Matthew 26

The Plot Against Jesus

1When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2"As you know, the Passover is two days away--and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified."
3Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. 5"But not during the Feast," they said, "or there may be a riot among the people."

Jesus Anointed at Bethany

6While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, 7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
8When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked. 9"This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor."
10Aware of this, Jesus said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."

Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus

14Then one of the Twelve--the one called Judas Iscariot--went to the chief priests 15and asked, "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. 16From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

Matthew 26:1-16


Because the accounts of Jesus' death and resurrection are central to Christian faith, they have been subjected to special challenge. Nevertheless, strong evidence supports the essential Gospel reports about Jesus' death and resurrection. Other narratives may have figured as much in early Christian ethical preaching, but early Christians probably would have told and retold the passion story, which lay at the heart of their gospel. No record remains of any form of early Christianity that lacked the basic structure of the story of Jesus' death and resurrection. Paul's sequence is similar to Mark's (1 Cor 11:23; 15:3-5; compare Jewish and Roman responsibility in 1 Cor 1:23; 1 Thess 2:14-15), and if, as is probable, John represents an independent tradition, his passion narrative again confirms the outline Mark follows, suggesting a passion narrative that existed before Mark (R. Brown 1994:53-55, 77-80).
Other evidence suggests the substantial reliability of these accounts. First of all, the basic story seems to have been established among Jerusalem Christians within a decade after the resurrection. The basic components of the story and their outline are surely earlier than Mark; Paul and John independently attest the same material. Mark himself appears to presuppose that his audience is familiar with some details of the story (especially Barabbas and other insurrectionists, despite Pilate's many confrontations with such revolutionaries; Theissen 1991:171, 182-83).

Further, the "criterion of embarrassment" makes it nearly impossible to believe that the early Christians could have invented the account. Christians would not invent one disciple's betrayal or other disciples' abandonment (both shameful in their milieu); the earliest Christians, who were Jewish, probably would not invent condemnation by the majority of their own people's leaders; Christians would never have invented shameful death by crucifixion; and they would never have invented the treason charge "King of the Jews," which would have made all Christians look seditious and invited Roman retribution.

Finally, the accounts of Jesus' arrest, trials and execution fit what we know of the period in question. Craig Evans (1995:108) accurately compares Josephus's account of Jesus ben Ananias, who similarly entered the temple area during a festival (Jos. War 6.300-301). Like Jesus, he predicted doom on Jerusalem and its sanctuary, even referring (again like Jesus) to the context of Jeremiah's prophecy of judgment against the temple (Jer 7:34 in War 6.301; compare Jer 7:11 in Mk 11:17). The Jewish authorities arrested and beat Jesus ben Ananias (War 6.302) and handed him over to the Roman governor (War 6.303), who interrogated him (War 6.305). He refused to answer the governor (War 6.305), was scourged (6.304) and--in this case unlike Jesus (though compare Mk 15:9)--was released (6.305).

The primary difference, that Jesus of Nazareth was executed whereas Jesus son of Ananias was not, also makes good sense: unlike Jesus ben Ananias, Jesus of Nazareth was not viewed as insane and already had a band of followers, plus a growing reputation that could support messianic claims (compare E. Sanders 1993:267). Jesus ben Ananias could simply be punished; Jesus of Nazareth had to be executed. The basic points of the passion story--including those most apt to be questioned--make excellent historical sense.

The Betrayal (26:1-56)

The Betrayal (26:1-56)
Matthew concludes his grand eschatological vision of the exalted Son of Man with the harsh reality of present suffering, leading directly into his account of Jesus' betrayal, arrest and execution. As Mark connects Jesus' suffering (Mk 14--15) with that of the disciples (Mk 13) in a climax that fits the rest of his narrative, so for Matthew the passion narrative reminds disciples in this age of our present testing until our final, end-time deliverance (for example, 24:42-43; 25:13; 26:41). Because the story of our Lord's death provides the historical record of our once-for-all redemption, it reveals to us in intimate detail the concrete expression of God's love for us, as well as the awfulness of sin. At the same time, because Jesus' sacrifice becomes the model for that of his disciples (16:24), it invites us to count the cost of discipleship in a world hostile to the purposes and agendas of a God of justice, holiness and compassion.
In one of the opening scenes of this section, a woman plays the role that women continue to play in the accounts of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection: a foil that reveals the inadequate commitment of the male disciples. But most significant, her sacrifice provides a stark contrast to Judas's determination to profit somehow from Jesus, and his ultimate betrayal of Jesus to his enemies. That Jesus suffered at the hands of a close associate and disciple should encourage us when we experience rejection from those we seek to help. That most of the male disciples failed to stand firm challenges us to watch and pray that we may be ready for testing.

