Easter. The Passion of Jesus V. Gethsemane part 3. Predictions, Failure, and Mark.

Part 6, here.
Part 4, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane III.

Last time I ended with the predictions and they are negative. Going back to Mark 14:27, Matthew 26:31, and Zechariah 13:7. Mk reads “And Jesus said to them, You will all fall away (you will all be scandalized, offended); for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.’ Yet after my resurrection I shall go before you into Galilee.” The last part is the only positive phrase in the whole Markan Passion account (Luke expands on this a lot because he doesn’t care to have Jesus unsure about himself, Luke covers up much of the negative). Matthew has it somewhat differently: all of you will be offended IN ME this night. Offended, or scandalized begins to take on the sense of losing faith. They will be so disturbed that their faith will be completely threatened. In Mark’s audience, he is perhaps looking at a situation in the community where people have failed in some drastic way. Many believe Mark was written in the aftermath of the Nero persecution, when Christians betrayed other Christians to the empire in the threat of martyrdom. It was a time of shock, loss, and depression. Mark’s negative tone, he even has Jesus wavering in his resolve, seems meant to show that the worst kind of failure can be healed by Christ. Take courage he seems to be saying. We are all human, but God can heal us.[7]

So the disciples are going to run for it. No one will stand up for Jesus. This in itself is a terrible thing. How can God have planned something like this?

Flight of the Apostles. Tissot. (Image: Wikipedia)

Flight of the Apostles. Tissot. (Image: Wikipedia)

And Gentile critics take advantage of this story of weakness in the second century. What kind of God (Jesus) is this? His father is truly impotent. Jesus can’t even get through it alone. His followers have no backbone and so forth. The early Christians explain this with the Zechariah quotations. Not that Jesus wouldn’t have seen some correlation. This illustrates that for Mark, there is no Christianity without Jesus’ final act of ultimate sacrifice and suffering on the cross, which entails resurrection. Mormonism is certainly replete with examples of powerful witnesses who are utterly shaken at some later point. Mark seems written for that context. No matter how strong you think you are, you will have to carry your own cross of failure at some point.

Peter rejects this prediction that he will lose faith. Everyone else, but not him. Peter doesn’t speak to the scripture, but he challenges whether he is part of what is meant. Jesus comes back at him and says in Mark: “Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, today–this very night–before a rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”[NET] The awkwardness, “Today, this night” is in Mark’s Greek. And this demonstrates how Matthew and Luke typically treat Mark. They fix him up. Matthew: “I tell you the truth, on this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Luke: “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”(NET) There are two time expressions, Matthew chooses “this night,” Luke picks, “today.” So they smooth it out.[8]

Peter is defiant: NO WAY. They all speak up and say the same thing: we aren’t going to desert you. Mark deliberately shows us how each prediction is fulfilled. When Jesus is put before the High Priest, they bring up what they see as false statements. He’s a liar, a false prophet, one of the worst things you can be under the Law. You’re going to destroy the temple? You’re the son of God? And Mark tells his reader/listeners that at that same time, all the disciples have run off, and Peter is standing outside denying that he knows Jesus. Inside, they are mocking Jesus as a false prophet outside his prophecy comes to pass (that comes up again on the cross—but at his death the centurion says this was the Son of God—Mark picks up every loose end).


[7] There is a school of thought that the disciples not only fail and are scattered, but that they never come back. I haven’t spent time looking at it, so that’s all I’m going to say. But this last verse, and Mk 16:7 seem to work against it.

[8] The odd expression comes because of the way Jews talk about time. “Today” the day begins at sundown, and ends at following sundown. So “tonight” happens during “today.” But other people (Matthew and Luke are writing to gentiles) see this as confused speech. They fix it.


  1. I am enjoying this series very much.

  2. Thanks madhousewife.

  3. As always, I appreciate this and thank you. My first reaction is that it causes me to see again verses and story that I have read (too?) many times before. That’s more than enough. My second reaction is that the idea of scandal, of failure, of bearing the cross, of drinking the cup, is critical to my basic Christian faith, and largely missing from the prosperity/success/achievement teachings and the aspects of modern Mormonism that echo those approaches. It is good to be reminded.

  4. Clark Goble says:

    The humanity of Christ versus his perfection is always interesting even if often downplayed by many religious. The wavering of Christ in these trials is very compelling. Especially as you note in Mark. Not sure I buy the interpretation of why Mark includes that. But the context of when Mark is writing does matter a lot. I wish the story of the first Jewish/Roman war was brought up more in Sunday School since it looms so large in the NT but most members are so ignorant of it. (Since there isn’t really a straightforward history in the NT for force coverage)

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