Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentMatthew 26
THE PLOT TO KILL JESUS; THE PRECIOUS OINTMENT; THE BARGAIN OF JUDAS; THE BETRAYAL AND SEIZURE; THE TRIAL BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN; PETER'S THREE DENIALS
And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these words, he said unto his disciples ...
The teachings of Christ to Israel at this point were concluded. The atonement for the sins of all men was the next order of his divine will.
Ye know that after two days the passover cometh, and the Son of man is delivered up to be crucified.
Christ related the crucifixion to the passover, rather than to the ordinary sabbath (see notes on 10:40). The passover always came at sundown on the 14th day of Nisan, which means that it came on a different day of the week each year. In this place Christ named the kind of execution he would receive: crucifixion. His use of the prophetic tense, "is delivered up," makes the present stand for the future tense, as in all the prophets; and in this case, Christ is truly that prophet.
Of great significance is the sharp divergence between Christ's word and that of the chief priests and elders. Christ here placed his crucifixion as an event that would occur "after two days," and that it would take place during the passover festivities. Yet at the very time Christ revealed this to the disciples, the chief priests decided otherwise. They decided that he should die by subtlety (that is, secretly, by assassination or murder), and that it should not be done during the feast (Matthew 26:5), thus clearly postponing his death for at least a week. However, THEY were not the architects of our Lord's death. As the Master said, he would lay down his life of his own accord; and Christ, not the priests, would choose the hour and the manner of his doing so.
Then were gathered together the chief priests, and the elders of the people, unto the court of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas.
The court of the high priest was his palace; and the high priest mentioned here, Caiaphas, or Joseph Caiaphas, a son-in-law of Annas, had been named to that position by Valerius Gratus prior to 26 A.D., and was deposed by Vitellius in 37 A.D. The synoptics omit the first trial before Annas. The New Testament references to two high priests at the same time should not be confusing. Annas was appointed high priest in 7 A.D. by Quirinius, governor of Syria. F1 He was a fierce, passionate zealot; and, after putting a man to death in 14 A.D., he was deposed and replaced by his son Eleazar (Ishmael), and the power to exact the death penalty was henceforth denied to the Jews except with the consent of the governor. Five of Annas' sons held the office of high priest in succession: Eleazar, Jonathan, Theophilus, Matthias, and Ananus (Annas). Also, Joseph Caiaphas, his son-in-law, held the same office. However, Annas lived to a great age and was honored throughout his long life as the rightful high priest. F2
And they took counsel together that they might take Jesus by subtlety and kill him.
The plan proposed by the priests in this verse was simply that of murder. They intended to capture Christ and quietly destroy him. They could not have succeeded in this, because Christ said, "No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself" (John 10:18). Not having the right to invoke the death penalty without the assent of the governor, they decided to murder Jesus. It would have been good for their reputations if that could have been accomplished. In such an event, Christ would merely have disappeared; and, all innocence and charm, they would have disclaimed any knowledge of it; but Christ simply would not allow them to get away with such a deed. His case, at the instigation of his will, would have a hearing, in fact, six hearings, before both Jews and Gentiles; and he would compel them to go on record, and the record would last for all ages to come. Moreover, the true reason for their hatred would be duly set forth in the imperishable record for the information of thousands of generations of men. The truly providential manner in which the murderous plan of the priests was thwarted and the whole case aired in the highest tribunals of the land is clearly discernible in the amazing events that began rapidly to unfold.
But they said, Not during the feast, lest a tumult arise among the people.
But they said ...
How futile was what THEY said. The true order of the deeds to be done was already determined, and there was nothing they could have done to the contrary. See notes under Matt. 26:2. Naturally, with people present for the passover from all over the ancient empire, they shrank from murdering a popular and noble person like Jesus was known to be, lest their deed should lose some of the popular support which they enjoyed from the multitudes. Thus, caution dictated that they wait until the feast was over. That, however, was not to be. According to ancient prophecy, one of the Messiah's intimates would betray him, and that unhappy event appeared precisely on schedule. The incident that precipitated Judas' shameful deed took place that very evening at a feast in the house of Simon the leper.
Verses 6, 7
Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, there came unto him a woman having an alabaster cruse of exceeding precious ointment, and she poured it upon his head, as he sat at meat.
Simon the leper
refers to a Simon who had been cured of leprosy, not to one who was at that time stricken with that disease. Since Christ alone was able to cure that malady, this means that Christ had healed Simon, and probably out of gratitude, Simon held this dinner in his home for Jesus. The woman mentioned was Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha who were also present at that dinner. Lazarus was a guest, Martha as usual was helping with the serving, and Mary, also as usual, was blessed with a deeper insight into the spiritual realities of the occasion.
A. T. Robertson's clear word on this incident removes any chance of confusing it with a similar event recorded in Luke 7:36ff which occurred in the home of Simon the Pharisee. Robertson wrote:
This anointing has nothing in common
with that given by Luke, except the
fact of a woman anointing the
Saviour's feet, and the name Simon,
which was common. The former was in
Galilee; this is at Bethany near
Jerusalem. There the host despised
the woman who anointed; here, her
brother is one of the guests, and her
sister an active attendant. There the
woman was a sinner, a notoriously bad
woman; here it is the devout Mary who
"sat at the Lord's feet and heard his
words," months before. There the host
thought it strange that Jesus allowed
her to touch him; here the disciples
complained of the waste. There the
Saviour gave assurance of forgiveness,
here of perpetual and world-wide
honor. Especially notice that here
the woman who anoints is anticipating
his speedy death and burial, of which
at the former time he had never
distinctly spoken. In view of all
these differences, it is absurd to
represent the two anointings as the
same, and outrageous on such slender
grounds to cast reproach on Mary of
John adds the information that Jesus' feet were also anointed, gives the monetary value of the ointment as 300 pence, and names the precious ointment as nard or spikenard. John also gave the name of the principal objector among the disciples as Judas, and mentions Mary's wiping his feet with her hair. His mention of the odor that filled the house (along with other special details) indicates that John also was among those present.
But when the disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?
Judas kept the bag and, as John revealed, he was not at all concerned for the poor, but wanted the money in the bag that he might steal it. This was not the first nor the last time that unworthy motives and designs were cloaked in pious words. Many a worthy project has been opposed, and others equally advocated, from motives as impure and selfish as those of Judas Iscariot. Matthew and Mark both indicate that Judas found ready support among the Twelve for his objection.
For this ointment might have been sold for so much, and given to the poor.
One cannot resist the temptation to compare this with the pleas of politicians who are always declaiming about the poor. Like Judas Iscariot, at least some of the political schemers who, verbally, are so concerned about the poor have a much more personal interest in such funds than their words would indicate.
But Jesus perceiving it said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.
Christ's words indicate that Mary herself had been reproached by Judas and the others regarding the "waste"! They would have restrained her if they could have done so, recovered a part of the ointment, and placed the price of it in the bag. Jesus intervened in Mary's behalf and uttered a strong approval of this "good work" upon his person. Of special note is the definition of a "good work." Some apparently believe that "good work" in the church is a matter of leading public prayers or passing the collection plate; but the fact that sacrificial giving is also a good work should not be overlooked. Those who truly want to perform a "good work" for Christ will not find the application hard to make.
For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.
This statement of Christ is true both in and out of its context. All the social schemes of all the ages have not changed the situation, nor will they ever do so. Men and nations may declare war on poverty; and, although Jesus' statement is a far cry from any derogation of any effort to relieve the afflictions of the poor and unfortunate, nevertheless, human nature being what it is, the fact of the ever-present poor remains century after century, and generation after generation. The reasons are in men themselves who indulge their pride, their appetites, their passions, and foibles without regard to consequences until poverty comes like an armed man upon them. In this place, Christ placed his own requirements above even the legitimate needs of the poor; and that too is a profoundly proper evaluation of the true values inherent in the situation. Elijah commanded the woman to make him a "little cake FIRST" (1 Kings 17:13).
For in that she poured this ointment upon my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.