How Much Is Jesus Worth? (26:1-16)
The extravagant anointing at Bethany (vv. 6-13) is framed by a plot to arrest Jesus (vv. 3-5, 14-16). The disciples, who can appear less wise than the women they seek to silence in the Gospels (as in 15:23; compare Lk 24:11), protest this extravagance. One disciple, Judas, who realizes that Jesus is a martyr messiah, decides that following Jesus will not be profitable and determines to gain at least some profit.
Jesus Faces God's Calling Obediently (26:1-2)
By adding another passion announcement here (contrast Mk 14:1-2), Matthew reminds us that whatever the power of those who plotted against Jesus, Jesus moved according to his Father's plan and not theirs. No matter how strong the forces arrayed against God's servants, God will ultimately fulfill his purposes. In contrast with Judas in this passage (Mt 26:14-16), Jesus obeys God's calling at great cost to himself and provides a model for those who would follow him.
Not All Who Claim to Lead God's People Follow the Rules (26:3-5)
The high-priestly office constituted the most powerful religious, and one of the most powerful political, positions in Jewish Palestine; Caiaphas (high priest A.D. 18-36) retained it by giving the Romans what they wanted (E. Sanders 1993:265). That meant, of course, that threats to the political stability of Jerusalem would need to be dealt with swiftly and efficiently. And someone who caused a commotion in the temple in the dangerously crowded period just before Passover was clearly a threat to the public order. Although the plan to arrest Jesus away from the crowds was politically prudent, it was a stratagem of those who could not win by persuasion or demonstrations of God's power (21:46). When someone can win only by subterfuge and force, that person is not serving God--although, as here, God may well use such a one to execute his own purposes.
Jesus Is Worth Our Best (26:6-13)
We disciples who are grieved by the failure of every single one of our male spiritual predecessors to stand with our Lord in his time of testing (vv. 40-56) can at least find some solace in the love shown by the women disciples (v. 7; 27:61; 28:1; compare Mk 15:40-41). Although the threat to their safety may have been less grave, they nevertheless put us men to shame in the passion narrative. By contrast, it is male disciples here (Mt 26:8) who oppose the woman who anoints Jesus, more clearly than in Mark (Mk 14:4). Particularly in contrast to Judas, who (like many professed worshipers of God today) seeks only what he can get from Jesus (Mt 26:14-16), this woman seeks what she can offer to Jesus. The extravagance of our love is but an infinitesimal symbol compared to the price of his love for us (vv. 26-29), but Jesus both accepts it and gives us all the more (vv. 10, 13).
People often used expensive alabaster bottles, which were semitransparent and resembled marble, to store costly ointments (Argyle 1963:195). They would seal the ointment to prevent evaporation, requiring the long neck of the jar to be broken and the ointment to be expended at once (Meier 1980:312). Nard was a costly ointment imported from India, and its expense might suggest an heirloom passed from one generation to the next (Lane 1974:492). We may contrast Jesus' response to that of the disciples. He honors this obscure woman (despite significant exceptions women generally were obscure) more highly than any of the male disciples: her act would henceforth be preserved as part of the passion tradition relating to Jesus' burial (compare Judith 14:7).

Some modern readers take Jesus' reproof in 26:9-11 as playing down the priority of the poor, and then they inexplicably apply the example of this woman's extravagance to their church building programs or other projects. (That the disciples would have thought of the needs of the poor shortly before Passover fit their culture's custom--m. Pesahim 9:11; 10:1.) The needs of human beings always remain closer to Jesus' heart than most other monetary agendas (as in 5:42), and his very words about the poor remaining with them allude to Deuteronomy 15:11, where the context demands caring for the poor (Deut 15:1-10). This woman supplied something for Jesus shortly before his death that none of the rest of us can repeat (hence Mt 26:13), but she provides a model of sacrificial love. We show that sacrificial love to Jesus now by using all our resources for the work of his kingdom (13:44-46), including serving the poor (6:2, 19-24; compare Lk 12:33-34).

