Matthew 26:1-5, 14-16, 47-56; Mark 14:1,2,10,11, 43-52; Luke 22:1-6, 47-54; John 18:2-12
While the crucifixion of Jesus Christ occurred in God’s mind "from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8), we will start our study of the crucifixion with the capture of Christ by His enemies the night before the crucifixion at Calvary. The capture of Christ was not something in which Christ was outwitted, outmaneuvered, and overpowered. The capture was, in fact, completely ordained by God and in His control from start to finish. Christ could have at any time during His capture simply annihilated those arresting Him. But Christ came to the earth the first time to go to Calvary, and so the capture must take place if He was to die on the cross for the sins of men. Unbelief would say that Christ lost control and was finally trapped by His enemies. But as we will see in the study of this capture, nothing could be farther from the truth. Christ demonstrated His power during the capture to show that He was not being overpowered by man but was rather submitting to the Divine plan to suffer and die for the salvation of sinners. To study this capture of Christ which led to His crucifixion, we will consider the plotting for the capture and the performing of the capture.
The capture of Christ, not surprisingly, was plotted by evil men before it occurred. From the time that Christ came on the scene on the earth, the death of Christ was plotted by evil men. Herod plotted the death of Christ after the wise men visited him, but he was foiled in his attempt to kill Christ. However, that did not stop the plotting. When Christ entered upon His earthly ministry, the plots became more and more vicious but always failed. We look at the final plotting that was done by the enemies of Christ which led to the capture of Christ by His enemies.
To examine this plotting for the capture of Christ, we will note the predetermining of the plotting, the persons in the plotting, the place of the plotting, the Passover and the plotting, the plans in the plotting, and the partner in the plotting.
"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 consulted that they might take Jesus" (Matthew 26:1-4). It is very important to note that what Christ said concerning the upcoming betrayal, capture, and crucifixion occurred before the plotting of the capture occurred. Verse 3 begins, "Then." It does not precede verses 1 and 2 but is after verses 1 and 2 in sequence. Christ did not warn about the betrayal after it was plotted; rather the plotting of the betrayal occurred after ("then") Christ warned the disciples about it. All of this says that God was not only aware of when the capture and crucifixion were going to occur, but He would also determine the time.
As we will see later, the people plotting the death of Christ did not plan to have Him killed so soon, but God was running the show, and Christ would die when Deity had it planned for Him to die. All the plotting and planning for the capture and eventual crucifixion of Christ was no surprise to Christ. He predicted it before it happened as our text indicates. The plotters thought they were deciding when things were going to happen. The plotters thought they would capture Christ by surprise. But Christ knew everything before it happened and told the disciples when things were going to happen. As Peter said in his sermon at Pentecost, Christ was "delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23). Not by the determinate counsel of the enemies of God. The evil plotters were simply tools in the hands of God to bring about His plan and purpose.
"Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people... And consulted that they might take Jesus" (Matthew 26:3,4). Two things can be said about this group of evil persons plotting to capture Christ. They were an influential group and an inexcusable group.
Influential group. Matthew lists three groups (chief priests, scribes, elders) while Mark and Luke only list the chief priests and scribes. There is no contradiction here. Matthew’s report is simply a more fuller report of the persons involved in the plotting. These men represented the religious leaders (chief priests), civil leaders (elders), and the teachers (scribes) of the Old Testament Jewish law. Together they constituted the Sanhedrin, the seventy-one member group that was the ruling body of the Jewish people. After the capture of Christ, He was brought to this group for examination—better defined as persecution.
The high position of the people involved in the plotting to capture Christ reminds us that high position seldom helps the work of Christ. Governments, schools, and even the hierarchy of religion seldom promote the work of Christ but are more likely to be found opposing it. Satan likes to attack from high position. This gives him respect in the eyes of men and makes his work more effective. Thus we need to remember that high position and character are not synonymous with truth. Do not be led astray by folk just because they have a high position in society or the church. Make the Word of God your guide instead.
Inexcusable group. The persons involved in this plotting made the plotting inexcusable. The religious leaders should have been the first to lead the people to honoring Christ instead of despising Him. The civic leaders should have insisted on honoring the law and thus stopping the unjust attack upon Christ. The scribes should have abolished the ignorance of the people by teaching the Scriptures better and showing them that the Scriptures confirmed that Jesus Christ was indeed the promised Messiah. If the plotters had been the rubbish of the world, we could have understood better their plotting—what can you expect of the scum of society but something like this? However, the group that comprised the plotters ought to have been the very people who would oppose and stop such evil scheming. They should have been the examples of high conduct and the leaders in honoring Jesus Christ.
The plotters had no excuse for their evil plotting. God had given them every opportunity they needed in order to know and believe and behave the truth. But they wilfully rejected it. No evil will ever be excused before God. None of us can blame God for our unsavory behavior. When men stand before God to give an account of their evil, none will have an excuse.
The place where the plotting occurred was "the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas" (Matthew 26:3). We note the description of the place and the dweller of the place.
