In this chapter begins the account which this evangelist gives of the death and sufferings of our Lord Jesus, which we are all concerned to be acquainted, not only with the history of, but with the mystery of. Here is, I. The plot of the chief priests and scribes against Christ, ver 1, 2. II. The anointing of Christ's head at a supper in Bethany, two days before his death, ver 3-9. III. The contract Judas made with the chief priests, to betray him, ver 10, 11. IV. Christ's eating the passover with his disciples, his instituting the Lord's supper, and his discourse with his disciples, at and after supper, ver 12-31. V. Christ's agony in the garden, ver 32-42. VI. The betraying of him by Judas, and the apprehending of him by the chief priests' agents, ver 43-52. VII. His arraignment before the high priest, his conviction, and the indignities done him at that bar, ver 53-65. VIII. Peter's denying him, ver 66-72. Most of which passages we had before, Matt 26.
Christ Anointed at Bethany; Judas Engages to Betray Christ.
1 After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death. 2 But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people. 3 And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. 4 And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? 5 For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. 6 And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. 7 For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. 8 She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. 9 Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her. 10 And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.
We have here instances,
I. Of the kindness of Christ's friends, and the provision made of respect and honour for him. Some friends he had, even in and about Jerusalem, that loved him, and never thought they could do enough for him, among whom, though Israel be not gathered, he is, and will be, glorious.
1. Here was one friend, that was so kind as to invite him to sup with him; and he was so kind as to accept the invitation, v. 3. Though he had a prospect of his death approaching, yet he did not abandon himself to a melancholy retirement from all company, but conversed as freely with his friends as usual.
2. Here was another friend, that was so kind as to anoint his head with very precious ointment as he sat at meat. This was an extraordinary piece of respect paid him by a good woman that thought nothing too good to bestow upon Christ, and to do him honour. Now the scripture was fulfilled, When the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof, Cant 1 12. Let us anoint Christ as our Beloved, kiss him with a kiss of affection; and anoint him as our Sovereign, kiss him with a kiss of allegiance. Did he pour out his soul unto death for us, and shall we think any box of ointment too precious to pour out upon him? It is observable that she took care to pour it all out upon Christ's head; she broke the box (so we read it); but because it was an alabaster box, not easily broken, nor was it necessary that it should be broken, to get out the ointment, some read it, she shook the box, or knocked it to the ground, to loosen what was in it, that it might be got out the better; or, she rubbed and scraped out all that stuck tot he sides of it. Christ must have been honoured with all we have, and we must not think to keep back any part of the price. Do we give him the precious ointment of our best affections? Let him have them all; love him with all the heart.
Now, (1.) There were those that put a worse construction upon this than it deserved. They called it a waste of the ointment, v. 4. Because they could not have found their hearts to put themselves to such an expense for the honouring of Christ, they thought that she was prodigal, who did. Note, As the vile person ought to be called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful (Isa 32 5); so the liberal and bountiful ought not to be called wasteful. They pretend it might have been sold, and given to the poor, v. 5. But as a common piety to the corban will not excuse from a particular charity to a poor parent (ch. 7 11), so a common charity to the poor will not excuse from a particular act of piety to the Lord Jesus. What thy hand finds to do, that is good, do it with thy might.
(2.) Our Lord Jesus put a better construction upon it than, for aught that appears, was designed. Probably, she intended no more, than to show the great honour she had for him, before all the company, and to complete his entertainment. But Christ makes it to be an act of great faith, as well as great love (v. 8); "She is come aforehand, to anoint my body to the burying, as if she foresaw that my resurrection would prevent her doing it afterward." This funeral rite was a kind of presage of, or prelude to, his death approaching. See how Christ's heart was filled with the thoughts of his death, how every thing was construed with a reference to that, and how familiarly he spoke of it upon all occasions. It is usual for those who are condemned to die, to have their coffins prepared, and other provision made for their funerals, while they are yet alive; and so Christ accepted this. Christ's death and burial were the lowest steps of his humiliation, and therefore, though he cheerfully submitted to them, yet he would have some marks of honour to attend them, which might help to take off the offence of the cross, and be an intimation how precious in the sight of the Lord the death of his saints is. Christ never rode in triumph into Jerusalem, but when he came thither to suffer; nor had ever his head anointed, but for his burial.
(3.) He recommended this piece of heroic piety to the applause of the church in all ages; Wherever this gospel shall be preached, it shall be spoken of, for a memorial of her, v. 9. Note, The honour which attends well-doing, even in this world, is sufficient to balance the reproach and contempt that are cast upon it. The memory of the just is blessed, and they that had trial of cruel mockings, yet obtained a good report, Heb 11 6, 39. Thus was this good woman repaid for her box of ointment, Nec oleum perdidit nec operam—She lost neither her oil nor her labour. She got by it that good name which is better than precious ointment. Those that honour Christ he will honour.
II. Of the malice of Christ's enemies, and the preparation made by them to do him mischief.
1. The chief priests, his open enemies, consulted how they might put him to death, v. 1, 2. The feast of the passover was now at hand, and at that feast he must be crucified, (1.) That his death and suffering might be the more public, and that all Israel, even those of the dispersion, who came from all parts to the feast, might be witnesses of it, and of the wonders that attended it. (2.) That the Anti-type might answer to the type. Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us, and brought us out of the house of bondage, at the same time that the paschal lamb was sacrificed, and Israel's deliverance out of Egypt was commemorated.
Now see, [1.] How spiteful Christ's enemies were; they did not think it enough to banish or imprison him, for they aimed not only to silence him, and stop his progress for the future, but to be revenged on him for all the good he had done. [2.] How subtle they were; Not on the feast-day, when the people are together; they do not say, Lest they should be disturbed in their devotions, and diverted from them, but, Lest there should be an uproar (v. 2); lest they should rise, and rescue him, and fall foul upon those that attempt any thing against him. They who desired nothing more than the praise of men, dreaded nothing more than the rage and displeasure of men.
2. Judas, his disguised enemy, contracted with them for the betraying of him, v. 10, 11. He is said to be one of the twelve that were Christ's family, intimate with him, trained up for the service of the kingdom; and he went to the chief priests, to tender his service in this affair.
(1.) That which he proposed to them, was, to betray Christ to them, and to give them notice when and where they might find him, and seize him, without making an uproar among the people, which they were afraid of, if they should seize him when he appeared in public, in the midst of his admirers. Did he know then what help it was they wanted, and where they were run aground in their counsels? It is probable that he did not, for the debate was held in their close cabal. Did they know that he had a mind to serve them, and make court to him? No, they could not imagine that any of his intimates should be so base; but Satan, who was entered into Judas, knew what occasion they had for him, and could guide him to be guide to them, who were contriving to take Jesus. Note, The spirit that works in all the children of disobedience, knows how to bring them in to the assistance one of another in a wicked project, and then to harden them in it, with the fancy that Providence favours them.
