Before the Crucifixion – Matthew 26:36–75

Read the Passage: Matthew 26:36-75

Three Prayers (26:36–56)

Knowing that His crucifixion was only hours away, after observing the Passover, Jesus retreated with His disciples to pray. Their destination was Gethsemane, for “Jesus often met there with His disciples” (John 18:2; cf. Luke 22:39). Note that Christ was aware that Judas was betraying Him (cf. Matt. 26:25; John 13:27); yet, He still went to a known location. Clearly, Jesus was voluntarily laying down His life (cf. John 10:18). Christ then took Peter, James, and John with Him and asked them to pray with Him as He went off to pray, telling them, “My soul is sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38). Jesus was not sorrowful primarily about the anticipated pain of the cross; rather, He was filled with sorrow about the feeling the wrath of God. Paul later taught, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

In Matt. 26:39–46, Christ goes off to pray three times, each time returning to the disciples to find them asleep. Jesus’ prayers to the Father reveal that while He did not revel in the cross, His human will was subject to His divine will. Indeed, there was no conflict within the Trinity in regard to Christ’s atonement (cf. John 4:34; 5:30). Jesus’ response to finding the disciples sleeping is interested. While we might expect Him to sharply rebuke them for their failure to pray, instead we find a gentle rebuke and exhortation to continue to pray. Further, Jesus even seems to identify with the disciples’ desire for rest, as He states, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Certainly, it would have been better for the disciples not to fall asleep; yet, perhaps, by way of illustration, Christ’s reaction here is similar to that of a parent whose child falls asleep in their lap.

In Matt. 26:47–56, Jesus’ betrayal and arrest is narrated, with several events being specified. First, Matthew notes Peter’s errant attempt at defending Christ by trying to decapitate a member of the arresting party (cf. Matt. 26:51–52). We learn from John that this servant was named Malchus (cf. John 18:10) and from Luke that Jesus healed his ear (cf. Luke 22:51). Second, Matthew records Jesus’ teaching, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 22:52). Here Jesus is not speaking against swords per se, rather He is affirming the teaching of capital punishment (cf. Gen. 9:5–6). Third, Matthew reiterates the fact that Jesus was in complete control of the situation, even being able to summon legions of angels if needed (cf. Matt. 26:53). Fourth, Matthew records Jesus twice noting the events then unfolding fulfilled prophesy (cf. Matt. 26:54–56).

Two Witnesses (26:57–68)

After Jesus’ arrest, He was taken to Caiaphas’ house to be tried. John notes that Christ was first taken to the home of Annas, the former high priest. The details of Jesus’ trial are recorded in Matt. 26:57–68. It is interesting that although the religious leaders had earlier “plotted to take Jesus by trickery” (Matt. 26:4), now they “sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none” (Matt. 26:60). As a last resort, Matthew notes that they found two false witnesses who twisted Jesus’ earlier words about the Temple (cf. John 2:19–21). Mark observes that the testimony of these two witnesses did not even agree (cf. Mark 14:57–59). After an interchange with the high priest, Jesus—the great High Priest (cf. Heb. 14:14)—is sentenced to death for claiming to be the Christ, the Son of God. Note that many aspects of Jesus’ trial were illegal under Jewish law.

Three Denials (26:69–75)

At Matt. 26:34 Jesus had prophesied that Peter would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed, which would have been around 3am. At Matt. 26:58, we are told that Peter had followed Jesus into Caiaphas’ home and sat down with the servants. Given that Peter had earlier cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest, this seem like a courageous act. Yet, in Matt. 26:69–75, we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ earlier prediction of Peter’s denials. Matthew records that Peter twice denied knowing Jesus when confronted by a servant girl. Finally, when confronted by several of the servants, Peter “began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!’” (Matt. 26:74). According to Luke, it was at this very moment that Jesus caught Peter’s eye (cf. Luke 22:61). As a result of his betrayal, Matthew notes that Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Matt. 26:75).

Application Questions:

  1. What can we learn from Jesus’ example of praying in the midst of trials? Do you find it easier to pray when you are experiencing blessings or trials?
  2. Why was Jesus sorrowful in the Garden of Gethsemane? Could Christ have made atonement for sin by some methodology other than death on the cross?
  3. Do you find it difficult to read your Bible and/or pray without falling asleep? How can we become better at the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer?
  4. In stopping Peter from defending Him with the sword, was Jesus teaching against all use of weapons for defense (cf. Luke 22:36–38)?
  5. What is the proper reaction when we realize that we have betrayed Jesus? Is there any sin great so as to be unforgivable?