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Events Preceding the Last Passover.
Final prediction of the Passion:
v. 1. And it came to pass when Jesus had finished all these sayings, He said unto His disciples,
v. 2. Ye know that after two days is the Feast of the Passover, and the Son of Man is betrayed to be crucified.
Jesus had begun His last great discourse to His disciples immediately after leaving the Temple, chapter 24:2, and had continued it on Mount Olivet and also on the way to His lodging-place in Bethany. It did not end all His sayings; for He still intended to give His disciples a farewell talk of a most intimate kind, full of the deep humility and searching love which characterized His ministry, John 13:1-Zechariah :; John 14:1-Obadiah :; John 15:1-Daniel :; John 16:1-Micah :; John 17:1-Ezekiel :. But the Lord here completed His historical, His public prophetic office. Before dismissing His followers for the evening, He reminded them once more of the culmination of His ministry. In two days, on the Thursday of this week, beginning with sunset on the 14 th
of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish church calendar, the Feast of Passover, combined with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, would begin, to last for a whole week, or till the evening of the 21 st
of the month. Jesus was still a member of the Jewish Church, and observed the holidays and festivals of the Jews, the gospels showing Him to have been present at practically every one of the great feasts since entering upon His ministry. But this Passover was to be distinguished as no Passover before or since, by the fulfillment of the type and prophecy in the person of Jesus, the true Lamb of God. As members of the Jewish Church with Him, His disciples were fully aware of the fact that the festival was coming. What He wanted to impress upon them was the fact that He, the Son of Man, literally is delivered up to be crucified, the most terrible death in the catalog of Roman tortures. In His prophetic character, Christ speaks as though the Passion has even now begun. It is immutably fixed in the counsel of God, the betrayal process has even now begun.
v. 3. Then assembled together the chief priests and the scribes and the elders of the people unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas,
v. 4. and consulted that they might take Jesus by subtlety and kill Him.
v. 5. But they said, Not on the feast-day, lest there be an uproar among the people.
Matthew purposely places the two events side by side: Jesus, out in Bethany, solemnly declaring that He is being delivered to be crucified; the chief priests together with the chief council of the Jews, the Sanhedrin, meeting, not in the usual place, which was in a hall called Gazith, or House of the Polished Stones, on the south side of the Temple-space, next to the Court of Israel, but in the open court in the center of the high priest's palace, where there was less danger of eavesdroppers. Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Hannas, or Annas, the former high priest, held the office that year, John 11:49, according to the arrangement instituted by the Romans, by which the appointment was made by the year, instead of for life, as formerly. As they came together in a stealthy manner, so their discussions harmonized with their intentions, which were to take Jesus by cunning or craft, with the final object, as the evangelist bluntly puts it, not of convicting Him by due process of law, but of killing Him. Only one scruple they voiced, namely, that the actual arrest should not be done at the feast, especially not on the day of the Passover meal, lest an uproar or tumult of the people arise, that might rapidly assume such proportions as to be beyond the control of the authorities. It was all a matter of expediency, of policy, of politics, with them; they were a merciless band of murderers. It was very difficult to say which way the whim of the many thousands of pilgrims might sway them at the crucial moment, whether on the side of their religious leaders or on the side of the Prophet of Nazareth. Therefore crafty care was demanded.
The anointing in Bethany:
v. 6. Now, when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,
v. 7. there came unto Him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on His head as He sat at meat.
v. 8. But when His disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?
v. 9. For this ointment might have been sold for much and given to the poor.
In order to complete his narrative, Matthew here relates a happening of the previous Saturday, John 12:1-Ruth :. When Christ came up to Bethany from Jericho, He took dinner with one Simon, otherwise unknown, who had formerly been a leper and had probably been healed by Jesus. According to one tradition, he was the father of Lazarus; according to others, the husband of Martha. While the dinner was in progress, and the guests, after the Oriental fashion, were reclining about the table, Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, came into the room. In her hand she held an alabaster box of most costly ointment of spikenard, which she proceeded to pour out over the head of Jesus as He reclined at meat. Anointing with oil was the Old Testament method of denoting consecration to the Lord. It was used in the case of kings, priests, and prophets, Leviticus 8:12; 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 16:13; 1 Kings 19:16. It was also a distinction bestowed upon the guests of honor, Luke 7:46. Mary was not at all saving in her ministrations. She broke off the head of the alabaster flask, just as she had purchased it, and recklessly, lavishly, applied the precious aromatic, so that the whole room was filled with its odor. All of the disciples were taken aback and annoyed, muttering, Why this waste? But one of them, Judas, the treasurer of the apostles, who was a thief, was loudest in his objections. The nard, he indignantly remarks, might have been sold for much, possibly for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor. But his show of charity only served as a cloak for his covetousness. The money being in his care, it would be an easy matter to obtain some of it for his own uses.
Christ's defense of the woman:
v. 10. When Jesus understood it, He said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon Me.
v. 11. For ye have the poor always with you; but Me ye have not always.
v. 12. For in that she hath poured this ointment on My body she did it for My burial.
v. 13. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.