Judas Follows Jesus for What He Can Get out of Him (26:14-16)
Ancient narrators sometimes contrasted positive and negative moral examples; as Judas contrasts with Peter in 26:69--27:10, he contrasts here with the extravagant love of the woman in 26:6-13. Jesus has continued to discuss his death (vv. 2, 12), and perhaps at least Judas has now caught on. But when Judas finds that Jesus' kingdom will not profit him materially (and may even cost him his life), he chooses to get what he still can from his lengthy investment in Jesus: he sells him for the price of a slave (v. 15; Ex 21:32). Like another disciple of old (2 Kings 5:26-27), Judas abandoned his spiritual birthright for better material conditions, and in saving his own life lost it for eternity (Mt 16:24-27; 27:1-10). Judas represents all those who follow Jesus only for what they can get from him, not for how they can serve him: eventually they may decide that the cost of serving him is higher than it is worth.

Matthew 26

The Lord's Supper

17On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?"
18He replied, "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, 'The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.' " 19So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.
20When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21And while they were eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me."
22They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, "Surely not I, Lord?"
23Jesus replied, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."
25Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?"
Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you."
26While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body."
27Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. 28This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."
30When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Matthew 26:17-30


The Meaning of Jesus' Death (26:17-30)
As Jesus' death approaches, he instructs his disciples more fully in the meaning of his mission. The disciples could not guess that their Teacher's death was part of God's sovereign plan, and they would scatter in fear once it came; but by reinterpreting a familiar ritual (the Passover, an annual celebration of how God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt), Jesus gave them a new way of looking at God's purposes, which would make sense once he had risen.
Jesus' Mission Signifies a New Passover (26:17-20)
In the context of the Passover, Jesus shows that his own mission provides a new act of redemption (vv. 17-20, 26). The first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (v. 17) had come to be applied in popular parlance to the Passover as well (see Gundry 1982:524). Passover pilgrims tried to find refuge with Jerusalemites during the actual Passover celebration, to eat the Passover within the city walls as tradition demanded (m. Pesahim 7:9); thus Jesus and the disciples located a place to spend the evening. The Passover meal began after sunset, around 6:00 p.m. (compare 26:20; Jn 13:30; 1 Cor 11:23; t. Pisha 5:2). Jewish people sat for ordinary meals, but by this period they normally reclined in Greek fashion at banquets like Passover (see Jeremias 1966a:48-49); Luke is explicit that this is a Passover meal (Lk 22:15). By identifying his own mission with the Passover, Jesus indicates that he has come to enact the new redemption and new exodus promised by the biblical prophets.
Some Who Claim to Follow Christ May Betray Him (26:21-25)
Scripture indicated that the Son of Man's destiny included betrayal, but this did not relieve from responsibility the particular betrayer, who acted from personal choice (v. 24). Matthew clarifies Mark to show that Jesus here foreknows the specific betrayer (v. 25).
Yet Judas would not be the only one to betray Jesus; the context reminds us that all of us are capable of denying the Lord (vv. 33, 35; 26:69--27:10). The joyous occasion of Passover becomes a sorrowful one (26:22; compare 17:23; 18:31; 19:22) by the announcement of betrayal. By dipping with Jesus in the bowl containing the sauce of bitter herbs (26:23), the betrayer had shown himself a treacherous person indeed; rising against one with whom one had eaten violated the sanctity of tradition (compare Ps 41:9).

Jesus' Body and Blood Provide a New Covenant (26:26-30)
Salvation is free to us, but it was never cheap; nothing in all human history has ever been so costly. Jesus probably alludes to Isaiah 52--53 (for example, Cullmann 1956b:64-65; pace Hooker 1959:80-82); still more probably, many of his words (such as body, blood and poured out) suggest sacrificial terminology, especially since crucifixion itself required no blood. (Romans sometimes fixed criminals to crosses with rope; Jeremias 1966a:220-22.) For the forgiveness of sins appears in Targum Neofiti with reference to sacrifices (McNamara 1972:129).

The Last Supper was a symbolic act, like the triumphal entry and "cleansing" of the temple (E. Sanders 1993:263). Interpreting the elements of the Passover feast (the bread, the bitter herbs and so on) was a standard part of Passover tradition (Jeremias 1966a:56), but instead of using standard explanations Jesus interprets two elements (those representative of food and drink in blessings at Jewish meals) in a strikingly new way.

That the bread is Jesus' body means that it "represents" it (compare the Aramaic in Martin 1982:153). We should interpret his words here no more literally than the disciples would have taken the normal words of the Passover liturgy: "This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate when they came from the land of Egypt." (Even had that bread not been eaten already, one might fear it a trifle stale after some thirteen centuries!) That Jesus was also in his body at the time he uttered the words further militates against interpreting the bread as literally equivalent to his body (Moffatt 1938:168).

