Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said unto his disciples,XXVI.
(1) The portion of the Gospel narrative on which we now enter is common, as far as the main facts are concerned, to all the four Gospels, and this gives to every detail in it a special interest. We cannot ignore the fact that it brings with it also some peculiar difficulties. The first three Gospels are in substantial agreement as to the order of the facts and the time at which they occurred. But the fourth, in some respects the fullest and most striking, differs from the Three: (1) in omitting all mention that the Last Supper of our Lord with His disciples was also the Paschal Supper, and at least appearing to imply (John 13:1; John 18:28) that it was before it; (2) in also omitting all record (a) of the institution of the Lord’s Supper as the sign of the New Covenant, and (b) of the agony in Gethsemane; (3) in recording much, both as to our Lord’s acts and words, which the Three do not record. It will be enough to discuss once for all the problems which thus present themselves, and it is believed that the right place for the discussion will be in the Notes on the Gospel which first presents the difficulties. Here, therefore, our work will be confined to the text actually before us, with only such passing references to the narrative of St. John as occasion may require. As far as the variations in the first three Gospels are concerned, they are sufficiently explained by the hypothesis that they had a common origin in a history at first delivered orally, and reduced afterwards to writing, with the diversities which are, in the nature of the case, incident to such a process.
All these sayings.—The words clearly point to the great discourse of Matthew 24, 25. The “disciples” to whom our Lord then spoke of His betrayal and death, may have been either the four who are named in Mark 13:3, or the whole company of the Twelve. In the latter case, we must assume that the rest had joined Him, either during the utterance of the discourse or after it was finished.
Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified.(2) After two days is the feast of the passover.—Assuming (as the facts of the case lead us to assume, but see Notes on John 13:1) the Last Supper to have coincided with the actual Paschal Feast, the point of time at which the words were spoken would either be some time on what we should call the Tuesday evening of the Passion week, or, following the Jewish mode of speech which found three days in the interval between our Lord’s entombment and resurrection, on the morning or afternoon of Wednesday.
Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas,(3) Then assembled together.—We learn from John 11:49-50. that the plan, as far as Caiaphas was concerned, had been formed before, immediately after the raising of Lazarus. What had happened since—the kingly entry, the expulsion of the money-changers, the way in which our Lord had baffled their attempt to entrap Him in His speech—would all work as so many motives to immediate action. The meeting now assembled may have been either a formal session of the Sanhedrin, or an informal conference of its chief members prior to the regular meeting. The former seems, on the whole, the more probable. The “chief priests” were the heads of the twenty-four courses; the elders of the people were the representatives—how elected or selected we do not know—of the citizens of Jerusalem. St. Mark and St. Luke name “scribes” instead of “elders.” These two bodies may have been identical, but more probably the scribes of the Council represented the whole class of interpreters of the Law, who bore that name in its wider sense.
The high priest, who was called Caiaphas.—The name was a distinctive one added to his proper name of Joseph. Of his previous history we know that he had married the daughter of Annas, who had filled the office of high priest before him (John 18:13), and who still occupied, possibly as Nasi or President, an influential position in the Council and retained his titular pre-eminence. (See Note on Luke 3:2.) He had been high priest from the commencement of our Lord’s ministry, and had, therefore, watched His ministry in Jerusalem with a jealous fear. We may probably trace his influence in the mission of the scribes from Jerusalem, whom we have seen as opponents of that ministry in Galilee (Mark 3:22; Luke 5:17). The meeting in his house implied a coalition of parties commonly opposed, for Caiaphas and his personal adherents were Sadducees (Acts 5:17), and as such, courted the favour of their Roman rulers (John 11:48), while the scribes were, for the most part, Pharisees, and assertors of national independence.
And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him.(4) That they might take Jesus by subtilty.—The plan implied in these words and in those that follow (“not on the feast day”) would seem to have been hastened in its accomplishment by the unexpected treachery of Judas. They had intended to wait till the feast was over, but the temptation thus offered was too great to be resisted, and they accordingly stepped out of the limits which their caution had suggested, and were content to run the risk even of an “uproar among the people” within the twenty-four hours of the Paschal Feast.
Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,(6) Now when Jesus was in Bethany.—The narrative is given out of its proper order on account of its connection (as indicated in St. John’s record) with the act of the Traitor. St. John fixes it (John 12:1) at six days before the Passover, i.e., on the evening that preceded the entry into Jerusalem. It was, therefore, a feast such as Jews were wont to hold at the close of the Sabbath.
In the house of Simon the leper.—Of the man so described we know nothing beyond the fact thus mentioned. It is not likely, had he been a leper at the time, that men would have gathered to a feast at his house, and it is natural to infer that our Lord had healed him, but that the name still adhered to him to distinguish him from other Simons. We learn from St. John (John 12:2) that Lazarus was there, and that Martha, true to her character, was busy “serving.” The Twelve were also there, and probably many others. The incident that follows is narrated by all the Evangelists except St. Luke, who may either not have heard it from his informants, or, if he had heard it, may have passed it over as having already recorded a fact of like character (Luke 7:37-40).
There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.(7) There came unto him a woman.—We learn from St. John (John 12:3) that this was Mary the sister of Lazarus. It is hardly conceivable (unless we conjecture that she came in veiled, and that St. John alone knew her) that the writers of the first two Gospels, or those from whom they derived their knowledge, could have been ignorant who she was, and we can only see in their suppression of the name an example of the singular reticence which sealed their lips as to every member of the family at Bethany. A prevalent tradition or conjecture in the Western Church has identified the sister of Lazarus with the woman that was a sinner, of Luke 7, and, on this assumption what we now read was a repetition of an offering of love that had been made before. Of this, however, there is not the shadow of proof (see Notes on Luke 7:37-38). It may well have been, on the other hand, that the household of Bethany had heard of that act, and that this suggested the way in which love and gratitude now manifested themselves.
An alabaster box of very precious ointment.—The box was probably a vase of the material described as alabaster (according to one etymology, however, that word described originally the shape of the vase, as made without handles, and was subsequently extended to the material of which such vases were commonly made), with the lid cemented down, so as not to admit of extraction like a cork or stopper. St. John (John 12:3) describes the quantity as a pound (litra=about twelve ounces); and both St. John and St. Mark add that it was “of spikenard.” The word so rendered, however (pistikè), is found only in those two passages (Mark 14:3, John 12:3), and it is open to question whether it bears this meaning, or means “pure, genuine, unadulterated.” The “nard” so described is identified by botanists with the Nardostachys jatamansi, the sumbul of India, but was probably applied by Greeks and Romans to other perfumes. The value of the ointment is roughly estimated afterwards at three hundred denarii (John 12:5). Such preparations, like genuine âtar of roses in the modern East, consisting, as they did mainly, in the essential oils of carefully cultivated flowers, often fetched an almost fabulous price. The fact that Mary had such an unguent by her indicates that the household of Bethany belonged to the comparatively wealthy class, and so agrees with the general impression left by the record of John 11. It is a probable conjecture that a like costly unguent had been used in embalming the body of the brother who had so recently been raised from the dead, and that this gave a special point to our Lord’s comment on the act. St. Mark adds that she broke or crushed the vessel in order to pour out the ointment; St. John, that she anointed His feet, and wiped them with her hair.
