Our journey into Mark chapter fourteen begins with the lengthiest portion of Mark’s Gospel. The next seventy-two verses will find Jesus traveling through an increasingly barren landscape, a road that turns cold and desolate on the way to an ominous horizon. Jesus’ disciples accompanied Him for only a part of this final journey before deserting Him- and that left Jesus to press on alone towards His destination…
“After two days it was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death. But they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar of the people'” (Mark 14:1-2).
The Passover celebration served to memorialize Israel’s release from Egyptian slavery as recorded for us in Exodus chapter twelve. It commemorated the time when God “passed over” every home that carried an identifying mark of lamb’s blood on it’s exterior door frame while the firstborn in every other home was put to death. The Passover was then followed by the Festival of Unleavened Bread. This seven day festival memorialized Israel’s rapid departure from the nation of Egypt, a departure that took place so quickly that only unleavened bread could be eaten since there was no time for leavened bread to rise (see Exodus 12:33-34).
These holiday celebrations served as an ironic backdrop to the efforts of these religious leaders and their ongoing efforts to eliminate Jesus. For instance, we read earlier how “The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him” (Mark 3:6 MKJV). Later on we’re told that, “…the scribes and chief priests… sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching” (Mark 11:18). So its clear that these religious leaders were convinced that Jesus had to go; however, their options for effectively disposing of Him were greatly limited.
For example, all previous attempts to publicly challenge, humiliate, and neutralize Jesus had failed. The calendar was also working against these men for the population of Jerusalem generally increased by a factor of ten or more during this holiday period. Given the fact that the people relentlessly crowded Jesus wherever He went and listened attentively when He taught, an open arrest was out of the question. From their perspective, Jesus had to be eliminated but it had to be done in a secretive manner so as to not provoke a riot.
“And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head” (Mark 14:3).
This passage finds Jesus dining “…in the home of Simon the Leper” (NIV). It’s likely Simon had been healed of his condition, perhaps by Jesus Himself. You see, it would have been unusual for a person afflicted with leprosy to entertain others in this manner for Jewish law required such people to live in isolation from society (see Leviticus 13:45-46).
In any event, this portion of Scripture tells us that Jesus was sitting or reclining at the dining table. While people often sit upright when dining today, a person taking a meal in Biblical times would generally sit on the floor (or a small couch) and recline back upon cushions while eating. As several people were reclining on the same couch, each person would overlap the person next to him with his head resting near his neighbor’s shoulder. This allowed for a very relaxed and casual style of dining.
The nard (or spikenard) mentioned here was a costly perfume made from the dried roots and stems of an Indian plant. It was quite expensive and used only for special occasions. This fragrance was commonly stored in jars made from alabaster, or lime sulfate as we know it today. These jars were generally globe shaped with a long, slender neck. Since alabaster is a soft material, all that was necessary to anoint someone in this manner was to snap off the neck and pour the contents from the globe.
John’s account of this incident identifies this woman as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 12:1-8), the same woman who had assumed the position of a learner or disciple of Jesus in Luke chapter ten. In the warm, arid climate of that area, anointing with oil was a welcome relief for parched, dry skin and a courtesy that was generally afforded to honored guests. However, that was not the purpose behind this effort for John tells us that Mary also anointed Jesus’ feet with this costly, fragrant perfume as well. This indicates that Mary was seeking to observe the custom of anointing a loved one in advance of his or her burial, a motivation that Jesus will later go on to confirm.
Unfortunately, some of the other dinner guests did not respond so positively to what Mary had done- and we’ll see why next.
“But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ And they criticized her sharply” (Mark 14:4-5).
One explanation for these expressions of indignation can be found in the financial cost associated with the decision to anoint Jesus with this fragrant oil. You see, some of these dinner guests complained that the cost of the fragrance used to anoint Jesus was “more than three hundred denarii.” This word “denarii” (pronounced “den-nair-eye”) is the plural form of the word “denarius,” a unit of money that was equivalent to an average worker’s daily wage. This tells us that the price of the spikenard that was used to anoint Jesus carried the approximate worth of an entire year’s salary for an average employee of that time.
So if we were to paraphrase the response of these dinner guests in this passage, we might do so by saying,
- “What a waste!”
- “Lady, if you didn’t want that perfume, you should have just sold it and given the money to the poor.”
- “You just poured an entire year’s salary down the drain.”
But as these others scolded this woman and criticized her sharply for this act, Jesus quickly rose to her defense…
“But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Mark 14:6-9).
In response to these charges of wastefulness, Jesus made the simple observation that there will always be some who are not as well off as others and when the opportunity presents itself, we are free to offer assistance to such individuals. However, this was not a thoughtless, wasteful, indiscriminate act on Mary’s part for she had chosen to honor Jesus in advance of His crucifixion and burial. Her response (and the negative reaction of those who were there) brings to mind the words of 1 Corinthians 15:58…
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
“But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her'” (Mark 14:6-9 ESV).
Its interesting to note that some of the women mentioned in the New Testament appeared to have possessed a greater degree of spiritual insight than some of Jesus’ own disciples. For instance, this passage relates the account of a woman who took the initiative in anointing Jesus with fragrant oil prior to His death. With this in mind, let’s compare her response to Luke’s account of the disciples’ conduct at the Last Supper: “Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest” (Luke 22:24). So while this woman was preoccupied with a desire to honor Jesus in advance of His crucifixion and burial, the disciples were preoccupied with the question of who was the greatest among them.
The events that followed Jesus’ crucifixion also provide us with another example. While the disciples were scattered following Jesus’ death, Mark’s Gospel tells us this…
“Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?'” (Mark 16:1-3)
These women (and not the disciples) were the ones who first sought to honor Jesus in death. We’re later told that Mary Magdalene attempted to report the news of Jesus’ resurrection to His followers who then refused to believe her (see Mark 16:9-11). We should also consider the example of Martha’s sister Mary. In addition to anointing Jesus at this dinner party, she was also the woman who sat at Jesus’ feet and assumed the role of a disciple as mentioned earlier.
Finally, the prevailing cultural sentiment of Jesus’ day often viewed females as little more than objects or second class citizens. Nevertheless, Jesus defied these societal trends in demonstrating an attitude of honor, respect, and dignity towards women. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising to find that some of Jesus’ female followers (like the woman who anointed Him at this dinner party) possessed a great degree of spiritual devotion and sensitivity.
“Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. So he sought how he might conveniently betray Him” (Mark 14:10-11).
Following the incident involving Jesus’ anointing at the house of Simon the leper, Judas Iscariot sought out the members of the religious leadership with an offer to deliver Jesus for a price. We’ll talk more about Judas a little later in this chapter but for now, let’s consider his possible motivation in offering to betray Jesus.
A look at the record of this event from the Gospel of John provides us with a clue that may point to Judas’ real agenda…
“Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it” (John 12:3-6).
While Judas is well known for betraying Jesus, how many realize that Judas was a thief before he became a traitor? You see, this passage tell us that Judas held the money for Jesus and the disciples and that he occasionally helped himself to some of it for his own personal use. Although Judas had spent a considerable amount of time with Jesus, it doesn’t appear that he listened very closely to Jesus’ teachings concerning the proper use of money (see Luke 12:15, 33-34, and 16:13-15). As a result, it appears that Judas might have allowed a desire for financial gain to become more important than following Jesus.
So it seems that this incident with the perfume served as the breaking point for Judas and led to his decision to sell Jesus out. In fact, Judas actually leveraged his position as Jesus’ disciple in negotiating the price of His betrayal…
“Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?’ And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him” (Matthew 26:14-16, emphasis added).
So Judas proposed to deliver Jesus at an opportune time, an offer that these religious leaders clearly found to be too good to refuse.
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, ‘Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?’
And He sent out two of His disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him. Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?” Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us'” (Mark 14:12-15).
So Jesus spoke to His disciples (Luke 22:8 identifies them as Peter and John) and said, “Look for the man carrying a pitcher of water; go with him and set up the meal in the house he enters.” While this may not seem to provide very much in the way of instruction, the task of hauling water was a job that was generally handled by women; a man with a water jar would have been highly unusual and thus, easily noticeable.
Upon their arrival, Peter and John assumed the responsibility of preparing for the Passover meal. These preparations would have involved securing a lamb for the meal in addition to the other Passover elements: unleavened bread, wine, and bitter herbs. Each of this items carried special significance and they represented important (and necessary) essentials of the Passover experience.
But while Peter and John prepare for what will later become known as the Last Supper, let’s take a moment to consider the critical role that was played by a person who is unknown to us: the man who provided these accommodations for Jesus and His disciples.
It seems clear that Jesus pre-arranged the location of this meal with this unnamed individual who then prepared a dining area in advance of His arrival. While it’s easy to focus on some of Jesus’ more prominent disciples, this anonymous host actually played a pivotal role in providing for what will arguably become the most important period in Jesus’ ministry. There was no fanfare or recognition associated with the work that he was given to perform, yet it was his faithfulness that enabled Jesus to say in advance, “The owner will take you upstairs and show you a large room furnished and ready for you to use” (CEV).
This example reminds us that those who serve in positions of seeming obscurity still have critical and important roles to play. If this man had not faithfully executed these responsibilities, the crucial events that were about to occur might have transpired in a very different manner.
“When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me'” (Mark 14:17-18).
A look at the Gospel of John’s account of the Last Supper provides us with an additional detail concerning something else that Jesus said and did during this time…
“It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus” (John 13:1-2 NIV).
These two verses reveal something important regarding Jesus’ character when we stop to consider it. For instance, how would you feel if you were in Jesus’ position and knew with absolute certainty that you were going to be put to a horrifying death within the next 24 hours? Would you be preoccupied with the fact that the time of your death was rapidly approaching?
Although Jesus was fully aware that the time of His crucifixion was drawing near, we’re about to find that He didn’t spend that remaining time thinking solely about Himself. Instead, the Scripture tells us that Jesus decided to spend part of this time in demonstrating how much He loved His disciples…
“Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he had around him” (John 13:3-5 NLT).
When a guest came to visit in those days, it was a servant’s job to remove that guest’s footwear and wash away the road dirt that he or she had picked up along the way. With this in mind, we can say that Jesus intentionally took on a servant’s responsibility in washing His disciple’s feet at the Last Supper. This helps identify another important aspect of Jesus’ character for it demonstrates Him to be a Man who leads by example. Jesus did not adopt a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude towards His disciples; instead, Jesus chose not to ask His followers to do something that He was unwilling to do Himself.
John’s Gospel tells us that during the Last Supper, “…(Jesus) rose from the table, took off his outer garment, and tied a towel around his waist. Then he poured some water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist” (John 13:4-5 GNB). In doing so, Jesus demonstrated the importance of leadership by example. For instance, Jesus once said to His disciples…
“…among you, those who are the greatest should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Normally the master sits at the table and is served by his servants. But not here! For I am your servant” (Luke 22:26-27 NLT).
Jesus also said, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NIV). It was this kind of attitude that later caused Paul the Apostle to say…
“In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus. Christ himself was like God in everything. But he did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for his own benefit. But he gave up his place with God and made himself nothing. He was born as a man and became like a servant. And when he was living as a man, he humbled himself and was fully obedient to God, even when that caused his death—death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 NCV).
So rather than simply telling His followers what to do, Jesus responded by demonstrating it.
Now before we continue, we should stop to consider something else that’s easy to overlook when considering the events that took place at the Last Supper. That “something” would be the guest list. For instance, we’re told that “the disciples” were present with Jesus during this time, a group that consisted of…
- James and his brother John
- Phillip, Bartholomew and Thomas
- James, the son of Alphaeus
- Simon the Zealot
- Peter and his brother Andrew
That’s eleven people. Do you know the only other person who was with Jesus during this time but has not yet been named?
You see, we’ve only read the first few verses of this account in John chapter thirteen but Judas did not actually leave to arrange for Jesus’ betrayal until later in this chapter (see John 13:30). That means that Judas was there with the other disciples when Jesus washed their feet. We’ll talk about the importance of this detail next.
“So (Jesus) got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing” (John 13:4-5 CEB).
Has it ever occurred to you that Jesus knowingly washed the feet of the person who was about to betray Him? Have you ever realized that Jesus knowingly washed the feet of the man who was planning to sell Him out? This act should serve as an important example for the person who feels as if God doesn’t really love him or her- if Jesus was willing to wash the feet of someone who was planning to arrange for His death, how do you think He feels about you?