The head of the household, who had been reclining, would now sit up to bless (give thanks for) the bread before the meal. After the meal, Jesus interprets the third or fourth of the Passover meal's four cups: this represents the blood of the covenant (compare Ex 24:8). After partaking of this cup, Jesus utters what resembles a traditional vow of abstention (compare Num 6:4; 30:2; 11QTemple 53-54), in this case vowing not to drink wine until the coming of his reign (Jeremias 1966a:182-85). After a few hours of discussion, here perhaps abbreviated, a household would sing the remaining hymns of the Hallel (Ps 113--18), undoubtedly the hymn to which Matthew 26:30 refers (Daube 1963:45; Ellington 1979).

Matthew 26

Jesus Predicts Peter's Denial

31Then Jesus told them, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
   " 'I will strike the shepherd,
       and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' 32But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee."
33Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will."
34"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times."
35But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the other disciples said the same.


36Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." 37He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."
39Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
40Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. 41"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."
42He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."
43When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"

Matthew 26:31-46


Jesus' Turmoil and the Disciples' Weakness (26:31-46)
Even in events that seem as disastrous as Jesus' arrest and execution seemed to the first disciples, God may be preparing his sovereign purposes (compare 2:16-17). Nevertheless, he gives us a part to play--and in this case all of our spiritual forebears failed. The disciples would deny him, despite their protestations (26:31-34); indeed, in their failure to remain prayerful in advance, they had failed the test before it arrived (vv. 40-45).

I weep when I remember how often these disciples stand for us. We forget too easily that Jesus became one of us, became flesh. He made himself vulnerable, depending in his most difficult hour on the support of his friends--and we let him down. Reigning as Lord of the universe, he does not depend on our support in the same way now; but is it possible that Matthew still intends us to hear the plaintive cry of the Lord of harvest in this narrative? The burden of his heart remains the mission of the world's redemption, yet he continues to cry out to a sleeping church governed by other agendas.

Jesus knows better than we do what we are made of. This theme appears in verses 31-32, 34, 41. Jesus thus tells us what it will take for us to succeed in his mission (v. 41)--for testing must come (vv. 45-46). When Jesus warns that they would fall away because of him (v. 31; compare Is 8:14), he probably refers to apostasy (compare Mt 5:29-30; 13:41; 16:23; 17:27; 18:6-9). Despite Peter's objection that he would not stumble (compare Test. Job 4:2; 5:1), Jesus responds that he will indeed do so, and three times at that (26:34; compare Jn 13:36-38). Jesus promises that the denial will happen before daybreak--which means that this Peter who is vigorously protesting that he will never deny Jesus is already on the verge of renouncing him.

Yet in promising to meet them in Galilee (which normally has positive associations in Matthew--4:12, 23; 10:5) after he has risen (28:7), Jesus promises a restoration beyond their apostasy (26:32; see Petersen 1978:76). Jesus' demands are high (10:33), but he does not automatically repudiate those who fail; this is important for us to remember as we encounter frustration while seeking to bring both ourselves and our fellow disciples to maturity.

Only devotion to prayer can carry us through the hardest times. Our best intentions (26:33, 35) cannot protect us in the time of severest testing unless we have learned how to seek God in prayer (v. 41). The three disciples worthy of special censure here (vv. 37, 40) are the three who had witnessed Jesus' glory on the mountain (17:1), including the disciple most adamant about his faithfulness (26:35). Spirit (v. 41) refers to the purpose of the human spirit versus the weakness of mortal humanity (in contrast to Paul's usual contrast between God's Spirit and human flesh). Jesus had already warned his disciples to pray lest they succumb to the test, a warning applicable to all disciples (6:13); his admonitions to watch likewise apply to all disciples in all eras (24:42-43; 25:13; compare F. Bruce 1972a:71 n. 14; Jeremias 1972:44, 55; pace Barrett 1967:47). The lesson of Gethsemane is thus for all generations.

The disciples' failure reminds us that they were people of flesh and blood just like us, not super spiritual people whom God would use because they had earned his favor. Even the big meal should not have put them to sleep so quickly; it was customary to discuss God's redemptive acts for a few hours after the meal before singing the Hallel (t. Ketubot 5:5). Some Jewish tradition suggested that those who fell asleep to the point they could not even answer thereby dissolved their Passover group--which the disciples inexplicably did by the time Jesus had finished praying (Daube 1956:342). Jesus did not regularly hold "all-night prayer" as a mark of being spiritual, but he did expect the disciples to take seriously his need in this emergency situation. If staying awake on this one night was a test, the disciples failed it. Peter undoubtedly comes in for special rebuke (v. 40) because he had most vehemently pledged his faithfulness till death (v. 33).

