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Jesus Arrested, Mankind on Trial

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Matthew 26:30-75304

30 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

31 Then Jesus said to them, “This night you will all fall away because of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 33 Peter said to him, “If they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away!” 34 Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, on this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you.” And all the disciples said the same thing.

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and became anguished and distressed. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he threw himself down with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with me for one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will must be done.” 43 He came again and found them sleeping; they could not keep their eyes open. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same thing once more. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is approaching, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us go. Look! My betrayer is approaching!”

47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and elders of the people. 48 (Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I kiss is the man. Arrest him!”) 49 Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi,” and kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and took hold of Jesus and arrested him. 51 But one of those with Jesus grabbed his sword, drew it out, and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back in its place! For all who take hold of the sword will die by the sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and that he would send me more than twelve legions of angels right now? 54 How then would the scriptures that say it must happen this way be fulfilled?” 55 At that moment Jesus said to the crowd, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me like you would an outlaw? Day after day I sat teaching in the temple courts, yet you did not arrest me. 56 But this has happened so that the scriptures of the prophets would be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.

57 Now the ones who had arrested Jesus led him to Caiaphas, the high priest, in whose house the experts in the law and the elders had gathered. 58 But Peter was following him from a distance, all the way to the high priest’s courtyard. After going in, he sat with the guards to see the outcome. 59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were trying to find false testimony against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60 But they did not find anything, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward 61 and declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” 62 So the high priest stood up and said to him, “Have you no answer? What is this that they are testifying against you?” 63 But Jesus was silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and declared, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? Now you have heard the blasphemy! 66 What is your verdict?” They answered, “He is guilty and deserves death.” 67 Then they spat in his face and struck him with their fists. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy for us, you Christ! Who hit you?”

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A slave girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it in front of them all: “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” 71 When he went out to the gateway, another slave girl saw him and said to the people there, “This man was with Jesus the Nazarene.” 72 He denied it again with an oath, “I do not know the man!” 73 After a little while, those standing there came up to Peter and said, “You really are one of them too—even your accent gives you away!” 74 At that he began to curse, and he swore with an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.305

Introduction

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” So wrote Charles Dickens in the first line of his book, The Tale of Two Cities. The book was about the time of the French Revolution. Thinking of our text in Matthew 26, I would title this message, “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.” The arrest, trials, and crucifixion of our Lord are, without a doubt, the most horrible events in human history. And yet, for Christians, this was also the “best of times.” It is by our Lord’s arrest, trials, crucifixion, and resurrection that God provided a way of salvation for guilty sinners.

For most of us, the events of our text are familiar territory. Yet it is my conviction that it will take all of eternity to begin to comprehend all that took place here. Let us listen carefully to these words of Scripture, and let us consider the perfections of our Lord, and the pitiful condition of mankind, whom He came to save.

Reviewing the Context

Jesus has recently delivered the Olivet Discourse, in which He outlined the future course of history (Matthew 24-25). With this backdrop in mind, Jesus now outlines the course of the next few hours:

1 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he told his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified” (Matthew 26:1-2).

In short, Jesus will die in two days, during Passover, as the Passover Lamb. He will die by crucifixion. This divine plan is countered in our text by the plan of the top Jewish religious leaders of Jerusalem:

3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people met together in the palace of the high priest, who was named Caiaphas. 4 They planned to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, so that there won’t be a riot among the people” (Matthew 26:3-5).

Their plan is to kill Jesus, but to do so in a way that is secretive and cunning, so that the crowds who have been following Jesus will not riot in protest. For them, this excluded crucifixion as an option, and it also meant waiting until after the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The divine plan, which requires Jesus to be crucified as the Passover Lamb, is in direct conflict with the devious plans of the Jewish leaders. Someone’s plans will have to give way, for they can’t both be fulfilled.

In verses 6-13, we find that Jesus has already been prepared for His burial (since this event took place four days earlier). The adoring worship of the woman who anointed Jesus with her precious ointment served as preparation for His death. As we learn from John’s Gospel, it also served to provoke Judas to betray His Master, for a mere 30 pieces of silver. The agreement Judas reached with the Jewish religious leaders is recorded in verses 14-16.

