In the entire series of events beginning with the plot of Judas and ending with his suicide, the disciples aren’t portrayed in a very flattering light, but Jesus isn’t surprised by any of this, in fact He predicts it. It is really quite easy for us to look down our very righteous noses at the disciples’ actions that night; yes they failed miserably. Would we have acted differently in their places?
I rather doubt it. Trying to honestly place myself in their shoes, I must (grudgingly) admit that the scene in the Garden when the mob comes to arrest Jesus would probably have done it for me, for seeing this Man whom I had witnessed walking on water and calming storms being taken away quietly by such a motley force would simply have blown my mind, and even now, knowing how the story ends… it still blows my mind! No, I don’t think I’ll be joining the finger-pointers on this one.
Jesus tells them that on this night they will all disown Him, citing the prophecy from Zech. 13:7, and they are astonished, and proclaim their faithfulness; Peter is their spokesman. Notice that just as they did when Jesus predicted His death, they missed the last part. Shouldn’t they be saying something like, “What did you mean, ‘after you have risen’?” But they didn’t say that.
Matthew tells the familiar story about Peter’s three denials and the rooster crowing, and again Peter steadfastly says he won’t do any such thing:
But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. (26:35)
Ultimately, Peter’s claim would turn out to be true, but on this night, they would all falter.
The way I see it, there was much too much at stake for God to let the disciples get in the way of events, for it was vital that Jesus keep His appointment with the cross, for this was at the very core of God’s eternal purpose of redemption. Suppose that the disciples fought the troops in the garden, as Peter started to do, and a general engagement ensued. What would become of God’s purpose if there had been a bloodbath in the Garden?
No, Jesus, the Lamb of God, had to go quietly in submission to do His Father’s will, and the disciples needed to get out of the way and let Him do it, for they had a critical role to play in the early years of the church− of course, this is just speculation on my part. Next time, we pick up the action in the Garden of Gethsemane.