We are here told how the blessed Jesus was seized, and taken into custody; this followed immediately upon his agony, while he yet spake; for from the beginning to the close of his passion he had not the least intermission or breathing-time, but deep called unto deep. His trouble hitherto was raised within himself; but now the scene is changed, now the Philistines are upon thee, thou blessed Samson; the Breath of our nostrils, the Anointed of the Lord is taken in their pits, Lam. 4:20.
Now concerning the apprehension of the Lord Jesus, observe,
I. Who the persons were, that were employed in it. 1. Here was Judas, one of the twelve, at the head of this infamous guard: he was guide to them that took Jesus (Acts 1:16); without his help they could not have found him in this retirement. Behold, and wonder; the first that appears with his enemies, is one of his own disciples, who an hour or two ago was eating bread with him! 2. Here was with him a great multitude; that the scripture might be fulfilled, Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! Ps. 3:1. This multitude was made up partly of a detachment out of the guards, that were posted in the tower of Antonia by the Roman governor; these were Gentiles, sinners, as Christ calls them, Matt. 26:45. The rest were the servants and officers of the High Priest, and they were Jews; they that were at variance with each other, agreed against Christ.
II. How they were armed for this enterprise.
1. What weapons they were armed with; They came with swords and staves. The Roman soldiers, no doubt, had swords; the servants of the priests, those of them that had not swords, brought staves or clubs. Furor arma ministrat—Their rage supplied their arms. They were not regular troops, but a tumultuous rabble. But wherefore is this ado? If they had been ten times as many, they could not have taken him had he not yielded; and, his hour being come for him to give up himself, all this force was needless. When a butcher goes into the field to take out a lamb for the slaughter, does he raise the militia, and come armed? No, he needs not; yet is there all this force used to seize the Lamb of God.
2. What warrant they were armed with; They came from the chief priests, and elders of the people; this armed multitude was sent by them upon this errand. He was taken up by a warrant from the great sanhedrim, as a person obnoxious to them. Pilate, the Roman governor, gave them no warrant to search for him, he had no jealousy of him; but they were men who pretended to religion, and presided in the affairs of the church, that were active in this prosecution, and were the most spiteful enemies Christ had. It was a sign that he was supported by a divine power, for by all earthly powers he was not only deserted, but opposed; Pilate upbraided him with it; Thine own nation and the chief priests delivered thee to me, John 18:35.
III. The manner how it was done, and what passed at that time.
1. How Judas betrayed him; he did his business effectually, and his resolution in this wickedness may shame us who fail in that which is good. Observe,
(1.) The instructions he gave to the soldiers (Matt. 26:48); He gave them a sign; as commander of the party in this action, he gives the word or signal. He gave them a sign, lest by mistake they should seize one of the disciples instead of him, the disciples having so lately said, in Judas’s hearing, that they would be willing to die for him. What abundance of caution was here, not to miss him—That same is he; and when they had him in their hands, not to lose him—Hold him fast; for he had sometimes escaped from those who thought to secure him; as Luke 6:30. Though the Jews, who frequented the temple, could not but know him, yet the Roman soldiers perhaps had never seen him, and the sign was to direct them; and Judas by his kiss intended not only to distinguish him, but to detain him, while they came behind him, and laid hands on him.
(2.) The dissembling compliment he gave his Master. He came close up to Jesus; surely now, if ever, his wicked heart will relent; surely when he comes to look him in the face, he will either be awed by its majesty, or charmed by its beauty. Dares he to come into his very sight and presence, to betray him? Peter denied Christ, but when the Lord turned and looked upon him, he relented presently; but Judas comes up to his Master’s face, and betrays him. Me mihi (perfide) prodis? me mihi prodis?--Perfidious man, betrayest thou me to thyself? He said, Hail, Master; and kissed him. It should seem, our Lord Jesus had been wont to admit his disciples to such a degree of familiarity with him, as to give them his cheek to kiss after they had been any while absent, which Judas villainously used to facilitate this treason. A kiss is a token of allegiance and friendship, Ps. 2:12. But Judas, when he broke all the laws of love and duty, profaned this sacred sign to serve his purpose. Note, There are many that betray Christ with a kiss, and Hail, Master; who, under pretence of doing him honour, betray and undermine the interests of his kingdom. Mel in ore, fel in corde—Honey in the mouth, gall in the heart. Kataphilein ouk esti philein. To embrace is one thing, to love is another. Philo Judaeus. Joab’s kiss and Judas’s were much alike.
(3.) The entertainment his Master gave him, Matt. 26:50.
