The Lord had rendered His testimony, as the Faithful Witness, in deeds as well as words. He had finished all the sayings which proclaimed Him to be the Prophet like unto Moses, as prophesied by him (Deu_18:15), but incomparably greater withal, and who was henceforth to be heard on peril of eternal ruin. And now the hour approached, the solemn hour of His sufferings; and Jesus passes into it in spirit, with the calm dignity suited to Himself alone.
The religious guides were resolved on His death. The chief priests, the scribes, the elders, all of one mind in this, assembled at the high priest's palace. They consulted, they plotted; but after all, if they consummated their infamy, they unwittingly accomplished the words of Christ to His disciples, rather than their own plan of wickedness. They said to each other, "Not on the feast-day, lest there be an uproar among the people" (ver. 5); but He said to His disciples, "Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of Man is betrayed to be crucified" (ver. 2). Did they wish to kill Him? They must do it then. Man has his wickedness, and God has His way. But little did either the friends or the foes of Jesus know how the determinate counsel of God was to be brought to pass. A traitor from within the innermost circle, fit instrument for Satan's scheming malice, must lift up his heel against the Saviour, the leader of that adulterous and now apostate generation into the pit of perdition. The enemy degrades morally his victims - ever the consequence of evil - and the beautiful offering of love (fruit of the Holy Ghost in her who poured the very precious ointment from the alabaster box on the head of Jesus) gave occasion to the basest motives in Judas, and the final success of the tempter over a soul, spite of the constant seeing and hearing of Christ, long inured to secret guilt (vers. 6-16).
I am compelled through circumstances to glance but cursorily at these final and affecting scenes. Yet let us not fail to observe, first for our warning, how easy it is for eleven good men to be led astray by the fair pretences of one bad man, who was influenced by evil feelings unknown to them. Alas! the flesh, even in the regenerate, remains ever the same hateful thing, and there is no good for the believer save where Christ is the object and controls the heart. Next, for our joy, how sweet to find that love to Christ is surely vindicated of Him and has the Spirit's guidance in the weakest one, spite of the murmurs of those who seem ever so high and strong! Thirdly, if a saint manifested her estimate of Jesus - so lavishly in the judgment of utilitarian unbelief - what was His value in the eyes of the bribing priests and of the betrayer? "And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver" (ver. is). A slave's price was enough for the despised Lord of all! (Compare Exo_21:32; Zec_11:12-13.)
Still, in the face of all, the Lord pursues His path of love and holy calm; and when the disciples inquire His pleasure as to the place for eating the paschal feast, He speaks as the conscious Messiah, let Him be ever so rejected: "Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with My disciples" (ver. 18). As the twelve were eating, He tells out the grief of His heart: "Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray Me" (ver. 21) - which fails not to elicit the reality of their affections and their deep grief. If Judas imitated their inquiry of innocence, fearful that his own silence would detect him, and, it may be, counting on ignorance because of the Lord's generality of expression ("one of you"), he only thereby hears his doom brought personally home. Prophecy was accomplished, "but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed."
Nothing, however, arrests the flow of Christ's love. "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (vers. 26-28). The bread, but especially the cup, set forth the Messiah, not alive on earth, but rejected and slain. The broad truth is given here, as by Mark, in "This is My body," without dwelling on the grace which gave it; it is the truth in itself without accessories seen elsewhere. Stress is laid on "My blood of the new covenant which is shed for many," because the refusal of the Messiah by Israel, and His death, opened the way for others outside - for Gentiles; and it was important for our Evangelist to note this. Luke has it, "shed for you" (i.e., for the believers in Jesus); Matthew adds, "for the remission of sins," in contrast with the blood of the old covenant, which held forth its penal sanction: for the blood in Ex. 24 sealed on the people their promise of obedience to the law under menace of death: here, in the Saviour's blood, they drink the witness of their sins blotted out and gone. "But," adds He, "I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom" (ver. 29). He is henceforth separated from joy with them till the Father's kingdom come: then He will resume His association with delight in His people here below., The godly drink His blood with thankful praise now: by and by He will drink the wine of joy new with us in the Father's kingdom. Till then He is the heavenly Nazarite; and so, consequently, should we be in spirit.
