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By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019

 

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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

Quickly Understanding Matthew

 

(Volume 2:  Chapter 26)

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Six

 

 

 

Jesus Warns His Disciples of His Rapidly Approach Death (Matthew 26:1-5):  1 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he told his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” 

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people met together in the palace of the high priest, who was named Caiaphas.  They planned to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.  But they said, “Not during the feast, so that there won’t be a riot among the people.”     --New English Translation (for comparison) 

 

 

            26:1     Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, that He said to His disciples.  In the previous chapter Jesus had discussed the final judgment:  the need for preparedness for it (25:1-13), how the use of one’s resources are rewarded if used--but only if used (25:14-34), and how one’s humanitarian treatment of one’s coreligionists would be a major factor (24:35-25:46).  Now He turns His attention to the more immediate problem that His death was less than a handful of days in the future.  This provides a useful reminder that abstract doctrine is always useful to have, but never at the expense of forgetting the more immediate state of affairs.

 

            26:2     “You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”  This won’t be a conveniently arranged “mob action”--there were far too many people from Galilee and such a brazen public assault could easily disrupt the Passover with riot and counter riot.  But desperate minds have found another option.  Since Jews stoned and Romans crucified, this was a clear assertion that somehow the Romans would become involved in the matter. 

            But though the Sanhedrin leaders would never dare strike out against the Romans since it would have been suicidal, if those authorities could somehow be dragged in, at least a fig leaf of “non-responsibility” could be evoked if it were needed.  After all, did they not have the responsibility to present to the Romans a religious leader who could be viewed as a security threat by them and the people punished unless it was done?  It was “really those nasty Romans who were responsible”--a lie that some would even believe . . . or find it convenient to do so. 

            Sidebar on the “Passover:  The meaning of the word and the changes in the celebration.  The word is interesting in its (a) Hebrew, (b) Greek, and (c) English form. (a) The Hebrew pesach is from a root meaning ‘to leap over,’ and, figuratively, to ‘save,’ ‘shew mercy.’  (b) The Greek pascha represents the Aramaic or later Hebrew form of the same word, but the affinity in sound and letters to the Greek word paschein, ‘to suffer,’ led to a connection in thought between the Passover and the Passion of our Lord:  indeed, some of the early Christian writers state the connection as if it were the true etymology. (c) Tyndale has the merit of introducing into English the word ‘Passover,’ which keeps up the play on the words in the original Hebrew (Exodus 12:11, 13). . . .

            The feast of the Passover commemorated the deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian bondage.  The ordinances of the first Passover are narrated (Exodus 12:1-14), but some of those were modified in later times.  It was no longer necessary to choose the lamb on the 10th of Nisan.  The blood was sprinkled on the altar, not on the door-post, those who partook of the paschal meal no longer ‘stood with loins girded, with shoes on their feet, with staff in hand,’ but reclined on couches, as at an ordinary meal; it was no longer unlawful to leave the house before morning (Exodus 12:22).  The regular celebration of the Passover was part of the religious revival after the return from Captivity.  During the kingly period only three celebrations of the Passover are recorded; in the reigns of Solomon, of Hezekiah and of Josiah.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

 

            26:3     Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas.  The scene is now shifted to those who would use the Romans as their tools.  Key religious leaders met together under the high priest Caiaphas and at his palace.  Working together they could then have a high probability of convincing the Sanhedrin into going along with their decisions, especially if they were selective as to who was first informed of the meeting and who was intentionally overlooked.  The pure politics of the situation guaranteed that they made sure that “their” people were present and anyone who might have the slightest reservation somehow “accidentally missed” or notified last of all. 

           If this was a non-official meeting of only the loudest pro-execution advocates, however, the situation was even easier.  After all, “all they were doing was to assure that Jesus would not escape judgment by his ‘superiors.’   That couldn’t be bad, could it?  Everyone would then have a chance to express any reservations--as if they were going to heed any that late!  Furthermore, if they let Him go, wouldn’t that be “confirmation to the crowds that they also recognized His teaching authority” . . . enhancing His popularity even that much more! 

            Sidebar on Caiaphas:  Joseph Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas, was appointed high priest by the Procurator Valerius Gratus A.D. 26, and was deposed A.D. 38.  The high priesthood had long ceased to be held for life and to descend from father to son; appointments were made at the caprice of the Roman government.  Annas who had been high priest was still regarded as such by popular opinion, which did not recognize his deposition:  St Luke says, ‘Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests’ [Luke 3:2 ].”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  According to John’s presumably sarcastic words, “And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year” (John 11:49; similar usage in verse 51 and 18:13).    

 

            26:4     and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him.  Their purpose was simple:  Jesus had embarrassed them too many times and had far more disciples than was tolerable.  Since they could never seem to answer Him, they were left only with one option to defeat and discredit Him . . . somehow finding a “legal” way to have Jesus executed.  Of course they couldn't arrest Him openly either; far too dangerous.  Hence they needed to use “trickery” to grab Him (stealth, ESV, NET; in an underhanded way, GW--verse 4). 

   

            26:5     But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”    They wanted the Romans involved in the death of Jesus from the very first step of arrest.  Acting strictly on their own, the arrest had the potential for causing a riot in response--one that Pilate’s forces would have to intervene to stop.  Such a riot would so enrage Pilate he would never be willing to cooperate with any future Sanhedrin backed action against the same Man. 

            Furthermore they didn’t want it to occur during the feast of Passover itself for it was the most attended one of them all and the pro-Jesus demonstrations on entering the city had been vast and impressive--any other time would be less dangerous.  But, ideally, it would occur after the festival participants have left and Jesus lingered behind.  Or on a future visit to the city outside of a feast entirely.  What they aren’t yet figuring on is a situation where they can minimize this danger by a covert arrest while the vast bulk of the population is quite asleep.

 

 

While Jesus Eats at Bethany, His Head Is Anointed with Expensive Oil (Matthew 26:6-13):  Now while Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of expensive perfumed oil, and she poured it on his head as he was at the table.  When the disciples saw this, they became indignant and said, “Why this waste? It could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor!”

10 When Jesus learned of this, he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman?  She has done a good service for me.  11 For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me!  12 When she poured this oil on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial . 13 I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

           

 

            26:6     And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper.  While the conspirators were developing their plans, Jesus was continuing His stay in Bethany.  And that, we discover here, was in the home of one Simon “the leper”--surely past tense since the Torah prohibited coming in close contact with such.  To conjecture that Jesus had healed him would be quite reasonable, but if this is the case it is another example of how the scriptural record so often “underplays” the drama it is recounting.  It will hint at or barely mention what could be developed into a powerful piece of narrative prose.

            “Simon” was a common name--remember “Simon Peter?”--so it was only natural that some appropriate verbal tag be attached to his name to distinguish him from all the others with the same one.  

            Sidebar:  Although placed here, presumably for narrative ease, the event actually occurred “six days before the Passover” (John 12:1).  Having just described the Sanhedrin leaders’ decision to arrest Jesus, this is a logical place to insert the narrative of how and when Judas made the definitive decision to betray the Lord--which allowed their hopes to be fulfilled far sooner than they had imagined. 

