Mat_26:17-46; Mar_14:12-42, Luk_22:7-46; Joh_13:1 to Joh_18:1
The day of Thursday was spent by our Lord at Bethany; but the apostles were sent to Jerusalem to engage an apartment where the Passover might be eaten in the evening, and to prepare a lamb for the occasion.
When the evening was come, Jesus also repaired to Jerusalem; and, having joined the apostles, sat down with them to the sacred meal, which had been prepared, and which He designed to render more sacred and more memorable.
When they were seated, but before the commencement of the repast, Jesus perceived that the apostles, with their still inveterate infatuation, were discussing among themselves which of them should be the greatest in his approaching kingdom. Upon this, He arose from table, and laying aside his upper garment, as servants used to do when rendering the same service to their masters, He took a basin of water and a towel, and proceeded to wash the disciples’ feet; designing thus to impress upon their minds, in a manner not to be obliterated, a lesson and an example of that lowliness of mind which had distinguished his own career, and should characterize theirs. They did not at first apprehend his object, and were doubtless much distressed that their reverend Master should thus demean himself; but yielding in child-like submission to his will, they offered no resistance. None did but Peter; who, when his turn came, gave way to his excitable temper, and absolutely refused that his Master should render this servile office to him. Jesus told him that this act had a meaning which he would understand afterwards. Why not tell him at once? Because, as Crysostom suggests, had Christ told Peter as a reason for that act, that He wished to teach him humility, the fiery disciple would not have been satisfied with it, but would have answered, “I can learn humility without having my feet washed.” As it was, he was not able to humble the natural feelings in a child-like manner under that expression of his Lord’s will. Jesus, therefore, as a Master who knew well how to rule his own house, said to him, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.” Whereupon the always ardent apostle flies at once to the opposite extreme, and knows no limit to his obedience—“Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus told him this was not needful; and then proceeded to impress upon them, that if He, whom they rightly looked up to as their Lord and Master, had thus performed the part of a servant towards them, they ought to be servants in love to each other, without such grievous and worldly aspirings after distinctions and superiorities over one another.
The supper then commenced, and was celebrated in the usual manner, which we need not explain; but it was marked towards the close by an incident which requires our attention. It is clear that the mournful condition of his lost disciple hovered continually before the mind of the Redeemer. So, after washing the disciples’ feet, He said, “Ye are clean, but not all.” Farther on, when He was giving high promises to his disciples, He intimated his knowledge that there was one to whom such promises gave no pleasure. Nevertheless, He knew those whom He had chosen to be his apostles. He had not selected this one to be of their number through any error or oversight, but because it was so determined in the Divine counsels; and He quoted Psa_41:9—“He that eateth bread with Me, hath lifted up his heel against Me;” at which the heart of the traitor must have quaked, if he were not yet wholly hardened. But he was quite hardened now. It was not a feeling of aroused indignation which the heavenly and affectionate Savior manifests towards the traitor; it is that of an affectionate sorrow, which constantly renews the attempts to make a saving impression upon a depraved heart. It might have been expected that as soon as Judas perceived his sin was known to his Master, he would have cast himself at his feet, confessing all and imploring his forgiveness. But he was too far gone in evil purposes and thoughts for that. Perceiving this, and finding that even the last great proof of humble love—the washing his feet—had made no impression upon him, his presence became oppressive to our Lord in that solemn hour, and He wished him to withdraw from the circle of those who loved and were beloved by Him. He now, therefore, in the most distinct manner, gave utterance to the thought that there was one in that holy and beloved circle who would prove a traitor to Him. But the moment was so solemn, and their reverence for their Lord so great, that they dared not ask Him to name the man. Presently, however, a strong desire urged the impulsive Peter to make the inquiry. He did not, however, like to do so aloud, and was probably led to put the question in an undertone. He, therefore, signaled John, whose place at table was next below Jesus, and who, therefore, reclined in such a manner that his head lay toward the breast of his Master. John whispered, “Who is it, Lord?” And the answer, probably in the same undertone, was, “He to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it.” Here we must understand that, after the second cup of wine at the paschal feast, the father of the family took a piece of unleavened bread, broke it into pieces, and gave a bit to each of those present, commonly dipping it first in the broth. Our Lord took one of these morsels, as he said these words, and, dipping it in the dish, gave it to Judas. It is doubtful if any of the apostles, except John, and perhaps Peter, understood this indication, for the act itself was proper to the occasion, and the words were, probably, audible only to John, to whom they were addressed. But Judas had, doubtless, observed and construed these successive movements, and deeming himself marked out to the other apostles, his heart became filled with wrath; and fancying that now at last he had some justification for his conduct, he cast all remorseful thoughts to the winds, and became fixed in his fell and traitorous purpose. Observing that this was the man’s state of mind, Jesus could no longer endure his presence. He wished to declare to his beloved ones the anguish he felt at parting with them, to comfort them in that sad prospect, and to declare to them the great blessings which his death would work out for the race of man. This He could not do in the presence of one whose contemplated act was to be the proximate cause of all this anguish, and whose heart was alien from his and theirs. He therefore told him to depart. “That thou doest, do quickly;” words which the traitor, and John and Peter, could construe aright, but from which the other apostles, still in their simple-mindedness, concluded only that he had been sent to make some farther preparations for the festival, or to take some alms to the poor. Even Peter and John may not have supposed that the treasons of Judas were so near at hand.
