The Persecution of the King: Christ’s Death and Resurrection
Matthew 26 – 28
Matthew 26 – 28
This section of Matthew can be divided as follows:
O U T L I N E
Events Preceding the Death of Christ
Matthew 26 is a chapter of ups and downs. The scene changes rapidly from one negative thing to one positive thing, then back again. The Sanhedrin plot to kill Jesus, then Mary anoints Him with the ointment, then Judas arranges to betray the Lord, then the disciples prepare the Passover, then the garden of Gethsemane, and so on. The ups and downs were becoming more rapid, because a storm was coming. The shadow of the cross was pressing on the Lord’s pathway. Yet the Father introduced things in the Son’s pathway that would be refreshing to Him. Perhaps the final refreshment was the conversion and confession of the thief on the cross.
The Son of Man’s Death: Predicted and Plotted (vv.1-5)
¶ And it came to pass when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, 2 Ye know that after two days the passover takes place, and the Son of man is delivered up to be crucified. vv.1-2 This is now the last of four predictions given by the Lord concerning His death in Jerusalem. The time had come for the cross. The Lord had finished His work and ministry to the nation of Israel, as a great Prophet “like unto Moses” (Deut. 18:15), but they would not hear Him. He had also come unto them as the King, meek and lowly… and still He was rejected. Everything had been accomplished except the cross. Now He takes the place of a Victim; as a lamb led to the slaughter. How strange to the minds of the disciples this must have been. Jesus reminded them of the impending cross immediately after His Olivet discourse, in which His future glories were declared. The Son of man had come to Jerusalem, not for a throne of glory (Matt. 25:30), but for the cross. The Lord gives the timing of His death as connected with the Feast of the Passover. This is significant, because the Passover is a type of Christ given in death as a sacrifice for sin. Jesus is the anti-type of the Pascal Lamb. Jesus speaks of it as a settled thing. He was submitting to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.
3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together to the palace of the high priest who was called Caiaphas, 4 and took counsel together in order that they might seize Jesus by subtlety and kill him; 5 but they said, Not in the feast, that there be not a tumult among the people. vv.3-5 The clandestine gathering of the Sanhedrin was a common occurrence. They hid their machinations from the common people because they desired to channel the public by subtlety to accomplish their own desires. The religious leaders would do anything to take out Jesus, so long as it did not put them at odds with the people. We see how even man’s hatred and evil scheming is subject to the sovereignty of God. The Sanhedrin said “not on the feast day”, but Jesus said “on the Passover”. Whose will was done? Their attempt to avoid the Feast day for fear of the people failed miserably, because it was not of God. God’s will was for Him to die at the feast. They assumed Jesus was motivated by the same instincts as themselves, and assumed He would call out to the crowd for support if they took Him on the feast day. But none of their wicked principles were found in His spotless Person.
The Anointing at Bethany, the Lord’s Defense of the Woman (vv.6-13)
Two gatherings. In vv.3-5 we saw a gathering of foes, and now in vv.6-13 we see a gathering of friends. This event vv.6-13 is like a parenthesis that took place four days earlier, as we see in John 12.
¶ 6 But Jesus being in Bethany, in Simon the leper’s house, v.6 It is important to distinguish this “house of Simon” from that in Luke 7. There it was Simon the Pharisee, who lived in Capernaum in the northern part of Israel. There a sinner woman came to the Lord. Here it was in Bethany near Jerusalem, and Mary (not named here) came to the Lord. Mary comes as a worshiper, not as a sinner. Bethany means “house of figs” or “house of dates”, and spiritually it was a place where the Lord could always find a little fruit. This is the last time that the little house in Bethany received Jesus. An alternative definition for Bethany is “house of affliction”. Certainly, affliction was no stranger in that house. Even before the sickness of Lazarus (John 11), the head of the home had suffered deeply, for here we learn that it was the home of “Simon the leper”. Simon was either the father of the three siblings, or perhaps the husband of Martha. By this time Simon had died.
Simon the Leper. A valid argument could be made that Simon the Leper was of no relation to Mary, Martha and Lazarus other than a good friend. J.N. Darby takes this view. It does not say that the anointing took place in the house of Martha (John 12), just the house of Simon the Leper (Matt. 26). They could have been helpers/guests in the home of Simon for this occasion only.
7 a woman, having an alabaster flask of very precious ointment, came to him and poured it out upon his head as he lay at table. v.7 The Spirit of God simply says Mary’s sacrifice was “very precious”. In Matt. 26 and Mark 14, Mary pours the ointment on the Lord’s head. In John 12 she pours it on His feet. In truth, she anointed the whole Person… every part of Him was precious to Mary; “the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments” (Psa. 133:2). See the Lord’s response, “on my body” (Matt. 26:12). But why the difference between Matthew and John? Matthew views Christ in the aspect of a king, so he writes about the ointment being poured on the Lord’s head because that is how kings were anointed. John presents Christ as Divine, so he writes about the feet being anointed, because it would not be fitting for men to anoint the head of God, but rather for us to take our place of submission at His feet.
8 But the disciples seeing it became indignant, saying, To what end was this waste? 9 for this might have been sold for much and been given to the poor. vv.8-9 The flesh and the world looks at devotion to Christ, at worship, as a waste. But Jesus did not see it as a waste. The disciples can think only of the sacrifice of service (philanthropy), not of the sacrifice of worship. All through scripture we have this pattern; worship must come before service. Perhaps the disciples were led astray by Judas who was the leader in this (see John 12:4-5), although there was the thought with all of them.
