Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus, 26:47-56
As Jesus was awakening His disciples, the crowd led by Judas was seen approaching the garden. In the parallel accounts of Mark 14:43-50; Luke 22:47-53; and John 18:3-11, it is apparent that this was a large company of possibly several hundred people, including the chief priest and elders, a motley crowd which had been gathered by Jewish leaders to assist them, and may have included the two hundred Roman soldiers assigned to the use of the Sanhedrin.
Lenski points out that the fact that they carried short swords would identify the Roman soldiers, and the clubs would identify those hired as temple police. Some also carried torches and lanterns. The size of the company indicated the apprehension of the Jewish leaders that, even at such a late hour in the night, the pilgrims who thronged Jerusalem might interfere with the arrest of Jesus. The importance of the event to the chief priests and scribes is indicated by their presence on the night of the Passover for the occasion of Christ’s arrest.
Judas kept his sordid bargain with the Jews, and, in keeping with the prearranged plan to identify Him with a kiss, he came out of the multitude to Jesus and said, “Hail, master,” and kissed Him (Mt 26:49). His respectful address was the extreme in hypocrisy, and his kiss expressed, as no other means could possibly have done, his wicked unbelief, which rejected the evidence that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. In his heart, he was done with the whole concept that Jesus was the King and that he would reign with Him. The Greek verb translated “kissed” indicates that he kissed Him again and again, so that in the darkness, all would see and understand.
The fact that Christ permitted him to do it was in keeping with His purpose to be submissive to the will of God, even unto the death on the cross. But for Judas himself, it was also the last attempt of Jesus, even in this hour, to let Judas repent of his sin and unbelief. Jesus addressed Judas as “friend” which is translated from the Greek hetaire meaning friend or associate, but in contrast to phile, which would have meant a beloved friend. There was no hypocrisy in Christ’s words, and He asked searchingly, “Wherefore art thou come?”
Why, indeed, would one who heard the matchless sermons of Jesus and witnessed hundreds of miracles turn away from such a wonderful person? Such is the hardness of the human heart and the blinding of satanic influence that one who had every reason to trust in Christ and had been blessed as no unsaved man had ever been blessed, would persist in his hardness of heart and unbelief. Judas, like Pharaoh of old, had gone beyond the point of no return.
Only John records the conversation between Jesus and those who had come to arrest Him (18:4-9). According to John’s gospel, Christ asked the question, apparently after He had already been identified by Judas, “Whom seek ye?” When they answered, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Jesus replied, “I am he.” John records that after Jesus said, “I am he,” that “they went backward, and fell to the ground.” Apparently, there was a momentary display of divine power, a final witness to Judas who betrayed Him, to the disciples who were to flee from Him, and to the crowd that was filled with hatred for Him. Jesus then told them again that He was the one that they sought and then added that they should let the disciples go their way.
It is at this point that Matthew picks up the story and records the incident of Peter smiting a servant of the high priest. Only John identifies the disciple and gives the name of the servant, Malchus (Jn 18:10). By the time this was recorded in John, Peter was already dead.
Jesus had told them in the upper room that the time had come when one not having a sword should sell his garment and buy one, and they replied that they had two swords, which the Lord said were enough (Lk 22:36-38).
When it became apparent that Jesus was about to be arrested, Peter, with sudden courage, drew his sword and struck at the servant of the high priest, no doubt intending to hit him on the top of the head and kill him. He missed, however, and the sword cut off the ear of the servant and probably hit the armor covering the shoulder. If Peter had killed the servant, it is possible that he would have been crucified at the same time as Jesus. To him, however, Jesus addressed the words, “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Mt 26:52). The time would come when Peter would die as a martyr for the faith, but this was not the hour, nor was the sword the way by which he should serve Christ.
To make it plain that Jesus needed no defender, He told Peter that all He needed to do was to pray to the Father and He would be given twelve legions of angels. A Roman legion consisted of from three thousand to six thousand men, and therefore, twelve legions was a company far in excess of the multitude that had gathered against Jesus.
It was not, however, the will of God that Jesus should be so rescued, and Jesus posed the question, “But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (26:54). Complete submission to the will of God and to the path that led to the cross is evident in the words of Christ.
To the multitude who had gathered, Jesus addressed the biting words, “Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me” (26:55). He was reminding them that the force that was gathered here was not because He would resist arrest but because the chief priests and the scribes feared the retaliation of those who had put their trust in Him. Matthew adds, “But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” This was the will of God.
At this point, fear overtook the disciples, and Matthew records sadly, “Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.” Jesus was indeed alone in this tragic hour, but out of the tragedy would come salvation and restoration even for those who had forsaken Him and fled. The majestic person of Christ may have impressed some of those in the multitude that arrested Him. Who knows whether some of them may not have been included in the multitude who became His followers on the day of Pentecost and afterward?
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