The Scattering of Sheep

Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away, for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” ‘ ” (v. 27).

- Mark 14:26–31

The last night before the crucifixion of Jesus was filled with much darkness, as our Lord predicted not only His impending death but also His betrayal at the hand of Judas (Mark 14:12–25). But as we see in today’s passage, Christ told His disciples that Judas would not be the only one among them to abandon Him. Mark 14:27 records Jesus’ saying that all of the disciples would fall away before that night ended.

In their falling away, Jesus said, the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7 would be fulfilled. According to Zechariah 13:7–9, the final salvation of God’s people Israel would include the striking of the Shepherd-Messiah whom the Lord appointed to lead and care for His people. In quoting this text, Jesus made explicit what was implicit in Zechariah’s oracle, namely, that the one who would strike the shepherd would be God Almighty Himself (Mark 14:27). Although wicked men ordered the crucifixion of Jesus, this was not done apart from divine providence. In fact, it was God Himself who called for the sword to fall on the Good Shepherd (Zech. 13:7). The priests and leaders of the Jews who put Jesus to death did so for their own evil purposes, but the Lord was behind it all, working through them so that the Suffering Servant would bear His wrath in order to save His people from their sin (Acts 2:22–24).

Thus, the scattering of the Lord’s sheep as a consequence of the striking of the Good Shepherd would not be an end in itself. Instead, it would be the means to their redemption. Zechariah 13:8–9 indicates this as well, for it predicts the refining of the scattered sheep and their return to God’s fold. And Jesus echoed this as well, for He also told the disciples that although they would be scattered, He would meet them again in Galilee (Mark 14:27–28). Jesus would not be under the power of death forever, but He would rise from the dead and His sheep would return to Him. Indeed, the hope for all of God’s true servants who seem to fall away is that they “will resemble for a short time scattered and wandering sheep, but will at length be brought back to the fold” (John Calvin).

Those who have been truly grafted into Christ by faith cannot fall away finally, but they may fall away temporarily. Let us be on guard lest we think it impossible for us to fall into grave sin for a time. If we are confident in ourselves and not in the Lord, we will fall. Peter thought it was impossible for him to fall away temporarily, but Jesus predicted his denial of his Lord (Mark 14:29–31).

Coram Deo

Because God glorifies all those whom He justifies (Rom. 8:28–30), we know that no person with true faith can be cut off finally from salvation. However, even the elect may fall into gross sin, even denying Jesus as Peter did. Although such people will repent before they die, it is far better if we never fall away even temporarily. Let us turn to Christ for strength to persevere in faith and obedience.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 52:13–53:12
Ezekiel 34:23
Matthew 26:30–34
John 13:36–38

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