(2.) That which he proposed to himself, was, to get money by the bargain; he had what he aimed at, when they promised to give him money. Covetousness was Judas's master-lust, his own iniquity, and that betrayed him to the sin of betraying his Master; the devil suited his temptation to that, and so conquered him. It is not said, They promised him preferment (he was not ambitious of that), but, they promised him money. See what need we have to double our guard against the sin that most easily besets us. Perhaps it was Judas's covetousness that brought him at first to follow Christ, having a promise that he should be cash-keeper, or purser, to the society, and he loved in his heart to be fingering money; and now that there was money to be got on the other side, he was as ready to betray him as ever he had been to follow him. Note, Where the principle of men's profession of religion is carnal and worldly, and the serving of a secular interest, the very same principle, whenever the wind turns, will be the bitter root of a vile and scandalous apostasy.
(3.) Having secured the money, he set himself to make good his bargain; he sought how he might conveniently betray him, how he might seasonably deliver him up, so as to answer the intention of those who had hired him. See what need we have to be careful that we do not ensnare ourselves in sinful engagements. If at any time we be so ensnared in the words of our mouths, we are concerned to deliver ourselves by a speedy retreat, Prov 6 1-5. It is a rule in our law, as well as in our religion, that an obligation to do an evil thing is null and void; it binds to repentance, not to performance. See how the way of sin is down-hill—when men are in, they must be on; and what wicked contrivances many have in their sinful pursuits, to compass their designs conveniently; but such conveniences will prove mischiefs in the end.
The Institution of the Lord's Supper.
12 And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover? 13 And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. 14 And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guest chamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? 15 And he will show you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us. 16 And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover. 17 And in the evening he cometh with the twelve. 18 And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray me. 19 And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I? 20 And he answered and said unto them, It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish. 21 The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born. 22 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. 23 And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. 24 And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. 25 Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God. 26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. 28 But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee. 29 But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. 30 And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. 31 But he spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all.
In these verses we have,
I. Christ's eating the passover with his disciples, the night before he died, with the joys and comforts of which ordinance he prepared himself for his approaching sorrows, the full prospect of which did not indispose him for that solemnity. Note, No apprehension of trouble, come or coming, should put us by, or put us out of frame for, our attendance on holy ordinances, as we have opportunity for it.
1. Christ ate the passover at the usual time when the other Jews did, as Dr. Whitby had fully made out, and not, as Dr. Hammond would have it, the night before. It was on the first day of that feast, which (taking in all the eight days of the feast) was called, The feast of unleavened bread, even that day when they killed the passover, v. 12.
2. He directed his disciples how to find the place where he intended to eat the passover; and hereby gave such another proof of his infallible knowledge of things distant and future (which to us seem altogether contingent), as he had given when he sent them for the ass on which he rode in triumph (ch. 11 6); "Go into the city (for the passover must be eaten in Jerusalem), and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water (a servant sent for water to clean the rooms in his master's house); follow him, go in where he goes, enquire for his master, the good man of the house (v. 14), and desire him to show you a room." No doubt, the inhabitants of Jerusalem had rooms fitted up to be let out, for this occasion, to those that came out of the country to keep the passover, and one of those Christ made use of; not any friend's house, nor any house he had formerly frequented, for then he would have said, "Go to such a friend," or, "You know where we used to be, go thither and prepare." Probably he went where he was not known, that he might be undisturbed with his disciples. Perhaps he notified it by a sign, to conceal it from Judas, that he might not know till he came to the place; and by such a sign to intimate that he will dwell in the clean heart, that is, washed as with pure water. Where he designs to come, a pitcher of water must go before him; see Isa 1 16-18.
3. He ate the passover in an upper room furnished, estromenon—laid with carpets (so Dr. Hammond); it would seem to have been a very handsome dining-room. Christ was far from affecting any thing that looked stately in eating his common meals; on the contrary, he chose that which was homely, sat down on the grass: but, when he was to keep a sacred feast, in honour of that he would be at the expense of as good a room as he could get. God looks not at outward pomp, but he looks at the tokens and expressions of inward reverence for a divine institution, which, it is to be feared, those want, who, to save charges, deny themselves decencies in the worship of God.
4. He ate it with the twelve, who were his family, to teach those who have the charge of families, not only families of children, but families of servants, or families of scholars, or pupils, to keep up religion among them, and worship God with them. If Christ came with the twelve, then Judas was with them, though he was at this time contriving to betray his Master; and it is plain by what follows (v. 20), that he was there: he did not absent himself, lest he could have been suspected; had his seat been empty at this feast, they would have said, as Saul of David, He is not clean, surely he is not clean, 1 Sam 20 26. Hypocrites, though they know it is at their peril, yet crowd into special ordinances, to keep up their repute, and palliate their secret wickedness. Christ did not exclude him from the feast, though he knew his wickedness, for it was not as yet become public and scandalous. Christ, designing to put the keys of the kingdom of heaven into the hands of men, who can judge only according to outward appearance, would hereby both direct and encourage them in their admissions to his table, to be satisfied with a justifiable profession, because they cannot discern the root of bitterness till it springs up.
II. Christ's discourse with his disciples, as they were eating the passover. It is probable that they had discourse, according to the custom of the feast, of the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, and the preservation of the first-born, and were as pleasant as they used to be together on this occasion, till Christ told them that which would mix trembling with their joys.
1. They were pleasing themselves with the society of their Master; but he tells them that they must now presently lose him; The Son of man is betrayed; and they knew, for he had often told them, what followed—If he be betrayed, the next news you will hear of him, is, that he is crucified and slain; God hath determined it concerning him, and he agrees to it; The Son of man goes, as it is written of him, v. 21. It was written in the counsels of God, and written in the prophecies of the Old Testament, not one jot or tittle of either of which can fall to the ground.
2. They were pleasing themselves with the society one of another, but Christ casts a damp upon the joy of that, by telling them, One of you that eateth with me shall betray me, v. 18. Christ said this, if it might be, to startle the conscience of Judas, and to awaken him to repent of his wickedness, and to draw back (for it was not too late) from the brink of the pit. But for aught that appears, he who was most concerned in the warning, was least concerned at it. All the rest were affected with it. (1.) They began to be sorrowful. As the remembrance of our former falls into sin, so the fear of the like again, doth often much embitter the comfort of our spiritual feasts, and damp our joy. Here were the bitter herbs, with which this passover-feast was taken. (2.) They began to be suspicious of themselves; they said one by one, Is it I? And another said, Is it I? They are to be commended for their charity, that they were more jealous of themselves than of one another. It is the law of charity, to hope the best (1 Cor 13 5-7), because we assuredly know, therefore we may justly suspect, more evil by ourselves than by our brethren. They are also to be commended for their acquiescence in what Christ said; they trusted more to his words than to their own hearts; and therefore do not say, "I am sure it is not I," but, "Lord, is it I? see if there be such a way of wickedness in us, such a root of bitterness, and discover it to us, that we may pluck up that root, and stop up that way."