But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?(8) When his disciples saw it.—There is a singular narrowing of the limits in the three narratives. St. Mark reports that “some had indignation;” St. John (John 12:4), as knowing who had whispered the first word of blame, fixes the uncharitable judgment on “Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son.” The narrow, covetous soul of the Traitor could see nothing in the lavish gift but a “waste” (literally, perdition) that was matter for reproach. There is something almost terribly suggestive in the fact that our Lord repeats the self-same word when He describes Judas as a “son of perdition” (John 17:12). He had wasted that which was more precious than the ointment of spikenard. He wondered that his Master should accept such an offering. His indignation, partly real, partly affected, was perhaps honestly shared by some of his fellow-disciples, probably by those of the third group, with whom he came most into contact, and of whom we may well think as having a less glowing love, and narrower sympathies than the others.
For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.(9) This ointment might have been sold for much.—St. Mark and St. John agree in giving the Traitor’s computation. It might have been sold for three hundred denarii, a labourer’s wages for nearly a whole year (Matthew 20:2), enough to feed a multitude of more than 7,500 men (John 6:7). St. John adds the damning fact that the pretended zeal for the poor was the cloak for the irritation of disappointed greed. “He was a thief, and bare the bag.” He was, i.e., the treasurer or bursar of the travelling company, received the offerings of the wealthier disciples, and disbursed them either on their necessary expenditure or in alms to the poor (see Notes on John 12:6; John 13:29). This was the “one talent” given to him “according to his ability,” and in dealing with it he proved fraudulent and faithless.
When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.(10) Why trouble ye the woman?—The Greek is more emphatic, “Why are ye giving trouble?” St. Mark uses a word to describe their conduct which explains the verse. “They murmured against her,” or better, They were bitterly reproaching her. One after another of the murmurers uttered his bitter remonstrances.
She hath wrought a good work upon me.—The Greek adjective implies something more than “good”—a noble, an honourable work. The Lord Jesus, in His sympathy with all human affections, recognises the love that is lavish in its personal devotion as noble and excellent in itself. After His departure, as the teaching of Matthew 25:40 reminds us, the poor are His chosen representatives, and our offerings to Him are best made through them. How far the words sanction, as they are often urged as sanctioning, a lavish expenditure on the æsthetic element of worship, church architecture, ornamentation, and the like, is a question to which it may be well to find an answer. And the leading lines of thought are, (1) that if the motive be love, and not ostentation, He will recognise it, even if it is misdirected; (2) that so far as ostentation, or the wish to gratify our own taste and sense of beauty, enters into it, it is vitiated from the beginning; (3) that the wants of the poor have a prior claim before that gratification. On the other hand, we must remember (1) that the poor have spiritual wants as well as physical; (2) that all well-directed church-building and decoration minister to those wants, and, even in its accessories of form and colour, give to the poor a joy which is in itself an element of culture, and may minister to their religious life by making worship a delight. It is a work of charity thus to lighten up lives that are otherwise dull and dreary, and the true law to guide our conscience in such matters is to place our noblest churches in the districts where the people are the poorest.
For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.(11) Ye have the poor always with you.—Our Lord dealt with the objection of the murmurers on their own ground, as if it were genuine, and does not openly rebuke the dishonesty of the chief objector. But look and tone, and the solemn pathos of the words, “Me ye have not always,” must have made the Traitor feel that he was in the presence of One who read the secrets of his heart.
For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.(12) She did it for my burial.—The words must have fallen with a strange sadness upon the ears of the disciples and the other guests. They were expecting that “the kingdom of God should immediately appear” (Luke 19:11), and were looking forward to the dawn of the next day as the hour of its victory and triumph. The enthusiasm of the moment made them deaf to the real import of what they heard, and their Master, alone of all that company, knew that the fragrance of that perfume would not have died away when His body should be laid in the sepulchre.
Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.(13) Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached.—The prediction tended, of course assuming the extension of the gospel, to bring about its own fulfilment, but the prevision at such a moment of that universal extension may well take its place among the proofs of a foreknowledge not less than divine. Others saw victory only, and that immediate; He saw condemnation and shame and death, yet not these only, but through them a victory and dominion over the souls of men beyond their wildest dreams.
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests,(14) Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot.—The narrative of St. John leads us, as has been said, to connect the act of treachery with the fact just recorded. There was the shame, and therefore the anger, of detected guilt; there was the greed of gain that had been robbed of its expected spoil, and thirsted for compensation. The purpose that had been formed by the priests and scribes after the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:47) may well have become known, and have suggested the hope of a reward. All these feelings were gathering strength through the three days that followed. Possibly there mingled with them a sense of disappointment that the kingly entry into Jerusalem was not followed up by immediate victory. St. Luke’s words, that “Satan entered into Judas” (Luke 22:3), are remarkable (1) as implying the personal influence of the Tempter; (2) as indicating the fiendish tenacity with which he followed out his purpose; (3) as coinciding with what St. John (John 13:27) relates at a later stage of his guilt. Nor can we forget that, even at an earlier period of his discipleship, our Lord had used words which spoke of the “devil-nature” that was already working in his soul (John 6:70).
And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.(15) They covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.—The reward was relatively a small one, apparently about the market-price of a common slave (Zechariah 11:12); but the chief priests (Caiaphas and his fellows) saw through the sordid baseness of the man, and, as if scorning both his Master and himself, gauged their reward accordingly.
Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?(17) The first day of the feast of unleavened bread.—St. Mark and St. Luke, as writing for Gentile readers, add the explanation that it was then that the Passover was to be slain. The precision with which all the first three Gospels emphasise the fact leaves no room for doubt that they looked on the Last Supper as the celebration of the actual Paschal Feast. St. John’s narrative, as has been said, leaves primâ facie a different impression.
Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?—Our Lord had passed each night since His entry at Bethany (probably in the house of Lazarus or Simon the leper), or in the garden of Gethsemane (John 18:1), but the Paschal lamb was to be slain and eaten in Jerusalem, and therefore special preparations were needed. Once before, and probably once only (John 2:13), had the disciples kept that feast with Him in the Holy City. Were they expecting, as they asked the question, that this feast was to be the chosen and, as it might well seem, appropriate time for the victorious manifestation of the Kingdom? We learn from St. Luke (Luke 22:7) that the two who were sent were Peter and John.
And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples.(18) To such a man.—The Greek word is that used when the writer knows, but does not care to mention, the name of the man referred to. St. Mark and St. Luke relate the sign that was given them. They were to meet a man “bearing a pitcher of water” and follow him. and were to see in the house into which he entered that in which they were to make their preparations. The master of the house was probably a disciple, but secretly, like many others, “for fear of the Jews” (John 12:42), and this may explain the suppression of his name. He was, at any rate, one who would acknowledge the authority of the Master in whose name the disciples spoke. In the other two Gospels our Lord describes the large upper room furnished which the disciples would find on entering. The signal may have been agreed upon before, or may have been the result of a supernatural prescience. Scripture is silent, and either supposition is legitimate.
