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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Matthew 26



Verse 6-7


‘Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, there came unto Him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on His head.’

Matthew 26:6-7

This incident of the anointing by Mary represents the type of discipleship which shows supreme love to Christ.

I. The discipleship of love sacrifices its best for Christ.—

(a) Mary’s alabaster cruse of exceeding precious ointment was the best thing in her possession. The bargaining faculty of Judas saw in it ‘above three hundred pence’=£10 12s. 6d.

(b) But she poured infinitely more than this. It was the symbol and expression of love and communion (Psalms 133). Wealth is in the heart rather than in the alabaster cruse.

(c) Noble love seeks out an object worthy of itself. Christ was to Mary that ‘one thing needful’ (St. Luke 10:41).

II. It has its reward in His commendation.—

(a) ‘Why trouble ye the woman?’ The conduct of the disciples was uncivil towards the Lord Himself.

(b) ‘She hath wrought a good work upon Me.’ A work of love to Christ is a ‘good work’ in the highest sense.

(c) ‘For ye have the poor always with you; but Me ye have not always.’ The highest form of love to our neighbour comes through love to Christ.

(d) ‘She did it for My burial.’ Great expense was by custom allowed in funeral rites (cf. 2 Chronicles 16:14; St. Luke 23:56).

Deeds of Christian love have deeper meaning than love comprehends. Jesus comprehends the deepest meaning. In due time He will reveal it.

III. There is an immortality in goodness.—

(a) Mary’s was an ‘everlasting deed.’ It is a ‘memorial of her,’ i.e. to bring to mind her amiable and devout character.

(b) Only God can guarantee the immortality of any action. Here there is a prophecy which proves the divinity of Christ.

(c) Note here a tacit intimation that Christ intended that a written record of His life should accompany the preaching of His religion.

(d) The memorial of this ‘good deed’ is more widespread as it is more enduring than the fame of the deeds of the Cæsars.

Verse 8


‘To what purpose is this waste?’

Matthew 26:8

I. The origin of the question.—How do these words emerge again and again from the deep of men’s hearts and find utterance more or less distinct from their lips! Sometimes they are words of disciples spoken in simplicity and good faith. Sometimes they spring out of a far more bitter root.

II. The odour of the ointment.—How much time, for instance, the Christian man must seem to the votary of this world to be throwing away in meditation and prayer. The world grudges and resents any signal outbursts of feeling and passion, any manifest warmth and heat of the affections, in any of the services offered to God. To be drunk with wine it can understand and pardon, but not to be ‘filled with the Spirit.’ And not otherwise is it when the inner devotion of heart finds utterance in some costly offering of the hands. While the Church is filled with the odour of the ointment, there will not be wanting some to exclaim, “To what purpose is this waste?”

III. The best demanded.—But see how our Lord silenced the murmurers, allowed and accepted the gift. ‘She hath wrought a good work upon Me.’ No cold utilitarianism is to reign in Christ’s Church—no niggard calculation of the cheapest rate at which He may be served. The best which any man can bring to Him is not too good, the richest and the rarest is not too rich and rare for Him.

—Archbishop Trench.


‘A Christian gentleman, when blamed by his partner for doing so much for the cause of God, replied, “Your foxhounds cost more in one year, than my religion ever cost in two.”’

Verse 21-22


‘And as they did eat, He said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray Me. And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto Him, Lord, is it I?’

Matthew 26:21-22

It was a moment of dismay among the disciples of Jesus. Each man’s anxiety is turned towards himself, and they ask one after another, ‘Lord, is it I?’ There are times in the lives of us all when that comes to us which came here to Christ’s disciples, occasions when our self-complacency is shaken and the sense of our own possibilities of sin awakened. Let us consider some of them:—

I. When other men sin frequently.—The act is repugnant, but yet the act is human. Just as the goodness of the best men makes that goodness seem not impossible to us, so the wickedness of the worst stirs up the sense of the human power of sinfulness which we too possess.

II. When we commit a venial sin.—We recognise the deep power of sinfulness by which we do it. The least impurity, with some hideous spectre of lust rising before you, makes you cry out: ‘Oh, is it I? Can I come to that?’

III. When men suspect us.—The charge or insinuation may be utterly unwarrantable and false, but the mere fastening of the sin and our name together must turn our eyes in upon ourselves and set us to asking, ‘Is it impossible?’

