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THE chapter which opens with these verses, begins Luke’s account of our Lord’s sufferings and death. No part of the Gospels is so important as this. The death of Christ was the life of the world.—No part of our Lord’s history is so fully given by all the gospel writers as this. Only two of them describe the circumstances of Christ’s birth. All four dwell minutely on Christ’s death. And of all the four, no one supplies us with such full and interesting details as Luke.
We see, firstly, in these verses, that high offices in the church do not preserve the holders of them from great blindness and sin. We read that "the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill" Jesus.
The first step in putting Christ to death, was taken by the religious teachers of the Jewish nation. The very men who ought to have welcomed the Messiah, were the men who conspired to kill Him. The very pastors who ought to have rejoiced at the appearing of the Lamb of God, had the chief hand in slaying Him. They sat in Moses’ seat. They claimed to be "guides of the blind," and "lights of them that were in darkness." (Romans 2:19.) They belonged to the tribe of Levi. They were, most of them, in direct succession and descent from Aaron. Yet they were the very men who crucified the Lord of glory! With all their boasted knowledge, they were far more ignorant than the few Galilean fishermen who followed Christ.
Let us beware of attaching an excessive importance to ministers of religion because of their office. Orders and rank confer no exemption from error. The greatest heresies have been sown, and the greatest practical abuses introduced into the church by ordained men. Respect is undoubtedly due to high official position. Order and discipline ought not to be forgotten. The teaching and counsel of regularly appointed teachers ought not to be lightly refused.—But there are limits beyond which we must not go. We must never suffer the blind to lead us into the ditch. We must never allow modern chief priests and scribes to make us crucify Christ afresh. We must try all teachers by the unerring rule of the Word of God. It matters little who says a thing in religion;—but it matters greatly what it is that is said. Is it scriptural? Is it true? This is the only question.—"To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." (Isaiah 8:20.)
We see, secondly, in these verses, how far men may fall after making a high profession. We read that the second step toward our Lord’s crucifixion, was the treachery of one of the twelve apostles: "Then entered Satan into Judas Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve." These words are peculiarly awful. To be tempted by Satan is bad enough. To be sifted, buffeted, led captive by him is truly terrible. But when Satan "enters into a man," and dwells in him, the man becomes indeed a child of hell.
Judas Iscariot ought to be a standing beacon to the church of Christ. This man, be it remembered, was one of our Lord’s chosen apostles. He followed our Lord during the whole course of His ministry. He forsook all for Christ’s sake. He heard Christ preach and saw Christ’s miracles. He preached himself. He spoke like the other apostles. There was nothing about him to distinguish him from Peter, James, and John. He was never suspected of being unsound at heart. And yet this man turns out at length a hypocrite, betrays his Master, helps his enemies to deliver Him up to death, and dies himself a "son of perdition." (John 17:12.) These are fearful things. But they are true.
Let the recollection of Judas Iscariot constrain every professing Christian to pray much for humility. Let us often say, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts." (Psalms 139:23.) At best we have but a faint conception of the deceitfulness of our hearts. The lengths to which men may go in religion, and yet be without grace, is far greater than we suppose.
We see, thirdly, in these verses, the enormous power of the love of money. We are told that when Judas went to the chief priests and offered to betray his Master, they "covenanted to give him money." That little sentence reveals the secret of this wretched man’s fall. He was fond of money. He had doubtless heard our Lord’s solemn warning, "Take heed and beware of covetousness." (Luke 12:15.) But he had either forgotten it, or given it no heed. Covetousness was the rock on which he made shipwreck. Covetousness was the ruin of his soul.
We need not wonder that Paul called the love of money "the root of all evil." (1 Timothy 6:10.) The history of the church is full of mournful proofs, that it is one of the choicest weapons of Satan for corrupting and spoiling professors of religion. Gehazi, Ananias and Sapphira are names which naturally occur to our minds. But of all proofs, there is none so melancholy as the one before us. For money a chosen apostle sold the best and most loving of Masters! For money Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ!
Let us watch and pray against the love of money. It is a subtle disease, and often far nearer to us than we suppose. A poor man is just as liable to it as a rich man. It is possible to love money without having it, and it is possible to have it without loving it. Let us be "content with such things as we have." (Hebrews 13:5.) We never know what we might do if we became suddenly rich. It is a striking fact, that there is only one prayer in all the Book of Proverbs, and that one of the three petitions in that prayer, is the wise request,—"Give me neither poverty nor riches." (Proverbs 30:8.)
We see, lastly, in these verses, the close connection between our Lord Jesus Christ’s death and the Feast of the Passover. Four times we are reminded here that the evening before His crucifixion was the time of the great Jewish feast. It was "the day when the Passover must be killed."
We cannot doubt that the time of our Lord’s crucifixion was overruled by God. His perfect wisdom and controlling power arranged that the Lamb of God should die, at the very time when the passover-lamb was being slain. The death of Christ was the fulfillment of the passover. He was the true sacrifice to which every passover-lamb had been pointing for 1500 years. What the death of the lamb had been to Israel in Egypt, His death was to be to sinners all over the world. The safety which the blood of the passover-lamb had provided for Israel, His blood was to provide far more abundantly for all that believed in Him.
Let us never forget the sacrificial character of Christ’s death. Let us reject with abhorrence the modern notion that it was nothing more than a mighty instance of self-sacrifice and self-denial. It was this no doubt;—but it was something far higher, deeper, and more important than this. It was a propitiation for the sins of the world. It was an atonement for man’s transgression. It was the killing of the true passover, through whose death destruction is warded off from sinners believing on Him. "Christ our passover," says Paul, "is sacrificed for us." (1 Corinthians 5:7.) Let us grasp that truth firmly, and never let it go.
v1.—[Which is called the passover.] Let it be noted that this expression shows that Luke wrote his Gospel specially for the benefit of the Gentiles. Such an explanatory phrase as this would not have been used, if it had been written for the Jews.
v2.—[Chief Priests and Scribes sought how, &c.] Burkitt remarks on this verse, "As general councils have erred, and may err fundamentally, both in matter of doctrine and practice, so did this general council at Jerusalem, consisting of Chief Priests, Doctors, and Elders, with the High Priest for their president."
[Feared the people.] The dread of public opinion is curiously shown here, as well as in the famous case of Herod desiring to kill John the Baptist, and yet afraid. Well-directed public opinion is one of God’s most powerful instruments for controlling tyrants and oppressors, and keeping the world in order.
v3.—[Then entered Satan into Judas.] Calvin remarks on this expression, "Though Satan drives us every day to crime, and reigns in us, when he hurries us into a course of extraordinary wickedness; yet he is said to enter into the reprobate when he takes possession of all their senses, overthrows the fear of God, extinguishes the light of reason, and destroys every feeling of shame."
v4.—[The Captains.] These were not Roman officers. They were commanders of the Jewish guard of the Temple.
v5.—[To give him money.] Quesnel remarks, "It is avarice and the desire of earthly riches, which generally lays open the hearts of ecclesiastical persons to the devil, as it did that of the apostle. They deliver up the key of their hearts when they deliver up themselves to this passion."
v6.—[He promised.] The Greek word so rendered, is translated in every other place where it is used in the New Testament, "thank," or "confess." Hammond thinks that it indicates "promising with great professions of thankfulness and gratitude."
v7.—[The day...when the passover must be killed.] There is a difficulty here which has occasioned much speculation among commentators.
The difficulty is this. Our Lord appears to have eaten the passover one day in the week, and the Jews his enemies to have eaten it on another. He ate the passover on Thursday evening, while we are distinctly told that the next morning early "they went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the passover." (John 18:28.) The law was distinct that the passover was to be killed the evening of the fourteenth day, and eaten that night. Why then did our Lord and the chief priests and Scribes not eat the passover at the same time? How is this to be explained?
1. Some think that our Lord kept the passover on the right and lawful day, but the Jews on the wrong one. They think that the Jews kept it on the wrong day, because of some tradition they had adopted, or because their time, on the lawful night, was entirely occupied with taking Christ prisoner, and preparing for His trial. This last view is that of Chrysostom and Eusebius.
2. Pearce says, that "in the days of Jesus, the number of Jews assembled to eat the passover was exceedingly great, and that from necessity they took the liberty of eating the passover on any hour before the second evening, or fifteenth day."
I offer no opinion on the difficulty beyond the two following remarks.
For one thing, I think it noteworthy that at the original appointment of the passover, the command is distinct to kill the lamb in the evening, but not equally distinct to eat it immediately. On the contrary, it is only said "they shall eat the flesh in that night." (Exodus 12:8.) May it not therefore be possible, that when the chief priests would not go into the judgment hall at the "early hour" mentioned by John, they seized the opportunity to eat the passover, before the day broke, and so kept within the letter of the law?—Our Lord would then, in that case, have eaten the passover at the beginning of the night, and his enemies at the end of it.
For another thing, I venture to suggest, that in the passover, as well as in other things, it is highly probable that great irregularities had crept in among the Jews, and that the letter of the law was not strictly observed, but infringed in many things, on the authority of rabbinical traditions. That our Lord kept the passover at the right day and hour, I feel no doubt. I see much force in’ the Greek word, "when the passover must be killed." But that His enemies may have been less strict in their time of keeping it, I think highly probable.
v10.—[There shall a man meet you, &c.] There is difference of opinion among commentators about this man. Some think that he was a friend and disciple of our Lord, and that He knew well what Peter and John meant, when they spoke of the "Master." Others think that He was an entire stranger, and that the ease with which He received the disciples and made all the arrangements, may be accounted for by the fact, that the inhabitants of Jerusalem were accustomed to receive strange Jews, and accommodate them at the time of the passover feast. The latter view seems perhaps the more probable of the two.
Here, as in other places, we ought to note our Lord’s perfect knowledge. He mentions a number of circumstances in this and the following verses, with as much minuteness and precision as if the whole transaction had been previously arranged. And yet the disciples found things exactly as He had said to them.
[Bearing a pitcher of water.] Some writers see much significance in this pitcher of water, and remind us of the many occasions where mercies are described in Scripture as having befallen some in connexion with water, and hint that there is here an allusion to the water of baptism introducing us to the Lord’s supper! I cannot see anything in the circumstance beyond a simple fact designating the man and marking him out to the disciples.
v13.—[They made ready the passover.] We may suppose that the following things were required, in order to make ready,—the lamb, the wine, the bitter herbs and the unleavened bread. These things being procured and placed in order, the upper room was ready.
THESE verses contain Luke’s account of the institution of the Lord’s supper. It is a passage which every true Christian will always read with deep interest. How wonderful it seems that an ordinance, so beautifully simple at its first appointment, should have been obscured and mystified by man’s inventions! What a painful proof it is of human corruption, that some of the bitterest controversies which have disturbed the Church, have been concerning the table of the Lord. Great indeed is the ingenuity of man, in perverting God’s gifts! The ordinance that should have been for his wealth is too often made an occasion of falling.
We should notice, for one thing in these verses, that the principal object of the Lord’s supper was to remind Christians of Christ’s death for sinners. In appointing the Lord’s supper, Jesus distinctly tells His disciples that they were to do what they did, "in remembrance of him." In one word, the Lord’s supper is not a sacrifice. It is eminently a commemorative ordinance.