[1.] He calls him friend. If he had called him villain, and traitor, raca, thou fool, and child of the devil, he had not mis—called him; but he would teach us under the greatest provocation to forbear bitterness and evil-speaking, and to show all meekness. Friend, for a friend he had been, and should have been, and seemed to be. Thus he upbraids him, as Abraham, when he called the rich man in hell, son. He calls him friend, because he furthered his sufferings, and so befriended him; whereas, he called Peter Satan for attempting to hinder them.
[2.] He asks him, “Wherefore art thou come? Isa. it peace, Judas? Explain thyself; if thou come as an enemy, what means this kiss? If as a friend, what mean these swords and staves? Wherefore art thou come? What harm have I done thee? Wherein have I wearied thee? eph ho parei—Wherefore art thou present? Why hadst thou not so much shame left thee, as to keep out of sight, which thou mightest have done, and yet have given the officer notice where I was?” This was an instance of great impudence, for him to be so forward and barefaced in this wicked transaction. But it is usual for apostates from religion to be the most bitter enemies to it; witness Julian. Thus Judas did his part.
2. How the officers and soldiers secured him; Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him; they made him their prisoner. How were they not afraid to stretch forth their hands against the Lord’s Anointed? We may well imagine what rude and cruel hands they were, which this barbarous multitude laid on Christ; and how, it is probable, they handled him the more roughly for their being so often disappointed when they sought to lay hands on him. They could not have taken him, if he had not surrendered himself, and been delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, Acts 2:23. He who said concerning his anointed servants, Touch them not, and do them no harm (Ps. 105:14, 15), spared not his anointed Son, but delivered him up for us all; and again, gave his strength into captivity, his glory into the enemies’ hands, Ps. 78:61. See what was the complaint of Job (Matt. 16:11), God hath delivered me to the ungodly, and apply that and other passages in that book of Job as a type of Christ.
Our Lord Jesus was made a prisoner, because he would in all things be treated as a malefactor, punished for our crime, and as a surety under arrest for our debt. The yoke of our transgressions was bound by the Father’s hand upon the neck of the Lord Jesus, Lam. 1:14. He became a prisoner, that he might set us at liberty; for he said, If ye seek me, let these go their way (John 18:8); and those are free indeed, whom he makes so.
3. How Peter fought for Christ, and was checked for his pains. It is here only said to be one of them that were with Jesus in the garden; but John 18:10; we are told that it was Peter who signalized himself upon this occasion. Observe,
(1.) Peter’s rashness (Matt. 26:51); He drew his sword. They had but two swords among them all (Luke 22:38), and one of them, it seems, fell to Peter’s share; and now he thought it was time to draw it, and he laid about him as if he would have done some great matter; but all the execution he did was the cutting off an ear from a servant of the High Priest; designing, it is likely, to cleave him down the head, because he saw him more forward than the rest in laying hands on Christ, he missed his blow. But if he would be striking, in my mind he should rather have aimed at Judas, and have marked him for a rogue. Peter had talked much of 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 honour and safety; but it was not according to knowledge, nor guided by discretion; for [1.] He did it without warrant; some of the disciples asked indeed, Shall we smite with the sword? (Luke 22:49) But Peter struck before they had an answer. We must see not only our cause good, but our call clear, before we draw the sword; we must show by what authority we do it, and who gave us that authority. [2.] He indiscreetly exposed himself and his fellow-disciples to the rage of the multitude; for what could they with two swords do against a band of men?
(2.) The rebuke which our Lord Jesus gave him (Matt. 26:52); Put up again thy sword into its place. He does not command the officers and soldiers to put up their swords that were drawn against him, he left them to the judgment of God, who judges them that are without; but he commands Peter to put up his sword, does not chide him indeed for what he had done, because done out of good will, but stops the progress of his arms, and provides that it should not be drawn into a precedent. Christ’s errand into the world was to make peace. Note, The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but spiritual; and Christ’s ministers, though they are his soldiers, do not war after the flesh, 2 Cor. 10:3, 4. Not that the law of Christ overthrows either the law of nature of the law of nations, as far as those warrant subjects to stand up in defence 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, qua tales—as such, to resist the powers that are; nay, we have a general precept that we resist not evil (Matt. 5:39), nor will Christ have his ministers propagate his religion by force of arms, Religio cogi non potest; et defendenda non occidendo, sed moriendo—Religion cannot be forced; and it should be defended, not by killing, but by dying. Lactantii Institut. As Christ forbade his disciples the sword of justice (Matt. 20:25, 26), so here the sword of war. Christ bade Peter put up his sword, and never bade him draw it again; yet that which Peter is here blamed for is his doing it unseasonably; the hour was come for Christ to suffer and die, he knew Peter knew it, the sword of the Lord was drawn against him (Zech. 13:7), and for Peter to draw his sword for him, was like, Master, spare thyself.