10 But Jesus knowing it said to them, Why do ye trouble the woman? for she has wrought a good work toward me. 11 For ye have the poor always with you, but me ye have not always. vv.10-11 The Lord’s response reveals the importance of prioritizing worship over service. There will always be the poor to serve, but the opportunity to honor the blessed Savior in this time of His rejection is closing quickly. Furthermore, while Mary had said nothing at the protestation of the disciples, she had been “troubled” by what they had said. Jesus takes special care to defend her, and set her at ease. It shows a beautiful spirit in Mary.
12 For in pouring out this ointment on my body, she has done it for my burying. v.12 Mary was performing the burial routine before His death, because she knew Jesus was going to the cross. This was the last opportunity she would have. Of all His disciples, Mary of Bethany seems to be the most intelligent. This is because she is consistently found at Jesus’ feet. She anointed His body, but it was more of a balm to His heart as He approached the cross and felt all the enmity of those around Him, including Judas. The disciples never really understood the things Jesus said to them. This is what makes Mary’s actions so precious to the Lord’s heart. She heard what He said, sitting at His feet, and she believed it. In this way she entered into a little of what His heart was passing through at this time.
Closeness to Christ. Mary was not privy to the Lord’s prediction in vv.1-2. She knew that His death was coming because she had believed His words, but she was not told how close it was. She was not a prophetess. Yet because her heart was attached to Him, she felt the cross pressing in on Him, and knew that His time was near. As the hatred of His enemies rose, the devotion in Mary’s heart grew proportionally.
13 Verily I say to you, Wheresoever these glad tidings may be preached in the whole world, that also which this woman has done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her. v.13 Jesus does not reject the tokens of her affection. He really did appreciate it. As a result, Mary’s act of devotion is recorded in three out of four gospels, so that wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, the record of it would follow.
Judas’ Treachery (vv.14-16)
An Equal and Opposite Reaction. Just as the shadow of the cross led to the outpouring of Mary’s devotion, so the outpouring of Mary’s devotion led to a display of cold-hardheartedness in the disciples and of treachery in Judas.
¶ 14 Then one of the twelve, he who was called Judas Iscariote, went to the chief priests 15 and said, What are ye willing to give me, and “I” will deliver him up to you? And they appointed to him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that time he sought a good opportunity that he might deliver him up. vv.14-16 What the disciples called “this waste” was the last straw for Judas. He had traveled with Jesus for three and a half years, and he was a thief at heart (John 12:6). Perhaps he had held out hopes for somehow getting rich through association with Jesus, but over and over he had been disappointed. The expensive sacrifice of Mary was the last straw for him. He decided to get what he could for his time. Judas was not tricked. The chief priests did not solicit Judas… he went to them, and said “What will ye give me?” For what price would Judas sell the blessed Lord? Thirty pieces of silver was the price of a good slave; see Exodus 21:32; Zech. 11:12-13. Twenty pieces was the price of a boy slave (Gen. 37:28). Judas’ betrayal is an example of Christ’s interpersonal sufferings.
Christ’s Interpersonal Sufferings are what Christ endured in an emotional, social, or interpersonal way. These sufferings are not so much connected with His office of King, but with His Person as rejected, despised, etc. by fellow men. These interpersonal sufferings were felt by the Lord all through His life on earth, but they intensified as He neared the cross. Examples would be the loneliness and rejection the Lord felt, even by those He was closest to. Read more…
The Passover and the Lord’s Supper (vv.17-35)
Two Suppers. There are two suppers here; the last Passover supper, and first Lord’s Supper. “Christ our passover was sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5;7). It would not be an intelligent thing for Christians to keep the Passover after the Lord had come and died as the true Passover. His death was not merely a martyr’s death… it was sacrificial, and atoning.
Preparation for the Passover (vv.17-19)
¶ 17 Now on the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, the disciples came to Jesus, saying, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? v.17 We read in Lev. 23 that the Feast of Unleavened Bread began the day following the Feast of the Passover. The Passover was celebrated on the fourteenth day of the first month, and the Feast of Unleavened bread began on the fifteenth day, and continued for seven days, Sabbath to Sabbath. Why then does it say here that it was “the first day of the feast of unleavened bread” when it was the preparation day, Thursday the 14th? It was because the Passover was often included in the general term “the feast of unleavened bread”, as we see in Luke 22:1. Morally, there is also a very strong connection between the two, as we see in 1 Cor. 5:7-8. The Passover had to be killed “between the two evenings” (Exodus 12:6), meaning between Thursday at 6:00 PM and Friday at 6:00 PM. The Lord and His disciples kept the Jewish feast on Thursday evening after sunset, and the Lord died as the true Passover before sunset on Friday. Both the type and the anti-type were sacrificed between the two evenings! The disciples ask the Lord where they should prepare for this important feast. They took it for granted that Jesus would keep the feast in accordance with scripture. Do we display the same consistency in our lives? From Deuteronomy 16:2 we know the Passover was to be kept in Jerusalem, but the exact location was not specified, only the city.
An Application. The Passover was a memorial of the deliverance of Israel from the destroying angel (Exodus 12:14). The Lord uses the Passover as an opportunity to institute a new memorial that is distinctly Christian. But we can take some helpful lessons from this last Passover and apply them to the Lord’s Supper. The question is: “Where wilt thou?” The Christian testimony today is fractured into ten-thousand different fellowships. It is important to ask the Lord “where” we should go to remember Him.