Verses 17-19 provide an account of how the Lord instructed His disciples to prepare for them to celebrate Passover together. This was surely the perfect occasion for Judas to betray His Lord. However, it is the other Gospel accounts that explain to us how our Lord arranged these Passover preparations in such a way as to prevent Judas from passing on to the Jewish leaders the location of this private gathering with His disciples.

Verses 20-25 describe a crucial event that enabled our Lord to overturn the plans of His adversaries, and to bring about His death at the right time (Passover), and in the correct manner (crucifixion), which He had already indicated. As they were seated at the table, Jesus told His disciples that one of them would betray Him (Matthew 26:21). This led to an apparently private interchange between Jesus and Judas (either not overheard, or not understood, by the other disciples):

Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus replied, “You have said it yourself” (Matthew 26:25).

This must have sent Judas into a panic. Did the others hear this? Did they know that he was the betrayer? If Peter knew, he could be expected to end it for Judas on the spot, helped no doubt, by the two “sons of thunder,” James and John (see Mark 3:17). If these fellows wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village (Luke 9:54), they would surely want to “dispatch” anyone who would betray Jesus and hand Him over to die. When Jesus gave Judas the opportunity to leave, he readily took it (John 13:27-30), although Matthew actually doesn’t record his exit. While Judas was making arrangements for handing Jesus over to the Jewish leaders, Jesus and His disciples continued with the Passover Meal.

It may be that the disciples were unaware of the Lord’s private interaction with Judas because they were too engaged in their own conversation, one they would rather Jesus not hear:

21 “But look, the hand of the one who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man is to go just as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 So they began to question one another as to which of them it could possibly be who would do this. 24 A dispute also started among them over which of them was to be regarded as the greatest (Luke 22:21-24).

Luke’s account provides more information concerning the conversation of the other disciples, while Jesus seems to be speaking with Judas. The revelation that one of them would betray Him first brought about, “Surely not I, Lord?” (See Mark 14:19, Luke 22:23) This deteriorated to questioning each other as to who it might be: “Could it be you?” Then, sadly, the conversation ended up in an argument over which of them was the greatest. The greatest among them, whoever that might be, would surely not do such a thing.

It is with this self-asserting group of men that our Lord chose to share this Passover. In verses 27-29, our Lord briefly conveys the meaning of His death as the Passover Lamb. His death and resurrection will inaugurate the New Covenant, by which guilty sinners will be forgiven, once for all. His sinless body will bear the punishment guilty sinners deserve, and thus His shed blood will provide eternal salvation. His death was not the end of their relationship, for He would once again share the cup with His disciples in His Father’s kingdom.

All of You Will Forsake Me
Matthew 26:30-35

30 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “This night you will all fall away because of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 33 Peter said to him, “If they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away!” 34 Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, on this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you.” And all the disciples said the same thing.

I suspect that just as Jesus and His disciples were making their way to the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane, Judas was leading those who would arrest Jesus to the upper room, only to find the Master gone. Seeing they had missed this opportunity, they may have concluded that a bigger force was required. Something delayed the arrival of the arresting party, which gave our Lord the needed time with His disciples, and also for His prayer in Gethsemane.

While Jesus had prevented Judas from handing Him over during their private celebration of Passover, He now provides Judas with the perfect opportunity to betray Him by going to the Mount of Olives. This is where Judas would expect to find Jesus at this time of night:

So every day Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, but at night he went and stayed on the Mount of Olives (Luke 21:37).

Then Jesus went out and made his way, as he customarily did, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him (Luke 22:39).

1 When he had said these things, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley. There was an orchard there, and he and his disciples went into it. 2 (Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, knew the place too, because Jesus had met there many times with his disciples.) (John 18:1-2)

It must have been as they were walking on their way to Gethsemane that Jesus broke the news to them that they would all fall away because of Him. One of them was a betrayer, and they were all pointing the finger at someone else, not only affirming their loyalty to Jesus, but even debating about their superiority to the others. They had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. Jesus shocked them all by informing them that every one of them would become a deserter this very night.