Now, in answer to their enquiry, Christ saith that, [1.] Which would make them easy; "It is not you, or you; it is this that now dips with me in the dish; the adversary and enemy is this wicked Judas." [2.] Which, one would think, should make Judas very uneasy. If he go on in his undertaking, it is upon the sword's point, for woe to that many by whom the Son of man is betrayed; he is undone, for every undone; his sin will soon find him out; and it were better for him that he had never been born, and had never had a being than such a miserable one as he must have. It is very probable that Judas encouraged himself in it with this thought, that his Master had often said he must be betrayed; "And if it must be done, surely God will not find fault with him that doth it, for who hath resisted his will?" As that objector argues, Rom 9 19. But Christ tells him that this will be no shelter or excuse to him; The Son of man indeed goes; as it is written of him, as a lamb to the slaughter; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed. God's decree to permit the sins of men, and bring glory to himself out of them, do neither necessitate their sins, nor determine to them, nor will they be any excuse of the sin, or mitigation of the punishment. Christ was delivered indeed by the determinate counsel and fore-knowledge of God; but, notwithstanding that, it is with wicked hands that he is crucified and slain, Acts 2 23.
III. The institution of the Lord's supper.
1. It was instituted in the close of a supper, when they were sufficiently fed with the paschal lamb, to show that in the Lord's supper there is no bodily repast intended; to preface it with such a thing, is to revive Moses again. But it is food for the soul only, and therefore a very little of that which is for the body, as much as will serve for a sign, is enough. It was at the close of the passover-supper, which by this was evangelized, and then superseded and set aside. Much of the doctrine and duty of the eucharist is illustrated to us by the law of the passover (Exod 12.); for the Old-Testament institutions, though they do not bind us, yet instruct us, by the help of a gospel-key to them. And these two ordinances lying here so near together, it may be good to compare them, and observe how much shorter and plainer the institution of the Lord's supper is, than that of the passover was. Christ's yoke is easy in comparison with that of the ceremonial law, and his ordinances are more spiritual.
2. It was instituted by the example of Christ himself; not with the ceremony and solemnity of a law, as the ordinance of baptism was, after Christ's resurrection (Matt 28 19), with, Be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, by a power given to Christ in heaven and on earth (v. 18); but by the practice of our Master himself, because intended for those who are already his disciples, and taken into covenant with him: but it has the obligation of the law, and was intended to remain in full force, power, and virtue, till his second coming.
3. It was instituted with blessing and giving of thanks; the gifts of common providence are to be so received (1 Tim 4 4, 5), much more than the gifts of special grace. He blessed (v. 22), and gave thanks, v. 23. At his other meals, he was wont to bless, and give thanks (ch. 6 41; 8 7) so remarkably, that he was known by it, Luke 24 30, 31. And he did the same at this meal.
4. It was instituted to be a memorial of his death; and therefore he broke the bread, to show how it pleased the Lord to bruise him; and he called the wine, which is the blood of the grape, the blood of the New Testament. The death Christ died was a bloody death, and frequent mention is made of the blood, the precious blood, as the pride of our redemption; for the blood is the life, and made atonement for the soul, Lev 17 11-14. The pouring out of the blood was the most sensible indication of the pouring out of his soul, Isa 53 12. Blood has a voice (Gen 4 10); and therefore blood is so often mentioned, because it was to speak, Heb 12 24. It is called the blood of the New Testament; for the covenant of grace became a testament, and of force by the death of Christ, the testator, Heb 9 16. It is said to be shed for many, to justify many (Isa 53 11), to bring many sons to glory, Heb 2 10. It was sufficient for many, being of infinite value; it has been of use to many; we read of a great multitude which no man could number, that had all washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7 9-14); and still it is a fountain opened. How comfortable is this to poor repenting sinners, that the blood of Christ is shed for many! And if for many, why not for me? If for sinners, sinners of the Gentiles, the chief of sinners, then why not for me?
5. It was instituted to be a ratification of the covenant made with us in him, and a sign of the conveyance of those benefits to us, which were purchased for us by his death; and therefore he broke the bread to them (v. 22), and said, Take, eat of it: he gave the cup to them, and ordered them to drink of it, v. 23. Apply the doctrine of Christ crucified to yourselves, and let it be meat and drink to your souls, strengthening, nourishing, and refreshing, to you, and the support and comfort of your spiritual life.
6. It was instituted with an eye to the happiness of heaven, and to be an earnest and fore-taste of that, and thereby to put our mouths out of taste for all the pleasures and delights of sense (v. 25); I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, as it is a bodily refreshment. I have done with it. No one, having tasted spiritual delights, straightway desires sensitive ones, for he saith, The spiritual is better (Luke 5 39); but every one that hath tasted spiritual delights, straightway desires eternal ones, for he saith, Those are better still; and therefore let me drink no more of the fruit of the vine, it is dead and flat to those that have been made to drink of the river of God's pleasures; but, Lord, hasten the day, when I shall drink it new and fresh in the kingdom of God, where it shall be for ever new, and in perfection.
7. It was closed with a hymn, v. 26. Though Christ was in the midst of his enemies, yet he did not, for fear of them, omit this sweet duty of singing psalms. Paul and Silas sang, when the prisoners heard them. This was an evangelical song, and gospel times are often spoken of in the Old Testament, as times of rejoicing, and praise is expressed by singing. This was Christ's swan-like song, which he sung just before he entered upon his agony; probably, that which is usually sung, Ps 113 to cxviii.
IV. Christ's discourse with his disciples, as they were returning to Bethany by moonlight. When the had sung the hymn, presently they went out. It was now near bedtime, but our Lord Jesus had his heart so much upon his suffering, that he would not come into the tabernacle of his house, norgo up into his bed, nor give sleep to his eyes, when that work was to be done, Ps 132 3, 4. The Israelites were forbidden to go out of their houses the night that they ate the passover, for fear of the sword of the destroying angel, Exod 12 22, 23. But because Christ, the great shepherd, was to be smitten, he went out purposely to expose himself to the sword, as a champion; they evaded the destroyer, but Christ conquered him, and brought destructions to a perpetual end.
