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The Preparation for the Lord's Death
Summary —The Declaration to the Disciples That the Time Was at Hand. The Wicked Counsel of the Rulers. The Anointing at Bethany. The Alabaster Box. Judas Sells His Lord. The Feast of the Passover. The Traitor Revealed. The Lord's Supper. The Agony in the Garden. The Seizure of Jesus. The Trial Before Caiaphas.
1. Had finished all these words. The discourses recorded in the three preceding chapters. The time was Tuesday night, after the Jewish Wednesday began; that is, after sunset. Compare Mark 14:1–11; Luke 22:1–6; John 12:1–8.
2. After two days. After Wednesday and Thursday. The day indicated is Friday. The passover cometh. For the origin of this feast, see Exod. 12:1–14. It was really the Jewish emancipation day, the greatest of their feasts, and the paschal lamb was a type of the slain Christ.
3. Then were gathered together. An official meeting of the Sanhedrim. With the chief priests, that is, the high priests, Annas and Caiaphas, and the heads of the twenty-four courses. And the elders of the people. That is, the heads of the great families, the princes of Judah. Into the court of the high priest. The palace of Caiaphas. The body now about to assemble, the Sanhedrim, was the supreme court of Israel. According to Jewish accounts, it was composed of seventy-one members, the high priest being president. The “chief priests,” or heads of the twenty-four courses, distinguished representatives of the “scribes,” and “elders of the people,” the heads of the great families, constituted the membership. It could try and condemn to death, but could not carry out capital punishment without the consent of the Roman authorities at this time. It was mostly composed of bitter, bigoted enemies of Jesus, determined at any cost to secure his death. In the trial the Jewish law was constantly violated. Caiaphas. The reigning high priest, the son-in-law of Annas, who had been high priest, but was deposed by the Romans, but was still called a high priest. Both were Sadducees.
4. Take Jesus by subtilty. They were afraid of the people and wished to seize Jesus secretly and deliver him to the Romans to be crucified before the people knew of their designs. See Luke 21:38.
5. Not during the feast. During the passover there were millions of Jews in Jerusalem. Josephus says that in a.d. 65, three million were present. There were often tumults at the passover, and it was feared that the arrest of Jesus would arouse one. On such occasions the Romans suppressed the disturbance without mercy.
6. Now when Jesus was at Bethany. On the Saturday before. Matthew goes back to an event that occurred at Bethany before the Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, because he is about to relate the treachery of Judas, and it was brought to a crisis by that event. In the house of Simon the leper. Supposed to have been healed by Christ, and a relative of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Compare the parallel accounts. It is not known certainly who he was.
7. There came a woman. Mary, the sister of Lazarus. See John 12:3. An alabaster box. A 142vase. Of precious ointment. Of spikenard, very costly and precious. It was worth 300 pence, or denarii, equivalent, when we consider the change in money values, to $300 now. Poured it on his head. She broke the vase and emptied it. See Mark.
8. They had indignation. John shows that it was Judas who voiced the indignation. Why this waste? Judas thought that 300 pence had been squandered. Sordid men still often think what is spent for the Savior is wasted.
9. This ointment might have been sold for much. Mark and John say, “three hundred denarii.” Pliny says a pound, the amount in the vase, was worth 400 denarii. Given to the poor. A pretence. Judas wanted to get the money into his bag.
12. To prepare me for burial. It was customary to anoint the dead and lay the body in spices. See John 19:40; Luke 23:56; 2 Chron. 16:14. Mary was probably impelled only by her love of the Lord and desire to do him honor; but Jesus, about to die and be buried, declares the anointing a fit preparation.
13. Wheresoever this gospel. The gospel of a crucified Savior. In all the world. A prophecy that its preaching will be world-wide. A memorial of her. Mary's loving deed has never been forgotten, but is to-day told in every quarter of the earth.
14. Then … Judas Iscariot went. A comparison of all the accounts will show that when his avarice was thus disappointed, he went, at the first opportunity, to the priests. His Master was about to be crucified, he had not been permitted to enrich himself, there was now no probability that he would become the treasurer of Christ as an earthly king.
15. What are ye willing to give me? He had deliberately decided. He probably knew of their wish to seize Jesus secretly, and that they would pay for a guide that would lead them where he rested at night. Thirty pieces of silver. The price was agreed upon and paid. The pieces were silver shekels, temple money. The whole would contain about the amount of silver in twenty dollars, perhaps equal in value to $120 now. It was a fulfillment of Zech. 11:12. Joseph was sold for twenty pieces of silver (Gen. 37:28).
17. Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread. Strictly speaking, the 15th of Nisan (part of our March and April), after the paschal lamb was killed, but here the 14th day (Thursday). See Exod. 12:16. This suggests one of the most difficult questions of Scripture chronology, whether the Lord ate the passover one day before the regular Jewish passover, or at the usual time. Pressense, Milman, Ellicott, Townsend, Alford, Neander, Farrar, and many other great authorities, hold that he ate it the day preceding, and died on the day and about the time the Jewish passover lambs were slain. The statements of John 19:14, that the supper was eaten, the Lord betrayed and condemned before the passover, seem positive. Where wilt thou that we prepare the passover? According to the directions given in Deut. 16:1–15, the passover must be eaten in the place where the Lord's name was recorded, or where the tabernacle or temple was located.
18, 19. Go into the city to such a man. The disciples are directed (Mark 14:13) to determine the place in the city by a certain sign. They do so and make ready in the guest chamber thus secured.
20. Now when the even was come. The lamb was slain “between two evenings,” that is, between three and five o'clock (see Exod. 12:6, margin). The supper followed on the same night. It was probably dark before the Savior and the twelve came to the guest chamber. The band that “sat down” to this supper and this occasion have furnished the subject of one of the greatest paintings ever created.
23. He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish shall betray me. In Oriental meals, instead of plates being used, each one helps himself with his fingers from the dish as he needs. From John 13:23–26, we learn that these words were spoken to the disciple that leaned on the Savior's bosom and were unheard by Judas and the rest.
24. The Son of man goeth as it is written of him. Luke, “As it was determined,” in prophecy. Good for that man. A declaration of the awful judgment that would befall the traitor.
25. Thou hast said. In other words, “Thou art the traitor.” John says that Jesus then said to 144Judas, “What thou doest, do quickly” and that he “immediately went out, and it was night.” Judas, therefore, left before the Lord's Supper was instituted.
26. As they were eating. Before they had arisen from the paschal feast. Jesus took bread. That is, one of the unleavened cakes that had been placed before him as the celebrant or proclaimer of the feast. And blessed. As was the custom. Luke and Paul say, “gave thanks,” which is the same thing. This is my body. Not literally, as the Catholics and Luther contend, but “represents my body.” We interpret it as we do his other sayings: “The seed is the word,” “The field is the world,” “The reapers are the angels,” “The harvest is the end of the world,” “I am the door,” “I am the vine.” So, too, at this very feast, the Jew was wont to say of the paschal lamb, “This is the body of the lamb which our fathers ate in Egypt.” Not the same, but this is meant to represent and commemorate that. He could not have meant that the bread was his real body, because his body was present at the table breaking the loaf, and he was speaking and acting in person among them. The doctrine of the “Real Presence” is every way unreasonable.
27. He then took the cup, and gave thanks. The cup was provided for the celebration of the paschal feast, and was at hand as well as the bread. Drink ye all of it. Observe that he simply said of the bread, “Take, eat;” but of the wine, “Drink ye all,” as if he intended to uproot the Catholic innovation of denying the cup to the laity.
28. This is my blood. A sign or emblem of my blood. New testament. Or, covenant. Covenant is the preferable sense here, as in most passages where the word occurs in the New Testament; the new covenant is contrasted with “the covenant which God made with our fathers” (Acts 3:25). Shed for many. Shed, in one sense, for all, for the benefits of the blood are offered to all; but “many” accept it and are saved.
29. I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine. He is done with earthly rites, and at this sad moment points them to a future reunion at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19) points to a permanent institution, to be observed until the Lord comes the second time. The command is therefore binding on all who believe in Christ; and disobedience to it is sin, for the unbelief that keeps men away is one of the worst of sins. The subsequent practice of the apostles (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7), and still more the fact that directions for the Lord's Supper were made a matter of special revelation to Paul (1 Cor. 11:23), seem to make it clear that Christ intended the ordinance for a perpetual one, and that his apostles so understood it.
30. When they had sung a hymn. It was customary to conclude the passover by singing the Psalms from 115th to 118th. To the mount of Olives. To the garden of Gethsemane, which was on the slope of the mount. This journey over the Kedron to Gethsemane was made in the darkness of the night. The Lord's Supper, a memorial of his death, has a still more tender interest, from the fact that it was established only two or three hours before he was betrayed and seized.