The description of the place. The word "palace" is from the Greek word that describes a dwelling which surrounds a courtyard. These dwellings were not cheap houses but were generally houses of opulence and ornateness. This house would be a contrast to where Christ dwelled of late. Christ was dwelling in the Mount of Olives at night (Luke 21:37) during this time. He did not have a luxurious place to dwell. But the enemies of Christ had access to the finest of dwellings. Only when Christ was invited by wealthy people to a meal or when allowed to borrow a place, such as the Upper Room, did Christ have access to a nice dwelling. This lack of a good dwelling place on earth is why Christ informed a would-be follower, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20).
The dweller of the place. "The high priest, who was called Caiaphas." Originally the high priest was a life-time position as in the case of Aaron, the first high priest. But in the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, things had so degenerated in the matter of the Jewish religion that it had become mostly a politically appointment. Caiaphas "had been elevated to his high post by the Romans, who found in him a submissive tool. His father-in-law Annas [whom we will hear more about in our next chapter], had been appointed by Quirinius, but after nine years had been deposed; he was succeeded in turn by Ismael, Eleazar son of Annas, Simon, and fourthly by Caiaphas, who superseded his immediate predecessor by the favor of the procurator Valerius Gratus, the tenant of the office [procurator] before Pontius Pilate. The ex-high priest, Annas, was counted still by some rigorists as holding the office, and he appears to have possessed high authority" (Williams). The current high priest, Caiaphas, "was deposed a.d. 37... after the removal of Pilate from the procuratorship" (Cook). Caiaphas made the statement, "It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not" (John 11:50). Caiaphas said more here than he realized; and Scripture comments, "This spake he not of himself; but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation" (John 11:51). What Caiaphas said was not from his heart, but he was supernaturally controlled by God to speak the Gospel truth. Caiaphas will get no credit for his prophesy, however; because it was not in his heart and he had a different meaning in mind. At heart he was a leader in plotting against Christ as the meeting at his dwelling confirms.
"After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread; and the chief priests and scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death" (Mark 14:1). It was during the Passover season ("feast of the Passover, and of unleavened bread"), the highest and most important religious observance of the year for the Jews, that the plotting took place. In the midst of special religious observance, evil was taking precedence in the minds and hearts of the religious leaders and other leaders of the land.
If ever there was a time when evil should take a holiday, it should be during the Passover. But when evil gets a grip on the soul nothing is sacred anymore. No institution, no person, no place, and no observance will be respected by evil when it controls the heart. This helps us to understand better the gross disrespect by evil people towards church edifices and government memorials and such things as marriage and the home, etc. Where you think respect is absolute, evil will show no respect whatever. Reject Christ and you will reject anything that is good and honorable.
"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" (Matthew 26:4,5). Here is revealed the plans of these evil plotters regarding Christ. There are three main features in their plans. They are the method of the capture, the moment of the capture, and the murder after the capture.
Method of the capture. "Take Jesus by subtlety." In Mark 14:1 it is "craft" instead of "subtlety," but these two words are a translation of the same Greek word. The word means to deceive, trick, beguile. Evil does not work with integrity. Its window dressing is only to deceive. Evil cannot do its work by honest means, for that would end the work of evil.
Craftiness is so prominent today in every segment of society. There is much crafty working behind the scenes in politics, business, education, and also by the dissidents in churches. But if your project requires craftiness to bring it about, you are involved in the wrong project. If you cannot be honest in your business with men, you need to change your ways and maybe even your business.
Moment of the capture. "Not on the feast day, least there be an uproar among the people." The plotters agreed that there was a time when this capture of Christ should not be attempted. Regarding that time or moment when the capture should not occur, we note the defining of the moment, the dread about the moment, and the defeating of the moment.
First, the defining of the moment. "Not on the feast day." The word "day" is in italics in the kjv which means it is not in the Greek text but was added by the translators to help the understanding. On this occasion, the added word only confuses the meaning. The word "feast" here does not mean that the plotters were talking about one particular day but rather about the whole Passover celebration time. The Gospel of Luke says, "The feast of unleavened bread... is called the Passover (Luke 22:1). The Passover time included the feast of unleavened bread and the killing of the paschal lambs and lasted a week. The plotters wanted to do their dirty work against Christ after the Passover celebration was over. It is important that we define correctly the moment planned for the capture or we will miss an important truth which we will note later in the point about "defeating the moment."
Second, the dread about the moment. "Lest there be an uproar among the people." During the Passover observance, Jerusalem was crowed with many Jewish pilgrims who journeyed to Jerusalem for this highest religious occasion on the Jewish calendar. Some have estimated that there were as many as two to three million people in Jerusalem for this time. The Romans beefed up their military guard at this time in order to stop any uprising or riot against Rome—the rulers of Palestine when Christ was on earth. To attempt to capture and kill Christ during this time when Jerusalem was overflowing with pilgrims to observe the Passover seemed to the plotters to risk starting a riot. They feared that the majority of the people would side with Jesus Christ which would put the plotters in jeopardy of their lives as well as in jeopardy of losing their high and respected position among the Jews. This dread showed two fears about the plotters—and both evidenced really bad character. One fear was that they feared the people more than they feared doing wrong. The other fear is that they feared the people more than God. Who and what you fear reveals your character about as quickly as anything.
