In addition to false Christs and the wars they would support in order to establish a more worldly kingdom, Jesus has warned His disciples of the tribulation such things would cause for His followers who keep His commandments. In standing for the kingdom of God they would be stigmatized as criminals against the kingdoms of this world. As a result, many Christians who were otherwise drawn by the gospel’s hope of eternal life would be caused to stumble, to “fall away”, and even betray and hate one another because of the fearful circumstances. What example do we find in Scripture of these sort of circumstances that confronted even the apostles? See Mat 26:31,33-35.
Consider that in spite of His warnings and all the time His disciples had personally spent with Jesus and their pledges to remain faithful, they all “fell away” (same word; literally “were caused to stumble”) in fear for their lives the night He was arrested. Because they “fell away”, did that necessarily mean they became completely irredeemable and were lost forever? Cf. Rom 11:9-12; cf. Psa 37:23-24. What in particular had Jesus done to keep them from falling away completely in spite of stumbling so badly? See Luk 22:31-32. What does this remind us about the importance of Christ’s present intercessory ministry on our behalf? See Heb 7:25. Does this then imply that it is impossible for one to stumble so irreparably as to fall away completely? Cf. 1Sa 15:10-11,22-26, 16:14, Mat 10:1-4, 26:6-9,14-15,24-25, Luk 22:3, Joh 13:2,26-27, Act 1:16-19,24-25, Rom 15:4, 1Co 10:1-13, 1Jo 5:16-17.
To what extent was the “falling away” of Peter and the other disciples mitigated by the fact that it happened before the resurrection? Cf. Mat 26:31 and think: to what extent did the general darkness of sin that had enveloped the world and the lesser light they had before that seminal event prevent them from fully understanding and responding more successfully to what they had been taught? What does this teach us about the power of sin and its darkness to cause even Jesus’ closest followers to stumble and prevent them from acting upon what they had come to believe to be true? What does it teach us about the necessity of something more than just a proclamation and even an understanding of the truth to break through the darkness of sin in order that man might truly be delivered from its bondage? Without the resurrection of Jesus, can one be raised from the darkness of sin? See Rom 6:4. What does this remind us about the importance of the resurrection to the gospel of man’s salvation, and the wisdom and power and love of God in orchestrating all that was necessary to provide for man a complete deliverance from sin?
Consider that whereas eleven of the twelve apostles did not stumble irreparably, Judas did. With the eleven he had an equal share in Christ’s ministry, having been given authority to cast out evil spirits and heal every kind of disease and sickness (Mat 10:1), and like them he had his own weaknesses of the flesh and even expressed remorse for having betrayed Jesus once he saw that He was condemned (Mat 27:3-5). Why then was the lesser light available to him before the resurrection less mitigating than it was for the others so that in stumbling he fell away completely to perdition (Joh 17:12)? Think: How was the way that Judas stumbled different from that of the other apostles? See Mar 14:38 and think: whereas the flesh of the other apostles was weak, their spirit was willing; was that necessarily true of Judas? See also Joh 12:3-6 and think: was Judas walking faithfully in the light that he had? Cf. 1Ti 1:5. Hence, even though we may not have full knowledge and understanding, what does this teach us about the importance of walking in what light we have and being obedient to what we do know and understand?
What other very significant event was the falling away of the eleven also before that empowered them with a holy boldness they themselves did not possess? See Act 1:8, 2:1-4,14,40, 4:8,13, etc… What does this remind us about the importance of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit to us as believers, lest like Peter facing the tribulations of this life in our own strength we too are caused to stumble? See Joh 15:26-16:2. What should we also understand about our need to abide in that Spirit of separation from the world in order to stand firm in the midst of tribulation, lest being carried away by the spirit of this age we stumble so as to fall away irreparably? See especially Heb 6:4-6 and note that Hebrews was written before the fall of Jerusalem when Christians were facing the very tribulations that Jesus here predicted. By that time Christians were no longer viewed as a sect of the Jews who had religio licita status in the Roman empire and could freely practice their faith. As a result, besides being despised by the Jews, Christians were also branded as criminals by the state for practicing an illegal religion and tempted to “fall away”, especially back into the religion of the Jews, who at the instigation of their false Christs and false prophets were warring against the Romans. Again, what does this teach us about the importance of abiding in the Holy Spirit of Christ wherein there is strength to stand, and not drifting away into the spirit of the world where it is so easy to stumble? Cf. Heb 2:1-3, 3:12, 4:1, 10:26-31, 12:14-17.
1. This was due to services rendered unto Julius Caesar by Hyrcanus the son of Alexander, the high priest and governor of the Jews, c. 50 B.C. See Josephus, Antiquities, 14:189-212.↩