This statement was quite shocking to the disciples. They couldn't imagine that any of them would do such a thing. "The disciples began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking" (John 13:22). The disciples were "deeply grieved" on hearing such a prediction; "they each one began to say to Him, 'Surely not I, Lord?'" (Matthew 26:22).
While it seemed unthinkable that anyone in their group would betray Jesus, I suppose each individual in the group thought himself least likely to be the betrayer. Peter was so sure of himself that he vowed, "Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away" (Matthew 26:33). He continued, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You" (Matthew 26:35). "All the disciples said the same thing too" (Matthew 26:35).
This dilemma led to an interesting conversation. "And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing" (Luke 22:23). This couldn't have been good for morale or mutual trust. As much as they wanted to deny Jesus' prediction, their discussion by its very nature weakened the unity and confidence within the group.
It is quite logical then that the first discussion quickly blossomed into another. "And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be the greatest" (Luke 22:24). If the initial question was "Who is most likely to fail?" it was closely followed by "Who is most likely to be faithful?"
In the disciples' difficult pondering and disputation, they may have found it impossible to reach a conclusion about who would be guilty of betraying Jesus. The best they could do was to narrow down the options. Surely, they could at least come up with a list of who definitely wouldn't betray Him. We don't know which names ended up on the short list of suspects (or even how long that list was), but each disciple's desire was to prove that he could not possibly be on that list. After all, he was in the competition for being the greatest.
I don't believe any of the disciples started out with the intention of displaying pride. They were rightfully horrified that any of them would prove disloyal. They didn't want that to be true of them. In their individual desire to be true to Jesus, each looked for some type of indication, proof, or support to convince himself (and the others) that he would not betray Jesus. Just like that, pride crept in. Suddenly, the men were looking internally for something of value or strength in themselves.
In spite of their arguments, the sad truth is that none of them fared very well in the following hours. Judas, the one of whom Jesus had spoken, led the soldiers and religious leaders to Jesus' location in a pitiful act of betrayal. "Then all the disciples left Him and fled" (Matthew 26:56). John was the only one who followed Jesus and gained access to the venue of the trial (John 18:15). Bold Peter "was following Him at a distance as far as the courtyard of the high priest," where he "sat down . . . to see the outcome" (Matthew 26:58). Subsequently, he denied three times that he knew Jesus, even cursing in his vehemence. The other disciples are not mentioned after their flight.
Their intentions were right. Their heart and desire were right. None of the disciples wanted to fail Jesus. They wanted to be true, faithful, loyal, and dependable. These were the men who had learned directly from Jesus and had ministered with Him for several years. If anyone would stand with Jesus, it would be these men, yet even they failed.
While Christians today do not have a specific prediction like Judas did, falling is definitely a danger. Probably every reader knows of at least one previously faithful Christian who has slid into complacence. Worse, each reader probably knows of formerly faithful Christians who have completely walked away from God, perhaps denying His existence or becoming combative. Some readers have likely found themselves tempted to do the same at a crisis point in their lives. Any believer who asserts, "I have never been tempted like that," is on shaky ground, but the one who vows, "I never will be," is in great danger.
If, like the disciples, we start to think, "I would never deny God. After all, I'm one of the best Christians," we would do well to relate to the apostle Paul, who realized, "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me but the doing of the good is not" (Romans 7:18). Jesus said it well: "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. . . . Apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:4-5).
When we observe someone who has fallen, may we never think, "Not me!" Oh, the weakness and deception of the human heart! Only the grace of God enables us to be faithful. Only the grace of God keeps us and draws us closer to Him. We are powerless to achieve any such success on our own, in spite of noble and determined motivation. When we think we are strong, that is when we need to rely on God the most and call out to Him for help. "Father, I need You!"
"Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall" (I Corinthians 10:12).