IV. When men praise us.—This should awaken within us the sense of how bad we have the power to be. No true man is ever so humble and so afraid of himself as when others are praising him most loudly.

V. When we are tempted.—To resist temptation is never an exhilarating experience. We remember too vividly how near we came to yielding. The man who dares to laugh at a temptation which he has felt and resisted is not yet wholly safe out of its power. What is all this but saying that in every serious moment of life the possibility of sinning stands before us. Is this calculated to help or harm? Turn and study the Bible picture of human life portrayed in the scene before us. ‘Lord, is it I?’ We compare it with our own human life, and it explains everything. In the doubters of themselves we see the weakness which comes of self-knowledge, and the distressed cry, ‘Lord, is it I?’ as one hears the announcement of some dreadful sin; in the faithful believers in Christ we see that wondering faith which cries ‘Lord, is it I?’—but it is the cry of those who ‘are strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.’

—Bishop Phillips Brooks.


‘Better lose sight of the mysterious capacity of life altogether than to see one side only—better forget that you are a sinner, and never dare to realise what a sinner you are, or may be, if there be no Saviour to save you from sin; but if there is, and you see Him, then feel the depth below you, and let it make you cling to Him more closely; realise the power of sinfulness, even in its worst forms, that you may realise also the power of holiness in all its beauty; know what a sinner you might have been, that you may know more deeply the salvation which has saved you,’

Verse 33


‘Peter answered and said unto Him, Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended.’

Matthew 26:33

No other apostle makes us feel so much at home with him as St. Peter. He is one of the three or four of whom we know most. We know his sad history as related in this chapter. What was the secret of it all?

I. The confidence of inexperience.—St. Peter’s over-confidence was first of all the confidence of inexperience, aided by lack of imagination. It is repeated again and again under our eyes at the present day. Castles in the air are built by inexperienced virtue to be demolished, alas, at the first touch of the realities of vice.

II. Reliance upon natural temperament.—And once more St. Peter’s over-confidence would seem to have been due in part to his natural temperament and to his reliance on it. Impetuosity was the basis of his character; it had stood him in good stead; it had, no doubt, been strengthened by exercise during his earlier years as a fisherman of the Galilean lake. God’s grace does not destroy the natural character; it purifies, it raises, it sanctifies character.

III. A warning note to ourselves.—What this episode really teaches us is to measure well, if possible, our religious language, especially the language of fervour and devotion. When religious language outruns practice or conviction, the general character is weakened; it is weakened by any insincerity; it is especially weakened by insincerity addressed to the All-true. Let us be sparing of free professions of our own.

—Canon Liddon.


‘The country lad who has been brought up in a Christian home, and is coming up to some great business house in London, makes vigorous protestations of what he will and will not do in a sphere of life of the surroundings of which he can as yet form no true idea whatever. The emigrant who is looking forward to spend his days in a young colony where the whole apparatus of Christian and civilised life is yet in its infancy or is altogether wanting, makes plans, leaving the nature of a situation of which he cannot at all as yet from the nature of the case take the measure, altogether out of account. The candidate for holy orders who anticipates his responsibilities from afar, gathering them from books, gathering them from occasional intercourse with clergymen, makes resolutions which he finds have to be revised by the light of altogether unforeseen experiences. St. Peter never knew what it was to be the only human being loyal to Christ, until he sat in that outer court of the high priest’s palace, and the terrible isolation was too much for him.’

Verse 38


‘Then saith He unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with Me.’

Matthew 26:38

The subject of our thoughts is our Lord’s appeal to the sympathy of His disciples in this the hour of His soul-sorrow.

I. Fellowship with Christ.—From whom did He ask this sympathy? Was it from the world? Oh no! He had never received aught from the world but a thorn-crown and a cross! It was to His beloved disciples. None but the holy were admitted to share the loneliness, the solitude, the sorrow of that hour. And still He permits us to have ‘fellowship with Him in His sufferings,’ and to feel the ‘power of His resurrection.’ If this be so, see that you cultivate a tender, holy sympathy with Christ in His soul-sorrow for your sins.

II. Watching with Christ.—And what was the nature of the sympathy which our Lord now asked? ‘Tarry ye here, and watch with me.’ He only asked for their silent presence, yet how painful was His disappointment. Yet His reproof was so considerate. The Lord Jesus is not only cognisant of our shortcomings, but He remembers that we are dust.

