We come the beginning of Mark’s account of the Crucifixion. Each Evangelist has his own perspective on this great event, although a number of general features stand out:-

1.  As Garland states: ‘Each scene in this section—the plotting by the Jewish leaders, the anointing, and the betrayal contract—foreshadows Jesus’ death.’  This ‘was manifestly the most famous death in history. No other death has aroused one-hundredth part of the interest, or been remembered with one-hundredth part of the intensity and concern.’ (Malcolm Muggeridge, Q by Tidball)

2. The death of Jesus features far more largely than would be expected in any conventional biography; so much so, that any of the four Gospels could be described as essentially an account of the crucifixion with an extended preface. Even the ‘extended prefaces’ contain a number of references to and predictions of Jesus’ impending death.

3. At first sight, the four Gospels seem to offer us little by way of interpretation of the crucifixion. True, they recount the events of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial and death in minute detail. But there seems to be little by way of theological reflection or application. To the extent that this impression is accurate, we can explain it by reference to the fact that many of the Epistles of Paul were in circulation by the time that the Gospels were published, and so the doctrine of the atonement was already established; what was missing was one or more authoritative and detailed accounts of the historical facts underlying that doctrine. But, in fact, each of the four Evangelists presents an individual perspective on Christ’s death which certainly reflects very considerable theological insight.

4. Although each of the four accounts of Jesus’ death has its own theological emphases, and therefore its own selection of historical details to bring to our attention, the differences are only such as one would expect from four witnesses each viewing the same event from a slightly difference perspective. Four witnesses in court of the same event would be expected to have noticed different things, and it is precise conformity that would lead to the suspicion of collusion and dishonesty. Tidball illustrates by likening the crucifixion to an act being played out in a public square. From high above, four people each look out of a window and describe what they see. They reports have much in common, but each has his or her own perspective.

The Plot Against Jesus

14:1 Two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the chief priests and the experts in the law were trying to find a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 14:2 For they said, “Not during the feast, so there won’t be a riot among the people.”

The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away – It has been suggested that Mark has confused Nisan 15 with Nisan 14 here, and that Matthew has ‘corrected’ him by omitting the reference to the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Hurtado explains: ‘According to the OT, Passover…is to be observed on the fourteenth day of the month Nisan (in the spring), and the festival of Unleavened Bread is to begin the following day and last for seven days. From ancient times, the two festivals were linked, and either term could refer to the combined period of time.’

Mk 14:1–11 = Mt 26:2–16
Mk 14:1,2,10,11 = Lk 22:1–6

According to Edwards, ‘the reference to the Passover as “two days away” should probably be understood according to the inclusive reckoning of time among the Jews, meaning “the day after” (so, too, Mk 8:31).’

This is not an incidental time marker.  The fact that Jesus’ death took place around the time of Passover is frequently stressed by the Evangelists, and provides a strong theological theme undergirding the narrative: ‘The commemoration of Israel’s rescue from Egypt is the appropriate time for the ultimate act of redemption to occur.’ (France)

‘His death transforms the meaning of Passover for Christians, for they do not remember Passover as the time when God struck down the firstborn in the land of Egypt and liberated Israel from the bondage. Instead, they associate it with God’s beloved Son being struck down to deliver all humankind from the bondage to Satan and sin.’ (Garland)

They plotted to arrest Jesus…and kill him – Cf. Ps 31:13.  ‘A private meeting to plot the execution of a person not yet convicted certainly violated Jewish law. (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

Dickson observes that ‘councils may err, and such as have the title of rulers and elders in the Church may prove enemies to Christ, for such is the assembly of the chief rulers here.’

Evil is plotted behind closed doors.  ‘Jesus was conducting his ministry in public, but opponents were planning behind closed doors. Public works of love made Jesus vulnerable; secret acts of treachery preserved the religious leaders’ public reputations.  Today, Christian workers should know that behind many closed doors, evil plots are developed to overturn God’s kingdom. Opposition is always present, though not always public. Pray for help and wisdom to work through it, and don’t be naive about its intentions. To the forces of evil, you are the enemy.’ (Life Application Bible Commentary)

“But not during the Feast” – a total of 8 days.  Several commentators note the translation of Jeremias: “Not in the presence of the festival crowd”, in which case this is a comment more about place than about time.  Either way, this seems to explain why Judas needed to be enlisted in order to identify Jesus.  He could not be seized in broad daylight, for the reason stated here.  So the evil task would need to be carried out under cover of darkness, with the help of an ‘insider’.

“Or the people may riot” – The population of Jerusalem was (very roughly) 100,000, doubling during Passover.  Many of those attending Passover would have been sympathetic towards Jesus.

Garland explains: ‘The story of Jesus’ being left behind by his parents in the temple (Luke 2:41–44) shows the chaos that resulted from the crush of people. Most of these pilgrims slept in tents or boarded in the towns of the surrounding countryside.’

Passover was, of course, a time when God’s great deliverance of his people from their bondage in Egypt was celebrated.  The Israelites themselves were spared the plague on the firstborn by the daubing of the blood of a slaughtered lamb.  ‘Many in Jesus’ day saw this first deliverance as the model for their final liberation. Pilgrims came to commemorate this event filled with hopes and expectations that the Messiah would eventually come to deliver Israel from foreign oppression and economic misery during the night of Passover.’ (Garland)

‘It was a particularly nervous time for the high priests and their police force since the chance for an outbreak of riots increased dramatically during this time. The Roman governor usually moved to Jerusalem from his headquarters in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast to monitor the volatile mobs of fervent pilgrims. The slightest provocation could set them off, and Josephus duly records the disturbances that broke out during a festival.’ (Garland)

Dickson: ‘Wicked men are wise to foresee temporal inconveniences, but blind to see the danger of sinning, as here.’

Jesus’ Anointing

14:3 Now while Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of costly aromatic oil from pure nard. After breaking open the jar, she poured it on his head.

Mk 14:3–8 = Jn 12:1–8

All four Gospels have a story of anointing (Mt 26:6-13; Mk 14:3-9; Lk 7:36-50; Jn 12:1-9).  Many scholars consider that these all relate to the same incident.  However, Luke’s account comes at an earlier stage in Jesus’ ministry, and takes place in Galilee in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and involves a woman who was a notorious sinner, and is therefore to be regarded as a separate event.  Anointing of honoured guests was common enough for it to be no surprise that Jesus was anointed more than once.

As Lane remarks, ‘the anointing at Bethany is located in a context of opposition, misunderstanding and impending suffering.’ The account is sandwiched between that of the plot to kill Jesus and that of Judas conspiring to betray Jesus. ‘By interpolating the account of the anointing in Bethany within this framework Mark achieved a dramatic contrast. The pure devotion of the anonymous woman throws into bold relief the hostility and treachery of the priests and their accomplice. It is further suggested that, at the time men were concerned with securing Jesus’ death, Jesus’ body was prepared for burial through an act which expressed faith and love.’

While he was in Bethany – Situated on the Mount of Olives, almost two miles from Jerusalem and the last stage of the pilgrim road from Jericho to Jerusalem.  It was home to Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Whereas John has placed his account chronologically (the day before the Triumphal Entry; six days before the Passover), Mark and Matthew appear to have placed it thematically, in order to show up the contrast between the love of this woman and the hatred of those who were plotting to betray and kill Jesus.  The events of Matthew 26:6–13, then, precede those of Mt 21:1ff. In Mt 20:29, Jesus left Jericho, heading toward Jerusalem. Then he arrived in Bethany, where the anointing took place.  The present passage, then, is in he nature of a ‘flashback’ (Wiersbe).

Simon the Leper – See Mk 15:21. Obviously, he did not have leprosy at this time; presumably he had previously suffered from the disease but had recovered (or been healed).  According to John 12:1f Lazarus and his two sisters lived there: it may be that Simon was their father, or that the house had previously belonged to him.

A woman – If this is the same incident that is recorded in Jn 12:1-8, this woman is Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus.  In Mark’s account, however, she is peculiarly anonymous.  Not only are we not told her name, neither are we told if she was a relative of Simon the Leper, an invited guest, or simply (as in Lk 7:37) someone who simply came in from the town.  All of this is even more strange in the light of Jesus’ pronouncement in v9, that this woman will be remembered in perpetuity.  Bauckham explains this in terms of ‘protective anonymity’: the woman had, in effect, anointed Jesus as Messiah, and this complicity with his subversive claims would have placed her in grave danger from the authorities.

Very expensive perfume – According to Mk 14:5 and Jn 12:5, it was worth the equivalent of a working man’s annual salary.  ‘According to Mark 6:37, two hundred denarii would have been sufficient to provide a meal for five thousand people’ (Garland).  Osborne notes: ‘I’ve never even smelled a perfume that expensive!.’

Keener (IVP Bible Background Commentary) says that this perfume would have been imported from the East (India?) and had probably been kept in the family as an heirloom.

Barclay notes: ‘A gift is never really a gift when we can easily afford it; a gift truly becomes a gift only when there is sacrifice behind it, and when we give far more than we can afford.’

If it be thought very surprising for the Messiah to be anointed by a woman, or that Mark’s narrative interprets the gesture in terms of Jesus’ death and burial rather than messianic triumph, then that is probably part of the point: ‘Just as readers of Mark know that Jesus’ riding into Jerusalem on a colt does not signify messianic triumph of the generally expected kind but constitutes a journey to his death, so the messianic anointing by the woman is redirected by Jesus toward his burial, coherently with the characteristically Markan (though not, of course, only Markan) connection between messiahship and the cross.’ (Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses).

She poured [it] on his head – It was not uncommon for honoured guests to be anointed, but not with expensive nard.  According to Mk 14:3, the woman ‘broke the jar’ – a common way of opening it, if all the contents (and not just a few drops) were to be used.  Psa 133:3 paints the resulting picture for us.

14:4 But some who were present indignantly said to one another, “Why this waste of expensive ointment? 14:5 It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor!” So they spoke angrily to her.

The complaint is directed not so much at Jesus, as at the woman.

“This perfume could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor” – On the surface, this objection is consistent with Jewish teaching in general and with Jesus’ teaching in particular (see, for example, Mt 19:21).  France concedes that many readers will ask: ‘How can he call on one rich man to sell all he has in favor of the poor (Mt 19:21) and yet allow this woman to waste a year’s wages on a personal cosmetic?’

Yet, as Osborne states, it shows a lack of perception regarding the nature and importance of this particular moment.  If your daughter is emigrating, you do not take the clothes she is leaving behind to the charity shop while you are still kissing her goodbye.

According to Jn 12:4-6, Judas was the spokesman.  John also explains that Judas did not object because he cared about the poor ‘but because he was a thief: as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.’  Mt 26:15 confirms that he was really only interested in money for himself, not for others.

Dickson observes: ‘One murmurer may infect a whole company; one Judas ensnares in his fault other disciples.’

Hendriksen comments: ‘the disciples did not know the true character of Judas. His criticism of Mary sounded so “spiritual” that they joined him in attacking her.’

Again: ‘Notice that every time Mary sought to do something for Jesus, she was misunderstood. Her sister Martha misunderstood her when Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to hear Him teach the Word. Judas and the other disciples misunderstood her when she anointed Jesus. Her friends and neighbors misunderstood her when she came out of the house to meet Jesus after Lazarus had been buried (John 11:28–31). When we give Jesus Christ first place in our lives, we can expect to be misunderstood and criticized by those who claim to follow Him.’

And again: ‘“Why this waste?” asked Judas when he saw that expensive ointment poured out on Jesus. Yet Judas wasted his opportunities, his life, and his soul! Jesus called him son of perdition (John 17:12) which literally means “son of waste.”’

‘Note, We must take heed of thinking any thing waste, which is bestowed upon the Lord Jesus, either by others or by ourselves. We must not think that time waste, that is spent in the service of Christ, or that money waste, which is laid out in any work of piety; for, though it seem to be cast upon the waters, to be thrown down the river, we shall find it again, to advantage, after many days, Eccl. 11:1.’ (MHC)

They rebuked her harshly – Imagine how she now felt, to have her act of adoration so roundly condemned!

