I’m glad you are continuing to read about Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. Today we read how Jesus was betrayed by Judas. Then we see Jesus observe the Last Supper and perform the first Communion. He then predicts Peter’s denial. Later we see him agonizing in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane and ultimately arrested.
RELIGIOUS LEADERS PLOT TO KILL JESUS /26:1-5
Starting in this chapter and through the end of the book, we find the climax of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew recorded little teaching (as opposed to John who recorded lengthy teaching at the Last Supper) and instead focused on Jesus’ completion of the work that he had come to do, emphasizing
- God’s sovereign control of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection;
- the voluntary nature of Jesus’ sacrifice—he was not an unfortunate victim but went boldly to death in obedience to God;
- the nature of Jesus as Son of God and royal Messiah contrasting with his humility in suffering and death;
- the guilt of the Jewish leaders, who even used false witnesses against Jesus; and
- the victory of Jesus over his opponents—gaining the ultimate victory by rising from the dead.
26:1-2 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”NRSV “All these things” that Jesus had finished saying refers to his teachings about the kingdom, recorded in chapters 23-25. Matthew used this statement to signal the end of his record of teaching. Next, Jesus moved into the final days of his earthly ministry and to the act that he ultimately came to accomplish—death for sins. This was never a surprise to Jesus—in fact, he had already told his disciples on three different occasions that he would suffer and die (see 16:21-28; 17:22-23; 20:17-19). As if echoing these warnings, Jesus reminded his disciples that the time had come for these things to be fulfilled.
That Jesus would die during Passover was deeply significant with respect to Jewish history. The “Passover” commemorated the night the Israelites were freed from Egypt (Exodus 12), when God “passed over” homes marked by the blood of a lamb. This was the last great plague on Egypt when, in unmarked homes, the firstborn sons died. After this horrible disaster, Pharaoh allowed the Israelites to leave. Annually, Hebrew families would celebrate the Passover meal, a feast with the main course of lamb. The sacrifice of a lamb and the spilling of its blood commemorated Israel’s escape from Egypt when the blood of a lamb painted on their doorposts had saved their firstborn sons from death. This event foreshadowed Jesus’ work on the cross. As the spotless Lamb of God, his blood would be spilled in order to save his people from the penalty of death brought by sin.
26:3-5 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”NIV The Jewish leaders (chief priests and the elders of the people) plotted secretly to kill Jesus. The opposition against Jesus had been rising for some time. These leaders had already decided that Jesus must die (see John 11:47-53); they just needed the opportunity to kill him. Matthew placed this explanation here, immediately after Jesus’ words of knowledge regarding coming events, to emphasize that though the leaders might plot and connive, all events would occur according to God’s sovereign plan.
So they assembled in the palace of the high priest. Caiaphas was the ruling high priest during Jesus’ ministry. He was the son-in-law of Annas, the previous high priest. Although the position of high priest was supposed to be held for life, the Roman government had taken over the process of appointing all political and religious leaders. Annas had been replaced by Caiaphas, which was illegal according to the Law; therefore, many Jews still regarded Annas as the true high priest. Caiaphas was the leader of the religious group called the Sadducees. Educated and wealthy, the Sadducees were politically influential in the nation. An elite group, they were on fairly good terms with Rome. Caiaphas served for eighteen years, longer than most high priests, suggesting that he was gifted at cooperating with the Romans. He was the first to recommend Jesus’ death in order to “save” the nation (John 11:49-50). The religious leaders hated Jesus because he taught a message and claimed an authority for himself that they could not accept.
The leaders were afraid of Jesus’ popularity, so they needed some sly way to arrest Jesus and convict him with the death penalty. They did not want to attempt to arrest Jesus during the Feast. The day of Passover (recalling the Israelites’ escape from Egypt) was followed by a seven-day festival called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a harvest feast celebrating the gathering of the barley crop (Deuteronomy 16:9). Eventually the eight days (the day of Passover and the week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread) came to be called the Passover Feast. This holiday found people gathering for a special meal that included lamb, wine, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread. Passover was celebrated on the fourteenth day of the Jewish month of Nisan (by our calendar, the last part of March and the first part of April). All Jewish males over the age of twelve were required to go to Jerusalem for Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Deuteronomy 16:5-6), although Jews in faraway lands could celebrate there if they faced in the direction of Jerusalem. During this holiday, Jerusalem, a town of about 50,000, would swell to 250,000 people.
Thus, the leaders realized that to arrest Jesus during the Feast days could cause this huge crowd to riot on his behalf. They feared that such an uprising might bring the wrath of Rome. While Roman reprisals for riots in its territories were not as automatic as some have thought (politics in Rome at this time favored being tolerant), use of force was a possibility. The religious leaders did not want to take that chance. They may have planned to arrest Jesus after the Feast when the vast crowds were gone. Perhaps Judas’s unexpected offer (26:14-16) caused them to move sooner than they had planned, but, as this passage implies, all was proceeding according to God’s timetable.
|LIFE APPLICATION – SUBTLE SECRECY|
|Jesus was conducting his ministry in public, but opponents were planning behind closed doors. Public works of love made Jesus vulnerable; secret acts of treachery preserved the religious leaders’ public reputations.|
|Today, Christian workers should know that behind many closed doors, evil plots are developed to overturn God’s kingdom. Opposition is always present, though not always public. Pray for help and wisdom to work through it, and don’t be naive about its intentions. To the forces of evil, you are the enemy.|
A WOMAN ANOINTS JESUS WITH PERFUME / 26:6-13
Matthew and Mark put this event just before the Last Supper, while John included it just before the Triumphal Entry. Of the three, John placed it in the most likely chronological position. Matthew sandwiched this beautiful event between two sections dealing with the plot to eliminate Jesus. This act of devotion by Mary, who is a true heroine in this narrative, contrasts with the treachery of the villains—the religious leaders and Judas. Matthew and Mark’s accounts make thematic use of this event without claiming that it occurred at a certain time in the week. They may have simply placed it here to contrast the devotion of Mary with the betrayal of Judas, the next event recorded in their Gospels.
26:6-7 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.NIV
|Bethany was located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives (Jerusalem is on the western side). This town was the home of Jesus’ friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Jesus had been returning to Bethany from Jerusalem each night during this final week, probably staying with these dear friends (21:17).
|Visit in Bethany
Chronologically, the events of Matthew 26:6-13 precede the events of 21:1ff. In 20:29, Jesus left Jericho, heading toward Jerusalem. Then he arrived in Bethany, where a woman anointed him. From there he went toward Bethphage, where two of his disciples got the donkey that he would ride into Jerusalem.
One night, a dinner had been prepared with Jesus as the honored guest (thus his position of reclining at the table). The host, Simon the Leper, did not have leprosy at this time, for lepers were forced to live separately from people because of the extreme contagiousness of the disease. Jesus may have healed Simon of his leprosy, but he had the nickname as a former leper. The woman who came to him was probably Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who lived in Bethany (John 12:1-3). An alabaster jar was a beautiful and expensive vase with a long, slender neck. It was carved from translucent gypsum. The perfume inside the jar is described as “pure nard” (Mark 14:3 niv), a fragrant ointment imported from the mountains of India. This was pure and genuine ointment, thus very costly. The perfume may have been a family heirloom. The beautiful jar was broken (Mark 14:3), and the costly ointment was poured on Jesus’ head. (John records that the oil was poured on Jesus’ feet—Mary probably did both, for Jesus was reclining with his legs stretched out behind the table.) It was a common custom at some Jewish meals for the honored guests to be anointed with oil (see Luke 7:44-46), but it would not be expensive nard. Such an anointing, using expensive oil and pouring it on the head as well as the feet, pictured a royal anointing appropriate for the Messiah.
26:8-9 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”NIV Mary’s gift to Jesus was worth a year’s wages. Perfume such as this was used in burial rites because embalming was not the Jewish custom. Perfume covered the odor of the dead body. The disciples used a pious protest to hide their mixed reactions. They concluded that the expensive ointment had been wasted on Jesus, so they rebuked Mary for such an act because the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Where Matthew says the disciples, John specifically mentions Judas (John 12:4-5). Judas’s indignation over Mary’s act of worship would not have been based on concern for the poor, but on greed. Because Judas was the treasurer of Jesus’ ministry and had embezzled funds (John 12:6), he no doubt wanted the perfume sold so that the proceeds could be put into his care. It would have brought a nice sum. The disciples were astonished at Mary’s action; they resented this gesture as apparent waste. Passover was the time of special giving to the poor (see John 13:27-29), and the sale of this ointment would certainly have provided a generous amount to give. The disciples felt moral outrage at the loss of resources for the poor. But Jesus wanted them to understand that even concern for the poor must never be elevated over devotion to him. Jesus also knew what was in Judas’s heart. Judas wasn’t interested in helping the poor; he was interested in getting his hands on the money (John 12:6).
|LIFE APPLICATION – CALCULATING VALUE|
|Efficiency is the relentless taskmaster that drives all our decisions, all our proposals, all parts of our life, said French philosopher and theologian Jacques Ellul. Efficiency (he called it by a special term, la technique), pervades the church as well as the corporation. Everything we do is justified by its calculated contribution to established goals. Thus the disciples were quite modern to protest the “waste” of valuable oil.|
|Jesus alerts us that efficiency is an inadequate governor for at least one crucial encounter: people with God. In worship, let efficiency take its place, but not a primary place. In evangelism, use resources wisely but do not calculate cost-benefits as accountants are trained to do. What appears to be waste may well bring Jesus supreme enjoyment, and that matters most.|
26:10-11 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”NRSV Jesus reprimanded the disciples for their lack of insight. Their words criticized Mary’s actions, but Jesus’ words comforted her. The expensive perfume poured on Jesus had been a good service to him—a beautiful, acceptable, appealing act of love and sacrifice—and Jesus declared it to be so. This was a unique act for a specific occasion—an anointing that anticipated Jesus’ burial and publicly declared faith in him as Messiah. In saying, you always have the poor with you, Jesus was not saying that we should neglect the poor, nor was he justifying indifference to them. Jesus was affirming Mary’s unselfish act of worship and highlighting the special sacrifice that Mary had made for him.
|The essence of worshiping Christ is to regard him with utmost love, respect, and devotion, as well as to be willing to sacrifice to him what is most precious.||Obedience is all over the Gospels. The pliability of an obedient heart must be complete from our wills right on through to our actions.
