This chapter is magnificent in its content and words. Jesus took the Passover meal on the first day, the Seder. But, He did not last any longer, and could not enjoy the rest of the Passover festival. That very night He was taken away, to experience many hours of intense beatings and violence. Then, next day, He was hanged from a wooden stake until dead. The apostles were bewildered, because they forgot both His prophecies and His holy power; they scattered, leaving Him alone.
We are human, full of faults and fears. We would not have acted differently. Even Peter, filled with bravado before Jesus was taken, crumbled into a mess of anxiety, with a heightened sense of self-preservation! This is when the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, God Himself, was taken away to be killed. Contemplate on this.
After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death.
But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people.
Jesus went to the Temple and later told His disciples what to expect concerning the destruction of the Temple, which would occur in some of their lifetimes, and also of the end of time in the far future. Two days later He was still staying in Bethany.
The annual Passover was due and the Temple hierarchy planned how to take Jesus and kill Him. However, being political to the core, they decided not to do so on the feast days, because the people would know about it and become angry.
The Feast of the Passover, the pascha, was a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt. The paschal lamb is the lamb used in that escape, the blood of which protected the Hebrews from the angel of death. The paschal supper was in memory of the final meal before the exodus. The whole Passover period was seven days.
The Aramaic pascha is rooted in pecah, which also includes the idea of a sacrifice, and this is rooted in pacah, which means ‘passing over’ (thus describing the passing-over of the angel of death sent by God). ‘Passover’ is the Greek rendition of the Hebrew Pasach… ‘to pass over by sparing’. The Passover included the eating of unleavened bread, another feature of the original pre-exodus meal. That is, unfermented dough free of leaven or yeast.
Today, many Christians celebrate this Jewish feast, without Christ’s approval or command. Yet, they continue to honour the Pasch as if it were! Charismatics in particular love to copy Jewish celebrations and feast days, claiming they are essential. But, they are not.
And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head.
And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made?
For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her.
And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me.
For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.
She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.
Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.
Just before the feast days began Jesus was staying in Bethany at the house of Simon (Or, Peter) the leper. It is likely that though Simon was called a ‘leper’ that he was healed – otherwise he would not have been allowed to be in the house.
As Jesus was eating a meal in His host’s home, a woman entered, carrying an alabaster box. Alabaster, a stone, was used to make boxes that contained precious ointments. In this case the ointment was spikenard, or nardos (Sandskrit). The nard had a spiked head that produced a very scented and costly perfumed ointment. The head of the plant belonged to a variant of Valerianna, from India. The juice of the head was mixed with a base to produce the ointment.
The woman “broke the box”. That is, the seal placed around the lid to stop any of the precious ointment from spilling out or being stolen, was removed. The box itself was costly, so no-one would just break it apart. Though the spikenard was extremely precious, the woman poured the whole amount onto Jesus’ head. It did not have healing properties, but she simply wanted to do something special for the Master.
But, as is the wont of human beings, some were angry that she had ‘wasted’ the contents on Jesus. But, as is also the wont of humans, they did not say so outwardly, but kept the thoughts in their minds. They knew that the ointment could easily have sold in the market for over 300 pence, which could then have been given to the poor. How easy folks are with other people’s money! It is always an holy act to do that kind of thing… but how many would actually do it if they owned the ointment?
Jesus, as always, knew what was in their thoughts and spoke out. ‘Leave her alone and stop condemning her! She has done something good for me. The poor are around is constantly, and, if you want to, you can help them at any time. But, I will not be with you for long. Therefore, she has done what she could for me while I am still here… she has anointed me ready for burial.’
He then said that wherever the gospel was preached, her good deed would be remembered, which is absolutely true! So many Christians, more legalistic than genuine, love to condemn those who minister, especially if they are not in the mainstream of preachers. These Christians always find fault with them, because they do not comply with the usual image of their own perception. Yet, such ministers glorify God and honour Christ more than any of the critics, who do nothing themselves and who know next to nothing of doctrine and real Christian living. Nothing done for Christ from an honest heart is ‘wasted’!
And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them.
And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.
Suddenly, the wicked Temple rulers had the opportunity they were looking for… one of Jesus’ own disciples played the foul hand. Judas Iscariot left Bethany and walked the few minutes into Jerusalem, offering to hand over Jesus for a sum of money. Of course, “they were glad” because it absolved them, or so they thought, of responsibility for Jesus’ demise. The contract was sealed with a promise and the priests and Judas worked on the best plan of action. In real terms, Judas did nothing by subterfuge. His only subterfuge was against the other apostles, for God and Jesus knew who he was and what he would do. And the plan of the Temple hierarchy was not theirs alone, but was a Satanic activity allowed by God for the fulfilment of prophecy!