14:6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a good service for me. 14:7 For you will always have the poor with you, and you can do good for them whenever you want. But you will not always have me! 14:8 She did what she could. She anointed my body beforehand for burial.

“A beautiful thing” – ‘a good service’ (NRSV); ‘a good deed’ (NASB)

France says that the term originally meant ‘lovely’, ‘beautiful’, and it may retain some of this aesthetic meaning here (contrasting with the pragmatism of the disciples).

Jesus words recorded in v2 seemed to have impacted two people in particular: this woman, who responded by doing a ‘beautiful thing’ for him, and Judas, whose response was to betray him.  Blomberg cites Stagg, who wonders ‘if Mary and Judas were in fact Jesus’ first two followers really to believe that he was going to die but who then expressed their reactions in diametrically opposite ways.’

Green: ‘Jesus is on his way to die, and he is flanked on one side by hatred and treachery and on the other by adoring love.’

Barclay: ‘At the end of Jesus’ life there was so much bitterness, so much treachery, so much intrigue, so much tragedy that this story shines like an oasis of light [sic – oases don’t shine; beacons do!] in a darkening world.’

So, what was the significance of this act?-

  1. Profound thankfulness, not least for the raising of her brother Lazarus.
  2. Messianic anointing, seen especially as the oil covered Jesus’ head.  ‘The most prominent use of oil in the OT, especially when poured over the head, was for the anointing of kings and priests to mark them out for their divinely-approved office, and the woman’s act may have included a “messianic” connotation; at least the reader is likely to understand it so’ (France).  ‘Jesus has entered Jerusalem as king (11:1–10), he is about to be challenged as the Messiah by the high priest (14:61), crucified as ‘King of the Jews’ (15:26), mocked by his opponents as ‘Christ, the King of Israel’ (15:32), and acknowledged by his executioner as ‘Son of God’ (15:39). Since Mark’s story shows us that it is through death that Jesus is revealed as ‘Messiah’ or ‘anointed’, it seems likely that he interpreted this anointing for burial as the symbol of Jesus’ messianic anointing also.’ (Hooker)
  3. Preparation for burial, seen especially as the oil ran down Jesus’ body.  This the aspect that Jesus specifically comments on.  ‘Whatever the woman’s intention, she has in fact done for him what his executioners will not do, given him the wherewithal for a decent burial.’ (France)

‘Note, It is a great trouble to good people to have their good works censured and misconstrued; and it is a thing that Jesus Christ takes very ill.’ (MHC)

“The poor you will always have with you” – An allusion to Deut 15:11, where the sense is that the poor will always be present, and therefore always in need of help.  Jesus is by no means minimising acts of compassion towards the needy.  He is saying: ‘You can help them at any time.  But the time to honour me is severely limited.’  He does not dispute the fact that he is worthy of this honour.

‘When Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you, he was not acquiescing in the permanence of poverty. He was echoing the Old Testament statement ‘there will always ben poor people in the land’. (Deut 15:11) Ye this was intended not as an excuse for complacency but as an incentive to generosity, as a result of which ‘there should be no poor among you’. (Deut 15:4) If there is one community in the world in which justice is secured for the oppressed, the poor are freed from the indignities of poverty, and physical need is abolished by the voluntary sharing of resources, that community is the new society of Jesus the Messiah. It happened in Jerusalem after Pentecost, when ‘there were no needy persons among them’, as Luke is at pains to show, and it can (and should) happen again today.’ (Stott, New Issues Facing Christians Today, 271f).

‘Jesus understood the reality of poverty in society (Mt 26:9-11) and the difficulties of the poor. (Mk 12:42-44) He stressed the need to give to the poor (Mt 19:21; Lk 12:33) and to provide for them. (Lk 14:13,21) Jesus himself identified with poor people and, like many poor persons, did not have a home. (Lk 9:58) He taught how difficult it was to be rich (Mt 19:23-24) and the necessity of spiritual poverty for a relationship with God.’ (Mt 5:3) (EDBT)

Blomberg remarks: ‘This is an interesting passage indeed after the account of the sheep and the goats in Mt 25:31–46. There helping the (Christian) poor equaled helping Jesus. Here helping Jesus proves better than helping the (unspecified) poor. Varying circumstances make both models possible without contradiction; neither is absolute.’

Garland: ‘In rabbinic logic, almsgiving was considered to be less praiseworthy than burying the dead because the former was done to the living while the latter was extended to the dead. Almsgiving could be done any time; preparing a body for burial had to be done when the need arose. Therefore, one can conclude that what this woman did was better than almsgiving because it was done to one who was as good as dead.’

Barclay comments: ‘There are some things which we can do at any time; there are some things which can be done only once; and to miss the opportunity to do them then is to miss the opportunity for ever.’

‘Sometimes special works of piety and devotion should take place of common works of charity.’ (MHC)

“She did what she could” – She gave what she could.  In contrast, Judas got what he could (Mt 26:15).

‘Not the poorest and humblest of Christ’s loving followers but may, on the principle, rise as high in the esteem of Christ as the wealthiest and those who move in the widest spheres of Christian usefulness.’ (JFB)

The woman may have been present to hear Jesus’ words recorded in v2.  If so, she would have realised that, in being crucified as a criminal he would have been denied decent burial rites.  France says that ‘it is possible that the woman had been there to hear those words and so had consciously planned to make good the lack of due respect to his body, but it is more likely that this is Jesus’ own interpretation of what had been in her intention simply a spontaneous act of love and loyalty.’

She was able to do before his death what other women were unable to do after his death (cf. Lk 24:1).  According to Jn 19:39 Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus used 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes on Jesus’ body.  The fact that Matthew omits both of these details suggests that he regards the present anointing as Jesus’ official preparation for burial (so Osborne).

She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial – We cannot be sure that Mary understood this herself at the time, for no-one seemed to understand Jesus’ predictions of his death and resurrection until after the event.  It is clearly an act of homage, and perhaps of thanksgiving for all that she and her family have received from Jesus, and even of worship.  But Jesus finds in her act a significance beyond what she herself perceives.

‘She thus stands out as the only Gospel figure, male or female, who fully grasps the reality of Jesus’ predictions of his death and who actually gets to prepare his body (since would-be anointing women will find an empty tomb). No wonder Jesus memorializes this woman’s act “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world.”’ (Spencer, DJG, 2nd ed.)

The opinion of Hooker is needlessly sceptical: ‘It is…likely that this comment was added to the story by someone (possibly by Mark himself, since this is for him the key significance of the incident) who saw the woman’s action as a symbolic one, foreshadowing Jesus’ coming death.’

14:9 I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

“Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world” – As Morris says, this is a remarkable saying in its context.  Jesus is about to go to his death, and his ministry would, to all appearances, be shut down, and yet he talks about ‘this gospel’ being ‘preached throughout the world’.

France observes that ‘for Jesus to speak of a continuing proclamation of “this good news” immediately after reflecting on his own impending death must indicate that his death is not the end: if Jesus were to remain dead and buried, where would the “good news” be?’

But what is meant by ‘this gospel’?  Some think that the reference is to the story of the passion, as evoked by this anticipatory act.  Osborne, however, insists that Jesus is referring to the kingdom message in general, as in Mt 24:14.  Yet, Osborne adds, Jesus is also hinting here that ‘that his death and burial will be an essential part of that “good news.”’

‘[The] addition of the word “this” to gospel accentuates the fact that Jesus’ death is part of the gospel.’ (Schenck, DJG 2nd ed.)

Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) notes that the account of the woman’s anointing is sandwiched between Mark’s account of the plot by the Jewish authorities to arrest and kill Jesus (Mk 14:1-2) and his Judas’ visit to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them (Mk 14:10f).  Bauckham suggests that we should see more here that a mere contrast between the woman’s devotion and Judas’ treachery: ‘We should surely understand that Judas reports the incident of the anointing to the chief priests, for whom it must constitute significant evidence that Jesus and his disciples are planning an imminent messianic uprising. Perhaps we should also suspect that it was this incident — with its unavoidable confirmation by Jesus that he will undertake the messianic role only on his own terms as a vocation to die — that led Judas to defect.’

‘It is interesting…to see how firmly the missionary vocabulary of the early Christians, preached, gospel, throughout the world (v13), is rooted in the very words of Jesus.’ (Green)

As Green remarks, ‘nothing done for Jesus is wasted, and nothing forgotten’, and these twin facts ‘nerve disciples to take the cap off their alabaster jars of precious possessions and pour them out for Jesus.’

‘We see in this incident a blessed foretaste of things that will yet take place in the day of judgment. In that great day no honor done to Christ on earth shall be found to have been forgotten. The speeches of parliamentary orators, the exploits of warriors, the works of poets and painters, shall not be mentioned in that day. But the least work that the weakest Christian woman has done for Christ, or His members, shall be found written in a book of everlasting remembrance.’ (Ryle)

Ryle asks: ‘Do we know what it is to work for Christ? If we do, let us take courage, and work on. What greater encouragement can we desire than we see here? We may be laughed at and ridiculed by the world. Our motives may be misunderstood. Our conduct may be misrepresented. Our sacrifices for Christ’s sake may be called “waste,”–waste of time, waste of money, waste of strength. Let none of these things move us. The eye of Him who sat in Simon’s house in Bethany is upon us. He notes all we do, and is well-pleased. Let us be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work, because we know that our labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:58)’

JFB quotes Stier: ‘Who but himself had the power to ensure to any work of man…an imperishable remembrance in the stream of history?  Behold once more here the majesty of his royal judicial supremacy in the government of the world.’

‘Jesus’ commendation of this anonymous woman also reveals that one can never be fully aware of one’s own significance or role in God’s kingdom. The woman had no idea of the worldwide significance of her action, nor did the high priests, Judas, or Pontius Pilate.’ (Garland)

The gospel is the story of Jesus

‘As Jesus beheld in spirit the universal diffusion of His Gospel, while His lowest depth of humiliation was only approaching, so He regards the facts of His earthly history as constituting the substance of this Gospel, and the relation of them as just the “preaching of this Gospel.” Not that preachers are to confine themselves to a bare narration of these facts, but that they are to make their whole preaching turn upon them as its grand center, and derive from them its proper vitality; all that goes before this in the Bible being but the preparation for them, and all that follows but the sequel.’ (JFB)

‘Though the honour of Christ is principally designed in the gospel, yet the honour of his saints and servants is not altogether overlooked. The memorial of this woman was to be preserved, not by dedicating a church to her, or keeping an annual feast in honour of her, or preserving a piece of her broken box for a sacred relic; but by mentioning her faith and piety in the preaching of the gospel, for example to others, Heb. 6:12.’ (MHC)

The Plan to Betray Jesus

14:10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus into their hands. 14:11 When they heard this, they were delighted and promised to give him money. So Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray him.

One of the Twelve – ‘The note that Judas was “one of the Twelve” (Mk 14:10, 20; 3:19) warns Mark’s readers that proximity to Jesus does not guarantee faithfulness. Indeed, greater intimacy with Jesus requires greater watchfulness (Mk 13:33–36). As an insider, Judas knows Jesus better than others do, and his knowledge and familiarity provide him means of justifying a deed for which there is no justification. His betrayal, as a consequence, is more grievous (Mk 14:19) and heinous (Mk 14:21).’ (Edwards)

Nearness to Jesus over a considerable period of time does not guarantee faithfulness to him.

Judas went to the chief priests – They did not seek him out: he sought them out.  Yet we must not forget that all of this was according to God’s fore-ordination: ‘God will suffer wicked men to follow their designs even against himself when he sees it fir for his own glory.’ (Dickson)

‘Note, There are those, even among Christ’s followers, that are worse than any one can imagine them to be, and want nothing but opportunity to show it.’ (MHC)

“Hand him over” – Same expression as in v1 and v20 (where it is translated ‘betray’).

It is precisely Judas, the treacherous betrayer, who is instrumental in causing the crucifixion to occur at Passover (according to divine plan), rather than later (as intended by Jesus’ enemies, cf. v5).

