Prepare the Way

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:1-8 ESV

While the author never refers to himself by name anywhere in his gospel account, there was a strong consensus among early church fathers believed that John Mark was the one who provided this chronicle of the life and ministry of Jesus.

One of the earliest references to John Mark as the book’s author is found in The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus. Written in the 4th-Century, this landmark work provides a chronological history of early Christianity that spans the 1st through the 4th-Century. In it, Eusebius records that John Mark, while not a disciple of Jesus, based his gospel on eyewitness accounts, including those of the Apostle Peter.

There are additional records from the early church fathers that also mention John Mark as the book’s author. These include the mid-1st-Century to early-2nd-Century writings of Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. In one of the earliest prologues to the Gospel of Mark, written somewhere between 160-180 A.D., it describes John Mark as the author and states that he wrote his gospel account while in Italy. In his classic work, Against Heresies, Irenaeus, adds that John Mark completed his work sometime after the death of Peter.

John Mark is mentioned repeatedly in the book of Acts, where his relationship with the Apostle Paul is described in great detail. John Mark was one of Paul’s disciples, who accompanied him and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. Later, he would prove to be of great help and comfort to Paul during his imprisonment in Rome as he awaited trial before the emperor Nero. So, due to his close relationship with Paul, John Mark would have access to the original disciples and other eyewitnesses to Jesus’ earthly ministry.

One of the first encounters between Peter and John Mark is recorded in the book of Acts. Under pressure from the Jewish religious leaders, Herod, the king who had been placed on the throne of Israel by the Romans, had begun to round up the disciples of Jesus. He had already killed James the brother of John and had Peter thrown in prison. But God miraculously rescued Peter from his imprisonment and, upon his release, Peter made his way to the home of John Mark.

…he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. – Acts 12:12 ESV

Luke, the author of Acts, also records that John Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but left them when they arrived in Pamphylia. He returned to Jerusalem and would later travel with Barnabas, his cousin, to Cyprus. So, John Mark was very involved in those early days of the church as the apostles took the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth. He had been able to travel with and sit under the teaching of such luminaries of the faith as Paul, Peter, and Barnabas.

There is still much debate as to the dating of Mark’s gospel. If it was written after the deaths of Paul and Peter, that would place its publication somewhere around A.D. 67-68. Since there is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, it seems likely that the book had to have written before that date.

From the content of the gospel, it appears that Mark with a Gentile audience in mind. If he wrote it from Italy, as believed by many of the early church fathers, the Gentile-oriented focus of his gospel makes more sense. He takes great pains to explain certain Jewish customs and rituals that would have been unfamiliar and strange to a Gentile readership. He incorporated Latin words and phrases that seemed aimed at a Roman audience. But his emphasis was on Gentile believers living under persecution in a predominantly Roman world. The early church found itself facing attack from the Jews as well as the pagan world. Mark would have experienced firsthand the persecution that Paul encountered from the dispersed Jewish community and the pagan cultures of the cities they visited on their first missionary journey.

Yet, despite Mark’s emphasis on a predominantly Gentile audience and his effort to communicate to them in language and terms with which they would be familiar, he opens his gospel with a quote from the Hebrew scriptures.

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’” – Mark 1:2-3 ESV

This is actually a combination of three separate passages: Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1, and Isaiah 40:3. He blends the words of three Old Testament prophets: Moses, Malachi, and Isaiah, but attributes the quote the latter. For Mark, a proper understanding of Jesus’ life and ministry had to begin with prophecy. And these three prophetic passages each spoke of the coming Messiah of Israel. These men, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, predicted the coming of the Anointed One of God. But they also foretold of the one who would “prepare the way” for His coming. Before the Messiah would appear on the scene, His arrival would be prefaced by another, a messenger who would warn the people of His imminent arrival.

Like the other gospel writers, Mark was interested in establishing from the outset the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. He was Jesus the Christ or Messiah (the word “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of Messiah). Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. He was Jesus, a man was born in the city of Bethlehem, but He was also the Christ, the Son of God. Which means He was fully divine.

According to Mark, God had sent a messenger or, literally, an angel (angelos) to prepare the way for the Messiah. And he describes exactly who this “angel” was. He was a man and not a heavenly being. His name was John and he appeared in the wilderness of Judea, preaching a baptism of repentance. In essence, John was calling the people to be baptized, but it was a baptism characterized by repentance. In the Greek language, the word “repentance” is metanoia and it means “to change the mind.” He was calling the Jews to change their minds concerning a wide range of issues, including their concept of what it means to be righteous, their expectations concerning the Messiah, their understanding of their relationship with God, and their need for forgiveness.

We know from Matthew’s gospel the basic content of John’s message.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 3:2 ESV

And upon His arrival, Jesus would pick up this very same message.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:15 ESV

The basic gist of their message was that the long-awaited Messiah had finally appeared and was bringing His Kingdom with Him. And Mark indicates that John’s preliminary declaration that the Kingdom of God was near was met with an enthusiastic response.

…all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Mark 1:5 ESV

For the Jews, the coming of the Kingdom of God would be accompanied by the arrival of the Messiah. For them, the coming Messiah would be a king, just like the great warrior-king, David. He would be a deliverer and a military leader who would restore Israel’s fortunes. For centuries, the people of Israel had suffered under the heavy hand of a litany of foreign powers who had subjugated and persecuted them. The most recent iteration of Gentile domination over the people of God was the Romans. The land of Judah was occupied by Roman soldiers who enforced the laws of the empire, protected the interests of the emperor, and ensured that the Jews remained compliant and docile.

So, the people of Israel longed for the Messiah to come. It had been centuries since the nation of Judah had fallen to the Babylonians. And while a remnant of the people taken captive to Babylon had returned to the land and rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God, the only king they had known was their current one, Herod, the puppet king placed on the throne by the Roman emperor. He was actually an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. And while his title of “King of the Jews” had been given to him by the Roman Senate, his reign was never accepted by the Jews. They considered him to be a usurper to the throne who tried to gain their favor through a series of ambitious building projects, including the expansion of and improvements to the temple.

But as a pawn of the Romans, and due to his love of power, Herod placed his own personal needs ahead of the nation. So, when John the Baptist appeared on the scene preaching a message of repentance because the kingdom of God was near, the people immediately assumed something great was about to happen. Their hopes were raised that Messiah was near and their days of oppression and subjugation would soon be over.

This wild-eyed, strangely dressed preacher made an impression on his audience.

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. – Mark 1:6 ESV

His bizarre attire gave him the demeanor of an Old Testament prophet and his message of repentance echoed those of his predecessors. But when he spoke of the One to come, he added a new twist to the description of the Messiah.

“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” – Mark 1:7-8 ESV

John’s sudden appearance on the scene had gotten the peoples’ attention. It had been over 400 years since they had heard from God. For four centuries, there had been no prophets speaking on behalf of God. He had gone silent. But now, with the arrival of John, it was as if God was speaking again. But John wanted his audience to know that there was something even more amazing about to take place. John’s arrival on the scene would pale in comparison to the coming of the Messiah. He would be greater, more glorious, and have a ministry that was far more significant than anything John had done.

While John could offer a physical baptism that represented or illustrated cleansing from sin. The Messiah would offer a far greater form of baptism that would actually remove all sin in preparation for the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

tEnglish Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

What Is That to You?

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:20-25 ESV

Jesus has just called Peter to follow Him. But Peter received this somewhat innocuous invitation immediately after hearing the kind of death he would suffer for feeding and caring for Jesus’ sheep. For Peter, following Jesus was to come with a death sentence. And Peter seems to have understood exactly what Jesus had inferred when He had said, “when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18 ESV).