 

            26:7     a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table.  While in the home, an unidentified woman wishes to show her affection and dedication.  Although the name is not mentioned here, in John 12:3 she is identified as Mary, a sister of Lazarus.  She pours an entire flask of “very costly fragrant oil” on Jesus’ head, which surely carries the implication that this is the most expensive possession she has.  (It would hardly have been considered a special honor for her to have given her second best, would it?)  In John’s account we also find that she did something similar with His feet as well. 

 

            26:8     But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?  Since people used ointments widely, in itself the act was not shocking, however unexpected. The place and timing (during dinner), however, was surprising.  But what was totally unacceptable was a different issue:  What sat off the anger of the apostles was the cost of this particular kind of oil.  Though they deeply revered Jesus, even for Him such an expensive anointing seemed nothing short of wasteful expenditure.

            Note the “they”--the general sentiment of the group being this.  Judas had his own, private reasons for resentment (his greediness:  see John 12:6) but the rest had honorable sentiments in mind. . . .

 

            26:9     For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.”  Jesus was to be honored but He had repeatedly taught the importance of helping the poor and neglected.  If she was going to part with something so valuable, it could easily have been sold for a great deal of money and that money used to help the destitute.  “But piety is not shown only in giving alms; the honor of God has a superior claim.”

(Pulpit Commentary)

 

            26:10     But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman?  For she has done a good work for Me.  Jesus refused to join in the censure.  Wasteful or not, the action was intended well.  It was performed as “a good work.”  All rules seem to have their exception.  Even Jesus’ emphasis on the need to help the impoverished.

            Note:  “Good” is clearly intended to carry more emotional freight than the word standing alone.  Hence we have translations speaking of “a beautiful thing” (ESV, GW, ISV, NIV), “a noble thing” (Holman), “a most gracious act” (Weymouth).

 

            26:11     For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always.  Jesus’ stay on earth was only temporary and soon to end.  In contrast, the poor would always be present and helping them would still be needed.  Anti-social welfare ideologues have often used this text as justification for ignoring their needs since “poverty will never be abolished.”  Actually the passage is not talking about governments helping the poor at all, but individuals who do so.  What role government should play is a different question entirely and not touched on. 

            Even so Jesus is not providing an analysis of what should be about the poor--whether there should be such a class--but simply of what will be.  Is there any but the most naive idealist who denies that there will “always be war”?  Will any but the most extravagant theological theorist deny that there will “always be sin” on this suffering planet of ours?  Accepting reality does not require the acceptance that what is “real” is what “should be.”

            Sidebar:  The Old Testament also recognized the reality that Jesus refers to, “For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’   (Deuteronomy 15:11).

 

            26:12     For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial.  There was a more immediate reason why the woman’s action was proper above and beyond the fact that opportunities to help the poor would still be abundant in the future.  They should consider what she had done as an anointing of Jesus’ body “for My burial.”  Had they not heard His past references to His coming execution?  Do not the dying deserve a few special courtesies at the end of their lives?

            Sidebar:  After death a body was cleansed and anointed with various oils.  Depending upon a person’s position and wealth, the value and amount could be quite large.  Hence we read of King Asa, “They buried him in his own tomb, which he had made for himself in the City of David; and they laid him in the bed which was filled with spices and various ingredients prepared in a mixture of ointments” (2 Chronicles 21:16).  The verse concludes with the remark that “They made a very great burning for him,” referring to the burning of incense in fires in honor of the deceased (as in Jeremiah 34:5).  

 

            26:13     Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”  The direct point:  So honorable and praiseworthy was the woman’s behavior, that wherever Jesus’ message (= “gospel”) was preached, this incident would be retold out of respect for her.  The implicit points: 
            (1)  The story of Jesus’ life--not just the doctrine of what Jesus was--would be preserved; the narrative of the “historical Jesus” would be accurately carried forward just as much as the theological truths about Him.

            (2)  This story would not be isolated in the region where it was lived, but spread throughout the Roman empire (“the whole world”); He expected His followers to continue their loyalty to Him after His death and to share their story of His greatness to anyone who would listen--anywhere and everywhere.  Looking back at this afterwards, they surely viewed this as preparation for the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

 

 

Judas Promises to Betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16):  14 Then one of the twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me to betray him into your hands?”  So they set out thirty silver coins for him.  16 From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray him.      --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            26:14     Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests.  The close textual connection between protesting the lavish “waste” upon Jesus and Judas’ departure would suggest that this was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.”  Whatever simmering resentments may have also motivated him, self-serving greed was what pushed him over the edge and convinced him that the time to act had finally come. 

            Indeed, it is exactly at this point that we read in John’s account of the motivations for Judas’ indignation at the anointing (12:6):  This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.”  “Poor” was the excuse hiding a heart of greed.  All the apostles were upset with what had been done (verse 8), but only one was dishonorable and a thief.    

 

            26:15     and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?”  And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver.  Not a huge piece of money.  The price of a slave, nothing more (Exodus 21:32; Zechariah 11:12).  Perhaps it was intended as collateral money with more later.  Or perhaps Judas calculated that, having brought himself to their attention, they would help him gain contacts or influence that would ultimately increase his total take from the betrayal. 

            Finally, it could be that he was simply so upset by this point in the ministry, that he was willing to make a modest profit rather than gain nothing at all.  If so, either his position in the Jesus movement was viewed as coming to an end or the movement itself:  “The movement had played itself out,” so to speak.  Jesus refused to play revolutionary and now was talking about allowing Himself to be crucified!  “It was time to get out” and do the best for himself--if it were not already too late.

            On the other hand, perhaps he fantasized that if Jesus were put into an “impossible situation” where the danger of death was on the verge of being carried out, He would repudiate His own peacefulness and raise the sword.  Based on the record of His astounding miracles, what would happen when that kind of power was unleashed upon the Romans and the Sanhedrin?! 

            Of the possibilities this last one strikes me as the least likely:  Having seen Jesus persistently stick with doing things His way, was there any real probability that he could put Jesus in a situation where He would be forced to change His plans?  Was there anything in Jesus’ ministry that would give him the faintest hope that such a desperate strategy would work?   

 

            26:16     So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.  No one could be assured of what Jesus would do or when He would do it.  From the standpoint of the authorities, it represented an extraordinary opportunity having such an “inside person” who could provide the vital tip off as to where to send their men to do the arresting.  From Judas’ standpoint, this “uncertainty factor” meant he had to be prepared to act whenever the opportunity finally arose.  He lived the rest of Jesus’ pre-arrest life as a knowing and conscious hypocrite.  One wonders whether the tension might have betrayed itself in low key actions and inactions--which the apostles only grasped the meaning of when they later looked back upon those days.

 

 

The Last Passover Observed with His Apostles (Matthew 26:17-25):  17 Now on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?”  18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is near. I will observe the Passover with my disciples at your house.” ’   19 So the disciples did as Jesus had instructed them, and they prepared the Passover.

20 When it was evening, he took his place at the table with the twelve.  21 And while they were eating he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”  22 They became greatly distressed and each one began to say to him, “Surely not I, Lord?” 