18 And he said, Go into the city unto such a one, and say to him, The Teacher says, My time is near, I will keep the passover in thy house with my disciples. 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the passover. vv.18-19 If we compare the same account in Luke’s gospel (Luke 22:9-14), we find more practical details of the disciples’ responsibility in locating the correct place; e.g. the man bearing a pitcher of water. Here in Matthew they simply obey the Lord’s instructions and everything falls into place as He said. This is consistent with the differences between Matthew and Luke. In Matthew God’s sovereignty is emphasized, but in Mark and Luke man’s responsibility is emphasized. None of the lavish palaces of Zion were open to the Lord and His disciples… a simple house would do for this occasion. From Mark and Luke we find that there was an upper room in this little house, and that is where they prepared the Passover. Then in John 13-17, we have the beautiful ministry of our Lord that flowed from that upper room; ministry that would prepare the disciples for the time of Jesus’ absence.
Judas’ Betrayal Foretold at Supper (vv.20-25)
20 And when the evening was come he lay down at table with the twelve. v.20 The Lord reclined at the table with the twelve; Judas had not yet gone out.
21 And as they were eating he said, Verily I say to you, that one of you shall deliver me up. v.21 We see the omniscience of Jesus; He knew of the wicked plot hatched by Judas to betray Him. Why say “one of you”, and not simply name Judas? Because all of them were in need of self-judgment. The Lord didn’t treat Judas any differently. This shows incredible grace on the Lord’s part.
22 And being exceedingly grieved they began to say to him, each of them, Is it “I”, Lord? v.22 In a sense, it is nice to hear each of them honestly questioning themselves, “Lord is it I?”. They did not trust their own hearts. That is a good place for us to be; distrusting of ourselves. If Peter had remained in this state of soul, he would not have denied the Lord. This might correspond to 1 Cor. 11:28, which says we are to judge ourselves before we partake of the Lord’s supper.
23 But he answering said, He that dips his hand with me in the dish, “he” it is who shall deliver me up. v.23 In fulfillment of Psa. 41:9, Christ could say the betrayer was “my own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread”. It would appear from Psa. 41 and Psa. 55 that Judas was quite close to the Lord on a natural level, perhaps even closer than some of the others. It has been well said; the worst thing about betrayal is that it comes from your friend. The Lord was betrayed by one of His own. In John 13 we are given the fact; “Jesus was troubled in spirit” (John 13:21). There it was a deep, deep sorrow in anticipating betrayal by one of His closest friends. But in the Psalms, we get the expressions of the Lord’s heart. We find that the betrayal was particularly hurtful to Christ because of His closeness to Judas. In John 13:26 we read that Jesus dipped the morsel in the sauce and give it to Judas first; a sign of favor. This was not an uncommon honor for Judas. Well could the Spirit say of that man; “they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love” (Psa. 109:5).
24 The Son of man goes indeed, according as it is written concerning him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is delivered up; it were good for that man if he had not been born. v.24 In this verse we have God’s sovereignty (“the Son of man goes, etc.”) and man’s responsibility (“woe to that man, etc.”). In God’s sovereign “determinate counsel and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23) the Son of man had to be delivered up. There had to be a betrayer, but it didn’t have to be Judas. The Lord never spoke the name of ‘Judas’ as the betrayer, though He obviously knew it was Judas, and answered when asked (v.25). The “son of perdition” (John 17:12) would go into eternal punishment, and that fact means it would have been better for Judas to have been a stillborn; i.e. to never have had the opportunity to commit this heinous crime. Judas fitted himself to be the Son of Perdition by his own actions.
25 And Judas, who delivered him up, answering said, Is it “I”, Rabbi? He says to him, “Thou” hast said. v.25 Judas lingered to the end, and then asked about himself. Perhaps none of the others thought to question Judas. He seemed so secure… such an integral member of their crew. It is possible for a hypocrite to go through the world completely unsuspected. Note the difference in the language of Judas. The true disciples say “Lord”, the language of the betrayer is only “Teacher”. He refused to own the Lordship of Christ (c.p. 1 Cor. 12:3). The Lord answers the betrayer’s question, which was very gracious. Even at this point, if Judas had repented, there was opportunity for him to be saved.
Judas Iscariot. He was the betrayer, the Son of Perdition. He is identified in John as “Simon’s son” (John 12:4; 13:2). Five Psalms speak prophetically of him; Psalm 35:14; Psa. 41:9; Psalm 55:12-14; Psalm 69:4; and Psalm 109:1-20.
The Lord’s Supper Instituted (vv.26-30)
The Lord’s Supper was instituted here in the upper room, but there was still not a great understanding of the significance of it until Paul’s doctrine is unfolded, particularly in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. The details of the supper are recorded in all three synoptic gospels, however the Lord’s request for the disciples to continue this memorial feast after His departure is not recorded in Matthew and Mark, but it is in Luke. In Matthew the Supper might have a Jewish emphasis; a memorial of the Messiah given in death for the Jewish remnant. This is a much different view of Messiah than the nation had. In the time of the Messiah’s absence, the remnant was to primarily have Christ before them, not in the glory of His kingdom (that was postponed), but as rejected and slain. The remnant would also acknowledge that the death of Christ is grounds for bringing in the Gentiles; His blood was “shed for many for remission of sins.”
Was Judas Present? It would appear that between v.25 and v.26 Judas went out. Someone might ask, would Luke 22:21 indicate that Judas was there when the Lord broke bread? At first glance it does, but we must look to Mark and John, which are both chronological, and they have Judas leaving after Passover supper but before the Lord’s supper. Luke 22:19-20 is like a little parenthesis which is inserted after the Passover cup for moral reasons. Unbelievers have no part in the Lord’s Supper.
