Sunday, May 28th, 2023
Contending for the Faith Contending for the Faith
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 26". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ ctf/ matthew-26.html. 1993-2022.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 26". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/
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And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said unto his disciples,
Having finished his prophetic discourse of chapters twenty-four and twenty-five, Jesus now turns to events closer at hand. Lest the twelve lose their heads in the future, He brings them to the harsh reality of his imminent betrayal and crucifixion.
Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified.
That Jesus speaks of the Passover and his death in the same breath is significant. Though the disciples fail to comprehend the fact, Jesus will soon fulfill the Old Testament "type" as found in the paschal lamb. John the Baptist testified, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). But even in the Old Testament economy, there could be no efficacy unless blood was shed—the lamb had to die. Likewise Jesus will soon become the true "Passover Lamb"—not only to deliver the nation of Israel but the world.
The first day of Passover begins on the fourteenth day of the month of Nisan (corresponding to March-April). Since Jesus eats the Passover on Thursday and is crucified on Friday, the words of this verse must have been spoken sometime after sunset on Tuesday evening Nisan
12 (Wednesday having already begun according to Jewish reckoning). Because the Jews are to remove all leaven from their homes during Passover, this week is also called the "feast of unleavened bread" (Luke 22:1).
Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas,
"Then" has reference to the same time frame as the previous verse— two days before the Passover feast. Israel’s supreme authorities assemble once again to plot against Jesus. In fact, the resentment against Him has been building for some time (12:14). Not until it is in accord with God’s timing, however, will these wicked leaders hope to do anything to the Son of Man.
The chief priests and elders are two of the classes of the Sanhedrin, the supreme legislative body of Israel. Along with the scribes who are the official theologians (Mark 14:1; Luke 22:2), these two groups now assemble in the residential palace court of Caiaphas, the high priest. The phrase "chief priests" includes not only the "high priest" himself but also the heads of the twenty-four courses of priests who serve the Temple. In addition, chief priests may also include previously dismissed priests who yet retain political power.
The Caiaphas mentioned here is Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest who serves from A.D. 18–36. The office of high priesthood is traditionally passed on through the Levitical line; but during the period of Roman occupation, the office falls victim to political puppetry and becomes a position to be sold or bestowed as a political favor. Consequently, many Jews do not regard Caiaphas as legitimate but instead recognize his father-in-law, Annas (who is high priest from A.D. 6– 15) as "God’s anointed." During this era of Israel’s history, the high priesthood was almost a yearly turnover, having become the unfortunate victim of Herodian politics (Fowler 619). Twenty-eight high priests served during a period of some 107 years, an average tenure of less than four years for a function that should have been for life (Josephus, Antiquities XX 10, 1).
This clandestine meeting to destroy Jesus does not take place in the regular hall of the Sanhedrin but in the inner court (aule) of the high priest’s official residence. It is in this exact place that Peter also denies Christ (26:69; John 18:15).
And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him.
Nothing unites foes like a common enemy. In spite of disagreements on other issues, these leaders agree Jesus must be destroyed! This Galilean "Rabbi" who, only days earlier, gained popular acclaim as He entered Jerusalem (21:1), must now be silenced. This group of leaders does not assemble to decide "what" should be done. This is for them a foregone conclusion: He must be killed. They assemble to decide how to accomplish the deed in the most expeditious and quiet manner.
But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people.
It is not dirtying their hands with innocent blood that bothers these wicked leaders. It is not the desecrating of the feast that bothers them. Their only fear is that if they are not careful they might invoke a public riot as they attempt to destroy Jesus. The tone of their meeting seems to be that if they can arrest Jesus privately then He can be taken during the feast. But if they must do their work publicly, it will be better to wait until after Passover.
Passover is the most celebrated festival of the Jewish calendar. At this point in time, Jerusalem is literally bursting with pilgrims and worshipers. Josephus indicates that some 256,500 lambs were slain during a typical Passover. If, as tradition requires, ten people eat one lamb, the total number of celebrants might well have exceeded two million. Since many of these worshipers are from Galilee and many may have been in the throng that had welcomed Jesus during His triumphal entry, any premature move on the part of these leaders might erupt into mob chaos and riot. Thus, Passover poses a particularly high risk for them to carry out their plan.
Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,
It is difficult to determine the chronology of this event. Matthew and Mark (14:3) mention the supper and anointing immediately after the consultation of the wicked authorities, and John places the event six days before Passover (12:1). Because no writer gives decisive statements about the timing, it is possible that both Matthew and Mark present a "flashback" to an earlier event because of its connection to Judas’ betrayal. Judas Iscariot is the one who raises the complaint about Mary’s act of kindness (John 12:4). In any event, what now transpires stands in stark contrast to the Sanhedrin’s action. In this scene, Mary lovingly pre-prepares the body of Christ. In the previous scene, the leaders plan to kill Him.
Luke does not record this anointing. He does describe a similar event in Luke 7:36, but the two instances are separate. Both include a man named Simon, but it is a common name. Furthermore Luke’s account takes place in Galilee whereas the events here take place in Bethany. The woman in Luke is a notorious sinner whereas here the woman is Mary, the devout follower of Jesus who just months earlier sat at His feet. In Luke the host thinks it strange that Jesus allows such a woman to touch him; here the disciples, specifically Judas, complain about the waste of the ointment. In Luke, Jesus gives assurance of forgiveness; here Jesus speaks of the act’s perpetual and worldwide honor. Clearly, the two circumstances are different.
The supper takes place in the house of "Simon the leper." We know little of this man, but from the description he obviously once had the dreaded disease of leprosy and had been healed; otherwise it would have been a violation of Jewish law for Jesus and His disciples to recline with him at the table. Some suspect that Jesus had healed Simon, and this feast is now given in His honor (John 12:2). We have no proof of this conclusion, but we do know from John’s account that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are all present. Martha serves, but it is Mary who anoints Jesus’ feet.
There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.
Curiously, neither Matthew nor Mark mentions the woman’s name; but John says it is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (12:1–3). She now brings an alabaster box, or more accurately an alabaster vial, filled with precious ointment. From Mark we learn its value is more than "three hundred pence," almost a year’s wages for the common laborer (14:5). Alabaster is a translucent and beautiful variety of gypsum stone and is the usual container for extremely precious and aromatic oils. John notes the vase holds a "pound of spikenard," about 11.5 ounces. That Mary has such an amount of precious oil indicates she is of some wealth.
Matthew says she pours this perfume on His "head." Mark records she breaks the bottle. The flask probably has a long neck and a small mouth to prevent evaporation (Broadus 519). To extract the ointment that has been carefully sealed inside the bottle, Mary breaks the neck of the bottle. Once it has been broken, the content will be used immediately (Lenski 1006).
These actions occur as Jesus sits at meat (literally: reclines, as in Oriental fashion around a low table). John notes that Mary anoints the feet of Jesus and wipes them with her hair (12:3). Matthew mentions only that she anoints His head; however, there is no contradiction, for it is easy to do both, given Jesus’ reclining position at the meal. After anointing His head, an act of friendship and kindness, she proceeds to His feet, an act of humility and servitude. Having no towel, she wipes the excess with her hair, showing the humility of this woman whose earlier contact with Jesus’ feet had demonstrated discipleship and submission (Luke 10:39).
But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.
It is Judas who first raises the protest (John 12:4-6). Lenski says, "Judas uncorks the vial of his poison, and the vile odor begins to spread" (1007). John clearly notes that the interest Judas has in the scene stems not from concern for the poor but from personal greed. He would have liked for Mary to sell the ointment and deposit the funds with him so he could have added it to the disciples’ money bag—a bag he carried and to which he helped himself.
When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.
The complaint raised by Judas has no doubt circulated among the disciples. Immediately knowing their minds, Jesus comes to Mary’s defense. His words are swift and piercing. The gist of His statement is, "Why do you distress the woman?" or "Why are you creating burdens for her?" Jesus wants His disciples to know the work this woman does is appreciated, so they should leave her alone.
For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.
Jesus is not diminishing the plight of the poor but is instructing the disciples in priorities. Soon He will be crucified, rise again, and ascend to the Father. Times of humble service toward Him are precious and few, but there will always be opportunity to help the poor (Mark 14:7).
The lesson is clear. One should never excuse himself from doing what is right by saying there may be better opportunities ahead. When opportunity knocks, the door must be answered, for once opportunity passes, it may never come again.
For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.
Though unappreciated by the disciples, this wasteful service possesses a special significance and timeliness. Mark 14:8 says, ".…she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying."
Whether or not Mary anticipates Jesus’ death is debatable. Fowler suggests that just as Jesus reads the disciples’ minds and knows the motivation of their criticism, He knows Mary’s motivation. He further suggests that Jesus’ words "she did it for my burial" state her premeditated intent. If this is the case, perhaps in Mary, the Master finds one who understands His mission and impending fate. Unlike the male disciples, perhaps Mary perceives that soon Jesus will be whisked away by the authorities and murdered, leaving her little opportunity to anoint His body. Thus, having prepared (John 12:7), she seizes the opportunity and anoints Him while He is alive. Jesus’ praise is justified only if Mary intends her act as an anointing of His body for burial (Lenski 1010).
Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.
This is the only time Jesus ever raises a monument to a specific person (Fowler 641). But the meaning of His statement goes beyond any commendation given to the woman. Jesus reminds us that Christianity is composed of service. Just as His trip to the cross is the ultimate service He can render mankind, so Mary demonstrates a servant’s heart. Jesus says her action will stand as a perpetual memorial wherever the gospel is preached. Jesus’ words are really a prediction of His resurrection. Without a resurrection, there will be no gospel and no preaching.
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests,
In contrast to Mary’s humble act of service, Judas now seeks opportunity to betray Jesus. All of the gospel narratives name Judas as "one of the twelve," further underscoring his heinous act. His full name is also given, "Judas Ish Kerioth," to distinguish him from the other Judas among the twelve. The naming of the traitor as "one of the twelve" is tragic, for it was he, one of the sacred number and raised so high by Christ, who transformed his office into a tool of Satan (Lenski 1011). Only a friend can betray a friend; a stranger has nothing to gain. Only a friend, so close as Judas, comes close enough to cause such pain. What causes this demonic disciple to pick this moment to go to the chief priests is unstated, but he has no doubt heard of their clandestine plot, and he seizes on the opportunity. Luke says, "Then entered Satan into Judas…And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them" (22:3-4).
And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.
Judas wants to know up front what the reward will be for handing Jesus over to these leaders. Furthermore, his greed pushes him to demand the money in advance. "What are you willing to give me?" is his question. "I will deliver him" is emphatic in the Greek. In other words, "Pay me the right price right here and now and I, even I, one of his own, will hand him over." Seemingly without a haggle, the price is agreed upon. "They covenanted with him" literally means they "placed in the balance." The term is used for officially and carefully weighing out the exact value of money. These evil men want to do the most iniquitous thing in the most orthodox way (Robertson 206). Judas was willing to betray God’s "standard of righteousness" but he does not want to get cheated in the process.
Thirty pieces of silver seems to be a reference to Zechariah 11:12 and is the value of a common slave (Exodus 21:32). For the price of a slave, Jesus is sold so that He might give freedom to a world lost in sin.
And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him.
With the "blood money" in the bag, Judas apparently rejoins the other disciples. But he keeps watch for an opportune time to betray Jesus. He will soon find this opportunity as Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane. "So Judas left with the blood money weighing heavily in his bag. He carried the funds of Jesus and of his band, and during this season the little treasury must have been flushed" (Lenski 1012).
Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?
"The first day of unleavened bread" refers to the fourteenth of Nisan, the day on which the Passover lambs were killed (Luke 22:7). According to Levitical law, the lambs were slain "between the two evenings", that is between 3 and 5 p.m. of the fourteenth (Exodus 12:6; Numbers 9:3). Technically speaking, the "feast of unleavened bread" began on the fifteenth and lasted seven days until the twenty-first of Nisan (Leviticus 23:5-6). In the time of Christ, however, the entire eight days that began with Nisan fourteenth was interchangeably referred to as the "feast of unleavened bread" or "Passover." Both celebrations, closely connected in theme, commemorated Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage. "Unleavened bread" derived its name from the fact that during "Passover" the Jews were to rid their homes of all leaven (Exodus 12:15). This they did during the evening of thirteenth Nisan, or at the latest during the morning of the fourteenth. "Passover" was so named because it commemorated the safety God granted Israel when the death angel "passed over" the land of Egypt. The Passover meal itself was eaten the evening of the fourteenth after sunset, in this case Thursday evening (technically the fifteenth since the Jewish religious day began and ended at sunset).
Although the Jewish calendar was filled with celebrations, many involving feasts, none was more important than Passover. The Mosaic Law required that sacrificial lambs be selected on the tenth day of the first month (Nisan, originally called Abib—Exodus 12:1-6) and be kept until the fourteenth day when they would be killed and eaten. If in the year of Jesus’ death the fourteenth was on Thursday and if, as a majority of scholars propose, Jesus made His triumphal entry on Sunday, then Jesus presented himself to Jerusalem on "lamb selection day" (21:1). The symbolism is striking, for on the day the Jews are selecting their sacrifice, Jesus presents Himself as the "Lamb of God." The crowd’s cry of "Hosanna" show they want a suave politician who could take away the Romans rather than a savior who could take away their sins.