It may appear difficult to know what is meant by this verse. Some believe that Mary, purely out of love and affection for Jesus, made this costly gesture without being aware of the construction Jesus placed upon it in this verse. The view is that Christ accepted it, first on the loving basis upon which Mary offered it, and that he then extended the meaning of it to encompass his approaching death and burial. However, in view of the fact that Mary of Bethany is known to have been particularly attentive to the words of Christ for months and that she often sat at his feet to hear him, the more natural assumption is that she, at least, of all those present in the house of Simon the leper, had fully understood and appreciated his words regarding the approaching passion. She believed him. Therefore, it must be allowed that she did this remarkable thing with a full understanding of its significance. Christ said, "She did it to prepare me for burial."
Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.
Who but God (in Christ) could have had such thoughts and made such promises as contained in these words? Condemned though he stood by the rulers of his people, betrayed by a friend, and facing shame upon the cross, the Saviour, far from being intimidated by such realities, was thinking of the sweeping triumph of the gospel "in the whole world"! His prophecy of the world-wide honor that should accrue to the name of Mary in perpetuity showed how completely his mind was focused upon the impending victory he would achieve upon the cross. The Lord during those dark hours saw not the shame, the agony, or horror of death, but the universal victory of the true and the everlasting glory of them who would love and appreciate it. "Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). Neither Mark nor Matthew mentioned Mary's name, notwithstanding Jesus' promise. Plummer said:
The reason may be that when they
wrote, she was still alive, and would
not desire to have her name published.
When Luke and John (John 12:2-8)
wrote, she may have been deceased. F4
This is another fruitful example that what is given to Christ is saved; all else is lost. Of the lifetime earnings and estate of Mary of Bethany, if the sum total of it had been invested in any conceivable way and multiplied a thousandfold, it would have been powerless to achieve for her name even a fraction of the endowment provided by the 300 pence worth of spikenard lavished upon the body of our Lord.
Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests.
THE BETRAYAL BY JUDAS ISCARIOT
Matthew's arrangement of the events in this chapter certainly suggests that the events concerning the "waste" of the spikenard are definitely connected to the defection of Judas. Otherwise, the journey of Judas to the priests would have been mentioned in Matt. 26:1-5. Plummer wrote, "Evidently we are to suppose that the proposal (of Judas) was a consequence of that incident." F5 Robertson concurs, saying, "Judas, stung by the rebuke of Jesus at the feast, bargains with the rulers to betray Jesus." F6 If such assumptions are true, avarice, wounded pride, and disappointment appear as prime ingredients in Judas' motivation for betrayal. What is very remarkable is the astounding pettiness of this diabolical act. One could come nearer understanding it if Christ had been betrayed for some big reason, but the things which apparently motivated Judas were extremely small considerations.
And said, What are ye willing to give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they weighed unto him thirty pieces of silver.
Ah, there was the fatal cleft in the heart of Judas. That was what the prodigal son said, "Father, gave me ..." (Luke 15:11). Such an attitude says, "I'll take the cash; let the credit go; A bird in the hand's worth two in the bush! Get yours while the getting's good! You've got to look out for number one!" Such an attitude betrayed the Son of God, and it is still doing so.
Matthew indicates that Judas proposed the betrayal and that the priests named the amount they would pay. Luke's use of the word "covenanted" (Luke 22:5) indicates some haggling over the price, which was promptly paid in advance in cash on the spot, once agreement had been reached. It surely seems almost incredible that those priests who were supposed to know so much Scripture could have been so oblivious to the prophecy of Zechariah that they should have exactly fulfilled it, matching to the penny the Messiah's betrayal price as set forth by that prophet! Zechariah wrote:
And I said unto them, If ye think
good, give me my price; and if not,
forbear. So they weighed for my price
thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord
said unto me, Cast it unto the potter:
a goodly price that I was prised at of
them. And I took the thirty pieces of
silver, and cast them to the potter in
the house of the Lord (Zechariah 11:12,13).
This is far more than a prophecy; it is a whole constellation of prophecies. Note the following:
- There will be haggling over the price (if not, forbear).
- The sum agreed upon will be 30 pieces of silver.
- It will be weighed out.
- It will be cast unto the potter.
- "Cast" indicates it will be thrown.
- The potter will eventually receive it.
- The recipient will do the casting.
- The whole transaction will occur in the temple (the house of the Lord).
Even a casual student of the New Testament knows that every detail of that remarkable group of prophecies was fulfilled exactly, not by any of Jesus' friends trying to impose evidence that he was the Messiah, but by his sworn enemies. In fact, most of the wonderful prophecies of Jesus were fulfilled, not by friends, but by his enemies. Who can doubt that a Power above and beyond those evil men shaped their deeds to God's pattern, using their sinful deeds to accomplish his own divine purpose? "Without our being aware of it, our fingers are so guided that a pattern is created when the thread gets caught in the web!" F7
And from that time he sought opportunity to deliver him unto them.
The words "deliver him" are translated "betray him" in some of the versions, and they do bear that translation. The opportunity Judas sought was a quiet one in which Christ could be pointed out and captured by the priests without tumult, or in the absence of the multitude (Luke 22:6). Judas, knowing the place where Jesus was accustomed to retire for prayer with his disciples, would have no difficulty in finding such an occasion.
Now on the first day of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, Where wilt thou that we make ready the passover?
Just what day of the week this was could never be known with positive certainty unless the exact year of the crucifixion could be determined. The first day of unleavened bread was the day before the preparation for the passover, namely the 13th of Nisan; and whether the Lord ate his last meal with the disciples on Wednesday or Thursday does not really matter. We do know that, in any case, the day on which he was crucified corresponded to the day the paschal lambs were slain, Christ thus fulfilling, even in his death, the figure of the "lamb slain from the foundation of the world." Technically, his last meal occurred on the day of his crucifixion, although actually it occurred the night before, a fact derived from the Jewish method of reckoning time and marking the day as beginning at sunset and ending at sunset the following day. Thus, we also are able to understand that the 15th of Nisan (first full day of Passover that technically began at sundown on the 14th of Nisan) really started at sundown of the day Christ was crucified on the 14th. We shall leave it to the scholars to make endless arguments as to the exact day of the week. That Christ was crucified, not on the 15th Nisan but on the 14th, is plain from these considerations:
- The 15th of Nisan would not be called merely the preparation (John 19:31). Yet that was the day Christ's body was upon the cross; and the concern of the leaders in hastening his death by the breaking of his legs (as they intended) was precisely for the purpose of preventing his body from remaining upon the cross over the Passover (15th Nisan), which began technically at sundown the day he suffered (14th Nisan).
- If the day of the crucifixion had been the Passover (15th Nisan), the officers and men who arrested Jesus the night before (after the Passover had legally begun) would not have borne arms on such a high day.
- If the day of the crucifixion had been the Passover proper, Joseph of Arimathea would not have prepared spices on that day (Mark 15:46; Luke 23:56).
In view of the above, Christ's last meal, called the Passover, was not actually that. At least, it was not on that Passover day. It preceded the Passover. There is no evidence that a lamb was prepared and eaten by the Lord and his disciples. The true Lamb was present with them, and he would be slain on the morrow of this same 14th Nisan, fulfilling the type to the letter. No one should be disturbed by the designation of this last meal as the Passover by the synoptics, for without doubt the term was used in an accommodative sense because it so resembled and so nearly coincided with the actual Passover. John's gospel makes it impossible to believe that it was actually the ordinary Passover. Furthermore, Christ did not refer to it as the Passover until the disciples had suggested it; and even then he referred to "keeping" rather than "eating" it.
And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Teacher saith, My time is at hand; I keep the passover at thy house with my disciples.
Dummelow noted that:
The Last Supper is here called the
Passover, because in many respects it
resembled it. It is not, however,
certain that there was a lamb. Jesus
himself was the Lamb; and, as he
intended to supersede the type by the
reality, it was not absolutely
necessary for the type to be
Christ did not say, "I will eat the passover," but that "I keep the passover." Moreover, he did not say, "The Passover is at hand," but that "My time is at hand." Again from Dummelow:
The disciples would doubtless be
surprised at the proposal of Jesus to
keep the passover a day before the
legal time. The disciples were
therefore instructed to give the
reason, "My time is at hand." The
meaning was, "My death will happen
before the legal time arrives." F9
And the disciples did as Jesus appointed them; and they made ready the passover.
This refers to the preparation the disciples made for the Passover. They no doubt thought that Christ would actually eat the passover with them the following night, not on that very evening; for it would have been impossible for them to procure the lamb, properly slain and blessed in the temple, until the day following. They made it ready then, as far as the preparation could have been made; but events were to move more swiftly than they supposed.