The bread that the believer eats, at the Lord’s table, is intended to remind him of Christ’s body given to death on the cross for his sins. The wine that he drinks is intended to remind him of Christ’s blood shed to make atonement for his transgressions. The whole ordinance was meant to keep fresh in his memory the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and the satisfaction which that sacrifice made for the sin of the world. The two elements of bread and wine were intended to preach Christ crucified as our substitute under lively emblems. They were to be a visible sermon, appealing to the believer’s senses, and teaching the old foundation-truth of the Gospel, that Christ’s death on the cross is the life of man’s soul.
We shall do well to keep steadily in view this simple view of the Lord’s supper. That a special blessing is attached to a worthy use of it, as well to the worthy use of every ordinance appointed by Christ, there is of course no doubt. But that there is any other means by which Christians can eat Christ’s body, and drink Christ’s blood excepting faith, we must always steadily deny. He that comes to the Lord’s table with faith in Christ, may confidently expect to have his faith increased by receiving the bread and wine. But he that comes without faith has no right to expect a blessing. Empty he comes to the ordinance and empty he will go away.
The less mystery and obscurity we attach to the Lord’s supper, the better will it be for our souls. We should reject with abhorrence the unscriptural notion that there is any oblation or sacrifice in it,—that the substance of the bread and wine is at all changed,—or that the mere formal act of receiving the sacrament can do any good to the soul.
We should cling firmly to the great principle laid down at its institution, that it is eminently a commemorative ordinance, and that reception of it without faith and a thankful remembrance of Christ’s death can do us no good. The words of the Church-Catechism are wise and true: "It was ordained for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ."—The declaration of the Articles is clear and distinct: "The means whereby the body of Christ is received and taken in the supper is faith."—The exhortation of the Prayer-Book points out the only way in which we can feed on Christ: "Feed on Him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving."—Last, but not least, the caution of the Homily is most instructive: "Let us take heed lest of the memory it be made a sacrifice."
We should notice, for another thing, in these verses, that the observance of the Lord’s Supper is a duty binding on all true Christians. The words of our Lord on this point are direct and emphatic:—"Do this in remembrance of me." To suppose, as some do, that these words are only an injunction to the apostles and all ministers to administer the Lord’s Supper to others, is a thoroughly unsatisfactory interpretation. The obvious sense of the words is a general precept to all disciples.
The command before us is overlooked to a fearful extent. Myriads of members of Christian churches never go to the Lord’s table. They would be ashamed perhaps to be known as open breakers of the ten commandments. Yet they are not ashamed of breaking a plain command of Christ! They appear to think there is no great sin in not being communicants. They seem utterly unconscious that if they had lived in the days of the apostles they would not have been reckoned Christians at all.
The subject no doubt is one on which we must beware of mistakes. It is not, of course, to be desired that every baptized person should receive the Lord’s Supper as a mere matter of form. It is an ordinance which was intended for the living and not for the dead in sins. But when we see vast numbers of church-goers never going to the Lord’s table, and no-wise ashamed of their neglect of the sacrament, it is clear that there is something very wrong in the state of the churches. It is a sign either of wide-spread ignorance, or of callous indifference to a divine precept. When such multitudes of baptized persons habitually break a command of Christ, we cannot doubt that Christ is displeased.
What are we doing ourselves? This, after all, is the point that concerns us. Do we stay away from the Lord’s Supper under a vague notion that there is no great necessity for receiving it? If we hold such an opinion, the sooner we give it up the better. A plain precept of God’s own Son is not to be trifled with in this way.—Do we stay away from the Lord’s Supper because we are not fit to be communicants? If we do, let us thoroughly understand that we are not fit to die. Unfit for the Lord’s table, we are unfit for heaven, and unprepared for the judgment day, and not ready to meet God! Surely this is a most serious state of things. But the words before us are clear and explicit. Christ gives us a plain command. If we wilfully disobey it, we are in danger of ruining our souls. If we are not fit to obey it, we ought to repent without delay.
Let us notice, lastly, who were the communicants at the first appointment of the Lord’s Supper. They were not all holy. They were not all believers. Luke informs us that the traitor, Judas Iscariot, was one of them. The words of our Lord admit of no other fair interpretation. "Behold," He says, "the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table."
The lesson of these words is deeply important. They show us that we must not regard all communicants as true believers and sincere servants of Christ. The evil and good will be found side by side even at the Lord’s Supper. No discipline can possibly prevent it.—They show us furthermore that it is foolish to stay away from the Lord’s Supper because some communicants are unconverted, or to leave a church because some of its members are unsound. The wheat and the tares will grow together until the harvest. Our Lord himself tolerated a Judas at the first communion that ever took place. The servant of God must not pretend to be more exclusive than his Master. Let him see to his own heart, and leave others to answer for themselves to God.
And now, if we are not communicants, let us ask ourselves, as we leave this passage, "Why are we not? What satisfactory reason can we possibly give for neglecting a plain command of Christ?" May we never rest, till we have looked this inquiry in the face! If we are communicants, let us take heed that we receive the sacrament worthily. "The sacraments have a wholesome effect and operation in those only, who worthily receive them." Let us often enquire whether we repent, and believe, and strive to live holy lives. So living we need not be afraid to eat of that bread and drink of that cup, which the Lord has commanded to be received.
v14.—[The twelve apostles with him.] It is clear from this expression that at this time Judas Iscariot was one of the company.
v15.—[With desire I have desired, &c.] This is a Hebrew form of speech, signifying "I have desired exceedingly." The reason of our Lord’s great desire is not distinctly stated, and we are left to conjecture it. Some refer it to the whole work of redemption which He was about to accomplish that week, and the strong desire which He felt to accomplish it.—Others refer it to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and the affectionate desire which our Lord felt to leave this parting memorial of Himself among His disciples, before He died.
[Before I suffer.] Alford remarks that this is the only place in the Gospels where this absolute use of the word "suffered" is found. It is like the expression in the Apostle’s creed, "He suffered." The word is elsewhere found in some such active form as "He suffered these things, &c."
v16.—[Until it be fulfilled, &c.] The meaning of this expression is that our Lord "would never eat of the passover again." Macknight observes, "The particle ’until,’ both here and in Luke 22:18, does not imply that after the accomplishment of the salvation of men our Lord was to eat the passover. It is a Hebrew form of expression, signifying that the thing mentioned was no more to be done forever. So it is said in Samuel, (1 Samuel 15:35,) ’Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death.’ That is, he saw him no more at all."
v17.—[He took the cup, &c.] Let it be noted that the action described in this and the following verse took place in the passover feast, and that the appointment of the Lord’s Supper does not begin till Luke 22:19. The meaning, as before said, appears to be "that our Lord’s days of eating and drinking with His disciples were coming to an end." He was about to be taken from them, and to drink the cup of thanksgiving with them for the last time.
v19.—[This is my body.] It is almost needless to remark that the Protestant view of these words is the only satisfactory one: "This represents and is an emblem of my body." To a Jewish ear the expression would be simple and intelligible. There is no word in the Syriac or Hebrew which expresses, to "signify," or "represent." See Genesis 40:12. Daniel 7:24. Revelation 1:20. John 15:1-5.
[Given for you.] It may be asked by whom and to what was our Lord’s body given? It was given by His own free will and choice, as well as by God the Father’s love, to suffering, to death, and to the grave, on behalf of a world of sinners, to procure eternal life for as many as would believe on Him.
v19.—[Do this.] The Roman Catholics struggle hard to make out that these words mean "Offer up this sacrifice," and that the words were specially intended to be confined to priests consecrating the bread and wine, and offering it up as a sacrifice in the mass. The idea will not bear calm examination. The natural meaning of the words is a command addressed to all disciples. "Practise this,"—"Do what I have just showed you,"—"Keep up the ordinance I have just appointed,"—"Break, take, eat this bread in all ages, in remembrance of me."
v20.—[This cup is the New Testament.] Here, as well as in the former verse, the meaning is, "This cup represents the new covenant, which is to be sealed and ratified with my blood,—which blood is shed, or going to be shed for you." There is a peculiarity in the Greek words, which can only be conveyed to an English reader by a paraphrase.
It is clear that a "cup" is not literally a "testament" or covenant. The Roman Catholic who contends that in the former verse, where our Lord says, "this is my body," He meant "this is my literal body, really and truly," will find it hard to explain our Lord’s meaning here.—The Protestant view that in both cases our Lord meant "this bread represents my body," and "this cup represents the new covenant which is ratified by my blood," is the only rational and satisfactory view.
If our Lord had really meant that what He gave His disciples was literally His "blood," it seems impossible to understand the calmness with which they received the announcement. They were all Jews, and as Jews had all been taught from their infancy that to eat blood was a great sin. They evidently understood the words as Protestants do now. (Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:26.)
v21.—[The hand...is with me on the table.] These words make it clear and plain that Judas Iscariot was one of those who received the Lord’s Supper. No other honest conclusion seems possible. If so, according to Roman Catholics, Judas must actually have eaten Christ’s body, and drank Christ’s blood! And yet he was a son of perdition!
To keep away from the Lord’s Table at some particular Church, because some of the communicants live inconsistent lives, is a proceeding which cannot be reconciled with the Scripture before us. The expression in Corinthians, which is often quoted on the subject, "with such an one no, not to eat," (1 Corinthians 5:11,) has no reference to the Lord’s Supper at all.
Burkitt remarks, "Nothing is more ordinary than for unholy persons to press into the holy ordinances of God, which they have no right to. Yet their presence pollutes the ordinance only to themselves."
v22.—[Goeth as it was determined; but woe, &c.] Let us note in this verse that though the wickedness of Judas was foreknown, and foreseen, and permitted by God in His infinite wisdom,—yet Judas was not the less guilty in God’s sight. God’s foreknowledge does not destroy man’s responsibility, or justify man in going on still in wickedness, under the excuse that he cannot help sinning. Nothing can happen, in heaven or in earth, without God’s knowledge and permission. But sinners are always addressed by God as responsible, and as free agents.
Augustine, quoted by Ford, remarks, that "God is said to will things, in the way of permission, which he does not will in the way of approbation."
Bishop Hall says, "It is the greatest praise of God’s wisdom that he can turn the sins of man to his own glory."
LET us observe, in this passage, how firmly pride and love of pre-eminence can stick to the hearts of good men. We are told that "There was a strife among the disciples, which of them should be accounted the greatest." The strife was one which had been rebuked by our Lord on a former occasion. The ordinance which the disciples had just been receiving, and the circumstances under which they were assembled, made the strife peculiarly unseemly. And yet at this very season, the last quiet time they could spend with their Master before His death, this little flock begins a contention who should be the greatest! Such is the heart of man, ever weak, ever deceitful, ever ready, even at its best times, to turn aside to what is evil.
The sin before us is a very old one. Ambition, self-esteem, and self-conceit lie deep at the bottom of all men’s hearts, and often in the hearts where they are least suspected. Thousands fancy that they are humble, who cannot bear to see an equal more honored and favored than themselves. Few indeed can be found who rejoice heartily in a neighbor’s promotion over their own heads. The quantity of envy and jealousy in the world is a glaring proof of the prevalence of pride. Men would not envy a brother’s advancement if they had not a secret thought that their own merit was greater than his.