32. I will go before you into Galilee. The first announcement of the great Galilean meeting of the risen Lord with his disciples. See Matt. 28:16; John 21; 1 Cor. 15:6. 145
34, 35. Thou shalt deny me thrice. The first cock crow was about twelve at night. The second about three o'clock. Before this the three-fold denial would occur. Peter and the disciples were sincere, but knew not their own weakness.
36. To a place called Gethsemane. The word means “oil-press,” and would indicate that a press for making oil out of the olives, which grew in abundance on the mountain, stood there. It was on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. He speaks to the eight who were to remain. These eight would form, as it were, a watch against premature surprise. While I go and pray. The great crisis was at hand, and it was casting its dark shadow before on the spirit of our Lord. In this hour of the power of darkness he felt that he must throw himself upon his Father's bosom.
37. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee. The eight were left at the entrance of the garden, while the three, who had always been a kind of inner circle, who had been witnesses of his transfiguration, and of one of his greatest miracles (Mark 5:37), were taken within. Began to be sorrowful and very heavy. The shadow of the cross had fallen upon him. It was not fear of the agony, or fear of death, for he bore all, when the moment came, so sublimely that a heathen officer exclaimed, “Surely he must be the son of a god.” I doubt whether it is possible for a mortal to comprehend the mystery of his suffering, but I think the key is found in the declaration, “He was made sin for us.”
38. My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death. The weight of woe was literally crushing out the Savior's life. Tarry ye here, and watch. He had wished his chosen disciples to be near him in his woe; and yet, as it advanced, he felt that he must retire even from them, and be alone with himself and his Father. 146
39. And he went a little farther. “About a stone's cast” (Luke). If it be possible. If it were possible to save men, and carry out the divine work of redeeming them. Let this cup pass from me. This cup is the betrayal, the trial, the mocking, the scourging, the cross, and all besides which our thoughts cannot reach. But as thou wilt. This is an example of perfect faith—the faith by which alone answers to prayer can be obtained. He that insists on his will, when it is contrary to the will of God, fails in faith.
40. Findeth them asleep. Peter, James and John, soldiers placed on duty in an hour of dreadful peril and bidden to watch. Luke says they were sleeping from sorrow. Great sorrow stupefies. Dr. Rush says that criminals usually sleep soundly the night before execution.
41. Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation. Our Lord does not direct them to pray to God that no temptation might befall them, but that they might not be overcome by the temptations in which they must be involved. The need of such prayer was shown by Peter's denial.
42. He went away again the second time and prayed. “More earnestly,” says Luke, who adds the account of the bloody sweat (Luke 22:44). His agony returned on him. The continuance of the trial he accepts as God's answer to the petition, “Let this cup pass from me.” Now he asks only, “Thy will be done.”
43. He came and found them asleep again. The motive of this return we may reverently believe to have been, as before, the craving for human sympathy in that hour of awful agony. Our Savior, we must not forget, was human as well as divine.
45. Sleep on now, and take your rest. I look upon these words as reproachful. The hour when he needed their watchfulness and sympathy was past. They had failed to guard in the hour when he wished to be alone with God. Now the moment is at hand; the soldiers are approaching.
46. Rise, let us be going. It was no time for repose. Let them rouse, and go with him at once to confront the traitor and the band of enemies.
Was Christ's Prayer Answered ?—The Epistle to the Hebrews (5:7) says it was. An angel came and strengthened him (Luke 22:43). There are two ways of answering a prayer for the removal of a burden. In one, the burden is taken away, and we remain the same; in the other, we are made so strong that the burden is no longer a burden to us; as what would crush a child, is but sport to a man. 147
47. Judas, one of the twelve, came. Judas knew the place where the Lord would go to pass the night (John 18:2). Compare Mark 14:43–50; Luke 22:47–53; John 18:3–12. A great multitude. Roman soldiers (John 18:3, 12), the temple guard, “the captains of the temple,” and possibly some priests and scribes. With swords, in the hands of the soldiers. Staves. Clubs. The rabble with the soldiers carried these. From the chief priests and elders. The Sanhedrim.
48, 49. Gave them a sign. A kiss; a common method of salutation among intimate friends. A sign was needful to point Jesus out to the soldiers. Such a traitorous kiss was the depth of depravity—enmity under the guise of friendship.
50. They laid hands on Jesus. And bound him (John 18:12).
51. One … drew his sword. Peter (John 18:26). Smote the servant of the high priest. As we learn from John, his name was Malchus. The Lord healed his wound. Peter asked, “Shall we fight?” and without waiting for an answer, struck the blow.