Now when even was come, he was sitting at meat with the twelve disciples.
This cannot mean, "He was eating the Passover." That is not what the passage says. Those who assume that this was the Passover should explain why Jesus ate it sitting down, or rather "reclining at the table," as the Greek has it. The Law specifically required that it be eaten standing up (Exodus 12:11); and the fact that the Jews no longer honored that commandment did not change God's law. We may be certain that Christ never concurred in "making the word of God of none effect" by accepting human tradition in the place of it (see notes, 15:6ff). Why should Matthew have mentioned that Jesus was "reclining" at the table, unless this had pertinence and significance? Must we conclude that Christ had thereby consented with the Jews of his generation to eat the Passover lying down, instead of standing up as God's law required; or is it intended that we should see that this is not the Passover at all?
And as they were eating, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.
Why was this warning spoken? Did our Saviour, by this means and at so late an hour, try to stay the mad progress of Judas on his way to destruction? Was it to impel the heart-searching that immediately followed on the part of them all ? Was it to call attention to another notable prophecy about to be fulfilled? Psa. 41:9 prophesied, "Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, Who did eat of my bread, Hath lifted up his heel against me." Judas was pinpointed by that prophecy. He was Jesus' friend, even an apostle; he was trusted, even carrying the bag; he ate of his bread. Characteristically, Christ expanded and extended the prophecy in more detail, noting in the following conversation that it would be one "who dipped his hand" in the dish with Jesus (Matthew 26:23). Of the Twelve, only one man carried the bag and sat next to Jesus at the table.
The argument that Judas was predestined to the tragic role he played and that he was, therefore, not to blame for his conduct, is false. It was by choice, and by transgression, that Judas fell. God's foreknowledge of it did not require him to commit such a sin. God's knowledge of man's sin (past tense) does not make guilt any less; and, in the same way, God's knowledge of man's sin (future tense) does not mitigate or extenuate it. Judas was not a devil from the beginning; at first he was a noble apostle, receiving from Christ the same commission as the others to heal the sick and cast out demons (see note on 10:8).
And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began to say unto him every one, Is it I, Lord?
In this heartbreaking scene, the earthly fortunes of our Lord were at their lowest ebb. One of his chosen was a traitor with the blood-money already in his bag. The gathering storm would soon break, the darkness deepened, and every man present felt the awful possibility of forsaking and betraying him. How shamefully weak is every man!
And he answered and said, He that dipped his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.
Thus, Jesus plainly identified Judas as the traitor. The other gospels contain interesting details of that event not contained in Matthew.
The Son of man goeth, even as it is written of him; but woe unto that man through whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had not been born.
This was possibly a last-minute effort on the part of Christ to arouse in Judas some desire of repentance. Christ had already indicated to Judas that his treachery was known; and if Judas, convicted of sin, had only confessed it and asked Jesus' forgiveness, he could have been spared participation in the actual delivery of Christ to his foes.
The Son of man goeth ...
"probably means `goeth his way to death.' The word sometimes has the sense of `going back' or `going home,' and that idea may well be included here." F10 Thus Plummer viewed the passage. Regarding the sin of Judas, the same author wrote:
These counsels did not necessitate the
sin of Judas; they would have been
fulfilled if he had remained faithful.
Of his own free will, he helped to
carry them out in a particular manner,
and for this he is responsible and
stands justly condemned. F11
And Judas who betrayed him answered and said, Is it I, Rabbi? He saith unto him, Thou hast said.
The expression "thou hast said" was a well-understood affirmative in the idiom of the Jews. The die was then cast. Judas' treason was known to all, and he would move at once to effect Jesus' delivery to the chief priests. To make certain that the identification was complete, Christ announced that to whomsoever he should give the sop, the same it was who should betray him. He then gave the sop to Judas (see John 13:23-30). Judas was admonished, "That thou doest, do quickly" (John 13:27,28). "Straightway" after receiving the sop, Judas departed from the company.
Why did Christ admonish Judas to do his foul deed "quickly"? One plausible reason is that Christ, about to institute the Lord's Supper, did not desire Judas' attendance upon that solemn night. "After the sop, Satan had entered into Judas; and it was inappropriate that he should participate in the Last Supper, especially that portion of it in which the Lord's Supper was initiated. However, at least some of the apostles did not so understand Jesus' words. John relates that "some thought Jesus meant, Buy what things we have need of for the feast" (John 13:29). This is more proof that this Last Supper was not the Passover. Some things yet needed to be procured for the "feast" or Passover, legally scheduled for the following evening, and it is virtually certain that one of the things lacking was the lamb itself.
Two expressions in the context are charged with rich symbolical meaning. These are "the sop" and "it was night" (see 13:27-30). The presentation of "the sop" to Judas is ironic in that he was betraying Christ for a mere pittance, a financial sop, a single mouthful, a trifle, giving up something of infinite value for something of the most trivial worth. "It was night" also carries the deepest implications. How dark was that night when the Saviour's friend betrayed him, the disciples forsook him and fled, and the powers of darkness seized possession of the body of the Christ of God. It was a time of darkness appropriate to the deeds of darkness then afoot.
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it; and he gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
THE INSTITUTION OF THE LORD'S SUPPER
This and through Matt. 26:30 is Matthew's account of the establishment of the Lord's Supper, an event recorded by all three synoptics and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. The four witnesses to this scene (Paul's, of course, by direct revelation) are remarkable for variation in the words of Jesus, as separately reported; but this should be understood as the natural result of independent testimonies and is much more convincing than verbatim accounts would have been, for in such a case there would invariably have existed a presumption of some common source. Of course, the accounts perfectly agree and are fully compatible and supplementary, each to the others, making up a graphic and exciting composite of this momentous occurrence.
An age-old controversy, and one that rent Christendom asunder, raged over the meaning of "This is my body." Is the expression a metaphor, or is some mystical meaning implied? The Roman doctrine of transubstantiation is grounded here. Yet, when one has read the long and tedious dissertations on this subject, a fresh reading of the whole context will clear the mind and bring sharply into focus the obvious truth. Christ often used metaphor in his teaching, saying, "I am the door," "I am the way," "I am the bread of life," etc. The compulsion to receive "This is my body" as a metaphor comes from the fact that it was not Jesus' literal flesh that they ate. The expression "This is my body" which they were to take and eat, actually focuses attention upon the lamb of the Passover, the type, of which Jesus was the glorious fulfillment. Not in eating an actual lamb, but in living the Word of Christ shall men attain unto salvation (see notes on Matthew 15:20).
And he took a cup and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it.
Drink ye all
means that all of them were to drink of it, not that all of the cup was to be drunk. That "all" are to partake is a mandate for the whole church in all ages, refuting the notion that some, the priests for example, may drink of the cup and that the laity may not. Communion "under one kind" is impossible. The same Lord who said of the bread, "Take and eat," said also of the cup, "Drink ye all"!
For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins.
Christ made the Lord's Supper the solemn sign and seal of the covenant for the forgiveness of the sins of his disciples in all ages. Christians who forsake the Lord's Supper are described in the New Testament as having "trodden under foot the Son of God" and as having "counted the blood of the covenant wherewith (they) were sanctified an unholy thing" and as having "done despite" (insulted) unto the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29).
Of vast significance are the words "unto remission of sins," translated "for the remission of sins" in the KJV. Note that Christ's blood was not shed because men were already forgiven but in order that they might be forgiven. Christ did not die because men were already saved but in order that they might, as a result of his death, receive salvation. The application is binding on the identical expression, "remission of sins" in Acts 2:38: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ UNTO THE REMISSION OF SINS." Whatever the expression means in one place it must also mean in the other. Thus, the familiar heresy that baptism is not related to forgiveness of sins is refuted, incidentally but devastatingly, by Christ's use of the key phrase in this verse. This expositor has never seen an exposition, version, commentary or translation in which the identical words (unto remission of sins) in Acts 2:38 and Matthew 26:28 were not identically translated. Both passages in the Greek text, and as far as is known in all translations, are identical in form and meaning. Therefore, if Christ's pouring out of his blood was a prerequisite in the procurement of human forgiveness, then also baptism is a prerequisite action in the procurement of that same forgiveness on behalf of his disciples. He must have shed his blood; we MUST be baptized. Nor does this equate one action with the other. Christ's atonement was the ENABLING ACT; man's baptism is but human compliance with one of the conditions upon which men are privileged to participate in it, but that human compliance is necessary too; hence, baptism is "unto remission of sins."