John even clarifies that Jesus’ words were intended “to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (John 21:19 ESV). In the Roman-dominated culture in which they lived, the term “stretch out you hands” had become a euphemistic and more palatable way of referring to crucifixion. It was a word picture that described the victim’s arms being stretched out and tied to the upper beam of the cross (Ernst Haenchen, A Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2:226-27).

Peter’s immediate response to this news reveals that he fully understood the import of what Jesus had said to him. As he and Jesus walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Peter turned and saw John following close behind. And the sight of “the disciple whom Jesus loved” seems to have filled Peter with jealousy. Peter was a natural-born competitor. He was always jockeying for position, trying to establish himself as the lead-dog among the rest of the disciples. Yet, John always seemed to be the teacher’s pet, the obvious favorite of Jesus, and this must have infuriated and frustrated the highly-competitive Peter.

So, like a petulant child, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” (John 21:21 ESV). Peter’s unbridled and impetuous nature was on full display. He always had a difficult time controlling his impulses and words proved to be a particularly thorny problem. He habitually struggled to get his brain in gear before he put his lips in motion. Thinking before speaking was not a strong suit.

Peter, having heard the less-than-pleasant ending to his own life, wants to know what John’s fate will be.  What does God have in store for “the disciple whom Jesus loved?” Will he have his “hands stretched out?” Is John going to have to suffer death for following Jesus? It seems that Peter felt like he had been singled out. Perhaps he believed the death that Jesus had predicted he would suffer was a form of punishment for his earlier denial. Whatever the case, Peter was not asking out of concern for John. He was trying to determine whether the other disciples were going to end up like him. And the tone of Jesus’ response reveals that He understood the self-centered nature of Peter’s question.

“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? – John 21:22 ESV

In a sense, Jesus told Peter, “that’s none of your business.” Jesus had just had a personal and intimate conversation with Peter, yet none of the other disciples were demanding to know what they had discussed. Jesus had plans for each of His disciples, but all Peter needed to know was what Jesus had in store for him. Obviously, Peter was not particularly pleased with how Jesus described the ending to his life’s story. There’s little doubt that Peter had always envisioned some much more positive. But he was discovering the difficult truth that God’s will was not obligated to mirror his own. In time, he would learn to pray as Jesus did in the garden, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42 NLT).

But for now, he was struggling with the twin demons of comparison and competition. He was jealous of John and his intimate relationship with Jesus. And his competitive nature made it difficult for him to accept the outcome Jesus had described. Peter didn’t want to die a martyr, despite his earlier claim that he would lay down his life for Jesus (John 13:37). Peter was naturally attracted to glory and gain. He was prone to seek credit for anything that he did. His actions tended to be driven by reward and recognition. But this brings to mend the words spoken by Jesus spoke in His sermon on the mount.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. –Matthew 6:1 ESV

Peter didn’t need to worry about John. He needed to focus on the mission Jesus had given to him.

“Feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 ESV

“Tend my sheep.” – John 21:16 ESV

“Feed my sheep.” – John 21:17 ESV

If Jesus willed for John to live a long and prosperous life, that was none of Peter’s business. Even if John were divinely destined to live long enough to see the return of Jesus, that should be of no concern to Peter. He had his marching orders. He knew exactly what Jesus required of him. But he was allowing jealousy and envy to blind him from the task at hand. And James warns what happens when believers allow these twin temptations to take over their lives.

But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. – James 3:14-16 NLT

John adds an interesting side note that reveals how easy it is to draw false conclusions from God’s word. It seems that Jesus’ words regarding John had been wrongly interpreted to mean that John would never die. This statement from the lips of Jesus had taken on a life of their own, spreading throughout the early church in the form of a rumor that John would outlive all the disciples, being miraculously kept alive until the return of Jesus.

So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die. – John 21:23 ESV

But John put that rumor to rest by restating and clarifying what Jesus had said. The key word in Jesus’ statement had been the first one: “If…” Jesus had been making a propositional statement. It could have gone either way. If John lived until Jesus returned, it would have been God’s will. If he didn’t, that too would have been God’s will. Jesus had not guaranteed one or the other. He had simply been encouraging Peter to keep his mind focused on the revealed will of God for him.

As John prepares to wrap up his gospel account, he restates that he is its author. He has been an eyewitness to all that he has written. While he has constantly referred to himself in the third-person throughout his gospel, John had first-person knowledge of all that he has recorded. And because he is writing near the end of the 1st-Century, years after the events recorded in his gospel had taken place, he can boldly state that his testimony is true. They have been verified by time and the testimonies of others.

And John adds that his gospel was anything but comprehensive. He is not inferring that it is somehow incomplete or inadequate, but only that it would have been impossible to record all that Jesus had said and done during His earthly ministry. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John had carefully and purposefully chosen which details to include. And they all supported his overall thesis.

these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:31 ESV

The lofty goal John had set out for his gospel had been to establish Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He began with his claim that Jesus was the Word of God made flesh. He was the second person of the Trinity, the very Son of God who, by becoming a man, made the invisible God visible. Jesus manifested or revealed the Father by demonstrating the Father’s love for mankind. And He did it by willingly taking the form of sinful man and dying as the sinless substitute required to satisfy the just demands of His Heavenly Father. Jesus became “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29 ESV).

And John painstakingly recorded the words and works of Jesus so that those who came to faith in Him long after His ascension would continue to believe in who He was and what He had come to do. The early church was under attack and believers were constantly being tempted to walk away from the faith. They struggled with doubts about Jesus’ true identity because false teachers were constantly bringing into question either His divinity or His humanity. Some claimed Him to be God, but not a man. Others taught that He was a man, but not God. But John has spent 21 chapters defending the deity of Jesus while, at the same time, strenuously defending His humanity. Jesus was the God-man. And it was that one-of-a-kind nature that allowed Him to do what He came to do: Give His life as a ransom for many.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

More Than You Need

Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. John 21:5-14 ESV

The sun was just coming up as the weary disciples began to pull in their net after an unsuccessful night of fishing. They had returned to the Sea of Galilee just as Jesus had told them to but, apparently bored with waiting, seven of them had decided to try their hand at fishing. But as they prepared to return empty-handed, they heard someone call out to them. Whether it was due to a combination of their distance from shore and the poor morning light, they were unable to make out the identity of the stranger who shouted to them from the shoreline.

But it seems likely that they were a bit put out by His impertinent and somewhat invasive question: “Children, do you have any fish?” (John 21:5 ESV). And you can hear the tone of irritation in their curt response: “No.”

Peter and his companions were worn out and probably a bit put out by their failure to catch a single, solitary fish. These men were professionals and they had probably used every trick of the trade they could think of – but all to no avail. Now, this nosy bystander was unknowingly rubbing salt in the wound, leaving what little pride they had left completely destroyed.

John makes it clear that they failed to recognize Jesus. Again, it could have been because of their distance from shore and the poor lighting conditions. But, like the two disciples who encountered the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emaus, these men could have been a case of divine disablement.

While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. – Luke 24:14-15 ESV

Whatever the case, the disciples had no idea that it was Jesus who was speaking to them. So, when this “stranger” suggested that they cast their net on the other side of the boat, they must have felt a strong urge to tell him to mind his own business. And yet, surprisingly, they did just as the man suggested. It could be that they did so out of respect. When the man had called out to them, he had called them “children.” The Greek word is paidion, and it was typically used to refer to a young child. It was a term of affection. So, perhaps they understood their well-meaning friend to be an older gentleman to whom they wanted to show honor by heeding his advice.