Jesus is not seeking to shame them, nor is He attempting to prevent this from happening. I believe He is telling them this as an encouragement. This must happen because the Scriptures (Zechariah 13:7, cited by our Lord verse 31) foretell it, and the Scriptures must be fulfilled. Furthermore, the desertion of the disciples will spare their lives, in fulfillment of Jesus’ words:

4 Then Jesus, because he knew everything that was going to happen to him, came and asked them, “Who are you looking for?” 5 They replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He told them, “I am he.” (Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, was standing there with them.) 6 So when Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they retreated and fell to the ground. 7 Then Jesus asked them again, “Who are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” 8 Jesus replied, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, let these men go.” 9 He said this to fulfill the word he had spoken, “I have not lost a single one of those whom you gave me” (John 18:4-9).

The disciples were to remain behind and carry on the work Jesus had begun and would continue through them. If they had remained with Jesus, they would have been executed as well. Finally, the disciples had to forsake Jesus because the work of Calvary was a work He must do alone. They could share in the benefits of Calvary, but they could not share in the work of Christ at Calvary. It was His work alone that provided salvation for lost sinners.

I have sometimes wondered why Matthew did not identify Peter as the one who would deny Him, even though we know that it is he of whom Matthew speaks. For example, in this chapter, Matthew will tell us that one of His disciples drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave. He names neither the slave (Malchus), nor Peter, although John names both (John 18:10-11).

I believe we have a hint as to how Matthew refers to Peter in verses 31-35 of Matthew 26. Peter did not speak these words alone; everyone affirmed his words as their own sentiment:

Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you.” And all the disciples said the same thing (Matthew 26:35, emphasis mine).306

Peter’s insistence that he would be loyal to his Lord was little different from that of his fellow disciples.

Gethsemane
Matthew 26:36-46

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and became anguished and distressed. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he threw himself down with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with me for one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will must be done.” 43 He came again and found them sleeping; they could not keep their eyes open. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same thing once more. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is approaching, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us go. Look! My betrayer is approaching!” (Matthew 26:36-46)

You will recall that all of the disciples had just recently assured Jesus that they would never forsake Him, but would be faithful even unto death (Matthew 26:35). The fact is, they couldn’t even stay awake with Jesus, even when it was His darkest hour yet. Jesus had already told them He would die at Passover. Now, He tells Peter, James, and John that His “soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death,” and urges them to stay awake with Him (verse 38). Going a little distance beyond the three our Lord threw Himself down to the ground and began to pray. His prayer was a simple expression of His grief,307 and of His submission to the Father’s will that He die. I wonder if the three overheard any of His groanings.

Jesus returned to find His faithful disciples (who had just insisted that they would die before forsaking Him) sound asleep. We should not be too harsh with them. In the first place, they were tired, and could not keep their eyes open (verse 43). Luke tells us that they were exhausted from grief (Luke 22:45). Jesus Himself said that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). They truly wanted to stay awake, and could not. I’ve seen it myself in church. I’ve even done it myself in church (while others were speaking, of course).

When Jesus went off to pray the second time, He urged His disciples to stay awake for their own benefit, praying that they “will not fall into temptation” (verse 41). They could not stay awake to pray for themselves, and they did fall into temptation. Jesus prayed the same prayer, only to return and find His disciples asleep once again (verse 43). This time, Jesus left them asleep, and returned to pray once again.

I find it somewhat interesting to note that while Jesus prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane, and remained true to His calling, the disciples did not watch and pray, and thus Peter denied His Lord three times. I do not know for certain whether Matthew intends for us to make much of the same number (three) or not, but it does seem worthy of note.

The third time Jesus returned He awakened His disciples, informing them that the hour (of His betrayal and death) was approaching (verse 45). He summons His disciples to their feet, informing them that His betrayer is approaching (verse 46). The time has come.