23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.  24 The Son of Man will go as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would be better for him if he had never been born.”  25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”  Jesus replied, “You have said it yourself.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            26:17     Now on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?”  Jerusalem was large and there were many potential places that might provide space for visitors to their city.  Furthermore He had been there before for the Passover (John 2:13).  Hence both personally and through Lazarus’ family, there would have been multiple individuals who would have been happy to assist Him.  Which of these should they approach? 

 

            26:18     And He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.” ’   The response is vague:  Go into the city and contact a certain person--the name is omitted, possibly to protect him from later retribution or simply because it is only incidental to the story being told.  The message “my time is at hand” is typically read as an allusion to His approaching death, but it is hard to imagine how the anonymous non-apostle being spoken to would have grasped that point--note that the words are addressed to him--when the apostles themselves were still in denial.

            Hence “my time is at hand” surely refers to the time when “I will keep the Passover.”  That itself--to us--would seem a little odd:  “Of course it was the time for the Passover; that’s why everyone was in Jerusalem!”  Alas, the “obvious” may not always be so obvious to those personally involved!  Albert Barnes sums up the evidence that Jesus--along with a subset of the population--were observing it on a different day than most Jews--though he is careful to neither embrace nor reject the possibility:

 

                        It has been supposed by many that Jesus, in accordance with a part of the Jews who rejected traditions, anticipated the usual observance of the Passover, or kept it one day sooner.  The Pharisees had devised many forms of ascertaining when the month commenced.  They placed witnesses around the heights of the temple to observe the first appearance of the new moon; they examined the witnesses with much formality, and endeavored also to obtain the exact time by astronomical calculations.  Others held that the month properly commenced when the moon was visible.  Thus, it is said a difference arose between them about the time of the Passover, and that Jesus kept it one day sooner than most of the people.  The foundation of the opinion that He anticipated the usual time of keeping the Passover is the following:

                        “1.  In John 18:28, it is said that on the day on which our Lord was crucified, and of course the day after he had eaten the Passover, the chief priests would not go into the judgment-hall lest they should be defiled, ‘but that they might eat the Passover,’ evidently meaning that it was to be eaten that day.

                        “2.  In John 19:14, the day on which He was crucified is called ‘the preparation of the Passover’--that is, the day on which it was prepared to be eaten in the evening.

                        “3.  In John 19:31, the day in which our Lord lay in the grave was called the great day of the Sabbath--‘a high day;’ that is, the day after the Passover was killed, the Sabbath occurring on the first day of the feast properly, and therefore a day of special solemnity; yet our Savior had partaken of it two days before, and therefore the day before the body of the people.” 

                          

            26:19     So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.  The apostles followed Jesus’ instructions and had no apparent difficulty in doing so.  A great deal of work was involved in doing this, however.  As Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers compactly sums it up:

 

                        The two disciples, after seeing that the room was ‘furnished,’ the tables arranged, probably in the form of a Roman triclinium, and the benches covered with cushions, would have to purchase the lamb, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs, together with the wine and the conserve of sweet fruits which later practice had added to the older ritual.  The Paschal victim would have to be slain in the courts of the Temple by one of the officiating priests.  The lamb so slain would then be roasted, the bitter herbs prepared, and the table set out, and then, as sunset drew near, all would be ready for the Master and His disciples, who formed, on this occasion, the household which were to partake of the Paschal Supper.”

 

            26:20     When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve.  As the sun set,  it was time to partake of the meal:  Evening began a new day under the Jewish calendar--unlike the modern (and Roman) system which breaks ‘days’ at midnight.  Since Passover was a ‘family occasion,’ when possible, it is hardly surprising that Jesus did so in the presence of the spiritual family of His twelve apostles.

 

            26:21     Now as they were eating, He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.”  The Passover remembered the ancient suffering of the Hebrew people and their ultimate liberation.  Yet their suffering had been due to external suppression and not at all due to internal betrayal.  Since these words came out “as they were eating,” perhaps that difference entered Jesus’ mind as He warned the apostles of the future.  And it would not just involve “rejecting” Him . . . it would involve the far more serious problem of “betraying” Him as well.

 

            26:22      And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, “Lord, is it I?”  These were the people they had labored with for so long.  How could it possibly be one of them?  For that matter--and far scarier--could they have misjudged themselves?  Hence, “Lord, is it I?” was the query that came from all.

 

            26:23     He answered and said, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me.  As recorded here, this is a simple reinforcement of the previous warning (verse 21) that one of their group would be responsible for the great betrayal.  When more detail is provided, we find that it went beyond this and was Judas specific language (John 13:25-28).  Of course there is also the quite reasonable supposition that the Lord is asked twice about the identity, both times in close proximity.  In the latter case only one or two of them would have heard the quiet question. 

            Why then did they not try to stop Judas from leaving?  Probably because it was Jesus who told him to leave and do his business.  Judas might sneak off to do his dirty work but it surely seemed utterly improbable that Jesus would actually send him off to do so, giving him the opportunity he needed!  But to fulfill the ultimate plans of God, sometimes one simply has to let things happen.  Letting Judas do so was likely exceeded in anguish only by the crucifixion itself.  

            Sidebar:  In John 13:25-28 the subject is what Jesus says about Judas in regard to the betrayal, but here He speaks to Judas directly--in words that are far more ambiguous (verse 25).

 

            26:24      The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”  The idea of His unjust death should not have been all that shocking--scripture had spoken of it.  And it would be fulfilled even though Jesus Himself would have to suffer horribly . . . but that was not the end of the story:  three days later He would conquer death.  In contrast, the betrayer had nothing good to look forward to at all.  His future was so full of “woe” that it would have been better for him never to have been born.  His entire life--future blessing, present status, as well as reputation--would all be destroyed by his actions. 

 

            26:25     Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Rabbi, is it I?”  He said to him, “You have said it.”  All had been asking the question (vs. 22) so how could he dare not chime in as well?  Did he doubt whether Jesus knew or is it a desperate ploy out of fear of condemning himself by staying silent?  The reply is ambiguous:  “You have said it.” 

            Looking at it retrospectively, it is easy to  take it as an affirmation.  When spoken, it could just as easily have been taken as meaning “You have said it, not I,” i.e., calculated ambiguity.  Only taken this way does the apostles’ not pursuing the matter make sense.  Indeed would not the response to the other apostles have been the same?  Otherwise He would have been eliminating them one by one  until only one person was left--and that He did not want to do.

 

 

Institution of the Lord’s Supper Memorial to Jesus’ Sacrificial Death (Matthew 26:26-30):  26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat, this is my body.”  27 And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  29 I tell you, from now on I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”  30 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            26:26     And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”  This being Passover time, the bread would unquestionably be unleavened.  It would be flatish, cracker like, rather than our modern leavened “raised” bread.  The apostles are told that this loaf should be taken as if it were His own body.  Using something physical to represent Himself was nothing new.  Jesus had described Himself in the past, for example, as a door (John 10:7), a gate (John 10:9) and as a vine (John 15:1).  They were no more likely to take “this is My body” as literal than they were these other descriptions. 

 

            26:27     Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  In this case, what they would inevitably have assumed in regard to the bread is made explicit:  “Drink from it, all of you.”  Everyone present, no exceptions. 