But I say unto you, I shall not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.
Christ in this verse referred to the cup which he had just blessed as "the fruit of the vine"! That, of course, is what it was BEFORE he blessed it; and this is divine testimony to the fact that that is exactly what it was AFTER he blessed it: "the fruit of the vine." The superstition of the Dark Ages relative to transubstantiation founders upon this text. Does anyone actually believe that there are men on earth today who can do what Christ did not do, and who can bless the "fruit of the vine" in such a manner that it becomes the "actual blood" of Christ? Could their blessing in any way accomplish what the Lord's failed to accomplish?
When I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.
Scholars have held this to mean that Christ will again partake of the Supper with his disciples only in the days of the "everlasting kingdom" (2 Peter 1:11), or that he will do so in a figure at the "marriage supper of the Lamb." It seems that both views overlook the fact that, in a sense, Christ always partakes of the Lord's Supper with his disciples, since "Where two or three are gathered together" in his name, Christ is spiritually present with them (Matthew 18:20).
Acceptance of the words in their obvious and literal sense is not merely possible but quite illuminating. Three conditions prerequisite to his partaking of the fruit of the vine with his disciples were spelled out: (1) it would be "new" wine; (2) it would be with his disciples; and (3) it would be "in" the kingdom. Perhaps this accounts for the fact that Christ refused the wine mingled with gall when he was crucified. In that case, (1) the wine was not new, (2) it was not with his disciples, and (3) the kingdom had not at that time been set up.
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
Matthew's account might lead one to suppose that immediately after the institution of the Lord's Supper, the Lord and his disciples departed from the room where the sacred scene occurred; but from John's account it is learned that several very important discourses were made by Jesus on that same occasion, extending the meeting for a considerable time. John 14-17 records the following as having taken place at that time: (1) the farewell discourse, (2) concerning the Comforter, (3) I am the true vine, (4) Christ's intercessory prayer, and other significant teachings. At least a part of these extended words of Christ might have been, and certainly could have been, spoken on the way to Gethsemane.
The singing of a hymn is significant. Singing, and not instrumental music, was always associated with Christ and the apostles. The presumption with which people have loaded the worship of Christ with their own devices is reprehensible. The New Testament affords no example of such innovations, but repeated references to singing are recorded (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19,; 5:19, ).
Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended in me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.
PETER'S DENIAL WAS FORETOLD
The prophecy cited in Matt. 26:31 is Zechariah 13:7, and Christ's quotation of it sheds new light upon its meaning. It is God who will smite the shepherd. The Lord will lay upon him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:7). Thus, the crucifixion is God's doing. Christ will be the architect of his own death, as revealed in the conversation with Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration. Satan and evil men will be used, not as designers, but as instruments of the divine purpose. The most comprehensive statement of this fact is in Isaiah 53, where, in addition to the foregoing, it is said that "It pleased the Lord to bruise him"; "He hath put him to grief"; and "Thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin."
The Lord's revelation in this verse that all the disciples would be offended in him is a commentary on the general weakness and defenselessness of men apart from Christ. In the approaching hours when the Son of man would be among the slain, his disciples could not be strong. The Lord would be no longer with them. They would be cast upon their own resources, without his sustaining love and presence, and would quickly fall. So would any person; so would all people. The inference in this passage, then, is not the relative weakness of his disciples as compared with others, but the awful weakness of all people apart from their only Saviour and Redeemer.
But after I am raised up, I will go before you into Galilee.
Who but God incarnate could have done a thing like this? Christ here calmly made an appointment to rendezvous with his disciples after his death and resurrection! He even named a specific hill or mountain where the meeting would occur (Matthew 28:16). Where, in all history, has there ever been an event to match this? Christ made an appointment to meet his disciples after his death, and then kept it!
But Peter answered and said unto him, If all shall be offended in thee, I will never be offended.
One's sympathy lies with Peter here, although he was wrong. His error was threefold, in that he: (1) contradicted Jesus' words, (2) rated himself superior to others, and (3) relied upon his own strength alone. Furthermore, he did not realize that the strength and righteousness he had were not his own, but were only the reflected strength and righteousness of Christ. Many "righteous" people today make the same mistake. Peter's estimate of his own power, based on the character and endowment received from the Lord, was a profound miscalculation in that it failed to recognize Christ and not Peter as the fountain of it. Any "righteous person" who has been kept back from gross sin should thank not himself but the Lord for his victory. Peter's blindness to this truth made it necessary for Christ to teach him through bitter experience that all of man's righteousnesses are as filthy rags.
Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, that this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.
The cock crow
refers to the time of the morning in which that event occurs, a time marked not by a single blast from Chanticleer's bugle, but by many crowings of those feathered harbingers of the day. Mark mentioned the cock's crowing twice before the denial, but that is not a difficulty. Matthew often mentioned one where Mark mentioned two; and besides, the cock crow (in a place like Jerusalem was at that time) always began with one or two, then swelled into a mighty chorus of hundreds or even thousands of roosters uniting to produce that phenomenon called simply the cock crow. Efforts of quibblers to limit such an event to initiation by only one or two cocks and to engage a debate on whether it was one or two are ridiculous. Anyone who has ever heard a cock crow (and I don't mean one bird) in a populous place with an abundance of chickens knows exactly what was meant!
Peter said unto him, Even if I must die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.
Not merely Peter, but all the disciples affirmed their intention to die with Christ and rejected any thought that they would forsake him; and yet it was Peter who took the lead, involving the others in his contradiction of Christ's words, and therefore he is the more to blame. Thus, attention focuses upon him in the narrative. That Peter meant it all in good faith does not extenuate his presumption in contradicting his Lord.
Then cometh Jesus with them to a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto his disciples, Sit ye here, while I go yonder and pray.
IN THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE
What irony! Whereas the disciples were so sure they would not fail, even the Christ approached the cross with "strong cryings and tears" (Hebrews 5:7). It was the humanity of Christ that was in ascendancy from that hour and until death came upon him. As a man (and he was perfect man), he shrank from the ordeal of Calvary; and the common view that Christ wept only for the sins or sorrows of others is not correct. As the stark ugliness and utter horror of the cross loomed before him, his sorrow could be measured only in maximum dimensions.
And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and sore troubled.
Christ often prayed alone; but in the crisis of that agonizing hour, he desired the companionship of his apostles. The need of Jesus for human support and companionship in that dark and critical hour was genuine and indicated the fullness of the Lord's human nature, no less entire and complete than his heavenly nature. Although admonished to watch with Jesus, the apostles were not invited to pray for him. There is no record of any man's ever having been invited to pray for Christ, for he is not the subject of our prayers but their master. People must pray TO him, not FOR him.
Peter, James, and John, the three chosen for the more intimate view of Christ's agony, had previously enjoyed a closer proximity than the others at the raising of Jairus' daughter, and upon the mount of transfiguration.
Verses 38, 39
Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: abide ye here and watch with me. And he went forward a little and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup, pass away from me: Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.
This prayer is remarkable for many reasons. The use of "MY Father is significant because, whereas Christ taught his disciples to pray "Our Father," he himself used the first person possessive singular, "My"! God is the Father of Christ uniquely. Christ who said, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father," did not lose any of his divinity even while suffering the humiliation of agony and death. Even in that extremity there was seen at every instant some overwhelming evidence of his divinity. The one purpose of Christ's coming into the world was to make an atonement, through death, for man's sin; but as the agony approached, his human nature found the ordeal abhorrent and repulsive. This very human prayer gives an insight into the sufferings of Christ and should enhance human appreciation of his unselfish deed. Even in that chilling scene in Gethsemane, Christ prayed, "Not as I will, but as thou wilt." This clearly shows that the humanity of Christ, for the moment, was not fully in tune with the will of the Father, through the weakness of all flesh; but it was quickly brought into complete harmony by means of the prayers in Gethsemane.
If it be possible!
