Jesus was not impressed by their faith: “Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe?’” (John 16:31). Jesus by the use of the word “now,” is clear that he was challenging the disciples to realize that believing would not be as easy as it then seemed. Once God give us eyes to see, the gospel is easy to believe. But there is a hard reality about following Jesus that every Christian must realize. Speaking of the trial facing the disciples—one in which their faith would waver—Jesus told them in John 16:32, “ Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.”
This reminds us that we should not take lightly the challenge of believing in Jesus in this world not should we indulge in self-confidence as Christians. The disciples failed to anticipate the weakness of the flesh, the power of Satan’s afflictions, and their vulnerability in the hour of trial. If we have felt the challenge of Jesus words in our own lives—“Do you now believe?” – we will pray in earnest to be delivered from temptation, we will abide constantly in God’s Word, we will regularly attending to the means of grace in the worship of Christ’s church, and we will live in close communion with fellow believers who can encourage us to walk in the light through faith. Knowing that our faith will be tried by difficulties, the mature Christian is not one who has advanced beyond careful attention to God’s Word, prayer, and regular worship in the church. Instead, mature believers have learned not to neglect the God-given means of grace that preserve our faith.
For the disciples, these lessons would be learned in the events of that very night. Jesus foretold their scattering after his arrest, and the Gospels speak unanimously about the flight of the disciples. Matthew 26:56 reports, “Then all the disciples left him and fled.” The only exceptions were Peter and John. Luke mentions that Peter followed Jesus at a distance (Luke 22:54), only to deny him three times outside the high priest’s house. John, being acquainted with the ruling priests, entered into the courtyard to watch Jesus’ mock trial (John 18:15) and later appeared with Jesus’ mother at the cross. Still, Jesus’ summary was borne out in general by the disciples: “you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone” (16:32). This fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7,” “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;”
Jesus mentions two dangers when Christians are troubled in the world: God’s people, first, are scattered and, second, are tempted to renounce Jesus. Consider how Christians are scattered today, sometimes by persecution, sometimes by disagreements, and sometimes by false doctrines and practices. As the winds of heresy, worldliness, and fleshly pride blow across the church, we find ourselves scattered by argument, resentment, and suspicion. What is the way to reconciliation among scattered Christians? The answer is Jesus Himself. To the extent that our doctrine and lives are centered on Jesus, we will avoid being scattered as believers, despite differing experience and some differences in our teaching.
Second, since they would be scattered, Jesus said that the disciples would “leave me alone.” This in part reflected the reality as Ridderbos explains, “Jesus must walk the road alone, and can do so as the good Shepherd who gives his life for His sheep so that not one of them is lost. “[i] It remains true, however, that the disciples were torn away from Jesus by fear and self-centered, so that they abandoned him to face the cross alone.
How different was Jesus! Whereas the disciples were scattered, Jesus stood firm in His calling as our Savior. Whereas the disciples were confused, Jesus remained master of the situation. Whereas the Eleven departed, each to his own isolated refuge, Jesus said, “Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me” (John 16:32). This is our hope: that Jesus preserved in his saving work in communion with the Father. Even when crying out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46), Jesus was still one with the purpose and will of the Father in making sacrifice for our sins. Bearing God’s wrath by dying in His human nature, Jesus remained unified with the Father in His undying divine being.
Since Jesus died for sinners, there is hope for faltering but true disciples such as the original Eleven and us today. Thank God that we are not saved by our faith—as if our believing achieved our salvation—but we are saved by Christ through faith. Thus, a weak and failing faith is saved by a strong and faithful Savior. The disciples would fail Jesus and abandon their faith—how could they ever be restored? Paul answers in 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).
Meanwhile, whenever a Christian is scattered by persecution, failure, or even our own sin, we can know that, we too, are never truly alone. Whenever our faith turns to the Lord and our prayer reaches up for deliverance, God is near us to save. James wrote in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
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[i] Herman Ridderbos, John: A Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 545.