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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Matthew 26

Verse 1

1. When Jesus had finished all these sayings All the sayings of the preceding chapter. From the scenes of glory and judgment which he had described in that discourse, he now turns, in sad contrast, to the scenes of his humiliation. All these sayings, therefore, concluded all the public ministry of the Saviour. His enemies could have no power over him until he had delivered his whole message. So it has been said that “a true minister is immortal until his work is done.” His whole work as a prophet at last being performed, his work as a priest in the sacrifice of himself now commences.

He said unto his disciples He has finished now with the world, and he turns to the inner circle of his chosen ones.

Verse 1

1. When Jesus had finished all these sayings All the sayings of the preceding chapter. From the scenes of glory and judgment which he had described in that discourse, he now turns, in sad contrast, to the scenes of his humiliation. All these sayings, therefore, concluded all the public ministry of the Saviour. His enemies could have no power over him until he had delivered his whole message. So it has been said that “a true minister is immortal until his work is done.” His whole work as a prophet at last being performed, his work as a priest in the sacrifice of himself now commences.

He said unto his disciples He has finished now with the world, and he turns to the inner circle of his chosen ones.

Verse 2

2. Ye know Our Lord begins with telling them what they knew; but he finished by telling them what they do not know until he tells them. The true teacher leads his pupils from the known to the unknown. The disciples knew that the passover was coming; Jesus knew that the crucifixion was coming. Though his mission as prophet was discharged, his foreknowledge as a prophet was not diminished. He is prophet, that is, master, by clear, calm foresight, of the whole train of transactions.

After two days This was uttered probably at sunset on Tuesday; just twice twenty-four hours before the time of his paschal supper with his disciples, which took place on the Thursday evening preceding the Friday of the crucifixion.

Passover This was the great feast of the Jews in commemoration of their departure from Egypt, when the destroying angel who cut off the first-born of the Egyptians was made to pass over the residences of the Jews harmless. A victim was upon that occasion slain by divine command, and his blood stricken on the two door-posts and upon the lintel, or top cross-piece, as a sign that the house was the abode of an Israelite. See Exodus 12:1-30. In annual commemoration of this the following passover rites were appointed: On the tenth day of the month Nisan, (corresponding nearly to our April,) a male lamb without blemish, of either sheep or goats, was selected. It was to be kept until the fourteenth day of Nisan, when it was to be slain by the priest between the two evenings of three and six o’clock, and the blood was to be poured at the foot of the great altar. At evening each family, including not less than ten persons, was to eat the lamb. They were originally commanded to do this with all the tokens of rapid departure. Their feet were to be shod, their loins girt, their staff in hand, and they were to eat not reclining, but standing, and their bread was to be unleavened, and the whole was to be done “with haste.” “Bitter herbs” were to be eaten, as a symbol of their bitter sufferings in Egypt. Seven days were set apart (Exodus 12:15) as a feast of unleavened bread. The first and last were to be days of holy convocation. The first day commenced with the eve on which the paschal lamb was eaten. In the Passion Week it was Friday. See note on Matthew 26:5.

We here remark that the victim was a true vicarious sacrifice. Egypt for his sins was punished by the selection of a human representative, namely, his first-born. Israel too was a sinner; but he suffered by substitution of the “lamb without spot.” The paschal lamb was slain, and was to be, not boiled like other sacrifices, but roasted, to indicate by fire the terrible agonies of the atoning victim; and being roasted upon the cross-spit, he was literally crucified. The blood of the first victim sprinkled upon Israel’s lintel is a most remarkable symbol of that blood sprinkled upon our souls, whereby God knows us for his own and spares us when he makes inquisition for blood.

The passover lamb is indeed a wondrous type of “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world;” by whose sprinkled blood we are saved from death and redeemed from spiritual bondage. It was on the passover night that our Lord instituted the sacrament as a bloodless continuation of the same commemoration, divested of its special Jewish significance. And our Lord himself was slain at this very feast, which was appointed by Moses to predict beforehand his death. On this occasion the Jews slew, not only the typical victim, but the real victim typified by their feasts and sacrifices.

Verse 3

3. Then assembled The evangelist suddenly changes the scene. While Jesus is innocently, with his disciples, predicting his own death, a dark band of conspirators are assembling to make his prediction true.

Assembled… chief priests… scribes… elders The three classes of men here mentioned made up the Sanhedrim, or great council of seventy, the supreme legislature, especially in ecclesiastical matters, of the Jewish nation. The chief priests were, (in addition to the high priest,) the ex-high priests, the heads of the priestly courses, and eminent men of the priestly order. The elders were laymen of age, wisdom, and ability. The scribes were the learned class, whether of Levitical descent or otherwise. How the members of the Sanhedrim were elected is not certain. Of this body the high priest was the usual summoner and president. At his right hand sat the vice-president; at his left the hakim, or counsellor, who gave legal opinions. From these the members sat extending in a semicircle, around the council-room. From the heat of the climate, this council often held its sessions very early in the morning, as in the case of our Saviour’s arraignment. The Sanhedrim’s session-room was at the hall Gazith, at the southeast corner of the Court of Israel. See Plan of Temple.

High priest The high priest was at the head of the Jewish sacerdotal system, the sacred representative of the nation. Aaron, brother of Moses, was first consecrated high priest, and the orifice remained in his family for some fifteen hundred years. To him belonged the most solemn of the sacred rites, and the decision of difficulties in religious matters. The high priest was often judge in general matters and supreme magistrate of the nation. When invested with the ephod and the urim and thummim, he became the medium of prophetic responses.

The exterior vestments of the high priest were his tunic or gown, richly embroidered, extending to his feet. Next the robe of the ephod, which was a garment put on by an opening at the top, and hung down part of the way to the feet, having suspended on its lower border a row of alternate bells and pomegranates. Over this the ephod, consisting of two richly adorned oblong pieces of cloth, hanging so as to cover the breast and the back, and fastened at the top by shoulder-pieces, gemmed with an onyx; around these was a broad girdle of fine linen, purple, blue, and scarlet. On his head was a turban or mitre, with an inscription on the forehead: “Holiness to the Lord.” The breastplate rested upon the ephod, and was studded with four rows of precious stones, three in a row, bearing the names of the twelve tribes. To these were originally added the urim and thummim, in regard to the form of which scholars differ, while they agree that it was a divine oracle by which God made revelation through the high priest.

Until the time of Herod this dignity descended with due regularity in the Aaronic line; but the Herodian and Roman rulers made changes at will, and appointed a new high priest so frequently that the office became almost annual, and a number of ex-high priests were living. These formed a part of the chief priests mentioned in this verse.

Caiaphas Joseph Caiaphas succeeded Simon son of Canith as high priest about the year 27, in the reign of the emperor Tiberius. His wife was daughter of Annas, who had formerly been high priest, and was still highly revered by the Jews, and before whom, according to John, Jesus was first brought. Caiaphas was deposed in the year 38, after which nothing is known of his history.

Palace of the high priest The word αυλη , here rendered palace, signifies more properly the court, or square yard, enclosed in the centre of the building, and under the open sky. The meaning was, however, extended sometimes so as to include, or at any rate imply, the entire building or mass of buildings.

Verse 5

5. Not on the feast day They thus decided that it should not be on the feast day, that is, on Friday; but God overruled them, and it took place on that very day. It was in fact customary with the Roman rulers to select the passover as the best occasion for the execution of criminals, when the large multitude being present, the sight was calculated to impress the public mind. But for Jesus there were so many friends likely to be present from Galilee and from the country, that the conspirators feared an attempt at rescue. So severe, they knew, was the rule of Pilate, that at any appearance of a fray the Roman guard in the fortress of Antonia would be let loose upon both parties alike, even though their blood, like that of certain Galileans, should be mingled with their sacrifices. But the offer of Judas, of an apprehension without a fray, both relieved and changed their minds. Jesus was crucified during the passover week; the type of the passover was more clearly carried out; and the fact of his crucifixion was made more public through the Jewish nation.

Verse 6

Tuesday Night.

ANOINTING OF JESUS, AND INDIGNATION OF JUDAS AND THE DISCIPLES, Matthew 26:6-16.

6. Simon the leper Who had been cured by the Saviour. He lived at Bethany, and was neighbour, perhaps relative, of the family of Lazarus and Mary. John informs us that at this feast Lazarus was present. So our Lord, probably, sat between the man he had cured of the most terrible of diseases, and the man whom he had raised from the dead. And as Lazarus was present, (John 12:1-9,) so his sister Martha served, and Mary was the woman who anointed the Saviour. All this indicates that the friends of Jesus combined to give him a feast at Simon’s house. John and Matthew no doubt relate the same transaction. The manner in which both are blended into one by Mark places this beyond all question.