            Having used bread to represent His body, He now needs to tell them what the fruit of the vine represents.  Here the allusion seems clearly built upon the reddish color of the typical Palestinian area wine of the age:  “the wine is red” (Psalms 75:8) and “a vineyard of red wine” (Isaiah 27:2).  Hence the natural description in both Genesis 49:11 and Deuteronomy 32:14 of “the blood of grapes.”  

            Historical note:  The Romans preferred white wine.

            Doctrinal note:  One of the oddities of Roman Catholic practice is that the one element of the Communion that all were directly (rather than inferentially) required to partake of was the fruit of the vine.  Yet they prohibit this to everyone who is not a priest.

 

            26:28     For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.  Crude literalism would certainly not have been in the minds of the apostles for such would have been viewed as cannibalism and produced loud protests.  They probably didn’t fully grasp in what sense Jesus meant the words beyond the fact that it had a profound spiritual meaning in their community far above that of the mere elements being partaken of.  They could tell by the seriousness of the occasion that a special observance was being initiated and in the next verse He informs them that it is to be regularly continued.  (And what better time to have initiated it than at the regular celebration of the protection of God’s people from death?  The rescue from physical death in the Passover being paralleled with the rescue from spiritual death in the Communion.)

            Sidebar:  Although their natural abhorrence at the idea of His dying surely kept them from fully grasping the point at the time, He was laying out the positive reason for His death.  It did not represent failure, but the stepping stone to success.  Not just to His being crowned “king of kings,” but of their very redemption from sins.  This had to be because the animal sacrifices that regularly occurred in Jerusalem were, at most, only of temporary benefit:  For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).  Hence “not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).  

 

            26:29     But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”  This is perhaps easiest to interpret as an yet future time when the current world is ended and the kingdom is returned to the heavenly Father.  To refer it to His eating with the apostles after the resurrection, is too soon--that would precede the actual establishment of the kingdom when the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost. 

            It could also refer to Jesus--in a sense--partaking of the fruit of the vine whenever they would partake it in His remembrance.  He would be, so to speak, just as much “at the table” with them as He was on the current day.  They wouldn’t see Him, of course, but you don’t have to see the Father either to be sure He is present with us every day.  Jesus would be present because they were doing what He had commanded.  

            Sidebar:  There are three cases recorded of Jesus dealing with food after the resurrection:  (1)  On the road to Emmaus, He dined with two disciples and certainly broke bread with them before vanishing (Luke 24:30), but technically no mention is making of Him eating it nor of the fruit of the vine being present--though surely it was since both were part of a normal meal.  Who wants to eat without something to drink?  (2)  In contrast we do know that He ate “broiled fish and some honeycomb” in the presence of the apostles to prove He was genuinely present with them (24:42-43).  (3)  Then in Galilee, He was not initially recognized by the disciples when He asked whether they had anything to eat, seemingly implying a willingness to partake if they had anything (John 21:5).  While they successfully fished, Jesus cooked and gave them fish and bread to eat (John 21:12-13).   

           

            26:30     And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.  They finished the evening celebration off with a religious song--often assumed to be Psalms 116-118 since they seem to have been a standard part of Passover ritual at the time.  At an earlier stage of the evening Psalms 113 and 114 were often used. 

 

 

Jesus Warns That Even Peter Will Deny Him After He Is Arrested (Matthew 26:31-35):  31 Then Jesus said to them, “This night you will all fall away because of me, for it is written:  I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’  32 But after I am raised, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”  33 Peter said to him, “If they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away!”  34 Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, on this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”  35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you.”  And all the disciples said the same thing.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            26:31     Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:  ‘I will strike the Shepherd, / And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’  One wonders which was more startling for them to hear:  that one of them would betray Him or that all of them would desert Him?  After all, in any group there is always at least one “weak link in the chain”--scary, but their minds could probably get around the concept as they thought about it a little.  But that all would panic and flee that was making it deeply personal to every single one of them.  It was something few, if any, would want to admit either could or would happen.  It was inherently “unthinkable.”  But when you are thrust into an impossible and unprecedented situation, what seems unthinkable can become quite real indeed.

            Sidebar--From Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers:  The citation of this prophecy, from Zechariah 13:7, is every way suggestive, as showing that our Lord’s thoughts had dwelt, and that He led the disciples to dwell, on that chapter as applicable to Himself.  To one who dealt with prophecy as St. Matthew dealt with it, much in that chapter that is perplexing to the historical critic would be full of divinest meaning.  It told of a ‘fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness;’ of One with ‘wounds’ in His hands, who was ‘wounded in the house of His friends;’ of the Shepherd to whom Jehovah spake as to His ‘fellow.’ ”   

 

            26:32     But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”  A word of encouragement, lest they become obsessed with Jesus’ own fate and their own weakness:  After His resurrection they would not only see Him but He would return to Galilee before they did--with the implication that they would see Him there as well.  Not only was He absolutely confident He would be raised from the dead, He had already planned out some of what He would do next.  Talk about whole hearted confidence!

 

            26:33     Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”  Peter, self-assured as so often, insisted that even if others “stumbled” by fleeing His presence (verse 31) he himself would remain steadfast regardless.  That he wished to do so was honorable; that he wanted to was praiseworthy.  But that didn't change the fact that panic and terror can introduce pressures that one would never anticipate.

 

            26:34     Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”  The timing of the betrayal was ambiguous in the preceding conversation and one could interpret it in more than one way.  The optimistic hearer would try to convert the warning into “sometime, somewhere;” the pessimistic/realistic hearer would think in terms of “soon,” but still without the necessity of an “immediate” application.  But here all hiding room is removed:  It will be “this night” and not later.  Furthermore, Peter, you will even deny you ever knew me . . . and do it no less than three times.  How the words must have burned in the ears of the apostle!

            Sidebar:  Theoretically roosters weren’t supposed to be kept by Jews in Jerusalem since they were ritually unclean.  (Such prohibitions were far more likely to be observed within the crowded areas within the walls of the city rather than outside them.)  The inhibition would not have been felt at all among Gentiles and it wouldn’t be surprising if some Roman soldiers intentionally kept them in order to irritate the locals.        

 

            26:35     Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”  And so said all the disciples.  The idea of denial of Jesus was an intolerable thought and so came the surely passionate or horrified response:  I would never do such a thing even if I had to die.  Similarly self-assured, the other apostles insisted the same was also true of them as well.  And so far as any normal set of circumstances, they were surely right--but they were about to get hit by events that were so out of the normal as to be barely imaginable:  The top religious leaders—so assured of their authority and piety—that they would actually stoop to using the pagan Roman governor as a tool to rid themselves of a simple Galilean “rabbi!”

 

 

Jesus’ Repeated Periods of Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane As the Time of Betrayal Grew Closer (Matthew 26:36-46):  36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and became anguished and distressed.  38 Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death.  Remain here and stay awake with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he threw himself down with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me!  Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping.  He said to Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with me for one hour?  41 Stay awake and pray that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will must be done.”  43 He came again and found them sleeping; they could not keep their eyes open.

