They All Forsook Him and Fled

Mark 14:50
And they all forsook him, and fled.


The most important principle in all of Christianity is:

John 3:7
Ye must be born again.

Every one of us naturally comes into this world fighting within ourselves to fulfil the lusts and desires of the flesh:

Ephesians 2:1-3
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

What a wretched state that is to be in! We should be hating ourselves for being such self-centred creatures. But there is hope. If we, as individuals, genuinely call on the one true living God who made us, to get us out of this mess, He does hear, and He can and will change us from the inside, making us altogether new:

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

We must realise our need of God, and cry in total dependence upon Him to deal with us in this way. We need a complete internal transformation, otherwise we will be justly punished for our sins to all eternity:

Matthew 25:41
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels….

As this new birth is the most important principle in Christianity, we would think that Scripture would give us some idea of when this life-changing event happened in each of the twelve disciples. But we don’t really know. There are several occasions we can point to in the lives of some of them where we can guess it happened, but we really can’t tell. In any case, the matter is further hidden from our sight by the fact that God often begins to deal with His people long before their hearts are actually changed anyway.

It is not possible to know the hearts of others, only ourselves. And neither should we try to find out. Peter wanted to understand more about the Lord’s dealings with John, but was told it wasn’t necessary for him to know. We shouldn’t be nosing into other people’s affairs. We’ve already got enough of a job making sure we are following Christ for ourselves:

John 21:20-22
Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.

So we should never speculate or try to judge others:

Matthew 7:1
Judge not, that ye be not judged.

When John the Baptist began his ministry of water baptism in the river Jordan, we’re told that:

Matthew 3:5
Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan….

We don’t know exactly whereabouts on the Jordan river he was baptising, but we can guess that it was the part that flows through Judea, because people from this area are specifically mentioned here. In which case, that would be about 60 or 70 miles from Galilee, where the twelve disciples came from. And we know that they all went to John’s baptism. How do we know that? Firstly, we’re specifically told in Scripture that at least five of them were present:

John 1:40-41
One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.

(The unnamed disciple here was probably John, who didn’t like to name himself).

John 1:43-45
The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

And, secondly, we know all of them must have been there at some point, because when they were trying to find a replacement for Judas, one of the criteria for being an apostle was that the candidate must have been with Christ from John’s baptism onwards:

Acts 1:21-22
Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.

It was a long journey for them all to undertake from Galilee. And all to undergo a ceremony symbolising repentance for the remission of sins:

Mark 1:4
John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

We can’t imagine such a thing happening today. Nobody’s talking about their sins. Nobody, naturally, seems to be bothered about their sins against a holy God. So it must have been God Himself who began to work in each of the disciples individually, that gave them this desire in their hearts to undergo such a long journey for such a purpose.

A while later, after they had all returned from the baptism and resumed their occupations, God moved them all individually again, this time to give up their employment altogether, so they could travel around with Christ Himself to join Him in His teaching ministry. So, when we read of Christ meeting some fishermen and saying:

Mark 1:17
Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.

He’d met them before. They were expecting Him to come and call them. They didn’t drop everything and leave their families to follow a total stranger who’d just come along. They’d all met Him before at John’s baptism, and God had already been preparing them in their hearts to leave their family businesses behind to accompany Him. 

So, when did any of them “become a Christian”? We can’t say. But what we can say is that all along they were being drawn by God. Why would they have done these things otherwise?

So, on the one hand God was surely working in them. But on the other hand, we see from the Scriptures that, despite spending over three years with Jesus Christ Himself, they didn’t seem to have learned very much. They were still so ignorant of the things of God.

For example, from the very beginning, Jesus taught:

Matthew 5:5
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Yet, on several occasions, even towards the end of His ministry on earth, the disciples were still arguing over who would be the greatest:

Luke 22:24-26
And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.

On another occasion, Simon Peter made a statement that only God could possibly have revealed to him:

Matthew 16:15-17
He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

But within minutes, after the Lord had told the disciples for the first time that He was going to suffer and be killed, Peter was horrified, and rebuked the Saviour for speaking in such a way:

Matthew 16:21-23
From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

In fact, the Lord told them several times what was going to happen to Him, and none of them understood the significance of what He was saying at all. Hadn’t they learned anything after three years with Him? We can wonder about how ignorant they were as much as we like, but we have to acknowledge it’s a sobering lesson for us too. 

All those who have truly been changed by Christ in the heart, love Him. In fact, that’s the only thing all Christians have in common. We have little else. We only have to look at the state of the church to find that out. Genuine born-again Christians believe all sorts of different things, and each of them really thinks they’re right. 

Let’s take a few examples. Some believe the Sabbath rest day is a Saturday, some that it’s changed to Sunday the first day of the week. Some believe women should cover their heads in public worship, others just as firmly believe they shouldn’t. Some believe in exclusive psalm-singing, others think that’s stupid and include man-made hymns in their worship. Some believe firmly in premillennial dispensationalism, others think it’s a ridiculous system. Some believe congregations shouldn’t have such a thing as an ordained minister, others do. Many, many different things divide otherwise truly born-again Christians. And I’ve no doubt that, by embracing the principles they embrace, every one of these Christians is genuinely trying to please God. Otherwise they wouldn’t embrace them. Yet they’re all different. 