Verse 7

7. Came… a woman John informs us that she was Mary the sister of Lazarus. The other evangelists are less explicit, as they say but little about the family of Lazarus. It seems as if Mary was not at the feast, but entered unexpectedly.

Alabaster box Alabaster is a sort of white marble of much beauty and polish. It was a costly article, and was supposed to possess a special virtue for preserving ointment. Of this, ointment-boxes were first made. Afterward they retained the same name, even when the material was different, as glass or metal. The box was rather a vial with a long neck, and hence Mark says she poured the ointment, or rather oil, by breaking, namely, the neck of the vial; John says she anointed, additionally, his feet. This she could easily do, for it must be remembered that our Saviour did not sit in a modern chair, but reclined on a couch at meat.

Ointment This was the nardine unguent, made from the spikenard; and was of costly value, being customarily used for a perfuming application to give softness and agreeable odour to the skin.

Verse 8

8. When his disciples This odour of the perfume, though it filled the room with fragrance, is not grateful to every taste. The disciples, as we learn from John, have indignation. Judas seems to have commenced it, and we know how, when a censure is commenced, it may be taken up by all.

Verse 9

9. Given to the poor John informs us that the utterer of this benevolent talk was Judas; not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a covetous thief at heart, being carrier of the money-bag. Mary meant it for a token of love to him, the Redeemer of the world. There are thousands who think that the money given for the Gospel had better be bestowed in mere temporal supplies; forgetting that it is much better to bestow upon men those principles which will make them wise, good, and industrious, than to give them supplies which will leave them as wicked and thriftless as ever. Could the faith that Mary showed in the Redeemer inspire all the world, the poor would be easily taken care of.

Sold for much Judas ciphered it up. It would come to just 300 denarii.

Verse 10

10. Why trouble ye the woman? Mary was doubtless startled by this murmur among the Lord’s own disciples. She stands in silence, attempting no defence. But the voice of the Saviour rebukes the rebukers, and not only defends but utters a eulogy upon the deed.

Verse 11

11. The poor always with you The Saviour could be with them but a moment. Their charity will have in this world a plenty of objects for its exercise.

Verse 12

12. Did it for my burial It is supposed by some that Mary had either been informed by our Lord of his approaching death, or even that she had some prophetic presentiment of it. It may be remarked that, for the sake of propriety, our Lord was regularly accompanied by twelve male disciples; but the Gospels take care to assure us that those who believed and loved him were not all men; but that woman in her place was not less true to his divine claims than man. Of this fact Mary is the most striking instance; and the meek, silent, and sudden manner in which she comes from her retirement, perhaps from her place of prayer, where the sad future of our Lord may have been intimated to her, into this feast, and performs this act of sorrowful affection, is a special exemplification. It may well be thought possible that our Lord communicated to her a clearer knowledge of his approaching death than to his disciples. Or it may be that to her, as to a divine love, was imparted the spiritual presentiment of the truth. And yet, finally, it is very possible that she acted from the simple impulse of love; and that our Lord himself, giving it a higher meaning, elevated the act into a prediction of his approaching burial. Just so the words of Caiaphas (John 11:49-53) had an unconscious prophetic import.

Verse 13

13. This gospel shall be preached That is, the Gospel of the dying Saviour, which he subsequently (Mark 16:15) commanded them to preach in all the world, and to every creature. The words here show that our Lord expected his Gospel to be diffused throughout the world. The fact that the mention of this deed of Mary was to be a memorial, shows that our Lord did not expect, as some say, that the world would soon terminate, but that the Gospel should be preached through future ages and to distant generations. So clearly was our Lord master of the great future that, while great deeds have been done and yet forgotten in all the world, this simple act of tender premonition is to be told through the world and through the lapse of time, and will be celebrated while the world lasts. In that Gospel history many an unhappy character and odious name would be transmitted to posterity; but this deed of Mary should be a precious memorial; and the very name of MARY should be sweet in the ears of mankind.

Verse 14

14. One of the twelve A very apostle, one of the twelve stars in the Christian firmament, thus falls, to be a betrayer and seller of the Son of man. Judas was doubtless stung by the present conversation. The chief blame of our Lord’s rebuke lay on him.

Wednesday of Passion Week.

Verse 15

15. What will ye give This is a true bargainer’s question. He is ready to betray his Master if he can get the pay for it. He has a man, a divine man, to sell, and he hucksters for his price. Luke says that “Satan had now entered into him.” He is driven by the fire of a hasty resentment, and led by the attractions of gain to seek a bribe for treason. He makes the advance, and tempts, the men who are wicked enough without any special seducing. Thus do men enact the part of Satan towards each other.

They covenanted Luke says “they were glad.” They could now apprehend Jesus in a private way, and without the “uproar” mentioned in verse fifth.

Thirty pieces of silver The ordinary price of a slave, being about fifteen dollars. Thus was verified the allusion of Zechariah 11:12: “So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.” The sum appears trifling for the treason, if we estimate it by the immense consequences. But, after all, the whole service Judas did was to inform the foes of Jesus where he might be found and taken without tumult, and guide them to the place.

Verse 16

16. Sought opportunity to betray him Luke informs us that the opportunity he sought was the absence of the multitude. The people were so strongly on the side of Jesus that the authorities dare not openly apprehend him. Their method was to take him secretly, charge him with some crime, and thus gain the multitude against him.

Verse 17

Thursday of Passion Week.

§ 121. TWO DISCIPLES SENT TO PREPARE THE PASSOVER, Matthew 26:17-19 .

17. Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread This was Thursday, the day before the crucifixion day, the day upon whose evening our Saviour ate the paschal lamb. We have remarked before that, accurately speaking, the passover and the feast of unleavened bread were distinct; the latter being during the seven days after the passover, and commencing the next day after the passover supper. But inasmuch as the leavened bread was, by way of preparation, banished from their houses on this day, before the passover supper, it was properly called the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, as it is called here. The feast of unleavened bread was thus enjoined by Moses, Exodus 12:18: “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, ye shall eat unleavened bread until the one and twentieth day of the month at even.”

Verse 18

18. Go into the city The city of Jerusalem, for a paschal lamb could be eaten at no other place. The Jews of the present day do not eat the paschal lamb at their annual passover. They only celebrate the feast of unleavened bread, which, as we have before said, followed the passover.

To such a man This was a very indefinite direction; and perhaps Matthew only gives the substance of what Mark gives more explicitly. As they entered the city they would find a water carrier, whom they should follow and he would guide them to the householder, who would furnish them a room. Such a man A man I will not name. The man will occur by human accident; but free will and human accident all operate under the clear-seeing eye of God’s foreknowledge. God clearly sees what man will freely do. As God sees how man will freely do, so he does most wisely adjust his plans. So God carries out his vast projects by taking and interweaving man’s free acts into his complex plans.

This direction very much resembles the sending the disciples to find in a miraculous manner the beast on which he should ride into Jerusalem, as well as the miracle of finding the coin in the fish’s mouth. For even if we suppose, with some commentators, that our Lord had intimated beforehand to some wealthy friend, as Joseph or Nicodemus, that he would take the last passover upon earth at his house, still, finding the pitcher-bearer was a supernatural contingency. The reason of such proceedings on the part of our Lord, which some commentators are so puzzled to find, is clearly to manifest to all around that he foresees all the events and sufferings before him. That is, he marches forward in a foreseen path of duty, and his sufferings are undergone in a perfectly voluntary manner. John 10:18.

The Master saith The word master is correlative to the word disciple; and thus it is clearly implied that the householder is a follower of Jesus. Indeed, when we recollect that the rulers were afraid of the multitudes, as being adherents of Jesus, we may reasonably infer that the number of those who would call him “Master” was not few. My time is at hand My time of suffering, previous to which I have promised to eat the paschal lamb at your house. And this language clearly implies that the man was our Lord’s disciple, that he clearly understood what was meant by the phrase “my time,” and that he was fully ready to appreciate the honour of furnishing the room for our Lord’s use. During passover week the houses of Jerusalem were hospitably open to the comers from the different parts of Palestine to celebrate the passover.

Verse 19

19. Did as Jesus had appointed them It was a blind sort of an errand upon which they were to go, and it was undertaken in full faith that it should turn out right. So those men were trained to go on a still greater errand, even the proclaiming the everlasting Gospel to the guilty world.

Made ready the passover They were not only to secure the room, but procure the lamb, which had been first inspected by the priests, have it killed and the blood sprinkled at the foot of the altar, and take it to the house. They were to obtain the bread and wine and the bitter herbs. The two disciples were Peter and John; and no doubt it was with wondering sadness that they performed the faithful office.

