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Matthew 26:47-56 -
by Scott Sperling
47While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
50Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
52“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
55In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Jesus had just come back to the Apostles from praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He roused Peter, John, and James from their sleep, saying: “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (vss. 45-46). So Jesus, it appears, was praying right up until the time of His arrest, which occurs in this section: “While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people” (vs. 47). At first glance, it would seem that “a large crowd armed with swords and clubs” to arrest a man of peace is a bit of overkill. Yet, on the other hand, no matter how large the crowd, it would not be enough to arrest Jesus, with His almighty power, if He did not voluntary choose to be arrested.
The “large crowd” most likely consisted of some Roman soldiers (the ones with “swords”, for they were authorized to carry “swords”), members of the temple police (security for the Sanhedrin), as well as members of the Sanhedrin (the temple ruling council, consisting of chief priests and elders of the Jerusalem temple) [Illus. Bible Backgrounds]. As such, they did have human authority to arrest Jesus.
“Judas” also was among them, leading the arresting crowd to Jesus. Matthew points out that Judas was “one of the Twelve”, emphasizing Judas’s treachery, in that Judas was a trusted follower of Jesus. “The sad fall of Judas should be a warning to everyone not to indulge a vain reliance in the mere external fellowship of Christ” [Lisco, in Lange, 489].
“Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest Him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him” (vss. 48-49). The crowd was there to arrest specifically Jesus, and no one else, so Judas “arranged a signal” with them so that they would know who to arrest, given it was night time in a dark garden. By choosing to betray Jesus with a kiss, Judas has forever tainted the pure and beautiful act of the kiss of friendship and made it a symbol of hypocritical betrayal. “All the better instincts of human nature revolt at the treacherous disciple’s kiss” [Broadus, 540]. “Ah, lewd losel! Betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss? Givest thou thy Lord such rank poison in such a golden cup? Consignest thou thy treachery with so sweet a symbol of peace and love?” [Trapp, v. V, 272]. “What foul hypocrisy here! Kissing in order to kill! Saluting in order to slay!” [Thomas, 506].
Judas saluted Jesus with “Greetings, Rabbi!” (translated “Hail, Master” in the KJV), and then “kissed him”. The Greek word for “kissed” used here is “to kiss fervently,” indicating that “the act of the traitor was almost certainly more demonstrative than the simple kiss of salutation” (Vine’s). It’s not entirely clear why Judas kissed in that manner. It’s as if Judas was purposely emphasizing his own hypocrisy, by calling Jesus Master, and then kissing Him fervently. His act was a subtle mocking of Jesus, thus Judas himself begins the mocking and mistreatment that Jesus will undergo in the day to come. Sadly, the spirit of Judas continues, and will always be present. “There are many that betray Christ with a kiss, and Hail Master; who, under pretense of doing Him honor, betray and undermine the interest of His kingdom” [Henry, 230].
“Jesus replied, ‘Do what you came for, friend.’ Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested Him” (vs. 50). By calling him “friend”, Jesus emphasizes Judas’s hypocrisy, while also providing us an example of peaceful, non-resistance, and love for one’s enemies. “He calls him ‘friend’. If he had called him villain and traitor, Raca, and fool, and child of the devil, He would not have miscalled him; but He teaches us under the greatest provocation to forbear bitterness and evil speaking, and to shew all meekness” [Henry, v. IV, 230]. “In this address to Judas there is no indication of anger or excitement of any kind, but a mere dignified recognition. There is a majesty of calmness about it which must have gone to the heart of the betrayer” [Thomas, 508]. “Christ [calls] the traitor [‘friend’], as might make him compare his pretense of friendship to his Master, with his intention of bringing soldiers on Him… To compare our profession with our practices, and our pretenses with our intentions, is a means to give us a right sight of ourselves” [Dickson, 318].
“With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear” (vs. 51). It was Peter who drew the sword (see John 18:10). He was backing up his “I will die with you” statement, back when Jesus told the disciples that they would “all fall away” (see Matt. 26:31-35). On an impulse, in the heat of battle, Peter was brave, and indeed would have died with Christ, in the heat of a battle with the mob who came to arrest Jesus. But such a battle was not sanctioned by the will of God. Peter needed the bravery at that time to live for Christ in the near future, as he was to help found the Christian Church and spread the gospel of Christ to the world. Peter would eventually die for Christ, but not then, and not there. “Peter had talked much, and more what he would do for his Master, he would lay down his life for Him, yea, that he would; and now he would be as good as his word, and venture his life to rescue his Master; and thus far was commendable, that he had a great zeal for Christ, and His honor and safety; but it was not according to knowledge, or guided by discretion” [Henry, v. IV, 231]. “[Peter] is magnificent and pathetic-magnificent because he rushes in to defend Jesus with characteristic courage and impetuousness, pathetic because his courage evaporates when Jesus undoes Peter’s damage, forbids violence, and faces the Passion without resisting” [Carson].
