As the Passover approaches, the Jewish authorities seek means for putting the Lord Jesus to death. Luke mentions the feast of Unleavened Bread first before the Passover, but strictly the Passover was Nisan 14, followed by Unleavened Bread for a week.
Luke says 'Unleavened Bread' was called the Passover, which obviously was an explanation for his Gentile readers. The teachers of the Law (scribes) and the Pharisees, two rival parties in the Sanhedrin, were now united in their plotting against the Lord, but they feared the people, for the triumphal entry into the city and His Temple speeches had won over a considerable number of them.
The Evangelist now tells us that Satan entered into Judas Iscariot (verse 3). Matthew and Mark do not mention this, but John does (13:2). Satan was now renewing his attack on the Son of God. He had come back by the use of Peter (Mark 8:33; Matt. 16:23). Now the enemy uses Judas and has success with him. Judas must have opened his mind to let Satan in and then the devil took charge, but this surrender in no way relieves Judas of his moral responsibility. As the result of this, Judas goes to the leaders and discusses with them how he might betray the Lord. Needless to say, they were delighted that one of the Twelve was ready to help them and they agreed to give him money (thirty pieces of silver, Matt. 26:15). Judas accepted this and waited for a suitable opportunity to hand his Master over to them when there was no crowd in the vicinity (verses 5,6).
The Passover now being near, the Lord sent Peter and John to make preparations for the meal (verses 7-13). Christ had already selected the place, which would be marked out for the disciples by seeing a man carrying a jar of water. This was unusual in the east, where water was usually drawn and carried by women. They were to follow him to his home and make preparations there (verses 9-13). When the hour arrived, they all reclined at the table in the Jewish fashion, and the Lord Jesus said:
"I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the Kingdom of God." (verses 15,16 N.I.V.).
This was followed by Christ taking the cup. There were four or even five cups handed round the Jewish Passover, and Luke does not tell us which one this was and it is futile to guess. The Lord then makes a similar statement regarding the wine which He said He would not drink again until the Kingdom of God comes. Twice in this context the Lord places the realization of the Kingdom in the future, yet there are expositors who tell us that it had already come! The Lord is saying in effect that He will have no more festivities till He rejoices in the completed and fulfilled Kingdom.
Christ now takes the flat cake of unleavened bread and breaks it (Jewish loaves were not cut), saying, 'This is My body'. This metaphorical language could not be misunderstood by Jews who had so many literal types of spiritual things. In this metaphor, the verb 'to be' means represents in the same way as it does in Isaiah 40:6, 'all flesh is grass'. The Lord Jesus used the same figure when He said, 'I am the door', 'I am the light', 'I am the way'.
The same thing applies to the cup, where it means 'this represents the new covenant in My blood'. For the terms of the New Covenant, see Jeremiah 31:31-37. Those who ignore this are likely to have an unscriptural view of this important covenant. This is the God-given basis for the redemption of the nation of Israel. Without this, the teaching of Romans 11:25-29 is impossible, but note the covenant in verse 27 of this chapter.
If the figurative language of these words of Christ had been recognized from the beginning, what a mountain of trouble would have been avoided! The three Synoptic Gospels give an account of the Passover meal and while the words slightly vary, this does not cause any problem. The Lord declared that His body was not just given to them, but for them, that is, on their behalf. One cannot rule out the sacrificial element here without completely missing the context.
One would hardly think it possible that, under such serious circumstances, any argument could have arisen among the disciples as to who would be the greatest, but so it was (verse 24). It had happened before, and the Lord corrected it by showing that true greatness is in service, not in rank. Once more He does this:
" the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? But I am among you as One Who serves." (verses 26,27 N.I.V.).
And to prove His point and to put a stop to their jealous contention for the chief place, He had to arise and give them an object lesson in true humility by washing their feet (John 13:1- 17). He was about to face the cross, the traitor was at the table, but the disciples were chiefly concerned with their own dignity and advantage! There was absolutely no need for this contention, for God had planned that in the future Kingdom they would sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (verse 30)! Was this not enough for them?
