripture might be fulfilled immediately calls to mind Isaiah 53:12. The climax of the arrest comes in verse 50: and they all left him and fled. This seemingly innocuous statement carries an incriminating wallop. All drank the cup [14:23], all pledged to die with Him [14:31] and all desert. The all in verse 50 is made emphatic in Greek by placing it at the end of the sentence. The betrayal of Judas is thus multiplied by the wholesale failure of the disciples; they all abandon Jesus and flee.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What did Peter fail to recognize in his reply to Jesus in 14:29-31 (his own sinful pride and self-reliance)? Where was his focus (on himself and his own strength)? Where should it have been (on Christ)? How can you guard yourself from making the same mistake as Peter?

2.         Scripture often follows a word of warning with a word of promise. In verses 14:27-28, what is the warning; the promise? Why do you think the disciples failed to see the significance of the promise? In your own bible study are you overlooking the words of promise?

3.         What horror was Jesus dealing with in the garden that caused Him such great sorrow? What is the meaning of the hour and the cup?

4.         Look how quickly the resolve of the disciples in 14:31 has been forgotten: and they all left him and fled [14:50]. What happened? Why did they flee? How often in your life has the resolve to stand with Jesus or to not give in again to a particular temptation dissipated quickly. But what power do we have to draw upon that the disciples did not have in the garden? (The Holy Spirit living within us. Note the tremendous courage the disciples showed throughout Acts after the outpouring of the Spirit). May we learn to depend continually upon the power of the indwelling Spirit in our lives!


The Gospel According to Mark, James Edwards, Eerdmans.

The Gospel According to Mark, William Lane, Eerdmans.