Third, the defeating of the moment. This "moment" part of the plan of the plotters was not followed, for they actually captured Christ during the Passover observance and the crucifixion took place at the time of the killing of the paschal lambs in the Passover observance. God was running the show, and Christ would fulfill every type of the Passover lamb. "Study the closing chapters of each of the Gospels [and] it will be seen that the Lamb of God died at the very time that the paschal lambs were being slain in the Temple" (Pink). The plotters plotted, but they did not foil the predetermined plan of God. Christ would die when God foreordained. No plotting of men would change that time. Though these plotters wanted to avoid doing their dirty work during the Passover time, they actually ended up doing their dirty work during the Passover time, for Scripture must be fulfilled as God had decreed.
Murder after the capture. "Put him to death" (Mark 14:1). The enemies of Christ are blood-thirsty. Nothing but the death of Christ would satisfy the wicked hearts of these plotters. They did not want to imprison Christ or send Him out of the country, rather they wanted to kill Him, to stop His ministry completely, and to get rid of Him permanently. The enemies of Christ are not a tame lot. They are vicious and bloody. And if they would kill Christ, is it any wonder that they have turned on Christians with similar vehemence and have left a bloody trail of martyrs all over the world. For those naive people who would think kindly of those who oppose Christianity, think again. Given the circumstances, the opposers of Jesus Christ will kill with dispatch all that which pertains to Jesus Christ. Today our world is becoming more and more filled with Christ-haters.
The plotters found unexpected help from one of the twelve disciples. In fact, the plotters could almost think it was Providence smiling on their plans; for when Judas Iscariot entered the picture, it solved a real problem for the plotters on how to go about this capture of Christ which had to occur before they could kill Him.
To look further into the partner in the plotting, we note the identity of the partner, the indwelling of the partner, the initiative of the partner, the interest of the partner, the intention of the partner, the inspiration from the partner, the income for the partner, and the intensity of the partner.
Identity of the partner. "One of the twelve" (Matthew 26:14; Mark 14:10). The man who became partners with those plotting evil against Christ was Judas Iscariot, "one of the twelve" disciples of Jesus Christ. This identity of the partner is both a surprising identity and a shameful identity. It is a surprising identity in that the last person the plotters would expect to come to their aid was one of the group who was closest and most loyal to Christ. It is a shameful identity in that being one of the twelve intensified the guilt and shame of Judas. The greater the spiritual privilege one has in life, the greater the sinfulness of one’s disobedience to the Lord.
Indwelling of the partner. "Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot" (Luke 22:3; cp. John 13:27). This treacherous evil of betraying Jesus Christ was Satan inspired. "It was the devil’s work, who thought hereby to ruin Christ’s undertaking, to have broken his head; but it proved only the bruising of his heel. Whoever betrays Christ, or his truths or ways, it is Satan that puts them upon it" (Henry).
Initiative of the partner. "Went unto the chief priests" (Matthew 26:14; Mark 14:10). The plotters did not contact Judas; he contacted them. This initiative of the partner only intensified the sinfulness of Judas’ evil.
The coming of Judas to the plotters solved a problem for them. They did not know how to capture Christ, but Judas provided the missing piece to the puzzle and gave them the means of apprehending Christ. Often evil, like here, can not do its dirty work against Christ’s work if it were not for the disloyalty of those who outwardly claim to be the supporters of Christ. "It is hard to say whether more mischief is done to Christ’s kingdom by the power and policy of its open enemies, or by the treachery and self-seeking of its pretended friends; nay, without the latter its enemies could not gain their point as they do" (Henry).
Interest of the partner. "What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?" (Matthew 26:15). The interest of Judas centered on money. He was not wanting to betray Christ because Christ had shamed or embarrassed him which caused Judas to want to do evil to get back at Christ. No, Judas had no complaint against Christ; in fact, at the end Judas confessed that he had betrayed "innocent blood" (Matthew 27:4). The primary reason Judas betrayed Christ was to get more money. That Judas had an inordinate affection for money is seen in the fact that he, as treasurer of the disciples, pilfered from the money bag (John 12:6). "Covetousness was Judas’ master-lust, his own iniquity, and that betrayed him to the sin of betraying his Master" (Henry). Judas’ evil is certainly a warning about the perils of affection for money.
Intention of the partner. "He promised... to betray him" (Luke 22:6). Judas’ intentions were twofold—and they were opposite of each other. Judas promised to betray. There was a promise and there was a betray in Judas’ intention. One would not want to put too much stock in the promise of a betrayer. After all, he is promising to be loyal to his agreement to be disloyal. He is basically promising to break a promise. Hardly encouraging ground for trust. Judas’ intention was to betray Christ in a way that would make it possible for the plotters to capture Christ. Judas would "deliver" Christ to the plotters by his act of betrayal of Christ (Matthew 26:15).
