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Matthew 26:2. The feast of the Passover commemorated the deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian bondage. The ordinances of the first Passover are narrated Exodus 12:1-14, but some of those were modified in later times. The regular celebration of the Passover was part of the religious revival after the return from captivity (Carr).
Matthew 26:3. The chief priests, etc.—The meeting now assembled may have been either a formal session of the Sanhedrin or an informal conference of its chief members, prior to the regular meeting. The former seems, on the whole, the more probable (Plumptre). Scribes.—Wanting in the most important MSS. and omitted in the R.V. “It is certain, nevertheless, that the scribes would be present. See Mark 14:1; Luke 22:2” (Morison). Palace.—Court (R.V.). The word properly means the open court which constituted the centre of an Oriental house of repectable dimensions, and around which the respective apartments of the dwelling were built (ibid.). Caiaphas.—Joseph Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas, was appointed high priest by the Procurator Valerius Gratus A.D. 26, and was deposed A.D. 38. The high priesthood had long ceased to be held for life and to descend from father to son; appointments were made at the caprice of the Roman government. Annas, Who had been high priest, was still regarded as such by popular opinion, which did not recognise his deposition. St. Luke says, “Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests” (Matthew 3:2) (Carr).
Matthew 26:5. Not on the feast day.—Not daring the feast (R.V.). Including the seven days of unleavened bread. Neander, Ewald, Pressensé, and others, suppose that they resolved to arrest Him before the feast. But there is force in Dr. Morison’s objection to this: “The whole city and suburbs were already swarming with the multitudes who were anticipating the feast. Caravans were hourly arriving, increasing the throng. All was excitement. Great, too, was the interest attaching to the wonderful Nazarene.” Chrysostom, Calvin, Lange, Meyer, Wordsworth, and many besides assume that the Sanhedrin intended to crucify Him after the feast, when the crowds of strangers should have left. The unexpected treachery of Judas seems to have hastened the crisis. Lest there be an uproar.—As in connection with other Passovers (Josephus, Antiq., XVII. ix. 3; XX. Matthew 26:3. See also XVII. x. 2).
Matthew 26:6. When Jesus was in Bethany.—The narrative is given out of its proper order, on account of its connection (as indicated in St. John’s record) with the act of the traitor. St. John fixes it (Matthew 12:1) at six days before the Passover, i.e. on the evening that preceded the entry into Jerusalem (Plumptre). Simon the leper.—Probably not an actual leper, but one who had been so; perhaps one who had been healed by our Lord. From John 12:2 it has been conjectured that Simon was the husband of Martha, who appears to have acted as mistress of the house. Another conjecture is that Simon was the father of the family, who was now dead, though the house was still Called by his name (Mansel).
Matthew 26:7. Alabaster.—A beautiful calcareous spar, softer than marble, and therefore easily scooped or fashioned into ornamental boxes, bottles, vases, and jars (Morison). Box.—Cruse (R.V.) There is no word corresponding to “box” in the original. The expression is simply and unspecifically “an alabaster”; and the reference would be, not to an alabaster box or casket, such as the Roman ladies kept on their toilet-tables for holding their cosmetics, but to some kind of small and elegantly-shaped alabaster bottle or cruet (ibid.). Very precious ointment.—Spikenard (Mark 14:3). The ointment of nard was highly esteemed in antiquity as a precious aromatic and a costly luxury. It was brought chiefly from Asia Minor in alabaster flasks; and the best were to be had in Tarsus (Winer).
Matthew 26:10. A good work.—The word translated “good” has prominent in it the thought of beauty (Gibson).
Matthew 26:12. For My burial.—To prepare Me for burial (R.V.). See 2 Chronicles 16:14. Not that she consciously intended it as equivalent to an embalmment of the body. But Jesus interpreted her act according to His own anticipation of the solemn event that was at hand (Morison).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 26:1-13
The eve of betrayal.—From speaking of His own coming in glory and of things very far off, the Saviour proceeds to speak here of things very near: “Ye know that after two days is the feast of the Passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified” (Matthew 26:2). We are come, in fact, to the very eve of the Passion of Christ. And what we read of here is of the doings of unbelief, on the one hand, and of the doings of faith, on the other, during that eve.
I. The doings of unbelief.—In what condition do we find the chief representatives of unbelief in Christ at this time? We find them, first, assembled in force. All classes of them, with their usual president over them, are met in his house (Matthew 26:3). Nothing is wanting to make plain how much they are stirred. It is plain, also, in the next place, that they are assembled in malice. They are not there to debate as to the object which they shall undertake to pursue. Neither are they there to resolve only on preventive measures; or on merely half-measures of hatred. On these points, and all like them, their minds are made up. They do not mean to stop a step short of putting Jesus to death (Matthew 26:4). In the third place, these unbelieving ones are also assembled in craft. They are fully aware of the difficulties which lie in their way; difficulties arising from the high esteem in which the Saviour is held, as also from the fact of such vast multitudes being then gathered at Jerusalem. But these considerations do not affect either their consciences or their wills. They only lead them to think how they can do safely what they are thinking of doing; how, in a word, they can take Christ’s life without risking their own (Matthew 26:4-5). If nothing, therefore, is more prudent, nothing is more unscrupulous than their conduct. The thing they are resolved on is to put Jesus to death. We may consider the holding of this “council,” therefore, His first actual contact with the shadow of death. Before, He has been in danger. Now, He is doomed.
II. The doings of faith.—For such we believe, with many authorities, that we see in the incident which comes next. We believe the “woman” spoken of here to have been Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus; and the action ascribed to her to be the same as that spoken of in John 12:1-9, in connection with the “supper” made for Jesus at the house of Lazarus, probably some days after His coming there, as described in the first verse of that chapter. And believing this, we think we see here, on the one hand, what she thought then of the Saviour Himself. The exceeding costliness of the gift given (Matthew 26:7) shows this to begin. Nothing, in her eyes, was too precious for Him. The indignation thus aroused, and the consequent computation of the numbers that might have been benefited by it if used in a different way, tell in much the same line. No others whatever—no number of others—were equal to Him in her eyes. So also does the extraordinary lavishment with which she expended her gift—breaking the box so as to keep back nothing of its precious contents, and pouring these over the whole person of the Saviour Himself (cf. Matthew 26:7 with John 12:3). Nor was less spoken, or spoken less openly, by the marked publicity of her gift, given to Jesus, as it was, as He “sat at meat” at such a special “supper,” and with His disciples around Him, and evidently “taken” (John 12:3) from elsewhere, and brought to (Matthew 26:7) Jesus with much deliberation of purpose and determination of manner. She wished all present to know by this “fragrance” what she thought of her Lord. As it were, she wished the “whole house” to be filled with her thoughts. Possibly—the idea is permissible when we note carefully the significant manner of her testimony—with her thoughts of Him as the CHRIST! Also, we think we see here, on the other hand, what this woman thought and knew of the approaching fate of the Saviour. Sitting constantly and almost irremovably at His feet to hear His word (Luke 10:39-40), we can well believe that she had taken in more of the true meaning of His language than His other disciples, and so had begun to realise that, as a matter of fact, He was a dying man at that time. Certainly the pathos of this knowledge would account exactly for the remarkable courage and determination of her conduct. “Now or never must this thing be done.” So she would be led by it to say in her heart. Certainly also the light of this knowledge would account exactly for the direction of her effort. What she would do by Jesus should be just that which others did by their dead. And this, indeed, was exactly the interpretation which the Saviour Himself put on her deed. He recognised and defended it as an exceptional thing, fitting, therefore, all the better that exceptional juncture and case (Matthew 26:10-11). He recognised it, also, as being done in connection with the close approach of His death (Matthew 26:12). And He described it, further, being thus done in faith, as a work that was “good” (Matthew 26:10); and even such as should in time be proclaimed everywhere, as an example to all (Matthew 26:13). An example of the “faith” which cometh by “hearing”! An example of the way in which one disciple, at least, knew what was then coming on Christ.
Note, therefore, in conclusion, how we see the Saviour Himself at this moment, when the lip of the cup to be drunk by Him, as it were, first touches His lips.
1. How full of consideration for others!—His leading enemies have now resolved on His death. The most enlightened and attached of His disciples has reminded Him, in the most vivid manner, both of its certainty and nearness; has treated it, in fact, as in one way begun. Even so He will not allow her to be unjustly reproached. Whatever is coming on Him, that shall not come upon her. Instead of that, He will cover her with honour and thanks. With honour then, and thereafter as well. With honour there, and everywhere else. See what it is to confess Him before others. It is to be confessed by Him before all. Confessed by Him even when entering into the shadow of death!
2. How full of confidence in His work.—The prediction of Matthew 26:13 was remarkable in itself. It was still more so in connection with the time at which it was uttered. Although Himself about to die, nothing of that kind was contemplated by Jesus in regard to His “gospel.” That, rather, was to become the more widely known and believed in and honoured by means of His death; so much so as thereby to bring special honour upon this anticipation of that death. This saying was almost more than the prediction of a prophet. It was the decree of a King! The decree of a King, also, who knew Himself at that moment to be under sentence of death!
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 26:3-4. A wicked council.—
I. A council without counsel, devoted to subtilty (Matthew 26:5).
II. A shameless council, devoted to lying and calumniation (Matthew 27:1).
III. A profligate council, devoted to hypocrisy (Matthew 27:7).
IV. A blind council, devoted to bribery (Matthew 28:12).—J. P. Lange, D.D.
Matthew 26:6-7. Jesus in the house of Simon the leper.—
1. In little Bethany, as well as in great Jerusalem, God hath His own.
2. The man who is sensible of his cleansing by Christ will love Him all his life long after. Simon the leper here receiveth and entertaineth Christ and His disciples.
3. When our by-past infirmities may glorify Christ, it is no shame to bear the memorials thereof. Here the Evangelist calleth Simon “the leper,” though now whole.
4. Love spares no cost; where love is hot, there nothing is dear.—David Dickson.
Matthew 26:8. The “wastefulness” of Christian love.—Consider the objection:—
I. In relation to economy.—Christ teaches us that—
1. Love transcends economy.—Thrift which forbids the demonstrations of love, which forbids the observance of holidays, birthdays, etc., which denies leisure either to love or to express it, is a bane, not a boon. Keep love alive at every cost, is Christ’s teaching.
2. Religion transcends economy.—Religion should be the last cause on which to practise economy, yet often the first.
II. In relation to the poor.—Some say, “We do not object to generosity, but deem it better shown to the poor than to the church, to Christ’s body, to religion.” So some disciples and others. Both plausible and popular. But mark:—
1. These are not the best friends to the poor.—See John 12:6. Judas the spokesman. He was not a friend to the poor. This objection made in their own interest, not that of the poor. He who begrudges to the church generally begrudges also to the poor. History proves that the best friends of the poor have ever been the religious. They still are. Non-religious philanthropy a small and feeble thing.
2. Religion transcends philanthropy.—Christ knows their hearts, but meets their objection. His boldness. “The poor with you always.”
(1) Not a condemnation of social Christianity. Some would make Christ’s saying equivalent to “poverty is permanent,” and would quote it against every effort to abolish poverty. Reference purely personal and local. “Poor with you when I am not.” This quite true. Not that we are to have always with us the hideous injustice of modern poverty! Words really teaching—
(2) That spiritual Christianity transcends social Christianity. Mary lives on a higher plane of being than Martha or the disciples. We must not permit social questions to secularise us, or drive God from our thoughts.
III. In relation to Christ.—
1. It is sanctioned by Christ’s express approval.
2. It is sanctioned by Christ’s great example.—Mary’s action really akin to Christ’s great “waste of love” about to be consummated on the cross. Application:
1. Let us lavish our love on Christ, in emotional and in concrete ways remembering His waste of love to us.
2. Let us lavish it upon others. Emulate Christ—“waste” your love on the unworthy and the unlovely.—S. E. Keeble.
Matthew 26:15. Covenanted with him.—Weighed unto him (R.V.). After the old custom. There had been in the land a coined shekel since the time of Simeon, 143 B.C.; but weighing seems to have still been customary in the temple treasury (Meyer). Or “weighed” may be simply equivalent to “paid.” Thirty pieces of silver.—I.e. thirty silver shekels. G. C. Williamson, D.Lit., in “The Money of the Bible,” says, “In the time of our Lord there were no shekels current (save, perhaps, a few of the old ones), although money was reckoned in shekels, very much as in the present day reckonings are made in guineas, although no coin of the value of a guinea is in use.” Judas may have been paid in Syrian or Phœnician tetradrachms, which were of the same weight (Madden). A shekel was between two and three shillings sterling. Perhaps this was but an earnest of a larger sum.