God's call may lead through unbearable pain. If this was the case with Jesus (vv. 37-39, 42, 44), his servants should expect no less (10:24-25). By describing his sorrow as to the point of death (26:38), Jesus underlines the intensity of his grief: of itself the grief could kill him (Meier 1980:323).

When we are in such pain, we need the strength of others' presence. Jesus' disciples provide a stark contrast in this narrative, a foil that reveals our Lord's own sacrifice all the more powerfully. Some popular authors and speakers emphasize "being positive" in all circumstances without exception, but despite the importance of a cheerful disposition (Prov 15:13, 15; 17:27; 18:14) and the normalcy of Christian joy (Gal 5:22; Phil 4:4; 1 Thess 5:16), in the psalms God's servants also repeatedly pour out broken hearts to him (for example, Ps 39:10-13; 40:13-17; 89:46-51). Jesus does not complain, but he does ask for support in prayer, and finds strength for his mission in God alone. The world and the church around us are full of suffering; they will hear God's heart for them best if we share their suffering in prayer (Mt 26:38-41) rather than if we dismiss genuine pain with platitudes about "being positive."

Cup refers to Jesus' sufferings and death on the cross (20:22; 26:27-28; compare 27:48). The image probably alludes as well to the frequent biblical picture of God's "cup of wrath" against the nations (Ps 60:3; 75:8; Is 29:9-10; 51:17, 21-23; Jer 25:15-29; Lam 4:21; Zech 12:2). Thus Jesus may shrink not merely from death but from dying as a sacrifice under his Father's wrath (Gundry 1982:533; Is 53:10).

No matter what the pain, we must obey the mission God has given us. Jesus had lived his life in filial obedience to his Father's will; now he chose the Father's plan over his own desire (Mt 26:39, 42, 44). Being fully human, Jesus experienced the full human dread of death; because the Son is distinct from the Father, his own desire might differ from the Father's, though he was ready to submit to the Father. Jesus' obedience is thus an example for us (12:50; compare 7:21). Loving God does not always mean that we want to face what God calls us to face; it does mean that we choose to face it anyway. Thus when the test arrives, Jesus summons all his disciples to rise to face it--ready or not (26:45).

From this point forward, passive verbs depicting Jesus' suffering and actions done to Jesus dominate most of the narrative (Perrin 1976:91); having labored until his hour, he now relinquishes his destiny to the Father. Yet even in his surrender, he remains in majestic control; only his own words (v. 64) will allow his accusers to condemn him (see Rhoads and Michie 1982:88).

Matthew 26

Jesus Arrested

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, "Friend, do what you came for."
51Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 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.
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?"
55At that time 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.

Matthew 26:47-56


The Betrayal (26:47-56)
In this passage everyone who was close to Jesus--from Judas to the disciples who planned to follow him to the death--either betrays or abandons him to his opponents. As Jesus faces injustice alone as a victim, he shows us the depth of his love: when not another human being stood with him, our Lord nevertheless continued in the Father's plan to save us.
Jesus' enemies (here probably the Levite temple police) came armed as if he were a l h st h (26:55), the term Josephus most frequently applies to revolutionaries (Moule 1965:119). They did not understand that the real threat Jesus posed was quite different--and that his execution would signal the beginning of his messianic triumph.

One May Betray Jesus with Outwardly "Pious" Acts (26:47-49)
By having a disciple trusted by his colleagues approach the group, the priests might hope to catch the disciples off guard and reduce resistance; and the high priests undoubtedly considered Judas expendable if the ploy failed (compare 27:3-10). People often greeted those they respected--for example, disciples to rabbis--with a kiss as a sign of intimacy and respect (for example, 1 Esdras 4:47; t. Hagiga 2:1). That Judas should betray Jesus with an outward gesture of devotion makes his act all the more heinous, and an ancient audience might grasp something of the depth of such betrayal's pain (Lk 22:48; compare 2 Sam 20:9-10; Prov 27:6).

When we feign love for Jesus but our lives serve purposes more in line with his enemies' mission, we follow in the footsteps of the son of Simon Iscariot. Jesus responds by confronting Judas with his crime--after addressing him as friend, an appropriate title for a disciple (A. Bruce 1979:316) but earlier applied in Matthew to those behaving in a shameful manner (20:13; 22:12).