Are not all things possible with God? Yes, and no! It was possible, of course, for God to take away the cross; but to have done so would have taken salvation away from humanity. The dreadful, soul-shaking truth is that not even God could redeem man without the sacrifice of himself (in the person of Christ) to pay the penalty of man's redemption. God had "passed over" the sins of countless generations, knowing what he at last would do; but then the time had come for God to "show his righteousness" (Romans 3:25,26) in having so done. Satan marshaled every possible force to thwart God's purpose. Having found it impossible to murder the Lord, which he had repeatedly attempted, there remained only two means of possible victory for the evil one. These were: (1) he might cause Christ to sin, and (2) he might induce Christ to refuse the cross. In this latter means lies the explanation of the utter repulsiveness of the death which confronted Christ on Calvary. Satan exhausted diabolical cunning in that awful event, foretold from the beginning (Genesis 3:15), in which he would bruise the heel of the seed of woman. No refinement of sadistic lust or barbarous cruelty was overlooked. Christ was to die the worst death any being ever suffered on earth. Would the Saviour, rather than endure it, renounce his mission? To have done so would have been, in a sense, honorable as far as Christ was concerned; but the race of men would have been lost. Only his great eternal love for man brought him through the depth of humiliation and temptation that swept over him in that chilling scene in Gethsemane.
And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
The Lord was not yet through the crisis, and his finding the apostles asleep only added to his sorrow. It should be particularly observed that Christ did not repeat this triple prayer over and over in rote fashion; but on the other hand, after each heart-breaking petition, he paused, sought companionship, and waited for God's answer. What is meant by the "hour"? Such a brief prayer would have required only a moment. Thus it must be concluded that for a much longer period, "one hour," our Lord was in a deep agony of spirit.
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Always solicitious for the welfare of his disciples, Christ attributed their failure to watch with him to weakness of the flesh but repeated the admonition. Nor is it proper to limit the words regarding the weakness of the flesh to its application to the apostles. In a sense, even his flesh was weak. He had been in an agony of temptation and had felt the awful conflict in his soul. How much more then would be the pressure of darkness upon the apostles, his spiritual children, so sure of themselves, so naively unaware of the overwhelming fires of discouragement and sorrow through which they were so soon to pass, and yet, at the moment, wasting their opportunity by sleeping instead of preparing for the coming ordeal. It has already been noted that Christ did not seek prayers from the twelve on his behalf. Rather, one sees the God-man, sorely tried and tempted, and yet beyond the aid of any mortal, for he is above man.
And again a second time he went away, and prayed, saying, My Father, if this cannot pass away, except I drink it, thy will be done.
The words of Plummer are very perceptive regarding this prayer. He said:
Why did he repeat his prayer in
Gethsemane? We may reverently suppose
that he himself knew that the first
utterance of the prayer had not been
complete in its success. His human
will was not yet in absolute unison
with the will of his Father; and, in
this way, we may trace progress
between the first prayer and the
second. In both cases, the prayer is
made conditional; but in the first the
condition is positive; in the second
it is negative. "If it be possible"
has become "If it be not possible";
and there is no longer any petition
that the cup be removed. We may
believe that in the third prayer, even
if the same words were used, the "if"
has become equivalent to "since":
"since this cup cannot pass from me,
thy will be done." F12
And he came again and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.
Note again the time-lapse between the second and third utterances of the prayer. Although he used the same words, Christ did not pray rote prayers. That the disciples actually tried to stay awake may be assumed, since they had so boldly proclaimed their loyalty only a little earlier. As extenuation, the hour was long past midnight. Very strong emotions had attended the Last Supper, the identification of the traitor, and the contemplation of Christ's death. Also, the crowded events of that entire week had left them physically and emotionally exhausted. "For their eyes were heavy" shows the strain under which they had arrived at that dark hour.
And he left them again, and went away, and prayed a third time, saying again the same words.
This passage is the basis for the assumption, allowed even by Plummer and others, that repeated prayers are acceptable. To this it may be replied that "repeated" prayers are indeed acceptable, provided only that they are PRAYERS. Furthermore, there is absolutely no precedent for rote prayers, mumbled or shouted over and over, without intermission. Christ did nothing like that; and one needs a strong imagination to find any permission in the Lord's thrice-repeated prayer for any such thing as that exhibited in the Rosary. True, Christ repeated the prayer three times, over a span of at least an hour; but, as noted above, there is a definite progression in the prayers, and they were, in each case, separated by intervals of time sufficient for Christ to return to the sleeping disciples. Add to this the significant change in the second prayer from the first, and a probable further change in the third from the second, and this solemn triple prayer plainly refutes the type of glib, rote prayer it is alleged to allow.
Luke's account adds a number of significant details in the scene depicted here. The apostles' sleep is attributed to sorrow (Luke 22:46), and he mentioned the great drops of blood falling to the ground. That detail was of special interest to Luke the physician. "Commentators give instances of this blood-sweat under abnormal pathological circumstances." F13 Men under torture have been observed to sweat blood, a phenomenon always followed immediately by death. If such was the type of blood-sweat endured by Jesus, it would explain the necessity of angels coming to strengthen him (Luke 22:43).
The blood-sweat, a portent of immediate and impending death, is thought by some scholars to be "the cup" which Jesus prayed to be removed, thus referring it primarily to the agony of that hour and not to the crucifixion. Supporting that view is the fact that no angel on the morrow was required to minister to him on the cross, whereas such supernatural power was required in Gethsemane. L. S. White, pioneer preacher of the gospel and profound expositor of the Scriptures, held this view, affirming that Christ, sweating the blood-sweat, and knowing that he was about to die in Gethsemane rather than upon the cross, prayed for the cup to pass. In this view, God answered the Saviour's prayer for the cup to pass, not by removing the cup, but by sending an angel to strengthen him. One may only wonder at the agony which produced such a phenomenon. Perhaps it was not meant for mortals to know the full story of that hour.
But none of the angels ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed,
Or how dark was the night our Lord
Ere he found the sheep that was lost!
Then cometh he to the disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest; behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
The expression "sleep on now ..." is difficult, for, almost in the same moment, he said, "Arise, let us be going" (Matthew 26:46). Dummelow viewed it as reproachful irony, i.e., "`You have slept through my agony; sleep also through my betrayal and capture.'" F14 Broadus viewed the passage as a permissive imperative.
He has no further need of their
keeping awake; his struggles in the
solitude close by are past. So far as
concerns the object for which he
desired them to watch and pray, they
may now yield to sleep. F15
To be sure, they did not long enjoy the permission. Immediately, perhaps even as he spoke, came the sudden onset of his arrest and capture.
Arise, let us be going; behold, he is at hand that betrayeth me.
Christ did not propose to flee or to hide, but went out to meet the foe. Just how he knew the moment was at hand is no problem. He knew all things, even what was in men's hearts; also, the lanterns and torches of the arresting party were plainly visible.
And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people.
THE BETRAYAL AND SEIZURE OF JESUS
Prompted by Judas' treachery, a fundamental strategy-change occurred in the camp of Jesus' enemies. They at first thought to murder Jesus privately (see Matthew 26:1-5), but now they decided to move against him boldly with a public arrest and trial. The great company of the arresting party showed that at that time, for better or for worse, the religious hierarchy was irrevocably committed to the more open tactic. That of course was in harmony with God's will and was a fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy to that effect (Matthew 26:2). As a result of this change, men of all ages would be able to declare, as Paul did before Festus, "This hath not been done in a corner!" (Acts 26:26).
Just what human considerations moved this change are not completely known, but one likely possibility is that the treason of one of the Twelve led the chief priests to suppose that Christ no longer had his former hold upon the people. They also may have thought that, through Judas, and from information they might logically have expected Judas to provide, they would be able to establish a legitimate charge against Christ and murder him under the frames of legality. Strong evidence that such was actually their purpose came to light when suborned witnesses perjured themselves before the Sanhedrin.
It has already been noted that that great multitude bearing arms that night eliminates any supposition that Passover Day had begun at sunset that same night. The temple guard, under the command of the high priest, would not have borne arms on such a high day.
Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying Whomsoever I shall kiss, that is he; take him.
Who but Satan could have thought of such a sign as that? To betray with a kiss has come to signify the ultimate in infamy. It was as base as it was gratuitous, the need of any sign at all being contra-indicated. It was not that difficult to tell Christ from his disciples (nor is it now!). The employment of so perfidious a device was grounded in the misassumption that Christ would attempt to conceal his identity. The repulsive betrayal kiss, therefore, was a gratuitous personal insult, conceived in hell, instigated by Satan, and bestowed in blindness. It was effectively designed to augment the shame of the cross to which it would lead.
