“And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast. And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him. And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him. And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me. But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.” (Matthew 26:47-56)
Nothing in human history more vividly portrays the depravity, blackness, vileness and deceit of the human heart than the betrayal of our Lord Jesus Christ into the hands of his enemies by Judas Iscariot. Nothing more woefully displays the evil of the hypocrite’s heart than this vile deed of Judas. Nothing more fearfully exemplifies the hardness of heart that is produced by a profession of faith in Christ without the possession of the grace of God and the knowledge of Christ. If we are wise, we will read the passage before us with fear and trembling, lest we should at last found with Judas.
What a sad picture the Holy Spirit has painted with these words. Here we see the beginning of our Lord’s sorrows. The cup of his woe is beginning to be filled. One of his disciples betrays him. All of his disciples forsake him. He is arrested like a common thief by his enemies. Behold these things, the beginning of his sorrows, and know that there never was or ever shall be any sorrow like his sorrow. May we never forget that the cause of all his sorrows was our sin. The Son of God was “delivered for our offences” (Rom. 4:25). In the verses before us we are given clear instructions concerning both our Redeemer and ourselves. May God the Holy Spirit take the things of Christ and show them to us.
Kiss of Treachery
Who is not familiar with the kiss of hypocrisy, called “the Judas kiss”? All are familiar with the event; but few, I fear, pause to consider its implications. The most abominable and dangerous men in the world are those who betray Christ with the kiss of friendship. Judas betrayed the Lord of glory with a kiss! Though treachery was in his heart, familiarity, kindness, peace, and love was what he wished to convey. In eastern countries a kiss is a common form of greeting. It suggests respect, friendship, affection, and a wish that the one kissed may enjoy every blessing.
Judas’ kiss was the kiss of a betrayer, a kiss of treachery and hypocrisy. When he said, “Hail, master,” he was saying, “Joy and happiness to you, my master.” Thus, the hypocrite, with brazenness and hardness of heart, pretended to worship, honor, love, and serve Christ, even in the act of betraying him! May God save us from the treacherous kisses of self-righteousness, false religion, idolatry, and hypocrisy.
This kiss of treachery is also manifest in all who pretend to serve and honor our Lord Jesus, while betraying him with false doctrine, by which they deny the saving operations of the triune God: the work of God the Father in the accomplishment of our salvation by his eternal decree (Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 1:3-6), the work of God the Son in the accomplishments righteousness and redemption at Calvary (Eph. 1:7-12), and the works of God the Holy Spirit imparting righteousness to us, making us partakers of the divine nature in regeneration, sanctifying chosen, redeemed sinners by his grace in the gifts of life and faith in Christ. Our Savior’s warning needs to be rung out often and heard distinctly. He said, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matt. 7:15). These wolves would not be so dangerous if they did not come in sheep’s clothing (2 Cor. 11:1-15). C. H. Spurgeon wrote, “This sign of Judas was typical of the way in which Jesus is generally betrayed. When men intend to undermine the Scriptures, how do they begin their books? Why, always with a declaration that they wish to promote the truth of Christ!”
An Accessible Savior
The Lord Jesus Christ is such a friend of sinners that he is readily accessible to them. I recognize that we are never told that any of the other apostles kissed the Savior; but that does not mean that they did not. In fact, it would be a very strange thing if they had failed to do so. As I said, this was then, as it is now, a common form of greeting in eastern countries (Ex. 18:7; 1 Sam. 20:41). Our Lord rebuked Simon the Pharisee because he did not greet him in this manner (Luke 7:45).
When Judas made his deal of treachery he told them to arrest the one that he kissed. His object was to betray the Master in a way that would appear the least suspicious. Therefore, he said, “Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he.” Apparently, this was the common way in which our Lord was greeted by his disciples after a time of absence. It was a custom maintained by the disciples long afterward. Paul frequently admonishes believers to greet one another with a “holy kiss.” Peter urges us to greet one another with a “kiss of charity.”
There is a word of instruction, comfort, and encouragement in this. Our Lord Jesus Christ is gracious. He condescends to be accessible to and approached by sinners such as we are in the most intimate manner. In fact, we are commanded to “kiss the Son.” What a blessed commandment of grace that is! What the Son of God was to sinners in his humiliation, he is in his exaltation. He is just as ready to save, just as accessible today as he was when he walked upon the earth. Sinners may freely come to the Son of God without fear of being rejected or cast off by him (John 6:37; Heb. 4:16).
“Sinners Jesus will receive,
Sound this word of grace to all!”