We Must Not Fight the Kingdom's Battles Our Way (26:50-54)
World hunger, racism, abortion, freedom to evangelize openly and a variety of other matters are literally life-and-death issues, but the very urgency of these issues sometimes tempts us to fight the battle with human passion or incendiary rhetoric. Protecting Jesus seemed the greatest of life-and-death issues, yet Jesus did not want his disciples to protect him. He came to conquer by way of the cross, not by way of the sword. We disciples are sometimes ready to fight for our cause, but rarely willing simply to be martyred for it without resistance; and once Jesus' disciples realized that martyrdom without resistance was the price of following Jesus, they fled (v. 56). For disciples to abandon their teacher in this way was a betrayal that would have deeply shamed the teacher (Malina 1993:18).
We who cannot love our enemies today (5:44) would have failed this test as readily as our spiritual forebears did. Jesus was doing the Father's will, and the Father still would have granted him twelve legions of angels (one for himself and each disciple) had he asked (26:53); but the Father had called him to face death for us. Angels will assist at the end (compare 13:41-42; 16:27; 24:30-31), but in the present time, for Jesus to depend on them for deliverance would be giving in to Satan's test (compare 4:5-7).

A disciple (named only in John) cut off the ear of the high priest's servant (presumably aiming for the man's neck, he missed, probably because the man moved). Jesus' response to the disciple--and to Matthew's community, which has probably survived the crisis of a Judean-Roman war--provides three reasons for rejecting violence (26:52-54; compare 5:39-42): violence destroys those who employ it (26:52); Jesus trusts the Father's ability to protect him (v. 53); and Jesus recognizes that his Father's will for him includes suffering (v. 54; Meier 1980:328).

Jesus Confronts Injustice but Submits to Scripture's Plan (26:55-56)
The authorities act unjustly as well as in political cowardice, and Jesus does not mind telling them so (v. 55). But Scripture dictates his own mission, so he submits to the Father's will (as in 4:1-11). Jesus' model of confronting injustice contrasts starkly with that of his disciples, who still don't quite get it.

Matthew 26

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.
61Finally two came forward and 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 Christ, the Son of God."
64"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future 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, Christ. Who hit you?"

Matthew 26:57-68


The Trials (26:57--27:26)
The disciples proved inept, but the opposition was quite competent. After Judas handed Jesus over to the leaders of Jerusalem's aristocracy, they quickly came to their expected conclusion and sent him off to the Roman governor for execution; before evening he was dead. If we did not know the end of the story, would we have had any confidence at this point that God was executing his own purposes? But like the first disciples, we should have: by this point in the Gospel, both they and we have seen who Jesus is. Is any opposition severe enough to make us doubt that in the end God really has everything under control though we do not? The disciples doubted, but they should have known better.

Religious Leaders Versus Jesus (26:57-68)
Some scholars wonder why the Gospels' accounts of Jesus' trial (possibly a brief hearing) seem to contradict later Jewish laws. But in the first place, it is unlikely that these first-century aristocrats were as concerned with legal procedure as later rabbis were. It is also unlikely that they would have agreed with all the careful stipulations of later rabbinic legal theories. Perhaps most important, the Gospel writers probably intended to convey breach of procedure, not to pretend that the mock trial and abuse they depict were standard Jewish custom (see Hooker 1983:86; Rhoads and Michie 1982:120-21). Based on what we know of first-century Jerusalem leaders' practice, the Gospels' portrait of Jesus' trial actually fits quite well (see E. Sanders 1992:487). The Romans usually executed only those brought to them as condemned by the local aristocracies.
The people respected the law teachers, elders and priests as their spiritual leaders (representatives of these groups constituted the Sanhedrin), but here most of these spiritual leaders prove too hostile to Jesus to concern themselves with legal ethics. Although exceptions historically existed (Mk 15:43), the overwhelming picture of religious leaders in the Gospels provides a warning to us today. Many follow those in eminent positions, and if we in authority positions in the church dare forget whose servants we are, we can easily become enemies of our own Lord, vying for the power and honor that rightfully belong to him alone (Mt 21:38).

