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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 26

 

 

Verses 1-75


The Betrayal. The Last Supper. Arrest of Jesus, and Trial Before the High Priest

1-5. A Council is held against Jesus (Mark 14:1; Luke 22:1 : cp. John 13:1).

2. After two days] This fixes the date as Tuesday, if the Passover was on Thursday night; or Wednesday, if, as is more probable, it was on Friday night. Is betrayed] This clear prediction is peculiar to St. Matthew.

3. And the scribes] RV omits. The palace] RV 'the court,' i.e. the central quadrangle, the house being built round a square plot of ground, like a college. From the place of meeting it may be inferred, but not with certainty, that this was not a formal meeting of the Sanhedrin. Caiaphas] in full, Joseph Caiaphas, son-in-law to Annas, was appointed high priest by the Roman procurator Valerius Gratus (Pilate's predecessor), and therefore before 26 a.d. He was deposed by Vitellius 37 a.d.

5. Not on the feast day] RV 'Not during the feast.' This strongly favours the view that the Jewish Passover that year took place on Friday night. If the Passover took place on Thursday night, as many maintain, Jesus was crucified on the feast day itself, which extended from the Passover evening till sunset the next day.

6-13. Jesus is anointed in the House of Simon the Leper (Mark 14:3; John 12:1 : see further on Jn). This incident seems in St. Matthew and St. Mark to take place on Tuesday or Wednesday evening, but the true chronology is probably given by St. John, who places it six days before the Passover. It is inserted here probably from the light it throws upon the character of Judas (see St. John's narrative), whose treachery immediately follows in the synoptists. For a similar, but quite distinct incident, see Luke 7:36.

Some authorities (but without good reason) distinguish between this anointing and that of John 12:1, making altogether three anointings.

6. Simon the leper] His leprosy must have been healed, or he could not have entertained guests. The incurable character of leprosy renders it a sure conjecture that he owed his healing to Jesus. It is probably no more than a coincidence, yet it is a very singular one, that in the very similar incident in Luke 7:36, the name of the host is also Simon. This Simon was probably a near relation of the family of Lazarus.

7. A woman] i.e. Mary, sister of Lazarus (Jn). A quite untrustworthy but widelyspread tradition identifies her with the 'sinner' of Luke 7:37, who is (also without any sufficient reason) often identified with Mary Magdalene.

Alabaster box.. poured it on his head] see on Luke 7:37, Luke 7:38. His head] St. John says 'his feet.' Anointing was customary both in Jewish and Gentile feasts. The Talmud says, 'The school of Shammai saith, He holds sweet oil in his right hand and a cup of wine in his left. He says grace first over the oil, and then over the wine. He blesseth the sweet oil and anoints the head of him that serves.' Here, however, it is one who sits at meat who is anointed.

8. His disciples] St. John mentions especially Judas.

9. For much] for 300 denarii (Mk, Jn).

11. Ye have the poor] cp. Deuteronomy 15:11; Mark 14:7.

12. My burial] Another prediction of His death, followed in the next v. by a remarkable prophecy of the universal extension of His religion.

14-16. Judas betrays Jesus (Mark 14:10; Luke 22:3). The exact date cannot be fixed. It may have been as early as Sunday night, or Monday. Matthew 26:16 implies a considerable interval between the betrayal and the arrest. The paltry sum for which Jesus was betrayed (the price of a slave, Exodus 21:32) has raised the question whether avarice was really the main motive of Judas. There have even been attempts to place his conduct in a favourable light, as if his desire was to bring about a rising of the people at the time of the feast, and so to constrain 'the dilatory Messiah to establish His kingdom by means of popular violence' (Paulus), or by the exercise of His supernatural power. This is possible, but not probable. Judas was thoroughly alienated from Jesus. He found his Master's ideals diverging more and more widely from his own. Instead of an earthly kingdom, in which Judas hoped to hold a lucrative position, Christ seemed to be aiming at an impracticable ideal, which might, perhaps, be very beautiful, but which certainly did not seem to be a practical way of making money. He had already embezzled money from the common purse, and he could not be ignorant that he was suspected and disliked by his colleagues, and that his true character had long been discerned by his Master. His former love and trust were now turned to hatred and contempt, and in a frenzy of disappointed ambition he betrayed Jesus. Yet, when the fatal deed was done, there came a revulsion of feeling, and he would fain have undone it.