44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same thing once more.  45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?  Look, the hour is approaching, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  46 Get up, let us go.  Look!  My betrayer is approaching!”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            26:36      Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.”  This must have been a fairly spacious “garden” (John 18:1) for it was large enough for Jesus to move a decent distance away from the bulk of the apostles to gain some privacy for His own prayers.  The rest would have been left at or near the entrance.  Except for three and even these He left a short distance from His own prayer site (verse 39).

 

            26:37      And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.  These were the same ones He shared the glories of Transfiguration night with (Matthew 17:1-9).  Hence they shared the two most dramatic private occasions of His ministry

            Note the intensity of what Jesus was going through:  not merely “sorrowful” but “deeply depressed” as well; if anything, the two expressions together act to intensify the emotions being felt.  Hence the wording of the God's Word translation (“beginning to feel intense anguish”) and Weymouth (“full of anguish and distress”).  Knowing what He had to go through and how there was no honorable way to avoid it, how else would He feel? 

            Today we try to make sure executions are not “cruel.”  The Romans worked from the opposite viewpoint:  they wanted to make them extremely cruel to assure that others would recognize how personally deadly severe crimes could be and to minimize how often they had to act in this manner.  

 

            26:38      Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.  Stay here and watch with Me.”  Jesus’ level of sorrow was so deep He felt like He would die--like in now rather than through crucifixion.  In other words, emotionally overwhelmed with what He was going through.  Yet He was still willing to do the right thing regardless of personal cost.

            Sidebar:  This is the only passage where we find Jesus affirming another similarity with the rest of the human race:  He also had a “soul.” 

 

            26:39     He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.  There are some things that it would be wonderful if God granted us.  On the other hand, however desirable something may be . . . however praiseworthy, there may be good reasons that it can’t be done and God must pass by even the most fervent petition for it.  To recognize that in the abstract is hard enough to do--after all, it is in tension with the firm Biblical pledge that “God will answer prayer.”  Even harder is it when we face a concrete, disastrous situation.  Yet even then Jesus could still acknowledge, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” That is the fullness of faith.

            Sidebar:  Luke provides us more information about how much distance is implied by “He went a little farther:”  “about a stone’s thrown” (Luke 22:41).  Probably most would take this as not all that much beyond the length of a tennis court.  

 

            26:40     Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What!  Could you not watch with Me one hour?  Every thing we do requires at least a brief break before we return to the task yet again—even prayer.  So after an extended period of it, Jesus returned to the three apostles nearest Him and was disappointed to find them sleeping.  Couldn’t they also “watch” (= pray) with Him a mere hour?  We don't know why they were sleeping but, surely in part, it was tiredness--for the hour was late; then there was the stress caused by what Jesus said lay in the immediate future:  So intense was this that Luke writes “He found them sleeping from sorrow (from their grief, Holman; exhausted from grief, NET)” (Luke 22:45).  There comes the point where the mind can’t absorb more and one takes refuge in emotionally exhausted sleep.  

            That they had prayed can surely be granted; their problem was that they had not continued in it.  For the hour of Jesus’ trial was also going to be their hour of overpowering disaster as well.

 

            26:41      Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  The need for prayer involved them as much as Jesus.  Though they wanted to do right (“the spirit indeed is willing”), that intent was endangered by their physical and emotional limitations (“the flesh is weak”).  Their desires were well intended but their bodies might not be able to carry them out--they were being worn out by the worries of the body.  The apocryphal book of Wisdom (9:15) sums up this reality very well:  a perishable body weighs down the soul, and this earthy tent burdens the thoughtful mind.”  Is there any who can not hear the sorrow and grief that underlie the words of the Lord?

 

            26:42      Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”  Again He prayed to avoid the “cup” of suffering and death that faced Him.  It was natural to drink what was in the cup that was in front of you, but this “cup,” though, contained anguish and sorrow.  Yet again He conceded that it was more important that God’s will be done than His own preferences.  Much easier to say when you are not the one to undergo the suffering!

 

            26:43     And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.  Taking another break from prayer, He returned to the apostles and found them once again asleep.   The first occasion checking on them was after a relatively short time (“one hour,” 26:40) and it was on that basis that He protested their lapse; the interval this time is not hinted at.  Mark 14:40 tells us that they were so sleepy they had no idea what to say to Him. 

 

            26:44     So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.   Is it wrong to say the same words repeatedly in prayer?  As a ritual, of course; however, it is profoundly different in purpose and intent when it is because they perfectly fit the circumstances and the need.  They continue to do the job quite well.  Such is the example of Jesus Himself who prayed “the same words” yet again, pleading for Divine relief from His heavy task. 

            What else could He do?  He knew it had to end this way.  He knew His role and all He could hope was that the Father would unexpectedly tell Him that there was an alternative that would accomplish the same end after all.  But there wasn’t.  Yet He also recognized that until the actual arrest, “the future” had not yet become “the current reality.”  With the exact same danger still in mind, how could He escape saying the same things again? 

 

            26:45     Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?  Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Previously they still had time to pray and try to gain strength.  Now--prepared or not--events were overtaking them.  Not merely the “hour” of betrayal but its very “minute” had arrived.

            Sidebar:  Translations are divided between reading Jesus’ initial words as a question and those that regard it as an affirmation to “sleep on.”  As a question it fits perfectly with the next sentence:  “This is no time to rest for the betrayal is now happening!”  Interpreted as a recommendation for them to continue to rest, the following words become abrupt and incongruous--unless Jesus had just then seen the torches of the approaching crowd . . . or had been delivering a gentle rebuke. 

 

            26:46     Rise, let us be going.  See, My betrayer is at hand.”  Standing they have options as to what to do—running at least!  Laying down, one was helpless and totally dependent upon what others decided to do.  But Jesus realizes—though they don’t yet—that no one is going to be there very long:  “Rise, let us be going.”  Perhaps, at the time, they took this as a restrained way of saying that they were all going to flee.  Perhaps at this point they weren't even thinking any thing very coherently.  Are you when you first awaken?   

 

 

Jesus Arrested Through the Betrayal of Judas (Matthew 26:47-56):  47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived.  With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and elders of the people.  48 (Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I kiss is the man. Arrest him!”)  49 Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi,” and kissed him.

50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and took hold of Jesus and arrested him.  51 But one of those with Jesus grabbed his sword, drew it out, and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his ear.  52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back in its place!  For all who take hold of the sword will die by the sword.  53 Or do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and that he would send me more than twelve legions of angels right now?  54 How then would the scriptures that say it must happen this way be fulfilled?”

55 At that moment Jesus said to the crowd, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me like you would an outlaw?  Day after day I sat teaching in the temple courts, yet you did not arrest me.  56 But this has happened so that the scriptures of the prophets would be fulfilled.”  Then all the disciples left him and fled.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            26:47     And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people.  The “swords” probably point to the Roman soldiers who were with them and the “clubs” to the easily available weapon carried by able-bodied Jewish supporters of the arrest, which would include Sanhedrin loyal members of the Temple guard.  Clearly they came prepared for a fight rather than a peaceful seizure.  Not mentioned here is the fact that they also came with “lanterns [and] torches” (John 18:3), an obvious necessity for a night time arrest.

