Matthew 26 - Jesus' Betrayal and Arrest
A. The stage is set for the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus.
1. (1-2) Jesus reminds His disciples of His coming suffering and crucifixion.
Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, that He said to His disciples, "You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified."
a. You know that after two days . . . the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified: Perhaps after the triumphal descriptions of the coming kingdom, the disciples were reinforced in their idea that it was impossible that the Messiah should suffer. Jesus reminds them that this is not the case.
b. Again, this was something that they quickly forgot, not remembering or understanding Jesus' own predictions of His death until after His resurrection.
2. (3-5) The plot against Jesus.
Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him. But they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people."
a. Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people: They didn't want to put Jesus to death during the Passover feast, but they will anyway. This is another subtle indication that Jesus is in control of events, when they end up killing Him on the very day that they didn't want to.
3. (6-13) Mary anoints Jesus.
And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, "Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor." But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her."
a. A woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil: We know from John 12 that this was Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. She made this extravagant gesture of love and devotion to Jesus.
i. Morris on the alabaster flask: "It had no handles and was furnished with a long neck which was broken off when the contents were needed . . . We may fairly deduce that this perfume was costly. Jewish ladies commonly wore a perfume flask suspended from a cord round the neck, and it was so much a part of them that they were allowed to wear it on the sabbath." (Commentary on Luke)
b. Why this waste? The disciples criticized this lavish praise. Specifically, the critic was Judas (John 12:4-6). But Jesus defended her as an example of someone who simply did a good work for Jesus. Her extravagant - reckless, really - giving for Jesus would be remembered as long as the gospel was preached.
c. She did it for My burial: Mary understood Jesus' fate, even if Jesus' disciples didn't. She gave Jesus the love and attention He deserved before His great suffering. She understood more because she was in the place of greatest understanding - at the feet of Jesus.
4. (14-16) Judas makes a sinister deal with the Jewish leaders.
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?" And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.
a. What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you? Through the centuries, many have tried to discern a deeper, perhaps even a noble motive behind Judas' betrayal of Jesus. Some thought that he intended to force Jesus to show Himself as Messiah in a dramatic way. But the Bible gives no hint of any such honorable motive.
b. And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver: According to the Bible, there was no noble intention in Judas' heart. His motive was simply money, and his price wasn't too high: thirty pieces of silver was worth perhaps $25.
B. Jesus' "Last Supper" with His disciples.
1. (17-20) Preparations for the Passover: remembering redemption.
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?" And He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, "My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples."'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover. When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve.
a. I will keep the Passover at your house: This must have been a very moving commemoration for Jesus. The Passover remembered the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, which was the central act of redemption in the Old Testament. Now Jesus will provide a new center of redemption.
b. When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve: The Jewish day began at sundown. Jesus ate the Passover and was killed on the same day according to the Jewish calendar.
2. (21-25) Jesus gives Judas a last opportunity to repent.
Now as they were eating, He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me." And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, "Lord, is it I?" He answered and said, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born." Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, "Rabbi, is it I?" He said to him, "You have said it."
a. When Jesus says that His betrayer is he who dipped his hand with Me in the dish, He is not pointing out one specific disciple, because they all dipped with Him. Instead, Jesus is identifying the betrayer as a friend, someone who ate at the same table with Him.
b. Rabbi, is it I? The hypocrisy of Judas is almost unbearable in this passage. For Judas to ask, "Rabbi, is it I?" while knowing he has already arranged the arrest of Jesus is the epitome of treachery.
c. You have said it: Jesus did not say this to condemn Judas, but to call him to repentance. He said it with love in His eyes, and Jesus showed Judas that He loved him, even knowing his treachery.
3. (26-30) Jesus institutes the Lord's Supper.
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." Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
a. Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it: The bread and the cup of wine were elements used in the Passover. Jesus filled them with new meaning, as tools to commemorate a new act of redemption, and to demonstrate our personal fellowship with Jesus Himself.
i. This is how we remember what Jesus did for us. We cannot eat the bread without remembering how Jesus was broken, pierced, and beaten with stripes for our redemption. We cannot drink the cup without remembering that His blood was poured out on Calvary for us.
ii. This is how we fellowship with Jesus. Because His redemption has reconciled us to God, we can now sit down to a meal with Jesus, and enjoy each other's company.
b. This is My body . . . this is My blood: The precise nature of the bread and the cup in communion has been the source of great theological controversy.
i. The Roman Catholic Church holds the idea of transubstantiation, which teaches that the bread and the wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.
ii. Martin Luther held the idea of consubstantiation, which teaches the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine, but by faith they are the same as Jesus' actual body. Luther did not believe in the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, but he did not go far from it.