Matthew 26:17. The first day of the feast of unleavened bread.—“The feast of” omitted in R.V. The 14th of Nisan, which commenced after sunset on the 13th. Dr. Edersheim says: “Properly speaking, these two” [the “Passover” and “Feast of unleavened bread”] “are quite distinct, the ‘Passover’ taking place on the 14th of Nisan, and the ‘Feast of unleavened bread’ commencing on the 15th, and lasting for seven days, to the 21st of the month. But from their close connection they are generally treated as one, both in the Old and in the New Testament; and Josephus, on one occasion, even describes it as ‘a feast for eight days.’ ”
Matthew 26:18. To such a man.—The Greek word is that used when the writer knows, but does not care to mention, the name of the man referred to (Plumptre). The Master saith.—Therefore the host in question was a disciple, but not one of the Twelve (Bengel). My time is at hand.—For the disciples the “time” may have seemed the long-expected season of His manifesting Himself as King (Plumptre). I will keep.—I keep (R. V.). The arrangements had been previously made. It was usual for the inhabitants of Jerusalem to lend guest-chambers to the strangers who came to the feast (Carr).
Matthew 26:20. He sat down with the Twelve.—See R.V: sitting = reclining. The Paschal ceremonial, so far as it bears on the Gospel narrative, may be described as follows:—(a) The meal began with a cup of red wine mixed with water: this is the first cup mentioned, Luke 22:17. After this the guests washed their hands. Here probably must be placed the washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13:0). (b) The bitter herbs, symbolic of the bitter bondage in Egypt, were then brought in, together with unleavened cakes, and a sauce called charoseth, made of fruits and vinegar, into which the unleavened bread and bitter herbs were dipped. This explains John 13:26. (c) The second cup was then mixed and blessed like the first. The father then explained the meaning of the rite (Exodus 13:8). The first part of the “hallel” (Psalms 113, 114) was then chanted by the company, (d) After this the paschal lamb was placed before the guests. This is called in a special sense “the supper.” But at the Last Supper there was no paschal lamb. There was no need now of the typical lamb without blemish, for the antitype was there (1 Corinthians 5:7). At this point, when, according to the ordinary ritual, the company partook of the paschal lamb, Jesus “took bread and blessed it, and gave it to His disciples” (Matthew 26:26). (e) The third cup, or “cup of blessing,” so called because a special blessing was pronounced upon it, followed: “after supper He took the cup” (Luke). “He took the cup when He had supped” (Paul). This is the “cup” named in Matthew 26:27. (f) After the fourth cup the company chanted (see Matthew 26:30) the second part of the “hallel” (Psalms 115-118) (Carr.).
Matthew 26:25. Thou hast said.—A Hebrew form of affirmation.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 26:14-25
The guilt of betrayal.—This portion of Scripture begins (Matthew 26:14-16), and concludes (Matthew 26:23-25) with the mention of Judas Iscariot. Also in the middle (in Matthew 26:21) our Saviour has him in mind. We may rightly, therefore, use the whole passage as turning on Judas, and serving to show us the true nature of that which he did. It does so, in particular, by showing us, first, how much evil his purpose involved; and, secondly, how many obstacles his pertinacity overcame.
I. The evil involved.—What utter treachery, to begin. “Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed Him.” That is the first note in the case. Treachery towards One who had favoured him much. This Judas, it is also noted, was “one of the Twelve” (Matthew 26:14). One of those, i.e., who had been admitted to the special intimacy of the Man he betrayed. But for this honour he could not—as, but for his falseness, he would not—have done that which he did. Treachery also towards One who had trusted him much; in one respect, apparently (John 12:6), the most of the Twelve. Twofold, therefore, was the treachery of which he was guilty. He was false to kindness, and false to confidence too. Wholly spontaneous also, in the next place, his treachery seems to have been. It does not appear, from what we are told, that temptation assaulted him, as it were. It rather appears that he went after it, and sought it himself. “He went to the priests,” it is said (Matthew 26:14). Probably the idea of the Saviour being betrayed by one of His disciples had never occurred to them as a possible thing. And therefore, it was, probably, that they had never thought of making any attempt in that line. Probably, also, this accounts for the peculiar satisfaction (Mark 14:11) with which they seemed to have welcomed the communication of Judas. “Who would ever have thought of our receiving such an offer as this?” Certain it is that his treachery, next, was of a very wanton description. It was not as though he had been influenced by the prospect of making any great gain by his baseness. Merely, it is said, the price of a slave (see also Zechariah 11:13)—a sum about large enough to purchase a plot of ground of which all the value appears to have gone, and which only afterwards could be turned to use in the way of contempt (Matthew 27:7)—was all he looked for from his sin. Yet, last and worst, his resolve to commit it was of the most deliberate kind. This wretched bribe was his ruling thought—the thing he longed for—the thing he lived for—at that time. What a picture we have in Matthew 26:16 of one bent upon evil! Happen what may, and come what might, so far as he is concerned, this consummate wrong shall be done.
II. The obstacles overcome.—In the case of this sin, as of so many others, there was nothing less than a whole array and succession of influences, which ought to have told in the opposite line. The holiness of that special season was one thing of this kind. Was the Passover (Matthew 26:17), the great feast of the year, a time for such deeds? Was such a Passover, also, of all Passovers (see Matthew 26:18), a time for such deeds? How vividly, also, at that feast itself, were the claims of the intimacy to which the Saviour had admitted Judas brought home to his notice! He was at the same table—he was partaking of the same food—he was doing so at the same time—with his Benefactor (Matthew 26:23). What was he about to take with that same hand with which he had just taken that “sop”? Was there not something in such a thought which should have made him draw back? Also, at that supper, in its general sorrow, and in that which produced it, was there not much which ought to have been of an equally adversative kind? “Verily I say unto you,” the Saviour says to all, “that one of you shall betray Me.” The very suggestion is too much for every one else. Every one else is “exceeding sorrowful” at the very idea. Every one else can think of nothing worse as being possible for himself (Matthew 26:22). What an object-lesson, therefore, as to the enormity of his sin for Judas himself. In the intensity of their grief, he could see what they all thought of that which he was secretly thinking of doing. If they had all known it, and stood up and adjured him with tears not to think of doing so, they could not, virtually, have said any more. And, lastly, there was the special grief of the Master Himself. What a burst of sorrow was His! How significant its direction—over Judas himself! How equally significant the time of its expression—even when inexpressible suffering was approaching Himself! How beyond description its depth—“good were it for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24)! Can any one imagine a stronger appeal, whether to love or to fear?
How exceedingly great, therefore, we see, in conclusion, is the deceitfulness of sin! What was it that this unhappy man promised himself by his sin? For which he condescended to such baseness? For which he gave up so much? For which he rushed over such obstacles? For which he resisted such appeals? For which he lost his all? What strikes one so much, on this side of the question, is the amazing folly of sin! How it blinds men to truth—to affection—to honour—to all but itself! See such passages as Matthew 13:22; Hebrews 3:13; Isaiah 44:20, etc., etc. Hence the wisdom of that prayer of the Psalmist’s (Psalms 119:37), and of the advice given us in Hebrews 12:2, to “look off unto Jesus.” The only safety against that which thus bewitches men in the wrong direction, is to fix the attention on that which fascinates in the right.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 26:14-16. Judas the covetous.—This incident reveals Judas Iscariot. If he had intended to compel Christ to commit Himself, and begin at once His kingdom, the very last thing he could have thought of would be making money for himself out of such a transaction. We should divest our minds altogether of the idea that the case of Judas was an exceptional one. We are warranted in looking at Judas exactly as we look at any other man. He had to be exposed to temptation, but was capable of resistance. He was liable to err, to falter, to fall, but there was provided for him adequate and opportune help. Notice:—
I. A strand of weakness in his natural disposition.—The question set before each one of us is this: What can you become under the burden of your particular bias and disability? Some men are inclined to pride, some to sensualities, some to drink, and some to covetousness. The strand of weakness in Judas was the “love of money.” We are as gardens filled with various seeds, of weeds and of flowers. We can nourish the weeds, if we please. But we can cut down their growths and pluck them out if we will. Judas nourished the weed.
II. A dividing line in his history.—And there is such a line in every personal history. A time when it is settled whether the evil or the good is to be the stronger force in the life. It may be difficult to fix such a time in the case of Judas, and yet many think they find it in connection with our Lord’s very spiritual address on the “Living Bread” (John 6:0.). At the close of that address, the Evangelist brings Judas in. “For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray Him.” That day “many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him”; and it is not unreasonable to assume that, though Judas did not then break away from the apostolic company, the conviction then came to him that all his hopes were doomed to disappointment, and Jesus was no such Messiah as he had desired. Let us not fail to observe that Christ’s efforts to spiritualise the thoughts and ideas of the Apostles might have influenced Judas, as they did influence the others. They would have done so, but for the self-seeking, and money-loving, which made him insincere, and turned him into the clay which the warm, life-giving sunshine can but harden.
III. The motives of the betrayal.—He was disappointed in the thing that had grown to be the ruling power in his nature—his love of money; and the disappointed man only too easily can become the revengeful man. Such a man only awakens to behold himself when the consequences of his ill-doing are fully before him. Then such a man may feel remorse—he will not rise to healthy repentance. Judas let money rule him, and money brought him down to a woe unspeakable.—Weekly Pulpit.
Matthew 26:17. Preparation for the Passover.—
1. It is commendable to remember God’s ordinances in due time, and to prepare for them.
2. Our Lord made Himself so poor that He had not a house of His own, albeit He was Owner of all the earth.
3. Our Lord subjected Himself unto the law, and did keep exactly both the moral and ceremonial law, that He might deliver us from the yoke of the one, and from the curse for breaking of the other
4. The terms of sacramental speech were well understood by Christ’s disciples, as to put the thing signified for the sign; by this phrase, “to eat the passover,” they mean “to eat the lamb,” the sacramental memorial of the angel’s passing over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt.—David Dickson.
Matthew 26:18-19. “A worthy man for so holy a service.”—
1. The Lord will not want friends, wheresoever He is. Here in Jerusalem He hath friends, as He had also in Bethany.
2. He hath such control of the spirits of men, as He can bow their will to do what service He pleaseth.
3. Christ hath taken on Him to be our Teacher and to Him only the dignity of Master is due; therefore He calleth Himself “the Master.”
4. It is of His own free choice that our Lord doth employ any man more than another.
5. The more near our time to depart this life doth draw, the more careful should we be to have all things done by us which should be done; therefore saith He, “My time is at hand, I will keep the Passover.”
6. It is the part of true disciples to follow Christ’s direction in all things, and, being clear in the command, to go about the obedience of it.—Ibid.
Matthew 26:20. Christ sitting with the Twelve.—
1. Neither is the sacrament the worse, nor are the communicants polluted, albeit an undiscovered hypocrite be in company with them at the Lord’s Table.
2. The Lord will not discover hypocrites till they by their own deed discover themselves, but will suffer them to lurk among the saints, till His own time come; as here He suffereth Judas to lurk and to eat the Passover.
3. Social sitting at table is a very fit posture for a religious feast.—Ibid.
The positive and the permanent.—God had commanded the attitude of standing in the reception of the paschal meal: the Jewish church having come to the land of promise, and being there at rest, reclined at the festival, and our Lord conformed to that practice—a proof that positive commands of a ceremonial kind, even of Divine origin, are not immutable, if they are not in order to a permanent end.—C. Wordsworth, D.D.
Matthew 26:21-22. Our Lord forewarning His disciples.—
1. It is possible that a man may come to the Lord’s Table the one day and betray Him shortly after.
2. The possibility that a communicant may become a traitor should put all men to search themselves.
3. Sincerity and charity will make men search and suspect themselves rather than another; as here the Apostles say not, “Is it Judas?” but “Is it I?”
