The time was drawing near when Jesus was to die—to give His life a ransom for many. All had been foreseen from eternity, and He had come to earth for this express purpose. Yet as the hour drew near His holy soul was deeply moved.
And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said unto his disciples, Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified. Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and consulted that they might take Jesus by subtlety, and kill him. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people, (vv. 1-5)
Having completed His last public discourse, the dark shadow of the cross was falling athwart His spirit as He spoke of the coming feast of the Passover, after which He was to be betrayed and crucified. He alone knew the real meaning of that Passover, for He was the antitypical Paschal Lamb, whose blood was to provide a shelter from the judgment of God for all who put their trust in Him.
Meantime, the chief priests, scribes, and elders were meeting clandestinely in the house of the wily Caiaphas, who was the high priest that year through the favor of the Romans. There they plotted how best and with greatest safety to themselves they might get Jesus into their power in order to put Him to death. In their zeal for the Jewish religion, which they felt was threatened by His teaching, they were ready to go to any lengths to get Him out of the way, provided it did not embroil them in a conflict with the people. They considered it best not to attempt to take Him on the approaching feast day as that would most certainly provoke an uprising against them.
It is refreshing indeed to turn from consideration of these nefarious, scheming murderers to the beautiful account of Mary’s devotion, as narrated in verses 6-13.
Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, there came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her. (vv. 6-13)
We know nothing of Simon the leper. His name is recorded here, with the added word telling of the disease to which either he was subject still, or, more likely, from which he had been healed by the Lord. There is also the possibility that he had passed away. Although the house was designated as his, John’s account would seem to make it the home of the two sisters, Martha and Mary, and their brother Lazarus. If this be true, Simon may have been the father of the three devoted friends of Jesus, none of whom are mentioned by name, however, in Matthew’s account.
We know that the woman who brought the alabaster box of ointment and anointed Jesus was Mary. John tells us she anointed His feet. Matthew and Mark mention the anointing of His head. Both, of course, were true. It was an act of loving devotion. To Mary, Jesus was the King. As He sat or reclined at the table, her spikenard fdled the room with its fragrance (Song 1:12; see also v. 3). To Mary, there was nothing too precious for Jesus. She lavished her best upon Him.
The disciples, led in this instance by Judas (John 12:4), demurred, complaining of what seemed to them to be a waste. The ointment might, they reasoned, have been sold for a great sum, and the proceeds given to the poor. Judas could not understand a love like that of Mary’s, which would lead her to pour her choicest treasure upon the head and feet of Jesus. To him it was a great waste.
Jesus rebuked the complainers and vindicated the woman, declaring she had wrought a good (literally, “a beautiful”) work on Him. They had always the poor to whom they could minister. As the law had said, they would never cease out of the land; but He was about to leave. Mary, who perhaps understood more clearly than any of the rest what was about to take place, had anointed His body for His burial. Her devotion was appreciated so deeply that Jesus added, “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.”
Is Christ Himself so real and precious to us that we are ready to make any sacrifice in order to show our devotion to Him?
In vivid contrast to Mary’s love and faithfulness, the treachery of Judas now comes into view.
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, and said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him. (vv. 14-16)
The wretched traitor left the festive scene and sought out the cabal of priests with whom he had been familiar, evidently, already. He demanded a definite amount to be paid over to him on condition that he should betray Jesus into their hands. Without seeming to recall the prophecy of Zechariah in regard to this very thing, the betrayal of the Shepherd of Israel, they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12). With all their boasted knowledge of Scripture, they were fulfilling them unwittingly in the bargain to which they agreed.
Judas returned to the company of Christ and His apostles and continued to consort with them, waiting for a convenient opportunity to carry out his part of the agreement—a covenant with hell, which must at times have caused his guilty conscience to protest sternly against the awful course upon which he had entered.
The next section tells us of the last Passover.
Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover? And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover. Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve. And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I? And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me. The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born. Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said. (vv. 17-25)
“The first day of the feast of unleavened bread.” This feast lasted seven days. On the first day the lamb was slain and the prescribed meal took place. During all the seven days no leaven was permitted in the homes of the Israelites.