1. Christ here foretels that in his sufferings he should be deserted by all his disciples; "You will all be offended because of me, this night. I know you will (v. 27), and what I tell you now, is no other than what the scripture has told you before; I will smite the shepherd, and then the sheep will be scattered." Christ knew this before, and yet welcomed them at his table; he sees the falls and miscarriages of his disciples, and yet doth not refuse them. Nor should we be discouraged from coming to the Lord's supper, by the fear of relapsing into sin afterward; but, the greater of our danger is, the more need we have to fortify ourselves by the diligent conscientious use of holy ordinances. Christ tells them that they would be offended in him, would begin to question whether he were the Messiah or no, when they saw him overpowered by his enemies. Hitherto, they had continued with him in his temptations; though they had sometimes offended him, yet they had not been offended in him, nor turned the back upon him; but now the storm would be so great, that they would all slip their anchors, and be in danger of shipwreck. Some trials are more particular (as Rev 2 10, The devil shall cast some of you into prison); but others are more general, an hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, Rev 3 10. The smiting of the shepherd is often the scattering of the sheep: magistrates, ministers, masters of families, if these are, as they should be, shepherds to those under their charge, when any thing comes amiss to them, the whole flock suffers for it, and is endangered by it.
But Christ encourages them with a promise that they shall rally again, shall return both to their duty and to their comfort (v. 28); "After I am risen, I will gather you in from all the places wither you are scattered, Ezek 34 12. I will go before you into Galilee, will see our friends, and enjoy one another there."
2. He foretels that he should be denied particularly by Peter. When they went out to go to the mount of Olives, we may suppose that they dropped Judas (he stole away from them), whereupon the rest began to think highly of themselves, that they stuck to their Master, when Judas quitted him. But Christ tells them, that though they should be kept by his grace from Judas's apostasy, yet they would have no reason to boast of their constancy. Note, Though God keeps us from being as bad as the worst, yet we may well be ashamed to think that we are not better than we are.
(1.) Peter is confident that he should not do so ill as the rest of his disciples (v. 29); Though all should be offended, all his brethren here present, yet will not I. He supposes himself not only stronger than others, but so much stronger, as to be able to receive the shock of a temptation, and bear up against it, all alone; to stand, though nobody stood by him. It is bred in the bone with us, to think well of ourselves, and trust to our own hearts.
(2.) Christ tells him that he will do worse than any of them. They will all desert him, but he will deny him; not once, but thrice; and that presently; "This day, even this night before the cock crow twice, thou wilt deny that ever thou hadst any knowledge of me, or acquaintance with me, as one ashamed and afraid to own me."
(3.) He stands to his promise; "If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee; I will adhere to thee, though it cost me my life:" and, no doubt, he thought as he said. Judas said nothing like this, when Christ told him he would betray him. He sinned by contrivance, Peter by surprise; he devised the wickedness (Mic 2 1), Peter was overtaken in this fault, Gal 6 1. It was ill done of Peter, to contradict his Master. If he had said, with fear and trembling, "Lord, give me grace to keep me from denying thee, lead me not into this temptation, deliver me from this evil," it might have been prevented: but they were all thus confident; they who said, Lord, is it I? now said, It shall never be me. Being acquitted from their fear of betraying Christ, they were now secure. But he that thinks he stands, must learn to take heed lest he fall; and he that girdeth on the harness, not boast as though he had put it off.
The Agony in the Garden.
32 And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. 33 And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; 34 And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. 35 And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. 37 And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? 38 Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. 39 And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words. 40 And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him. 41 And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand.
Christ is here entering upon his sufferings, and begins with those which were the sorest of all his sufferings, those in his soul. Here we have him in his agony; this melancholy story we had in Matthew; this agony in soul was the wormwood and the gall in the affliction and misery; and thereby it appeared that no sorrow was forced upon him, but that it was what he freely admitted.
I. He retired for prayer; Sit ye here (saith he to his disciples), while I go a little further, and pray. He had lately prayed with them (John 17.); and now he appoints them to withdraw while he goes to his Father upon an errand peculiar to himself. Note, Our praying with our families will not excuse our neglect of secret worship. When Jacob entered into his agony, he first sent over all that he had, and was left alone, and then there wrestled a man with him (Gen 32 23, 24), though he had been at prayer before (v. 9), it is likely, with his family.
II. Even into that retirement he took with him Peter, and James, and John (v. 33), three competent witnesses of this part of his humiliation; and though great spirits care not how few know any thing of their agonies, he was not ashamed that they should see. These three had boasted most of their ability and willingness to suffer with him; Peter here, in this chapter, and James and John (ch. 10 39); and therefore Christ takes them to stand by, and see what a struggle he had with the bloody baptism and the bitter cup, to convince them that they knew not what they said. It is fit that they who are most confident, should be first tried, that they may be made sensible of their folly and weakness.
III. There he was in a tremendous agitation (v. 33); He began to be sore amazed—ekthambeisthai, a word not used in Matthew, but very significant; it bespeaks something like that horror of great darkness, which fell upon Abraham (Gen 15 12), or, rather, something much worse, and more frightful. The terrors of God set themselves in array against him, and he allowed himself the actual and intense contemplation of them. Never was sorrow like unto his at that time; never any had such experience as he had from eternity of divine favours, and therefore never any had, or could have, such a sense as he had of divine favours. Yet there was not the least disorder or irregularity in this commotion of his spirits; his affections rose not tumultuously, but under direction, and as they were called up, for he had no corrupt nature to mix with them, as we have. If water have a sediment at the bottom, though it may be clear while it stands still, yet, when shaken, it grows muddy; so it is with our affections: but pure water in a clean glass, though ever so much stirred, continues clear; and so it was with Christ. Dr. Lightfoot thinks it very probable that the devil did now appear to our Saviour in a visible shape, in his own shape and proper colour, to terrify and affright him, and to drive him from his hope in God (which he aimed at in persecuting Job, a type of Christ, to make him curse God, and die), and to deter him from the further prosecution of his undertaking; whatever hindered him from that, he looked upon as coming from Satan, Matt 16 23. When the devil had tempted him in the wilderness, it is said, He departed from him for a season (Luke 4 13), intending another grapple with him, and in another way; finding that he could not by his flatteries allure him into sin, he would try by his terrors to affright him into it, and so make void his design.
IV. He made a sad complaint of this agitation. He said, My soul is exceeding sorrowful. 1. He was made sin for us, and therefore was thus sorrowful; he fully knew the malignity of the sins he was to suffer for; and having the highest degree of love to God, who was offended by them, and of love to man, who was damaged and endangered by them, now that those were set in order before him, no marvel that his soul was exceeding sorrowful. Now was he made to serve with our sins, and was thus wearied with our iniquities. 2. He was made a curse for us; the curses of the law were transferred to him as our surety and representative, not as originally bound with us, but a bail to the action. And when his soul was thus exceeding sorrowful, he did, as it were, yield to them, and lie down under the load, until by his death he had satisfied for sin, and so for ever abolished the curse. He now tasted death (as he is said to do, Heb 2 9), which is not an extenuating expression, as if he did but taste it; no, he drank up even the dregs of the cup; but it is rather aggravating; it did not go down by wholesale, but he tasted all the bitterness of it. This was that fear which the apostle speaks of (Heb 5 7), a natural fear of pain and death, which it is natural to human nature to startle at.