The impudent audacity of Judas has been a marvel ever since. How could he dare to pollute the face of Christ with such a kiss? Face to face with the Saviour, he did not relent nor feel the sting of conscience, as Peter did when Jesus looked upon him. Caffin said of the kiss:
The Greek word seems to imply that he
did it with an affectation of
earnestness, with much warmth of
manner; perhaps he thought, in his
madness and folly, that he might be
able to conceal his sin, thus
deceiving Christ and his
fellow-apostles into thinking that he
was coming simply to rejoin them, and
that he had no connection with the
arresting band that followed. F16
And straightway he came to Jesus and said, Hail, Rabbi; and kissed him.
The marginal note in the English Revised Version (1885) translates the Greek as "kissed him much." Judas' conduct here gives a case study of excessive wickedness which answers some of the problems confronting society in any age. The current social thesis that savage and desperate criminals are more sinned against than sinning, that society itself is in fact to be blamed for whatever wicked men do - that philosophy is struck a mortal blow by the case of Judas. Wherein did Jesus fail with Judas? How could Judas' environment have been improved? How was society to blame in his case? Clarence Darrow, the noted criminal lawyer, did not believe that any man is responsible for his crimes. He said:
No one attributes free will or motive
to the material world. Is the conduct
of man or the other animals any more
subject to whim or choice than the
action of the planets? It will be
admitted that no one is responsible
for his birth or early
He espoused the thesis that people are no more responsible than animals.
We know that all these causes
influence man the same as other
animals. ... We know that man's every
act is induced by motives that led or
urged him here or there; that the
sequence of cause and effect runs
through the whole universe, and is
nowhere more compelling than in
To Clarence Darrow, all criminals were "victims of civilization"! The freedom of the will, individual responsibility, and personal accountability are being more and more rejected by a materialistic and secular society; but the word of God reveals the higher view that men are responsible for their deeds. True, one cannot control heredity or early environment, etc.; but one can control the way he reacts to them. This is not a merely: animal response. From the same slum there rise an Al Capone and an Al Smith; but every man decides the kind of "Al" he will be. From the same apostleship there rose Peter, and there fell Judas.
And Jesus said unto him, Friend, do that for which thou art come. Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took him.
The term "friend" in this passage does not convey the exact meaning. The Greek word is actually "companion." In the New Testament, this term is again and again addressed to the enemies of the Lord, and that of a particular kind. For example, in Matt. 20:13 and Matt. 22:12 this term is applied to those who, nominally righteous, were yet at variance with the divine will. "Companion" Judas certainly was; friend he was not. F19
The command, "Friend do that, etc." indicates that Judas had now passed the point of no return. Having laid the conditions for it, Judas was at that time under the divine compulsion to act out the sordid drama he had already contrived in his heart. As Jesus said, "Everyone that commiteth sin is the bondservant of sin" (John 8:34). Balaam could not turn back when the journey became threatening and dangerous (Numbers 22:34). He even attempted to do so, but over against him in the way stood an angel of Jehovah with a drawn sword, saying, "Go with the men!" Christ's words to Judas in this passage had the same implications for the traitor. There was then left for Judas no place of repentance, no point of return. "Do that for which thou art come!"
The entire scene of the arrest is instructive. The "great multitude" was according to prophecy. "How are mine enemies increased! Many are they that rise up against me" (Psalms 3:1). In the arresting multitudes were combined many factions: Jews, soldiers, Romans, the rabble, Pharisees, and all parties, united in a common front against the Lord. It even included the false apostle. And why all that show of force? It reminds one of the United States Navy bearing down on Guantanamo to turn the water off! As Matthew Henry put it:
When a butcher goes into the field to
take out a lamb for the slaughter,
does he raise the militia, and come
armed? No, he needs not; yet is there
all this force used to seize the Lamb
of God. F20
Matthew did not relate the dialogue between Christ and his captors, nor the event of their falling to the earth in his presence. Doubtless that remarkable event was for the purpose of demonstrating that Christ could have avoided capture, even by a force a hundred times as large as theirs, if he had elected to do so.
And behold, one of them that were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and smote the servant of the high priest, and struck off his ear.
This passage affords strong evidence of the early date of Matthew which was surely written during the lifetime of Peter, else his name would have been given here. John, writing much later, either after Peter's death or danger had subsided, did not hesitate to name both Peter who drew the sword and Malchus who received it. From the human view, one must admire Peter. His was the only blow struck in defense of the Lord, although struck contrary to Jesus' will and without his approval. By such bold action, Peter was beginning, so he probably thought, to make good his boast that he was ready to die for the Lord. His sincerity is evident, for that was no ordinary blow. If Malchus had not dodged, one may surmise that Peter would have split his head open. Furthermore, Peter was striking toward the high priest, which indicated that he recognized where the hatred and enmity against Christ were centered.
Then saith Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shalt perish with the sword.
This place should not be taken as a rejection of the sword's true place in society, but rather as a recognition on the part of Christ that an ordinary citizen should not resist lawful arrest by constituted authority. Christ did not command Peter to throw his sword away, but to put it in "its place." In a word, that is Christ's teaching on the entire subject. Paul described him that beareth the sword as a "minister of God unto thee for good" (Romans 13:4). In this scene there were two swords, that of the civil authority and that of Peter. Christ recognized both the legitimate authority of the first and the potential need and place for the second.
Our Lord's merciful healing of Malchus' ear was a marvelous evidence of his power and divinity that went unnoticed in the excitement and stress of that moment. One cannot help wondering about Malchus and the memories which he thenceforth carried from his contact with the healing touch of Jesus. The necessity for this miracle rose from the prospect that Peter's action might have drawn a warrant from the authorities and resulted in a trial which could only have confused and complicated the higher issues of Jesus' own approaching trials.
Or thinkest thou that I cannot beseech my Father, and he shalt even now send me more than twelve legions of angels?
The mention of at least 36,000 holy angels is a revealing glance into the mysteries of the eternal world above. Also, the mention in this context of the possibility of Jesus' being rescued by angelic interposition strongly suggests that he had considered that very possibility and rejected it. But the very fact that he had thought of it (else, he could not have mentioned it) raises the speculation of "How close did the Lord come to such a decision?" Since Christ rejected such a suggestion, it is evident that Satan's cause would have been served if he had done so. This shows how near to success the evil one might have come in his frenzied efforts to harass, humiliate, and demean the Lord to such a degree that Christ would terminate his mission of salvation short of his goal, namely, the goal of providing an atonement for the sins of the whole world. Admittedly, these are deep waters; but the Christ's mention of the twelve legions of angels and the possibility of their rescuing him shows that such a termination of his earthly mission had been contemplated by Jesus. Only his redeeming love for man enabled him to reject it. On the ministry of angels, see under Matthew 1:20.
Verses 54, 55
How then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? In that hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a robber with swords and staves to seize me? I sat daily in the temple teaching, and ye took me not.
Jesus' emphasis was ever upon the fulfillment of God's word. It is not merely the death of Christ, but the death of Christ "according to the scriptures," that constitutes the true gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3ff). The Scriptures were the only weapon on which Christ relied in his encounter with the prince of evil (4:4,; 4:4, which ). The thesis of his life was "and the scriptures cannot be broken" (John 10:35). As for the expression "thus it must be," see notes on Matthew 18:7.
Christ's mention of sitting daily in the temple, teaching, confirms the existence of an extensive ministry of Christ in Jerusalem. Dummelow noted that,
This cannot merely refer to two, or at
the most three days' ministry during
Holy Week, but indicates a more
extended ministry at Jerusalem, at an
earlier period, as the fourth gospel
Jesus' mention of his teaching daily in the temple is viewed as an appeal over the heads of the arresting authorities to the general opinion of all the people, and eventually of all mankind, with reference to the essential injustice of this night-time arrest, so utterly incongruous and out of joint with what the situation required.
But all this is come to pass that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples left him, and fled.