Let us live on our guard against this sore disease, if we make any profession of serving Christ. The harm that it has done to the Church of Christ is far beyond calculation. Let us learn to take pleasure in the prosperity of others, and to be content with the lowest place for ourselves. The rule given to the Philippians should be often before our eyes:—"In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves." The example of John the Baptist is a bright instance of the spirit at which we should aim. He said of our Lord, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (Philippians 2:3; John 3:30.)
Let us observe, secondly, in this passage, the striking account which our Lord gives of true Christian greatness. He tells His disciples that the worldly standard of greatness was the exercise of lordship and authority. "But ye," He says, "shall not be so. He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve." And then He enforces this principle by the mighty fact of His own example. "I am among you as he that serveth."
Usefulness in the world and Church,—a humble readiness to do anything, and put our hands to any good work,—a cheerful willingness to fill any post, however lowly, and discharge any office, however unpleasant, if we can only promote happiness and holiness on earth,—these are the true tests of Christian greatness. The hero in Christ’s army is not the man who has rank, and title, and dignity, and chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. It is the man who looks not on his own things, but the things of others. It is the man who is kind to all, tender to all, thoughtful for all, with a hand to help all, and a heart to feel for all. It is the man who spends and is spent to make the vice and misery of the world less, to bind up the broken-hearted, to befriend the friendless, to cheer the sorrowful, to enlighten the ignorant, and to raise the poor. This is the truly great man in the eyes of God. The world may ridicule his labors and deny the sincerity of his motives. But while the world is sneering, God is pleased. This is the man who is walking most closely in the steps of Christ.
Let us follow after greatness of this sort, if we desire to prove ourselves Christ’s servants. Let us not be content with clear head-knowledge, and loud lip-profession, and keen insight into controversy, and fervent zeal for the interests of our own party. Let us see that we minister to the wants of a sin-burdened world, and do good to bodies and souls. Blessed be God! the greatness which Christ commended is within the reach of all. All have not learning, or gifts, or money. But all can minister to the happiness of those around them, by passive or by active graces. All can be useful, and all can be kind. There is a grand reality in constant kindness. It makes the men of the world think.
Let us observe, thirdly, in this passage, our Lord’s gracious commendation of His disciples. He said to them, "Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations."
There is something very striking in these words of praise. We know the weakness and infirmity of our Lord’s disciples during the whole period of His earthly ministry. We find Him frequently reproving their ignorance and want of faith. He knew full well that within a few hours they were all going to forsake Him. But here we find Him graciously dwelling on one good point in their conduct, and holding it up to the perpetual notice of His Church. They had been faithful to their Master, notwithstanding all their faults. Their hearts had been right, whatever had been their mistakes. They had clung to Him in the day of His humiliation, when the great and noble were against Him. They had "continued with Him in His temptations."
Let us rest our souls on the comfortable thought that the mind of Christ is always the same. If we are true believers, let us know that He looks at our graces more than at our faults, that He pities our infirmities, and that He will not deal with us according to our sins. Never had a master such poor, weak servants as believers are to Christ, but never had servants such a compassionate and tender Master as Christ is to believers! Surely we cannot love Him too well. We may come short in many things. We may fail in knowledge and courage, and faith, and patience. We may stumble many times. But one thing let us always do. Let us love the Lord Jesus with heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. Whatever others do, let us "continue with Him," and cleave to Him with purpose of heart. Happy is he who can say with Peter, however humbled and ashamed, "Lord, thou knowest that I love thee." (John 21:15.)
Let us observe, lastly, what a glorious promise our Lord holds out to His faithful disciples. He says, "I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
These words were our Lord’s parting legacy to His little flock. He knew that in a few hours His ministry among them would be ended. He winds it up by a wonderful declaration of good things laid up in store for them. We may not perhaps see the full meaning of every part of the promise. Enough for us to know that our Lord promised His eleven faithful ones, glory, honor, and rewards, far exceeding anything they had done for Him. They had gone a little way with Him, like Barzillai with David, and done a little for Him. He assures them that they shall have in another world a recompense worthy of a king.
Let us leave the whole passage with the cheering thought that the wages which Christ will give to his believing people will be far out of proportion to anything they have done for Him. Their tears will be found in His bottle. Their least desires to do good will be found recorded. Their weakest efforts to glorify Him will be found written in His book of remembrance. Not a cup of cold water shall miss its reward.
v24.—[There was a strife among them, &c.] Let it be noted that this is the second instance of contention for pre-eminence among the apostles, recorded by Luke. On the first occasion it was a "reasoning," (Luke 9:46;) here it was a "strife."
It is impossible to reconcile this twice-recorded contention with the Roman Catholic theory, that Peter was the recognized head of the apostles. Neither here nor elsewhere is there any intimation of such primacy being known in our Lord’s times! If our Lord had really appointed Peter the chief of the apostles, the strife before us in this passage could not have taken place.
v25.—[Benefactors.] The Greek word so translated, ("euergetes,") was a title often assumed by heathen monarchs, who prided themselves on being special benefactors of their subjects.—One of the Ptolemies, king of Egypt, was so called.
v26.—[He that is greatest.] This expression here may perhaps mean "greatest in age," the oldest. It is so translated in Romans 9:12. In the following verse it clearly means "greater in dignity."
v27.—[As he that serveth.] There is an evident reference here to the act of washing the disciples’ feet, recorded by John, which had taken place a very short time before the conversation we are now considering. At the same time the expression describes the whole tenor of our Lord’s course on earth. "He took on Him the form of a servant." "He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister."
In making a practical use of our Lord’s words in this place, we must carefully draw a distinction between a genuine, and a self-imposed, voluntary, ostentatious humility. It would be absurd and profane to compare the Pope’s annual practice of publicly washing the feet of a certain number of poor people with the "serving" to which our Lord refers. Cornelius à Lapide, in his commentary on the passage before us, gives a melancholy list of instances of self-imposed humility.
v28.—[In my temptations.] This expression probably includes the whole course of our Lord’s earthly ministry. It was a period of almost uninterrupted trial and suffering. It would be manifestly impossible to confine the word to the special temptations of Satan to which our Lord was subjected.
v29.—[I appoint.] The Greek word so rendered seems to bear a stronger sense than our translators have put upon it. It might be translated, "I appoint unto you by covenant." It is the root of the words used in the well-known passage in Hebrews: "Where a testament is, there must be the death of the testator." (Hebrews 9:16.)
[A kingdom.] The meaning of this phrase must probably not be pressed too closely. It signifies honor, dignity, reward, majesty, of which a king’s position in this world furnishes the only emblem. Christ will have a real kingdom, covenanted to Him from all eternity. In that kingdom of Christ, the apostles will have a principal place. They will be like kings within a kingdom.
v30.—[Eat and drink at my table.] This expression admits of two interpretations. We must either interpret it literally, as referring to the marriage supper of the Lamb, when the Lamb’s wife shall have made herself ready, (Revelation 19:7-9,) to which our Lord seems to refer in Matthew 26:29. Or else we must interpret it figuratively, as signifying that complete satisfaction of every want, which the saints in glory shall enjoy, when they shall "awake up after Christ’s likeness and be satisfied." (Psalms 17:15.)
[Sit on thrones judging...Israel.] This remarkable expression is differently interpreted by commentators.
1. Some think, with Brentius, that our Lord only meant that the doctrine of the Gospel preached by the apostles, should be the rule by which not only Israel, but all the Church should be judged at the last day.
2. Some think, with Gualter, that the words mean that the apostles shall rise in the judgment and condemn the Jews at the last day, because they believed the Gospel, while Israel remained unbelieving. Like the Ninevites and the queen of Sheba, they shall deprive the Jews of all excuse.
3. Some think that the word "judging," means that the apostles shall literally be assessors with Christ in the judgment day, just as Paul says to the Corinthians, "we shall judge angels." (1 Corinthians 6:3.)
4. Some think that the word "judging," means that the apostles shall have a pre-eminent place in the government of Israel, after Christ has come again and the Jews have been restored to their own land. It is clear that, the word "judge," in many places in the Bible, means nothing more than "ruling or governing," and has no reference to passing a judicial sentence.
I cannot pretend to speak decidedly on a question so mysterious as this. I am however inclined to think, that the last view of the four is the most probable one. The following quotations given by Ford, throw light on this view, and are worth reading.
Bishop Smalridge says, "However difficult it may be to determine wisely the full meaning of these expressions, yet certainly we may rationally infer from them that there are some particular marks of glory with which the apostles of our Lord will be honored above other Christians."
Mede says, "Whatsoever is meant by the reward, it is plain there is some peculiar and eminent degree of glory promised here to the apostles, which shall not be common to others with them;—firstly, because it is the reward of their proper and peculiar service of Christ;—secondly, because these twelve thrones, in regard of their number, can befit no more but these twelve;—thirdly, because supposing the twelve tribes of Israel to be in a condition of bliss, it must needs be that those who sit on twelve thrones to judge or govern them, must be in a higher degree of dignity than those over whom they are set."
Let us add to this, that we are told that on the twelve foundations of the mystical city described in Revelation, there were the names of the "twelve apostles of the Lamb." (Revelation 21:14.)
[Twelve tribes of Israel.] Let it be noted, that the "twelve tribes" are four times mentioned in the New Testament, here, and in Matthew 19:28; Acts 26:7; and James 1:1. It is clear that although the ten tribes never came back from captivity, they were regarded in the New Testament time as still existing, distinct and separate, and not lost and mingled among other nations. We need not therefore doubt that the ten tribes exist now somewhere on the face of the globe, and in due time will be brought forth and shown to the world.
WE learn, from these verses, what a fearful enemy the devil is to believers. We read that "the Lord said, Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat." He was near Christ’s flock, though they saw him not. He was longing to accomplish their ruin, though they knew it not. The wolf does not crave the blood of the lamb more than the devil desires the destruction of souls.
The personality, activity, and power of the devil are not sufficiently thought of by Christians. This is he who brought sin into the world at the beginning, by tempting Eve. This is he who is described in the book of Job as "going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it." This is he whom our Lord calls "the prince of this world," a "murderer," and a "liar." This is he whom Peter compares to a "roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." This is he whom John speaks of as "the accuser of the brethren." This is he who is ever working evil in the churches of Christ, catching away good seed from the hearts of hearers, sowing tares amidst the wheat, stirring up persecutions, suggesting false doctrines, and fomenting divisions. The world is a snare to the believer. The flesh is a burden and a clog. But there is no enemy so dangerous as that restless, invisible, experienced enemy, the devil.
If we believe the Bible, let us not be ashamed to believe that there is a devil. It is an awful proof of the hardness and blindness of unconverted men, that they can jest and speak lightly of Satan.
If we profess to have any real religion, let us be on our guard against the devil’s devices. The enemy who overthrew David and Peter, and assaulted Christ Himself, is not an enemy to be despised. He is very subtle. He has studied the heart of man for six thousand years. He can approach us under the garb of an "angel of light." We have need to watch and pray, and put on the whole armor of God. It is a blessed promise, that if we resist him he will flee from us. It is a still more blessed thought, that when the Lord comes, He will bruise Satan under our feet, and bind him in chains. (James 4:7; Romans 16:20.)
We learn, secondly, in these verses, one great secret of a believer’s perseverance in the faith. We read that our Lord said to Peter, "I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not." It was owing to Christ’s intercession that Peter did not entirely fall away.