Whether these remarks were made in a subdued tone of voice so as to be inaudible to Christ, or whether He was so engrossed with His thoughts that He did not catch their exact wording, is immaterial. But He knew of the secret ungracious mumbling as well as of the angry remark of Judas. Immediately He arose to Mary's defense. They should not cause her any unpleasantness, they should not make her feel bad "by confusing her conscience, disturbing her love, or by disparaging her noble act of sacrifice. " It was not only a kind, but a good, a noble deed which she had done. It was not a mere impulsive act, and, whether she had a presentiment of coming evil, having understood the prophecies of Jesus concerning His death better than the disciples, or whether she merely meant to honor the chief guest, she had succeeded beyond her intentions in actually embalming Him with this ointment for His burial. To judge harshly in regard to many a deed, involving also expenditures, made for the honoring of Jesus and for the beautifying of His services, shows a lack of proper understanding of real, unselfish love toward Him. As for the poor, they are always with us, and there is always opportunity, and usually need, of doing them a kindness, but the bodily presence of Christ was shortly to be removed from the disciples, and all evidences and proofs of kindness toward His person would then be a thing of the past. Solemnly He declares that the woman's deed of kindness, since it flowed from a heart full of faith and love, would be spoken of in her remembrance wherever this Gospel would be proclaimed, in the whole world. Note: Jesus knew, with the certainty of the omniscient God, that the Gospel would be preached throughout the world. He knew that the kindness of this woman would become a subject of discussion wherever such proclamation would take place. He thereby gave the most tactful and incidentally the most serious encouragement to all such as are willing to serve Him in a similar manner.
Judas offers to betray Christ:
v. 14. Then one of the Twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests,
v. 15. and said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver Him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.
v. 16. And from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.
There is a world of significance in the expression "one of the Twelve. " One of those whom Jesus chose out of the larger circle of His disciples; one of those whom He had with Him for three years, in the intimacy of the communion which obtains between teacher and pupils; one of those to whom He had given the promise of special rewards; one of the Twelve that were to become the teachers of the whole world in a peculiar sense. His name, Judas Iscariot, has, since that time, and will, till the end of time, stand for the lowest and meanest treason. He stands as an example to warn and deter all men against yielding to the first impulse toward sin. Love of money, covetousness, avarice, theft, treason, and murder of His Savior: those were the stepping-stones in his downward career. Without receiving a preliminary inducement from the chief priests, he deliberately went to them and made his heinous offer. He would deliver Christ to them for a consideration. And then began a hellish bargaining and haggling over the price of betrayal. But they realized the caliber of the man with whom they were dealing, his vice being by this time probably stamped upon his face. They placed in the balance, they weighed out to him, they set before him to stimulate his greed, as he actually saw the money before him, thirty shekels or pieces of silver, about fifteen dollars, the average price for a slave in those days, Exodus 21:32; Zechariah 11:12. For this miserable sum Judas sold his Lord, for this he bartered away his immortal soul. His vacillating mind, greedy for the money, came to a decision; he sought a convenient opportunity to betray Him.
Arrangements for the Passover meal:
v. 17. Now the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto Him, Where wilt Thou that we prepare for Thee to eat the Passover?
v. 18. And He said, Go into the city to such a man and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at thy house with My disciples.
v. 19. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the Passover.
The Passover was also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Luke 22:1, and since all leaven was removed from the homes of the Jews on the afternoon of the 14 th
of Nisan, in preparation for the Passover sacrifice and meal, this day of preparation was simply regarded as one of the festival days, especially since it merged into the 15 th
, the Passover beginning with sundown, approximately six o'clock in the evening at that time of the year. Jesus had had the custom of celebrating the feast with His disciples, which explains their question as to the place in which they would have their supper. The preparations for the Passover consisted in procuring a lamb which measured up to the qualifications of God's institution, in having this slain by the priests in the court of the Temple, in providing the unleavened loaves and the other requisites for the feast, in having the lamb roasted, and in preparing the table, the sofas, and the pillows for the dining-room. Two of the disciples, Peter and John, were commissioned to attend to this work, Jesus giving them another bit of evidence as to His omniscient power. They were to go to a certain place, which Christ designated very exactly, to a man whom He also described to them, and give him a message. The Lord's time was near, even at hand, that time to which His entire life converged, the time when He would be taken up into glory through suffering and death. With him, in this certain man's house, He would celebrate the Passover with His disciples. It is likely, as has been suggested, that this man was a disciple of Jesus in secret, just as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were. The disciples carried out the wishes of the Master in every detail, acting as the representatives of the householder in making all arrangements for the evening.
The Passover Meal and the Institution of the Lord's Supper.
The traitor in their midst:
v. 20. Now when the even was come, He sat down with the Twelve.
v. 21. And as they did eat, He said, Verily I say unto you that one of you shall betray Me.
v. 22. And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto Him, Lord, is it I?
v. 23. And He answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with Me in the dish, the same shall betray Me.
v. 24. The Son of Man goeth as it is written of Him; but woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born.
v. 25. Then Judas, which betrayed Him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said.