Judas would bring the plotters to Jesus—not for their salvation but only for their condemnation. How ironic that Judas in his treachery was literally leading men to Christ. Evil can pervert the work of the Gospel to do just the opposite.
The inspiration from the partner. "When they heard it, they were glad" (Mark 14:11; cp. Luke 22:5). Both Mark and Luke record the fact that the plotters were "glad" when Judas offered to betray Christ. Judas inspired gladness in these evil men, but it was a guileful gladness indeed.
That "they were glad" shows the depths to which wickedness will go. Being glad when someone betrays Christ is the depth of depravity. Hell will be hot for those of this attitude. What our joys are is another factor that will certainly and clearly reveal our heart. What causes you to be glad?
The income for the partner. "Thirty pieces of silver" (Matthew 26:15). Judas sold out very cheaply. It did not take much for him to betray Christ. Just a few pieces of silver. One would think he would have held out for a great amount of money—after all, he was doing these plotters a great favor. They must have been surprised at the lowness of the price. According to some, thirty pieces of silver was the wages for a commoner for 120 days of work.
This amount is prophesied in Zechariah 11:12. It shows that Christ was not esteemed very highly. The price was an insult to Christ’s value. But the offering plate in many churches does not show any more honor. The low value people put on spiritual matters and upon Jesus Christ is evident in the way people use their time and possessions. Many folk have sold out for less than thirty pieces of silver.
The intensity of the partner. "From that time he sought opportunity to betray him" (Matthew 26:16). Judas was very dedicated to his evil work. In time and effort Judas went all-out to do his evil work of betraying Christ. Sorry to say, we can often find folk much more dedicated and intense in doing evil than in doing good.
Judas would not have difficulty finding "opportunity" to betray Christ. Such opportunities are on every hand—the devil sees to that. You do not even have to be earnest in doing evil to find opportunities for doing it. Such opportunities abound in this wicked world.
The actual capture of Jesus Christ by His enemies which preceded the crucifixion was a many faceted event. To examine this capture we note the soldiers, site, submission, sign, Sovereignty, stubbornness, sword, speaking, safety, scattering, streaker, seizing, and Scripture that were all involved in the event.
"Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons" (John 18:3). Scripture tells us the composition of the soldiers, the conspirators with the soldiers, the count of the soldiers, the captain of the soldiers, and the carriage of the soldiers.
Composition of the soldiers. "Band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees." It was quite a motley bunch that came to capture Christ. Three groups of people are included in this composition of soldiers which came to arrest Christ. Two of these groups are specifically named. They were the Roman soldiers ("band of men") and the religionists’ soldiers ("officers"). The third group we call the ragamuffin soldiers which took in a miscellaneous group of folk. "The chief priests and Pharisees had furnished Judas a band of soldiers from the garrison in Antonia... and the temple police... with a hired rabble" (Robertson).
The Roman soldiers were called "band of men" in our text. This referred to a group of soldiers from the fortress of Antonio which was located in Jerusalem. Rome would be interested in any proceedings such as the capture of this Jew. They were anxious to keep the city quiet from any riots. And it was necessary that some Roman soldiers be along because no arrests could be made without the intervention of the Romans who were ruling Palestine at that time.
The religionists’ soldiers were called "officers" in our text. They were the Temple police which the Jews had to help keep order in their Temple. They were sent with the authority of the Sanhedrin (priests, scribes, elders). They were limited in what they could do legally in contrast to the Roman soldiers. But with the Roman soldiers along, the Jewish group coming to arrest Christ would not be very limited in their action. Interestingly these two groups had little time for each other; but when it came to arresting Christ, they joined hands.
The ragamuffin soldiers are listed as just part of the "multitude" that came to arrest Christ. They were composed of servants of the priests (Matthew 26:51) and others that were either hired for the group or attached themselves voluntarily to the motley crew of soldiers that came to arrest Christ.
Conspirators with the soldiers. We learn from the Gospel of Luke that some of the conspirators against Christ accompanied the soldiers. These were the "chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders" (Luke 22:52). They were along to see that things were carried out as they decreed. During the arrest, Christ spoke to them in a rebuking way (Luke 22:52,53), as we will note later. A wicked bunch of men they were; and yet, as is often the case in every age, they held high position in society.
Count of the soldiers. "Great multitude" (Matthew 26:47; Mark 14:43). These soldiers which came to capture Christ were great in number. We do not have an exact count of this group. But "some think [it] was five hundred men, others a thousand" (Henry). However large the group, one lesson we can easily see in this is that those who are against Christ and goodness will generally outnumber those who are for Christ and goodness. Christ had but eleven disciples with Him; Judas had five hundred or more associates with him. But popularity does not validate evil. What is popular in the world will seldom be that which is popular with God. If you get in the numbers game on earth, your faith will not come out ahead. Numbers at church are often misleading, too. "Great multitude" is seldom on God’s side. Those who live for God will be part of the minority.