15. They covenanted with him] RV 'they weighed unto him,' in accordance with ancient custom (Genesis 23:16), but money was probably at this period always coin, not bullion.

17-30. The Last Supper (Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7; John 13:1). For the order of events see on Jn, and intro. to Matthew 21. The question whether the Last Supper was the Jewish Passover or not, is discussed in a note on John 18:28, where it is argued that Jesus, knowing that He would be crucified on Friday, celebrated the Passover on Thursday evening, a day before the legal time. That the Jewish Passover did not take place till Friday evening (after the crucifixion) is abundantly plain from the Fourth Grospel (see especially John 18:28), and even in the Synoptic Gospels, which at first sight give an opposite impression, there are sufficiently clear indications that this was the case. The chief are, (1) The purpose of the priests not to take and execute Jesus during the festival, lest a tumult should arise (Matthew 26:5 RV). (2) It was contrary to custom to hold trials and execute criminals on the first and holiest day of the feast, which was kept as a sabbath. (3) The feast day would not be called simply 'Preparation,' i.e. Friday. (4) The officers and the disciples would not have carried arms on the feast day. (5) Joseph of Arimathea would not have bought a linen cloth, or the women have prepared spices on that day (Mark 15:46; Luke 23:56).

17. The first day of.. unleavened bread] As, according to St. Mark and St. Luke, this was the day on which the Passover lambs were slaughtered, it must mean the day before the Passover (Jewish reckoning), i.e. from sunset on Thursday to sunset on Friday. The last supper was held on Thursday evening, and the lambs were killed at 3 p.m. on Friday, but that would be on the same day, according to Jewish ideas.

In strict usage 'the first day of unleavened bread 'meant the first day of the Passover festival, which began with the paschal supper. But it is possible that the day before this, when the paschal lambs were sacrificed, and all leaven was expelled from the houses, was popularly spoken of as 'the first day of unleavened bread.'

The disciples came to Jesus] at or after sunset on Thursday, and within an hour or two the necessary preparations for the supper were complete. Where wilt thou that we prepare] 'For they might anywhere; since the houses at Jerusalem were not to be hired, but during the time of the feast, they were of common right' (J. Lightfoot). The rabbis say, 'It is a tradition that houses were not let for hire at Jerusalem, because they were not privately owned, nor were beds, but the householder received from his guests as a recompense, the skins of the animals sacrificed.' To eat the Passover] 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 present.

The paschal lamb was slain in the court of the Temple on the afternoon of the 14th Nisan, and was eaten the same evening after sunset, when the 15th Nisan had already begun: see Exodus 12, etc.

18. The Master saith] It is clear that the man was a disciple, so that here is another synoptic proof of a previous ministry of Jesus at Jerusalem. St. Mark and St. Luke here add additional details to the narrative, implying a miraculous gift of foresight on our Lord's part. My time is at hand] The disciple would doubtless be surprised at the proposal of Jesus to keep the Passover a day before the legal time. The apostles were therefore instructed to give the reason: 'My time is at hand,' i.e. My death will happen before the legal time of the Passover arrives.

20. He sat down] RV 'He was sitting at meat,' or, rather, 'reclining.' For the attitude at table, see on John 13:23. The Law (Exodus 12:11) required the Passover to be eaten standing, but this was no longer observed. The Talmud says, 'It is the custom of slaves to eat standing, but now let them eat reclining, that it may be discerned that at the exodus they went out from slavery into freedom.'