The High Priest and Council Ignore Judicial Procedure (26:57-61)
Given reports about the aristocratic priests from their Pharisaic and Essene enemies, the improprieties of the priests here should hardly surprise us. Power and dogmatic certainty that one's cause is right prove a deadly combination for those who do not play by the rules, for whom the end justifies the means. Their possible breaches of legality (at least by legal theory as reported by later rabbis more concerned with it) were several. Judges were to conduct and conclude capital trials during daylight (m. Sanhedrin 4:1). Further, trials were not to occur on the eve of a Sabbath or festival day (compare m. Yom Tob 5:2). Pharisaic rules (which the Sadducees would have ignored) probably also required a day to pass before a verdict of condemnation could be issued (m. Sanhedrin 4:1). Likewise, the Sanhedrin should not meet in the high priest's palace (though they would soon move, probably to their normal meeting place on or near the Temple Mount).
Most obviously, Jewish law opposed false witnesses. The biblical penalty for false witnesses in a capital case was execution (Deut 19:16-21). Cross-examination of witnesses was standard in Jewish law (as in Susanna 48-62; m. 'Abot 1:9), and apparently the examiners did their job well enough here to produce contradictions they did not expect. In the end, the witnesses could provide only a garbled account of Jesus' proclamation of judgment against the temple (compare Jn 2:19; Acts 6:14), which could have seemed to the Sanhedrin political reason enough to convict him (see comment on 21:12-17; R. Brown 1994:458). But the high priest ultimately must choose another tack; even a court as slanted as this one will not admit evidence from witnesses whose testimony is inconsistent (see Trites 1977:186; Stauffer 1960:123-24). Thus for the Jewish court (as opposed to Pilate) the chief priest seeks a new charge in Matthew 26:62-68: blasphemy (Blinzler 1959:170).

Truth Engenders Opposition (26:62-68)
The high priest stands (following biblical legal custom--see Trites 1977:187) and gives Jesus the opportunity to defend himself, as Jewish law demanded (v. 62), but Jesus chooses to remain silent (v. 63; compare Is 53:7). Perhaps exasperated, the high priest seeks to place Jesus under the curse of an oath, crying, I charge you under oath, or "I adjure you" (the beginning of an oath formula often used to secure testimony--m. Sebu`ot 4:5-13). Here the high priest explicitly asks Jesus whether he claims messianic authority (v. 63).
Jesus' answer is probably a reluctant yes (Catchpole 1971:226; Marshall 1990:86). He is the Messiah--but this was the priest's choice of wording rather than his (see F. Bruce 1972b:176 n. 45). Now that there remains no need to continue the messianic secret, Jesus reveals publicly that he is God's Son (again, 27:54; compare Kingsbury 1983:122; Perrin 1976:95; Hooker 1983:58-59). But Jesus must define that sonship, not allow the leaders' cultural preconceptions to define it for him (compare comment on 4:1-11). Thus by responding in scriptural allusions (26:64), Jesus defines his mission in terms his interrogators cannot misapprehend: he is both Son of Man (compare Dan 7:13-14; Mt 24:30) and Lord (Ps 110:1; Mt 22:44; see Dodd 1961:91). Jesus was greater than merely a messiah, a son of David (22:44).

By declaring that "from this point forward" (not simply in the future as in the NIV) he would reign (26:64), Jesus may seem to the Sanhedrin to claim that he is going to rule politically despite their power over him. But undoubtedly he means that his reign opens not with power but with the cross. In the words of the Fourth Gospel, the time has come for the Son of Man to be lifted up and glorified (Jn 12:23, 32-33; compare Is 52:13 LXX). Yet the ultimate fulfillment will be when even his enemies will see him at his coming in triumph as heavenly ruler (Mt 26:64; compare 24:30; Rev 1:7). That is, though they claim to judge Jesus now, he will ultimately prove their judge (see Kingsbury 1983: 124)--a claim certain to enrage unbelieving leaders who demand honor.

Such words would be offensive, but even if false they were not technically blasphemous (m. Sanhedrin 7:5). Nevertheless, most uses of blasphemy were non-technical (R. Brown 1994:522-23), and the high priest might admit whatever he needed as blasphemy. Because the priestly aristocracy perceives Jesus as a political threat to the temple establishment and the peace of the nation, and because the charge of threatening the temple remains unproved by strict standards of investigation, they need another basis for conviction quickly. Again the leaders twist the rules to get the job done. By whatever means they construe his words as blasphemy, the high priest stands to rend his cloak as custom required when one heard blasphemy (m. Sanhedrin 7:5), following a traditional custom in mourning (as in 1 Macc 4:39-40; 5:14; 11:71).

The spirit of Jewish law opposed condemning a criminal on his own admission, but the Sanhedrin treats Jesus' words here not as admission of a crime but as a crime itself--blasphemy--to which they themselves are witnesses, obviating the need for other witnesses (Blinzler 1959:137; Stauffer 1960:125). Although the spirit of Jewish law probably prohibited witnesses from participating in sentencing the accused (Blinzler 1959:135), the court acts as witness. Finally, whatever else may have been illegal, the physical mistreatment of a prisoner certainly was; this would have shamed Jesus as well, for such treatment was inappropriate to the status he had claimed.