The continued existence of grace in a believer’s heart is a great standing miracle. His enemies are so mighty, and his strength is so small, the world is so full of snares, and his heart is so weak, that it seems at first sight impossible for him to reach heaven. The passage before us explains his safety. He has a mighty Friend at the right hand of God, who ever lives to make intercession for him. There is a watchful Advocate, who is daily pleading for him, seeing all his daily necessities, and obtaining daily supplies of mercy and grace for his soul. His grace never altogether dies, because Christ always lives to intercede. (Hebrews 7:25.)
If we are true Christians, we shall find it essential to our comfort in religion to have clear views of Christ’s priestly office and intercession. Christ lives, and therefore our faith shall not fail. Let us beware of regarding Jesus only as one who died for us. Let us never forget that He is alive for evermore. Paul bids us specially remember that He is risen again, and is at the right hand of God, and also maketh intercession for us. (Romans 8:34.) The work that He does for His people is not yet over. He is still appearing in the presence of God for them, and doing for their souls what He did for Peter. His present life for them is just as important as His death on the cross eighteen hundred years ago. Christ lives, and therefore true Christians "shall live also."
We learn, thirdly, from these verses, the duty incumbent on all believers who receive special mercies from Christ. We read that our Lord said to Peter, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."
It is one of God’s peculiar attributes, that He can bring good out of evil. He can cause the weaknesses and infirmities of some members of His Church to work together for the benefit of the whole body of His people. He can make the fall of a disciple the means of fitting him to be the strengthener and upholder of others.—Have we ever fallen, and by Christ’s mercy been raised to newness of life? Then surely we are just the men who ought to deal gently with our brethren. We should tell them from our own experience what an evil and bitter thing is sin. We should caution them against trifling with temptation. We should warn them against pride, and presumption, and neglect of prayer. We should tell them of Christ’s grace and compassion, if they have fallen. Above all, we should deal with them humbly and meekly, remembering what we ourselves have gone through
Well would it be for the Church of Christ, if Christians were more ready to good works of this kind! There are only too many believers who in conference add nothing to their brethren. They seem to have no Savior to tell of, and no story of grace to report. They chill the hearts of those they meet, rather than warm them. They weaken rather than strengthen. These things ought not so to be. The words of the apostle ought to sink down into our minds, "Having received mercy, we faint not. We believe, and therefore we speak." (2 Corinthians 4:1, 2 Corinthians 4:13.)
We learn, lastly, from these verses, that the servant of Christ ought to use all reasonable means in doing his Master’s work. We read that our Lord said to His disciples, "He that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one."
It is safest to take these remarkable words in a proverbial sense. They apply to the whole period of time between our Lord’s first and second advents. Until our Lord comes again, believers are to make a diligent use of all the faculties which God has implanted in them. They are not to expect miracles to be worked, in order to save them trouble. They are not to expect bread to fall into their mouths, if they will not work for it. They are not to expect difficulties to be surmounted, and enemies to be overcome, if they will not wrestle, and struggle and take pains. They are to remember that it is "the hand of the diligent which maketh rich." (Proverbs 10:4.)
We shall do well to lay to heart our Lord’s words in this place, and to act habitually on the principle which they contain. Let us labor, and toil, and give, and speak, and act, and write for Christ, as if all depended on our exertions. And yet let us never forget that success depends entirely on God’s blessing! To expect success by our own "purse" and "sword" is pride and self-righteousness. But to expect success without the "purse and sword" is presumption and fanaticism. Let us do as Jacob did when he met his brother Esau. He used all innocent means to conciliate and appease him. But when he had done all, he spent all night in prayer. (Genesis 32:1-24.)
v31.—[Simon, Simon.] The repetition of Simon’s name implies solemnity and importance in the statement about to be made, and deep concern on behalf of Simon’s soul. It is like the address to Martha, when she was "careful about many things," and to Saul, when he was persecuting disciples. (Luke 10:41; Acts 9:4.)
Our Lord’s addressing Peter in’ this place, seems to make it probable that Peter was one of those who were most forward in contending for the pre-eminence in the verses preceding those we are now considering. Our Lord tells him that while he is seeking greatness, he is on the very point of making a grievous fall.
[Satan hath desired to have you.] There is something very awful in this expression. It shows us that the devil is often "desiring" to accomplish our ruin, and striving to accomplish it, while we know nothing of his doings, because he is invisible. On the other hand, there is some comfort in the expression. It teaches us that Satan can do nothing without God’s permission. However great his "desire" to do mischief, he works in chains.
The distinction should be marked between "you" in the verse before us and "thee" in the verse following. Satan desired to have all the apostles. Christ’s intercessory prayer was specially on behalf of Peter.
[Sift you as wheat.] This expression signifies that Satan desired to shake, toss to and fro, and harass the apostle, just as corn is shaken to and fro when it is dressed and winnowed, to separate the grain from the chaff. It aptly describes the effect of temptation on a believer. Whatever Satan’s intention may be, the result of temptation is to bring out the chaff, or infirmity of a believer, and generally in the long run to purify his soul. It was strikingly so with Peter and the other apostles in the present instance.
v32.—[I have prayed for thee.] We need not hesitate to regard this as an example of our Lord’s exercise of His office as an intercessor for His people. What He did for Peter, when Peter knew nothing of his danger, He is daily and hourly doing for all who believe on His name.
[That thy faith fail not.] The Greek word translated "fail" is the root of our English word "eclipse." The object of our Lord’s intercession was that Peter’s faith might not altogether die, though for a time it might be very weak.
Let it be noted that "faith" is the root of the whole Christian character, and the part which Satan specially labors to overthrow. In the temptation of Eve, of Peter, and of our Lord Himself, the assault was in each case directed against the same point, and the object sought was to produce unbelief.
The Roman Catholic commentators, Cornelius à Lapide, Maldonatus, and Stella, endeavor to prove from the words before us, that the Roman Catholic Church, of which, they say, Peter was the head, was never to depart from the faith, and that our Lord gave a prophetical intimation of its perpetuity and fidelity. It is because of the words before us, we are told, that the Church of Rome has never fallen, while the Churches of Alexandria, Constantinople, and Antioch, have gone to decay!
A more gratuitous and baseless application of Scripture it is difficult to conceive. For one thing, there is not the slightest proof that Peter was the founder or head of the Roman Church; or indeed that he was Bishop of Rome at all. For another thing, the words before us apply most clearly to Peter only as an individual, and have no reference whatever to any church. Above all, the words were not spoken as indicating any special honor put upon Peter. They were meant on the contrary to teach, that Peter was about to fall more shamefully than any of the apostles, and that nothing but Christ’s special intercession would save him from total ruin. The faith of all the apostles was about to prove very weak, but no one would be so near a complete eclipse of faith as Peter!
Lightfoot says, "Certainly it was Peter’s advantage, that Christ prayed for him; but it was not so much for Peter’s honor, that he, beyond all others, should stand in need of such a prayer."
Wordsworth says, "The Roman divines say that the prayer and precept of our Lord extends to all the Bishops of Rome, as Peter’s successors, and that in speaking to Peter, our Lord spoke to them. Will they complete the parallel, and say that the Bishops of Rome specially need prayer, because they deny Christ? Let them not take a part and leave the rest."
[When thou art converted.] This expression is somewhat remarkable, and has occasioned difference of opinion among commentators. For one thing, the word translated "art converted," would be rendered more literally "hast converted." For another thing, to speak of an apostle like Peter being "converted," seems a strange saying to some. The following explanations of the expression have been given.
1. Some think that the word rendered "converted" was not intended to bear so strong a meaning. They regard it as a Hebrew form of speech, and a kind of expletive word. They compare it to such phrases as this in the New Testament, "Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven." (Acts 7:42.) They would then render it as Bengel does, like an adverb, "do thou in thy turn strengthen thy brethren."
2. Some think, with Sir Norton Knatchbull, that the word translated "art converted," should have been rendered in an active sense, and that it means, "When thou hast converted thy brethren, strengthen them."
3. Some think that the conversion here spoken of, means simply "recovery from a fall," and that it does not necessarily mean that first conversion to God which takes place when an unconverted person becomes a Christian. This is by far the most satisfactory interpretation of the expression. For the Greek word being rendered, "art converted," though an active verb, there is authority in Acts 3:19.
Burkitt remarks, "This conversion was not from a state of sin. Peter was so converted before: but it was from an act of sin into which he should lapse and relapse."
[Strengthen thy brethren.] There seems a tacit reference here to the dispute about pre-eminence, which had just taken place among the apostles. "Instead of wasting time in wrangling about primacy, give thyself to the better work of raising up, confirming, and doing good to thy brethren. Warn the unruly. Comfort the feeble-minded. Teach all the beauty of humility. Show them by thine own sad experience the danger of pride and high thoughts."
Most commentators think that the general tone of the Epistles of Peter shows special marks of the effect of this command. They are pre-eminently hortatory, direct, and instructive to believers.
Alford calls attention to the fact that the Greek word for "strengthen’’ in this place, is twice used by Peter in his two epistles, and the word "stedfastness," which is also used, is directly derived from it. (1 Peter 5:10; 2 Peter 1:12; 2 Peter 3:17.)
I would add to this the interesting fact that it is Peter who describes the devil under the vivid figure of a "roaring lion," walking about, and seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8.)
[Thy brethren.] This expression probably contains a tacit reference to the dispute for pre-eminence. Peter is reminded that he must regard the other disciples, not as his inferiors, but as his "brethren."
v33.—[I am ready to go, &c.] This profession was the language of a self-confident, inexperienced disciple who had not yet found out the weakness of his own faith, and the deceitfulness of his own heart. Men little know what they will do, till the time of temptation actually comes. "Is thy servant a dog," said Hazael, "that he should do this great thing?" (2 Kings 8:13.)
v34.—[Peter.] Burgon remarks that this is the only place in which our Lord addresses Peter by this name, the name which signified "stone." It was surely meant to remind him how weak even the strongest disciples are.
[Thrice deny...knowest me.] This, be it remembered, was a very remarkable prediction, and a striking evidence of our Lord’s foreknowledge. That Peter should deny his Master at all, that he should actually deny Him that very night after receiving the Lord’s Supper,—that he should deny Him after plain warnings, and after strong protestations that he would rather die,—and that he should deny his Master three times,—were all most improbable events. Yet they all took place!
v35.—[When I sent you, &c.] This verse refers to the occasion when our Lord sent out the apostles two and two to preach the kingdom of God. It is evident from the expression before us, that in these first excursions our Lord exercised a miraculous superintendence over the disciples, and so ordered things that friends were raised up for them wherever they went, and they "lacked nothing." This was doubtless done in condescension to their inexperience and infirmity, and to enable them to attend on their work without distraction.
v36.—[But now, &c.] The general drift of this verse is to teach that from the time of Christ’s ascension into heaven, the disciples must not expect such a constant miraculous interposition of God on their behalf, as would make them independent of the use of means. On the contrary they must diligently employ all lawful and reasonable means for their support and protection. They were to "work with their own hands," as Paul did at tent making. They were to have regular gatherings of money for the support of those that wanted, as the Corinthians had. They were not to despise their rights as subjects and citizens, but to use them in their own defence, as Paul did before Lysias, and Festus, and at Philippi.