23. He that dippeth] RV 'He that dipped' (Psalms 41:9). St. John describes this incident in much fuller detail.

24. It had been good] A popular expression. The rabbis said, 'Whoever knows the Law and does it not, it were better for him never to have been born.' 'If a man does not attend to the honour of his Creator, it were better if he had not come into the world.' The justice of Judas's punishment, seeing that the betrayal of Jesus was predestined, has been much, discussed. The solution probably is that the betrayal by Judas was not predestined. It was morally certain that in a state of society like that in Palestine in our Lord's time, a teacher like Jesus would be betrayed by some one, but that some one need not have been Judas. Judas was rightly punished because he freely took the evil business upon himself. For the probable reasons why Jesus chose Judas to be an Apostle, see on John 6:71.

25. Master] RV 'Rabbi.' Thou hast said] i.e. Yes: a rabbinical idiom never found in the OT.

After Matthew 26:25 the evangelist probably (though not certainly) intends it to be understood that Judas at once withdrew (see Matthew 26:47), thus agreeing with St. John, who also represents the traitor as leaving before the institution of the Holy Sacrament. In St. Luke Judas appears to be present and to receive the Sacrament, but that is probably because the third Gospel does not relate the events in order: see on Lk and on John 13:30.

26-30. Institution of the Lord's Supper (Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23). It is not certain how far Jesus at the Last Supper followed the customary Passover ritual, but it is clear that He did so to some extent. The following gives the usual order of proceedings, omitting a few details:

(1) The first cup was blessed and drunk. (2) The hands were washed while a blessing was said. (3) Bitter herbs, emblematic of the sojourn in Egypt, were partaken of, dipped in sour broth made of vinegar and bruised fruit. (4) The son of the house asked his father to explain the origin of the observance. (5) The lamb and the flesh of the thank offerings (chagigah) were placed on the table, and the first part of the Hallel sung (Psalms 113, 114). (6) The second cup was blessed and drunk. (7) Unleavened bread was blessed and broken, a fragment of it was eaten, then a fragment of the thank offerings, then a fragment of the lamb. (8) Preliminaries being thus ended, the feast proceeded at leisure till all was consumed. (9) The lamb being quite finished, the third cup, the cup of blessing, was blessed and drunk. (10) The fourth cup was drunk, and meanwhile the second part of the Hallel (Psalms 115-118) was sung.

Those who partook of the Passover were required to be ceremonially clean, and to have been fasting from the time of the evening sacrifice, which on this day was offered early, about 1.30 p.m. All male Israelites above the age of fourteen were required to partake of it.

26. As they were eating, Jesus took bread] This may correspond with No. 7, but it seems more probable that both the bread and the wine were consecrated together at the close of the meal, the bread when it was.almost, and the cup when it was quite, finished.

The Jewish ritual of breaking the Passover bread was as follows: 'Then washing his hands, and taking two loaves, he breaks one, and lays the broken loaf upon the whole one, saying, “Blessed be He who causeth bread to grow out of the earth.” Then, putting a piece of bread and some bitter herbs together, he dips them in the sour broth, saying this blessing: “Blessed be Thou, O Lord God, our eternal King, He who hath sanctified us by His precepts, and commanded us to eat.” Then he eats the unleavened bread and bitter herbs together.' But it is unlikely that Jesus, who was founding a new rite, followed the Jewish ritual in every detail.

This is my body] see on Matthew 26:30.

27. The cup] RV 'a cup.' Since it was taken after supper (St. Luke and St. Paul), and is expressly called by the latter the 'cup of blessing' (1 Corinthians 10:16), it was clearly the third cup of the paschal supper, called by the rabbis the 'cup of blessing' (No. 9). The ritual was as follows: (1) It was washed and cleansed; (2) the wine in it was mingled with water, and it was blessed; (3) it was crowned, i.e. the worshippers stood round it in a ring; (4) the householder veiled his head and sat down; (5) he drank it, holding it with both hands.

That the cup of the Christian sacrament was also mingled with water, was indicated by Jesus Himself, when He called it 'this fruit of the vine.' The Talmud says, 'The rabbis have a tradition. Over wine which hath not water mingled wiih it they do not say the blessing, “Blessed be He that created the fruit of the vine,” but, “Blessed be He that created the fruit of the tree.” 'And it is added, 'The wise agree with Rabbi Eleazar, that one ought not to bless over the cup of blessing till water be mingled with it.'