Now the consideration of Christ's sufferings in his soul, and his sorrows for us, should be of use to us,
(1.) To embitter our sins. Can we ever entertain a favourable or so much as a slight thought of sin, when we see what impression sin (though but imputed) made upon the Lord Jesus? Shall that sit light upon our souls, which sat so heavy upon his? Was Christ in such an agony for our sins, and shall we never be in an agony about them? How should we look upon him whom we have pressed, whom we have pierced, and mourn, and be in bitterness! It becomes us to be exceeding sorrowful for sin, because Christ was so, and never to make a mock at it. If Christ thus suffered for sin, let us arm ourselves with the same mind.
(2.) To sweeten our sorrows; if our souls be at any time exceeding sorrowful, through the afflictions of this present time, let us remember that our Master was so before us, and the disciple is not greater than his Lord. Why should we affect to drive away sorrow, when Christ for our sakes courted it, and submitted to it, and thereby not only took out the sting of it, and made it tolerable, but put virtue into it, and made it profitable (for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better), nay, and put sweetness into it, and made it comfortable. Blessed Paul was sorrowful, and yet always rejoicing. If we be exceeding sorrowful, it is but unto death; that will be the period of all our sorrows, if Christ be ours; when the eyes are closed, all tears are wiped away from them.
V. He ordered his disciples to keep with him, not because he needed their help, but because he would have them to look upon him and receive instruction; he said to them, Tarry ye here and watch. He had said to the other disciples nothing but, Sit ye here (v. 32); but these three he bids to tarry and watch, as expecting more from them than from the rest.
VI. He addressed himself to God by prayer (v. 35); He fell on the ground, and prayed. It was but a little before this, that in prayer he lifted up his eyes (John 17 1); but here, being in an agony, he fell upon his face, accommodating himself to his present humiliation, and teaching us thus to abase ourselves before God; it becomes us to be low, when we come into the presence of the Most High. 1. As Man, he deprecated his sufferings, that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him (v. 35); "This short, but sharp affliction, that which I am now this hour to enter upon, let man's salvation be, if possible, accomplished without it." We have his very words (v. 36), Abba, Father. The Syriac word is here retained, which Christ used, and which signifies Father, to intimate what an emphasis our Lord Jesus, in his sorrows, laid upon it, and would have us to lay. It is with an eye to this, that St. Paul retains this word, putting it into the mouths of all that have the Spirit of adoption; they are taught to cry, Abba, Father, Rom 8 15; Gal 4 6. Father, all things are possible to thee. Note, Even that which we cannot expect to be done for us, we ought yet to believe that God is able to do: and when we submit to his will, and refer ourselves to his wisdom and mercy, it must be with a believing acknowledgment of his power, that all things are possible to him. 2. As Mediator, he acquiesced in the will of God concerning them; "Nevertheless, not what I will, but what thou wilt. I know the matter is settled, and cannot be altered, I must suffer and die, and I bid it welcome."
VII. He roused his disciples, who were dropped asleep while he was at prayer, v. 37, 38. He comes to look after them, since they did not look after him; and he finds them asleep, so little affected were they with his sorrows, his complaints, and prayers. This carelessness of theirs was a presage of their further offence in deserting him; and it was an aggravation of it, that he had so lately commended them for continuing with him in his temptations, though they had not been without their faults. Was he so willing to make the best of them, and were they so indifferent in approving themselves to him? They had lately promised not to be offended in him; what! and yet mind him so little? He particularly upbraided Peter with his drowsiness; Simon, sleepest thou? Kai sy teknon;—"What thou, my son? Thou that didst so positively promise thou wouldest not deny me, dost thou slight me thus? From thee I expected better things. Couldest thou not watch one hour?" He did not require him to watch all night with him, only for one hour. It aggravates our faintness and short continuance in Christ's service, that he doth not over-task us, nor weary us with it, Isa 43 23. He puts upon us no other burthen than to hold fast till he comes (Rev 2 24, 25); and behold, he comes quickly, Rev 3 11.
As those whom Christ loves he rebukes when they do amiss, so those whom he rebukes he counsels and comforts. 1. It was a very wise and faithful word of advice which Christ here gave to his disciples; Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation, v. 38. It was bad to sleep when Christ was in his agony, but they were entering into further temptation, and if they did not stir up themselves, and fetch in grace and strength from God by prayer, they would do worse; and so they did, when they all forsook him, and fled. 2. It was a very kind and tender excuse that Christ made for them; "The spirit truly is willing; I know it is, it is ready, it is forward; you would willingly keep awake, but you cannot." This may be taken as a reason for that exhortation, "Watch and pray; because, though the spirit is willing, I grant it is (you have sincerely resolved never to be offended in me), yet the flesh is weak, and if you do not watch and pray, and use the means of perseverance, you may be overcome, notwithstanding." The consideration of the weakness and infirmity of our flesh should engage and quicken us to prayer and watchfulness, when we are entering into temptation.
VIII. He repeated his address to his Father (v. 39); He went again, and prayed, saying, ton auton logon—the same word, or matter, or business; he spoke to the same purport, and again the third time. This teaches us, that men ought to pray, and not to faint, Luke 18 1. Though the answers to our prayers do not come quickly, yet we must renew our requests, and continue instant in prayer; for the vision is for an appointed time, and at the end it shall speak, and not lie, Hab 2 3. Paul, when he was buffeted by a messenger of Satan, besought the Lord thrice, as Christ did here, before he obtained an answer of peace, 2 Cor 12 7, 8. A little before this, when Christ, in the trouble of his soul, prayed, Father, glorify thy name, he had an immediate answer by a voice from heaven, I have both glorified it, and I will glorify it yet again; but now he must come a second and third time, for the visits of God's grace, in answer to prayer, come sooner or later, according to the pleasure of his will, that we may be kept depending.