Let all who seek to serve the cause of Christ in this world learn from verses 51-53 that the cause of Christ and his kingdom cannot be established, maintained, defended, or even helped by carnal means.
“And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?”
In verse 53 we see Peter acting very rashly. He drew out his sword and began to take on a band of soldiers single handedly. While we admire his courage, we must not fail to see his folly in this. Our Lord rebuked him for it. He did not commend him. John Trapp wisely observed: “A wonderful work of God it was surely, that hereupon he was not hewn in a hundred pieces by the barbarous soldiers.” Two things need to be understood here.
1. Our Lord does not condemn the lawful use of the sword, of deadly arms and force.
There are many that make this verse an argument against believers going to war in defense of the nation, or against a man arming himself to defend his family and property against criminal intruders, or against the exercise of capital punishment by the state. While I am not interested in debating any of those issues, I will state that the Word of God does, without question, allow the use of the sword, of deadly force, in such circumstances. But that is not the subject here, either pro or con.
2. Our Lord is here teaching us that his cause, his kingdom, his church, his gospel can never be established, maintained, defended, or even helped by carnal weapons.
“The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” (2 Cor. 10:4). While he specifically speaks of the sword, the sword is but a symbol for all carnal things. The church and kingdom of God cannot be established by carnal means; and we must never attempt it. Christ builds his church by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the Gospel. Every other means by which men attempt to advance the cause of Christ in this world (civil law, political power, religious entertainment, religious philosophy, human reason, the doctrines of men, eloquent speech, etc.) is but wood, hay, and stubble that will be burned (1 Cor. 3:13-15).
A Voluntary Sacrifice
All that our Lord Jesus Christ endured as our Substitute he endured freely and voluntarily. One great feature in the redemption of our souls is the freeness with which our Redeemer performed the work. In fact, in great measure it was the voluntariness of our Savior’s sacrifice that gave it merit and efficacy. Our Savior said, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:17-18).
Our Lord Jesus was not taken captive against his will, or because he could not escape. That would have been a very easy thing for him to do. But he had come here on purpose to fulfill the will of God, to fulfill the types and prophecies of the Old Testament, and to fulfill all righteousness for the salvation of his people. His heart was set upon accomplishing this great work. He was a voluntary Scapegoat, a willing Victim, and a willing Sacrifice for us.
“Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me. But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled” (vv. 53-56).
The Lord Jesus said, “Thus it must be.” Why? Why must it thus be? It “must be,” because it was ordained by God the Father, it was agreed upon in the covenant of grace, and it was prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. Every detail of our Lord’s sufferings and death, from this vile betrayal to the piercing of his holy side, was foretold in the Old Testament. It “must be,” because it was typified in the sacrifices and ceremonies of the law. There was no other way for God in his holy justice to forgive and pardon the sins of his people.
Depraved Sinners Still
“Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled” (v.56). We see in the conduct of our Lord’s disciples a clear picture of that which the Word of God constantly holds before us with regard to saved sinners. Though loved and chosen of God, though redeemed and justified by the blood of Christ, though born of his Spirit, sanctified, and given a new, righteous nature by him, God’s saints in this world are sinners still. None of us really knows what evils we are capable of committing.
“Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.” How little we know of the weakness and sin of our own hearts! All these disciples had, just a few hours earlier, protested our Lord’s prophecy, and said, “We will not forsake you” (v. 35).
There was no reason for their fear. The Lord Jesus had already demanded of these soldiers that they let his disciples go (John 18:8). They had witnessed his sovereign power over these soldiers. Yet, when left to their own strength, every one of the disciples forsook their Master. In the time of testing they forgot everything. They forgot God’s goodness, grace, and power, their past experiences, their fervent resolutions, and their Master’s love. They forgot everything.
This is here recorded to remind us again that there is no evil we are not capable of committing or will not commit if left to ourselves, and that salvation is by grace alone. Our only righteousness is Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Our only hope of preservation is that God, who saved us by his grace, will keep us by his grace.
“Let us learn from this passage lessons of humiliation and self-abasement. Let us resolve, by God’s grace, to cultivate a spirit of lowliness and self-distrust. Let us settle in our minds, that there is nothing too bad for the very best of us to do, unless he is held up by the grace of God; and let it be one of our daily prayers, ‘Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe’ (Psalm 119:117).” (J. C. Ryle)
After these things, after suffering the wrath of men, our Savior yet had to endure the wrath of God to save us. That, too, he voluntarily endured for us as our Substitute (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13-14).