¶ 26 And as they were eating, Jesus, having taken the bread and blessed, broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. v.26 The Bread. The Lord took bread (unleavened most likely) and gave thanks for it, then broke it, and gave it to the disciples. When He said “This is my body”, it was in the sense of “this represents by body”. The disciples understood that the bread was not literally the body of the Lord, because He was standing before them! It was in the same way I might show you a photograph of my wife and say “This is my wife”. You would understand that my wife is not composed of paper and ink. The bread represents Christ’s body, and in that way it is His body. But it is not His literal body. This is the great error of the “real presence” views in Eucharistic Theology. The body of Christ was given on the cross, sacrificed for us, that we might be saved (Heb. 10:10; 1 Pet. 2:24).
27 And having taken the cup and given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it. 28 For this is my blood, that of the new covenant, that shed for many for remission of sins. vv.27-28 The Cup. The cup of wine represents the blood of Christ, but more specifically, “the blood of the new covenant”. The thought is, not just His blood, but the efficacy of His blood! It is not merely a part of His anatomy, like a widower might keep a few locks of his wife’s hair to remember her by. It is the blood of Christ in all its value before a Holy God; in a word, “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:19). The blood of the New Covenant can actually remit sins… something the blood of the Old Covenant could never do. When he said “drink ye all of it”, He was not commanding them to drink all the contents of the cup, but rather He wanted all His own to participate in it.
The New Covenant in My Blood. The blood of Christ is in contrast with the blood of bulls and goats. In Hebrews 9 this subject is taken up. We read in Heb. 9:19 that Moses took the blood of animal sacrifices and sprinkled “the book” (the law, the Old Covenant) and “the people”. This blood is what ratified the Old Covenant, and made it binding upon the people. It was not “of force” until the blood was shed and sprinkled. In the same way, the New Covenant could never be ratified without the death of “the testator” and the shedding of His blood. The two great Covenants have to do with Israel, not the Church, as we clearly see from Rom. 9:4; “… Israelites; to whom pertaineth … the covenants”. Covenant theologians argue that the New Covenant is with the Church; but if we look at Jeremiah 31:31 we find that the New Covenant will be made with “the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah”. The covenants are with Israel and for the earth. The Church is heavenly, and called out of the earth. If we compare the two covenants we will see striking differences:
|Old Covenant||New Covenant|
|Made with:||Israel at Sinai in the wilderness||Israel and Judah in the Millennium|
|Character:||Blessings or cursings conditional upon Israel’s obedience||Unconditional blessings|
|A system of:||Demand (works)||Supply (grace)|
The great difference between the two covenants is that the Old was on the basis of works, and the New is on the basis of grace. The language of the Old is “if thou shalt … then I will…”, but the language of the New is just “I will…”. The death of Christ was needed to “take away the first and establish the second” (Heb. 10:9), because the guilt of breaking the Old must be cleared before the New could be established. If the New Covenant is made with Israel, why does the cup in the Lord’s Supper represent “the blood of the New Covenant” (1 Cor. 11:25, etc.)? If you look at the blessings of the New Covenant you will see that we have those same blessings in Christianity, although we also have many blessings that go far beyond the New Covenant (Eph. 1; blessings “in Christ”). Therefore, it can be said that Christians share the blessings of the New Covenant, without being formally under the covenant. Paul clearly says that Christians are “competent, as ministers of the new covenant” (2 Cor. 3:6) although we are not under it as a binding contract; “not of letter, but of spirit”. The spirit of the New Covenant is grace, and that is what characterizes our relationship to God in Christianity. The same blood that has secured the New Covenant blessings for future Israel has secured our blessings in Christianity today. To conclude, the meaning of the cup in the Lord’s Supper: the “cup of blessing” (1 Cor. 10:16) represents the blood of Christ (1) which will formally bless Israel in the New Covenant, and (2) which has secured all spiritual blessings for believers today, including the blessings of the New Covenant.
29 But I say to you, that I will not at all drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father. v.29 Wine speaks of joy… the Lord would not go up to heaven and have a joyful time until His disciples were with Him. He would wait until the kingdom of His Father, which is the heavenly side of the kingdom of heaven in manifestation. There in heaven, with all His redeemed ones around Him, the glorified Son of man will drink it in an entirely new way with all His own. For now, He takes the place of a heavenly Nazarite.
30 And having sung a hymn, they went out to the mount of Olives. v.30 This is the only record we have of the Lord singing. If the Lord kept the normal tradition, the hymn that they sang would have been the ‘Hallel’ (“praise”), which is Psalm 113 – 118. Note: we cannot be sure that this was the hymn they sang, we can only say it is likely (read Fereday, Grant, Bellet). The general theme of that hymn is Jehovah’s goodness in delivering Israel from Egypt; a fitting theme in connection with the Passover. It included Psalm 116, the great resurrection Psalm, in which the Messiah celebrates His own deliverance from death. How precious it is that just before Christ went to the cross, He could anticipate with joy His deliverance from the grave. He could also look forward, in Psalm 118, to His glorification, when the Stone which the builders were about to formally reject would be made the Head of the corner. Near the very end of the hymn are these words; “bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar”. It was with this thought that the Lord proceeded to the Garden of Gethsemane.
Hallel. There are three parts of the Psalms that were referred to as “Hallel”. First, there was the ceremonial Hallel, which was Psalm 113 – 118, sung at the Feasts of Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles. Secondly, there was the Great Hallel, which is Psalm 136, sung in Jewish morning services. Finally, there is the daily Hallel, which is Psalm 145 – 150, sung daily on a voluntary basis. Most likely, the hymn sung by our Lord and His disciples was the ceremonial Hallel, or Psa. 113-118.