28. My blood of the New Testament] RV 'my blood of the covenant.' This is a clear proof that Jesus regarded His death as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, and, therefore, as altering the relation of the whole human race to God. As Moses had once made a covenant with God by the blood of victims sprinkled on the people (Exodus 24:8), so now Jesus by His own blood made a new and better covenant.

Shed for many] i.e. probably 'for mankind,' stress being laid on their multitude.

29. I will not drink henceforth, etc.] (Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18). These mysterious and beautiful words are a well-known 'crux' of interpreters. It seems clear, however, that they are to be taken as referring to the whole rite of the Lord's Supper, and not simply to the 'fruit of the vine,' or cup. This is evident from Luke 22:16, 'I will not any more eat thereof' (viz. of the Christian Passover or Supper) 'until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.' Interpretations fall into two main classes, according as 'the kingdom of God' ('My Father's kingdom') is understood to refer to the period after the Resurrection, or to the period after the Judgment. According to the first interpretation, the sacred rite which Jesus now institutes, and which He will not again celebrate until He has triumphed over death and sat down a conqueror on the throne of His Father's kingdom, will, after the Ascension, and especially after the descent of the Spirit, be to the disciples a new thing. No longer will the shadow of disappointment and seeming failure hang over their meetings. The sin of the world will have been atoned for, death will have been conquered, the Spirit will have been given, and Jesus will be present at the feast, not, as now, in the body of His humiliation, but in the power of His risen and glorious life. According to the other interpretation, the Lord's Supper is regarded as a type and prophecy of the eternal marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). These two views do not exclude one another. The title 'this fruit of the vine' which Jesus applies to the sacred cup even after consecration, would seem to exclude the mediaeval doctrine of Transubstantiation.

30. Sung an hymn] i.e. the second part of the Hallel (Psalms 115-118) which accompanied the fourth Passover-cup: see No. 10 above.

Additional Notes on the Last Supper

(a) Its theological and apologetic importance. On the night of the Last Supper the fortunes of Jesus were at their lowest ebb. There was treason in His own camp. The triumph of His enemies was at hand, and He looked forward with certainty on the morrow to the degrading death of a common malefactor. Yet He chose this moment to ordain a rite in which His death should be commemorated by His followers to the end of time, showing that He foresaw His resurrection and the future triumph of His cause. Such conduct under such circumstances shows a strictly supernatural gift of faith and insight. Moreover He chose this moment of deepest depression and seeming failure, for the most studied declaration of His true Divinity. For what less than divine can He be said to be, whose death atones for the sins of the whole world, and reconciles the human race to God? And how can He be other than the Author of Life Himself, who declares that His Body and Blood are the spiritual food and drink of mankind? If all the records of Christianity had perished, and only the rite of the Holy Communion remained, it would still remain certain that One had appeared on earth who claimed to be the Divine Saviour of the world, and whose death was believed to have been followed by a glorious Resurrection and Ascension.

(b) The doctrine of the Lord's Supper. Space does not permit us to give an adequate account even of the best-known interpretations of our Lord's words in instituting this holy rite. All that can be done here is to indicate a few leading points which the reader may find devotionally helpful.

(1) Although some earnest believers have seen in the Lord's Supper nothing but a bare commemoration of the Lord's death, yet the great majority of Christians in all ages have believed that, attached to devout and reverent participation in the rite, is a special covenanted blessing, which cannot (ordinarily at least) be obtained in any other way, and which is necessary for the nourishment and growth of the spiritual life. Such a view seems clearly to underlie the statement of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 10:16), that 'the cup of blessing which we bless 'is to the faithful communicant 'the communion,' i.e. the partaking in common with others, 'of the blood of Christ,' and 'the bread which we break,' 'the communion of the body of Christ.'