Captain of the soldiers. "He that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them" (Luke 22:47). How pathetic that the leader of this group coming to arrest Christ was one of the twelve disciples. But often in our churches we see the leader of some dissident action being one of the high officers of the church. This leadership position of Judas included acclaim and associations.
First, acclaim. Judas would be on an ego trip while leading this "great multitude" from Jerusalem across the Kidron to the Garden of Gethsemane. All the soldiers would be following Judas. Betraying Christ will gain you some prestige in the world. But do not take the bait. There is a big hook in it that will spoil all the momentary prestige as Judas soon found out.
Second, associations. "Judas... stood with them" (John 18:5). When the arrest was taking place, Scripture records this ominous little statement which says volumes. While Christ was being interrogated in the arrest, Judas stood with the enemy. If you are going to obtain the honors of the world, you will have to stand with the world. Check your associations; they will tell you where you are standing in regards to your faith.
Carriage of the soldiers. "Swords and staves" (Matthew 26:47). "Lanterns and torches and weapons" (John 18:3). The soldiers were equipped with lights and weapons. The lights were of two kinds—lanterns and torches. Lanterns were a smaller light than torches which can also refer to oil-burning lights. Swords were accompanied with staves which were either clubs or spears or both. The opposition to the work of the Gospel is often much better equipped in the world than the work of the Gospel. The disciples only had two swords and no lights. But they had the Lord. The church need not feel inferior because it lacks the lights and weapons of the world. The church has the mightiest sword, namely, the Word of God. And no light of the world can equal the light the Holy Spirit gives mankind. With all the lights this bunch had who were arresting Christ, they still had trouble identifying Jesus Christ; and as we will note later, in spite of all their weapons, Christ still caused all of them to fall backward on the ground with just His words.
"He went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden into the which he entered, and his disciples. And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place; for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples" (John 18:1,2). The site where Christ was captured for the crucifixion is a notable site. We note the area of the site, the activity at the site, and the acquaintance with the site.
Area of the site. "Over the brook Cedron, where was a garden" (John 18:1). The area of the site was a garden located on the Mount of Olives. To get to it you had to cross the brook Cedron on the east side of Jerusalem and go part way up the Mount of Olives (Mark 14:26). The name of the garden was "Gethsemane" (Mark 14:32) which means oil press. The garden therefore was an enclosure of olive trees with an oil press.
Activity at the site. "Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples" (John 18:2). The activity we are looking at here is the activity of Christ and His disciples in the place. It was a place where Christ frequently took His disciples. Because of the seclusion and quietness of the place, it was most conducive to teaching and prayer and choice fellowship. That it was used for prayer is confirmed by the last night Christ and His disciples were there which preceded the capture of Christ.
Acquaintance with the site. "Judas... knew the place" (John 18:2). That Judas knew the place was a great indictment of his betrayal. Knowing the place said that Judas had great spiritual privileges with the twelve in being alone in fellowship with Christ. But like many, Judas knew the facts but did not have the faith. He knew the truth but did not apply the truth. He perverted his knowledge and position and privileges for personal gain—money and prestige of the world. He used it to betray the Lord. God has given each of us talents, privileges, and advantages. We can use these blessings to either promote the work of the Lord or hinder it. How are you using your advantages in life?
"Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?" (John 18:4). The Gospel of John tells us about the great submission of Christ to the capture—it is seen in the fact that He went to meet His captors. John’s report about Christ’s submission emphasizes the obedience and omniscience of Christ in the submission.
Obedience of Christ. "Jesus... went forth." The significance of this action will be better realized when one considers the great agony and sorrow Christ had just gone through about the spiritual suffering He must endure in the crucifixion. Yet in spite of the awful spiritual agony ahead of Him, Christ went forth to meet His captors which showed in a most pronounced way His great submission to the will of God.
Omniscience of Christ. "Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him." This record of the omniscience of Christ is a great testimony of the Deity of Christ. You may deny the Deity of Christ, but you cannot deny that the Bible teaches it. This statement of the omniscience of Christ is another notation in Scripture that says the capture and crucifixion of Christ was not a surprise to Him. It was not a surprise attack on Christ in which He was overwhelmed by His enemies. Christ knew even better than His captors the events that were to take place not only in His capture but also in the crucifixion which would follow the capture.
"Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, the same is he; hold him fast." (Matthew 26:48). Judas gave the soldiers a sign for identifying Christ. The sign was Judas kissing Christ. "The kiss was a common mode of greeting and Judas chose that sign" (Robertson). We note the purpose of the sign, the precept with the sign, the performing of the sign, and the probing of the sign.
Purpose of the sign. "Whomsoever I shall kiss, the same is he." The purpose of the sign was to give positive identification of Jesus Christ. In the darkness of the night when the capture was made, it would be difficult to discern one’s identity even with the lanterns and torches. The soldiers certainty wanted to be sure they captured the right person. Except for Judas, the arresters were evidently not well acquainted with Christ and needed help to assure them of His identity. There are many in every age who are walking in spiritual darkness who do not know the true identity of Jesus Christ. No amount of human enlightenment (lanterns and torches) will help either. But if there is one person you need to know and know well, it is Jesus Christ. Ignorance of Him is the worst ignorance you can have.
