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Matthew 26:47-56


by Pastor Rick Clayton

A clear teaching in Scripture regarding the kingdom of heaven is that it will never be any more or any less than what God has declared it to be. No matter how much people would like to add to or detract from what God has revealed, His heavenly agenda will be completed. The will of those created can never supersede the will of the Creator. Whether you ultimately embrace His will or reject it determines how His kingdom will affect you for eternity, but His kingdom will prevail.

God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to carry out the redemptive work of His kingdom. The Son of God also became the Son of Man that He might die an atoning death for God’s elect and populate His realm with loyal citizens. Yet from the time He made Himself known as the Christ, the Lord Jesus was misunderstood by all and rejected by most. He nonetheless kept sight of His purpose, and He patiently led His true followers to embrace His mission and their part in it.

However, this was not a painless task for Christ nor the disciples -- especially the apostles. Once Christ completed His ministry and returned to heaven to await the time of His coronation, the apostles would need to take their place as the appointed leaders of His Church -- the earthly representation of His kingdom. But first they must be stripped of all their misconceptions regarding the kingdom, and they certainly had many. They needed to develop the same commitment that Christ Himself had demonstrated to the Father’s will (Matt. 26:36-46).

So as the time of Jesus’ suffering drew near, He increasingly reminded the apostles of why He had come into the world. It was not to establish His kingdom in glory but to bear our sins so that we might share in His future glory. But in their self-assured state of mind, the apostles were unwilling to accept His suffering and did not realize their own weakness to stand with Him in His trial (Matt. 16:22; 26:30-35). Not until they witnessed the Lord’s passion for doing God’s will, and realized their own weakness, would they be fit for service.

This is all clearly evident on the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. As Matthew presents the events of that night in 26:47-56, we see the clash of wills between Christ’s enemies, Christ’s apostles and Christ Himself. And we find that only the Lord’s will prevails.

The Will of Christ’s Enemies (vv. 47-50)
In the garden, Jesus had taken Peter, James and John with Him apart from the other apostles. He wanted them to watch and pray with Him. That is, He desired for them to see His agony as He brought His own human will in line with the Father’s through prayer. And although they gave in to their own fleshly desire for sleep, they would one day be able to see just how necessary it was to watch and pray lest they enter into temptation (26:41).

For temptation was coming in the form of a severe trial. Jesus had warned the apostles that He would be betrayed by one among them, and now His betrayer was at hand (26:46). Verse 47 explains that, “while He was still speaking [to Peter, James and John], behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people.” Judas had sought opportunity to betray the Lord because he realized Jesus was not going to meet with his sinful expectations of a king (26:14-16). Now he had seized on that opportunity as he joined forces with those who opposed the Lord. Little did he know that he had gone over to the dark side (Jn. 13:27); having become the most diabolical hypocrite in human history.

The “great multitude” consisted of both temple officers (Lk. 22:52) who carried “clubs” and Romans soldiers (Jn. 18:3) whose standard weapons were “swords.” The temple guard had limited police powers granted to them by Rome. John 18:3 tells us that Judas had also received a detachment of Roman troops (i.e. a cohort). Being under pressure from the Jews to avoid a riot, Pilate had obviously agreed to send reinforcements in case of resistance. The “chief priests” (of the Sadducees) and the “elders of the people,” (mostly Pharisees) representing the leadership of the Jews, had requested the backup knowing that the temple guard had already failed to arrest Christ (Jn. 7:32; 44-46).

A detachment of troops could number as many as 1,000 armed men -- most being foot soldiers but several hundred being on horseback. However, there is no indication of a cavalry, since that would have certainly drawn more attention during the feast of Passover. This “multitude” was being led, not only by Judas, but by representatives from the chief priests and elders (Lk. 22:52) who were there to ensure that Jesus was arrested. They did not want to miss this opportunity, since they had been plotting against Jesus for some time to accuse Him of rebellion against Rome. It was their only hope of killing Jesus and not inciting a riot (26:3-5). If the Romans executed Him, then they could claim innocence.

To everyone present, it seemed that Jesus was trapped. No doubt, the sight of the massive crowd with their lanterns, torches and weapons (Jn. 18:3) was a frightening sight -- one which the apostles were not expecting. But perhaps more shocking to them was the fact that Judas was “His betrayer.”

In the dark of night, it would have been difficult to identify Jesus apart from the help of someone close to Him. And so, Judas “had given them a sign, saying, ‘Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him’” (v. 48b). That Judas would chose to greet Jesus with a customary kiss of friendship was the height of hypocrisy, and it demonstrated His disdain for the Lord. His was, in fact, the greatest of sins against Christ -- even more so than those who actually crucified Him (Jn. 19:11).

