The Passion Narrative begins. (See the table at the end for the events in Passion Week.) Jesus is anointed at Bethany. Judas betrays Jesus. Jesus institutes the Last Supper and New Covenant. He foretells Peter’s and the other apostles’ denial. Jesus prays in Gethsemane. He is arrested, a young man flees, and Jesus is brought before the Council. At the same time, Peter denies Jesus.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The translation is mine. I add yet another translation for one purpose: to learn. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
I ask Growth Application (GrowApp) questions after each section of Scripture, for discipleship.
I add some Greek word studies, in a nontechnical way. The Greek terms with brief definitions can also be looked up at biblehub.com.
Links are provided for further study.
The Plot to Kill Jesus (Mark 14:1-2)
1 There was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread after two days. The chief priests and teachers of the law were looking for ways to arrest him by deceit and kill him. 2 They were saying, “Not during the festival, in case there will be an uproar from the populace.”
This another intercalation or “sandwich” from 14:1-2 and 10-11. The plot to arrest Jesus is interrupted by the anointing scene.
The anointing scene marks the beginning of the Passion Narrative.
“two days”: John says “six days before Passover” (12:1), and then Jesus is anointed. However, read v. 2 more carefully. This was two days before Passover when the high priest and the chief priests met together. It is not necessarily talking about the anointing scene in v. 3. We will soon learn in v. 3 that the time marker “And while” is vague (built the participle only and the very common conjunction kai). “And while Jesus was in Bethany.” So the anointing scene may have happened six days before Passover as John says. Mark may have thematically shifted the anointing scene without a concern for precise chronology. Gospel writers gave themselves permission to move pericopes around when this suited their overall purpose.
Matthew’s Gospel is really clear about when the meeting of the chief priests happened two days before Passover.
At that link, scroll down to v. 2
Once again, will your faith snap in two when these differences and special permissions crop up? Don’t let it. Relax and calm down. Read the Gospels as they present themselves, not as some uptight Bible hyper-inerrantist says the Gospel writers must present their data.
Celebrate the huge number of similarities, not these few differences of timing, resolved by thematic purposes.
“Passover”: This is one of three spring festivals required by law (Tabernacles or Booths and Pentecost are the other two). The noun Passover comes from the noun pascha (pronounced pah-skha, for the -ch- is hard). Let’s define it. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT. It says: (1) An annual Israelite festival commemorating Israel’s exodus from Egypt, the Passover, celebrated on the 14th of the month Nisan and continuing into the early hours of the 15th … Ex 12-13 … This was followed immediately by the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the 15th to 21st. Popular usage merged the two festivals and treated them as a unity, as they were for practical purposes (see Lk 22:1 and Mk 14:12)”…. (2) “the lamb sacrificed for observance of the Passover, Passover lamb …figurative of Christ and his bloody death 1 Cor. 5:7 … eat the Passover Mt 26:17; Mk 14:12b, 14; Lk 22:11, 15; J 18:28.” (3) “The Passover meal Mt 26:19; Mk 14:16; Lk 22:8” …. (4) “in later Christian usage the Easter festival.”
The key points in that definition: popular usage merged Passover and Unleavened Bread for practical reasons; the Greek can be translated as the lamb itself, so the figurative usage is easy to apply to Christ’s sacrifice (1 Cor. 5:7). (To this day, modern Greeks celebrate the pascha by eating a lamb.) The latter usage of the term “Easter” is the church’s choice to take over a pagan festival. You can certainly skip the term if it bothers your conscience and biblical values.
Here are the basic facts about the two festivals:
Time of year in OT: First Month: Aviv / Nisan 14th day (for one day)
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: March / April (second Passover is one month later according to Num. 9:10-11)
How to celebrate it:
(1) A whole lamb by the number of people in household, being ready to share with nearest neighbor; (2) one-year-old males without defects, taken from sheep and goats; (3) take care of them until the fourteenth day; (4) then all the community is to slaughter it at twilight; (5) put the blood on the tops and sides of the doorframes of the houses where the lambs are eaten, with bitter herbs and bread without yeast; (6) that night eat the lambs roasted over fire, with the head, legs and internal organs, not raw or boiled (7) do not leave any of it until morning; if there is any leftover, burn it; (8) the cloak must be tucked into belt; sandals on feet and staff in hand; (9) eat in haste in order to leave Egypt soon (Exod. 12:4-11).
Purpose: Exodus from Egypt and Protection from Judgment:
“The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exod. 12:13).
Other Scriptures: Exod. 12:4-14; Num. 28:16
(2).. Unleavened Bread
Time of Year in OT: Same month, 15th to 21st days, for seven days
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: Same month, on the fifteenth day, which lasts for seven days
How to celebrate it:
Exod. 12:14-20 says that the Israelites were to eat bread without yeast for seven days, from the fourteenth day to the twenty-first day. On the first day they were to remove the yeast from their houses. If they eat anything with yeast from the first to the seventh days they shall be cut off (excommunicated), and this was true for foreigner or native-born. They must not do work on those days, except to prepare to prepare the food for everyone to eat. On the first days they are to hold a sacred assembly (meet at the tabernacle) and another one on the seventh day.
Other Scriptures: Exod. 12:14-20; Num. 28:16
Purpose: see the previous section “Passover.”
Paul writes in 1 Cor. 5:6-8:
Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:6-8)
The ancient Israelites were not supposed to eat leavened bread during this time. They were in such a hurry to leave Egypt that they could not wait for the yeast to raise the lump of dough. In this context yeast symbolized sin and hindrance. We are to keep the Passover, but only in a spiritual sense: “with sincerity and faith.” We are to get rid of the old yeast or moral corruption in our lives and the life of the church. Christ is our Passover lamb, and he protects us from God judicial wrath or judgment, when we are in union with him.
The Passover ritual had no place for the words “this is my body.” It must have been stunning for these twelve disciples to hear these words. The same is true of the cup of wine. Drinking “blood” (so to speak) symbolized by wine must have seemed strange to them. Streamlining it to its essence, Jesus raised up the Passover to a whole different level. He made it his own. It now speaks of intimacy and relationship with him (John 15).
You can read about them in this post, where the Jewish groups are placed in alphabetical order:
They did not want to arrest or seize Jesus because they did not want a riot among the people. Numerous Galileans were in Jerusalem for the Passover, and Jesus was their “home-boy,” to borrow a term from pop culture. And no doubt others, like the Jerusalemites, treasured him too. The crowd acclaimed him as a Messiah (Mark 11:1-11). At this stage they would have rioted on seeing his arrest. Incidentally, “uproar” can be translated as “riot.”
Let’s discuss the Passover in relation to the Last Supper. There are three options if one intends to harmonize the four Gospel accounts.
(1).. The Last Supper was not on the Passover but was a “New Passover” which Jesus inaugurated and celebrated early with the disciples. The Jewish Passover (Nisan 15) began on Friday evening as John’s Gospel indicates and continued through Saturday afternoon. Jesus inaugurated the New Passover on Nisan 14, which began on Thursday evening, running through Friday.
(2).. The Last Supper was the Jewish Passover. Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples on Thursday evening (Nisan 15) as the Synoptics suggest and was crucified the next morning (still Nisan 15, which ran Thursday evening through Friday afternoon). John’s reference to “the Preparation of the Passover (John 19:14; cf. 19:31, 42) does not means preparation for the day of Passover week, the day the lambs were slaughtered but preparation for the Sabbath of Passover week (i.e. Friday before sundown). This meaning of “preparation” is common and appears in Mark 15:42. To eat the Passover (John 18:28) means the general sense to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
(3).. The Jewish Passover was celebrated at two different times. Nisan falls on two days for two groups or the Passover was spread out over two days, perhaps because of the large number of lambs to be slaughtered. Celebrated on two days for the (a) Sadducees and Pharisees; (b) Galileans and Judeans; (c) visiting pilgrims and local residents. Or Jesus was following the solar calendar used at Qumran and in the Book of Jubilees, where Nisan 15 began on Tuesday. The religious leaders were following the traditional lunar calendar, where Nisan 15 fell on Friday evening.
Strauss, pp. 617-18.
Also see John 13 (after the first long pericope) for more explanations of harmonization of the four Gospels:
At that link, the discussion is narrowed down more than Strauss has done.
Maybe R. T France can help. In his introductory comments on 14:12-25, here’s how commentator France see the sequencing of the Last Supper and the Passover meal:
Western commentators instinctively assume that the evening which followed the slaughter of the lambs in the afternoon belongs to the same ‘day’, but since the Jewish day was normally understood to begin at sunset it is in fact part of the following ‘day’. Thus when Mk. 14:12, which is the key text for the supposed ‘synoptic chronology’, sets the time of preparation for the supper on the ‘day’ when the lambs were sacrificed, this would, on the normal Jewish method of reckoning days, only be on the evening following the sacrifice if the preparations were made before sunset. If, however, the meal was prepared (as it was certainly eaten) after sunset, it would only be on the same ‘day’ as the sacrifice if it took place on the previous evening. On that understanding, Mark’s careful note of time in fact places the last supper, as John does, on the evening which began Nisan 14, not on that which followed it. In other words, he was as clearly aware as John was that Jesus held his Passover meal not on the official day, but deliberately one day early. (p. 561)
So Mark and John are right.
France produces a table (which I slightly modify):
After sunset: disciples ask about and make preparations
During the night: Passover meal held; walk out to Gethsemane; arrest and preliminary hearing of Jesus
At daybreak: transfer to Pilate; formal trial and conviction
Afternoon: official date for sacrifice of lambs
Also see this offsite commentary: Barry D. Smith, “The Chronology of the Last Supper,” Westminster Theological Journal 53:1 (1991): 29-45. He too stretches out the meal and says that the labels “Passover” and “Unleavened Bread” were used interchangeably, in the NT and various Jewish sources.
Here is a shorter version of Smith’s study:
Thomas Brewer. “Does John’s last supper chronology differ from the other Gospels?” Christian Post. 13 May 2022.
If either of those offsite links go dead, just copy and paste the bibliographical references in a search engine.
Once again, you can decide or work up your own chronology.
See the table on Passion Week at the bottom of this link.
GrowApp for Mark 1:1-2
A.. Jesus showed a lot of courage to walk into Jerusalem, where he was going to die. Where has God enabled you to show courage in your own life?
The Anointing at Bethany (Mark 14:3-9)
3 And while he was in Bethany, at Simon the Leper’s house, he was reclining at dinner, and a woman came, having an alabaster jar of pure and costly aromatic oil. Breaking it open, she poured it on his head. 4 But there were some who became indignant among themselves. “Why was this ointment wasted? 5 For this oil could be sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor!” They scolded her.