After the supper they sang a hymn - how blessed at such a time! - and repaired to Olivet (ver. 30). With ineffable grace the Lord lets them know the trial which should befall and shake them all that very night, and this according to the written Word, even as that which He had shown concerning Himself. (Compare vers. 24 and 31.) The flesh had proved itself and its worth in the "goodly price" it set on Jesus; it was also to prove the value of its self-confidence and of its boasted courage on His behalf - "All ye shall be offended because of Me," etc. Peter, who most trusted His own love for the Saviour, proved it bitterly for himself and glaringly to others (vers. 32-35). Thus the end of the trials would be to confirm their faith and deepen their distrust of self, making Christ their all in everything; and He, risen, would go before them into Galilee, resuming in resurrection-power the relationship which He had with them there in the days of His flesh.
The next scene, in the garden, equally perfect in its display of Jesus, and most humbling in its exhibition of the choicest of the apostles, shows us the picture, not of holy calm in the full knowledge of all that awaited Himself and His disciples, but of anguish to the uttermost, and of death realized in all its horrors as before God (vers. 36-46). What an insight Gethsemane gives us of Him, Jehovah-Messiah though He was, as the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief! Who ever saw affliction as He? Not only had Jesus to know the depths of the cross in atonement as none other could; bow His head under the full, unsparing judgment of God when made sin for us; but He underwent beyond all others the anticipative pressure of death on His soul as the power of Satan, feeling it perfectly, and the more deeply by taking it from His Father's and not from the enemy's hand. It was the "strong crying and tears" to His Father now, as afterward to God as such when it was a question of actual sin-bearing on the tree. "And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith He unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with Me" (vers. 37, 38). When the cross came, there was no such call to disciples to watch with Him. He was alone, absolutely, essentially, for us - that is, for our sins - with none of men or angels in any way or measure near Him (morally speaking) - alone, when God forsook and hid His face from Him on whose head met all our iniquities. Here, in Gethsemane, it was pleading as a Son with His Father, when "He went a little farther, and fell on His face [prostrate in His earnestness], and prayed, saying, O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt" (ver. 39). He watched, and prayed, and entered not into temptation, though tempted to the uttermost. But He finds the disciples asleep: they could not watch with Him one hour. "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak"; and so it was again and again with them, till He bade them sleep, but warned them that the hour was at hand, as the traitor drew near.
But the same flesh which drags down to sleep when the Lord called to watch and pray is zealous enough with carnal weapons when Judas came with his deceitful kiss and a multitude following (vers. 47, etc,), though it preserved not from, but rather led into, either forsaking the Master or denying Him. Jesus, past the conflict at Gethsemane, in all dignity and peace before man, goes forward to meet God's will at their wicked hands; in meekest words (vers. 50-54) laying bare the base evil of Judas, the rash weakness of His inconsiderate defender, and points to His approaching death, spite of His title to command legions of angels in His behalf - who withal speaks worlds into existence and annuls the wicked by His word. But He was a prisoner for the will of God, not of man's power.
Before Caiaphas (vers. 57-68) He is counted guilty of death - not because the falsehood of the witnesses succeeded, but because of His own confession of the truth. He, the Son of God, come in fulness of grace and truth as He was, they should henceforth see Him, the Son of Man, sitting on the right hand of Power, and coming in the clouds of heaven - His present position and His manifestation when He comes in power and glory.
Yet, in the midst of His rejection and contumely at the hands of high and low among His own outward people, Jesus causes His mighty word to be remembered by poor Peter, bold now in denying Him with cursing and swearing (vers. 69-75). "And he went out and wept bitterly." Oh, what a servant! what a Lord!