Matthew 26: 47-56 The Handing Over of Jesus

The Arrest of Christ (Kiss of Judas) by Giotto di Bondone. Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy between 1304 and 1306

Matthew 26: 47-56

Parallels Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-53

47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. 51 Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

The eleven disciples failed to keep watch and presumably during the time of their slumber Judas departed and returned with this large and armed crowd to hand over Jesus into the custody of the chief priests. Judas has moved from disciple to ‘handing over one’[1] and as we saw earlier in the Lord’s Supper he no longer addresses Jesus as ‘Lord’, which is an address which indicates faith in Matthew’s gospel, but instead as ‘Rabbi. Also the term ‘friend’ in the gospel is not a term of closeness but rather a term of distance or formality when one has acted improperly.[2] What Jesus has announced several times has now occurred, he has been handed over to the custody of the chief priests and the ‘handing over one’ is one of the twelve.

There is a sense of parallel in this scene between the crowd and those with Jesus: the large crowd arrives armed with swords and clubs lead to their location by one of their own, but when this sword armed crowd lays hands on Jesus one of those with Jesus, presumably a disciple, lays his hand on his sword to strike. This follower of Jesus still meets violence with violence and has to be told to return his sword to its place. Jesus’ ministry has been pointing to another way: where lex talionis (an eye for an eye) is replaced by turning the other cheek and where even one’s enemies are to be loved. Jesus’ disciples are not to respond to violence with violence. Jesus will not respond to the sword with the sword, nor are his disciples to take the sword and be killed by the sword. Jesus does not yield to the temptation to summon the heavenly angelic armies in overwhelming numbers.[3] Although Matthew does not cite scripture, he understands Jesus’ arrest and upcoming death as a fulfillment of the scriptures.

Jesus’ followers have put away their swords, yet the crowd that came to confront them was armed for a fight. Jesus refuses to be the ‘bandit’ messiah who fights with sword and club, that instead becomes the modus operandi of the chief priests. Jesus was maligned as being associated with ‘sinners’ but now he is handed, at the behest of the religious leaders, into the hands of sinners. He spoke in the temple during the day, but his arrest comes away from the city in the dark of night.

The disciples desert him, despite their earlier protestations of faithfulness even to the point of death. Peter remains at a distance and the ‘handing over one’ will return to the priests, but the rest of the disciples fade into the darkness only to reemerge in the light of the resurrection. Yet, throughout this passage there is a sense of necessity, that it was necessary for things to occur in this manner. The disciples, the crowd, and even the high priests and the elders are caught up in something they are unable to comprehend.   

[1] This is the participle form of paradidomi which has been used throughout this section. Judas both in the gospel and beyond becomes defined by this action. He is the ‘handing over one’ or the betrayer.

[2] See Matthew 20:13, 22:12

[3] 12 legions would be three to four times the size of the Roman army stationed in Syria.

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