The Jewish day began at sunset, so the Passover was “between the two evenings” (Exod. 12:6 RV, marg.). Jesus kept the feast after the first sunset of Passover day and died as the true Passover Lamb before the next sunset.
“I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples.” It was considered a pious thing by the inhabitants of Jerusalem to reserve a guest-chamber, where visitors in the city might observe the feast. Jesus availed Himself of this privilege. Tradition says that it was in the home of John Mark that the last Passover was held by the Savior and His disciples.
“They made ready the passover.” They spread the table with the roasted lamb, the bitter herbs, and unleavened bread, as God had directed. What must all this have meant to Jesus, who knew He was the One prefigured by this typical feast! (1 Cor. 6:7-8).
“He sat down with the twelve.” Judas had not yet gone out into the night. He who had already agreed to betray his Lord sat with the rest.
“One of you shall betray me.” He who knew all things was aware of the wicked plot into which Judas had entered, but He gave him space even yet to repent, had his conscience been active.
“Lord, is it I?” We are told that every one of them asked this question, eleven in real sorrow and bewilderment and one with the guilty knowledge that he had entered deliberately into a covenant to do this wicked thing. How sin does harden the heart and sear the conscience!
“He that dippeth his hand with Me in the dish.” Up to the last Judas was permitted to enjoy the tenderest expressions of the love of Jesus, even sharing with Him in the dish of bitter herbs.
“It had been good for that man if he had not been born!” These words destroy the vain hope of the universalist, for they tell us of one man at least for whom it had been better not to have lived. This could not be true if Judas were ever to be saved.
“Thou hast said.” Evidently feeling he was the object of the suspicion of the rest, Judas asked again with ill-concealed fear and yet manifest effrontery, “Master, is it I?” Jesus answered in the affirmative and yet in such a way that the rest either did not hear or did not understand. According to John’s gospel, it would seem that at this juncture Judas hastily arose and left the room (John 13:30). If this be correct, he was not actually present when the next event took place but went out after the Passover. This has long been a disputed point, however.
Next followed the institution of the Lord’s Supper, that sacred ordinance which in the Christian church takes the place of the Passover among the Jews. The two are intimately linked together, for it was after the celebration of the paschal feast that Jesus offered His disciples the bread and the fruit of the vine, and tenderly requested them to partake of them as setting forth His body about to be offered on the cross and His blood so soon to be shed for the remission of sins. Nearly two millennia have elapsed since that solemn night, during which untold millions of grateful believers have partaken of these memorials in remembrance of Him who loved them even unto death.
The Communion (1 Cor. 10:16) is not in any sense a sacrifice. It commemorates the one perfect Sacrifice offered by our Lord once for all when He gave Himself for us on Calvary. Neither should it be celebrated with any thought of its having saving value or inherent merit. It is the reminder that when we were utterly lost and helpless, Christ died for us to redeem us to God. It is true that the sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15) should ever accompany it as we contemplate the great cost at which we were saved, and rejoice that He who endured such grief and shame for us is now alive forevermore, never again to have to submit to the pain of death. We call Him to mind as the “Author and Finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2), from whence He shall soon return to claim the purchase of His blood. Until then we keep this feast with worshipful hearts, while we look back to the Cross and on to the coming glory (1 Cor. 11:26).
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives, (vv. 26-30)
“Take, eat; this is my body.” Jesus took one of the unleavened loaves into His hand, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, bidding them eat it as His body. Manifestly, there was no transubstantiation there, for He sat before them in His actual body and they ate of the bread. It was as when one shows a portrait and says, “This is my mother.” The one represents the other.
“He took the cup.” We are not told exactly what was in the cup. We know from the next verse that it was “the fruit of the vine,” but whether fermented wine or the juice of boiled raisins (it was too early for fresh grapes), the record does not say, nor should we quibble about it. It is what is signified that is important.
“This is my blood of the new testament.” That precious blood had not yet been shed, but Jesus was speaking of it as though the work of the Cross were accomplished already. The cup did not contain His blood, but that which would call it to mind in after years when it had been shed for the remission of sins.