Jesus Himself, the arrestee, diffused the situation, and returned peace to it: “‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword’” (vs. 52). Jesus de-escalated the situation. This, and His healing of the man who was injured (see Luke 22:51), most likely saved Peter from being arrested, or worse, at that time. “A wonderful work of God it was surely, that hereupon [Peter] was not hewn in an hundred pieces by the barbarous soldiers” [Trapp, 265]. “Peter had really forfeited his life to the sword; but the Lord rectified his wounded position by the correcting word which He spoke, by the miraculous healing of the ear, and by the voluntary surrender of Himself to the authorities” [Lange, 486].
Jesus’ command to Peter, “Put your sword back in its place”, is also Jesus’ marching orders for all Christians. It was Peter’s impulsive idea to begin the Kingdom as a conquering warrior, but this was not the way Christ wanted to advance His kingdom. Violence in defense of Jesus, or the Christian religion, is not in keeping with the teachings of humility and peace of Jesus, and contrary to faith that Jesus has the power to subdue anyone, if He chooses. Later, when the Apostles were freed from jail, it was not through an armed resistance of other Apostles, but through the power of God. To draw a sword is never a modus operandi for the advancement of the Christian Church. Crusades to force people into the Christian religion are never sanctioned by God. Yes, we can defend ourselves from attackers, as part of our human defense mechanism. But we are never to go on the offensive in a physical battle, in the name of Christ. Instead, we are to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). The Crusades were not sanctioned by God as a way to advance the Christian religion, nor was the Inquisition, and certainly not the Holocaust. All these were contrary to the precepts of Christ, and they all did nothing but harm the Christian religion.
“Christ’s errand into the world was to make peace. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but spiritual; and Christ’s ministers, though they are His soldiers, yet do not war after the flesh, (see 2 Cor. 10:3-4). Not that the law of Christ overthrows either the law of nature, or the laws of nations, as far as those warrant subjects to stand up in defense of their civil rights and liberties, and their religion, when it is incorporated with them; but it provides for the preservation of public peace and order, by forbidding private persons to resist the powers that be; nay, we have a general precept, that we resist not evil (see Matt. 5:39); nor will Christ have His ministers propagate His religion by force and arms. ‘Religio cogi non potest & defendenda non occidendo sed moriendo’ (‘Religion cannot be secured and defended by killing, but by dying’ – Lactantius). As Christ forbade His disciples the sword of justice (Matt. 20:25-26), so here the sword of war” [Henry, v. IV, 231].
“Christians [must] not use the sword for the defense or for the propagation of the gospel. Sometimes mistaken zeal, sometimes more unholy motives, have led to persecutions and to so-called religious wars. The Lord distinctly condemns the use of force; He Himself refrained from the exercise of His power, He was King of kings and Lord of lords; He could have subjugated all the kingdoms of the world at once, by one act of omnipotence; He might have had around Him now, not eleven disciples, but more than twelve legions of angels. But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled? The salvation of man was to be brought about, not by force, not by a display of power, but by holy teaching, by holy example, by suffering, by self-sacrifice, by the cross. The forces to be employed were not physical, but moral and spiritual. Christ would not terrify men into obedience. What He seeks is not the forced service of slaves, but the willing obedience of love. And love cannot be forced; it can be gained only by love. It is the love of Christ manifested in His incarnation, in His holy life, in His precious death, which constrains His faithful followers to live no longer unto themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again” [Pulpit Comm., 546].
“Old Testament martyrdom had in it some affinity with the self-sacrifice of a hero in battle: they hoped for the speedy triumph of the theocracy. The New Testament martyr must, in the patience of the saints (Rev. 13:10; 14:12), tarry for the manifestation of victory until the last day. For this the disciples were not ripe: they had not the joyful testimony of victory within their own spirits. This New Testament martyrdom could flourish only after the blood of Christ was shed” [Lange, 488].
Jesus speaks of His control of the situation: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (vss. 53-54). If Jesus had called for the legions of angels, one for each of the Apostles and one for Himself, they would have come. Jesus was not being forced into sacrificing Himself. He, in His great love, chose to be. At any point, He could have aborted His mission, but thank God He didn’t. Jesus ever continued to do the will of the Father, thus “the Scriptures [were] fulfilled.”