To help ensure that His followers fully understood the meaning and purpose behind His actions, Jesus then went on to provide an explanation followed by some good advice…
“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and sat down again. He asked, ‘Do you understand what I have just done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that is what I am. If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other’s feet. I did this as an example so that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, a servant is not greater than his master. A messenger is not greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them'” (John 13:12-17 NCV).
After completing this enacted illustration, Jesus and His disciples returned to their meal. But it wasn’t long before He followed with a startling announcement…
“Now as they sat and ate, Jesus said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me.’ And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, ‘Is it I?’ And another said, ‘Is it I?'” (Mark 14:18-19).
This statement understandably began to provoke sense of alarm within the disciples who then began to ask, “It’s not me, is it?” In answer to that question, Jesus went on to make a positive identification…
“He answered and said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, who dips with Me in the dish'” (Mark 14:20).
We’ll see how this act served to identify Jesus’ betrayer next.
“In the evening He came with the twelve. Now as they sat and ate, Jesus said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me.’ And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, ‘Is it I?’ And another said, ‘Is it I?’
He answered and said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, who dips with Me in the dish. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had never been born'” (Mark 14:17-21).
In Jesus’ day, people did not generally eat with knives, forks, spoons or other such utensils as is often the case today. As each person reclined around a typical dining table in the days of the first century, he or she had a glass (or goblet) of wine along with a piece of bread that had been broken off from a larger portion. Each person would then dip his or her bread into a common bowl of sauce in order to eat. This is how Jesus chose to identify the individual (as yet unnamed) who would eventually betray Him: “…’It is one of the twelve—the one who dips his bread into the bowl with me'” (NCV).
This response reveals something important regarding Jesus’ character for it tells us that even though Jesus was clearly aware of his betrayer’s identity, He still welcomed him to the table and even provided him with an advance warning: “‘…the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!'” (NLT).
Of course, we know the identity of Jesus’ betrayer today as Judas Iscariot but before we continue, it might be helpful to look at Judas’ life and consider what might have driven him to do such a thing. Judas’ name means “praise of the Lord” and the surname Iscariot refers to his hometown of Kerioth. Its probably safe to assume that Judas had been accepted as a spiritual leader (at least to some degree) for he was among the disciples that Jesus dispatched to teach and heal in His name (Mark 6:7-12).
As mentioned earlier, Judas had also been given the responsibility of handling the money for the group so he must have been well thought of in that regard as well. Nevertheless, Judas ignored the warning and opportunity that Jesus had clearly provided for Him at the Last Supper- but why?
“‘The Son of Man will die, just as the Scriptures say. But it is going to be terrible for the one who betrays me. That man would be better off if he had never been born'” (Mark 14:21 CEV).
In certain respects, Judas is an enigma wrapped in a question inside a mystery. To help understand why, let’s consider what it may have been like to be present along with Jesus and the rest of the disciples at the Last Supper.
It was during the course of this meal that Jesus announced, “‘I can guarantee this truth: One of you is going to betray me, one who is eating with me!'” (Mark 14:18 GW). One by one, the disciples responded to this startling announcement by asking, “‘Surely, I’m not the one?'” (Mark 14:19 Phillips). When it came time for Judas to ask this question, Matthew 26:25 quotes him as saying, “‘Surely not I, Rabbi?'” to which Jesus responded, ‘”You have said it yourself'” (NET) or, “‘…you’ve just answered your own question'” (Voice).
It was during this time that another of the disciples said to Jesus, “‘Lord, who is it?'” (John 13:25). Jesus answered by saying, “…’It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.’ And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon” (John 13:26). So keep in mind that Jesus had just announced that He will be betrayed by the person to whom He hands this piece of bread and that it would have been better for that person to have never been born.
With that, let’s imagine that Jesus takes the bread, breaks off a portion, and dips it into the bowl of sauce on the table. He then reaches across the table and hands it… to you.
If you were in this position, with the full knowledge of everything that Jesus had just said, would you take the bread that was now being offered to you? Of course not- you’d do anything but take it!
So why did Judas do it? Well, we do know that Judas’ actions were satanically influenced but the other disciples were certainly under that sort of pressure as well (see Luke 22:31). Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Judas was not a person of Godly character as demonstrated by the fact that he chose to appropriate some the group’s money for his own personal use. There is another possibility that is related to a parable that Jesus shared earlier within the Gospel of Mark. We’ll look at that parable and it’s potential connection to Judas next.
“The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born” (Mark 14:21 KJV).
Why would Judas choose to betray Jesus in light of this advance warning? While it is impossible to give a definitive answer, there are a few possibilities to consider.
When Jesus permitted Mary to anoint Him with an oil that was worth an entire year’s salary, it may be that Judas finally realized that Jesus was not going to be the kind of leader who lived up to his personal expectations. If this is the case, then the incident with the perfume proved to be the defining moment, the point where Judas came to accept the fact that that Jesus’ priorities did not necessarily include helping him achieve things like financial, professional, or political success.
Its possible that Judas had been content to follow Jesus as long as he perceived Jesus to be kind of the person that he wanted Him to be. However, once it became clear that Jesus would not conform to his expectations, Judas didn’t modify his expectations to align them with Jesus’ teachings- and that proved to be the first step on the road to a fateful destination.
A second possibility is that Judas served as a living representative of the Parable of the Sower from Mark chapter four. In that parable, Jesus said, “Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19). In this respect, we might view Judas as an example of the seed that had been sown among thorns.
The soil in that portion of the Parable of the Sower represents those who initially accept the Gospel but later allow the desire for wealth and possessions to become more important than following God. Like the seed mentioned within that parable, its possible that Judas initially accepted Jesus and believed for a while but later allowed the desire for material and financial wealth to cause Him to drift away until he became completely untethered from His relationship with Christ.
Nevertheless, Jesus provided Judas with at least two opportunities to change his destiny before moving forward on his betrayal. One will occur later in the Garden of Gethsemane. The other is found here in Jesus’ warning from Mark 14:21.
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, ‘This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:22-25).
This passage establishes the origin and institution of the Lord’s Supper, also known as Communion or the Eucharist. Communion (along with baptism) is one of two sacraments ordained by Jesus for His church. (1) The sacrament of communion consists of two elements:
Bread, which is representative of Jesus’ body.
Wine, or grape juice (“the fruit of the vine” as Jesus refers to it here) which is representative of Jesus’ blood.