Precept with the sign. "Hold him fast." Mark added that Judas also said, "Lead him away safely" (Mark 14:44). Judas did not want any failure to occur here so earnestly exhorted the soldiers as to what to do when Judas identified Christ with the sign. The precept "hold him fast" is a perversion of a good thought. Once we come to know Christ, we need to hold Him fast. That is, we need to take hold of Christ in devotion and service and never let Him go. We need to cling close to Him in fellowship and devotion. As Jacob would not let go of the angel until he received a blessing (Genesis 32:24-26), so we must not let go of Christ if we want to obtain blessings from Him. Judas has perverted the meaning of the precept, but that does not change the value of the precept in its right meaning.
Performing of the sign. "Hail, master, and kissed him" (Matthew 26:49). The performing of the sign consisted of speech and slobber.
The speech consisted of two words. "Hail" and "master." First, the word translated "Hail" means "rejoice." It was a typical greeting used in those days. Christ used it when greeting the disciples after the resurrection (Matthew 28:9). And after the resurrection "rejoice" was indeed the right greeting. How wicked of Judas to greet Christ in betrayal with the word "rejoice." Evil can be so dastardly devilish. Second, the word translated "master" is "rabbi" and is a term of respect given to a teacher or leader. Using the terms that he did, only revealed the gross hypocrisy of Judas’ heart.
The slobber was the way in which Judas kissed Christ. The Greek word means "to kiss eagerly, affectionately" (Zodhiates) It was not a quick peck on the cheek, but a fervent intense kiss. What grace it was for Christ to submit to this obnoxious behavior of Judas.
Probing of the sign. After the greeting and kiss by the betrayer Judas, Christ confronted Judas about his conduct. He asked two questions in this probing of Judas. One focused on the reason for Judas’ coming to Christ, and the other focused on the rebuke for Judas’ cruelty to Christ.
First, the reason for Judas’ coming. "Friend, wherefore art thou come?" (Matthew 26:50). Christ would endeavor to wake up the conscience of Judas as to his wicked reason for coming to the Garden to Christ. And in doing so, Christ used the word "Friend." Judas had greeted Christ as a friend; Christ would return the action in an attempt to arouse Judas to repentance.
Second, the rebuke for Judas’ cruelty. "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48). The awfulness of perverting the kiss into a betrayal is brought to Judas’ attention in a penetrating probing by the Master. This "revolting ostentatious kiss" (Robertson) needed rebuking. Judas was perverting actions of nobility and friendship into a betrayal. Evil can pervert holiness into filth and some would even pervert heaven into hell. When we reject Christ, we can end up making good bad and bad good.
"As soon then as he had said unto them, "I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground" (John 18:6). The Gospel of John records an astounding event in the capture which most people gloss over and, therefore, miss some significant and important teaching. In this incident is a great display of the Sovereignty of God in the person of Jesus Christ. It reveals the person of God and the power of God in Christ.
Person of God. "I am he." Christ, in going forth to meet the soldiers, asked them, "Whom seek ye?" (John 18:4). They responded by saying, "Jesus of Nazareth" (John 18:5). Then Christ said, "I am he." Christ’s answer was loaded. He told them He was God. To perceive this, you need to note that in most Bible translations, the "he" in "I am he" is in italics. That means it is not in the Greek text. All that Jesus said was "I am." Those two words are a reference to God (Exodus 3:14). The great name of God given to Moses was "I am that I am" (Ibid.), and the abbreviation of that name was the simple "I am" (Ibid.). Throughout John’s Gospel is this emphasis on the "I am" identification. John’s Gospel is the Gospel that emphasizes the Deity of Christ and so it is fitting that John really emphasizes this "I am" name. When Jesus answered the soldiers’ question, He told them He was God. But they, being spiritually ignorant, did not get the message at all.
Power of God. "As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground." No text demonstrates better than this one that Jesus Christ voluntarily died on the cross. He was not captured because He was overpowered. Christ had said that no man would take His life but He would voluntarily lay it down of Himself (John 10:18). And this action here proves it absolutely. When Christ identified Himself as God, the soldiers fell backward on the ground. They were smitten by God. They did not fall forward to the ground in worship of Christ but were thrown backward onto the ground in condemnation. Christ could have left them there and walked away free, but He voluntarily allowed them to capture Him.
"Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth" (John 18:7). You would have thought that when the soldiers fell backward after Jesus said, "I am," they would have wised up and realized they were trying to arrest Someone they ought to be adoring instead. But like many in every age, they were so stubborn in their ways that no amount of evidence to the contrary would change their conduct. Unbelief can be given the best of evidences, but it still refuses to believe. Christ "showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs" (Acts 1:3), yet multitudes continued to reject Christ and even persecute Christians. The way of evil continually brings tragic consequences, but legislatures and social workers stubbornly refuse to attack such things as gambling, abortion, homosexualism, and other vices. God will lay a person prone in sickness and in chastisement; but once that person is well again, he often goes on his stubborn disobedient way again.