III. Sympathy one with another.—It cannot involve either a charge of weakness or sin, our felt reliance upon the sympathy, compassion, and help of our fellow-Christians. Yet sometimes it disappoints us. To what did Jesus resort when, sad and disappointed, He turned from this dried stream of human sympathy? He gave Himself again to prayer—He returned a third time to His Father. O blessed lesson He would thus teach us! We shall find in prayer all, and infinitely more, than we sought, and failed to find, in the holy watchers around us.

—Dr. Octavius Winslow.


(1) ‘Alexander the Great slept on the field of Arbela, and Napoleon on that of Austerlitz. Homer, in the Iliad, represents sleep as overcoming all men, even the gods, except Jupiter alone.’

(2) ‘Oh, ask not, hope thou not, too much

Of sympathy below;

Few are the hearts whence one sure touch

Bids the sweet fountains flow;

Few—and, by still conflicting powers,

Forbidden here to meet;

Such ties would make this life of ours

Too fair for aught so fleet.’

‘Yet scorn thou not, for this, the true

And steadfast love of years;

The kindly, that from childhood grew,

The faithful to thy tears!

If there he one that o’er the dead,

Hath in thy grief home part;

And watch’d through sickness by thy bed,

Call his a kindred heart.’

Verse 39


‘And He went a little farther, and fell on His face, and prayed.… let this cup pass from Me.’

Matthew 26:39

Why was our Blessed Lord in such distress? It is not sufficient to say that it was because of physical fear. What was it that caused Him such anguish of heart and mind?

I. The hour and the power of darkness.—In the first place, it was both the hour and the power of darkness. The expression ‘darkness’ surely alludes to Satan and to his emissaries. The enemies of God and man were allowed to have their way for the time being. The Son of God was almost in the very grip of the devil.

II. The consciousness of man’s sin.—Secondly, there was the consciousness that the vast majority of mankind loved the things which He hated, and would not accept salvation and the holiness it carried with it.

III. ‘He bare the sin of many’.—Thirdly, the real meaning of the agony lies in the work the Messiah had to do in saving sinners. The real key to our Lord’s agony is in Isaiah 53 To apply the language of Isaiah 53. To any human being, or to any nation, as the Jews do, is out of the question. Our Blessed Master was our Substitute. ‘He loved me, and gave Himself for me,’ and bore this agony for my sake.

IV. What is our attitude?—After studying the agony, we should, as a consequence, have a horror of sin. If there is no sympathy with Jesus in his agony, sin is not understood, and if there is no sympathy with Jesus in His agony, there is no gratitude towards Him, no love for Him.

—Canon M’Cormick.


‘In one of the finest passages in the English language, Cardinal Newman, before he left the Church of England, referred to the agony in the most eloquent terms. Taking the ideas that are conveyed to us in this chapter, he said that our Blessed Lord had all the sin of the whole world laid upon Him. All the lies, all the adulteries, all the murders, all the selfishness, all the cruelty, all the sins that the human mind could imagine were heaped upon Him, until, as it were, they reached up to heaven, and that He had to bear the punishment that was due to these sins. The idea is a marvellous idea.’

Verse 41


‘The spirit … is willing.’

Matthew 26:41

Appreciate St. Peter’s willing and fervent spirit. In Christ’s presence brave; miscalculated powers for the conflict.

To stand when flesh is weak, we must—

I. Realise what we are.—Are we ‘willing’ ones on Christ’s side? Our position not that of enemies, or traitors, but are we wholly willing servants?

II. Realise the conflict.—The lower nature, ‘flesh,’ not to be yielded to. Take the decided line. Watch; pray; fight; no tampering with old sins. Get away from low levels.

III. Strengthen the spiritual nature. Use means of grace steadily.

IV. Look much at Jesus Christ.—He enables; He will keep those who depend on Him.

—The Rev. F. S. Legg.

Verse 63


‘And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure Thee by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God.’

Matthew 26:63

It was quite in keeping with the character of Caiaphas, that he would ignore all the decencies of a judicial investigation. The false witnesses having failed to agree, Caiaphas felt sure that if Christ were solemnly appealed to on the point of His Divine pretensions, He would speak out unhesitatingly, and the result, of course, would be immediately fatal to Him.

