We continue our reading notes on Matthew’s Passion narrative, in the weeks leading up to Easter.
Matt 26:46-5647 While 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. 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. 50 Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51 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. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” 55 In that hour 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. 56 But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
In verse 47, Matthew reminds us again that Judas is one of the Twelve. He’s highlighting the devastating nature of the betrayal being from one in his inner circle.
The chief priests have assembled a whole SWAT team, which ends up being overkill when Jesus goes without putting up a fight. They’re still operating under the idea that Jesus is a political revolutionary who’ll use military force, just like everyone else (but Jesus) in the story.
Why does Judas need to point Jesus out? All bearded men look alike. It’s a fact. OK, that and the fact that it’s nighttime, and the surveillance cameras used by the Jerusalem secret police had a poor resolution. Even though Jesus had been making a stir among the people all week, his face wouldn’t have been immediately recognisable to the authorities. Kissing was the usual way to greet a rabbi.
One of them (we find out in John’s Gospel it’s Peter) clearly didn’t get the memo about non-violence and the whole Isaiah-suffering-servant bit, and goes all van Gogh on the high priest’s servant. From the other accounts, we know that Jesus healed the man. Matthew is more concerned with us getting the message that Jesus hasn’t come to fight. He points out that he can call for backup anytime, but has chosen not to. He again consciously links this with the Old Testament ideas of a suffering servant, not a warrior king.
Jesus then points out the overkill in bringing an angry mob (verse 55). He reminds them that they could have picked him up any day of the week in the temple – but of course, they were too afraid of popular opinion to do that!
At the end of the story, the disciples run off – or rather, the shepherd is struck, and the flock is scattered. The prediction of verse 31 comes true.
For the past couple of days we’ve been going on about the Isaiah background, and all the suffering servant bit. Before we get to the account of Jesus’ trial tomorrow, it’s probably worth reading some of the background, so we can spot what Matthew is trying to tell us by drawing the parallels. The following, probably familiar passage is from Isaiah 53:Isa 53:1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. 11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
To think about
Why was it important that Jesus did things in the way he did? Yes, it was to fulfil Scripture – but why did Scripture point to a suffering Messiah in the first place? Why is this important that God rescued us the way he did?