Then Jesus told them, “You will all fall away from me this evening, because it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.’ But once I have risen from the body, I will be waiting for you in Galilee.” (Mark 14:27-28)
Why will they be 'falling away' from Jesus?
Jesus is speaking to his close disciples after they departed from the Passover meal and they were on their way to Mount of Olives - often also called Mount Olives.
Jesus is letting his disciples know that he knows they will scatter and avoid arrest. As documented in Zechariah, this is a common response for followers of a persecuted teacher.
It is typical for followers to abandon their teacher when their life is threatened. It is a practical matter, and Jesus did not condemn it. Why didn't he condemn it?
If every follower allows themself to be taken down with their teacher, there would be no one left to carry on those teachings.
Who then would be left to pass on the teachings of Jesus if all his followers were crucified or otherwise killed? It was essential that they scatter. If all of Jesus' disciples were all persecuted at once, his enemies would erase his teachings from the historical record.
So while it does seem awful for Jesus' disciples to abandon him as he was being arrested and following his arrest, there is an ultimate purpose: They needed to survive in order to pass on his teachings.
This all means that Jesus wants his followers to be safe so they could pass on his teachings to others.
This is also why Jesus told his followers to escape the city and go into the desert during the coming Jewish-Roman wars:
"But when you see the detestable things of desolation become established where they shouldn’t, those who recognize this should understand that those in Judea should flee to the mountains." (Mark 13:14)So Jesus didn't want to take down his entire company of followers with him. He wanted them to go on and teach others what he had taught them. And the only way they could do that is if they survived the onslaught of his arrest, and later on the Jewish-Roman wars - which lasted over a century.
What does 'strike down the shepherd' mean?
Jesus knew what was going to happen to him. He knew he was going to be arrested and persecuted. He knew the playbook for the Temple institution and its thirst for power. He also recognized during his teachings, that the Temple officials were ready to persecute him.
This was documented in the Book of John, when Jesus was teaching in a Temple courtyard and was being tested by Pharisees and temple officials. After the discussion, it says:
At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:59)
So it was becoming obvious to Jesus that he was in imminent danger of being put to death. The writing was on the wall. And Jesus decided he was going to accept this fate, and he arranged for this to happen.
So was he saying that God would be striking him down?
Rather, Jesus is bringing up a verse from Zechariah in order to be instructive to his followers: In order to explain that it is alright that they scatter.
Here is the verse from Zechariah that Jesus quoted:
“Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!" declares the LORD Almighty. "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones.” (Zechariah 13:7 NIV)Importantly, the scattering of the sheep allows the sheep to go to various places and pass on the teachings of the shepherd - in this case, Jesus. And we know that Jesus' disciples traveled widely. Some went to France. Some went to India. Some went to Arabia. This allowed Jesus' message to travel far and wide - because the sheep were scattered.
But understand that it is not that God arranged to have Jesus killed.
Why did God allow them to kill Jesus?
We must be clear that God did not arrange to have Jesus killed. He wasn't pulling the puppet strings in order to have Jesus' body brutally tortured and murdered on the cross. This was the choice and responsibility of those Romans and Priests that orchestrated Jesus' trial, his sentencing, and his persecution.
The reality is that God grants all souls (all of us) who are sent to the physical world to have a certain amount of independence. This is especially true when it comes to accepting or rejecting those who are His representatives.
You see, God sends us His representatives, but those who come as His representatives freely choose to serve Him. And those who follow His representative and come to love Him also do this freely. This is because love requires the freedom to love or not.
But in order to allow this freedom - to choose to follow His representative and learn to love God - we must also be given the freedom to reject God's representative. It can't be that we have only the freedom to accept but not the freedom to reject. They come hand in hand.
This means that those who choose to reject God's representatives also have the freedom to harm His representatives' physical body by persecuting them. Yes, they must suffer the consequences for those decisions. But those who harmed Jesus had the freedom to do this - the ultimate offense against God - or not.
But we must also understand that God's representative knows that this is only taking place upon his temporary physical body. This is why Jesus allowed it to happen. This is also why Jesus said:
"And don’t fear those who can kill the body but are unable to kill the soul. Rather, fear those who are able to ruin both the soul and the body in hell." (Matthew 10:28)So Jesus knew that while his body would be persecuted, his spirit-person - his soul - would be unharmed by the crucifixion.
What did he mean by saying he'd wait for them in Galilee?
This is why Jesus said he would rise from the body and meet them in Galilee. Because Jesus knew the crucifixion would only kill his physical body. It would not kill his spirit-person, who lives eternally.
This is also why Jesus told his disciples:
"Watch and pray that you won’t fall into temptation – the spirit may be willing but the physical body is weak.” (Mark 14:38)The fact that Jesus would leave his physical body was also described in all four Gospels as they referred to his body's death on the cross. Here is the verse from Mark:
Then Jesus cried out loudly, and his spirit passed. (Mark 15:37)So Jesus was telling his followers that he would meet them in Galilee because he would be leaving his physical body at the time of death and reappearing before them later on. Why? Because he wanted them to understand first hand that he wasn't going to die when his physical body dies - and neither will we when our physical body dies.