Three reasons Christ give to Peter for this rebuke:
[1.] His drawing the sword would be dangerous to himself and to his fellow-disciples; They that take the sword, shall perish with the sword; they that use violence, fall by violence; and men hasten and increase their own troubles by blustering bloody methods of self-defence. They that take the sword before it is given them, that use it without warrant or call, expose themselves to the sword of war, or public justice. Had it not been for the special care and providence of the Lord Jesus, Peter and the rest of them had, for aught I know, been cut in pieces immediately. Grotius gives another, and a probable sense of this blow, making those that take the sword to be, not Peter, but the officers and soldiers that come with swords to take Christ; They shall perish with the sword. “Peter, thou needest not draw they sword to punish them. God will certainly, shortly, and severely, reckon with them.” They took the Roman sword to seize Christ with, and by the Roman sword, not long after, they and their place and nation were destroyed. Therefore we must not avenge ourselves, because God will repay (Rom. 12:19); and therefore we must suffer with faith and patience, because persecutors will be paid in their own coin. See Rev. 13:10.
[2.] It was needless for him to draw his sword in defence of his Master, how, if he pleased, could summon into his service all the hosts of heaven (Matt. 26:53); “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall send from heaven effectual succours? Peter, if I would put by these sufferings, I could easily do it without thy hand or thy sword.” Note, God has no need of us, of our services, much less of our sins, to bring about his purposes; and it argues our distrust and disbelief of the power of Christ, when we go out of the way of our duty to serve his interests. God can do his work without us; if we look into the heavens, and see how he is attended there, we may easily infer, that, though we be righteous, he is not beholden to us, Job 35:5, 7. Though Christ was crucified through weakness, it was a voluntary weakness; he submitted to death, not because he could not, but because he would not contend with it. This takes off the offence of the cross, and proves Christ crucified the power of God; even now in the depth of his sufferings he could call in the aid of legions of angels. Now, arti—yet; “Though the business is so far gone, I could yet with a word speaking turn the scale.” Christ here lets us know,
First, What a great interest he had in his Father; I can pray to my Father, and he will send me help from the sanctuary. I can parakalesai—demand of my Father these succours. Christ prayer as one having authority. Note, It is a great comfort to God’s people, when they are surrounded with enemies on all hands, that they have a way open heavenward; if they can do nothing else, they can pray to him that can do every thing. And they who are much in prayer at other times, have most comfort in praying when troublesome times come. Observe, Christ saith, not only that God could send him such a number of angels, but that, if he insisted upon it, he would do it. Though he had undertaken the work of our redemption, yet, if he had desired to be released, it should seem by this that the Father would not have held him to it. He might yet have gone out free from the service, but he loved it, and would not; so that it was only with the cords of his own love that he was bound to the altar.
Secondly, What a great interest he had in the heavenly hosts; He shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels, amounting to above seventy-two thousand. Observe here, 1. There is an innumerable company of angels, Heb. 12:2. A detachment of more than twelve legions might be spared for our service, and yet there would be no miss of them about the throne. See Dan. 7:10. They are marshalled in exact order, like the well-disciplined legions; not a confused multitude, but regular troops; all know their post, and observe the word of command. 2. This innumerable company of angels are all at the disposal of our heavenly Father, and do his pleasure, Ps. 103:20, 21. 3. These angelic hosts were ready to come in to the assistance of our Lord Jesus in his sufferings, if he had needed or desired it. See Heb. 1:6, 14. They would have been to him as they were to Elisha, chariots of fire, and horses of fire, not only to secure him, but to consume those that set upon him. 4. Our heavenly Father is to be eyed and acknowledged in all the services of the heavenly hosts; He shall give them me: therefore angels are not to be prayed to, but the Lord of the angels, Ps. 91:11. 5. It is matter of comfort to all that wish well to the kingdom of Christ, that there is a world of angels always at the service of the Lord Jesus, that can do wonders. He that has the armies of heaven at his beck, can do what he pleases among the inhabitants of the earth; He shall presently give them me. See how ready his Father was to hear his prayer, and how ready the angels were to observe his orders; they are willing servants, winged messengers, they fly swiftly. This is very encouraging to those that have the honour of Christ, and the welfare of his church, much at heart. Think they that they have more care and concern for Christ and his church, than God and the holy angels have.
[3.] It was no time to make any defence at all, or to offer to put by the stroke; For how then shall the scripture be fulfilled, that thus it must be? Matt. 26:54. It was written, that Christ should be led as a lamb to the slaughter, Isa. 53:7. Should he summon the angels to his assistance, he would not be led to the slaughter at all; should he permit his disciples to fight, he would not be led as a lamb quietly and without resistance; therefore he and his disciples must yield to the accomplishment of the predictions. Note, In all difficult cases, the word of God must be conclusive against our own counsels, and nothing must be done, nothing attempted, against the fulfilling of the scripture. If the easing of our pains, the breaking of our bonds, the saving of our lives, will not consist with the fulfilling of the scripture, we ought to say, “Let God’s word and will take place, let his law be magnified and made honourable, whatever becomes of us.” Thus Christ checked Peter, when he set up for his champion, and captain of his life-guard.