(2) The covenanted blessing is generally conceived as a special realisation of the union between the believer and his Saviour, as suggested by our Lord's own allegory of the Yine and the Branches (John 15) spoken immediately after the institution, and by that of the Bread of Life (John 6), which was intended to prepare the way for it. It is specially true at the Table that 'Christ dwells in our hearts by faith,' 'we are one with Christ and Christ with us,' 'we dwell in him and he in us,' and He is in us the fountain of life, sanctification, and cleansing.

(3) The primary reference of the rite is to the death of Christ. The 'broken body' and 'shed blood' symbolise the atoning death upon the cross. It is implied that those who with faith and due thankfulness approach the Table, 'obtain remission of their sins, and all other benefits of his passion.'

(4) At the same time the reference is not exclusively to Christ's death. He does not say 'Do this in remembrance of my death,' but 'Do this in remembrance of me,' i.e. of all that I am to Christians;—of My incarnation, resurrection, and ascension, as well as of My death. To the early Christians the rite was very largely a memorial of the Resurrection, and as such was regularly celebrated on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).

(5) Accordingly in the Supper it is with the ascended and glorified Lord that the Christian holds communion. While commemorating the tragedy of Calvary he communes with Him who 'is alive for evermore, and has the keys of hell and of death' (Revelation 1:18). He joins in the heavenly worship of 'the Lamb as it had been slain,' who, in recompense for His humiliation, is now endowed with almighty power (Revelation 5:6).

(6) There is some difference of view among believing Christians as to how the scriptural expressions, eating and drinking Christ's flesh and blood (John 6:58), or Christ's body and blood (1 Corinthians 10:16), are to be understood. Many think that Christ is present in the ordinance only according to His divine nature, and that He communicates to believers not His actual body and blood, but only the benefits which the offering of these upon the Cross procured for mankind. Others, however, interpreting our Lord's mysterious words in a more literal sense, are of opinion that Christ is present in the ordinance not only in His Deity, but also in His glorified humanity, and that in some spiritual and ineffable, but still most real manner, He imparts to believers not only His Godhead, but also His Manhood, making them partakers, not in figure only, but verily and indeed, of His sacred body and blood. We are here in the presence of very deep mysteries, of which we should speak with awe and reverence, remembering how very limited our faculties are.

(7) The Supper is a memorial rite, 'this do in remembrance of me,' more literally, 'as my memorial' (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). Some have regarded it as a memorial before man only, but the prevailing opinion among Christians is that it is a memorial also before God, a pleading before the Father of the merits of the precious death of His Son. The word used (anamnesis) is a rare one, and in biblical Greek means uniformly a memorial before God, both in the OT. (see e.g. Leviticus 24:7; LXX), and in the NT. (Hebrews 10:3). There is good reason, therefore, for thinking that this may be the meaning here.

Note. At this point must be inserted John 14-17.

31-35 Jesus predicts His Death, the scattering of the disciples, the fall of Peter, and His own Resurrection (Mark 14:27; Luke 22:31; John 13:38).

31. I will smite] freely adapted from Zechariah 13:7, a strictly Messianic passage. The quotation is intended to alleviate the scandal of the disciples' conduct, by showing that it was foretold.

33. Peter answered] 'He ought rather to have besought Christ, and begged for aid (against the coming temptation). But he sinned in three ways at once: (1) in contradicting the Prophet and the Christ, (2) in placing himself above the rest, (3) in trusting in himself alone, and not in the help of God. Wherefore also he was permitted to fall, that he might be humbled, and might learn not to trust too much in himself, and that others also might learn the same. Also he was allowed to fall that he might learn to love more. For he to whom more is forgiven, loves more '(Euthymius).

34. Before the cock crow] i.e. before the day begins to dawn. There is practically no difference of meaning between this and 'before the cock crow twice' (Mk), for when the cock once begins to crow in the morning, he does so at frequent intervals. The rabbis say, 'They do not keep cocks at Jerusalem on account of the holy things (which they might pollute); nor do the priests keep them throughout all the land of Israel.' But this law was clearly not enfored.