“When I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Jesus did not participate in that which was to be a memorial of His own death, but He looked forward to the time when, as a result of that sacrifice, He would have all His own gathered about Him in the Father’s kingdom to celebrate together the full glorious fruitage of redemption. Then He will see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied (Isa. 53:11).
“When they had sung an hymn.” Tradition says this was Psalm 135, known to the Jews as the little Hall-El, celebrating Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, or, as others think, Psalms 115-118.
The memorial feast of love, the central ordinance committed to the church, is designed to bring Jesus Himself before the soul. It is an appeal to the affections. He was going away. He did not want to be forgotten by those He loved so tenderly. So He instituted this holy Supper that wherever and whenever it was observed it might recall Him vividly to mind. His was a love that was even stronger than death, which the many waters of judgment could not quench (Song 8:6-7). He needs no symbols in order that He may remember us. But our love is very inconstant. We forget so soon. Therefore the need of that which may quicken our affections and revive our thoughts of Him. Then, like Mary, we shall bring our alabaster boxes and break them in His presence, pouring the perfume of our worship and adoration upon Him until the house is filled with the fragrance that is thus set free. It is fitting that the story of her devotion to Christ should precede that of the Supper He instituted.
It is only unconfessed sin that should hinder a Christian from partaking of the holy Supper, and the sooner that sin is judged in the light of the Cross, the sooner one will be restored to communion. David said, “My meditation of Him shall be sweet” (Ps. 104:34). Do we delight to sit at His table, and think of His love?
The Romish doctrine of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Sacrament is the very opposite to the truth. To teach that under the form of bread and wine the very body and blood of Jesus are offered continually upon an altar as a sacrifice for the sins of the living and the dead, is to deny Christ’s personal absence, because of which we remember Him, and also impugns the perfection of His one offering on the cross, never to be repeated.
Rightly observed, we approach the Lord’s Table as those redeemed to God by His blood, who now desire to call anew to mind His glorious person and His all-prevailing love in giving Himself a Sacrifice upon the cross for our sins. It is the blood of Christ that makes us worthy to partake of the Lord s Supper. But we need to beware lest we participate unworthily, that is, in a light or careless manner.
Observe how the two comings of the Lord Jesus are linked together by the feast of remembrance. We show His death until He come (1 Cor. 11:26).
As they passed slowly along the way from the place where these things had transpired to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus resorted so often with His disciples, He began to warn them of what was to take place soon, and to impress upon them the untrustworthiness of their own hearts.
Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples, (vv. 31-35)
It was another of Zechariah’s prophecies to which Jesus referred when He told the disciples that all should be stumbled, or scandalized, because of Him that night. For long ago this prophet, speaking by the Spirit of God, had said, “[I will] smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered” (Zech. 13:7). These words were about to have a literal fulfillment, though at the moment they all felt it could not be that any of them would forsake Him whom they loved so dearly. But no man can ever sound the depths of evil in his own heart, which grace alone can overcome.
Jesus added the reassuring promise, which however at the moment was meaningless to them, that when He rose again He would go before them into Galilee. There He would keep a sacred tryst with them.
Peter, not realizing the weakness of his flesh, protested that although all the others should be stumbled, it would not be so with him. But Jesus declared that before cockcrow—that is, before early dawn—he would deny his Master three times. Self-confident Peter insisted this should never be. Even though called to die for Jesus, he would never deny Him. In this they all shared. Alas! How little they knew themselves! Their self-confidence led them to make protestations they found themselves unable to carry out when the hour of trial came. The flesh is prone to declare its own goodness (Prov. 20:6).
Reaching the Mount of Olives, they came to the garden on the western slope where Jesus often had prayed and communed with His Father.
Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and flndeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me. (vv. 36-46)
Gethsemane! What depths of woe, what bitter grief does the word suggest! It seems to express, as nothing else could, the inner meaning of our Lord’s words, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). It was there in the garden, where so often He had resorted with His disciples (John 18:2) and where so frequently He had enjoyed uninterrupted communion with His Father, that He was to enter into His soul’s agony as He contemplated the reality of being made sin on our behalf, “that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21 RV) As He looked forward to it, He exclaimed, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour. But for this cause came I unto this hour” (John 12:27 RV, marg.).