What I see emphasized in this scene in Gethsemane is the frailty and failures of the disciples, as a backdrop to the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus. They assured Jesus that they would not forsake Him, but they couldn’t even stay awake with Him in His most difficult hour yet. Jesus assured them that He would die as the Passover Lamb, bringing about the New Covenant. He remained faithful to His calling, even when His disciples were weak and failing.

The Arrest
Matthew 26:47-56

47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and elders of the people. 48 (Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I kiss is the man. Arrest him!”) 49 Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi,” and kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and took hold of Jesus and arrested him. 51 But one of those with Jesus grabbed his sword, drew it out, and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back in its place! For all who take hold of the sword will die by the sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and that he would send me more than twelve legions of angels right now? 54 How then would the scriptures that say it must happen this way be fulfilled?” 55 At that moment Jesus said to the crowd, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me like you would an outlaw? Day after day I sat teaching in the temple courts, yet you did not arrest me. 56 But this has happened so that the scriptures of the prophets would be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled (Matthew 26:47-56).

Jesus was not “overtaken;” our Lord came from the garden (or orchard) to meet Judas and the multitude who accompanied him. Taking all the Gospels into account, we see that a very large group – a multitude – had come out to arrest Him. This group included Judas, the high priest and his servants, the chief priests, the scribes, the elders of the Jews, the temple police, and a cohort of Roman soldiers.308 These folks came prepared for the worst. Not only were they armed with swords and clubs (verse 47), they also had lanterns and torches. They seemed to expect Jesus to resist arrest, and they were ready for it, or so they thought.

4 Then Jesus, because he knew everything that was going to happen to him, came and asked them, “Who are you looking for?” 5 They replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He told them, “I am309 he.” (Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, was standing there with them.) 6 So when Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they retreated and fell to the ground. 7 Then Jesus asked them again, “Who are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” 8 Jesus replied, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, let these men go.” 9 He said this to fulfill the word he had spoken, “I have not lost a single one of those whom you gave me” (John 18:4-9, emphasis mine).

John’s account makes it clear that Jesus is still in control. He went out to meet those who sought Him. He asked who they were looking for. When they told Him they were seeking Jesus, He responded, “I am.” Now it is likely that they understood this to mean, “I am He; I am the one you seek.” But it is difficult for the reader not to understand this response in the light of John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14:

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” (John 8:58)

Those who came so prepared to overpower Jesus find themselves backing away from His presence, and falling all over themselves. They are so disarmed by this confrontation of Jesus that they let Jesus’ disciples walk (run?) away, untouched. In this way, Jesus fulfills His promise to keep them (John 18:9).

Matthew provides a somewhat more abridged account. A large crowd arrives at the garden (or orchard), and Judas steps forward to kiss Jesus. This is the sign he had prearranged with the soldiers so that they would know who it was they were to arrest. How ironic that Judas would choose a kiss, a token of love and affection, to identify Jesus. Remarkably, Jesus finds it possible to refer to Judas as “friend” (verse 50). No words of malice or even rebuke are spoken to Judas here, something that may have later haunted Judas. As the soldiers stepped forward to arrest Jesus, “one of the disciples” (we all know it is Peter, thanks to John 18:10) pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of Malchus (again, we have his name thanks to John), the slave of the high priest. It is clear from Luke’s account that some of the other disciples were thinking the same thing:

When those who were around him saw what was about to happen, they said, “Lord, should we use our swords?” (Luke 22:49)

Peter was already taking action,310 which comes as no surprise to the reader. Jesus rebuked His over-zealous, sword-swinging, disciple. Peter’s response was wrong for several reasons. First, he was wrong because violence begets violence. “All who take hold of the sword will die by the sword” (verse 52). The kingdom of God will not be achieved by the use of force or violence.311 The disciples were to “take up their cross” and not their swords. Secondly, Peter’s hasty use of the sword betrayed a lack of faith in the Messiah’s ability to defend Himself, and in God’s ability to come to His defense, should He wish to do so. At any point in time, Jesus could have called upon the host of heaven at His disposal and annihilated His enemies. This was indeed the challenge put to Jesus while on the cross:

41 In the same way even the chief priests—together with the experts in the law and elders—were mocking him: 42 “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! He is the king of Israel! If he comes down now from the cross, we will believe in him! 43 He trusts in God—let God, if he wants to, deliver him now because he said, ‘I am God’s Son’!” (Matthew 27:41-43)

The wonder of wonders is that Jesus chose to remain on that cross, to die for those who hated Him.

Thirdly, Jesus must be arrested, tried, and executed in this manner because the Scriptures must be fulfilled (verse 54). Jesus had indicated earlier that He must be arrested, persecuted, and crucified. He was to be opposed by unbelieving Jews, and also by Gentiles. Peter and the disciples saw what was coming and reached for their swords. Jesus knew everything that was about to happen to Him (John 18:4), but since this is what God had purposed to take place, Jesus would not allow any of the disciples to defend Him by force. It must happen this way.

After rebuking His disciples for attempting to defend Him by force, Jesus then turned to those who had come to arrest Him. Why were they seeking to take Him by force? What was the need for this great “posse” (to use a term from the old Western movies – a large party of folks authorized to assist in the arrest of Jesus)? Why did they have to arrest Him at night? Jesus had not been in hiding, as if He were a wanted felon. He had publicly taught in the temple. He was never more accessible for arrest than during the previous week. If the disciples’ (threatened) use of force revealed some wrong thinking, so did the show of force by those who came to arrest Jesus in the garden.

Let us leave these verses by taking note that Peter surely was willing to die for His Lord, just as he had claimed earlier. No one would start swinging his sword against an armed force this large without expecting to die (or at least expecting our Lord to intervene with some “heavenly firepower”). Our Lord was indicating to Peter and the rest that if He needed heaven’s intervention, He could do so without His disciples precipitating violence.

Jesus’ Great Confession; Peter’s Great Denial
Matthew 26:57-68

57 Now the ones who had arrested Jesus led him to Caiaphas, the high priest, in whose house the experts in the law and the elders had gathered. 58 But Peter was following him from a distance, all the way to the high priest’s courtyard. After going in, he sat with the guards to see the outcome. 59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were trying to find false testimony against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60 But they did not find anything, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward 61 and declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” 62 So the high priest stood up and said to him, “Have you no answer? What is this that they are testifying against you?” 63 But Jesus was silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and declared, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? Now you have heard the blasphemy! 66 What is your verdict?” They answered, “He is guilty and deserves death.” 67 Then they spat in his face and struck him with their fists. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy for us, you Christ! Who hit you?” (Matthew 26:57-68)

Two events are being described simultaneously by Matthew in this paragraph and the next, so as to set them in contrast to each other. The first is our Lord’s interrogation by Caiaphas, the high priest, and the Sanhedrin. The second is Peter’s “interrogation” by those around him. At the very moments Peter is denying His Lord, our Lord Jesus is affirming His identity as the Messiah – His “great confession.”

It is the middle of the night, and Jesus has been sent from Annas to stand before Caiaphas.312 The whole Sanhedrin is present (see also Mark 14:55), including the chief priests, scribes, and elders (Matthew 26:57-59). This is far from a legal gathering. In our terms, Jesus is not getting “due process of the law” here. These “judges” are far from neutral. They seek any testimony that will justify their resolve to kill Jesus (verse 59), but they can’t do it.

These are horrible and shameful moments in Israel’s history, but at times the account comes close to being amusing. Here is this pompous group of Israel’s “cream of the crop.” It is something like the convening of the Supreme Court in our day. These are the top religious and legal experts, and they are determined to execute Jesus. They resolved that they would not arrest or kill Jesus until “after the feast” (Matthew 26:5), but Jesus forced their hand when He informed Judas and the disciples that He would be betrayed by one of them (Matthew 26:21). Jesus even let Judas know that he was the one who would betray Him (Matthew 26:25). Judas no longer had the luxury of time. He had to act now to earn his fee, whether the Jewish leaders liked it or not.