So, Jesus did not properly fall into the hands of the wicked – rather, the wicked fell into the hands of Almighty God! Do not think that anything we do is unknown to God, or that we surprise Him. He knows every hair on our heads, and every breathing moment we take; He knows our every thought an action, even before they occur. And what we surprise ourselves with is of no surprise to God, because he knows our weak and feeble frame, and our penchant for doing wrong.
And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?
And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him.
And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?
And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us.
And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover.
And in the evening he cometh with the twelve.
The feast of the Passover came and the paschal lamb was slaughtered. The disciples approached Jesus and asked Him what arrangements He wanted to make to eat the Passover meal. This would have been the historic feast, which He gladly participated in, because the ‘old’ things were still in force. However, on this occasion, Jesus also instigated a new form of remembrance, centred on Himself, for He became the paschal lamb. From that point onwards, the Jewish Passover became redundant.
Jesus told two of the apostles to enter Jerusalem. There, they would see a man carrying a water jar. They were to follow him until he entered a house. Then, they were to go to the owner of the house and say that The Master wanted to eat the Passover in the house, with the 12 apostles… where is the room? The owner would then show them a large upper room, which would be ready for use and furnished. The two were to stay and make the meal ready.
Now, how remarkable was that encounter? Jesus knew who to follow, where he would go, and how the owner would respond. Christians should remember that when they wonder how they will fare in life and what will happen to them! God knows us and will not fail us. He has already prepared our life for His service. All we have to do is stay and prepare everything for Jesus’ use.
The two apostles did as they were told, and made the feast ready. Later, Jesus and the apostles walked from Bethany, entered Jerusalem and went to the exact same house, to eat the feast. In life, many Christians wonder just what they are to do; they are perplexed. There is no need to be. We must just go forward until God shows us another path, which we must take. This may not be in the form of a mapped out route, but if we do what scripture says and live as we ought, we will be moved along the right path. The right path is always there – but we tend to do silly things and go off at a tangent! We put human resources and ways in place of God’s plan, and wonder why there is silence, or why things go wrong.
And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray me.
And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I?
And he answered and said unto them, It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish.
The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.
Jesus and the apostles sat, as was custom, on the floor, probably on cushions (some say the room was carpeted), and ate the first Passover meal, the seder (see Matthew 24 notes for details). The meal would have included Jesus reminding his associates of the exodus events. During the meal Jesus gave some striking news – that one man sitting at the same table, who “dippeth with me in the dish” would betray Him. The apostles were astonished by His earlier news, that He was to be taken and killed. Now, there was the added disturbing news, that one of them was a traitor.
To ‘betray’ is paradidōmi, which has a powerful meaning – to treacherously hand someone over for torture, condemnation or death. The apostles were filled with grief… possibly even Judas. Note how Judas carried out his promise to the priests, even though he now knew that Jesus also knew he would do it!
Many Christians are treacherous towards Christ. They deliberately follow their own minds and hearts, ignoring the truth of God’s word. They believe silly fables or the words of men who pretend to be wise. They prefer tasty morsels to God’s word. I know because they contact me regularly and tell me how heretical I am not to believe their delusions! This is as treacherous as the actions of Judas. God has commissioned men to be teachers. Satan also appoints men to counteract God’s teachings. Sadly, many Christians do not know the difference, and so grieve the Holy Spirit.
Each apostle asked Jesus if he was the one who would betray Him. It would be intriguing to know if Judas asked the same question, so as to remain anonymous! Jesus simply said it would be one who dipped in the communal dish. The dish contained bitter herbs, which was appropriate for the coming betrayal. In a much broader sense, all genuine, faithful Christians can expect to share in the bowl of bitterness, with Christ. Those who do not are dubiously claiming to be His.
The commentator, Matthew Henry, taught that Jesus told the apostles that one would betray Him, so as to give Judas the opportunity to withdraw his plan and repent. But, this is an error, for no man could withdraw from God’s plan of redemption. Judas was just as much a fixed feature in that plan, as Pharaoh was in the plan to bring about the exodus.