Over the generations, four major viewpoints have developed concerning the elements of communion. These can be summarized as follows:
Generally associated with the Catholic church, this view holds that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ when the words of institution are spoken by the priest. While the physical properties (taste, appearance, etc.) of the bread and wine do not change, the inner reality of these elements undergo a spiritual change.
Developed by Martin Luther and generally associated with Lutheran churches, this view holds that Christ’s body and blood are truly present within the bread and wine but the elements do not actually change into Jesus’ body and blood. It makes the analogy that Christ is present within the elements in the same way that heat is present in a piece of hot iron.
Developed by John Calvin and observed by Presbyterian and reformed churches, the Dynamic view states the elements are symbolic and that Jesus is dynamically and spiritually present within them by the Holy Spirit. The bread and wine nourish the physical body while Jesus nourishes the soul of believers as conveyed by the Holy Spirit who dwells within them.
Symbolic or Memorial View
Generally associated with Baptist, Pentecostal, and many non-denominational churches, this view holds that the elements are symbols of the sacrificed body and blood of Jesus. It sees communion as a memorial ceremony of Christ’s finished work and an occasion for God’s people to join in unity and loyalty to Christ. (2)
(1) A ” sacrament” is a observance that has been instituted by Jesus and recorded in the New Testament for Christians to observe
(2) All definitions summarized and adapted from Nelson’s Bible Dictionary
During the Last Supper, Luke 22:20 tells us that Jesus “…took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (NIV). With this in mind, it might be helpful to stop and consider what the idea of this “new covenant” actually represents.
A covenant refers to a specific type of agreement made between two parties. Today, we might use words like contract, treaty, or arrangement to convey this idea. In fact, the Bible often uses the word covenant in this manner in documenting the various agreements negotiated between two parties (see Genesis 21:27-32 for an example).
But unlike like the common contractual agreements that we often see today, the idea of a covenant mostly signifies an obligation undertaken by a single person. (1) In this instance, Jesus undertook the obligation of establishing this new covenant; human beings have the option to accept or reject it but cannot alter it or negotiate it’s parameters.
A look at the Old Testament Scriptures reveals that God entered into a number of covenantal arrangements prior to Jesus’ initiation of this new covenant. For instance, God made a covenant with Noah when He promised to never destroy the world again by way of a flood (see Genesis 9:8-17). God also made a covenant with Abraham (then known as Abram) in promising to bless his descendants in the land that he inhabited (Genesis 15:17-21). God also entered into a covenantal agreement with David in promising that his descendants would be heirs to the throne of Israel (see 2 Samuel 7:12-16).
Perhaps the most famous Old Testament covenant was made by God with Israel through Moses…
“(Moses) took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, ‘We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.’
Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words'” (Exodus 24:7-8 NIV).
This was the agreement (or the “old covenant” as we refer to it today) in which God promised to save the people of Israel by way of the sacrificial system that is detailed within Biblical books of the Law. We can also find a “summary of benefits” associated with this covenant within the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. We’ll look at that summary (along with a list of consequences for breaking the terms of this agreement) next.
(1) Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers
“Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words'” (Exodus 24:7-8).
The first agreement or “old covenant” made by God with Israel through Moses can be found within the Old Testament books of the Law. One of those books provides us with a summary description detailing the benefits of this agreement….
“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).
The following verses then go on to discuss the extensive physical, political, material, and financial blessings that God would graciously agree to provide for those who adhered to the terms of this covenant (see Deuteronomy 28:3-14). However, there was a second, more ominous aspect to this agreement. You see, Deuteronomy 28 also goes on to describe the curses that would accompany the violation of this covenant…
“But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: ‘
Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. ‘Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. ‘Cursed shall be the fruit of your body and the produce of your land, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. ‘Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. ‘The Lord will send on you cursing, confusion, and rebuke in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, because of the wickedness of your doings in which you have forsaken Me” (Deuteronomy 28:15-20).
This list essentially serves as a mirror image of the blessings listed earlier in Deuteronomy 28 and continues for an additional forty-seven verses. Deuteronomy chapter 28 is a very instructive portion of Scripture and one that helps put the new covenant established by Jesus into perspective.
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, ‘This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many’ (Mark 14:22-24).
As detailed extensively throughout the Old Testament, God’s people consistently failed to adhere to the terms of the old covenant. As a result, the curses listed within Deuteronomy 28 eventually overtook them just as God said they would. In fact, the overwhelming testimony of human experience is that human beings are incapable of consistently carrying out the terms of any such arrangement. This helps explain why God sent the following message through the prophet Jeremiah…
‘”The time is coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD.
‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the LORD. ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more'” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
The new covenant differs from the old covenant in the fact that it is not based on what humanity does for God. It is based on what God does for humanity through Jesus. As we’re told in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians…
“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NIV).
“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, ‘All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.’ But he spoke more vehemently, ‘If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’ And they all said likewise” (Mark 14:26-31).
The word “confidence” refers to a complete trust in the reliability of a person or a thing. It also represents an important quality in business, athletics, and other walks in life. Confidence is something that enables us to take risks and achieve those things that might otherwise seem impossible. It helps reassure and comfort those who are fearful and is often recognized as the mark of a good leader. But even though confidence can be a valuable asset, its always important to ask who or what our confidence is placed in.
For instance, Peter confidently rejected the idea that he would deny Jesus. Its possible that Peter placed his confidence in the fact that he (along with James and John) was an “insider” with Jesus among the other disciples. Its also possible that Peter possessed a great degree of self-assurance in his ability to resist any potential pressure to deny Jesus. For Peter, such an idea may have seemed preposterous but if he had been more discerning, he might have realized that Jesus was not accustomed to making idle statements like this- especially when quoting from Scripture (see Zechariah 13:7).
Wherever Peter’s confidence was placed, we know one thing for certain- it was not placed in the credibility of Jesus’ message: “All of you will reject me, as the Scriptures say…” (CEV). In hindsight, it would have been far better for Peter to have said, “How can I avoid such a fate” rather than confidently asserting that he would never deny Jesus despite Jesus’ clear statement to the contrary.
Confidence can be a good thing when it is placed in the God of the Scriptures. But it is also something that can lead to failure when it is placed in someone or something else, as Peter will soon learn to his regret.
“Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch'” (Mark 14:32-34).
The events of Mark 14:32-50 take place in Gethsemane, a name that means “oil press.” Gethsemane served as a kind of processing area where the olives harvested from the Mount of Olives could be taken to be pressed into oil. It was here that Jesus would spend His final moments of freedom prior to His arrest.