Before the Passover could be eaten, various preparations had to be made. The lamb had to be slain and roasted and the other necessary items prepared. Besides roasted lamb, other items were necessary: containers of red wine, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread all of which had symbolic meaning in the Passover. Other foods such as fish, vegetables, and fruit were also often added to the meal (Ray Summer, Commentary on Luke 269). But Jesus and his disciples were not the only ones sacrificing lambs on Passover (see notes on verse 5). MacArthur suggests that because the lambs had to be slaughtered within a two-hour period (between 3 and 5 p.m.) an enormous amount of blood poured from the altar and drained into the Kidron Valley below staining the brook crimson red for several days after Passover (140). Such a yearly tide should have served to remind the Jews that the blood of animals could never take away sins. It would take the blood of a perfect Passover Lamb: Jesus Christ.
And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples.
Luke 22:8 identifies the two disciples to whom Jesus gives the command as Peter and John. Mark and Luke also note that when the two disciples enter the city they would meet a man bearing a pitcher of water. They are to follow him to a specific house where they would find a guest chamber furnished and ready (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:12).
Expositors have puzzled over the seemingly secretive nature of the Lord’s command to the two disciples. He neither mentions the water boy by name or the location of the home to which they would eventually come. Perhaps the best explanation for such secrecy is to be found in the hostility that Judas demonstrated toward Jesus. Without doubt, Jesus knows of Judas’ treachery and desire to betray him. Yet He also knows He must eat yet one "Last Supper" with His beloved group. Thus, to keep Judas from knowing the place in advance and foil his plans, Jesus keeps the command vague. "Jesus keeps the traitor hopelessly guessing as to where this place may be found. Jesus will celebrate this Passover in perfect security, right in the city itself, and that at night, whereas ever since his entry into the city. he had left the city every night" (Lenski 1015). The man Peter and John are to meet would not have been difficult to identify since carrying a jar of water was typically woman’s work. Summers notes that if the man were a young man, his carrying a jar of water would not have been so unusual as to provoke undue attention (Commentary on Luke 268).
The message the disciples are to deliver to the good man of the house ("Master’s time is at hand") is likewise vague. But the message itself indicates this man is a disciple of Jesus. We are not told who he is; and speculation that he is Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, or Mark, who apparently lives in the city, is fruitless. Nevertheless upon hearing the phrases "the Master" (ho didaskalos) and "my time is at hand" (kairos—special time), the homeowner knows the meaning. Lenski suggests this homeowner, a disciple advanced in his faith and one who understands about Jesus’ imminent death, recognizes the reference as one pertaining to Jesus’ passion and is moved to action (1016).
And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.
Peter and John now enter the city as the Lord commands. Presumably they present a lamb at the Temple for sacrifice and then make whatever other preparations are necessary for the meal that Jesus would eat with His disciples later that evening.
The synoptic gospels are unequivocal that the meal Jesus eats is the Passover. "Passover" is used many times in the following texts: Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-15. Accordingly, the synoptics would have the Last Supper instituted on Thursday night after sunset, the beginning of Friday Nisan fifteenth in the Jewish calendar, and it would be the Passover supper (Summers, Behold the Lamb, 164). Thus, Jesus dies on Friday, fifteenth Nisan about 3 p.m., is put in the grave on the same day, remains there all day Saturday (sixteenth), and then arises early Sunday morning the seventeenth.
While this has been the traditional interpretation, some have seen a discrepancy in John’s record. At first glance, the fourth gospel seems to suggest Jesus dies before the Jews celebrate the Passover meal– perhaps in fact at the exact moment the Passover lambs are being slain on the Temple mount—thus fulfilling the Old Testament "lamb" motif (1 Corinthians 5:7). Accordingly, some suggest the supper Jesus observes on Thursday evening is not the Passover but some type of meaningful precursory meal, an occasion to institute His own death memorial. While the Passover lambs are being killed on the Temple mount that Friday about 3 p.m. in preparation for that evening’s Passover observance, Jesus dies on the cross as the Lamb of God; hence, while the Jews are observing their Passover, Jesus is already in the tomb; Judas has committed suicide; and the eleven are hiding from the Sanhedrin (Summers, Behold the Lamb, 164). But is this theory correct?
The primary evidence for this view comes from John 18:28 where, after His arrest, Jesus’ accusers would not enter the Praetorium "lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover." Such ceremonial defilement would result from Gentiles being present in the room. At first glance, this point of view seems to affirm that at this early hour on Friday, the Jews have not yet observed their Passover. Furthermore, John 19:14 indicates the crucifixion occurs on the "preparation day" of the Passover. And John 19:36 notes the soldiers "break not his legs," pointing to yet another requirement of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:46). Admittedly, the symbolism fits John’s gospel perfectly, but we are left to wonder what Jesus observes on Thursday evening if not the Passover? Why do the synoptics so assuredly state that Jesus observes the Passover with His disciples?
The arguments and explanations levied by scholars are weighty and difficult indeed. Some liberal expositors find irreconcilable differences between the synoptics and John’s untenable explanation. Several sources will be listed below for further study on the issue, but the following considerations should be made:
1. The Johannine passages that seem to conflict with the synoptics can be harmonized. Robertson, for example, shows that John 18:28 can be explained in that the phrase "eat the Passover" need not necessarily refer to the meal proper but can refer to the entire feast. Thus, though the Jews have eaten the Passover, they are wary of ceremonial defilement that might jeopardize future celebrations (Robertson, Harmony 282-283). Furthermore, John uses the phrase some eight times besides this instance and in every case the entire festival is meant. Likewise, the term "preparation for the Passover" in John 19:14, which describes the day of Jesus’ trial, can be interpreted as preparation for Passover "week." John had no need to insert the term "week" since it would have been understood! Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that by the first century A.D. paraskeue (preparation day) had become a technical term for "Friday," since every Friday was a preparation day for Saturday, the Sabbath. The word for "Friday" in Modern Greek is paraskeue. Thus, John 19:14 agrees with the synoptics that Jesus dies on Friday.
2. The differences between the synoptics and John may also be explained by the possibility that each uses different calendric methods in their accounts. Morris, MacArthur, and others affirm that in first century Palestine the Jews of the north, including Galilee, calculate days from sunrise to sunrise—a method that was accepted by most, if not all, Pharisees. The Jews in the southern part of Palestine, however, calculate days from sunset to sunset—a system most of the priestly class and Sadducees accept. While the dual system no doubt causes conflict, it has some practical benefits. During the Passover, for example, it allows for the feast to be celebrated legitimately on two adjoining days, thereby permitting the Temple sacrifices to be made over a total period of four hours rather than two (MacArthur 145). If this theory is correct, it is likely that Jesus, being from Galilee, considers Passover to begin at sunrise on Thursday continuing through sunrise on Friday—thus His Thursday evening Passover celebration. Those who arrest Jesus, however, being mostly Sadducees and priests from Judea, would have considered Passover to begin at sunset on Thursday continuing through sunset on Friday—thus, at the time of Jesus’ arrest and trial, they would not yet have sacrificed their lambs or observed their Passover meal. By the southern time scheme, Jesus could legitimately observe the Passover a day earlier than his captors and still die the next afternoon at the exact time the lambs are slain, thus fulfilling the Pascal picture.
3. Another explanation for the alleged difference between John and the synoptics is that the "sacrifices" presented at the Temple on Friday, preparation day, are not Pascal lambs to be eaten in homes (a rite Jesus and other Jews observed the night before) but are lambs to be offered at the Temple on behalf of the nation of Israel. The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties suggests that Passover includes both the sacrifice of lambs for private use in the Pascal feast (Exodus 12:6) as well as other lambs on behalf of the nation (cf. Exodus 12:16-17; Leviticus 23:4-8; 2 Chronicles 30:15-19; 2 Chronicles 35:11-16). Accordingly, explanations that say Jesus holds His personal Passover a night early, knowing He would be crucified, or that He holds to a different calendar from Jerusalem priests are improbable and unnecessary. No contradiction exists between John and the synoptics. Jesus, the Lamb of God, dies on Friday at the exact time the lambs were being offered on behalf of the nation (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 376).
4. In contrast to the above assertion that the fourteenth of Nisan occurred on Thursday (see comments on verse 17), there is some anecdotal evidence that in the year Jesus died the fourteenth fell on Friday. According to astronomical calculation some assert that the only year from A.D. 26-A.D. 36 that the fourteenth fell on Thursday was A.D. 27, a year most scholars regard as impossible for Christ’s death. But in A.D. 30 and in A.D. 33, assuming normal circumstances, the fourteenth was on a Friday. This evidence, along with the Johannine passages cited above, suggest to some that Jesus died on Friday the fourteenth at the exact time the Passover lambs were being slain.
The verdict is far from settled in the case of the crucifixion timetable and how one should go about harmonizing the texts. Notable scholars exist in all of the above camps. Thus, we suggest the following: A Harmony of the Gospels by A.T. Robertson, 279-284; History of the Christian Church by Philip Schaff, Vol. 1, 133-135; The New International Commentary on John by Leon Morris, 774-785; Commentary on Matthew, Vol. 4 by Harold Fowler, 662-668; Commentary on Matthew by John Broadus, 524-525.
Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve.
The time is Thursday evening, the end of the fourteenth and beginning of the fifteenth Nisan. A specific hour for observance was not fixed by custom or law, but it would have been after the appearance of the first star, making it technically the fifteenth of Nisan.
"He sat down" should more literally be rendered, "he was reclining" (anekeito). Even though the original Passover was to be hastily observed while "standing" (Exodus 12:11), custom had eventually dictated a more leisurely observance. In Oriental fashion, Jesus and His disciples reclined on cushions arranged on the floor around a low "U-shaped" table on which the meal was placed. The Talmud of Jerusalem says, "It is the manner of servants to eat standing, but now let them (the Israelites) eat reclining, that they may be known to have passed out of slavery into liberty" (Broadus 526). Apparently Jesus sees the original practice of reclining as having no binding significance, thus He conforms to custom.
"With the twelve" indicates Jesus is at this time alone with his disciples. Although many others, including many women, follow Him during His ministry, Jesus chooses to observe this meal with only His closest companions.
And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.
"Verily I say unto you" is a statement of solemnity. What Jesus is about to reveal would shock the entire group, even the traitor himself in that His Master already knows the details. "One of you shall betray me." The word "betray" (paradidomi) means to give over or deliver up. It was often used of delivering a prisoner over to prison or punishment (MacArthur 147). That one of "you," His inner circle, would be guilty of such an act is unthinkable—the treachery is made worse by the fact that Jesus reveals this to one with whom He sits at meat. In Oriental culture, the eating of a meal with someone is considered a high mark of friendship and companionship. Our English word "companion" derives its meaning from the concept of "eating bread with another." Yet here with His closest companions, in the middle of Judaism’s most sacred meal, Jesus reveals that one of them is a traitor. John 13:22 says his disciples are taken off guard and perplexed about whom He speaks.
Even in such a setting as this, Jesus treats Judas with respect. Having washed Judas’ feet along with the others, Jesus does not now expose him by name, violently attack him or wither him with supernatural power. Rather Jesus reveals the insight He has into Judas’ actions and not until after appealing to Judas’ sense of fellowship and love does He unleash the warning (verse 24).
And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?
One wonders what Judas thinks as he sees the pain shoot across his fellows’ faces. With fear, sorrow, and amazement, they probe the unthinkable, "Lord, is it I?" Unsure of themselves, they inquire about their guilt. Broadus quotes Jerome who says, "The eleven, believing the Master more than themselves, and fearing their own weakness, sadly ask about a sin of which they had no consciousness" (527).
And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.
"He that dippeth" does not immediately identify Judas any more than the others. Having no knives, forks, or spoons, all would have dipped their bread into a bowl of charoseth, a dish of spicy sweet-sour fruit sauce made from figs, nuts, and raisins that customarily accompanies the Passover meal. Because there might have been several bowls around the table, Jesus’ comment may have narrowed the possibility to those within arm’s reach from where He Himself reclined (676). If, as Edersheim postulates, Judas is sitting on Jesus’ left and John on His right, it would have been easy for Judas to dip with Jesus. This arrangement might also explain how Jesus could talk directly yet privately to Judas (26:25) and subsequently to John (John 13:24-26) without being overheard by the others [see Edersheim’s comments on this point (Life, Book V, 494)].
On the point of Jesus’ statement and Judas’ underhandedness, Robertson says, "This language means that one of those who had eaten bread with him had violated the rights of hospitality by betraying him. The Arabs today are punctilious on this point. Eating one’s bread ties your hands and compels friendship" (208). Judas is
not only a traitor, he is a hypocrite as well, sitting close to Jesus as if he were a soul mate when in reality he is in league with the devil.
The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.
"The Son of Man goeth" proves that Jesus knows full well the program that lies ahead and wants His disciples to realize the same. For some time He has endeavored to prepare their minds for His impending death at Jerusalem (16:21-23; 17:12; 20:18; 20:28; 21:38) yet the disciples have been slow in accepting the fact. Once again Jesus affirms the verity of His passion. Thus, while Judas is even then in the throes of his dastardly deed, Jesus does not stop him, for it is part of God’s great plan.
"As it is written" refers to the sovereign decree of God as foretold in the Old Testament. The prophets had predicted His death, and now it is about to occur (Isaiah 53; Psalms 22; Daniel 9:26 f; Zechariah 12:10 ff). What the disciples are hesitant to accept had been predetermined by God—it was His will, it would happen, and they need to prepare their minds for it.
"But woe unto that man….good for that man if he had not been born" indicates the heinousness of the crime. The act is so evil that it would have been better for Judas not to have been conceived. But Judas has been born and his only escape is repentance, an attitude he refuses until after Jesus’ arrest, and then only to such a degree that led to suicide. He does not bring forth fruit showing godly repentance.