Judas, then, could not escape his treachery, nor his deserved end. Henry also suggests that Jesus implied that the one who dipped in the dish at that moment was Judas. This does not seem correct, for some in the group were fiery-hearted and would have set-upon Judas if they had known! Rather, Jesus said “(It is) one of the twelve…”, so as not to identify who it was.
Jesus continued by saying that it was prophesied that he must die… but the man who betrayed Him was doomed. Indeed, He said, it would have been better if that man had “never been born”. This is more interesting than may appear, for if Judas had never been born, he could not have sinned and betrayed Jesus.
Jesus was not making a retaliatory remark implying that Judas would suffer, but was stating a fact. Jesus was also implying by His remark that it would have been better not to have been born, because now he was born and alive, he would know the wrath of God later. All who defy God will know His wrath, whether on this earth or not. They will certainly know His anger when they die. There is no escape.
The number of Christians who defy God is staggering. They should understand that God will accept them into heaven, but He will still be angry with them if they sin openly and are continual in their defiance. It is not unusual for Him to punish erring Christians on this earth, if they refuse to repent after being warned.
And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body.
And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it.
And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.
Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.
And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
We now come to a famous portion of scripture. Oddly, Christians can even get this passage wrong! Tradition has taken over this simple act of communion. How many churches set out a communion table every month? How many have elders or deacons sitting up front, with a pastor at the head of the table? How many members sit obediently in the pews waiting for the deacons or elders to bring them the wine and bread? How many wait for someone up front to pray? Only after that do they offer a prayer themselves? How many sit quietly until the pastor makes the first move and allows them to take the bread and the wine? All of this is tradition!! Is it good or is it bad? It depends on the hearts of those taking part… repetitively or genuinely?
The original and first communion was nothing like the rigid form taken today. It was certainly nothing at all like the heretical Roman Catholic or High-Anglican forms. Read the passage yourself and see what really happened. There is no command to hold a ‘service’ monthly, or for only the pastor the head the table, or for deacons or elders to hand out the symbolic wine and bread, or for any other formality.
After the usual Passover meal, Jesus picked up the round unleavened bread and broke it into pieces, as was the usual way – the bread was torn rather than cut with a knife. He briefly blessed it (gave thanks to God for it) and handed out small pieces to each apostle. Now you might argue that Jesus was the head of the table and this is why the pastor is also head of the modern communion table. This is a mistake – Jesus was leading the way on this one occasion because it was a brand new instruction, and He also led because it gave the new instruction His authority.
Jesus said “Take, eat: this is my body.” It is very obvious He did not mean it was His actual body, as Catholicism claims, for He was alive in front of them. He did not tear out bits of His actual flesh, but meant His statement to be taken symbolically. If I picked up a plate and cast it to the floor, saying “This is my body”, it would probably symbolically mean that just as the plate smashed so my own body was broken by, say, an illness. The statement was a very simple and straightforward symbolic one. To make it anything else is ludicrous and a theological nonsense.
He then picked up the cup. This was a large simple goblet, probably made of wood, containing red wine (alcoholic!). Again, He thanked God for the wine. Here is a question… was Jesus thanking God that these things symbolised His coming sacrifice, or was He just thanking God for the actual bread and wine themselves? I suggest He was doing both. He passed around the cup and each drank from it. This is not a command to drink wine today from the same chalice… it was a commonplace act based on the first exodus meal.
The wine, said Jesus, was a symbol of His spilled blood, which He let pour from His body to cover the sins of many, as promised by the “new testament”. Thus, Jesus was closing the long era of Jewish rites and traditions, and beginning afresh with a new remembrance, what we now call ‘communion’. Strictly speaking, we do not enact the ‘last supper’, but enact something similar, for there could only be one ‘last supper’. The ‘new testament’ means the brand new promises given to those who believe and are saved by the Gospel.
Therefore, the bread was a symbol of His body that was killed, and the wine was a symbol for His blood that was spilled on the cross. It is as simple as that. A pastor need not head the table; he need not firstly pray; indeed there is no command to pray at all – just say thank you to God for both symbols, because of what they represent. There is no command to have communion on any specific day, or regularly. There are no formalities… in our own church we just eat and drink the symbols after our meeting and before we have a light meal together. I need not take the ‘service’ because it should not be a ‘service’ – it is a memorial of all present. I will remind everyone of the purpose of the communion, and that is that. Anything else is a formal and traditional act, probably with no real meaning attached.
