It is just five words in Greek but this short verse in the fourteenth chapter of Mark speaks volumes. Those who followed Jesus during his public ministry had numbered in the hundreds with people flocking to hear him teach, sometimes swelling into multiple thousands (John 6). But now that he had been executed as a Roman criminal, his followers were at a grand total of zero. "They all left him and fled." John's gospel gives us the detail that when Jesus was taken away the disciples locked themselves in a house "for fear of the Jews" (John 20:19). They knew that association with Jesus meant trouble for them since he had been crucified. It was likely that the same fate awaited them as his companions, so they hid in fear and despair. Jesus predicted this would happen and he told his disciples as much on the night of the Last Supper. "You will all fall away 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).
There was a misunderstanding on both sides about what Jesus had come to do. At some level the disciples were ready for a political revolution. Peter even drew his sword (what's a fisherman doing with a sword!) to fight off the guards who seized Jesus in Gethsemane (John 18:10). While Pontius Pilate didn't find any wrongdoing in Jesus, there was still some trepidation on the part of the authorities. Jesus was being hailed as a king and he had a large following. This potentially had the seeds of a revolution that the Romans needed to crush. That fear is exactly what the Jewish Court played upon to convince Pilate that Jesus needed to be killed. Therefore, when Jesus' execution was complete, the disciples feared that they would be next.
While the disciples fear and despair is understandable to some extent, Jesus did predict his death and resurrection on several occasions. They should have known that. Even the Pharisees knew that Jesus predicted that he would rise from the dead. They stated as much when they asked Pilate to put extra guards at Jesus' tomb because "that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise'." In fact, when Jesus does return from the grave on Sunday he mentions just as much to the disciples on the road to Emmaus saying,
"O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26)
Not only should the disciples have picked up on the nature of Jesus' mission from the Old Testament, but Jesus' own words to them were sufficient to understand. In John 2 he identified his own body as the temple that would be torn down only to be risen again in three days. In John 10 he presented himself as the Good Shepherd who has the authority to lay down his life and take it back up again. In John 11, just days before Holy Week began, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and proclaimed that he is the "resurrection and the life" and those who trust in him would rise again. Matthew even communicates to his readers that Jesus spent time explaining to his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem to die and resurrect (Matthew 16).
The disciples imagined a Jesus who had come to improve their physical situation. They were citizens of a tiny nation subjected to the oppression of the Roman Empire. They had to pay excessive taxes to a gluttonous empire who would brutalize those who didn't comply. They were told to hail Caesar as their king and possibly even one of the gods. They had to witness suspected criminals be tortured and executed under the violent capital punishment of Roman law. These men wanted to be free, and we can all identify with that emotion. However, Jesus' mission was much greater. Overthrowing Rome is a small thing. Jesus came to topple the real enemies: sin, death, and Satan.
Oftentimes we find ourselves in the same mindset, looking to Jesus to improve our physical situation and then despairing when he doesn't. We want better jobs with more reasonable bosses, higher pay, and great benefits. We want our relationships to run smoothly. We want to be successful in whatever we set our minds to. We want stability and control in every aspect of our lives. These aren't necessarily bad ambitions, but when we are willing to scatter from Jesus when we don't get them, then we have a problem. Our mindset needs to be on a grander scale. Jesus is Lord of the Universe and his primary concern was to inaugurate the coming of the Kingdom of God by overthrowing the tyranny of sin, death, and the devil. This should be our focus as well. We want to put our complete faith and trust in Jesus and follow him to the end.
This means that we will not always get what we desire. Things will not always go our way. Being a Christian doesn't guarantee that your job won't downsize and let you go. It doesn't mean that your kids will always be obedient, honor roll students. It doesn't mean that your car will never break down at inconvenient times. Being a Christian means that your rebellion against God and his laws are forgiven. It means that you are a citizen of a new kingdom - a kingdom that lasts for eternity. It means that as a recipient of grace you have been commissioned to be gracious. As a Christian, you are called to share with your friends, family, and neighbors the good news that on Friday Jesus died for the sins of the world and tomorrow, Easter Sunday, he rises from the grave to defeat death once and for all. That is why Jesus came and that is where all of our hope should reside.