The religious leaders were in a real bind. They seem compelled to include the Romans (Pilate, Herod, and the Roman soldiers). They were forced to crucify Jesus, a very public death. And they must complete this matter before Passover, lest they be defiled, and thus would have been prevented from participating in Passover (see John 18:28; 19:14; Mark 15:42-43). A few hours earlier, it would have appeared that they had almost two weeks to prepare for the execution of Jesus.313 They have not had any time to acquire and “coach” witnesses, and this was very obvious. Imagine these fellows attempting to give an air of sobriety and propriety, while things are in total chaos. Their witnesses disagree so badly that even with their disposition to accept any charge, it is evident this testimony won’t suffice. A parade of witnesses pass by, and all fail to meet minimum requirements. No two witnesses agree, and when two finally agree, the charges were not viable. It was, at best, a corruption of what Jesus had said (“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” – John 2:19). Even if their words were true, it isn’t a crime to say that you are able to do such a thing; it would be a crime if you attempted it. This case would have been thrown out of any court in our land.

You can imagine how frustrated these fellows must have been. Their case was stalling, and there seemed to be nothing they could do about it. The high priest sought to induce Jesus to violate His Fifth Amendment rights (in today’s terms) by giving testimony against Himself. “What did Jesus have to say to this charge?” Jesus had nothing to say. He need not have spoken. The charges were not worthy of comment or of defense. It was not His duty to provide them with evidence; it was their duty to produce evidence of a crime.

Then the high priest had an inspiration. He would charge Jesus under oath to answer this question: “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?” (Matthew 26:63). This was a question Jesus was not legally obliged to answer. And yet Jesus chose to answer. I used to think that this was because the high priest put Him under oath. I now look at it differently. This was a question Jesus must answer. To refuse to answer would imply that He was not the Messiah, the Son of God. If He were the Messiah, the Son of God, then why would He not answer to this effect? This was the crux of the coming of our Lord – to reveal Himself as the Messiah, and as the Son of God.

Our Lord’s answer was far from tentative. Not only did He identify Himself as the Messiah, the Son of God, He also referred to Himself as the Son of Man:

Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:67).

This is an incredibly powerful statement. Jesus affirms His identity. He is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. He is also the Son of Man, which means that He will return to the earth in power, to deal with His enemies and to establish justice.

These words, if believed, should have struck terror into the hearts of the Jewish religious leaders. Instead, they were taken as blasphemy, a capital offense by Jewish law (see Leviticus 24:10-16; Numbers 15:30). No one in that group paused to reflect on the implications of Jesus’ claim. No one gave serious thought as to whether this claim might be true. In their minds, this was all they needed to condemn Jesus to death. And so the high priest musters all the righteous indignation he can produce, and calls for the death of Jesus:

Then the high priest tore his clothes and declared, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? Now you have heard the blasphemy!” (Matthew 26:65)

His colleagues heartily agreed, and they pronounced sentence on our Lord.

What follows is particularly significant. Once the guilty verdict is pronounced, there is a disproportionate outpouring of wrath and contempt on our Lord. They spit in His face – they spit in God’s face! They strike Him with their fists, pouring out their wrath on God incarnate. They slap Him, and challenge Him to prophesy who hit Him (26:67-68). Here is the highest court in the land, and look at its conduct. Here is God, in the hands of angry sinners.

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A slave girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it in front of them all: “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” 71 When he went out to the gateway, another slave girl saw him and said to the people there, “This man was with Jesus the Nazarene.” 72 He denied it again with an oath, “I do not know the man!” 73 After a little while, those standing there came up to Peter and said, “You really are one of them too—even your accent gives you away!” 74 At that he began to curse, and he swore with an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:69-75).