‘Undoubtedly the pact was for Judas to let the leaders know when Jesus was away from the crowds in a private spot so they could arrest Jesus without antagonizing the people…As we know, Judas will find his moment when Jesus leads the disciples late at night to the olive grove of Gethsemane.’ (Osborne)

Ryle observes: ‘Judas Iscariot had the highest possible religious privileges. He was a chosen apostle, and companion of Christ. He was an eye-witness of our Lord’s miracles, and a hearer of His sermons. He saw what Abraham and Moses never saw, and heard what David and Isaiah never heard. He lived in the society of the eleven apostles. He was a fellow-laborer with Peter, James, and John. But for all this his heart was never changed.’

And again: ‘Judas Iscariot made a reputable profession of religion. There was nothing but what was right, and proper, and becoming in his outward conduct. Like the other apostles, he appeared to believe and to give up all for Christ’s sake. Like them he was sent forth to preach and work miracles. No one of the eleven appears to have suspected him of hypocrisy. When our Lord said, “One of you shall betray me,” no one said, “Is it Judas?” Yet all this time his heart was never changed.’

Why this treachery?

Garland muses: ‘Modern readers usually want to know more why Judas betrayed Jesus than why the woman was so generous.’

Judas had spent much time with Jesus.  He had observed his flawless way of life, heard his wonderful teaching, witnessed his amazing miracles.  How could he turn against his Master?  Many commentators think that we cannot know.

The suggestion that Judas was motivated by a desire to force Jesus into action, to precipitate a rebellion and thus to overthrow the occupying Roman forces, is without foundation.

The idea (perpetrated in the 4th-century gnostic Gospel of Judas) that Judas did this at Jesus’ own request, so that he (Jesus’) mission could be completed is still more baseless.

France notes that ‘it has been suggested that while later Christian orthodoxy inevitably saw Judas as simply a traitor, and increasingly demonized him, the original reality may have been more nuanced. One of the more daring of these revisionist interpretations [Klassen] argues that Judas saw himself as the honest broker, arranging a meeting between Jesus and his opponents with the hope that this might result in a constructive dialogue; when this did not in fact happen Judas was horrified at the result of his well-intentioned mediation, and this was the basis for his bitter remorse in 27:3–5.’  Once again, this theory has no basis in the text of any of the Gospels.

But two motives may be discerned, the first implied, and the second actually stated:-

  1. Disappointment.  Blomberg suggests that Judas had grown ‘increasingly disenchanted with the type of Messiah Jesus is proving to be, a far cry from the nationalistic, military liberator the Jews hoped would free them from Roman tyranny.’  For Judas, according to this view, Jesus was the wrong kind of messiah.  Carson says that ‘in Judas’s view Jesus was acting less and less regal and more and more like a defeatist on his way to death. Judas may also have been smarting from Jesus’ rebuke over the anointing of the woman as recorded in Jn 12:4–8.’
  2. Greed.  See Jn 12:6.  This motive is not unconnected with the above.  As France says, ‘Few have been able to believe that so small a sum as 30 denarii (see below) would in itself have been sufficient to buy the loyalty of a man who had invested so much of his own life into the Jesus movement if he was not already disillusioned, and Matthew significantly describes the offer as preceding the agreement of the price.’  Having become disillusioned with the spiritual nature of Jesus’ Messiahship, he ‘decides to recoup what losses he has suffered in following Jesus for three years’ (Wilkins).

But we need to add to this that fact that according to Lk 22:3 ‘Satan entered into Judas’.  This does not excuse him in any way.  But it is reasonable to infer that Judas had, but his own freely-made decisions, left himself open to the Evil One.

The story of Judas’ downfall

The crime of Judas is too apt to be viewed as something exceptional in character and atrocity. But the study of its different stages is fitted to dissipate that delusion.

First, Covetousness being his master-passion, the Lord suffered it to reveal itself and gather strength, by entrusting him with “the bag” (John 12:6), as treasurer to Himself and the Twelve.

Next, in the discharge of that most sacred trust, he began to pilfer, and became “a thief,” appropriating the store from time to time to his own use. Then Satan, walking about seeking whom he might devour, and seeing this door standing wide open, determined to enter by it; but cautiously (2 Corinthians 2:11) – at first merely “putting it into his heart to betray him” (John 13:2), or whispering to him the thought that by this means he might enrich himself, and that possibly, when the danger became extreme, He who had performed so many miracles, might miraculously extricate Himself.

The next stage was the conversion of that thought into thee settled purpose to do it; to which we may well suppose he would be loath to come until something occurred to fix it. That something, we apprehend, was what took place at the house of Simon the leper; from which he probably withdrew with a chagrin which was perhaps all that was now wanted to decide him. Still starting back, however, or mercifully held back for some time, the determination to carry it into immediate effect was not consummated, it would appear, until, sitting at the Paschal supper, “Satan entered into him,” John 13:27; and conscience now effectually stifled, only rose, after the deed, to drive him to despair.

O, what warnings do these facts sound forth to everyone! Could the traitor but be permitted to send a messenger from “his own place” (Acts 1:25) to warn the living-as the rich man in the parable wished that Lazarus might be to his five brethren-with what a piercing cry would he utter these word, “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith.” “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (1 Timothy 6:9-10; 1 Peter 5:8-9; James 4:7.)

(JFB)

The Passover

14:12 Now on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?”
Mk 14:12–26 = Mt 26:17–30; Lk 22:7–23
Mk 14:22–25 = 1 Cor 11:23–25

The question of whether the Passover coincided with the Last Supper on the Thursday (as the Luke and the other Synoptists imply) or with the crucifixion on the Friday (as John seems to teach, Jn 13:1f)) is a difficult one.  Morris thinks that different calendars may have been in use, with the Synoptists using an unofficial one.  Marshall (Last Supper and Lord’s Supper) comes to the same conclusion.  Evans, however, thinks that this proposed solution creates more problems than it solves; he thinks that the apparent discrepancy cannot be resolved.

Stein (NAC) agrees that the accounts of the Synoptists and John cannot readily be reconciled.  He thinks that ‘Luke followed Mark 14:12 at this point and gave a popular, although inexact, dating of the Passover. (A similar example would be for those whose celebration of Christmas begins on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas morning.)’  Stein adds that Josephus dates the Passover in the same kind of way.

Stein adds that ‘it seems reasonably certain that the Lord’s Supper was associated with a Passover meal for the following reasons: the Passover had to be eaten within the walled city of Jerusalem, and the Lord’s Supper was also eaten within the walled city; the Passover evening had to be spent in “greater Jerusalem,” which included the Mount of Olives, but not Bethany, and Jesus and the disciples spent that evening in the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives; Jesus and the disciples reclined at the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:14; Mark 14:18), and this was required at the Passover, whereas at most meals one sat; the Lord’s Supper, like the Passover, was eaten in the evening, whereas most meals were eaten in the late afternoon; the Lord’s Supper ended with hymn (see Mark 14:26), and it was customary to conclude the Passover with Hallel Psalms (Pss 111–117).’

Ryle says, ‘We cannot doubt that the time of our Lord’s crucifixion was overruled by God. His perfect wisdom and controlling power arranged that the Lamb of God should die, at the very time when the passover-lamb was being slain. The death of Christ was the fulfillment of the passover. He was the true sacrifice to which every passover-lamb had been pointing for 1500 years. What the death of the lamb had been to Israel in Egypt, His death was to be to sinners all over the world. The safety which the blood of the passover-lamb had provided for Israel, His blood was to provide far more abundantly for all that believed in Him.’

And the same writer adds, with words that are troublingly relevant in our own day, although written in the middle of the 19th century:-

‘Let us never forget the sacrificial character of Christ’s death. Let us reject with abhorrence the modern notion that it was nothing more than a mighty instance of self-sacrifice and self-denial. It was this no doubt — but it was something far higher, deeper, and more important than this. It was a propitiation for the sins of the world. It was an atonement for man’s transgression. It was the killing of the true passover Lamb, through whose death destruction is warded off from sinners believing on Him. “Christ our passover Lamb,” says Paul, “is sacrificed for us.” (1 Cor 5:7) Let us grasp that truth firmly, and never let it go.’

14:13 He sent two of his disciples and told them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14:14 Wherever he enters, tell the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” ’ 14:15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 14:16 So the disciples left, went into the city, and found things just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

A man carrying a jar of waterIt has been suggested that Mark has blundered in thinking that a man would do women’s work, and that Matthew (Mt 26:18) has ‘corrected’ him.  However, it may be the very unusualness of the man’s (pre-arranged?) behaviour that Mark wishes to emphasise.  Hurtado clarifies: ‘In ancient Palestine, women usually carried water in jars upon the head, while men carried water in skins held in their hands. Thus, this man would have been easy to spot in a crowd.’

Pixner (cited by Edwards) takes Mark’s testimony more seriously, and argues from it that the man may have been an Essene (since that community did not admit women members).  Edwards says that ‘Pixner further argues that the site of the Last Supper was in the Essene Quarter in the southwest corner of Jerusalem (1) because the disciples (being non-Essenes) could not enter the Essene compound (hence the instructions to inquire of “the owner of the house” in v. 14), and (2) because the Essenes, who were known for hospitality (Josephus, War 2.124), could be expected to have a guest room.’  This line of reasoning, although somewhat speculative, is supported by the fact that the traditional site of the Last Supper is adjacent to the reputed Essene Quarter.

Why these secretive arrangements?  Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) suggests that Jesus wished to keep the location of the ‘guest room’ hidden even from the Twelve, since he knew (but the others did not yet know) that Judas had already agreed to deliver him to the chief priests.

It seems clear enough that, in the Synoptics, the Last Supper was a Passover meal.

‘The Passover was not just another meal, but a most important festival.  It must be eaten reclining, and there were requirements such as the eating of bitter herbs.  Thus quite an amount of preparation was necessary.  The meal was not a solitary one, but was eaten in companies usually comprising ten to twenty persons.’ (Morris)

‘Ever since the prediction of the pious Simeon to Mary in the temple when he took up the child Jesus in his arms (Lk 2:24ff), the shadow of the cross fell over the whole of the Gospel history.  The Saviour himself frequently referred to his approaching suffering and death (e.g. Lk 9:22; 18:31).  All four Gospels show us clearly that the death of Christ came to him not as un unexpected or accidental occurrence – he was fully aware that the way of suffering awaited him and he chose voluntarily and of set purpose to lay down his life as a sacrifice, even unto death (Lk 9:51; 18:31-34).  And so we find here in the Gospel narrative that on the even of his crucifixion he makes definite preparation with a view to his death and departure – preparation necessary to the continuing life of hs church o earth.’ (Geldenhuys)

It seems that Jesus had made prior arrangements for the meal.  This shows him to be in control of events, and not at the mercy of the opportunism of Judas.

‘Jesus may not have openly told the location of the upper room due to the presence of Judas, but this is speculative.’ (NAC)

‘There is no reason to assume that the room upstairs (hyperōon) in Acts 1:13 and this upper room (anagaion) were the same.’ (NAC)

‘The better class houses had two rooms. The one room was on the top of the other; and the house looked exactly like a small box placed on top of a large one. The upper room was reached by an outside stair. During the Passover time all lodging in Jerusalem was free. The only pay a host might receive for letting lodgings to the pilgrims was the skin of the lamb which was eaten at the feast. A very usual use of an upper room was that it was the place where a Rabbi met with his favourite disciples to talk things over with them and to open his heart to them. Jesus had taken steps to procure such a room.’ (DSB)

They…found things just as Jesus had told them – ‘Luke probably does not intend his readers to understand any of this as miraculous, but only that in yet another situation Jesus is firmly in control.  Jesus deliberately works out the final details of his ministry.’ (Evans)

‘Jesus is portrayed as an obedient Jew who kept the law and celebrated the Passover. The importance of such behavior has been pointed out in 2:41–52. Thus Theophilus and the other readers were reminded once again that their Christian faith stood in continuity with OT religion.  Yet shortly they would also be reminded that their faith represented a “new covenant” (22:20) that revealed they shared in the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in its fulfilled form.’ (NAC)

14:17 Then, when it was evening, he came to the house with the twelve. 14:18 While they were at the table eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me will betray me.” 14:19 They were distressed, and one by one said to him, “Surely not I?” 14:20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who dips his hand with me into the bowl. 14:21 For the Son of Man will go as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if he had never been born.”