Verse 20

§ 122, 124 SUPPER AND INTIMATION OF HIS BETRAYAL, Matthew 26:20-25 .

20. Now when the even was come The passover evening. Between three and six o’clock the paschal lamb was slain. Not less than ten, nor more than twenty persons sat down to the same supper. If our Lord followed in the main the usual custom of the Jews, as described by Maimonides, the following things were done. Our Lord, being master of the family, as they reclined on their meal-couches, took a cup of wine in his right hand, and uttered the prayer of consecration, saying, “Blessed be thy name, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast created the fruit of the vine.” He then drank the first cup and was followed by all the others.

Originally the whole service was performed standing; but when the Jews were settled in Canaan they adopted the reclining posture, to symbolize the repose which God had given them.

A service was then brought in, consisting of bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and a sort of fruit-cake made of raisins, figs, dates, etc., pressed together, to represent the clay with which Israel made brick in Egypt, which was called the charoseth; and besides this was the paschal lamb. The master, and then the rest, first ate a bitter herb, and gave thanks for the fruit of the earth. Then a disciple asks, as being one of the family, according to Exodus 12:26, “What mean ye by this?” The Lord answers by explaining the historical import of the paschal commemoration. Psalms 113, 114 were then sung. And then the second cup of wine was drunk.

Then occurs that part which our Lord transferred to the new dispensation. Usually the Hebrew officiating householder took cakes and brake them with benediction, and gave to each one a piece, saying, This is” (that is, this represents) “the bread of affliction which our fathers did eat in the land of Egypt.” This our Lord changed to “This is my body,” that is, represents my body. Then was the paschal flesh eaten, a full meal being taken. After this the third cup, which our Lord applied to its higher use in the new dispensation. The old mode was for the master to take the cup, pronounce a blessing, and drink; his example being followed by the others. This is “the cup of blessing” which the apostle mentions, and identifies with the sacramental cup, in 1 Corinthians 10:16. Then by custom followed the fourth cup, (which our Lord omitted,) followed by the chant of the Great Hallel. See note on Matthew 26:30.

Verse 21

21. As they did eat Introductory to and during this supper, some things occur not mentioned by Matthew, but furnished by the other evangelists. Our Lord at the commencement expressed the solemn desire with which he had anticipated that feast. Luke 22:14-15. Before the supper had fully begun, (Luke 22:14-18,) a strife for pre-eminence took place among the disciples, which drew forth from our Lord a lesson on humility, which he then illustrated by washing his disciples’ feet. John 13:1-20. This he probably did as they reclined upon their supper-couches. This strife, at this most unsuitable time, probably arose for the pre-eminence at the table, of which the Orientals were very tenacious. Then follow the references to his betrayer here given by Matthew. Shall betray me In regard to the conversation by which our Lord specified Judas as the betrayer, I think the true order of things, will be best ascertained by reading in sections Matthew 26:21-23, then John 13:23-26, then Matthew 26:24-25, and last John 13:27-30. We thereby trace the gradual climax by which our Lord first makes a general charge, then narrows it to a group, then so reveals it to one as that it would be soon known to all, and then identifies the traitor to himself. In the present verse, as the first of the above steps of exposure, the charge is general, and any one of the disciples may claim it to himself.

Verse 22

22. Lord, is it I? It is an interesting point that each one thought at the moment, not of his neighbour, but of himself. Perhaps, had they not been disturbed by the announcement, and a sorrow at the fact that the predicted death of their Lord was approaching in the terrible form of treachery, they might have guessed the man. To their credit they did not. Judas had already made the secret bargain, and knew by consciousness of guilt that he was the man; while the other apostles are struck with consternation to hear that a traitor is among them.

Verse 23

23. Dippeth his hand with me in the dish By this it is intimated that it was one who reclined near him, and even supplied himself from the same dish. This forms the second advance of exposure. At the same time in this expression our Lord seems to have aggravated the crime of the traitor by suggesting the language of the Psalmist: “He that did eat my bread hath lifted up his heel against me.” Psalms 41:9. But our Lord did not leave the traitor without a third and still more special detection. John tells us (John 13:23-26) that at Peter’s request he himself, as reclining nearest his Lord’s bosom, inquired of Jesus in an under tone, “Lord, who is it?” Our Lord replied, doubtless in the same sub-tone, “He it is to whom I shall give a sop.” He then gave the sop to Judas, by which the two disciples knew, the man for certainty. Judas by some tokens sees that he is individualized, and at last himself puts the question, Is it I? (Matthew 26:25,) and receives an affirmative answer, as John adds, by which the whole eleven learn the man. Judas then, full rightly, thinks it time to vacate his place.

Verse 24

24. The Son of man goeth as it is written of him He marches with unfaltering step in the way to the scene of death, as marked out by the divine prophecies. Yet that does not exculpate the authors of his death.

Woe unto that man No apologies for Judas can stand before this terrible woe. It marks him out as one of the dark beings in human history, one who must ever be named when an example of utmost guilt is to be adduced. The fact that Judas’s free act of treachery was foreseen of God made it none the less free, and therefore none the less guilty. As St. Chrysostom says: “Judas was not a traitor because God foresaw it; but God foresaw it because Judas would be so.” Foreknowledge does not force or compel an act, or make it less free than if it were wholly unforeknown.

Had not been born And so it is impossible that he can over be restored to Divine favour. For if after millions of years he ascends to an eternity of happiness, he is a clear gainer in the balance of existence. It will not do as before intimated, to say that this phrase, “Good that he had never been born,” is a mere proverb. No doubt thoughtless persons may use the same phrase lightly to indicate some inferior misery. But our Lord here is speaking too seriously to be repeating a proverbial hyperbole. He expresses and knows the full measure of Judas’s woe; and he would neither aggravate it beyond its literal extent, nor lightly express it in a cant saying.

After this verse we must bring in the passage in John, who tells us that he privately asked the Lord which the traitor was, and that our Lord gave him a sign by which he knew the man.

Verse 25

25. Master, is it I? After Jesus gave Judas the sop, which was the sign of guilt, then Judas, as out of due season, and quite mechanically, repeats the question. Thou hast said This is an affirmative answer, and identifies the traitor to himself. The gradual exposure is brought to the final point.

He is the man. And John tells us that the traitor forthwith arose and went out into the congenial darkness of surrounding night.

Ingenious men have in modern times exerted their skill in framing apologies for Judas, and discovering innocent motives in his case. He might, forsooth, have expected that our Lord would deliver himself by miracle. He might have purposed to compel our Lord to declare himself openly as king of the Jews, and set up his government. Very plainly this is not the view of the Saviour or the evangelists. Reserved as the sacred writers are in declaring the character of the various men whose acts they describe, they speak very plainly of Judas. Whatever his previous character was, in process of time he was a devil,” “a thief, and carried the bag.” A hypocrite in feigning care for the poor, he hastened, under the immediate impulse of resentment for a trifling offence, to join the Saviour’s enemies. But impetuous passion so blended with cold calculation that he gratified revenge and avarice together. He seems not to have calculated upon our Lord’s miraculous interference, or his asserting his royalty. He simply meant to obtain a price by surrendering his life to his enemies. Hence our Lord’s terrible woe upon him, and the terms of detestation with which the apostles uniformly load him. His repentance was wrung by divine compulsion from him, in order to place on record the testimony of Christ’s vilest enemy to the innocence of his character. It was not a repentance like that of Peter, restoring him to holiness and apostleship; but the repentance of the devils, by which, in the agony of remorse, they throw out their involuntary testimony for God and goodness. And the fact of this final attestation of the innocence of Jesus justifies the remark, that the truth of Christianity is not more sustained by the life of Paul than by the death of Judas.

Verse 26

26. As they were eating When in the course of the paschal supper they arrived at the breaking of bread, as we have above described. The bread was in the form of cakes. The breaking, under the old dispensation, represented the breaking which Israel suffered in Egypt; but in the new, the breaking is transferred to the victim, who assumes our sins and sufferings in his own body. The breaking was the customary mode of separating bread into parts; yet it was none the less a significant part of the rite. Paul clearly intimates that the breaking symbolized the violence by which our Lord’s body was put to death. 1 Corinthians 11:24. Breaking and not cutting, seems the proper mode of severing the sacramental portions. Blessed it To bless is to implore the divine blessing upon it, that is, to pray solemnly that God would graciously make it effective of its beneficent purpose. The blessing on the bread was the Redeemer’s prayer that the bread might be of a blessed effect to the partaker.