"When they which were about him saw what would follow, they said unto him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword?" (Luke 22:49). "Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath; the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:10,11). "And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far, And he touched his ear, and healed him" (Luke 22:51). During the process of capturing Christ, Peter put on a demonstration with the sword. He should have stayed off the stage as the demonstration went sour. To further examine this demonstration of sword play by Peter, we note that his demonstration was impulsive, impudent, imprecise, improper, impermanent, impeding, and impotent.
Impulsive. Just before Peter swung his sword into action, Christ was asked by His disciples if they should smite with the sword (Luke 22:49). Peter did not wait for an answer but impulsively started smiting with the sword. Peter’s actions were based more on his emotions than on the command of Christ. Peter is not alone in this type of conduct. So many act without taking due regard to what God says. They allow their circumstances, their moods, and their emotions to dictate their action. And there is no loyalty evidenced in such conduct. If Peter wanted to show loyalty, he would act when Christ says to act, not before.
Impudent. Being the first to draw the sword would make Peter look more loyal to Christ than the others. Peter seemed anxious to appear more loyal than the others. This is seen in his earlier boasting about how loyal he would be to Christ though others would forsake Christ. Much so-called Christian service today is motivated by the desire to outshine others rather than by the motivation of obeying and honoring Christ. Service for Christ often demands humility, but swinging the sword is action that is seeking self-glory.
Imprecise. "Peter having a sword... smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear" (John 19:10). Peter’s aim was not very precise. All he got for his mighty effort was an ear; and as we will see shortly, Christ nullified even that gain by healing the ear. Being imprecise made Peter’s deed immaterial (without significant consequences) and impractical (without value). A lot of work done in the church is no different. It is worthless and does not aid the work of the Gospel. Furthermore, it often causes more harm than help. But when we are moved by the flesh instead of by faith (obedience to God’s Word), we will do nothing more than cut off an ear now and then.
Improper. "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" (Matthew 26:52). Christ’s rebuke showed that the sword demonstration was improper. There is a great principle here which we need to learn. The principle is that the Gospel will conquer men not by the sword of steel but by "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:17). Catholicism, communism, Islam, Nazism, and other like creeds and philosophies conquer by the sword of steel. But Christianity does not conquer that way. It has a more effective weapon in the Word of God.
Impermanent. "Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him" (Luke 22:51). Only Luke, the physician, reports the healing of the ear which Peter had cut off. The healing showed the mercy of Christ and the might of Christ. It showed the mercy of Christ in that with the evil treatment He was receiving, He in a great act of grace healed one of His enemies. This is the way the Gospel works, too. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). Christ died for His enemies. It also showed the might of Christ obviously. You would think that the soldiers who witnessed this amazing healing power of Christ would have immediately ceased their evil conduct and bowed low before Christ. But as we noted earlier, all the evidence in the world will not convince or change a person steeped in unbelief. Belligerent unbelief will crawl over many barriers in order to get to hell.
Impeding. "Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath; the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" This rebuke of Peter by Christ told Peter he was a hindrance to the will of God. He was impeding the path of Christ to the cross. Earlier, Christ had said the same thing when he told Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offense unto me; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men" (Matthew 16:23). Peter had rebuked Christ when Christ was speaking of Calvary. That rebuke was an impedance to the cross just as this sword play was. Some of our zealous actions may not be so helpful to Christ after all. We need to be sure we are doing the will of God; otherwise we may be impeding the very cause we think we are helping.
Impotent. "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:53). A Roman legion varied from 3,000 to 6,000. So Christ was saying here that He could ask for thousands and thousands of angels to help Him if He needed help. Peter’s sword looked mighty impotent compared to twelve legions of angels. One sword is nothing compared to thousands and thousands of angels. All that we do in the flesh likewise lacks power compared to the power of heaven. If you want to do great things for God, ask for heaven’s power instead of relying on human power.
"Then Jesus said unto the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders, which were come to him, Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves? When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me; but this is your hour, and the power of darkness" (Luke 22:52,53). Before the soldiers took Christ away, He spoke some rebuking and condemnatory comments about His arrest. To examine this speaking by Christ, we note the audience for the speaking and the arguments in the speaking.
Audience. "Chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders" (Luke 22:52). Christ did not address these challenging remarks to the soldiers. He spoke them to the conspirators who had accompanied the soldiers, for these conspirators were the ones that needed the rebuke the most. While the soldiers certainly are not innocent in their conduct, yet it is the conspirators who were behind it; and they needed the rebuking statements. These statements give us a preview of Divine judgment for sinners who will be silenced before the judgment bar of God.
Arguments. "Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves? When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me; but this is your hour, and the power of darkness" (Luke 22:52,53). The arguments of Christ against the arrest and capture concerned the weapons in the arrest, the where in the arrest, the when in the arrest, and the why in the arrest. In each of these four arguments, the rebuke was obvious and it was strong. The conspirators were duly shamed before Christ’s unanswerable arguments in this condemnation of His arrest and capture.
