Friday, November 04, 2011

Matthew 26:47–56

Matthew 26:47–56 (ESV): Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus


In the last passage Jesus had prayed to the Father because of his anguish at what was about to come; it ended with him telling the disciples that his betrayer was at hand, and this passage begins at that point. As Jesus is still speaking to the disciples Judas approaches, along with a “a great crowd with swords and clubs” (verse 47 (ESV)).

Judas has prearranged a signal with the crowd; he will kiss Jesus, to signal to the crowd who it is they’re looking for, so that they can seize him. Although it’s not clear in the text, it seems that Judas leaves the crowd behind so that they’re either hidden or at least not obviously with him, and goes up and kisses Jesus, but of course Jesus knows what’s happening.

Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” (verse 50a (ESV))
At this point the crowd surges forward and seizes Jesus, and in an attempt to save him one of the disciples draws his sword and rushes to his defense, cutting off the ear of the servant of the high priest. (In John 18:3–11 (ESV) we are told that the disciple who drew his sword was Peter, and in Luke 22:47–53 (ESV) we are told that Jesus immediately heals the servant’s ear.) But Jesus tells Peter to put his sword away; after all, Jesus reasons, if he really wanted to be protected from this crowd, do the disciples not realize that the Father could send twelve legions of angels to do it? (A “legion” was 6,000 soldiers, so twelve legions would be 72,000 angels.) But this “must be so,” to fulfil the Scriptures (verses 52–54 (ESV)).

He then turns to the crowd, and what he says to them next seems to me to be somewhat of a taunt; he has been in the temple every day, in public, teaching the people, and yet nobody seized him; now the crowd is coming to get him with swords and clubs, as if he’s some kind of robber?

And at this point, the disciples flee Jesus, fulfilling part of what he told them would happen. (The specific denials of Peter are still to come.)


I think I mentioned this in a previous post, too, but I don’t get the logistics of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. The whole betrayal seems to amount to him simply pointing Jesus out to the crowd; after all this time, they don’t actually know who Jesus is, or what he looks like? There’s nobody in the crowd who’s actually seen Jesus before? Obviously this is before the day of television, so regardless of Jesus’ fame there would be lots of people who would never have actually seen him, but in sending this large crowd they really couldn’t find anyone other than Judas who had actually seen Jesus before?

The other thing I don’t get, logistic-wise, is why Judas is keeping up his pretense with Jesus. Why this thing about going up and kissing him, as a sign to the crowd; why not just show up with the crowd, point to Jesus, and say, “That’s the guy. He’s the one you’re looking for.” Does Judas really not want Jesus to know who it was who betrayed him? Does he perhaps not realize that the Jewish leaders are looking to have Jesus executed, and is he hoping to still be one of Jesus’ disciples once Jesus gets out of their clutches? I don’t know.

What we do see in this passage, though, is Peter’s idea of never abandoning Jesus. “They’re coming for Jesus?” he thinks. “Then I’ll protect him!” He might even have been willing to give his life for Jesus; I really do think that Peter meant it, in verses 30–35, when he told Jesus that he would never fall away, and that he would die with Jesus. But his problem is that it’s on his terms; it’s according to his understanding of how things are going to work. I think the disciples have probably been waiting for Jesus to take on political leadership, and especially to smite the Romans, for a long time now; Peter could very well think that this is the beginning of Jesus’ earthly kingship, and believe that he’s beginning Jesus’ battle for the rule of Israel. But Jesus’ plan is a lot different, and even though he’s tried to explain that to the disciples, on numerous occasions, it hasn’t sunk in. When things aren’t working out the way Peter had expected them to, he abandons Jesus just like all of the other disciples. (Well… not just like them; as we’ll see in a later passage, he does at least follow Jesus and his captors from a distance…)

As mentioned above, it seems like Jesus is taunting the crowd that has come to capture him. It’s almost like he’s mocking them, saying, “Are you sure you have enough swords to capture one single man—a man who’s a teacher, not some kind of ruffian?” Obviously this great crowd is overkill to capture one man and perhaps fend off his eleven disciples, but even aside from that there is something that nobody expected—not the crowd, not the Jewish leaders, and especially not the disciples: Jesus has no intention of resisting them. This is all going according to the Father’s plan. He’s not going to resist the crowd; he’s not even going to argue against the accusations that the Jewish leaders are going to bring against him. He’s going to let them do what they came to do.

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