Meanwhile, Peter is sitting in the courtyard of the high priest’s house, warming himself by the fire. A mere slave girl314 identifies him as one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter denies it. Initially, Peter does not pointedly deny knowing Jesus; he simply responds that he doesn’t know what she is talking about. Apparently this is sufficient to silence this first slave girl. But then another slave girl confronts Peter. She does not just question Peter; she speaks to those standing around: “This man was with Jesus the Nazarene” (Matthew 26:71). From Peter’s point of view, this is much more threatening. He denies his association with Jesus, underscoring his denial with an oath. Finally, a third person – one standing nearby – came up to Peter, and this time with an even more persuasive accusation: “You really are one of them too—even your accent gives you away!” (verse 73). Peter more pointedly denied even knowing Jesus, let alone associating with Him. This time he felt it necessary to punctuate his denial with cursing.

At that moment, a rooster crowed,315 and Peter remembered Jesus’ words indicating that he would deny Him. Peter went outside and wept bitterly. Strangely, this is the last time Matthew refers to Peter by name in this Gospel. While Matthew does provide an account of the final outcome for Judas (Matthew 27:3-10), he does not do so for Peter. Is this because he knows that such an account will take a great deal more time and information? Is this because he knows that a subsequent history of the church (including Peter) will be written? For whatever reason, Matthew does not feel compelled to give us the “rest of the story” regarding Peter.

Conclusion

If our text demonstrates anything, it is that all mankind, without exception, is desperately sinful and, apart from the grace of God in Christ Jesus, hopelessly lost:

“There is no one righteous, not even one,

11 there is no one who understands,

there is no one who seeks God.

12 All have turned away,

together they have become worthless;

there is no one who shows kindness,

not even one” (Romans 3:10b-12).

Whether at his finest, or at his worst, every human being is a sinner, desperately wicked in heart and often in deed. There is no way that we can ever earn our own righteousness, that we can attain God’s favor by our efforts. We need salvation from some source outside of ourselves. We need Jesus, for He alone can save.

Our text dramatically demonstrates the sinfulness of man and the perfection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In our text, no one comes out looking good, no one except Jesus, that is. Everything Jesus predicted happened just as He said it would. Under more stress and pressure than we will ever know, Jesus never failed. His words and His deeds are amazing to us. Though men (like Peter, or Judas, or the religious leaders) failed, Jesus did not. Though His closest friends forsook Him, He will not forsake His own – those who have trusted in Him for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. Jesus Never Fails; He is always faithful, even when we fail:

Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end (John 13:1).

If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13).

Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you” (Hebrews 13:5).

In mankind’s darkest hour, the perfections of our Lord shine ever so bright. He alone is worthy of our trust, and of our worship, obedience, and service. Do not let the horrors of these events in our Lord’s last hours distract your attention from Jesus. He deserves center stage. His perfections deserve our praise.

We should probably say a word about Peter’s denials. Let us not fail to read this text, describing Peter’s worst moments, without bearing in mind “the rest of the story.” We may have seen the last of Peter (by name) in Matthew, but we find a very different Peter in the Book of Acts. With the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we find a transformed Peter. We find a man who now boldly proclaims the gospel, in spite of the opposition and the risks:

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, replied, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today for a good deed done to a sick man—by what means this man was healed— 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, this man stands before you healthy. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, that has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved.” 13 When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and discovered that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized these men had been with Jesus. 14 And because they saw the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say against this (Acts 4:8-14).

As a result of the work of Jesus Christ at Calvary, and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, Peter not only boldly identifies with His Lord, He instructs us to do so as well:

13 For who is going to harm you if you are devoted to what is good? 14 But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken. 15 But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. 16 Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:13-17).

The events of our text underscore for us the trustworthiness and authority of the Scriptures. Just as at the birth of our Lord, so also here we find that Matthew repeatedly points out to us that the Scriptures are being fulfilled at every point of this procession to the cross. God’s Word is true. It never fails. Even when men try their hardest to resist God and to rebel against His purposes, they end up unwittingly fulfilling His purposes and promises. We can trust His Word.