One cannot help but wonder how to harmonize the fact of Christ’s predetermined betrayal and death with the free will of Judas. Is Jesus just in condemning Judas for simply fulfilling what God has already foretold through the prophets? That Jesus is destined to die in no way minimizes the responsibility of those who participate in His murder. McGarvey says, "This shows that a man who, by a wicked act, brings about a purpose of God bears the same guilt as though God had no purpose in it. It is his own act and motive for which he is judged, and not the results which God may have intended to bring out of his act" (McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew—Mark 226). While the scriptures fully predict that Jesus would die at the hand of traitors, Judas does not have to be "the traitor." "Nothing in sovereign predestination demanded that he be the apostate apostle" (Fowler 680). Even though Jesus knows his character, repentance is yet possible.
Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said.
While each of the other disciples has asked if he is the betrayer, Judas has apparently remained quiet. Now he finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. If he asks the same question, he takes the risk of identifying himself. If not, his silence speaks louder than words.
"Master, is it I?" The other disciples have addressed Jesus as "Lord" but Judas alone addresses him as Rabbi. It is difficult to ascertain the significance of this distinction, but one wonders if Judas simply could not bring himself to make the same confession. While the term Rabbi (teacher) is indeed a term of distinction and honor, it is a far cry from "Lord." If Judas really and sincerely views Jesus as "Lord," how could he betray Him? Perhaps his choice of words betrays his innermost feelings toward Jesus. In reality Jesus is at this point neither "teacher" nor "Lord" to Judas, for this traitor neither submits to Him, nor learns from Him.
It seems evident from John 13:24-26 that the other disciples do not overhear the exchange between Jesus and Judas. John 13:24 says that Peter asks John, resting in the bosom of Jesus, to question the Master about the betrayer’s identity. Apparently Jesus responds quietly to John, "It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it" (NKJV). At this point, the bread having been given, Satan enters into Judas. Jesus says, "What you do, do quickly." Except for John the other disciples apparently still do not know that Judas is the betrayer, for they think Jesus is commissioning Judas to purchase something for the feast or to provide something for the poor. Judas retreats from the group leaving Jesus to spend a few precious moments with His true disciples. Evidently Judas is not present during the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
"While they were eating" the Passover, Jesus takes "bread." We cannot be sure at exactly what stage of the meal Jesus establishes "His" memorial. Lenski suggests it comes at the close of the feast after the "ample period of freely eating the Passover food" (1023). Edersheim says the institution was in connection with the third cup, the "cup of blessing" as Paul calls it, which came at the end of the meal (Life, Book V, 511). There is little reason to dispute this point, for Paul and Luke say "likewise the cup after supper" indicating the end of the Passover meal (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25).
Jesus took bread: The word is "loaf" (artos) and is singular in both the synoptics and Paul’s account to the Corinthians (Broadus 528). Fowler says, "not loaves of raised dough, but the flat, unleavened bread of the Passover meal" (685). Lenski says this "artos" was a thin sheet of unleavened bread, pieces of which were broken off for the purpose of eating (1024).
and blessed it: Next Jesus "blessed" (eulogesas) the loaf just as he always blesses his food before eating. We do not know the exact words Jesus pronounces but that it is a thanksgiving is clear from 1 Corinthians 11:24. In this case, eucharisteo (give thanks) and eulogesas (bless) are the same (compare verse 27 where eucharisteo is used in reference to the cup).
and brake it: This phrase refers to Jesus’ action toward the loaf. It would seem that Jesus brakes off only what He eats and then passes the bread on to His disciples to do likewise. Paul apparently alludes to this practice as he reminds the Corinthians that they all break for themselves. "The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:16). Paul says "we break" signifying that each communicant has a hand in the breaking process. One cannot "break" for another, but each must do so for himself.
The fact that Jesus breaks the bread is not meant to symbolize His broken body. John says that prophecy was fulfilled in that "not a bone of Him shall be broken" (John 19:36; Psalms 34:20; Exodus 12:46). It is the bread itself that represents Christ’s body whereas the "breaking" is simply the mode of partaking. The term "breaking bread," however, came to represent the Lord’s Supper. While Paul is at Troas, the early church comes together to "break bread" (Acts 20:7). Likewise Acts 2:42 states that the apostolic church "continued steadfastly" in the breaking of bread," obviously a reference to the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper.
this is my body: "This is my body" is paramount to saying, "this [loaf] represents my body." We are not to conclude from Jesus’ statement that the loaf before them literally becomes His body. Neither should we conclude that the fruit of the vine literally becomes His blood. If so, then we are left to wonder how this action might occur, given that Jesus partakes with them. There is no hint of metaphysical cannibalism in Christ’s statement. Thus, we must reject the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation, stating the bread ceases to be bread, its substance being literally changed into the substance of the glorified body of Christ. Likewise, we must reject the view of Luther known as Consubstantiation, which suggests that the unchanged substance of the bread somehow mystically unites with the substance of the glorified body of Christ. We need make no more of Christ’s statement than is contextually evident. Just as Jesus compares Himself metaphorically to "the door" and "the vine," so here He offers the bread as an emblem of His physical body. As pertaining to the cup, note that He still calls its contents the "fruit of the vine" even after a blessing has been pronounced and even after Jesus calls it "blood" (compare verses 27 and 29). Apparently no material change occurs during the blessing or partaking. What Jesus gives is bread and fruit of the vine, nothing more, nothing less.
From the statement of Jesus, "this is my body" and the account that He "took bread," we must reject any other practice than that which places a single loaf on the Lord’s table. The modern habit of providing individual "loaves" in the Supper not only destroys the symbolism of the Feast but also specifically violates Jesus’ command, "This do in remembrance of me." Jesus has but one physical body He would soon give in death. He takes that which appropriately represents His self-sacrifice. "Take eat, this" (single loaf—artos) "is my body" (singular). No doubt Paul alludes to the fact that the Corinthians observe the Lord’s Supper with one loaf when he says, "For we being many are one bread, and one body, for we all partake of that one bread." Since it is only on a congregational level that the Lord’s Supper is observed, Paul refers to a practice already understood—namely the unity that should have been symbolized within the group at Corinth as the Communion was observed with a single loaf. We find Summers’ comment helpful:
His body was the one loaf by which they all shared in God’s mighty act of redemption. The breaking of the one loaf symbolized that. It is a meaning that is difficult to perceive in the general practice today of multiple trays of tiny fragments with never a view of the one loaf broken. Our practicality, which has solved the time problem of observing the rite in a congregation of hundreds of people, has made us miss the meaning so clear to that first little band who shared the loaf (Summers, Commentary on Luke 274).
And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
In the same manner, Jesus gives thanks for a single "cup" (poterion– drinking vessel) filled with the fruit of the vine. The formula used by Jews in blessing the Passover cup is, "Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, Who hast created the fruit of the Vine," and is so commonly used that we need not doubt that it was spoken by our Lord (Edersheim, The Temple 496). Luke and Paul remind us, "This cup is the new covenant, in my blood" (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). Thus, the "cup" represents the New Covenant that Christ would ratify with His shed blood. That Christ would use a literal drinking vessel to symbolize the New Covenant should not surprise us. To Abraham, God gives the literal action of circumcision to symbolize His covenant. To Noah, God gives the rainbow. Likewise to Christians today, Christ has placed on His table those elements that perfectly represent that which occurred at Calvary. When Jesus died, His body was given, His blood was shed, and a new relationship was established. Thus, we have a single loaf of bread representing His body and a single cup representing the New Covenant, inseparably linked to its contents, symbolizing the blood that ratified the agreement.
The modern practice of distributing the fruit of the vine in individual cups destroys the symbolism Jesus intended. It is clear Jesus took but one cup. Of this cup Jesus says, "Drink ye all of it." He is not saying they should "drain the cup" but that each disciple should drink from that cup. They are to share the cup by passing it from person to person (Mark 14:23). This solitary cup He sets as a symbol of the one New Covenant. When a plurality of cups is placed on the table, it cannot be the "Lord’s Supper," for it is not what He instituted. Fowler says:
As each disciple drinks from the cup he shares not only with every other disciple who does so, but he thereby commits himself to that fellowship. He drinks together with others in the memory of Jesus’ redemptive death, thus committing himself to share in the meaning of that sacrifice. This also involves our moral obligation to the rest of the family. More than any other, this must be thought of as "the cup of brotherhood." Western Christians must recapture what it means for people to "drink together"….In the Lord’s Supper it is with Jesus Christ and His Church that we drink! (497).
Edersheim says, "but Christ seems to have passed the one cup round among the Disciples" (Life 497). Since modern scholars with no particular ax to grind can agree that Jesus used only one cup in the initial institution, why is it so difficult for many within the Church of Christ to accept this pattern? Yet nothing has divided the Lord’s people any more than this issue. While those who accept and demand the simplicity stated within the narrative are oft ridiculed as ignorant, anti’s, and factious, the fact remains that Jesus gave a cup from which He asked his closest disciples to drink. By so doing, they committed their undying love to each other and to him. Hence Paul’s words, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:16).
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
"For this is my blood of the new testament" indicates that what the disciples are commissioned to drink (fruit of the vine) represents the blood Christ would shed to ratify the New Covenant. Not until Jesus dies would His covenant take full effect (Hebrews 9:16). Not until He sheds His blood could man be purged from his sins. Thus, even as it had been under the Mosaic Law, blood is a necessary ingredient to the ratification of Christ’s new and perfect will. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins (Hebrews 9:18-22). Because ancient covenants are considered a matter of life and death, they are sealed with blood. Life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11). Failure to keep the agreement often means the forfeiture of the life of the transgressor. Fowler says, "So, a covenant with a holy God that offers forgiveness of sins and fellowship could not be established without the judicially appropriate substitutionary shedding of blood for the sinner" (687). Sinful man needs God’s holy covenant but also he needs to meet the divine requirements for justice. Jesus sheds His blood so that we might stand justified. He gave His life so that we might enjoy life anew as found within the New Covenant.
The New Covenant Jesus brings into effect at Calvary is that which the prophets have longed for. Jeremiah prophesies:
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (31:31-34).
It is significant that Jesus institutes His memorial and that He sheds His blood during the Passover. Centuries earlier God had delivered Israel from the death angel by the blood of a lamb. Now Jesus becomes the spotless Lamb of God to deliver mankind—not from the slavery of Egypt but from the slavery of sin.
The phrase "for many" indicates that Jesus gave Himself a ransom for everyone, not just for a selective few. (1 Timothy 2:6). Hebrews 2:9 states that Jesus tasted death for every man. Thus, His death made salvation possible for all. McGarvey notes the term "many" is used here as it is in Romans 5:15 and means "all." He says, "When the persons included are contemplated individually, the term many is employed on account of the vast number of them….But when they are contemplated under the feebler conception of the whole, the term all is employed" (Commentary on Matthew 228).
But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.
By instituting His own memorial, Jesus has just predicted His death. But lest the disciples turn their hearts only toward the dismal scene that lies ahead, Jesus now predicts a new day, a new time, a new era when He would again sup with them in His Father’s kingdom.
It is clear from scripture that the apostles, like many of their Jewish contemporaries, expect the Messiah to inaugurate an earthly temporal kingdom. How disappointed they must have been as Jesus points to bread and fruit of the vine saying it represents His death. Where is His earthly reign they so long for? The words Jesus speaks here, however, contain encouragement. They point toward a future kingdom of God, not a temporal but a spiritual one in which all things would be new. Before another Passover rolls around, the kingdom of God will have come to earth and His disciples will again dine with Him at His table—certainly not in the way they expected but in a more glorious and spiritual way. The common Jewish expression of hope regarding the Messianic banquet was "Next year in Jerusalem!!!" Fowler alludes to this hope and suggests Jesus is saying, "This year I drink this cup of Passover wine, part of the old, Mosaic economy. Next year we will drink together in an entirely new way in the Kingdom" (695). Clearly every time the church assembles around the Lord’s table, He is with us!
Some have mistakenly interpreted this verse as meaning that Jesus does not partake of the emblems He set forth. But there is no evidence that He is abstaining or fasting because of his impending death. Fowler notes that the phrase "I shall not drink henceforth" implies he had drunk up until then (695). The change in His behavior would occur from this time forward. Thus, Jesus partook of His own death memorial. Luke 22:15 clearly shows that He has long anticipated this particular Passover and has longed to eat it with them. We must infer that He does.
The phrase "fruit of the vine" (gennema ampelos) has given rise to a great controversy as to what Jesus actually uses in the supper. Is it alcoholic or is it unfermented "wine" (grape juice, new wine)? The term "wine" (oinos) is a generic term for products of the grape. A majority of sources opt for the former, insisting the drink element in the Jewish Passover is alcoholic. But before we look at whether their case is proved, we should, for the sake of fairness, note the following:
1. "The cup contained wine mingled with water, on which all agree save those who for special reasons believe that wine was not used….The expression "fruit of the vine" is derived from the Hebrew pheri hagiphen, a choice liturgical formula for wine" (Lenski, 1028).
2. "To institute the new memorial, Jesus used two ready and natural foods from the Passover table: the brownish white bread suggestive of flesh, and the red wine suggestive of blood. The idea that this was unfermented grape juice cannot be defended. The drink used in the Passover Supper was wine" (Summers on Luke, 276).
3. "In the later ritual of the Passover, the cup of wine (or rather, of wine mingled with water) was passed round three times in the course of the supper (Ellicott, 378).