4. The sincere man dares not trust the deceitfulness of his own heart, but bringeth it to the Searcher thereof, and relieth upon His testimony, as here the Apostles do, saying to Christ, “Is it I?”—David Dickson.
Matthew 26:22. “Is it I?”—Consider:—
I. The sorrow of the disciples.—
1. They were sorrowful that He, of all others, should be betrayed.
2. But the circumstance that affected them the most acutely was this: that their Master should be betrayed by one of them whom He was honouring by His presence and exalting by His fellowship.
II. The inquiry of the disciples.—
“Is it I?” Various feelings, no doubt, prompted this inquiry:—
1. Aversion to the crime itself.
2. Apprehension of the punishment due to such a crime.
4. Hypocrisy.—Judas, also, with the faithful ones, said, “Is it I?”—H. Ashbery.
Matthew 26:24. Judas Iscariot.—It has been observed that our Lord Himself says the sternest as well as the most tender things that are recorded in the gospel. It is the Most Merciful Himself who says. “It were good for that man if he had not been born.” As we think over the piercing words, we see how they close for ever the door of hope, since, if in some remotely distant age there were in store for Judas a restoration of his being to light and peace, beyond that restoration there would still be for him an eternity, and the balance of good would at once preponderate immeasurably on the side of having been born. It must be good for every human being to thank God for his creation, for the opportunity of knowing and loving the great Author of his existence, unless such love, such knowledge, has been made of his own act for ever impossible.
I. There are sayings about Judas which might seem to imply that his part in life was forced on him by some inexorable destiny.—St. John says that Jesus knew from the beginning who should betray Him. Our Lord asked the assembled Apostles, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” In His great intercession He addresses the Father, “Them that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost save the son of perdition.” And at the election of Matthias St. Peter points to the destiny of Judas as marked out in prophecy—“His bishopric let another take”—and he speaks of Judas as having gone to his own place. This and other language of the kind has been understood to represent Judas as unable to avoid his part as betrayer, and the sympathy and compassion which are thus created for him is likely to blind us to a true view of his unhappy career. The truth is that at different times the Bible looks at human life from two very different—and, indeed, opposite—points of view. Sometimes it regards men as factors in the Divine plan for governing the world, for bringing about results determined in the Divine counsels. At other times it regards men as free agents, endowed with a choice between truth and error, between right and wrong, between a higher and a lower line of conduct; and then it enables us to trace the connection between the use each man makes of his opportunities and his final destiny. Both ways of looking at life are, of course, strictly accurate. It is no doubt difficult, if not impossible, with our present limited range of knowledge, to reconcile the Divine sovereignty in the moral world with the moral freedom of each individual man. Some of the great mistakes in theology are due to an impatience of this difficulty. If our ordL, looking down upon our life with His Divine intelligence, speaks of Judas once and again as an instrument who would contribute to the working out of the redemption of the world, the gospel history also supplies us with materials which go to show that Judas had his freedom of choice, his opportunities, his warnings, and that he became the betrayer because he chose to do so.
II. For Judas’ career illustrates, secondly, the power of a single passion to enwrap, enchain, possess, degrade, a man’s whole character.—Judas, we must suppose, had his good points, or he never would have become of his own act a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ. But Judas had one vice or passion, the love of money, carried to a point which filled his thoughts and controlled the action of his will. Just as there are bodily diseases which, at first unobtrusive and unnoticed and capable of being extirpated, if not taken in time will spread and grow, until first one and then another limb or organ is weakened or infected by them, so that at the last the whole body is but a habitation for the disease which is hurrying it to the grave: so in the moral world one unresisted propensity to known wrong may in time acquire a tyrannical ascendency that will make almost any conceivable crime possible in order to gratify it.
III. The history of Judas shows us that great religious privileges do not of themselves secure men against utter spiritual ruin.—Religious privileges only do their intended work when they are responded to on our part by the dispositions which make the most of them, by sincerity of purpose, by a humble—that is to say, a true—estimate of self, by sorrow for past sin and by watchfulness over present conduct, by an especial care not to let any one passion acquire that preponderance and supreme place in the soul which may render all helps to holiness useless, which may forfeit all prospect of eternal peace. Judas lived in the closest intimacy with Jesus; but this intimate relation with Jesus did not save Judas from a crime compared with which that of the Jewish Rabbis, and the Roman soldiers, and Pontius Pilate, and the chief priests, and the scribes and Pharisees, was venial; it did not save him becoming the betrayer. Observe, too, in the betrayal of our Lord, the survival of religious habit when the convictions and the feelings which make religion real have passed away. Judas betrayed the Son of man with a kiss. The kiss was a customary expression of mingled affection and reverence on the part of the disciples when they met their Master. To suppose that Judas deliberately selected an action which was as remote as possible from his then true feelings is an unnecessary supposition. It is more true to human nature to suppose that he endeavoured to appease whatever there may have been in the way of lingering protest in his conscience by an act of formal reverence that was dictated to him by long habit, and that served to veil from himself the full enormity of his crime at the moment of his doing it.—Canon Liddon.
Matthew 26:25. Betraying Christ.—There are other ways of betraying the Lord than by selling Him for a definite sum of money, and by sealing the hateful bargain with the kiss of treachery. I shall speak of three ways of betraying Christ, to which we seem specially liable in our own day.
I. The betrayal on the side of the intellect.—The popular intellectual position of our day is one of antagonism to Christ. The men who profess to be the leaders of our thought are never tired of telling us that the story of Jesus is a myth, and that the life of Christ in us is the result of a delusion. I want you not to betray your Lord until you are sure that He is not your Lord. I want you not to betray Christ because men say that He is disproved, but look for yourselves whether He is disproved.
II. The betrayal through the sins of our own nature.—
1. Animal appetites.
2. Covetousness.—It sometimes calls itself thrift; it sometimes calls itself economy; sometimes it is even on the plea of benevolence.
4. Want of truth.
III. The betrayal by silence.—We are tempted to betray our Lord by silence amongst His people, and in the world where His people are not. St. Chrysostom tells us of one of the early martyrs, St. Lucian, who was brought before the tribunal of the judge to be condemned to death, and the judge said to him, “What is your name?” and he answered, “I am a Christian.” “And what is your country?” and he answered, “I am a Christian.” “And what is your business?” and he answered, “I am a Christian.” And to every question of the judge he had but one answer: “I am a Christian.” The man’s life had got absorbed in his Redeemer. He had no family, no country, no trade, except to be Christ’s and to confess Christ before men. We want Christians of that sort in the present day.—R. F. Horton, M.A.
Matthew 26:28. New.—Omitted in R.V., on the authority of the best MSS. Testament.—Covenant (R.V.). The term διαθήκη is here of peculiar importance. It does not mean either a covenant in the sense of contract or agreement, or a testament in the sense of a will, but it has a meaning which combines ideas distinctive of both. In διαθήκη there are the conditional elements necessary to a covenant, and the absolute elements necessary to a testament: the first, so far as it denotes conditions, revealed and established by God, which man must accept and obey before he can stand in right relation with Him; the second, so far as it denotes these conditions as the direct and independent and absolute expressions of the Divine will. We may define the καινὴ διαθήκη (“new covenant”) as the revelation of a new relation on God’s part, with the conditions necessary to the realisation of a new and correspondent relation on man’s. The founding of the old διαθήκη had been ratified by blood (Exodus 24:6-8): the founding of the new must be the same (A. M. Fairbairn). For the remission of sins.—Unto remission of sins (R.V.). I.e. with a view to remission of sins. “Remission of sins” is a condensed way of expressing remission of the penalty of sin (Morison).
Matthew 26:29. Until that day.—In the kingdom of God, completed and perfected, He would be with them once again, and then Master and disciples would be alike sharers in that joy in the Holy Ghost, of which wine—new wine—was the appropriate symbol (Plumptre).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 26:26-30
Sacrifice and thanksgiving.—“As they were eating.” The Passover meal had been interrupted before (Matthew 26:21) for the announcement of the betrayal. It is now interrupted for another announcement. Taking of the bread and wine that were then on the table—breaking the one and pouring out the other—declaring them also to be identified respectively with His own body and blood—the Saviour commanded all His disciples to partake in common of both. Much was meant by these actions and words—much, on the one hand, in the way of institution and doctrine; much, on the other, in the way of prediction and hope.
I. In the way of institution and doctrine.—These things were, in the first place, a symbolical rehearsal of the Saviour’s then imminent death. As had now been done with that bread and wine, so was to be done almost immediately with His body and blood. The way in which He had just united these things in thought, could mean nothing else. The use He had made of these elements—as the Apostle afterwards said of it (1 Corinthians 11:26)—had “shewed forth” His own “death”: its near approach, its exact manner, its inevitable certainty also. In a similar manner, in the next place, these words and actions were meant to set forth the purpose of His death. That death was intended, for example, to put away guilt. It was “for the remission of sins.” It was to do this, also, for “many”; even as many as willed. Once more, it was able to do all this, partly because of its preciousness—blood-shedding doing away with “blood-guiltiness” (Psalms 51:14; Genesis 4:0); life being given for life; and that, His life, most precious of all. And partly because it had been so agreed on, in the mercy of God, from of old: that blood being here spoken of, therefore, as the “blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:28), and as having, in consequence, a power of its own. Further, these symbols set forth, in the last place, how and in what manner the immense advantage spoken of could effectually be made ours. Just, in short, as we do always with bread and wine for our natural life, so exactly must we do for our spiritual life with that which they represent here. Even bread “broken” and ready for eating does not sustain us of itself; even wine “poured out” and ready for drinking does not cheer life of itself. Both must be actually partaken of if they are to tell indeed on our lives. Just so of that priceless blessing spoken of here. We must make it ours by our faith. In other words, that bread of heaven, that wine of agony, must be “eaten” and “drunk” (John 6:53, etc.). All this, in figure, but with deepest significance, did this “institution” proclaim.
II. In the way of prediction.—There is a nearer horizon, and a farther one—much sadness and more gladness—in the words which come next. They seem intended to teach the disciples—in connection with the Ordinance just appointed—what to expect in the future. You are to expect, in the first place—so the Saviour seems to say to them—both separation and union; being without Me at first, being with Me at last. While we are separated you will need something to remind you of Me; something also to be a kind of pledge of our being united again. Let the repetition of this ordinance answer these ends (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:0., end of Matthew 26:24; Matthew 26:26, which express exactly the spirit of what our Saviour says here). You must expect, next, in consequence of things being thus, both imperfection and perfection—the one first, the other to follow. Much as these symbols will do for you if rightly employed, they must not be supposed capable of obliterating the difference between separation and union. They will not do so to Myself. I shall be only as the master of a feast, who, because of the absence of certain much-honoured and much-beloved guests, will not permit himself to taste yet of the wine of the feast (Matthew 26:29). And you will be as those guests who cannot do so, because they are not present as yet. Not so, however, is it to be at all when the time of separation is over. The very best of the wine, then—even wine “new” indeed, and such as never before—shall be our common delight: delightful most on that ground! You must expect, lastly, in the future before you, both trial and triumph. Trial, at first, and not a little of it. Triumph afterwards, and very much more. Until then, though kings and priests in reality, and proved to be such by being guests at My table, the fact will be hidden from most. After then it will be hidden from none (cf. Matthew 13:43; Romans 8:19; 1 John 3:2, etc.). How, indeed, should it be when this feast of “remembrance” has given place to that “marriage supper” itself (Revelation 19:7-9), and you sit there as guests?
Our prevailing feeling, as we look back on this beginning, should be the feeling of praise. It appears from the story that this beginning itself was followed by praise (Matthew 26:30). Even in the gloom of that most solemn occasion the Saviour and His disciples joined in a “hymn.” As we think of the ordinance of that night of betrayal; of the love it displays; of the blessings it seals; of the hopes it predicts; of the comfort it assures; of the strength it has given; we may well do the same thing. Practically, where we observe it rightly, we do so in effect. We always sing a “hymn”—we always sing the “hymn”—when we thus show forth the Lord’s death.” It is the Eucharist—the giving of thanks.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 26:26-30. The Lord’s Supper.—
I. The Author.—Jesus took bread, etc.
II. The time of the institution. The night before He was betrayed.
III. The sacramental elements.—Bread and wine.
IV. The ministerial action.—The breaking of the bread and the blessing of the cup.
V. The object.—“Do this in remembrance of Me,” etc.
VI. Thanksgiving after communion.—W. Burkitt.
Matthew 26:26-29. The Lords Supper.—
I. The nature of the Lord’s Supper as seen in its reference to the past.—It is a memorial or commemoration of the death of Christ. The greatness of the fact, of which it is the commemoration, invests it with unspeakable dignity.
