Jesus Prays and Is Arrested

36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” 39 He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” 43 Then he returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open. 44 He left them and withdrew again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing again. 45 Then he returned to his disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand when the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners. 46 Get up, let us go. Look, my betrayer is at hand.”

 47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a large crowd, with swords and clubs, who had come from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 His betrayer had arranged a sign with them, saying, “The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him.” 49 Immediately he went over to Jesus and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and he kissed him. 50 Jesus answered him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then stepping forward they laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. 51 And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus put his hand to his sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?” 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to seize me? Day after day I sat teaching in the temple area, yet you did not arrest me. 56 But all this has come to pass that the writings of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.(26:36-56)

This remarkable narrative gives perhaps the most intimate insight into the nature of Jesus’ relationship with his Father, as well as into the cost of his Messianic mission. It blends together the reality of his humanity with the uniqueness of his position as Son of God. At the same time it illustrates the weakness of the disciples, and prepares us for their subsequent failure.

The three who accompanied Jesus at the transfiguration are with him now apparently simply for companionship. But it may be significant that it is these three who have explicitly declared their readiness to share Jesus’ fate (20:22; 26:35); they are now called to share with him in preparing for it, and even at this level they will fail. To feel sorrow and distress (v.37; lypeisthie; vexed) hardly does justice to the Greek verbs which suggest an anguish of wretchedness. My soul is sorrowful (again a weak translation of the uncommon word perilypos, ‘deeply grieved’) is an echo of the LXX translation of the refrain of Psalms 42–43, ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul …?’, the lament of a righteous sufferer who knows his hope in God will ultimately be vindicated. The phrase even to death probably indicates the scale of his grief, but may also define its cause—it is grief as he approaches death. In this emotional turmoil Jesus wants company; that the Son of God should want the ‘moral support’ of three fishermen (and that he should be disappointed, v. 40) is a wonderful  illustration of the paradox of the incarnation.

While others sometimes fell on their faces before Jesus (17:6; cf. Luke 5:12; 17:16), this is the only time Jesus is said to have prostrated himself. The posture indicates the strength of the emotion which leads to prayer. But the address My Father (cf. on 6:9; 11:25–27) lifts the whole episode from that of an abject appeal to the intimate communion of the Son of God with the Father. The issue is not whether or not Jesus should accept the Father’s purpose, but whether that purpose needs to include the cup (cf. 20:22) of suffering, or whether there is some other way. Hence the blend in this verse of a clear request with the acceptance that that request might not be granted—a blend which could well be imitated in much of our praying, with its often peremptory demands. The only issue that matters is what are the limits of the will of God. Jesus’ prayer is an exploration of those limits, but never attempts to break outside them.

Meanwhile the disciples wrestle with their humanity: a willing spirit but a weak flesh – and they miss Jesus’ wrestling with the same humanity, but with a different result.  Jesus moves from praying for deliverance from death (v.39) to trust and commitment to God’s will (v.42) – all while using the identical words that Jesus has taught his own disciples in giving them the Lord’s Prayer (6:10).

And the Father’s will becomes evident as Judas again enters the narrative (vv.46-7) – although he had never clearly left in Matthew’s narrative. Judas arrives with a generically described “large crowd.” Scholars conjecture that since they were sent, in part, from the chief priests and the elders that the crowd includes Temple police/guards. In such a context, hardly friendly, Judas overture “Hail, Rabbi” is met with “Friend.” Some have speculated that “friend” is said to remind Judas that he had shared table fellowship with Jesus; others see a politely cool generic form of address to some unknown (or in this case who has separated himself from the community of believers).

The phrase that we have as “do what you have come for” can also be translated as a question (What have you come for?) or the command – the normal translation option as it indicates Jesus’ sovereignty.

John supplies the names of both the disciple (Peter) and the high priest’s slave (Malchus), and Luke tells of the restoration of the ear. But Matthew simply tells the bare facts in order to draw out Jesus’ sovereign control of the events even if he appears as the helpless victim. The disciple who tried armed resistance had simply misread the situation. Jesus is not a helpless victim, needing any human help available. He is being arrested because he chooses; if he wanted help he could call on far more than a few swords.  His refusal to thwart his enemies’ plans either by evasion or by supernatural power derives from his repeatedly voiced conviction that his mission must be one of rejection and suffering (see on 16:21; 17:22–23; 20:17–19, 28). Behind these earlier predictions it has not been hard to discern the scriptures as the source of Jesus’ conviction; now that source is made explicit. And for Jesus there is no other option but that the scriptures be fulfilled. That issue had been settled in Gethsemane.

As the scene closes the sheep are now truly scattered: the disciples left him and fled (v.56).

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