By sundown all the lambs that had been presented in the Temple-courts had been slain, and throughout the city of Jerusalem the little bands of ten to twenty Jews gathered about the commemorative meal. Originally, the supper had been eaten standing, Exodus 12:11, but the Jews, after entering the Promised Land, had modified this rule, saying that servants stand, masters recline at the table. Jesus had all twelve of His disciples with Him when the meal began. It began with the benediction over the wine and the feast and the drinking of the first cup, the master of the house drinking first, after him the rest. After all had washed their hands, they ate the bitter herbs, dipped in vinegar or salt water, as a reminder of the sorrows of Egypt. In the meantime the paschal dishes were brought in, the charoseth , or broth, the unleavened loaves, the festal offerings, and, above all, the roasted lamb, after which came the explanation of all these dishes by the head of the household. They now sang the first part of the Hallel, Psalms 113:1-1 Samuel :; Psalms 114:1-Ruth :, and drank the second cup. Hereupon began the feast proper, the householder taking two loaves, breaking one in two, laying this upon the whole loaf, blessing it, wrapping it with bitter herbs, dipping it into the broth, and handing it around the circle, with the words: This is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate in Egypt. The master next blessed the paschal lamb and ate of it; the festal offerings were eaten with the bread, dipped in the broth; and finally also the lamb. The thanksgiving for the meal followed the blessing and the drinking of the third cup. In conclusion, the remainder of the Hallel was sung, Psalms 115:1-Job :; Psalms 116:1-:; Psalms 117:1-Exodus :; Psalms 118:1-Joel :, and the fourth cup drunk. "The first cup was thus devoted to the announcement of the feast; and Luke tells us that with this cup Christ announced to the disciples that this was the last feast which He would celebrate with them in this world. The second cup was devoted to the interpretation of the festal act; with it the Apostle Paul connects the exhortation: 'As oft as ye eat of this bread and drink of the cup. ' The third cup followed the breaking of the loaves, which celebrated the unleavened bread and was the cup of thanksgiving; this the Lord consecrated as the cup of the New Covenant. " It was during the first part of the meal that the Lord made His startling announcement regarding the traitor in their midst. He does not turn directly to the guilty one, but is very considerate with him, as though He were still gently urging him to repentance. Naturally, the greatest consternation and sorrow is caused by these words, and the disciples frantically implore Him: Surely it cannot be I! Jesus gives them a definite sign by which they might know the traitor, namely, the one who with Him would dip his morsel of bread into the broth, and would then receive it at His hands. But in the general excitement, and on account of the fact that all the members of the little circle dipped their bread into the sop, or charoseth , this was overlooked in part. But Christ speaks solemn words of warning in a last effort to keep Judas from carrying out his nefarious undertaking. The Lord must indeed enter upon His Passion according to the Scriptures and the will of God, but he that would betray Him into the hands of His enemies was a cursed being, for whom it would have been far better had he never been born. Judas, however, had utterly hardened his heart. The searching, warning words of Christ only served to make him impudent. Note: While the other disciples all address Jesus as Lord, Judas calls Him merely Rabbi, either from fear of a bad conscience or from the depth of insolence. Also: When people deliberately refuse to accept the sweet promises of the Gospel, this will finally become unto them a savor of death unto death, 2 Corinthians 2:15-Nehemiah :.
The institution of the Lord's Supper:
v. 26. And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body.
v. 27. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
v. 28. for this is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
v. 29. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom.
The sacrament of the Old Covenant had just been celebrated by Christ, for He did not come to change the essence of the old faith, which is the same for all times, but to bring the fulfillment of type and prophecy. But as the sacraments of the time before Christ themselves were only typical, it was necessary that they themselves be replaced by those of the New Testament, to point back to, and be based upon, Christ. While they were eating, probably immediately after Jesus had distributed the bread of affliction, He took bread, solemnly returned thanks over it, thus blessing it. The ancient Jewish prayer over the bread was: "Blessed be Thou, our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread out of the earth!" Then, after breaking it, He gave it to His disciples and said: "Take, eat; this is My body. " The words of command are plain. From His hand they should take and then eat what He gave them. But it was not mere bread which He gave them; for in referring to the pieces which He distributed, He uses the neuter demonstrative, while bread in the Greek is masculine. Here is a clear reference to the sacramental presence of the body of Christ in, with, and under the bread. This is brought out still more strongly in the parallel passages, especially 1 Corinthians 11:24. In the same way, after the supper proper was ended, when the cup of thanksgiving was about to be passed. He took the cup, returned thanks, thus blessing it and its contents, and gave it to them, letting it go around in the circle with the express command that they all should drink of it. For the wine which the cup contained was His blood of the New Covenant, of the new time of grace and peace with God through the efficacy of this blood, for it is shed for the forgiveness of sins unto all, and actually is given to many that receive it by faith. As for the contents of the cup, all attempts to interpret the expression "fruit of the vine" as though any product of the grapevine might be used, fresh grape-juice, unfermented grape-juice, grape-brandy, and other modern products, they cannot stand without a denial of the text. For if rules of exegesis apply at all, there cannot be the slightest doubt that the expression as it was used by Christ on the evening of the institution referred to the intoxicating wine of the Passover; for the expression "fruit of the vine" was the technical term of the Jews for the wine of the Passover.