This is my body A customary mode in Scripture, as in common language, of expressing that a symbol is or stands for its original. It is perfectly natural to say that a sign IS the thing it signifies. This is usually done in explaining some symbolical representations. So Joseph in explaining a dream says: “The three branches are three days.” Genesis 11:12. So at this very supper our Lord says: “This cup is the new testament.” 1 Corinthians 11:25. If the phrase “This [bread] is my body,” really means that the bread is our Lord’s literal material body then the phrase “This cup is the new testament” means that the material vessel (not the wine in it) was an actual “new testament.” Common sense ought to show that our Lord is now explaining the import of certain symbols, and in so doing he uses the ordinary phrase of saying that the symbol is the thing symbolized.

Our readers perceive that we are here refuting the strange doctrine of the Church of Rome, which affirms that the bread is transubstantiated, that is, changed in substance, into the very body of our Lord. And as it implies that the bread is Christ’s present body, it is also called the doctrine of real presence. This doctrine bears marks of dishonesty, for,

1. It doctrinally places the material person of God in the hands of a priest. It makes the salvation of the layman’s soul dependent upon the priest’s consent to give him the flesh of God. It thus places the man at the mercy of the priest. Hence the doctrine of transubstantiation is the basis of the most abject subjection of the laity to the priesthood in the Church of Rome.

2 . It is a most absurd doctrine. It makes Christ to have held his own body between his own thumb and fingers. While his body was reclining, they were holding it in their hand, chewing it with their teeth, digesting it in their stomachs. Thus were they cannibals, eating human flesh! All this is founded upon a forced interpretation of language which, according to ordinary idiom, means something else.

3 . The doctrine violates the very nature of the institution. From the time of the first paschal lamb downward, the purpose of the slain victim was to represent the body of the true victim instead of presenting the body itself. The slain lamb represented that true body until He came. The broken bread must represent it until he come again. What makes this plain, is the fact that at the old Jewish passover the master of the table was accustomed to say as he took the bread, “This is [that is, this represents ] the bread of affliction, which our fathers did eat in the land of Egypt.” But in the place of this formula our Lord substitutes, “This is [that is, represents ] my body.” From being the representative of Israel in suffering, it becomes now the representative of the suffering substitute of the sinner. To make it not a representative, but the thing itself, is, therefore, to violate the congruity of the typical system.

Verses 26-29

§§ 126, 128. INSTITUTION OF THE LORD’S SUPPER, Matthew 26:26-29

We come now to words which have sounded forth through the Church through all ages since our Lord’s departure, and which are to sound forth until he comes again. The nature of the Lord’s Supper is best understood when we recollect that it is, under the Christian dispensation, the continuance in a modified form of the passover of the Old Testament. As baptism is the modified ordinance of circumcision, as the Lord’s day is a modified continuance of the Sabbath, so is the Lord’s Supper a modified continuance of the paschal supper of the Old Testament Church. We may first remark that the passover was a true sacrifice; for the victim was a true substitute for the sinner, dying in his stead, and showing by his death that the sinner ought to die. Israel was as true a sinner as Egypt, and as truly deserving the stroke of the destroying angel; but God, as he passed over, accepted the blood presented by Israel’s faith, (which blood was a confession, on Israel’s part, that he deserved the death the victim suffered in his stead) as a substitute. And as this shed blood was typical of the shed blood of the Saviour, so the lamb itself was typical of the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. Hence it was, by anticipation, a representation of that same reality, which is set forth by the communion of the Lord’s Supper. Both are typical of the same thing, and therefore correspondent to each other. The Lord’s Supper is in a proper sense the bloodless sacrifice of the new dispensation.

And the very fact that our Lord instituted his supper on the same evening as the paschal supper, shows that it is a continuance in a modified form. It simply drops off the bloody elements; so that it is in fact true that our sacramental ordinance has been continued from the departure of Israel to the present time, and will be continued until the full redemption and departure of the spiritual Israel under the greater Moses to the full fruition of the heavenly Canaan.

We have then the following typical parallels:

The Redeemed. The Victim. The Deliverance The Result. Israel. The paschal lamb. From Egypt. Canaan. The communicant. The broken bread. From spiritual bondage. The spiritual emancipation. The believer. The crucified Jesus. From hell. Heaven. The prophecies of the Old Testament more commonly predicted a glorious and triumphant Messiah; the sacrifices predicted the Messiah as dying and atoning.

Verse 27

27. Took the cup and gave thanks From the Greek word ευχαριστεω , eucharisteo, to give thanks, the Lord’s Supper is called the eucharist. For since it is taken in thankful remembrance of our Lord’s great work of redemption, so it is truly a thank offering, that is a eucharist.

Drink ye all of it That is, drink all ye of it. And Mark adds that they all drank of it. As our Lord here represents the future minister, so the disciples represent the future laity; and as our Lord here directs them to partake the cup, so the Church of Rome, which withholds the cup from the laity, is palpably disobedient to the Saviour’s command. Surely, as it is the blood which redeems, the Church of God should not be denied the participation of his blood.

Verse 28

28. This is my blood As the grain is the body, so the juice is the blood of the life of universal nature. And as the vine is the most beautiful pipe through which the juice of nature’s life flows forth to exhilarate man, so its ruddy colour reminds us that it is as it were the very blood which creation gives forth from her own body to cheer and nourish man. Thereby how striking an image does it become of the true blood which is shed forth from the body of nature’s incarnate God! It reminds us at once of his death and our life. Hence, when he poured the wine forth, how strong an image does he ever present to us of that streaming blood which assures us of the death of Him who died for all. Sense thus aids faith.

Of the new testament As the blood of the paschal lamb was of the Old Testament. The word testament properly signifies covenant, or agreement by God with men; in the which he prescribes a system of duties and conditions, and promises his blessings. Under Moses, he had the old covenant or testament; under Christ, the new. And so the two volumes of the Bible are called the Old Testament and the New. Note here that the blood of the Old Testament, that is, of the passover, was just as truly and really the blood of the Saviour as the blood of the New, that is, the wine of the communion. The one was symbolical, so was the other.

Shed for many As the bread should be broken, so wine should be poured, both acts representing the action of death. For many For so many as are born of Adam. “No stress is to be laid on this word πολλων , many, as not being παντων , all, here; it is placed in opposition to the one life which is given the one for many and not with any distinction from παντων .” Alford.

For the remission of sins As without the retaining of the blood in the living system death ensues, so the blood is said in the ceremonial law to be the life. And so the flowing of the blood is the true ceremonial exhibition to the sight of vicarious or sacrificial death. Hence the apostle tells us that in the whole sacrificial system “without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” So the flowing blood of the Redeemer, both from his extremities and from his side, is the visible manifestation of his death, as the reality of death is necessary both to the performance of the entire work of redemption and to represent the death of the soul from which he would save men.

Verse 29

29. I will not drink Of course he is not to drink his own blood. He is not to derive life and salvation from his own atonement.

Drink it new He will never drink it in its sacrificial, but in its eucharistic sense. Hence he does not say that he will drink the blood, but “this fruit of the vine.” It is the life part, not the death part of the symbol of which he speaks. He will not drink the earthly wine even in its joyous character. But he will in the glorious kingdom drink that reality of which this life-symbol is the figure, namely, life, the vita beata, the blessed life. Our Lord could not drink the wine in its sacrificial character, because he had no sins to atone for. He would not now drink it in its joyous character because now was his time of sorrow; and he would indicate to his disciples that his joy was reserved for the day of his glorification.

It is a very coarse and degrading exposition of this text to make our Saviour say, as some do, that he will not drink the wine now, but he will drink real, physical wine in the resurrection body “with his saints during the thousand years” millennial reign. Such a reign of the saints in the resurrection body, with Christ, for a thousand years, on earth, is a fond fancy, unsupported by a just interpretation of Scripture. Our Lord means that he will not drink the symbolical wine; but will wait until he can drink the real wine which this typifies in the heavenly kingdom.

Verse 30

30. And when they had sung a hymn According to the custom of the Jews, the passover was closed with singing what they called the Hallel, which consisted of Psalms cxiii-cxviii. It may be remarked that this is the only time our Lord is described as sanctioning by his example the exercise of singing. Before this closing exercise our Lord uttered the discourses and offered the prayer recorded in John, xiv-xvii.

Went out into the mount of Olives Our Lord is to be pictured to our minds as rising about nine or ten o’clock in the evening from the supper-table, and walking, followed by his accustomed train, (probably through the Golden, now St. Stephen’s Gate,) down the gorge, and across the brook Kedron, until he comes into a wood or grove called Gethsemane. Matthew 26:36.

Verse 31

31. Shall be offended Literally, shall be entrapped into wrong. Shall be made to fail in your fidelity to me.

I will smite the Shepherd Our Lord here quotes Zechariah as an illustration, or, as some of the best commentators suppose, as a direct prediction of his desertion in his affliction by his disciples.