The Lord here mentioned a fact known perfectly to him but utterly unknown to the evil multitude participating in his arrest, and that was the fact that all of them were positively engaged at the very moment in the fulfillment of prophecy concerning Christ. That fact is reiterated throughout Matthew. Note that it was usually the enemies of Christ who fulfilled the sacred and prophetic Scriptures regarding Christ. Carlin noted that:
Those wicked men were ignorantly
working out the eternal purpose of
God. They were guilty, all of them,
more or less; but their will was free.
But yet, in the mystery and divine
foreknowledge and the overruling
providence of God, which is so
infinitely above our reach, they were
bringing to pass the utterances of God
through the prophets. The scriptures
must be fulfilled. F22
Why was it at that particular time that the disciples forsook him and fled? "THEN all the disciples left him, and fled." Why THEN, at that particular time? It could have been what certainly must have appeared to the disciples as the most impractical way in which Christ met the crisis and challenge of that hour. He had rejected any fighting. Instead, he directed an appeal to the multitude which, under the circumstances, had no more chance than a snowball in a furnace. The Jerusalem rabble was as irresponsible as the Parisian mob during the Terror, and the disciples knew it. Christ also knew it; but his words were directed, not to the moment, but to the centuries. It was important for all generations to know of the dastardly conduct of the plotters against the Saviour and of the wretched mob that arrested him. Christ's apostles were not yet children of the ages, but only of the hour; therefore, they acted upon the hour's impulse, and fled.
And they that had taken Jesus led him away, to the house of Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and elders were gathered together.
Christ was tried six times, three times before the Romans and three times before the Jewish tribunals:
- Before Annas
- Before Caiaphas
- Before the Sanhedrin
- Before Pontius Pilate
- Before Herod Antipas
- Before Pilate again
THE FIRST TRIAL
Matthew omitted the first trial and arraignment before Annas, the ancient head of the high priestly conclave who was doubtless the prime mover of the cabal against Jesus. Annas lived into his nineties and appears in history as a venomous and zealous bigot, deformed in mind and body. He covered his deformed hands with silken gloves, but there was no covering for the mind of this man who was described by the infidel Reman as a "fit architect indeed to fashion the death of Christ." Annas remained head of religious Jewry, although his excess in ordering the death of one of his enemies had resulted in his being deposed upon the accession of Tiberius in 14 A.D. F23 In spite of his deposition, however, Annas for more than half a century retained the power of the office, and was accorded the title by the Jews; but the LEGAL title and office rotated among the sons and sons-in-law of Annas. It was significant that Christ was first arraigned before Annas.
THE SECOND TRIAL
This was conducted before Caiaphas who also later presided over the convention of the Sanhedrin at daybreak (Luke 22:66). Luke's arrangement of the details is more chronological. Matthew's topical summary naturally includes portions of the narrative out of chronological sequence. However, it is plain that Peter's triple denial took place at the long night-trial, at which only a part of the Sanhedrin was present, and during which Christ was mocked, taunted, smitten, and abused throughout the night by the soldiers. Presumably, during this long travesty on judicial procedure, Caiaphas and his aides were trying to formulate some pattern of the charges they would prosecute before the whole Sanhedrin at daybreak.
But Peter followed him afar off, unto the court of the high priest, and entered in, and sat with the officers, to see the end.
The court and the house of the high priest were the same. Peter's following the Lord "afar off" in this instances has been cited as one of the reasons that he faltered and denied Jesus. Had he been with Jesus as was that "other disciple," presumably John, he might have endured without denying his Lord (John 18:13). Other preconditions that led to Peter's fall are seen in that he: (1) contradicted Jesus' word, (2) relied on his own strength, (3) turned to carnal weapons, (4) sustained the Lord's rebuke, (5) followed afar off, (6) accepted a place in the company of Christ's enemies, and (7) warmed himself at their fire.
Now the chief priests and the whole council sought false witness against Jesus, that they might put him to death.
Having changed their strategy from murdering Christ secretly to the more open method of seeking a legal execution, the high priests and their followers worked throughout the long night to put together some kind of case that would stand up against Christ. This frenzied endeavor on their part continued all night and into the third trial and was the consuming passion at both the second and third trials. It is evident that considerable consternation came upon that evil company as the long night wore on. Things were not going according to plan. False witnesses indeed came, but their testimony was so absurdly false and unconvincing that it was unusable. Furthermore, if they had thought that Judas would provide the inside details needed to sustain a capital charge against the Lord, they were utterly confounded when Judas returned the money, confessed his own sin, and proclaimed the innocence of the Master. Those wily hypocrites were caught in their own net. They would not be able to extricate themselves until the whole sorry business, and their REAL reasons for seeking Jesus' death would be spat out in public before the Roman governor. It must have been a long night for Caiaphas, as well as for Jesus!
Verses 60, 61
And they found it not, though many false witnesses came. But afterwards came two and said, This man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.
If such a tale as these words of the false witnesses was all they had to report, one must be amazed at the plight of the evil men who had relied on it. This was nothing more than a garbled version of what Christ had said, not of the temple but of himself, who is the greater Temple (John 2:19). After searching all night that was all they had, and no one knew any better than Caiaphas that it was not enough for their purpose. Matthew's "afterwards" indicates that that weak and inconclusive charge was all that could be culled from a whole night of coaching and hearing false witnesses. It was hardly enough to justify convening the entire Sanhedrin, as Caiaphas' subsequent actions proved.
THE THIRD TRIAL
This trial was the formal arraignment and prosecution before the whole Sanhedrin and immediately following the all-night circus in the house of Caiaphas, where it may be assumed that Christ made limited answers if any at all. He well knew the preliminary trial was only a fishing expedition and that the issue would be decided before the whole council after daybreak. The night runners had fanned out over the dark city, and the emergency meeting of the most sacred court of the Hebrews got under way very early, perhaps by four o'clock in the morning, as the first rays of morning light brightened the summit of the Mount of Olives. The trial began, Caiaphas presiding; the arraignment was made; the suborned witnesses came on with their lie re: "destroying the temple and building it in three days"! Much to the discomfiture of Caiaphas, Jesus did not even reply. Why? It was not necessary. Nothing stated even by the suborned and lying witnesses could be made the grounds for demanding of Pilate the death penalty for Christ. Caiaphas stood up. The judicial bench had suddenly become a very hot seat for him. The whole wretched business was badly out of hand, and they were at their wits' end to know how to get out of it. Little did they dream that at the precise moment decided by Christ, he would stand forth in all his solemn majesty and hand them, of his own volition, the key to his crucifixion; but it would not be upon their terms, but upon his!
But Jesus held his peace.
He held his peace until the full import of the impasse in which the Sanhedrin found itself was apparent to all of them. Without him, they could do nothing. It was true of them no less than of Pilate, to whom Christ said, "Thou wouldst have no power against me except it were given thee from above" (John 19:11). Christ could surely have escaped execution at the hands of that court, merely by continuing to be silent. They were already defeated.
Then came the climax of that third trial, like a stroke of lightning!
And the high priest said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou art the Christ, the Son of God.
That was the very instant toward which Christ had unerringly moved from the very first moment of his public life to that precise moment. At last, there was no danger of being misunderstood as a seditionist; there, before the assembled elders of his nation, in solemn convocation, before the sacred Sanhedrin, the high priest placed the Christ upon judicial oath, lifting his hands over his own head after the customs of Israel, and intoning the solemn oath, "I adjure thee by the living God, tell us whether thou art the Christ," the Son of God. The answer of Jesus as recorded by Mark (Mark 14:62), while more satisfactory to English ears, is not so dramatic as Matthew's before the Hebrew court where it was delivered. Both accounts record the dramatic shock with which Jesus' words were received.
From Mark (Mark 14:62): "And Jesus said, I am, and ye shall see the Son of Man, sitting at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven."
Thou hast said. Nevertheless, I say unto you, Henceforth, ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven:
Both Christ and his enemies understood this as a claim to be the divine Messiah.
Then the high priest rent his garments, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy: What further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard the blasphemy.
It seems never to have occurred to that Satan-blinded court that Christ's words were true and not blasphemous: The blasphemy they imputed to Jesus, on the basis of his answer, was not from the mere claim that he was the Messiah. It was not a capital offense to claim to be the Messiah; but it was, for making himself the DIVINE MESSIAH, as they viewed it; this led to the charge of blasphemy. In John 19:7, "We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God!" (Leviticus 24:16).