First, weapons. "Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves?" The weapons portrayed Christ as a thief, as someone who would be cruel and violent. How incongruent when one considers the ministry of Christ. What had He done to justify such an arrest procedure with weapons. He had never acted violently. The rebuke is that the weapons actually represented the cruelty of the conspirators.
Second, where. "I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me" (Luke 22:53). The conspirators had ample opportunity to capture Christ when He was in the Temple. And He was there many times (daily). Why did they not move to arrest Him then? The answer is obvious. They were cowards and did not want to face the opposition of the multitudes. They lived and died on public opinion and knew that the arrest of Christ in public would risk souring the people on the conspirators.
Third, when. "This is your hour, and the power of darkness" (Luke 22:53). They arrested Christ in the dark. Evil needs darkness to do its dirty deeds. "Darkness is favorable to crime; for man needs to be concealed... in order to sin. For this reason, night is the time when Satan puts forth all his power over humanity" (Godet). The conspirators were thoroughly rebuked here in the time of the arrest. They wanted and needed darkness to keep their evil concealed from the public. "Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved" (John 3:20).
Fourth, why. "This is your hour" (Luke 22:53). Here Christ speaks of the Divine ordaining of the capture and crucifixion. It is the hour in which God ordained that Christ’s enemies should take Him and crucify Him. The conspirators were not in control; God was in control. Their success in capturing Christ was only because God had preordained it to happen. However, "that divine purpose does not make them guiltless, but it makes Jesus submissive" (Maclaren).
"Jesus answered... Let these go their way; that the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none" (John 18:8,9). In the midst of the arrest proceedings, Christ interrupted them to literally command the captors to let the disciples go safely away. There is in this order by Christ two important lessons. They concern the steadfastness of Christ and the security in Christ.
Steadfastness of Christ. "That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake" (John 18:9). This saying refers to the prayer of Christ in John 17 and specifically to verse 12 of that chapter in which Christ said, "I kept them in thy name; those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled." Christ was faithful to His commitment. Judas is mentioned as the exception in this safety, not to condemn Christ but to condemn Judas. He never was in the fold and his loss to Christ was not a failure of Christ but a predicted failure of Judas.
This steadfastness of Christ to duty is emphasized by the fact that He did His duty even in spite of His dire circumstances. In the midst of being arrested, He cared for the disciples. In the midst of very adverse circumstances, He still was mindful of and fulfilled His duties. We are to be faithful to our duties even though we are in the midst of troubles. Difficulties do not justify neglect of duty. What a rebuke Christ’s actions are to those who neglect their duties for the slightest adversity. And it is even a greater rebuke for those who forsake their duties because pleasure beckons (such as those who skip church for a Sunday boating time or ball game or other pleasure pursuit).
Security in Christ. "Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none" (John 18:9). The fact that the disciples were not arrested and taken captive in the Garden with Christ and that they could move about during the crucifixion events without being arrested is a great marvel that is seldom mentioned or even considered by students of the Scripture. Even Peter’s sword swinging demonstration was ignored by the arresters. That is amazing! But God was running the show and so the disciples were not arrested, and they also had freedom to move about without being approached by the arresters. Christ saw to it that the disciples were protected from arrest during the crucifixion. That is the only explanation for this unusual fact that the disciples were not arrested with Christ.
The application of this fulfillment of duty by Christ goes farther than just the keeping of the disciples from being arrested in the Garden, however. The great application has to do with the security of the believer. Once a person has come to Jesus Christ, he is eternally secure. Other passages of Scripture make this truth even plainer. But the lesson of the security of the believer is found in the work of our Savior protecting the disciples here during His arrest.
"Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled" (Matthew 26:56). This report of the disciples scattering from the Garden scene is certainly not complimentary of the disciples. But "who will venture to say that he would not have done so too? The tree that can stand such a blast must have deep roots. The Christ whom they forsook was, to them, but a fragment of the Christ whom we know; and the fear which scattered them was far better founded and more powerful than anything which the easy-going Christian of today have to resist" (Maclaren).
To study this scattering of the disciples from the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane when Christ was captured, we note the time of the scattering, the total in the scattering, the treachery in the scattering, and the terror in the scattering.
Time of the scattering. "Then." The disciples left Christ at the worst possible time. If ever there was a time when Christ needed the support and encouragement of His friends, it was now. It is not in sunshine that friendship is vital, but it is in the darkness of trying times that friendship is vital. Yet, it was during the darkness of trying times that the disciples scattered and left the Lord. This would add to the suffering of Christ. "We may well imagine what a grief it was to him, that they deserted him now... when they might have done him some service... when he was abused, to protect him, and when accused, to witness for him" (Henry). Do we stand up strong for Christ when His honor is at stake in society, or are we like the disciples here who cowardly forsook Him when He was being attacked?
Total in the scattering. "All." Peter was not the only one who was guilty of denying the Lord. True, Peter did it more pronouncedly. But this scattering of "all" the disciples put them in the same boat as deniers. Peter had boasted that he would not deny the Lord, but the others had said the same—something that will surprise many Bible students. "Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples" (