The interaction between Jesus and His betrayer is brief but intense. Judas wasted no time in carrying out his evil deed. Verse 49 explains that “Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him.” The word, “kissed” in this verse (from Gr. - phileo), signifies that Judas’ display of affection was exaggerated for effect. He tried to cover his deception literally to the very end. There has never been so great an act of treachery or hypocrisy! Judas’ betrayal was cold, calculated and deliberate. He fully intended for his kiss of feigned friendship to pierce Jesus’ heart, and it did -- perhaps more so than anything else He endured at the hands of men. His own familiar friend with whom He had shared the past three years intimately had stabbed Him in the back as it were. However, nothing came close to the pain He would soon feel as God poured out His wrath on the Son during His crucifixion.

The first portion of verse 50 gives us the Lord’s response: “Friend, why have you come?” In Luke 22:48, we find that the Lord also said, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” That was likely his second question, the first being asked before the kiss. Judas may have pretended innocence by his actions, but Jesus did not allow it to go unaddressed. He explicitly points out his betrayers treachery. But Judas offered no reply and quickly handed Jesus over to the authorities…“Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him” (v. 50b).

It certainly appeared that the will of Christ’s enemies was prevailing. And that prompted the sudden and foolish response of Peter which we find in the verse that follows.

The Will of Christ’s Apostles (v. 51)
Verse 51 gives us a brief but thorough insight into the will of the Lord’s apostles during this pivotal moment in His ministry. We read that “…suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.” John 18:10 identifies Simon Peter as the lone swordsman and the wounded servant as a man named, Malchus. Obviously Peter did not intend to merely cut off his ear. He was certainly aiming to cut off his head!

As always, the apostles could count on Peter to express what the rest of them were thinking. He and the others had stated that they were willing to die for Christ (26:35), and they meant it. But their loyalty was misplaced, and they were overzealous for the wrong things. Their will was for Jesus to assert Himself and establish His throne by force. They truly loved Him and rightly desired to see His glory, but they had ignored His teaching that He must first suffer and die. By the grace of God, Peter was a better fisherman than a swordsman. God, no doubt, intervened to prevent disaster, and Luke 22:51 adds that Jesus immediately healed the servants ear.

Peter’s actions, however, reflect that neither he nor the rest of the apostles were spiritually ready for this encounter. That is, they had not watched and prayed as Jesus instructed them to do earlier. Had they sincerely done so, they would have known that it was the will of God that Jesus suffer. Instead, Peter sought to employ a purely human response to the situation. Rather than trust God, he tried to manipulate the circumstances. He was clearly outnumbered and lacking in skill to say the least, and he let his emotions get the best of him. Had Jesus not providentially protected him, he would surely have been killed on the spot (Jn. 18:8-9).

The will of the apostles was well-meaning but it was not in line with God’s plan, and Jesus rebukes them because of this. He explains that His will was submitted to the heavenly Father who had pre-arranged the things that were taking place.

The Will of Christ (vv. 52-56)
He began by saying, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” In other words, the purpose for your sword is not to be a vigilante for the kingdom. In Luke 22:35-36, the Lord had told the apostles in the upper room that the things written about Him in Scripture must be fulfilled. That meant that He would be leaving them, and, in His absence, they would need to use normal means to obtain their provisions and provide protection. He did not mean for them to form an army to physically fight the enemies of His kingdom.

Jesus had sovereignly provided for their needs and protected them while He was with them (Jn. 18:9). But now they needed to wisely plan for these things. However, He did not mean for them to take the law into their own hands. Even though His betrayal, arrest, trials and crucifixion were absolutely unjust, it was not His will nor the Father’s that His followers seek retribution through violence or in any other way. Their task was to represent His kingdom with the Gospel, and they must permit Jesus to suffer in order to have a Gospel to preach! God would take vengeance on His enemies in His time.

The Bible plainly teaches that God has ordained human government, and He commands us to submit to it (Rom. 13:1-7) unless it demands that we disobey God (e.g. Ex. 1:17; Dan. 3:16-18; Acts 4:19-20, etc.). Then we are to obey God, and whatever happens as a result happens (1 Pet. 3:13-17). But even then, our resistance is not to be violent. We are told to flee persecution if necessary and continue representing the Lord wherever we go (Matt. 10:23). If God permits us to be physically mistreated in our persecution, then we are to look to Him for grace.

There is a fine line between self-defense and violent retribution that we must be careful not to cross. We can certainly protect ourselves from unlawful people who seek our harm, thus Jesus’ encouragement in Luke 22 for His disciples to buy a sword. But the way we deal with unjust authorities is different and must always be a matter of prayer lest we disobey the Lord. If we think that violence is the answer to persecution, then we have seriously missed the Lord’s point. For by the sword, says Jesus, we will “perish.” We must keep the sword “in its place.” Certainly Jesus meant for them to put it back in its sheath, and in so doing, keep it only for self-defense.