II. The nature of the Lord’s Supper as seen in its reference to the present.—We regard it as, perhaps, the most efficacious of all the means of grace, designed to nourish religion in our souls, and to promote brotherly love toward our fellow-believers.
III. The nature of the Lord’s Supper as seen in its reference to the future.—
1. We are reminded of the second coming of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:26.)
2. The Lord’s Supper also anticipates the eternal communion which believers will enjoy with Christ in heaven (Matthew 26:29). P. J. Gloag, D.D.
Matthew 26:26. The New Testament Passover.—“As they were eating.” The Lord’s institution of His supper was in connection with the Passover which He kept with His disciples, before concluding it with the “hallel.” By this means He intimated that He would have His Supper regarded as the New Testament Passover. What, then, was the Passover?
I. The Passover was a feast, not a sacrifice.—The sacrifice was presupposed in the feast. So with the Lord’s Supper. He offered the sacrifice: we keep the feast.
II. The Passover was the feast of a sacrifice.—So with the Lord’s Supper. He sacrificed His body and blood. This sacrifice we receive and enjoy in the Lord’s Supper.
III. In the Passover Israel celebrated its present saving fellowship with Jehovah, and looked forward to its future consummation.—So in the Lord’s Supper we celebrate not merely the memory of a past fact, but that salvation of the present in the fellowship of which we stand, and which looks forward to its future consummation.—C. E. Luthardt, D.D.
Absurdities of the dogmas of transubstantiation and consubstantiation.—“This is My body.” Almost a worldful of super-refined absurdities has, unhappily, been heaped on this simple affirmation. And if Christianity had not been really Divine, its life would have long ago been utterly crushed out of it under the immensity of the load. Rhetoric, as Selden remarks, has been mistaken for logic; and the “is” has been insisted upon as demonstration that the thing given by the Lord into the hands of His disciples was not bread at all, but—literally—His own body. Hence the doctrine of transubstantiation. Others have insisted that if the thing given was really bread, it was also, at one and the same time, the literal body of the Lord. This is the doctrine of consubstantiation. The substantive verb “is,” it has been contended, must be taken as the copula of substantive existence. All this is sad; for it would hence follow:—
1. That one substance is another.
2. That a thing is not itself—Christ’s body, for instance. At the time that He uttered the words of the institution, He was in His body; and therefore He did not hand it, in His hand, to His disciples. It would follow:—
3. That a part of the whole is yet the whole of which it is a part.—If the whole cake is the body, and the broken cake is the broken body, and if yet every morsel of the broken cake is also the body, then a part of the body is the whole of the body. It would follow:—
4. That a thing which is one, and but one, is yet more than one; for if the cake be the one body, and yet each morsel of the cake be also the one body, then Christ’s one body is many bodies. It would follow:—
5. That a thing which is, by its very essence, limited to a certain spot in space, is yet not limited to that spot—Christ’s body, for instance, when with His own hand He gave it into the hands of His disciples, while yet it remained where it was before, at an appreciable distance from His disciples’ hands. It would follow:—
6. That the percipiency of the soul, operating through the senses of the body, while these senses are perfectly awake, and perfectly sound, may yet be absolutely and hopelessly deceived.—If the percipiency of the soul, operating through sight, touch, and taste, and equipped with all the adjuncts of scientific analysis, finds bread, and bread only, in the morsel of the sacramental cake, and if yet that morsel be physically transubstantiated into, or consubstantiated with, the living body of Christ, then all the senses appealed to must be liars, and everything that we see and hear and touch and taste, may be a lie. The culminating act of religion would thus be the copestone of universal and inseparable scepticism. But this will not do. We must take a different view of the words of the institution. The “is,” in the expression “is My body,” must be understood, not as the copula of substantive existence, but as the copula of symbolical or representative relationship. Why not? Compare, for instance, Matthew 13:38-39, “The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom,” etc. Parabolism, or symbolism, or representativism of some kind must be admitted (cf. Genesis 40:12; Genesis 40:18; Ezekiel 37:11; Daniel 2:38; Daniel 7:17; Daniel 7:24; Daniel 8:21; Matthew 13:37; Luke 15:26; Luke 20:17; Acts 10:17; Galatians 4:24-25; Ephesians 5:9; Hebrews 7:2; Revelation 1:20). Indeed, the parabolic element in the Lord’s Supper is the true key to its interpretation. The supper is a parable to the eye, the touch, the taste. And when our Saviour said of the morsel of bread, “This is My body,” He but interpreted the figurative or representative significance of one of the elements of the parable. If we would get the spiritual blessing, when we communicate, we must mentally transfigure the figure.—J. Morison, D.D.
Matthew 26:29. Christ a Fellow-banqueter.—
1. Our Lord, beside all other relations which He hath to the sacrament, as the Instituter thereof, the End thereof, the Thing signified thereby, the Minister in the first celebration thereof, is also a Fellow-banqueter, and communicant with us in His own way; for He did drink of the sacramental wine, as it signified communion of life and joy with us in heaven.
2. Whatsoever change is put upon the wine in the sacrament, by instituting that it should signify and seal up spiritual life and joy, yet after the sanctifying of it, and in the time of drinking of it by the communicants, it remaineth wine, in its own natural properties, without being transubstantiate.
3. The drinking of the sacramental wine is a sign and pledge of our spiritual and new communion in life and joy in the kingdom of heaven, for Christ expoundeth it, saying, “Until the day that I shall drink it new,” etc.
4. Christ will not be content to be without His disciples in heaven. “I will drink it new with you.”—David Dickson.
Matthew 26:30. Spiritual song.—Observe:—
I. On the threshold of suffering Christ with men sings a triumphant psalm.—Teaches entire consecration to God, creates calm trustfulness and fortitude in trial. To sing thus we must have unbroken fellowship with God. Illustrated in the lives of Paul, Luther, Wesley.
II. Christ’s kinship and sympathy with the disciples.—Hymn used to cheer, strengthen, and inspire confidence in God.
III. Teaches simplicity of Christian worship.—No robed choristers. No mystical chanting. This service parallel with Christ’s prayer-meeting—two or three met in His name. Thus possible for all to worship (accessories not forbidden). God the Author of music. The harp and psaltery not to be broken or destroyed. Convert the player, and the music will be heavenly.
Practical lessons.—Spiritual song should be used to bring men nearer to God. Kingsley says that in heaven “all speech will be song.”—J. E. Douglas.
Matthew 26:32. I will go before you.—As a shepherd. A pastoral expression (Bengel). See preceding verse.
Matthew 26:34. Before the cook crow.—The crowing of cocks during the stillness of the night is quite a feature in Oriental life, and nowhere more so than in and around Jerusalem. The great time for cock-crowing was, and is, in the third watch of the night. See Mark 13:35 (Morison).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 26:31-35
Foresight and blindness.—When the disciples follow their Master from the Passover-chamber to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30), they share His company, but hardly His thoughts. Much is seen by Him which is hidden from them. This is brought out here in two principal ways: in connection, first, with the general warning which He addresses to them all; in connection, secondly, with the special warning which He addresses to St. Peter alone.
I. The warning to all—His words in this way show, first, how much He knew of what was to happen that night. “All ye shall be offended in Me this night” (Matthew 26:31). Nothing looked less like this than things did when He spoke. Had not these disciples followed Him long? Through many vicissitudes (Luke 22:28)? At very great cost (Matthew 19:27)? Had they not also joined in, if not actually started, the acclamations which accompanied His entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:6-9)? And been with Him in all His subsequent word-encounters and triumphs (Matthew 22:15-46)? How strange, therefore, the announcement, that in a few hours, they would be acting inconsistently with all this! Ashamed to be seen in His company! Scandalised at the accusation (!) of belonging to Him at all! Still more strange, therefore, to hear it said that this had been predicted of old; and that the reason of it all was to be found in that which had also been predicted of Him. He was to be “smitten,” and they were to be “scattered” (Matthew 26:31; Zechariah 13:7 : see also 1 Kings 22:17). All this, though incredible to them, was foreseen by Him as quite close. Much the same was it, in the next place, with what was to follow that night. Most significant, most profound, are His words on this point. As to Himself, on the one hand: that He was to die, and yet live; to need “raising again”; to attain to it also; and to follow it up by departing for Galilee with a view to their good (Matthew 26:32). As to them, on the other hand: that, though they were to be scattered, they were not to be so for ever; that, if presently “offended” with Him, they should confess Him afterwards, and follow Him as before. All this, again, though thus fore proclaimed by Him, was past believing to them. This is shown very plainly by the language of the most forward among them. To him there is no need whatever of the language they have heard; of the primary warning; of the subsequent re-assurance; least of all, of the first. Things in the future, in his judgment, will not be as they have heard them described. He, at any rate, whatever others do, is not going to do as is said (see Matthew 26:33). He is as confident, in a word, in his ignorance as Christ is in His light.
II. The special warning to one.—See here, again, on the one side, how clear was the pre-vision of Christ! How definite, also, His words! He declares that this confident Peter himself shall be an example—a leading example—of what He has said. That he shall not only be “offended” with Him, but “offended” so much as to “deny” that he had ever known Him at all. That he shall do this three times in succession. That he shall do it also, before the departed sunlight shall shine again on the world. And this He declares, also—if such a thing can be—with even greater solemnity than before; almost implying, in fact, that He is never to be trusted again if not trusted in this (Matthew 26:34). See, on the other hand, how this second warning was met. How it was met by St. Peter himself. With a stronger defiance than ever. Stronger in substance. Even if I have to stand alone, he had said before in effect, I will never deny Thee (Matthew 26:33). What he says now is, that he will never do so, even if he has to die for it with Jesus (Matthew 26:35). Not even, he says, if denial is death, will I stoop to such depth. Stronger, also, in form. Such a second defiance is, on that very account, a more significant thing in itself. Such a second defiance as this, also, being in reply to such a second and closer and more earnest remonstrance, is more significant still. The lips that do this will do anything in that unconvincable line. How it was met, also, by the other disciples! They, too, are as much proof as was Peter himself to this second warning of Christ. Instead of being moved by it to side with the Saviour against His disciple, they side with him against Christ; and proceed, as it were, in a kind of chorus, to add their “nays” unto his (end of Matthew 26:35). “The Teacher is wrong,” they say, “and the disciple is right. None of us stand in need of the warning on which He has thus doubly insisted. None of us are really going to act in the manner described.” Was there ever such a close juxtaposition of darkness and light? Of light which exceeded all the light of mankind? Of darkness which thought itself light?
1. How affecting is this scene, on the one hand! The Saviour knows, the Saviour feels, all that is coming upon Him! He may be almost said, therefore, to be crucified in anticipation, as well as in fact! Yet He is so far, in all this, from having the sympathy of His own disciples, that He cannot even persuade them that there is any necessity for it. None needed it more, none was farther from it, than He was at this time.
2. How instructive is this story!—How great is the difference between true courage and the mere absence of fear! How difficult it is to teach those who think that they know (Proverbs 26:12)! And how ready such persons are to set about teaching those by whom they profess to be taught! Of all things to be distrusted, is trust in ourselves! Of all gifts to be coveted, that of a teachable heart!
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 26:31. Christ deserted by His disciples.—
I. The great events of time developed according to Divine prediction.
II. The loneliness of Jesus Christ in the final scene, an incidental proof of His Divine mediation.
III. Christ’s Divine power of looking beyond the process to the great result.
IV. Though Jesus was deserted by His disciples, yet the disciples were not deserted by Him.—J. Parker, D.D.
Matthew 26:34. Peter and Judas.—What is the difference between the sin of Peter and the sin of Judas?