IX. He repeated his visits to his disciples. Thus he gave a specimen of his continued care for his church on earth, even when it is half asleep, and not duly concerned for itself, while he ever lives making intercession with his Father in heaven. See how, as became a Mediator, he passes and repasses between both. He came the second time to his disciples, and found them asleep again, v. 40. See how the infirmities of Christ's disciples return upon them, notwithstanding their resolutions, and overpower them, notwithstanding their resistance; and what clogs those bodies of ours are to our souls, which should make us long for that blessed state in which they shall be no more our encumbrance. This second time he spoke to them as before, but they wist not what to answer him; they were ashamed of their drowsiness, and had nothing to say in excuse for it. Or, They were so overpowered with it, that, like men between sleeping and waking, they knew not where they were, or what they said. But, the third time, they were bid to sleep if they would (v. 41); "Sleep on now, and take your rest. I have now no more occasion for your watching, you may sleep, if you will, for me." It is enough; we had not that word in Matthew. "You have had warning enough to keep awake, and would not take it; and now you shall see what little reason you have to be secure." Apekei, I discharge you from any further attendance; so some understand it; "Now the hour is come, in which I knew you would all forsake me, even take your course;" as he said to Judas, What thou doest, do quickly. The Son of man is now betrayed into the hands of sinners, the chief priests and elders; those worst of sinners, because they made a profession of sanctity. "Come, rise up, do not lie dozing there. Let us go and meet the enemy, for lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand, and I must not now think of making an escape." When we see trouble at the door, we are concerned to stir up ourselves to get ready for it.
The Treachery of Judas.
43 And immediately, while he yet spake, cometh Judas, one of the twelve, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 And he that betrayed him had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead him away safely. 45 And as soon as he was come, he goeth straightway to him, and saith, Master, master; and kissed him. 46 And they laid their hands on him, and took him. 47 And one of them that stood by drew a sword, and smote a servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me? 49 I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took me not: but the scriptures must be fulfilled. 50 And they all forsook him, and fled. 51 And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: 52 And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.
We have here the seizing of our Lord Jesus by the officers of the chief priests. This was what his enemies had long aimed at, they had often sent to take him; but he had escaped out of their hands, because his hour was not come, nor could they now have taken him, had he not freely surrendered himself. He began first to suffer in his soul, but afterward suffered in his body, that he might satisfy for sin, which begins in the heart, but afterwards makes the members of the body instruments of unrighteousness.
I. Here is a band of rude miscreants employed to take our Lord Jesus and make him a prisoner; a great multitude with swords and staves. There is no wickedness so black, no villany so horrid, but there may be found among the children of men fit tools to be made use of, that will not scruple to be employed; so miserably depraved and vitiated is mankind. At the head of this rabble is Judas, one of the twelve, one of those that had been many years intimately conversant with our Lord Jesus, had prophesied in his name, and in his name cast out devils, and yet betrayed him. It is no new thing for a very fair and plausible profession to end in a shameful and fatal apostasy. How art thou fallen, O Lucifer!
II. Men of no less figure than the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders, sent them, and set them on work, who pretended to expect the Messiah, and to be ready to welcome him; and yet, when he is come, and has given undeniable proofs that it is he that should come, because he doth not make court to them, nor countenance and support their pomp and grandeur, because he appears not as a temporal prince, but sets up a spiritual kingdom, and preaches repentance, reformation, and a holy life, and directs men's thoughts, and affections, and aims, to another world, they set themselves against him, and, without giving the credentials he produces an impartial examination, resolve to run him down.
III. Judas betrayed him with a kiss; abusing the freedom Christ used to allow his disciples of kissing his cheek at their return when they had been any time absent. He called him, Master, Master, and kissed him; he said, Rabbi, Rabbi, as if he had been now more respectful to him than ever. It is enough to put one for ever out of conceit with being called of men Rabbi, Rabbi (Matt 23 7), since it was with this compliment that Christ was betrayed. He bid them take him, and lead him away safely. Some think that he spoke this ironically, knowing that they could not secure him unless he pleased, that this Samson could break their bonds asunder as threads of tow, and make is escape, and then he should get the money, and Christ the honour, and no harm done; and I should think so too, but that Satan was entered into him, so that the worst and most malicious intention of this action is not too black to be supposed. Nay, he had often heard his Master say, that, being betrayed, he should be crucified, and had no reason to think otherwise.
IV. They arrested him, and made him their prisoner (v. 46); They laid their hands on him, rude and violent hands, and took him into custody; triumphing, it is likely, that they had done that which has been often before attempted in vain.
V. Peter laid about him in defence of his Master, and wounded one of the assailants, being for the present mindful of his promise, to venture his life with his Master. He was one of them that stood by, of them that were with him (so the word signifies), of those three disciples that were with him in the garden; he drew a sword, and aimed, it is likely, to cut off the head, but missed his blow, and only cut off the ear, of a servant of the high priest, v. 47. It is easier to fight for Christ, than to die for him; but Christ's good soldiers overcome, not by taking other people's lives, but by laying down their own, Rev 12 11.
VI. Christ argues with them that had seized him, and shows them the absurdity of their proceedings against him. 1. That they came out against him, as against a thief, whereas he was innocent of any crime; he taught daily in the temple, and if he had any wicked design, there it would some time or other have been discovered; nay, these officers of the chief priests, being retainers to the temple, may be supposed to have heard his sermons there (I was with you in the temple); and had he not taught them excellent doctrine, even his enemies themselves being judges? Were not all the words of his mouth in righteousness? Was there any thing froward or perverse in them? Prov 8 8. By his fruits he was known to be a good tree; why then did they come out against him as a thief? 2. That they came to take him thus privately, whereas he was neither ashamed nor afraid to appear publicly in the temple. He was none of those evil-doers that hate the light, neither come to the light, John 3 20. If their masters had any thing to say to him, they might meet him any day in the temple, where he was ready to answer all challenges, all charges; and there they might do as they pleased with him, for the priests had the custody of the temple, and the command of the guards about it: but to come upon him thus at midnight, and in the place of his retirement, was base and cowardly. This was to do as David's enemy, that sat in the lurking places of the villages, to murder the innocent, Ps 10 8. But this was not all. 3. They came with swords and staves, as if he had been in arms against the government, and must have the posse comitatus raised to reduce him. There was no occasion for those weapons; but they made this ado, (1.) To secure themselves from the rage of some; they came armed, because they feared the people; but thus were they in great fear, where no fear was, Ps 53 5. (2.) To expose him to the rage of others. By coming with swords and staves to take him, they represented him to the people (who are apt to take impressions this way) as a dangerous turbulent man, and so endeavored to incense them against him, and make them cry out, Crucify him, crucify him, having no other way to gain their point.
VII. He reconciled himself to all this injurious, ignominious treatment, by referring himself to the Old-Testament predictions of the Messiah. I am hardly used, but I submit, for the scriptures must be fulfilled, v. 49. 1. See here what a regard Christ had to the scriptures; he would bear any thing rather than that the least jot or tittle of the word of God should fall to the ground; and as he had an eye to them in his sufferings, so he has in his glory; for what is Christ doing in the government of the world, but fulfilling the scriptures? 2. See what use we are to make of the Old Testament; we must search for Christ, the true treasure hid in that field: as the history of the New Testament expounds the prophecies of Old, so the prophecies of the Old Testament illustrate the history of the New.