This was followed by Christ's warning to Peter of his denial:
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (verses 31,32 N.I.V.).
Peter assured the Lord that he was ready to go with Him to prison or death, and doubtless he was absolutely sincere in this, but he had yet to learn the painful lesson of his own weakness. It is noteworthy that before Satan could tempt him, he had to ask permission, very much like he had to do in the case of Job before he tested him (Job 1:11,12). But, in spite of it all, the Lord Jesus had surrounded him with protective prayer (verse 32) so that he would be safe from his faith utterly breaking down under remorse after his denial. And in our own cases, we shall never know in this life what we owe to the protective praying of the Lord on our behalf -- what dangers we have been saved from!
In the verses that follow, Christ amends some of the instructions He had given them and the seventy as to the equipment they were to take on their journeying (Luke 9:1-6; Matt. 10:5-10; Mark 6:7-12). He said:
"When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?" "Nothing," they answered. He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one " (verses 35,36 N.I.V.).
Changed circumstances bring changed needs. The disciples are now to expect persecution and bitter hostility, but they are not to be hostile themselves; rather they are to be ready to defend Christ's cause against attack. This instance warns us against pulling the sayings of Christ out of their context regardless of altered conditions.
The Evangelist now records the terrible testing of the Saviour in Gethsemane. It was His custom to use this as a retreat and possibly for prayer. Judas of course knew this and so undertook to betray Him there, apart from the crowds. On reaching the place, He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, after warning them to pray (keep on praying) that they might not fall into temptation. The Authorized Version is inadequate here in setting forth the tremendous test, spiritually, mentally and physically, that the Lord experienced. Luke omits the words to Peter, James and John, 'My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death', recorded by Matthew and Mark. The N.I.V. and Weymouth are more vivid: 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death' (Mark 14:34 N.I.V.) and 'My soul is crushed with anguish to the very point of death' (Weymouth). Luke, as a medical man, tells us that, as He prayed, the sweat became like clots of blood dropping on the ground (22:44, Weymouth). He does not say it was literal blood, but like blood, and this shows that the Lord was not exaggerating when He said He was at the very point of death.
The full force of these words has been missed by many expositors. A little while later, to the guards who arrested Him, He said, 'This is your hour and the dark Power has its way' (Luke 22:53, Moffatt), which shows that behind the scene, Satan and the powers of darkness were working and making a last attempt to murder Him before the cross. In John 8:59, we read that the Pharisees 'took up stones to stone Him'. Herod attempted to murder Him when He was only two years old (Matt. 2:16-18). The Nazarenes tried to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:29,30). Satan attempted to drown Him when He was asleep (Mark 4:35-41). The truth is not forwarded by trying to minimize this as some do. That Christ was at the point of death in the Garden is the testimony of the Gospels, and this is why an angel had specially to strengthen Him that He might be able to go on to Calvary and accomplish there the mighty work of redemption (Luke 22:43).
So many expositors miss the fact that Christ referred to two cups of suffering, not one. In Mark's account, the Lord prays that, 'if possible, the hour might pass from Him' (Mark 14:35). This surely means the hour of severe testing He was then undergoing, not the protracted future time of His crucifixion. 'This cup' was the one He was experiencing at that moment of the murderous conflict with Satan and his hosts. He was in an agony (agon, a contest); Satan was pressing Him harder than ever before. Regarding Calvary, He said, 'The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?' (John 18:11 and see 12:27). There was no seeking to avoid the cup of suffering and death at Calvary and we do not believe there was any other point in the Lord's life when this was true, for, as He said, He had come to the earth for this very thing.
The epistle to the Hebrews revolves around going on to perfection (maturity, 6:1), or drawing back to perdition (10:39), and the Lord Jesus is set forth in this letter as the supreme Example of One who did not do the latter in any way. In chapter 11 there is a long list of God's people who did not backslide to perdition. Yet, if the usual interpretation of the trial in Gethsemane is accepted, Christ did draw back - if only momentarily in the Garden. How then can He be our Example? God would be exacting from us a higher standard of conduct than from His Son.