The Prediction of the Disciples’ Offense and Peter’s Denial (vv.31-35)
31 Then saith Jesus to them, All “ye” shall be offended in me during this night. For it is written, “I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.” [Zech. 13:7] 32 But after that I shall be risen, I will go before you to Galilee. vv.31-32 Furthermore, Jesus foretold that all the disciples would be offended in Him that very night. It must have been inconceivable for them, sitting around the table, to think that just a few hours later they would be running away, leaving Him in the hands of the Jews. He drew upon the scriptures that spoke of Himself; when the Shepherd was smitten, the sheep would be scattered. The scattering of the sheep refers to the nation of Israel being scattered from the first century A.D. until the present as the government of God for the crucifixion of Messiah, but the Lord applies it to the scattering of the disciples. These disciples were the “poor of the flock” in the midst of the “flock of slaughter” (Zech. 11:7). Without the Shepherd as their object, these poor sheep would be scattered… frightened by the storm that was about to hit. Their affection for Him was insufficient to carry them forward. But after His resurrection, the Lord promised to go before them into Galilee, where His sheep would be restored, and once again be gathered around Him (Matt. 28:16). We can make an application of the last part of that prophecy to this; “and I will turn my hand upon the little ones [for blessing].” Their failure would be swallowed up in His mercy and grace. Though they would forsake Him, still He would not forsake them.
33 And Peter answering said to him, If all shall be offended in thee, “I” will never be offended. 34 Jesus said to him, Verily I say to thee, that during this night, before the cock shall crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. 35 Peter says to him, If I should needs die with thee, I will in no wise deny thee. Likewise said all the disciples also. vv.33-35 Peter, ever bold, makes a daring claim in the midst of human energy. His boldness was often a help to him, but at other times it was a hindrance. The flesh can be bold too. The flesh can carry you a long way. It carried Peter into Caiaphas’ hall. Peter was so full of self-confidence that he thought himself safe from the temptations, or free from the corruptions, that are common to men (Prov. 20:6). It was inconceivable to him that he would forsake the Lord. Jesus predicted not only a slight failure, but a grievous failure. Not once, not twice, but three times before morning (abundant witness, Deut. 17:6), when the rooster crowed, Peter would adamantly deny the Lord. Even this prediction by the Lord could not shake Peter’s self-confidence! He only strengthened his bold proclamation, saying he would be willing to go to death before he would deny the Lord. Also, Peter was not alone in this. Self-confidence is infectious. All the disciples said the same thing, although Peter was the leader. Peter suspected that the others might fail; but not himself. In John 21:15 the Lord presses in on the root of this; Peter thought he loved the Lord more then the other disciples did. We should always suspect ourselves first.
Backsliding vs. Apostasy. There are two types of departure from the Lord; one is apostasy, the other is backsliding. Apostasy is infinitely worse than backsliding. We have examples of both in this chapter; Judas and Peter. Also, both predicted by the Lord ahead of time. A backslider is a believer, and can be restored… an apostate was never saved, and can never be restored.
Peter’s Seven Steps Downward in Matt. 26. It has been remarked that there are a number of steps to Peter’s backsliding. It is important to realize that backsliding is a process. Although it can happen quickly, as it did for Peter (within a 12-hour period), usually it is more gradual. The seven steps are: (1) self-confidence in v.33, (2) refusing correction in v.34, (3) sleeping instead of praying in v.40, (4) acting in the energy of the flesh in v.51, (5) sitting with the ungodly in v.69, (6) denying the Lord in v.71, and finally (7) denying the Lord with oaths and curses in v.74.
Christ’s anticipative sufferings intensified as the cross loomed nearer, but we see them concentrated in the garden of Gethsemane. These sufferings are what Christ passed through as He looked forward to the cross, and to the work of atonement which would be accomplished there. Read more…
Gethsemane. The garden of Gethsemane is located at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where Jesus poured out His soul in supplication to His Father, the night before His crucifixion, while His disciples slept. The name literally means “oil press”, and the garden is full of olive trees to this day. Interestingly, olive trees do not die; instead the old wood rots inside and new wood grows on the outside. The existing trees are around a thousand years old, and DNA testing indicates that those trees sprung from the roots of trees that were cut down prior to that. It is quite possible that the trees standing today are the children of the very trees in the garden when Jesus prayed! Spiritually, we can see the connection between “olive press” and the Lord’s agony in the garden. As olives are squeezed under great pressure to release their oil, so the Lord Jesus endured extreme pressure in the garden, He was “deeply depressed”, and the fruits of it are blessed. It is the place where Jesus submitted to the Father concerning the cross; where He was brought face-to-face with the horrors of abandonment, being made sin, and suffering death, and where He accepted the cup of judgment from His Father’s hand in perfect submission. His sufferings in Gethsemane were not atoning, but He did suffer anticipatively, in weighing the cost of atonement. It is also the place where the disciples’ bold claim (v.35) was tested, and where man’s weakness was exposed.