So, when he shouted out, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (John 21:6 ESV), they immediately complied. Yet, it is doubtful that they harbored any suspicions that this time would be any different than all the others. They had no expectations that their efforts would prove successful. They simply wanted to cast their net, haul it back in, and call it a day. But they were in for a big surprise.

John, still writing in the third-person just as he has done throughout his gospel, recounts what happened when he and his fellow disciples did as the man had suggested.

So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. – John 21:6 ESV

It was a miracle. And John was the first to recognize the nature of what had happened and the identity of who was behind it all. He immediately called out, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7 ESV). And in that split second of time, the eyes of every man in the boat shifted from the amazing sight of the net full of fish to the man standing on the shore. And forgetting all about the net, they began to row to shore. The always impulsive Peter, too excited to wait,  jumped into the water and swam to meet Jesus. Suddenly, the Giver became more important than the gift. The net full of fish lost its appeal as they recognized their resurrected Lord and Savior. 

When they finally made it to shore, they found Jesus standing by a charcoal fire grilling fish. It’s important to note that, in the Greek, the word for fish is in the singular tense. He is cooking one fish. And this entire scene should call to mind an earlier occasion that took place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and His disciples had encountered a large crowd of His followers and Mark recounts that Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 ESV). Jesus, knowing that the people were tired and hungry, instructed His disciples to feed them. But they responded in disbelief, indicating that they did not have the resources to feed such a large crowd. And when Jesus asked them to gather what was available, they came back with fives loaves of bread and two fish. And Andrew, upon taking a look at the meager resources at their disposal, had responded, “what are they for so many?” (John 6:9 ESV). 

The disciples were full of doubts. They looked at the circumstances, assessed their potential for success, and concluded that the numbers were not in their favor. But they were wrong. John records that Jesus “took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6:11 ESV).

Yet, as Peter and his companions stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, they were looking at a single fish roasting on a charcoal fire. And it seems likely that the famished Andrew once again thought to himself, “what is this for so many?” How were eight men going to satisfy their hunger with one measly fish? But Jesus refocused their attention on the net that still remained tied to the boat and lying in the water.

“Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” – John 21:10 ESV

John reveals that there were exactly 153 fish in that net. Many commentators have tried to come up with some hidden meaning behind that number, but it would seem that John is simply trying to compare and contrast the two stories. In the earlier case, the disciples had only been able to find two fish. But on this occasion, they had shown up with 153. And the difference between the two numbers the work of Jesus. He had been the one to instruct them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. So, the miraculous supply of fish had been His doing. But in graciously inviting them to bring what they had “caught,” Jesus was allowing them to contribute to the meal.

And what Jesus did next should not be overlooked.

Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. – John 21:13 ESV

There is little doubt that John had the feeding of the 5,000 in mind when he recorded this scene on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. What he describes is remarkably similar to what happened on that earlier occasion.

Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. – John 6:11 ESV

They ate and were satisfied. Jesus had miraculously met their need by transforming what was insufficient into an overabundance. But in this story, we see Jesus providing an overabundance before He met the need. And He allowed them to be participants in the miracle of provision. They had cast the net. They had rowed the boat. And Peter had hauled it to shore. But there were far more fish than they could eat. The supply outstripped the demand.

This entire scene was intended as a lesson in the sufficiency of Jesus and the need for their complete dependency upon Him. It was reminiscent of His earlier words to them.

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5 NLT

They were learning the invaluable lesson that the apostle Paul had learned.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13 ESV

And Paul would add:

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19 ESV

As Jesus prepared to return to His Father’s side in heaven, He was letting His disciples know that they would become His ambassadors, carrying on His mission and conveying His message of Good News to the world. But they would need to rely upon Him. They would need to abide in Him. In just a matter of days, they would receive the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, who would provide them with the power of God so that they might do the will of God. They would have all the resources they needed to do all that Jesus would commission them to do.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Empty Hopes and An Empty Tomb

1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes. John 20:1-10 ESV

Joseph and Nicodemus, two members of the Jewish high council, had discretely removed the body of Jesus from the cross and carefully cleaned it, anointed it with burial spices, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and placed it in a tomb. And there it remained for three days, while the disciples remained in a state of mourning.

Their friend and teacher was gone. The one they had believed to be their long-awaited Messiah was no longer with them. And as they gathered together during those dark days, they must have discussed the words that Jesus had spoken to them.

“Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” – Matthew 20:18-19 NLT

Everything had happened just as He said it would – down to the last detail. And this had not been the first time they had heard Jesus make prophetic statements concerning His death. Earlier in his gospel, Matthew records another occasion when Jesus divulged to His disciples the fate that lay in store for Him.

Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. – Matthew 16:21 NLT

And Peter had responded with outrage, even rebuking Jesus for saying such things.

“Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” – Matthew 16:22 NLT

The outcome Jesus had described was unacceptable to Peter. He was unwilling to entertain thoughts of the death of his friend, teacher, and Messiah. The fact that Jesus had also declared He would rise again on the third day seems to have escaped him. And Jesus’ response reveals the true nature of Peter’s refusal to accept what was clearly God’s will.

“Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” – Matthew 16:23 NLT

Peter and his companions had always wrestled with viewing Jesus from their limited earthly perspective. They believed Him to be the Messiah, but those beliefs were weighed down with all kinds of faulty interpretations and personal expectations. They had high hopes that Jesus was going to reverse the centuries of abuse and subjugation that their people had been forced to suffer under Gentile nations like the Romans. And because they had been among the first to follow Jesus, these men had lofty expectations that they would be rewarded with positions in His administration when He set up His Kingdom.

But now that Jesus was dead, Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples were in hiding. We have no idea what they were doing or the nature of the conversations they were having during those three days. But all of the gospel writers tell us that it was the female followers of Jesus who made the first attempt to visit His tomb. Mark reveals that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses had seen where Joseph and Nicodemus had buried the body of Jesus (Mark 15:47). And Luke adds that, because the Sabbath was about to begin, “they returned and prepared aromatic spices and perfumes” (Luke 23:56 ESV). They had every intention of returning after the Sabbath in order to anoint the body of Jesus.

Luke reports that “on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared” (Luke 24:1 ESV). Matthew provides the identities of these women: 

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. – Matthew 28:1 ESV

Mark adds the name of Salome to the list of women who visited the tomb that morning (Mark 16:1). But regardless of how many women went to the tomb, Luke makes it clear that none of them had gone there looking for a resurrected Jesus. The burial spices they carried gave evidence that they fully expected to find a dead body, not a living one.  

In his typical, abbreviated style, John only mentions Mary Magdalene. This might be because she was the one who would return to the disciples and share the good news regarding Jesus’ resurrection. He also leaves out any mention of the earthquake and the appearance of the angel that Matthew includes. And he chose not to include the words spoken by the angel.

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” – Luke 24:5-7 ESV

It may be that John felt that all of these details had been adequately covered by the other gospel writers and were unnecessary for him to include. But John’s account seems to provide some missing details to the resurrection chronology. According to his version of the morning’s events, Mary Magdalene made her way to the tomb with the other women, but she was the first one to arrive. She found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. John adds that he and Peter were the first two disciples to whom Mary Magdalene revealed this news.

…she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” – John 20:2 ESV

At this point, she was unaware that Jesus was alive. Meanwhile, the other women had made it to the tomb, only to make the same shocking discovery.

And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” – Mark 16:4-7 ESV

As these women ran to tell the good news to the disciples, Peter and John were already on their way to the tomb. The report that the tomb was empty and the body of Jesus was gone had shocked them out of their state of mourning and energized them into action.