I. Let us see what was the difference of their general lives.—We know that Peter loved our Lord sincerely, and that he followed Him with a real desire to do His will; whereas, what we know of Judas, even before his great sin, is unfavourable. It is of importance to observe this, because, in fact, our particular sins take their colour from the general character of our lives. What we call sin of infirmity, a sudden yielding to some very strong temptation, can hardly be said to exist in a man whose life is generally careless or sinful. He who takes no heed at any time to strengthen his nature has no right to plead its weakness; he who is the slave of all common temptations has no right to say that this one temptation overcame him because of its greatness.
II. Yet the acts of Peter and of Judas were in themselves different.—The act of Peter was done without premeditation. Assuredly had he felt himself in any danger of denying his Lord, he would have gone away to his own home rather than have sought admission to the palace of the high priest. But Judas sin was deliberate; it had been resolved upon, not some minutes only before it was committed, but some hours, and even some days.
III. And so, after the two sins were committed, what followed in either case?—One look at our Lord recalled Peter to himself, to that very self, that better and habitual self, which our Lord had pronounced to be clean. He went out and wept bitterly. But of all this in the case of Judas we hear nothing: with him there was remorse indeed, but not repentance—an unblessed sorrow, working an unblessed death.—T. Arnold, D.D.
Matthew 26:36. Gethsemane = “the oil press.”—On the slope of the Mount of Olives. Probably there was, or had been, in it a press for the manufacture of olive oil. The identity of this garden with the traditional spot is disputed.
Matthew 26:45-46. Sleep on now.… Rise, let us be going.—The sudden transition may be explained either
(1) by regarding the first words as intended for a rebuke, or else
(2) at that very moment Judas appeared, and the time for action had come. The short, quick sentences, especially as reported by St. Mark, favour the second suggestion (Carr).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 26:36-46
De profoundis.—One chief characteristic of this part of the story of Jesus is its unapproachable grief. The disciples see this in the demeanour of the Saviour. He is “sorrowful and very heavy” (Matthew 26:37). The Saviour confesses it of Himself (Matthew 26:38). We hear it in the character of the prayer He puts up. He asks, “if possible” (Matthew 26:39), to be heard. Also, in the urgency with which He presents it, viz., three times (Matthew 26:44), in the same words, in succession. Evidently, something which is the profoundest of horrors possesses His soul. Another account, indeed (Luke 22:44), describes Him as being convulsed by its depth. We shall do well to contemplate, this being so, first, the mysteriousness, and, secondly, the instructiveness, of this astonishing grief.
I. Its mysteriousness.—This is to be found, to begin, by inquiring into its special occasion and cause. To what, in reality, was this fearful dread to be traced? What was this evil, the mere anticipation of which had such almost deadly effect? It could hardly have been that very ordinary evil which we commonly speak of as “death.” Thousands of men far inferior on any showing to Jesus of Nazareth, have met this with composure, some even with joy. Neither could it have been merely the ignominious manner and extreme shame of the kind of death which the Saviour knew to be awaiting Him so shortly. That were to make Him inferior to the two malefactors who afterwards died by His side; one of whom, at any rate, was above complaining of the undoubted disgrace of his cross (Luke 23:41). Evidently, what Christ had in view was something deeper by far—something which appears to have been fully known only to God and Himself. Spare Me “this cup”—this cup, with which no other “cup” is fit to compare. Who amongst men shall say what that was? Just as mysterious, next, is the consideration of the Person to whom this cup was delivered. We read of Him, e.g., as one who, in the very highest sense, could address God as His “Father” (Matthew 26:39; Matthew 26:42). Also, as one whom God Himself had acknowledged in the same sense, not long before, as His Son; and as the Son, moreover, as well of His love, as of His fullest approval and trust (Matthew 27:5). Further, we find Him now, in His capacity of a Son, showing the perfection of love to His friends. It was not much that He asked of His disciples at this crucial hour of His life—little more, in fact, than some token of sympathy in the extremity of His anguish (Matthew 26:38). When this little was refused Him, as we find that it was; when, instead of watching with Him, they are found buried in sleep; how tenderly considerate, yet how anxiously merciful, is the excuse which He makes—which He, the injured one, makes (Matthew 26:40-41). Further, yet, we find Him, now, in the same capacity, showing the like perfectness towards God. What entire confidence—what profound submission—what burning loyalty—what utter devotion—we find here in His words (Matthew 26:39)! Never, in fact, do we see all His excellences brighter than they are seen to be at this time. Here is the mystery presented to us by this side of the case! Never such a brother—never such a Son—as when about to be treated as neither! Nor less mysterious, once more, is the consideration of the Hand which inflicted this on Him. Whom does the Saviour appeal to on the subject? From whose “will” does He ask for the favour of exemption (Matthew 26:39)? Is it not from the will of that “Father” of whom He afterwards said, “The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” Here is, therefore, on the whole, the sum of the mystery involved in this case. It is wonderful that there should ever have been an occasion for a prayer of this kind! Wonderful that such a Son should ever find Himself in such case! Wonderful that He Himself should have been willing to be in that case! Wonderful that such a Father should have ever put Him in that case! More wonderful still that He should have finally left Him in it in reply to that prayer—that thrice-repeated entreaty—that urgent entreaty—that agonised entreaty—of the Son of His love! Never was there anything, to our eyes, of a more mysterious kind! The whole story, in fact, is full of absolute bewilderment to our natural thoughts.
II. Its instructiveness, all the same.—How it teaches us, e.g., on this very account, to accept the darkness which marks it. Why should we expect things, in such a matter, to be of a different kind? Why should we ever have supposed, in such an arena, that there should have been nothing obscure to our eyes? The very nature of that arena, on the one hand, peremptorily forbids such a thought. How should any inquiry be all light to us which turns, as this does, on the nature of God? On the relations existing between those Three who are One? And on the doings of the Man who represents our race at the most critical period alike of His life and our age? The nature of our “eyes,” on the other hand, forbids it no less—one might almost say even more. We have neither the faculties nor the experience for measuring things of this kind. It is doubtful, indeed, whether any created intelligence of any kind can understand them in full (see 1 Peter 1:0, end of Matthew 26:12). It is certain that our intelligence can only discern them in part. Hardly even a microscope turned on the sun is less competent for its task. It is our wisdom, therefore, it is even the best use of our powers, to see in the obscurity of what we look upon one proof of its truth. On the other hand, in such a matter, we are taught here equally to embrace the light that there is. The light that shines out on us, for example, from the very obscurity of the words which our Saviour addresses here to His Father. With all that is dark in them, is it not clear from them that He had some purpose in view when He spake them? Something of transcendent importance, both in God’s eyes and His own? Something that somehow could not be accomplished unless He accepted that cup? Something of such a nature that if He had been spared from it, God could not have spared us? Something, this being so, which God would not take away—and which He did not refuse—on that very account? All this, with all the concomitant darkness, is as clear as the sun. And all this, therefore, is to be embraced by us with all wonder and praise. Jesus thereby shown to be a Saviour—and God a Father—indeed! Beautifully confirmatory of this is what we read last in this place. What a contrast there is between our Saviour’s words in Matthew 26:38-39, and those in Matthew 26:45-46! What a ring of fortitude—of tranquil intrepidity—there is in these last! Now He faces, now He goes to meet, what He could hardly think of previously. Clearly, His Father has answered His prayer (cf. Luke 22:43; Hebrews 5:7), though in a way of His own. Clearly, therefore, the will of both is the same. Clearly, also, that will is nothing less than the salvation of man. With that object in view; that “cup” was prepared—was given—was not taken away—was accepted—was put to the lip. With that in view He who thus took it received strength for it from above. Here is the final “light” out of this “darkness.” Is it anything less than “the Light of the world”?
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 26:36-44. The human Christ in Gethsemane.—
I. Like us, He sought sympathy in the time of sorrow.
II. Like us, He gave expression to His grief when, only few could hear.
III. Like us, in trouble and darkness He wished His friends to keep awake.
IV. Like us, He dreaded calumny more than death.—What was the cup? Not death, but the death of a criminal.—Evan Lewis, B.A.
Matthew 26:36. Christ in Gethsemane.—
1. As the truth of the gospel, so the right way of suffering for the truth, must be learned from Christ; therefore our Lord taketh with Him His disciples unto Gethsemane—a garden and place where He is to begin His last sufferings—that they might see how voluntarily and holily He addressed Himself unto that service.
2. As we should not make ostentation of going to private prayer, so neither need we scrupulously conceal our purpose when it may edify.—David Dickson.
The conflict in Gethsemane.—
I. The place of the conflict.—There are two rival Gethsemanes, and rival guides wrangle about the truth of this and that local identification. One place, called the true Gethsemane, is walled round by the Latins. Another, a little more to the north, is walled round by the Greeks; both enclosures being under lock and key. The New Testament lends no help to inquiries that have reference to sanctity of places.
II. The story of the conflict.—
1. Its intensity is the first fact in the story that strikes us.
2. This awful inward conflict was in a scene of outward peace.
3. The conflict wrung from the Saviour a great cry: “O, My Father,” etc. We have a glimpse here of the conflict carried on by Christ for us, single-handed.
4. Under all the sorrows of the Man of sorrows, in this night of conflict, there was tender personal thought about His disciples.
III. The sleep of the disciples.—There was tender remonstrance, but not severe reproof. It was treated by Jesus only as a symptom of mortality. This quick apology of love for weakness is set on record for all who need it.—C. Stanford, D.D.
Matthew 26:38. Intensified sorrow.—Christ’s sufferings were intensified by various reasons:—
I. From His perfect foreknowledge of all the complication and bitterness of His agonies.—“Knowing all things that should come upon Him.”
II. From the length of time within which they were compassed.—We might speak of His whole life as a scene of suffering; but His last sufferings were crowded and pressed together in an extraordinary degree. It will be found that a space of nearly twenty-four hours was occupied with His death.
III. From His deep sense of the evil of sin which occasioned those sufferings.—Tertius.
Matthew 26:39. Our Lord’s Gethsemane-prayer.—Three elements are distinguishable in our Lord’s prayer:—
I. The sense of sonship, which underlies all, and was never more clear than at that awful moment.
II. The recoil from the cup, which natural instinct could not but feel, though sinlessly. The flesh shrank from the cross, which else had been no suffering; and if no suffering, then had been no atonement. His manhood would not have been like ours, nor His sorrows our pattern, if He had not thus drawn back, in His sensitive humanity, from the awful prospect now so near. But natural instinct is one thing, and the controlling will another. However currents may have tossed the vessel, the firm hand at the helm never suffered them to change her course. The will, which in this prayer He seems so strangely to separate from the Father’s, even in the act of submission, was the will which wishes, not that which resolves. His fixed purpose to die for the world’s sin never wavered. The shrinking does not reach the point of absolutely and unconditionally asking that the cup might pass. Even in the act of uttering the wish it is limited by that “if it be possible,” which can only mean: possible, in view of the great purpose for which He came. That is to be accomplished, at any cost; and unless it can be accomplished, though the cup be withdrawn, He does not even wish, much less will, that it should be withdrawn. So the third element in the prayer is:—
III. The utter resignation to the Father’s will, in which submission He found peace, as we do.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Jesus in Gethsemane.—
1. The struggle in Gethsemane was the completion of that in the wilderness, and prepared the way for the suffering of Golgotha.—The devil uses two ways of turning men from the path of righteousness: he offers them pleasures such as God does not approve, and urges them to avoid the hardships to which God calls them. By these same two means he tried to force the Lord Jesus also to deviate from the line of obedience, from fidelity to His mission. It is true, Satan is not mentioned in the Gospel narratives when this scene is related. But it was of this very moment that Luke was thinking when he finished the narration of the temptation in the wilderness by these words: “The devil departed from Him for a season” (Luke 4:13), or, more exactly, “until a favourable time.” Jesus Himself, when He saw this moment approaching, expressed Himself thus: “The prince of this world cometh” (John 14:30).
2. After a man has overcome the attractions of pleasure, it only remains to him to rise above the instinctive fear of pain in order that he may be faithful unto the end.
3. Jesus, in His prayer, puts His will and that of the Father over against each other: “Not My will, but Thine, be done.” How can that be? Had He a different will from that of God? Jesus took our nature when He entered into human life. He consequently possessed all our legitimate instincts, particularly that of the fear of suffering. It was this fear above which it was now His concern to rise by sacrificing it to His mission, as He had given up the desire for enjoyments when in the wilderness. By the third act of wrestling and prayer He subordinates the voice of nature to the voice of the Spirit unreservedly.
4. This is not, as is often believed, the beginning of the atonement; it is only the condition of the atonement. In fact, the atonement does consist not only in a certain amount of suffering to be endured. It consists in the suffering humbly accepted and righteously endured.
5. Victory should properly precede combat.—Jesus had already conquered when the time of suffering came. It is properly at Gethsemane that these words in the priestly prayer were accomplished: “And for their sakes I sanctify myself” (John 17:19).—Prof. F. Godet, D.D.
Matthew 26:41. Temptation.—In the precept, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation,” there is enjoined a feeling of apprehension and alarm. It is equivalent to saying, “Do not suffer yourself to be at ease.” Beware of quietly enjoying your life. You are lost if you live without fear. As to moral and spiritual dangers, the greater number seem to have determined to indulge in a careless and almost unlimited confidence. As a natural consequence, they are overrun and spoiled and ruined by what they so little dread and guard against—that is to say, by temptations. “That ye enter not into temptation.” The words seem to say very pointedly:—
I. Beware of the beginning.—And since temptation is sure to be early with its beginnings, so, too, should watching and praying: early in life; early in the day; early in every undertaking.
II. Be quickly alarmed at the indications that a thing is becoming temptation. “Here a questionable effect is beginning upon me; nay, it is a bad effect. Certain principles of truth and duty are beginning to slacken their hold on me.” Be cautious of pursuing an evident good in a way in which there must be temptation. Beware of the kind of companionship that directly leads into temptation.—John Foster.
Preservatives from sin.—
1. The advice given.—“Watch and pray.” The Christian in danger:—
1. From the world.—Its spirit, frowns, smiles.
2. From the devil.—As a person, his influence, subtilty, etc.
3. From the flesh.—The deification or degradation of reason; indulging in passion, constitutional sin, etc.
II. The reason on which the advice is founded.—“That ye enter not,” etc.
1. It is possible to be overcome.—David, Peter, etc.
2. To be overcome deprives of spiritual enjoyment.
3. Endangers spiritual interests.
4. Not watchfulness alone, or prayer alone, but both conjoined, render the soul invulnerable.—J. C. Gray.
The spirit willing, the flesh weak.—We ought to take this, not as an excuse for torpor, but as an incentive to watchfulness.—Bengel.
Matthew 26:45. Too late.—In these words our Lord means, “It is too late. The opportunity is lost and gone. The time for watching and praying is over; you have let it escape you. You may as well sleep now. Alas! there is now nothing to be done; you must now enter, as you may, into temptation.” If this be the true account of the words as first spoken, we shall readily think of ways in which they come home to us.
I. They have a direct bearing upon the whole subject of temptation.—This is the time for watching and praying—before the temptation comes. Mark that well. It is the moral of the whole. Remember there is a prayer which comes too late; there is a prayer which even contradicts itself in the asking; there is a prayer which asks to be kept safe under the temptation which we are going in quest of.
II. The words have a meaning also as respects opportunity.—There is not a relation in which we stand one to another, which may not be taken as a selfishness and refused as an opportunity. One by one, these are withdrawn. He who once said, “Watch and pray,” says at last, “Sleep on now, and take your rest.”
III. This saying is not less true in its bearing upon that total sum of all opportunities which is the life.—When Christ at last comes, and finds us still sleeping; then He is compelled to say—else He could be trifled with, else He were not the Judge, He were not the Faithful One and the True—He is compelled to say, “Sleep on now, and take your rest.” “The harvest is past” etc.—C. J. Vaughan, D.D.
Matthew 26:47. A great multitude.—See John 18:3 (R.V.); Luke 22:52. The body, guided by Judas, consisted of
(1) a company of Roman soldiers;
(2) a detachment of the Levitical temple-guard;
(3) certain members of the Sanhedrin and Pharisees (ibid.). Staves.—I.e. clubs. Not the same word as in chapter Matthew 10:10.
Matthew 26:51. One of them.—See John 18:10. When the Evangelical tradition first assumed shape and form, prudence required that the name of Peter should not be publicly mentioned. Hence the indefinite expression in the Synoptists. But this necessity did not exist when John wrote his Gospel; therefore he gives the name (Lange).
Matthew 26:53. Twelve legions.—In the Roman army a legion numbered about six thousand. Note the contrast to the “twelve weak men, one a traitor, and the others timorous “; also to the company with Judas.
Matthew 26:56. But all this was done, etc.—A continuation of the address of Jesus. See R.V.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 26:47-56
Forbearance.—What the Saviour had just spoken of (Matthew 26:46), now comes to pass. “Lo, Judas,” and a “great multitude” “with him” (Matthew 26:47). This is the beginning of this part of the story. The end corresponds. Jesus is seen as a captive—and by Himself—in the hands of His enemies (Matthew 26:50; Matthew 26:56). How has all this come to pass? Through His own action—His own inaction, rather—in very great part. What He has refrained from doing is the chief cause of these things being done. We may contemplate this forbearance of His, first, in His way of dealing with treachery; secondly, in His way of dealing with insult; thirdly, in His reasons for both.
I. His way of dealing with treachery.—This was remarkable, first, because of the nature of the treachery in question. It was something, even for treachery, exceedingly base. Base, as noted before (Matthew 26:14), but noted again here (Matthew 26:47), as though a feature which should never be forgotten in telling the story, because of the position of the traitor himself. What he was doing was to betray the Man whom he had professed to follow and love in a specially eminent way! Wronging his Master! Selling his Friend! Base still more because of the nature of the “sign” which he fixed upon with this view. Was there no other way of effecting betrayal than by a protestation of loyalty? “Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He.” You may know whom I am injuring by my pretending to love Him. Baser yet because of the wholly unnecessary effusion with which this vile purpose was effected. “He said, Hail Rabbi, and kissed Him;” “kissed Him much” (so R.V.); did more than was needed for the evil object in view; over-acted his affectation of friendship; went out of his way, as it were, to indulge in falseness. Basest of all because of the character of the Master whom he was treating with this baseness—even the Truth itself—the Incarnation of Love—and the very last of men, therefore, to be treated thus, even if any man ought. Equally remarkable, therefore, in the next place, was the Saviour’s reply to this baseness. “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” This is all, according to one version, that He says in reply; as though He would thereby merely let the traitor know that His design was seen through. “Friend, do that for which thou hast come.” So we find given in another version of the Saviour’s reply, as though He would not only show to the traitor that He understood his design, but that He did not intend to resist or oppose it, even by so much as a word. In any case, there is not a trace of bitterness or sign of anger in any one of His words. Never, perhaps, was any man more cruelly wronged. Never, surely, did any wrong elicit less wrath in return.
II. His way of dealing with insult.—How much there was of this here, on the one side, is shown in two ways. Partly, by what we read of those who had now come with the traitor. They were carrying “swords” some of them (Matthew 26:47; Matthew 26:55), and appear, therefore, to have been Roman legionaries engaged for this work. Others had “staves” (see as before), so, probably, came from the priests. Either way they had all come against the Saviour as against one of the dregs of mankind—a double insult to One who had recently—and so openly—claimed to be a leader of men. (See especially Matthew 21:1-12; Matthew 21:23). Partly, by what we read here of the Saviour Himself, and by the express way in which He showed that He felt what their conduct involved (Matthew 26:55). And partly, once more, by what is related here of the conduct of one of His disciples. To the Apostle Peter (John 18:10), the indignity offered appeared absolutely beyond endurance. Drawing his sword (Luke 22:38), he struck violently at one of those on the opposite side; not impossibly at one of the foremost of them, and one forward, therefore, both with staff and gesture, to threaten the person of Christ. At any rate, in Peter’s judgment the insult offered warranted even the shedding of blood in return. Hence, therefore, on the other side, the exceeding wonder of Christ’s view of the same. What the disciple could not endure for His sake, He submits to with patience. More than that, what the disciple had done, He undoes, as it were. So we are told, be it observed, by the physician St. Luke (Luke 22:51). He even goes so far as to lay down a law against the adoption, by those who are His, of any remedy of this kind, declaring it to be a remedy which could only in the end be productive of more harm (Matthew 26:52). It is not for Me, He says—it is not for any of Mine—to have recourse to the “sword.” What a way of meeting all the violence with which He was threatened! Not even a breath of it in return!
III. The Saviour’s reasons for this twofold forbearance.—Not want of feeling, as we have seen (see again Matthew 26:55; also compare the use of the word “friend” (= companion, or mate) in Matthew 26:50 with Psalms 41:9; Psalms 55:12-13). Nor yet want of capacity to take vengeance, had He so willed. The Saviour shows here, on the contrary, that what He had to do now lay in the exactly opposite line. Not to exert power, but to restrain it; not to call for help, but to forbid it; not to summon “legions,” but to prevent them from coming; not, in a word, to speak the word which would have destroyed all His enemies at one stroke (cf. John 18:6)—was what lay now upon Him (Matthew 26:53). Why, then, did He restrain Himself thus? Why restrain others—why such others—as well? His own answer is of the simplest and most definite kind. Because the Scriptures, if He had done otherwise, would have been set on one side. It is very observable that, even in this mere summary of the story, this is specified twice (see Matthew 26:54; Matthew 26:56). It is equally observable that no other reason is mentioned beside. All our attention is concentrated by the Saviour—and by the Evangelist also—on this one reason alone. Whatever other reasons there were in the background—and we can well believe there were not a few—they are all hidden here behind this. Christ meets these marvellous wrongs in this marvellous manner because it was prophesied that He should! That is what He Himself leaves last on our minds!
1. How full of awe, then, on the one hand, are the Scriptures of truth! By them even the King of kings holds Himself bound. Not even the Holy One of God will allow Himself to set them aside (cf. Psalms 40:7)!
2. How full of grace, on the other hand, are the Scriptures of truth! For to what is it, when we come to inquire, that they thus bind the Messiah? Is it not to do that which had been predicted of Him of old? Even to “bring in everlasting righteousness,” and “make reconciliation for iniquity” and provide a ransom for all? The more binding, therefore, the more gracious, on this view of the case! The more stringent, the better! What can, indeed, be better for us than that such a Saviour should have thus bound Himself not to fail in His work?
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 26:49. The traitor’s kiss.—
1. Holy things may be prostituted to basest uses.
2. Symbols of friendship may become signals of treason.
3. Deeds receive their moral worth from underlying motives.
4. Men betray Christ with a kiss, when they mask a hatred of His disciples beneath false shows of friendship.
5. When they mingle with His disciples, to make themselves familiar with, and then laugh over their defects.—J. C. Gray.
Matthew 26:50. An important question.—St. Bernard used often to ask himself the question which our Lord put to Judas, “Friend, wherefore art thou Come? Why hast thou been created and placed in this world at all? Why hast thou been made a member of Christ in baptism? Why hast thou been led by Providence to this or that state of life? Art thou here to do thine own will? Or wouldst thou indeed serve God, and by labour and suffering such as He may appoint prepare for thine everlasting aim? Friend, wherefore art thou come?” If we would sincerely press that question home, how different would be the aim and the perfectness of our work through each day?—Canon Liddon.
Matthew 26:52. Christ’s condemnation of war.—
I. The evils of war are the very evils Christ came to remove.—What are they?
1. Reign of brute force.
2. Carelessness about cruelty.
3. Neglect of the interest of individual souls.
4. Stubborn hindrance of progress and brotherhood.
5. Setting up wrong standards of character; such as Roman honour of Mars and Hercules, and Scandinavian honour of Thor, rather than Christian honour of the Christ. The beatitudes are reversed, and a glamour is thrown around soldiery.
II. The advantages of war are only apparent gains.—
1. War leads to war. The seeds of revenge are sown in the scars of the conquered.
2. There has to be recourse to arbitration at the end, as there might have been at the beginning.
3. If there is acquiescence in victory, it is a wicked confession that Providence is on the side of the strongest battalions.—U. R. Thomas, B.A.