 

            26:48     Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him.”  The fact that a sign of recognition would be needed to identify Jesus may argue that most of those involved in the arrest had never taken the time to even see Jesus and would be unable to recognize Him by sight.  The evil reports they had heard from their “responsible” leaders were enough to motivate them to their extreme action.  For others this may not even have been a factor because they were simply subordinates and “under orders” to do this.  It may also be a recognition that the arrest, being at night, would take place in circumstances where it might be easy to confuse Jesus with someone else who vaguely looked like Him.  A specific action (in this, case a kiss of greeting) would guarantee that they arrested the right person.

 

            26:49     Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.  In making his earlier decisions about betrayal and the timing of it, he had discretion.  Now he had the bribe and a large armed mob with him and his options have been eliminated.  Hence Judas wasted no time in approaching Jesus, but addressed Him respectfully (“Greetings, Rabbi!”) and gave him the appointed and normal kiss of greeting on the cheek.  He could probably have pointed at Jesus from a foot or two away and simply said, “This is him,” but this “visual reinforcement” assured there could not possibly be any mistake made.

 

            26:50     But Jesus said to him, “Friend, why have you come?”  Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him.  Perhaps wishing to make Judas feel guilty or perhaps merely because of the absurdity of a close associate having chosen the course he had, Jesus asked why he had come and even calls him a “friend.”  If words can burn even a hardened soul, that one surely did.  As to the Lord’s question, there was no answer--only the seizure of Him by the crowd.

 

            26:51     And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.  Peter did this (John 18:10-11) and, proving that he would never make a good soldier, managed to only cut off the man’s ear rather than doing any fatal damage.  Having a sword would not be uncommon for pilgrims:  travel to and from Jerusalem for festivals exposed one to periodic danger from thieves not to mention animal danger in less populated regions.  Not all would have them but a varying proportion would as an elemental safety precaution--in fact, the historian Josephus tells us it was quite common.

 

            26:52     But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Jesus ordered Peter to put up the sword since anyone who resorted to it to keep the arrest from happening would certainly be killed by the swords the arresters were carrying.  Many have generalized from the principle found in this verse that war is wrong.  Perhaps it is--at least in most cases--but Jesus is not in the midst of a philosophical discussion of the propriety of carnal warfare.  He is in the middle of being arrested and the only issue is whether His misguided disciple wants to land up getting killed as well.

 

            26:53     Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?  He urges Peter to “think” and not just react:  Doesn’t Peter realize that if He wanted to, He could appeal to the Father and twelve legions of angelic defenders would quickly be at hand--not just twelve untrained apostles?  What is one sword compared with the host Jesus could summon if He thought it desirable?

            Sidebar:  A legion was around 6,000 men; hence 12 legions would be 72,000 strong. 

 

            26:54     How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?”  If Jesus did invoke angelic intervention--or somehow otherwise avoided the arrest--how could the prophecies of scriptures be fulfilled?  Hence this had to happen--“must happen,” in the words of our verse--whether any of them liked it or not.  History may be infinitely flexible, but there are points “written in concrete” and this is one of them.

 

            26:55     In that hour Jesus said to the multitudes, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me?  I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me.  Turning to the crowd, Jesus challenged them with the obvious:  Why did you come out to arrest me so heavily armed?  If you wanted to arrest Me, you knew full well I teach every day in the Temple.  Why didn’t you arrest Me there?  (The Romans present probably wondered the same thing; there were enough Jewish Temple guards available:  three priests in charge of 21 Levites and only one person to be arrested.)

            Of course the Jewish malcontents wouldn’t dare respond  with their true motive:  that they were afraid they would not get away with it if they pulled this treachery in public.  Jesus’ disciples would not necessarily even need to defend Him; an outraged multitude of listeners might well take care of the matter for them.

 

            26:56     But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.”  Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.  Since they aren’t about to answer, Jesus answers His own question.  But not with the answer that would embarrass them but with a different one that--if they took time to think about it--had to be even more disconcerting:  this very arrest is being done so that the scriptures the prophets wrote would be fulfilled. 

            At this point the apostles’ nerves broke and they fled as Jesus had predicted they would.  Don't mock them.  Could you have done any better?

            Sidebar:  Note Jesus’ assumption that “the Scriptures”--i.e., all “the Scriptures”--were written by “prophets.”  The idea of uninspired Scripture was anathema to His thinking.  Shouldn’t it be to ours as well?

 

 

The Trial Before the Sanhedrin As It Seeks an Excuse to Crucify Jesus (Matthew 26:57-68):  57 Now the ones who had arrested Jesus led him to Caiaphas, the high priest, in whose house the experts in the law and the elders had gathered.  58 But Peter was following him from a distance, all the way to the high priest’s courtyard.  After going in, he sat with the guards to see the outcome.

59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were trying to find false testimony against Jesus so that they could put him to death.  60 But they did not find anything, though many false witnesses came forward.  Finally two came forward 61 and declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’ ”

62 So the high priest stood up and said to him, “Have you no answer? What is this that they are testifying against you?”  63 But Jesus was silent.  The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”  64 Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and declared, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses?  Now you have heard the blasphemy!  66 What is your verdict?”  They answered, “He is guilty and deserves death.”  67 Then they spat in his face and struck him with their fists.  And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy for us, you Christ!  Who hit you?     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            26:57     And those who had laid hold of Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.  Since we know that there were at least a few supporters of Jesus in the higher religious leadership and since those involved in the arrest know that what they are doing is legally dubious behavior, they were not likely to risk exposing themselves to the danger of a guilty conscience through being openly challenged:  Hence this meeting is probably just of those they know are already on their side or who they feel can be cowed into quiet compliance.  Any person about whom there might be the least ambiguity or inclination to challenge the “ordained leaders” would likely be “accidentally overlooked in the confusion”--or notified when proceedings were too well advanced to change the results.  
            So long as the meeting was composed of a certain minimal number, it would still be a “legal” proceeding.  (In form, if not intent and action.) They just made sure that those who were invited were of the “right” disposition to avoid needless “complications” in what they intended to do.

            Sidebar:  The paper thin “legality” of the proceedings.  The only reason that the trial was “legal” was that those who had the power said it was.  By more objective standards it was a different matter.  The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges sums up the matter quite concisely:  The question is sometimes asked, Was the trial of Jesus fair and legal according to the rules of Jewish law?  The answer must be that the proceedings against Jesus violated both (1) the spirit, and (2) the express rules of Hebrew jurisdiction, the general tendency of which was to extreme clemency.

            “(1)  The Talmud states:  ‘the Sanhedrin is to save, not to destroy life.’  No man could be condemned in his absence, or without a majority of two to one; the penalty for procuring false witnesses was death; the condemned was not to be executed on the day of his trial.  This clemency was violated in the trial of Jesus Christ.

            “(2)  But even the ordinary legal rules were disregarded in the following particulars:  (a) The examination by Annas without witnesses.  (b) The trial by night.  (c) The sentence on the first day of trial.  (d) The trial of a capital charge on the day before the Sabbath.  (e) The suborning of witnesses.  (f) The direct interrogation by the High Priest.”    