6 But Jesus said, “Let her be. Why do you cause trouble for her? She has done a good work for me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do something good for them. But you do not always have me. 8 She did what she could with what she had. She acted ahead to anoint my body for burial. 9 I tell you the truth: wherever the gospel is preached to the whole world, what she did will be remembered as her memorial offering.”
John 12:1-10 says he was that Lazarus was among those who reclined at table, in order to eat. It’s implied that it is his house, but it is not clearly stated that it was. So who was Simon the leper? He could have hosted the dinner, where Lazarus attended, and Martha and Mary attended and served. Some commentators have suggested that Simon was the father of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. It appears that, living in a small village, all four would know each other, whether related or not. There is nothing improbable about the three siblings going to Simon’s house to eat. They may have lived right next door to each other.
But more important than reconciling these accounts, we must not allow ourselves to have a brittle faith, which snaps in two when a puzzle emerges in the Gospels. The essence of the story is the same. Let’s focus on that, instead of harmonizing the Simon / Lazarus dinner party.
“reclining”: In the Middle East at that time, people did not sit at table (sorry, Davinci), but their heads were towards the low table, and their feet farthest away from the table. When she broke open the jar and poured it on his head, she had to push in, which showed her devotion. Or he could have been sitting up, and that’s when the woman moved to do her act of devotion.
In my view, this scene is different from the one at Simon the Pharisees house (Luke 7:36-50), though I had thought they were the same in my book. Other passages: Mark 14:3-9 and John 12:1-8. Some argue that all of the passages, even Luke 7:36-50, are the same scene, but just placed at different spots in the narrative. Maybe the anointing in Bethany at the end of the Gospels is the same incident, but not the one at Simon the Pharisee’s house. John identifies her as Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. However, John does not say that they were all at their house. The three siblings may have known Simon quite well and were at the dinner.
It is odd that Simon would be remembered as the leper, for it is a sure thing that Jesus healed him; otherwise, no one could approach his house. He would have been a village outcast. A leper was required by law to wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face, and, as noted, cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” in order not to contaminate someone else (Lev. 13:45).
Scholars nowadays say the word leprosy was generic for skin diseases. But let’s call Simon the “leper” for convenience. Sometimes nicknames stick. Also, Simon was the most common or numerous name in Israel and the entire large area (called Palestine), for hundreds of years (like the name William or John in early American records). Since this Simon was known in the earliest Christian community, which explains why he is named in Matthew and Mark’s Gospel, the Christians must have referred to him by his nickname to distinguish him from all the other Simons in the community. Peter’s birth name was Simon, to cite only this one example.
However, Jesus is not recorded as calling him that. But even if he had, then this nickname was to bring glory to God, for the healing. “I was once really a leper, but now look at me! I’m healed! I can even host the Lord in my own house!” If Mark knew the man’s name, why didn’t he mention Mary, and the same with Matthew who evidently borrowed from Mark or used an independent source? No one can figure out why some Gospel writers include or exclude people’s names, though one scholar has worked hard at explaining it (see Bauckham at the Works Cited link).
The price of the ointment was three hundred denarii, about a working man’s yearly wage if he got steady work throughout the year, which often did not happen.
“scolded her”: it could be translated as “spoke angrily at her” (NET). They go on offense, but Jesus is about to counter them and go on defense.
“she has done a good work for me”: “she worked a beautiful work” or “she worked a noble work” or “she worked a fine work” would be literal translations. It must be recalled that Jesus is defending a woman against a male put-down. She caught on to what was about to happen, though she may not have caught on fully. But the men did not, and they spent over three years with him. Jesus elevated her “beautiful work” or “action” to his burial. The reason he said “body” and not “head” is that the viscous ointment must have dripped down, and one usually prepared the entire body for burial.
Yes, the poor will always exist, and the disciples can help them whenever they can. But the disciples will not always have Jesus with them, and his death will be a one-time act and once and for all. Therefore, her anointing was perfectly thought through and perfectly done. Don’t scold her. Leave her alone.
“I tell you the truth”: “Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). Used thirteen times in Mark, it expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “truly I tell you” or I tell you with certainty.” Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. In the OT and later Jewish writings is indicates a solemn pronouncement. It means we must pay attention to it, for it is authoritative. He is about to declare an important and solemn message or statement. The clause appears only on the lips of Jesus. That is, in Paul’s epistles, for example, he never says, “I truly say to you.” That phrasing had too much authority, which only Jesus had. The clause only appears on the lips of Jesus in the NT. The word appears in a Jewish culture and means “let it be so.” So Jesus speaks it out with special, divine emphasis. “Let this happen!” “Let what I’m about to say happen!” We better take it seriously and not just walk by it or read over it with a casual air.
What this unnamed woman (Mary in John’s Gospel 12:3) did must be taken note of.
He also elevated her action to the preaching of the gospel around the whole world. When it is preached, she shall be remembered. The fact that you and I are reading her beautiful work confirms Jesus’s prediction. We do remember her.
“gospel”: it is the Greek noun euangelion (pronounced yew-ahn-geh-lee-on, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). Used 76 times in the NT, it combines eu– (good or positive) angel (message or announcement, and yes we get our word angel from Greek). The gospel announces salvation through Jesus Christ—a new “sheriff” is in town or on earth. Or if the sheriff imagery is displeasing to some, then the King of kings and Lord of lords has arrived, and he has a new revelation about God’s love for humanity and a new path right into his presence. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16), so charismatic power is built into it. It announces the coming of the kingdom of God or a new way that God relates to the world, though it has roots in the OT (Mark 1:15). The gospel brings out a response in people, positively or negatively (Matt. 26:13; Mark 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:14a; 2 Cor. 2:12). (Personally, I believe that humans have enough free will to resist the gospel until the day they die, but they do not have enough free will to strut into salvation without the Word or the gospel communicated in some fashion, even in a dream about Jesus, which is happening in the Muslim world). The Greek word is described as the “gospel of grace” (Acts 20:24) (as distinct from the law of Moses), the “gospel of salvation” (Eph. 1:13), and the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:19).
It is the good news about Jesus, not the bad news about him.
“memorial offering”: many translations say “in memory of her.” True enough. I would not want the memory about her to be forgotten. But in Acts 10:4 the Greek noun refers to a memorial offering, as it does in many verses in the Septuagint (LXX) (Decker). So I see this as her memorial offering, which is just as precious and should be remembered, wherever the good news is preached. In Matt. 26:13 I translated it as “in remembrance of her.”
GrowApp for Mark 14:3-9
A.. John names the unknown woman as Mary. She did something dear and costly for Jesus, to show her devotion. What have you given up for his kingdom recently? What about giving your entire life to him?
Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus (Mark 14:10-11)
10 Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, departed for the high priests, so that he could hand him over. 11 On hearing him, they celebrated and promised to give him money. Then he sought out the best time to hand him over.
This is more setting up of the scene by Mark. So what could motivate Judas, other than money? His name “Iscariot” probably means that he was from Iscariot, that is, not from Galilee. And he saw, as Peter did when he rebuked Jesus and Jesus had to put the lead apostle in his place (Matt. 16:23-23), that the Lord was a threat to Israel and its long history. This may indicate that he belonged to the Zealot movement, which means they were zealous for the law and independence from Rome. If so, then he could now perceive that Jesus was not going to be a conquering hero. So Judas betrayed him out of big letdown.
One scholar speculated that Judas may have tried to broker a meeting with the temple establishment in a misguided attempt to reach a settlement between Jesus and the establishment. Maybe Jesus could work some miracles to overthrow Rome. The problem is that the passages about Judas all over the four Gospels cannot support this speculation.
Next, Luke says Satan entered his heart (22:3). For a charismatic like Luke, that was motive enough. Evidently Judas was not filled with the Spirit, because demonic possession and the Spirit cannot live in the same person. But an evil spirit can deceive and harass a believer’s mind. Never underestimate how Satan can toy with a follower’s mind. The evil spirit being can work his evil magic on any one of us.
The Jerusalem establishment will suffer judgment for carrying out this plot. This is irony. They think they are right and are following God, but they are deceived and have been wandering off the path for many years. They were actually wrong. See below, for further comments on irony.
“money”: Matthew 26:15 says, “thirty pieces of silver.” It was at this time thirty denarii, a month’s wages, if the man worked throughout the month. It was a considerable amount.
Also, “hand over” could be translated as “betray.”
GrowApp for Mark 14:10-11
A.. Study Eph. 4:32. Have you ever been betrayed? How has God lead you to forgive and release the other person.
Passover with the Disciples (Mark 14:12-21)
12 On the first day of feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrifice the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to depart to prepare so that you may eat the Passover meal?” 13 He commissioned two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city; and a man, carrying an earthenware vessel of water, will meet you. Follow him, 14 and wherever he may enter, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guestroom where I may eat the Passover meal with my disciples?”’ 15 Then he will show you the large, furnished, and prepared upstairs room. You prepare that place for us. 16 His disciples left and went into the city and found the man just as Jesus said, and they prepared the Passover meal.
17 When evening came, he went with the twelve. 18 As they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth: One of you will hand me over, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be grieved and say to him, one by one, “Surely it is not I, is it? 20 He told them, “One of the twelve, the one dipping with me in the dish.” 21 For on the one side, the Son of Man goes just as it is written of him, but on the other, woe to that man through whom the Son of Man is handed over! It would have been better for him if that man had not been born!”
Mark 14:12-31 is another intercalation (“sandwich”) between the institution of the Lord’s Supper (14:22-26a) sandwiched between Judas’ betrayal (vv. 17-21) and the prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 26-31).
For the two feasts of Unleavened Bread and Passover, see vv. 1-2. The Passover meal and feast of Unleavened Bread were so close together that they were used interchangeably.
I really like the phrase “Passover lamb” (“lamb” is implied). The ones who sacrificed were the priests in the temple, not the disciples. There is a symbolic message in the word. As we saw in vv. 1-2 and 1 Cor. 5:6-8, Jesus is our Passover lamb. And so, Mark is drawing the comparison between Jesus and the Passover lamb. His blood smeared on the door of your heart protects you from God’s judgment at the final judgment. However, please be aware that God is judging / evaluating you every minute of every day. Sometimes he likes what he sees, and at other times he tells you that you need an attitude adjustment.
See Heb. 12: 5-11, which talks about the discipline of the Lord out of his love. And 1 Peter 4:17 says that judgment begins with the household of God—now, here on earth.
“disciples”: the noun is mathētēs (singular and pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it says of the noun that it means (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
“commissioned”: it may be a too heavy translation. It is the common word “send,” but it can also be translated as “commission.”
As for making the arrangements, Luke’s Gospel says Jesus sent Peter and John.