53, 54. Or thinkest thou not? etc. The Lord needed no human defenders, had it been the Divine purpose that he should not die. More than twelve legions of angels? A Roman legion contained from six thousand men upwards. The idea here is a mighty host. He and his eleven faithful apostles are twelve. There is more than a legion for each one of them. He could have evaded the enemies had he chosen; the angels would have come to his rescue, if he had willed it, but he gave himself unto death.
55, 56. Are ye come out as against a robber? Not a thief, but a robber, a brigand. Among all the indignities heaped upon Jesus by his enemies, the only one that he complains of is that he should be bound like a robber. Then all his disciples … fled. The eleven apostles who a little while before thought they never could forsake the Lord. As soon as the Lord was seized they fled into the darkness. 148
57. Led him away to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest. He was first examined by Annas, the former high priest, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, probably while the Sanhedrim was assembling in the darkness of the night (John 18:13). For the trial of Christ, compare Mark 14:53–64; Luke 22:54–71; John 18:13–18. Scribes and elders were gathered. Mark says the “chief priests” also. It was a gathering of the Sanhedrim. Those who were favorable to Jesus, like Joseph and Nicodemus, were probably not called.
59, 60. The whole council. The Sanhedrim. Sought false witness. No one could be condemned legally without at least two witnesses who agreed (Deut. 17:6; 19:15). “One witness,” it was said, “was no witness.” As there was no true testimony to a charge that could be punished with death, they sought false witness. They found it not. That is, witnesses who would testify to a capital offence and agree in their testimony. Afterward came two. These two gave a perverted version of what Christ had said concerning his death and the resurrection of his own body under the figure of a temple. See John 2:19. But even their testimony disagreed (Mark 14:59).
62, 63. Answerest thou nothing? Under the false charges Jesus maintained an impressive silence. “As a sheep before the shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” I adjure thee, etc. This was the formula for an oath. The High Priest, contrary to the principle of law which forbids that a prisoner shall be compelled to criminate himself, called on Jesus to be a witness against himself. To answer yes, or no, to such a question, was to answer under oath.
64. Thou hast said. That is, thou hast said the truth in thy question. The Lord only breaks the 149silence to affirm his divinity under oath. It insured his death at their hands, for he was immediately condemned for the declaration. “At the very crisis of his history, when denial would have saved his life, he asserts his claim to the Divine Sonship and to a Godlike power.
65. Then the high priest rent his garments. A sign of mourning or indignation (Acts 14:14). It was a form that was always used when about to pronounce a judgment. He hath spoken blasphemy. He did, if not Divine; he did not, if Divine. Either he spoke the truth, or the wicked Caiaphas spoke the truth and Jesus was false. If he spoke falsehood, the purest lips that ever formed human words spoke falsehood on the eve of death, when he knew that the falsehood would send him to death. Such an affirmation, from such a prisoner, at such an hour, can only be reconciled with a consciousness of divinity.
66. He is worthy of death. This is the formal decision of the Sanhedrim to condemn the Lord to death for blasphemy. This was the second trial, the first examination being informal before Annas, and is mentioned only by John. There was a third, named only by Luke, at the dawn of day, because a decision by the Sanhedrim in the night was illegal. See Luke 22:66. This meeting only confirmed the decision reached in the night before three o'clock. It is also referred to in Matt. 27:1.
67. Then did they spit in his face. The maltreatment recorded occurred between this meeting and the one called to meet at daybreak. Spitting was considered among the Jews an expression of the greatest contempt (Deut. 25:9; Num. 12:14). Even to spit before another was regarded as an offense, and treated as such by heathen also. Buffeted him. Struck him with their fists.
68. Prophesy unto us, … Who is he that smote thee? We learn from Mark that his face was covered, as a mark that he was a condemned man. The age was a cruel one, and Jewish bigots could not be too rough to the condemned prisoner.
69. Now Peter sat without in the palace. While the preliminary examinations were being held before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrim, Peter and John entered the court of the palace. This court was an open square, enclosed by the palace which was built in a quadrangle all around it. From it doors and windows opened into the rooms built around it, so that Peter was “without the palace,” yet in the interior court, where he could see and hear through the open door the proceedings in the hall. Oriental houses are still built with this interior court. And a damsel came to him, saying. John speaks of her as the damsel that kept the door of the porch, or passage into the court. We are not told why she suspected him. He was at this time in the interior court, and is said by Luke to have been standing “among them” by the fire that had been kindled in the courtyard on account of the chilliness of the night.