"We Christians confess and believe that the Sacrament of the Altar is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself. All explanations of the sects, Reformed as well as Papist, as though the bread merely represents the body, and the wine the blood of Christ, or that bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ, come to naught in view of the clear text of Scriptures. Reason, indeed, must yield here; it cannot understand how Jesus at that time, while standing in visible form before His disciples, could give them His body, His blood to eat and to drink, nor how the exalted Christ, though in heaven, yet is present everywhere on earth with His body and blood, wherever this meal is celebrated according to His institution. But the word of Christ is clear and true, and we also know from Scriptures that the body of Christ, the vessel of His deity, had a higher, suprasensual form of being, even in the days of His humility, in addition to His limited form of existence, John 3:13, also that the exalted Christ now is not locked up in heaven, but as God and man fills all things also according to His body, Ephesians 1:23. Thus we take our reason captive under the obedience of Scripture and do not brood over it, but rather thank God for the great blessing of this His Sacrament. From it we gain ever anew the certainty of the forgiveness of our sins. In guaranteeing to us the grace of God, the Sacrament serves for the strengthening of our faith. As the first paschal meal strengthened the Israelites for the journey which lay before them, through the desert to Canaan, so the Lord's Supper is for the children of the New Covenant food upon the way, for the time of their earthly journey. And it incidentally points forward, just like the Passover meal, to the end of the journey, to the meal of eternity, when the Lord will drink it with us in His Father's kingdom."
Events at Gethsemane.
The prophecy of the denial:
v. 30. And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives.
v. 31. Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of Me this night; for it is written, I will smite the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.
v. 32. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.
v. 33. Peter answered and said unto Him, Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended.
v. 34. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny Me thrice.
v. 35. Peter said unto Him, Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.
The concluding section of the great Hallel was sung after the close of the paschal meal, a solemn thanksgiving to God for all His gifts of goodness and mercy. Then Jesus led the way out of the upper room, through the narrow streets of Jerusalem, and across the dark valley of the Kidron, toward the slopes of Mount Olivet, to the garden of the agony. As they were passing along, now in the brightness of the spring full moon, then again in the obscurity of deep shadows cast by the olive trees along the path, Jesus, among other things, predicted that they all would become scandalized, become offended, be induced to stumble against Him that night. The distress of this night's events would prove too great for their weak faith. They would not be able to reconcile their ideas of His divinity with the evidence of His greatest humiliation, as it would be presented to them that night. This had been prophesied by Zechariah, chapter 13:7. I shall smite the Shepherd, God had said, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed widely. As a herd of sheep without a leader soon wanders astray, and is in great danger of becoming a prey to ravenous beasts, so the disciples, without the assurance of Christ's almighty presence, would become victims of doubt, in danger of losing their faith altogether. Therefore Christ immediately reassures them, not only of His resurrection, but also of the fact that He would precede them into Galilee and that they would be able to see Him again. But Peter was not satisfied with Christ's declaration. It reflected upon his faithfulness, and he was suffering, just then, with a fair amount of self-conceit. Therefore he objected to Christ's sweeping statement, demanding an exception in his case; the others might be so forgetful of themselves as to become guilty of such gross misconduct, but as for him, he would never be offended. That was presumption and overweeningness. And therefore Christ declares unto him definitely that he would deny Him three times during that same night, before the time of cock-crowing, about three o'clock in the morning, Mark 13:35. Since the first crowing of the cock usually takes place somewhat before midnight, the more emphatic declaration of Jesus that Peter would actually deny Him thrice before the cock crow twice should have shaken him up out of his dream of self-complacency. But he is still stubborn, contradicting the Master vehemently: Though it should become necessary to die with Him, he most surely would not deny the Lord. And the other disciples seconded this bragging talk, instead of imploring the Lord for grace and power in the hour of temptation. A Christian that places his trust in his own ability to withstand the wiles of the devil, is less secure than a leaking canoe in the midst of a typhoon.
The arrival at Gethsemane:
v. 36. Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here while I go and pray yonder.
v. 37. And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
v. 38. Then saith He unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here and watch with Me.
Gethsemane, valley of the oil-press, was a small country-place with a large garden of olive-trees, well known also to Judas, because it was a favorite haven of seclusion of the Lord. With a full knowledge of all that was to happen in this night, He sought out this place of the betrayal, hoping to gain a last hour of prayer. Eight of the disciples He left at the entrance of the garden. They were to wait there for Him until He was through praying at the spot to which He pointed. Only the three disciples that had been witnesses of His transfiguration He took along with Him, to see the agony of His soul. He felt the need of someone whom He could trust, from whom He might expect some assistance in the form of encouragement and prayer in this hour. For now He began to be excessively sorrowful and to be anguished, an expression indicating the most harrowing and terrifying spiritual affliction. In His agony He calls out to them that His soul is exceedingly sorrowful, surrounded and overwhelmed with a sorrow of the most trying kind. The terrors of death were falling upon Him. He begged them for at least some measure of companionship and sustaining power through prayer. And still the anguish of His soul increased, making even the nearness of these disciples unbearable.