36-46. The Agony in the Garden (Mark 14:32; Luke 22:40). The peculiar intensity of Christ's agony at Gethsemane presents a difficult problem. It cannot have been due to fear of death, for He came to Jerusalem expressly to die, and never faltered in His resolve, nor is the foreseen flight of the disciples, the treachery of Judas, the denial of Peter, and the sin of the Jewish nation in rejecting and crucifying Him, sufficient to account for it. Perhaps the explanation is to be found in the mystery of the Atonement. He was to bear the sins of the whole world, and the thought of that awful burden oppressed Him. 'The Lord felt the bitterness of death, He tasted it as the wages of sin; and this alone is the bitterness of death—not His own, but so much the profounder and keener as the sin of the whole world' (Dale).

The best commentary on Gethsemane is Hebrews 5:7. Important additional details are found in St. Luke's Gospel (Western text).

36. Gethsemane] lit. 'oil-press.' On the W. slope of Olivet, near the foot. 'It is now '(says Sir chapter W. Wilson) 'a small enclosure surrounded by a high wall. The ground is laid out in flower-beds, which are carefully tended by a Franciscan monk; but the most interesting objects are the venerable olivetrees, which are said to date from the time of Christ, and which may in truth be direct descendants of trees which grew in the same place at the time of the crucifixion.' The gardens of Jerusalem were outside the city, because it was forbidden to plant a garden within the walls.

37. Peter, etc.] In this hour of agony He clung to the companionship of His closest friends, to whom also, as spectators of the glory of the Transfiguration, His present humiliation would be less of a stumblingblock. And very heavy] RV 'and sore troubled.'

39. Let this cup] i.e. not merely His death, but all that was implied in bearing the sins of the world in His own body on the tree: cp. Matthew 20:22. The prayer, 'Let this cup pass,' was not sinful, because it was accompanied by the resolution to submit to the divine will, whatever it was. Not as I will] As Christ was God and man, there were in Him two wills, a human will and a divine will, and the former did not always conform itself to the latter without an inward struggle: cp. John 5:30; John 6:38.

40, Asleep] 'You promised to die with me, and could you not watch with me one hour?' (Euthymius).

41. Temptation] i.e. the temptation to forsake and deny Christ.

44. The third time] not a 'vain repetition,' but a repetition of intense earnestness. In great agony men do not frame many words, but say the same words many times.

45. Sleep on now] spoken with reproachful irony, 'Tou have slept through My agony. Sleep also through My betrayal and capture.'

46. Let us be going] i.e. not to escape, but to meet the betrayer.

47-56. Jesus is taken (Mark 14:43; Luke 22:47; John 18:2): see further on Jn.

47. From the chief priests] These were the Temple guard of Levites, sent by the Sanhedrin. St. John mentions that Roman soldiers were also present.

48. Kiss] 'It was not unusual for a master to kiss his disciple; but for a disciple to kiss his master was more rare' (J. Lightfoot).

49. Hail, master] RV 'Hail, Rabbi.' Kissed] a different word: 'Kissed and embraced him effusively.' Jesus received the kiss, (1) to soften the heart of Judas by His gentleness, if that were possible; (2) in the words of St. Hilary, 'to teach us to love our enemies, and those whom we know to be bitter against us.'

50. Friend, wherefore art thou come?] RV 'Friend, do that for which thou art come.' Lk adds, 'Betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss? 'Here follows in St. John a dialogue between Jesus and those who came to seize Him; after which they all fell to the ground.

51. One of them] The synoptic tradition suppresses the name, probably to ensure the safety of Peter. St. John alone mentions that it was Peter, with whose character the act fully accords. His sword] see Luke 22:38.

A servant] RV 'the servant' ('slave'). His name was Malchus (Jn). St. Luke alone mentions that Christ healed him.