iii. John Calvin taught that Jesus' presence in the bread and wine was real, but only spiritual, not physical. Zwingli taught that the bread and wine are mere symbols that represent the body and blood of Jesus. When the Swiss Reformers debated the issue with Martin Luther at Marburg, there was a huge contention. Luther insisted on some kind of physical presence because Jesus said this is My body. He insisted over and over again, writing it on the velvet of the table, Hoc est corpus meum – "this is My body" in Latin. Zwingli replied, "Jesus also said I am the vine," and "I am the door," but we understand what He was saying. Luther replied, "I don't know, but if Christ told me to eat dung I would do it knowing that it was good for me." Luther was so strong on this because he saw it as an issue of believing Christ's words, and because he though Zwingli was compromising, he said he was of another spirit (andere geist). Ironically, later, Luther later read Calvin's writings on the Lord's Supper (which were essentially the same as Zwingli's) and seemed to agree with Calvin's views.
iv. Scripturally, we can understand that the bread and the wine are not mere symbols, but they are powerful pictures to partake of, to enter in to, as we see the Lord's table as the new Passover.
d. He gave thanks: In the ancient Greek language, thanks is the word eucharist. This is why the commemoration of the Lord's table is sometimes called the Eucharist.
e. When they had sung a hymn: The singing of hymns and psalms was part of the Passover. How beautiful to think of Jesus singing!
4. (31-35) Jesus predicts the desertion of the disciples.
Then Jesus said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: 'I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee." Peter answered and said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble." Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." Peter said to Him, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" And so said all the disciples.
a. All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night: Jesus says this not to condemn His disciples, but to show them that He really is in command of the situation, and to demonstrate that the Scriptures regarding the suffering of the Messiah must be fulfilled.
b. After I have been raised: With this, Jesus shows that He already looks beyond the cross. His eyes are set on the joy set before Him. (Hebrews 12:2)
c. Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You! Peter, despite his bold proclamation that he will never be made to stumble, will fail in what he thought was his strong area: courage and boldness. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)
C. Jesus prays and is arrested in the garden.
1. (36-39) Jesus' prayer in deep distress.
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, "Sit here while I go and pray over there." And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me." 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."
a. He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed: Of course, Jesus is disturbed from knowing the physical horror waiting for Him at the cross. As He came to Gethsemane from central Jerusalem, He crossed the Brook Kidron, and saw in the full moon of Passover the stream flowing red with sacrificial blood from the temple.
b. My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death: But more so, Jesus is distressed at the spiritual horror that awaits Him on the cross. Jesus would stand in the place of guilty sinners and receive all the spiritual punishment sinners deserve; He who knew no sin would be sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).
c. If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me: God the Father would never deny the Son any request, because Jesus prayed according to the heart and will of the Father. Since Jesus drank the cup of judgment at the cross, we know that it is not possible for salvation to come any other way. Salvation by the work of Jesus at the cross is the only possible way; if there is any other way to be made right before God, then Jesus died an unnecessary death.
2. (40-46) Jesus wins the battle of prayer.
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. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." 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." And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then He came to His disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. "Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand."
a. Could you not watch with Me one hour? Jesus valued and desired the help of His friends in this battle. But even without their help, He endured in prayer until the battle was won.
b. Prayed the third time, saying the same words: This shows us that it is not unspiritual to make the same request to God several times. Some hyper-spiritual people believe that if we ask for something more than once, it shows we don't have faith. But Jesus shows us that repeated prayer is completely consistent with steadfast faith.
c. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand: Jesus knew Judas and the those who would arrest Him were on the way. He could have run, and escaped the agony waiting at the cross. But Jesus rose to meet Judas. He is in complete control of all events.
3. (47-56) Jesus' betrayal and arrest.
And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him." Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed Him. But Jesus said to him, "Friend, why have you come?" Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him. And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. But Jesus said to him, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?" In that hour Jesus said to the multitudes, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me. But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.
a. Greetings, Rabbi! Judas warmly greeted Jesus, even giving Him the customary kiss. But the kiss only precisely identified Jesus to the authorities who came to arrest Jesus. There are no more hollow, hypocritical words in the Bible than "Greetings, Rabbi!" in the mouth of Judas. The loving, heartfelt words of Jesus - calling Judas "Friend" - stand in sharp contrast.
b. One of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear: Matthew doesn't tell us, but we know from John 18:10 that this unnamed swordsman was Peter. But Jesus didn't need his help with the sword. If He wanted it, Jesus had more than twelve legions of angels (something in the area of 36,000 angels) waiting to help Him.
i. The number is impressive, especially considering that one angel killed up to 185,000 soldiers in one night (2 Kings 19:35).
ii. With one sword, Peter is willing to take on a small army of men. Yet he couldn't pray with Jesus for one hour. Often prayer is the very hardest, and best work we can do.
iii. With his sword, Peter accomplished very little. He only cut off one ear, and really just made a mess that Jesus had to clean up by healing the severed ear (Luke 22:51). When Peter moved in the power of the world, he only cut off ears. But when he was filled with the Spirit, using the Word of God, Peter pierced hearts for God's glory (Acts 2:37).
c. All this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled: With all power at His disposal, Jesus is in total command. He is not the victim of circumstance, but He is managing circumstances for the fulfillment of prophecy.
D. The trial before the Sanhedrin.
1. (57-61) In violation of their own laws and customs, Jesus is tried before the Sanhedrin, the high court among the Jews.