“In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, ‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.’ Then all the disciples deserted him and fled” (vss. 55-56). “The implication is that there is no need to arrest Him secretly and violently, except for reasons in their own minds that reveal more about them than about Him” [Carson]. By arresting Jesus in secret, rather than when He was teaching in the temple courts, the Sanhedrin was purposely avoiding the defense of Jesus by a sympathetic crowd. They acted furtively at night, so they could try Jesus furtively, without the sympathetic hearers of Jesus’ teachings there to witness the trial. The goal of the Sanhedrin was to arrest Jesus in such a way that He would be alone, and they achieved this. Realizing that Jesus would be led away, the courage of the Apostles flagged, and they fled, as prophesied by both Zechariah hundreds of years before (see Zech. 13:7), and Jesus earlier in the evening (see Matt. 26:31). Jesus was to suffer alone.
“It would have been to the eternal honor of any one of the disciples to have kept close to Christ right up to the last; but neither the loving John nor the boastful Peter stood the test of that solemn time” [Spurgeon, 469]. “This was their sin; and it was a great sin for them who had left all to follow Him, now to leave Him for they know not what. There was unkindness in it, considering the relation they stand in to Him, the favors they had received from Him, and the melancholy circumstances He was now in. There was unfaithfulness in it, for they had solemnly promised to stick to Him, and never to forsake Him… What folly was this, for fear of death, to flee from Him, whom they themselves knew, and had acknowledged, to be the fountain of life? (see John 6:67-68)” [Henry, v. IV, 232].
Matthew 26:57-68 -
Jesus Before the Sanhedrin
57Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. 58But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.
59The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.
Finally two came forward 61and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”
62Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 63But Jesus remained silent.
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
64“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
65Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66What do you think?”
“He is worthy of death,” they answered.
67Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him 68and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”
There were three different jurisdictions under which Jesus’ case fell: the Sanhedrin’s (the governing body for the Jews, consisting of the chief priests and other Jewish leaders), Pilate’s (representing the Roman government), and King Herod’s (the Jewish leader over Galilee, Jesus’ home town, who was sanctioned by Rome to lead that district). Jesus faced hearings and trials before all of these. The hearing before Herod is not recounted in the book of Matthew (it is recounted in Luke 23:6-12). The result of that hearing was just that Jesus was returned to Pilate (see Luke 23:11).
The first hearing was before Annas, a well-respected, former high priest. This also is not recounted in the book of Matthew, but can be found in John 18:12-24. Matthew’s accounts of Jesus’ hearings and trials begins with the hearing before Caiaphas, and other members of the Sanhedrin, the night Jesus was arrested: “Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled” (vs. 57). Though it was late in the evening, they “had assembled”, waiting for Jesus to be brought before them. This is how anxious they were to see Jesus die.
Though all the Apostles initially fled during the arrest of Jesus, Peter stayed close enough to witness the event of that night: “But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome” (vs. 58). “Peter followed Jesus ‘at a distance,’ midway between courage (v. 51) and cowardice (v. 70)” [Bengel, in Carson]. “He followed Him, but it was afar off: Some sparks of love and concern for his Master there were in his breast, and therefore he followed Him; but fear and concern for his own safety prevailed, and therefore he followed afar off. Note, it looks ill, and bodes worse, when those that are willing to be Christ’s disciples, yet are not willing to be known to be so. Here began Peter’s denying Him; for to follow Him afar off is by little and little to go back from Him… He should have gone up to the court, and attended on his Master, and appeared for Him; but he went in where there was a good fire, and sat with the servants, not to silence their reproaches, but to screen himself” [Henry, v. IV, 233].
The hearing before the Sanhedrin was not an honest, unbiased search for true justice; rather, it was a mock-trial where the desired outcome (death for Jesus) was predetermined: “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put Him to death” (vs. 59). This mock-trial violated the spirit and the letter of the law of God, as laid out in the Holy Scriptures that the Sanhedrin claimed to venerate (see Ex. 23:7; Lev. 19:15; Deut. 16:18-20; et. al.).
As stated, the desired result was “to put [Jesus] to death”. However, the Sanhedrin did not have the governmental authority to put people to death for capital crimes. Only the Roman court could do that (see John 18:31). But the Romans would not put Jesus to death for blasphemy under the Jewish religion. That was not a crime against Rome. They would put Jesus to death if sedition against Rome was involved (such as Jesus trying to set Himself up as King), but Jesus never did that. So, this was the “false evidence” that the Sanhedrin was looking for: false evidence that Jesus was trying to undermine the Roman authority. Note that earlier, the Pharisees tried to get Jesus to say incriminating things against the Roman authority in the famous “render unto Caesar” passage (see Matt. 22:15-22).
In getting such “false evidence”, the Sanhedrin was not very successful: “But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, ‘This fellow said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.”’ Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ But Jesus remained silent” (vss. 60-63). From witnesses, a threat to “destroy the temple of God” was the best the Sanhedrin could come up with.