The general purport of the verse appears to be a caution against the indolent and fanatical notion that diligence in the use of means is "carnal," and an unlawful dependence on an arm of flesh. To my own mind the whole verse supplies an unanswerable argument against the strange notions maintained- by some in the present day, who tell us that making provision for our families is wrong,—and insuring our lives is wrong,—and collecting money for religious societies is wrong,—and studying for the work of the ministry is wrong,—and taking part in civil government is wrong,—and supporting police, standing armies, and courts of law is wrong. I respect the conscientiousness of those who maintain these opinions. But I am utterly unable to reconcile them with our Lord’s language in this place.
[A purse...scrip...sword.] I regard all these three expressions as proverbial and symbolical. They contain a general lesson for the guidance of the Church of Christ, until the Lord comes again. We are not to neglect human instrumentality, in doing Christ’s work, or to expect Christ’s blessing if we do not diligently use all lawful means within our reach.
[He that hath no sword...buy one.] This expression is undoubtedly a difficult one.
1. Some think that our Lord meant literally that the disciples were to get a sword, in order that the scene in the garden when Peter struck Malchus, and the miraculous healing of Malchus’s ear, might take place. This explanation is eminently bald, tame, and unsatisfactory.
2. Some think, with Olshausen, that the sword which our Lord means is the "sword of the Spirit," the word of God. This explanation seems far-fetched. Moreover we surely cannot suppose that the disciples had never used this "sword of the Spirit" before this time.
3. The most satisfactory interpretation is that which regards the whole verse as proverbial and symbolical. The words "purse, scrip, and sword," are not to be pressed too closely. They are parabolic expressions, indicating that a time was drawing near when all human means, of which the "purse," the "scrip," and the "sword" are emblems, must be diligently used by the apostles. In Romans 13:4, Suicer shows that "the sword" is evidently an emblematic expression.
This view is ably stated by Theophylact in his commentary on the passage.
Stella calls attention to the remarkable parallel between the condition of the apostles before and after our Lord’s ascension, and the condition of Israel before and after they entered Canaan. Before the Jews entered Canaan, they were miraculously fed with manna daily, and miraculously guided by the pillar of cloud and fire. From the time they entered Canaan, they were thrown upon their own exertions. It was much the same with the apostles. They were not to expect constant miracles to be worked on their behalf, from the time that Christ left the world.
v37.—[This...written...accomplished, &c.] Let it be noted here, that when our Lord speaks of His approaching crucifixion, He does not speak of it as His "death" merely. He specially describes it as His being "reckoned among the transgressors." The expression was evidently meant to remind us, that the chief end of His death was not to be an example of self-denial, but to be a substitute for us,—a sacrifice for us,—to become sin for us, and be made a curse for us.
[The things concerning me have an end.] This expression means "The work I came to do is well nigh finished. The great sacrifice is going to be olfered. I am going to leave the world, and go to my Father." It is like the saying on the cross, "It is finished."
v38.—[Here are two swords...It is enough.] The general opinion of all the best commentators on this verse appears to be correct, that the disciples did not understand aright our Lord’s meaning, and that our Lord seeing their dullness of understanding, dismissed the subject He had been speaking of, and said no more about it. The disciples took His words about the sword literally. He meant them to be taken figuratively. If they could not see His meaning now, they would hereafter. At present He had said "enough," and for wise reasons would say no more. "Speak no more to me of this matter." (Deuteronomy 3:26.)
The idea maintained by some, that our Lord used the word "it is enough," ironically, is not satisfactory. It may be doubted whether our Lord ever used irony. Those who hold this view maintain that our Lord meant, "Truly two swords are enough! This is a sufficient defence indeed!"
The Roman Catholic writers, Maldonatus and Cornelius à Lapide, interpret the two swords mentioned in this verse of the temporal and spiritual power which they claim for the Church of Rome. It is almost needless to say that the passage does not afford the least ground for the doctrine which they try to support from it. Even Stella, the Spanish Roman Catholic, is ashamed of such an interpretation, and denounces it as "wrested and discordant with the passage."
Chrysostom thinks that the expression "here are two swords," may refer to the two sacrificial knives or swords which the disciples had got because of the passover Lamb. The explanation seems needless. In the days when our Lord was upon earth it was common for men to carry weapons of offense and defense.
THE verses before us contain Luke’s account of our Lord’s agony in the garden. It is a passage of Scripture which we should always approach with peculiar reverence. The history which it records is one of the "deep things of God." While we read it, the words of Exodus should come across our minds, "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet; the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." (Exodus 3:5.)
We see, firstly, in this passage, an example of what believers ought to do in time of trouble. The great Head of the Church Himself supplies the pattern. We are told that when He came to the Mount of Olives, the night before He was crucified, "He kneeled down and prayed."
It is a striking fact, that both the Old and New Testaments give one and the same receipt for bearing trouble. What says the book of Psalms? "Call upon me in the time of trouble: I will deliver thee." (Psalms 50:15.) What says the apostle James? "Is any afflicted? let him pray." (James 5:13.) Prayer is the receipt which Jacob used, when he feared his brother Esau.—Prayer is the receipt which Job used when property and children were suddenly taken from him. Prayer is the receipt which Hezekiah used when Sennacherib’s threatening letter arrived. And prayer is the receipt which the Son of God Himself was not ashamed to use in the days of His flesh. In the hour of His mysterious agony He "prayed."
Let us take care that we use our Master’s remedy, if we want comfort in affliction. Whatever other means of relief we use, let us pray. The first Friend we should turn to ought to be God. The first message we should send ought to be to the throne of grace. No depression of spirits must prevent us. No crushing weight of sorrow must make us dumb. It is a prime device of Satan, to supply the afflicted man with false reasons for keeping silence before God. Let us beware of the temptation to brood sullenly over our wounds. If we can say nothing else, we can say, "I am oppressed: undertake for me." (Isaiah 38:14.)
We see, secondly, in these verses, what kind of prayers a believer ought to make to God in time of trouble. Once more the Lord Jesus Himself affords a model to His people. We are told that He said, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." He who spake these words, we must remember, had two distinct natures in one Person. He had a human will as well as a divine. When He said, "Not my will be done," He meant that will which He had as a man, with a body, flesh and blood, like our own.
The language used by our blessed Master in this place shows exactly what should be the spirit of a believer’s prayer in his distress. Like Jesus, he should tell his desires openly to his heavenly Father, and spread His wishes unreservedly before Him. But like Jesus, he should do it all with an entire submission of will to the will of God. He should never forget that there may be wise and good reasons for His affliction. He should carefully qualify every petition for the removal of crosses with the saving clause, "If thou be willing." He should wind up all with the meek confession, "Not my will, but thine be done."
Submission of will like this is one of the brightest graces which can adorn the Christian character. It is one which a child of God ought to aim at in everything, if he desires to be like Christ. But at no time is such submission of will so needful as in the day of sorrow, and in nothing does it shine so brightly as in a believer’s prayers for relief. He who can say from his heart, when a bitter cup is before him, "Not my will, but thine be done," has reached a high position in the school of God.
We see, thirdly, in these verses, an example of the exceeding guilt and sinfulness of sin. We are meant to learn this in Christ’s agony and bloody sweat, and all the mysterious distress of body and mind which the passage describes. The lesson at first sight may not be clear to a careless reader of the Bible. But the lesson is there.
How can we account for the deep agony which our Lord underwent in the garden? What reason can we assign for the intense suffering, both mental and bodily, which He manifestly endured? There is only one satisfactory answer. It was caused by the burden of a world’s imputed sin, which then began to press upon Him in a peculiar manner. He had undertaken to be "sin for us,"—to be "made a curse for us,"—and to allow our iniquities to be laid on Himself. (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Isaiah 53:6.) It was the enormous weight of these iniquities which made Him suffer agony. It was the sense of a world’s guilt pressing Him down which made even the eternal Son of God sweat great drops of blood, and called from Him "strong crying and tears." The cause of Christ’s agony was man’s sin. (Hebrews 5:7.)
We must beware jealously of the modern notion that our blessed Lord’s life and death were nothing more than a great example of self-sacrifice. Such a notion throws darkness and confusion over the whole Gospel. It dishonors the Lord Jesus, and represents Him as less resigned in the day of death than many a modern martyr. We must cling firmly to the old doctrine that Christ was "bearing our sins," both in the garden and on the cross. No other doctrine can ever explain the passage before us, or satisfy the conscience of guilty man.
Would we see the sinfulness of sin in its true colors? Would we learn to hate sin with a godly hatred? Would we know something of the intense misery of souls in hell? Would we understand something of the unspeakable love of Christ? Would we comprehend Christ’s ability to sympathize with those that are in trouble? Then let the agony in the garden come often into our minds. The depth of that agony may give us some idea of our debt to Christ.
We see, lastly, in these verses, an example of the feebleness of the best of saints. We are told that while our Lord was in agony, His disciples fell asleep. In spite of a plain injunction to pray, and a plain warning against temptation, the flesh overcame the spirit. While Christ was sweating great drops of blood, His apostles slept!
Passages like these are very instructive. We ought to thank God that they have been written for our learning. They are meant to teach us humility. When apostles can behave in this way, the Christian who thinks he stands should take heed lest he fall. They are meant to reconcile believers to death, and make them long for that glorious body which they will have when Christ returns. Then, and not till then, shall we be able to wait upon God without bodily weariness, and to serve Him day and night in His temple.
v39.—[Went, as he was wont.] Christ’s habit of going in the evening to the Mount of Olives has been already mentioned in a former passage. (Luke 21:37.) At the feast of the passover, it must be remembered, multitudes of Jews came to Jerusalem from all parts of the world. It was no doubt impossible to find lodgings for all of them within the walls of the city. Many of them probably passed the night in the villages round Jerusalem, or in the gardens lying near the city. This circumstance explains what we read in this verse. There was one particular place on the Mount of Olives, to which our Lord was in the habit of going, which was well known to all the disciples, and to Judas Iscariot among the rest. Hence it was that Judas was able, though it was night, to lead our Lord’s enemies to the very spot where his Master was. To take any one prisoner by night of course requires an intimate knowledge of his habits, and of the place where he is. If Judas therefore had not guided the party which took Jesus, they might have spent the night in searching for Him in vain.
v40.—[Pray...enter not into temptation.] Let it be carefully noted, that to be assaulted by temptation is one thing, but to enter into it quite another. We cannot avoid the assault, but we are not obliged to give way to it. We cannot prevent temptation coming to us, but it is our own fault if we "enter into temptation." To be tempted is a painful thing, and a heavy trial; but to "enter into temptation" is a sin. It is vain to expect that we shall not be tempted, so long as there is a devil, and so long as we are in the body. -But it must be our prayar and endeavor not to "enter into" the temptation. This is what our Lord sets before His disciples.
v42.—[This cup.] Doddridge says, of this expression, "It was customary among the ancients to assign to each guest at a feast a particular cup, as well as a dish, and by the kind and quantity of the liquor contained in it, the respect of the entertained was expressed. Hence the word ’cup’ came in general to signify a portion assigned, whether of pleasure or sorrow." See Psalms 11:6; Psalms 73:10; Psalms 75:8. Isaiah 51:17. Jeremiah 25:15. Matthew 20:23.