Moreover, this epistle contains a passage that bears directly on the happenings in Gethsemane and this has sometimes been ignored by expositors of Scripture:
Christ Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared (Heb. 5:5,7).
This can only refer to the experience of Christ in the Garden. Note that He was saved from death, and His prayers were heard, that is, they were answered. Now if the usual exposition is true, making 'this cup' refer to the cross, He was not heard, for the Father's will was that He should drink that cup completely, so that redemption could be an eternal reality. But the Hebrews' passage assures us that He was delivered from death through His prayers and that could only relate to death in the Garden of Gethsemane. Thus we have scriptural confirmation that our exposition is true and we are delivered from the terrible idea that the Lord Jesus Christ drew back at the last minute and tried to avoid the Cross and all it entailed.
Immediately after the experience of Gethsemane, a crowd arrived with Judas Iscariot leading. Luke does not tell us as Matthew and Mark do, that Judas was going to kiss the Lord as a pre-arranged sign to the leaders, but as he approached, Christ challenged the action of Judas openly and called it betrayal: 'Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?' But this did not stop him, for he had already submitted himself to the devil and made up his mind.
Realizing that danger was near, the disciples asked the question, 'Lord, should we strike with our swords?', but before He could answer, one of them struck a servant of the high priest and severed his ear. John tells us that the man's name was Malchus, and it was Peter who struck the man. But this was not in accordance with divine will, so immediately Christ healed the man, and then spoke to those who were against Him, saying, in effect, that they were treating Him as if He were a bandit like Barabbas.
But they seized Him and took Him to the house of the high priest (verse 54). They lit a fire in the courtyard and Peter sat with them, warming himself. The fire gave light as well as heat and showed Peter there clearly. Thus three people recognized him and charged him with being with Christ as one of His followers. But Peter denied their statements, each time getting into more of a tangle and more annoyed. Before he had finished speaking, he suddenly heard a cock crow and then a flood of remembrance came into his mind, and the Lord's predictive words came back to his memory. Worse than that, at that moment the Lord Jesus turned and looked at him (verse 61). This graphic picture is drawn by Luke alone. What was in that look? We shall never know, but surely love and pity must have been there. Completely broken, Peter could only do one thing; he went outside and sobbed bitterly as he remembered his strong words of loyalty and now his ghastly failure. He had to learn very painfully the weakness of the flesh.
Luke now goes on to describe the mocking and cruelty of the soldiers in their handling of Christ. They dressed Him up, blindfolded Him, beat Him and kept insulting Him as they gave Him mock worship. Isaiah had written centuries before, 'His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness' (52:14 N.I.V.). And He Who was God manifest in the flesh, took it all without retaliation - marvel of marvels! The hearings in the courts of Annas and Caiaphas had occupied the entire night. Now it was dawn. The Sanhedrin was composed of the elders and scribes and chief priests (Mark 15:1) and the Lord was led into their council chamber. This was the second appearance of Christ before the Sanhedrin, which is merely mentioned by Mark (15:1) and Matthew (27:1), who give in detail the first appearance and trial. Luke gives this so-called ratification meeting after daybreak to give the appearance of legality to their vote of condemnation already taken (Matt. 26:66; Mark 14:64).
The reader will realize that to get the whole picture of the so- called trials of Christ, the testimony of all the four Evangelists must be taken into account. As to the illegality of the trials, the reader is referred to the author's comments on this in his studies in Matthew's gospel.
It will help to read D.M. Panton's summary of the trial of Christ, both under Hebrew and under Roman law. We give an extract:
The Sanhedrin, a court regularly constituted of Israel's shrewdest and most judicial minds, was a tribunal not unworthy of the nation which, alone among all nations, possessed the Law of Jehovah. Yet the amazing trial of Jesus was thick with illegalities. (1) Our Lord was arrested and tried at night: which, on a capital charge, was illegal. (2) The trial was conducted, not in the Hall of Purchase, where the Sanhedrin was regularly convened, but in the private house of the High Priest. This, if not actually unlawful, was highly irregular: it obviously savoured of conspiracy (Mark 14:1,2). (3) The Prisoner was pronounced guilty on the day of the trial: whereas, according to the law of the Sanhedrin, although a prisoner might be acquitted on the same day, he could never be condemned. (4) The Sanhedrin, in appealing to Pilate, dropped the charge of blasphemy, and substituted the charge of treason (Luke 22:2): quashing their own proceedings, they carried an appeal to a higher court on a new and unsubstantiated charge. The trial was thick with illegalities.