4. "Fruit of the vine was a common Jewish colloquialism for wine….(MacArthur, 153).
5. "The wine was the ordinary one of the country, only red; it was mixed with water, generally in the proportion of one part to two of water" (Edersheim, Life Book V, 485).
6. To the above Edersheim adds this footnote. "The contention that it was unfermented wine is not worth serious discussion, although in modern practice (for reasons needless to mention) its use is allowed (Life, Book V, 485).
7. "The argument that the fermentation of wine, as opposed to unfermented grape juice, would disqualify wine for use on the Passover Supper, assumes that Jewish authorities considered such fermentation to be equal to leaven or yeast. This view, however, does not accurately reflect Biblical logic. The fermentation of wine was obviously not considered leaven since wine could be poured out as a libation on God’s altar during a burnt-offering (Exodus 29:39-41; Leviticus 23; Leviticus 13; Numbers 28:7 f), whereas no leaven must ever appear there (Exodus 23:18, Leviticus 2:11)" (Fowler 698).
8. "The term new is most naturally understood as modifying wine, but as the wine of the supper is not necessarily new wine, I think it rather indicates the new method of drinking wine just indicated" (McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew, 228).
9. Of Luke’s account, McGarvey says, "Wine, mingled with water, was drunk during the paschal supper. Jesus took a cup of this for his new institution. But the word ’wine’ is nowhere used in any of the accounts of the Lord’s Supper, the terms ’cup’ and ’fruit of the vine’ being employed in its stead. Those, therefore who choose to use unfermented grape juice are guilty of no irregularity" (Fourfold, 658).
10. "The wine of the Last Supper, accordingly may be described in modern terms as a sweet, red, fermented wine, rather highly diluted. As it was no doubt the ordinary wine of commerce, there is no reason to suppose that it was particularly pure" (ISBE, Vol. 5, 3087).
11. "But unfermented grape juice is a very difficult thing to keep without the aid of modern antiseptic precautions, and its preservation in the warm and not overly clean conditions of ancient Pal[istine] was impossible" (ISBE, Vol. V, 3086).
With the marshaling of such evidence from highly respectable sources, it perhaps seems high folly to challenge the notion that Jesus uses fermented wine in the institution of His sacred meal. But do these scholars establish a prima fascia case in favor of alcoholic wine? We will leave the reader to his own mind as additional evidence comes to light; however, this writer is under no illusion that any amount of logic will dissuade the man whose heart is set on the social consumption of alcoholic beverages and who thus turns to scripture to prove his case. While connected, the question of what Jesus uses in the Passover and the propriety of a Christian’s drinking alcohol for social purposes are separate issues, both of which must be prayerfully studied. Even if it could be established beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus uses some form of alcoholic wine in the Passover meal, such would not justify social imbibing.
No doubt the first notion that should be challenged is the assertion the ancients had neither the methods nor inclination to prohibit fermentation of pure grape juice. The contention that because the Passover came some six months after grapes were gathered, the drink element was alcoholic is also false. In his classic work, Bible Wines, Patton clearly demonstrates that the ancients possessed the secret of preserving wines sweet throughout the whole year. Several modes were popular not the least of which was "boiling," whereby juice was reduced to sweet concentrated syrup, thus preventing fermentation. Aristotle notes the wine of Arcadia was so thick that it was necessary to scrape it from the skin bottles in which it was contained and dissolve it in water (Patton 36). Reduced non-fermented juice was called "wine." Therefore, the term "wine" as used by the ancients (including biblical writers) does not necessarily imply alcoholic content. Other methods such as "filtration" (the gluten separated from the juice, thus destroying the necessary conditions for fermentation) and "fumigation" (exposing the juice to sulfur fumes) were also used to preserve grape juice.
Jesus Himself shows it is common for those of Palestine to preserve new wine. His statement in Matthew 9:17, "they put new wine into new wineskins and both are preserved" clearly proves it is possible for new wine (pure juice) to be kept from fermenting by placing it in a sterile environment (a newly tanned hide that would possess certain antiseptic properties). He says, "both are preserved"—both the fresh juice and the new wineskins! How could Jesus make such a claim if some fermentation process were in view? The common interpretation of this verse suggesting that "new wine," when placed in more elastic new skins, does not burst its container as it ferments is simply untenable. It has been estimated that one cubic inch of sugar transformed into carbonic gas (produced during fermentation) takes up about forty times more room. Thus, McGuiggan says such "a skin wouldn’t survive—new or otherwise" (The Bible, The Saint, and The Liquor Industry 113). New wine in old bottles might certainly ferment, thus bursting the bottles; but new wine in new bottles, says Jesus, preserves both. Why? Because new wine so kept does not ferment!
Second, each time the scripture uses the word "wine," it does not necessarily imply alcohol. The ancients had several words for "wine." Perhaps the most common among the Greeks was oinos (wine), which in the Septuagint (LXX) corresponds exactly to the Hebrew yayin. Both of these words are generic and denote the juice of the grape in all of its various stages, both non-alcoholic and alcoholic. When we read the word "wine" in scripture, we must not jump to the conclusion that alcohol is implied. Patton says, "But the misery and delusion are that most readers of the Bible, knowing of no other than the present wines of commerce, which are intoxicating, leap to the conclusion, wine is wine all over the world" (53). McGuiggan says, "It won’t do to find a text where God sanctions a thing called wine, then note another text in which wine is intoxicating and, finally, jump to the conclusion that God sanctions intoxicating wine" (89). Even if we could establish that the ancients used "wine" (oinos) in the Passover celebration, this would still not necessarily establish that Jesus uses intoxicating wine. In many things Jesus breaks with custom; therefore, any rabbinic prescription or tradition regarding the Passover must be regarded carefully, for Jesus may not have followed such "traditions of men."
Third, the historically verified ancient practice of mixing "water" with "wine" must be carefully considered. Over and over we read that Passover "wine" was mingled with water (Lenski 1028; Summers 275; Fowler 698, etc.). It is assumed these wines are inebriating. But were these "wines" diluted because of their alcoholic content or for some other reason? Patton notes there is abundant evidence that the ancients mixed their "wines" with water: not because they were so strong, with alcohol, as to require dilution, but because, being rich syrups, they needed water to prepare them for drinking. He says, "The quantity of water was regulated by the richness of the wine and the time of year" (Patton 42). Thus, to read that "wine" was diluted does not necessarily imply it was alcoholic.
Fourth, there is more than ample evidence in the words of Christ Himself to cast doubt on the notion that alcoholic wine is used in the institution of His Passover memorial. In fact, Jesus’ words are proof it is not alcoholic wine.
1. We have noted that the word for wine (oinos) is a generic word that, depending on context, may refer to either alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink. The gospel writers, however, are very careful and do not use the word "wine" in their narrative of the Lord’s Supper. Without exception they use "fruit of the vine." "Why?" Apparently, Jesus wants His disciples, and those of future generations, to know exactly what is in the cup. Had the drink element been alcoholic or had it made no difference, surely oinos would have been used.
2. Jesus is careful to say, "fruit of the vine" (genema ampelos— produce of the vine). If alcoholic wine can be classified as the "offspring of the vine," then wine vinegar can be also. But neither of these is properly the "fruit of the vine." Both vinous and acetous fermentation are a result of chemical agencies outside and independent of the vine (Patton 72). What then are we to make of this phrase? McGuiggan notes that the expression occurs only six other times in the Bible—all in the Old Testament Septuagint (LXX) (Exodus 22:5; Deuteronomy 22:9 (twice); Isaiah 32:12; Isaiah 65:21; Habakkuk 3:17). In not one of them, does it speak of a liquid—the solid fruit is in mind (130). Thus, Jesus may have been speaking metonymically, naming the grape for the juice it produces (McGuiggan 158-159). As for the assertion that "fruit of the vine" is used by the rabbis as a choice liturgical phrase for alcoholic wine, there is some dispute. Berakoth 6:1, the writing cited as proof, praises Him who gives "the fruit of the vine." McGuiggan says, "That is, the grapes, from which people make wine" (159). It is impossible to establish from this passage alone what type of "wine" is in question. Even if it could be established that the phrase is used by the rabbis in reference to alcoholic wine, can we really be sure that Jesus uses it in this way? It is best to let the phrase stand in its purity. Who can doubt that pure unfermented juice is the offspring of the vine?
3. The Jews are to remove all leaven from their homes during the Passover celebration. Patton quotes Professor Stuart as saying, "The great mass of the Jews have ever understood this prohibition as extending to fermented wine, or strong drink, as well as to bread" (70). Because the principle of fermentation in bread and in wine is chemically the same, it would seem logical that what applies to the one applies to the other (McGuiggan, 132). McGuiggan says, "I must confess it would seem strange to me to know they had to remove all that was fermented but could drink a pint and a half of fermented wine" (132). In fact, when the original legislation was given no drink element was mentioned. It is believed that this was added sometime after the Babylonian Exile. But if, because of their haste in leaving Egypt, leaven was to be excluded from the Israelite house regarding bread, why not wine? Whatever reason for excluding it in bread would logically exclude it in wine.
4. The leavening process is a recognized symbol of corruption. While there are exceptions (Amos 4:5; Leviticus 23:17), it remained a well known picture of sin and corruption. If Jesus wants to symbolize pure blood, as from a Lamb without spot and without blemish, why would He command His apostles to use alcoholic wine? How could a body that does not see corruption (Acts 2:31) be aptly symbolized by that which is produced via corruption? Of the Old Testament blood offerings such as found in Exodus 34:25, Patton says, "If leaven was not allowed with sacrifices, which were the types of the atoning blood of Christ, how much more would it be a violation of the commandment to allow leaven, or that which was fermented, to be the symbol of the blood of atonement" (71)?
5. Paul’s language to the Corinthians does not reflect the use of wine (oinos) in the Lord’s Supper. Paul calls the cup "the cup of blessing" (1 Corinthians 10:16), but nowhere does he imply the use of fermented drink. Why Paul does not use the word oinos if alcoholic wine were in view? Some think he alludes to Isaiah 65:8 in the Corinthian passage.
6. If Jesus uses alcoholic wine in this memorial service, what of the moral implications? "Would Jesus prescribe in His memorial such as would potentially tempt His followers to sin?" With the frequent warning against alcohol in scripture, it seems out of character for Him to command its consumption by every generation of Christians until He comes again.
Perhaps more should be said on the issue of "wine in communion," but the above considerations should be sufficient to set the sincere truth seeker on his quest. The above points will not convince everyone. Furthermore, we need to recognize that we often bring preconceived notions and cultural baggage into our discussion of the wine issue. Scholars have so long informed us that the ancients drank alcoholic wine to the point that it may be hard for many of us to imagine that Jesus could have done any differently. But just because alcoholic consumption is obviously prevalent among the Jews does not answer what Jesus does. Perhaps the deeper question is, "Has God ever condoned the social consumption of alcohol?" If this question must be answered in the negative, we perhaps have our answer regarding the Lord’s Supper. For a comprehensive study on "wine and the Christian," we recommend the following:
1. Bible Wines or The Laws of Fermentation by William Patton.
2. The Bible, The Saint, and The Liquor Industry by Jim McGuiggan.
And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
"When they had sung a hymn" probably refers to the custom of singing the "Hallel" in connection with the Passover celebration. The Hallel consists of Psalms 113-118 and is called such because in the Hebrew the passage begins with Hallelujah. It is traditionally sung in two parts: 113-114 and 115-118. The second part is probably in view and serves to conclude the night’s ceremony. Broadus says the music is probably a simple chant much like what can be heard today in a modern Jewish synagogue (532).
The Passover meal being over, "they went out" of the upper room and make their way toward the Mount of Olives. Before leaving the house, however, Jesus must have given His farewell discourse as recorded in John 14-17. An exact harmony of the account is difficult, but it is likely that chapter fourteen is spoken before the singing of the latter part of the Hallel, after which Jesus says, "Arise let us go hence" (John 14:31). As they prepare to leave or perhaps as they leave the room, Jesus apparently concludes with His words as recorded in John 15-17. John 18:1 notes that after Jesus speaks these words He goes out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there is a garden.
Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.
Jesus knows that what lies ahead would be so difficult that He warns, "all will be offended because of me this night." The term Jesus uses is "skandalizo" (fall away) and means to set a trap, snare, or stumbling block (MacArthur 159). Soon the disciples would confront an obstacle that would test the character of their discipleship. Jesus knows that soon all would fall away from their loyalty to Him.
"Because of me," indicates He would be the reason they would fall away. Fowler notes that Jesus has done everything possible to correct their misconceptions regarding His mission and destiny. Now in spite of their misunderstanding He must do the will of God (706). Now He must present Himself willingly like a lamb being led to the slaughter.
The Shepherd would become the sacrificial lamb, and in the process the flock would be scattered. The words Jesus speaks are from Zechariah 13:7 and clearly depict the scene that is about to occur. As Jesus is arrested and killed, His disciples, at least for a time, would be scattered and shattered in disbelief. Peter would even deny Him. After the resurrection, however, there would be a glorious reuniting of Shepherd and sheep, a restoration of Peter, and a promise of the kingdom’s establishment in Jerusalem.
But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.
"After I am risen" (raised up) is the bright side of the prediction. All would be scattered, all would find in Him an occasion of stumbling, but there would be a glorious reunion. All is not lost. Neither His death nor their denial would end the dream. He would go before them into Galilee.
