OUR RESPONSE TO UNFAIR ATTACKS SHOULD NOT BE VIOLENT OPPOSITION BUT CALM TRUST IN GOD’S SOVEREIGN PLAN
Richard Gardner: The spectacle that unfolds in verses 47-56 is both ludicrous and tragic.
- It is ludicrous in that the arrest party descends on Jesus like a group of commandos on a search-and-destroy mission (cf. 55).
- It is tragic in that this militant crowd is led by one of the twelve, namely Judas.
R. T. France: But while Jesus now has no chance of escape, the narrative nonetheless reads as if he is in charge of the situation. The contrast with his emotional prayer in the preceding pericope is striking. The Jesus whom Judas and his posse meet is now resolute, calm and authoritative. He himself makes no attempt to resist arrest, and when one of his disciples tries to defend him it is Jesus himself, not the arresting party, who puts an end to the attempt. He speaks of the supernatural resources available to him, and declares that it is his choice not to call on them, because his purpose is that the scriptures should be fulfilled. He even reprimands those who have come to arrest him for supposing that he would need to be overcome by armed force, and his challenge remains unanswered. While Matthew does not go so far as John in depicting the arresting party as recoiling in fear from Jesus’ supernatural authority (John 18:5–6), his Jesus seems able to lecture them from a superior height even while he is being led away. Jesus is taken into the power of the Jerusalem authorities not because he had no choice but because this is the will of his Father, declared in the scriptures, which he has accepted as his messianic calling.
Donald Hagner: The preliminaries are over, and now the narrative moves into the sequence of events that culminates in the crucifixion of Jesus. The betrayer does his despicable deed; there is a brief attempt at resistance on the part of the disciples. But the central motif from the beginning of the final sequence, when Jesus is taken into custody by the Jewish authorities, is the fulfillment of the scriptures. From the arrest of Jesus the narrative moves immediately into his so-called trial and thence to his death. From this point on, the narrative takes on an inexorability that reflects a mysterious conjunction of human determination and divine superintendence.
David Thompson: The betrayal of Jesus Christ, which led to His crucifixion, was all part of the plan of God to fulfill prophetic scriptures that predicted that Jesus would die for the sins of Israel, and for the sins of the whole world.
David Turner: The bravery of Jesus, the treachery of Judas, the cowardice of the disciples, and the aggression of the arrest party are all in character with the respective figures. Yet the strong emphasis on God’s predetermined plan balances these sinful human acts (26:2, 18, 24, 31, 39, 42, 54, 56) and provides yet another example of the scriptural pattern of the compatibility of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
I. (:47-50) SHOCKING BETRAYAL BY JUDAS WHO ABUSED THE MESSIAH’S LOVE
A. (:47) Judas Directs the Armed Arresting Force Executing the Jewish Conspiracy
“And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up, accompanied by a great multitude with swords and clubs,
from the chief priests and elders of the people.”
R. T. France: To describe Judas as “one of the Twelve” is hardly necessary after 10:4 and 26:14, but underlines the shocking fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction in v. 21.
Van Parunak: This is the last reference to “the twelve” in Matthew. Judas is still considered a part of it. He has not yet taken the final step of delivering the Lord to his enemies. The expression suggests that even at this point, there is still the possibility of repentance, but it is not to be.
Michael Wilkins: The most heavily armed would have been a contingent of Roman soldiers assigned by governor Pilate to the temple for security, who were authorized to carry swords (machaira), the short double-edged sword preferred in hand-to-hand combat (cf. 26:51; Eph. 6:17). Levitical temple police and personal security of the chief priests and Sanhedrin carrying clubs would have made up another large detachment in the arresting crowd.
B. (:48-49) Judas Identifies Jesus for Capture with the Kiss of Betrayal
- (:48) Defining the Sign
“Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying,
‘Whomever I shall kiss, He is the one; seize Him.’”
D. A. Carson: The need for pointing out the right man was especially acute, not only because it was dark, but because, in a time long before photography, the faces of even great celebrities would not be nearly as widely known as today.
- (:49) Doing the Deed
“And immediately he went to Jesus and said, ‘Hail, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him.”
Jeffrey Crabtree: With premeditated calculation (v. 48), Judas greeted Jesus with “Hail, Master” or “Greetings, Rabbi,” normally a greeting of respect, and stepped up to kiss Jesus. This was the prearranged sign between Judas and the arresting officers. Judas’ positive identification of Jesus assured that the right person would be arrested even in the darkness.
Judas, however, did not merely give the kiss of normal greeting. He kissed Jesus with a great show of affection (Greek kataphileō; Grimm’s) making the identification unmistakable. This is the word Luke used to describe the sinner woman’s kissing of Jesus’ feet (7:38, 45) in comparison to the kiss (Greek philēma) the Pharisee did not give. The affectionate kiss is what the father gave the returning prodigal (Lk. 15:20) and the Ephesian elders gave Paul when he told them they would never see him again (Acts 20:37). Judas was a hypocrite. His kiss showed how low he had sunk (Bruner 2:669).
Warren Wiersbe: It is tragic to see how Judas cheapened everything that he touched. His name means praise (Gen. 29:35), yet who would name a son “Judas” today? He used the kiss as a weapon, not as a sign of affection. In that day, it was customary for disciples to kiss their teacher. But in this case, it was not a mark of submission or respect. The Greek verbs indicate that Judas kissed Jesus repeatedly.
C. (:50a) Jesus Surrenders Voluntarily to Judas’ Betrayal
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you have come for.’”
Albert Mohler: Jesus addresses Judas as “friend,” a title previously applied to those who abuse a privileged relationship (20:13; 22:12). Judas is violating his privileged relationship with Jesus the Messiah, abusing the love and friendship extended to him.
Leon Morris: There is a problem relating to Jesus’ next words. They may be a question or a statement, but in view of Matthew’s picture of Jesus as master of the situation it seems more likely that Jesus is telling Judas to get on with the job of betrayal and arrest, rather than inquiring why he is there (cf. Moffatt, “My man, do your errand”).
Donald Hagner: Another possible understanding, however, is to take the words quite literally as a comment of resigned disappointment in Judas: “for this you come!” (cf. the irony of Luke 22:48). It reflects at once disappointment in Judas, a further stage of resignation to the will of God that will take him to his death, and a yielding to the final act of the story (cf. R. E. Brown, “Appendix III, C” [Death of the Messiah, 1385–88] and his conclusion that the phrase is a way of indicating Jesus’ knowledge of what Judas is doing). (cf. Wilson: “Companion, the thing you are here for!” Thus too Spiegelberg: “It is this for which you are here!”; cf. Rehkopf; Eltester.)
D. (:50b) Jesus is Forcibly Taken into Custody by the Hands of Sinful Men
“Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him.”
R. T. France: The account of the actual arrest emphasizes its physical nature; the Hebraic expression “to lay hands on” is perhaps intended to echo Jesus’ words about the “hands” of people/sinners (17:22; 26:45). We are thus prepared for Jesus’ protest about the unnecessary use of force (v. 55).
II. (:51-54) SWORD-WIELDING RESISTANCE DOES NOT PROMOTE GOD’S KINGDOM AGENDA
A. (:51) Impulsive Use of the Sword to Resist Arrest
“And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword,
and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear.”
Why was Peter even carrying a sword?
David Thompson: Now we may immediately notice that when some grabbed Jesus, Peter drew a sword (Christ’s disciples were armed, at least two of them–Luke 22:36-38) and Peter pulled out his sword and swung it at a man’s head, whose name was Malchus (John 18:10), and he missed and cut off his ear. I am fully convinced Peter intended to kill Malchus for laying his hand on Jesus. We may notice that the only Gospel writer who tells us which disciple this was is John. One reason for this is that John was written after Peter had already been killed. The other disciples told the story, but they protected the identity of Peter so more hostility would not be aimed at Him. Say what you want about Peter (emotional, irrational, explosive, fickle), but he was a loyal friend of Jesus Christ who, on the spur of the moment, would fight to the death for Jesus Christ.
Michael Wilkins: It is likely that Judas brought such a heavily armed contingent because they expected Jesus’ disciples to resist arrest, which indeed was the reaction of at least one, whom John tells us was Simon Peter (John 18:10–11). Peter tries to defend Jesus by taking the sword he is carrying and striking Malchus, the high priest’s servant. At least some of the disciples regularly carried swords, most likely for self-defense from robbers as they traveled (cf. Luke 22:36). Essenes were known to carry arms as protection against thieves.
D. A. Carson: Peter’s response is psychologically convincing. After repeated warnings of defection, Peter may have felt that the crucial test of loyalty had arrived. He 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.
B. (:52-54) Criticism of the Impulsive Use of the Sword
- (:52) Unwise Approach
“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place;
for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.’”
Jesus seems to be commanding the situation.
Jesus is clearly not leading a political and military rebellion
The disciples were to “take up their cross” and not their swords.
Secondly, Peter’s hasty use of the sword betrayed a lack of faith in the Messiah’s ability to defend Himself, and in God’s ability to come to His defense, should He wish to do so.
Jeffrey Crabtree: God does not rely on the sword or human might to advance His kingdom (Wilkins 858). Rather than urging resistance and before the crowd could understand and react to what Peter had just done, Jesus healed the man with the severed ear (Lk. 22:51)—His final miracle before the cross. He told Peter to sheathe his sword and warned him that such actions would bring swift death, a reference either to death in battle or to death by execution (v. 52; Blomberg 93; Gen. 9:6). He reminded Peter of His relationship to God the Father. Jesus did not need human weapons. A simple request to the Father would bring thousands of angels (v. 53).
R. T. France: But as a proverbial observation (cf. Rev 13:10) on the tendency of violence to recoil on those who perpetrate it Jesus’ aphorism reflects common experience, even though not every historical example conforms to this pattern.
Physical resistance was not only wrong in principle but also unnecessary, since Jesus had far more force at his disposal, if he chose to summon it, than a few human supporters could offer.
Donald Hagner: It would be a mistake to take the saying that all who take the sword will die by the sword as a proof text for an absolute pacifism. The proverb, to be sure, discourages violence in general as an unproductive path. Peacefulness is surely a clear mark of those who belong to the kingdom of God (cf. 5:9). Violence only begets more violence. It may, however, at times be unavoidable (cf. Luke 22:36) and the lesser of two evils. In the present instance it was clearly out of place. Jesus had incalculable resources available to him if resistance had been an appropriate action. In this instance passive submission alone was consonant with the will of God.
Albert Mohler: Jesus’ saying indicates that the way of the world is to assert its will on others through human power, even through violence; likewise, the way of the world is to retaliate against violence with violence. The inevitable consequence of championing violence is often a violent end. Jesus is not giving a blanket endorsement of pacifism, but he does reject the notion that God’s will is advanced or should be imposed o others through violent means.
Van Parunak: He goes on to give three specific reasons not to respond to violence with violence (so Matthew Henry).
- The first is that it leads to a never-ending cycle of violence. There is no winner:
- The second motive for non-violence is that the believer’s defense lies not in his own weapons, but in the Father’s care, which is more than sufficient.
- [The third] — The humbling of the Messiah was not an accident, but required by the plan of God as revealed in the OT.
- (:53) Unnecessary Approach
“Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father,
and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
A full Roman legion had 6,100 foot and 726 horse soldiers in the time of Augustus.
If we take Jesus literally, He’s saying that at just a word, more than 81,912 angels would show up to defend Him.
Michael Wilkins: This is similar to the angelic host that surrounded Elisha, ready to come to his aide, even though his servant could not see them until his eyes were opened (1 Kings 6:17).
Donald Hagner: “Twelve” legions may be intended to correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel or to a full complement of twelve disciples.
- (:54) Unenlightened Approach
“How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen this way?”
Jeffrey Crabtree: A second reason Peter’s sword was wrong was because Jesus’ arrest without any resistance was part of the plan of God (vv. 54, 56; Is. 53:7; Jn. 18:11). Jesus offered Himself willingly. This seems to have been His point in verse 55 as well. He was no threat, yet His enemies treated Him as one. They arrested Him as if He were a violent criminal, a threat to society. Events moved quickly as the Jewish leaders unknowingly (Lk. 23:34; Jn. 11:51, 52; Acts 3:17, 18; 1 Cor. 2:8) fulfilled prophecy by taking steps to put to death their own Messiah (Ps. 22; Is. 52:13-53:12; Zech. 12:10; 13:7). Even the disciples fulfilled prophecy when they all ran (v. 56; vv. 31-35; Zech. 13:7).
Grant Osborne: The language of divine necessity (“it must happen”) is found in the passion predictions (16:21) and related passages (17:10; 24:6) and governs all the passion events, with fulfillment passages frequently quoted. In this passage there is no specific OT text intended but all those related to the suffering Messiah (such as Ps 22; 69; Isa 52–53; Zech 13:7).
III. (:55-56a) SHAMEFUL ARREST UNDER CLOAK OF DARKNESS BY THE ARMED ENFORCERS OF JEWISH CONSPIRATORS
A. (:55) Shameful Arresting Tactics
- Treating Jesus Like a Dangerous Insurrectionist
“At that time Jesus said to the multitudes,
‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as against a robber?’”
Stu Weber: Turning from his confused disciples, Jesus addressed his captors, shaming those who had come in treachery and deceit to arrest an innocent man. They had had many opportunities to arrest him in the temple. He had been there teaching regularly. Jesus confronted their true motives by demonstrating that it was these hypocrites who had much to hide, coming out to this lonely place to capture him in the middle of the night, with swords and clubs. This was inappropriate and unnecessary. It was by his design that they were here to arrest him, and it was his plan to go with them to trial and to the cross.
- Taking Him into Custody in Secretive Hypocrisy
“Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me.”
Leon Morris: Those in whose hands he now was were not interested in justice. They wanted simply to get him out of the way and were prepared to stoop to any means to bring that about. “You did not take hold of me,” he says. If they had been honest in what they were doing, they would have proceeded against him publicly. Since a criminal would hide away out of the public gaze, it was fair to arrest such an offender wherever he might be found. But there was something wrong with authorities who treated an honest religious man as though he were nothing more than a brigand.
R. T. France: Jesus’ protest over the manner of his arrest serves to underline the contrast between the Jerusalem establishment, which depends on stealth and physical force, and Jesus’ open and non-violent presentation of his claims in the temple courtyard. They have failed to silence him in public debate, so instead they have resorted to coercion, avoiding a public arrest because of their fear of crowd reaction (26:5). So they are treating him like a “bandit,” probably meaning simply a common thief (cf. its use in 21:13), though this is the term Josephus would regularly use for the violent supporters of Jewish nationalism, more generally known as the Zealots. If Matthew has the latter usage in view, its modern equivalent might be “terrorist.” In view of Jesus’ clear repudiation of the bandit image here it is ironical that he would eventually finish up crucified along with two such bandits (27:38, 44).
B. (:56a) Submission to the Fulfillment of Messianic Prophecy
“But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.”
Robert Gundry: “This whole thing” refers to Judas’s having given Jesus over to his enemies. “Has happened” indicates a past event that has a continuing effect. The rest of the statement tells the purpose of this betrayal, the purpose of fulfilling prophetic scriptures concerning Jesus’ sacrificial death. But little did Judas and those who seized Jesus know they were contributing toward that purpose. Those scriptures include at least Zechariah 13:7, quoted by Jesus in 26:31.
(:56b) – EPILOGUE – ABANDONMENT BY THE FEARFUL DISCIPLES
“Then all the disciples left Him and fled.”
Donald Hagner: This brief note about their flight poignantly recalls the disciples’ empty promise that if necessary they would die with Jesus (v. 35) and simultaneously fulfills Jesus’ prediction that they would fall away and be scattered (v. 31; cf. John 16:32).
Stu Weber: In their perplexity and confusion, the disciples deserted him and fled. In fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction (26:31-32), these men lost their nerve. They relied on human courage rather than spiritual preparation. Their downfall was their failure to follow Jesus’ advice to keep watch and remain dependent on God in prayer (26:41; cf. 24:42). They had been so distracted by their own preconceived ideas that they did not recognize Jesus’ exercise of authentic authority when they saw it. Neither did they recognize that the path to victory was through the valley of sacrifice (16:24-28).
Leon Morris: This was the last straw for the disciples. They must have been staggered by all that was going on. They had evidently had no inkling of the plot that had been laid, they were surprised that Judas led the arresting posse to Jesus, they saw Peter’s unsuccessful attempt at resistance by violence and heard Jesus’ repudiation of it, and now Jesus, instead of doing something miraculous, was reasoning calmly with the people who held him. This was no place for the followers of Jesus, and there appeared to be nothing more they could do, so they all left him and ran away. All is significant; there was not one of his intimate followers who was prepared to suffer alongside his leader. At this time of crisis they simply ran off. They left Jesus to suffer alone.