 

            26:58     But Peter followed Him at a distance to the high priest’s courtyard.  And he went in and sat with the servants to see the end.  Not necessarily the easiest or safest thing on this particularly night, but with an arresting party this large, it would have been concentrating on getting to the high priest’s residence rather than paying attention to who might be following.  Their many lights would make the task of following far easier--even though Peter tried to “err on the safe side” by keeping a considerable “distance” from the crowd as well.  When Jesus was brought into the actual high priest’s palace, Peter even managed to make his way into the courtyard where he waited with the priest’s servants to see what would come of all this. 

            With this account alone to work from, we would likely conclude that he was able to enter because of either the chaos of the moment or because he had a local friend or two working there who would raise no questions.  From John 18:15-16, however, we learn that the apostle John had already been able to gain admission because that “disciple was known to the high priest”--probably because of his role in the commercial fishing business, i.e., as a provider of a quality product to Jerusalem.  As a “known quantity,” the (female) doorkeeper thought it safe to act on John’s request and let Peter in as well.  

 

            26:59     Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death.  The Council of leaders was supposed to be dedicated to the truth.  In this case they were interested only in testimony that could be used against the accused and did not hesitate to seek and accept “false testimony.”   The only limitation was that it had to be usable to justify a death sentence--nothing less was adequate to their purpose.  They already “knew the truth” and weren’t going to let embarrassing things like facts get in their way.  In other words, they entered into the proceedings as malicious prosecutors and not as truth seeking judges.

 

            26:60     but found none.  Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none.  But at last two false witnesses came forward.  Even those who were inventing their testimony were not presenting tales that were legally adequate to justify death.  Furthermore they failed another vital criteria:  the Sanhedrin had to have multiple witnesses who agreed and these didn't (Mark 14:56)--a fact that Matthew implies by contrasting the failed testimony to that of these “two false witnesses” who were finally found where the testimony matched.

            Since the exact timing of events was not determined till late--this was a virtual spur of the moment “trial on the run”--they probably had not had time to pre-coordinate testimony.  For one thing they wanted to keep knowledge of their scheme from becoming general knowledge so this needed to be delayed to the last moment.  To the extent they had thought about this aspect much at all, the power brokers probably reasoned that Jesus was such a transparent false teacher that the necessary testimony would be available without difficulty.  It was something that would take care of itself without prearrangement.  But it wasn’t working out that way.

 

            26:61     and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’   Finally there came two witnesses (verse 60, the legal minimum--Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15) who did agree on something:  Jesus had said He would be able to destroy the temple and rebuild it.  This could easily be interpreted as sacrilege--destroy the temple, indeed!  On the other hand, if evil intent were in mind why the strange pledge to rebuild it as well?  

            So even here there was difficulty.  Of course, He actually had in mind His own bodily resurrection, but even if applied to the physical temple it was merely a threat to demonstrate Divine power by doing both deconstructing and reconstruction.  Even by their standards, so long as the temple was rebuilt, how could there be rightful condemnation beyond the entire event being an interruption in its normal functioning?  In fact, how in the world was it right to criticize anyone who could do both?

            Sidebar:  Actually Jesus did not utter the remark attributed to Him.  The actual words were, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19), i.e., if you destroy this temple (of My body) I will raise it up again.  Even if misapplied to the physical Temple, it would only mean that if you destroy it--or get the temple destroyed--I will raise it up again.  He would be promising to rescue it from the destruction they caused!  For this He should be condemned?!

     

            26:62     And the high priest arose and said to Him, “Do You answer nothing?  What is it these men testify against You?”  In Matthew the emphasis is on that both gave the same accusation.  That is true as far as it goes, but they had also faltered:  for the details of the accusation were inconsistent (Mark 14:57-59).  The high priest ignores this obvious problem and demands that Jesus prove Himself innocent:  Why don’t you defend Yourself?  Why don’t you respond to what these men have sworn against You?  In many circumstances that would make absolute sense, but is that normally true in cases where nothing you say is going to make any difference?

            Sidebar:  The Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53 speaks of how “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (verse 7).  The apostle Peter wrote of how “when He was reviled, [He] did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

 

            26:63      But Jesus kept silent.  And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God:  Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!”  The high priest was not getting anywhere due to Jesus’ refusal to answer--Caiaphas wasn’t even being given words that He could try to twist and misrepresent . . . How dare the accused be silent when His guilt needed to be proved!  Finally he put Him under oath and demanded, “Tell us if You are the Christ [= Messiah], the Son of God!” 

            Properly speaking this was irrelevant.  If it was the witnesses testimony about “destroying” the temple that was going to condemn Jesus, what does this have to do with that accusation?  Likely he feels the need to buttress his case by introducing a brand new line of attack.  The ability to destroy and rebuild the temple within a few days was, in the most hostile interpretation, merely “delusional” rather than a threat.  But if He also claims to be the Messiah, then He was--or could be--a threat against the established political and religious order.  After all, “everyone knew,” didn't they, that the Messiah would be a temporal conquering lord?  And (by implication) a threat to the Roman rulers--who the high priest desperately needed to drag into the equation so Jesus’ blood would be directly on their hands rather than his own.

            Sidebar:  To this challenge Jesus had no choice but to respond.  The Torah had laid down this principle when it said, “If a person sins in hearing the utterance of an oath, and is a witness, whether he has seen or known of the matter—if he does not tell it, he bears guilt” (Leviticus 5:1)    

 

            26:64     Jesus said to him, “It is as you said.  Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”  The new accusation was true, but Jesus uses language that shows that His understanding of the role of Messiah is drastically different from theirs:  He would be “sitting at the right hand of the Power” (i.e., in heaven).  That was emphatically not the traditional earthly, conquering vision of the role of the Messiah! 

            Furthermore, when He strikes out at His foes, He will not be leading out an earthly army but leaving the “right hand” of God “and coming on the clouds of heaven:”  How can the army here implied be anything other than angelic?  As He had told Peter during the arrest to put up his sword:  “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My father and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (verse 53).

            If untrue this was delusional; if true, beyond their capacity to stop.  Where then is the crime?  Ah, but there remains an emotionally satisfying option:  the “delusion”--for the high priest could not proceed a step further if he thought it was actually true--that this claim is itself worthy of death (verse 65).

            Sidebar:  The imagery seems clearly the invoking of the Messianic language of Daniel 7:13-14--“I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven!  He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.  Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.”

 

            26:65      Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy!  What further need do we have of witnesses?  Look, now you have heard His blasphemy!  The high priest seizes the admission to being “the Son of God” and “Christ” and insists that the claim is inherently blasphemous.  The fact that Jesus worked miracles is irrelevant.  The fact that He repeatedly made their public efforts to destroy the credibility of His teaching come to nothing is also irrelevant.  In other words, all evidence that could be introduced to prove Him right is beside the point.  They have the right verbal formulation (“You are the Christ, the Son of God,” verse 63) and that is all the “evidence” they need.

            Jesus’ admission removed the need for additional witnesses:  an implicit admission that what the two witnesses had said wasn’t all that conclusive on its own.   Now they had heard the “blasphemy” as well.  All of them were witnesses of it.