Reclining at the table – Although people sat for ordinary meals, the Passover (and other festive meals) was eaten in the reclining position.  Leonardo’s famous depiction is therefore inaccurate in this respect.

The allusion is to Ps 41:9.

‘Those who in this life reject God will forever be rejected by God. Universalism is the doctrine that, among others, Judas will be saved, but Jesus did not think he would. “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Mk 14:21). How could Jesus have spoken those last words if he had expected Judas finally to be saved?’ (Packer, Knowing God)

‘This verse probes the ineffable tension between the inevitability of sin, on the one hand, and human responsibility for sin, on the other. Humanity is not free to choose not to sin, and yet each sin is freely chosen.’ (James R. Edwards, on Rom 5:12)

The Lord’s Supper

14:22 While they were eating, he took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take it. This is my body.” 14:23 And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 14:24 He said to them, “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many. 14:25 I tell you the truth, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Garland notes that ‘the Last Supper scene contains many allusions to Zechariah 9–14: my blood of the covenant (Mark 14:24/Zech. 9:11); that day, the kingdom of God (Mark 14:25/Zech. 14:4, 9); the Mount of Olives (Mark 14:26/Zech. 14:4); strike the shepherd (Mark 14:27/Zech. 13:7); resurrection and restoration of the sheep (Mark 14:28/Zech. 13:8–9).’

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” – ‘This may be compared to Ex 24:3-8, where Moses, taking the blood of oxen, threw half of it against the altar and half over the people of Israel. In both cases, blood seals a covenant (Heb 9:18; cf. Zec 9:11 and Gen 15:9-18, where animals were killed to seal Abraham’s covenant with God).’ (DBI)

‘Some have been embarrassed by the apparently restrictive nature of this expression. But Jeremias has argued that, according to the pre-Christian Jewish interpretation of it, “the many” were “the godless among both the Jews and the Gentiles.” The expression therefore is “not exclusive (‘many, but not all’) but, in the Semitic manner of speech, inclusive (‘the totality, consisting of many’),” which was “a (Messianic) concept unheard of in contemporary rabbinical thought.”’ (Stott, The Cross of Christ)

Christ’s Death as a Sacrifice

Jesus himself referred to his blood as ‘blood of the covenant’, (Mk 14:24) which points us to the sacrificial rites for its understanding. Indeed, much of the language used in the institution of the Holy Communion is sacrificial, pointing to the sacrifice to be accomplished on the cross. Paul tells us that Christ ‘loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’. (Eph 5:2) On occasion he can refer, not to sacrifice in general, but to a specific sacrifice, as in 1 Cor 5:7, ‘For Christ our paschal lamb (better, passover) has been sacrificed.’ Peter speaks of ‘the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot’, (1 Pet 1:19) which indicates that in one aspect Christ’s death was a sacrifice. And in John’s Gospel we read the words of John the Baptist, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’. (Jn 1:29) Sacrifice was practically the universal religious rite of the 1st century. Wherever men were and whatever their background, they would discern a sacrificial allusion. The NT writers made use of this, and employed sacrificial terminology to bring out what Christ had done for men. All that to which the sacrifices pointed, and more, he had fully accomplished by his death.’ (NBD)

The Lord’s Supper transcends the Passover

Garland comments:-

‘There is a trend in some churches today to have a Passover service the Thursday evening of Holy Week. To my mind, this desire is misdirected and misunderstands the thrust of Mark’s presentation of the Last Supper. Aside from the fact that scholars debate whether Jesus’ Last Supper was a Passover meal, the Passover elements are ignored in Mark’s recounting of the meal. Mark makes no mention of the paschal lamb, the stewed fruit, the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, or the deliverance from Egypt. Because the Passover of Israel is fulfilled in Jesus, the disciples will never need a ritual lamb again. The Lord’s Supper was not celebrated in the early church as an annual ritual, but each Lord’s day. Passover became a metaphor for Christ’s sacrifice (cf. 1 Cor. 5:7). For Christians to celebrate Passover subtly undermines the significance of Christ’s death and the meaning he attached to this meal. In the same way as Jesus’ death abrogated the animal sacrifices in the temple, so the Lord’s Supper has become the festal celebration of all God’s people, both Jews and Gentiles, which transcends the old.’

14:26 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

The Prediction of Peter’s Denial

14:27 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’
14:28 But after I am raised, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Mk 14:27-31 = Mt 26:31-35; Lk 21:31-34; Jn 13:36-38

‘In laying out in advance much of the tragedy of the coming hours, this section shows that Jesus is not a blind victim of fate but a voluntary sacrifice; simultaneously he is preparing his disciples for their dark night of doubt.’ (Carson)

“You will all fall away” – Their flight at the time of Jesus’ arrest is recorded in Mk 14:43-50.  ‘The Greek verb is skandalizein, from skandalon or skandalethron which meant the bait in a trap, the stick on to which the animal was lured and which snapped the trap when the animal stepped on it. So the word skandalizein came to mean to entrap, or to trip up by some trick or guile. Peter was too sure. He had forgotten the traps that life can lay for the best of men. He had forgotten that the best of men can step on a slippery place and fall. He had forgotten his own human weakness and the strength of the devil’s temptations. But there is one thing to be remembered about Peter – his heart was in the right place. Better a Peter with a flaming heart of love, even if that love did for a moment fail most shamefully, than a Judas with a cold heart of hate. Let that man condemn Peter who never broke a promise, who never was disloyal in thought or action to a pledge. Peter loved Jesus, and even if his love failed, it rose again.’ (DSB)

Our Lord foresaw their failure, yet this did not prevent him from choosing them in the first place, or confirming them as apostles afterwards.  So it is with his choice of us: he knows our former blemishes and imperfections, and also our future ones; but still he calls us, and loves us, and uses us in his kingdom.  And just has he has exercised forbearance towards us, let us do the same towards others.

‘Christ knew this before, and yet welcomed them at his table; he sees the falls and miscarriages of his disciples, and yet doth not refuse them. Nor should we be discouraged from coming to the Lord’s supper, by the fear of relapsing into sin afterward; but, the greater of our danger is, the more need we have to fortify ourselves by the diligent conscientious use of holy ordinances.’ (MHC)

“For it is written” – The quotation is from Zec 13:7. ‘But this same chapter of Zechariah ends in a promise of mercy to the tested remnant; and so here, in v28, the Lord ends with yet another prediction of his resurrection, and a joyful reunion in Galilee.’ (Cole)

Hooker thinks that it is probable that this quotation has been added at a later stage to the prediction of the disciples falling away.  However, she does not tell us how she knows this.

‘I will strike the shepherd’ – Whereas in the original of Zech 13:7 this is in the imperative (“Strike the shepherd!”), here the speaker is God himself: God will strike the shepherd.  As Cranfield says, there is no real difference of meaning: ‘for to say that God commands the sword to smite is really the same as saying that God smites’.  Cf. Isa 53:7.  It is this very prospect that Jesus shudders at, in the prayer in the garden.

“After I have risen” – The resurrection has already been predicted four times (Mk 8:31; 9:9; 9:31; 10:34).  But Peter and the others had strenuously objected to the thought of Jesus’ death.  How could they therefore see beyond it to the resurrection, even though Jesus spoke so plainly about it?  So it was in Mk 8:31f, where Peter fixed his attention only on the prospect of death, ignoring that of resurrection.

‘Not one of his disciples seems to have noticed [these words], or treasured them up in his heart. When He was betrayed, they forsook Him. When He was crucified, they were almost in despair. And when He rose again on the third day, they would not believe that it was true. They had heard of it frequently with the hearing of the ear, but it had never made any impression on their hearts.’ (Ryle)

As Lane remarks: ‘The darkness caused in their thoughts by Jesus’ approaching death…deprived them of the light of the triumph which was to follow.’

Let us resolve to store up Scriptural truth, so that in our day of need we will not be overcome by ignorance and disbelief, as the disciples were.

“I will go ahead of you into Galilee” – Either, “I will arrive first”, or, “I will lead you there.”  If the latter, then Jesus intends to resume his role as shepherd (cf. v27).  Cranfield thinks that the former is the more likely meaning.

The angel at the tomb remembers this promise and alludes to Peter’s denial (Mk 16:7). See also Mt 28:16.

Edwards remarks that ‘this promise bears a curious resemblance to Zech 13:7b, which speaks of God’s gathering of his renewed flock as the people of God. Beyond the passion, and in accordance with the Scripture, Jesus sees a renewal and completion of the call to discipleship.’

What a prospect this was, if only the disciples could have realised it at the time: that beyond cruel death and entombment would lie resurrection and reunion!

Mark does not record the fulfilment of this promise.  But Mark’s readers knew that the other parts of this prediction came to pass, and they would have known that this part came to pass also.   This, suggests Garland, is the key to understanding the otherwise puzzling close of the Gospel (Mk 16:8).

Hooker: ‘Not only will Jesus himself be raised; the scattered flock will be brought together again, under their shepherd’s leadership. In spite of their failure, the shepherd will still acknowledge his sheep; this is perhaps the significance of the reference to Galilee, which has been the centre of Jesus’ ministry and their discipleship, in contrast to Jerusalem, the place of suffering. This prophecy remains unfulfilled in Mark’s story. But since Jesus’ other predictions—including those immediately before and after, in vv. 27 and 30—are fulfilled, we may have every confidence that this one will be also. It is confirmed in Mk 16:7.’

14:29 Peter said to him, “Even if they all fall away, I will not!” 14:30 Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, today—this very night—before a rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 14:31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you.” And all of them said the same thing.

Notice once again that Peter ignores Jesus’ clear and emphatic prediction of his resurrection and of his gathering of his disciples.

“Even if all fall away, I will not” – This is not just a rebuke to his Master, but an insult to his fellow-disciples.

Edwards observes that ‘whenever Jesus predicts his passion in Mark, the disciples respond with self-assertion and conceit rather than with humility (Mk 8:31–32; 9:31–34; 10:33–37).’

Impetuous Peter is sure that, though the Lords words might be true of all the others, he himself would remain faithful. Luke adds a further saying and prayer of the Lord, culled, no doubt, from one of the other eyewitnesses, Lk 22:31-32.

But Peter’s boast is vain. His own natural courage would fail him, as it would fail the others.  HIs threefold denial is recorded in Mk 14:66-72.

‘A threefold denial is not a momentary slip of weakness. “Three times” hammers into Peter—and us as readers—how quickly the most noble convictions can wilt before a serious onslaught. It is of no use to protest that we have not committed the sins we self-righteously condemn in others. The question is not what sins we have committed as much as what sins we would commit were we faced with serious pressure, temptation, opportunity, and threat.’ (Edwards)

Peter insisted emphatically – Out of a mixture of real love for Jesus and too much reliance on his own courage.

“Even if I have to die with you” – Jn 13:37 also records Peter as saying that he was ready to die with Jesus.  Far from dying with Jesus, Peter would not even be able to watch and pray, as Jesus asked.

All the others said the same – Peter may have been the first to say it, and to say it most loudly, but the others share in his guilt.  ‘This verse is a reminder that he is a representative of them in all their weaknesses as well as in their spiritual strengths.’ (Cole)

‘In placing the Last Supper between the betrayal and defection of the disciples Mark vividly conveys that “the many” for whom Jesus pours out his life include his own companions around the table. The sin that necessitates the sending of God’s Son is not someone else’s sin—the sin of Caligula or Nero or the legion of tyrants ever since—but the sin of the tenants of his own vineyard, of his own disciples—of Peter and James, of you and me.’ (Edwards)

‘The profession of loyalty made by Peter and his companions…only serves to heighten the completeness of their failure in the impending hour of crisis.’ (Lane)

A warning

We know that Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial was fulfilled.  We also know that the Lord graciously restored Peter, and that he became a tower of strength in the early church.  But a preacher, given the present passage to exposit, might do well not to jump too quickly to what happened afterwards.  It stands as a warning to us all (especially given the emphasis in the passage that all of the disciples – not just Peter – would forsake their Master).