VIII. All Christ's disciples, hereupon, deserted him (v. 50); They all forsook him, and fled. They were very confident that they should adhere to him; but even good men know not what they will do, till they are tried. If it was such a comfort to him as he had lately intimated, that they had hitherto continued with him in his lesser trials (Luke 22 28), we may well imagine what a grief it was to him, that they deserted him now in the greatest, when they might have done him some service—when he was abused, to protect him, and when accused, to witness for him. Let not those that suffer for Christ, think it strange, if they be thus deserted, and if all the herd shun the wounded deer; they are not better than their Master, nor can expect to be better used either by their enemies or by their friends. When St. Paul was in peril, none stood by him, but all men forsook him, 2 Tim 4 16.
IX. The noise disturbed the neighbourhood, and some of the neighbours were brought into danger by the riot, v. 51, 52. This passage of story we have not in any other of the evangelists. Here is an account of a certain young man, who, as it should seem, was no disciple of Christ, nor, as some have imagined, a servant of the house wherein Christ had eaten the passover, who followed him to see what would become of him (as the sons of the prophets, when they understood that Elijah was to be taken up, went to view afar off, 2 Kings 2 7), but some young man that lived near the garden, perhaps in the house to which the garden belonged. Now observe concerning him,
1. How he was frightened out of his bed, to be a spectator of Christ's sufferings. Such a multitude, so armed, and coming with so much fury, and in the dead of night, and in a quiet village, could not but produce a great stir; this alarmed our young man, who perhaps thought they was some tumult or rising in the city, some uproar among the people, and had the curiosity to go, and see what the matter was, and was in such haste to inform himself, that he could not stay to dress himself, but threw a sheet about him, as if he would appear like a walking ghost, in grave clothes, to frighten those who had frightened him, and ran among the thickest of them with this question, What is to do here? Being told, he had a mind to see the issue, having, no doubt, heard much of the fame of this Jesus; and therefore, when all his disciples had quitted him, he continued to follow him, desirous to hear what he would say, and see what he would do. Some think that his having no other garment than this linen cloth upon his naked body, intimates that he was one of those Jews who made a great profession of piety that their neighbours, in token of which, among other instances of austerity and mortification of the body, they used no clothes but one linen garment, which, though contrived to be modest enough, was thin and cold. But I rather think that this was not his constant wear.
2. See how he was frightened into his bed again, when he was in danger of being made a sharer in Christ's sufferings. His own disciples had run away from him; but this young man, having no concern for him, thought he might securely attend him, especially being so far from being armed, that he was not so much as clothed; but the young men, the Roman soldiers, who were called to assist, laid hold of him, for all was fish that came to their net. Perhaps they were now vexed at themselves, that they had suffered the disciples to run away, and they being got out of their reach they resolved to seize the first they could lay their hands on; though this young man was perhaps one of the strictest sect of the Jewish church, yet the Roman soldiers made no conscience of abusing him upon this occasion. Finding himself in danger, he left the linen cloth by which they had caught hold of him, and fled away naked. This passage is recorded to show what a barbarous crew this was, that was sent to seize Christ, and what a narrow escape the disciples had of falling into their hands, out of which nothing could have kept them but their Master's care of them; If ye seek me, let these go their way, John 18 8. It also intimates that there is no hold of those who are led by curiosity only, and not by faith and conscience, to follow Christ.
Christ Brought before the High Priest.
53 And they led Jesus away to the high priest: and with him were assembled all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes. 54 And Peter followed him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire. 55 And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death; and found none. 56 For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together. 57 And there arose certain, and bare false witness against him, saying, 58 We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands. 59 But neither so did their witness agree together. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, saying, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee? 61 But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? 62 And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. 63 Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? 64 Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death. 65 And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands.
We have here Christ's arraignment, trial, conviction, and condemnation, in the ecclesiastical court, before the great sanhedrim, of which the high priest was president, or judge of the court; the same Caiaphas that had lately adjudged it expedient he should be put to death, guilty or not guilty (John 11 50), and who therefore might justly be excepted against as partial.
I. Christ is hurried away to his house, his palace it is called, such state did he live in. And there, though, in the dead of the night, all the chief priests, and elders, and scribes, that were in the secret, were assembled, ready to receive the prey; so sure were they of it.
II. Peter followed at a distance, such a degree of cowardice was his late courage dwindled into, v. 54. But when he came to the high priest's palace, he sneakingly went, and sat with the servants, that he might not be suspected to belong to Christ. The high priest's fire side was no proper place, nor his servants proper company, for Peter, but it was his entrance into a temptation.
III. Great diligence was used to procure, for love or money, false witnesses against Christ. They had seized him as a malefactor, and now they had him they had no indictment to prefer against him, no crime to lay to his charge, but they sought for witnesses against him; pumped some with ensnaring questions, offered bribes to others, if they would accuse him, and endeavored to frighten others, if they would not, v. 55, 56. The chief priests and elders were by the law entrusted with the prosecuting and punishing of false witnesses (Deut 19 16, 17); yet those were now ringleaders in a crime that tends to overthrow of all justice. It is time to cry, Help, Lord, when the physicians of a land are its troublers, and those that should be the conservators of peace and equity, are the corrupters of both.
IV. He was at length charged with words spoken some years ago, which, as they were represented, seemed to threaten the temple, which they had made no better than an idol of (v. 57, 58); but the witnesses to this matter did not agree (v. 59), for one swore that he said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days (so it is in Matthew); the other swore that he said, I will destroy this temple, that is made with hands, and within three days, I will build not it, but another made without hands; now these two differ much from each other; oude ise en he martyria—their testimony was not sufficient, nor equal to the charge of a capital crime; so Dr. Hammond: they did not accuse him of that upon which a sentence of death might be founded, no not by the utmost stretch of their law.