The phrase “you will not always have me” meant that Jesus would soon be gone from them physically. Jesus’ purpose in these words was to explain that the opportunity to show him such devotion and to anoint him with oil (in preparation for burial) would soon pass. However, they should show kindness to the poor, and opportunities to do so would continue until the end of time. There would always be poor people who would need help. Jesus brought to mind Deuteronomy 15:11: “The poor will never cease from the land” (nkjv). This statement does not justify ignoring the needs of the poor. Scripture continually calls us to care for the needy. The passage in Deuteronomy continues: “Therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land'” (nkjv). (For Jesus’ teaching about the poor, see 6:2-4; Luke 6:20-21; 14:13, 21; 18:22.
Jesus’ words should have taught Judas and the disciples the valuable lesson that devotion to Christ is worth more than money. Unfortunately, Judas did not take heed; soon he would sell his Master’s life for thirty pieces of silver.
26:12-13 “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”NIV Mary may not have set out to anoint Jesus for burial; she was merely showing great respect for the Teacher she so loved and respected. She may not have understood Jesus’ approaching death any more than the disciples, although she was known for truly listening to Jesus (Luke 10:39). She may have realized something was going to happen to Jesus, for all knew he was in great danger, and thus she sympathized with him and honored him with the greatest gift she could give.
Mary’s unselfish act would be remembered forever. This has come true because we read about it today. While the disciples misunderstood Jesus’ mission and constantly argued about places in the kingdom and while the religious leaders stubbornly refused to believe in Jesus and plotted his death, this one quiet woman so loved Jesus and was so devoted to him that she considered no sacrifice too great for her beloved Master. She is an example to us all of unselfish devotion to our Savior.
JUDAS AGREES TO BETRAY JESUS / 26:14-16
26:14-16 Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?”NRSV Why would one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, Judas Iscariot, want to betray Jesus? The Bible does not reveal Judas’s motives other than gaining money. All attempts to explain why he betrayed Jesus are speculation. As treasurer, Judas certainly assumed (as did the other disciples—see 20:20-28) that he would be given an important position in Jesus’ new government. But when Jesus praised Mary for pouring out the perfume, thought to be worth a year’s salary, Judas finally began to realize that Jesus’ kingdom was not physical or political. Other views include the following: Judas became disillusioned when he saw that Jesus’ role was to suffer rather than to assume leadership; Judas saw that Jesus’ cause was losing impetus so he sought to save himself and cut a desperate deal; Judas thought that by betraying Jesus he could force Jesus to use his power to set up the kingdom, start a rebellion, and overthrow Rome. Although each of these theories is possible, we simply do not know why Judas betrayed Jesus.
Judas knew that the religious leaders had it in for Jesus, and he knew they would have the power to arrest Jesus. So that was where he went. Judas’s greedy desire for money could not be fulfilled if he followed Jesus, so he betrayed him in exchange for money from the religious leaders. To have discovered a traitor among Jesus’ followers greatly pleased the religious leaders. They had been having difficulty figuring out how to arrest Jesus (26:3-5), so when an offer of help came from this unexpected corner, they took advantage of it. Judas hoped for a monetary reward: What will you give me if I betray him to you?
They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.NRSV Matthew alone has the exact amount of money Judas accepted to betray Jesus—thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave (Exodus 21:32). This also looks ahead to 27:3-10 where Judas returned the money, and the amount fulfills Zechariah 11:12-13 (see also Jeremiah 18:1-4; 19:1-13; 32:6-15). The religious leaders had planned to wait until after the Passover to take Jesus, but with Judas’s unexpected offer, they accelerated their plans. Judas, in turn, began to look for an opportunity to betray him when there would be no Passover crowds to prevent Jesus’ capture and no possibility of a riot. Judas knew where they could find Jesus alone on Passover night and could positively identify him.
DISCIPLES PREPARE FOR THE PASSOVER /26:17-19
26:17 Now on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?”NKJV The Passover took place on one night and at one meal, but the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was celebrated with it, would continue for a week. The first day of the feast was technically the day after Passover, but the two were combined because they occurred in the same month. Thus, this was either Wednesday night (the day before Passover) or Thursday of Jesus’ last week (the night of the Passover meal). Two main questions emerge.
First, was this Last Supper a Passover meal? Most likely it was. In John, Jesus seems to have this meal on the evening before Passover. But the synoptic writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) identify this meal as a Passover meal (Matthew 26:18; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-16). Certain descriptions in the Gospels indicate that this was a Jewish Seder:
- Everyone ate in a reclining position (Matthew 26:20; Mark 14:18; Luke 22:14; John 13:23). Jews reclined only at Passover. The rest of the time Jews ate sitting up so as to differentiate themselves from other cultures like the Egyptians and the Romans.
- A traditional Passover contains a hand-washing ceremony that could have been the opportunity for the foot washing (John 13:1-11).
- The symbolic use of bread and wine occurred in the Passover Seder; Jesus used them both with new meaning.
- The dipping of the unleavened bread into the preparation of bitter herbs comes from Passover (Mark 14:20; John 13:26).
- Though eating lamb is not mentioned in any of the Gospels, it was not an exact requirement to complete the celebration. A Passover could be celebrated without eating lamb. Those Jews traveling or living away from Jerusalem could not eat the Passover lambs officially slain at the temple either. So it would be possible for the disciples to eat kosher lamb, but not one ceremonially sacrificed at the temple.
Second, did this meal take place on Wednesday or Thursday? Traditionally, Passover was from sundown (6:00 p.m.) on Thursday to sundown on Friday, the fifteenth day of the month of Nisan (April). Matthew, Mark, and Luke seem to indicate that Jesus and the disciples celebrated the Last Supper on Thursday evening. However, several verses in John suggest that the Last Supper occurred on a Wednesday (see John 13:1, 29; 18:28; 19:14, 31, 36, 42).
The following three attempts have been made to solve this apparent problem:
- There were two calendars being used to determine the day of Passover. The official calendar followed by the Pharisees and Sadducees was lunar. Jesus and the disciples followed a solar calendar, possibly used at Qumran (a monastic Dead Sea community). The two calendars differed by one day, so that Jesus ate the Passover meal one full day before the Jerusalem Passover. There have been no conclusive historic arguments to support this theory.
- Jesus and his disciples had the Passover meal Wednesday night, one day early, in anticipation of Passover. This view explains John 18:28 and still allows Jesus to be the Passover Lamb— crucified at the same time as the Passover lambs were slaughtered. If Jesus can heal on the Sabbath because he is the Lord of the Sabbath, he certainly could authorize eating the Passover meal one day early. This view harmonizes the chronology of all the Gospel writers and preserves their authority and reliability. Furthermore, it allows for a full three-day period when Jesus was in the grave—not just part of Friday, all of Saturday, and part of Sunday—but from Thursday evening to Sunday morning. This view is plausible, but it has the problem that the Gospels do not tell us that they ate the meal early.
- Jesus and the disciples did eat the meal on the official day of Passover. In d. 30 (the year of Jesus’ crucifixion), the Passover was celebrated on Thursday evening (the fourteenth of Nisan) and was immediately followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which lasted from the fifteenth of Nisan (Friday) to the twenty-first of Nisan. During each day of this celebration, special meals (chaggigah) were eaten. According to this view, the other references in John are to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, not the Passover meal (John 13:29; 18:28; 19:14). In John 13:29, after the Passover meal, Judas went out—actually to betray Jesus—but the disciples thought he had left to buy provisions for the upcoming feast. In John 18:28 the Pharisees did not want to make themselves unclean by entering Pilate’s palace, thereby disqualifying themselves from partaking of the feast. In John 19:14, “the preparation for the Passover” was not for the Passover meal but for the whole week that followed, which in New Testament times was called both the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This view seems most probable.
Therefore, the chronology was as follows:
- Thursday—Lambs were slain in the afternoon, Passover began at 6:00 m., Last Supper, Gethsemane, arrest
- Friday—Official trial, Crucifixion, burial by sundown, Feast of Unleavened Bread and Sabbath began at 6:00 m.