[Not my will, but thine, be done.] In this expression, and indeed throughout the verse, the great and mysterious truth that our Lord had two wills, a human and a divine will, is distinctly taught. In His Person the human nature and the divine were marvellously united. To use the words of the Article, "Two whole and perfect natures, the godhead and manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided." But still we must carefully remember that while the two natures were united, the two wills were not confounded. Our Lord had a will as perfect man, and He had also a will as perfect God. As God He had a will in entire harmony with the will of the Father, a will to suffer, to die, to bear our sins, and to provide redemption on the cross. But as man He had a will which naturally shrank from death and pain, as everything which has the breath of life instinctively does. This is the will which we hear speaking in the verse before us. "Man," says Theophylact, "naturally loves life." Our Lord was a man exactly like ourselves in all things, sin only excepted. His bodily constitution, His nervous system, His capability of suffering, were all precisely like our own. Therefore it is that He says, "Remove this cup from me," and yet adds, "not my will, but thine, be done."
The subject is undoubtedly a very mysterious one. The mystery, be it remembered, arises necessarily from our utter inability to understand the union of two natures in one Person. It is a depth which we have no line to fathom. How the Lord Jesus could be at the same time God and man, as man weak but as God almighty,—for what reasons we see Him sometimes in the Gospels speaking as God, and sometimes as man—why we see Him sometimes veiling His divinity, and sometimes exhibiting it most clearly,—all these are questions which it is more easy to ask than to answer. Enough for us to know that it is so, and to believe and admire what we cannot explain.
One thing, however, we may safely remark, that at no period of our Lord’s earthly ministry does the reality of His manhood come out so clearly as in His agony in the garden, and His death on the cross. As man, He endured temptation for us, and overcame Satan. As man, He showed the intensity of His sufferings by bloody sweat, strong crying and tears. As man He thirsted on the cross, and said, "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The infinite merit of His passion unquestionably arose from the inseparable union of His godhead and His manhood. But the nature which is most prominently brought before us in His passion, is His nature as man.
v43.—[There appeared an angel.] This circumstance in our Lord’s agony in the garden is only mentioned by Luke. It has given rise to many strange comments, and has even stumbled some Christians. It is a curious fact, that in the early ages of Christianity, this verse and the following one were entirely omitted in some copies of Luke’s Gospel. It was ignorantly supposed that they were so derogatory to our Lord’s dignity, and so favorable to the Arian heresy, that they were not genuine. The omission was entirely unjustifiable. There is an immense preponderance of evidence to show that the two verses were as much inspired as any other part of the Gospel, and were really written by Luke. The omission, moreover, was entirely needless, and the fears which gave rise to it, were fears without cause.
The object of the verse appears to be to supply additional proof that our Lord was really and truly man. As man, He was for a little time "lower than the angels." (Hebrews 2:9.) As man, He condescended to receive comfort from angelic ministry. As man, He was willing to receive an expression of sympathy from angels, which the weakness of His disciples prevented them from giving. The reality of weakness is never so shown as when a person becomes the object of sympathy and help. As very God of very God, and Lord of angels and men, Jesus of course needed no angel to strengthen Him. But as very man, in the hour of His greatest weakness, He allowed an angel to minister to Him.
The German notion that no real angel appeared to our Lord, and that this whole transaction took place in a trance or vision, is utterly untenable. At this rate we might explain away every fact in the Bible.
Lightfoot and others have a theory that the devil appeared to our Lord in the garden, in a visible horrible form, and that this angel appeared specially to strengthen our Lord against him. There seems nothing to justify the theory, and nothing to be gained if we admit it.
v44.—[In an agony,—&c., &c.] There can be little doubt, that at this mysterious moment, our Lord’s distress of body and mind was most intense and bitter. It is plain, that Satan was permitted to harass and assail him with peculiar and special temptations. The prince of this world had indeed come. It is perfectly reasonable to suppose that as man, our Lord felt that shrinking from death and sufferings, of which He foreknew every particular, to which all flesh and blood, even sinless, must needs be liable.
But it is clear that we want some further explanation still. It will doubtless strike every well-informed person, that hundreds of martyrs have been known to suffer the most painful deaths, without any such demonstrations of mental and bodily agony as are here recorded in the case of our Lord. How are we to account for this? How are we to explain the remarkable circumstance that our Lord appears to have felt more distressed than many a martyr has done in the prospect of being burned alive, or even when at the stake.
I believe that these questions can never be satisfactorily answered by any Socinian, or by any upholder of the modern strange opinions about Christ’s death. I believe that the favorite new theory, that both in death and life, we are meant to see in Jesus only a great example of self-sacrifice and self-denial, utterly breaks down here. It makes our blessed Lord show less calmness in His last hours than many of his poor weak servants have shown, when they were martyred.
The only satisfactory explanation of Christ’s intense agony is the old doctrine of imputed sin. He had engaged to die for our sins. His death was a vicarious death. As our substitute, He was about to bear our iniquities, to suffer for us, and to pay our debts to God with His own blood. He was about to be counted a sinner, and be punished, that we might be counted righteous, and be delivered from punishment. The sin of the world began to be laid upon Him in a special manner in the garden. He was being "made a curse" for us, by bearing our sins. This was the principal cause of His agony and bloody sweat. The words of Isaiah were being fulfilled:—"It pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief."—"The LORD made the iniquity of us all to meet on Him." (Isaiah 53:10, Isaiah 53:6.)
The following quotations on this most important subject are worth reading.
Baxter says, "This agony was not from the fear of death, but from the deep sense of God’s wrath against sin; which He as our sacrifice was to bear; in greater pain than mere dying, which His servants often bear with peace."
Sir Matthew Hale, quoted by Ford, says, "Christ stood under the imputation of all our sins; and though He was personally innocent, yet judicially and by way of imputation, He was the greatest offender that ever was. As our Lord was pleased to be our representative in bearing our sins, and to stand in our stead, so all these affections and motions of His soul did bear the same conformity as if acted by us. As He put on the person of the sinner, so He put on the same sorrow, the same shame, the same trembling under the apprehension of the wrath of His Father, that we must have done. And as an imputed sin drew with it the obligation to punishment, so it did by necessary consequences raise all those storms and compassions in the soul of Christ, as it would have done in the person of a sinner, sin only excepted."
[His sweat...great drops of blood.] It is observed by all the best commentators, that there is good medical evidence that such a mixture of blood and sweat as that here recorded, can take place, and has taken place, in cases of great mental and bodily distress.
It is worthy of remark that Luke is the only one of the four evangelists who mentions the circumstance now before us, and that he was himself a physician.
Theophylact observes, that this bloody sweat is one among many strong evidences that our Lord’s body was a real body, like ours, with flesh, blood, and all other things pertaining to man’s constitution. He observes also, that it supplies an unanswerable argument against the heresy of those who maintained that our Lord’s body was only a seeming, or "phantastic" body, but not a real one.
An unworthy question has been started by some as to the manner in which Luke knew of this bloody sweat, when our Lord was manifestly alone at the time of its occurrence. And we are gravely told, as a solution of the supposed difficulty, that probably "the marks of such drops would be visible after the termination of the agony"! Questions like this are calculated to strike a blow at the root of all inspiration. If we are not to suppose the Gospel writers recorded anything except what they obtained from eye-witnesses, or saw with their own eyes, we shall take a miserably low view of the real nature of the inspiration of Scripture. We need not doubt that in this, and many other instances, Luke simply wrote down what was revealed to him by the Holy Ghost, and that in supplying or withholding facts in our Lord’s history, he was not dependent on mere human information, but was entirely guided by God.
The whole subject of this verse and the preceding one will be found very fully and ably discussed in the Commentary of Calovius, the Lutheran commentator.
v45.—[Sleeping for sorrow.] Let it be noted here, that Luke is the only evangelist who mentions the cause of the disciples being asleep. Flesh and blood cannot endure much either of sorrow or joy, without giving way. The same three who slept in Gethsemane, were the three who slept at the transfiguration.
v46.—[Rise and pray.] Bengel remarks here with much shrewdness that a standing posture of the body is best suited for overcoming drowsiness in prayer.
WE should learn, for one thing, from these verses, that the worst and most wicked acts may be done under a show of love to Christ. We read that when the traitor Judas brought the enemies of Christ to take Him, he betrayed Him "with a kiss." He made a pretense of affection and respect, at the very moment when he was about to deliver his Master into the hands of his deadliest enemies.
Conduct like this, unhappily, is not without its parallels. The pages of history record many an instance of enormous wickedness wrought out and perfected under the garb of religion. The name of God has too often been pressed into the service of persecution, treachery, and crime. When Jezebel would have Naboth killed, she ordered a "fast to be proclaimed," and false witnesses to accuse him of "blaspheming God and the king." (1 Kings 21:9-10.) When Count de Montfort led a crusade against the Albigenses, he ordered them to be murdered and pillaged, as an act of service to Christ’s Church. When the Spanish Inquisition tortured and burned suspected heretics, they justified their abominable dealings by a profession of zeal for God’s truth.—The false apostle Judas Iscariot has never wanted successors and imitators. There have always been men ready to betray Christ with a kiss, and willing to deliver the Gospel to its enemies under a show of respect.
Conduct like this, we need not doubt, is utterly abominable in the sight of God. To injure the cause of religion under any circumstances is a great sin, but to injure it while we pretend to show kindness is the blackest of crimes. To betray Christ at any time is the very height of wickedness, but to betray Him with a kiss, proves a man to have become a very child of hell.
We should learn, for another thing, from these verses, that it is much easier to fight a little for Christ, than to endure hardness and go to prison and death for His sake. We read that when our Lord’s enemies drew near to take Him, one of His disciples "smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear." Yet the zeal of that disciple was very short-lived. His courage soon died away. The fear of man overcame him. By and bye when our Lord was led away prisoner, he was led away alone. The disciple who was so ready to fight and smite with the sword, had actually forsaken his Master and fled!
The lesson before us is deeply instructive. To suffer patiently for Christ is far more difficult than to work actively. To sit still and endure calmly, is far more hard than to stir about and take part in the battle. Crusaders will always be found more numerous than Martyrs. The passive graces of religion are far more rare and precious than the active graces. Work for Christ may be done from many spurious motives, from excitement, from emulation, from party-spirit, or from love of praise. Suffering for Christ will seldom be endured from any but one motive. That motive is the grace of God.
We shall do well to remember these things in forming our estimate of the comparative grace of professing Christians. We err greatly if we suppose that those who do public work, and preach, and speak, and write, and fill the eyes of the Church, are those who are most honorable in God’s sight. Such men are often far less esteemed by Him than some poor unknown believer, who has been lying for years on his back, enduring pain without a murmur. Their public efforts perhaps will prove at last to have brought less glory to Christ than his patience, and to have done less good than his prayers.
The grand test of grace is patient suffering. "I will show Saul," said the Lord Jesus, "what great things he shall suffer for my name." (Acts 9:16.) Peter, we may be sure, did far less good when he drew his sword and cut off a man’s ear, than he did when be stood calmly before the council as a prisoner, and said, "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:20.)
We should learn, lastly, from these verses, that the time during which evil is permitted to triumph is fixed and limited by God.—We read that our Lord said to His enemies when they took Him, "This is your hour and the power of darkness."