52. All they that take the sword, etc.] cp. Revelation 13:10. This incident is a practical commentary on the third Beatitude (Matthew 5:5). It discourages resort to violence on the part of Christ's followers, and recommends instead the meek endurance of injuries. Peace, not war, is their mission. Another interpretation has been given, 'All they that take the sword,' i.e. rashly and on their own authority, 'shall perish by the sword,' i.e. are worthy to perish by the sword, i.e. the sword of the magistrate. So that Christ here renews the precept given to Noah, 'Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed' (Genesis 9:6).

55. I sat daily] This cannot merely refer to the two, or at most three days' ministry during Holy Week, but indicates a more extended ministry at Jerusalem at an earlier period, as the Fourth Gospel relates.

57-68. Trial before Caiaphas (Mark 14:58; Luke 22:54). The synoptists omit the preliminary examination before Annas recorded by Jn, because it led to nothing. St. John omits the trial before Caiaphas, because it had already been recorded. From St. Matthew and St. Mark it might be thought that the trial took place immediately after the arrest, but St. Luke, whose narrative is here independent, makes it clear that there was a considerable interval, during which the rest of the members of the Sanhedrin were summoned. The chief enemies of Jesus had not gone to bed, and were already assembled. It was necessary to wait for the morning (Luke 22:66), because it was unlawful to try capital offences at night. There was, however, very little attempt on the part of the Jewish authorities to preserve even the forms of a legal trial. The time of the trial would be about 4 a.m.

The following account of the judicial procedure of the Sanhedrin in capital cases is abridged from Schürer, who follows the Mishna. The members of the court sat in a semi-circle. A quorum of 23 was required. In front of them stood the two clerks of the court, of whom the one on the right hand recorded the votes for acquittal, and the one on the left hand the votes for condemnation. The 'disciples of the wise' (pupils of the scribes) occupied three additional rows in front. It was required to hear the reasons for acquittal first (a regulation violated in the case of Jesus) and afterwards the reasons for condemnation. The 'disciples of the wise' could speak, but only in favour of the prisoner. Acquittal could be pronounced on the day of the trial, but condemnation not till the following day (this regulation also was violated, though some suppose that there were two meetings, one on Thursday night, the other on Friday morning to render the proceedings technically legal). Each member stood to give his vote, and voting began with the youngest member. For acquittal a simple majority sufficed; for condemnation a majority of two was necessary.

Was the assembly which condemned Jesus a regular and formal meeting of the Sanhedrin? Edersheim denies it, because 'All Jewish order and law would have been grossly infringed in almost every particular, if this had been a formal meeting of the Sanhdrin.' But the case of Stephen shows how little the Sanhedrin cared for order and law, when it was really angry. A stronger argument is drawn from the place of meeting, which was apparently the high priest's palace, though none of the evangelists expressly say so, and Luke 22:66 possibly suggests the contrary. This was certainly not the proper place for the Sanhedrin to meet, but we are not in a position to say that at this time such a meeting-place was impossible or even unlikely. The legal place of meeting was the Hall Gazith (lit.

'Hall of Hewn Stones') which was on the Temple mount, and probably within the Temple enclosure. But the Mishna says that forty years before the fall of Jerusalem the Sanhedrin removed to the 'booths,' or 'shops.' Whether these booths were in the Temple, or in Jerusalem, or on the Mt. of Olives, is uncertain, but if such an irregularity as meeting in the 'booths' was possible, so also was that of meeting in the high priest's house.

58. Unto the.. palace] RV 'unto the court' (i.e. quadrangle) 'of the high priest': see on v. 3. The servants] RV 'the officers.'

59. Sought false witness] That the judges sought witnesses at all, much less false witnesses, is enough to condemn them to perpetual infamy.

61. I am able to destroy] At the worst this was a boastful remark, and could not be made the basis of a capital charge. This incident strikingly confirms the accuracy of the discourses recorded in the Fourth Gospel, which alone records this saying of Christ (John 2:19). The false witnesses distorted the saying. Christ did not say 'I am able to destroy,' but 'Destroy this temple,' i.e. 'If you destroy this temple.'