“a man” this one Greek word puts it past doubt that Jesus knew the man, and Mark did not want to reveal him. Or Mark may not have known who he was, but he recalled that the arrangements went smoothly, so he concluded that Jesus knew who the person was, but Mark did not. A man carrying a water jar was unusual, since this was woman’s work. A man would have been carrying an animal skin of wine. So the man was probably waiting for the disciples and used a water jug to signal them..
Incidentally, the more elaborate Seder dinner was invented after the NT, so they did not eat the Seder meal as it is currently done.
The preparation for the meal: acquiring the lamb sacrificed at the temple, unleavened bread, wine, bitter herbs and fruit sauce for dipping. Strauss notes that whether the lamb was acquired or not depends on whether this was a true Passover meal or whether Jesus was instituting his new Passover, early (p. 620).
The disciples ask about preparations. There is nothing wrong with asking for instructions. God does lead step by step. Jerusalem was a busy, crowded place right now. So the fact that he gave these instructions still means they had to watch and observe.
I like how Jesus said, “Where is my guestroom.” He took authority, and the owner of the house allowed it. Some scholars believe that this is the Upper Room (or upstairs room) of Pentecost (Acts 1:13), where they had assembled when the Spirit fell on them. But of course the evidence is circumstantial: in the city of Jerusalem and a large upstairs room, but that is all the evidence I can find. No one knows for sure.
“reclined”: they ate at low tables and pillows for seats to lean on. Let’s not picture them sitting at a modern table with chairs (or benches), regardless of Da Vinci painted at his Last Supper.
When Jesus said that the betrayer was the one wo dipped his bread with him, he probably meant that it was one of the twelve, since they were all dipping their bread. So the betrayer was one of the twelve. But who exactly? John 13:21-30 says that Jesus gave a morsel to Judas, and then Judas departs to do his “mission.”
This whole scene is sad. Jesus knew who was about to betray or hand him over—Judas. And Judas set the betrayal in motion in the previous pericope (vv. 10-11). (A pericope, pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea is a section or unit of Scripture.) But he did not realize that Jesus knew also. So Judas still did not grasp his Lord’s knowledge. It’s ironic—which means some who lives in ignorance but thinks he is getting away with it. Judas actually asked, probably because he saw the other disciples ask, whether he was the one who would betray him.
“Son of Man”: it both means the powerful, divine Son of man (Dan. 7:13-14) and the human son of man—Ezekiel himself—in the book of Ezekiel (numerous references). Jesus was and still is in heaven both divine and human.
Jesus reminds everyone of the prophecies about his death, just as Scriptures say. Which Scriptures? Ps. 41:9 says that the one who shares my bread has turned against me. He is about to quote Zech. 13:7 in v. 27, which says the shepherd will be struck down, and the sheep will scatter. Or Is. 53:12 says that the Suffering Servant has poured out his soul to death. Whichever verses is assumed, this does not excuse the betrayer (Judas). Man has a certain level of free will. Yet God sovereignly works the circumstances and even allows Satan to enter a man who has vices in him—to accomplish his purposes.
“on the one side … on the other”: it is an awkward translation of the men … de construction (pronounced mehn … deh). It’s classical and rhetorically sophisticated. Grammarian Decker calls it a “prestige feature.” Mark uses it again v. 38. Who says Mark’s Greek is always low-grade?
Next, Jesus makes a sweeping statement designed to shock. “It would better for him if he had not been born.” I don’t want to take anything away from the philosophical theologians and their discussion on whether it would be better not to be born than to betray someone, but I believe Jesus is simply stating how egregious the sin of betrayal is, when the betrayer had spent so much time with the Lord. His statement does imply, however, that punishment is worse than nonexistence (not born). So the professional theologians may have their discussions.
For the notion that Judas may have repented and showed the fruits of repentance, please see my comments on Matt. 27:3-10.
GrowApp for Mark 14:12-21
A.. Jesus carefully worked out a plan for a sacred meal. Do you believe God is working out a plan for you to grow in holiness? Does God use circumstances to train you to grow in his Son? Tell your story.
Jesus Institutes New Covenant and Last Supper (Mark 14:22-26)
22 While they were eating, he, taking the bread and blessing it, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Taking the cup, giving thanks, he gave it to them, and everyone drank from it. 24 Then he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which has been poured out for many. 25 I tell you the truth: I will no longer drink from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink this new wine in the kingdom of God. 26 After they sang a hymn, they left for the Mount of Olives.
The exegesis of verses 22-25 have moved to this post:
“Covenant” v. 24): At my post on the New Covenant, I defined a covenant in this way:
Out of his great love for his highest creation, people, God unilaterally reaches out to them and initiates an unalterable legal agreement, in which he stipulates the terms that reveal how he relates to people, and they to him.
A covenant is an unalterable legal agreement, in which God stipulates the terms that reveal how he relates to people, and they to him.
Further, here are the differences between the Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant, in table form. The comparisons from the New Covenant’s point of view, looking back on the Old, in a fuller perspective.
|Categories||Old Sinai Covenant||New Covenant|
|Grace and Faith||Yes||Yes|
|Written||In stone||On hearts and minds|
|Ratified||By blood of animals||By the blood of Christ|
|Number of Sacrifices||Countless numbers||One sacrifice forever|
|Holy Spirit||No permanent indwelling||Permanent indwelling|
|Being Born Again||No||Yes|
|Life in the Spirit||Intermittent or minimal or not at all||Permanent and powerful|
|Approach to God||Through Aaron the high priest and his successors||Through Christ our High Priest|
|Celebrated||By sacrifices (looking forward)||By communion (looking back to the cross)|
|Fulfilled and Replaced||Yes||Never|
|Adapted and much expanded from Geisler, p. 1393|
The New Covenant is superior and better than the Old Sinai Covenant, as the epistle of Hebrews teaches. The main point is that life in the Spirit is the whole project and new way that God grants to people in the New Covenant (Luke 24:49; John 20:22; entire book of Acts; Rom. 8; Gal. 5). People of the Old Covenant did not have life in the Spirit, in the same way, both extensive and intensive, as do people of the New.
Please click on these posts for more details:
“I tell you the truth”: see v. 9 for more comments.
Wine was seen generally as a symbol of joyful well being (e.g. Gen. 27:28; Deut. 33:28; Prov. 3:10; Amos 9:13). Jesus said it was a symbol of new life (Matt. 9:17). This entire meal, both the bread and wine, is a forerunner of the Messianic banquet (Matt. 8:11-12), when God has already won the victory, once and for all.
“kingdom of my Father”: Keener, in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, points out that “our Father” appears often in Jewish texts, but “my Father” is “quite rare” (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, [Eerdmans, 1999], p. 638). Jesus had an extra-close relationship with his Father. John’s Gospel is especially clear about this.
Next, the question is—which stage of the kingdom? The very end when the kingdom of God will come on earth in full manifestation and power and glory? Or after his resurrection? It seems the best answer is the full manifestation, in which case he will partake of the Last Supper in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Big meals express final victory (Matt. 22:1-14) and the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:12-24). However, he does eat meals with them after the resurrection, so he may mean this stage of the kingdom.
Let’s study the kingdom generically:
What is it? As noted in other verses that mention the kingdom in this commentary, the kingdom is God’s power, authority, rule, reign and sovereignty. He exerts all those things over all the universe but more specifically over the lives of people. It is his invisible realm, and throughout the Gospels Jesus is explaining and demonstrating what it looks like before their very eyes and ears. It is gradually being manifested from the realm of faith to the visible realm, but it is not political in the human sense. It is a secret kingdom because it does not enter humanity with trumpets blaring and full power and glory. This grand display will happen when Jesus comes back. In his first coming, it woos people to surrender to it. We can enter God’s kingdom by being born again (John 3:3, 5), by repenting (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:5), by having the faith of children (Matt. 18:4; Mark 10:14-15), by being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col. 1:13), and by seeing their own poverty and need for the kingdom (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas. 2:5).
However, as noted, in this context, it speaks of the future kingdom.
Here are some of my posts about the kingdom of God:
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
It is good to see that he proclaims that the kingdom belongs to his Father. In Matt. 6:9, he said “our Father.” Now he expresses intimacy with his Father. Now his disciples know that he has a divine connection between him and his Father. The Father is orchestrating the whole Gospel mission, culminating in the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and enthronement.
“sang”: Have you ever heard Jesus singing? No, of course not, but it is interesting to ponder. Traditionally they sang the last parts of the Hallel (Pss. 114-118 or 115-118). It was sung antiphonally. They chanted. Let’s not picture Jesus standing up like an opera singer performing an aria. Jesus the leader chanted the lines, and his followers chanted “Hallelujah.” It must have been very moving to be there, knowing that this was the last day or two before his death. (I’m moved right now, just thinking about it.)
Maybe they sang these relevant verses about not having fear and the LORD being by his side and triumphing over those who hate him:
5 Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me free.
6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
7 The Lord is on my side as my helper;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. (Ps. 118:5-7, ESV)
And these verses, particularly v. 22, which is first about rejection and then leading the way, he had quoted before (Matt. 21:42):
21 I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Ps. 118:21-24)
Jesus is about to get his miracle of resurrection, after his rejection. It will be marvelous in everyone’s eyes.
Next, this verse about coming in the name of the Lord was also referenced before (Mark 11:9-10). Did the disciples catch on to its Messianic significance in Jesus’ life?
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord. (Ps. 118:26)
Finally, right before the most horrific day of his life, during his suffering with a beating and crucifixion, he still gave thanks to the Lord:
28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever! (Ps. 118:28-29, ESV)
France points out that Hallel hymns were sung antiphonically, that is, one person sung, and the others replied. When everyone was chanting it at around the same time, to our ears it would sound “strange,” “raucous,” and “loud.” Let’s not expect Handel’s Messiah.
To wrap up this pericope, please see my posts in the areas of biblical and systematic theology:
GrowApp for Mark 14:22-26
A.. How do you take communion at church? Is it significant or just something to get out of the way?
Jesus Foretells Peter’s and Other Apostles’ Denial (Mark 14:27-31)
27 Then Jesus said: “Everyone will fall away, because it is written:
I will strike down the shepherd,
And the sheep will be scattered [Zech. 13:7]
28 However, after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
29 But Peter said to him, “Even if everyone falls away, I won’t, by contrast.” 30 Jesus said to him: “I tell you the truth: today—this very night—before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But Peter was saying more strongly, “If it is necessary to die with you, I will in no way deny you!” Everyone else was also saying the same thing.