Verses 31-35

§ 125. THE INTIMATION TO THE DISCIPLES AND TO PETER OF THEIR DESERTION AND HIS DENIALS, Matthew 26:31-35 .

This passage Matthew inserts out of its true order. It is to be considered not as occurring after, but before leaving the table, and before the extended discourses recorded by John. To take in the full account of all the intimations given to the reluctant Peter of his denials, we must read in the following order: John 13:36-38; Matthew 26:31-33; Luke 22:31-33; Matthew 26:34-35. We thus find that before leaving the supper-table our Lord gave Peter three warnings of his folly. This of Matthew is the second. As it is the self-confidence of Peter that induces the first warning of our Lord, so, through all the three, Peter retains his protestations that he will prefer death rather than unfaithfulness.

Verse 32

32. Go before you into Galilee By the smiting of the Shepherd the sheep should be scattered; and after his recovery from the blow by his resurrection, the Shepherd would go before his flock, and it should be again gathered in the old haunts in Galilee. The fulfilment of the promise is narrated in Matthew 28:16. The chief Shepherd marshalled his flock upon a mountain in Galilee. This was a most tender promise, that they should meet again amid the scenes of his earlier ministry. It does not imply that he would never appear after his resurrection, previous to meeting them in Galilee.

Verse 33

34. Verily I say unto thee Our Lord is forced by Peter’s boasts, nay, gain-sayings, to bring out the clear, precise, sorrowful truth.

Before the cock crow Mark and Luke say, “before the cock crow twice.” This Matthew omits, because it was the second cock-crowing that was usually and technically called “the cock-crowing.” Our Lord doubtless referred to the usual morning cock-crowing, since the midnight one is seldom heard, or in conversation taken into account. No difficulty can arise from the fact that the Jews kept no gallinaceous or barn fowls. The Romans may have done so, and the crow of the cock may have been heard from the Pretorium.

“In the crowing of a cock,” says Buckhardt, “there are two remarkable things: One, that an animal so small should cry with so loud a voice; the other, that it sings at stated hours, and at such times as other birds are silent in sleep.” He is created nature’s living time-keeper, He is God’s appointed watchman and crier in the midnight and at daylight, knowing and telling the hours by a wonderful instinct. That he is so inspired by a divine faculty, the Arabians expressed by their fancy that there was a white cock before the throne of God, whose voice gives the signal for all cocks on earth to crow. It was such a crier at whose voice the conscience of Peter was to be made to awake. But there was no power in the voice of the bird to express a divine meaning, had it not been interpreted beforehand by our Lord. So the voice of nature speaks with a divine wisdom, when we take God’s word to interpret its language.

Verse 33

34. Verily I say unto thee Our Lord is forced by Peter’s boasts, nay, gain-sayings, to bring out the clear, precise, sorrowful truth.

Before the cock crow Mark and Luke say, “before the cock crow twice.” This Matthew omits, because it was the second cock-crowing that was usually and technically called “the cock-crowing.” Our Lord doubtless referred to the usual morning cock-crowing, since the midnight one is seldom heard, or in conversation taken into account. No difficulty can arise from the fact that the Jews kept no gallinaceous or barn fowls. The Romans may have done so, and the crow of the cock may have been heard from the Pretorium.

“In the crowing of a cock,” says Buckhardt, “there are two remarkable things: One, that an animal so small should cry with so loud a voice; the other, that it sings at stated hours, and at such times as other birds are silent in sleep.” He is created nature’s living time-keeper, He is God’s appointed watchman and crier in the midnight and at daylight, knowing and telling the hours by a wonderful instinct. That he is so inspired by a divine faculty, the Arabians expressed by their fancy that there was a white cock before the throne of God, whose voice gives the signal for all cocks on earth to crow. It was such a crier at whose voice the conscience of Peter was to be made to awake. But there was no power in the voice of the bird to express a divine meaning, had it not been interpreted beforehand by our Lord. So the voice of nature speaks with a divine wisdom, when we take God’s word to interpret its language.

Verse 35

35. Should die with thee Peter is able to recognise the fact that his Lord may die, and is ready to die by his side.

Verse 36

§ 131. THE AGONIES OF GETHSEMANE, Matthew 26:36-46 .

36. Unto a place called Gethsemane Supposing the last paragraph to be out of the order of time, we must connect this verse to Matthew 26:30. We suppose the supper-room to have been situated somewhere upon the eastern brow of Mount Zion. (See note on Mark 14:13.) From the supper-room we must trace our Lord going forth over the “great bridge” of the Tyropoeon; passing through the temple precincts, and through the great front temple gate, (or perhaps through what was equivalent to the present St. Stephen’s gate;) descending the valley of Jehoshaphat; crossing the brook Kedron, (about where its dry channel is now spanned by a small bridge of a single arch,) and walking, followed by the eleven, toward the ascent of Olivet. In a level space between the Kedron and the foot of the hill is a yard or garden, which, from the ancient olive trees there, is called Gethsemane, or the press of oil. There is still at the base of the Mount of Olives a secure enclosure, signalized by several most venerable olive trees, surrounded by a stone wall to designate the spot. Stanley says: “In spite of all the doubts that can be raised against their antiquity or the genuineness of their site, the eight aged olive trees, if only by their manifest difference from all others on the mountain, have always struck even the most indifferent observers. They will remain, so long as their already protracted life is spared, the most venerable of their race on the surface of the earth; their gnarled trunks and scanty foliage will always be regarded as the most affecting of the sacred memorials in or about Jerusalem, the most nearly approaching to the everlasting hills themselves in the force with which they carry us back to the events of the Gospel history.” Captain Lynch says that these olives are one thousand years old; and as the olive tree reproduces from the same root, these trees are the radical descendants from the same germ as those of our Saviour’s time. By the word place is generally understood a villa or cluster of houses, to which the garden was an appendage.

Verse 37

37. Peter and the two sons of Zebedee The whole body of the eleven disciples went with our Lord to Gethsemane; but from the entire number he now selects Peter, James, and John, “the elect among the elect,” to attend him at a little distance from the rest in the moments of his agonizing prayer. These had been selected to witness his glorification upon the mount of transfiguration, and they were now selected to be witnesses of the deep humiliation of the garden.

Began to be sorrowful The first moment of the terrible hour had now arrived, and our Lord receives the first stroke of atoning sorrow from an invisible source. At the instant of his leaving the eight disciples the trial of sorrow began. For this whole scene of Gethsemane is to be looked upon, not as an hour of fear over his approaching trial, but as the first and, perhaps, far most terrible part of the atoning agony. The sufferings of the cross were, we conceive, from the visible powers of earth; the sufferings of the bitter cup and the bloody sweat were from the invisible powers of hell. The garden was the place of assault from the interior powers of darkness, as the cross was the place of the exterior assaults or men. Both were correspondent parts of the same great work. (For a view of this entire subject, I refer to my Sermon on Substitutional Atonement.)

Verse 38

38. My soul is exceeding sorrowful Jesus then had a purely human soul. The doctrine of the Monophysites, that he had only a human body, of which God was the only soul, is not true. That human soul, Luke informs us, in his childhood increased in wisdom and in favour with God and man. Hence our Lord was complete man. His mind, as human, was subject to limitations. Beyond its human circle were innumerable things it did not know; though, doubtless, his mind was so divinely illuminated as not to be liable to positive involuntary falsity or mistake.

Exceeding sorrowful Our Saviour here speaks not of fear, that is, of the approaching cross, but of sorrow. A supernatural woe overwhelms and all but sinks him before the cross arrives. “He trod the winepress of the wrath of God.”

Sorrowful even unto death Not sorrowful in anticipation of death; but a sorrow, not his own, pressed so heavily and so damply upon him, that it would drown and quench the spark of life but for the divine aid impregnating and strengthening his human person. What sorrow was this? Doubtless the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 53:4) furnishes the true answer: “Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” We do not here find any warrant for the supposition that God, the Father Almighty, poured the thunderbolts of personal anger on his suffering Son. But as Christ suffered as a substitute for a sinful world, so he did voluntarily, by his own sad consent, encounter all the woe that could be inflicted by hell and earth, (the natural executioners of absolute justice under the government of God,) and thus with his infinite dignity do honour to the law of eternal justice.

And in view of this, having done homage to justice in his own person, he is entitled to bestow paradise and confer righteousness on all who obediently accept him as their substitute and Redeemer.

Tarry… watch They were to watch, yet at a reverent distance. The Saviour, as if powers other than human were haunting his soul, yearns to be in reach of human sympathy.