The first prayer:
v. 39. And He went a little farther, and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.
v. 40. And He cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?
v. 41. Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Leaving even His favorite disciples, though near the place where He was going, He felt constrained to be all alone with the horrors of death and hell, with the realization of the unquenchable wrath of God upon the sins of the world which He had taken upon Him. As the vicar, the representative of sinful mankind, damnation stared Him in the face. He throws Himself down upon His face in the dust, and from a heart full of the anguish of terrible suffering His prayer is wrung: Father, if it be possible, let this cup, literally, go along past Me, but by no means as I will, but as Thou wilt. The cup of excruciating torture, of death on the cross, was before His eyes, and His weak human nature shrinks back from its terrors. For death is an unnatural condition, it destroys the life which God has created, it tears asunder the bond between body and soul which was tied by God. If therefore there is any possibility of carrying out the work of salvation without being obliged to endure the sum total of all punishments upon sin, without draining the cup of God's wrath to the very dregs, He begs to be given leave to choose that easier way. The counsel of God, to which He Himself had agreed, that redemption for the lost and condemned sinners would have to be gained through suffering and death, had become obscured in His human consciousness. What deep humiliation! And yet, there was not the slightest hint of objecting and murmuring in His prayer. By all means, in every way, the will of the heavenly Father should be carried out. "How, then, does Christ pray? This is a useful and necessary instruction, which we ought to follow gladly and not forget. Our dear Lord Jesus prays that God should take the cup from Him, and expects, as the only-begotten Son, nothing but good from the Father. And yet He adds these words: Not as I will, but as Thou wilt. Do thou the same way. If thou art in tribulation and suffering, be careful not to think that God for that reason is thy enemy; turn to Him, as a child to his father (for since we believe on Christ, He wants to accept us as sons and coheirs of Christ), cry to Him for help, say: O Father, behold what things are happening to me here and there; help me for the sake of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ. Now we should, in all matters pertaining to the body, place our will under God's will; for, as Paul says, we know not how to pray as we ought. Then it is often also highly necessary that God keep us in cross and distress. Now, since God alone knows what is good and useful for us, we should place His will ahead, and our will after, and prove our obedience in patience. " Returning to His disciples after His prayer, the Lord found them asleep. They were unable to stand the test of the great strain; human nature demanded rest. The greatness and depth of the revelation unfolding before their eyes was too much for their feeble flesh. Reproachfully Jesus addresses Himself to Peter, in an effort to rouse him: So, then, you could not watch with Me for even one hour, after all the protestations of a short hour before. He urges them all to maintain a state of watchfulness, and for that reason to pray lest they fall into temptation, for the weakness of the flesh would be only too apt to overcome the strength of the spirit, be it never so willing. It is in the hours of bitter and severe trial, when the weakness of the flesh is ready to give up the hard fight, that prayerful watchfulness, together with unwavering trust in God's power, will maintain the strength of the spirit to keep the faith.
The continuation of the agony:
v. 42. He went away again the second time and prayed, saying, O My Father, if this cup may not pass away from Me except I drink it, Thy will be done.
v. 43. And He came and found them asleep again; for their eyes were heavy.
v. 44. And He left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.
The Holy One of God was here almost submerged in the flood of grief and bitterness which threatened to engulf Him. Fearfulness and trembling had come upon Him, and horror had overwhelmed Him, Psalms 55:5, the horror of death and hell. For the sins, the guilt, the curse, the punishment of the whole world lay upon Him; He was to die the death of a sinner, the most atrocious sinner the world had ever known. Therefore He felt the sting of death a thousand-, a millionfold. His battle in the shadows of Gethsemane was a second temptation of the devil. It was the prince of hell that filled His soul with the dread of death, in order to make Him shrink back from the tortures of the cross, refuse obedience to His Father in heaven. Thus would the plan of God and the redemption of mankind be frustrated. The sufferings of Christ in these hours are beyond the power of human language to express. For the second, for the third time He sank down to the earth. If it cannot be done, if it be out of the question for Him to expect any alleviation of His sufferings, if there is no recourse but that He drink out of the cup now held to His lips, He is ready to bow to the will of His Father. Comfort and encouragement from His disciples was not to be expected. Their eyes were heavy, pressed down with sleep. Cut off from all assistance of men, suffering the full wrath of His heavenly Father, Jesus had to fight the battle for the salvation of mankind to the bitter, but victorious end.
The end of the struggle:
v. 45. Then cometh He to His 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.
v. 46. Rise, let us be going; behold, he is at hand that doth betray Me.