The sovereignty of God over everything done upon earth is absolute and complete. The hands of the wicked are bound until He allows them to work. They can do nothing without His permission.—But this is not all. The hands of the wicked cannot stir one moment before God allows them to begin, and cannot stir one moment after God commands them to stop. The very worst of Satan’s instruments are working in chains. He could not touch Job’s property or person until God allowed him. He could not prevent Job’s prosperity returning, when God’s designs on Job were accomplished. Our Lord’s enemies could not take and slay him, until the appointed "hour" of His weakness arrived. Nor yet could they prevent His rising again, when the hour came in which He was declared the Son of God with power, by His resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:4.) When He was led forth to Calvary, it was "their hour." When He rose victorious from the grave, it was His.
The verses before us throw light on the history of believers in ages gone by, from the time of the apostles down to the present day. They have often been sorely oppressed and persecuted, but the hand of their enemies has never been allowed entirely to prevail. The "hour" of their trials has generally been succeeded by a season of light. The triumph of their enemies has never been entire and complete. They have had their "hour," but they have had no more. After the persecution about Stephen, came the conversion of Paul. After the martyrdom of John Huss, came the German Reformation. After the Marian persecution, came the establishment of English Protestantism. The longest night has had its morning. The sharpest winters have been followed by spring. The heaviest storms have been changed for blue sky.
Let us take comfort in these words of our Lord, in looking forward to our own future lives. If we are followers of Christ, we shall have an "hour" of trial, and it may be a long hour too. But we may rest assured that the darkness shall not last one moment longer than God sees fit for us. In His good time it shall vanish away. "At evening time there shall be light."
Finally, let us take comfort in these words of our Lord, in looking forward to the future history of the Church and the world. Clouds and darkness may gather round the ark of God. Persecutions and tribulations may assail the people of God. The last days of the Church and world will probably be their worst days. But the "hour" of trial, however grievous, will have an end. Even at the worst we may boldly say, "The night is far spent and the day is at hand." (Romans 13:12.)
v49.—[What would follow.] The Greek expression so translated is literally "the thing about to be, or about to take place."
v50.—[One of them smote the servant.] We know from John’s Gospel, that the servant’s name was Malchus, and the disciple who smote him was Peter. The two names are not given by Matthew, Mark, or Luke, though all three mention the fact. This cautious silence of the three first Gospel-writers is easily accounted for. John’s Gospel was probably not written till many years had passed away after the crucifixion. There was then no necessity for keeping back names from motives of prudence.
[Cut off his right ear.] Theophylact sees an allegorical meaning in this incident. He regards the high priest’s servant as a type of the whole Jewish priesthood, who were from that time to become slaves and lose their right ear. (Deuteronomy 15:17.)
Barradius takes another allegorical view, and regards the servant as an emblem of the whole Jewish nation, which had no ears to hear Christ and the prophets, and was deservedly punished by judicial deafness. But as Malchus was mercifully healed and had his ear restored, so was it to be with many of the Jews.
Strange as these views may seem, it is fair to say that Major quotes a passage from a modern writer, containing an elaborate attempt to maintain much the same theory, the main point of it being that the cutting off of the ear typified the abolition of the Levitical priesthood.
For my own part I am unable to see that these allegorical views are sound, and according to the mind of the Spirit.
v51.—[Suffer ye thus far.] The meaning of these words is a point on which commentators are not agreed. The following are the three principal interpretations.
1. Some think that the words were addressed to our Lord’s enemies, and had special reference to His disciples. "Bear with them. Suffer them to go away quietly. Let them go away." This is the view of Whitby, Scott, and Henry.
2. Some think that the words were addressed to our Lord’s disciples, and were intended to calm them, and restrain them from fighting. "Suffer them to take me. Permit them to lay hands on me. Do not attempt resistance. Let them carry out the will of God, by taking me." This is the view of Calvin, Brentius, Gerhard, Bengel, Major, Olshausen, Burgon.
3. Some think that the words were addressed to our Lord’s enemies, but with special reference to the case of Malchus. "Suffer me to heal this wounded man. Before binding me, let me do an act of kindness, to repair the wrong done by my hasty disciple." This is the view of Bullinger, Barradius, Doddridge, Clarke, Alford.
The first and second views are certainly in harmony with the account given by the other evangelists. The last is perhaps the one most in accordance with the simple view of the Greek words.
[He touched...ear...healed him.] There are several remarkable things about this miracle.
It is the only instance in the Gospels of our Lord healing a fresh wound caused by external violence.
It is a striking instance of a miracle worked on an enemy, unasked for, without faith in the person healed, and without any apparent thankfulness for the cure.
It is an extraordinary proof of the wickedness and hardness of our Lord’s enemies, that so wonderful a miracle as this could be wrought without any effect being produced on them. Some think that in the darkness the miracle was not seen by any one except those immediately round Malchus.
v52.—[The chief priests.] Let it be noted, that so much importance was attached to making our Lord a prisoner, that men of the rank and dignity of high priests were not ashamed to go out at night to accompany the soldiers who went to arrest Him.
v53.—[Your hour...power of darkness.] Two parties seem to be brought in here,—the wicked Jews, who were about to deliver our Lord to Pilate, and the devil, under whose instigation they were acting. It was the brief "hour" of triumph which the unbelieving Jews, by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, were to enjoy. It was the little season, during which the prince of the darkness of this world was to have "power," and to all appearance to prevail over the second Adam, as he had prevailed over the first. And yet neither wicked men nor a malicious devil could go a hair’s breadth beyond the limit appointed by God, or triumph over the Son of God a minute beyond the time decreed by the eternal counsels. They knew it not, but so it was. Even now, our Lord would have them know they were only able to take Him prisoner because God permitted them a little season of "power."
THE verses we have now read describe the fall of the apostle Peter.—It is a passage which is deeply humbling to the pride of man, but singularly instructive to true Christians. The fall of Peter has been a beacon to the Church, and has probably preserved myriads of souls from destruction.—It is a passage which supplies strong proof that the Bible is inspired and Christianity is from God. If the Christian religion had been the invention of uninspired men, its first historians would never have told us that one of the chiefest apostles denied his Master three times.
The story of Peter’s fall teaches us, firstly, how small and gradual are the steps by which men may go down into great sins.
The various steps in Peter’s fall are clearly marked out by the Gospel-writers. They ought always to be observed in reading this part of the apostle’s history. The first step was proud self-confidence. Though all men denied Christ, yet he never would! He was ready to go with Him both to prison and to death!—The second step was indolent neglect of prayer. When his Master told him to pray, lest he should enter into temptation, he gave way to drowsiness, and was found asleep.—The third step was vacillating indecision. When the enemies of Christ came upon Him, Peter first fought, then ran away, then turned again, and finally "followed afar off."—The fourth step was mingling with bad company. He went into the high priest’s house and sat among the servants by the fire, trying to conceal his religion, and hearing and seeing all manner of evil.—The fifth and last step was the natural consequence of the preceding four. He was overwhelmed with fear when suddenly charged with being a disciple. The snare was round his neck. He could not escape. He plunged deeper into error than ever. He denied his blessed Master three times. The mischief, be it remembered, had been done before. The denial was only the disease coming to a head.
Let us beware of the beginnings of backsliding, however small. We never know what we may come to, if we once leave the king’s high-way. The professing Christian who begins to say of any sin or evil habit, "it is but a little one," is in imminent danger. He is sowing seeds in his heart, which will one day spring up and bear bitter fruit. It is a homely saying, that "if men take care of the pence the pounds will take care of themselves." We may borrow a good spiritual lesson from the saying. The Christian who keeps his heart diligently in little things shall be kept from great falls.
The story of Peter’s fall teaches us, secondly, how very far a believer may backslide.
In order to see this lesson clearly, the whole circumstances of Peter’s case ought to be fully weighed. He was a chosen apostle of Christ. He had enjoyed greater spiritual privileges than most men in the world. He had just received the Lord’s supper. He had just heard that wonderful discourse recorded in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth chapters of John. He had been most plainly warned of his own danger. He had protested most loudly that he was ready for anything that might come upon him. And yet this very man denies his gracious Master, and that repeatedly and after intervals giving him space for reflection. He denies Him once, twice, and three times!
The best and highest saint is a poor weak creature, even at his best times. Whether he knows it or not, he carries within him an almost boundless capacity of wickedness, however fair and decent his outward conduct may seem. There is no enormity of sin into which he may not run, if he does not watch and pray, and if the grace of God does not hold him up. When we read the falls of Noah, Lot, and Peter, we only read what might possibly befall any of ourselves. Let us never presume. Let us never indulge in high thoughts about our own strength, or look down upon others. Whatever else we pray for, let us daily pray that we may "walk humbly with God." (Micah 6:8.)
The story of Peter’s fall teaches us, thirdly, the infinite mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is a lesson which is brought out most forcibly by a fact which is only recorded in Luke’s Gospel. We are told that when Peter denied Christ the third time, and the cock crew, "the Lord turned and looked upon Peter." Those words are deeply touching! Surrounded by blood-thirsty and insulting enemies, in the full prospect of horrible outrages, an unjust trial, and a painful death, the Lord Jesus yet found time to think kindly of His poor erring disciple. Even then He would have Peter know, He did not forget him. Sorrowfully no doubt, but not angrily,—He "turned and looked upon Peter." There was a deep meaning in that look. It was a sermon which Peter never forgot.
The love of Christ toward His people, is a deep well which has no bottom. Let us never measure it by comparison with any kind of love of man or woman. It exceeds all other love, as far as the sun exceeds the rushlight. There is about it a mine of compassion, and patience, and readiness to forgive sin, of whose riches we have but a faint conception. Let us not be afraid to trust that love, when we first feel our sins. Let us never be afraid to go on trusting it after we have once believed. No man need despair, however far he may have fallen, if he will only repent and turn to Christ. If the heart of Jesus was so gracious when He was a prisoner in the judgment hall, we surely need not think it is less gracious, when He sits in glory at the right hand of God.
The story of Peter’s fall teaches us, lastly, how bitter sin is to believers, when they have fallen into it and discovered their fall.
This is a lesson which stands out plainly on the face of the verses before us. We are told that when Peter remembered the warning he had received, and saw how far he had fallen, "he went out and wept bitterly." He found out by experience the truth of Jeremiah’s words, "It is an evil thing and a bitter that thou hast forsaken the LORD." (Jeremiah 2:19.) He felt keenly the truth of Solomon’s saying, "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways." (Proverbs 14:14.) No doubt he could have said with Job, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:6.)
Sorrow like this, let us always remember, is an inseparable companion of true repentance. Here lies the grand distinction between "repentance unto salvation," and unavailing remorse. Remorse can make a man miserable, like Judas Iscariot, but it can do no more. It does not lead him to God.—Repentance makes a man’s heart soft and his conscience tender, and shows itself in real turning to a Father in heaven. The falls of a graceless professor are falls from which there is no rising again. But the fall of a true saint always ends in deep contrition, self-abasement, and amendment of life.
Let us take heed, ere we leave this passage, that we always make a right use of Peter’s fall. Let us never make it an excuse for sin. Let us learn from his sad experience, to watch and pray, lest we fall into temptation. If we do fall, let us believe that there is hope for us as there was for him. But above all, let us remember, that if we fall as Peter fell, we must repent as Peter repented, or else we shall never be saved.
v55.—[Kindled a fire.] It must be remembered, that although the climate of Palestine is generally very warm, the nights about the Passover season, according to the testimony of all travellers, are intensely cold.
[The hall.] The Greek word so rendered is more frequently translated "palace." Parkhurst thinks that here it means, "an open court inclosed by buildings,—a court-yard exposed to the open air." In Revelation 11:2, it is translated "court," and can there bear no other sense.