You will note that Jesus did NOT say His blood was “shed for everyone”, but was shed for “many”. This is very specific, with a precise meaning – that His sacrifice would have an effect on some but not others; and such a precise statement contains a boundary, meaning that He died ONLY for the ‘many’ and not for ‘everyone’. You can see how this statement of His contains deep theological truths affecting other doctrinal statements, such as predestination and election.
Jesus then told them that He would not drink any more wine until He drank it fresh in heaven. In some cases ‘kingdom of heaven’ can mean the life lived on earth by those who are saved. In this case it refers only to the abode of God. It does NOT refer to a mythical 1000 year reign on earth. this shows that Jesus’ death was imminent.
They all then sang a hymn, which would have been a usual Jewish song connected to the Passover, and sent out of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives, at night. There is no command in this verse to say that we must sing hymns. Communion activity is very much what each local church determines it to be – so long as it is genuine and believed, without ‘bad’ or extraneous tradition, it is acceptable.
And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.
But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee.
But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.
And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.
But he spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all.
“All shall be offended because of me this night.” It is connected to the next statement: “I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” And why say “All” would be offended? In this text ’all’ refers only to the apostles: “ye”.
The second part is obvious: Christ the Head of the Church will be killed, so His followers will be spread abroad. The second part is as a consequence of the first part“ (as ‘for’ tells us – ‘for’, hoti, is a conjunction, so means ‘because of’). “Offended”, skandalizō, in this text means to cause a problem for their understanding and faith. However, Jesus quickly adds that though His death will cause them fear or perplexity, it will only be a temporary state. He will rise the third day (as He had already told them) and would see them in Galilee.
Peter answered by saying that whilst others might be anxious and thrown off course, he would remain firm in his faith. It is possible Jesus smiled at Peter when he said that, for he replied ‘Of a truth, tonight you will deny you know me, three times, before the cock crows twice!’ That was a very specific prophecy, and it came true.
Peter, hearing this, refused to accept his own coming failure and asserted that he would rather die than do that! In fact, he said, ‘Even if I die with you, I will never deny you’. All the disciples said the same thing. Most Christians would like to think they would rather die than deny Christ. But, situations can overturn our very best of intentions. Fear can strike us dumb, or to run away, or to deny all association with something. We never know until we are in a situation, how we will react.
No doubt Peter meant his impassioned promise. But, when he was surrounded by Roman soldiers and the company that beat Jesus to pulp, his legs must have turned to jelly and fear took over. This can happen to anyone. In the same way most Christians would swear allegiance to scripture, but begin to accept unscriptural notions, sometimes without realising it. They will shun the counsel of men called by God to teach, and so become far worse in their beliefs.
And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray.
And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy;
And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.
And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.
Jesus and the disciples reached Gethsemane (‘an oil press’), a place just over the river Kidron at the bottom of the Mount of Olives. The ‘place’ was owned by a land-owner and was probably closed in by a fence. Jesus told the disciples to wait for Him, while He went a little beyond to pray. This was His last night, and He needed to speak with the Father. He took Peter, James and John with Him.
We are told that Jesus “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy”. Now here we have a mystery, for ‘amazed’ can mean simply ‘amazed’ or ‘astounded’, or it can mean to be terrified or alarmed. Which meaning applies? The word is used in this form only in this verse. We have only one conclusion – that we see here Christ’s inward agony. It would be nice to push such a thing aside and say that Christ could not suffer such agony of soul. But, He did! We cannot deny what is plainly said in God’s word.
Why was Christ, Who is God, so filled with horror? He was horrified because, though God, He was also Man, and would very soon experience a night and morning of intense, sustained brutality, before being horrifically crucified. Worse than that - and it was not the idea of violence to Himself that caused His horror – He knew what else was to come… a time when the Father would have to set Him aside because He bore the sins of all those who were elect.
If a mere man were to stand before God for his own sins, that would be bad enough, but Jesus stood before the Father because He had ALL the sins of ALL the elect on His person. He therefore had to suffer the consequences… death and estrangement from the Father for a period. It was this darkness of soul that caused His horror and intense anguish.
Some commentators think the word adēomoneō refers to depression. I cannot accept this, because depression is a state of mind brought about by refusal to accept one’s condition or circumstances. It is also a denial of the right decisions in life. Neither can apply to Christ, for all His decisions and thinking were consistent with being God.
