Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Immediately after leaving the Passover meal, Jesus and the disciples walk out a city gate and across the small gorge that is called the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mount of Olives (which was less than a fifth of a mile from the city wall).
Mark 14:27-31“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”
But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.
Part of what plays into these and coming events is that the disciples have just finished the Passover meal. The meal itself involved much more food than what was usual. It also involved much more wine than what was usual. So, these men, after a long day have had a heavy meal and too much wine. That might explain Peter’s overwhelming self-confidence, but it explains why the disciples show signs of intense sleepiness.
Jesus tells Peter and the others that they will all fall away. Peter assures that Jesus he is wrong. Jesus replies with this very precise prediction that Peter will betray Jesus three times before the next morning dawns. Peter and the others are emphatic, and are assured of their own devotion and bravery, but Jesus is right and they are wrong.
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” 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. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
You can’t draw a line between the two natures of Christ, but here both the human side and the divine side seem separated. As a human being, Jesus is “distressed, troubled, and sorrowful.” His last hours of freedom are spent dealing with worry, fear, loneliness, and inward pain. He even goes to the point of asking the Father if he must face a trial and crucifixion. He might have been thinking of how Isaac was spared from being sacrificed by Abraham in Genesis twenty-two. But as a faithful human being, Jesus accepts his fate. Still, he is very troubled by his friend’s inability to stay awake to support him. He has told them what is going to happen, but they did not believe him.
Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
After returning back to the same prayer, still feeling unresolved and anxious, Jesus wakes the disciples repeatedly, until he sees that crowd has come to arrest him.
Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.
Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
The scene is chaotic, but Judas come forward to identify Jesus. We can infer from this that Jesus did not look much different from his disciples. The Gospels contain no mention of what Jesus looked like, but this and other passages suggest that he looked like a normal Jewish man of his time and place. So, by our standards, Jesus would have been short with dark hair, dark eyes and with a thin frame. To us, he would look like a dark-skinned Arab with a rough beard and a weathered face. The Bible generally mentioned if someone looked unusual, but didn’t bother to mention common features. King Saul was tall, King David had reddish hair, and Moses spoke with a speech impediment, but nothing is said about Jesus to make him seem anything other than average.
To make it clear which man is Jesus, Judas identifies him by kissing him. We assume that this was a normal greeting for a man to greet his rabbi. As soon as Judas greets Jesus with this sign of respect, the crowd seized him. At this point, one of the disciples apparently strikes the servant of the high priest with a sword. Elsewhere in the Gospels, it is clear that a few of the twelve are armed at this point.
Jesus maintains his composure and attempts to stop the violence.
“Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled.
A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.
Just as he told them a few hours before, all the disciples fall away. They run of into the night in fear and confusion. We even have this mention that one of the disciples ran off naked. We assume they ran off toward the tombs to the South or Bethany to the East. The mob does not waste time chasing down the disciples. It was Jesus that the mob had come for and they rush him back inside the city walls. At a distance, Peter turns around and follows the mob.
For the ten other surprised disciples, the world had gone mad. We do not know how long they hid in darkness, until they found their way to someplace to hide. The larger assembly of disciples (that included men and women) were probably still in the village of Bethany, a short distance to the southeast.
Question to Ponder: The disciples ran in panic and probably didn’t realize their decision to desert Jesus until after it was already done. Have you ever had moments when you have let fear make decisions for you? [This is a private question to ask yourself, that does not need to be shared.]