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. – John 20:3-7 NLT

It is important to remember that John, the one writing this gospel, was “the other disciple.” He admits that he was the first to arrive at the tomb because he outran Peter. John peered into the tomb but refused to go inside. Yet, the always impulsive Peter, arriving a few seconds later, barged into the tomb, only to discover the discarded burial cloth. The body was gone, just as Mary Magdalene had said.

But John adds a personal word of testimony.

…the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed… – John 20:8 ESV

Emboldened by Peter’s actions, John entered the tomb to have a closer look. And what he saw convinced him that Jesus was alive. He believed. And he admits that, until that moment, the disciples had not understood what the Scriptures revealed about the death and resurrection of the Messiah. The words of King David, recorded in Psalm 16, were a prophetic statement regarding the death and resurrection of the Messiah.

For you will not leave my soul among the dead
    or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
    granting me the joy of your presence
    and the pleasures of living with you forever. – Psalm 16:10-11 NLT

And John admits that he and his companions had never understood these Old Testament passages to be applicable to Jesus. Not only that, they had not comprehended Jesus’ own words concerning His death and resurrection. But now, John saw and believed.

But he seems to speak only for himself. He doesn’t indicate whether Peter believed. Luke tells us only that, upon seeing the empty tomb, Peter “went home marveling at what had happened” (Luke 24:12 ESV). And John gives the impression that there was a bit of unbelief still lingering among the disciples. He simply states that “the disciples went back to their homes” (John 20:10 ESV).

John and Peter left the tomb as they had found it: Empty and abandoned. But they had yet to see the resurrected Jesus. The same was not true of the women. As they had made their way from the tomb, with the words of the angel echoing in their ears, “Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’” (Matthew 28:9 ESV). And Matthew adds that “they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me’” (Matthew 28:9-10 ESV).

The good news was about to get better. Soon, John would not be the only one of the 11 who believed. The rest of his confused and disheartened brothers would soon find themselves face to face with their risen Lord and Savior.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Trial of Peter

15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” 24 Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed. John 18:15-27 ESV

Jesus has been dragged before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest. Of the four gospel authors, John is the only one who records this meeting between Jesus and Annas. The Synoptics each have Jesus being brought before Caiaphas and then Pilate. John refers to Jesus’ appearance before Caiaphas (v. 24) but chooses not to provide any of the details concerning their meeting. It seems that John is more interested in the patriarch of the high priestly dynasty because Annas’ father/son relationship with Caiaphas, his son-in-law, echoes the many references to Jesus and His Father found in his gospel.

The setting is the residence of the high priest. Jesus has been brought to the home of the man who served in the same role as Aaron, the brother of Moses and the first high priest of Israel. God had ordained Aaron and his sons to serve as His priests, ministering on behalf of the people of Israel throughout the generations.

“I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” – Exodus 29:44-46 ESV

But over the centuries, the high priesthood had mirrored the spiritual state of the nation. They were just as guilty of apostasy and idolatry. Rather than maintain their consecrated status as God’s priests, they led the people in committing sins against the Almighty. And the prophet Hosea records God’s indictment against them.

“When the people bring their sin offerings, the priests get fed.
    So the priests are glad when the people sin!
‘And what the priests do, the people also do.’
    So now I will punish both priests and people
    for their wicked deeds.” – Hosea 4:8-9 NLT

“But like Adam, you broke my covenant
    and betrayed my trust.

“Gilead is a city of sinners,
    tracked with footprints of blood.
Priests form bands of robbers,
    waiting in ambush for their victims.
They murder travelers along the road to Shechem
    and practice every kind of sin.” – Hosea 6:7-9 NLT

And not much had changed by the time Jesus appeared in the courtyard of the high priest. As John has shown, the high priest and his fellow members of the Sanhadrin had no love for Jesus and they refused to accept His claims to be the Son of God. The whole reason Jesus stood before Annas with His hands bound like a criminal was that they saw Him as a threat to their way of life. When Jesus had ransacked the temple, turning over the tables of the moneychangers, the priests had seen this as a direct attack on their authority and power. So now, Jesus was about to stand for His crimes against the religious authorities of Israel.

But as John records, there was more than one person facing a trial this night. Peter, in the darkness of the courtyard, would also find himself undergoing intense interrogation and facing the very real prospect of suffering guilt by association. This entire scene brings to mind an earlier conversation between Jesus and Peter. It had taken place not long after Jesus and His disciples had shared their final Passover meal together. In sharing with the 11 men who remained at His side after Judas had left the room, Jesus made a shocking announcement to Peter.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” – Luke 22:31-32 ESV

This news left Peter stunned and indignant. And he responded with a strong sense of denial, declaring his willingness to lay down his life for Jesus.

Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” – Luke 22:33 ESV

But to Peter’s shock and embarrassment, Jesus prophesied a far different outcome.

“I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” – Luke 22:34 ESV

Now, that fateful moment had come. Peter and John had followed the procession from the garden, keeping to the shadows to avoid detection. But when they arrived at the high priest’s residence, John arranged for them to gain entrance because he was known to the servants of the high priest. John doesn’t disclose the nature of his relationship with the high priest but simply states that he was able to negotiate Peter’s entrance into the courtyard, an act of kindness Peter would probably regret.

As Peter made his way through the gate into the courtyard, a servant girl asks Peter a simple and somewhat harmless question.

“You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” – John 18:17 ESV

It seems that this girl had recognized John and knew him to be a disciple of Jesus. When John had asked her to allow his friend to enter the courtyard with him, she was curious to know if Peter was a disciple as well. There was no threat involved. She was pointing a finger of accusation against Peter. She was simply making small talk.

But Peter, in his heightened state of fear, immediately took her question as an accusation. And with a short and quick reply, he vehemently denied any association with Jesus.

“I am not.” – John 18:17 ESV

In his record of the night’s proceedings, John leaves Peter warming himself by a charcoal fire and shifts the scene inside, where Jesus stands before Annas. What takes place here is less a trial than an interrogation. Annas “questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching” (John 18:19 ESV). Just as the servant girl had asked Peter about his relationship with Jesus, Annas wants to know about Jesus’ relationship with the disciples. He has heard all the rumors concerning Jesus and now he wants to hear what Jesus has to say for Himself. Who were His disciples and what exactly had He been teaching them? Annas is wanting to know how this uneducated Rabbi from Nazareth has managed to attract such a large following in such a short period of time. The news of Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem before thousands of cheering people had not escaped Annas.

Jesus, unphased by His surroundings and unimpressed by the lofty reputation of His interrogator, simply replies: “Everyone knows what I teach. I have preached regularly in the synagogues and the Temple, where the people gather. I have not spoken in secret. Why are you asking me this question? Ask those who heard me. They know what I said” (John 18:20-21 NLT).

Jesus is not being disrespectful. He is simply stating that His days of teaching and explaining Himself are done. His witness concerning His ministry and identity is complete. He is done teaching and the final phase of His mission is about to begin. If Annas is looking for witnesses to vouch for who Jesus is, there are more than enough people who can speak on His behalf. And the time is quickly coming when the followers of Jesus will lift their voices and declare the good news of the gospel. But the words of Jesus recall the sad image of Peter, cowering in silent fear by the glow of the charcoal fire.

But Jesus’ response to Annas earned Him a slap in the face from the hand of one of the officers standing beside Him. His answer had come across as dishonoring and deserving of rebuke. His face still stinging from the guard’s physical abuse, Jesus calmly replied, “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?” (John 18:23 NLT).