The Greek word for fall away gives us our word scandal. But the meaning of the word back then could also mean “stumble” or “trip.” In this context, it means “fall away” even to be repelled by someone (BDAG). If he did not meet their expectations, then they tripped over him. They were just plain frightened, which reveals their commitment to him was shallow, when it came down to life or death, even though they were commissioned to work miracles in his name (Mark 6:7-13; and the seventy-two worked them as well, in Luke 10:17).
“because it is written:” This prophecy must be fulfilled. It is not positive, but Jesus was not making this up, and Mark was not retrofitting the prophecy to make the NT to conform to the OT. They really did deny him.
The above link has a table or quotes verses of the OT and NT side by side. But the fulfillment of prophecies goes much deeper and broader than this. It includes fulfilling patterns and themes and concepts. Jesus fulfills, for example, the sacrificial system and even Israel itself, as he is succeeding in carrying out God’s mission, which ancient Israel had failed in doing.
Again, Jesus predicts his resurrection. It is stunning how much confidence he has in his Father and his Father’s plan.
The angel of the Lord told the women to tell the disciples to meet them in Galilee (16:7), where he will meet them.
And so, not surprisingly, Peter speaks boldly, but he does not know what he is talking about. He does not read his own soul very well. He is the victim of irony, which says you believe that you know something, but you really don’t. A biblical example is Job and his friends. They were trying to figure out why Job met with disasters, and though they had a small level of understanding—and the poetry is beautiful—they really did not know as much as their confidence allowed. God showed up on the scene and told them so.
For a further discussion of irony, scroll down to vv. 53-65, right below the translation.
Jesus literally responds with three-fold time markers: “today, this night, before the rooster crows twice,” which corresponds to Peter’s three-fold denial (Strauss).
Likewise, Peter boastfully predicts that he would go to the death with Jesus. Jesus knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. He had little self-knowledge. The disciples said the same thing, but Mark trims their words because Peter has already been portrayed as representing the twelve (Mark 5:37; 8:29-33; 10:28; 11:21; 14:37; 16:7).
This is personal prophecy, pure and simple. But it was not very positive! Good thing Jesus restored him (John 21:15-19)!
Jesus said: “For whoever will be ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father and with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
The rooster won’t crow this morning until Peter denies three times that he knew Jesus. Jesus’s prediction sadly is about to come true (vv. 66-72). All the other disciples fled, as well (v. 50).
“I tell you the truth”: see v. 9 for more comments.
In his comments on vv. 29-31 commentator France quotes another commentator who paraphrases the verses on the parallels between a proud rooster and proud Peter’s boast that he would never desert Jesus:
‘This very night, before a cock has raised its voice twice to witness to its wakefulness to approaching dawn, you Peter will raise your voice not merely twice but three times, and not to witness to your wakefulness, but to witness to the wakelessness of your allegiance to me.’ So understood ‘the incident belongs … to a common biblical theme: man’s rebuke by the lower creation.’
GrowApp for Mark 14:27-31
A.. Have you ever been ashamed of the gospel or even Jesus himself? How did God restore you? B.. Or how did he give you courage not to deny him in difficult circumstances?
Jesus Prays in Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42)
32 They went to an area by the name of Gethsemane. He said to his disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John along with him, and he began to be distressed and troubled. 34 He said, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death. Remain here and watch.” 35 Then he went a little way off and fell upon the ground and prayed that if it is possible let this moment pass him by. 36 He said, “Abba Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. However, not what I want, but what you want.”
37 He went and found them sleeping and said to Peter, “Simon, you’re sleeping? You were not strong enough to watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you don’t come into temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.” 39 Again he left and prayed, saying the same word. 40 He came back and found them sleeping, for their eyes were weighted down, and they did not know how to answer him. 41 Then he came the third time and said to them, “You’re still sleeping and resting? Enough! The moment has come. Look! The Son of Man is betrayed to the hand of sinners. 42 Get up, let’s go! Look! The one who hands me over has gotten closer!”
We are on holy ground. This passage is both sad and inspirational at once. I hope I do justice to it in my comments.
Gethsemane is at the base of the Mount of Olives. The term means “oil press.” He told the twelve to sit down, but they will soon lie down and fall asleep. France points out that John 18:2 says it was a regular rendezvous place for Jesus and the twelve and was a “garden.” So it was probably a cultivated estate and enclosed with a wall. The three were invited in, while the remaining nine waited (i.e. slept) outside.
Jesus tells the twelve to remain somewhere on the Mount of Olives, but then he took Peter, James, and John with him. They formed the inner core (Mark 9:2).
“distressed” and “troubled”: Jesus was true God and true man, and here he is expressing his true humanity. He is feeling those emotions.
“deeply grieved”: he senses death is near. He knew how people were executed. They were crucified. Did he see a crucifixion on his way to Jerusalem? If not, he had heard of this method of execution. He seems to say here that he is so deeply grieved that he is dying. Luke 22:43 says: “And his sweat was like drops of blood falling on the ground.” Medical doctors say that this is awful and intense inner turmoil expressing itself by bleeding.
“watch”: it could be translated as “keep awake” or “be on the alert.”
“Abba”: I have to follow Decker on the use of this term. He writes:
[Abba] is a transliteration of the Aramaic word `abbā’, an emphatic form that was used as a vocative [address]. It was not the customary word used by a child of his father, i.e. it is not equivalent of our “daddy.” In the Aramaic of Jesus’ day (200 BC-ADD 200), our “Daddy” would have been expressed as `abî. Only after AD 200 does `abbā’ come to replace `abî in a family setting and even then it is rarely used by Jewish speakers in address to God (never in the Mishnah only once or twice in the Targums). We have no evidence in Judaism for any individual using `abbā’ as a personal address for God in or prior to the first century. Even the use of “father” (in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek) is rarely used by an individual in reference to God, though it is common as a corporate term. (p. 202)
So what’s the bottom line? France writes: it means “the respectful intimacy of a son in a patriarch family.” In other words, the term combines respect and intimacy. Jesus is using it, and he is the only one who did at this time in the first century.
However, I must point out that one day I was crossing, on foot, a university campus in Southern California, and I heard a little boy, about four years old, saying to his dad, “Abba! Abba!” I stopped and walked over there and inquired. The family was from Israel, and Abba really was used to mean “daddy.” But apparently it was not so used two thousand years ago.
“bypass” me: or “pass me by.” He wanted to avoid death, if possible. But since the wages or necessary result of sin is death, someone had to pay this penalty; either you and I do for ourselves, or someone else does for us. Jesus did it for us. He paid the penalty for our individual sins and our sin nature—sin itself being built into us. His distress and anguish sought a way out, but the way out for him was the way through. However, (a strong contrast word in Greek), he surrendered his will to the Father’s will. “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief” (Is. 53:10, ESV)
“cup”: it is the same Greek term used at the Last Supper. Here it is a metaphor for the cup of suffering. John 18:11 confirms it: “Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’” (NIV). He was talking about his suffering before and during the crucifixion. In Matt. 20:22-23 and Mark 10:38-39, Jesus asked the two disciples who wanted to be first whether they could drink from the cup (same Greek word) which he was about to drink from, referring to this moment of suffering. James and John said, “We can.” It looks like they were about to be proven wrong, though one of them (Peter) cut off an ear in v. 50. Furthermore, the Old Testament’s imagery of the cup speaks of divine wrath (Ps. 11:6; 75:7-8; Is. 51:17-19, 22; Jer. 25:15-16, 27-29; 49:12; 51:57; Lam. 4:21; Ezek. 23:31-34; Hab. 2:16; Zech. 12:2; Rev. 14:9-10; cf. Job 21:20; Ps. 60:3; Is. 63:6; Ob. 16;). God was about to pour out his wrath on his Son. And His was about to absorb it. But God’s wrath is not about losing his temper; it is judicious and evaluative. Here are two contrasting images:
God’s wrath is judicial.
It is not like this:
But like this:
That is a picture of God in judgment.
“not strong enough”: it could be translated more simply as “unable” or “not able.” Peter and the others were not strong enough to stay awake and watch and pray. But that’s what we are supposed to do morally and spiritually. Do we? They still were unable to discern that their Lord was in mortal danger. No, they could not have stopped the plan of God, but they could have stayed awake and sustain him with their sympathy and unity and prayers for themselves.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. This is a classical men … de construction, expressing strong contrast (pronounced mehn … deh). “On the one hand, the spirit is eager, on the other the flesh is weak.” But that translation is too cumbersome. See v. 21 for more comments.
Is this the Holy Spirit or the human spirit? It is clearly the human spirit because the disciples had not yet experienced Pentecost, yet. The flesh in this verse may indicate their physical bodies, not their sin nature. I get the feeling that Peter may have been able to prevent his mistakes that he committed in other versions, like striking off the high priest’s servant’s ear (John 18:10; Luke 22:49-51). That may be the temptation he was referring to. Or who knows? Maybe Jesus’s prediction about Peter denying him three times would not have happened. These predictions of judgment throughout the Old Testament could have been prevented, if the people had only repented. The prediction was conditional, even if implied: if. “Out of my attribute of righteousness and justice, I pronounced judgment on you!” “We repent!” “Great! Now I withdraw my pronouncement of doom on you and my attribute of mercy shines forth, and I forgive and restore you!” God is not being inconsistent; rather, he shines his attributes forth, out of his nature, as he interacts with inconsistent humanity. Judgment on sin and sinners; forgiveness and mercy on repentant sinners. It’s up to them.
But we will never know whether Peter would have maintained, out of his obedience to Jesus’s command to watch and pray, his vigilance so carefully that he would not have denied the Lord three times before the rooster crowed. Yet Jesus knew their characters so well—better than they knew themselves—that it was easy to predict that Peter was going to deny him and the other eleven would be scattered after the shepherd was struck down.
“willing”: is the interesting adjective prothumos (pronounced pro-thoo-moss), which means “ready, willing, or eager.” It means a spirit that leans forward or in advance. We have “look forward” as a rough parallel.
So the flesh is weak, meaning sleepy, but the spirit is eager. See v. 35 for Peter’s boast that he is willing to die with the Lord. Therefore, Peter is a victim of irony again, when Jesus walked up and saw them sleeping. He probably remembered Peter’s boast, but then realized his flesh could not keep up with his spirit. However, in Peter’s defense, he is about to take out his sword and cut off the high priest’s slave’s ear with it, so he may have been willing to die for the Lord (v. 47). (John 18:10 says Peter is the one who did this.) But when Jesus told him to put back his sword, he realized he could not get arrested passively. Jesus was called to allow it to happen, even though he ask his Father to send over twelve legions of angels to stop the false arrest.
He stopped praying for a moment and went back to the three disciples. The Greek says their eyes were literally “weighed down.” This is an idiom for excessively sleepy. They couldn’t keep their eyes open. Maybe a full day of preparations and a later dinner worked against them. Maybe he shook them a little, or probably he stood over them and spoke to them as they were sleeping. He must have roused them a little, for Mark says that the three did not know how to answer him.
In any case, Jesus could stay awake.
For the third and final time, before the mob came, he prayed the same word (literally), but you could say that he prayed the same genre of prayer—to ask the Father to allow the cup of wrath to bypass his Son and find another way. But the Father either spoke to his spirit or the Son realized that this bypass wasn’t going to happen. He simply knew. It was the only way. He had to pray through to the end. Who know for sure how he would have reacted in his humanity if he had not prayed and surrendered. Would he have said, “I’m out of here!”? Probably not, but he was human, after all.
Now, for the third time, he returns to the three disciples and says to Peter some ambiguous words. Decker again: it could be a mild rebuke: you are still sleeping! Or do you intend to sleep on and on? Or colloquially Still asleep?
I had translated it as something like: “You sleep and rest for the remaining (time),” as if Jesus’s struggle was over and he no longer needed them to stay alert and in prayer. He was giving them permission to keep on sleeping. Then I read the professional grammarians and followed their advice. Now I’m not so sure that I should have. France says my initial translation is legitimate. The American Standard Version, a charmingly “old-school” version,” translates it kindly: “Sleep on now and take your rest: it is enough.” In any case, the Greek puzzles scholars. I’ll leave my translation as it is now.
“Enough!” It’s the verb apechō (pronounced ah-peh-khoh), and in this context it stumps scholars. I again follow Decker here. I really like his quotation of an older commentator (A.B. Bruce): “The meaning would then be: ‘I have conquered in the struggle; I need your sympathy no longer; you may sleep now if you will’” (Decker p. 207). This shows that this stage in his struggle against his human nature was over, and he surrendered to God’s will. However, Strauss says the translation “enough!” is not common, so he suggests “Is it far off?” because a third definition of the verb can mean “to be distant.” That is, is the end so far off that you think you can sleep? No, the hour has come!
“sinners”: Generally, in a Jewish context, it is someone who does not keep the law. In this case, however, those who are about arrest him, and those who are about to put him on trial, kept the law in a backwards way. They were the super-duper law keepers, but wrongheaded also.
Judas is leading the mob. He is the one getting closer.
“gotten closer”: Jesus could probably hear them coming, but the mob was not there yet, where Jesus was standing.
“Look!” is just an updated version of “behold!” which can often be translated “Pay attention, readers! A new plot development!” “Watch out! “See!”
GrowApp for Mark 14:32-32
A.. Jesus surrendered all to his Father, just for you. Have you surrendered all to him?
B.. How did you respond when you did not get your prayer answered?
Jesus Is Arrested and His Disciples Abandon Him (Mark 14:43-52)
43 And then, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. 44 The one handing him over gave them a signal, saying, “The one whom I will greet with a kiss is he. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” 45 Coming quickly and approaching him, he said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 They put their hands on him and seized him. 47 One of those standing there, drawing the sword, struck the servant of the chief priest and took off his ear. 48 But in response, Jesus said to them, “You come out with swords and clubs to arrest me, as to an insurrectionist? 49 Every day I was right there with you in the temple, teaching, and you did not arrest me. But in order for the Scriptures to be fulfilled …. 50 Abandoning him, everyone fled.
51 Now a certain young man, clothed with a linen garment on his naked body, was following him. They seized him. 52 But leaving behind his linen garment, he fled naked.
By naming Judas once again, Mark makes clear we know who the traitor was. He is not any Judas, which was a common name back then, but he was one of the twelve.
The chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders sent the mob, led by the chief priest’s servant. They are the one who authorized the arrest.
See this post for these Jewish groups, who are placed in alphabetical order.:
This is perfect timing in Mark’s eyes. As soon as Jesus finished speaking in the previous pericope, the mob arrives.
“swords”: this brand of sword was short or it was a long-blade knife intended for fighting. It did not have a long blade (Decker’s comments on v. 47).
“signal”: the standard Greek word for “sign,” but “signal” is related to “sign” (note the first four letters). It was clearly an agreed-on gesture to tell the large crowd who the target was, so I chose “signal.”
“kiss”: in some cultures—like France—they go cheek to check or even kiss the cheek. Here it was a greeting, part of the “Rabbi!” Why does Judas call him Rabbi (see v. 25)? As noted in v. 25, it is not inaccurate, but Peter did proclaim the Messiah, the Son of the living God (16:16). Maybe Judas simply cannot bring himself to acknowledge a level of deity for the Lord.
See my post on the title Rabbi:
“coming quickly”: Judas did not hesitate but approached the Lord quickly.
Who took off the right ear of the servant? John’s Gospel reports that Peter cut off Malchus’s ear (John 18:10-11). How do we know the servant’s name? He probably joined the Christian community later. He had a high position for a commoner, and many Jews converted to the Messiah immediately after Pentecost, so he may have joined them and told his story. Why wouldn’t he join since Jesus healed his ear and put it back one (Luke 22:51)? But we don’t know for sure what happened to Malchus.
When Jesus was asked whether he was Jesus of Nazareth, he answered, “I am he.” Then the crowd with swords and clubs drew back and fell to the ground (John 18:6). Jesus’s words had power. He was in charge, whether the arresting party knew it or not. But the Father’s will had to be carried out, and it was his will that his Son suffer and die. So the arresting party with swords and clubs had to be allowed forward to accomplish their unjust deed.
“insurrectionist”: it could be translated as “revolutionary.” It was someone who did not maintain the peace but was in rebellion against Rome and the Jerusalem establishment who cooperated with Rome. His reply about paying tribute to Rome cleared him of any strong opinion about Roman domination (12:17). He was more interested in establishing God’s kingdom which would soon go way beyond Israel to the whole world.
They were coming out to arrest a criminal, Jesus said. He is being sarcastic here, telling them that he was in the temple during the day, but they did nothing to him. Why not? Recall that in v. 2 the Jerusalem establishment wanted to arrest Jesus, but they feared the crowds. They could only commit their injustice in the dark. He is calling them “authoritative cowards,” without actually using the words.
In Greek the sentence trails off. Which Scriptures were being fulfilled? Recall that Zech. 13:7 had predicted that the sheep would leave the shepherd when he was struck down (v. 27). This is what they did in v. 50.
Please go to my commentary on Luke 24 for more comments on Jesus’s Bible prophecy lessons, and the apostles’ preaching from them.
Who was the young man who fled naked? No one knows for sure. Strauss lays out the options: (1) John Mark, author of the Gospel; (2) John the apostle, identified as the “beloved disciple” of the fourth Gospel; (3) Lazarus; (4) James, half-brother of Jesus; (5) rich “young” ruler of Mark 10:17-31; (6) a young disciple whom Jesus raised from the dead in the apocryphal Gospel of Mark; (7) the young man who appeared at the tomb of Jesus (16:5); (8) a local youth who came out to investigate (snoop around) and was inadvertently seized by the crowd; (9) an unknown follower of Jesus outside the twelve.
My preference is for the first option.
Whoever it was, France’s point is valid: “The ignominious flight of this anonymous sympathiser serves in the narrative context to underline the complete failure of Jesus’ friends to support him when the moment came. Apart from his captors, Jesus leaves Gethsemane alone.”
Lane says the same thing.
GrowApp for Mark 14:43-52
A.. Jesus was arrested and abandoned. Have you ever been abandoned? How has God restored you to a new family—his new Christian family?
Jesus Before the Council (Mark 14:53-65)
53 Then they led Jesus away to the high priest, and all the chief priests and elders and the teachers of the law assembled together.
54 Now Peter followed him from a distance, right into the chief priest’s courtyard. He was sitting with the guards and warming himself with the fire.
55 The chief priests and the whole council were seeking evidence against Jesus, in order to put him to death, but they did not discover anything. 56 For many people were bearing false witness against him, but the testimonies were not consistent. 57 Some, standing up, were bearing false witness against him, saying: 58 “We heard him saying, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands and in the course of three days I will build another one that is not made with hands!’” 59 But even in this way their testimony was inconsistent.
60 The chief priest, standing in the middle of the court, questioned Jesus, saying, “You do not reply to anything that they are testifying against you?” 61 But he kept quiet and did not answer. Further, the chief priest questioned him and said to him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 Jesus said, “I am.
And you will see the Son of Man ‘sitting on the right hand of Power,’ [Ps. 110:1]
‘Coming with the clouds of heaven.’” [Dan. 7:13]
63 Then the chief priest, tearing his robes, said, “What further need do we have for witnesses?” 64 You have heard the blasphemy! How does the case appear to you?” Everyone condemned him to be liable for death.
65 Then some began to spit on him, blindfold him, hit him with their fists, and say to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him and beat him.
This is another intercalation (sandwich). The account and arrest is interrupted twice, first by Peter following at a distance (v. 54) and then by Peter’s denial (14:66-72). The arrest and trial is then picked up at 15:1-5.
Here we have a scene of irony. This term means that you think you know something, but in reality you do not; you are ignorant.
Comic irony: In the 1960s sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, Col. Klink brags that there has never been a successful escape from Stalag Thirteen. The truth: there are all kinds of escapes and they successfully accomplish their missions. Stalag Thirteen is like “Mole City” under his feet.
Tragic irony: King Oedipus believes he is wise, and he will investigate why a plague is attacking Thebes. But he is ignorant of the fact that he is the cause, until later on in the play. He learns the truth too late. It is tragic.
As noted under v. 29, a biblical example is Job and his friends. They were trying to figure out why Job met with disasters, and though they had a small level of understanding—and the poetry is beautiful—they really did not know as much as their confidence allowed. God showed up on the scene and told them so.
Divine irony of the wise and powerful: Caiaphas (the high priest) and the council should know who the Messiah is because they are wise about matters of the law. They have read the Messianic prophecies. In reality, however, they cannot discern or figure out that the Messiah is standing right in front of them. They are victims of divine irony. God know; Jesus knows, but they do not, even though they believe that they do. Not only do they not see that he is the true Messiah, the accuse him of blasphemy.
So these are the assembled Sanhedrin. Jesus had said that these three groups would put him on trial and find him guilty of death (Mark 8:31). The “whole” council is probably a rhetorical exaggeration. A quorum was twenty-three members. But maybe they were very eager to get rid of him, and no doubt the council members were in Jerusalem at the Passover, so all of them really did assemble together.
You can read about them in this post:
The groups are put in alphabetical order.
Jesus denounced the teachers of the law in Mark 12:38-40. He expanded his denunciation in Matt. 23. No doubt all of the Jerusalem and temple establishment were in his sights.