My time is at hand.—For the disciples, the “time” may have seemed the long-expected season of His manifesting Himself as King, and the memory of such words as those of John 7:8 (“My time is not yet full come”) may have seemed to strengthen the impression. We read, as it were, between the lines, and see that it was the “time” of the suffering and death which were the conditions of His true glory (John 12:23; John 13:32).
And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.(19) They made ready the passover.—It may be well to bring together the facts which these few words imply. The two disciples, after seeing that the room was “furnished,” the tables arranged, probably in the form of a Roman triclinium, and the benches covered with cushions, would have to purchase the lamb, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs, together with the wine and the conserve of sweet fruits which later practice had added to the older ritual. The Paschal victim would have to be slain in the courts of the Temple by one of the officiating priests. The lamb so slain would then be roasted, the bitter herbs prepared, and the table set out, and then, as sunset drew near, all would be ready for the Master and His disciples, who formed, on this occasion, the household which were to partake of the Paschal Supper.
Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve.(20) He sat down with the twelve.—Reserving special Notes for the Gospels which contain the narratives, we may call to mind here the words of strong emotion with which the feast was opened (Luke 22:15), the dispute among the disciples, probably connected with the places which they were to occupy at the table (Luke 22:24), and our Lord’s practical reproof of that dispute in washing His disciples’ feet (John 13:1-11). Picturing the scene to ourselves, we may think of our Lord as reclining—not sitting—in the centre of the middle table, St. John next to Him, and leaning on His bosom (John 13:23), St. Peter probably on the other side, and the others sitting in an order corresponding, more or less closely, with the three-fold division of the Twelve into groups of four. Upon the washing of the feet followed the teaching of John 13:12-20, and then came the “blessing” or “thanksgiving” which opened the meal. This went on in silence, while the countenance of the Master betrayed the deep emotion which troubled His spirit (John 13:21), and then the silence was broken by the awful words which are recorded in the next verse.
And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.(21) One of you shall betray me.—The words would seem to have been intentionally vague, as if to rouse some of those who heard them to self-questioning. They had not, it is true, shared in the very guilt of the Traitor, but they had yielded to tendencies which they had in common with him, and which were dragging them down to his level. They had joined him in his murmuring (Matthew 26:8), they had been quarrelling, and were about to renew their quarrel, about precedence (Mark 9:34, Luke 22:24). It was well that the abyss should be laid bare before their eyes, and that each should ask himself whether he were indeed on the point of falling into it.
And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?(22) They were exceeding sorrowful.—St. John (John 13:22) describes their perplexed and questioning glances at each other, the whisper of Peter to John, the answer of our Lord to the beloved disciple, announcing the sign by which the traitor was to be indicated. All this passed apparently as a by-play, unheard or unheeded by the other disciples. It was followed by the hands of the Master and the Traitor meeting in the dish (probably that which contained the conserve of fruit above referred to); and dipping a piece of the unleavened bread in the syrup, the One gave it to the other. The signal was, of course, understood by Peter and John, but probably not by the others.
And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.(23) He that dippeth his hand with me.—Better, he that dipped, as of an act just passed. It seems probable from what follows that these words also were spoken to a few only of the disciples, say to the four who were nearest to their Master. We can scarcely think of Judas as asking the question of Matthew 26:25, if he had heard the words and knew that they pointed to him as the traitor.
The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.(24) The Son of man goeth as it is written.—The words are remarkable as the first direct reference of the coming passion and death to the Scriptures which prophesied of the Messiah. It was appointed that the Christ should suffer, but that appointment did not make men less free agents, nor diminish the guilt of treachery or injustice. So, in like manner, as if taught by his Master, St. Peter speaks of the guilt of Judas in Acts 1:16-18, and of that of the priests and scribes in Acts 4:27-28.
It had been good for that man . . .—Awful as the words were, they have their bright as well as their dark side. According to the estimate which men commonly form, the words are true of all except those who depart this life in the fear and faith of God. In His applying them to the case of the Traitor in its exceptional enormity, there is suggested the thought that for others, whose guilt was not like his, existence even in the penal suffering which their sins have brought on them may be better than never to have been at all.
Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said.(25) Then Judas, which betrayed him . . .—The words appear to have been spoken in the spirit of reckless defiance, which St. John indicates by saying that “after the sop Satan entered into him” (John 13:27). Did his Master (he calls Him by the wonted title of honour, Rabbi) indeed know his guilt? It would appear from St. John’s narrative (John 13:29) that the dread answer, “Thou hast said;” was not heard by all. All that they did hear was the command, “What thou doest, do quickly;” and some at least, probably the rest who were not in the secret of the signal, thought that that command referred to some matter connected with his customary work as the bursar of the company. He was to buy what was needed for the feast (i.e., probably, the customary solemn meal, or Chagigah, of the day that followed on the Paschal Supper), or to give alms to the poor. He, however, understood the meaning of the words, and straightway went out (John 13:27-30). It follows, from this view of the sequence of events, that though he had eaten bread with his Master, he did not partake of the bread and the cup that were to be the signs of the New Covenant. At this stage St. John inserts the words as to the new commandment, “that ye should love another,” which was embodied in that act of fellowship.
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.(26) As they were eating.—Again we must represent to ourselves an interval of silence, broken by the act or words that followed. The usual “grace” or blessing had been spoken at the beginning of the feast. Now, taking one of the cakes of unleavened bread, He again utters a solemn formula of blessing, and gives it to them with the words, “Take, eat, this is my body;” or, as in St. Luke’s fuller report (Luke 22:19; comp. also 1Corinthians 11:24), “This is My body that is given for you” (literally, that is in the act of being given); “do this in remembrance of Me” (better, as a memorial of Me). It would be an endless and profitless task to enter into the labyrinth of subtle speculations to which these words have given rise. Did the bread which He thus gave them contain at that moment the substance of His body, taking the place of its own substance or united with it? In what way is He present when those words are repeated and the faithful receive the “sacrament of the body and blood of Christ?” Questions such as these, theories of Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation, and the like, are, we may venture to say, alien to the mind of Christ, and outside the range of any true interpretation. As pointing to the true path through that labyrinth, it will be enough to remember (1) that our Lord’s later teaching had accustomed the disciples to language of like figurative boldness. He was “the door of the sheep-fold” (John 10:7). What they would understand at the time and afterwards was, that He spoke of His body as being as truly given for them as that bread which He had broken was given to them. (2) That the words could scarcely fail to recall what had once seemed a “hard saying which they could not hear” (John 6:60). They had been told that they could only enter into eternal life by eating His flesh and drinking His blood—i.e., by sharing His life, and the spirit of sacrifice which led Him to offer it up for the life of the world. Now they were taught that what had appeared impossible was to become possible, through the outward symbol of the bread thus broken. They were to “do this” as a memorial of Him, and so to keep fresh in their remembrance that sacrifice which He had offered. To see in these words, as some have seen, the command, “Offer this as a sacrifice,” is to do violence to their natural meaning by reading into them the after-thoughts of theology. (See Notes on Luke 22:19.) But, on the other hand, the word rendered “remembrance” or “memorial” was one not without a sacrificial aspect of its own. Every “sacrifice” was a “remembrance” of man’s sins (Hebrews 10:3). Every Paschal Feast was a “memorial” of the first great Passover (Exodus 12:9; Numbers 10:10). So every act such as He now commanded would be a “memorial” at once of the sins which made a sacrifice necessary, and of the one great sacrifice which He had offered. (3) It seems something like a descent to a lower region of thought, but it ought to be noted that the time at which the memorial was thus instituted, “while they were eating,” is not without its significance in the controversies which have been raised as to fasting or non-fasting communion. Rules on such a subject, so far as any Church adopts them, or any individual Christian finds them expedient, may have their authority and their value, but the facts of the original institution witness that they rest on no divine authority, and that the Church acts wisely when it leaves the question to every individual Christian to decide as he is “fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).