Matthew 26:53-54. Christ’s apprehension.—
I. How easily our Lord could have rescued Himself.—
1. God is pleased to work by the ministry of angels.
2. Our Lord might have had any number.
II. Why He forbore to rescue Himself.—That the Scriptures might be fulfilled.
III. Practical observations.—
1. Prayer will extricate us from trouble.
2. Be content to go to heaven in God’s way.
3. Christ’s solicitude for the fulfilment of the Scriptures was a pledge of His anxiety for their accomplishment in all that relates to our salvation.—C. Simeon, M.A.
Matthew 26:56. The fickleness of friends.—“Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.”
I. The cruelty of this it would be hard to exaggerate.—For three years and upwards their Divine Master had been building up their faith and binding them to Himself by a thousand heavenly acts.
II. A lesson of patience towards one another.—Be more patient, more long-suffering and less ready to take offence and rail against the world and its ways; remembering that thou hast bound no one on the earth’s surface to thee—nor canst bind—as Christ bound the eleven, who, when they beheld Him apprehended in the garden, at once forsook Him and fled.—J. W. Burgon, D.D.
Matthew 26:57. To Caiaphas.—Apparently after a preliminary examination before Annas (John 18:13; John 18:19-24). Where the scribes and the elders were assembled.—It was against the rules of Jewish law to hold a session of the Sanhedrin or Council for the trial of capital offences by night. Such an assembly on the night of the paschal supper must have been still more at variance with usage, and the fact that it was so held has, indeed, been urged as a proof that the Last Supper was not properly the Passover. The present gathering was therefore an informal one (Plumptre).
Matthew 26:58. Sat with the servants.—Officers (R.V.). They would be clustering about in the outer part of the court, which was open to the sky, while the Sanhedrin would be meeting in the inner or canopied compartment, which would be partially, or almost completely, separated from the outer part by drawn drapery. Certain officers would be privileged, no doubt, to be moving inward and outward on duty, or at discretion (Morison).
Matthew 26:61. I am able to destroy the temple of God.—The actual words of Jesus spoken (John 2:19) in the first year of His ministry were, “Destroy” (a weaker Greek verb, and not “I am able to destroy”) “this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (The word is appropriate to raising from the dead, and is quite different from the verb “to build.”) The attempt was to convict Jesus of blasphemy in asserting a superhuman power (Carr).
Matthew 26:63. I adjure thee.—When such a formula of adjuration was employed, a simple affirmation or negation was regarded in law as sufficient to constitute a regular oath (Lange.)
Matthew 26:64. Power.—The Hebrews often called God “Power” (Bengel).
Matthew 26:65. Rent his clothes.—This act was enjoined by the Rabbinical rules. When the charge of blasphemy was proved, “the judges standing on their feet rend their garments and do not sew them up again.” “Clothes” in the plural, because according to Rabbinical directions all the under-garments were to be rent, “even if there were ten of them” (Carr).
Matthew 26:67. Spit in his face.—Among the Jews an expression of the greatest contempt (Deuteronomy 25:9; Numbers 12:14). Buffeted.—Struck Him with clenched fist. We learn from St. Mark (Mark 14:65) and St. Luke (Luke 22:63) that these acts of outrage were perpetrated, not by the members of the Sanhedrin, but by the officers who had the accused in their custody, and who, it would seem, availed themselves of the interval between the two meetings of the Council to indulge in this wanton cruelty (Plumptre).
Matthew 26:68. Saying, Prophesy.—They had blindfolded Him (Mark 14:65).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 26:57-68
Meekness.—We are brought, in this part of the story, to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, with its inner and outer courts (Matthew 26:58; Matthew 26:69), and its outermost “porch.” In the inner court are the scribes and elders, gathered together irregularly and in haste (so is the opinion of some), under the presidency of Caiaphas, and with our Blessed Lord in the midst. In the outer court are the officers and servants of Caiaphas and some others beside (Matthew 26:58). If we suppose ourselves looking on with these last at what takes place farther in, there are three things we shall see. We shall see the Saviour, first, unjustly accused; secondly, more unjustly examined; and thirdly, most unmercifully insulted.
I. Unjustly accused.—The conduct of His judges was unjust, first, in its object and aim. “Witness” is said to have been sought by them for the foregone purpose of “putting Jesus to death” (Matthew 26:59). Practically, therefore, they had settled the case before it was opened; and were pre-judges, therefore, instead of judges, if so we may speak. They seem to have been unjust, next, in regard to the kind of witness which they were ready to take—which they seem, indeed, to have “sought” (Matthew 26:59 again). At any rate, it is clear that they did not concern themselves much as to where it came from. Good or bad, it was acceptable to them if it promised to answer their end. It is observable, also, that in regard to this unscrupulousness, they seem to have been all of one mind. The “whole council” (see, however, John 19:39; John 3:2; Luke 23:51) interested themselves in this infamous search. The whole council did so, moreover, with equal obstinacy and hate. They had “many” disappointments, even from their standard (Matthew 26:60), but were not to be put off on that ground. They only sought for more still. Once more they showed themselves unjust by acting, finally, on what was notoriously inadequate ground for their purpose. According to the law which they sat to administer, no accusation was to be held valid—least of all in a case like this, which was of a capital kind—unless there were at least two consentient witnesses to the matter in hand (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15; cf. John 8:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19). What they actually did was to act on testimony which was fatally short of this mark; which was visibly short of it, so it seems to be meant (see Mark 14:59, and compare Matthew 26:61 here with John 2:19). “Answerest thou nothing”—so Caiaphas said in effect—“to all this accumulation of witness (Matthew 26:62)? Why art thou treating all that these witness against Thee as undeserving of reply”? For so, in reality, the Saviour did by not replying at all. And in this, moreover, to put it otherwise, was all the reply that He gave. To all this storm of accusation—this mockery of justice—this perversion of law—this subornation of perjury—He answers by His silence. “Jesus held His peace.” It was at once the most dignified and the meekest thing He could do. And so aggravated, finally, the exceeding unseemliness of their violent desire to do wrong.
II. More unjustly examined.—So far, we may say that, practically, the “prosecution” had failed. Jesus had treated the witness brought against Him as unworthy of reply; and they had not been able on their part, to prove it anything more. Another, therefore, and most unfair, proceeding, is resorted to next. The Saviour is known as a preacher of truth. They will appeal to His truth. In God’s Name they will require Him to tell them who He really professes to be (see Matthew 26:63). In this way it was hoped to entrap Him into some fatal admission or snare, and so, as it were, to cause His very integrity to furnish the kind of evidence they desired. The whole stratagem was utterly unworthy of any one who sat as a judge—most unworthy of such a judge as the high priest of God’s people. Yet see, on the other side, how the true High Priest, the Lord of Glory, replied. In the first place, with truest respect for God’s appointed officer and deputy. Silent to the witnesses, He will not be silent to him. On the contrary, to his solemn adjuration He gives an equally solemn reply (contrast Acts 23:3). With deepest respect, in the next place, for the requirements of truth. Being thus asked for the truth, He will give it, at whatever cost to Himself. He will give it even when asked for, as now, in the interest of falsehood and wrong. “Am I the Christ? Yes, I am.” In calling Me so “thou hast said” what is true (Matthew 26:64). In the spirit, lastly, of the truest faithfulness towards all who are there. “Nevertheless,” notwithstanding your purpose of evil, notwithstanding your unbelief and contempt—I say now to “you” all (“a tous vous qui êtes ici,” Lasserre),—that there will be a day—and that an early day (“henceforth”) which shall prove all that I say; and when, in fact, instead of My standing at your judgment-seat you will be standing at Mine (Matthew 26:64). Be warned, therefore, in time.
III. Most unmercifully insulted.—On the part of Caiaphas himself. With much affectation of grief at having obtained that which he wished, and which, according to him, rendered unnecessary any “further” calling of “witness” (Matthew 26:65). Also with much simulation of anxiety to be truly just in this case. Let those who are his assessors say exactly what they think of such words. Let the sentence due to the Man before them be declared by them, rather than him (ibid.). No one would think, from the manner of any of them, that they had come there resolved on His death. Nothing, He is to understand, but the height of horror could have brought them to that pass. He is simply to be looked on—this is what it all comes to—as beyond the reach of defence! On the part, next, of all that stand by. With their coarse natures they carry out in action what the others have expressed by their words. And that with such outrageous coarseness, that one hardly likes, even now, to express it plainly in words. Suffice it to note, on the one hand, that it was with the deepest contempt for His person. Even if the accused did deserve to be smitten, why do so on His head? Even if He ought to be shamed, why so in the loathsome way specified here? Also, with the deepest contempt for His office. If thou be the “Christ,” at least tell us who it is “that strikes Thee.” Think of a prophet who cannot “prophesy” this! Such language may be described as “spitting” on His honour itself.
Do we not see a picture in this sad story:—
1. Of the worst of our race.—See what human nature can descend to when influenced by envy (Matthew 27:18) and hate! What injustice! What cruelty! What hypocrisy! What effrontery! And this, moreover, on the part of men so privileged as these were! And all, also, in hatred of One against whom no witnesses of any kind could be found!
2. Of the Best of our race.—How wonderful the meekness which bore all this without a word of reproach! And that notwithstanding the countless other excellences with which that meekness was joined. Such was the height to which this “Man” attained! To this, also, in some measure, He has helped some of His to attain (see Acts 7:60; Romans 9:3)!
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 26:58. Peter’s fall.—“To see the end!” It is one of those natural expressions which make the Bible so human.
I. Like the rest of the disciples, Peter no sooner saw the capture of the Lord than he forsook Him and fled. He has scarcely fled when he turns to follow—but he follows afar off, as one who would disguise even while he yields to the impulse.—In the very midst of the high priest’s servants he seats himself, hoping by the parade of confidence to disarm suspicion. But he had miscalculated his own powers. He was too good a man to be a good actor. The part was overplayed. He had rushed into unnecessary danger, and he could neither tell the truth bravely nor utter a falsehood quietly. He had come to see the end, and yet that natural impulse was dangerous for him. It had temptation in it. It brought him to the edge of that fall which might have been his ruin. But for that determination to see the end Peter might have been as Matthew, might have been as Andrew, almost as Thomas—doubter, not denier; if deserter, yet not rebel. It was the sight of Christ on His trial which gave possibility to the blasphemy: “I know not the man.”
II. There is responsibility in seeing the end to us, as well as for Peter.—It is possible so to see as to see not for the better, but for the worse. This is so when we either contemplate the cross carelessly or turn its very grace into a licence for sin,—C. J. Vaughan, D.D.
Matthew 26:63-64. Jesus, the Son of God.—Let me read you the words of the late Judge Greenleaf, at the time of his death Law Professor in Harvard Law School: “If we regard Jesus simply as a Jewish citizen, and with no higher character, His conviction seems substantially right in point of law, though the trial were not legal in all its forms. For, whether the accusations were founded on the first or second commands in the Decalogue, or on the law laid down in the 13th chapter of Deuteronomy, or that in the 18th chapter and 20th verse, He had violated them all by assuming to Himself powers belonging alone to Jehovah; and, even if He were recognised as a prophet of the Lord, He was still obnoxious to punishment, under the decision in the case of Moses and Aaron before cited. It is not easy to perceive on what ground His conduct could have been defended before any tribunal, unless upon that of His superhuman character. No lawyer, it is conceived, would think of placing his defense on any other basis” (Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists; with an Account of the Trial of Jesus. By Simon Green-leaf, LL.D.). This is the ground of our faith in Jesus as the Divine Son of God. In this supreme hour of His life, when the claim meant death to Himself, when, if it were false, it meant falsity running through all human history and to all time, He claimed Divinity under the solemn sanction of His oath and in the presence of eternity. There is no room to build a tomb to Jesus of Nazareth beside the tomb of Confucius of China, Buddha of India, Socrates of Greece. He was either less than a philosopher or more than a man. He was either the Son of God or to be acquitted of blasphemy only by being regarded as an enthusiast. He was either deserving of condemnation or He is entitled to the highest loyalty and allegiance that human hearts can give Him.—Lyman Abbott, D.D.
Matthew 26:64. Christ’s reply to the high priest.—
1. That Christ is the Son of God is a truth judicially deponed by Himself, being adjured to answer upon His oath, and being now ready to die. “Thou hast said,” saith He; or, I am the same whom thou inquirest for.