First Prayer (vv.36-39)
¶ 36 Then Jesus comes with them to a place called Gethsemane, and says to the disciples, Sit here until I go away and pray yonder. 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and deeply depressed. 38 Then he says to them, My soul is very sorrowful even unto death; remain here and watch with me. vv.36-38 Jesus brought His disciples into the garden, and then left eight, and took three of them with Him to pray. Why did Jesus only take the three disciples with Him? Was there anything special about these three? Certainly, these three seemed to be the most prominent among the twelve, both before the cross and as leaders in Christianity. On two other occasions they were privileged to be alone with Christ; at the raising of the ruler’s daughter, and notably on the mount of transfiguration. Perhaps they were chosen to show that even the three greatest apostles could not watch with the Lord. It could be simply that the Father wanted eye-witnesses to those three events; and in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word is established. He was praying to His Father, as a man on the earth. He began to be “sorrowful and deeply depressed”, as He considered what lay ahead at the cross. The Lord Jesus was never discouraged (Isa. 42:4), but He did get depressed. Depression is the result of coming face to face with a sinister reality. The cross was real, and as He approached it, the Lord felt the awful weight of it on His spirit. But He was never discouraged, because discouragement is a lack of faith; the giving up of hope in God. What He desired, as a man passing through sorrow, was the fellowship of others with Him. He didn’t ask Peter, James, and John to “understand” or “empathize”… but simply to “watch” with Him as He prayed. The disciples were not able to do this (v.40).
39 And going forward a little he fell upon his face, praying and saying, My Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me; but not as “I” will, but as “thou” wilt. v.39 Here we have the Son, as a man on earth, on His face in prayer to His Father, beseeching Him to remove the cup of judgment if there was any possible way. This is one of the tenderest scenes in the Lord’s pathway. In Mark’s gospel, we find that the Lord used the dearest expression in pleading with His Father; He said, “Abba, Father”. In Luke we find that His agony was so intense that blood vessels began to burst, and His sweat was so mingled with blood that it might have seemed to be pure blood “falling to the ground”. In Hebrews 5 we find that He also shed tears; “strong crying with tears” (Heb. 5:7-9). What was His request? That the cup of judgment would be removed, if it were possible. Yet even in this, Jesus put aside His own will in submission to His Father’s will. But there was no other way to save sinners. It must be such an offense to God for men to think they can find some other way of salvation, when God Himself could find no other way than to sacrifice His Son.
Death and the curse were in our cup,
O Christ, ’twas full for Thee;
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop,
’Tis empty now for me.
Not My Will. The Lord’s satisfaction (John 4:34), the Lord’s will (John 5:30), and the Lord’s purpose in coming into this world (John 6:38) was always to do the Father’s will. This time in the garden is the only time the Lord ever expressed His own will as different from His Father’s (“if it be possible, remove this cup”… or, “if there is any other way”)… but then immediately He says “but not as I will, but thine be done”. Why wasn’t the “cup” of wrath the Lord’s will? Because, as the eternal Son of God, as the Holy One who knew no sin, as the One who was always in the enjoyment of the Father’s love (dwelling in His “bosom”), He could not find His satisfaction (His “meat”) in the wrath of God. And yet He submits to the Father’s will in perfect obedience. This was the ultimate test of obedience… the one thing the Father could ask Him to do that wasn’t His own will. But “though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb 5:7-9).
Satan’s Power. There is an aspect of these anticipative sufferings that may not be intuitively obvious. We get this line of things more in Luke’s gospel, where we have the most detailed account of the garden. At the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry, Satan met Him and tried to turn Him out of the path of service. Satan used temptations to draw the Lord out of the place of perfect dependence as a man on His God and Father. Of course, Jesus avoided all those temptations through obedience and submission to “every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God”. In doing so, Jesus overcame and bound the strong man (Mark 3:27; Luke 11:22), and thereafter, the devil “departed from him for a season” (Luke 4:13). Here in the garden of Gethsemane, the devil returned with an additional mode of attack; not now temptation only, but terrorism added. How do we know this? First, in John 14:30, just before they rose up to go to the garden, the Lord said, “the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me”. Secondly, in the garden Luke speaks of the Lord as “being in conflict” (Luke 22:44). Thirdly, in Luke 22:53, immediately after the garden, Jesus said “this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” Fourthly, the sorrow that Jesus felt in the garden was “unto death”, and the Devil is the one who has “the power of death” (Heb. 2:14). Satan came to Jesus as a man, and tried to leverage the power of death over Him. As a man, Jesus felt the terror of death, and was exceeding sorrowful in anticipation of it. He did not retreat into His deity to escape this suffering. Satan was there at the cross too, for we hear prophetically the voice of Jesus on the cross, “Save me from the lion’s mouth” (Psa. 22:21), “the torrents of Belial made me afraid” (Psa. 18:4). But the Savior completely fooled the devil through His perfect submission to His God and Father. He took the cup of judgment, but not from Satan’s hand… He took it from the Father’s hand; “not my will, but thine be done”. So, by going into death, not as a sinful man cowering under Satan’s power, but as a perfect Man in obedience to His Father’s will (Luke 23:46), Jesus broke the chains of death! That occurred on the cross; but the anticipation of it took place in the garden of Gethsemane.
Second Prayer (vv.40-42)
40 And he comes to the disciples and finds them sleeping, and says to Peter, Thus ye have not been able to watch one hour with me? 41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is ready, but the flesh weak. vv.40-41 When the Lord needed the disciples the most, they were asleep. All three disciples were asleep, but Jesus addressed His words to Peter. Perhaps it was a rebuke for his prior boldness. These three chiefs of the apostles were not able to watch “one hour” with the Lord in His agony. It is striking that they likewise fell asleep on the mount of transfiguration (Luke 9:32). The natural man is sufficient neither for the glories of Christ, nor His sufferings. If we are asleep as to Christ’s sufferings, we will be asleep as to His glories; and vice versa. In Christ’s atoning sufferings from the hand of God, He must be completely alone, and therefore He never asked anyone to stand by His cross. In those three hours He must be abandoned by men, angels, and by God Himself. But in the garden of Gethsemane, it was the Son pleading with His Father, and in this He desired the company of His disciples. Yet they could not watch even one hour with Him. Psalm 102, often called “the Gethsemane Psalm”, describes the feelings of Christ at this time, and records His loneliness; “I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top.” (Psa. 102:6-7). The flesh – that is, human weakness – was to blame, and the Lord graciously excuses it. However, the Lord warned them to watch and pray, not for His sake, but for their own. The time of Jesus’ suffering was also a time of great danger for the disciples. It is beautiful to see how the Lord would turn aside, during most intense suffering, to help and instruct His disciples.