V. He was urged to be his own accuser (v. 60); The high priest stood up in a heat, and said, Answerest thou nothing? This he said under pretence of justice and fair dealing, but really with a design to ensnare him, that they might accuse him, Luke 11 53, 54; 20 20. We may well imagine with what an air of haughtiness and disdain this proud high priest brought our Lord Jesus to this question; "Come you, the prisoner at the bar, you hear what is sworn against you; what have you now to say for yourself?" Pleased to think that he seemed silent, who had so often silenced those that picked quarrels with him. Still Christ answered nothing, that he might set us an example, 1. Of patience under calumnies and false accusations; when we are reviled, let us not revile again, 1 Pet 2 23. And, 2. Of prudence, when a man shall be made an offender for a word (Isa 29 21), and our defence made our offence; it is an evil time indeed when the prudent shall keep silence (lest they make bad worse), and commit their cause to him that judgeth righteously. But,
VI. When he was asked whether he was the Christ, he confessed, and denied not, that he was, v. 61, 62. He asked, Art thou the Son of the Blessed? that is the Son of God? for, as Dr. Hammond observes, the Jews, when they named God, generally added, blessed for ever; and thence the Blessed is the title of God, a peculiar title, and applied to Christ, Rom 9 5. And for the proof of his being the Son of God, he binds them over to his second coming; "Ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power; that Son of man that now appears so mean and despicable, whom ye see and trample upon (Isa 53 2, 3), you shall shortly see and tremble before." Now, one would think that such a word as this which our Lord Jesus seems to have spoken with a grandeur and majesty not agreeable to his present appearance (for through the thickest cloud of his humiliation some rays of glory were still darted forth), should have startled the court, and at least, in the opinion of some of them, should have amounted to a demurrer, or arrest of judgment, and that they should have stayed process till they had considered further of it; when Paul at the bar reasoned of the judgment to come, the judge trembled, and adjourned the trial, Acts 24 25. But these chief priests were so miserably blinded with malice and rage, that, like the horse rushing into the battle, they mocked at fear, and were not affrighted, neither believed they that it was the sound of the trumpet, Job 39 22, 24. And see Job 15 25, 26.
VII. The high priest, upon this confession of his, convicted him as a blasphemer (v. 63); He rent his clothes—chitonas autou. Some think the word signifies his pontifical vestments, which, for the greater state, he had put on, though in the night, upon this occasion. As before, in his enmity to Christ, he said he knew not what (John 11 51, 52), so now he did he knew not what. If Saul's rending Samuel's mantle was made to signify the rending of the kingdom from him (1 Sam 15 27, 28), much more did Caiaphas's rending his own clothes signify the rending of the priesthood from him, as the rending of the veil, at Christ's death, signified the throwing of all open. Christ's clothes, even when he was crucified, were kept entire, and not rent: for when the Levitical priesthood was rent in pieces and done away, This Man, because he continues ever, has an unchangeable priesthood.
VIII. They agreed that he was a blasphemer, and, as such, was guilty of a capital crime, v. 64. The question seemed to be put fairly, What think ye? But it was really prejudged, for the high priest had said, Ye have heard the blasphemy; he gave judgment first, who, as president of the court, ought to have voted last. So they all condemned him to be guilty of death; what friends he had in the great sanhedrim, did not appear, it is probable that they had not notice.
IX. They set themselves to abuse him, and, as the Philistines with Samson, to make sport with him, v. 65. It should seem that some of the priests themselves that had condemned him, so far forgot the dignity, as well as duty, of their place, and the gravity which became them, that they helped their servants in playing the fool with a condemned prisoner. This they made their diversion, while they waited for the morning, to complete their villany. That night of observations (as the passover-night was called) they made a merry night of. If they did not think it below them to abuse Christ, shall we think any thing below us, by which we may do him honour?
66 And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest: 67 And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. 68 But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew. 69 And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them. 70 And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilæan, and thy speech agreeth thereto. 71 But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak. 72 And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.
We have here the story of Peter's denying Christ.
1. It began in keeping at a distance from him. Peter had followed afar off (v. 54), and now was beneath in the palace, at the lower end of the hall. Those that are shy of Christ, are in a fair way to deny him, that are shy of attending on holy ordinances, shy of the communion of the faithful, and loth to be seen on the side of despised godliness.
2. It was occasioned by his associating with the high priest's servants, and sitting among them. They that think it dangerous to be in company with Christ's disciples, because thence they may be drawn in to suffer for him, will find it much more dangerous to be in company with his enemies, because there they may be drawn in to sin against him.
3. The temptation was, his being charged as a disciple of Christ; Thou also wert with Jesus of Nazareth, v. 67. This is one of them (v. 69), for thou art a Galilean, one may know that by thy speaking broad, v. 70. It doth not appear that he was challenged upon it, or in danger of being prosecuted as a criminal for it, but only bantered upon it, and in danger of being ridiculed as a fool for it. While the chief priests were abusing the Master, the servants were abusing the disciples. Sometimes the cause of Christ seems to fall so much on the losing side, that every body has a stone to throw at it, and even the abjects gather themselves together against it. When Job was on the dunghill, he was had in derision of those that were the children of base men, Job 30 8. Yet, all things considered, the temptation could not be called formidable; it was only a maid that casually cast her eye upon him, and, for aught that appears, without design of giving him any trouble, said, Thou art one of them, to which he needed not to have made any reply, or might have said, "And if I be, I hope that is no treason."
4. The sin was very great; he denied Christ before men, at a time when he ought to have confessed and owned him, and to have appeared in court a witness for him. Christ had often given notice to his disciples of his own sufferings; yet, when they came, they were to Peter as great a surprise and terror as if he had never heard of them before. He had often told them that they must suffer for him, must take up their cross, and follow him; and yet Peter is so terribly afraid of suffering, upon the very first alarm of it, that he will lie and swear, and do any thing, to avoid it. When Christ was admired and flocked after, he could readily own him; but now that he is deserted, and despised, and run down, he is ashamed of him, and will own no relation to him.
5. His repentance was very speedy. He repeated his denial thrice, and the third was worst of all, for then he cursed and swore, to confirm his denial; and that the third blow, which, one would think, should have stunned him, and knocked him down, startled him, and roused him up. Then the cock crew the second time, which put him in mind of his Master's words, the warning he had given him, with that particular circumstance of the cock crowing twice; by recollecting that, he was made sensible of his sin and the aggravations of it; and when he thought thereon, he wept. Some observe that this evangelist, who wrote, as some have thought, by St. Peter's direction, speaks as fully of Peter's sin as any of them, but more briefly of his sorrow, which Peter, in modesty, would not have to be magnified, and because he thought he could never sorrow enough for great a sin. His repentance here is thus expressed, epibalon eklaie, where something must be supplied. He added to weep, so some; making it a Hebraism; he wept, and the more he thought of it, the more he wept; he continued weeping; he flung out, and wept; burst out into tears; threw himself down, and wept; he covered his face, and wept, so some; cast his garment about his head, that he might not be seen to weep; he cast his eyes upon his Master, who turned, and looked upon him; so Dr. Hammond supplies it, and it is a probable conjecture. Or, as we understand it, fixing his mind upon it, he wept. It is not a transient thought of that which is humbling, that will suffice, but we must dwell upon it. Or, what if this word should mean his laying a load upon himself, throwing a confusion into his own face? he did as the publican that smote his breast, in sorrow for sin; and this amounts to his weeping bitterly.