That is exactly what happened. Outside the garden tomb the angel told the two Marys, "And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you (28:7). A few moments later Jesus tells them the same (28:10). Why Galilee? Because it is home for both the disciples and Jesus—for more than three years He based his ministry from there. The disciples would naturally return home after what has happened. Fowler notes they could do so, not as beaten men, but with a promise of a grand rendezvous. Fowler says, "Jesus deliberately gave them an appointment to meet their risen Lord as a hope to steady them during the emotional earthquake of the cross" (708).
Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.
Apparently Peter disregards what Jesus has just said about being raised and about meeting them in Galilee. So concerned is he to defend his loyalty that with typical boldness he blurts out, "Though all shall stumble, I never will!"
One might successfully argue that at that moment Peter begins his fall! Satan delights in our self-spun webs of pride and self-righteous confidence. At this moment, before the Temple guards are approaching, before danger lurks, before terror sets in, Peter fearlessly and presumptuously pronounces himself the truest of all! With pride he trusts in the superiority of his faith. How soon the scene would shift as the dark shadows of betrayal sweep over the garden.
Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.
Mark 14:30 says, "Before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times." The Jews divide the night into four parts: evening (6-9 p.m.), midnight (9-12 p.m.), cock-crow (12-1 a.m.); and morning (3-6 a.m.). The third period derives its name from the fact that roosters begin about the end of that period and continue to crow periodically until daybreak (MacArthur 162). By the time Jesus and his disciples reach the Mount of Olives, it is probably near midnight. Within the space of a few hours, Peter would deny his Lord three times. No sooner has Peter completed the third denial than the rooster crows the second time! (verse 74).
Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.
Nothing tests one’s faith more than death. But Peter is not staring death in the face, at least not as of yet. His confidence again blossoms into a showy boast, "Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee." How could Peter know what he would do in the face of death? His assertion is presumptuous and proud. Luke’s account mentions Satan’s asking to have Peter that he might sift him as wheat (22:31)—a sifting takes place this night.
The other disciples say the same. Do we here see the power of peer pressure? Do the others also feel equally strong about what they could withstand? One thing is certain. We must be careful what we say, for how easily others are persuaded to go along.
Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.
The Garden of Gethsemane lies just across the Kidron Valley at the base of the Mount of Olives. Although Jesus has not announced where He would retreat after the Passover, John 18:2 tells us He often resorts here. No doubt this fact enables Judas to find Jesus later on that night.
Gethsemane means "oil press" or "olive vat." Since the entire hill is filled with olive trees, there would of necessity have to be a press nearby. John 18:1 calls the place a "garden" or orchard; thus, it may have contained flowers as well as vegetables. Today there is still a beautiful garden that lies up the hill from the Brook Kidron. In the middle are several ancient olive trees traditionally believed to date to the time of Christ. Although it is unlikely these are the same trees, the trees there today are a beautiful reminder of what the garden must have looked like during Jesus’ time (Josephus tells us that during the siege the Romans cut down all the trees for ten or twelve miles around the city in order to build their mounds around the wall).
It is more than ironic that Jesus spends his last night in a garden called Gethsemane. Gethsemane’s olive presses have no doubt pressed out many gallons of the life-giving oil used in homes and in the Temple. The process is simple. After being initially crushed to break their outer skin, a huge monolith, an olive pressing stone, would be placed on the fruit allowing its weight to force out the precious oil. In much the same way, the precious blood of Jesus is squeezed from His pores that night as the weight of the world is placed on His shoulders. Luke says, "And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down on the ground" (22:44).
It is also more than ironic that Jesus faces one of His last trials in a garden. The first man Adam had been tempted in a garden and had failed. This second man Adam would be tempted in a garden and win. To Adam, Satan had whispered, "You can be as gods." To Jesus, Satan taunts, "You are God, avoid the agony, avoid the cross!" We must not minimize the temptation Jesus faces on this occasion. While He fully remains in the will of the Father, it is clear He desires another way. "Father if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will but thine be done" (Luke 22:42). In both gardens the destiny of man hung in the balance. In the first, disobedience brought death. In the second, obedience unto death brings life (Philippians 2:8).
It is at this point that Jesus divides His followers into two groups. Eight are asked to sit by the garden’s entrance, no doubt to keep watch so that He would be not disturbed while three are asked to join Him in the intimacy of prayer just a few yards away. Even the first group, however, is to pray (Luke 22:40).
And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
Throughout His ministry Jesus has been there for His disciples. He has been their constant encouragement and strength. Now the tables seem to turn, and Jesus wants His closest friends near Him. Now He needs them. As on earlier occasions, Peter, James, and John have accompanied Him. These three are part of the first group of four among the twelve (see 10:2). They alone have accompanied Him as He raises the daughter of Jairus and as He is transfigured on the mount. This time, however, there would be no life given—this time a life would be taken. But what they see on both occasions will be through sleep-shrouded eyes!
"Began to be sorrowful and very heavy" depicts the mental condition of our Lord. His whole life has been one characterized by suffering.
He truly is the "man of sorrows" (Isaiah 53). But now the burden of death and the world’s sins are about to be laid fully on His shoulders. There is an intensity in Christ’s anguish as He contemplates what lies ahead. MacArthur says:
Jesus confronted a loneliness that no other man could experience. The Son of God, who communed with the Father and the Holy Spirit and with all the holy angels of heaven, would find Himself forsaken by His Father as He became sin. He would be so identified with iniquity that the host of heaven would have to turn their backs on Him. And the same sin that repulsed them repulsed Him. The sinless, holy, pure, and undefiled Son of righteousness (171).
Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
Perilupos (exceeding sorrowful) is related to the English term "periphery," which carries the idea of being totally surrounded. Sorrow and agony have so engulfed Jesus that He is near the point of death. McGarvey says, "He felt as if he could not survive the pressure that was upon his soul, and the utter helplessness into which he had sunk is seen in the request to the chosen three" (Commentary on Matthew 229). "Tarry ye here and watch with me," Jesus says. Now He needs them. What slight comfort He could find would be in the presence of His closest friends. The battle He must ultimately fight alone, but to know that steadfast friends are watching and praying nearby would help. But, even this comfort is denied Him for they fall asleep.
And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
Jesus has spent many nights in prayer to God, but none like this one. So heavy is the burden on His shoulders, so grieved is His heart, He falls prostrate. Although in all His prayers Jesus addresses God as "Father," this is the only recorded occasion on which He says, "My Father." We see an intensity of intimacy. Mark notes that Jesus calls God, "Abba," (Daddy) a term used by Aramaic children to denote total trust. The world is just about to turn its back on its only hope for salvation. Even His disciples are about to flee. In anguish He wails, "Father—Daddy!"
"If it be possible" does not mean it is impossible for Jesus to escape the cross. He could have walked away at any moment. As He tells of the "Good Shepherd," Jesus says, "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (John 10:17-18). MacArthur observes that God sent His Son to the cross, but He did not force Him to go (174). To Peter, Jesus would later say, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?" (26:53–54). Jesus dies willingly, but even so He wonders aloud if there could be another way. "If there is any other way for Your divine justice to be met—if there is any other way than this to deliver men from sin, " Jesus is saying, "then let it be that way!"
"Let this cup pass from me" is a metaphorical reference to the cup of suffering and death of which He is beginning to taste. Before the day is over, He would drink deeply from that cup and die for the sins of the world. Summers notes that earlier that evening Jesus has looked into the memorial cup and has seen its red liquid as His own blood. Summers says:
At that time he had thanked God for that cup because of what it meant for the redemption of man’s sin. Now, in the garden he was a few hours nearer to its reality. In a manner of speaking, he was holding that cup in his hands again, looking at its red contents, seeing it poured out on that cross-shaped alter and asking, "Is there any other way?" (285).
"Not as I will, but as thou wilt" is Christ’s constant attitude toward the Father. Even though Jesus has heaven’s power at His disposal, He submits Himself to the ultimate and final will of God. To the Philippians, Paul gives a splendid commentary on Jesus’ words:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).
And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
The hour is late, and the disciples surely do not understand the gravity of the situation that lies ahead. Jesus returns to find them asleep. Luke adds, "he found them sleeping for sorrow" (22:46). Such sleep is not the result of indifference toward their Master but rather the product of their love for Him. Though they do not fully understand the events at hand, they feel a dull, depressing sorrow that He is apparently going to leave them. Fowler says, "The late night hour, coupled with the nervous strain brought on by that evening’s heart-breaking revelations, conspired to lull these emotionally exhausted spiritual sentinels to sleep" (722).
Jesus’ question expresses His disappointment. It comes in a mild rebuke. "What, could ye not watch with me one hour?" In other words, "Is it too much for me to expect my closest friends to be available for such a short period of time?" Earlier, like trusted soldiers, Peter and the others have vowed their allegiance to him, an allegiance they affirm would be until death! Now cracks in their spiritual armor are beginning to show. Even though Peter would soon lunge forward with a sword in a frenzied and foolish attempt to quell the mob, he has little idea what Jesus really needs at this moment. Jesus does not need vigilantes, He needs valiant prayer warriors.
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
For a second time Jesus commands his disciples to "watch" (verse 38) to which He now adds, "pray that ye enter not into temptation."
The Greek verbs behind these words are present imperatives, indicating continuous action. The apostles are to "keep on watching and praying" because there is a constant threat of being overtaken. Through weakness, they might fall asleep on the job, but Satan would not! As a roaring lion, he is constantly walking about in search of his next victim (1 Peter 5:8). Jesus says the keys to thwarting Satan are "vigilance and prayer." Satan is empowered only when we give in to the impulses of the flesh. In reality, we empower Satan. When we deny our fleshly impulses and stay vigilant in prayer, the devil will flee, for then is he powerless.
Jesus says, "pray that ye enter not into temptation." We cannot stand alone against the wiles of Satan. It takes constant communication with God to remain strong. The Apostle Paul includes both "prayer" and "watchfulness" as an integral part of the Christian’s armor in Ephesians 6:18. Had these apostles remained steadfast in both, they would not have fallen asleep.
McGarvey comments that Jesus apologizes for His disciples by saying, "the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Commentary on Matthew 230). Here "spirit" denotes the intellect, emotions, and conscience, and "flesh" refers to the basic instincts of our human nature. Doing the right thing is not always easy. Many times we know what is right and even have a desire to do what is right. Even our conscience pushes us toward right. But because we live in a body with fleshly impulses, we sometimes allow "the flesh" to control us rather than for us to control it. Jesus does not make this statement because our fleshy impulses are an excuse for not doing right. There is never an excuse for sin, but Jesus is stating a fact. The good intentions of Christians are often frustrated when they give in to the flesh. Paul obviously feels this frustration when he says, "For what I will to do, that I do not practice, but what I hate, that I do" (Romans 7:15 NKJV). The apostle goes on, however, to show there can be victory in obedience to Jesus Christ. In this case, the apostles are exhausted from physical and emotional strain. While they no doubt have good intentions and are not indifferent, they give in to their bodily impulses. Sleep comes readily.
He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.
Having rebuked his disciples, Jesus returns to His lonely vigil with the Father. His prayer of verse 39 is repeated with minor variation. In verse 39, Jesus says, "Let this cup pass from me." Now, He seems to resign himself to the fact that it cannot and says, "if this cup may not pass.…"
In every case Jesus defers to the will of God. What a wonderful attitude we see manifest in Jesus’ prayer. Even though He now kneels before the Father with a personal request for His life, He places His life in the hands of the Father. If it were His will that His Son should suffer and die, Jesus submissively accepts it.
And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.
Matthew mentions that upon Jesus’ second return from prayer He leaves them and goes away again. Mark adds, "and they wist not what to answer him" (14:40). Apparently Jesus speaks to them, but they have no response. He leaves them and goes again to prayer. Lenski says, "He is compelled to fight his dreadful battle without even a word of comfort from his own dearest friends" (1043).
And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.
For the third time, Jesus approaches the Father in ardent prayer. Does Satan send three shock waves of attack against Jesus as he had done in the wilderness? Are Jesus’ three prayers in response to these attacks? MacArthur says, "It took three attempts for Satan to exhaust his malevolent strategy against the Son of God. Each time Jesus suffered more extreme torment of soul, but each time He responded with absolute resolution to do the Father’s will" (177).
Luke does not give the specific time frame, but he indicates that at some point during the ordeal God dispatches an angel from heaven to strengthen Jesus. So intense is His pain, so earnest is His prayer, Jesus’ "sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground" (22:43-44). Jesus is actually "sweating blood?"
Why is an angel necessary? Is the Master so close to death from extreme sorrow that an act of God is needed to strengthen Him so He could eventually reach the cross? Is the weight of a sinful world about to crush Him? Later that day God would allow the full weight of sin to be placed on Jesus, and it would break the Savior’s heart—like the olives of Gethsemane (oil press), He would be crushed for our iniquities.
Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
This verse seems to stand in direct opposition to verse 46 where Jesus tells his disciples to rise. What does Jesus mean by "sleep on now…."? Several possibilities exist:
1. Perhaps Jesus intends to let His disciples sleep but is suddenly interrupted by the distant bobbing of torches and thus changes his statement in midstream.
2. Perhaps it is a statement of irony. Thus, Jesus is saying, "You might as well sleep now; I no longer need your watchful interest." When Jesus needs them, they have not been there for Him. Now His prayer session is over, and His mind is resolved to the events that lie ahead. He does not need them to strengthen Him any longer. His statement is really a commentary on their spiritual condition. They are indifferent—spiritually asleep.
3. Perhaps there is a lapse of time between "take your rest" and "arise let us be going." If so, then Jesus is saying, "Sleep for now, the storm will soon be coming, get some rest."