42 Again going away a second time he prayed saying, My Father, if this cannot pass from me unless I drink it, thy will be done. v.42 What is striking about this second prayer is that Jesus did not ask again for the cup to be taken away. Amazing submission! He would not entertain His own will. Once the Father had answered, He simply accepts it; “thy will be done”. Would it be profane to make an application of this to ourselves? Although it would be wrong, even blasphemous, to compare our cup to the Lord’s, we can certainly learn from His submission. What is our response to the manifest will of God for us? Do we buck and rebel under it? Or do we simply say, as our Master once did, “thy will be done”. To be sure, Jesus was not at this time making atonement. Rather, He was anticipating the judgment which He would bear the following day. J.N. Darby said: “Jesus was not yet drinking the cup, but it was before His eyes. On the cross He drank it”.1 Only God, for Jesus is God, could look into the cup and weigh its contents.
Third Prayer (vv.43-46)
43 And coming he found them again sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 And leaving them, he went away again and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. vv.43-44 Still, the disciples are unable to keep their eyes open. The Lord prayed again the third time, uttering the same words again as the second prayer (v.42); i.e. words of submission to the Father’s will. It isn’t wrong to repeat a prayer, so long as we mean it; i.e. so long as it is not vain repetition (Matt. 6:7). Paul prayed the same thing three times before he was given an answer (2 Cor. 12:8). But we never read of him praying a fourth time. So with our perfect Jesus in the garden. His first prayer was answered, and He submitted to it absolutely.
45 Then he comes to the disciples and says to them, Sleep on now and take your rest; behold, the hour has drawn nigh, and the Son of man is delivered up into the hands of sinners. 46 Arise, let us go; behold, he that delivers me up has drawn nigh. vv.45-46 The Lord was so gracious to these disciples. He speaks gently to them, urging them to sleep, and take rest. There was no rest for the Saviour. He might well have chided them; “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow?” (Lam. 1:12), but He didn’t. Apparently there is a pause between v.45 and v.46, while the disciples slept, and the Lord watched. But that sleep was cut short by the murderous treachery of Judas. At last Peter with the others awakes, but His self-confidence is still unshaken, though he had failed in the garden. It required a more serious failure still to reach his heart and conscience. How patient the Lord is with us!
The Arrest of Christ (vv.47-56)
Judas’ Kiss & the Arrest (vv.47-50)
¶ 47 And while he was yet speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great crowd with swords and sticks from the chief priests and elders of the people. v.47 It is likely that the Jewish leaders thought Jesus would resist, perhaps with violent force. Why else would they brings such a large armed force to take Him? It is also likely that Judas believed the Lord would be delivered miraculously as He had at other times (Luke 4:29-30; John 8:59; John 10:39). Perhaps he thought Jesus would escape and he could make some money off it. But Judas was wrong. This could be why Judas was “filled with remorse” (Matt. 27:3) when the Lord was condemned.
48 Now he that delivered him up had given them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, he it is: seize him. 49 And immediately coming up to Jesus he said, Hail, Rabbi, and covered him with kisses. vv.48-49 This was before the days of photo ID, and all identification was done by personal recognition. Therefore, the chief priests and elders required Judas to identify the Lord to the band. This shows that the Lord did not stand out from every other man in appearance (Isa. 53:2). How humble Jesus must have been, for there to be a need to mark Him out! The method Judas used to identify the Lord was a kiss; he “covered him with kisses”. There is something deeply sad about this, that Judas would use a universal sign of affection to betray the Lord. The outward show can be deceiving. Judas was possessed by the Devil and he kissed the Lord. He fulfilled Prov. 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” The disciples may not have understood what Judas was doing. They didn’t understand when Judas went out earlier (John 13:29)… perhaps it was very common for Judas to kiss the Lord, or for Judas to handle formal business matters. Judas greeted the Lord with, “Hail, Rabbi” or literally, “you rejoice, Teacher”. How awful… how could he ask Jesus to rejoice when Judas was delivering Him up to death?
50 But Jesus said to him, My friend, for what purpose art thou come? Then coming up they laid hands upon Jesus and seized him. v.50 In gracious humility, Jesus replies to Judas with a question that sought to reach his heart, even then. He called Judas “friend”. It was the solemn fulfillment of Psa. 41:9; “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.” Many times the Jews had sought to lay their hands on Jesus, and many times He had escaped effortlessly. Finally, the time of His death having come, God allowed wicked men to put their hands on His Son. There was a time when Jesus put His hands on little children, on the lepers’ skin, on the blind men’s eyes… but now they put their dirty hands on Him.