Commentaries are filled with dissertations on the violations of accepted judicial procedure committed by that august body in its rash, unprincipled, and biased handling of the trial of Jesus Christ. Can anyone imagine the judge forsaking the judicial robes to come down and usurp the role of prosecutor? Any night trial of a capital offense was illegal; and, whereas an acquittal could be announced in a single day, no death penalty could be pronounced until three whole days had elapsed. These and many other judicial amenities were violated by the Sanhedrin.
What think ye? They answered and said, He is worthy of death.
Amazingly, if Christ's claim as the divine Messiah was untrue, that verdict was altogether proper and correct. Thus, at the very beginning of the innumerable confrontations of Christ made by men in all climes and generations, the dreadful dilemma, the frightening "either or" with reference to Christ is apparent.
Without calling further witnesses, not even Christ; without waiting for an instant, let alone the legally required three days, the judge put the question to the court, and the predetermined verdict was promptly given. The failure of justice is always sad; but when such a failure occurs at the highest and most sacred level of judicial responsibility, it is doubly tragic. The highest court of the Hebrews, the sacred and hallowed Sanhedrin, was in this case clearly guilty of judicial murder. The next three trials would move into the courts of the Gentiles, but justice would fail there also. In all history, the Hebrews were the leaders in religious thought, and the Romans were leaders in the fields of law and government. How unspeakably tragic that humanity could so wretchedly fail that Roman justice and Hebrew religion should alike concur in sentencing the Son of God to die for testifying under oath to the truth of that sublime fact that he was actually the Son of God.
Verses 67, 68
Then did they spit in his face and buffet him: and some smote him with the palms of their hands, saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ: who is he that struck thee?
Matthew omitted the detail supplied by Luke that they blindfolded him (Luke 22:64); but the fact is implied by the questions of those who asked him to identify those who struck him. We pass over this repugnant scene without elaborating its shameful and repulsive details. Every possible humiliation that evil men, instigated by Satan, could contrive was heaped upon our Lord. Satan was still trying to get Jesus to call it off, abort the mission, bail out, and call for the legions of angels!
Now Peter was sitting without in the court: and a maid came unto him saying, Thou also wast with Jesus the Galilean.
C. E. W. Dorris noted:
That the fall of Peter is recorded by
all the evangelists is high proof of
the honesty and candor of our sacred
historians. They were willing to
mention their own faults without
attempting to appear better than they
were. An uninspired historian would
have omitted the fall of Peter and
mentioned only his good qualities.
This shows the difference between an
inspired and an uninspired historian
and is strong evidence that the Bible
is from God. F24
It has often been observed that "never men wrote like these!" The denial of Peter is told with the same dispassionate detachment and objectivity that mark the account of the betrayal. No odium is heaped upon Judas, and there was no softening of the facts concerning Peter's denial; and, in such things as the choice of materials and the space allotments to each event, the hand of the Eternal is plainly visible. Thus, the martyrdom of James was disposed of in seven words, translated by eleven in English, while nine whole verses were allotted to a description of the grave-clothes of Jesus and the various incidents connected with their discovery in an undisturbed condition. Plainly, no human author would have exercised his unaided human judgment in any such manner (see Acts 12 and John 20).
The additional details that a fire had been kindled and that Peter was warming himself are given by Luke (Luke 22:55).
But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest.
Peter might have thought that he was wanted by the authorities for his attack on Malchus; he was frustrated and embarrassed because his plan to attend the meeting incognito had failed, and he had suffered massive psychological shock during the earlier hours of that momentous night. In view of all this, how remarkable it is that none of the gospels offered any extenuation of Peter's lapse. Whatever the reasons or temptations, they were considered subordinate to the sad facts of the denial itself. Since the inspired writers held that view, all others should concur.
And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and saith unto them that were there, This man also was with Jesus of Nazareth.
Peter's change of location was probably an effort to remain unrecognized, but that was not to be. Another maid saw him and charged him with being a disciple of Jesus.
Verses 72, 73
And again he denied with an oath, I know not the man. And after a little while, they that stood by came and said to Peter, Of a truth thou also art one of them; for thy speech maketh thee known.
How vain was Peter's thought that he might remain unknown, unchallenged, or unnoticed by that vicious company gathered around the Lord. Try as he might have done to appear as one of them, even engaging in conversation, one fatal flaw in the plan exposed him, and that was his speech. The accent of a Galilean fisherman would have been instantly noticed in such a group as that, and of course that is exactly what happened.
I know not the man!
How sadly do those words burn upon the sacred page. He who had first confessed Christ as the "Son of God" had at that point so far defected as to deny that he was even acquainted with Jesus and to reinforce the denial with an oath.
Then began he to curse and to swear, I know not the man. And straightway the cock crew.
The typical onset and progress of temptation are evident in this shocking sequence of events. One may readily believe that if Peter had been placed fairly on oath, if he had been called as a witness, or if there had been any formal recognition of his presence there, he would freely have acknowledged his discipleship. It was the very casualness of temptation's initial onset that proved his undoing. It was only a "little deception" that Peter envisioned at first. He was only trying to shake off the obtrusive curiosity of a maid who had no business asking him in the first place. The beginning of this shameful episode can be pinpointed in that unwelcome, unexpected, unfair intrusion of that maid into the privacy of a man's thoughts; but that was only the tiny hole in the dike that rapidly enlarged until the flood overwhelmed him. "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." F25
And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out and wept bitterly.
God has used some very humble creatures to preach mighty sermons, among them the message conveyed by the barnyard fowl on that occasion. The message of Balaam's ass is another. Preachers, therefore, should take heart and do their best; no one can tell when some word of the Master will find an honest heart and do its work. The cock-crow aroused Peter to a new sense of reality, and he immediately began to make his way back to Jesus. Although Matthew did not record it, John did; and we are privileged to rejoice in the conversion of Peter who returned to confess three times that he loved ([Greek: phileo]) the Lord (John 21:15ff).
Somehow, the sad failure of this great, impetuous man of the outdoors, who forsook his fishnets to become a fisher of men, endears rather than repels. He was so like all men that every man can see himself in Peter's place. Like Peter, may every man who through some lapse has offended his Saviour, turn again and wipe out failure with a new beginning. Peter never faltered again. The tradition that he at last was martyred for the blessed Jesus is supported by the Scriptures (John 21:18,19), and thus this most lovable of all the apostles, despite his mistakes, at last made good' his promise that he was willing to go both to prison and to death for the Lord!
The words "and he went out and wept bitterly" are a fitting close to this chapter. Matthew portrays with chilling realism the terror of that awful darkness which surged against the True Light; and it must ever be a source of unfailing wonder that the "darkness overcame it not"!
Footnotes for Matthew 26
1: H. R. Reynolds, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 17, John II, p. 384.
2: Matthew Henry, Commentary (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company), VoL 5, p. 400.
3: A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1922), p. 187, footnote..
4: Alfred Plumruer, Commentary on Matthew (London, Elliot Stock, 1909), p. 355.
5: Ibid., p. 354.
6: A. T. Robertson, op. cit., p. 142.
7: Dag Hammarskjold, Markings (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965, p. 140.
8: J. R. Dummelow, One Volume Commentary (New York: Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 709.
10: Alfred Plumruer, op. cit., p. 359.
12: Ibid., p. 370.
13: H. D. M. Spence in the Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 16, Luke II, p. 2O3.
14: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 713.
15: John A. Broadus, Commentary on the New Testament (Philadelphia: The American Baptist Publishing Society, 1886), p. 539.
16: B. C. Carlin in The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 15, Matt. II, p. 546.
17: Clarence Darrow, Autobiography (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932), p. 76.
18: Ibid., p. 340.
19: The Emphatic Diaglott (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), p. 11 (on Matthew 26:50).
20: J. W. McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew and Mark (Nashville, Tennessee: The Gospel Advocate Company), p. 16.
21: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit. p. 713.
22: B. C. Cafflin, op cit., Vol. 15, Matthew II, p. 546.
23: F. N. Peloubet, Bible Dictionary (Philadelphia: John C. Winston Company, 1925), under "Annas."
24: C. E. W. Dorris, Commentary on Gospel of John (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1939), p. 354.
25: Sir Walter Scott, Martaion, Canto VI, Stanza 17 (Bartlett's Quotations).