Verse 39

39. And he went a little further Luke says, “He went about a stone’s cast.” So that there were three divisions of the little band: there were the eight disciples; the three chosen ones; and, at the distance of a “stone’s throw,” the suffering Saviour. While he suffers they slumber.

And prayed The disciples were entreated to watch with our Lord, but not to pray with him or for him. That work he does alone, and asks no participation. They cannot pray his prayer. He may intercede for them, not they for him. Saying The disciples could not have heard this prayer. The distance was too great, and they were even unable to keep awake. They must have learned the truth from our Lord’s own explanations of his sufferings after his resurrection. See Luke 24:27; Luke 24:32.

O my Father This prayer has three distinct points: the appeal, the deprecation, and the resignation.

The purpose of recording this prayer is great. It contains a profound lesson, how under affliction the sufferer may innocently writhe under the pain, may ask to be delivered, up to the point of the divine will. But at that point, however deep the agony, the resignation must be absolute. Father However near the paternity of God, it still leaves him the right and the reason to inflict upon us terrible sorrows. Yet true faith looks up, even to his frowning face, with a filial claim. If it be possible The possibility here meant presupposes that the solid plans of redemption must be undisturbed. If, without lifting up these foundations, it be possible. This cup What was this cup? Not the crucifixion; but the present supernatural agonies of the garden. For, as his sorrows were greater than his strength, they opened up before him a just and true fear that a complete catastrophe, even to unknown depths of failure, could result. Those terrible results lay as dregs at the bottom of the cup. And as Paul says, (Hebrews 5:7) He was saved in that he feared. From that fearful and inevitable break-down which he justly feared, and could escape only by obtaining supplicated aid, he was saved. But was this failure truly possible? Not only possible but surely certain, but for the power of this same faithful prayer, and for the true spirit in which the Redeemer offered it. O how narrow was the pass of danger through which our Jesus trod to his and our redemption! Pass from me Saint Paul truly says that this prayer was heard. Causes were bearing down upon this lonely victim, as sure to crush as the rail-car would the shrinking infant lying on its track. Before the dregs of the cup were reached, the draught attained its limit! So God shall temper our trial to our strength, and our strength to our trial, if but the earnest prayer be put forth and the deep submission be retained. Not as I will His own individual will was but a wish, which could not be wrong so long as it existed in complete submission to God’s will. To sacrifice our own preferences, in order that our wills may be one with God’s, is true resignation.

Verse 40

40. Findeth them asleep Luke says they were asleep for sorrow. It seems as if the air of that night were dense with fearful, supernatural influences, weighing them down with stupor. It was as though a deadly vapour from the bottomless pit steeped their spirits. Watch with me one hour There is, doubtless, rebuke in this question: but it is, we think, uttered more with the purpose of marking for us the fact that the pressure under which Jesus struggled was, even in its proximity, too much for them.

Verse 41

41. Watch The words wake and watch are different forms of the same term. Yet to watch is more than to be awake. It implies that our wakeful powers are exerted to guard against the evil. Pray While we exert our own energies against the evil powers, let us also supplicate divine aid. That ye enter not into temptation As a fragile boat would avoid the rocks and rifts, so should the feeble Christian avoid the dangers of trials that may wreck him. The spirit Of the sincere but wavering disciple. Is willing Both to wake and to conquer the tempter. The flesh Of that disciple. Is weak It is weighed down and conquered by the tempter’s influences, or it is overcome in the hour of conflict.

How true a description was this of the disciples, as, for instance, Peter! His spirit was willing to watch, but Satan weighed him down through the flesh. His spirit was willing to adhere to his Master, but Satan overcame him through fleshly fear. But does our Lord intend this as an excuse for Peter, and an exemption from guilt? Rather, he renders it as a reason for his admonition to watch and pray, the neglect of which gave Satan his advantage over their earthly nature.

Verse 42

42. He went away again In human sympathy the Saviour finds no resource. He is completely alone. He turns again from man to God. If this cup may not pass His prayer here has yielded the point. He prays no longer, Let it pass; but, If it may not pass, Thy will be done. “Thy will be done” limits not only all murmur, but all prayer.

Verse 44

44. Saying the same words Form utters the same words from a want of feeling; earnestness repeats from abundance of feeling.

Luke adds: “And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven strengthening him.” This marks the climax and the close of his present cup.

Verse 44

44. Saying the same words Form utters the same words from a want of feeling; earnestness repeats from abundance of feeling.

Luke adds: “And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven strengthening him.” This marks the climax and the close of his present cup.

Verse 45

45. Cometh he to his disciples For the last time he now returns; for the betrayer is at hand, and from the invisible struggle with hell he is next to undergo the visible struggle with men.

Sleep on now, and take your rest But why should he bid them sleep now when the tramp of the soldier is almost in their hearing? Of all the renderings of this verse to meet this query, I think the best is that which by merely changing the punctuation, which is of no authority, makes it a question. Sleep ye on now, and take your rest? Is it a time for slumber when the betrayer is on the approach? There is another meaning admissable. The whole matter is now decided, and you may sleep on, as watching is needless.

The hour The great suffering, atoning hour is come; and the executioners of vicarious justice, though they mean it not, are now at hand.

Let us be going Our Lord now directs his face toward the terrible sufferings of the cross. He is strengthened, and calm from his past agony. He meets his betrayer, his foes, his judges, with a majesty which shows that he is Lord even of those to whom he submits. His glory even in this his suffering is most particularly described in the narrative of John.

Verse 46

46. Behold, he is at hand ” As I sat beneath the olives, and observed how very near the city was, with what perfect ease a person there could survey at a glance the entire length of the eastern wall, and the slope of the hill towards the valley, I could not divest myself of the impression that this local peculiarity should be allowed to explain a passage in the account of the Saviour’s apprehension. Every one must have noticed something abrupt in his summons to the disciples: ‘Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.’ Matthew 26:46. It is not improbable that his watchful eye at that moment caught sight of Judas and his accomplices, as they issued from one of the eastern gates, or turned round the northern or southern corner of the walls, in order to descend into the valley. Even if the night was dark, he could have seen the torches which they carried, and could have felt no uncertainty respecting the object of such a movement at that unseasonable hour.” Prof. Hackett.

Verse 47

47. Lo, Judas The deed by which his name is forever a term of abhorrence is now in course of completion. Staves The plural of staff. They were nearer canes than clubs. Although it was full moon, they came, as John informs us, with torches and lanterns. Judas led the way, going before them. Luke 22:47.

With him a great multitude By what authority was Jesus now arrested? and of whom or what did this multitude consist?

To the first question we may answer, that in Judea there was an inferior native or Jewish government, under the dominion of the Roman government. Of the Jewish government the chief magistrate was the high priest. The legislative authority resided in the Sanhedrim. It was by the Jewish authority, or at least at their prosecution, that our Lord is now arrested and taken before their high priest, to answer for offence against the Jewish law.

The multitude who apprehended Jesus were of the following four classes:

1 . The band, (John 18:3,) being a detachment from the garrison of five hundred Roman soldiers, who, in the fortress of Antonia, overlooking the temple, kept the Jews in awe. A detachment was ever ready to be sent when the commander was informed that a disturber needed to be taken in custody. So that thus much Jesus was apprehended by the loan of a Roman body.

2. The captains of the temple, (Luke 22:52,) who came, doubtless, attended by their guard or police, men who kept order at the temple.

3. Several of the Jewish dignitaries attended to see the work carefully done; namely, (Matthew 26:47,) chief priests, zealous Pharisees, and elders. 4. Servants of these dignitaries, (John 18:18,) both private and official, like Malchus. Our Lord was thus arrested by the Jewish authority, partly using Roman instrumentality.

Verses 47-56

§ 132. APPREHENSION OF JESUS, Matthew 26:47-56 .

While the solemn scenes of the Last Supper and of Gethsemane are transpiring, a very different business is going on between Judas and the Jewish authorities. The armed band is furnished; he knows the customary place of Jesus and his twelve; and now, lo! he comes. To show that he truly lays down his life with full power to retain it, our Lord for a moment by divine power overwhelms his assailants. (See John 18:4-9.) He meets with cutting rebuke the treacherous kiss of the betrayer. He arrests the sword of Peter and heals the wound it inflicted. He reproves the shamefulness of their armed band, and declares that he submits only to the divine necessity of fulfilling the prophetic Scripture. His disciples flee; the evangelist Mark is all but apprehended. (Mark 14:51.) The Saviour then is in the hands and at the mercy of his enemies.