Jesus chose Peter, James, and John to accompany Him during this time, the same men who had been with Him at a number of other important points in His ministry. For example, these men were present when Jesus raised the daughter of a synagogue ruler from the dead in Mark chapter five. They were also witnesses to Jesus’ transfiguration in Mark chapter nine. They had been with Jesus in the demonstration of His power and now had an opportunity to stand with Him in His hour of need.
After all, Peter was the man who had steadfastly claimed that he would never deny Jesus. James and John were the men who had also asked for positions of honor and recognition alongside Jesus. When Jesus replied to their request by saying, “You don’t know what you are asking… Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” James and John said, “We can” (Mark 10:39 NIV). So in looking for someone to stand with Him as He approached His final hours, Jesus turned to those who claimed to be resolute in their allegiance to Him.
We should also note something else that Jesus said during this time: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death…” In our modern-day world of 21st century technology, its possible to document many examples of cruel, hateful, and depraved human behavior within a matter of seconds. But such examples represent little more than the equivalent of a single atom in the universe of human sin. No matter how many instances of depravity we may come across, we have never been exposed to the totality of multiple billions of lifetimes of human sinfulness throughout history.
It is impossible for us to grasp the crushing, overwhelming burden represented by every sin that has ever been committed by every person who has ever lived. But Jesus does- and this is what He was facing in the Garden of Gethsemane.
“Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.’ He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will'” (Mark 14: 34-36).
Mark’s Gospel has already noted Jesus’ desire to speak with His disciples concerning His impending death and what it represented. But whenever He attempted to do so, it seems that His disciples either didn’t understand what He was trying to communicate (Mark 9:9-10) or attempted to talk Him out of it (Mark 8:31-32). It was also difficult for Jesus to speak with His disciples regarding what lay ahead for Him simply because they were not yet ready to process the information He had to share with them. As Jesus Himself said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).
For Jesus, there was only one Person who could truly comprehend the situation that He was facing. There was only One who could genuinely appreciate the enormity of the sacrifice that He was about to make. God the Father was the only Being in the entire universe who could completely relate to Jesus, acknowledge Him, and understand Him- and now Jesus was facing separation from the only One who could truly empathize with Him and help Him.
Luke’s account of this passage also provides us with the following detail: “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44 NIV). This tells us that Jesus did not simply offer a perfunctory invocation in the Garden of Gethsemane- it was the place where He agonized in prayer over what was about to come upon Him. In fact, Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane represents the only place in the New King James Version (NKJV) of the New Testament where the word “agony” is used. This word refers to the presence of a severe mental struggle and/or emotion (1) and serves to illustrate the strain and distress that Jesus experienced during this time.
Its also interesting to note that Luke specifically mentions that Jesus’ perspiration “…became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (ESV) during this period. This serves to demonstrate the physical evidence of the emotional anguish that He endured during this time.
(1) NT:74 agoonia (from Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)
“And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will’ (Mark 14:36).
Having given His disciples the responsibility of staying behind to provide cover for Him, Jesus went off for a short distance to pray. He began His prayer to His Father with the Aramaic term “Abba,” a word that is roughly equivalent to our use of the words “Daddy” or “Papa” today. This serves to indicate the warm, intimate, trusting relationship that Jesus enjoyed with His Heavenly Father.
After acknowledging the fact that His Father had the ability to do anything that was possible, Jesus then offered His request: “Remove this cup from me” (ESV). In this instance, the “cup” represented the pain and suffering that awaited Jesus just a few short hours away. This same imagery had often been used within the Old Testament Scriptures to serve as an illustration of God’s wrath and judgment (see Isaiah 51:17, Jeremiah 25:15-17, and Ezekiel 23:28-34 for some examples), But Jesus also went on to say, “…let your will be done rather than mine” (GW). In making this statement, Jesus demonstrated His commitment to doing God’s will regardless of the cost.
However, there is something else that Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane can teach us, something that runs counter to what many believe today. You see, people may sometimes seek to justify a particular decision by saying, “I feel a peace regarding this choice.” By this, it is often meant that the person making the decision feels little or no emotional anxiety concerning his or her choice. Of course, Colossians 3:15 does tell us to “…let the peace of God rule (literally “arbitrate” or umpire) in your hearts…” so the presence or absence of peace should certainly be taken into consideration. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that there is a difference between “feeling peaceful” about a decision and “being at peace” with a decision.
You see, “feelings” are a notoriously poor basis upon which to make decisions and it is possible to feel peaceful about a decision that is far outside the will of God. Although Jesus certainly didn’t feel peaceful in the Garden of Gethsemane (as evidenced by the fact that He agonized in prayer over what lay ahead for Him), His willingness to set aside His personal preference to answer God’s call on His life enabled Him to be at peace with such a decision despite the physical, spiritual, and emotional trauma that was sure to result.
“And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt'” (Mark 14:36 KJV).
There is a great amount of religious teaching that claims to represent real spiritual truth but really doesn’t. For instance, many believe that all religions are equally valid and that all spiritual roads eventually lead to God. Others believe that a person can earn his or her way to heaven by doing enough good things in this life.
There are those who believe that certain forms of meditation, or strict adherence to specified prayer times, or participation in various ceremonies all represent necessary steps on the road to salvation. Of course, there are many who hold that once a human being passes away, he or she simply stops existing and that the whole idea of an “afterlife” is nothing more than a fantasy.
The Scriptures reject such viewpoints and the passage quoted here from Mark 14:36 helps us understand why. Notice that Jesus said, “…all things are possible for You; Take this cup from Me,” yet Jesus did indeed go on to drink from the cup that represented His crucifixion and death. With this in mind, let’s consider the implications of this unanswered prayer.
If any of the spiritual beliefs mentioned above were really true, then it would have been senseless for Jesus to have endured the pain, suffering, and the humiliation of the cross. The fact that the cup of crucifixion and death was not taken away from Jesus tells us that there was (and is) no other way to salvation. This is why 1 Timothy 2:5 also tells us, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (NIV).