I. The high priest’s question.—Caiaphas, therefore, rises from his seat, and coming forward, drawing himself up to his full height, begins to examine the Prisoner at the bar. He seems to have two questions. First, was He the Christ? This was a comparatively innocuous inquiry. The Jewish people were expecting a Christ. Well, to this inquiry the Saviour replied that it was useless for Him to speak on the subject, seeing that they—His judges—had, to His certain knowledge, pre-judged the question. Then the second and more awful question is put, and we observe that the area of it is widened—that there is something added to the conception of the Christ, in order that the Answerer may be brought within sweep of the charge of blasphemy. ‘In the name of God, tell us who you are?’ or, in the exact words of Scripture, ‘I adjure Thee, by the Living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God.’

II. Christ’s reply.—What does this mysterious Man say about Himself? He accepts the title. He announces that He is the Son of God; and He is immediately condemned to death by the unanimous vote of the Sanhedrists on the charge of blasphemy—aye, and He deserved the condemnation, if He be not the eternal Son of God! And if He be, what are we to expect for those who reject and disown Him!

III. The Godhead of Jesus Christ lies at the very foundation of character; and without it the whole edifice is a rotten structure and collapses at a touch. And the Godhead of Jesus Christ runs like a golden thread throughout the Scriptures, from the beginning of the Old Testament—where it appears in the doctrine of the angel of the covenant—down to the very last chapter of the New. And if we wish to find a passage in which is concentrated the most striking, the most emphatic, and the most convincing teaching on the subject, we cannot do better than to repeatedly study with thankfulness and prayer the narrative of the trial of Jesus Christ before the Sanhedrists of Jerusalem.

Prebendary Gordon Calthrop.


‘If the Godhead of Jesus Christ be a mere fiction, as some affirm it to be; if it is only the outcome of human admiration for the most remarkable character that ever appeared upon earth, what an opportunity is now presented to the Lord, of stating the truth about Himself, and stating it so clearly, so distinctly, so emphatically, so conclusively, that there shall never be any more doubt whatever resting upon the subject. Were He no more than man, He might have said so—nay, He was bound to say so, if only to save you and me, and the millions of those who have professed faith in His name from the curse of idolatrous worship into which we have fallen; for idolatrous we assuredly are, if Jesus be not God from God, Light of Light, the Only-Begotten of the Father.’

Verse 64


‘Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.’

Matthew 26:64, R.V

‘Henceforward’—you lose everything if you are content to read vaguely ‘hereafter’—nay, but from this dark hour of the scourging and the cross—‘ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ It is absolutely certain that He said this, for no man then alive could have devised it.

I. His coming to His enemies.—See what happened. From the very first something mars the triumph of His enemies. It is spoiled by the insulting inscription which declared that the Romans are crucifying no impostor, but the very and actual King of the Jews. Do you not understand the prediction that they should very quickly know who was the real Master of events? Do you wonder that their restless terror asked for a guard to secure the only security they had—the corpse? This was’ His coming to them ‘henceforward.’ The Church has expected, is expecting, Christ in bodily presence, but this must not blind us to her other certainties, one, that He is always present with His own; and the other, that He is continually coming into the world which denies Him.

II. His coming to the Church.—With the earliest preaching of Christianity a new force and also a new consciousness is apparent to every careful student of history. Men are now really inspired by the sense that right is secure of triumph, and wrong certain to go down. The belief that all evil is a doomed thing, and its empire an illusion, a dream of the night, has become a vital, urgent conviction, which men will stand by, to live or die. This is what Christ announced, and this, He said, would be His own work, His own constant coming, in judgments which foreshadow the last.

III. His coming to the world.—He came, when the hypocrisies of Jerusalem were smothered in her ashes. He came in the sack of imperial Rome; and with Luther, when the Church itself seemed to totter, so stern was His visitation of her sins. God is opening our eyes to discern that His war is declared against every social wrong, until youth and maidenhood shall not forfeit all the sweetness of life, and its loveliness, and its dignity, because their father labours with his hands, nor yet because their lot is cast in Africa or Indian darkness.

Bishop G. A. Chadwick.


‘When the first Napoleon fell, Rocklitz said to Goethe, whom we cannot call even a good man, “Let us give the glory to God, and acknowledge His moral government of His world.” “Acknowledge it!” said Goethe solemnly, and stopping short in his walk. “Who can help acknowledging it? But, for my part, in silence.” “And why in silence?” said his friend. “Because, who can express it, save for himself; for others, who? And when one knows that he cannot utter it, it is not allowable.”’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 26:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, July 4th, 2020
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13
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