Betrayed, Defended, and Forsaken

How do you respond in a crisis? The response of Peter and the other disciples to the crisis of the arrest of their Lord is important, not so much for what it tells us about the disciples, but what it tells us about the Savior as Matthew 26:47–56 points out.

Your Lord was betrayed by his “friend.” Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. While Jesus prayed in Gethsemane Judas had gone to lead the crowd from the chief priests and elders to arrest Jesus. Jesus apparently prolong his wrestling in prayer until Judas and the band were close. Despite the moonlight, it may well have been dark under the olive trees of Gethsemane. Thus Judas had arranged to indicate Jesus by greeting him with a kiss. Matthew again underlines the treachery by reminding us that Judas was one of the twelve. The greeting and kiss were signs of friendship, but in this context they are acts of betrayal. There is some evidence that a rabbi spoke first in exchanging greetings with his followers (for them to speak first implied equality with him). Thus the greeting and kiss may have included a not-so-veiled insult.

Judas carried out what he came to do. Jesus addresses Judas as “friend.” There is irony in the form of address. The greeting and kiss of Judas were acts which were normally friendly. But his purpose is that of the enemy. Jesus’ words to him may be punctuated as a question, in which case it is one more occasion for Judas to think of what he is about. Or, more likely, the words may be a statement, a command. The treachery of Judas is not a surprise to the Lord, though the betrayal is painful. Rather, it is the means through which the Lord is carrying out his messianic work, specifically his offering himself as the sacrifice for his people. Following Jesus’ words the armed men step forward, seize and arrest him. The treachery of Judas is amplified by the cowardice which Jesus rebukes in the arresting party. He had been teaching publicly in the Temple, but, though under the very noses of the leaders of Israel, had not been arrested.

Christ was defended in error. One of the disciples drew and swung his sword. Matthew, like the other synoptic Gospels, leaves the swordsman anonymous, though John 18 identifies him as Peter. Perhaps Matthew does not want us to shift our focus from the Savior. When it came to sword play, Peter was a good fisherman. His swinging the sword in the darkness of the garden merely results in cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Perhaps he was embarrassed at falling asleep instead of praying (after his earlier expression willingness to die for his Lord). You cannot fault the loyalty that led Peter to use his sword. But using it was not Christ’s will.

Understand the nature of Christ’s kingdom. Jesus commands that the sword be sheathed. Those that use the sword are likely to end their lives at the business end of one. More importantly, the kingdom of God is not established by the sword. This King doesn’t need Peter’s inept swordsmanship. He has at his command more than twelve legions of angels. (Suppose they had appeared at his command! Remember how the tough shepherds reacted when the saw one angel on a friendly mission of announcing the birth of the Savior? What if these thousands now appear in defense of their Lord?) This King is going to his throne via the cross, and that involves his arrest in the Garden. For Peter to start his well-intentioned attack is ultimately as Satanic as his earlier protest of Jesus’ suffering and death, Matthew 16:22,23. If Peter had succeeded in forming the disciples into an impromptu rescue party and spirited Jesus safely out of the garden, it would have taken the Lord from doing what was written, from doing his Father’s will. “But all this power [given by Christ to the church] is spiritual and moral in nature, essentially distinct from all other power that God has bestowed on persons over people or other creatures in the family, society, state, art, and science. For Jesus acted in no way other than as the Christ — as prophet, priest, and king. He had no other office nor performed any other function. He… rebukes John for wanting fire to come down from heaven (Luke 9:54–55) and Peter for cutting off Malchus’ s ear (John 18:10–11), and forbids his disciples to fight with the sword for his name and cause (Matt.. 26:52).” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4. p. 395) I don’t know many Christians who believe that the church should use the threat of physical force to advance the kingdom of God. But a stronger temptation is to confuse political power with the weapons of the church. But that ultimately exchanges the power of the gospel for the influence of a political power group. Don’t confuse the weapons of the kingdom of God with those of the nations of the earth. There are legitimate occasions for Christians to use the sword and the power of the government. Give thanks for godly rulers. But don’t try to advance the cause of the church of God by the power of Caesar and his sword or other political means. Recall the way that the Sermon on the Mount turns the expectations of the world upside down. Blessed are, not the rich and powerful, but the poor and meek. Learn the power of obedience that simply does the Father’s will, that carries out what is written. Put your trust, not in your own strength, ability, and skill (even if it’s better than Peter’s attempt at swordsmanship), but in the Savior who was willing to submit to betrayal, treachery, abuse, and death. Learn the power of suffering obediently for your Lord.

The Savior was deserted. The sheep were scattered. Just earlier that evening Jesus had warned the disciples that they would be scattered as sheep, verse 31. But they had followed Peter in denying that this prophecy of Zechariah 13 would be fulfilled in them, verses 33-35. After the brief rally led by the swordsman, Peter, Jesus reproves those arresting him, verse 55. He had been open and public in his ministry. But they are acting like cowards in arresting him secretly. The disciples prove themselves cowardly. They dessert their Lord and flee. Despite Jesus’ repeated statements about the Scriptures being fulfilled, despite the assurance that he could have called on legions of angels (appearances to the contrary, he is in control), the disciples flee. None are willing to wait and see what happens. None are willing to show their support for their Lord by their presence. Too often our commitment to the Lord is equally weak.

Trust the Savior who was deserted for you. This was a process in which Jesus had to be alone. He was carrying out his Father’s will. He was doing what was written in the prophets. The work of the Second Adam couldn’t be carried out by a committee, or by a band of followers. The Savior alone could offer his life in the place of his people. “The Jesus whom Judas and his posse meet is now resolute, calm, and authoritative. He himself makes no attempt to 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… 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.” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 1011) He gave his life to pay for the cowardice of the fleeing disciples. He suffered alone to atone for the occasions when we have caved in to peer pressure, rather than obeying the Lord. Matthew’s focus is not on the betraying Judas, on the arresting crowd, or the fleeing disciples. Rather it is on the Savior who is submitting to all of this in order to accomplish your salvation.

Because the Savior submitted to all of this you can be ready, not just for the major crises of life, but also for the smaller issues, which in some ways are sterner tests of your relationship with the Lord. Look, not to your own strength and skill, but to the Lord who became weak so that you could be strong.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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