According to the Scriptures, our lives do not end with our physical existence, all roads do not lead to God, and eternal life isn’t something that can be earned by doing enough “good things.” Eternal life can only be obtained through Christ and anyone who accepts Him has the Bible’s full assurance that he or she will go to heaven upon death. However, the Bible is equally clear that anyone who chooses to try another way will not inherit eternal life, for as we are told in 1 John 5:11-12…
“And what is it that God has said? That he has given us eternal life and that this life is in his Son. So whoever has God’s Son has life; whoever does not have his Son, does not have life.”
“Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak'” (Mark 14:37-38).
The time was now approximately 1:00 am and having earlier told Peter, James, and John to “Stay here and watch,” Jesus returned to find them all asleep. So here were the two men who had previously asked for places of honor alongside Jesus along with a third man who said he would never deny Him- and all were sleeping while on duty. This makes Jesus’ question all the more penetrating: “Couldn’t you stay awake with me for one hour?” (NCV). As one commentator observes, “How often does Jesus ‘check on us’ and find us asleep? It was bad enough that the disciples didn’t watch and pray for themselves, they also should have been willing to watch and pray simply for the sake of Jesus.” (1)
“Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words. And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him” (Mark 14:39-40).
There are some who believe that the act of praying for something more than once serves to reveal a subtle lack of faith. The idea is that praying for something more than once implies the assumption that God hasn’t heard our prayers or is unwilling to answer them. Yet here we find Jesus doing this very thing as He brought His request before the Father a second time. This example tells us that it’s appropriate to bring our needs before God on a regular basis in order to ask for His help or intervention. However, there is one type of repetitive prayer that Jesus definitely warned against…
“…when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:7-8).
A “vain repetition” can be defined as a habitual, superficial prayer, one that is offered with little or no forethought, emotion, or spiritual involvement. However, this type of prayer is far removed from one that Jesus offered here in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus’ example tells us that it is appropriate to prayerfully bring a continual need before God. It’s only when those prayers turn into thoughtless, mindless, habitual requests that they become vain repetitions.
(1) Guzik, David Mark 14 – Jesus’ Betrayal, Arrest, and Trial http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/4114.htm
“Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words. And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. Then He came the third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand'” (Mark 14:39-42).
If Jesus had been a typical leader within the Roman military of that period, He certainly would have had His disciples executed for their dereliction of duty in falling asleep while assigned to keep watch. But this was not Jesus’ way. Having checked upon His disciples and found them asleep for the third time, Jesus’ response in His final moments of freedom simply reflected the urgency associated with the approaching danger- a danger with militaristic overtones…
“And immediately, while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, ‘Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely'” (Mark 14:43-44).
The assembly of chief priests (collectively known as the Sanhedrin) maintained their own independent security force during this period. This group likely comprised most (or all) of the “great multitude” that came to seize Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Since the religious leadership feared the possibility that a public arrest might provoke a riot among the general population, Judas worked out a pre-arranged signal that would enable Jesus to be taken into custody with a minimum of confusion or delay. Judas’ chosen indicator is provided for us in verse forty-four: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss. Then you can take him away under guard” (NLT).
A kiss represented a typical greeting of that time and is still commonly found among Mediterranean cultures today. However, it is highly ironic that Judas chose this token of affection as his instrument of betrayal. As Proverbs 27:6 reminds us, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (KJV).
From this point, Mark’s Gospel will provide us with a streamlined account of these events as they began to unfold. To help fill in the remaining details, we’ll spend some time within the other Gospel accounts to help provide a more complete report of what transpired during this time.
“As soon as he had come, immediately he went up to Him and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him. Then they laid their hands on Him and took Him. And one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear” (Mark 14:45-47).
While the identity of this sword-wielding antagonist is not provided for us here within the Gospel of Mark, John’s Gospel identifies this assailant along with the man he attacked…
“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?'” (John 18:10-11 NIV).
The fact that Peter succeeded in cutting off Malchus’ ear suggests that he may have actually been aiming for his head. But how had Peter arrived at this apparent decision to decapitate the high priest’s servant? Well, we can plot Peter’s arrival at this destination just like the points on a map, for Peter made a number of choices that eventually led to his decision to assault a man with a deadly weapon.
First, we should remember that Jesus provided His disciples with an advance warning regarding the events that were now taking place. He also told them that they would abandon Him just as the Scriptures foretold. Unfortunately, Peter chose to disregard these warnings and refused to take Jesus’ message seriously. Later on when Jesus told Peter, James, and John to “watch and pray” in the Garden of Gethsemane, all three men fell asleep three times.
So Peter chose to disregard Jesus’ warning and then followed with a failure to heed Jesus’ directive to watch and pray. Since bad choices (like the ones made by Peter) usually lead to bad consequences, these decisions eventually culminated in a response that may have seemed right to Peter but was actually very wrong. If Peter had chosen to follow Jesus’ earlier counsel, he might have responded in a much more appropriate (and God honoring) manner.
In any event, Jesus stepped in to rescue Peter from an attempted murder charge: “…Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him” (Luke 22:51 NIV). Luke also records something else that Jesus said just prior to His arrest, something that represents one of the most disconsolate, heavy-hearted, and wistful statements in all the Scriptures: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48).
“Then Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled'” (Mark 14:48-49).
So what were the Scriptures that Jesus referred to in these verses? Well, one can be found in the book of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah where we read, “‘Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones'” (Zechariah 13:7 NIV). We can find the fulfillment of this prophetic message here in the Gospel of Mark where Mark 14:50 tells us that Jesus’ disciples “…all forsook Him and fled.”
This response reminds us that our relationship with Jesus often reveals more about ourselves than we realize. You see, Peter and his fellow disciples may have believed that they were steadfast, immovable, and resolute in their commitment to Christ. But when the time came to put that commitment to the test, they all deserted Him and fled.
The reality is that we may never be completely certain of how we’ll respond in a challenging situation until we’re actually put to the test. In this instance, Jesus’ refusal to offer any resistance had placed the lives of His followers in danger. As a result, they all chose to desert Him to protect themselves at His expense.
“Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked” (Mark 14:51-52).
Verses 51-52 are unique to Mark and they concern a young man who lost his only piece of clothing to the multitude that came to arrest Jesus. While there is no way to accurately confirm this man’s identity, some commentators believe that this person may have been Mark himself. Since we’re later told that the disciples gathered for at least one meeting at his mother’s home (see Acts 12:12), its possible that the Last Supper may have been held at Mark’s place of residence and that he later followed Jesus and His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. If this “young man” and Mark are one and the same, then this passage adds the authenticity of an eyewitness and a personal participant to Mark’s narrative.