As Paul would later write to the Romans, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, live at peace with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17-21). That is not the natural human reaction. The apostles wanted to defend their Lord, and their loyalty was commendable. However, violence was not the Lord’s will, and they needed to submit. Peter’s actions bordered on murder which God’s word condemns as a capital offence (Gen. 9:6).

Jesus needed no protection. After all, He is the Lord of heaven and earth! It was nothing for Him to destroy this mob merely by speaking a word. John’s gospel tells us that, when He identified Himself to the mob, they all fell to the ground when He spoke the words, “I am He” (Jn. 18:5-6). His Word is powerful (Heb. 4:12). His response to the mob was a declaration of His deity as He demanded that His disciples not be arrested. The apostles were, of course, not apprehended. But the point is that Jesus was completely in control. And He emphasizes this to the apostles here in verse 53 when He says, “Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” To put Jesus’ statement into perspective, a Roman legion was 6,000 soldiers. He is obviously saying that the multitude of the heavenly host was at His beck and call (“more than twelve legions”), and the Father would gladly send them at the Son’s request. However, Jesus would not request them.

Why? Because it was not His Father’s will. If He were to selfishly request intervention at this point, “How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus” (v. 54)? God had already decreed this hour, and Jesus was committed to that plan. In His humanity, He had prayed earlier that, if possible, the cup of suffering might pass from Him, but He did not ask for intervention to stop God’s will from taking place. He wanted nothing but the Father’s will (26:39), and He yielded His own will to that of the Father to fulfill the Scripture. The apostle’s needed to do likewise.

Not only did Jesus rebuke the apostles because their will did not line up with His, but He also rebuked the mob for their part in His unjust arrest. “In that hour Jesus said to the multitudes, ‘Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me. But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled’” (v. 55-56). The Lord was condemning the injustice and hypocrisy of this plot against Him. He was speaking specifically to the leaders of the mob who were the chief priests and elders of the Jews. They knew full well that He was not guilty and, therefore, not worthy of treatment as a criminal. But this was also one last call for repentance -- a reminder of the Gospel He had proclaimed in their midst. Their refusal to repent only testified to their guilt, yet their scheme was allowed by God so that what “the prophets” had written in “the Scriptures” would “be fulfilled.”

And it was fulfilled just as God planned. He did not orchestrate the evil of these men, but He permitted them to act upon the evil of their hearts. They willfully chose to reject Christ, and they acted on their hatred. Although He is sovereign over all the affairs of men, God did not intervene to stop these events. Jesus was chosen to die for our sins before the foundation of the world, and the Father used His enemies to accomplish His purpose.

Jesus would submit to the authorities that be because the Father had permitted this circumstance to bring His plan to pass. But that did not make the evil of the Lord’s enemies acceptable in God’s sight. It was injustice at its worst. It should be rebuked by Christ and would ultimately be punished by God. So, while we are not to resist with violence, we are certainly to rebuke evil by declaring the truth. We must not speak anything other than the truth of God’s Word, but we must speak it as a testimony against the Lord’s enemies. And in due time they will be judged by the Word of God they rejected.

The “disciples” still did not understand these circumstances. Confused and fearful, they “all…forsook Him and fled.” But this, too, was in keeping with the prophetic Scriptures. The Lord revealed this back in verse 31 where He quoted Zechariah 13:7: “I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” So even though the will of the Lord’s enemies and the will of the apostles did not align with His will, their actions were nonetheless permitted to bring the plan of redemption to pass. Those who rejected Him were culpable for their rejection, and the apostle’s were responsible for their disobedience. They would repent and be restored to fellowship with Christ, but His enemies who persisted in their rebellion would know His wrath.

The Lord did not want the apostles to stop the betrayal. He wanted their submission because the betrayal was foreordained (26:24). He wanted them to respond to the situation in trusting faith. He wanted them to see the need to submit their natural emotions and reactions to the Father in prayer just as He Himself was doing. He was setting the example for how they were to deal with persecution in the future.

And that is what the Lord desires of you and me if we are His true followers. The kingdom of Jesus Christ is not about fighting and conquest of earthly strongholds. While we will reign with Him in the future kingdom with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:9; Rev. 19:15; 20:6), now we are ambassadors for the kingdom in a foreign land that He will soon bring under His total dominion (2 Cor. 5:20). He will conquer with the power of His Word, and we will, by His Word, enforce His rule. But as He told Pilate during His trial, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). Now, we are to submit to the powers that are ordained by God and align our will with our Lord’s will as we proclaim the Gospel of His salvation.

Do you embrace His will? Whether you do or do not will not alter the outcome, but it will determine how His kingdom affects you for eternity.

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