It is, then, a warning about:-

  1. self-confidence (rather than asking for help to withstand the time of testing, Peter simply asserts his ability to deal with it)
  2. arrogance (Peter boasts that he alone has the ability to stand with Christ)
  3. selective hearing (Jesus predicts his resurrection for a fifth time, and yet this appears to have been completely ignored)
  4. fear (of suffering the same fate as Jesus)
  5. shame (of being associated with Jesus)
  6. isolation (Peter would be without support from his companions at the time of this failure)

To be fore-warned is to be fore-armed.   Or, as 1 Cor 10:12 puts it: ‘if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!’

Let’s also be thankful that Jesus restores people after such failure.

Gethsemane

14:32 Then they went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 14:33 He took Peter, James, and John with him, and became very troubled and distressed. 14:34 He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Remain here and stay alert.”
Mk 14:32–42 = Mt 26:36–46; Lk 22:40–46

Hooker, while thinking that this account bears some traces of artificiality (the threefold structure, and the recording of words that no one was awake to hear), nevertheless regards it as historically-based.  It is referred to in Heb 5:7, and there are echoes in Jn 12:27; 14:31; 18:11.  Hooker adds: ‘It is difficult to believe that this scene would have been invented by Jesus’ followers, for the tendency would have been to present him facing death calmly and serenely.’

Cranfield is yet more emphatic: ‘It is inconceivable that the early church would ever have created such a picture of the Lord it worshipped or an episode to discreditable to its leading apostles…The objection that the disciples could not have known what Jesus prayed, as he was away from them and they were asleep, falls to the ground when it is realised that [“a little farther in v35 probably denotes only a few yards and that the narrative need not imply that they had gone to sleep before Jesus had uttered the prayer recorded in vv35f.’

This Gospel has also recorded Jesus in prayer at decisive points at the beginning (Mk 1:35) and middle (Mk 6:46) of his ministry.  The implication is that we should regard all three events as pivotal in Jesus’ mission (Lane).

‘This is a passage we almost fear to read, for it seems to intrude into the private agony of Jesus.’ (DSB)

They went to a place called Gethsemane – A olive orchard at the foot of the Mount of Olives.  It was a place to which Jesus often resorted, and a place well known to Judas, Jn 18:2.  ‘He repairs there, not to shun, but to meet the enemy’ (Flavel).

This happened after supper, and before Judas and the soldiers found him at around midnight.  As Flavel observes, Jesus therefore had two or three hours during which to pour out his soul to his Father.  Flavel adds: ‘It becomes a soldier to die fighting, and a minister to die preaching, and a Christian to die praying.’

Wright invites us to consider how we feel when a person we have regarded as strong suddenly seems weak and vulnerable:- ‘Children face this when the parent on whom they have relied for everything is suddenly struck down with illness or grief. Colleagues working on a project are thrown into confusion if the team leader suddenly loses confidence. A church is dismayed if the pastor or preacher suddenly loses faith, or hope, or integrity.’  Wright adds that we can only imagine what the effect was on the disciples of this sudden change in Jesus’ demeanour.  He has been so much in control; now he seems on the verge of collapse.

He took Peter, James and John along with him – ‘When about to experience great suffering, most people want to have someone with them, to help share the burden. Often in my pastoral ministry, I have sat with people at the hospital, waiting for the surgeon to come with a report. Being perfectly human, Jesus wanted companionship as he faced the cross, and he selected Peter, James, and John, the same men who had accompanied him to the home of Jairus (Mk 5:37) and to the Mount of Transfiguration. (Mk 9:2) These three experiences parallel Php 3:10 “That I may know him Mount of Transfiguration, and the power of his resurrection home of Jairus, and the fellowship of his sufferings Garden of Gethsemane.”‘ (Wiersbe)

This is one of the points of his life at which we see how real were the temptations in the wilderness (cf.Mk 1:12f), and why he rebuked Peter so sternly at the suggested avoidance of the cross, Mt 16:22f.

Why did he take them with him?  Possibly because he desired their support (cf. Mk 3:14), but also because he wanted to help prepare them, as he prepared himself, for what was about to happen.  (So Witherington and others).

Stressing the former of the above reasons, McLeod writes: ‘It is as if he dreaded being alone and begged the simple human comfort of having other people near him: “Please don’t leave me alone.”  There is the fact, too, that he asked them to pray for him.  Nothing could more graphically highlight the reality of the incarnation and the scene of dependence that went along with it.  But neither should we lose sight of the paradox of the Son of God, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth, asking mortals to remember him in their prayers.’ (Christ Crucified, p28)

All three had recently avowed their ability to remain loyal to Jesus and to share in his destiny (James and John – Mk 10:38-40; Peter – Mk 14:29,31).

Hooker observes: ‘Those who have seen Jesus raise the dead (Mk 5:37ff.), witnessed his transfiguration and seen the glory that can be spoken of only after his own resurrection (Mk 9:2ff.), and who have heard his teaching about the suffering and final vindication that await his followers (Mk 13:3ff.), ought to be able to strengthen him as he approaches death.’

Lane remarks that ‘by locating the episode between the prophecy of the desertion (Mk 14:27-31) and it sfulfilment (Mk 14:43-50), Mark emphasised that Jesus had to face his hour of crisis utterly alone.’

‘When about to experience great suffering, most people want to have someone with them, to help share the burden. Often in my pastoral ministry, I have sat with people at the hospital, waiting for the surgeon to come with a report. Being perfectly human, Jesus wanted companionship as he faced the cross, and he selected Peter, James, and John, the same men who had accompanied him to the home of Jairus (Mk 5:37) and to the Mount of Transfiguration. (Mk 9:2) These three experiences parallel Php 3:10 “That I may know him Mount of Transfiguration, and the power of his resurrection home of Jairus, and the fellowship of his sufferings Garden of Gethsemane.”‘ (Wiersbe)

This is one of the points of his life at which we see how real were the temptations in the wilderness (cf.Mk 1:12f), and why he rebuked Peter so sternly at the suggested avoidance of the cross, Mt 16:22f.

He began to be deeply distressed and troubled – ‘The unusually strong language [in this verse and the next] indicates that Mark understood Gethsemane to be the critical moment in Jesus’ life when the full meaning of his submission to the Father confronted him with its immediacy’ (Lane).  He had approached this moment with complete calm and utter resolve (cf. Mk 10:32).  But now the horror hits him with a force that anticipates the cry of dereliction from the cross, Mk 15:34.  ‘Jesus came to be with the Father for an interlude before his betrayal, but found hell rather than heaven opened before him, and he staggered.’ (Lane)

‘Did Christ meet death with such a heavy heart? Let the hearts of Christians be the lighter for this, when they come to die. The bitterness of death was all squeezed into Christ’s cup. He was made to drink up the very dregs of it, that so our death might be the sweeter to us. Alas! there is nothing now left in death that is frightful or troublesome, beside the pain of dissolution, that natural evil of it.’ (Flavel)

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow” – ‘Our Lord’s struggle in the Garden can be understood only in the light of what would happen to him on the cross: he would be made sin for us (2 Cor 5:21) and bear the curse of the Law. (Gal 3:13) It was not the physical suffering that almost overwhelmed him with “anguish and sorrow,” but the contemplation of being forsaken by his Father. (Mk 15:34) This was “the cup” that he would drink.’ (Jn 18:11) (Wiersbe)

There is an allusion here to Ps 42:5,11. But both those verses end in hope, making Christ’s declaration one of faith, not despair. (So it is with the cry of dereliction, Mk 15:34; this quotes Psa 22 which again ends on a note of triumph.

‘The fact that God the Son took a human psychology means that he experienced the whole range of human emotions. He knew, for example, the emotions of joy and contentment. Although we are never told that Jesus laughed it would be quite wrong to regard him as living a life of gloom and despondency. His delight was to do the will of God. (Ps 40:8) The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy and peace. (Gal 5:22) Contentment is commanded by God. (Php 4:6) We have every reason to believe that Christ was at peace with himself, with his environment and with God. Nevertheless, he was no stranger to the darker side of our human emotions. He felt the sorrow of bereavement at the tomb of Lazarus (and probably earlier, on the death of his father, Joseph). In Gethsemane he was ‘sore amazed’. He was afraid. He did not simply peripherally experience those emotions. He experienced them in horrendous depth. He was very heavy. He was sorrowful, ‘even unto death’. In Gethsemane he was literally so terrified of the imminent encounter between himself as the Sin-bearer and God in his holiness that he shrank from ‘this cup’ (even though he knew it was the will of God) with a horror that exceeds any horror that we have ever known. Emotionally, he went to the outer limits of human endurance, so close to the absolute limit that he was almost overwhelmed. Christ was no stoic or robot. The lesson for ourselves is priceless. We are not called upon to be ashamed of emotion, or of its expression in tears. The Son of God understands and legitimises our emotional pain.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

Luther: ‘No one ever feared death so much as this Man’.  But why, given that so many martyrs have faced death with equanimity or even joy? Part of the answer is that Jesus was tormented by Satan in a very intense way in the garden.  According to Lk 4:23, ‘when the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.’  Now, surely, was Satan’s ‘opportune time’ (cf. Jn 12:31).  As Cranfield says: ‘In the wilderness Jesus had been tempted by Satan to deviate from his appointed way as the Servant and he had resisted and returned blow for blow.  Now in the garden Satan returns in force and in all his majesty as the prince of this world, to avenge his earlier defeat; and Jesus sees now in appalling immediacy the full cost of his stedfast obedience.’  (For the principal reason behind Jesus’ extreme distress, see v36 and the comments there).

There is an allusion here to Ps 42:5,11. But both those verses end in hope, making Christ’s declaration one of faith, not despair. (So it is with the cry of dereliction, Mk 15:34; this quotes Psa 22 which again ends on a note of triumph.

‘The fact that God the Son took a human psychology means that he experienced the whole range of human emotions. He knew, for example, the emotions of joy and contentment. Although we are never told that Jesus laughed it would be quite wrong to regard him as living a life of gloom and despondency. His delight was to do the will of God. (Ps 40:8) The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy and peace. (Gal 5:22) Contentment is commanded by God. (Php 4:6) We have every reason to believe that Christ was at peace with himself, with his environment and with God. Nevertheless, he was no stranger to the darker side of our human emotions. He felt the sorrow of bereavement at the tomb of Lazarus (and probably earlier, on the death of his father, Joseph). In Gethsemane he was ‘sore amazed’. He was afraid. He did not simply peripherally experience those emotions. He experienced them in horrendous depth. He was very heavy. He was sorrowful, ‘even unto death’. In Gethsemane he was literally so terrified of the imminent encounter between himself as the Sin-bearer and God in his holiness that he shrank from ‘this cup’ (even though he knew it was the will of God) with a horror that exceeds any horror that we have ever known. Emotionally, he went to the outer limits of human endurance, so close to the absolute limit that he was almost overwhelmed. Christ was no stoic or robot. The lesson for ourselves is priceless. We are not called upon to be ashamed of emotion, or of its expression in tears. The Son of God understands and legitimises our emotional pain.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

“Keep watch” – This recalls the parable of the door-keeper, which had just been told, Mk 13:34-37.

14:35 Going a little farther, he threw himself to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour would pass from him. 14:36 He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

He fell to the ground – Although in ancient times it was usual to pray standing, such prostration indicates extreme anguish, cf. Num 16:22.

And prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him – This takes us deep into impenetrable mysteries of the divine will.  ‘The hour’ has apocalyptic overtones: ‘for “the hour” is one appointed and determined by God, and indeed usually refers to the hour of the consummation of God’s final judgment (Dan. 11:40, 45 LXX).’ (Witherington)

The ‘hour’ of God’s destiny is paralleled in the next verse by the ‘cup’ of God’s wrath.