Psalm 102 has been often designated “The Gethsemane Psalm.” As we read it, we hear the breathings of our Savior’s heart as He entered into a sense of the loneliness of One forsaken of God and despised by the very men whom He came to save. This was the cup from which His holy, human nature shrank. That He, the perfect One, in whom the Father had ever found His delight (Luke 3:22; 9:3, 5), should be treated as an outcast, because taking the sinner’s place, was unspeakably horrible and appalling. True, He had come from heaven for that very purpose. He had assumed humanity that He might die in our stead. But as the hour drew near when He was actually to undergo the baptism of divine judgment against sin, He would not have been the Holy One whom He was if He had not shrunk from so terrible an ordeal. Yet we need to remember that the suffering endured in Gethsemane was not in itself atoning for sin. It was at Golgotha, on the cross of shame, that our sins were laid upon Him, and He endured the full penalty that should have been ours, if God had not intervened in grace and “sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Gethsemane was anticipatory to Calvary, where He drained to the dregs the cup of wormwood and gall that our iniquities had filled.
“A place called Gethsemane.” The name means “the oil press.” It was a garden of olives, just across the brook Kedron. It was easily reached from the city of Jerusalem. Jesus left eight of His disciples near the entrance, while He went deeper into the grove to pray.
“Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.” These words were addressed to the eight who were left near the entrance. It is evident that all the disciples did not have an equal sense of love and sympathy.
“He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee.” There was a closer tie with these than with the rest, because they seemed to understand and appreciate Him more. To them He expressed the perturbation of spirit under which He was laboring. These three shared the more intimate experiences of Jesus on other occasions (see 17:1; Luke 8:51). They saw that Jesus was in great sorrow, though they could not really understand the cause.
“Tarry ye here, and watch with me.” The time came when they, too, had to be left behind, but they were commanded to watch and pray lest the coming trial be too great for their faith (Luke 22:40).
“My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” His words must have perplexed them greatly, for they still did not realize what was involved in that of which He had spoken to them earlier—His betrayal, death, and resurrection.
“He went a little farther.” They could not follow as He poured out His heart to His Father, saying, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” His resignation to the Father’s will was perfect, but He pleaded that if by any other means salvation might be procured for sinners, it would be revealed.
“What, could ye not watch with me one hour?” Returning to the three, He found them all asleep, their very grief for Him having overpowered them. He gently reproved Peter for lack of watchfulness, inasmuch as he had spoken so strongly of his love and loyalty (John 13:37).
“The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Jesus recognized the devotion of His followers, but He also realized the untrustworthiness of the human heart, even in the best of saints. So He bade them “watch and pray” that temptation might not take them unawares. He besought them to be on their guard and to ask help of God lest in the hour of testing they fail to stand. He well knew that in their spirits they desired to be true, but he warned them of their weakness as men still in the body.
“If this cup may not pass … except I drink it, thy will be done.” His was a perfect resignation to the Father’s will, no matter what sorrow and agony this meant to Him. He had come into the world for this very purpose (Heb. 10:7; John 4:34). There was no conflict of wills. Jesus acquiesced in whatever pleased the Father. No matter how bitter the cup, He would drink it if salvation for lost sinners could be obtained in no other way.
“He came and found them asleep again.” They did not realize what He was going through on their behalf, and so they failed to watch with Him in the hour of His soul’s distress. Our Lord was as truly Man as He was God, and as Man He craved human sympathy and understanding. He looked for some to take pity (Ps. 69:20). His dearest disciples failed Him, thus adding to His grief.
Let us challenge our own hearts as to how far we have entered into the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. Are we able to watch and pray in this time of His rejection by a godless world? No man will be able to stand in the moment of severe temptation who has been slothful instead of watchful and indolent instead of prayerful. If only we realize that prayerlessness is as truly sin against God as cursing or swearing, because it is positive disobedience to His Word, would we not be more alert to use the opportunities He gives to draw from heaven needed grace for testing times?