And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;(27) He took the cup, and gave thanks.—The better MSS. omit the article; thus making it, “a cup.” In the later ritual of the Passover, the cup of wine (or rather, of wine mingled with water) was passed round three times in the course of the supper. One such cup had been passed round early in the evening (Luke 22:17); now another becomes, under a solemn consecration, the symbol of a diviner truth than had yet been revealed to the listening and wondering disciples.
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.(28) For this is my blood of the new testament.—Better, this is My blood of the Covenant; the best MSS. omitting the word “new” both here and in St. Mark. It was probably introduced into the later MSS. to bring the text into harmony with St. Luke’s report. Assuming the word “new” to have been actually spoken by our Lord, we can understand its being passed over by some reporters or transcribers whose attention had not been specially called to the great prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34. That prophecy was, however, certain to have a prominent place in the minds of those who had come into contact, as St. Luke must have done, with the line of thought indicated in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Matthew 8, 9), and therefore we cannot wonder that we find it in the report of the words given by him (Matthew 22:20) and by St. Paul (1Corinthians 11:25). If we were to accept the other alternative, it would still be true that the covenant of which our Lord spoke was ipso facto new, and was therefore that of which Jeremiah had spoken, and that the insertion of the word (looking to the general freedom of the Gospels in reporting our Lord’s discourses) was a legitimate way of emphasising that fact.
Dealing with the words, we note (1) that the word “covenant” is everywhere (with, possibly, the one exception of Hebrews 9:16, but see Note there) the best equivalent for the Greek word. The popular use of the “New Testament” for the collected writings of the apostolic age, makes its employment here and in the parallel passages singularly infelicitous. (2) That the “blood of the covenant” is obviously a reference to the history of Exodus 24:4-8. The blood which the Son of Man was about to shed was to be to the true Israel of God what the blood which Moses had sprinkled on the people had been to the outward Israel. It was the true “blood of sprinkling” (Hebrews 12:24), and Jesus was thus the “Mediator” of the New Covenant as Moses had been of the Old (Galatians 3:19). (3) That so far as this was, in fact or words, the sign of a new covenant, it turned the thoughts of the disciples to that of which Jeremiah had spoken. The essence of that covenant was to be the inward working of the divine law, which had before been brought before the conscience as an external standard of duty—(“I will put My law in their inward parts,” Jeremiah 31:33)—a truer knowledge of God, and through that knowledge the forgiveness of iniquity; and all this, they were told, was to be brought about through the sacrifice of the death of Christ.
Which is shed for many.—The participle is, as before, in the present tense—which is being shed—the immediate future being presented to them as if it were actually passing before their eyes. As in Matthew 20:28, our Lord uses the indefinite “for many,” as equivalent to the universal “for all.” St, Paul’s language in 1Timothy 2:6 shows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, how the words “for many” had been interpreted.
For the remission of sins.—This had been from the outset the substance of the gospel which our Lord had preached, both to the people collectively (Luke 4:16-19) and to individual souls (Matthew 9:2; Luke 7:48). What was new in the words now was this connection with the shedding of His blood as that which was instrumental in obtaining the forgiveness. Returning, with the thoughts thus brought together, to the command of Matthew 26:27, “Drink ye all of it,” we may see, as before in the case of the bread, an allusive reference to the mysterious words of John 6:53-54. In the contrast between the “sprinkling” of Exodus 24:6 and the “drinking” here enjoined, we may legitimately see a symbol, not only of the participation of believers in the life of Christ, as represented by the blood, but also of the difference between the outward character of the Old Covenant and the inward nature of the New. It is, perhaps, not altogether outside the range of associations thus suggested to note that to drink together of a cup filled with human blood had come to be regarded as a kind of sacrament of closest and perpetual union, and as such was chosen by evildoers—as in the case of Catiline (Sallust, Catil. c. 22)—to bind their partners in guilt more closely to themselves. The cup which our Lord gave His disciples, though filled with wine, was to be to them the pledge of a union in holiness as deep and true as that which bound others in a league of evil.
We cannot pass, however, from these words without dwelling for a moment on their evidential aspect. For eighteen centuries—without, so far as we can trace, any interruption, even for a single week—the Christian Church, in all its manifold divisions, under every conceivable variety of form and ritual, has had its meetings to break bread and to drink wine, not as a social feast (from a very early date, if not from the beginning, the limited quantity of bread and wine must have excluded that idea), but as a commemorative act. It has referred its observance to the command thus recorded, and no other explanation has ever been suggested. But this being granted, we have in our Lord’s words, at the very time when He had spoken of the guilt of the Traitor and His own approaching death, the proof of a divine prescience. He knew that His true work was beginning and not ending; that He was giving a commandment that would last to the end of time; that He had obtained a greater honour than Moses, and was the Mediator of a better covenant (Hebrews 3:3; Hebrews 8:6).
But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.(29) I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine.—Literally, product of the vine. It would be better, perhaps, to translate, I shall not drink, as implying the acceptance of what had been ordained by God rather than an act of volition. The words carry us into a region of mystic symbolism. Never afterwards while He tarried upon earth was He to taste of the wine-cup with His disciples. But in the kingdom of God, completed and perfected, He would be with them once again, and then Master and disciples would be alike sharers in that joy in the Holy Ghost, of which wine—new wine—was the appropriate symbol. The language of Proverbs 9:2 and Isaiah 25:6, helps us to enter into the meaning of the words. Even the mocking taunt of the multitude on the day of Pentecost, “These men are full of new wine” (Acts 2:13), may have recalled the mysterious promise to the minds of the Apostles, and enabled them to comprehend that it was through the gift of the Spirit that they were entering, in part at least, even then, into the joy of their Lord.
And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.(30) And when they had sung an hymn.—This close of the supper would seem to coincide (but the work of the harmonist is not an easy one here) with the “Rise, let us go hence” of John 14:31, and, if so, we have to think of the conversation in John 14 as either coming between the departure of Judas and the institution of the Lord’s Supper, or else between that institution and the concluding hymn. This was probably the received Paschal series of Psalms (Psalms 115-118, inclusive), and the word implies a chant or musical recitative. Psalms 113, 114, were sung commonly during the meal. The Greek word may mean “when they had sung their hymn,” as of something known and definite.