An open future?

Greg Boyd (God of the Possible) finds here an ‘impressive example of the Lord speaking about the future in open terms.’  Boyd notes: ‘If anything was fixed in the mind of God ahead of that time, it was that the Son of God was going to be crucified. Indeed, Jesus himself had been teaching this very truth to his disciples (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; John 2:19). This makes it all the more amazing that Jesus makes one last attempt to change his Father’s plan “if it is possible.” The prayer reveals that in the mind of Jesus there was at least a theoretical chance that another course of action could be taken “at the eleventh hour.” It was not possible, of course, so Jesus was crucified. Yet this doesn’t negate the fact that Jesus’ prayer presupposes that divine plans and possible future events are, in principle, alterable. In short, Jesus’ prayer evidences the truth that the future is at least partly open, even if his own fate was not.’  See this article by Charles L. Quarles.

Boyd undermines his own argument, however, when he concedes that it was not possible for the Father’s plan to be changed.  What Jesus is, in fact, praying is: “I would avoid going through with this if it were possible for me to do so.”  Contrary to what Boyd suggests, this passage has no bearing on whether God does, in fact, change his plan.

Commenting on Luke’s parallel, Marshall says: ‘The effect of the saying is that Jesus, facing the temptation to avoid the path of suffering appointed by God, nevertheless accepts the will of God despite his own desire that it might be otherwise. He does not seek to disobey the will of God, but longs that God’s will might be different.’

John Flavel comments that (a) this was not an absolute prayer, but a conditional one (“…if possible…”); (b) Christ was acting according to his human nature, ‘simply expressing and manifesting in this request the reluctance it had at such sufferings, wherein he showed himself a true man, in shunning that which is destructive to his nature’; (c) there was much good in it: for this anguish was part of his suffering for our sin, and it provides clear evidence ‘that he was in all things made like unto his brethren, except sin.’

Whatever we make of Christ’s ‘two natures’ (see Flavel’s second point, above), we can agree that Jesus’ natural inclination was to avoid the test that he was facing.

Similarly, Garland explains that Jesus’ prayer is consistent with faith and obedience towards his Father: ‘Jesus trusts completely in God as his Father and is completely obedient. He also confesses God’s omnipotence in his prayer to be spared suffering. His prayer does not try to run counter to the Father’s purpose but explores the limits of the purpose without trying to burst its bounds. Might there be another way? Might he escape the horrifying cup?’

Witherington asks, ‘Why does Jesus ask for this reprieve?’  Was it simply that he was afraid?  ‘Two clues suggest another interpretation, one here and one at the scene on the cross. Here there is the reference to the “cup,” that is, the cup of God’s wrath. At the cross Jesus speaks of being God-forsaken. It is, then, not so much the suffering itself that Jesus shrinks from, but rather facing abandonment by the one he has known as Abba all this time, and even more daunting, facing the wrath, the judgment of God on the cross. He dreads, as any human would, undergoing such judgment and punishment.’

‘Jesus’ prayer of lament follows a well-known pattern of lament found in the Psalms (see Pss. 13:1–3; 22:1–21; 31:1–24; 40:11–13; 42:5, 9–11; 43:1–2, 5; 55:4–8; 61:1–3; 116:3–4). Senior notes that in the Jewish lament, one’s prayer is not “fully controlled, or strained with politeness. In a rush of emotion, complaint, and even recrimination, the believers pour out their hearts to God.” Prayers asking God to have a change of mind are not considered insubordinate but actually exude trust that God listens to prayer and grants requests that can be reconciled “with overall Providence.”’ (Garland)

Hooker notes that there are echoes of the Lord’s Prayer here (even though the prayer itself is not found in Mark’s Gospel): ‘Father … not my will, but yours … pray that you do not fall into temptation.’

Abba – The only occurrence of this word in the gospels.  Rom 8:13; Gal 4:6 clearly indicate that we may use the same intimate expression in our own prayers.

‘An Aramaic word, in the emphatic state, meaning ‘father’. The word passed into Hebrew, and occurs frequently in TB, where it is used by a child to its father and also as a style of address to rabbis. The term conveyed both a sense of warm intimacy and also filial respect; but in Jewish circles it has never been a form of address to the Almighty.

In the NT the word occurs 3 times, transliterated into Greek; in each instance it is a vocative, addressed to God, and the Greek equivalent is appended. (Mk 14:36; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6) It appears that the double phrase was common in the Greek-speaking church, where its use may well have been liturgical. (The Lord’s Prayer in its Aramaic form probably began with ‘abba.)

It appears that it was Jesus who first applied the term to God, and who gave authority to his disciples to do so. Paul sees in its use a symbol of the Christian’s adoption as a son of God and his possession of the Spirit.’ (NBD)

‘”Father” was Jesus’ favorite term for addressing God. It appears on his lips some sixty-five times in the Synoptic Gospels and over one hundred times in John. The exact term Jesus used is still found three times in the New Testament (Mk 14:36; Rom 8:15-16; Gal 4:6) but elsewhere the Aramaic term Abba is translated by the Greek pater pathvr. The uniqueness of Jesus’ teaching on this subject is evident for several reasons. For one, the rarity of this designation for God is striking. There is no evidence in pre-Christian Jewish literature that Jews addressed God as “Abba.” A second unique feature about Jesus’ use of Abba as a designation for God involves the intimacy of the term. Abba was a term little children used when they addressed their fathers. At one time it was thought that since children used this term to address their fathers the nearest equivalent would be the English term “Daddy.” More recently, however, it has been pointed out that Abba was a term not only that small children used to address their fathers; it was also a term that older children and adults used. As a result it is best to understand Abba as the equivalent of “Father” rather than “Daddy.”‘ (EDBT)

‘Jesus’ acknowledged intimacy with God (“Abba,” Mk 14:36) highlights a…theme…which gives clearer definition to the intended meaning of the “cup” in Mk 14:36. As Feldmeier has seen, Gethsemane functions as the crisis in the passion narrative, indeed in the life of the Son of God. Here, for the first time, Jesus experiences the silence of God, a divine estrangement that comes to expression finally in Jesus’ cry of dereliction from the cross (Mk 15:34). Gethsemane, then, does not so much demonstrate Jesus’ anguish in the face of death as his fear of being abandoned by God. The humanity of Jesus could hardly be emphasized more acutely.’ (J.B. Green, DJG)

Harper’s Bible Commentary notes ‘the paradox of one who, when faced by the apparent victory of sin and violence, and whose prayer was not answered, could yet address God with an affirmation of familial trust and love as Abba (Aramaic, “father”; cf. Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:15).’

‘He is still able to call God “Abba”, still conscious of the special filial relationship and of Abba’s affection, goodwill and approbation.  This should remind us that for all its darkness Gethsemane is not yet the darkness.  It is but the shadow of Calvary.  At the last there will be no “Abba”, but only the almost despairing “Eloi“.’ (MacLeod)

“Everything is possible for you” – Again, this should not be understood as supporting the theory of ‘open theism’.  Of course, everything is possible for an omnipotent God, but this does not mean he changes his plan in response to unforeseen circumstances.  Mk 8:31 records Jesus as insisting that ‘the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.’  See this article by Charles L. Quarles.

“Take this cup from me” – The ‘cup’ is a symbol of a deeply-felt experience, whether of joy or suffering. Here, of course, it is the latter. But more than this, we are reminded of OT symbolism of the cup of God’s wrath, prepared for God’s enemies, but now to be drunk by Christ.  See Psa 60:3; Isa 51:17,22.

‘The metaphor of the cup indicates that Jesus saw himself confronted, not by a cruel destiny, but by the judgement of God.’ (Lane)

‘The Old Testament prophets speak darkly about the ‘cup of YHWH’s wrath.’ These passages talk of what happens when the one God, grieving over the awful wickedness of the world, steps in at last to give the violent and bloodthirsty, the arrogant and oppressors, the reward for their ways and deeds. It’s as though God’s holy anger against such people is turned into wine: dark, sour wine which will make them drunk and helpless. They will be forced to ‘drink the cup,’ to drain to the dregs the wrath of the God who loves and vindicates the weak and helpless. The shock of this passage is that Jesus speaks of drinking this cup himself.’ (Wright, Matthew for Everyone)

This expression suggested the main reason for Jesus’ extreme distress (see also v24 and the comments there).  ‘In his identification with sinful men he is the object of the holy wrath of God against sin, and in Gethsemane as the hour of the Passion approaches the full horror of that wrath is disclosed’ (Cranfield).

It is almost as if he is saying, “I know we have been planning this from before time began.  But could we check just one more time that there is no other way?”

“Yet not what I will, but what you will” – our Lord had such personal authority, and yet his earthly life was conducted in complete submission to the will of his Father. This obedience was completed when he gave himself up to death, Php 2:8.

‘How strong was his temptation to say “amen” after “take away this cup from me,” rather than go on to “nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (KJV), we shall never know.’ (J.I. Packer, Knowing God)

Contra Calvin, we should not understand our Lord’s words as meaning that ‘he corrects and recalls that wish that had suddenly escaped him.’  No: the prayer had been as obedience as it had been sincere, but it was a request and not a demand.

‘We aim at God’s glory, when we are content that God’s will should take place, though it may cross ours. Lord, I am content to be a loser, if thou be a gainer; to have less health, if I have more grace, and thou more glory. Let it be food or bitter physic if thou givest it me. Lord, I desire that which may be most for thy glory. Our blessed Saviour said, ‘Not as I will, but as thou wilt.’ Mt 26:39. If God might have more glory by his sufferings, he was content to suffer. Jn 12:28. ‘Father, glorify thy name.’ (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity)

It was the will of the Lord to bruise him (Isa 53), and the outcome of this time of prayer was that Jesus accepted the Lord’s will for himself.  He endured this suffering not on his own account, but on ours.  God’s wrath fell on him, that it might not fall on us.  But our Saviour’s anguish shows what a terrible thing it must be to fall into the hands of the living God: ‘if it staggered him, it will confound you.’ (Flavel)

The necessity of the atonement

‘We may be confident that Jesus always prayed according to the will of the Father, and that he always prayed with fullness of faith. Thus it seems that this prayer, which Matthew takes pains to record for us, shows that it was not possible for Jesus to avoid the death on the cross which was soon to come to him (the “cup” of suffering that he had said would be his). If he was going to accomplish the work that the Father sent him to do, and if people were going to be redeemed for God, then it was necessary for him to die on the cross.’ (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p569)  Cf. Lk 24:25f.

‘You know it is some relief if a man can pour out his complaint into the bosom of a faithful friend, though he can but pity him; how much more to pour out our complaints into the bosom of a faithful God, who can both pity and help us.’ (Flavel)

Heaven’s silence

Garland remarks: ‘In Gethsemane, Jesus meets the dreadful silence of heaven. There is no reassuring voice from heaven proclaiming, “This is my Son, whom I love.” No dove descends; no ministering angels come to serve him. God has already spoken, and his Son must obey. Jesus overcomes the silence, fights off the human temptation to do as he wills, and through prayer acquiesces to God’s will. He will not try to evade the cup either by slipping away in the dark or by resorting to violence. He will accept the nails of the cross as he accepted the stones of the desert.’

14:37 Then he came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you stay awake for one hour? 14:38 Stay awake and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 14:39 He went away again and prayed the same thing. 14:40 When he came again he found them sleeping; they could not keep their eyes open. And they did not know what to tell him. 14:41 He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough of that! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Cranfield observes: ‘The only answer Jesus receives to his prayer is the hard answer of events.’

‘Even at this delicate point in the narrative [Mark] does not relinquish his unrelenting criticism of the three ‘leaders’!’ (Myers, cited by Witherington)

Why was Jesus so concerned that his disciples should stay awake?