“He… found them asleep again.” It was a sad commentary on poor, frail human nature, even at its best, as seen in those who really loved Jesus but could not rise to the seriousness of the occasion.
“Prayed the third time.” Again Jesus bowed alone before the Father, in perfect submission, though with His holy soul shrinking from the awful ordeal before Him—an ordeal which our poor hearts are too deadened by sin ever to understand in its fullness.
“Saying the same words.” Vain repetitions, in the sense of useless ejaculations, He, Himself, had condemned (Matt. 6:7). But importunate prayer He had shown to be according to the mind of God (Luke 11:6-10). In this He is an example for us as He repeatedly spread out His concern before the Father.
“Sleep on now, and take your rest.” So the Authorized Version reads. Another translation turns His words into an exclamatory sentence, “Sleeping still, and taking rest!” And this, with the betrayer almost in view! How little they understood the solemnity of that hour of testing! While they were so drowsy that they did not realize their danger, the emissaries of the priests were entering the garden.
“He is at hand that doth betray me.” There was no effort to escape. His hour was come, and in perfect calmness Jesus went forth to meet the betrayer and the rabble horde who had come to arrest Him. The agony was over. He was now perfectly composed as He went forth voluntarily, like a lamb to the slaughter, to meet those who were seeking Him in order to destroy Him.
The utter resignation of Jesus to the Father s will shines out in all these closing experiences, but particularly in that of Gethsemane. While the horror of becoming the great sin offering, being made sin for us, overwhelmed His human soul and spirit, yet, as we have seen, He was perfectly subject to the divine will and had no thought of turning aside. There are depths here that our minds can never fathom, but all is perfection on His part. If He could have contemplated all that was involved in the sacrifice of the Cross with equanimity, He would not have been the perfect Man that He was. But knowing it all and realizing there was no other way by which He could become the Captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10), He faced the ordeal unflinchingly in order that God might be glorified and sinful men saved from judgment.
The meaning of the cup. It is not simply of death or of physical sufferings that the cup speaks. Jesus did not shrink from these. But it was the fierce indignation of Jehovah against sin, which filled that cup about to be presented by the Father to His holy Son, that caused the bitter agony of soul which so affected His body that the bloody sweat was forced through the pores of His skin. Some have intimated that the cup consisted in the fear that Satan might kill Him before He reached the cross, or that He might be driven insane by satanic power and so not be able to offer Himself voluntarily as a sacrifice for sin. But these are unworthy suggestions, which fail to take into account the fact that Satan could have no power against Him except as allowed of God, and none could take His life until He laid it down of Himself (John 10:17-18). He had bound already the strong man (Matt. 12:29), and He did not fear him in the Garden.
The cup of wrath is mentioned in the Old Testament. It is reserved for the wicked (Ps. 11:6); it is a cup of divine indignation against sin (Ps. 75:8); it is a cup of trembling (Isa. 51:17, 22); it is the cup of Jehovah’s fury (Jer. 25:15). All this, and more, was involved in the cup which our Lord had to drink in order that we might have the cup of salvation (Ps. 116:13).
Death and the curse were in that cup,
O Christ, ’twas full for Thee;
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop,
’Tis empty now for me.
The holiness of Jesus is seen in His shrinking from drinking the cup of judgment, which involved His taking the sinner’s place and bearing the weight of our iniquities (Isa. 53:5-6). Because of His infinite purity, He could not contemplate with other than horror all that it would mean to be made sin for us—that is, to become the antitypical sin offering—in order that God might receive to Himself in peace all who should avail themselves of the offer of life through His death, and justification through His condemnation. It is this that explains His agony, which was as much an evidence of the perfection of His humanity as was His utter submission to the will of His Father. Gethsemane made it evident that He was the unblemished, spotless Lamb whose blood could avail to cleanse from sin and shield from judgment.