The Use of the Sword (vv.51-54)
51 And behold, one of those with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, and smiting the bondman of the high priest took off his ear. v.51 One of the disciples was armed with a sword, and decided that it was time to use it. The three synoptic evangelists don’t give this disciple’s name… perhaps they didn’t want to unnecessarily disclose another’s failure. We learn from John 18 that it was Simon Peter. The same flesh that was asleep as to Christ’s sufferings in Gethsemane was soon ready to take up a carnal weapon to defend Him. We know that the disciples had two swords, collectively (Luke 22:38). That means that at least two of the disciples were armed… but only one drew his sword. It speaks to Peter’s character that he would not only arm himself, but also be quick to draw his sword; perhaps he did this to make sure he would keep true to his boast (vv.33-34). Rather than help the Lord, Peter only hindered Him by using the sword. Peter wasn’t aiming for the man’s ear… he was going for the head! What else can you expect from a sword-wielding fisherman? There is no telling what we will do out of communion. Morally, there is a lesson in this. We can “cut off” another’s “ear” by acting in the flesh; i.e. we can cause them to turn a deaf ear to the truth. We can do personal damage with good intentions. In vv.52-54 the Lord has to disown the actions of Peter. He will do the same to us if try to act on Christ’s behalf, but do so in the flesh. In John 18 we find that Jesus healed this man. What grace! While these men were occupied with arresting Him, the Lord stoops down to heal the severed ear… to put right the wrong done by Peter.
Three Reasons Not to Use the Sword. In vv.52-54 the Lord gives three reasons why we should not use the sword to defend ourselves in Christianity.
52 Then saith Jesus to him, Return thy sword to its place; for all who take the sword shall perish by the sword. v.52 Reason #1: the Government of God. There is a government of God on those who use the sword. Those who live by the sword will perish by the sword. When we stoop to the level of the flesh, it is only a matter of time before we meet someone who is stronger. When we look at Church history, we see many believers down through the centuries who were devoted to Christ, but they took up the sword. To me, the most vivid example of this is Ulrich Zwingle, the leader of the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland. For all his faithfulness to the scriptures, Zwingle did not understand the heavenly calling of the Church, nor did he understand that Christ’s servants ought never to take up the sword. He did take up the sword, and led many dear believers into battle with the Catholic forces. He was slain in the battle of Kappel in 1531. Having received a wound to the head, he lay for some time wounded on the field. He was heard uttering these words; “Alas, what a calamity is this! Well, they can indeed kill the body, but they cannot touch the soul.”2 At last a captain of the Catholic forces appeared and in exasperation drew his sword and gave Zwingli a thrust from which he immediately died. That was the end of Mr. Ulrich Zwingli, a true and faithful servant of Christ… but one who took up the sword, and likewise perished by the sword. It is nice to see that Peter learned from this. In his first epistles, he has much to say about the right and wrong way to endure suffering.
53 Or thinkest thou that I cannot now call upon my Father, and he will furnish me more than twelve legions of angels? v.53 Reason #2: the Providence of God. We are to look to God for our needs, including defense. If Jesus needed a defense He would get it from the Father. Rather than use a physical weapon, we should learn to wield the weapon of prayer. In Genesis, it took only two angels to destroy the cities of the plain. In 2 Kings 19:35, one angel slew 185,000 men in the camp of the Assyrians. What could “more than twelve legions” of angels do? A Roman legion was between 6,000 and 10,000 men. Twelve legions of angels could affect 12 x 6000 x 185000, or upwards of 13 billion casualties. Man could have been completely annihilated by angelic power alone, to say nothing of Divine power (Job 34:14-15). Christ could have asked for the angels at any point in His life… including on the cross. But He never asked for the angels to come to His aid. Why? Because in perfect obedience and dependence on His God and Father, Jesus never asked to escape the circumstances He was asked to endure. If it was God’s will for Jesus to have relief from His sufferings, or to escape from the soldiers’ hands, God would have provided in His providence. What a lesson we can learn from that! We need to remember that God will provide for us.
54 How then should the scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be? v.54 Reason #3: the Sovereignty of God. Taking things into our own hands defies the sovereignty of God. One thing Peter had not factored into his actions was the need for the scriptures to be fulfilled. Scriptures like, “he is led as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7). This is a practical example to us. When trials overtake us, we should remember that God is sovereign, and He has allowed the circumstances. To resist the circumstances is really to resist God.
Man’s Responsibility and God’s Sovereignty (vv.55-56)
55 In that hour Jesus said to the crowds, Are ye come out as against a robber with swords and sticks to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye did not seize me. 56a But all this is come to pass that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled. vv.55-56a This was the “hour” of Christ’s submission to suffering. The Lord now addresses the conscience of the crowds. They were easily led by the corrupt leaders. These were common people, stirred up into an angry mob by the Jewish leaders. This is how many politicians work. They stir up the masses to accomplish their own twisted goals. The Lord spoke to show them the folly of their actions. When He was with them daily in the temple, they were not violent towards Him. In fact, they were bringing their sick and lame to Him for healing. How fickle the human heart can be. They were responsible for their actions, though they were misled, and Jesus acknowledged their culpability. But He also acknowledged God’s sovereignty; “But all this is come to pass that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled”.
56b Then all the disciples left him and fled. v.56b But if they hearts of the crowd were fickle, the disciples were no stronger. They all forsook the Lord at the time of His arrest. From other Gospels we gather that John must have followed a little later, along with Peter (John 18:15), but it was only “afar off” (v.58). One by one, those interpersonal comforts that naturally strengthen the human spirit were removed. At last Jesus was left alone: “I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psa. 69:20). And yet, while He was forsaken by man, the Lord still had the fellowship of His Father; “And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29). But, in the abandonment of the last three dark hours, even that fellowship was taken away. The disciples fleeing is but the first of two forsakings. A far more awful forsaking occurred on the following day. As each support was taken away, the glories of Jesus shone out ever more brightly; His obedience, submission, and love – and nowhere more fully than in the abandonment of Calvary.