2. Such as will not receive Christ’s word as Divine shall be forced to acknowledge His power to be Divine, for thus saith He: “Nevertheless” (or though ye believe Me not), “yet ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power”; and this came to pass—
(1) In His resurrection;
(2) in His Spirit poured forth on the Apostles;
(3) in the conversion of multitudes of souls;
(4) in the overthrow of the Jewish church and nation in their own time, not long after.
3. Such as will not acknowledge Jesus to be the Son of God, for their salvation, shall see Him come to judge them at the last day.—David Dickson.
Matthew 26:65-68. Christ’s good confession counted blasphemy.—
1. A man given over to unbelief, though he pretend to desire to know truth, yet will he not believe when truth is told him (no, not when it is confirmed by the oath of Him who cannot lie, and when it is proved by many miracles), but he will affront his own conscience in all this. “He hath spoken blasphemy,” said the high priest when Christ had told the truth which before was proved by His works, and was undertaken to be proved yet more.
2. Profane and graceless hypocrites, when it may serve their turn, will put on the mask of marvellous zeal to the glory of God. The high priest doth rend his clothes and saith, “You have heard His blasphemy.”
3. Partiality and malice, in Christ’s cause especially, can hardly be hid; for the high priest, even when he will seem to do justice, doth first condemn Christ of blasphemy and then asketh the voices of the Council.
4. Assemblies and councils may err so far as to agree in one to condemn Christ to death (Matthew 26:66).
5. Albeit Christ be most free of blasphemy, yet, because they in whose room He did stand are guilty of it and of all sorts of sin, therefore it is provided by Divine Justice that Christ shall be condemned for our cause and sentence given thus: “He is guilty of death.”
6. What must we be worthy of when Christ is spit upon, buffeted, blindfolded, and mocked for our cause?—Ibid.
Matthew 26:71. Porch.—The dim, over-arched passage, leading outward from the area of the court to the entrance gate (Morison).
Matthew 26:73. Thy speech bewrayeth thee.—Peter was discovered by his use of the Galilæan dialect. The Galilæans were unable to pronounce the gutturals distinctly, and they lisped, pronouncing sh like th. Perhaps Peter said, “I know not the ith,” instead of, “I know not the ish” (man) (Carr). To bewray, from the Anglo-Saxon wreian, to accuse, then, to point out, make evident,—the literal meaning of the Greek words (Bible Word-Book).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 26:69-75
Desertion.—Where were the followers of the Saviour during the time that He stood before the high priest, as described in the previous verses? As a rule they were wholly away from the scene. When He had seemed in their eyes to have forsaken Himself (Matthew 26:51-54), they forsook Him as well (Matthew 26:56). Only the Apostle John, as one known to the high priest (John 18:15), and the Apostle Peter, as introduced by him (ibid., Matthew 26:16), were sufficiently near, in the outer court, to be witnesses of the scene. What befell this last-named Apostle, in consequence of his being there at this time, is the subject of the verses before us. Their contents may be regarded as describing to us, in the first place, a great opportunity; and in the second place, a sad misuse of it.
I. A great opportunity.—Had St. Peter so wished, here was an opening for him to stand up for Christ and confess Him. There was everything in the place where he was (as we say) to give him this “chance.” It was within sight of all that occurred (Luke 22:61). It was filled with those who looked on. Most of them were enemies of the Saviour. Here was the occasion, therefore, for His friends to speak for Him. Also, Peter’s position there was such as to call him specially to undertake this duty. He was a marked man in that place. He had been introduced there, to begin, as a stranger; a thing which would naturally attract attention to him, as well from the doorkeeper as from others. Also, he had been a prominent figure in the garden at the apprehension of Jesus, a procedure in which some of his present companions, the high priest’s servants, had taken their part. Probably, also, there would be something in his appearance, corresponding to the conflict of feelings then raging within him on account of his previous boldness (John 18:10) but later timidity (Mark 14:54), which would draw special attention to him. We know that there was something in the provincial character of his dialect which would do the same thing. And we can well understand that the position he took up, near the “fire” (John 18:18) would make doubly visible whatever of strangeness there was to be seen in his looks. All these things of themselves would be a kind of challenge to him to say who he was, and so, at least, acknowledge his Lord and Master. Lastly, there was not a little to be found in the man’s natural character which would itself be a qualification for, and so a stimulus to, this duty. When we remember what he had said previously (ch. Matthew 16:16); as also what is said of him afterwards (Acts 4:13); as also yet that he must have been in heart in all the time intervening what he was on the occasions referred to;—we shall see that there must have been (at least to one part of him) in his present circumstances, a great call to speak out. “Why do you not confess Jesus now? Why not do so, as you said that you would? Here is a fitting time for so doing! Here are those ready to listen to you, and wanting to know, in fact, who you are! Why not tell them at once, and have done with it?” So his heart, surely, would say then to itself. “Forward in other things, be forward, also, in this.”
II. A sad misuse.—A sad misuse, in the first place, in a negative way—letting the opportunity pass. Instead of dealing with that to which he was invited, the Apostle, at first, tried merely to get out of its way. He did so, partly, in words. Even when one who was present, by the language she employed, pressed the opportunity then before him home on his heart, this was all that he did. “Thou also,” she said to him—thou as well as this John whom we all know here so well (?)—“wast with Jesus of Nazareth.” To this question—for such it really was—he returns what is really no “answer” whatever. He merely professes to have no knowledge at all on the matter in hand (Matthew 26:70). Also, he follows this word up by action of a similar purport; going out into the “porch” (Matthew 26:71), as though he were one having other business just then requiring his presence. The whole signifies that he does not wish at present to commit himself on the subject. He desires at present to be merely neutral about it. He dare not say, Yea, but he will not say, Nay, at this stage of the proceedings; thus, in fact, in such circumstances, by not confessing, denying his Lord. A sadder misuse, in the next place, in a positive way. Having begun thus badly, in other words, he goes on to still worse. Questioned again by another one there, and finding, in consequence, that he cannot take refuge, as he had hoped, in avoiding the subject, he goes on now, in so many words, to deny all knowledge of Christ. “So far from belonging to Him”—so his words mean—“I do not know who He is.” This he says, too, “with an oath” (Matthew 26:72). Lastly, “after a little,” when the effect of this solemnly uttered and distinct asseveration had somewhat worn off, as it were—and when some of those who had heard it, noting the peculiar dialect of the man who had made it, began, in consequence, to question the possibility of its truth—he is given a further and last opportunity of retracing his steps. “Surely, thou dost belong to the company of this Jesus; thy very speech proves that thou dost; why not confess it thyself?” So they in effect (Matthew 26:73). He, on the other hand, thus driven to bay, becomes desperate in his denial. “Then began he to curse and to swear saying, I know not the Man.” What do the words mean? “To curse.” To curse whom? What for? How far? “To swear.” To swear by whom? By his Maker? In attestation of his falsehood? To ask attention to his crime? There is no need to inquire. What the words do show is that he has become utterly lost in his ever-growing iniquity, and has put the opportunity now given him to the worst use that he could.
1. How extreme is the weakness of man when left to himself!—Such is the first lesson which this memorable story has ever taught to the church. Here is the most eminent of the then disciples of Christ—apparently the first stone in His church (Matthew 16:18)—the most forward ever and boldest of all—doing the very thing which he had thought wholly impossible a few moments before. It almost reads like a dream. The true Peter seems standing by, and watching a counterfeit one in his place. Who, after that, shall put trust in himself? Who shall say, after that, of any wickedness, that he may not be tempted to do it? Or, that the best of men may not be found in action what is most abhorrent to them in thought?
2. How supreme, on the other hand, is the strength of all who are true believers in Christ!—We do not see here the end of this Peter, or of the effect of grace on his heart. Even immediately, on the contrary, we see him brought to repent (Matthew 26:75); and that by a look (Luke 22:61). Afterwards we find him opening the door of faith alike to Gentile (Acts 15:7) and Jew (Acts 2:36-41). Afterwards we find even the Apostle Paul speaking of Him as a “pillar” (Galatians 2:9), as in the implied prediction of Christ (Luke 22:32). To so great height from so great depth did his faith bring him in time. And after just such fashion, therefore, may all those hope who have in them the same “seed” (1 Peter 1:25; 1 John 3:9). If there is nothing weaker, there is nothing stronger than a believer in Christ. If there is nothing he cannot do, there is nothing he cannot undo, by dependence on Him.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 26:69-75. Peter’s sin.—
I. The sin.
1. A lie.
2. An oath (perjury).
3. An anathema and curse.
II. The occasion of the sin.—
1. Peter followed Christ afar off, from fear and frailty.
2. He kept bad company.—With the enemies of Christ.
3. Presumptuous confidence.—In his own strength and standing.
III. The repetition of the sin.—If we yield to one temptation, Satan will assault us with more and stronger; progress from bare denial to perjury and thus to imprecation.
IV. The aggravating circumstances.—
1. The person thus falling.—A disciple, an Apostle, the chief Apostle, a special favourite with Christ.
2. The Person denied.—His Master, his Saviour and Redeemer, who just before had washed his feet and given him the sacrament.
3. The company of high priests, and scribes, and elders, and their servants, before whom Peter denied his Master.
4. The time of the denial.—But a few hours after the communion.
5. The smallness of the temptation.—A mere question of a servant girl, a door-keeper.—W. Burkitt.
I. The precursors of Peter’s fall.
2. Rashness.—Peter had cut off the ear of Malchus. Misplaced bravery is very often, as in this instance, the forerunner of cowardice. If by our folly we put ourselves in jeopardy, we are on the highway to falsehood in order to get ourselves out again.
3. Distance from the Lord.
II. The aggravations of these denials.—These were many.
1. Peter had been well warned of his danger.
2. The time at which they were uttered.—It was with Jesus Himself the hour and power of darkness.
3. The Lord had given him many special tokens of His regard.
4. The manner in which they were made.
III. The sequel of the denials.—“The Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” What a look that was! It was a mingling of reproof, of tenderness, and of entreaty. It reminded Peter of the warnings he had received, of the kindness he had so ungratefully met, and especially of the words of love which had been so recently addressed to him: “Simon, Simon! behold Satan,” etc. (Luke 22:31-32). He saw then what he had done, and in a moment the fountains of the great deep within him were broken up. He lived on that look till the Master met him after the resurrection; and the thought of that prayer kept him from falling into despair. Had it not been for these things, he, too, might have gone, like Judas, and hanged himself. Note one or two important inferences from this subject:
(1) Great prominence in Christ’s service does not keep us from peril.
(2) Our greatest danger does not always he where we are weakest, but is sometimes where we are usually strongest. Peter’s characteristic was honesty: yet he fell into deceit. Peter’s nature was courageous: yet here he manifests cowardice.
(3) If Peter’s fall is a warning against over-confidence, his restoration ought to be an antidote to all despair.—W. M. Taylor, D.D.
Matthew 26:73. Speech betraying character.—“Thy speech bewrayeth thee.” Varieties of moral character, as well as country, are betrayed by speech:—
The babbling fool.
The censorious fault-finder.
The malicious slanderer.
The oily flatterer.
The ingenious liar.
The profane swearer.
The timid apostate.
The bold confessor.—J. C. Gray.
Matthew 26:74. Peter’s guilt.—His guilt was the more flagrant because the ordeal was not compressed into a short compass. The questions did not roll in upon him so quickly as to leave no time for reflection and recovery; on the contrary, they seem to have been spread over a space of an hour at the least; and yet he deliberately forced his soul thrice to the denial.—C. E. B. Reed, M.A.
Matthew 26:75. Peter’s tears.—A man may be conscious of God’s forgiveness, as Peter was of the Saviour’s when He gave him that “look,” and still be unable to forgive himself; and as he remembers the past the floodgates are opened again and again. This was the case with Peter: the deed was done; it had been obliterated from the heart of Christ, but it pressed heavily upon his own; and the consciousness of having committed a base act blinded his eyes with tears. What had he done?
I. He had denied his Lord.—In doing so:—
1. He denied the greatest Teacher.—“Never man spake like this Man.”
2. He denied the kindest Friend.
3. He denied Him at a very critical period. He wept bitterly because of—
II. His likeness to the world.—
1. In his language.—“He began to curse and to swear.”
2. In his shame.
3. In his fear.—Cymro.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Matthew 26". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29