But we should expect this. By nature of the case, we are all growing in the faith. A healthy Christian ought to be continually changing his beliefs as he grows in knowledge of the Scriptures. If we’re not changing, we have to question whether we’re blindly following some church or organisation instead. We all start from a position of total ignorance about the things of God. We all make mistakes in our understanding, we grow, we learn. So we are bound to embrace wrong ideas for a time until the Lord corrects us through a clearer understanding of the Scripture. And, in any case, none of us are going to come to a full understanding of Scripture before we die anyway. But in all of this, one thing is for certain. Whatever we believe or don’t believe, we all know so little, and fall so far short of what we ought to be.

What a lesson the ignorance of the disciples is to us. While He was with them, Christ taught them the same truths over and over again, and they never grasped or understood anything to any degree. At least not enough to allow it to change their lives. 

They may have had an inkling of their ignorance when Christ told them solemnly:

Matthew 26:21
Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.

To which they all replied individually:

Matthew 26:22
And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?

Could it be they actually realised at this point how liable they might be to letting Him down?

The crunch came soon enough. After Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane (at which Peter, James and John fell asleep more than once), Judas came with a band of soldiers to arrest Jesus, after which we’re told:

Matthew 26:56
Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.

The next time we hear of the disciples is a couple of days later when Mary Magdalene bursts into their room telling them that the tomb where they laid Christ was empty:

Mark 16:9-11
Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.

Where had the disciples been all this time? We’re told they were hiding for fear of the Jews:

John 20:19
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

The only ones we know about during this period are Peter and John. Peter had boasted:

Matthew 26:33
Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.

But we find him now denying Christ verbally three times, even with cursing and swearing:

Matthew 26:74
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.

Is it possible for a genuine Christian to sink so low? Is that really how we could be? It certainly is. How could Peter have gone from making a profession that only the Father could have given him, to being so ashamed of Christ? It’s a very serious fall. Christ said solemnly:

Mark 8:38
Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

So was Peter forsaken by God after such a denial? We know he wasn’t. God had not given up on him. There is still hope for the Lord’s people despite even such a fall as this. 

And what about John? He is an interesting character. He was an uneducated fisherman from Galilee, as most of the other disciples were. Yet, amazingly, we read that he was known by the High Priest. So much so, that he was allowed into the High Priest’s house to see Christ’s mock trial without being challenged at the door. Because the trial was going to be corrupt, security would have been tight. Followers of Christ would surely have been barred. The girl at the door stopped Peter from going in, but not John:

John 18:15-16
And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter. Then saith the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Art not thou also one of this man's disciples? He saith, I am not.

John wasn’t seen as being any threat to the unjust process that was about to take place, so he was happily allowed in. Peter was stopped from entering. Does that mean John had been a poor witness for Christ because nobody had noticed he was a Christian? No. The Lord was ordering events all along. Peter ended up being the poor witness, but John wasn’t. Without John having been known by the High Priest and allowed in (and being the means of bringing Peter in as a second witness), we would never have had any reliable testimony of what went on inside the High Priest’s palace. Sometimes our witness doesn’t have to be overt to be useful. Maybe this explains why John also managed to get himself a prime spot near the cross:

John 19:26-27
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

Security would have been tight there too. The rest of the disciples are nowhere to be seen. The women who followed Christ were there, but afar off, probably too scared to approach any nearer for fear of being recognised as His followers:

Mark 15:40-41
There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.

But John was allowed near. Again, he wasn’t seen as a threat or security risk. And, as a result, we have first hand testimony of something the rest of the disciples seem to have completely missed. Together with Mary, Christ’s mother, we again have two reliable witnesses to the event.

Later on, Christ appears to the disciples after His resurrection, and He says:

John 20:22-23
And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

Was this the point they were all converted perhaps? No. As we have seen, they had been drawn by God into following Him now for several years. They knew very little of the truth throughout that time, but they still followed. They still loved Him. But now, after the resurrection, they suddenly began to understand things a lot more. Everything Christ had taught very quickly clicked into place. Here was the point when their understanding was quickened and enlightened for the first time. After all, that is the job of the Holy Spirit:

John 16:13
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

So, let’s not try to pin a “conversion experience” on anyone. Don’t get me wrong. We must have one. We must be born-again to enter the kingdom of heaven at all:

John 3:3
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

But each of us are given different methods of witness from the Lord. Maybe being bold like Peter. Or maybe being quiet and with the right contacts at the right time like John. Whatever our calling, we must always follow the Lord’s guidance to us personally, and not criticise others because they are not quite like ourselves. All of us are still so very ignorant:

1 Corinthians 8:1-3
Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him.