[Sat down among them.] Let it be noted, that the Greek expression rendered "among" them, is the very same that in the former part of the verse is translated, "in the midst."
v56.—[Sat by the fire.] It is a curious fact, that the Greek word here rendered "fire," is a totally different word from the one rendered "fire," in the preceding verse. Here it means literally, "the light." The word is found sixty-nine times in the New Testament, and in sixty-seven places is translated "light." The two exceptions when it is rendered "fire," are the passage before us, and the parallel passage in Mark, describing the same transaction. (Mark 14:54.)
It is evident that the word was used intentionally by Luke, in order to show us, that it was "by the light of the fire" that Peter was recognized and charged with being a disciple. Had he kept in the background, and been content with a darker position, he might have escaped notice.
v59.—[He is a Galilaean.] It is clear from this expression that Peter had been talking and conversing with those among whom he was sitting. Had he been content to say nothing, and await silently the result of his Master’s trial, he might even now have escaped detection.
v61.—[Looked upon Peter.] Parkhurst says, that the Greek word rendered "looked," signifies "to look with stedfastness and attention."
Some have thought it strange that our Lord Jesus Christ should have been in a position where He could see Peter, and Peter could see Him, and also that He could hear Peter denying Him.
It is not at all necessary to reply to this, that our Lord had a miraculous knowledge of what Peter was saying, or that He was passing through the court-yard, or hall, where Peter was, at that time of the third denial and the cock-crowing.
It is most probable that our Lord was either in the same hall with Peter, or in a room opening out of it. There is no improbability in supposing that He was within sight and hearing of the apostle. Above all it must be remembered that the vehemence of Peter’s third denial, when he even cursed and swore, would most likely make him speak so loud that he might be easily heard at some distance. The crowing of the cock of course would be heard much further even than Peter’s voice.
Augustine, Stella, and others, go so far as to regard the whole transaction as an inward and spiritual one,—a turning of the Lord’s heart towards Peter, and a gracious looking of the Lord’s mind towards him. They consider that our Lord was not in the same room with Peter, and could not literally look at him. But this view seems most unsatisfactory. It is not the natural meaning of the words before us, and there is really no necessity for it in the nature of the event described.
WE should notice, firstly, in these verses, the shameful treatment that our Lord Jesus Christ underwent at the hands of His enemies. We read that the men who held Him, "mocked" Him, "smote" Him, "blindfolded" Him, and "struck Him on the face." It was not enough to have taken a prisoner a person of most blameless and charitable life. They must needs add insult to injury.
Conduct like this shows the desperate corruption of human nature. The excesses of savage malice to which unconverted men will sometimes go, and the fierce delight with which they will sometimes trample on the most holy and the most pure, almost justify the strong saying of an old divine, that "man left to himself is half-beast and half-devil." He hates God and all who bear anything of God’s image about them. "The carnal mind is enmity against God." (Romans 8:7.) We have probably a very faint idea of what the world would become, if it were not for the constant restraint that God mercifully puts upon evil. It is not too much to say that if unconverted men had their own way entirely, the earth would soon be little better than a hell.
Our Lord’s calm submission to insults like those here described, shows the depth of His love towards sinners. Had He so willed, He could have stopped the insolence of His enemies in a moment. He who could cast out devils with a word, could have summoned legions of angels to His side, and scattered those wretched tools of Satan to the winds. But our Lord’s heart was set on the great work he had come on earth to do. He had undertaken to purchase our redemption by His own humiliation, and He did not flinch from paying the uttermost farthing of the price. He had undertaken to drink the bitter cup of vicarious suffering to save sinners, and "for the joy set before Him He despised the shame," and drank the cup to the very dregs. (Hebrews 12:2.)
Patience like that which our blessed Lord exhibited on this occasion should teach His professing people a mighty lesson. We should forbear all murmuring and complaining, and irritation of spirit, when we are ill-treated by the world. What are the occasional insults to which we have to submit compared to the insults which were heaped on our Master? Yet "when He was reviled He reviled not again. When He suffered He threatened not." He left us an example that we should walk in His steps. Let us go and do likewise. (1 Peter 2:21-23.)
We should notice, secondly, in these verses, the striking prophecy which our Lord delivers about His own coming glory. He says to His insulting enemies, "Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God." Did they find fault with His lowly appearance, and want a glorious Messiah? They would see Him in glory one day.—Did they think He was weak, powerless, and contemptible, because at present there was no outward majesty about Him? They would behold Him one day in the most honorable position in heaven, fulfilling the well-known prophecy of Daniel, with all judgment committed to His hands. (Daniel 7:9-10.)
Let us take heed that the future glory of Christ forms a part of our creed, as much as Christ’s cross and passion. Let it be a first principle in our religion, that the same Jesus who was mocked, despised, and crucified, is He who has now "all power in heaven and earth and will one day come again in His Father’s glory with all His angels." We see but half the truth if we see nothing but the cross and the first advent. It is essential to our own comfort to see also the second advent, and the crown. That same Jesus who stood before the bar of the high priest and of Pilate, will one day sit upon a throne of glory and summon all His enemies to appear before Him. Happy is that Christian who keeps steadily before his mind that word "hereafter"! Now in this present time believers must be content to take part in their Master’s sufferings and with Him to be weak. "Hereafter" they shall share in His glory, and with Him be strong.—Now like their Lord they must not be surprised if they are mocked, despised, and disbelieved. "Hereafter" they shall sit with Him on the right hand of God.
We should notice, lastly, in these verses, what a full and bold confession our Lord makes of His own Messiahship and divinity. We read that in reply to this question of His enemies, "Art thou the Son of God,"—"He said unto them, Ye say that I am." The meaning of this short sentence may not be clear at first sight to an English reader. It signifies in other words, "You speak the truth. I am, as you say, the Son of God."
Our Lord’s confession deprived His enemies of all excuse for unbelief. The Jews can never plead that our Lord left their forefathers in ignorance of His mission, and kept them in doubt and suspense. Here we see our Lord telling them plainly who he was, and telling them in words which would convey even more to a Jewish mind than they do to ours. And yet the confession had not the least good effect upon the Jews! Their hearts were hardened by prejudice. Their minds were darkened by judicial blindness. The veil was over the eyes of their inward man. They heard our Lord’s confession unmoved, and only plunged deeper into the most awful sin.
The bold confession of our Master upon this occasion, is intended to be an example to all His believing people. Like Him, we must not shrink from speaking out when occasion requires our testimony. The fear of man, and the presence of a multitude must not make us hold our peace. (Job 31:34.) We need not blow a trumpet before us, and go out of our way, to proclaim our own religion. Opportunities are sure to occur in the daily path of duty, when, like Paul on board ship, we may show "whose we are and whom we serve." (Acts 27:23.) At such opportunities, if we have the mind of Christ, let us not be afraid to show our colors. A confessing Master loves bold, uncompromising, and confessing disciples. Them that honor Him by an outspoken, courageous testimony, He will honor, because they are walking in His steps. "Whosoever," He says, "shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 10:32.)
v63.—[Mocked Him, &c.] We must understand that this took place after our Lord’s first examination before the priests, of which Luke gives no account. That there were two separate examinations, will be seen in the next note.
v66.—[A soon as it was day.] Some little explanation is necessary at this point in Luke’s history of our Lord’s passion. It is clear, from the account of the evangelists Matthew and Mark, that as soon as our Lord was taken prisoner, He was brought at once before Caiaphas, the high priest, and examined.—It is also clear from the same evangelists, that Peter’s thrice-repeated denial of his Master took place after this examination. How then are we to explain the fact that Luke speaks of Peter’s denial, as having taken place before any examination of our Lord at the High Priest’s bar?
The most satisfactory reply to this inquiry, is the explanation given by Gerhard, Scott, Burgon, and Stier. They maintain that after the council had condemned Jesus the first time, they separated, and met again early in the morning, and that the words used by Luke, "as soon as it was day," refer to this second meeting of the council.—"Nor is it improbable," says Scott, "that the high priest should again put the same questions to our Lord, as he had done the night before; both to see whether he would stand to what he had said, and also that such members of the council as had been absent might hear his answers."
Two arguments may be mentioned in support of the above explanation.—One is the great improbability that our Lord’s enemies, having taken Him prisoner, would wait until it was morning before they examined Him. On the contrary it is plain, from Matthew and Mark, that Jesus was taken before Caiaphas as soon as he was apprehended.—The other argument is the great improbability that the men who held Jesus would have mocked and insulted Him as they did, if He had not been already examined and condemned.
We must understand, then, that our Lord was twice examined before the chief priests and elders, and that the examination mentioned by Luke, is the second of the two, and answers to the morning "consultation," mentioned by Mark. (Mark 15:1.)—I am aware that Poole, Doddridge, and Alford, maintain that there was only one examination before the priests. But their reasoning does not satisfy me.
Horne remarks, in his Introduction to Scripture, "According to the Talmud, capital causes were prohibited from being heard in the night, as also was the institution of an examination, pronouncing a sentence, and carrying it into execution on one and the same day. It was enjoined that at least the execution of a sentence should be deferred to the following day. How flagrantly these injunctions were disregarded in the case of Jesus Christ, it is scarcely necessary to mention."
v67.—[Ye will not believe.] Assuming the correctness of the view put forth in the last note, there is much point in these words. When our Lord had told them who He was at the first examination, they would not believe. To this unbelief He here seems to refer.
v68.—[If I ask you.] This expression has occasioned some surprise, and called forth many remarks. It seems strange at first sight, that a prisoner should talk of putting questions to his judges.
Major paraphrases the expression, "If I advance any arguments to prove that I am the Messiah." He adds, "to interrogate was a usual mode of argumentation among the Hebrews." (See Luke 20:4; Luke 20:44.)
Pellican paraphrases the passage, "If I enquire of you what kind of Messiah is promised in Scripture, and ask you whether the signs of Messiah appear sufficiently in me, you will not give me an honest answer."
Gill renders it, "If I require an answer to the arguments proving me to be the Messiah, or desire to know what objection can be made to them, you will not answer me, or dismiss me though I should appear to be the Messiah. You are resolved, right or wrong, to detain me in bonds and take away my life."
Heinsius mentions an opinion of some, that the Greek word rendered "ask" might also be rendered "petition or supplicate." This, however, would be a most undignified sense to put on the words, and is utterly improbable.
v69.—[Hereafter...Son of man...right hand... God.] There is a plain reference in these words to the famous prophecy of Daniel. (Daniel 7:9-14.) Our Lord evidently implies that He was the person to whom that prophecy pointed, and that, although condemned by the Jews, He would shortly be exalted to the highest position of dignity in heaven. The Jews saw this at once, and proceeded to put the question of the next verse.
This, be it noted, is the last occasion on which our Lord ever called Himself the "Son of man."
v70.—[Art thou...Son of God.] It is very worthy of note here, that our Lord in the preceding verse had called Himself the "Son of man." His enemies in this question, ask Him if He is the "Son of God." They did so, because His solemn saying about sitting at God’s right hand, showed them that He claimed to be the Messiah and very God.
[Ye say that I am.] It is almost needless to remark, that this expression means, "Ye say rightly that I am." Major gives instances of a similar form of speech both in Greek and Latin writers.
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Luke 22". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany