After the supper, Jesus and the disciples went out to the Mount of Olives. This is where Jesus told them, just before his agonizing prayer in Gethsemane, that they would all stumble over him this very night.
The key to understanding this passage is the word the ESV translates as “fall away”. The word is skandalizo, and it is easy to see that we get some English words from this Greek word as well.
Well, skandalizo is a pretty strong word. Jesus is not saying that the disciples will get scared and run away. He is not saying that they will fear for their lives and go into hiding. They will do these things, but that is not what Jesus is talking about.
Matthew used the same word in the parable of the soils. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. (Matthew 13:20–21, ESV)
Sometimes I think the parable of the soils is key to understanding both the gospel of Matthew and the Christian mission in general.
Some of the translations are bold enough to use stronger language.
Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ (Matthew 26:31, NRSV)
Then Jesus said to them, ‘Tonight you will all lose faith because of me; for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of his flock will be scattered.” (Matthew 26:31, REB)
My point is that Jesus is saying that the disciples—all of them—will actually renounce their relationship with him on this night. They will no longer believe he is the messiah. They will deny him, not themselves.
Now, in this sad picture there is a measure of hope. Jesus says he will go before them to Galilee after he is raised. After saying his sheep will be scattered (from Zechariah), he seems to be saying he will resume being their shepherd after the resurrection. Thus, they will be restored. The story in Zechariah also ends with restoration.
Peter says, of course, “Not me.” Jesus responds with, “Especially you.” Not just Peter, but all the others said the same thing.
It should make us weep. Don’t we put ourselves in the place of the disciples when we read the gospel? We would probably like to think that it would have been different if we had been there. That’s what Peter said.
They all fell away.
But there was restoration for eleven out of twelve.