So is this “trial” legal? Strauss lays out the facts and then his conclusion (pp. 651-52).
According to the Mishnah, a text of oral traditions, collected and written down in about 200 (tract titled Sanhedrin), (1) capital cases must not be tried at night, but Jesus’s trial was. (2) Conviction must wait until the next day, but Jesus’s conviction was done at night. (3) A charge of blasphemy could be leveled if the defendant pronounced the divine name, but Darrel L. Bock in his book about blasphemy, says that the act of blasphemy was broad at this time in Judaism. Trials were to be held in one of three courts in Jerusalem, but not the high priest’s house. And so Jesus’s trial violated these rules. This was not an arraignment, because the guilty verdict was delivered immediately.
Peter is inserted into this scene, in this one verse. The cameras, so to speak, will circle back around to him in vv. 69-75. He sits down by the fire, warming himself. The high priest was very wealthy to have a courtyard in Jerusalem. Mark inserts the verse here to indicate that Jesus’s trial and Peter’s denial was happening at the same time (Lane). The contrast between the two characters in Mark’s story is stark and clear. Jesus is the hero, and Peter is (temporarily) the failure.
Peter wanted to see the outcome (telos in Greek, pronounced teh-loss). Evidently, this means the end of the whole trial. Was Jesus going to make a deal with the council? Would he guarantee to work miracles against the Romans and liberate Israel? Does the “end” mean Jesus’s life was coming to a close? Today we know with perfect hindsight, that it is the final option, but did Peter really believe Jesus’s prediction at least three times that he was going to die (8:31; 9:30-32; 10:32-34)? It may have been dawning on him that this was the end of his Messiah’s life.
In Greek the council is the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court and council.
See this post for a short write-up about them:
They were looking for witnesses who would testify against him, so they could put him to death. Matthew says the “whole Sanhedrin,” but recall that the Sanhedrin had seventy members (modeled on the Old Testament seventy elders), plus the high priest. Twenty-three made a quorum. And the trial may have gone on a while, as the other Gospel writers imply.
In any case, the Sanhedrin found no one, even though many came forward and bore false witness. Marks says “false witnesses.” Is this Matthew’s opinion, or did the council also consider their testimony not to be reliable? Verses 57-58 may provide the answer. Witnesses said that they heard him say those words about destroying the temple and then building it again. Deut. 19:15 says that out of the mouths of two or three witnesses, every fact should be established or backed up. Here they are.
John 2:19-21 shows Jesus speaking these words at the beginning of his ministry. John explains that he was speaking of the temple of his body. So Jesus remained silent when the high priest challenged him on this point. Why should he explain himself? It would look like he was shifting his ground. “I meant this as my body—when you kill it, I’ll raise it back up.” It’s easy to imagine that they would have considered him as dodging the real accusation. “Oh, now you change your mind! Ha! We won’t allow it!” They could accuse him of intending to overthrow the temple, as witnessed by his cleaning the temple, soon after he entered the city (Mark 11:15-19). After all, Jesus said in the face of the Pharisees that something greater than the temple was here (Matt. 12:6). Reports like these must have come back to the Jerusalem establishment. It was illegal to defame the temple (see Exod. 22:28 for the principle and Jer. 26:1-19 for its application). Jesus was mocked on the cross for saying that he could rebuild the temple (Mark 15:29). Stephen got stoned to death for criticizing the temple and the irreligious behavior of it guardians (Acts 6:13-14; 7:48-50).
The Mishnah tractate Sanhedrin (4:5-5:4) says that smallest inconsistency was enough to discredit two witnesses in a death penalty trial. “The contradictory nature of the evidence frustrated the court’s intent” (Wessel and Strauss). Now we know why the chief priest stood up and took command and asked Jesus the direct question, in the next two verses. He did not want to exonerate Jesus but desperately wanted to put him to death. He could not depend on these contradictory witnesses.
In his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, Darrell l. Bock lists the irregularities of Jesus’s trial before the Sanhedrin. The tractate in the Mishnah is in fact called the Sanhedrin (the Mishnah is a book of oral law and traditions compiled in about AD 200):
Irregularities at Jesus’ Trial
|A||Proceedings in high priest’s house, instead of the temple (m. Sanh. 11.2)|
|B||Jesus was tried without a defense council (m. Sanh. 4.1)|
|C||By pronouncing the divine name, Jesus was accused of blasphemy without actually blaspheming in the technical sense (m. Sanh. 7.5) (but see more on blasphemy, below)|
|D||Verdict came in one day, instead of the required two days (m. Sanh. 4.1)|
|E||Jesus was tried on a feast day (though which exact time the Last Supper was held is debated)|
|F||Contradictory testimony can nullify evidence (m. Sanh. 5.2)|
|G||Pronouncement of guilt by high priest contradicts normal order, which starts with the least senior member (m. Sanh. 4.2)|
|Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 2. (Baker 1996), p. 1792, slightly edited, comment on Luke 22:66.|
Bock also lists the evening and morning portion of the Jewish and Roman examination of Jesus:
Evening and Morning Jewish and Roman Examination of Jesus
|1||Inquiry before Annas (John 18:13)|
|2||Evening meeting with Caiaphas presiding (Mark 14:55 = Matt. 26:59-66)|
|3||Morning confirmation before an official Jewish body, probably Sanhedrin (Mark 15:1b-5 = Matt. 27:1, 2-11 = Luke 23:1-5 = John 18:29-38)|
|4||Initial Meeting with Pilate (Luke 23:6-12)|
|5||Meeting with Herod (Luke 23:6-12)|
|6||A second, more public meeting with Pilate and the people (Luke 23:13-16), and the consequence is to condemn him and release Barabbas: Matt. 27:15-23 = Mark 15:6-14 = Luke 23:17-23 = John 18:39-40|
|Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 2. (Baker 1996), p. 1793, slightly edited, comment on Luke 22:66.|
The high priest got fed up with Jesus’s silence, so he arose and asked him about the two men’s accusation. His rising indicates he was taking charge of the whole trial. Enough is enough, he seemed to think. Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One (that is, God)? Remember Peter’s words: “Then he asked them, ‘You—whom do you say that I am?’ In reply, Peter said, ‘You are the Christ’” (Mark 8:29). Caiaphas did not catch on.
Jesus, instead of belaboring this point about destroying and rebuilding the temple, wanted to go for the heart of the issue—his true identity. He is the Messiah (Christ) the Son of the living God.
But just for a moment, he remained silent, until he spoke the truth, by quoting Scripture, so let’s not over-interpret the silence here. It just means he did not fight back aggressively in a trial with many words. Peter explains:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Pet. 2:21-23, ESV)
Now let’s turn to the remarkable verse in Isaiah’s accurate prophecy.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth. (Is. 53:7, ESV)
I like the image of the lamb, for it can be matched with this verse: “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29, ESV). This one is also relevant: “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:17, ESV).
“Son of the Blessed One”: The high priest had heard rumors that Jesus claimed he was the Christ (or Messiah), the Son of the living God. He accepted praise from people (Matt. 21:9). He explained Ps. 110:1 more thoroughly and completely, right in the face of the Pharisees (Matt. 22:41-46). They were members of the Sanhedrin, or they told the establishment about these words and his Messianic actions after entering Jerusalem in Matt. 21.
In any case, once again we have a severe case of irony. They were the authority figures, experts in the law, but they could not perceive the Messiah right in front of them. They thought they knew the truth, but they actually did not. God did not reveal to the high priest the truth of Jesus’s true identity, though he did reveal it to a lowly fisherman, Peter. (See vv. 31-35 for more comments about irony.)
Caiaphas didn’t fully understand the meaning of the Son of God, but we do now, so let’s look at it from our fuller knowledge in the area of systematic theology.
Jesus was the Son of the Father eternally, before creation. The Son has no beginning. He and the Father always were, together. The relationship is portrayed in this Father-Son way so we can understand who God is more clearly. Now he relates to us as his sons and daughters. On our repentance and salvation and union with Christ, we are brought into his eternal family.
Quick teaching in systematic theology about the Trinity. The Father in his role as the Father is over to the Son; the Father guides the whole of creation and the plan of the ages. The Son carries out the plan, notably by being born as a man, humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant (Phil. 3:7-8). He humbled himself so deeply and thoroughly that he died a death on the cross, the instrument of the death penalty.
However, the Father and Son are equal in their essence or nature. The Father is fully God and the Son is fully God, in their essence. Phil. 2:6: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to hold on to, but he surrendered the environment of heaven and took the form of a servant.
Function or role: the Father is over the Son in his incarnation and role in the redemptive plan
In their essence or essential nature: Father and Son are equal.
Now, finally Jesus answered clearly: “I am” (egō eimi, pronounced eh-goh ai-mee). Incidentally, this exact wording is found in Exod. 3:14: “I am,” speaking of the LORD. But here Jesus is emphasizing his Messiahship and his coming to God to be seated at his right hand, vindicated and victorious over the Jerusalem and temple establishment, according to Ps. 110:1 and Dan. 7:13.
First Timothy 6:13 says Jesus made a good confession. It is probable that this verse refers to what Jesus is about to say.
Then Jesus clearly states, once again, who he was by two famous Messianic prophecies. Jesus proclaims before Caiaphas the high priest and the Sanhedrin that from now on they will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven. The first half of the confession refers to the Messiah being glorified:
The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool” (Ps. 110:1, ESV, emphasis added).
The enemies in Mark’s context are the very ones putting him on trial. But it is also bigger than that. The second half of v. 64 refers to the Son of Man in Dan. 7:13-14, when he comes in the clouds of heaven:
13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14, NIV, emphasis added)
The Ancient of Days is God. Jesus was about to ascend and be enthroned on high, sitting next to God. So his coming here in v. 23 refers to his ascension and enthronement. Jesus was granted authority over heaven and earth (16:19), and the fact that the gospel was spreading all over their known world indicates that the ascended Jesus has authority and dominion over Caiaphas and the council. This makes the most sense of v. 64, in light of Ps. 110:1 and Dan. 7:13-14.
And no, v. 64 does not refer to the grand and glorious Second Coming when the whole earth will be overtaken by his glorious appearing.
As noted under v. 54 and 55-59, Darrell L. Bock wrote a book on blasphemy happening before the destruction of the temple in AD 70 and particularly before the Mishnah was collected in AD 200. Commentator Osborne summarizes Bock’s finding:
1.. Blasphemy centered on the misuse of the divine name and acts of blasphemy.
2.. Few were allowed to approach the throne of the holy God—not even the archangel Michael was allowed to sit on the right hand of God, so Jesus’s claiming he was about to sit at the right hand of God was blasphemy.