Without respite, without aid had His harassed soul wrestled with death and hell. And His body was wearied to the point of utter exhaustion. Dragging Himself back finally to His sleeping disciples, He tells them, not in irony or with reproach, but with complete resignation: So far as I am concerned, you might sleep on now; this battle is ended, your watchfulness in My behalf is no longer needed. But it is better for their own sakes that they arise now, for the hour of His betrayal is at hand. The traitor, who was to deliver Him into the hands of the Gentiles to be killed by them, was approaching in the distance. Clearly, ringingly He gives His command: Arise, let us go! There is no hesitation, no shrinking now. He is not like a fugitive whom the officers of the law must seek and finally drag forth from a place of hiding; He is like a conqueror meeting the vanquished.
The Betrayal and Arrest.
The coming of the traitor:
v. 47. 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.
v. 48. Now he that betrayed Him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He; hold Him fast.
v. 49. And forthwith he came to Jesus and said, Hail, Master; and kissed Him.
v. 50. And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took Him.
While Jesus was still urging His disciples to shake off the drowsiness to which they had given way, Judas came. One of the Twelve he is called, to heighten the effect of the contrast: A chosen apostle of the Lord, and yet His traitor. With him came a big crowd, as many as could be assembled late in the evening, rabble, for the most part, with a nucleus of Temple police, who were at the command of the Sanhedrin, servants of the chief priests and the leaders of the Jews. In the motley crowd some of the elders themselves may have appeared, though they kept in the background. They even bore arms of a kind, swords and staves, to quell any disturbance of Christ's followers at the start. The traitor may have been considering the best way of approaching the Lord. It was, after all, not an easy matter, hardened though he was, to deliver his old Master to this composite crowd. Finally he hit upon the plan of making a kiss, the token of affection and fidelity, the sign by which they should recognize the Lord, and so informed his band. Upon Him whom he would kiss they should lay restraining hands, to hold Him with main strength, if need be. With a respectful salute: Rabbi, Judas stepped up to Jesus, and kissed Him most tenderly. And the Lord, kind, tactful, searching ever, addresses him with the salutation of disciple or companion, instead of spurning his traitorous kisses, the very essence of hypocrisy. At the same time Christ shows that He knows the purpose of his coming. For the last time He warns him: Remember what this treason means. "From this horrible case we should learn to fear God. For Judas was not a lowly man, but an apostle, and without doubt had many fine, excellent gifts; just as he, above other disciples, had a special office, and the Lord had ordained him to be steward, or treasurer. But since this man, who is an apostle, who in the name of Jesus preaches repentance and forgiveness of sins, baptizes, casts out devils, and performs other miracles, falls so grievously, becomes an enemy of Christ, sells Him for a little bit of money, betrays Him, and sacrifices Him as a lamb brought to the slaughter; since, I say, such a terrible mishap comes upon such a great man; we surely have reason not to be secure, but to fear God, guard against sins, and pray diligently that God would not lead us into temptation; but if we do fall into temptation, that He would graciously lead us out that we may not remain therein. For it happens very easily that one gets into trouble and commits sins, when one does not watch carefully and diligently make use of the protection of prayer."
Resistance offered by Peter:
v. 51. And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear.
v. 52. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
v. 53. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels?
v. 54. But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?
Due to a misunderstanding of Christ's words concerning the necessity of being effectively prepared against all enemies, Luke 22:36-Zechariah :, the disciples had provided two swords. In the excitement of the moment, a carnal anger which can very well be explained, took hold of one of the disciples, Simon Peter. Drawing the sword which he had taken with him, he put the full force of his indignation into his blow, succeeding so well that he cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. That was carnal zeal, without a proper weighing of the circumstances, without considering the possible evil results for the Lord. Such fleshly haste is altogether out of place in the service of the Master. The reproof of Jesus is thus well deserved. Put away the sword into its proper place. The reason for the order: Draw the sword, perish with the sword. Unless one has the duty of using the sword, as a member of the government or by the command of the government in a matter which is not sinful, he has no business to make use of arms. The followers of Christ shall not carry on their work with force of arms, but by the Word, in the power of the Holy Ghost. Note also: By implication, there is the inference that the government shall make use of her rights and duties in carrying the sword for the punishment of evildoers. "Where worldly government lets the sword play against sin and offense, that means to serve God. For God has commanded it, since He does not want to let sin and offense go unpunished. That is a special division which God makes among men that He gives the sword into the hands of a few, to hinder the evil and to protect the subjects."
Jesus adduces another reason for objecting to the use of the sword at this time. If He had chosen not to take the way of suffering which was now opening before Him, He might have adopted a far easier and more effective way of disposing of His enemies. He might have asked His heavenly Father for the assistance of more than twelve legions of angels, or more than twelve thousand strong spirits of light, for whom it would have been an easy matter to vanquish the band here assembled. But what Christ is principally concerned about is the fulfillment of the Scriptures, of which He had said that they could not be broken, upon which thousands of the believers of the Old Testament had placed their trust, the hope of the Messiah that would earn a full and complete redemption for the whole world. "That is what Christ says: It must be thus that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. As though He would say: I might easily have begun this matter differently. However, do not ask any further, but believe the Scriptures. If thou wilt not believe or follow the Scriptures, then leave it. Thus we say also to our wise people: We invent no new doctrine, preach no different faith than that of which Scriptures speak. And if we have taught and preached according to Scripture, we have done our share, and let the others remain wise; but we remain with the small crew which believes and follows Scriptures."
