Luke 22:47–71: Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus, Peter Denies Jesus, Jesus is Mocked, Jesus Before the Council
In the previous passage Jesus had been praying on the Mount of Olives, and also telling his disciples that they should be praying right now instead of sleeping. But as he’s still in the middle of telling them this a mob shows up, led by Judas. (The translations I looked at never use the word “mob,” they use “crowd” or “multitude,” but “mob” seems to fit.) This leads to Jesus’ arrest and trial before the Jewish religious leaders. (The trial before the Romans will come in the next chapter.)
As per his prearranged signal, Judas draws near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asks him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (verse 48). His disciples realize what’s about to happen, and they ask Jesus if they should use their swords. Then, before even waiting for him to answer, one of them strikes and cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest. But Jesus tells them to stop and heals the injured man.
He then questions the mob as to why they’re doing things in the dark of night like this, when they could have easily arrested him during the day:
Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (verses 52–53)
They should probably sense a rebuke in those remarks: If Jesus was really doing something wrong, which would be cause for him to be arrested, why wouldn’t they have done it publicly, instead of sneaking around in the darkness to do it?
Regardless, they bring him to the high priest’s house, and Peter follows at a distance. He then joins some folks sitting in the courtyard, who are warming themselves around a fire. (The fact that we’re told that Peter follows Jesus—even if at a distance—means that the other disciples don’t follow after Jesus.) But as he sits there by the fire, a couple of people recognize him and call him out as one of Jesus’ disciples, and another notices that Peter is Galilean (which most of Jesus’ disciples were) and so assumes that he must be one of Jesus’ followers. After all three accusations Peter denies it, but as he’s uttering the third denial the rooster crows. Jesus then turns and looks at Peter, at which point Peter remembers Jesus’ prophecy in 22:24–34 that he’d betray him. So Peter goes out and weeps bitterly.
So what’s happening to Jesus while Peter is outside denying him? Are the religious leaders asking him questions, and bringing witnesses, and trying to get to the truth of the matter? No, not at that point; they’re just beating him and mocking him. They’re not even at the sham trial phase yet, they’re literally just having some fun with him before the sham trial.
Which brings us to the trial itself, before the Council—that is, before the Jewish religious leaders:
When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.” (verses 66–71)
It’s important as I read through these events that I actually pay attention, even though the events are familiar to ms.
Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus
I know I’ve mentioned this before, because it strikes me every time, but… logistically speaking, why does Judas need to betray Jesus the way that he does? Not morally—logistically. I get the logic of why the mob is going to get Jesus, and the logic of why they’re going to have the sham trial and hand Jesus over to the Romans to try to get him killed; the thing I don’t get is why does Judas need to point Jesus out to them, when they should already know what he looks like? And doing it via the kiss makes it seem like Judas is trying to do it surreptitiously; as if he could somehow deny that he’d betrayed Jesus, he just gave his teacher a kiss (a common custom between a disciple and a teacher), and then coincidentally the mob that was behind him arrested Jesus—how did that happen??? But it’s obvious what Judas is doing, and Jesus had already predicted that he’d be betrayed by one of the Twelve, so why the cloak and dagger and playacting?
When I was first reading these passages (in the various Gospels), I used to wonder if maybe Judas and the religious leaders had made the plan more elaborate than it needed to be, and then it turned out to be easy when Jesus didn’t resist arrest. I’m still wondering if that might be the case. Either that, or there might be something cultural going on that I don’t understand. Or both.
To be clear, though, this is different than what Jesus is pointing out. I’m confused by logistics—why is the kiss necessary?—whereas Jesus is calling them out on the morality: how can you consider yourselves to be religious “leaders” when you have to sneak around like this to take care of someone you don’t like?
In another example of a detail provided by Luke that’s not provided by the other Gospels, Luke is the only Gospel writer who mentions the healing of the man who got his ear cut off. And that’s fascinating to me because it’s one of the main details I always remember from this event! Whenever I read this scene in the other Gospels, I always feel that this part is missing; when the man’s ear is cut off, in the back of my mind I’m always thinking, “but then he also got healed.”
I’m not contemplating any deep doctrinal issues around this, it’s just an interesting detail that the other Gospel writers decided not to include.