4. Perhaps Jesus is asking a question. The Greek allows for such an interpretation. If so, Jesus is saying, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?. Rise let us be going."
Whatever position one takes, the point is the same. Jesus has taken His closest companions into the garden for moral support, and they have failed Him. He has faced the agony alone; and now with His mind resolved to the death that lies ahead, He no longer needs them. Fowler says, "His moment of frailty had passed. He is now ready to meet death face to face, and win" (727).
Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.
No doubt by this time the bobbing torch lights could be seen flickering in the distance. Jesus knows it is time for Him to face the mob of Roman soldiers who, along with the company of chief priests and elders, are being led by Judas.
Jesus does not run from the events that lie ahead, for He knows they are part of the Father’s plan. Instead, He takes the initiative and goes out to meet the motley contingent.
And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people.
Before Jesus could finish His conversation with His disciples, the face of the traitor appears in the torchlight. To his back stands Jerusalem’s "finest" leaders, chief priests, and Pharisees. It is these leaders who have furnished Judas with a band of soldiers from the garrison in Antonia (John 18:3) as well as Temple police (Luke 22:52). Armed with knives, clubs, and lanterns, as if in search of a hardened criminal, they come up the Mount of Olives toward the garden. Robertson says that in spite of the full moon they are taking no chances of failure for Judas knows well the power of Jesus (215). Matthew says that a "great multitude" accompanies Judas. This crowd would have included officers of the Temple, who are granted limited police powers by the Romans in matters of religion, as well as a "detachment" of Roman soldiers (John 18:3; John 18:12) that at full strength consisted of six hundred men. It is common during feasts to have such a contingent stationed at Fort Antonia, on the northwest side of the Temple, in case of riots. MacArthur notes that the Jewish leaders apparently had intended for some time to accuse Jesus of rebellion against Rome. In this way they could have him killed, blame it on the Roman government, and save themselves from any reprisal from the many Jews who still admired Jesus (183). In any event, after leaving the upper room, Judas must have rushed to the chief priests to inform them of the likely spot where Jesus would be, to give them time to gather their mob together.
Judas is called "one of the twelve," thus underscoring the dastardly deed he is about to commit. Judas has been one of Jesus’ closest companions—part of the Master’s little band of followers. To him has even been given the company’s purse strings. Jesus has taught him, loved him, cared for him. Now Judas would do the unthinkable. He would betray the Lord with a kiss.
Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast.
The "kiss" is part of the plot that Judas has prearranged with Jesus’ captors. "Kiss" (phileso) is from the verb "phileo," signifying an act of special respect and affection. Among modern Near Eastern cultures, "kissing" on the cheek is still an act of friendship and affection. In ancient times, it was even more significant. A slave might kiss his master’s feet to show special humility, and servants might kiss the back of their master’s hand. A student might kiss his teacher, but only if his teacher offers first. To kiss someone on the cheek and embrace them, however, was an act reserved only for the closest friends—ones with whom a person had a special and intimate relationship. In this case, Judas takes such innocent warmth and makes a hypocritical mockery of it by using it as the sign of betrayal. MacArthur notes that Judas could have used any number of ways to point out Christ—ways that would have been just as effective. Instead he chooses to feign his innocence and affection before Jesus and the disciples to the end (186). McGarvey suggests that Judas foolishly selected a "kiss" as the sign to hide his motives from Jesus until the guards could lay hold on Him (Commentary on Matthew 232). Jesus knows Judas’ motives and knows what is about to transpire. One cannot help but wonder, though, how this scene still must have pained Jesus. Jesus loves Judas as much as He loves the rest. He has taught, loved, and revealed God to him, but he has betrayed Him.
And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him.
"Hail, master" means "Greetings, rabbi" and expresses a wish of respect, happiness, and well-being (Lenski 1048). Judas acts overjoyed and loudly exclaims, so all could hear, "Greetings, Teacher!" Without waiting for a response, Judas then steps up and kisses Him. Here the verb (katephilesen—kissed him) is intensive and indicates repeated, showers of kisses. It is the word used of the woman in Luke 7:38, and that which describes the father’s reception of the prodigal son in Luke 15:20. Likewise, it describes the grieving Ephesian elders in Acts 20:37 as they bid farewell to the beloved Paul for the last time. In other words, Judas makes quite a scene with his feigned affection. Lenski notes that Jesus does not hurl the traitor from Him nor use His omnipotent power to blast him. Instead, He submits to this traitorous kissing. It is His Father’s and His own will to accept all the indignities, shame, suffering, agonies men will heap upon Him even unto death (1048).
And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him.
Without anger or resentment, Jesus says to Judas, "Friend, do what you came to do." The word "friend" is not the usual word (philos) that He uses of the twelve in John 15:14. Here the word is hetairos and simply means "comrade" or "companion." At that, the soldiers arrest Jesus. John 18:3-9 describes the scene in more detail.
And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear.
John 18:10 tells us that it is Simon Peter who draws his sword and strikes the high priest’s servant (high ranking slave) whose name is Malchus. Before this event, however, another armed disciple has apparently offered to attack by saying, "Lord, shall we smite with the sword?" (Luke 22:49). Before Jesus could answer, Peter lunges forward. Several things should be noted about this verse and the response Jesus gives:
1. There is little doubt that had Peter’s aim been better he would have done more than cut off Malchus’ ear. While Peter’s action is not premeditated, he nonetheless attempts to kill anyone who is in his way.
2. It was pure folly for Peter and the other disciple who also has a sword to imagine they could accomplish anything with the few weapons they had. It is evident from Luke 22:38 that they have but two swords for the whole group, in reality no armament at all
3. in the face of such a large multitude of enemies. To brandish his sword is folly, if not suicide.
4. Is Peter emboldened because the multitude "drew back, and fell to the ground" (John 18:6)? MacArthur thinks so and says, "Seizing that time of vulnerability, Peter perhaps thought he would kill as many as he could before he himself was slain. Or perhaps he assumed he was invincible, thinking Jesus would not allow himself or His disciples to be harmed" (189).
5. Peter’s action is unjustified, even though it stems from good, albeit impulsive, intentions. Broadus says Peter comes very near being like Barabbas and his followers who have committed murder in the insurrection (541). Jesus rebukes Peter severely in the very next verse.
Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
If ever there were a time when violence in defense of Christianity is justified, this is it. But God’s program is not spread through a call to arms. In fact, Peter’s action stands in direct opposition to Jesus’ mission as humble Messiah and Prince of Peace. Later that same day as Jesus stands before Pilate, He says, "My kingdom is not of this world, If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews" (John 18:36 NKJV). Even the Master’s action in miraculously healing Malchus’ ear proves that His mission was one of reconciliation not retribution (Luke 22:51). Jesus’ program is one of faith not force. While Christians are covered in blood, they have none on their hands! Make no mistake about it—Christ’s followers are engaged in fierce battle. But our warfare is spiritual, not physical. Paul teaches the Corinthian church, "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:4 NKJV). Of the Messianic Kingdom, Isaiah has predicted, "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:4). This is the point Jesus makes here in the garden as He rebukes Peter.
Jesus’ statement to Peter, "All who take the sword shall perish with the sword" serves as a stark reminder that violence begets violence. All those who rely on physical force to advance their agenda will surely meet with the same. While God has authorized civil kingdoms to bear arms (Romans 13:4), His kingdom is not thusly maintained. Had physical force been what Jesus wanted, heaven’s angels were at his disposal (see verse 53). Because His kingdom is spiritual, its methods of advancement are likewise spiritual—its subjects are spiritual! The danger the church faces today is giving into the same temptation Peter feels—to promote "God’s cause" via human means. But weapons, wealth, and worldly wisdom are not the keys to spreading Jesus’ kingdom. The door to salvation is unlocked by the gospel of peace.
When Jesus sheaths Peter’s sword, does He forever forbid the Christian to bear arms against another human being? Admittedly, the issue is difficult, especially as it pertains to self-defense and civil compliance in matters of carnal warfare. Many commentators suggest Jesus’ rebuke to Peter speaks only of taking the law into one’s own hands by violent measures (vigilantism) and does not condemn participation in war or in occupations where force is potentially required. We leave the reader to his own conclusions, but the following observations may be helpful:
1. Peter’s action is really foolish because he is far outnumbered; but if ever there were a time for self-defense, this is it. His action gives no hint of "vigilantism" but rather a sincere desire to protect himself and his Master. Evidently Jesus does not agree. He commands Peter to put up his sword, thus teaching pacifism. Every attempt should be made to avoid physical violence of any kind.
2. One should not assume that "active physical force" is the only means available even in matters of self-defense. Force can be classified in two categories: passive force and active force. The Christian certainly violates no biblical principal when he uses "passive force." When, for example, he locks his doors at night, runs from danger, calls the police in the event of a prowler, etc., he is using passive force. The Christian, on the other hand, is not authorized to use "active force." Never is he authorized to take active physical action against another in an attempt to harm or destroy human life (see Romans 12:17).
3. Luke 22:35-38, which prefaces the encounter in the garden, should not be interpreted to suggest that Jesus authorizes the bearing of arms. Luke 22:35-38 contrasts the relatively safe environment the disciples have previously faced while preaching with what they would now face. Whereas before they might successfully depend on the generosity of their own countrymen, such would not be available in Gentile territory. Even now, they are about to enter into the valley of the shadow of death. The lesson Jesus teaches in Luke 22:35 ff is a spiritual one as is proved by the fact that Jesus says two swords are enough. If the "Prince of Peace" literally wants His disciples to sell their garments and buy swords, two would not have been enough. There are twelve of them. Obviously, Jesus has something else in mind. Two swords (verse 38) are enough because it would be sufficient to stage the events in the garden from which Jesus would teach, through Peter’s outburst, a lesson about the superior and spiritual nature of His kingdom.
4. Perhaps the question of whether a Christian can participate in military service or otherwise bear arms in defense of his country overlooks the relationship the Christian has with civil government. While God has ordained civil government as a means of law and order in an otherwise ruthless world, the Christian marches to a higher calling. The Christian’s citizenship (Philippians 3:20) is in heaven, and only insofar as his earthly identity poses no conflict can he call himself an American, Israeli, Mexican, etc. Perhaps part of the confusion in America comes from the notion that God has chosen democracy as His safeguard for morality and righteousness. Nothing could be farther from the truth. For example, early Christianity flourishes amid ruthless dictators and oppressive governments of all kinds. There is the mistaken belief in "Christian America" today that if a "Christian majority" can elect the right people, lobby for the right legislation, or otherwise force government toward the right, sin can be defeated. Again, nothing is farther from the truth. While in some instances civil government upholds Christian principles and while the Christian has every biblical right to look to it for civil justice, it is not, nor was it ever designed to be, the safeguard of Christ’s kingdom. The amazing fact of early Christianity is that without sword, force, or political clout Christ’s agenda was spread throughout the entire world. This realization should tell us something about what God expects from His children in regard to worldly politics.
5. To bear arms in military warfare seems to fly in the face of the principles set down in the Sermon on the Mount. While physical Israel destroyed her enemies, Jesus tells those of His kingdom to, "Love their enemies," "turn the other cheek," "go the second mile." The irony of it all is that while America is hailed a "Christian nation" it must, as a nation, violate these principles to maintain her supremacy. It seems doubtful whether any secular nation can truly be called a Christian nation when its role is to "bear the sword" (Romans 13:4).
6. Jesus’ statement in John 18:36, "My kingdom is not of this world," intimates a distinction between His kingdom and all others. The goals of one are not accomplished by the means of the other. Compare the following scriptures: Matthew 5:3-12; Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:39; Matthew 5:44; Matthew 10:16; Matthew 26:52; Luke 9:53-56; John 18:36; Romans 12:17-21; 2 Corinthians 10:3-4; Ephesians 6:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:15.
Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?
Jesus reminds Peter that the "real power" behind His ministry is not the "sword" but heaven itself. In fact, Peter’s outburst is puny and foolish—almost laughable. If protection is what Christ wants, He could have mustered real force. The Father would have provided more than twelve legions of angels–over a legion apiece for Himself and each of the disciples! A full Roman legion contained some six thousand men. More than twelve legions would have been in excess of 72,000 men. If Peter thinks the Roman cohort of possibly six hundred men is formidable, he should think again. If in one night a single angel could destroy 185,000 Assyrian troops in Sennacherib’s army (2 Kings 19:35), this evil band stands no chance against 72,000 angels!
But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?
"The scriptures" is a technical term that refers to the corpus of the Old Testament writings. Jesus’ birth, life, suffering, arrest, and death are all necessary to fulfill the divine plan of God. For Peter to attempt to deliver Jesus from such peril rejects the foreordained will of the Father. Once again we note Jesus’ humility. Once again Jesus’ attitude is "Not my will but thine be done." In this case, He submits Himself not only to the Father’s will but also to the Father’s words as revealed in prophecy. On at least three previous occasions (16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18), Jesus has predicted His own death. Now Jesus has to remind Peter again that God is still in control.
In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me.
"In that same hour" means as they are in the process of arresting Jesus. As these wicked leaders scurry Him off toward ultimate death, the Master aims at their hypocrisy and cowardice. McGarvey says, "Jesus tantalizes the guards with their cowardice in coming against him with such an array of weapons instead of making an open arrest in broad daylight" (Commentary on Matthew 233). Jesus is not a subversive threat to the Jews or to the Roman occupation. He is not a robber hiding from justice. His teaching, His miracles have not been done under the cover of darkness as if to overthrow the establishment secretly. He has taught in their synagogues and in their marketplaces for all to hear. Earlier that same week, He sat openly in the Temple (hieron—surrounding courts where the public could go, not the inner Most Holy Place) in broad daylight and taught Passover pilgrims. If He is guilty of treason or deserves to be arrested, why did they not capture Him then? But this is their "hour, and the power of darkness" (Luke 22:53). What they are afraid to do in the open, they now come "bravely" to do with spears and swords.