Reproving the enemies:
v. 55. In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take Me? I sat daily with you teaching in the Temple, and ye laid no hold on Me.
v. 56. But all this was done that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.
Christ's point is well taken, especially since He addressed these words chiefly to the rulers and to the guards of the Temple. Their manner of apprehending Him was an insult to Him and was unworthy of them, if they still had respect for themselves. As for a common murder or some other criminal they had gone forth, with swords and with clubs, in order to surround and to catch Him. Their mode of procedure savors of shadiness and a bad conscience. Day after day He had openly, fearlessly sat in the Temple, since He had nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of. He could explain and defend every word of His teaching, and would cheerfully have done so, had they approached Him at any time. But there they had made no show of strength against Him. But all this had to be done in just this manner that the Scriptures of the Old Testament, which spoke of His Passion and death in detail, might be fulfilled in the same detail. It is the eternal Word of the faithful God which is laid down in the canon of the Old Testament, every word of which is true and cannot fall to the ground. The fact that Jesus submitted so willingly to the shameful arrest filled the disciples with apprehension and terror. With their Master in bonds, they were helpless and without hope. They fled in precipitate haste, leaving Him to His fate. Even so, weak Christians that do not always perceive the almighty presence of God are apt to forget the firm promises of the Bible and become traitors and deniers of the truth in effect, if not in deed.
The Trial before Caiaphas and the Denial of Peter.
To the house of Caiaphas:
v. 57. And they that had laid hold on Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.
v. 58. But Peter followed Him afar off unto the high priest's palace, and went in, and sat with the servants to see the end.
The palace of Caiaphas, according to most investigators, lay at the extreme southwest corner of the city of Jerusalem. It was evidently built in the form of a quadrangle about an open court. On the one side of the palace lived Annas, the father-in-law, on the other Caiaphas, the families occupying the upper stories, while the servants had the apartments on the ground floor. The entrance to the palace was through an arched door and passageway, which was usually guarded by one of the servants. After a short, preliminary hearing before Annas, John 18:13, arranged in the interval until all the members of the council might be assembled, Jesus was led before the highest court of the Jewish Church, consisting of scribes and elders, according to their office, of Pharisees and Sadducees, according to their sectarian tendencies, but all agreed upon that one point, that this man must be removed. Peter, in the meantime, led partly by affection, partly by inquisitiveness, followed the band from a distance, and, having obtained leave to enter the courtyard of the palace, sat with the servants about a fire of coals which the cool spring night made necessary, to see the end, to find out what would happen to the Master. Many a Christian has thought himself strong enough to withstand temptation, to ignore attack and ridicule, when venturing into the midst of the children of the world, but has found out to his great sorrow that such experiments are fraught with too great danger.
The trial before Caiaphas:
v. 59. Now the chief priests and elders and all the council sought false witness against Jesus to put Him to death;
v. 60. but found none; yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses
v. 61 and said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the Temple of God, and to build it in three days.
v. 62. And the high priest arose and said unto Him, Answerest Thou nothing? What is it which these witness against Thee?
v. 63. But Jesus held His peace. 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.
v. 64. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said; nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of Power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
Note: The enumeration of the several sections of the Sanhedrin brings out all the more strongly the injustice of the proceedings. Men whose business it was to know the Law and to lead in all virtues were here the very ones to subvert right and to make a farce of justice. Also: They deliberately sought false witness. Knowing that the usual method of obtaining testimony against a criminal would have yielded no results, they exerted themselves most diligently to find such testimony as would enable them to judge Him worthy of death, but without success. The more men they examined with their obvious purpose in view, the more thoroughly just and holy Jesus stood before them. Even the last two witnesses that garbled the prophecy of Christ concerning the temple of His body, John 2:19, could not make their witness agree. The whole trial threatened to be a glorious justification of Jesus. But here the high priest Caiaphas, for fear of losing his case, forgot the dignity of his position as judge and turned accuser, if not plaintiff. He demanded that Christ defend Himself against the testimony which had been adduced. But Christ remained perfectly quiet, knowing that under the circumstances this silence was the best course. Since they wanted not justice, but His death at all costs, they would have pounced upon every word He might have uttered, and mutilated it beyond recognition. "Here see how unjustly the high priests deal with Christ the Lord. For they are at the same time accusers and judges. Therefore the Lord must be wrong in His case, no matter what He may say or do. In temporal affairs this would be a great dishonesty. But for these holy people nothing is sin, they have power in all things; they can do what they please, and challenge all who would accuse them of wrong or interpret something in an evil way. " And now comes the climax of the sinful farce staged by the Sanhedrin. Most solemnly the high priest challenges Christ to state under oath whether He be in truth the Son of God. He was determined to draw an explanation from Christ which could be used as damaging evidence against Him at any cost. To continue silent now would be tantamount to a denial of a truth which was essential in His Messianic ministry. And so He answered with an emphatic: I am. But just as emphatically, and more so, He added a startling bit of information, namely, that the time would come when He would return in glory; in fact, this glorification was about to begin, with His entering, through suffering and death, into the glory of His Father. When these unjust judges will see Him again, it will be in the role of their Judge. And all the enemies of Christ will tremble and quake when this same Christ whom they have rejected will come to Judgment and demand a reckoning.