Jesus' Opponents Ironically Confirm His Identity (26:68)
By ridiculing Jesus' prophet status--challenging him to a child's game of guessing--his opponents may imply that they have condemned him as a false prophet according to the rules of Deuteronomy 18:20 (Hill 1979:52). His very condemnation and likely imminent execution disproved for them his prophecies about the temple and his own imminent enthronement (26:61, 64; Gundry 1982:547; R. Brown 1994:575, 580). The informed reader, by contrast, knows that Jesus predicted accurately both his mistreatment and the temple's destruction; the reader thus sees Jesus as the truest prophet of all (Deut 18:15-18; compare Mt 2:16; 4:2; 5:1; 17:1-5), meaning that it was his accusers who merit judgment (Deut 18:19). Yet when they treat Jesus as a false prophet (compare Mt 5:12) and offer unrequited blows to the cheek (5:39; 26:53), they demonstrate Jesus' integrity to the audience familiar with his teachings; earlier prophets had also been struck on the cheek for their prophecies (1 Kings 22:24; Is 50:6; compare Mt 5:12). Likewise, Jesus' opponents mock him "as a false prophet at the very moment when his prophecy about Peter is being fulfilled" (26:69-75; Donahue 1976:78-79, on Mk 14:65-66).
This sort of irony runs throughout the narrative. The religious leaders condemn Jesus for blasphemy for claiming simply what God had claimed about him all along (Mt 3:17; 17:5; see Kingsbury 1983:151). From Jesus' condemnation as "God's Son" (26:63-68) to the centurion's recognition that Jesus really is God's Son (27:54), the dominant christological title will be "King of the Jews" (so Kingsbury 1983:151). This title constitutes a double irony: those who apply it intend it ironically, but the Gospel tradition inverts the irony so that they have described him accurately. God's irony is vital: even in the deepest of trials, God provides hints of his coming triumph to those with the eyes of faith. If Jesus accurately prophesied his hardships, one can likewise depend on the victory he promised.

Matthew 26

Peter Disowns Jesus

69Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. "You also were with Jesus of Galilee," she said.
70But he denied it before them all. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said.
71Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth."
72He denied it again, with an oath: "I don't know the man!"
73After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away."
74Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!"
75Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Matthew 26:69-75


The First Response to Betrayal (26:69-75)
By including the denial account, Matthew warns disciples against apostasy in the face of persecution. By placing two responses to betrayal side by side, Matthew also points out how disciples should respond to failures of their discipleship. Peter wept with remorse (v. 75); Judas killed himself (27:5). Only the former was able to return to Jesus.
Even Disciples Must Watch Lest They Fall (26:69-74)
In this account Peter cares more about his own life than about his Lord's honor, and this is unacceptable for a disciple (10:32-33). Peter sought to be a disciple: while Jesus' enemies "assembled" or "gathered" (26:57; compare 13:40), Peter "followed" (compare 4:19; 8:22), though from "a distance, . . . to see the outcome," or the "end" (telos; 26:58). That he would renounce his faith before one of minimal social status (a "slave girl"; Matthew underlines this point with two servant girls--26:69, 71) increases the heinousness of the denial. Peter's wording does the same; "I do not know what you say" and similar formulas represent an emphatic form standard in Jewish law "for formal, legal denial" (as in m. Sebu`ot 8:3, 6; Smith 1951:35). Denials with cursing imply not profanity but invoking a curse upon himself if he were lying (Beare 1981:524)--directly violating Jesus' teaching in 5:33-37. Most significantly, Peter was denying the Lord he had promised never to deny (10:33; 26:35).
Peter had hoped to follow a Messiah whose kingdom did not involve the cross (16:22); thus he proved unprepared when the time came to take up his cross and follow the Lord (16:24; compare Dewey 1976:111). That Peter illustrates Jesus' teaching about discipleship in 16:24-27 indicates his function as a paradigm for us: only by counting the cost of following Jesus, only by watching and praying, will we be ready when the hour comes for us to share the sufferings of our Lord for his name's sake.

The Appropriate Response to Failure Is Repentance (26:75)
By placing the failures of Peter and Judas side by side, Matthew presents Peter's response to his failure as the appropriate model for disciples. The exposure of our weakness is cause for repentance (v. 75; compare 26:31-32), not sorrow unto death (27:5; compare 2 Cor 7:10). Peter's example warns us to be ready for testing; but it also summons us to start afresh if we have failed, and to show mercy to those who have already stumbled but wish to return to the way of Christ (compare 18:10-35).