“If it be possible.” In Gethsemane was settled once and for all the impossibility of sin being atoned for in any other way than by the infinite sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross. Had there been any other method which would have met the case and satisfied the claims of divine justice, it would have been revealed then, in answer to the impassioned prayer of our blessed Lord. But there was none. God has shut all men up to Christ and His finished work. No other name is given (Acts 4:12), no other way is known (Acts 13:38-39), whereby guilty sinners can be justified before the throne of God.
Let me repeat: It was not in Gethsemane, but on Calvary, that the sin question was settled and expiation made for iniquity. But the agony in the Garden was a fitting prelude to the darkness of the Cross. In order to make an adequate propitiation for our sins, it was necessary that the substitute be a man, but more than man; otherwise his sacrifice could not have been of sufficient value to be a ransom for all. He must be a man on whom death and judgment had no claim; therefore one who had been tested and proved to be absolutely sinless—one who had never violated God’s holy law in thought or word or deed. But this very sinlessness of Jesus explains the suffering He endured in the contemplation of being made sin on our behalf. There was no conflict of will, though. He was prepared to carry out the Father’s purpose, whatever the awful cost to Himself.
It is noticeable, and an evidence of divine design in Scripture, that while in the three Synoptic Gospels our attention is focused on Christ’s agony in the Garden, there is no mention of this in the gospel of John, just as in his gospel there is no word about the transfiguration or the rending of the veil when Jesus died. In the Synoptics, emphasis is placed upon the humanity of our Lord. In John’s gospel it is His essential Deity that is before us. The glory is seen shining out there in every act of His life and in every word that He spoke. All is perfect, for Scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:16).
The account of the midnight arrest of Jesus follows, when all His disciples forgot their promises and fled, leaving Him alone.
And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast. And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, Master; and kissed him. And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him. And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me. But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled. (vv. 47-56)
What were the thoughts of Judas as he stealthily led the chief priests, elders, and the rabble with swords and staves (that is, clubs) to the rendezvous where he was certain he would find Jesus in prayer? If deeply perturbed, as he would have been if conscience were at all active, he gave no outward evidence of it as he brazenly led the multitude to where he saw Jesus standing with the three disciples. He had given them a sign saying, “Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast.” One feels horror-stricken as he contemplates such infamy, yet it is that of which every deceitful, natural heart is capable.
Boldly Judas stepped up to Jesus, and exclaiming, “Hail, Master!” kissed Him repeatedly, as the original really has it. Calmly Jesus looked upon him and asked, “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” Then He permitted His enemies to lay hold of Him and to arrest Him.
Suddenly, spurred by intense emotion, one of them, whom we know was Peter, drew his sword, struck a servant of the high priest’s, and cut off his ear. Peter was asleep when he should have been alert, watching unto prayer. Now, when he should have been calm and trustful, he was excited and active. But it was the activity of the flesh. Slashing about with the sword, he cut off the ear of Malchus, one who had very little responsibility, as far as the matter of arresting Jesus was concerned. Nothing was really accomplished that would tend to avert the catastrophe Peter evidently dreaded.
Jesus rebuked him for his unwise act, bidding him sheath his sword. Carnal weapons were not needed to protect or defend the Christ of God. He had only to ask of the Father to have twelve legions of angels sent to deliver Him. But how then should Scripture be fulfilled which foretold His death as a substitute for sinful men?
Turning to the mob surrounding Him, Jesus inquired, “Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and clubs?” He reminded them that He might have been found any day in the temple, teaching. There was no necessity for this strange midnight foray. But in all these things the Word of God given through the prophets was being fulfilled.
As He yielded Himself submissively to them, the disciples became panic-stricken and every one fled from the scene. Had He not submitted voluntarily to this indignity His enemies would have been helpless before Him. But He gave Himself into their hands that the will of God might be carried out. We may see in this submission the expression of His love, both to the Father and to those for whom He was about to die.
In defiance or forgetfulness of their own law, which forbade the trial of any person charged with crime between the hours of sunset and sunrise, those who had arrested Jesus hurried Him to the house of Caiaphas shortly before cock-crowing, answering to our three o’clock after midnight, where a group of the leaders had been waiting in order to pass speedy judgment upon Him. His teaching had caused many to lose confidence in their authority; and they feared He might gain a large following if He was not soon put out of the way.