63. I adjure thee by the living God] Jesus consents to be put on His oath, thus declaring oaths before a magistrate to be lawful. The Christ, the Son of God] The high priest asks not merely whether He is the Messiah, but whether He is a divine Messiah. To claim to be the Messiah whom all good Israelites were expecting, was no crime, but to claim to be the Son of God, in the sense of God's equal, was blasphemy. Here the synoptists again strongly confirm the peculiar features of the Fourth Gospel, for how did the high priest know or suspect that Jesus claimed to be divine, unless Jesus had publicly said so at Jerusalem, as related in the Fourth Gospel? (John 5:17-47; John 8:56-59; John 10:33).

64. Thou hast said] Christ's exact words which St. Mark and St. Luke render by 'I am' (see Matthew 26:25). Nevertheless] better, 'moreover.' Hereafter (RV 'Henceforth') ye shall see, etc.] Jesus here makes two distinct statements: (1) That henceforth, i.e. from the Ascension onwards, His enemies will behold Him sitting on the right hand of God, and causing His Kingdom mightily to prevail over the earth, in spite of all their efforts to prevent it. (2) That they will also see Him one day coming to judgment seated on the clouds of heaven. The reference is to Daniel 7:13, which was then interpreted of the Messiah.

65. Rent his clothes] The Jewish law was: 'They that judge a blasphemer first ask the witness, and bid him speak out plainly what he hath heard; and when he speaks it, the judges, standing on their feet, rend their garments and do not sew them up again.'

66. He is guilty (RV 'worthy') of death. To condemn Jesus at once, was contrary to the law, which was, 'Judgment in capital causes is passed the same day if it be for acquitting; but if it be for condemning, it is passed the day after.' The reason is, 'He delays his judgment, and lets it rest all night, that he may sift out the truth.' But Edersheim remarks, 'It seems, however, at least doubtful, whether in case of profanation of the divine name, judgment was not immediately executed.' The trial was further illegal, as being held on the eve of the Passover, for 'Let them not judge on the eve of the sabbath, or on the eve of a feast day.' After passing sentence of death the judges were bound to taste nothing the whole day. The punishment for blasphemy was stoning.

67. Fulfilment of Isaiah 50:6

68. Prophesy] Christ was blindfolded at the time. The mockery was carried out by the 'officers' of the Sanhedrin.

Additional Note on the Teial

The synoptists all agree that Jesus was condemned for blasphemy, i.e. for claiming more than human powers and attributes. This is inconsistent with the contention of those who maintain that Jesus merely professed to be a mere human teacher, or at most a prophet. The trial itself is enough to show that there is essential unity between the synoptists and the Fourth Gospel in their doctrine of Christ's person. The Christ of the synoptists at the last great crisis of His life makes the same tremendous claims as the Christ of St. John, and is put to death for making them.

69-75 Peter's Denials (Mark 14:66; Luke 22:54; John 18:15-18, John 18:25, John 18:27). The accounts agree in all main features, but the details are difficult to harmonise exactly. All agree that Peter was three times charged with being a disciple, and three times denied it; also that a cock crew at the time of the third denial, reminding Peter of the words of Jesus. St. Luke and St. John represent Peter in a somewhat more favourable light than St. Matthew and St. Mark, for they say nothing of his cursing and swearing. St. Luke alone mentions the look of Jesus which went to the heart of Peter. St. John represents the denials as taking place in the court of Annas, the synoptists in that of Caiaphas, but perhaps both had apartments in the same building. In any case the account of St. John, who was an actual eyewitness, is to be preferred: see on Jn.

69. In the palace] RV 'in the court,' i.e. in the quadrangle.

75. Wept bitterly] 'Thou hast seen Peter's sin, see also his repentance. For to this very end were the sins and the repentances of the saints written, that whenever we sin, we may imitate their repentance. And Peter was allowed to fall not only for the reasons mentioned before, but also that he might learn to make allowances for those that stumble, knowing from his own experience what human weakness is' (Euthymius).

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Matthew 26:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/matthew-26.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, August 24th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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