They went out into the mount of Olives.—We must think of the breaking up of the Paschal company; of the fear and forebodings which pressed upon the minds of all, as they left the chamber and made their way, under the cold moonlight, through the streets of Jerusalem, down to the valley of the Kidron and up the western slope of Olivet. St. Luke records that His disciples followed Him, some near, some, it may be, afar off. The discourses reported in John 15, 16, 17, which must be assigned to this period in the evening, seem to imply a halt from time to time, during which the Master poured forth His heart to His disciples, or uttered intercessions for them. St. John, who had “lain in His bosom” at the supper, would naturally be nearest to Him now, and this may, in part at least, explain how it was that so full a report of all that was thus spoken appears in his Gospel, and in that only.
Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.(31) All ye shall be offended because of me.—We may think of the words as spoken at some early stage of that evening walk. It corresponds in substance with John 16:32, but seems to have been uttered more abruptly.
I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.—The citation of this prophecy, from Zechariah 13:7. is every way suggestive, as showing that our Lord’s thoughts had dwelt, and that He led the disciples to dwell, on that chapter as applicable to Himself. To one who dealt with prophecy as St. Matthew dealt with it, much in that chapter that is perplexing to the historical critic would be full of divinest meaning. It told of a “fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness;” of One with “wounds” in His hands, who was “wounded in the house of His friends;” of the Shepherd to whom Jehovah spake as to His “fellow.”
But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.(32) After I am risen.—Our Lord referred to these His words afterwards (Matthew 28:16), but they appear to have fallen at the time unheeded on the ears of the disciples, and to have been rapidly forgotten. No expectation of a resurrection is traceable in their after conduct.
Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.(33) Though all men shall be offended.—St. Matthew and St. Mark place the boast of Peter, and the prediction of his denial, after the disciples had left the guest-chamber; St. Luke (Luke 22:23) and St. John (John 13:37) agree in placing it before. It is barely possible that both may have been repeated, but the more probable hypothesis is, that we have here an example of the natural dislocation of the exact order of events that followed one upon another in rapid sequence, and at a time when men’s minds were heavy with confused sorrow.
Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.(34) Thou shalt deny me thrice.—The agreement of all the four Evangelists places the fact of the prediction beyond the shadow of a doubt, and the prevision which it implies is obviously more than a general insight into the instability of the disciple’s character, and involves a power essentially superhuman. We must not forget what the disciple could not fail to remember, that to the sin thus foretold was attached the penalty, that he who was guilty of it should be “denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12:9). That was the law of retribution, but as with all such laws, the penalty might be averted by repentance.
Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.(35) Though I should die with thee.—Though foremost in announcing the resolve, Peter was not alone in it. Thomas had spoken like words before (John 11:16), and all felt as if they were prepared to face death for their Master’s sake. To them He had been not only “righteous,” but “good” and kind, and therefore for Him “they even dared to die.” (Comp. Romans 5:7.)
And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.(37) He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee.—The favoured three, as before at the Transfiguration, and in the death-chamber in the house of Jairus (Matthew 17:1; Mark 5:37), were chosen out of the chosen. Their professions of devotion justified, as it were, the belief that they, at least, could “watch and pray” with Him. The nearness and sympathy of friends were precious even when personal solitude was felt to be a necessity.
And began to be sorrowful and very heavy.—The Greek word for the latter verb occurs only here, in the parallel passage of Mark 14:33, and Philippians 2:26, where it is translated “full of heaviness.” Its primary meaning is thought by some philologists to have been that of “satiety,” hence, “loathing” and “ill at ease.” Others, however, find its root-thought in being “far from home,” and so weary and perplexed. There is, it is obvious, a mysterious contrast between the calm, triumphant serenity which had shone in the look and tone of the Son of Man up to this point, and had reached its highest point in the prayer of John 17, and the anguish and distress that were now apparent. The change has, however, its manifold analogies in the experience of those who are nearest to their Master in sufferings and character. They, too, know how suddenly they may pass from confidence and joy as to a horror of great darkness. And in His sufferings we must remember there was an element absolutely unique. It was His to “tread the wine-press” alone (Isaiah 63:3). It was not only, as it might be with other martyrs, the natural shrinking of man’s nature from pain and death, nor yet the pain of finding treachery and want of true devotion where there had been the promise of faithfulness. The intensity of His sympathy at that moment made the sufferings and sins of mankind His own, and the burden of those sins weighed upon His soul as greater than He could bear (Isaiah 53:4-6).
Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.(38) Then cometh Jesus . . .—In the interval between Matthew 26:35-36, we have probably to place the discourses in John 15 (the reference to the vine, probably suggested by one which was putting forth its leaves in the early spring), John 16, and the great prayer of intercession in John 17. As St. John alone has recorded them, it is probable that he alone entered into their meaning, while others either did not hear them, or listened to them as above their reach, and asked their child-like questions (John 16:18-19; John 16:29-30). St. Luke records what we may look on as the germ of the great intercession, in our Lord’s words to Peter, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22:32).
A place called Gethsemane.—The word means “oil-press,” and was obviously connected with the culture of the trees from which the Mount took its name. St. John’s description implies that it was but a little way beyond the brook Kidron (John 18:1), on the lower western slope of the mount. There was, a garden (or rather, orchard) there which was the wonted resort of our Lord and the disciples when they sought retirement. The olive-trees now growing in the place shown as Gethsemane, venerable as their age is, can hardly have been those that then grew there, as Josephus expressly records that Titus ordered all the trees in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem to be cut down, and the Tenth Legion was actually encamped on the Mount of Olives (Jos. Wars, v. 2, § 3). They probably represent the devotion of pilgrims of the fourth or some later century, who replanted the hallowed site.
Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.—Partly in compassion to the weakness and weariness of the disciples, partly from the sense of the need of solitude in the highest acts of communing with His Father, the Son of Man withdraws for a little while from converse with those whom, up to this time, He had been strengthening. He had been (as in John 17) praying for them; He now needs to pray for Himself.
(38) Exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.—The infinite sadness of that hour leads the Master to crave for sympathy from the three who were, most of all, His brothers. If they may not see, or fully hear, the throes of that agony, as though the pangs of death had already fallen on Him, it will be something to know that they are at least watching with Him, sharers in that awful vigil.
And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.(39) He went a little farther.—St. Luke adds (Luke 22:41) “about a stone’s cast.” The eight were left, we may believe, near the entrance of the garden; the three, “apart by themselves,” further on; the Master, still further, by Himself. The three heard the words that came from His lips as with a half-consciousness which revived afterwards in memory, but they were then numbed and stupefied with weariness and sorrow. It was now near the dawning of the day, and their eyes had not closed in sleep for four-and-twenty hours.