In certain books, a number of early Christians are also labelled as ‘depressive’, but I do not accept their labels, either. There is a huge difference between being humanly depressed and being heavy of soul because of spiritual pressures.
Jesus Himself gives us the biggest clue, for He told the three apostles “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death”. The horror was not an human emotion but a spiritual state. If even Christ was horrified by being separated from the Father, how much more should human beings be terrified by being apart from God? Not too many, so it seems, as men and women carry on their lives in depravity or godlessness, and even Christians dare to live by their own rules.
Jesus now needed time to Himself for a short while, so He told the three to stay where they were, awake, whilst He moved farther away. When He was away from them, Jesus fell prostrate to the ground and prayed to the Father that “If it were possible, the hour might pass from him.” He said “Abba, Father, all things (are) possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”
Is this Jesus asking the Father to remove His task at the last moment? Was He so afraid that He wished the Father to take Him out of the coming violence? We must begin by saying that Jesus is God, and so every thought had to be perfect and holy. So, He was not asking to relinquish the reason He came to earth. knowing that, we can begin to take the request in another way…
The idea of it being ‘possible’ can mean what we usually take it to mean – something to remove Him. However, the word, dynatos, also can mean to bear trials with strength. Is this an element in Jesus’ plea? “pass from” has the meaning of being separated, and ‘from’ has a similar connotation. So, Jesus was not asking to be relieved of His coming duty, but was filled with dread at being separated from the Father.
Jesus asked the Father if He would not bring about this separation. Remember that such separation for human beings means a darkness of soul filled with unimaginable terrors. For the Son of God it was not just unimaginable but incomprehensible, because of its sheer weight and darkness, as all the sins of all the elect were piled onto the Saviour.
But, it was not an error or a temporary fear that wished Himself to be free of the responsibility. Rather, it was a rhetorical statement of His darkness of soul, wishing for something He knew He could never attain. Hence His additional prayer, that whatever the Father wanted, He would do. In a very minor way, a man might say “I wish someone would stop me going to the dentist, because of the pain”, but he goes anyway, suffering pain, because he realises it is what he must do.
Even this admission of horror from Jesus does not make Him any the less divine! He expressed a proper grief knowing He would soon have to endure separation from His Father. If only Christians understood how important their link with the Father, through Christ, is. Then they might not sin so readily, or take their spiritual duties so lightly.
And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour?
Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.
And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words.
And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him.
And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand.
Have you ever been betrayed by friends or relatives? I have. It hurts deeply. But, what of the betrayal of Christ? He was betrayed by one who was given the unique privilege of being a chosen man, an apostle. He was with Jesus for over three years, night and day. He saw His acts and heard His words. Yet, he handed Him over to the authorities to be killed. There can be no worse betrayal than that. Yet, as we saw in the previous chapter, Judas was born to betray Jesus, just as Jesus was born to save the elect. Judas acted as he did not just because he was a sinner, but because he was chosen for the most vile act in history – the betrayal of the Christ.
As the last hours and moments ticked by, Jesus was on the Mount of Olives praying in the depth of His sadness, heavily tinged with the knowledge that He would soon be separated from His Father by the sin of all the elect. The betrayal was the most wicked act in mankind’s history, and yet it was foretold and expected. Jesus knew it was coming but did not try to run away, because this was the end of His ministry and the beginning of man’s salvation by grace alone. It had to happen, and Judas had to come with henchmen to betray Jesus.
Jesus came back to the three apostles and found them asleep. He gently remonstrated with Peter by asking him why he could not stay awake, even for an hour. Jesus made an important statement: ‘Stay awake and pray, or you may fall into temptation’. Have you ever noticed how, in the middle of the night, you start to think all kinds of things, mostly irrelevant or over-emphasised? The thoughts just keep on coming and any troubles you might have are made to look much worse.
But, Jesus had the remedy – pray. The prayer focuses the mind and stops random thoughts and fears getting a grip. Such would be ‘temptations’ to think wrongly. We cannot be tempted if we pray genuinely to God. Jesus knew that Peter was tired because he was an human being; he wanted to stay strong in his spirit, but his body and its thoughts led him down the wrong path… as happened later. Jesus went away and returned a third time – and again found them asleep. This time He let them sleep a while longer
Jesus went back to pray again. However, when He returned, He again found Peter and the others asleep! When He challenged them, they seemed to be embarrassed by their weakness. When He awoke them, He said the time He had waited for had come, and He was about to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. ‘Quickly,’ He told them, ‘Get up, because the one who betrayed me is close by’.