But these are technicalities: although establishing a grave presumption against the equity of the Sanhedrin, they are not fatal; it is conceivable that, in spite of technicalities violated, substantial justice might yet be done to a prisoner. We turn therefore to the Trial. Two charges were brought against Christ: the first sedition, the second blasphemy. The charge of sedition was based on an alleged statement threatening the destruction of the Temple. Apart from the fact that Christ never said He would destroy the Temple, but, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19); apart from the fact that it was the re-establishment of a destroyed Temple that He promised, a beneficial act that could hardly be made into a criminal charge; apart also from the fact that the sole reference was to His own body, not to the Temple at all (John 2:21); one crucial fact, so far as the trial is concerned, emerged. The evidence was so conflicting, so obviously suborned, that the charge was quietly dropped: that is, on a point of palpable fact the prosecution breaks down (Mark 14:56,59). Caiaphas now adjures Christ to assert His Sonship of God: which He does. On this answer of Jesus, Caiaphas formulates the charge of blasphemy. Two gross illegalities, invalidating the whole trial, are now committed. (1) Everything, on such a charge, obviously turns on who the Prisoner is: yet the Court never examines the point at all. If Jesus was the Son of God, it was no blasphemy to say so: if He was not, it was. The action of the Sanhedrin would make it impossible for the Messiah ever to come at all without being liable to immediate arrest and destruction for blasphemy. (2) The Law of Moses expressly forbad condemnation, on a capital charge, on the evidence of less than two witnesses (Deut. 17:6): Jesus was condemned to death on none. He was then spat upon and smitten (Matt. 26:67). So, hundreds of years before, Isaiah said, "by oppression and judgment He was taken away" (Isa. 53:8): Micah also, "They shall smite the Judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek" (Mic. 5:1).
The Roman Law has been the foundation of the soundest jurisprudence of the world: yet here again the air is thick with illegalities. Not one of the essentials of Roman law was observed in the trial of Jesus. There was no notice of the trial; no definition of the charge; no invoking of the law whose breach was alleged; no examination of witnesses; no hearing of counsel; no proof of a criminal act; no sentence formally pronounced. Still more amazing, the judge actually acquits the Prisoner whom he delivers to execution. Three times Pilate pronounces the Prisoner "not guilty" (Luke 23:4,15,22), yet each time re-tries Him: whereas under Roman law a prisoner might not be tried twice for the same offence. Three times Pilate pronounces the Prisoner "not guilty": yet over the cross, as the law required, Pilate wrote the charge, and he wrote -- treason. Three times Pilate pronounces the Prisoner "not guilty": yet he orders his soldiers to execute the sentence of "guilty". "Jesus of Nazareth", says a member of the New York Bar, "was not condemned; he was lynched. The martyrdom of Golgotha was not a miscarriage of justice: it was murder"'.
Members of the Sanhedrin asked Christ, 'If you are the Christ (Messiah), tell us' (verse 67). The Lord replied that whatever He said, they would not believe Him. 'Are You the Son of God?' they asked again. He replied, 'You are right in saying I am' (verse 70). The Lord Jesus claims to be Messiah, the Son of Man, the Son of God. 'Ye say' is just a Greek idiom for 'yes'. (Compare Mark 14:62, 'I am', with 'thou hast said' in Matt. 26:64). Then they said, 'Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from His own lips' (verse 71). If Christ is not what He claimed to be, they were right in their rejection of Him. But they were eternally wrong, for He is in truth the Messiah, Son of Man and Son of God. They made their choice and one day must face the Lord Jesus as Judge.