70. But he denied before them all. Denied that he “was with Jesus of Galilee.” But a few hours before Peter had asserted that though all others deserted the Lord he would not, and that he would die with him, and when Judas led the band into Gethsemane, Peter, refusing to consider the odds, flung himself upon them, valiant as a lion, struck and wounded Malchus, and would probably have slain him had he not swerved. He was a brave as a hero then—now is timid as a deer. The explanation is that his faith had failed when he saw his Master apparently helpless in the hands of his enemies. See Heb. 11:32–35. 150
71. When he was gone out into the porch. Alarmed by the accusation, he withdrew into the porch, an arched passage that led from without into the inner court. This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. It is another maid that follows him and makes the charge. In both cases the charges were based on conjecture.
72. He denied with an oath, I do not know the man. Peter's second denial. He even denied knowing him, and that, too, with an oath. He had entered upon the downward road, and each step called for a deeper one. So it is always with sin.
73. Thou art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee. Matthew says, “After awhile;” Luke says, “About an hour after.” John says that the third charge was made by a kinsman of Malchus, who asserted that he saw Peter in the garden Mark says that they accused him of having a Galilean brogue. As most of the disciples of Jesus were Galileans, this draws attention to Peter. Different districts had their dialects, as in England, or the United States.
74. He began to curse and to swear. Peter's third denial. He not only, with an oath, repeats what he had said in the second, but he affirms it with imprecations of divine wrath on himself if he spake not the truth. The gradations of guilt in the denials of Peter: (1) Ambiguous evasion; (2) distinct denial with a false oath; (3) awful abjuration with solemn imprecations on himself. Immediately the cock crew. This was at the opening of the fourth or morning watch, at about three o'clock. The cock often crows about midnight, or not long after; and again always about the third hour after midnight, or three o'clock. This shows that the second trial of Jesus took place before the dawn.
75. Peter remembered the word of Jesus. It was at this point that the Lord turned and looked at Peter (Luke 22:61). The hall where Jesus was being tried was probably open toward the court, and Jesus may easily have heard all the denials
of Peter. Now he turns and looks at Peter, and brings to his mind what he had few hours before foretold. He went out and wept bitterly. The look of Christ broke his heart. As the cock crew, his own confident assertions and the word of the Lord, “Before the
cock crow twice (before the second cock crowing) thou shalt thrice deny me,” rushed upon him. He rushed out into the darkness
of the night to weep. Judas sinned, betrayed and sold the Lord from covetousness. Afterward he was sorry, but it was the sorrow
of this world that worketh death. It was remorse, not repentance, and he went and hanged himself. Peter's repentance was attested
(1) by the bitterness of his tears; (2) by his humble submission to his Lord's subsequent rebuke (John 21:15–17); (3) by his subsequent courage in confessing Christ in the face of threatening danger (Acts 4:8–12, 19).
The Order of Events, after the prayer at Gethsemane, for this night were as follows: After the arrest, and its incidents, (1) Jesus was taken first to the house of Annas, ex-high priest (John 18:13). (2) Next, to the palace of Caiaphas, Peter and John following (John 18:15). (3) Here was a preliminary examination before Caiaphas (John 18:19–24). (4) The trial before the council illegal, because held at night—before three o'clock, the cock-crowing (Matt. 26:59–65; Mark 14:55–64). (5) Peter's three denials during the trial (Matt. 26:69–75; Mark 14:66–72). (6) After the Sanhedrim had pronounced him guilty it suspends its session till break of day. (7) During this interval Jesus is exposed to the insults of his enemies (Matt. 26:67, 68; Luke 22:63–65). (8) At the dawn of day the Sanhedrim re-assembles (Matt. 27:1; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66). (9) After hearing Christ's confession again, he is formally condemned to death for blasphemy (Luke 22:66–71). (10) He is bound and sent to Pilate (Mark 15:1).
On the Illegal Conviction of Christ, Prof. Greenleaf, a distinguished jurist, says: “Throughout the whole course of the trial, the rules of the Jewish law of procedure were grossly violated, and the accused was 151deprived of rights belonging even to the meanest citizen. He was arrested in the night, bound as a malefactor, beaten before his arraignment, and struck in open court during the trial. He was tried on a feast-day, and before sunrise. He was compelled to criminate himself, and this under an oath of solemn judicial adjuration; and he was sentenced on the same day of conviction. In all these particulars the law was wholly disregarded.” 151
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