Peter Denies Jesus
This is another case where I think maybe we judge Peter a bit too harshly for his denial of Jesus. Yes, it was definitely wrong—it’s not as bad as Judas’ betrayal, but it’s still a betrayal—but he’s also the only disciple that even followed Jesus as far as he did. Where were the other disciples at this point? The Gospels don’t tell us; all we know is that they’re not here. I think this is similar to how we judge Peter for the incident where he walks on the water: Peter sees Jesus walking on the water, Jesus tells Peter to get out of the boat and come to him and he does—he walks on the water, along with Jesus! And then he has second thoughts and starts to sink, and Jesus has to save him and ask where his faith went, and we seem to only want to remember the second half (his faith waning), as opposed to remembering that, out of the 12 Apostles, Peter is the only one who got out of the boat in the first place.
The lesson for me in this is that Peter doesn’t have a lack of faith in the Gospels, he has a kind of faith that burns brightly but quickly fizzles out. The only disciple to get out of the boat with Jesus, but then loses his faith when he notices the wind; the only disciple to correctly point out that Jesus is the Messiah, but then rebuked harshly when he refuses to listen to Jesus saying that he’s about to die; the only disciple to even attempt to follow Jesus to his trial, but then denies that he’s one of Jesus’ followers for fear of being punished with him.
One lesson Jesus has been trying to teach his disciples all along is that it’s not actually important how “big” your faith is, it’s where your faith is aimed. An “I don’t see how this could possibly work out but I know that God is in control” kind of faith is way better than an “I have all the faith in the world that I’ll be able to overcome this obstacle!” kind of faith. Based on what we see in the book of Acts and Peter’s epistles, I think he learned this lesson.
Jesus is Mocked and Jesus Before the Council
The trial of Jesus was a travesty of justice because an innocent man was found guilty, but the religious leaders can almost be forgiven for that. Jesus claimed to be God, which, if it had been anyone else from the entire history of the world, would have made him guilty of blasphemy. The only way any being could claim to be God and not be guilty of blasphemy would be for that being to actually be God—and, as it turns out, that’s who Jesus is. So he was found guilty of blasphemy for claiming to be God, when in fact Jesus actually was (and is) God, so he wasn’t actually guilty of blasphemy.
But the trial is also a travesty of justice for the way it was conducted, and the religious leaders definitely knew this. They weren’t even pretending to have a fair trial of Jesus, as evidenced by the fact that they decided to beat and mock him all night before the trial even started.
But as for the trial itself, as mentioned, what they’re trying to find Jesus guilty of is blasphemy. I’ll quote it again, with some parts in bold:
When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.” (verses 66–71, emphasis added)
They ask him outright to tell them if he’s the Christ, but he doesn’t answer; he says that they wouldn’t believe him if he said so, and then says, “and if I ask you, you will not answer,” meaning that these people aren’t here to have a conversation, they’ve already made their minds up as to what their decision will be. But, Jesus also tells them that from now on “the Son of Man” will be seated at the right hand of “the power of God.” So they jump on this: Is Jesus the Son of God, then? (They would have understood, from the Scriptures, that both terms “Son of Man” and “Son of God” referred to the Messiah—though they wouldn’t have understood why both of those terms would have been appropriate—but I think they’re purposely choosing to use the term that they consider to be more blasphemous. Ironically, if they’d understood who Jesus was they would have understood the terms “Son of God” and “Son of Man” properly.)
Jesus answers with, “You say that I am,” which is an answer that never properly satisfied me, because it’s not “yes.” The problem for me is that Jesus is using a figure of speech that we don’t have in today’s world, so it sounds like he’s avoiding the question. I also see different explanations of this phrase in different places; the ESV Study Bible notes call this out as a Greek expression used to deflect responsibility back onto the one asking the question, but I also found something called Pulpit Commentary that says it’s not a Greek thing, it’s a rabbinic thing (that is, a figure of speech commonly used by the rabbis of the day): “This form of reply is not used in Greek, but is frequent in rabbinic. By such an answer the one interrogated accepts as his own affirmation the question put to him in its entirety” (bold in the original). Regardless of whether it’s a Greek thing or a rabbinic thing, it’s a form of answering the question affirmatively but somehow turning it back on the person who asked it, that doesn’t really have a parallel in modern English, so it doesn’t seem like as strong of an answer as I’d like.
It should be noted, however, that the people putting Jesus on trial see no such ambiguity. “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips,” they say. They understood what Jesus was saying, loud and clear. They didn’t believe it was actually true—they didn’t believe he was the Christ—but they heard loud and clear that that was what he was claiming.