- Saturday—Jesus’ body was in the tomb
- Sunday—Early morning Resurrection
Jesus’ disciples asked him, Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover? Jesus’ disciples assumed that they would eat the Passover meal together with Jesus. The meal had to be eaten in Jerusalem, however, so the disciples asked Jesus where they should go in order to make preparations. Peter and John, the two disciples Jesus sent on this errand (Luke 22:8), had to buy and prepare the unleavened bread, herbs, wine, and other ceremonial food. Families would eat the Passover meal together although a “family” could refer to any integrally related group, so disciples could celebrate together with their rabbi acting as “father” of the group. This was the case with Jesus and the twelve disciples. The Passover meal was characterized by the same hope of salvation that the exodus from Egypt had signified for Judaism—looking to God’s final intervention to redeem Israel. The meal was liturgical, centering on the father’s Passover prayer and the recitation of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118). Both the drinking of the wine and the partaking of food had ceremonial significance, and Jesus would give each new meaning at this particular Passover meal.
26:18-19 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.'” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.NIV Luke tells us that Jesus sent Peter and John (Luke 22:8). Whether Jesus had supernatural knowledge in this instance or if he had made arrangements in advance is unclear (as in the incident with his Triumphal Entry, see 21:1-3). It seems that in this instance a room in this house had been reserved previously and kept secret—none of the disciples knew where they would eat this meal. Jesus already knew that Judas would be looking for an opportunity to betray him without crowds around, so Jesus may have made these arrangements and kept them secret. Jesus was in complete command of the situation and the sequence of events. The appointed time to which Jesus alluded referred to his coming death. Previously his time had not yet come (see John 2:4); now it is near.
The two disciples were dispatched in the morning from Bethany to Jerusalem to prepare the Passover meal. In Jewish homes, preparation required that the family eat only unleavened bread (bread with no yeast, like matzo today) for seven days before Passover. The house must be dust free lest any yeast remain in the home. The lamb had to be procured and taken to the designated spot near the temple to be slaughtered.
Jesus told the two disciples that as they entered the city, they would meet a certain man. In Mark, Jesus explained that this man would be carrying a jar of water (Mark 14:13). Ordinarily women, not men, would go to the well and bring home the water. So this man would have stood out in the crowd. This may have been a prearranged signal, or Jesus may have supernaturally known that this man (most likely a servant) would be there and would lead them to the right house. This private location kept the plans secret and security tight. Tradition says that this may have been Mark’s home (the writer of the Gospel). If this speculation is true, the owner of the house would have been Mark’s father and one of Jesus’ followers. He knew exactly who the Teacher was and probably knew the disciples by sight. The disciples did as Jesus directed and made preparations for the others.
JESUS AND THE DISCIPLES HAVE THE LAST SUPPER / 26:20-30
26:20-22 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.NIV On that evening, Jesus and the disciples arrived in Jerusalem. The Passover meal was supposed to be eaten in Jerusalem after sunset and before midnight. The disciples and Jesus took their places on the reclining couches around the table. During such an important meal as the Passover, everyone would recline at the table, symbolizing the freedom the people had gained after the very first Passover and their subsequent release from slavery in Egypt.
The meal was organized around drinking four cups of red wine, symbolizing the four-part promise of redemption found in Exodus 6:6-7: (1) “I will bring you out”; (2) “I will rescue you from their bondage”; (3) “I will redeem you”; and (4) “I will take you as My people, and I will be your God” nkjv.
There was a traditional program for the meal. First would come a blessing of the festival and the wine, followed by drinking the first cup of wine (this also made the meal special because water was usually served with meals). Next, the food would be brought out. Then the youngest son would ask why this night was distinguished from others. The father would answer with the story of the Exodus and would point to each item on the table as he explained its symbolic significance (for example, bitter herbs symbolized the bitter bondage of slavery in Egypt). This would be followed by praise to God for past and future redemption (taken from the first part of the Hallel in Psalms 113-114). Then the second cup of wine would be drunk. After the second cup, the bread would be blessed, broken, and distributed, and then eaten with bitter herbs and a fruit-paste dish.
This would be followed by eating the meal. The Passover meal included roasted lamb that had been sacrificed in the temple. At the end of the meal, the father would bless a third cup of wine, which would be followed by singing the second part of the Hallel (from Psalms 115-118). A fourth cup of wine would conclude the meal.
Jesus and the disciples were at the point of eating the bread with the sauce of herbs and fruit: And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?”NIV Jesus knew who would betray him, and his words caused quite a stir among the disciples. Jesus had told them three different times that he would soon die, but news that one of them was a traitor saddened them greatly. From the accounts of Mark and John we know that the betrayer was Judas Iscariot. Although the other disciples were confused by Jesus’ words, Judas knew their meaning. Apparently Judas was not obvious as the betrayer. After all, he was the one the disciples were trusting to keep the money (John 12:4-6). So each disciple asked Jesus for assurance: Surely not I, Lord? The Greek form of the question would be rendered, “It is not I, is it?” and implied a negative answer. Each disciple hoped to clear himself and wondered if he would have the courage to remain faithful.
26:23-24 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”NIV Jesus answered that the betrayer was indeed one of the Twelve, and he added that this betrayer was dipping his bread into the bowl with Jesus. At this time, some food would be eaten from a common dish into which everyone would dip his or her hand. Meat or bread would be dipped into a dish filled with sauce often made from fruit. Jesus’ words emphasized the treachery of the betrayer. To eat with a friend and then turn around and betray him was treachery at its worst. Jesus alluded to Psalm 41:9, “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (niv).
Indeed, Jesus would be betrayed and would die as he had already told his disciples. His death would not occur merely because of the betrayer, for the Son of Man had to die to complete God’s plan and fulfill Scripture (for example, Psalm 41:9-13; Isaiah 53:1-6). All would happen as it is written about him.
But woe to that man who would betray Jesus. Again Jesus’ words are reminiscent of Psalm 41, this time verses 10-12, where the sufferer is vindicated by God and his enemies punished.
Jesus felt true pity for this one who would betray him because he was acting as Satan’s agent. The betrayer’s fate would be so awful that Jesus expressed his pity by saying that it would have been better for that person not to have been born. Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him, and he also knew that Judas would not repent. Jesus next predicted Peter’s denial. The words were not so full of doom, however, for Peter would repent and be forgiven of his sin.
The Passover Meal and Gethsemane
Jesus, who would soon be our Passover Lamb, ate the traditional Passover meal with his disciples in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem. During the meal they partook of wine and bread, the elements of future communion celebrations, and then went out to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.
26:25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”NRSV Each of the disciples asked if he were the one who would betray Jesus (26:22), but Matthew set apart Judas’s question to state even more clearly that Judas was guilty. Jesus’ answer to Judas was ambiguous enough so that only Judas would know that Jesus had identified him as the betrayer. It could mean, “You have said it, not I,” and is like Jesus’ statement to Pilate (in 27:11).
Luke wrote that “Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot” before Judas went to the religious leaders (Luke 22:3 niv); however, Satan’s part in the betrayal of Jesus does not remove any of the responsibility from Judas. In God’s sovereign will and according to his timetable, he uses sinful men, but that doesn’t excuse their sin. All people will be held accountable for their choices and actions. Satan tried to end Jesus’ mission and thwart God’s plan. Like Judas, Satan did not know that Jesus’ death and resurrection were the most important parts of God’s plan all along.
John wrote that upon this pronouncement, Jesus told Judas to “do quickly what you are going to do” (John 13:27 nrsv). Then Judas went out into the night.
|LIFE APPLICATION – GOD’S PLAN AND OUR RESPONSIBILITY|
|Was Judas to blame, if Jesus’ crucifixion was part of God’s eternal plan?|
|The Bible teaches two simultaneous truths about events, and we must live in light of each one:|
|1. God is in control. We may not know how, what, or why events are happening as they are, but we should remain confident that God knows and that he governs everything.|
|2. You are responsible for your behavior. You should not say, “I am a puppet, guided by a sovereign hand without a will of my own. Whatever I do, God is doing it.” Tyrants and murderers have tried that excuse, but it is not valid.|
|We must recognize God’s all-powerful control. We must make decisions trusting him and following him. Often we will not understand until much later how his will was at work in what we decide. But we must act on the best guidance we have.|
26:26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”NKJV As Jesus and the disciples were eating, Jesus took the loaf of unleavened bread, blessed, and broke it. This probably occurred with the third cup of the meal (see the notes on 26:20-22). By so doing, Jesus was associating his words with the cup representing, “I will redeem you.” The “blessing” of the bread refers to the Jewish practice of giving thanks for bread at a meal by saying, “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, who brings forth bread from the earth.” Considered a gift from God, it was irreverent to cut bread with a knife, so it was torn (or broken) with the hands. Jesus gave the bread to the disciples to eat with the sauce. As he did so, he gave this Passover practice an entirely new meaning. Just as the Passover celebrated deliverance from slavery in Egypt, so the Lord’s Supper celebrates deliverance from sin by Christ’s death.
The Lord’s Supper is also called Communion, the Lord’s Table, the breaking of the bread, or Eucharist (thanksgiving), and it is still celebrated in worship services today. The celebrations in the Christian church have first a sharing of bread (including a repetition of Jesus’ words “This is my body”), and then a sharing of wine (including a repetition of Jesus’ words “This is my blood,” 26:28). Thus, the Christian celebration incorporates the initial and ending portions of this last supper of Jesus. For more on the significance of celebrating the Last Supper, see 1 Corinthians 11:23-29.