Why pick on Peter?  If all three were sleeping, why does Jesus first address Peter individually, and only after that address them all (in v38)?  The answer is probably connected to Jesus’ prediction that Peter would deny him, Mk 14:30, and Peter’s protestation that he would remain loyal, v31.  The narrative is preparing us for the fact that his disloyalty would, in some ways, be greater than that of the other disciples, Mk 14:54,66-72.  As Bauckham writes: ‘In view of the fervency of Peter’s assertion of loyalty to Jesus (Mk 14:31), his falling asleep in Gethsemane, though typical of the disciples, is especially notable in his case, and prepares the way for the narrative in which his disloyalty to Jesus exceeds that of the other disciples, when he denies Jesus (Mk 14:54, 66–72).’

This is now a plural address to all three disciples.

E.M Bounds has this reminder for preachers: ‘Even sermon making, incessant and taxing as an art, as a duty, as a work, or as a pleasure, will harden and estrange the heart by neglect of prayer from God. The scientist loses God in nature. The preacher may lose God in his sermon.’

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’

A German student, attempting to translate this verse into English, rendered it as ‘The ghost is willing but the meat is soft’! (Anthony Castle, Quotes and Anecdotes)

“The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” – Witherington thinks that ‘spirit’ refers to the Holy Spirit, making the meaning: ”The Spirit is eager, but (human) flesh is reluctant’  More likely, however: ‘“Flesh” in biblical thought describes the whole person as blind to God and driven by selfish concerns (Rom. 7:5; Gal. 5:17-21); “spirit” is the person as alive to God (Rom. 8:1-17; Gal. 5:22-26).’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary).

Reiterated prayer

This was, as Flavel remarks, ‘a reiterated prayer’:  ‘O how he returns upon God over and over, as if he resolved to take no denial! But, however, considering it must be so, he sweetly falls in with his Father’s will, Your will be done.’  The fact that our Lord returned to his Father with the same plea teaches us that ‘Christians should not be discouraged, though they have sought God once and again, and no answer of peace comes.’

Christ’s wish was not granted, even after repeated askings.  What he was given was strength to bear his suffering.  So, when we have sought good things from God and have not received them, this does not mean that he has failed to hear our request, nor that he has turned his back on us, or that he is angry with our prayers, or that we must conclude that the seed of prayer will remain ever hidden in the soil.  No: although the answer may be delayed, it will come; and though it may not come in the form that we asked for or expected, it will be in the form that will serve both God’s glory and our good. (Flavel)

In Christ’s case, reiterated prayer argues earnest prayer.  Listen to Flavel again: ‘his fervor in prayer is a pattern for us, and serves severely to rebuke the laziness, dullness, torpor, formality, and stupidity, that are in our prayers. How often do we bring the sacrifice of the dead before the Lord! how often do our lips move, and our hearts stand still! O how unlike Christ are we! his prayers were pleading prayers! full of mighty arguments and fervent affections. O that his people were in this more like him!’

“Enough!” – Hooker says that this (ἀπέχει) is an obscure word.  If ‘enough’ is the correct translation, then the meaning may be, ‘enough of this sleeping’.  Alternatively, Jesus may mean that he has accepted the ‘cup’ his Father has offered, and does not have the same need for his friends to watch and pray with him.

“The hour has come.  Look the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” – Evidently, the answer to his thrice-uttered prayer for rescue was “No”.  As Wright comments: ‘If even Jesus received that answer to one of his most heartfelt prayers, we should not be surprised if sometimes it’s that way for us too.’  He emerges from his struggle once more in control of himself and his destiny.

14:42 Get up, let us go. Look! My betrayer is approaching!”

Let us go! – According to Cranfield, the underlying word may be translated ‘Forward!’ or ‘Let us advance to meet them!’

Facing death

‘Like every human who has lived, Jesus experiences imminent death as an alien force imposed from outside, not to be loved or accepted in itself, but only in terms of some higher vision. As he spoke earlier with assurance of the power of prayer (11:24-25; cf. 14:36, “all things are possible”), he prays now that God will remove the cup of suffering (with overtones of the cup of God’s wrath, Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15; Ps. 75:7-8).’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

The shadow of Calvary

Gethsemane: a place of

(a) anguish (to the point of death)
(b) loneliness (his companions sleep through it)
(c) prayer (though no answer is heard)
(d) trust (“Abba”)
(e) submission (“Not my will, but yours”).

In some ways Jesus’ followers may pass through similar experiences.  In other ways, however, this is utterly unique, a prelude to his once-for-all work of atonement.

Betrayal and Arrest

14:43 Right away, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived. With him came a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and experts in the law and elders. 14:44 (Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I kiss is the man. Arrest him and lead him away under guard.”)
Mk 14:43–50 = Mt 26:47–56; Lk 22:47–50; Jn 18:3–11

A crowd – Probably a force sent by the Sanhedrin since the three categories of members of that body are mentioned.

“Kiss” – A sign of respect from a disciple to a rabbi.

14:45 When Judas arrived, he went up to Jesus immediately and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 14:46 Then they took hold of him and arrested him.
14:47 One of the bystanders drew his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, cutting off his ear. 14:48 Jesus said to them, “Have you come with swords and clubs to arrest me like you would an outlaw? 14:49 Day after day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, yet you did not arrest me. But this has happened so that the scriptures would be fulfilled.”

One of those standing near – An odd way to speak of one of the Twelve, and yet the context determines that this was very likely to have been one of the disciples.  This may well be an example of what Bauckham (following Theissen) calls ‘protective anonymity’.  As long as the slave was alive (and possibly sporting a scar) it would have been dangerous to mention names, or even to make it clear that the culprit was one of the disciples.  According to Theissen, these circumstances also help to pin-point the location of Mark’s passion tradition (as Bauckham says, ‘only in Jerusalem was there reason to draw a cloak of anonymity over followers of Jesus who had endangered themselves by their actions’), and also the approximate date (somewhere between AD 30 and 60 – (that is, within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses).

‘The function of Scripture in the passion narrative would also suggest that Jesus was understood in terms of the righteous sufferer. There are three principal allusions or citations: the dividing and casting lots for Jesus’ clothing (Mk 15:24; cf. Ps 22:18); the cry of abandonment (Mk 15:34; cf. Ps 22:1); and the giving of vinegar to drink (Mk 15:36; cf. Ps 69:21). Although it is possible that these allusions are not to be understood as fulfillments of Scripture, since after all not one is introduced as a fulfillment (compare Matthew and John), the earlier declaration, “Let the Scriptures be fulfilled,” (Mk 14:49) uttered at the moment of the arrest, probably requires that they be so understood.’ (DJG)

14:50 Then all the disciples left him and fled.
14:51 A young man was following him, wearing only a linen cloth. They tried to arrest him, 14:52 but he ran off naked, leaving his linen cloth behind.

These two verses seem at first sight to be irrelevant. Although Matthew and Luke between them included in their Gospels almost everything that Mark had written, they do not include this little incident. This fact leads us to suppose that it was of specific interest to Mark himself. Some think that Mark is referring to himself. This is his way of saying, “I was there,” without mentioning himself by name.  Zahn suggests that Mark ‘paints a small picture of himself in the corner of his work.’  Another has likened it to ‘the fleeting appearance of Alfred Hitchcock in his films.’

We learn from Acts 12:12 that the meeting place of the Jerusalem church was in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. It possible that the upper room in which the Last Supper had been eaten was in the same place. Nothing could be more natural. So, it is possible that Mark was present during the Last Supper, and followed the company into the Garden of Gethsemane (slipping out when he should have been in bed, covered only by a linen sheet). This would explain how Mark knew about the travails of Jesus in the garden, when the disciples were all asleep.

The above is a summary of DSB, which suggests an alternative scenario: ‘From John’s narrative we know that Judas left the company before the meal was fully ended. (Jn 13:30) It may be that it was to the upper room that Judas meant to lead the Temple police so that they might secretly arrest Jesus. But when Judas came back with the police, Jesus and his disciples were gone. Naturally there was recrimination and argument. The uproar wakened Mark. He heard Judas propose that they should try the garden of Gethsemane. Quickly Mark wrapped his bed-sheet about him and sped through the night to the garden to warn Jesus. But he arrived too late, and in the scuffle that followed was very nearly arrested himself.’

However, no ancient precedent has been found for such a practice of a writer thus identifying himself, and so some regard the above as doubtful.  Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) suggests that it could be Lazarus, and there were reasons enough for ‘protective anonymity’ in his case.  Barbara Saunderson has conjectured that this young man was the source, not only of the account of his own flight, but also of the preceding account of the events in Gethsemane.  After all, the majority of the disciples were out of earshot at that time and the inner group of three was asleep.

Condemned by the Sanhedrin

14:53 Then they led Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests and elders and experts in the law came together.

Mk 14:53–65 = Mt 26:57–68; Jn 18:12,13,19–24

Carson thinks it quite possible that the well-to-do Caiaphas lived in a home built in a square shape around a central courtyard.  He may have lived in one wing, with the Sanhedrin meeting in another wing.  It would take very little time from move from one to the other.

Mk 14:53-15:47 This section has been described as a description of the coronation of the King. ‘The early church liked to think of Jesus as ‘Christ the King’. They spoke of his royal robe of purple, his crown of thorns, his sceptre of cane, the acclamation by the soldiers, the placard on the cross and the words of Pilate. All this must have been in Mark’s mind too, from the way that he arranges his material. Was he thinking of the crowning of a Caesar in imperial Rome as he described a king who was greater still?’ (NBC)

‘This meeting was acting as a preliminary ‘court of enquiry’. According to the Jewish laws drawn up over a century later, and perhaps already in force, the full Sanhedrin was not legally allowed to meet till daybreak (15:1), nor could it meet in the high priest’s house, nor could it try and condemn within the same day. If the trial before Pilate was unjust, the trial before the Sanhedrin was irregular. This would have heartened persecuted Christians of Roman times, who knew that their trial and condemnation were equally unjust. If Christ endured, so could they.’ (NBC)

The high priest – identified as Caiaphas by the other Evangelists (Matt 26:57; Luke 3:2; John 18:13-14, 24).  Why is he not named by Mark?  Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) observes that Caiaphas was son-in-law of Annas, and several other members of this family were high priests down to AD 42, and the family remained influential after that.  Bauckham says: ‘It seems to have been primarily this highpriestly family that followed up its action against Jesus by persecuting Jesus’ followers, the Jerusalem Christian community, in the succeeding period.  Annas’s son Ananus II was responsible for the execution of James, Jesus’ brother and leader of the Jerusalem church, in 62. The power of the house of Annas and their hostility to Christians would have made it diplomatic for Christian traditions formed in Jerusalem in that period not to refer explicitly to the name of Caiaphas in an account of the death of Jesus.’

14:54 And Peter had followed him from a distance, up to the high priest’s courtyard. He was sitting with the guards and warming himself by the fire.

‘Given Peter’s violent act in the garden (John 18:10), some have questioned whether the temple police would really allow him to enter the high priest’s courtyard and then sit in their midst while Jesus was interrogated. However, it was dark in the garden, which may have prevented the temple police from discerning who among the press of disciples had struck the servant. Recall that the guard relied on Judas to identify Jesus (Mark 14:45), and so it is apparent that Jesus and his disciples were not very familiar to the arrest party and/or were not easily recognized in the dark conditions of the garden. Furthermore, Jesus immediately healed the servant’s ear (Luke 22:51), a miracle that likely drew attention away from Peter’s assault.’ (Holman Apologetics Commentary)

14:55 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find anything. 14:56 Many gave false testimony against him, but their testimony did not agree. 14:57 Some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 14:58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands and in three days build another not made with hands.’ ” 14:59 Yet even on this point their testimony did not agree.

When people want to believe something, they will readily twist or even invent ‘evidence’ in order to justify their verdict.

So that they could put him to death – Whatever the status of this ‘court’ (and, in any case, it did not have the authority to order an execution) it was thoroughly prejudiced.

‘False witnesses are still easy to buy today, in many parts of the world. In some places they wait outside the courts, along with the ‘petition-writers’, who help, for a fee, those who cannot read and write themselves.’ (NBC)

“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands and in three days build another not made with hands.’ ”

Undesigned coincidence?  Mark (and, in a different context, Mt 27:38-40) record a reference to something Jesus was previously alleged to have said.  But it is John 2:18-22 which records the original saying.