This statement will establish the tone for the rest of the night’s proceedings. Jesus is going to be repeatedly questioned and physically abused. But as Pilate will clearly state, “I find no guilt in him” (John 19:4 ESV). Nothing Jesus has said over the last three years has been false. And what He said to Annas had not been disrespectful, He had simply been stating the truth. These trials would prove to be a mockery of justice. They were not interested in the truth. The one who claimed to be “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6) stood before them, but they would declare Him to be a liar and a deceiver. And in so doing, they would prove what Jesus had said about them earlier:

“…you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44 NLT

And with that, Annas sent Jesus to Caiaphas. But what about Peter? He is still standing by the fire, awaiting the final two of his “siftings” by Satan. And they come in quick succession. But rather than serve as a faithful witness to His friend and Messiah, Peter denies knowing Him…“and at once a rooster crowed” (John 18:27 ESV). 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Long and Painful Goodbye

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” John 13:31-38 ESV

After the shocking announcement that one of His own would betray Him, Jesus begins  what has come to be known as His “farewell discourse.” Judas has left the upper room, leaving Jesus alone with His 11 remaining disciples. These men were likely still in a state of bewilderment, trying to assimilate all that Jesus had just said and done.

The fact that no one attempted to hinder Judas from leaving reveals that they had not fully comprehended the gravity of the situation or the meaning behind Jesus’ words. John even alludes to their misunderstanding by revealing what he and the other disciples were thinking when Jesus said to Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly” (John 13:27 ESV). 

Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. – John 13:28-29 ESV

From their places at the table where they had just celebrated the Passover, the 11 disciples watched as their brother walked into the night. With Judas’ departure, another form of cleansing or separation took place. When Jesus had finished washing the disciples’ feet, He had told them, “you are clean, but not every one of you” (John 13:10 ESV). The inference was that Judas, who had also had his feet washed by Jesus,  remained unclean. He was not one of them. His intention to betray Jesus revealed his true heart and exposed his state of disbelief.

But with Judas gone, the room was occupied only with those whom Jesus had originally chosen to be His followers and who were destined to His future ambassadors. Everything Jesus would say from this point forward would be designed to brace these men for all that was about to happen but also to prepare them for the role they would play once He was gone. He began by telling them:

“The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once.” – John 13:31-32 NLT

In the opening verses of his gospel, John testified regarding Jesus: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV).

As one of those chosen by Jesus, John had been an eye-witness to all that Jesus had said and done. He had been able to see the amazing miracles Jesus had performed. He had sat under the remarkable teaching of this Rabbi from Nazareth. And over the three years he had spent with Jesus, John had become convinced that Jesus really was the Word become flesh. Jesus was the Messiah, and His entire life and ministry revealed the glory of His identity as the Son of God.

Now, Jesus tells John and the other disciples that the time has come for Him to “enter His glory.” He was going to be returning to His Father’s side in heaven, but the path to His glory would pass through the cross. Jesus had already alluded to the fact that His glorification would require His crucifixion. Earlier in the day, Jesus had told His disciples:

“Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” – John 12:23-24 NLT

In the physical world, life precedes death. But in the spiritual realm, it is the other way around. Death precedes life. All that Jesus had done in His earthly life had given evidence of His glory as God’s own Son. But God would use His Son’s death on the cross as the ultimate proof of His identity by raising Him back to life. The Son of Man would die, but the Son of God would rise again and return to His Father’s side in heaven.

This was not the first time that Jesus had communicated to His disciples the idea of death preceding life. He had told them that they too would be required to sacrifice their temporal earthly lives in order to gain eternal life.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” – Matthew 16:24-25 NLT

What they didn’t understand was that Jesus was about to take up His own cross. He was just hours away from laying down His life for their sake. But with the Father’s help, He would pick it up again. In a split second of time, God would restore to life the beaten, broken, and bloodied body of His Son. And He would see to it that His glorified Son was restored to His rightful place at His side.

The apostle Paul describes this death-to-life transformation in powerful terms, stating that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” Philippians 2:8-11 ESV).

But Jesus informs His disciples that His glorification will result in their isolation from Him. In addition to the news that He will be betrayed by one of His own, Jesus now informs them that He will be leaving them and they will not be able to follow Him.

“Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going.” – John 13:33 NLT

Upon His departure, the disciples would find themselves alone and in need of one another’s companionship and support. Jesus wanted them to understand that they were going to be part of a new and totally unique community, made up of all those who believed in Him and would become members of His body. And one of the requirements for membership in this community would be mutual love for one another.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:34-35 NLT

Later on, in this same farewell discourse, Jesus will elaborate on this command to love one another, using His own death as an example of the kind of love He is talking about.

“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:12-13 NLT

Jesus had earlier described Himself as the Good Shepherd and had indicated that His love for His sheep would be exhibited by His willingness to die for them.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11 NLT

Now, He was telling His disciples that they too would need to be willing to die for one another. The life of a follower of Christ is marked by self-sacrifice and selfless love for others. Again, the apostle Paul used Jesus as the prime example of what this kind of selfless, sacrificial life was to look like.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. – Philippians 2:3-5 NLT

With His death on the cross, Jesus exhibited an attitude of humility, sacrifice, obedience, and love. He faithfully followed the will of His Father and willingly laid down His life for the good of others. And He expected His disciples to do the same.

But Peter, as the unofficial spokesman for the group, vocalized their confusion by asking, “Lord, where are you going?” (John 13:36 ESV). All the talk about glorification and loving one another went right over their heads. All they had heard was “Where I am going you cannot come” (John 13:33 ESV). In spite of all that Jesus had said, they were oblivious to the reality of the cross. The last thing on their minds was the death of Jesus.

And Jesus, speaking rather cryptically, assured His disciples that while they could not immediately accompany Him to His destination, they would one day join Him. This is probably a veiled reference to both His death and His glorification. He was headed to the cross and, ultimately, to His Father’s side in heaven. And one day, each of the disciples would experience their own physical deaths, most by martyrdom, and then join Jesus in heaven. But for now, they would remain behind because God had work for them to do.

But Peter, impulsive and outspoken as ever, blurted out, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you” (John 13:37 ESV). He boldly proclaimed his love and allegiance to Jesus, declaring that he was willing to face anything, even death, to prove His faithfulness. But little did Peter know that his commitment to Jesus would prove wholly insufficient and, ultimately, insincere. The next words out of Jesus’ mouth must have left Peter devastated and embarrassed. 

“Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times. – John 13:38 ESV

But Jesus knew that Peter, however well-intentioned he might be, lacked the one thing he and the other disciples were going to need if they were going to survive His departure: The Holy Spirit.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Completely Cleansed

1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” John 13:1-11 ESV

As Jesus senses the day of His death drawing closer, He begins to focus His attention more directly on the men He has chosen to carry on His work in His absence. His public ministry is officially over. The raising of Lazarus from the dead would be His last miracle. There would be no more debates with the religious leaders or discourses with the people in the temple. At this point, with just days remaining before He went to the cross, Jesus’ primary mission became the preparation of His disciples for all that was about to happen.

In his account of Jesus’ final week on earth, John diverges from the narratives found in the Synoptic Gospels. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke place considerable emphasis on the institution of the Lord’s Supper, while John chooses to leave it out. It would appear that John wrote his account late in the 1st-Century, likely making it the last of the four gospels to be written. Having had access to the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John knew that they had amply covered the institution of the Lord’s Supper so, rather than echoing the same content, he focused his attention on Jesus’ teaching to the disciples. His record of the Passover meal shared by Jesus and His followers contains material not found in the other three gospels. In fact, he is the only one who records the well-known scene of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples.