Jesus and his disciples ate a meal, sang psalms, read Scripture, and prayed. Then Jesus took two traditional parts of the Passover meal, the passing of bread and the drinking of wine, and gave them new meaning as representations of his body and blood. He used the bread and wine to explain the significance of what he was about to do on the cross. Jesus told the disciples to Take, eat; this is My body. Jesus used visual elements to describe a figurative truth. Just as he had so many times said, “I am” the door, the bread, the light, the vine, so the bread symbolized Jesus’ work of salvation on behalf of humanity. By breaking the bread and then saying, “this is My body,” Jesus portrayed the sacrifice he would make and the spiritual benefit that would be passed on to those who had a personal relationship with him. This was Jesus’ pledge of his personal presence with all his disciples whenever they would partake of this meal.
Christians differ in their interpretation of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. There are three main views: (1) The bread and wine actually become Christ’s body and blood; (2) the bread and wine remain unchanged, yet Christ is spiritually present by faith in and through them; and (3) the bread and wine, which remain unchanged, are lasting memorials of Christ’s sacrifice. No matter which view they favor, all Christians agree that the Lord’s Supper commemorates Christ’s death on the cross in our place, paying the penalty for our sins, and that it points to the coming of his kingdom in glory. When we partake of it, we show our deep gratitude for Christ’s work on our behalf, and our faith is strengthened.
|LIFE APPLICATION – CELEBRATION|
|Each name we use for this sacrament brings out a different dimension to it. It is the “Lord’s Supper” because it commemorates the Passover meal that Jesus ate with his disciples; it is the “Eucharist” (thanksgiving) because in it we thank God for Christ’s work for us; it is “Communion” because through it we commune with God and with other believers. As we eat and drink, we should quietly reflect as we recall Jesus’ death and his promise to come again, being grateful for God’s wonderful gift to us and joyful as we meet with Christ and the body of believers.|
26:27-28 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”NRSV Luke mentions two cups of wine, while Matthew and Mark mention only one. In a traditional Passover meal, wine is served four times. Most likely the cup mentioned in this verse was the third cup; verse 28 refers to the fourth cup that Jesus did not drink, vowing first to complete his mission before drinking again of wine. He gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, Drink from it, all of you. The Greek word translated “after giving thanks” is eucharisteo, from which we get the English term “Eucharist.”
As with the bread, Jesus spoke words in figurative language. This is my blood means, “this wine represents my blood.” It couldn’t have been his literal blood because he was sitting there with the disciples as he spoke, with his blood flowing through his veins. Jesus’ blood, shed on behalf of many, began a covenant between God and people. The “many” are those who will become part of the covenant that his death created. According to Isaiah 53:11-12 and rabbinic teaching, “many” is a key word that refers to the chosen people, the elect community of salvation who will inherit the kingdom of God.
The word “covenant” refers to an arrangement established by one party that cannot be altered by the other party. In other words, God established the covenant and humans can only accept or reject it; they cannot alter it in any way. Jesus was saying these words at the drinking of the third cup at the Last Supper, the cup that stands for “I will redeem” (see the commentary on 26:20-22). Jesus’ words recall Exodus 24:6-8, where Moses poured half of the blood of the covenant on the altar and sprinkled the people with the other half to seal the covenant. Jesus understood his death as sacrificial, inaugurating and sealing the new covenant.
What did Jesus mean by a new covenant? In Old Testament times, God had agreed to forgive people’s sins if they would bring animals for the priests to sacrifice. When this sacrificial system was inaugurated, the agreement between God and human beings was sealed with the blood of animals (Exodus 24:8). But animal blood did not in itself remove sin (only God can forgive sin), and animal sacrifices had to be repeated day by day and year after year.
Jesus instituted a new covenant, or agreement, between humans and God. This concept is key to all New Testament theology and forms the basis for the name of the “New Testament” portion of the Bible. Under this new covenant, Jesus would die in the place of sinners. Unlike the blood of animals, Jesus’ blood would truly remove the sins of all who would put their faith in him. And Jesus’ sacrifice would never have to be repeated; it would be good for all eternity (Hebrews 9:23-28). The prophets looked forward to this new covenant that would fulfill the old sacrificial agreement (Jeremiah 31:31-34), and John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 nkjv).
The old covenant was a shadow of the new, pointing forward to the day when Jesus himself would be the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin. Rather than an unblemished lamb slain on the altar, the perfect Lamb of God was slain on the cross, a sinless sacrifice to accomplish forgiveness of sins once and for all. Jesus explained that his blood would be poured out, referring to a violent death. Once again Jesus was teaching his disciples that he would soon face a violent death, dying on behalf of others.
Those who accept Christ’s sacrifice and believe in him receive forgiveness. Now all people can come directly to God through faith because Jesus’ death has made us acceptable in God’s eyes (Romans 3:21-24).
26:29 “I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”NRSV Again Jesus assured his disciples of his victory over his imminent death and of a future in his Father’s kingdom. The next few hours would bring apparent defeat, but soon they would experience the power of the Holy Spirit, and they would witness the great spread of the gospel message.
Jesus’ vow to abstain from wine was made before the fourth cup, which traditionally was drunk after the recitation of these words: “I will take you as My people, and I will be your God” (see commentary on 26:20-22). Jesus reserved the drinking of this cup for the future restoration. This powerful scene is accented by Jesus’ taking the third cup, saying, “I will redeem you,” sharing it with the disciples, and then pledging that together they would finish this celebration in the kingdom of God (see also Isaiah 25:6; Luke 14:15; Revelation 3:20; 19:6-9). Because Jesus would be raised, so his followers will be raised. One day we will all be together again in God’s new kingdom. The fruit of the vine in the kingdom will be new like Jeremiah’s new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). When Jesus celebrates with his people, all God’s promises will be fully realized.
|LIFE APPLICATION – FINISHING THAT DRINK|
|There will be a party someday, and you’ll be there. Jesus will be celebrating the wonderful salvation that his crucifixion accomplished, and you’ll be there. Sin and suffering will be past—no more cancer, no more auto accidents, no more feeling lonely—and you’ll be there. Next to you will be loved ones at whose deaths you cried, but there will be no reason for crying then.|
|Just when everyone has gathered, Jesus will pick up his cup. It is the one that he didn’t finish back in Jerusalem, the one that he said he would wait to drink until all God’s work was done. And then he will hold it up, and a whole new world will begin. He will drink at last. A huge cheer will erupt from the biggest, happiest crowd ever gathered. And you will be there!|
26:30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.NKJV The hymn they sang was most likely taken from Psalms 115-118, the second part of the Hallel that was traditionally sung after eating the Passover meal. These were sung antiphonally with the leader (father or rabbi) reciting the text as the others responded with “Hallelujah.” These words must have held great significance for Jesus: He pledged to keep his vows (Psalm 116:12ff.), called upon the Gentiles to join in praise (Psalm 117), and concluded with steadfast confidence in his ultimate triumph (Psalm 118:17).
John included a lengthy discourse that Jesus had with his disciples (John 13:31-17:26) before he and the eleven remaining disciples left the upper room and went out to the Mount of Olives, located just to the east of Jerusalem. Leaving the room did not surprise the disciples, for they had not been staying in Jerusalem at night and had left the city every evening to return to Bethany. This time, however, Jesus would go only as far as the southwestern slope, to an olive grove called Gethsemane, which means “olive press” (26:36).
JESUS AGAIN PREDICTS PETER’S DENIAL / 26:31-35
26:31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'”NIV This is the second time in the same evening that Jesus predicted the disciples’ denial and desertion. (For Jesus’ earlier prediction, see Luke 22:31-34 and John 13:36-38.) That the disciples would fall away means they would turn away from him. Fearing what would befall Jesus, they would not want to experience the same treatment. So Jesus explained that they would desert him, deny association with him, and distance themselves from him. Jesus would go to the cross alone.
The disciples might have been tempted to think that Satan and his forces had gained the upper hand in this drama about Jesus’ death. But God was in control, even in the death of his Son. Satan gained no victory—everything occurred as God had planned. Jesus himself explained that the disciples’ desertion would also occur just as it had been predicted in Scripture, specifically Zechariah 13:7.
In Zechariah, God commanded that the shepherd be struck down. As a result, the sheep would be scattered. Without a shepherd and on their own, the sheep would go through a period of great trial and be refined. The refining process would strengthen them and create a new, faithful people for God. The disciples would be staggered by what would happen to Jesus, but his death (“striking the shepherd”) would ultimately produce their salvation and regather the sheep.
26:32 “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”NIV After predicting the disciples’ desertion, Jesus predicted their reunion after his resurrection. Jesus promised that he would go ahead of them into Galilee and meet them all there. In Galilee, the scattered followers would be reunited; their relationship with their Master would be renewed, their failures forgiven, and their pattern of ignorance and rejection broken. Indeed the angel at the tomb would reassure the women, “Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him'” (28:7 nrsv). Jesus made resurrection appearances in Galilee (28:16-20; John 21:1-23) and in Jerusalem and the surrounding area (Luke 24:13-52; John 20:11-29; 1 Corinthians 15:5-8).