Those who wish to betray Jesus or His people are always close by! They watch and wait for any opportunity to cast us to the lions. I have known this to take place many times in my own life. Sadly, those who do the betraying call themselves ‘Christians’, who think their veiled hatred is justified by an evangelical smile! The same happens to many others who follow Christ truly. And it will happen to you if you do the same.
And immediately, while he yet spake, cometh Judas, one of the twelve, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.
And he that betrayed him had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead him away safely.
And as soon as he was come, he goeth straightway to him, and saith, Master, master; and kissed him.
And they laid their hands on him, and took him.
Even as Jesus was speaking, along came Judas accompanied by thugs from the Temple, the guards, ordered by the Sanhedrin. They arrived in force, carrying swords and fighting sticks. The swords were anything from long knives to curved swords meant for cutting, or straight swords meant for driving hard into a body. The ‘staves’ were cudgels used to beat people with.
Judas told the men that the person he kissed would be the one they should arrest. The kiss was the ‘token’ or sign. We know from the word used that the ‘kiss’ was the standard kiss given to a friend when meeting, to show friendship or love! Such was Judas’ depth of sin. Do not think Judas was concerned for Jesus’ ‘safety’… though he used the word ‘safely’, in this text it means to be secured so as not to escape! And that is what happened – the thugs took hold of Jesus and marched Him off in readiness for His coming violent encounters.
Judas even addressed Jesus with the term “Master, master” or ‘Rabbi, rabbi’, a title of honour and respect. What a liar Judas was, even face-to-face with the Lord. So many Christians are like this, when they move from truth and adopt deceptions and heresies. It is all a lie and an insult to the Lord.
And one of them that stood by drew a sword, and smote a servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me?
I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took me not: but the scriptures must be fulfilled.
And they all forsook him, and fled.
And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him:
And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.
One of the apostles took his sword and cut off an ear of the high priest’s servant. Which apostle was it? We know from the same record in John 18:10 and 26 that the apostle was Peter! Note that the apostles all carried swords, evidently with Jesus’ permission: see Luke 22:36, where Jesus instructed his disciples to buy a sword if they did not have one.
For reasons I do not know, many Christians have a belief that they must be doormats to all and sundry, never protecting themselves. I find nothing ‘Christian’ in such a foppish (or is it cowardly?) belief. I have found that Christians who insist on never protecting oneself are those who have never had the misfortune to meet violent people in any direct capacity! It is easy to protest against self-protection when one does not need protection! If they hold to this kind of idea, then they must automatically rebuke soldiers, police officers, certain psychiatric nurses, and anyone who has to deal with violent people daily.
Jesus, more to speak to the thugs’ sinfulness than to be treated less harshly, asked the Temple employees why they came for Him with weapons, as if He were a thief; after all, He said, He was openly with them, teaching in the Temple, and yet they waited until darkness before arresting Him! That is what evil men are like: they try to hide their wickedness with darkness, smokescreens and deception. And that includes some in our churches. Jesus knew why they waited – to fulfil prophecy, even though they did not know it.
You will notice that only a few hours earlier, the apostles promised faithfully never to disown Jesus, but they nevertheless ran away when the thugs came! I would not dare speak ill of the apostles for doing that, nor Peter for his coming denial, because I know I am just as liable to run away or as act badly as they did. None of us knows for sure how we will react to adversity and wicked men. And I can assure you that when you are cornered by violent people who want only to kill you, you might act in a manner not conducive to Christian faith and actions!
We are all human and can fail, no matter how great our faith is, even if others think we are brave and honourable! This is why, when Christians recanted rather than face lions and death in the Roman arenas, some Christian pastors refused to cast them from fellowship. Peter was a leader in the early church, even though he firmly denied Jesus. Think carefully about who you condemn and for what reason (condemn only if God does)!
I think the next verse is put in to remind us of the sheer terror felt by the apostles and others. A young man, a disciple, was wearing a linen cloth around himself. As he was standing close to Jesus, the thugs grabbed hold of him, but he struggled and ran away so fast his cloth fell from him, leaving him naked. In such situations, especially violent ones, your throat closes up and becomes dry, you can often utter no sound because of it; your heart and head thumps hard as adrenaline surges through your body – not a particularly pleasant feeling; your legs and abdomen turn to liquid and your mind goes haywire! You know no true sense or reason and either fall as if stunned, or run away wildly (‘fight or flight’); either way you feel you will die. If you have never experienced this kind of absolute terror, do not condemn those who do, and who may not act rationally or properly. I learned over time to control my fear, but I could still guarantee my responses. As I say – think about it.