But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.
But all this was done: This clause suggests Jesus’ view regarding His capture. While the chief priests, Temple guard, and Romans are players in the drama, they do not direct the scene. Lenski says, "Nor are these men to think that with their superior cunning in hiring a traitor and with their crush of arms they have really captured Jesus" (1055). The entire doings are of God—His will as revealed in the Old Testament scriptures through the prophets is coming to pass. Jesus is voluntarily placing Himself into their hands.
Then all the disciples forsook him and fled: Jesus, now having been arrested, watches His disciples flee into the darkness. He is now alone with His captors. His closest companions, having boasted too loudly, prayed too little, and slept too much, now scamper away. Mark notes the presence of a certain young man, clad only in a linen garment, who, upon attempted arrest, flees naked (14:51-52). We do not know who this youth is. Some conjecture it is Mark who has followed the party from the house in which they have eaten the Passover. If so, the hospitable householder is Mark’s father. Acts 12:12 notes John Mark’s mother living in Jerusalem a dozen years or so after this incident.
In judging the disciples, we should remember that Jesus requests their release (John 18:8). We must also remember that to their stunned amazement, He has forbidden the resistance they have offered. If they should give no fight and if remaining imperils their own lives, no doubt they feel it highly logical to flee. This reasoning does not necessarily excuse their cowardice but perhaps suggests their motivation. Earlier Jesus has predicted the "sheep would be scattered" and now it has come to pass (26:31). Fowler suggests the disciples’ flight is as much providential as it is from fear. Had the disciples been caught and tried with Jesus, they might not have stopped, like Peter, with a simple denial of Him. Fowler says, "They might….have been shocked so irreparably that nothing could have saved them. Like the remorseful Judas, they might not have lived to see the resurrection nor be transformed by its victory" (748). We know, however, that at some point both Peter and John return to the trial scene (26:58; John 18:15). John, being an acquaintance of the high priest, was granted entrance into the high priest’s courtyard to watch the proceedings and afterward brings Peter in as well.
And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.
After the disciples flee, Jesus is arrested by the Temple police and Roman soldiers and is led away bound. Matthew records Jesus’ appearance before Caiaphas, who is high priest that year. John, however, tells us that prior to His appearance before Caiaphas, He is first taken to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas (18:12-14).
Several years earlier Annas (Ananus, or Hanan) had been high priest for four or five years; but even though his term has ended, he continues to wield tremendous influence. In reality, Annas built what amounted to a dynasty. He was high priest in A.D. 7-14; and after he was deposed, his son Eleazar was high priest in A.D. 16. From A.D. 18-36 his son-in-law Caiaphas held the office. After him, four more of Annas’ sons held the office, and the last one, also named Annas, who was high priest in A.D. 62, was responsible for the martyrdom of James. Technically Jewish law requires the high priest to serve for life; however, by the time of Jesus, the office had become so highly politicized that some high priests served only a few months before falling from favor with the Romans. Annas may have been removed because Rome feared that too much power was being amassed in one man (MacArthur 202). Whatever the reason, Annas retained a great deal of political clout. In fact, some believe that Annas served during this period as president of the Sanhedrin. Josephus indicates the family was composed of Sadducees and was especially hated by the Pharisees—the term "house of Annas" being a byword (Broadus 544). It was Annas who controlled the Temple franchises and money changing businesses when Jesus drove out this former high priest’s "den of thieves" (21:12-13; John 2:13-17). He clearly upset Annas, for immediately afterward, the Temple priests set about to destroy Him (Mark 11:18). Thus, the grudge Annas had against Jesus was personal—he wanted Jesus dead! Jesus’ appearance before this former dignitary was obviously prearranged. Perhaps the Temple guards were instructed to bring Jesus to Annas first, to give Caiaphas time to assemble the Sanhedrin or perhaps, as MacArthur suggests, to give credence to Jesus’ arrest. A charge brought by such a powerful dignitary would not be easily contested when Jesus finally stood before an official calling of the Sanhedrin (203). Although uncertain,
there is supposition that at this time Annas may have lived in the high priest’s official residence along with Caiaphas, each having his own quarters. If so, it explains the ease by which Jesus was brought before both men (note Edersheim’s contention in Book V 548).
The trial of Jesus, as will be seen, can be divided into two main parts: the Jewish trial and the Roman trial. Following the outline of Broadus (544) each of these can be subdivided into the following:
1. Jewish trial:
a. The private examination before Annas (John 18:12-14; John 18:19-23).
b. The sentence by an informal session of the Sanhedrin, including Caiphais (26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65).
c. The formal trial before the Sanhedrin which sends Him to Pilate for sentencing (27:1; Luke 22:66-71).
2. Roman trial:
a. First examination before Pilate (27:11-14; John 18:28-38).
b. Jesus appears before Herod (Luke 23:6-12).
c. Final appearance before Pilate (27:15-31; John 18:39 to John 19:16).
Much has been suggested regarding the alleged improprieties and illegalities of the proceedings to which Jesus is subjected. So much so that some skeptics doubt the veracity of the gospel accounts on the assumption that the Jews, meticulous for their laws, would have ever stooped to such tactics to kill Jesus. The argument against the gospels, however, is unfounded in light of the extreme animosity that has been brewing against Jesus. So determined are these Jewish authorities to rid themselves of Him, that the method and legalities of destroying Him take a backseat to the task itself. They would do whatever it takes to kill Him. The outcome has been predetermined before Jesus’ arrest in the garden. It should not surprise us to find little hint of fairness in this "kangaroo court." These wicked leaders have but one goal in mind: to condemn Jesus sufficiently so as to place Him before the Romans who could then carry out the death sentence. Rome alone reserves the right of execution to its own courts and administrators. The Sanhedrin has been stripped of this right under Roman law. That the Supreme Court of Israel does on occasion carry out executions, as in the case of Stephen (Acts 7:57-58), does
not prove the legality of it but only shows that Rome overlooked certain Jewish actions for the sake of political expediency (MacArthur 201). If Rome would do the dirty work, the Jews could wash their hands and transfer the guilt.
Edersheim argues that what occurs this night is not a formal, regular meeting of the Sanhedrin:
1. It is held in the quarters of Caiaphas rather than in the Court’s usual location,
2. It is convened at night and during a feast–both violations of Jewish law,
3. It was carried out too quickly without the required checks and balances (Life, Book V, 556-557).
Nevertheless, he concedes that Jesus’ condemnation and death, if not of the Sanhedrin proper, is indeed the work of Sanhedrists.
In any event, the question of whether or not the Jews "officially" violate their law is mute. Clearly, they do in spirit if not in letter. There is no hint of fairness or honesty in the proceedings that take place. The decision to kill Jesus has already been made in the months leading up to His arrest, and Jesus has no doubt been the topic of discussion many times in the "sacred" court of Israel. The convening that takes place on the night of Jesus’ arrest, as well as the more official one at daybreak, need not represent the only deliberation held on the fate of this upstart Galilean rabbi. We must not overlook the possibility, however, that in their furor "Israel’s finest" indeed break their own traditions and laws to accomplish their gruesome goal. Fowler says, "Men who instigate judicial murder are not models of consistency nor quibble over technicalities when they sense victory within their grasp" (755). That this night meeting takes on the air of formality cannot be denied. Witnesses are called, and Jesus is put under oath—obviously more than an informal group of statesmen chatting about strategy. This is an official caucus designed to press the night’s events toward their logical conclusion the next morning when the council officially convenes (27:1). Ellicott says this clandestine meeting is probably packed with those who are party to the plot with perhaps the exception of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who are probably not summoned. He further notes, "When they had gone through their mock trial, and day was dawning,
they transformed themselves into a formal court, and proceeded to pass judgment" (390).
But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest’s palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end.
After fleeing from the garden, Peter apparently returns to follow at a distance. Perhaps shaken by the night’s events and his own action at cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant, he now follows afar off and eventually comes to the high priest’s house after the gate is closed. John has apparently gone with the party that conducts Jesus. Since he is known by the high priest and has already entered into the courtyard to observe, he uses his influence to help Peter gain access to the proceedings (John 18:15-18).
The building is four-square, surrounding an open court. Around this courtyard are various rooms, one being the high priest’s and another perhaps Annas’. In this courtyard Peter "sat with the servants, to see the end." The evening is chilly and dark, for "they kindled a fire in the midst of the court, and sat down together" to warm themselves in its light (Luke 22:55; Mark 14:65; John 18:18).
That Peter and the others are sitting in the "courtyard of the high priest" reveals another infraction of Jewish legal protocol. The Sanhedrin is permitted to hold capital punishment trials only in the Temple and only in public. The private dwelling of Caiaphas violates both stipulations (MacArthur 204).
Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;
The decision to put Jesus to death has already been made. But with the necessity of satisfying public opinion and the Roman authorities, they set about to trump up the necessary charges.
Again, we find another violation of Jewish jurisprudence. The Jews have always prided themselves on their fairness and justice. Through Moses, God has commanded:
Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment. Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous. That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee (Deuteronomy 16:18-20).
The Sanhedrin should have been the epitome of these qualities and perhaps at one time it was. By the time of Jesus, however, the Great Court of Israel has degenerated into a body that appoints its members based on political or religious favoritism. MacArthur notes that the Herods, especially Herod the Great, exercise considerable influence over the court (199). Fairness and equality are not primary concerns—especially when it comes to Jesus who is one of their foremost enemies.
To bear "false witness" also violates the ninth commandment of the Decalogue (Exodus 20:16). Furthermore, Deuteronomy 19:16 prescribes that a false witness be punished with the same punishment that the innocent stands accused of. "You shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother" (Deuteronomy 19:19, NKJV). In capital punishment cases, the false witness would be put to death. This requirement should have served as a strong deterrent to perjury. In this clandestine meeting, all righteousness is ignored even by the heart of Israel’s judicial system.
But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses,
There is simply no case against Jesus. Though these leaders suborn many false witnesses, no charges are found to justify the punishment they have already decided on. Mark notes that their witnesses agree not together (14:56). The Greek tense here is "imperfect" and signifies they brought, over and over, witnesses in the attempt to trump up the correct charges. Are these witnesses hired? We do not know, but some think they might have been. After all, if the Sanhedrin is willing to pay Judas to deliver Jesus, why not pay witnesses to bring false accusation?
At last came two false witnesses: The Law expressly forbids the death penalty on the testimony of a single witness (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6). While these are "false witnesses," they nevertheless have the appearance of fairness in two who come. Mark notes, however, that not even their testimony agrees (14:59). Their stories are probably not in agreement as far as specific details. Broadus notes that the Mishna (Sanhedrin V 1) gives detailed instructions about the questioning of witnesses. Each witness would be asked seven questions about the alleged offense regarding the exact time and date when the crime occurred and where it occurred. The evidence is admissible only if a certain amount of uniformity is attained (547). In this case, while the substance of the accusation is apparently the same, as is often the case with liars, they could not agree on the exact details.
And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.
After all their attempts at finding something to pin on Jesus, the only thing they find is this accusation regarding the "temple." This fact is significant, for when Judaea became a Roman province in A.D. 6 capital jurisdiction was reserved for the Roman governor in all but one area. F.F. Bruce notes that offences against the sanctity of the Temple (whether by action of by word) are handed over to the Sanhedrin which in turn could pronounce the death sentence. Bruce says, "Had this attempt to convict Jesus succeeded, it would presumably have been unnecessary to refer His case to Pilate (New Testament History 53, Peter, Stephen, James and John). This attempt to pin "temple blasphemy" on Jesus fails.
At least one of the false witnesses quotes Jesus as saying, "I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days." Mark’s account gives what is probably the other liar’s testimony and adds "I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days will build another made without hands" (14:58). So their witnesses did not even agree (15:59).
The actual quote of Jesus, found in John 2:19, is made at the first Passover of His ministry after cleansing the Temple. He simply said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Jesus does not say, "Destroy Herod’s temple," which was magnificent and which by then had already been under construction for forty-six years. He simply says, "Destroy this temple," an obvious reference to "the temple of His body" that would be resurrected on the third day after His crucifixion. John notes that His disciples remember this statement after His resurrection, and it greatly boosts their faith (John 2:22).
In His original statement, Jesus does not say "He" would destroy the "temple." He does not indicate "who" would do the destruction, only that "He" would raise it up. Had the Sanhedrin pursued the matter, they would have found out that Jesus is speaking figuratively, for only a lunatic would imagine that he could tear down such a wonderful structure and rebuild it in an interval of three days. Even so, if such a statement were meant literally, it is hardly grounds for trial and execution. Thus, the high priest eagerly urges Jesus to answer the accusation in hopes that He would somehow incriminate Himself (Broadus, 548).
The "great irony" of their accusations is that they are substantially correct, even if misunderstood and misquoted (Fowler 761). If by "the temple of God" Jesus means God’s dwelling on earth in its fullest sense, then He is referring to Himself in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9; Colossians 1:19). While the Jews think Jesus is referring to the Holy of Holies of Herod’s Temple, in which they assume the presence of YHVH dwells, Jesus is speaking of that body and life that He, by the power of God, could "take up" three days after being put to death. Fowler says, "And, in his resurrection, not only did he build it in three days, but He made possible the construction of an indestructible temple of God, formed out of living stones for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:12; 1 Peter 2:5)" (761).