It is important to remember that John’s purpose for writing his gospel was to support the very important doctrine of the deity of Jesus. Even by the end of the 1st-Century when John likely wrote his gospel, there were those who had begun to reject or repudiate the doctrine of the deity of Jesus. And because John had addressed his gospel to a Christian audience, he was attempting to reassure them that Jesus truly was who He claimed to be. John even reminded his readers of his purpose for putting pen to paper:  “that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God” (John 20:31 NLT).

So, while the Lord’s Supper was important to John, it was not pertinent to what John was trying to convey to his audience. Instead, he chose to focus on an event that the other gospel writers left out of their accounts: The powerful object lesson of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet.

John presents a very compressed and compacted account of what took place that night. He sets the scene by juxtaposing the heart of Judas with that of Jesus.

the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him – John 13:2 ESV

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper… – John 13:3-4 ESV

The heart of Jesus was motivated by love for His own. He knew He was about to leave His disciples and He greatly desired to provide them with some final words of encouragement and insight. Jesus, knowing “that his hour had come to depart out of this world” (John 13:1 ESV), performed an act of unspeakable humility and love.

So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. – John 13:4-5 NLT

The Son of God visibly placed Himself in the role of a servant and willingly washed the feet of His disciples. He provided them with an object lesson that left them stunned, embarrassed, and confused. Jesus even washed the feet of the one who would betray Him. And He did so with full awareness of His deity and superiority. He was living out the words He had spoken earlier.

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 ESV

But the disciples were shocked by Jesus’ actions, as evidenced by Peter’s response.

“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” – John 13:6 NLT

Always the first to speak his mind, Peter exhibited reticence at the thought of his master washing his feet. He knew this was not appropriate. Jesus was doing the work of a common slave and this embarrassed Peter. But there is far more going on here than first meets the eye. John describes Jesus as laying aside His outer garments. John did not use the normal Greek word for the removal of a piece of clothing. In fact, he will use this very same word again, when Jesus asks Peter, “Will you lay down your life for me?” (John 13:38 ESV). It is the same word Jesus used when speaking of His coming death.

“I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” – John 10:17-18 ESV

This imagery of Jesus laying down and taking up His life is played out in the upper room, as Jesus lays down of His outer garments and then takes them back up again. And in-between doing so, He performs a sacrificial act of cleansing. But Peter and the disciples didn’t grasp the significance of what Jesus was doing. They didn’t make the connection. And Jesus makes this point perfectly clear.

“What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” – John 13:7 ESV

When Peter vehemently refused to be cleansed by Jesus, he was unknowingly exhibiting the prideful, self-righteous attitude of the religious leaders.

In Peter’s response we see the pride and self-will that is at the heart of all sin and that is the very thing for which the cross will atone and bring healing. Peter is working from a worldly point of view, and not for the first time. – Rodney A. Whitaker, John: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series

But Jesus responded to Peter with a word of warning: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8 ESV). It would only be through Jesus’ death on the cross that true cleansing from sin could be attained. And without it, no one could have a right relationship with Christ or the Father.

Jesus’ words seemed to have gotten Peter’s attention because he immediately demanded that Jesus wash his hands and his head as well. If getting his feet washed by Jesus was a non-negotiable requirement, Peter wanted to show his enthusiasm by requesting even more cleansing. But he was missing the point.

Yet, Jesus doesn’t exactly clear up Peter’s confusion. His next statement is rather cryptic, providing the disciples with little clarity as to what He is talking about.

“The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” – John 13:10 ESV

It would seem that Jesus is trying to let Peter and his companions know that they belong to Him. By having been chosen by God and placed in the care of His Son, the disciples have been set apart as His servants. In a sense, they have been cleansed, but not completely. The final phase of their cleansing will take place on the cross. And when that happens, they will be made ready for the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Their lives will have been completely purified and made worthy vessels for the Spirit of God. It would not be until Jesus died, was raised again, and ascended, that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on His followers.

But there was one of them who would not experience this cleansing. He would not live to enjoy the coming of the Spirit of God. Judas was not clean. He was not a true believer in Jesus. He was a betrayer. And the death of Jesus would provide Him with no further cleansing from sin. As Matthew recorded in his gospel, Peter had clearly expressed His belief in Jesus when he stated, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). But evidently, Judas did not share that belief. He was not fully convinced by Jesus’ claims to be divine. He likely began following Jesus because he had hopes that He was the Messiah. But as time went by and Jesus failed to announce His Kingdom on earth, Judas lost patience and interest. And he would walk out that very night with a preconceived plan to make the most of his relationship with Jesus by betraying Him to the religious authorities. But for the time being, Peter and the rest of the disciples would remain by Jesus’ side.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I Am With You Always

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:11-20 ESV

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Of all the gospel authors, Matthew provides us with the most abbreviated version of the events surrounding Jesus’ last hours on earth. For whatever reason, he chose to leave out all the appearances Jesus made after His resurrection. We know from the accounts penned by John, Luke, and Mark, that Jesus appeared to His followers repeatedly during the hours between His resurrection and His ascension. There was the occasion when He had walked alongside the two distraught disciples on the road to Emmaus as they discussed the recent death of their master (Luke 24:13-32). Initially, they had been unable to recognize Jesus. But when they eventually realized they were talking with the resurrected Lord, they made a beeline to the room where the 10 disciples were gathered together, informing them of their encounter with Jesus.  And as they were sharing the exciting news, Jesus suddenly appeared among them (Luke 24:33-40).

John records that Thomas had not been in the room that day, and when his fellow disciples told him what had happened, he expressed his reservations. So, eight days later, Jesus revealed Himself to Thomas, telling him, “Do not disbelieve but believe” (John 20:27).

The apostle Paul provides a succinct summary of all of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.

He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. – 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 NLT

But Matthew chose to leave out all of this. Not only that, He doesn’t even mention the ascension of Jesus. Dr. Stanley Toussaint provides us with a compelling explanation for Matthew’s decision to leave out this seemingly vital part of the narrative.

The reason for Matthew’s diligence in approaching the resurrection in such an apologetic manner is evident since so much is dependent upon the resurrection of the Messiah. It authenticated His person. To the nation of Israel, His resurrection was the sign of the prophet Jonah (Matthew 12:38-49) attesting the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. The reason Matthew says nothing about the ascension is bound up in this point. If Jesus is the Messiah, then an account of the ascension is both unnecessary and self-evident to the Israelite. He would yet come in clouds of glory. What mattered to Matthew was that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah and the resurrection proved that fact; therefore he goes no further. – Toussaint, Stanley D. Behold the King: A Study of Matthew. Portland, Oreg.: Multnomah Press, 1980.

For Matthew, the resurrection said it all. If Jesus had been raised from the dead, which Matthew clearly believed, then His ascension would have been an undisputed fact. Matthew’s primary point was to prove the Messiahship of Jesus. That’s because, as a Jew, Matthew had written his gospel with a Jewish audience in mind. He had been out to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. And, for him, the resurrection was clear evidence and conclusive proof of that claim.

The tomb was empty, and news of that reality had already begun to spread. In fact, the temple guards who had been tasked with protecting the tomb had already delivered their report of the missing body to Caiaphas, the high priest, and his father-in-law. The Jewish high council had placed these guards at the tomb of Jesus in order to prevent the disciples from stealing His body. The members of the Sanhedrin had been informed of Jesus’ bold and blasphemous claim that He would rise from the dead. So, they assumed His fanatical disciples, in a pathetic attempt to keep their little revolution alive, would try to steal the body of Jesus and declare Him to be alive.  Much to their surprise and chagrin, that is essentially what the guards reported. And Matthew records that the guards told the high priest “all that had taken place.” That would have included exactly what Matthew had reported.