3.. This was not a capital trial but a hearing, so the Sanhedrin did not have to be technically correct.
4.. Sources of the information of the trial was plentiful (Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus), so this trial / hearing is not a fiction.
5.. Two levels of blasphemy: Jesus claims to have comprehensive authority from God; and then he claims to be the judge of Jewish leaders (violating Exod. 22:28 on not cursing God’s leaders). This latter claim could be used against Jesus because he could be accused of challenging Rome’s authority.
Source: Grant R. Osborne, Matthew: Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2010), p. 999.
In his commentary (Luke 9:51-24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 2. [Baker 1996]), Bock says that in the early second century, Rabbi Akiva was involved in a dispute because he said that David would have a “session” (being seated) at God’s right hand, which other Rabbis said profaned the shekinah, which was considered blasphemy (m. Sanh. 6.4).
For most Jews, the idea of coming directly into God’s presence and sitting with him in constant heavenly session without cultic purification or worship was an insult to God’s uniqueness. It was the essence of blasphemy since a human seated by God diminishes his stature. The dispute with Rabbi Akiva makes this clear, as does the leadership’s response to Jesus. Biblical figures who go into God’s presence are first cleansed (Isa. 6, Ezek. 1). In early rabbinic tradition, only God sits in heaven. Anything else insults his person. … One could stand with him, but not sit with him … Thus, when Jesus says that he can sit at God’s right side, then implications emerge about Jesus’ person. The leadership understands these implications. The defendant claims to be the Judge. (p. 1799)
Then Bock states the irony: “With strong irony, the Jews think that Jesus is on trial, but what they do to him does not matter, since he is the true Judge. The very remarks that the Jews think lower God’s stature, in fact, show how exalted Jesus is” (pp. 1799).
See my comments on Mark 13:3-31 about why Jesus’s ascension and enthronement (and later coming-in-judgment on the temple) and the parousia (Second Coming) must be kept distinct.
Bottom line: Jesus will rise in authority in three short days, and the high priest and Sanhedrin will feel its effects by the power of the church in Acts. Peter stood before them, preaching powerfully. Here is just one sample in Acts 5:17-32:
17 At this time, the chief priests and those with him, who were of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with envy 18 and nabbed the apostles and put them in public prison. 19 But at night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison and led them out and said, 20 “Go and steadfastly speak to the people in the temple all the words of this salvation and life!” 21 They obeyed and went to the temple at daybreak. The high priest and those with him arrived and summoned the Council [Sanhedrin] and all elders of the descendants of Israel and sent to the prison to escort them out. 22 But the assistants did not find them in the prison, so they turned back and announced, 23 “We found the jail locked up very securely and the guards standing at the doors, but, opening them, we found no one inside.” 24 As the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard this account, they were perplexed about all of this—what might happen.
25 Someone came in and announced to them, “Amazing! The men whom you put in prison are in the temple standing and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain left with the assistants and led them away without violence, for they feared the people stoning them. 27 Leading them onwards, they stood them right in front of the Council [Sanhedrin]. The high priest examined them, 28 “We ordered you strictly not to teach in this name! And look at you! You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood on us!” 29 But Peter answered and the apostles replied, “We have to obey God rather than man! 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had done away with by hanging him on wood. 31 It is this man whom God exalted the Overall Ruler and Savior at his right hand, to grant repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of this storyline and of the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to all who obey him!” (Acts 5:17-32, my tentative translation)
Now Jesus is the one with authority from on high, and then his church was gradually overtaking the nation of Israel and going way beyond that tiny nation.
After Stephen said the temple is of no real importance because God does not live in an object made with hands (Acts 7:44-50), much like Jesus’s false accusers emphasized the temple made with hands, Stephen says he saw the exalted Son of Man:
Being full of the Holy Spirit and fixing his gaze on heaven, he [Stephen] saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Look! I see the heavens opening wide and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56)
“right hand of Power”: Jesus is exalted at God’s right hand, which indicates his power and authority.
Jesus’s truthful confession caused the high priest to tear his robes, which represents extreme sorrow, perhaps even of outrage, and a pronouncement of guilt. It symbolized distancing one’s holy self from a blasphemer. Mishnah Sanhedrin 7.5 says that when the judges heard a blasphemous statement in court, they are “to stand on their feet and rend their garments” (Wessel and Strauss). It seems the chief priest stood in for the other members of the Sanhedrin.
The chief priests, elders, and teachers of the law conclude that he committed blasphemy (see Luke 22:69-71), which deserves death (Lev. 24:10-16, 23). They sentence him to death—all because they could not interpret Scripture correctly. The punishment was stoning the guilty party (Lev. 24:16), but that’s not the Roman method of execution.
Now the question is: Can they make the charge of blasphemy stick before the Roman authorities? They did not allow Jews to execute people (except for a Gentile entering unlawfully into the temple holy place). No, they could not make it stick, so they have to add politics to the charge against him. They falsely accuse him of making himself king (implied in 15:1-5 and stated in Matt. 27:11). And there is no king but Caesar.
In any case, the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law are still swimming around in human ignorance. They are about to advocate the crucifixion of their true Messiah, which also fulfills Scripture they don’t understand: Is. 53. The Messiah has to suffer and die. Their ignorance is just irony—the irony of justice. God did not reveal who his Son truly was to them. So some call this divine irony. God uses people’s arrogance and ignorance, combined, so they can lead themselves into judgment, out of their own free will, dark and unenlightened though it may be.
They physically abuse him and sneer at him. “Prophesy!” Matthew 26:68 explains more fully: “Prophesy, Messiah! Who slapped you?”
“with their fists”: Is. 50:6 uses the same noun in the Septuagint (a third-to-first-century translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek).
Jesus is practicing what he preached in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:38), because he didn’t struggle or punch back.
Here’s Isaiah’s prophecy:
As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance. (Is. 52:14, ESV)
But please don’t over-interpret this verse or the whole trial by applying it to the government today. They have a right to “slap back” when citizens are harmed. Paul, writing by the inspiration of the Spirit, says that God ordained government, and its “ministers” carry the sword (Rom. 13:1-4). God’s “ministers” can use violence to fight violent offenders and protect people. So Paul hands the sword over to the State. The Church, as the church, has no right to hit people with swords or execute them, and certainly not for religious reasons.
Let’s apply this entire scene to our lives. As I noted in other chapters, first-century Israel was an honor-and-shame society. Verbal and active confrontations happened often. By active is meant actions. Here the confrontation is both verbal and acted out. Jesus healed the paralytic, so he won the actual confrontation, and this victory opened the door to his verbal victory with religious leaders who were binding people up with traditions. They needed to be loosed from them. Jesus shamed the leaders to silence. He won. It may seem strange to us that Jesus would confront human opponents, because we are not used to doing this in our own lives, and we have heard that Jesus was meek and silent.
More relevantly, for many years now there has been a teaching going around the Body of Christ that says when Christians are challenged, they are supposed to slink away or not reply. This teaching may come from the time of Jesus’s trial when it is said he was as silent as a sheep (Acts 8:32). No. He spoke up then, as well (Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:32; Luke 23:71; John 18:19-23; 32-38; 19:11). Therefore, “silence” means submission to the will of God without resisting or fighting back physically. But here he replied to the religious leaders and defeated them and their inadequate theology. Get into a discussion and debate with your challengers. Stand toe to toe with them. In short, fight like Jesus! With anointed words!
Of course, caution is needed. The original context is a life-and-death struggle between the kingdom of God and religious traditions. Get the original context, first, before you fight someone in a verbal sparring match. This was a clash of worldviews. Don’t pick fights or be rude to your spouse or baristas or clerks in the service industry. Discuss things with him or her, if it is appropriate. But here Jesus was justified in replying to these oppressive religious leaders.
GrowApp for Mark 14:53-65
A.. Jesus suffered like this because he loved you and intended to die for your sins. How do you love him back? Name at least two ways you can do this.
Peter Denies Jesus (Mark 14:66-72)
66 Then, while Peter was below, in the courtyard, one of the chief priest’s servant girls, 67 seeing Peter warming himself, and fixing her gaze on him, said, “You also were with Jesus the Nazarene!” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are saying!” Then he went out to the forecourt, and a rooster crowed. 69 The servant girl, looking at him, began to say to the ones standing there, “This one is also with them!” 70 But again he denied it. After a short time, those standing around said to Peter, “You really are with them, for you also are a Galilean!” 71 But he began to call down curses and swear oaths: “I don’t this man you’re talking about!” 72 And instantly a rooster crowed a second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” Throwing himself out on the ground, he was weeping.
Now we are back to Peter. This is the first accusation and first denial. Grammatically, the experts tell us that his denial (“I neither know nor understand”) is choppy or awkward. It shows Peter was caught off guard.
The last clause in v. 68 (“and a rooster crowed”) is inserted in brackets by the Greek NT scholars, but not in my translation, just to have the scene make sense of Jesus prediction. However, one does not have to fill in this blank. One can just assume the rooster crowed the first time, when v. 72 explicitly says the rooster crowed a second time. Many scholars believe that Mark got his Gospel material from listening to Peter, and this is the way Peter remembered it.
At the end of the verse, the Greek reads, “the Nazarene—Jesus.” This seems to be an insult, since many Jerusalemites, particularly the high priest’s household, did not like Galileans, seeing them as foreigners.
“forecourt”: He got up and went there, in order to make a fast getaway, if necessary.
The entire scene, beginning with v. 66, has three, escalating mini-scenes: the first servant girl accuses Peter; the second one accuses him before the bystanders; the third accusation comes from those standing nearby, as they gang up on him. Peter moves farther and farther away from Jesus. Next, Jesus and Peter are viewed as foreign (so to speak). They are both from Galilee. Jerusalem was the big city, while the country bumpkins from up north were looked down on. Peter had a Galilean accent, and so did Jesus. In modern American terms, they had a southern accent. (And, no, southern accents are not bad things!)
Peter cursed and swore oaths. His fear got the better of him. When Peter swears an oath, he is putting himself under a curse (see Acts 21:12, 14, 21). Only Jesus can lift it off of him. This means that he has sunk more deeply into darkness, and only the resurrected Jesus could rescue and restore him (John 21:15-19).
It’s doubtful that he cursed Jesus. Strauss suggests that Peter called down curses on his accusers. “May God curse you for saying I’m with them!” Swearing an oath means something like this: “I swear by God and the temple I don’t belong with them!”