26:33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”NIV Although all the disciples protested Jesus’ words (26:35), Peter, always ready to speak up, declared that his allegiance to Jesus would prove to be much stronger than that of all the other disciples. He knew that Jesus had said to him, “On this rock I will build my church” (16:18), and may have assumed that he would be immune to such faithlessness. He seemed to ignore what Jesus had said in 26:31, but he was not rejecting the reality of Christ’s suffering as he had in 16:22.
|LIFE APPLICATION – PETER’S PROMISE|
|It was not the night for low-key promises, so Peter made a big one that, despite his best intentions, he could not keep. He might better have said, “Lord, when I fail, and I probably will, please forgive me and keep me close to you.” That would have been more honest, though less dramatic.|
|Peter would learn that God’s forgiveness surpasses the guilt we experience when we fail. If guilt dampens your life, take a hint from Peter. He could have moped about that failure his whole life (“I’m such a failure!”). Instead, believing that Jesus truly forgave him, he went on to serve God boldly and well.|
|Give up your mistakes and start fresh with God.|
26:34 Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”NKJV However, Peter’s very special future (16:18-19) would carry with it great responsibility, something Peter still needed to learn. Jesus’ words to Peter were solemn, begun with the phrase “assuredly, I say.” Instead of being the only loyal disciple, Peter would in fact prove to be more disloyal than the other ten. Not only would he desert Jesus, but he would also deny him three times. And this would happen in the space of the next few hours. Before the night was over, that is before the rooster crowed at dawn’s first light, Peter would deny the Master to whom he claimed such loyalty.
26:35 Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples.NKJV Peter did not think it possible for him to actually deny any relationship with Jesus. Perhaps he was worried that he was the betrayer whom Jesus had mentioned during their meal (26:21). Not only Peter, but all the disciples, declared that they would die before denying Jesus. A few hours later, however, they all would scatter.
|LIFE APPLICATION – AND SO THEY SAID|
|Peter vowed that he would remain faithful. Talk is cheap. It is easy to say we are devoted to Christ, but our claims are meaningful only when they are tested in the crucible of persecution. How strong is your faith? Is it strong enough to stand up under intense trial? Learn from Christ’s warning. Don’t make impulsive promises. Realize your tendency to blend in with the crowd. Stay tied closely to Christian brothers and sisters. Be ready to stand up for Christ.|
JESUS AGONIZES IN THE GARDEN / 26:36-46
26:36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”NRSV After eating the meal, the disciples left Jerusalem and went out to a favorite meeting place (Luke 22:39; John 18:2). This gardenlike enclosure called Gethsemane, meaning “olive press,” was probably an orchard of olive trees with a press for extracting oil. The garden was in the Kidron Valley just outside the eastern wall of Jerusalem and just below the Mount of Olives. Jesus told eight of the disciples to sit down and wait, probably near the garden’s entrance, while he went farther in to pray. The disciples must have been physically and emotionally exhausted from trying to comprehend what would transpire. Instead of watching, however, they gave in to their exhaustion and fell asleep.
|LIFE APPLICATION – URGENT PRAYER|
|When pressed with a difficulty, what’s your first instinct: blame your mom? blame your kids? call 9-1-1?|
|When you’re sick with grief, worry, or guilt, prayer should be first on the list. In prayer, you settle things with God, and God strengthens you. It takes the sting from an emergency. It shares the burden with a big-shouldered friend. Pray first, especially when trouble is close at hand. Pray with others. There you will find strength and support.|
26:37-38 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”NIV Jesus then took the other three disciples, his inner circle (Peter, James, and John), farther into the garden with him. To these closest friends, Jesus revealed his inner turmoil over the event he was about to face. Jesus was sorrowful and troubled over his approaching death because he would be forsaken by the Father (27:46), would have to bear the sins of the world, and would face a terrible execution. The divine course was set, but Jesus, in his human nature, still struggled (Hebrews 5:7-9). His coming death was no surprise; he knew about it and had even told the disciples about it so they would be prepared. Jesus knew what his death would accomplish. He also knew that the means to that end would mean taking upon himself the sin of the world, alienating him, for a time, from his Father who would be unable to look upon sin: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 niv). Jesus bore our guilt by “becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13 niv). As the time of this event neared, it became even more horrifying. Jesus naturally recoiled from the prospect.
Early in Jesus’ ministry Satan had tempted him to take the easy way out (4:1-11); later Peter had suggested that Jesus did not have to die (16:22). In both cases, Jesus had dealt with the temptation soundly. Now, as his horrible death and separation from the Father loomed before him, he was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. So he asked Peter, James, and John to stay with him and keep watch. Jesus knew Judas would soon arrive, and Jesus wanted to devote himself to prayer until that time came. Jesus also wanted them to stay awake and participate with him in his suffering. Spiritual vigilance is a vital part of discipleship and a key theme in this book. Jesus wanted these disciples to understand his suffering and to be strengthened by his example when they faced persecution and suffering.
26:39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”NKJV Jesus went still farther into the garden to be alone with God. His agony was such that he threw himself on the ground before God in deep spiritual anguish, praying that if possible let this cup pass—in other words, he was asking the Father to let the mission be accomplished some other way not requiring the agony of crucifixion, when he would become sin and be separated from the Father. In the Old Testament, “cup” stood for the trial of suffering and the wrath of God (Isaiah 51:17). So Jesus referred to the suffering that he must endure as the “cup” he would be required to drink. Yet Jesus humbly submitted to the Father’s will. He went ahead with the mission for which he had come (1:21).
With the words “let this cup pass from Me,” Jesus was referring to the suffering, isolation from God, and death he would have to endure in order to atone for the sins of the world.
|Jesus, as God’s Son, recoiled from sin, yet part of his task would be to take the sins of the whole world upon himself. This was a cup he truly hated to drink. In addition, Jesus, as God’s Son, knew constant fellowship||Prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan.
with the Father. Yet for a time on the cross he would have to be deprived of that fellowship. This was a bitter cup. The physical suffering would be horrible enough (Hebrews 5:7-9), but God’s Son also had to accept the cup of spiritual suffering—bearing our sin and being separated from God (27:46).
Yet Jesus was not trying to get out of his mission. Jesus was expressing his true feelings as a human being, but he was not denying or rebelling against God’s will. (Jesus may have been referring to Isaiah 51:22, where God lifted the cup of judgment for the righteous in Jerusalem.) He reaffirmed his desire to do what God wanted by saying, Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will. Jesus’ prayer reveals his terrible suffering. Jesus paid for sin by being separated from God. The sinless Son of God took our sins upon himself to save us from suffering and separation.
|LIFE APPLICATION – TRUE PRAYER|
|In times of suffering, people sometimes wish they knew the future, or they wish they could understand the reason for their anguish. Jesus knew what lay ahead of him, and he knew the reason. Even so, his struggle was intense—more wrenching than any struggle we will ever have to face. What does it take to be able to say “as God wills”? It takes firm trust in God’s plans; it takes prayer and obedience each step of the way. This is the heart of true prayer and should be our basic response to trials. Trust God that his way is best, even when it doesn’t seem like it.|
God did not take away the “cup,” for the cup was his will. Yet he did take away Jesus’ extreme fear and agitation. Jesus moved serenely through the next several hours, at peace with God, knowing that he was doing his Father’s will.
|LIFE APPLICATION – PEACE|
|Some people believe their troubles are caused by bad people, bad germs, or bad luck. But Christians know that God rules, so we rightly make our appeal to his will, which”|
|Take comfort in God’s will for you. Pray sincerely, “Your will be done!”|
26:40-41 Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, “What? Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”NKJV Jesus got up from his prayer to return to the three disciples. He had told them to stay and keep watch. But instead of showing support for Jesus by remaining awake with him and praying for strength in the coming hours, they had fallen asleep, “exhausted from sorrow” (Luke 22:45 niv). Also, the hour was very late, perhaps after midnight. Jesus addressed Peter directly. Peter had said he would never leave Jesus; yet when Jesus needed prayer and support, Peter wasn’t there for him. Thus, Jesus rebuked Peter for his failure to keep watch for even one hour.
Jesus told the disciples that this was the time to watch and pray, for very soon they would face difficult temptations.
|Jesus was not only asking that they pray for him, but also that they pray for themselves. Jesus knew that these men would need extra strength to face the temptations ahead—temptations to run away or to deny their relationship with him.||More can be done by prayer than anything else. Prayer is our greatest weapon.
“Enter into” could also be translated “fall into.” Jesus wanted the disciples to pray that their faith would not collapse. The word “temptation” can mean testing or trial. Jesus wanted his disciples to pray for strength to go through the coming ordeal. The disciples were about to see Jesus die. Would they still think he was the Messiah? The disciples would soon face confusion, fear, loneliness, guilt, and the temptation to conclude that they had been deceived.
“The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”NKJV Many have interpreted “spirit” to mean the “human spirit.” Thus, it would mean that while their spirit might be willing, their flesh would be weak. Their inner desires and intentions would be, as they had previously boasted, to never deny Jesus and to die with him. Their relationship with Jesus had made the disciples eager to serve him in any way possible. Yet their human inadequacies, with all their fears and failures, would make it difficult to carry out those good intentions. A willing spirit (see Psalm 51:12) needs the Holy Spirit to empower it and help it do God’s will.