…there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. – Matthew 28:2-4 ESV

These guards would have feared for their lives. They had failed in their assignment. The body they had been instructed to guard was no longer there. If anything, these men could have fabricated a lie that provided them with a plausible alibi. But instead, they told the truth – as crazy as it may have sounded. Not only had they failed to secure the tomb, but they had also fallen asleep on the job. So, they most likely told their bosses exactly what had happened in great detail.

But Matthew records that Caiaphas, after having heard the unwelcome news, assembled the rest of the high council. Amazingly, Caiaphas determined that the best strategy was to pay off the guards and spread the rumor that the disciples had stolen the body – the very thing he had hoped to prevent. It seems evident that he knew something else had taken place, and this decision was nothing more than a poor attempt at a coverup. The last thing he wanted was a rumor of Jesus’ resurrection spreading throughout the city.

And yet, that fact was Matthew’s primary point. Jesus was alive. He had risen from the dead, just as He had promised. He was the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. Matthew had opened up his gospel with the encounter between Joseph and the angel.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21 ESV

Matthew had followed that story with the one involving the arrival of the wise men, who had come in search of “he who has been born king of the Jews?(Matthew 2:2 ESV).

Next, Matthew recorded Herod’s attempt to eliminate the infant Jesus as a threat by having all the male babies executed. He reported Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and the divine pronouncement from God, stating, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV).

Matthew had been out to prove that Jesus was Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 ESV). And the resurrection of Jesus was the final, conclusive piece of evidence.

Jesus had directed His disciples to meet Him at a mountain in Galilee. We are not told which mountain, but it may have been the very place where Jesus had given His sermon on the mount recorded in Matthew 5-7. But regardless of the exact location of their place of rendezvous, Jesus appeared yet again to His followers. Matthew reports that while all 11 of the disciples worshiped Him, some still harbored doubts. He doesn’t explain what he meant by this. Did they doubt Jesus’ resurrection? That seems hard to imagine, based on the fact that He was standing right in front of them. Did they doubt that He was the Messiah? Perhaps. It could be that they were still harboring hopes that He would reveal Himself to be the King they had long hoped for.

The Greek word translated as “doubted” is edistasan, and it refers to a spirit of hesitation. It is likely that they were uncertain and fearful of all that was going on around them. They probably harbored concerns about the future. They were in unchartered waters. The events of the last few days were not what they had expected, and they had no idea what was going to happen next. What were Jesus’ plans? What would happen to them? The Sanhedrin had already proven just how far they would go to eliminate Jesus as a threat, and they were not going to give up easily.

But Jesus attempted to calm their fears and doubts by telling them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18 ESV). This statement was meant to assure His wavering, fear-focused disciples that He was in complete control of the situation. The very fact that He was standing before them, alive and well, was proof that He had authority from God Almighty. He had done what no other man had ever done before – He had conquered death and the grave. And they had no reason to fear.

But they did have work to do. And Jesus, according to His God-given authority, commissioned His followers to continue His work in His absence.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

No more hiding. No more fearing. They were to boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus’ Messiahship. He was the Son of God. He was Immanuel, God with us. He was the King of the Jews and the Savior of the world. And that remarkable news was to be proclaimed throughout the world. While the temple guards and the Sanhedrin were busy spreading lies, the disciples were to spread the truth about the death-defeating, sin-forgiving power of the resurrected Savior.

And Jesus assured His followers that, though He was leaving, He would still be with them. This promise was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in them on the day of Pentecost. The Spirit would be their constant companion and source of divine power. And, while Jesus would soon depart and return to His Father’s side in heaven, the Spirit of God would remain with them all the days of their lives. And He will remain with all those who make up the body of Christ, the Church, until the end of the age.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The End of the Beginning

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” – Matthew 27:11-23 ESV

Munkacsy_-_christ_before_pilateJudas had hung himself. The rest of the disciples were in hiding. Peter, in particular, was in a state of deep sorrow, having fulfilled Jesus’ prediction by denying Him on three separate occasions.

But Jesus was still in the custody of the high priest’s guards and on His way to Pilate, the Roman governor. The Jewish religious leaders were no fans of the Roman government, but they knew they needed Rome’s authority and legal jurisdiction in order to have Jesus put to death.

In his gospel account, John indicates that it was early in the morning when Jesus arrived at the governor’s residence. And Matthew records that the first thing the governor asked Jesus was, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11 ESV). This seems like an odd way for Pilate to start his interrogation of Jesus, but it reveals that he had been informed of the rumors concerning Jesus. He had most likely heard all the details concerning Jesus’ somewhat spectacular entry into Jerusalem a few days earlier and had been told about the shouts of the crowds who had greeted Him as He made His way into the city.

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:9 ESV

It would also seem apparent that the high priest and the members of the Sanhedrin had accused Jesus of claiming to be the king of the Jews. They knew their charge of blasphemy against Jesus would be of no interest to Pilate. But the threat of a possible insurrection against Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Israel, would have gotten Pilate’s attention. The Jews wanted Jesus dead because He had claimed to be the Son of God. But they knew the best way to get the Romans to sanction His death would be to portray Jesus as a dangerous radical and revolutionary, whose very presence was a threat to the Pax Romana, the Roman peace that allowed them to keep their vast empire under control.

John records that, when the Jews showed up at Pilate’s house with Jesus in tow, the governor had asked them what accusations they were bringing against Jesus. And they had replied, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you” (John 18:30 ESV). They wanted to paint Jesus as dangerous. And both Matthew and Mark make it clear that the Sanhedrin leveled many charges against Jesus. They were doing their best to destroy the reputation of Jesus and to give Pilate no other recourse than to sentence Him to death. And through it all, Jesus remained silent. He said nothing. He was not interested in self-defense, but in fulfilling the will of His Father.

Pilate, a seasoned and savvy political leader, saw through the motives of the Sanhedrin. Matthew records that “he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up” (Matthew 27:18 ESV). It was the Jewish religious leaders who saw Jesus as a threat, not Rome. During His three years of ministry, Jesus had done nothing to engender the least bit of fear or paranoia on the part of Rome. He was not a rabble-rouser or trouble-maker. He had not promoted the overthrow of the Roman government. He had not encouraged dissent or preached revolutionary rhetoric aimed at overthrowing Herod or eliminating Roman rule. That was not His mission.

So Pilate, desiring to release the obviously innocent Jesus without having to make the decision himself, provided the Jews with a choice. During his tenure as governor, Pilate had created an annual act of goodwill that took place during the Jewish celebration of Passover. He would release to them a Jew being held in captivity by the Roman government. On this occasion, he offered them a choice between two individuals: Jesus or a notorious criminal named Barabas. According to Mark, this man was a murderer and an insurrectionist. And it seems apparent that Pilate believed the people would prefer to have Jesus released over this well-known and dangerous criminal. But he was wrong. Due to the insidious influence of the Sanhedrim, the crowd that had gathered outside Pilate’s home overwhelmingly expressed their choice of the murderer over the Messiah. They wanted Barabas released, not Jesus.

And when Pilate asked the crowd, “what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” they responded, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:22 ESV).

Shocked at their response, Pilate asked, “Why? What evil has he done?” (Matthew 27:23 ESV). And again, the people shouted, “Let him be crucified!” The mob mentality fomented by the Jewish religious leaders overruled common sense and reason. Jesus was innocent of all charges brought against Him, but they did not care. Sensing the blood in the water, the feeding frenzy had begun. 

