This post concludes a study of the passages from St Mark’s Gospel which do not appear in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.
Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial
26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28But 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.” 30And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.
The Last Supper is now at an end. We know this because verse 26 says that Jesus and the Apostles sang a hymn to conclude their commemoration of Passover and, for us, the beginning of the New Covenant.
Matthew Henry thought that the hymn comprised Psalms 113 – 118, the Hallel, sung at Passover. John MacArthur, however, said that the group would have sung those Psalms earlier. He believes that Jesus and the Apostles sang Psalm 136, in which this verse is repeated nearly every other line:
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Psalm 136 recounts the history of the Jews in light of God’s constancy, forgiveness and mercy. The last verse (26) reads:
Give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Jesus and the Apostles — minus Judas — then walked to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus would spend His final hours prior to arrest, at which point Judas reappeared briefly.
MacArthur describes what they must have seen along their walk (emphases mine):
Out of the upper room, around midnight, out the temple gate toward the eastern slope of the temple mount, the temple mount being elevated, they would go down the slope out the east side, across the Kidron Valley where the Kidron Brook would be flowing at this time of year in the spring, a time of rain and the water flowing in the brook would be mingled with the blood from all the lambs that were being slaughtered and the blood would trail down the slope into that little stream and Jesus then would cross with them the bloody stream draining out of the temple.
As they made their way that direction, the houses of the city would be lit with candles because they would all be awake, all the exciting events of that weekend and some of them from Galilee would be celebrating that night the Passover meal, others would be preparing the Passover meal for the next day. The temple gates were to be opened at midnight to let any other pilgrims in for the Passover on Friday.
So they would cross the brook and they would climb the western slope of the Mount of Olives, perhaps along the place where He had sat with them on Wednesday night and given them the great message about His Second Coming. The Lord may be reminded as He made this little walk of the fact that He was basically following the same route that David had walked when he was fleeing from the pursuit of Absalom, according to 2 Samuel 15. You remember David went up the Mount of Olives barefoot and weeping ...
Now on the Mount of Olives, on the slope of the Mount of Olives was a garden called the Garden of Gethsemane where there was an olive press because the Mount of Olives was called the Mount of Olives because it was an olive grove. What was going to happen on that mount in the middle of the night was a rendezvous with Judas and the arrest of Jesus would take place. He would be tried in the morning, crucified later in the morning, to die in the afternoon as the sacrifice as the Lamb.
Jesus told the Apostles they would all ‘fall away’ (verse 27). In support of this, He cited part of Zechariah 13:7 — a far from comforting verse:
“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
against the man who stands next to me,”
declares the LORD of hosts.
“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
I will turn my hand against the little ones.
MacArthur unpacks the verse and the reason why Jesus used it:
Zechariah has been talking about false prophets. He’s been talking about false prophets who would be wounded in their idol houses, the houses where they worship idols. But now he turns to the true shepherd and he says, “God’s Shepherd, My Shepherd, My associate,” declares the Lord of hosts, “that Shepherd, that true Shepherd will also be wounded.” And Jehovah here is the speaker and Messiah is the one of whom he speaks. This is a messianic prophecy.
Jesus again was afflicted by God. “Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd.” God is calling His own sword against His own Shepherd. It is God who strikes Messiah. “O sword, strike the Shepherd.” Then again I say, it isn’t Judas who led Him to the cross, although he played a role, it isn’t the Sanhedrin, the Romans, it isn’t Pilate, Caiaphas, or Herod. It is God, My Shepherd. God’s personal representative. My Associate, My fellow, say some texts. Literally the Hebrew is “The Man of My union, the Man who is united with Me, My equal.” And the word for “man” here is not the normal Hebrew word for man, it’s the word for a strong or mighty man. All of these are messianic references not only to the Messiah but the Messiah who is the Son of God.
So the prophet said that God Himself with His own sword will slay one who is His personal representative, who is His equal. This is a statement to the nature of Christ as bearing the same essence as God Himself. The result of the Shepherd being smitten by God will be the scattering of the sheep…the scattering of the sheep.
Concerning the scattering of the sheep, Jesus’s immediate implication for the purposes of this passage is that the Apostles would later flee the garden and disperse. They would run away, in fear of religious and civil authorities. Remember that only John was at the Crucifixion. Thomas did not show up until well after the Resurrection.
One wonders how many, if any, of the Apostles understood what Jesus meant in verse 28 by being raised up and preceding them to Galilee.
Peter boldly went on to promise to stand by Jesus, no matter what (verse 29). And, although he did remain in the garden for a time and struck the high priest’s servant with his sword, cutting off his ear, he later did exactly what Christ foresaw and foreknew (verse 30). Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed. Once he heard the cock crow, he was shocked and saddened at his own betrayal of our Lord.
MacArthur explains how the Jews divided up the nighttime hours:
The Jews divided nighttime into four segments … From six in the evening till six in the morning was the night. The first was called evening, six to nine. Nine to twelve was called midnight. Twelve to three was called the rooster crow. And three to six was morning. Peter, before three in the morning, you will have denied Me three times. Before the rooster crows twice, you will have denied Me three times.
It’s interesting that, despite Jesus’s words, Peter insisted he would remain steadfast (verse 30), which then spurred the other Apostles to agree and state the same.
Peter was in the wrong, although he did not sin as gravely as Judas did. So were the others, to a lesser extent. However, Jesus could and would forgive their weakness.
Protestant clergy often point to this episode as a means of point-scoring for St Paul. To them, I would say that a) we do not know how Paul would have fared if he had been among the original Twelve; b) Paul was a Roman and would have had a different perspective on authority and c) Paul’s conversion happened after Christ sent the Holy Spirit to those gathered at the first Pentecost.
Similarly, I can somewhat emphathise with Thomas, although to a lesser extent. Some people have to see things for themselves before they believe. I read of an American television presenter recently who said she wasn’t sure the Earth was round because she hadn’t personally seen it from space. Hmm. It’s the same principle.
Finally, had I been one of the Apostles, I am certain I would have had the same reactions as they had throughout Jesus’s ministry.
We think we would do better only because we know the story and have the Holy Spirit to help and comfort us.
Notice how the Apostles changed after the arrival of the Holy Spirit at that first Pentecost. Acts 5 is particularly descriptive:
12Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed …
27 … And the high priest questioned them, 28saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
41Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
In our own lives, more mundane than the Apostles’, Matthew Henry has words of wisdom for us when we promise more than we can deliver:
he that thinks he stands, must learn to take heed lest he fall; and he that girdeth on the harness, not boast as though he had put it off.
This concludes the current series of Mark’s Gospel with regard to the Lectionary.
I have a final post on Mark 16:9-20, verses which presumably appear in the Lectionary although it is unclear as not all New Testament editions include them. They do, however, provide the rationale a tiny number of Holiness churches in the American South used to establish snake handling at some of their services.
Next time: Luke 1:1-4