And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest’s palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end. Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; but found none yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, and said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? What is it which these witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death. Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee? (vv. 57-68)
Peter, who had recovered from his first fright, joined the company, following Jesus at a distance to see what the result might be of all these unlawful proceedings. He entered the corridor of the high priest’s palace and sat with the servants in a place where he could see what was transpiring within.
Witnesses were hastily summoned to give testimony against Jesus, but they were all men prepared to perjure themselves in order to curry favor with the leaders in this plot against Jesus. Even so, their witness did not agree. Finally, two men were brought in who testified that Jesus had said on one occasion, “I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.” A half-truth is a whole lie. Jesus had said something that seemed akin to this, but they so reported His words as to completely subvert His meaning.
Like a lamb led to the slaughter and a sheep before its shearers, as Isaiah had prophesied (Isa. 53:7), Jesus attempted no defense. He opened not His mouth. This so annoyed Caiaphas that he exclaimed, “Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?” But Jesus did not deign to reply until the high priest put Him on oath, adjuring Him by the living God that He say whether He was the Christ the Son of God or not. Then the Lord solemnly declared, “Thou hast said.” That is, it is as you have said. “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” This was a clear, positive declaration of both His messiahship and His Deity as the Eternal Son. To Caiaphas it was blasphemy. Forgetting the admonition of the law which forbade a priest to rend his garments (Lev. 21:10), he tore his robe in two, signifying by this very act, though he did not realize it, that his priesthood was ended. God no longer recognized the priests of the Levitical economy. With a great pretence of reverence for God, he charged Jesus with blasphemy and declared no more witnesses were needed. He appealed to the rest of the council saying, “Behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. What think ye?” And they all replied, “He is guilty of death.” In fact, they had already prejudged the case and settled on the verdict.
Then in the most shameless way, these men, who should have been the guardians of the rights of the poor and defenseless, began to spit in the face of Jesus and to beat and buffet Him in the most insulting manner, even slapping Him with their open hands as they taunted Him, saying, “Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?” He did not answer, but bore all patiently.
Meantime, Peter sat in the court of the palace, giving no sign of his interest in the holy Sufferer whom they were contemning.
Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly, (vv. 69-75)
A maid servant, who had been eyeing him, came boldly up to Peter and charged him with having been in the company of Jesus of Galilee. Taken unawares, he did not have the courage to confess that it was indeed true. On the contrary, he denied before them all, insisting that he knew nothing of what was being said.
Going out into the porch, he was challenged by another maid who exclaimed, “This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.” With an oath Peter again denied all knowledge of the Man who was enduring such suffering inside the palace. Later a man spoke up and said, “Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee.” Peter’s Galilean brogue branded him before them all as a man from the north country. Excited and thoroughly frightened, Peter lost all control of himself and began to curse and to swear, again taking an oath that he knew not the Man. He did not even call Him by name. To what depths can even a child of God sink when he is out of communion with his Master and is under the domination of the flesh!
Even as the poor backslidden disciple spoke, he was startled to hear a cock crow. The words that Jesus had spoken came back to him. Realizing something of his terrible failure, he left the company assembled there and went out into the darkness, weeping bitterly. Those were grateful tears, for they told of the work of restoration begun in his soul. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (2 Cor. 7:10), and this was the beginning of true contrition that was to result in full restoration of soul after Jesus rose from the dead.
There is a difference between apostasy and backsliding. Judas was an apostate. He had never known the reality of the new birth. Though chosen as an apostle, he was a devil (John 6:70-71). For him there was no recovery. But in Peter we see a typical backslider. He was a real child of God who failed through self-confidence and lack of prayerfulness but was afterward restored and became a faithful witness for Christ. Apostasy is giving up truth that one formerly professed to believe. Backsliding is spiritual declension from an experience once enjoyed. The difference is immense. To see this distinction clearly will save from much confusion of thought.