In the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was being arrested by the Temple guards of the Sanhedrin, why did the disciples flee? Is this evidence that they didn’t believe that Jesus was divine?
Before we move on to our look at the trilemma defence, there’s an obscure and somewhat interesting objection that is worth a look. As the Temple guards came to arrest Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, the Gospel accounts tell us that each of the disciples fled the scene in fear for their own lives and safety. The question is, why did the disciples flee if they believed Jesus was divine? Having seen His miracles, personally confessed to his diety, and having heard Christ’s death and resurrection predictions on multiple occasions, why wouldn’t they reassure themselves this time that everything was going to be fine, just like Jesus had predicted?
Maybe if they had been watching from a distance things would have turned out this way, but as Matthew’s account tells us, Peter had other ideas. During the arrest, Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of one of the guards, leading to Christ’s well-known objection, “….for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matthew 26:52). This, of course, created some complications. They couldn’t just sit back and tell themselves that Jesus had everything under control. They were now perceived as a threat by that set of guards and would have most likely been arrested along with Jesus had they remained.
Moreover, Jesus had predicted their cowardice, which the disciples denied with a show of confidence (Mt. 26:31-34) (This is also an interesting point when we eventually turn to look at their martyrdom following the resurrection of Jesus).
Another note of reference is that the disciples often misunderstood Jesus’ resurrection predictions or else tried to deny them or stop them altogether. Remember when Jesus called Peter Satan to his face in Mt. 16:23? The disciples’ misunderstanding of Jesus’ predictions sit in line with Jewish thoughts on resurrection and what the Messiah would come to accomplish, so it wasn’t merely his misunderstanding Jesus’ rebuked him for, but his plan to keep them from happening. It’s no surprise, then, that Peter attempts to stop the guards here. Their perception of the Messiah and His mission and fate didn’t allow them to entertain the idea of His death. It’s this rebellion against the guards that caused the disciples to flee, not a lack of knowledge about Jesus’ divinity.