Verse 49

49. Forthwith he came to Jesus… and kissed him As, in Matthew 26:46, Jesus said, “Let us be going,” he turned his firm face to his foes, yet unseen, and walked forth to meet them. His disciples first the three, and then the eight start as we may suppose from their slumbers, and follow him along in irregular train. Thus, as Jesus alone leads the little band of his peaceful followers, Judas leads the hostile multitude of assailants. They two singly meet the Divine victim and the diabolical betrayer face to face. The traitor, prostituting the purest signal of love to the purpose of death, accomplishes the greatest masterpiece of treachery known to the universe. The Saviour calmly accepts the kiss; and surely, amid all the mockeries he suffered, this kiss was the most repulsive. Well did the German writer, Pfenninger, (quoted by Stier,) remark: “Wouldst thou know what Satan can do and God can suffer what the basest of mankind can commit and the best of mankind can bear? behold the lips of Judas who kisses, and the cheek of Jesus who receives the kiss!” Hail, Master The same lips that gave the false kiss preceded it with this false salutation. It was doubtless uttered with a loud voice. It proclaimed to the soldiery, “I have found the man I betray.” It proclaimed to our Lord, “You have found the man who betrays you.” The question at the supper-table, “Master, is it I?” now changes to the affirmation, “Master, it is I!”

Verse 50

50. Friend Rather, companion, associate. For the sincere Saviour could hardly call him friend. Wherefore art thou come? Our Lord puts in this question, as Judas well knows, not in order to learn, but to make Judas think. What errand is it for which you, a disciple, have now come to your Lord? And then he develops his full knowledge by the question supplied by Mark: “Betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” To betray is bad enough; to betray the Son of man is worse; to betray him with a kiss is worst of all.

With meek majesty, showing even at that very moment that he is Lord, Jesus accepts this beginning of insults from man. But for a brief interval (John 18:4-9) he holds his foes at bay by the secret restraint of his power before he yields to the arrest. This he does to demonstrate that he lays down his life of himself. For the same reason he utters the declaration in Matthew 26:53.

Took him As soon as the divine influence, by which the multitude were withheld, was in a measure withdrawn, they used their power to apprehend him.

Verse 51

51. One… drew his sword Two swords, as appears by Luke 22:38, were in possession of the disciples, and perhaps two disciples proposed to resist, as appears probable by Luke 22:49. Our Lord is being bound and gives no reply. But one of them, Peter, draws his unbidden sword. The Greek word for sword here used is μαχαιρα , machaira, and signifies a knife, which was used either as a weapon, as a slaughter-knife, or a sacrificial knife for slaying and dividing the victim. The two knives used by the two disciples in preparing the passover lamb were, probably, the swords in possession on the present occasion. A servant of the high priest John tells us his name was Malchus. Jesus requests the officers to pause until he could remedy the matter, and he heals the ear of Malchus and utters the following rebuke.

Not one step can the multitude stir while our Lord is engaged in this work and uttering these words. They obey their Lord, unconscious of his supremacy or the secret of their own obedience. And why did not they cease to bind him when they saw his miracles? We answer, the very fact that they found themselves able to bind him induced them to proceed.

They doubtless paused in surprise at his deed. Yet, since he was so weak as to submit and to be bound, it was plain, (so they inferred,) that he was a mortal and a malefactor. If he is supernatural, why does he not break our bands and drive us from his presence and become King Messiah? Our Lord answers in the following verses. How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled?

Smote off his ear He meant doubtless to smite off his head; but perhaps the same power that healed, prevented the true aim of the blow.

Verse 52

52. Sword into its place The sword has its place, but its place is not the hands of the apostles. Our Lord does not command the sword to be flung away. As a recognized instrument of governmental authority, the stern asserter of law and peace, it has its place. Take the sword… perish with the sword It is plain that this was intended as stating the result of any attempt at resistance on the part of the disciples. But it is expressed with comprehensive wisdom, so as to be true as a general law. At least it states a law of contingency to which all who follow the profession of arms are to submit. We take the sword under the full chance of perishing by it.

Verse 53

53. Thinkest thou Addressed to Peter to show him that there was no place for, because no need of, a human sword. How contemptible to suppose that He needs thy sword, at whose prayer legions of angels would troop from the skies.

Twelve legions A legion to each apostle, naming the official number notwithstanding the defection of Judas.

Verse 54

54. Scriptures be fulfilled So far as man is concerned, he is really and truly under no compulsion, but lays down his life of himself. But there is a higher law by which he is most perfectly bound. The counsel of God is, that he shall pursue a certain course of duty, and that course has been predicted in the Scripture. The plan of God must be obeyed, and the Scriptures must not be falsified. From all which we argue that our Saviour was intrinsically able to break the Scriptures; but that the all-wise Jehovah did select of all possible beings to be Messiah that one who, with full power to disobey, would yet most perfectly obey his will. See note on Matthew 1:4-11.

Verse 55

55. In that same hour While led in bonds by the band. To the multitudes Luke says, “to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and elders.” It was doubtless in hearing of the multitudes, but intentionally aimed at the dignitaries mentioned. Come out Voluntarily, not sent out by authority, like the poor soldiery. These dignitaries were the principal and guilty movers. And so anxious were they to see it done, that they compromised their dignity in coming out to the spot at that late hour. As against a thief Rather a robber. They knew his purity, his holiness, his mysterious power of rebuke. Yet they would slay him as a malefactor. To take me Why was so formidable a body sent to apprehend a single individual? Doubtless they feared his miraculous powers, and had a sort of vague notion that a mighty force was necessary to overcome him. When they felt his miraculous repressive influences, and saw his last miracle of healing, they were probably alarmed. But when they saw him still submit they imagined themselves too strong for him.

Daily His teaching was daily; their assault is nightly.

Luke adds to our Lord’s words, “but this is your hour and the power of darkness.” These words further explain that our Lord submits because his ministry is finished, and the work of suffering at the hands of sinners has commenced.

Verse 56

56. But all this was done Mark puts words somewhat similar to these into the mouth of our Lord; but it is plain that these are the words of the evangelist. No doubt our Lord expressed the sentiment which the evangelist expresses. All the disciples forsook him and fled Forbidden to fight, and unable to aid their Master, nothing save flight seemed obvious to the disciples. Passive courage is far more difficult than action. In the moment of panic, it hardly occurred to them to walk by his side, and meet, if need be, the malefactor’s death. From Gethsemane the whole band proceeds back to the city, perhaps through the gate in front of the temple, and, if we trace its course aright, crossing the bridge of the Tyropoeon, reaches the palace of Caiaphas and Annas, on the northernmost part of Mount Zion, between the Armory and Millo. (See our plan of Ancient Jerusalem.)

Verse 57

57. Where the scribes and the elders were assembled The usual place of assemblage for the great Sanhedrim was at the council room in the temple precincts. But this being an extraordinary, perhaps irregular and partial meeting, is held at the palace of the pontiff.

Verses 57-68

§ 134. JESUS BEFORE CAIAPHAS AND THE SANHEDRIM, Matthew 26:57-68 .

We should not know from Matthew that our Lord was led to Annas, or Hananiah, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, before he was led to Caiaphas. John details the facts that occurred before Annas. From Annas, he was sent bound to Caiaphas, who was then the high priest, and whose residence may have adjoined that of Annas. While Christ was before Annas, the Sanhedrim was assembling at the palace of Caiaphas, preparatory to the arraignment of Jesus before them.

Verse 58

58. Followed him afar off Though, with the rest, Peter had fled, he was by no means contented to leave his Master without knowing his fate; hoping, perhaps, that he would yet by some unknown turn deliver himself. He follows him to the palace of the high priest, to know what will be the result.

Verse 59

59. Sought false witness The consequences of their haste now alarmed the conspirators. Precipitated by the offer of Judas to betray Jesus, they had him on their hands before the accusation was planned and the evidence arranged. They have a criminal without a crime. As they dare not sentence him to death without some satisfactory inculpation, they are in a strait for charges and evidence.

Verse 60

60. Found none They found plenty of false witnesses, but they found none that gave in testimony which was evidence before a Roman court to secure their victim’s death.

Verse 61

61. This fellow The word fellow is added by the translators; but the contempt implied in the word is also implied in the Greek word for THIS. Destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days This was false testimony so far as the sense was concerned; but it seemed to contain more consistent fact and more plausible charge than anything else they could procure. Our Lord had said, (John 2:19:) “Destroy the temple and I will build it again in three days.” There was surely no hostility to the temple in this; for the destroying was supposed to be performed by them, and the rebuilding by himself.

Verse 62

62. Answerest thou nothing? Our Lord was most wisely silent; for what was there in his words, thus given in evidence, to answer? The high priest here behaves most unbecomingly in endeavouring to give importance to what he must have been conscious was nothing.