When he was gone, Jesus began to speak of his departure; and it appears that the apostles still thought that it could at worst be only a temporary removal of some kind, from which He would return in glory. Or perhaps they may have supposed no more than that, to escape from treachery, He meant to withdraw for a time to some distant part of the country. Of his removal by death they could not realize the idea. When, therefore, He said, “Whither I go ye cannot come,” Peter asked with amazement, “Whither goest Thou?” And when Jesus answered that He went whither he could not follow Him then, though he might thereafter, Peter, gathering from this only that some danger attended his removal, which He cared not that his friends should share, exclaimed, with his usual impetuosity, “Why cannot I follow Thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake.” And no doubt he was sincere. But Jesus knew him better far than he was known to himself. He looked through his soul, and saw that these strong expressions sprang more from a swell of generous feeling than from a will firmly grounded. He therefore warned him to look well to his own heart, and told him that he would that day, that very night, before the second crowing of the cock, fall deeply, but only to rise again, stronger, wiser, better and fitter for all work in the service of his Master.
Jesus then proceeded to institute the new festival to be held in remembrance of Him, in which the broken bread was to represent his body, given to death and the grave for them; and the wine, his blood, “shed for many, for the remission of sins.”
After this, our Lord commenced that touching and sublime discourse which occupies three chapters of St. John’s gospel, the purport of which has been already indicated, and which closes with that prayer for his disciples, and for those who through their labors should believe on his name—that is, for the church in all ages, that the might be “one in Him.” He knew doubtless that they would not be so entirely one in each other’s view as He desired; He therefore made it the essential point that they should be one in Him; and such, it is a happiness to think, the greater part of them substantially are, notwithstanding their too frequently foreign aspect to each other.
Late at night our Lord left the city with the disciples, but proceeded no further than the Mount of Olives, near the base of which there was an olive farm called Gethsemane, belonging probably to a disciple of Jesus, and to which our Lord was in the habit of repairing when He did not mean to go to Bethany. Scarcely had our Lord arrived here, than He withdrew into the deepest solitudes of the plantation. Most of the disciples seem to have remained at the house with the friendly host, and only three of them, Peter, James, and John, the same who were present at the transfiguration, went with Him, and, somewhat apart, became witnesses to the mighty struggle of his soul. For it was here that He endured, shaded by the overhanging olives from the pale light of the moon, that great agony which in the chilly night wrung from his brow the perspiration that fell “like great drops of blood” to the ground, meaning, probably, not that the perspiration was blood, or was mixed with blood, but that it gathered and fell in great clammy drops like those of blood. In repeated prayer to the Father, He asked that “this cup” might pass from Him; yet he always added, “Not my will, but thine be done.” At length an angel from heaven appeared to comfort Him, and from that heavenly sustainment He arose firm and calm, to meet his doom.
We may reverently ask—What was it that moved Him so deeply? What cup was that which he desired might pass from Him? Is it possible that, as the time drew near, He shrank from that suffering and death, which He had always contemplated as the inevitable close of his career—that in this dread hour he faltered in the great task of delivering man which He had undertaken? This will seem to many impossible, especially when they reflect that many martyrs and great men have, under the faith and solace of a good cause, yielded up their bodies to torture and to death without dismay, saying
“Resting in the glorious hope
To be at last restored,
Yield we now our bodies up
To earthquake, fire, and sword”
But we must remember that the case was very different with Him and with them. They had but to die; but there was much more for Him to do. We have seen that He was capable of being “tempted like as we are,” and we need not repeat the considerations advanced in connection with his temptation in the wilderness. But it was then shown that this, which our Lord now endured in the garden, was another temptation, in which Satan, knowing it was the last time, put forth all his strength, and tried Him more severely. “The cup” must have been the scenes of suffering that lay before Him. It is hard to see what else it could have been; and the supplication to be excused from drinking it, shows that the temptation lay in this, that the suggestion now was not, as formerly, that He should exalt himself to earthly honor, but simply that He should waive the duty He had undertaken, if it were possible. The “agony,” which word means wrestling, striving, struggle, lay not so much, we apprehend, in the dread of what lay before Him, as in the strong-handed conflict against the suggestion; and the utmost to which He could for a moment be brought, was to pray that if there could possibly be found any other way for man’s deliverance, He might be released from his obligation; but if not, God’s will be done. And the Father did manifest his will by the angel, who came, not to relieve Him from that cup, but to give Him strength to drink it, even to the dregs.
One who has written well on this subject says: “I have no hesitation in believing that He was here put upon the trial of his obedience. It was the purpose of God to submit the obedience of Jesus to a severe ordeal, in order that, like gold tried in the furnace, it might be an act of perfect and illustrious virtue; and for this end He permitted Him to be assailed by the fiercest temptations to disobey his will and refuse the appointed cup. In pursuance of this purpose the mind of Jesus was left to pass under a dark cloud, his views lost their clearness, the Father’s will seemed shrouded in obscurity, the cross appeared in tenfold horror, and nature was left to indulge her feelings and put forth her reluctance.”
The objection which naturally arises to this, from the unshaken countenance with which righteous men have looked upon death in its most terrible aspects, is well met by the same writer. “The pious and holy man has not had a world’s salvation laid upon him; he has not been required to be absolutely perfect before God; he has known that if he sinned there was an advocate and a ransom for him. But nothing of this consolation could be presented to the mind of Jesus. He knew that He must die, as He had lived, without sin; but if the extremity of suffering should so far prevail as to provoke Him into impatience, or murmuring, or into a desire for revenge, this would be sin; and if He sinned all would be lost, for there was no other Savior. In such considerations may probably be found the remote source of the agonies and fears, which deepened the gloom of that dreadful night.” Note: Dr. Lewis Meyer in the American Biblical Repository for 1841.