If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.—We shrink instinctively from analysing or commenting on the utterances of that hour of agony. But, happily, words are given us where our own words fail. Thus it was, we are told, that “He learned obedience by the things that He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). He had spoken before to the very disciples who were now near Him of the “cup” which His Father had given Him to drink (Matthew 20:23). Now the “cup” is brought to His lips, and His human will at once shrinks from it and accepts it. The prayer which He had taught His disciples to use, “Lead us not into temptation,” is now His prayer, but it is subordinated to that other prayer, which is higher even than it, “Thy will be done.” In the prayer “If it be possible” we recognise, as in Mark 13:32, the natural, necessary limits of our Lord’s humanity In one sense “with God all things are possible,” but even the Divine Omnipotence works through self-imposed laws, in the spiritual as in the natural world, and there also ends cannot be obtained except through their appointed and therefore necessary means. God might have redeemed mankind, men have rashly said, without the sufferings and death of the Son of Man, but the higher laws of the Divine Government made such a course, if we may venture so to speak, morally impossible.
And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?(40) He cometh unto the disciples.—Perhaps to both the groups—first of the three and then of the eight. All were alike sleeping—as St. Luke characteristically adds, “sleeping for sorrow.”
What, could ye not watch . . .?—Literally, Were ye thus unable to watch? St. Mark (Mark 14:37) individualises the words—“Simon, sleepest thou?” He had boasted of his readiness to do great things. He could not so much as rouse himself to watch for one hour. The last word may be fairly taken as partly measuring the time that had passed since their Master had left them. As the words are reported we must believe that the disciples were just so far roused as to hear them, and that they sank back powerless into slumber.
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.(41) Watch and pray.—The first word is eminently characteristic of our Lord’s teaching at this period (Matthew 24:42; Matthew 25:13). It became the watchword of the early disciples (1Corinthians 16:13; Colossians 4:2; 1Thessalonians 5:6; 1Peter 5:8). It left its mark in the history of Christendom in the new names of Gregory, and Vigilius, or Vigilantius, “the watcher.”
That ye enter not into temptation—i.e., as in the Lord’s Prayer, to which our Lord manifestly recalls the minds of the disciples—the trial of coming danger and persecution. In their present weakness that trial might prove greater than they could bear, and therefore they were to watch and pray, in order that they might not pass by negligence into too close contact with its power.
The spirit indeed is willing.—Better, ready, or eager. There is a tenderness in the warning which is very noticeable. The Master recognises the element of good, their readiness to go with Him to prison or to death, in their higher nature. But the spirit and the flesh were contrary the one to the other (Galatians 5:17); and therefore they could not do the things that they would, without a higher strength than their own.
He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.(42) If this cup may not pass away from me.—There is a slight change of tone perceptible in this prayer as compared with the first. It is, to speak after the manner of men, as though the conviction that it was not possible that the cup could pass away from Him had come with fuller clearness before His mind. and He was learning to accept it. He finds the answer to the former prayer in the continuance, not the removal. of the bitter agony that preyed on His spirit. It is probably at this stage of the trial that we are to place the sweat like “great drops of blood” and the vision of the angel of Luke 22:43-44.
And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.(43) He came and found them asleep again.—The motive of this return we may reverently believe to have been, as before, the craving for human sympathy in that hour of awful agony. He does not now rouse them or speak to them. He looks on them sorrowfully, and they meet His gaze with bewildered and stupefied astonishment. “They wist not what to answer Him” (Mark 14:40).
And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.(44) Saying the same words.—The fact is suggestive, as indicating that there is a repetition in prayer which indicates not formalism, but intensity of feeling. Lower forms of sorrow may, as it were, play with grief and vary the forms of its expression, but the deepest and sharpest agony is content to fall back upon the iteration of the self-same words.
Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.(45) Sleep on now, and take your rest.—There is an obvious difficulty in these words, followed as they are so immediately by the “Rise, let us be going,” of the next verse. We might, at first, be inclined to see in them a shade of implied reproach. “Sleep on now, if sleep under such conditions is possible; make the most of the short interval that remains before the hour of the betrayal comes.” Something of this kind seems obviously implied, but the sudden change is, perhaps, best explained by the supposition that it was not till after these words had been spoken that the Traitor and his companions were seen actually approaching, and that it was this that led to the words seemingly so different in their purport, bidding the slumberers to rouse themselves from sleep. The past, which, as far as their trial went, might have been given to sleep, was over. A new crisis had come calling for action.
Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.(46) Rise, let us be going.—It is obvious that the latter clause does not involve any suggestion of flight, but rather a call to confront the danger.
And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people.(47) A great multitude with swords and staves.—St. John’s account (John 18:3) is fuller. The multitude included (1) the band (not “a band,” as in the Authorised version), i.e., the cohort (the same word as in Acts 10:1) of Roman soldiers sent by Pilate to prevent a tumult. These probably were armed with swords; (2) the officers of the chief-priests, probably the Levites or Nethinim, who were the guards of the Temple, armed with “staves” or “clubs.” He adds, also, what lay in the nature of the case, that they were provided with “lanterns and torches” as well as weapons. It was now near the hour of dawn, but they must have left the city while there was at best only moonlight to guide them. They bent their steps to Gethsemane, as that was known to Judas as one at least of our Lord’s chosen resorts (John 18:2), in which, we may well believe, He had spent some hours of each of the four preceding nights.
Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast.(48) Whomsoever I shall kiss.—It is probable, from the known customs (1) of the Jews and (2) of the early Christians (Romans 16:16; 1Thessalonians 5:26) that this was the usual salutation of the disciples to their Master. St. John, it may be noted, makes no mention of the sign; probably because here, as elsewhere, he seeks to give touches that others had passed over, rather than to repeat what the oral or written teaching of the Church had already made familiar.
And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him.(49) Hail, master.—Better, Rabbi, both St. Matthew and St. Mark (Mark 14:45) giving the Hebrew word. The Greek word for “hail” is somewhat more familiar than the English has come to be for us. It was, we may believe, the disciples’ usual greeting.
And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him.(50) Friend, wherefore art thou come?—The word is the same as in Matthew 20:13; Matthew 22:12; and “comrade,” and the old and not yet obsolete English “mate,” come nearer to its meaning. In classical Greek it was used by fellow-soldiers, or sailors, of each other. Socrates used it in conversing with his scholars (Plato, Repub. i., p. 334). It is probably immediately after the kiss had thus been given that we must insert the short dialogue between our Lord and the officers recorded in John 18:2-8.
And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear.(51) One of them which were with Jesus.—It is remarkable that, though all four Gospels record the fact, St. John alone (John 18:10-11) records the names both of the disciple who struck the blow (Peter) and of the servant whom he attacked. The reticence of the first three Gospels in this instance, as in that of the woman with the box of ointment, must have been obviously intentional; but it is not easy to conjecture its motive.
Drew his sword.—We learn from Luke 22:33 that there were but two swords in the whole company of the twelve. One of these naturally was in Peter’s possession, as being the foremost of the whole band.