Verse 63

63. Held his peace Thus at once defeating the unjust judge, and calling to mind the prediction of the prophet: “As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” How valuable a gift is the talent for judicious silence! I adjure thee The high priest now takes a new turn. The testimony said something about rebuilding the temple. Now the glorious rebuilding of the temple was one of the popular things ascribed to the Messiah. “This man then,” says the high priest to himself, “I understand to be a claimant to the Messiahship.” He therefore puts the adjuration, which every Jew was bound to answer truly. The Christ, the Son of God The high priest doubtless knew that these two titles meant, according to prophecy, the same being. He joins the two together, with an air of great solemnity, for the purpose of making the claim to them both appear more formidable.

Verse 64

64. Thou hast said The same in sense is given by Mark: “I am.” This was a solemn moment. The titular high priest of the Jews, and their eternal High Priest, are now face to face. the substance is arraigned before the judgment bar of the shadow. One is the representative of the Jewish nation; the other is its Messiah and its true king. The representative, in whom for the time being the nation is embodied, puts the great question, “Are you the Messiah?” The Messiah “witnesses a good confession.” He pronounces the solemn affirmative, “I AM.” And he is REJECTED. The great act is consummated. Well might the high priest rend his clothes. Not because his prisoner had spoken blasphemy, but because himself had denied the Lord that bought him.

Nevertheless Should rather be moreover. Hereafter Through all the circumstances of his humiliation, Jesus foresaw with unwavering faith the day of his own exaltation. Shall ye see Ye who now see me your prisoner will then see me your Judge. The Son of man He does not say me, but speaks of himself by that title which the Old Testament ascribes to the Messiah.

Sitting on the right hand of power That is, of Omnipotence. Coming in the clouds of heaven The words are taken from Daniel 7:13. The prophet is describing Christ’s coming into the presence of his Father to be invested with all power. Its true fulfilment took place at the resurrection. (See on Matthew 28:18.) But as the same Lord will come at the judgment day in that same glory, so the words that describe that same glory are well used, although in a different transaction. The glory wherewith Christ was invested at his resurrection, though mostly unseen by mortal eye, was the same glory as that with which he will be visibly invested at his second coming.

Verse 65

65. The high priest rent his clothes ”This was not contrary to the law of Leviticus 21:10; for that referred either (but improbably) only to the sacred vestments at the time of sacrifice, or (more properly) only to lamentation for the dead. We see in 1Ma 11:71 , and in several passages of Scripture, that high priests rent their garments; indeed Sepp tells us that it was prescribed to them actually that they should rend them from below upward.” Stier.

Spoken blasphemy In claiming to be the Son of GOD and Judge of mankind. The skill of the high priest is successful in eliciting some ground of charge against JESUS. But it is at a terrible cost, for he fairly makes issue with the Judge of the earth! Jesus Christ affirms himself in the presence of the Jewish nation to be the Messiah, and they pronounce him worthy of death for the claim. What a commentary is all subsequent history upon the issue of that moment!

Verse 66

66. What think ye? He presses his advantage to an immediate vote. Guilty of death His crime is blasphemy; that is the charge. He is worthy of death; that is the penalty. And the verdict is unanimous. Now why did not immediate execution follow? The obstruction is a formidable one. The Jews are under the Roman government. The Romans have taken from them the power of life and death. Besides, the Scriptures require that he should suffer death from Gentile hands, a reason of which they are unaware.

Verse 67

67. Then did they spit in his face Probably upon the retirement of the high priest the apprehenders of Jesus (Luke 22:63) and the crowd proceeded to these insults, He who had at his first arrest plentifully demonstrated his absolute power over his adversaries, now bows his head in complete abandonment to all which their rage pleases to inflict.

Buffeted him Struck him with the clenched fist, and then with the palms or flat hands.

Verse 68

68. Prophesy unto us He who claims to be chief of prophets should now give us a specimen of his prophetic powers. Matthew omits to tell us that he was blindfolded, so that they were here putting his prophetic powers to a mock test. Compare these insults before the Jews, which alluded to his claims of Messiahship, with the insults by the Romans, which alluded to his political claims. See note on Matthew 27:26-30.

Thursday, Midnight.

§ 133. PETER’S DENIAL AND REPENTANCE, Matthew 26:69-75 .

Matthew now suspends the narrative in regard to Jesus, and, out of the precise chronological order, gives the sequel in regard to Peter. When the multitude led Jesus to Caiaphas he followed afar off. And when, according to John, they stopped by the way at the house of Annas, while the Sanhedrim were assembling to Caiaphas, he went to the door and was admitted by the porter, through the interference of John, who was known to the high priest. While our Saviour was within the apartment of Annas undergoing examination, (not while he was before Caiaphas,) the events of the three denials are taking place without.

To understand the transaction we must figure to ourselves the ancient mode of building. The Eastern houses are not like ours, built many stories high. They extend in lengthened oblong rooms on the ground; and these oblongs are so built as to enclose a square yard or court in the centre.

The entrance through the street door into the porch leads either through into the court, or into the side rooms. It was in such a court that the fire was made when Peter uttered his first denial; while our Lord may be supposed to be in the reception and business room opposite, that is farthest from and parallel to the street, which must be reached from the porch by crossing the court.

Verse 69

PETER’S FIRST DENIAL.

The place, in the court at the fire.

69. Now Peter sat without in the palace Or open court, He was without the apartment in which Jesus was examined. The Greek word here rendered palace, means the court or square yard enclosed by the building. Mark does not mention the making of the fire; but it is curious to note that he presupposes it by saying that Peter was warming himself when the damsel spoke to him. Mark 14:67.

Thou also There is a similar fact in regard to this little word also. Matthew states nothing by which we are able to solve its meaning. Why also? But John tells us that he (John) had just introduced Peter to this damsel (who was the portress) and gained admittance for him. Also means, then, as well as John. We may add that the fact of John’s safety would seem to show that Peter was in little danger. Perhaps the only ground of fear was the fact that he had taken the sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. So that Peter’s extra bravery then is the cause of his extra cowardice now.

Verse 70

70. I know not what thou sayest So far from being guilty of your charge, I do not even know what it means.

Verse 71

PETER’S SECOND DENIAL.

The place, the porch.

71. Gone out into the porch As soon as he was able, Peter withdrew in fear from the scene of the charge. But it was only to encounter at the door a similar hazard. By comparing with Mark and Luke, it appears that two maidens and a man at that place recognized him at once. To them all he denies with an oath, a very convincing proof that he has not been a disciple of Jesus!

Verse 73

PETER’S THIRD DENIAL.

The place, probably in the court after a while.

There is nothing to indicate clearly the time. But the morning was now approaching, for the cock soon crew.

73. After a while John says an hour. Thy speech bewrayeth thee Peter had ventured to utter some remark which brought out his Gallilean brogue, and the bystanders noticed him. Bewrayeth Detecteth.

Verse 74

74. Curse and to swear No doubt he first swore, to show that he belonged not to the prophet of Nazareth; but now a real and insane rage seems to have complete mastery, and Satan is sifting him like wheat. But it was in this very depth of abandonment that the voice of convicting mercy reached him. It was the time for the monitory cock to crow for Peter, and he crew.

At this moment of gross denial and profanity Peter was in a state of mortal sin and condemnation. He had fallen from grace; and death, in his present impenitent condition, would have consigned him to remediless woe.

Luke tells us that “the Lord turned and looked upon Peter,” and that Peter thereupon reflected upon his Lord’s warning. Probably our Lord cast this glance as he was led from Annas to Caiaphas. Or at this third denial the door of the apartment where Jesus and Annas were may have been opened upon the court, and Peter may have painfully found himself denying and swearing under his Lord’s glance. That glance doubtless was turned full upon him with a significance that called Peter to his recollections. It does not appear that Peter came into the examination room or was present with his Lord.

Verse 75

75. Wept bitterly Tears are, indeed, of little use that result not in return to duty. Judas wept perhaps, but turned not. Peter wept, and what was better, he returned to Christ and became a faithful apostle.

Olshausen thinks that Peter’s denial was so inconsistent with his real bravery as to constitute a true “enigma,” explicable only on the hypothesis that he was under a temptation greater than he could bear. On the contrary, we venture to think it was like the man. He had active bravery, but not steady, passive firmness. Give him a sword, his fellow eleven for comrades, and his Lord for captain, and he would have been ready to storm the fortress of Antonia. But bid him put up his sword and stand the foeman’s shafts, and you take the man out of him. He followed his Lord adventurously, and then denied him shamefully; just as he started to walk upon the waves and then sunk before the blast. Such keeping of character is sure proof of the truth of the Gospel history.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 26". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/matthew-26.html. 1874-1909.