And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?
The patent lack of response from Jesus obviously upsets the high priest. In a hurried attempt to make Jesus incriminate Himself, he now rises and pointedly asks, "Answerest thou nothing?" McGarvey notes that Jesus’ response actually makes the testimony of the witnesses more unreliable because His silence implies it is unworthy of an answer (Commentary on Matthew 235). We cannot forget, however, that some seven hundred years earlier Isaiah had prophesied that Jesus would remain silent (53:7). MacArthur says, "Jesus stood majestically silent. It was the silence of innocence, the silence of dignity, the silence of integrity, the silence of infinite trust in His heavenly Father" (207).
But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.
Having obtained no accusation that would stand at all, the high priest, in apparent desperation, raises the issue of Jesus’ authority. Caiaphas knows that if anything could condemn Jesus it is His claim that His power comes from God and that He is God’s authorized representative. Fowler suggests that Caiaphas knows that if the governor (Pilate) allows Jesus to continue such a proclamation, which so radically challenges the fundamental thinking of Judaism, it could disrupt the delicate balance between those who hold the nation’s religious and political power (765). Thus, for Jesus to say "Yes" to Caiaphas’ question makes Him a danger to Pilate whose power and position depends on stability in the empire. In effect, Caiaphas lays the trap, knowing it is Pilate who has the legitimate power to kill Jesus.
"I adjure thee by the living God" is the most solemn way any Jew could be put under oath. In reality Caiaphas asks, "Do you swear, by the one true and living God of heaven, that you are His Son, the Messiah?" To affirm such would be paramount to claiming deity. Obviously, this was what the high priest wants, for it would give him the excuse he seeks to accuse Jesus of any substantive offense: blasphemy. But to claim "deity" is blasphemy only if that claim is false! Jesus’ answer forces Caiaphas to take one of two paths. Either this gentle man who stands before him is the innocent Messiah as proved by His life, miracles, and lack of testimony against Him; or He is a liar, an imposter, a rebel rouser, and a threat to the nation. The answer should have been obvious, but Caiaphas has but one thing on his mind—to find Jesus guilty of blasphemy. His desire is about to be fulfilled.
Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
"Thou has said" is an affirmative reply in the Greek. Mark records Jesus’ response as a direct "I am" (14:62). But Jesus is not through with Caiaphas. Just as this wicked ruler and his cronies now sit in judgment over the Messiah, so someday the tables will be turned and Jesus will sit in judgment over them. They will be prisoners before His judgment bar! Then justice will be served.
"Hearafter," Jesus says, "you will see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of glory." Jesus’ words, no doubt, remind these leaders of the Messianic words of Daniel 7:13 and Psalms 110:1. In other words, Jesus is claiming to be the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy. There is coming a day of resplendent glory when He, the Messiah, will judge the nations. What at this point looks like Jesus’ defeat is really only a necessary steppingstone to ultimate glorification. The mockery, humiliation, and death He faces would soon be over. Ultimate exoneration and glorification would be His as He takes His place at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.
The high priest finally has what he is looking for. Jesus has just made the audacious claim of being the Messiah. As if shocked beyond belief, Caiaphas hypocritically rips his cloths. This is an expression of grief, dismay, or horror (Acts 14:14), but ordinarily the high priest is forbidden to do such (Leviticus 10:6; Leviticus 21:10). There is no need for any more witnesses now. With great irony they have finally heard from a reliable witness: Jesus Himself. From His own lips comes the statement that gives them the supposed right to kill Him. To make such a claim would not be blasphemy for the real Messiah, but it is intolerable to admit that Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish hope. He simply is not what they are looking for. Robertson says that at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus occasionally refers to Himself as the Messiah. Soon, however, He ceases, for it is clear the Jews misunderstand. The only kind of Messiah they want is a political Messiah. If He would not be that, they want no part of Him (Robertson 218).
What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death.
"What think ye" is Caiaphas’ way of putting the issue to a vote. Although the formal vote would come the next morning (27:1), they unanimously proclaim, "He is guilty of death." To the hypocritical Caiaphas, the "test vote" is no doubt sweet music to his evil ears. Mosaic Law requires death as the penalty for blasphemy or for being a false prophet, a seducer, or a rebel (Leviticus 24:16; Deuteronomy 18:20; Deuteronomy 13:9; Deuteronomy 17:12). To the thinking of these wicked leaders, the choice is theirs: Jesus is guilty of all! Apparently, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are not in the company, for they do not consent to Jesus’ death (Luke 23:51).
Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands,
If a man’s trial is predetermined and if justice, equity, and honesty are not the goal, there remains little reason to treat a prisoner, however innocent, with dignity. They now degrade Jesus by slapping Him and spitting in His face. To the Jew, the supreme insult is to spit in another’s face. For instance, in the case of a man’s refusing to marry his deceased brother’s wife, the woman is to spit in the offender’s face publicly (Deuteronomy 25:9). The practice retains ignominy to this day. The impressive Tomb of Absalom (still standing outside Jerusalem in the Kidron Valley) has been spat on by Jewish passersby for thousands of years to show their contempt for Absalom’s treacherous rebellion against his father, David (MacArthur 209).
Matthew uses the indefinite "they" in describing the scene, suggesting the Sanhedrin rulers themselves take part in the hostility. Luke notes that the guards holding Jesus mocked and beat Him (22:63). Mark says the "officers received him with blows of their hands" (14:65). These Sanhedrin rulers and the ruffians at their disposal take turns at inflicting the painful blows. How amazing the depths to which Israel’s "spiritual leaders" are willing to stoop to have their way.
Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?
Having blindfolded Him (Luke 22:64), they further mock His deity. If He is the Messiah, the Christ, if He has supernatural powers, if He is equal with God and therefore omniscient, then to reveal who hit Him should be no difficult task. "Prophesy to us," they scream, "speak by divine inspiration and tell us who slapped you."
Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.
The scene that Matthew paints is one of tragedy. What we are about to witness is the predicted fall of one of the Master’s closest companions. Peter has boasted he would never deny his Master and he would stand by His side even to death. Jesus in turn has warned Peter that his overconfidence would soon turn to betrayal (26:33-34). True to the prediction, the rooster’s crowing is about to expose Peter’s cockiness.
Peter’s three denials evidently take place during the progress of the Jewish trial that seems to have lasted at least two hours (Luke 22:59). Because at one point Jesus turns and looks at Peter (Luke 22:61), it is possible that much of Jesus’ abuse takes place in full view of Peter and others in the courtyard. "Without in the palace" means in the open courtyard of the high priest’s house, which serves as a hub for its several rooms. While Jesus faces His accusers with poise and honesty, Peter sits by the fire a few yards away and disavows any knowledge of His Master.
From John’s account we learn that the "damsel" who asks Peter the question is the same who keeps the door and who has been persuaded by John to let Peter into the high priest’s dwelling (John 18:17). We need not assume that she asks Peter the embarrassing question immediately upon entering, but later after closing the door when she approaches the fire, she then again sees Peter clearly. "Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee," is her glaring accusation.
We cannot be sure why she feels it necessary to question Peter. Is she teasing Peter in an attempt to make him uncomfortable? Is she simply asking out of curiosity? Does she, as Lenski suggests, ask this question to make herself look important in front of the men at the fire who as yet do not realize that one of the prisoner’s disciples sits warming himself with them? (1070). Whatever the reason, the
accusation demands an answer. Silence in this instance would not do. Peter no longer feels the heat of the coals but now feels the heat of embarrassment. In front of them all, he denies any acquaintance with Jesus.
But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest.
His sudden exposure and the starkness of the question must have filled Peter’s heart with panic. What if he were to be identified with this "Christ" who stands trial a few feet away? What if someone recognizes him as the "ear slashing" zealot? Would he too be arrested and also soon feel the fisticuffs, abuse, and spit of the same motley crew from whom he had fled in the garden moments earlier? He sees no way out but to lie! His words are brief, yet they cut like a knife through the cool night air, "I know not what thou sayest." His denial "before them all" indicates that many hear his words. Lenski notes that it takes only a menial maid to fell the chief of the twelve. "Here stands the arrant coward, unable to confess his heavenly Lord, cringing with lying denial" (1071).
And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.
"The porch" refers to the gateway or arched passageway leading from the central courtyard to the street. It is darker here and perhaps Peter wants to keep out of sight lest someone wants to question him or lest a Temple officer wants to arrest him. No sooner has Peter entered the passage, however, than another maid spots him and states, "This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth."
Matthew and Mark describe the second accuser as a "maid" whereas Luke identifies the accuser as a "man" (Luke 22:58). This apparent discrepancy may be resolved by the fact that the crowd within the palace is large. While there are only three general denials, Peter may have found himself variously accused on separate occasions. In this case, upon hearing the maid make an accusation, this unidentified man must have chimed in, forcing Peter’s response.
And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man.
In taking this oath, Peter violates the third commandment of the Decalogue. To Israel, God has specifically commanded, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain" (Exodus 20:7). In other words, vows are to be taken only in God’s name and are to be true (see notes on 5:33-37). In his frustrated embarrassment, however, Peter calls God as a witness to his lie. Not only does he deny Jesus as the Messiah, he denies having even the slightest acquaintance with Him.
And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.
Having been caught twice, one might think that Peter would have turned tail and run. But for some reason, perhaps out of guilty curiosity or perhaps feeling that he is safe from further inquisitions, Peter remains in the vicinity of the courtyard. Luke 22:59 notes, however, that about an hour later he is again pinned to the wall. "Surely thou also are one of them, for thy speech bewrayeth thee."
Peter’s lying oath has accomplished nothing except to compound his guilt. Now he is approached directly by those who have carefully observed his manner and speech. Fowler says the passage of time mentioned in Luke has given bystanders time to mull over Peter’s strange nervousness and his regional dialect to uncover further proof of his falsehood (783). Peter is a Galilean, and his speech is unmistakable. As opposed to the refined vernacular of those raised in the cultured capital of Jerusalem, Peter is from the countryside. He does not speak the verbiage of a theologian; he speaks the rough brogue of a fisherman, one from Galilee at that. Galileans are known for their improper pronunciation and the changes they make to their native Hebrew. To make it worse, Peter has been virtually recognized by another slave of the high priest, in fact a relative of Malchus, the man whose ear Peter cut off (John 18:26). Now Peter’s plight is more than embarrassment; he is in danger. Stronger words would be needed to cover his first and second lie.
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.
Peter repeats his former denial and adds cursing. Here "curse" (katathematizein) is an extremely strong term and means to call down all manner of evil and God’s wrath on oneself if what one is saying is untrue. Thanks to God for His graciousness, for Peter’s words surely make him worthy of divine retribution. By now Peter is willing to resort to anything to keep himself from discovery—even if it means invoking heaven as a partner to his lie.
Peter’s sin does not come because he calls God as his witness. As in verses 63-64, there are appropriate times for such speech. There God is called to witness the truth that Jesus is the Messiah whereas here Peter calls on God to witness a lie.
"I know not the man" are Peter’s words. "I have no relationship with Him." Paradoxically, in at least one sense, if Peter truly knows Jesus, he should not have denied Him. But even more importantly, had Peter really known and accepted Jesus’ mission, he should have known that this night’s events are but a single step on the road that leads to a grave and a glorious resurrection. Little did Peter understand and "know" the One he calls "Lord."
And immediately the cock crew: There is not a definite article in the Greek so it does not mean some particular bird. Only that a rooster crows, thus fulfilling Jesus’ prediction. Since the Talmud suggests that barnyard fowls are not allowed in Jerusalem, we must infer that this bird belongs to one of the many foreigners in the city over whom Jewish rules do not hold sway.
By this time it is early in the morning, perhaps somewhere near 3 a.m., and Peter has been following the proceedings for some time. So caught up is he in the trial, however, that until now he apparently fails to recognize that he is doing exactly what Jesus foretold. Now, however, he is rudely awakened. Mark 14:72 notes this is the "second" time the cock crows. Luke adds that at this precise moment Jesus "turned and looked upon Peter" (22:61). As the denier’s eyes meet the Master’s, as through the flickering shadows the beaten face of his Lord looks longingly toward his, Peter’s soul is suddenly and uncontrollably flooded with guilt and sorrow.
And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.
Memory can be a two-edged sword. It can bring to mind wonderful scenes of yesteryear or it can cut one’s heart from his breast. In this case, it pierces like a dagger. "Before the cock crows twice, thou shalt deny me thrice," Jesus said, and now it has happened. "Though all forsake thee, yet will I not forsake thee," Peter had proudly proclaimed. "To prison and death I will go if necessary," he had boasted. Now his words, like the lying denials that have just faded from his lips, are empty and hollow. He has stood in the Lion’s Den and has been devoured. He has been destroyed not by the mouths of beasts but by his own. His own tongue has worked its wicked condemnation of self. Only one option seems appropriate. He retreats to sob the tears of overwhelming grief. No longer can he face himself.
From this moment we lose sight of Peter until after the resurrection. We cannot say for sure what Peter does in the intervening hours. We do know, however, that though Satan has sifted him he has not been destroyed. Apparently Jesus’ prayer has been effective (Luke 22:32). Unlike the sorrow of Judas, which leads to death, Peter’s sorrow leads to repentance and life (2 Corinthians 7:10). It would be Peter on Pentecost who, after his restoration (John 21:15-19), would stand before some of this same crowd and proclaim remission of sins through Jesus’ blood. Three thousand would be saved—a thousand for every denial.