Let me end with one more observation and application. Our text describes the darkest hour in all of human history, and yet we gather every Sunday to remember the death of Jesus. More than that, we come every Sunday to celebrate His death. This is due to the fact that His suffering and His death is the only means by which sinful men may be saved, and have eternal life. It is also due to the fact that the resurrection of Jesus enables us to view these events in a whole new way. At the cross, Jesus took the curse (death) and made it the cure (His atoning work on our behalf). God used the most cruel and wicked actions of men to accomplish His eternal plan of salvation.

Surely this is an example of the truth that is proclaimed in Romans 8:

28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, 29 because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).

God was able to make the horrid events of our Lord’s rejection and crucifixion into a salvation so blessed that it will take all eternity to fathom it. If our Lord can transform this kind of apparent tragedy into a triumphant work of redemption, then is it not reasonable for us to believe that God will cause every event in our lives to work out for His glory, and for our good?


304 Copyright © 2005 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 81 in the Studies in the Gospel of Matthew series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on June 5, 2005. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.

305 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

306 The same is true in the drawing of the sword in Matthew 26:51-54. Peter was the one who drew his sword first (John 18:10-11), but all of the disciples were considering doing the same (Luke 22:49). Peter was just faster (in acting or in speaking) than the others. Thus, Peter’s words and actions are often typical of his peers. Isn’t this why we identify with Peter, because he is just like us?

307 Namely, the grief of soon being forsaken by the Father (Matthew 27:46).

308 John’s Gospel (18:3, 12) alone tells us about the Roman soldiers who are present. He says that a Roman cohort was there. Estimates concerning the number of soldiers present vary widely. In the marginal notes of the NASB, we are informed that a Roman “battalion” was present, and that the term for “commander” referred to one in command of a thousand troops. In the light of John’s additional detail here, we should be careful not to minimize the number of soldiers present. Remember that the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of very serious crimes against the state, and thus they would have represented Him as “armed and dangerous.” Jesus had slipped through hostile Jewish fingers far too many times before; they were determined it wouldn’t happen again.

309 Both here, in verse 5, and also in verse 8, the NASB puts “He” in italics, indicating to the reader that “He” has been supplied, and is not in the original Greek text. I think that in answering as He does, Jesus is saying more than, “I am the One you are looking for,” although He is saying that. He is also saying, “I AM,” referring to the words of Exodus 3:14 (as taken up earlier in John 8:58). Thus, Jesus is claiming to be God. No wonder these men fell backward.

310 We should be careful not to expect too much of Peter here (or of any of the other disciples). The disciples may easily have misunderstood our Lord’s words (and thus misapplied them here) in Luke 22:35-38, which might have been understood to justify the use of violence.

311 This is a very significant point, because it was not the popular opinion (see Matthew 11:12). In the end, the people finally chose one who did use violence. First it was Barabbas, and almost 40 years later it was the rebel leadership that sought to overthrow Rome, precipitating the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

312 We know from John 18:13-24 that Jesus was first brought to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas. He first interrogated Jesus, and then sent Him on to his son-in-law, which is where Matthew and the other Gospels take up the interrogation of Jesus by the Jewish religious leaders. Luke (3:2) links the high priestly rule of Annas and Caiaphas in the birth account of our Lord, but does not mention Caiaphas again by name in his Gospel. He does link Annas and Caiaphas once again in Acts 4:6. Mark does not mention Annas or Caiaphas by name.

313 Remember that included along with Passover was the week long celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (cf. Exodus 12:17ff.). It was a couple of days before Passover when the Jewish leaders made their deal with Judas (cf. Matthew 26:6-16; John 12:1-8).

314 Matthew literally writes, “one servant girl.” I believe he is making it clear that this is but one, powerless, harmless young woman. She should hardly be considered threatening or intimidating. And yet Peter “folds” when she questions him about his relationship with Jesus.

315 Luke adds that Jesus looked at Peter and caught his eye (Luke 22:61).

Related Topics: Crucifixion