Was Jesus brave, or was he just a coward? After all, he said, "And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do" (Luke 12:4). But then we also read, "Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple..." (John 8:59). And also, "After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because Jews sought to kill him" (John 7:1). What do you say?
Jesus was very courageous. But you have to read the whole gospel. The critics sometimes pull lines off the page without knowing how they fit in to the whole. Jesus taught that we should fear God, not men (Matthew 10:28). But he also said that when persecuted we should flee (Matthew 10:23)! This is not compromising the faith. And it’s more than just being smart. There is no virtue in dying for something unnecessarily, provided there is no deep principle at stake. That is, in Matthew 10, Luke 12, and other places, we are told to be willing to take a stand and die for our faith. And this is exactly what Jesus did!
He was governed by a sense of God’s timing. This is clear in Mark, Matthew, and Luke, and especially in John. In John 10:17-18, Jesus says he lays down his life. But you will see him rejecting the bad advice his own brothers gave him in the beginning of John 7. It is clear that in the end, he deliberately provoked the Jewish leaders, knowing (and predicting many times) that he would die.
This is a man of courage. Yet courage does not mean you are eager to get killed at the first opportunity. In fact, sometimes that is the easier way, since you don’t have to strategize, fight multiple battles (only one!), and steel yourself for the next conflict. A soldier may be brave when he charges into enemy fire. But he might also be stupid, leading others to their deaths. True courage, moreover, is not the absence of fear, but doing what is right even though we fear. When I feel anxiety, often my natural tendency is to strike back, to lash out, to have a “bring it on” mentality. Oh no, I’m not afraid to cross swords with an opponent. But true courage sometimes entails patience. Waiting longer, you feel the full force (and dread) of what is coming your way.
Jesus was both bold and wise. Avoiding trouble is not necessarily cowardice.