Following His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus actually endured six separate trials in advance of His crucifixion. Since Mark jumps ahead in his chronology of events, we can turn to John’s Gospel to examine the first of these trials and Jesus’ initial hearing following His arrest…
“Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him. And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year… The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine.
Jesus answered him, ‘I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.’
And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, ‘Do You answer the high priest like that?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?’ Then Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest” (John 18:12-13, 19-24).
This “pre-trial” hearing at Annas’ home is believed to have occurred around 2:00 am. Annas had once served as the High Priest and you’ll notice that he was still referred to by that title, just as we might refer to a retired coach or military officer by his or her former title or rank today.
Its likely that Annas still maintained a great deal of respect and influence as a former High Priest, which helps explain why Jesus was first taken to him immediately following His arrest. In addition, Annas’ status as the father in law to the then-current High Priest (a man named Caiaphas) was probably a contributing factor as well.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear as if Jesus was fairly treated during this hearing. Besides the fact that this examination took place in the middle of the night, we should notice that there were no charges or evidence presented against Jesus. Then there was the matter of Annas himself. As a member of a group that had once plotted to kill Jesus (see Matthew 26:3-5), Annas was hardly qualified to serve as an impartial arbiter. If that wasn’t enough, the officers representing Annas responded to what little testimony Jesus did give by striking him, something that would not be permitted within any reputable court.
Following His appearance before Annas, Jesus was brought to His second arraignment of the night. This second trial is detailed within Mark chapter 14 and likely took place around 3:30 am…
“And they led Jesus away to the high priest; and with him were assembled all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes. But Peter followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he sat with the servants and warmed himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree.
Then some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying, ‘We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.'” But not even then did their testimony agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, ‘Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” But He kept silent and answered nothing…” (Mark 14:53-61)
Jesus’ second trial was held before a gathering of the the Sanhedrin, a group consisting of the High Priest, the chief priests, and a number of elders and scribes. The Sanhedrin formed the highest governing body among the Jewish people of that time and functioned somewhat like the Supreme Court in the United States today. These men held final say over all civil, religious and governmental matters unless their verdicts conflicted with Roman law or authority.
When examining this account of Jesus’ second trial, it becomes clear that this second hearing was more unjust than the first. For instance, what defendant could reasonably expect to receive a fair hearing at a trial that was held within the judge’s home in the middle of the night? We’re also told that others stood to offer testimony against Jesus but the fact that these witnesses couldn’t get their stories straight indicates that there was insufficient evidence to bring an indictment against Him.
We should also consider the fact that the men sitting in judgment upon Jesus were responsible for accurately representing God in the administration of His Law. But instead of following the judicial protocols contained within the Scriptures, these men were violating the Old Testament law that they were supposedly obligated to uphold and teach to others. You see, the Old Testament contained a number of protections for those (like Jesus) facing criminal accusation. We’ll take a closer look at some of those Biblical protections next.
“Then the High Priest stood up before the Court and asked Jesus, ‘Do you refuse to answer this charge? What do you have to say for yourself?’ To this Jesus made no reply…” (Mark 14:60-61 TLB).
The Old Testament contained a number of built-in protections for those who had been accused of criminal activity. The most basic of these protections is known to us today as the 9th Commandment:
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16 NIV).
Another important law is found in Deuteronomy 19:15-19…
“One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days.
And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you.”
In laying aside any semblance of judicial partiality in their pursuit of Jesus, these men were not fulfilling their obligation to “put away the evil from among you.” On the contrary, they were encouraging it. This may serve to explain why Jesus remained silent and refused to play along with these proceedings.
If it were possible to assume the role of an observer at the time of these events, it might be reasonable to conclude that this hearing was not going well from the High Priest’s perspective. Since the contradictory testimony offered against Jesus could not be used to bring a charge against him, it appears that his case was failing and the golden opportunity to be rid of this upstart teacher from Galilee was quickly slipping from his grasp.
But… perhaps there might yet be one final chance. You see, Jesus had chosen to offer no response to the accusations that had been brought against Him. However, if Jesus could somehow be persuaded to testify, He might then offer something -anything- that could be used against Him. It was just a matter of asking the right question- and the High Priest was ready with something that was sure to elicit an actionable response.
“…Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, ‘Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ (Mark 14:61).
Although this is a represents a direct question from the High Priest, we know from another Gospel account that this is not all the High Priest said. You see, the Gospel of Matthew provides us with some additional detail regarding this exchange…
“…Then the High Priest said to him, ‘I demand in the name of the living God that you tell us whether you claim to be the Messiah, the Son of God'” (Matthew 26:63 TLB).
The word translated “demand” (or “adjure” in some other translations) in this passage means, “to cause to swear, to lay under the obligation of an oath.” (1) Another source tells us that this word refers to the act of exacting or forcing an oath. (2) With these definitions in mind, we can say that the high Priest was forcing Jesus to testify against Himself in the strongest possible verbal terms, another aspect of these hearings that would not be permissible in any reputable court of law.
In response, Jesus said this…
“Jesus said, ‘I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?’ And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. Then some began to spit on Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him, and to say to Him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the officers struck Him with the palms of their hands” (Mark 14:62-65).
Sadly, these judges didn’t seem to be very concerned with the question of whether Jesus was actually the Messiah. Judging from their response, it appears that the most important thing to these men was the fact that Jesus had finally said something that could be used against Him.
You see, the Old Testament book of Leviticus tells us that anyone who blasphemes the name of God must be put to death (see Leviticus 24:16). In eyes of His judges, Jesus’ statement was an insult to God and therefore worthy of the death sentence. So following this declaration of blasphemy by the High Priest, the judges and officers of the court dispensed with any pretense of impartiality towards Jesus by spitting on Him, blindfolding Him, and physically attacking Him. Unfortunately, there was more of this kind of response to come.
(1) NT:1844 exorkizoo Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers
(2) NT:1844 to exact an oath, to force to an oath (from Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)
“As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, tell us.’ But He said to them, ‘If I tell you, you will by no means believe. And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.’
Then they all said, ‘Are You then the Son of God?’ So He said to them, ‘You rightly say that I am.’ And they said, ‘What further testimony do we need? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.’ Then the whole multitude of them arose and led Him to Pilate” (Luke 22:66-23:1).