However, France “goes there” and says that Peter did call down curses on Jesus, writing:
In this context the natural object to be understood is Jesus, so that Mark portrays Peter as voluntarily doing what Pliny was later informed that ‘real Christians’ could not be compelled to do (Pliny, Ep. 10.96.5), cursing Jesus. This understanding of the text, which Christian interpreters naturally find unwelcome (hence translations such as RSV, NIV), is the most probable sense of Mark’s words, though he has avoided too blatant offence by leaving the object of the verb unstated.
Garland notes that the rooster struts around in foolish pride, being “cocky.” He represents Peter’s foolish boast (v. 29) (p. 567-68). Insightful.
This is the saddest verse in Peter’s life of discipleship. He had been rebuked by Jesus before: “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8:33). But now he denied him three times. When Jesus gazed into his soul (Luke 22:61), the look must have been powerful.
For some reason I always picture Peter as husky and masculine, a rough-hewn character with a weak self-edit button from his mind to his mouth. Jesus had to smooth out even more rough edges in Peter’s soul. Peter’s two epistles show how far he came. They are mature and wonderful.
“word”: The noun here is rhēma (pronounced rhay-mah), and the rhē– stem is related to speaking, and the –ma suffix means “the result of.” So combined, the noun means a “spoken word” (though it does not always mean that in every context).
Now let’s review the differences in the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The main goal here is to tell you that your faith should not be brittle when differences emerge.
Luke mentions time marker, a little while later (22:58) and an hour (22:59). Though the denials did not happen rapid-fire, one after another, they still took place in a short time. While Peter was still speaking, the rooster crowed. Mark 14:72 says the rooster crowed a second time on the third denial, while Matt. 26:74 has one crow, and Peter would deny Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. It gets more complicated when we add in John’s account, but this is enough for now.
Matthew and Luke merely streamlined their accounts. Note how Luke himself says before the rooster crowed (22:34), Peter will have denied Jesus three times. Then he writes that while Peter was still speaking, the rooster crowed (v. 60). And right after Peter’s third denial, Luke repeats in v. 61 the “before” prediction! Apparently Luke, inspired by the Spirit, saw no problem with altering ever-so-slightly his own account. These sorts of variations in the precise sequence prompts some hyper-inerrantists to speculate that Peter denied Jesus six times! Neither Matthew or Luke says before the rooster crows “only one time and not twice,” but they all agree that Peter denied Jesus three times.
Alternatively, maybe the rooster finished his (second) crow one split-second before Peter finished speaking his words of denial! It was a super-fulfillment of Jesus prediction! Those are not bad answers or ways to fit the sequence of events, actually. You can come up with your own, if you like.
My point is that the rhetorical license or freedom exercised by the three Gospel writers should not count against the veracity of their reports. Fair-minded readers laugh at such pretzel-like gymnastics to make the three accounts fit perfectly and precisely. It takes an extra-fussy mind to quibble about such things when the synoptic writers, God-inspired, gave themselves permission not to quibble about the precise sequence in their own versions. Their story-telling or rhetorical purpose was simply to show the intense drama of Peter denying his Lord just in the nick of time to fulfill Jesus’s prediction. Better still, Peter denied Jesus early in the morning at the time when the roosters announce the breaking dawn. That’s the main point of this whole episode in Peter’s life. So what will happen next? Jesus predicted his death at least three times. If his prediction about Peter was accurate, then so will his prediction about the end be.
Let me finish with a simple equation. If you get it, great. If not, scroll past it.
An account having information, while another account covering the same topic (Peter’s denial) does not have the same information, does not add up to a contradiction. A difference, yes, but not a contradiction, particularly when the differences can be possibly reconciled. Mark has two crows, while Matthew and Luke have one. They streamlined the scene and never said “one crow and only one crow, not two of them.” Next, Matthew and Mark have Peter moving away from the fire, while Luke is silent about that. All throughout the three synoptic Gospel, some accounts include tidbits of information, while another account omits them.
Information in one account + Silence in another account ≠ Contradiction
Information + Silence ≠ A Contradiction
Information + Silence = A Difference
Information + An omission = A Difference
A Difference ≠ A Contradiction
Differences are guided by the purpose of the biblical authors. Or we may not know why an author omits or includes bits of information. Whatever the case, we should not get panicky about them or deny the truthfulness of the accounts. This mindset is too fussy and demanding, not recognizing the texts as they present themselves but unwisely imposing our modern concerns on them.
If those equations help, then good. If not, move on to the next chapter.
See my posts:
14. Similarities among John’s Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels (celebrate the long list of similarities and do not focus on the differences)
Those two links are part of a fifteen-part series on the reliability of the Gospels. Go to Part 15 for a summary of each part, with links to them:
There is probably by now a high-quality youtube video on the topic. You can look it up (I have not).
In any case, our faith in God and his written Word should not be brittle. It should not break when these differences emerge. Call it the dramatist’s art. All four biblical writers took small liberties to tell their stories, their own way. Please relax a lot more about this. Don’t get stuck into a groove laid down by hyper-inerrantists, who nervously force all the small details to fit together. Keep the plain thing the main thing. The plain thing is Peter’s denial and the lesson to be learned: Would we deny Jesus under pressure? If so, God will restore us on our repentance.
Bottom line: there is no contradiction in the synoptic Gospels in Peter’s denial.
GrowApp for Mark 14:66-72
A.. Peter hit rock bottom, denying Jesus three times. Have you ever hit rock bottom? Have you ever denied, by word or action, your Christian walk with God in front of your old friends? How did God restore you?
B.. Study 1 Peter 2:20-24. Does it say you are also called to suffer sometimes in your life when persecution comes? If you are not presently undergoing unjust persecution, how can you support the suffering church around the globe?
Summary and Conclusion
Let’s look at a table that lays out the events of Passion Week:
|Friday||Arrival in Bethany (Jn 12:1)|
|Saturday||Mary’s anointing of Jesus (Jn 12:2-8; Mt 26:6-13 // Mk 14:3-9)|
|Sunday||Triumphal Entry (Mt 21:1-11 // Mk 11:1-10 // Lk 19:28-38); surveying temple (Mk 11:11), return to Bethany (Mt 21:17 // Mk 11:11)|
|Monday||Clearing temple (Mt 21:12-17 // Mk 11:15-19 // Lk 19:45-48); cursing fig tree (Mt 21:18-22; // Mk 11:12-14); miracles and challenge temple (Mt 21:14-16); return to Bethany (Mk 11:19)|
|Tuesday||Disciples’ question about fig tree (Mk 11:20-21); debates with leaders of temple (Mt 21:23-22:46 // Mk 11:27-12:40 // Lk 20:1-44); Olivet Discourse (Mt 24-25; Mk 13; Lk 21:1-36); return to Bethany, but Lk 21:37 says he lodged on Mount of Olives|
|Wednesday||Little recorded in Gospel—Jesus and disciples apparently remain in Bethany; Judas arranges for Jesus’ betrayal (Mt. 26:14-16 // Mk 14:10-11 // Lk 22:3-6); I say he could be teaching in the temple or praying privately.|
|Thursday||Preparation for Passover (Mt 26:17-19 // Mk 14:12-16 // Lk 22:7-13); after sundown, Passover meal and Last Supper (Mt 26:20-35 // Mk 14:17-25 // Lk 22:14, 21-23, 15-20); Farewell Discourse (Jn 13-17); Gethsemane (Mt 26:30-46 // Mk 13:32-42 // Lk 22:40-46)|
|Friday||After midnight, betrayal and arrest (Mt 26:47-56 // Mk 14:43-52 // Lk 22:47-53);
Jewish trials—Annas (Jn 18:13-14); Caiaphas and partial Sanhedrin (Mt 26:52-75 // Mk 14:53-72 // Lk 22:54-71); full Sanhedrin (Mt 27:1-2);
Roman trials—Pilate (Mt 27:2-14 // Mk 15:2-5 // Lk 23:2-5); Herod Antipas (Lk 23:6-12); Pilate (Mt 27:15-26 // Mk 15:6-15 // Lk 23:17-27);
Mocked by soldiers (Mt 27:27-31 // Mk 15:16-20);
Road to Golgotha (Mt 27:32 // Mk 15:21 // Lk 23:26-32);
Crucifixion 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. / 15:00h (Mt 27:27-56 // Mk 15:22-41 // Lk 23:33-49);
Burial (Mt 27:57-61 // Mk 15:42-47 // Lk 23:5-56)
|Grant R. Osborne, Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2010), who got it from Michael J. Wilkens, Matthew: NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 2004). I modified it.|
Mark’s Passion narrative proper comes in two major parts. The first part is found in his fourteenth chapter here. The second major part begins 14:53 and goes to 15:47. Let’s look at the storyline here in Mark 14.
Contained within this larger first part are smaller pericopes or units or sections of the story. First, there is the plot and betrayal. Judas agrees to betray him and actually does. Peter too boasts that he would never betray him but does any way. To his (partial) credit he does try to defend Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and then follows Jesus from a distance. But a rooster actually gives him away. The rooster, so cocky, parallels Peter’s story here. So Jesus is actually betrayed and abandoned.
The second smaller but extremely important pericopes under the first major part is seen when Jesus inaugurates the Last Supper and the New Covenant. As the Sinai Covenant was ratified with blood, so the New Covenant is ratified with Jesus’ blood. It is interesting that the lambs were slaughtered at this time, and Jesus is called the lamb of God in other passages. The symbolism cannot be missed.
At the same time that Peter was denying that he belonged with him, the Sanhedrin, the “whole” Jewish leadership gathered. We should not take the word whole literally; the council was made up of the leaders who were available. (In other words, “all” does not always mean “all” in Scripture, to counter the popular quip.) Only twenty-three out of seventy plus the high priest were necessary for a quorum, but my hunch—only a hunch—is that most were there.
Regardless of the exact number, the witnesses were inconsistent with each other, which discredited them in a death penalty case. So the high priest took action. He stood up in the middle of them and asked Jesus if he really was the Son of the Blessed One (God). He replied clearly, “I am.” And then he quoted two Scriptures which affirm that he really was the Messiah. The high priest tore a garment, probably a shirt under his expensive and symbolic robe, and called Jesus’ affirmation about his true identity blasphemous. The term was much more broadly defined at this time than in later Judaism. He was guilty of death.
But the council did not have the authority under Rome to carry out the death sentence, so they had to take him before Pilate, the representative of Rome. And that trial takes us into Mark 15, so we’ll stop now.
Decker, Rodney J. Mark 9-16: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Baylor UP, 2014).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Eerdmans, 2002).
Garland, David E. Mark: The NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 1996).
Lane, William L. Mark: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (Eerdmans, 1974).
Strauss, Mark L. Mark: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2014).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 1993).
Wessel, Walter W. and Mark L. Strauss. Mark: The Bible’s Expositor’s Commentary, Vol. 9, Rev. ed. (Zondervan 2010).