Jesus did say something like this. After Jesus cleared the temple courts of marketeers and money changers (John 2:14), some Jews responded to this by asking Jesus: “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this” (John 2:18). Jesus answered: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). Jesus was speaking metaphorically, and with deep theological teaching. John tells us that Jesus was speaking of the “temple” of His own body—the ultimate meeting place between God and man. And so, raising the “temple” in three days refers to Jesus’ resurrection. But the Sanhedrin understood none of this, and tried to use these words against Jesus, saying they were a blasphemous threat to the Jewish religion. “In Christ, His greatest enemies could find no fault, but were forced to make that a fault which was none, to wit, His foretelling of His own death and resurrection, which was the matter of His glory and our comfort” [Dickson, 321].
Jesus Himself did not dignify them with an answer; He “remained silent.” What can one say to a kangaroo court, determined to find guilt where there was none? Then also, Jesus “remained silent” because He was bearing the guilt of our sins. He allowed the mock-trial to continue, because He was on trial for our sins, and determined to pay the price for all the sins of mankind. “Our Lord could have answered for Himself, but because He stood in our [stead], He answered nothing, and was content to be condemned for our faults, though He was free of all sin in Himself” [Dickson, 321].
“The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God’” (vs. 63). Since most of the Jews at that time equated the Messiah with a militant, political leader, who would overthrow the secular government rulers, the high priest’s question was designed to elicit a response from Jesus that would be treasonous to the Romans.
Jesus responds this time, being charged “under oath” to respond: “‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied, ‘But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven’” (vs. 64). Jesus’ response, I think, is subtly non-offensive to the Romans, yet at the same time, offensive to the Sanhedrin. Jesus speaks of Himself as a leader in the Heavenly Kingdom, and makes no direct threat against any earthly kingdom. Jesus speaks of Himself being “at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven”. These words, for the non-believing Sanhedrin, are blasphemous. They respond: “Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ ‘He is worthy of death,’ they answered” (vss. 65-66). They do not consider, for even one moment, that Jesus might, indeed, be the Christ, the Son of God. They do not think back to the signs and wonders He performed, to the inspired heavenly teaching that He gave, to the marvelous good works He performed for the sick, downtrodden and lame. Instead, with blood-lust, they “tore their clothes”, and pronounced Jesus “worthy of death.”
Moreover, after their condemnation of Jesus to death, the spirit of the Evil One inhabits them completely, leading them to perform heinous acts of malevolence and wickedness: “Then they spit in His face and struck Him with their fists. Others slapped Him and said, ‘Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?’” (vs. 67). They accuse Jesus of blasphemy, yet here, they perform hideous acts of blasphemy against the true Son of God. But let us all remember, as we read of Christ’s suffering, the part we played in it: it is for our sins that Jesus here is being buffeted, spat upon and mocked. “Christ was content to be spit upon, to cleanse our faces from the filth of sin, to be buffeted with fists, and beaten with staves, to free us from that mighty hand of God” [Trapp, 267].
Bibliography and Suggested Reading
Alexander, Joseph Addison. The Gospel According to Matthew. New York: Charles Scribner Publishers, 1861.
Broadus, John. Commentary on Matthew. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1886.
Calvin, John. Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke. 3 Vols. Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1846. (Originally published in Latin in 1555).
Carson, D. A. “Matthew” from The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII, ed. by Frank Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.
Clarke, Adam. The New Testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Vol. I. New York: G. Lane & C. B. Tippett, 1846. (Originally published in 1831).
Dickson, David. A Brief Exposition of the Evangel of Jesus Christ According to Matthew. Cornhill, U.K.: Ralph Smith, 1651.
Exell, Joseph S. and Henry Donald Spence-Jones, eds. The Pulpit Commentary. Vols. 33 & 34. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1884.
Henry, Matthew. An Exposition of All the Books of the Old and New Testament. Vol. IV. London: W. Baynes, 1806. (Originally published in 1710).
Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. A Commentary: Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments. Glasgow: William Collins, Queen’s Printer, 1863.
Lange, John Peter, ed. and Philip Schaff, trans. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical. New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1865.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1992.
Ryle, J. C. Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew. New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1857.
Spurgeon, Charles. The Gospel of the Kingdom: A Popular Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. New York: The Baker and Taylor Co., 1893.
Thomas, David. The Genius of the Gospel: A Homiletical Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew. London: Dickinson & Higham, 1873.
Trapp, John. A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. Vol. V (Matthew to Revelation). Edmonton, Canada: Still Waters Revival Books (www.PuritanDownloads.com). (Originally published c. 1660).
Wilkins, Michael J. “Matthew” from Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.
All of these books, except Carson, Morris, and Wilkins can be downloaded free of charge from: