In the account of the last few days of Jesus’ life, we find evidence that His sacrifice is for all kinds of sinners, even those who have demonstrated a profound degree of unfaithfulness to Him. Perhaps the clearest indication of this is the Last Supper, where Jesus said that His body and blood—His atoning death—was for the disciples, the same disciples who later deserted and denied Him (Mark 14:12–72). We know, of course, that the disciples, except for Judas, later showed themselves to be faithful to the end, with several of them even dying as martyrs for Christ. Thus, we see evidence that falling away is not itself proof that faith is not genuine. All those whom God has justified, He also glorifies (Rom. 8:28–30), so all who have saving faith, even if they temporarily fall away, will return to their profession before they die. Nevertheless, to deny Christ before others or to desert one’s profession when things get rough is a serious sin, and it is something we should strive to avoid even if it is not unforgivable.
To deny or desert Jesus, even temporarily, is shameful, as we see in today’s passage. The Twelve all fled when Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:50). (Note, however, that John returned to the cross before Jesus breathed His last; John 19:25–27.) Yet, one other group of Christ’s followers remained near Him at the end—the faithful women who had loved and served Jesus during His ministry. Mark tells us that many women were there when Jesus died, including “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome” (Mark 14:40–41). Mary Magdalene, of course, was our Lord’s most well-known female disciple, from whom He had driven seven demons. Many scholars believe the other Mary was Jesus’ mother (6:3). Salome was the mother of Zebedee’s sons James and John (Matt. 4:21; 27:56). Their mention is significant, for women were not often regarded very highly in first-century culture and would not have been expected to have the kind of courageous faith that enabled them to stay near Jesus when the men ran away. John Calvin notes that Mark mentions the women as a reproof of the male disciples. Those whom He called and would commission as Apostles were less faithful than those who would not receive the Apostolic office.
The Apostles, then, needed forgiveness, receiving it the same way we do—through the atoning death of Christ. C.H. Spurgeon notes in his sermon “The Rent Veil” that “God is not approachable except through the rending of the veil by the death of Jesus.”