4. We are next told how Christ argued the case with them that came to take him (Matt. 26:55); though he did not resist them, yet he did reason with them. Note, It will consist with Christian patience under our sufferings, calmly to expostulate with our enemies and persecutors, as David with Saul, 1 Sam. 24:14; 26:18. Are ye come out, (1.) With rage and enmity, as against a thief, as if I were an enemy to the public safety, and deservedly suffered this? Thieves draw upon themselves the common odium; every one will lend a hand to stop a thief: and thus they fell upon Christ as the offscouring of all things. If he had been the plague of his country, he could not have been prosecuted with more heat and violence. (2.) With all this power and force, as against the worst of thieves, that dare the law, bid defiance to public justice, and add rebellion to their sin? You are come out as against a thief, with swords and staves, as if there were danger of resistance; whereas ye have killed the just One, and he doth not resist you, Jas. 5:6. If he had not been willing to suffer, it was folly to come with swords and staves, for they could not conquer him; had he been minded to resist, he would have esteemed their iron as straw, and their swords and staves would have been as briars before a consuming fire; but, being willing to suffer, it was folly to come thus armed, for he would not contend with them.
He further expostulates with them, by reminding them how he had behaved himself hitherto toward them, and they toward him. [1.] Of his public appearance; I sat daily with you in the temple teaching. And, [2.] Of their public connivance; Ye laid no hold on me. How comes then this change? They were very unreasonable, in treating him as they did. First, He had given them no occasion to look upon him as a thief, for he had taught in the temple. And such were the matter, and such the manner of his teaching, that he was manifested in the consciences of all that heard him, not to be a bad man. Such gracious words as came from his mouth, were not the words of a thief, nor of one that had a devil. Secondly, Nor had he given them occasion to look upon him as one that absconded, or fled from justice, that they should come in the night to seize him; if they had any thing to say to him, they might find him every day in the temple, ready to answer all challenges, all charges, and there they might do as they pleased with him; for the chief priests had the custody of the temple, and the command of the guards about it; but to come upon him thus clandestinely, in the place of his retirement, was base and cowardly. Thus the greatest hero may be villainously assassinated in a corner, by one that in open field would tremble to look him in the face.
But all this was done (so it follows, Matt. 26:56) that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. It is hard to say, whether these are the words of the sacred historian, as a comment upon this story, and a direction to the Christian reader to compare it with the scriptures of the Old Testament, which pointed at it; or, whether they are the words of Christ himself, as a reason why, though he could not but resent this base treatment, he yet submitted to it, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled, to which he had just now referred himself, Matt. 26:54. Note, The scripture are in the fulfilling every day; and all those scriptures which speak of the Messiah, had their full accomplishment in our Lord Jesus.
5. How he was, in the midst of this distress, shamefully deserted by his disciples; They all forsook him, and fled, Matt. 26:56.
(1.) 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 knew not what. There was unkindness in it, considering the relation they stood in to him, the favours they had received from him, and the melancholy circumstances he was now in. There was unfaithfulness in it, for they had solemnly promised to adhere to him, and never to forsake him. He had indented for their safe conduct (John 18:8); yet they could not rely upon that, but shifted for themselves by an inglorious flight. 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? John 6:67, 68. Lord, what is man!
(2.) It was a part of Christ’s suffering, it added affliction to his bonds, to be thus deserted, as it did to Job (Matt. 19:13), He hath put my brethren far from me; and to David (Ps. 38:11), Lovers and friends stand aloof from my sore. They should have staid with him, to minister to him, to countenance him, and, if need were, to be witnesses for him at his trial; but they treacherously deserted him, as, at St. Paul’s first answer, no man stood with him. But there was a mystery in this. [1.] Christ, as a sacrifice for sins, stood thus abandoned. The deer that by the keeper’s arrow is marked out to be hunted and run down, is immediately deserted by the whole herd. In this he was made a curse for us, being left as one separated to evil. [2.] Christ, as the Saviour of souls, stood thus alone; as he needed not, so he had not the assistance of any other in working out our salvation; he bore all, and did all himself. He trod the wine-press alone, and when there was none to uphold, then his own arm wrought salvation, Isa. 63:3, 5. So the Lord alone did lead his Israel, and they stand still, and only see this great salvation, Deut. 32:12.