And those who had laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. But Peter followed Him at a distance to the high priest's courtyard. And he went in and sat with the servants to see the end. Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none. But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'"
a. On the night of His betrayal, and the day of His crucifixion, Jesus actually stood in trial several times, before different judges. It will be helpful to fill in the gaps provided by the other gospel accounts.
i. Before Jesus came to the home of Caiaphas (the official high priest) He was led to the home of Annas, who was the ex-high priest and the "power behind the throne" of the high priest (John 18:12-14, John 19-23).
ii. As recorded here in Matthew 26, Jesus was then led to the home of Caiaphas, the sitting high priest. He was tried before an ad-hoc gathering of the Sanhedrin that met during the night.
iii. After the break of dawn, the Sanhedrin gathered again, this time "officially," and they conducted the trial described in Luke 22:66-71.
b. Where the scribes and the elders were assembled: This nighttime trial was illegal according to the Sanhedrin's own laws and regulations. According to Jewish law, all criminal trials must begin and end in the daylight. Therefore, though the decision to condemn Jesus was already made, they conducted a second trial in daylight (Luke 22:66-71), because they knew the first one - the real trial - had no legal standing.
i. This was only one of many illegalities made in the trial of Jesus. According to Jewish law, only decisions made in the official meeting place were valid. The first trial was held at the home of Caiaphas, the high priest.
ii. According to Jewish law, criminal cases could not be tried during the Passover season.
iii. According to Jewish law, only an acquittal could be issued on the day of the trial. Guilty verdicts had to wait one night to allow for feelings of mercy to rise.
iv. According to Jewish law, all evidence had to be guaranteed by two witnesses, who were separately examined and could not have contact with each other.
v. According to Jewish law, false witness was punishable by death. Nothing was done to the many false witnesses in Jesus' trial.
vi. According to Jewish law, a trial always began by bringing forth evidence for the innocence of the accused, before the evidence of guilt was offered. This was not the practice here.
c. This fellow said, "I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days": After all the false witnesses had their say, Jesus is finally "charged" with a "bomb threat" against the temple. Clearly, Jesus said "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19). But this glorious prophecy of His resurrection (John 2:21 makes it clear, He was speaking of the temple of His body) was twisted into a terrorist threat.
2. (62-64) Jesus testifies at His trial.
And the high priest arose and said to Him, "Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?" But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, "I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!" Jesus said to him, "It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven."
a. Do You answer nothing? Jesus sat silently until He was commanded by the office of the high priest to answer the accusations against Him. Finally, the high priest demanded to know if Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.
b. It is as you said: Jesus isn't at this trial to defend Himself. We think of the amazing defense He could have made. Jesus could have called witness after witness, and pointed to irrefutable evidence that He was indeed the Christ, the Son of God. But He knows that these hardened hearts care nothing for the facts of this case, so He simply testifies to the truth: It is as you said.
c. You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven: Jesus did add this one word of warning. He warned them that though they sit in judgment of Him now, He will one day sit in judgment of them - and with a far more binding judgment.
3. (65-68) The Sanhedrin reacts with horror and brutality.
Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, "He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! What do you think?" They answered and said, "He is deserving of death." Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands, saying, "Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?"
a. He has spoken blasphemy! The accusation of blasphemy would have been correct, except that Jesus was whom He said He was. It is no crime for the Christ, the Son of God, to declare who He really is.
b. He is deserving of death: Their verdict reveals the depths of man's depravity. God, in total perfection, came to earth, lived among men, and this was man's reply to God.
c. They spat in His face and beat Him: It's easy to think that they did this to Jesus because they didn't know who He was. That is true in one sense, because they would not admit to themselves that He was indeed the Christ, the Son of God. But in another sense, it is not true at all, because by nature man is an enemy of God (Romans 5:10, Colossians 1:21). For a long time, man waited to literally spit in God's face and to beat Him. Because of the amazing humble nature of Jesus, here mankind can do this.
4. (69-75) Peter, fearing association with Jesus, denies his relationship with Jesus three times.
Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, "You also were with Jesus of Galilee." But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are saying." And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth." But again he denied with an oath, "I do not know the Man!" And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, "Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you." Then he began to curse and swear, saying, "I do not know the Man!" Immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." So he went out and wept bitterly.
a. A servant girl came to him: Peter is not being grilled before a hostile court, or an angry mob. His own fear made a servant girl and another girl hostile monsters in Peter's eyes, and he cowered in fear before them.
b. I do not know the Man! Peter's sin of denying his association with Jesus grows worse with each denial. First, he merely lied; then he took an oath to the lie, then he began to curse and swear.
c. In Mark - traditionally, written under Peter's influence - this account is more detailed. Because this story is such an amazing example of man's weakness and God's forgiveness and restoration, Peter wanted this story told.
d. We see a significant contrast between Judas (showing apostasy) and Peter (showing backsliding).
i. Apostasy is giving up the truth, as Judas did. Judas was sorry about his sin, but it was not a sorrow leading to repentance.
ii. Backsliding is a decline from a spiritual experience once enjoyed. Peter slipped, but he will not fall; his bitter weeping will lead to repentance and restoration.