‘The priests could only find Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple and his saying (not recorded in Mark) that he would rebuild it in three days (see Jn 2:19) to use against him. Jesus’ words about the temple were a reference to his coming resurrection and the new spiritual temple (his body, the Christian church) that he was about to build. Understood literally, however, they constituted a verbal threat to God’s temple, which was a very serious offence indeed.’ (NBC)

‘Mk. 14:53-65 describes an appearance of the prisoner before an assembly of ‘all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes’, (Mk 14:53) under the presidency of the high priest. The gravamen of the charge is the witnesses’ statement that Jesus had prophesied the destruction of the Jerusalem sanctuary (cf. Mk 13:2; Acts 6:13-14) and the establishment of a new temple. The claim to be the builder of a new temple seems to be the equivalent to the claim to Messiahship, according to contemporary Jewish expectation. But it was the new temple of his body, the church, (Jn 2:19; 1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:21) that he had in view.’ (NBD)

14:60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is this that they are testifying against you?” 14:61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest questioned him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” 14:62 “I am,” said Jesus, “and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Mk 14:61–63 = Lk 22:67–71

“Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” – Edwards explains that in the original the wording is in the form of a statement, with a question implied: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”  ‘The effect is to put a full christological confession into the mouth of the high priest!…How ironic that in the Gospel of Mark the two most complete christological confessions from humans occur in the mouths of those responsible for Jesus’ death: the high priest in Mk 14:61, and the centurion at the cross in Mk 15:39!’

“I am” – For once, Jesus breaks his silence.  And up until this point in the Gospel, he has silenced all attempts to identify him as the Son of God.  According to Edwards, this was because one essential element had been absent from this identification – the element of suffering.  Only now is the veil removed.

The explanation ‘comes in allusions to two passages—Ps 110:1 and Dan 7:13. Jesus is not to be primarily considered a political Messiah but as the one who, in receiving a kingdom, is exalted at God’s right hand, the position of honor and power (cf. Mk 16:27; 23:39; 24:30–31; 26:29). This is Jesus’ climactic self-disclosure to the authorities, combining revelation with threat. He tells the members of the Sanhedrin that from then on they would not see him as he now stands before them but only in his capacity as undisputed King Messiah and sovereign Judge.’ (Carson, EBC on Matthew)

‘This majestic statement of Jesus forms the “Christological climax” (Green) of the Gospel. A new era of human history has begun, and God’s redemptive purpose in Christ is being fulfilled.’ (Mounce, on Matthew)

‘Jesus is looking down history’s lane. He sees the miracles of Calvary, the resurrection, the ascension, the coronation at the Father’s right hand (“the right hand of the Power,” that is, “of the Almighty”), Pentecost, the glorious return on the clouds of heaven, the judgment day, all rolled into one, manifesting his power and glory.’ (Hendriksen, on Matthew)

“I am” – ‘To the high priest, this was an amazing stroke of luck. He could not have believed that Jesus would admit in court what he had hidden all through his ministry. God’s time had now come, and there was no need for concealment.’ (NBC)

‘The incriminating challenge of the high priest, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ drew from him the reply, ‘I am,’ according to Mk 14:62. Further, his use of the title ‘the Son of man’ and his quotation of Ps 110:1 and Dan 7:13 are an unmistakable claim to his unique status and destiny, which Caiaphas was quick to grasp and interpret as overt blasphemy. ‘It was not blasphemy to claim to be the Messiah, but to speak with assurance of sharing the throne of God and of the fulfilment of Daniel’s vision in himself and his community was blasphemy indeed’ (Vincent Taylor).’ (NBD)

In itself, the reply “I am” does not imply any more than, “Yes”.  Mark’s version makes explicit what Mt 26:62 and Lk 23:3, in a more semitic style, imply (“You have said it”).

“You will see” – This does not necessarily imply that this would happen during the lifetime of the hearers.  We should probably take these words ‘as the firmest assurance that the event will happen and that those who condemned Jesus will be shown wrong on the day of judgment.’ (Hurtado)

‘This,’ writes Ian Paul, ‘cannot refer to Jesus’ return to earth (‘second coming’) unless Jesus was deluded about how soon that would happen. But more importantly, it cannot mean this because it is an almost exact quotation from Daniel 7, and refers to Jesus’ (the Son of Man’s) ascending to the throne of God and fulfilling the destiny of Israel. That is why the High Priest considered it blasphemy: in effect, Jesus was crucified because he anticipated his Ascension!’

“The Mighty one” – lit. ‘the Power’, a reverential synonym for God (Lane).

“Sitting…and coming” – In the imagery of Dan 7:9, God’s throne is a chariot, with wheels of fire.  Here, drawing on Psa 110, describes himself as seated on that throne, at God’s right hand, and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven’.

14:63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 14:64 You have heard the blasphemy! What is your verdict?” They all condemned him as deserving death. 14:65 Then some began to spit on him, and to blindfold him, and to strike him with their fists, saying, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him and beat him.

The high priest tore his clothes – A ceremonial action in response to hearing what he thought was blasphemy.

Edwards says that claiming to be Messiah would not have been considered blasphemous.  Nor even claiming ability to destroy the temple.  No: it was the claim to equality with God that settled the charge.

Peter’s Denials

14:66 Now while Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the high priest’s slave girls came by. 14:67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked directly at him and said, “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus.” 14:68 But he denied it: “I don’t even understand what you’re talking about!” Then he went out to the gateway, and a rooster crowed. 14:69 When the slave girl saw him, she began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 14:70 But he denied it again. A short time later the bystanders again said to Peter, “You must be one of them, because you are also a Galilean.” 14:71 Then he began to curse, and he swore with an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about!” 14:72 Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him: “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
Mk 14:66–72 = Mt 26:69–75; Lk 22:56–62; Jn 18:16–18,25–27

‘The whole story of Peter’s fall leaves the reader helpless, powerless to intervene, as the tragedy unfolds inexorably, scene after scene, until Peter has passed the point of no return, and finally crashes. Rash self-confidence and scorn of others, 14:29; failure to discipline the flesh in the Garden, 14:37; the cowardice of the flight, 14:50; the following at a distance, 14:54; the close association with the enemies of Christ, 14:54 – all these in their turn made the actual denial logical and indeed well-nigh inevitable…The battle against temptation in the high priest’s palace had been lost long before; for the time for the Christian to fight temptation is before it is encountered.’ (Cole)

Peter was below in the courtyard – Here is an incidental detail that clarifies that Jesus was in an upstairs room, large enough to hold many people, such as was a typical feature of well-to-do houses in Jerusalem (cf. the ‘upper room’ of the last supper, Mk 14:15).  One such house – the ‘Herodian Mansion’ has been excavated.  The stairs of this house have been discovered, and the pattern of supporting walls indicates that there was a large room upon the upper floor.  See here and here.

An archaeologist’s
reconstruction of
the “Herodian
Mansion” house in
the Wohl Museum
in Jerusalem

We do not know why Peter came to the courtyard. Perhaps he had some idea of rescuing Jesus by the violence that Christ has already rejected in the garden.

‘Sometimes we tell this story in such a way as to do Peter far less than justice. The thing we so often fail to recognize is that up to the very last Peter’s career this night had been one of fantastically reckless courage. He had begun by drawing his sword in the garden with the reckless courage of a man prepared to take on a whole mob by himself. In that scuffle he had wounded the servant of the High Priest. Common prudence would have urged that Peter should lie very low. The last place anyone would have dreamed that he would go to would be the courtyard of the High Priest’s house-yet that is precisely where he did go. That in itself was sheer audacity. It may be that the others had fled, but Peter was keeping his word. Even if the others had gone he would stick to Jesus.’ (DSB)

‘He was sitting by the fire, for the night was cold. No doubt he was huddled in his cloak. Maybe someone poked the fire or flung a fresh log upon it, and it flared up with a fitful flame and Peter was recognized. Straightway he denied all connection with Jesus. But-and here is the forgotten point-any prudent man would then have left that courtyard as fast as his legs could carry him-but not Peter. The same thing happened again. Again Peter denied Jesus and again he would not go. It happened once more. Again Peter denied Jesus, Peter did not curse Jesus’ name. What he did was to swear he did not know Jesus and to call down curses on himself if he was not telling the truth. Still it seems he did not mean to move.’ (DSB)

‘Yet, all things considered, the temptation could not be called formidable; it was only a maid that casually cast her eye upon him, and, for aught that appears, without design of giving him any trouble, said, thou art one of them, to which he needed not to have made any reply, or might have said, “And if I be, I hope that is no treason.”‘ (MHC)

But he denied it – ‘Christ had often given notice to his disciples of his own sufferings; yet, when they came, they were to Peter as great a surprise and terror as if he had never heard of them before. He had often told them that they must suffer for him, must take up their cross, and follow him; and yet Peter is so terribly afraid of suffering, upon the very first alarm of it, that he will lie and swear, and do any thing, to avoid it. When Christ was admired and flocked after, he could readily own him; but now that he is deserted, and despised, and run down, he is ashamed of him, and will own no relation to him.’ (MHC)

‘The tragedy is that each step downward might have been a step upward; on each occasion, Peter was being forced to declare himself. At least he could no longer remain silent: now he must either admit or deny. God thus made the path of witness easier for him, and the issues more clear cut. But Peter chose, deliberately and thrice, to deny; and so these promptings of grace became occasions of condemnation, as they must always be if they are refused.’ (Cole)

And he broke down and wept – ‘Some observe that this evangelist, who wrote, as some have thought, by St. Peter’s direction, speaks as fully of Peter’s sin as any of them, but more briefly of his sorrow, which Peter, in modesty, would not have to be magnified, and because he thought he could never sorrow enough for great a sin.’ (MHC)

‘Make no mistake-Peter fell to a temptation which would have come only to a man of fantastic courage. It ill becomes prudent and safety-seeking men to criticize Peter for falling to a temptation which would never, in the same circumstances, have come to them at all. Every man has his breaking-point. Peter reached his here, but nine hundred and ninety-nine men out of every thousand would have reached theirs long before. We would do well to be amazed at Peter’s courage rather than to be shocked at his fall.’ (DSB)

‘There was an evangelist called Brownlow North. He was a man of God, but in his youth he had lived a wild life. One Sunday he was to preach in Aberdeen. Before he entered the pulpit a letter was handed to him. The writer recounted a shameful incident in Brownlow North’s life before he became a Christian and stated that if he dared to preach he would rise in the church and publicly proclaim what once he had done. Brownlow North took the letter into the pulpit with him. He read it to the congregation. He told them that it was perfectly true. Then he told them how through Christ he had been forgiven, how he had been enabled to overcome himself and put the past behind him, how through Christ he was a new creature. He used his own shame as a magnet to draw men to Christ. That is what Peter did. He told men, “I hurt him and I let him down like that, and still he loved and forgave me-and he can do the same for you.”‘ (DSB)

‘It is the fashion nowadays to make excuses for Peter, as some do for Judas…and in so far as it means that we see our own weakness in him, that may be good. But unless we see the heinousness of his sin, we cannot understand the bitterness of his remorse, nor the depth of his repentance, nor the riches of grace in his restoration…Light thoughts on sin ultimately lead to light thoughts on redemption, and ultimately rob the cross of its glory.’ (Cole)

‘Denial usually isn’t a sudden act. There were three stages to Peter’s denial. First he acted confused and tried to divert attention from himself by changing the subject. Second, he denied that he knew Jesus, using an oath. Third, he began to curse and swear. Believers who deny Christ often begin doing so subtly by pretending not to know him. When opportunities to discuss religious issues come up, they walk away or pretend they don’t know the answers. With only a little more pressure, they can be induced to deny flatly their relationship with Christ. If you find yourself subtly diverting conversation so you don’t have to talk about Christ, watch out. You may be on the road to disowning him.’ (HBA)

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