Jesus used Peter’s drowsiness to warn him to be spiritually vigilant against the temptation he would soon face. The way to overcome temptation is to stay alert and to pray. This means being aware of the possibilities of temptation, sensitive to the subtleties, and morally resolved to fight courageously. Because temptation strikes where we are most vulnerable, we can’t resist alone. Prayer is essential because God’s strength can shore up our defenses and defeat Satan.
26:42 Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”NKJV Jesus left the three disciples and returned to his conversation with the Father (26:39).
26:43-45 And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.NKJV Jesus came back once again to the three disciples and found them asleep again. Despite his warning that they should be awake, alert, and praying not to fall to the coming temptations, their eyes were heavy, and all three went back to sleep. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.NKJV Jesus continued his conversation with his Father, as before (26:39, 42). During these times of prayer, the battle was won. Jesus still had to go to the cross, but he would humbly submit to the Father’s will and accomplish the task set before him.
Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”NRSV Jesus went away to pray a third time, only to come back and find the disciples still asleep. After much time in prayer, Jesus was ready to face his hour, which conveyed that all he had predicted about his death was about to happen (see John 12:23-24). The disciples had missed a great opportunity to talk to the Father, and there would be no more time to do so, for Jesus’ hour had come. Thus, Jesus did not again tell them to pray. Jesus had spent the last few hours with the Father, wrestling with him, and humbly submitting to him. Now he was prepared to face his betrayer and the sinners who were coming to arrest him. “Sinners” was the term used for Jews who did not live according to God’s will and for Gentiles, who were viewed collectively as sinners because they didn’t live by God’s law. Jesus probably used the term to refer to the priestly authorities who were disobeying God in their treachery, and to the Romans who were participating in Jesus’ arrest, mockery, and death.
26:46 “Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”NIV Jesus roused the three sleeping disciples (and perhaps the other eight as well) and called them together. His words “rise, let us go” did not mean that Jesus was contemplating running. Instead, he was calling the disciples to go with him to meet the traitor disciple, Judas, and the coming crowd. Jesus went forth of his own will, advancing to meet his accusers rather than waiting for them to come to him. Jesus’ betrayer, Judas, had arrived. Judas knew where to find Jesus and the disciples because Gethsemane had been a favorite meeting spot (John 18:1-2). It was to this quiet garden in the very early hours of the morning that Judas brought a crowd to arrest Jesus.
JESUS IS BETRAYED AND ARRESTED / 26:47-56
26:47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people.NIV Even as Jesus spoke to his disciples to rouse them from their sleep, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. Judas, who had left the Last Supper at Jesus’ request (John 13:27), had apparently gone to the religious leaders to whom he had spoken earlier (26:14-16). The religious leaders had issued the warrant for Jesus’ arrest, and Judas was acting as Jesus’ official accuser. Judas led the group to one of Jesus’ retreats where no onlookers would interfere with them.
The armed crowd was probably made up of members of the temple guard, who were Jews supervised by the temple authorities and given authority by the Romans to make arrests for minor infractions. The detachment of soldiers mentioned in John 18:3 may have been a small group of Roman soldiers who were not participating in the arrest, but who had accompanied the temple guard to make sure that matters stayed under control. The armed men came in the middle of the night when most of the people were asleep, so they could arrest Jesus without commotion. Although there were no crowds to worry about, Jesus was surrounded by eleven loyal followers who the temple guards feared might put up a fight. So they came armed with swords and clubs in addition to lanterns and torches to light their way (John 18:3).
Matthew mentions that these men had been sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Mark added the scribes (or teachers of the law, see Mark 14:43). These were the three groups that made up the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court. Jesus mentioned these three groups in his predictions of his death (see 16:21; 20:18). The entire religious leadership issued the warrant for Jesus’ arrest and was together in the attempt to condemn Jesus to death.
26:48-49 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.NRSV Judas (the betrayer) had told the crowd to arrest the man whom he would kiss. This would be an arrest by religious leaders, not by Roman soldiers under Roman law. Judas pointed Jesus out because Jesus was hard to recognize in the dark and because Judas had agreed to be the formal accuser in case a trial was called. A kiss on the cheek or hand was a common form of greeting in the Middle East, so this was not unusual. Judas would affectionately greet the man the guards were to arrest and lead away.
Judas had planned to find Jesus and the disciples in Gethsemane, and he was correct. He entered the garden followed by the armed band and went directly to Jesus. In a friendly gesture of greeting and affection, Judas called Jesus Rabbi and then gave him a kiss (on the cheek or on the hand). While a rabbi did not have an official ecclesiastical position like a pastor today (the office of rabbi did not begin for another century), the title was an unofficial sign of respect. Judas showed himself to be the ultimate traitor. He had eaten with Jesus only hours before, and here he used a sign of friendship and affection in his betrayal.
26:50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.NRSV The use of the word “friend” for Judas was an act of love on Jesus’ part, which shows that God’s love never leaves even the apostate. But it carried a twist of irony in that both Jesus and Judas knew of the treachery. Jesus was still in charge, and his words do what you are here to do amount to him giving permission for the event to take place.
The religious leaders had not arrested Jesus in the temple for fear of a riot. Instead, they had come secretly at night, under the influence of the prince of darkness, Satan himself. Jesus offered no resistance and was duly arrested. Everything was proceeding according to God’s plan. It was time for Jesus to suffer and die.
|LIFE APPLICATION – FACING A TRAITOR|
|When people hurt us, our first impulse is to strike back. At a minimum, we rescind friendship and regard the traitor as an enemy. But Jesus called Judas “friend” even here.|
|In most betrayals, the traitor has surrendered integrity and commitment for short-term gain. Often, as in Judas’s case, it’s money. There’s no long-term gain in betraying a friend, so the real victim is the traitor himself. In that sense, a traitor deserves our pity before our rebuke.|
|If a colleague at work maneuvers at your expense, if a friend passes an unfounded rumor, try Jesus’ way: Before you cut all ties, offer a recovery of the bond that once existed between you. Perhaps by calling someone “friend” who no longer deserves it, you will save that person from a huge mistake. Judas could have changed his mind. He had the chance. Jesus didn’t reject him but tried once more to help him see.|
26:51 With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.NIV According to John 18:10, the person who pulled the sword was Peter, who cut off the right ear of a servant of the high priest named Malchus. Peter was trying to demonstrate his loyalty as well as prevent what he saw as defeat. He wasn’t going to let this crowd arrest Jesus without putting up a fight. Luke 22:51 records that Jesus immediately healed the man’s ear and prevented any further bloodshed. Peter was not also arrested because Jesus handled the matter by healing the man and restraining Peter.
26:52-54 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”NIV Jesus told Peter to put away his sword and allow God’s plan to unfold. Peter didn’t understand that Jesus had to die in order to gain victory. But Jesus demonstrated perfect commitment to his Father’s will. His kingdom would not be advanced with swords, but with faith and obedience.
Jesus’ words here, recorded only by Matthew, stress the difference between people’s tendency to take matters into their own hands (and suffer the consequences) and God’s more far-reaching actions. The reason for putting the sword back in its place was that all who draw the sword will die by the sword (probably quoting a local proverb). Jesus’ words meant that the law of vengeance is below the level of God’s plans. To take action into one’s own hands is to set oneself against the will of God. Jesus clarified this by stating that he could call on his Father who would at once make available to him more than twelve legions of angels (in the Roman army, a “legion” had 6,000 infantry and 120 cavalry). Jesus was stating that he was in control—thus, everything was happening with his permission. What is one sword to him who could command an army of angels with one word? He did not need the help of a few sleepy disciples. He could call upon legions of angels, but he refused to do so because he had already settled this matter with God during his previous hours of prayer.
Jesus knew the far-reaching results. If he were to call for protection from legions of angels, how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way? The plural “Scriptures” probably continues Matthew’s focus on how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, and so pointed to many passages describing the suffering Servant (such as Psalms 22; 69; Isaiah 53; Zechariah 13:7). Jesus’ suffering would be necessary to God’s plan; no one must stand in the way of God’s will.
26:55-56 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.”NRSV Jesus pointed out the ridiculous tactics of these people who had come to arrest him. They did not need to come against him with swords and clubs, for he voluntarily surrendered himself. Jesus was not a revolutionary bandit leading a rebellion; he was a religious teacher who had been teaching in the temple day after day during the past week. On one of them, he had emptied the temple of merchants and money changers. Yet no one had arrested him. Instead, they came at night for fear of the crowds. Jesus also mocked their show of worldly power. He who could summon angels was not afraid of swords. Did the guards imagine that swords would intimidate Jesus? They didn’t understand who he was.
While Jesus mentioned this to reveal the religious leaders’ evil motives and cowardice, he knew why the events were unfolding as they were—that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled. Judas’s treachery, the coming mockery of a trial against Jesus, and its ultimate outcome had all been prophesied (see, for example, Psalms 22:7-8, 14, 16-17; 41:9; Isaiah 50:6; 53:7-8).
Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.NRSV Just hours earlier, these disciples had vowed never to desert Jesus (26:35). The “all” who promised total allegiance were now the all who fled. Judas’s kiss marked a turning point for the disciples. With Jesus’ arrest, each one’s life would be radically different. For the first time, Judas openly betrayed Jesus before the other disciples. For the first time, Jesus’ loyal disciples deserted him and fled. Their world was crumbling. The teacher who had held forth in the temple was now under arrest. The treasurer had become a traitor. The garden sanctuary that had always been “safe” was turned into the place of confrontation. What confusion! The disciples’ primary loyalty to Jesus should have kept them from running. But fear took its toll. Jesus’ growing isolation was now complete; he would face the cross alone.
|LIFE APPLICATION – THE UNTHINKABLE|
|Jesus came to understand his role in God’s plan of salvation by reading and understanding the Old Testament Scriptures. So important were these Scriptures that he referred to them as the reason for his own acceptance of the death he was about to face. Better he die on the cross than the Scriptures be wrong. Indeed, the Scriptures cannot be wrong. That would be unthinkable.|
|Take the Bible seriously. Read it, understand it, and live by it. It is not merely a book of nice thoughts. Rather, it is God’s Word to you. That it could be wrong is unthinkable. Give God’s Word its rightful place in your life.|
CAIAPHAS QUESTIONS JESUS / 26:57-68
26:57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled.NIV By then it was very early Friday morning, before daybreak. Jesus was taken under guard from the garden back into Jerusalem. First he was questioned by Annas, the former high priest and father-in-law of Caiaphas. Annas had been Israel’s high priest from a.d. 6 to 15, when he had been deposed by Roman rulers. Then Caiaphas had been appointed high priest. He held that position from a.d. 18 to 36/37. According to Jewish law, the office of high priest was held for life, but the Roman government had taken over the process of appointing all political and religious leaders. Caiaphas served for eighteen years, longer than most high priests, suggesting that he was gifted at cooperating with the Romans. Caiaphas was the first to recommend Jesus’ death in order to “save” the nation (John 11:49-50). Many Jews, however, still considered Annas to be the high priest. Annas may have asked to question Jesus after his arrest and had been given permission to do so. This hearing is described in John 18:12-24.
After that preliminary hearing, Jesus was taken to the home of Caiaphas, the ruling high priest. That the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled shows that this was a trial by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Council of religious leaders consisting of seventy members plus the high priest). Because of their haste to complete the trial and see Jesus die before the Sabbath, less than twenty-four hours later, the religious leaders first met at Caiaphas’s house at night to accomplish the preliminaries before their more formal meeting in the temple at daylight. (John recorded that Jesus was taken to Annas first and then to Caiaphas. Most likely their homes shared a common courtyard.) The leaders finally had Jesus where they wanted him, and they were determined to accomplish their plans as quickly as possible.
The trial by the Sanhedrin had two phases. This first phase occurred during the night (recorded here in 26:57-68); then another meeting was held “early in the morning” (27:1 niv) to satisfy a law that allowed trials only during the daytime. That meeting was a mere formality held at daybreak, during which the verdict was given and Jesus was led off to the Roman procurator for sentencing. The Sanhedrin was the most powerful religious and political body of the Jewish people. Although the Romans controlled Israel’s government, they gave the people power to handle religious disputes and some civil disputes; so the Sanhedrin made many of the local decisions affecting daily life. But a death sentence had to be authorized by the Romans (John 18:31).
After Judas singled Jesus out for arrest, the mob took Jesus first to Caiaphas, the high priest. This trial, a mockery of justice, ended at daybreak with their decision to kill him—but the Jews needed Rome’s permission for the death sentence. Jesus was taken to Pilate (who was probably in the Praetorium), then to Herod (Luke 23:5-12), and back to Pilate, who sentenced him to die.
26:58 But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.NIV Jesus had been taken immediately to the high priest’s house, even though it was not yet daylight. The Jewish leaders were in a hurry because they wanted to complete the execution before the Sabbath and get on with the Passover celebration. The high priest’s residence was a palace with outer walls enclosing a courtyard. That this trial should occur here was unprecedented. Normally the Sanhedrin would meet in a large hall in the temple area. They could have met there because, during the Passover, the temple opened at midnight rather than at dawn. This meeting at Caiaphas’s home may have been to aid in a hasty assembly; however, they still could just as easily have met in a normal location. Most likely, it was their desire to avoid a riot (26:5) that led them to this more private setting.
In the courtyard, a charcoal fire was burning, around which the servants and soldiers were warming themselves against the early morning chill. Although most of the disciples had fled when the soldiers arrested Jesus, two of them, Peter and another disciple (perhaps John), returned to where Jesus had been taken (John 18:15). After securing permission to enter the courtyard, Peter joined the others as they warmed themselves around the fire. Peter’s experiences in the next few hours would revolutionize his life. He would change from an impulsive follower to a repentant and wiser disciple, and finally to the kind of person Christ could use to build his church. Peter’s story continues at 26:69. Although he would deny Jesus three times, Peter was the only disciple to go all the way to the trial to find out what would happen to Jesus.
26:59-61 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.NIV Upstairs in the high priest’s palace, the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin (meaning the group of seventy-one leaders of the Jews—priests and respected men) assembled before dawn.
The religious leaders wanted to get this trial under way, but they had a dilemma on their hands. They wanted evidence to convict Jesus of a crime deserving death, but they did not find any. The obvious conclusion should have been that Jesus was innocent of any crime. But this was not a trial for justice; it was a trial to accomplish an evil purpose. There were apparent illegalities in this trial: Jews were not to hold trials during the night nor during festivals; Jesus had no counsel nor time to prepare a defense. These leaders held a trial to keep up appearances, while their whole purpose was to kill Jesus. Matthew pointed out the irony of the Sanhedrin breaking the law in order to keep the law.
There was no shortage of witnesses; the problem was in finding two testimonies that agreed. During a trial, each witness would be called upon separately to give his testimony. But the stories these witnesses gave did not agree in the details. According to Moses’ law, no one was to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness (Numbers 35:30); there had to be two or three agreeing witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). This must have been exasperating for the desperate religious leaders. They weren’t going to let Jesus get away on a technicality!
These false witnesses were identified by the Sanhedrin; but Matthew knew that any testimony against Jesus would have to be false, and he knew that, in essence, false testimony was exactly what the Sanhedrin needed. Otherwise, they had no grounds to convict Jesus (Mark 14:55). Ironically, these religious guardians of the law were breaking one of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not give false testimony” (Exodus 20:16 niv).
Finally two came forward and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.'”NIV Finally they found a couple of witnesses who testified regarding Jesus’ words about the temple. The witnesses claimed that Jesus had said he could destroy the temple in Jerusalem—a blasphemous boast. Such a claim would bring wrath from even the Romans because destroying temples was considered a capital offense throughout the Roman empire. However, Jesus had not spoken in the first person (“I will destroy”); nor had he said anything linking his words with the temple building. Instead, Jesus had spoken in the second person plural, issuing a command, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 nkjv). Jesus, of course, was talking about his body, not the building. Ironically, the religious leaders were about to destroy Jesus’ body just as he had said, and three days later he would rise from the dead.
26:62-64 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent.NIV The legal code required that a defendant answer his accusers, so Caiaphas was getting frustrated. His only hope was to get Jesus to say something that would give them evidence to convict him. So he simply stood up in this revered group and spoke directly to Jesus. He may have been hoping that Jesus was ignorant enough to not realize that the witnesses had invalidated themselves (Mark pointed out their contradictions, Mark 14:59). Caiaphas tried to make up in intimidation what was lacking in evidence. He asked Jesus to answer his accusers and then to explain the accusations against him.
Jesus, however, refused to say anything. He had nothing to say to the group of liars who had spoken against him, and he did not choose to answer their false accusations. So he remained silent. This had been prophesied in Scripture: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7 niv). With Jesus’ silence, the court proceedings ground to a halt.
|LIFE APPLICATION – SILENCE|
|Jesus remained silent at his trial. Historians have asked why Jews at Auschwitz and other camps went to their deaths quietly. Why didn’t they fight?|
|When injustice is so strong that words no longer appeal to the conscience of the oppressor, silence has dignity. Better to suffer in dignity than to squander wasted words before evil people devoted to their cruelty.|
|Jesus did not mount a legal defense in a proceeding so fraught with injustice and hate. Deitrich Bonhoeffer prayed before being taken to the gallows after a Nazi kangaroo court issued his sentence. So thousands of martyrs have taken the flame or the bullet in dignity without splattering words in futile debate.|
|Words are vital weapons in the advance of God’s kingdom. But sometimes silence is the better testimony. Silence can speak loudly about our confidence in God’s righteousness and mercy. It tells the oppressor that the fear he inspires is not all that impressive, that we stand by a power much higher than he.|
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”NIV But Caiaphas had another tactic up the sleeve of his priestly robe. He decided to ask Jesus point-blank, Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God. The Sanhedrin must have held their collective breath in anticipation. Here was the question that could make or break the entire plot. Would Jesus outrightly claim to be the Messiah? We may wonder why Jesus refused to answer the first question and then chose to answer this one. Caiaphas put Jesus under oath so that Jesus would be forced to answer by law (Leviticus 5:1); thus he would be forced to incriminate himself.
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”NIV To the first questions, Jesus made no reply because the questions were based on confusing and erroneous evidence. Not answering was wiser than trying to clarify the fabricated accusations. But if Jesus had refused to answer this second question, it would have been tantamount to denying his deity and his mission. So Jesus answered without hesitation, Yes, it is as you say.