A servant of the high priest’s.—St. John (John 18:11) with the precision characteristic of his narrative, especially in this part of the Gospel history, gives the servant’s name as Malchus, and states that it was the right ear that was cut off. He came, it would seem, not as one of the officers of the Temple, but as the personal slave of Caiaphas. Three of the four Gospels use the diminutive form of the Greek for “ear,” St. Luke only (Luke 22:50) giving the primitive word. It is doubtful, however, whether the former was used with any special significance. St. Luke also (Luke 22:51) alone records the fact that our Lord touched and healed the wound thus made.
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.(52) All they that take the sword.—St. Matthew’s record is here the fullest. St. Mark reports none of the words; St. Luke (Luke 22:51) gives only the calming utterance, “Suffer ye thus far;” St. John (John 18:11) adds to the command to put the sword into its sheath the words, “The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” a manifest echo of the prayer that had been uttered before in the hour of His agony. The words which St. Matthew gives are obviously not a general rule declaring the unlawfulness of all warfare, offensive or defensive, but are limited in their range by the occasion. Resistance at that time would have involved certain destruction. More than that, it would have been fighting not for God, but against Him, because against the fulfilment of His purpose. It is, however, a natural inference from the words to see in them a warning applicable to all analogous occasions. In whatever other cause it may be lawful to use carnal weapons, it is not wise or right to draw the sword for Christ and His Truth. (Comp. 2Corinthians 10:4.)
Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?(53) Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray . . .?—There is a strange and suggestive blending of the possible and the impossible in these words. Could He have brought Himself to utter that prayer, it would have been answered. But He could not so pray unless He knew it to be in harmony with His Father’s will, and He had been taught, in that hour of agony, that it was not in harmony, and therefore He would not utter it.
Presently.—The modern English reader needs to be reminded once more that the word means immediately, without a moment’s delay.
Twelve legions.—The number is probably suggested by that of the Apostles. Not twelve weak men, one a traitor and the others timorous, but twelve legions of the armies of the Lord of Hosts. Note the Roman word appearing here, as in Mark 5:9; Mark 5:15, as the representative of warlike might.
But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?(54) How then shall the scriptures be fulfilled?—The words indicate what one may reverently speak of as the source of the peace and calmness which had come to our Lord’s human soul out of the depths of its agony. All that was sharpest and most bitter was part of a pre-ordained discipline. Not otherwise could the Scriptures be fulfilled, which had painted, if we may so speak, the picture of the ideal Sufferer not less vividly than that of the ideal Conqueror and King. It was meet that He too should be made perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).
In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me.(55) Are ye come out as against a thief?—Better, as against a robber with swords and clubs. The word is the same as that used in John 18:40, of Harabbas, and points to the brigand chieftain of a lawless band as distinct from the petty thief of towns or villages.
I sat daily with you teaching in the temple.—The statement referred primarily, perhaps, to what had passed in the three days immediately preceding, but it looks beyond this in its wide generality, and is important as an indication, occurring in one of the first three Gospels, of a ministry in Jerusalem, which their narratives pass over. The “sitting” in the Temple implied that our Lord took the position of a teacher more or less recognised as such (comp. Note on Matthew 5:1), not that of one who was addressing the multitude without authority.
But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.(56) But all this was done.—Better, but all this has come to pass. The words, though they agree in form with those of Mark 1:22, are, as we see from Mark 14:49, not a comment of the Evangelist’s, but our Lord’s own witness to the disciples and the multitude, that the treachery and violence of which He was the victim were all working out a divine purpose, and (as in Matthew 26:54) fulfilling the Scriptures in which that purpose had been shadowed forth.
Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.—We read with a sorrowful surprise of this cowardly abandonment. Better things, we think, might have been expected of those who had professed their readiness to go with Him to prison and to death. Yet we may remember (1) the weariness and exhaustion which had overcome them, making the resolve and courage, to say the least, more difficult; and (2) that they had been told not to resist, and that flight might seem to them the only alternative to resistance. We have to fill up St. Matthew’s record with the strange episode of the “young man with a linen cloth cast about his naked body” of Mark 14:51, where see Note.
And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.(57) To Caiaphas the high priest.—St. John alone, probably from the special facilities which he possessed as known to the high priest, records the preliminary examination before Annas (John 18:13; John 18:19-24). It was obviously intended to draw from our Lord’s lips something that might serve as the basis of an accusation. Caiaphas, we must remember, had already committed himself to the policy of condemnation (John 11:49-50). The whole history that follows leaves the impression that the plans of the priests had been hastened by the treachery of Judas.
Where the scribes and the elders were assembled.—It was against the rules of Jewish law to hold a session of the Sanhedrin or Council for the trial of capital offences by night. Such an assembly on the night of the Paschal Supper must have been still more at variance with usage, and the fact that it was so held has, indeed, been urged as a proof that the Last Supper was not properly the Passover. The present gathering was therefore an informal one—probably a packed meeting of those who were parties to the plot, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathæa, and probably not a few others, like the young “ruler” of Luke 18:18, not being summoned. When they had gone through their mock trial, and day was dawning (Luke 22:68), they transformed themselves into a formal court, and proceeded to pass judgment.
But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest's palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end.(58) Peter followed him afar off.—We find from St. John’s narrative, here much the fullest, that it was through him that Peter found admission. He sat in the “court” “with the servants” (better, officers, as in John 18:18) and the slaves, who, in the chill of the early dawn, had lighted a charcoal fire. Female slaves who acted as gate-keepers were passing to and fro. The cold night air had told on the disciple, and he too, weary and chilled, drew near the fire and warmed himself.
To see the end.—There is something singularly suggestive in this account of Peter’s motive. It was, we may believe, more than a vague curiosity. There was something of sorrowful anxiety, of reverential sorrow, but there was no fervent devotion, no prayer for himself or his Master, only the fevered restlessness of uncertain expectation, and so all the natural instability of his character had free play, with nothing to control it.
Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;(59) Sought false witness.—The tense of the Greek verb implies a continued process of seeking. The attempt to draw the materials for condemnation from the lips of the accused had failed. The law of Moses required at least two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15), and these, it is natural to believe, were examined independently of each other. The haste which marked all the proceedings of the trial had probably prevented previous concert, and the judges could not, for very shame, convict in the face of a glaring discrepancy, probably as to time and place, between the witnesses who thus offered themselves.
And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.(61) This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God.—It is remarkable that the two Gospels which record the charge do not record the words in which it had its starting-point. Apparently, the second cleansing of the Temple (Matthew 21:12) had revived the memory of the first, and brought back to men’s minds the words that had then been spoken—“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). What was now reported was a sufficiently natural distortion of what had then been said. St. Mark adds that even then the witnesses did not agree. There were still discrepancies as to time, place, and the exact words, that did not fit in with the established rules of evidence.
And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?(62) Answerest thou nothing?—A different punctuation gives, Answerest Thou nothing to what these witness against Thee? as one question. The question implies a long-continued silence, while witness after witness were uttering their clumsy falsehoods, the effect of which it is not easy to realise without a more than common exercise of what may be called dramatic imagination. I remember hearing from a distinguished scholar who had seen the Ammergau Passion-mystery, that, as represented there, it came upon him with a force which he had never felt before. In the silence itself we may perhaps trace a deliberate fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 53:7. In 1Peter 2:23 we find a record of the impression which that fulfilment made on the disciples.