            Sidebar on intentionally ripping his own garments:  The ancient theologian Chrysostom wisely described this as a way of reinforcing the complete confidence Caiaphas had in his judgment, This he did to add force to the accusation, and to increase the weight of his words by the act.”  The Talmud refers to how when garments were intentionally torn in a judicial setting, they were never to be mended again.  

 

            26:66      What do you think?”  They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.”  Even leaders don’t like to “stand alone,” especially if an action might ferment in unfriendly minds and be used to make accusations later.  Hence the question of culpability was thrown out to those attending the meeting.  Accepting the premise that there was no way possible that Jehovah would ever come to this heretic’s rescue or defense—He had to be a heretic for He refused to yield to the “properly ordained” ecclesiastical authorities!—there could be “no doubt” that He had committed blasphemy and sacrilege.  How else could that be punished except death?  Revenge felt so sweet!

            Properly speaking blasphemy was to be punished by stoning to death (Leviticus 24:16) and this penalty was carried out against Stephen without any perceived need to route approval through the Roman governor (Acts 7:58).  This was after a trial before the same Sanhedrin and conducted by the same high priest (Acts 6:14-15, 7:1) and with the same charge of blasphemy (Acts 6:11, 13).  

            The difference was that Jesus had been head of that movement at the time of His execution and with thousands of supporters flocked into the city.  Roman support had to be gained not only to make it fully legal in Roman eyes, but also to protect the religious leadership against violent retribution from their own people.  So long as his hands were on the “death warrant” (so to speak) any retribution would be interpreted as insurrection against the Roman government and assure their intervention.    

 

            26:67     Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands.  At this point even the minimal civilities were ignored.  Those around Jesus spit at Him, slapped Him with their palms, and beat Him.  He was fair game.  Spitting, of course, was an extreme insult (as seen in the cases in Numbers 12:14; Isaiah 50:6; Job 30:10).  Slapping and hitting added physical pain to the psychological.

 

            26:68     saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ!  Who is the one who struck You?”  They did this while Jesus was blindfolded--stated in Mark 14:65, but clearly implied here since their mocking challenge to reveal which of them had done the hitting would make no sense otherwise.  Yet even if He had answered, would it have done Him any good?  At this stage of the tragedy would they have done anything beyond nervously gagging Him so He couldn’t answer?

 

 

After Denying Knowing Jesus Three Times, a Humiliated Peter Cries in Shame (Matthew 26:69-75):  69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard.  A slave girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.”  70 But he denied it in front of them all: “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”  71 When he went out to the gateway, another slave girl saw him and said to the people there, “This man was with Jesus the Nazarene.”  72 He denied it again with an oath, “I do not know the man!”

73 After a little while, those standing there came up to Peter and said, “You really are one of them too—even your accent gives you away!”  74 At that he began to curse, and he swore with an oath, “I do not know the man!”  At that moment a rooster crowed.  75 Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said:  “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”  And he went outside and wept bitterly.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

           

            26:69     Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard.  And a servant girl came to him, saying, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee.”  Peter’s own hour of trial was now arising:  One of the high priest’s servant girls was convinced that she recognized Peter as an associate of Jesus.  She doesn't, however, denounce him to others in a position of authority to arrest him, but challenges him personally.  After all, there’s no order to arrest His followers but it is clearly “open season” for insult--if not worse--on anyone who has such a loyalty.  And with what was going on in other parts of the facility, no one was going to protest anything that happened against such a person! 

            In other words, so far as safety is concerned, it was as if you were standing stark naked in a pool of tired but annoyed alligators.  You might be safe, but you might also be “dinner” instead.

            Why is this identification made?  The Pulpit Commentary reasonably speculates, Though the porteress probably had no personal knowledge of the apostle, yet scanning his features by the light of the fire, noting his perturbed aspect and his restless actions, and reflecting on his companionship with John, she conjectured that he was a disciple of Christ, and more than once hazarded the assertion with the view of eliciting a definite answer.”        

 

            26:70     But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are saying.”  Note that Peter “denied it before all,” showing that others were nearby and hearing the conversation as well.  With the large crowd she was in no danger, but the truthful answer might well place him in jeopardy.  “Staying faithful” surely seemed easier a half-hour earlier!

 

           26:71     And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.”  Peter thought it wise to proceed toward the “gateway,” perhaps with the desire to be near the exit so he could flee if necessary or even tempted to do so.  Another servant girl, though, also recognized him and was also convinced that he had been in the company of Jesus of Nazareth.  (And what was she doing so close to that group that she recognized him?  A former disciple?  Or simply curious about this “strange” spiritual leader out of Galilee?)

 

            26:72     But again he denied with an oath, “I do not know the Man!”  He “proved” that his lie was the truth by invoking God’s name to verify the certainty and reliability of the oath.  In effect such a person is saying, “I may not be able to produce a human witness to back this, but God in heaven knows it is true!”  But, of course, He knew that the exact opposite was the case.  Does one do an injustice by imagining that the Father shook His head in sadness?

 

            26:73     And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, “Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.”  His method of speaking--his dialect--the critic insisted, “betrays you.”  He sounded like a Galilean:  a supreme act of guilt by association.  If you are a Galilean you must be a follower of Jesus!  (Yet unless the accusation had at least a reasonable root in reality, would it have been made at all?  It seems fair to conclude that Jesus’ strongest base of support and the place where He had the most disciples was, indeed, in Galilee.)

            Sidebar:  The Pulpit Commentary briefly points out some of the regional variations in speech of the time--“His dialect (for doubtless he spoke Aramaic) showed that he was a Galilean, and as most of Christ's adherents came from that region, they inferred that he was one of Christ's disciples.  The language and pronunciation of the northern district differed materially from the polished dialect of Judea and Jerusalem, and its provincialisms were readily detected.  The Galileans, we are told, could not properly pronounce the guttural letters, aleph, kheth, and ayin, and used tau for shin, pe for beth, etc.; they also often omitted syllables in words, occasioning equivocal mistakes, which afforded much amusement to the better instructed.”

           

            26:74     Then he began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!”  Immediately a rooster crowed.  This time Peter combined cursing with oaths of denial.  He had gone from a vague not-quite-explicit denial (verse 70), to swearing not to know Jesus (vs. 72), to cursing along with the oath of denial (vs. 74).  A later age would say that he felt the noose tightening around his neck by these persistent questioners.  But as soon as he said the last denial he heard the rooster’s prophesied crowing.

 

            26:75     And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”  So he went out and wept bitterly.  He left the palace confines but once he dared openly show his emotions he “wept bitterly.”  There are few things worse than to play the fool and to have to face the fact that one has.  Tears can't change what has happened, but they can at least show sorrow and anger directed at one's own weakness.

            Sidebar:  What did Peter do next?  The information has not been provided, but one can make reasonable speculation--“From that hour we lose sight of him till the morning of the Resurrection.  We may infer from his then appearing in company with John (John 20:3), that he turned in his contrition to the friend and companion of his early years, who had probably witnessed his denials, and was not repulsed.  The fact that the record of his fall appears in every Gospel, may be noted as indicating that, in after years, he did not shrink from letting men know of his guilt, but sought rather that men might find in him (as St. Paul afterwards in his experience, 1 Timothy 1:12-16) a proof of the mercy and tender pity of his Lord.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)