Following Jesus’ initial hearing before Annas and His secondary hearing at the residence of the High Priest, the members of the Sanhedrin next met to officially follow up on their case against Him. We’re told that these events began at daybreak so we can pinpoint this trial (Jesus’ third within a four to five hour period) at approximately 6:00am. Unfortunately, this third proceeding also featured a number of elements that no fair, objective, or equitable judicial system would ever allow.
For instance, it seems obvious from this passage that the court was biased against the defendant and pressured Jesus to testify against Himself once again. Next, we should notice that these judges (who seemed to be acting more as prosecutors than judges) offered no evidence, testimony, or witnesses against the defendant. Of course, given the inconsistencies in the accounts of those those who had been previously called to testify against Jesus, this may have been by design.
Finally, the court sent Jesus off to a civil trial without providing Him with an opportunity to defend Himself or present evidence to substantiate His claim to be the Messiah. As Jesus Himself observed, “If I tell you, you won’t believe. And if I ask you a question, you won’t answer” (CEB).
So while each of these trials displayed a veneer of objectivity and an appearance of the pursuit of truth, they actually served as little more than instruments designed to elicit something that could be used against Jesus. Nevertheless, this third hearing before the elders, scribes, and chief priests marked Jesus’ final appearance before these religious authorities. From this point forward, each of Jesus’ remaining arraignments would take place before a representative of the Roman government.
“Now as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came. And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus of Nazareth.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘I neither know nor understand what you are saying.’ And he went out on the porch, and a rooster crowed” (Mark 14:66-68).
This passage represents a portion of Scripture that has been subject to much debate, especially when compared to a parallel account that is recorded within the Gospel of Matthew.
You see, Jesus had earlier said to Peter: “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times” (Mark 14:30). However, Matthew 26:34 quotes Jesus as saying, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”
So which account is accurate? Were these denials to take place before the rooster crowed (as found in the Gospel of Matthew) or before the rooster crowed twice, as Mark tells us? Well, we can answer this question by reconstructing these events with information from each of the four gospels beginning with Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Following Jesus’ departure from the Garden of Gethsemane, Mark 14:54 tells us, “But Peter followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he sat with the servants and warmed himself at the fire.” John’s Gospel provides the additional detail that Peter was with another disciple (presumed to be John himself) and that he gained access to the courtyard through this other disciple’s relationship with the High Priest (see John 18:15).
So following his entrance to the High Priest’s place of residence, Peter found a group of individuals seated around a fire and sat down to join them. However, Luke 22:56 goes on to report that “A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, ‘This man was with him'” (NIV). Mark 14:67 tells us that she also said, “You, too, were with Jesus of Nazareth” (GNB).
In addition, John 18:17 mentions that Peter also received a direct question regarding his relationship to Jesus: “…the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.'” This represents Peter’s first denial of Jesus but there were more to follow.
“And the servant girl saw him again, and began to say to those who stood by, ‘This is one of them.’ But he denied it again. And a little later those who stood by said to Peter again, ‘Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your speech shows it'” (Mark 14:69-70).
As mentioned previously, John 18:17 tells us that “The young woman who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, ‘Aren’t you one of this man’s disciples?’ He said, ‘No, I’m not'” (MSG). The Gospels of Mark and Luke also record two subsequent denials from Peter that took place at or about this time: “I don’t know or understand what you are talking about” (Mark 14:68 NIV) and, “Woman, I do not know Him” (Luke 22:57). Taken together, these statements represent three separate denials from Peter shortly after he entered the courtyard of the High Priest.
Following this, Mark 14:68 reports that Peter retreated to the porch where a rooster was heard to be crowing. However, Peter still found it difficult to escape notice for the Scriptures tell us that he was positively identified once more:
- “This fellow is one of them” (Mark 14:69 NIV)
- “…This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth” (Matthew 26:71).
- “…after a little while another saw him and said, ‘You also are of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!'” (Luke 22:58).
At one point, Peter was even questioned by a relative of the man whose ear he had cut off in the Garden of Gethsemane (see John 18:26). The Scriptures also tell us that Peter faced these inquiries:“…Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean” (Luke 22:59) and, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away” (Matthew 26:73 NIV).
Having been repeatedly subjected to such scrutiny, it appears that Peter eventually reached his breaking point: “Then he began to curse and swear, ‘I do not know this Man of whom you speak!'” (Mark 14:71). The Gospel of Luke follows by reporting, “…Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. (1) And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ So Peter went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:60-62).
So which account is correct? Matthew, who says “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” or Mark who says, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” We’ll consider that question next.
(1) Mark 14:72 records that this was the second time the rooster crowed that morning
“Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (Matthew 26:34).
“Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times” (Mark 14:30).
So which of these accounts is correct? Well, the answer is that they both are. Remember that a rooster must crow once before it can crow twice. In order for both statements to be accurate, Peter would have to deny Jesus three times before the rooster crowed, something that occurred shortly after he entered the courtyard of the High Priest. Following these denials, Mark 14:68 reports that a rooster crowed, thus bringing Jesus’ prophetic statement to pass. There were other denials that took place before the rooster crowed a second time but this does not affect the basic accuracy of Jesus’ statement: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.”
Nevertheless, its natural to ask why Matthew and Mark read differently in this regard. After all, it hardly seems necessary to include the word “twice” if these three denials were to occur before the rooster crowed once. One possible way to address this question is to consider that the inclusion of some additional information (such as “the rooster crowed twice” as mentioned in Mark’s Gospel) does not necessarily contradict the account contained within a more concise report (like the account found within the Gospel of Matthew). Matthew’s Gospel simply provides us with an abridged version of these events while Mark’s account gives us some additional detail. These reports are not necessarily contradictory; one just provides us with additional information.
Here is how one commentator addresses this question…
“There is no contradiction between the two accounts because, given the correctness of the text, Matthew and John do not expressly state how many times the rooster will crow. They simply say Peter will deny Christ three times “before the rooster crows,” but they do not say how many times it will crow. Mark may simply be more specific, affirming exactly how many times the rooster would crow.
It is also possible that different accounts are due to an early copyist error in Mark, that resulted in the insertion of “two” in early manuscripts (at Mark 14:30 and 72). This would explain why some important manuscripts of Mark mention only one crowing, just like Matthew and John, and why “two” appears at different places in some manuscripts.” (1)
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : A popular handbook on Bible difficulties (359). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.