And they led Jesus away to the high priest: and with him were assembled all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes.
And Peter followed him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire.
And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death; and found none.
For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together.
So, everyone around Jesus fled, despite their best intentions… and if it happened to apostles, none of us should think we are better. The Sanhedrin had met in the Temple, waiting, in the middle of the night. Peter, fearful and yet with a conscience, decided to follow the group from a safe distance. When he arrived at the Temple, he mingled with the Temple staff in the outer courtyard of the High priest’s palace, warming himself by the open fire, hoping to hear news of Jesus’ welfare.
Meanwhile, inside the palace, the Sanhedrin presented a line of ‘witnesses’ who were willing to denounce Jesus, so as to make the ‘judgment’ against Jesus more palatable. But, though many gave witness, because they were lying, they could not give a proper account, but gave conflicting evidence. To make the judgment stick, the Sanhedrin needed witnesses who could agree!
And there arose certain, and bare false witness against him, saying,
We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.
But neither so did their witness agree together.
And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, saying, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?
But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?
And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses?
Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death.
And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands.
Some witnesses told the high priest they heard Jesus say He would tear down the Temple and build another one. Even these could not agree. But, the Sanhedrin had come too far to let the opportunity escape them. The high priest, ignoring this very bad argument, demanded that Jesus should respond. Jesus “held his peace” and said nothing at all. Then, the high priest asked: “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Was He the Messiah – God? Once again, Jesus told them that He was. He said: “I am”. Jesus then warned them He would return to earth with godly power.
That was what the high priest was waiting for! He tore at his clothes in mock indignation (it was mock because it did not matter what argument was used to justify killing Jesus) and demanded to know what need there was to call any more witnesses. As far as he was concerned, Jesus had condemned Himself from His own mouth, by saying He was God. This, he said, was blasphemy; what did the Council think? They all agreed, and condemned Jesus to death.
I can assure you that religious people, including many who say they are ‘Christian’, will use any ploy to condemn the faithful, even lies. They do so because their own lack of truth and salvation, or their own immorality or godless beliefs, is made obvious by the true faith of a genuine believer.
The religious leaders walked over to Jesus and spat in His face. They covered His face – blindfolded Him, no doubt so He could not see His attackers. Then they began to buffet Him – punched Him in the face and beat Him on His body. Then, as he stood beaten, they mocked Him by saying: ‘Go on, prophesy and tell us who hit you!’ Then they got the servants to slap Him hard on the face and punch Him on the head, as the words “strike him with the palms of their hands’ signifies.
This was the humiliation process Jesus had to endure, before He was handed to the professional abusers, the Temple soldiers. The Romans were not fully involved at this stage.
And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest:
And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth.
But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew.
And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them.
And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto.
But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak.
And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.
Peter was very afraid and yet he stayed close to the palace, so that he might hear news. As he sat in the dark, the light of the fire flickered to illuminate his face, and one of the palace maids recognised him. ‘You were with Jesus of Nazareth!’ Jesus was a common name, which is why she added ‘of Nazareth’, meaning the same Jesus Who spoke so well and did miracles.
Peter, afraid, denied knowing Jesus before moving to the porch. Then, the cock crowed once, as it was close to dawn. Another maid recognised him and told her friends, but, again, Peter denied being associated with Jesus. Soon after that, others in the courtyard recognised Peter: ‘Surely you are one of the man’s followers, for you are a Galilean… we can tell from your dialect!’
This time, filled with fear, Peter exploded into a barrage of curses and swearing, whilst denying ever knowing Jesus. That is, he actually cursed Jesus (as in declaring anathema) and swore an oath that he never knew Jesus. This is exactly how many Christians escaped martyrdom in the next few hundred years! It was then, at his third denial, that the cock crowed a second time. Suddenly Peter realised what he had done, and remembered Jesus’ words prophesying what he would do, and he went away crying bitterly.
None of us knows how we will react to sudden accusations or violence (though training can help). That is why each one of us should contemplate this scene and pray for strength, even before anything happens. We are in times when God is being dragged down by men with filthy hands, so we can expect trouble in our lifetimes. If we think of our stand beforehand and how we will respond, seeking power within, we may stand firm in times of trial.
© July 2010