v. 65. Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now ye have heard His blasphemy.
v. 66. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death.
v. 67. Then did they spit in His face, and buffeted Him; and others smote Him with the palms of their hands,
v. 68. saying, Prophesy unto us, Thou Christ, Who is he that smote Thee?
It was the sign of the greatest grief, of the deepest mourning, for a Jew to tear open his outer garment. Here was an act of theatrical affectation without true emotion. He is shocked beyond measure, so he declares by his action, by the blasphemy out of the mouth of Jesus. There is no more need of trial, no more need of witnesses, he declares. His reference is to Leviticus 24:15, to the penalty for blasphemy, and to Deuteronomy 18:20, to that for being a false prophet. In his eagerness Caiaphas entirely overlooked the fact that he had not proved a case of blasphemy against Jesus. But his acting had its effect. No formal vote was taken, the cries of assent coming from all sides being counted as sufficient evidence of universal agreement. And now followed a scene during which not only the servants and the Temple police, but also the members of the great council forgot the last shred of their assumed dignity and humanity, giving way to, the vilest and lowest ways of venting their spite against Jesus. Spitting into His face, striking Him with their clenched fists, slapping Him with the open palms of their hands were only some of the ways in which they amused themselves. It was like an orgy of devils. They tried to ridicule His ability to foretell the future; in short, devilish hatred had unhindered sway. For in reality they were baffled, in spite of their apparent victory. Thus did they fill out the morning hours of that miserable night. And, like them, the enemies of the truth of Christ, unable to find a real accusation against the Christians, will find excuses to vent their spite against them and attempt to hinder their work.
The denial of Peter:
v. 69. Now Peter sat without in the palace; and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.
v. 70. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest.
v. 71. And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.
v. 72. And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the Man.
v. 73. And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee.
v. 74. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the Man. And immediately the cock crew.
v. 75. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny Me thrice. And he went out and wept bitterly.
Peter had found a place in the entrance-hall of the palace, not far from the door of the room where the council was in session, and also near the circle of servants that were warming themselves by the fire in the court. Here one of the maid-servants that had seen him come in made the remark that he was one of the followers of the prisoner. Naturally the servants took the part of their masters against the Galilean, and had undoubtedly been discussing ways and means of removing all His followers. Peter, feeling the bristling in the circle against him, quickly made a denial, more in haste than in deliberate malice. Nevertheless his conscience must have bothered him some, for he now left the circle about the fire and walked back to the arched passageway that led into the court. And again he was accused of being a follower of that Jesus of Nazareth. This time the fear that was beginning to rise in his heart made him unduly emphatic; he confirmed his lie with an oath. But they watched him with suspicion, probably talking the matter over among themselves. And finally, after some time, those that were standing about in the court came up to him, speaking more emphatically. Surely he must be a member of the Nazarene's band, for there was his Galilean dialect which betrayed him. Here Peter completely lost control of himself. With the most astonishing vehemence he added swearing to cursing in his denial of any and all connection with Jesus. The chances are that his very emphasis confirmed the servants in their supposition, which, however, they did not act upon. But the Lord had not forgotten His weak disciple. It was now the time of cock-crowing, and the lusty crowing of one of them at just this moment recalled to the mind of Peter the prophecy of Jesus concerning his threefold denial of Him. And going out, he wept in bitter repentance over his terrible sin. "Here we should learn, by the example of Peter, our own weakness, that we should not depend too firmly upon other people nor upon ourselves. For our hearts are so utterly weak and uncertain that they change every hour, as the Lord says, John 2:24-Lamentations :. Who would have expected such instability and weakness in Peter? Who would believe that such a courageous man, who holds so firmly to his Lord, would deny Him so shamefully? Watch this example most carefully, in order to know thyself and other people well and to guard against arrogance. For if this could happen to Peter, what do you suppose will happen to us, that are not only much lower, but also much weaker? Therefore it will not do to be secure, but maintain thy fear of God and a very careful lookout on all sides."
Summary. The Jews complete their conspiracy, and Judas makes ready to betray his Lord, but Jesus accepts the anointing of Mary at Bethany, celebrates the Passover for the last time, institutes the Eucharist, suffers the agony of death in Gethsemane, is betrayed, taken captive, brought before Caiaphas for trial, sentenced, and Revelation led, while Peter denies his Lord three times.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Matthew 26". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29