What is it . . .?—The question was clearly put, as it had been before Annas (John 18:19), with the intention of drawing out something that would ensure condemnation.
But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.(63) I adjure thee by the living God . . .—The appeal was one of unusual solemnity. All else had failed to break through the silence, but this would surely rouse Him. Technically, the oath thus tendered to the accused was of the nature of an oath of compurgation, such as that recognised in Exodus 22:11, Numbers 5:19-22, 1Kings 8:31, but it was skilfully worded so as to force upon our Lord the alternative either of denying what indeed He was, or of making a confession which would be treated as blasphemy. The records of St. John’s Gospel (John 5:18; John 8:58; John 9:37; John 10:24) show us that they had good means of knowing what answer to expect.
Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.(64) Thou hast said.—The silence was broken as they expected. He was indeed what the words they had uttered implied. More than this, He was also the Son of Man of Daniel’s vision (Daniel 7:13), the Head of an everlasting kingdom. No words in the whole Gospel records are more decisive against the views of those who would fain see in our Lord only a great moral teacher, like Socrates or Cakya Mouni. At the very crisis of His history, when denial would have saved His life. He asserts His claim to be much more than this, to be all that the most devout Christians have ever believed Him to be. At such a moment, when men stand face to face with seeming failure and with death, dreams and delusive claims for the most part melt away. Here claims that men have presumed to think of as delusive were strengthened and intensified, and reproduced as in the calmness of assured conviction.
The right hand of power.—The Greek article here can hardly be reproduced in English, but it is well to remember that our Lord speaks of “the power,” that which belonged pre-eminently to the Eternal.
Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.(65) Then the high priest rent his clothes.—The act was almost as much a formal sign of condemnation as the putting on of the black cap by an English judge. The judges in a Jewish trial for blasphemy were bound to rend their clothes in twain when the blasphemous words were uttered, and the clothes so torn were never afterwards to be mended. In Acts 14:14 the same act appears, on the part of Paul and Barnabas, as the expression of an impulsive horror, as it had done of old when Eliakim rent his clothes on hearing the blasphemies of Rabshaken (2Kings 18:37). A comparison of the Greek word here and in Mark 14:63 shows that it included the tunic or under-garment as well as the cloak.
What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death.(66) He is guilty of death.—In modern English the word “guilty” is almost always followed by the crime which a man has committed. In older use it was followed by the punishment which the man deserved. (Comp. Numbers 35:31.) The decision, as far as the meeting went, was unanimous. Sentence was passed. It remained, however, to carry the sentence into effect, and this, while the Roman governor was at Jerusalem, presented a difficulty which had to be met by proceedings of another kind. The Jews, or at least their rulers, who courted the favour of Rome, ostentatiously disclaimed the power of punishing capital offences (John 18:31).
Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands,(67) Then did they spit in his face.—We learn from St. Mark (Mark 14:65) and St. Luke (Luke 22:63) that these acts of outrage were perpetrated, not by the members of the Sanhedrin, but by the officers who had the accused in their custody, and who, it would seem, availed themselves of the interval between the two meetings of the council to indulge in this wanton cruelty. Here, also, they were unconsciously working out a complete correspondence with Isaiah’s picture of the righteous sufferer (Isaiah 1:6). The word “buffeted” describes a blow with the clenched fist, as contrasted with one with the open palm.
Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?(68) Prophesy unto us, thou Christ.—The words derived their point from the fact recorded by St. Mark (Mark 14:65), that the officers had blindfolded their prisoner. Was He able, through His supernatural power, to identify those who smote Him?
Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.(69) Now Peter sat without in the palace.—Better, had sat down in the court. The word rendered “palace” here and in Matthew 26:58, is strictly the court-yard or quadrangle round which a house was built. It may be well to bring together the order of the Apostle’s thrice-repeated denials.
(1) On his entry into the court-yard of the palace, in answer to the female slave who kept the door (John 18:17).
(3) About an hour later (Luke 22:59), after he had left the fire, as if to avoid the shower of questions, and had gone out into the porch, or gateway leading out of the court-yard, in answer (a) to one of the damsels who had spoken before (Mark 14:69; Matthew 26:71), and again (b) to other by-standers (Luke 22:59; Matthew 26:13; Mark 14:20).
There were thus three distinct occasions, but as the hasty words of denial rose to his lips, it is probable enough that they were repeated more than once on each occasion, and that several persons heard them.
As far as we can analyse the impulse which led to the denial, it was probably shame not less than fear. The feeling which had shown itself in the cry, “Be it far from thee, Lord,” when he first heard of his Master’s coming passion (Matthew 16:22), came back upon him, and he shrank from the taunts and ridicule which were sure to fall upon the followers of One whom they had acknowledged as the Christ, and whose career was ending in apparent failure. It was against that feeling of shame that our Lord on that occasion had specially warned him (Mark 8:38). The element of fear also was, however, probably strong in Peter’s nature. (Comp. Galatians 2:12.)
And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man.(72) With an oath.—The downward step once taken, the disciple’s fall was fatally rapid. Forgetful of his Lord’s command forbidding any use of oaths in common speech (Matthew 5:34), he did not shrink from invoking the divine name, directly or indirectly, to attest his falsehood.
And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.(73) Thy speech bewrayeth thee.—The Galilean patois was probably stronger when he spoke under the influence of strong excitement. It was said to have, as its chief feature, a confused thick utterance of the guttural letters of the Hebrew alphabet, so that they could not be distinguished from each other, and the change of Sh into Th. The half-detection which the remark implied, perhaps, also, some sense of shame at the provincialism attracting notice, led to the more vehement denial that followed.
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.(74) To curse and to swear.—We may infer from the two words that he used some common formula of execration, such as, e.g., “God do so to me and more also” (1Kings 19:2; 1Kings 20:10), as well as the oath-formula, “By Heaven,” or “By the Temple.”
Immediately the cock crew.—St. Mark alone records the first cock-crow. The Greek has no article; “a cock crew.” We find from Mark 13:35 that “cock-crowing” had become a familiar phrase, as with us, for the earliest hour of dawn.
And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.(75) Peter remembered the word of Jesus.—St. Luke records (Luke 22:61) that it was at this moment, probably as He was passing from the council chamber, mocked and buffeted by the officers, that “the Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” That glance, full, we must believe, of tenderest pity and deepest sadness, as of one who was moved not by anger but by sorrow, recalled him to his better self, and the flood-gates of penitence were opened. From that hour we lose sight of him till the morning of the Resurrection. We may infer from his then appearing in company with John (John 20:3), that he turned in his contrition to the friend and companion of his early years, who had probably witnessed his denials, and was not repulsed. The fact that the record of his fall appears in every Gospel, may be noted as indicating that, in after years, he did not shrink from letting men know of his guilt, but sought rather that men might find in him (as St. Paul afterwards in his experience, 1Timothy 1:12-16) a proof of the mercy and tender pity of his Lord.