When Pilate had asked Jesus if He was the king of the Jews, He had simply replied, “You have said so” (Matthew 27:11 ESV). With those four words, Jesus confirmed His identity. He was the King of the Jews. But not in a sense that Pilate could have understood or in a way that the Jews could have anticipated. He was a King over a different kind of Kingdom. And He ruled with far more power and authority than Pilate could have ever imagined. Jesus would tell Pilate:

“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” – John 18:36 ESV

In these closing hours of Jesus’ life on earth, the topic of His kingship will come up repeatedly. He will even be mocked by the guards and given a purple robe and a crown of thorns to wear. These war-hardened legionnaires will bow down before Him, sarcastically shouting, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Mark 15:18 ESV). When Jesus is nailed to the cross, Pilate will command that a placard be placed above His head, stating the nature of His crime. And it will read “King of the Jews.”

Jesus was and is the King of the Jews. And as the book of Revelation makes clear, He is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). Pilate was standing before the rightful King of Israel and the righteous ruler over all of creation. And it’s amazing to think that Pilate was more willing to wrestle with the reality of Jesus’ sovereignty than the Jewish religious leaders were. Pilate wanted to release Jesus. But the high priest and the Sanhedrin were adamant that He be put to death – all because they refused to accept His identity as their King and Lord.

The Jews would get their wish. Their arch-nemesis would meet an untimely end. But their relentless crusade to seek Jesus’ death and their successful efforts to secure Rome’s official sanctioning of it were all part of the sovereign will of God. Every aspect of this dark chronology was in fulfillment of the divine strategy. As Jesus had stated in the garden, “But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures” (Matthew 26:56 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

It Had To Happen

47 While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great 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; seize him.” 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. 51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut 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 should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. 56 But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled. – Matthew 26:47-56 ESV

BetrayalWhile Jesus had prayed, the disciples had slept. Except for one of them whose night had been filled with plans of betrayal. Judas, after having been exposed by Jesus as the one who would betray Him, had left the upper room and gone straight to the home of the high priest, intent on following through with his plan to profit from his relationship with Jesus. And before long, he arrived on the scene, accompanied by a crowd consisting of Roman soldiers and a contingent of the high priest’s guards.

Judas, having been an intimate follower of Jesus, knew that He would likely be on the Mount of Olives that night. John tells us that Jesus “often met there with his disciples” (John 18:2 ESV). And Judas appeared just as Jesus told His disciples:

“See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” – Matthew 26:45-46 ESV

This scene is filled with tension and emotion. Jesus, having just poured out His heart to His heavenly Father, had fully committed Himself to accomplish what He had come to do. The disciples, having been awakened from their sleep, suddenly found themselves startled by the arrival of Judas and a large group of armed guards. They were surprised and scared. And Judas had to have been a jumble of raw nerves as he prepared to betray Jesus as well as the rest of the disciples with whom he had spent three years of his life.

The guards, carrying their swords and clubs, would have been on edge, not knowing what they would encounter when they attempted to arrest Jesus. Would His disciples put up a fight? Would there be a large crowd of His followers there, ready to defend Him at all costs?

And in the midst of this chaotic and potentially volatile scene, a strange moment of intimacy took place. Judas stepped forward and kissed Jesus on the cheek. This had been the pre-agreed-upon sign that would mark Jesus as the one they had come to arrest. One has to ask why Judas chose to betray the Lord in this particular way. He could have simply pointed to Jesus. But it’s almost as if Judas wanted to defuse the tension of the moment and to fool the rest of the disciples into thinking he was still a faithful follower of Jesus.

Each of the gospel writers provides their own recollections of what happened next. Matthew tells us that Judas walked up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and then kissed Him. Luke records that Jesus responded to this act of betrayal by asking, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48 ESV). John paints a slightly different picture, saying that “Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to the soldiers, “Whom do you seek?’” (John 18:4 ESV). These are not discrepancies, but simply the personal recollections of those who witnessed these events firsthand. In the case of Luke, he was recording what he had gleaned from his interviews of the disciples themselves. This scene is far from static but is filled with energy, confusion, and fear. Each of the disciples saw and heard different things. And in the midst of the chaos, the ever-impulsive Peter drew a sword and attacked one of those who had come to arrest Jesus. It was as if Peter was attempting to live up to the rash vow he had made earlier that evening:

“Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you! – Matthew 26:35 ESV

This is the same man who, upon hearing Jesus announce that He was going to die in Jerusalem, had rebuked Him, saying, “Heaven forbid, Lord, this will never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22 NLT). Peter was trying to prevent the inevitable. More than that, he was trying to frustrate the expressed will of God. This is why Jesus had said to him, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (Matthew 16:23 ESV).

Peter, like the rest of the disciples, could not believe this was happening. In spite of all Jesus had told them, they could not bring themselves to accept that this was God’s will concerning the Messiah. It was not what they had been taught. It was not the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams.

And the scene provides us with a dramatic dichotomy between the angry, impulsive actions of Peter and the peace-filled, submissive response of Jesus. He turned to Peter and said, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52 ESV). This is an interesting statement and seems to conflict with one Jesus had made earlier in His ministry.

“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword. – Matthew 16:34 ESV

But on that occasion, Jesus had been talking about the future, after His death, resurrection, and ascension. His act of redemption would put all those who believed in Him at odds with the world around them. Some would express faith in Jesus, while others would reject Him, creating conflict and division even within families.

“I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Your enemies will be right in your own household!” – Matthew 16:35-36 ESV

Jesus had not been advocating armed conflict between Christians and non-Christians. He was simply warning His disciples that following Him would be costly and accompanied by relational conflict.

But the garden of Gethsemane was not the place to stage a revolt against the authorities. Peter’s battle would not be with the armed guards of the Sanhedrin, but “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).

On this night, the actions of Judas and the guards who accompanied him were part of the sovereign will of God Almighty. It was all taking place according to the divine plan prescribed by God before the foundation of the world. These events were inevitable, unavoidable, and ordained by God. Jesus let Peter know that if God had not wanted this to happen, He was more than equipped to do something about it. If He deemed necessary, God could have sent 72,000 angels from heaven to defend His Son. But Jesus made it perfectly clear that all of this was necessary.

“But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” – Matthew 26:54 ESV

This was all happening in direct fulfillment of prophecy. Things were taking place just as God had planned. And nothing and no one was going to be able to stand in His way. The will of God would not be delayed, detoured, or derailed. The armed soldiers, equipped with swords and clubs, may have believed that they were in control of the situation, but Jesus knew better. They were simply pawns in the hands of a sovereign God. In fact, John records that when Jesus had asked them, “Whom do you seek?,” they had responded, “Jesus of Nazareth.” And as soon as Jesus had said, “I am he,” John states, “they drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:6 ESV).

Jesus was in control of the situation, not Peter, the guards, or the soldiers. And Jesus revealed that this entire scene was in fulfillment of God’s prophetic promises.

“…all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” – Matthew 26:56 ESV

And, as if to drive home that point, Matthew records that upon Jesus’ arrest, “all the disciples left him and fled” (Matthew 26:56 ESV). Over in the book of Zechariah, we have a prophetic pronouncement concerning the Messiah that forewarned of this very thing.

“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
    I will turn my hand against the little ones. – Zechariah 13:7 ESV

Jesus was on His own. The disciples had abandoned Him. Judas had done his dastardly deed and departed the scene. But Jesus, while devoid of any companionship from His followers, was far from alone. His heavenly Father was with Him. He would go through the next hours of suffering knowing that He was doing His Father’s will and was well within the divine grasp of His Father’s love. What Jesus was about to do, He did willingly. Because it had to happen. It was why He had come to earth. His incarnation would be meaningless without His crucifixion. His having taken on human flesh would be pointless if He did not become the sacrifice for the sins of mankind. It must be so. The journey to Calvary had begun and God’s plan for the redemption of man was well on its way.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson