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Matthew 26 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

The Betrayal

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.

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