Then Jesus gave a startling prophecy. The words “the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One” refer back to Psalm 110:1, and “coming on the clouds of heaven” recall Daniel 7:13-14. The “clouds” represented the power and glory of God. Both verses were considered to be prophecies of the coming Messiah, and Jesus applied them to himself. “The Son of Man” stood for Jesus’ role as the divine agent appointed by God to carry out judgment. In Psalm 110:1, the Son is given the seat of authority at the right hand of God. In Daniel 7:13-14, the Son is given “authority, glory and sovereign power” (niv). Jesus used these verses to predict a powerful role reversal. Sitting at the right hand of power, one day he would come to judge his accusers, and they would have to answer to him (Revelation 20:11-13). This represented the highest view of Jesus’ deity possible. Jesus used the highest titles for God’s deity and then applied them to himself. Jesus declared his royalty in no uncertain terms. In saying he was the Son of Man, Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah, as his listeners well knew. How ironic that this declaration is given to the high priest, Jesus’ greatest opponent. He knew this declaration would lead to his conviction, but he did not panic. He was calm, courageous, and determined.
26:65-66 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” They answered, “He deserves death.”NRSV Tearing one’s clothing was an ancient expression of deep sorrow (see Genesis 44:13). The law forbade a priest from tearing his garments over personal grief because they were a sign of his special role (Leviticus 10:6; 21:10), but it was appropriate in an instance when blasphemy had been spoken in his presence. Blasphemy was the sin of claiming to be God or of attacking God’s authority and majesty in any way. Caiaphas tore his clothes to signify his outrage at the audacity of the claims of this mere teacher from Nazareth. Jesus had identified himself with God by applying two messianic prophecies to himself. The high priest recognized Jesus’ claim and exclaimed to the Sanhedrin, He has blasphemed!
While claiming to be God was blasphemy, there is no evidence that claiming to be the Messiah was blasphemy. So why did the high priest accuse Jesus of blasphemy? A combination of Jesus’ words and actions may give the answer. Jesus had prophesied a future exaltation of the Son of Man (26:64), a position next to God himself. Thus, part of Jesus’ offense was this portrayal of his status next to God (on the “right hand” referred to the ability to act on behalf of God). In addition, Jesus’ ministry had included teachings and actions that the religious leaders had found to be unlawful (such as his teachings about the Sabbath). Thus, according to them, Jesus claimed divinity, yet taught lawbreaking. These religious leaders thought that Jesus was leading the people astray and bringing dishonor to God’s holy name. For any other human being, Jesus’ words would have amounted to blasphemy; in Jesus’ case, the claim was true.
Blasphemy was punishable by death (Leviticus 24:15-16). Why do we still need witnesses? asked Caiaphas without expecting any answer. They needed no more false witnesses (Caiaphas probably was relieved, since the witnesses had been worthless). Jesus had finally said what Caiaphas needed, so he asked for the group’s decision. The Jewish leaders had the evidence they wanted, so all of them condemned him as deserving death. Those present, or at least the majority, gave the death sentence, although Nicodemus would not have agreed (John 3:1-21; 19:38-40), nor would Joseph of Arimathea, “who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action” (Luke 23:50-51 nrsv).
Of all people, the high priest and members of the Sanhedrin should have recognized the Messiah because they knew the Scriptures thoroughly. Their job was to point people to God, but they were more concerned about preserving their reputations and holding on to their authority. They had decided against Jesus, and in so doing, they sealed their own fate as well as his. Like the members of the Sanhedrin, you must decide whether Jesus’ words are blasphemy or truth. Your decision has eternal implications.
26:67-68 Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?”NIV Then some of the members of the Sanhedrin acted in a most brutish way. After all their manipulation of the false witnesses, the lack of evidence, and their trying to force Jesus to incriminate himself, finally they simply resorted to violence. To spit in someone’s face was the worst insult possible (see Numbers 12:14), but these religious men weren’t content to stop at that. While Jesus was blindfolded, they took turns hitting him and then asking him to tell who it was that hit him. Some scholars think that this was a traditional test applied to anyone who claimed to be the Messiah. Based on Isaiah 11:2-4, the Messiah was supposed to be able to sense what would happen without sight. But Jesus continued to keep silent, refusing to play their game, knowing that to speak would be of no value. He already had been sentenced (though not formally), so he refused to submit to their cruel charade. Yet even this had been prophesied in Scripture: “His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness” (Isaiah 52:14 niv). Jesus suffered great pain, humiliation, and brutality to take away our sin.
PETER DENIES KNOWING JESUS / 26:69-75
26:69-70 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.”NRSV This servant-girl was actually guarding the gate to the inner courtyard (John 18:16). She had seen Peter enter and take a seat outside in the courtyard of the palace. When the girl saw Peter’s face more clearly in the light of the fire, she recognized him as one who had been with Jesus (that is, one of Jesus’ disciples). This put Peter in a difficult position. Standing among the soldiers and servants right there in enemy territory, Peter did not necessarily want to be identified with the man in an upstairs room on trial for his life. So Peter made a natural and impulsive response—he lied. Peter gave the answer that Jesus had predicted: He denied knowing Jesus. He simply got out of this awkward situation by saying that he didn’t understand what the girl was talking about; then he scooted out into the gateway, away from the fire (26:71). Temptation came when Peter least expected it, and this serves to warn us to be prepared. Peter had been ready to fight with a sword but not to face the accusations of a servant.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke say that Peter’s three denials happened near a fire in the courtyard outside Caiaphas’s palace. John places the first denial outside Annas’s home and the other two denials outside Caiaphas’s home. This was the same courtyard. The high priest’s residence was large, and Annas and Caiaphas undoubtedly lived near each other.
|LIFE APPLICATION – DON’T DENY IT|
|There were three stages to Peter’s denial. First he acted confused and tried to divert attention from himself by changing the subject. Second, using an oath, he denied that he knew Jesus. Third, he began to curse and swear. Believers who deny Christ often begin doing so subtly by pretending not to know him. When opportunities to discuss religious issues come up, they walk away or pretend they don’t know the answers. With only a little more pressure, they can be induced to deny flatly their relationship with Christ. If you find yourself subtly diverting conversation so you don’t have to talk about Christ, watch out. You may be on the road to denying him.|
26:71-72 Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”NIV Once again Peter was put to the test. Another servant-girl saw him. She didn’t question him; she just told those standing around that Peter was with Jesus of Nazareth, meaning that he was one of Jesus’ disciples. The accusation scared Peter, so once again he lied, this time more vehemently, with an oath, meaning he had invoked a curse on himself if he were lying. This was Peter’s second denial.
26:73-75 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!”NRSV About an hour passed (Luke 22:59), and another bystander also recognized Peter. John wrote that this last person to question Peter was “one of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off” (John 18:26 nkjv). He noticed Peter’s Galilean accent. Peter’s dialect was closer to Syrian speech than to that of the Judean servants in that Jerusalem courtyard. While Peter may have hoped to seem a natural part of the group by joining in the conversation, instead he revealed, by his speech, that he did not belong there. Peter’s dialect and his action against the high priest’s servant (now confirmed by that servant’s relative) brought the group to the conclusion that Peter must have been with the Galilean who was on trial inside the palace.
This was too much for Peter. They wouldn’t leave him alone! So Peter decided to make the strongest denial he could think of by denying with an oath, I do not know the man (he was careful not even to use Jesus’ name). This was the kind of swearing that a person does in a court of law. Peter was swearing that he did not know Jesus and was invoking a curse on himself if his words were untrue. He was saying, in effect, “May God strike me dead if I am lying.” This was the third denial.
Peter’s denial progressed in intensity. At first he pretended not to understand the question; then he denied being one of the disciples; finally he sealed his denial with an oath so there could be no doubt about it.
At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.NRSV Immediately upon Peter’s final words, the cock crowed. Peter’s denials fulfilled Jesus’ words to him after he promised never to deny Jesus (26:33-35). When Peter heard the rooster crowing and saw Jesus look down at him from the upper story where the trial was being held (Luke 22:61), he was reminded of what Jesus had said to him earlier. Peter had indeed denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.
Peter went out and wept bitterly, not only because he realized that he had denied his Lord, the Messiah, but also because he had turned away from a very dear friend, a person who had loved and taught him for three years. Peter had said that he would never deny Christ, despite Jesus’ prediction. But when frightened, he went against all he had boldly promised. Unable to stand up for his Lord for even twelve hours, he had failed as a disciple and as a friend.
Fortunately, the story does not end there. Peter’s tears were of true sorrow and repentance. Later, Peter would reaffirm his love for Jesus, and Jesus would forgive him (see Mark 16:7; John 21:15-19). From this humiliating experience, Peter learned much that would help him later when he became leader of the young church. The presence of this scene in all four Gospels shows its importance to the early church, both as a warning of the dangers of yielding to persecution and as an example of Jesus’ power to forgive the most abject failure.
|LIFE APPLICATION – AT THE BOTTOM|
|It was the worst night of Peter’s life. He felt awful. His self-respect hit rock bottom.|
|Your life may hold such mistakes and failures, too: a spoiled marriage, a tragic accident, a devastating financial blunder, a denial of your faith. You feel terrible; it seems that the hurt will never go away.|
|Perhaps. Healing can take a long time. But the end of Peter’s story is forgiveness and restoration. Peter became the “rock” of the church.|
|No failure or mistake is beyond repair. Remorse need not be the final word. Jesus offers forgiveness, renewed strength, and power to live again. Jesus can work the miracle your life needs.|
Source: Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew.