Jesus is leaving the house of their Last Supper (Passover) and Lord’s Supper (New Covenant Communion) as he mentions to the eleven that they would all fall away that very night. Peter, in typical bold self-confidence, argues that although all others may, he never would. There may be a touch more than mere self-confidence here. Saying that he would never fall away is self-confidence; bringing up the possibility that all others may smacks of the same arrogance that Jesus spoke against on the journey from Galilee and even just a little earlier that evening (Luke 22:24-30). And for that Jesus tells him that before the rooster crowed, Peter would deny him three times. This still did not shake his pride. In fact, with even greater insistence Peter says he was ready to die with Christ rather than deny him. Verse 35 of Matthew 26 lets us know that the other disciples gave similar testimony to their devotion, but it may have been only Peter that argued he would stay to the death.
They leave Jerusalem and end up across the Kidron valley at an area close to the base of the Mount of Olives called Gethsemane. John is the only Gospel writer that calls this a garden (John 18:1). The Greek there is khpoj (kepos) meaning any cultivated tract of land. A better translation may simply be grove because this is, after all, the Mount of Olives, called so because of the olive trees. Gethsemane probably has its origin from the Aramaic gat, meaning press or preparation place, and the Hebrew shemanim, plural for kinds of oil. Thus, gat-shemanim would refer to an oil press, where the olives are gathered, placed in mesh baskets, and squeezed through a system of beam and rock weights. This enclosure, Gethsemane, to which Jesus and the disciples have come is the place which contains the oil press.
Archaeology at Tell Sandahanna (several miles southwest of Jerusalem) has uncovered several olive oil presses all found in caves. In 1956-57, the Franciscans excavated a cave in the immediate area of where Gethsemane’s garden has been thought to be. This cave in the Mount of Olives does indeed bear the markings that would identify it to have been used as an olive press. Gethsemane, then, was not a traditional garden as we may have thought. Jesus and his disciples did not mere wander outside in the chilly April night air to uncomfortably shiver through the night. They came to Gethsemane very late (probably after midnight) to seek the shelter and relative warmth of this cave.
That it was cold that night we know from John 18:18, which tells us in so many words that the servants of Caiaphas built a fire in the courtyard “because it was cold.” Yet, Mark 14:51-52 tells us that among Jesus’ party was a young man dressed only in a linen cloth who escaped from the arresting mob by running naked, leaving his cloth in the grasp of his would-be assailants. Why would this young man who was with Jesus have only a linen cloth against the cold? Probably warm enough in the cave amid the sleeping bodies of the disciples, he had shed his outer garments. But awakened suddenly by the shouts and noise of the approaching mob, he ran from the cave without taking those garments up again.
Who was this young man streaking away from Gethsemane? He appears only in Mark’s Gospel. It is generally believed that the young man is Mark himself, giving assurance of his eyewitness account. But then, why would Mark be among the private group of Jesus’ disciples? We know that the house of Mark’s mother was a regular meeting place of Christians in the early church (Acts 12:12). The fact that Peter, in the Acts 12 account, who has just been released from prison by the angel, knows exactly where to find his friends—at Mark’s mother’s house—indicates that it was a common meeting place. It could very well have been the place the disciples gathered on the Pentecost of the Holy Spirit’s arrival in Acts 2. And its prominence as a meeting place was probably established the very night of our study—during the Last Supper. Mark 14:12-16 tells us of Jesus’ command to his disciples for preparation of the Passover meal. He tells them to go into Jerusalem and they would meet up with a “man carrying a jar of water.” They would follow the man to a house. And they were to ask the master of the house (obviously not the man with the water jar) to show a large upper room ready for them to celebrate the Passover. This man with the water jar very well could have been the young man Mark, leading them to his mother’s home. The home most likely was in Upper Jerusalem where the wealthier people lived because Jesus made it clear that the room would be of a size large enough to accommodate them all. After eating the Passover, when Jesus and his disciples left the house, Mark, no doubt captivated by Christ, went with them and so ended up at the Gethsemane cave in his linen cloth.
Jesus tells his disciples to sit while he went deeper into the cave with only Peter, James, and John. Jesus begins to feel troubled (26:38). Certainly he was troubled because of the events he knew would soon take place. Especially of concern was that he knew he would be separated from God the Father. But this feeling of aloneness must have been growing. Throughout his ministry, Christ had been somewhat of an outcast in this otherwise remarkably hospitable society. But Jesus had said to the would-be follower, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (8:20). He had lost connection with most of his family who thought he was acting out of his mind (12:46; Mark 3:21). He had been continually losing connection with the religious leaders of his people. And then even the crowds that had hailed him on Sunday as the Son of David—Messiah, were now suddenly absent, possibly turning away because this Messiah did not seem to want to attack Rome but rather turned his aggression on the temple, their own people, and every party division among their people (Herodians, Sadducees, and Pharisees – 21:12-13; 22:15-40). So the crowds had seemed to cool to him, even leaving him alone with his disciples Tuesday afternoon during his Olivet Discourse. That night Judas had left to betray him, and the other disciples would soon scatter. And Jesus knew that, although he had always been at one with God the Father, he also would soon turn his back on Christ. So that feeling of aloneness and rejection had been building, and the ultimate of rejection would soon be realized. So Jesus was troubled in spirit, even, he says, to the point of death.
But why does he take Peter, James, and John with him a little further into the cave? Why does he want them not just to pray with him, but watch with him? (26:38). Some commentators have suggested that since he knew he was close to death, Jesus wanted them to watch in case he should need their assistance. But that doesn’t fit with the circumstances of the story. Jesus, even in the turmoil what he would have to face, still checks and is concerned for the three rather than them having concern for him. And he remarks to them that they should watch, not so that he doesn’t collapse, but rather than they may not fall into temptation. But how does watching keep them from temptation?—Temptation to what?
I believe Jesus chooses these three because these are the ones who had proclaimed devotion to the death. Peter had said that a little earlier in denying that he would fall away. James and John told Jesus on the journey from Galilee that they were able to drink of the cup of which he drank (20:22). Therefore, Jesus tells these threes to watch him as he faces death so that they may learn what to do and how to endure to keep from succumbing to the temptation to give up. But they, missing the gravity of the moment, fall asleep since now it was probably one or two in the morning.
Jesus prays, hoping for some other way for God’s plan to be accomplished. But he doesn’t demand; he doesn’t irrationally cry, “Why this way?”; he doesn’t ask for some sign. He prays trusting the will of his sovereign and good Father and determining to follow in satisfaction however he leads.
Finishing his prayer, he again returns to the sleeping disciples, waking them and telling them to sleep some other time for his betrayer is about to arrive. They exit the cave to meet Judas and a crowd of temple guard, servants, and close followers of the high priest and his council. Judas kisses Christ in greeting, a sign that this was the man they were to arrest. Peter strikes with his sword, cutting the ear of a servant. And Christ heals the wound while telling Peter than he must drink the cup his Father gives to fulfill Scripture. His prayer in the cave was not abandoned hope, but rather strength and confidence to support him against the temptation to turn from God’s purpose for him. He is led away by the guard. “Then all the disciples left him and fled” (26:56b)—sad, sad words.
They take him to the house of Caiaphas. Of course, this trial was illegal according to Jewish law. It violated the law because it was at night, the Sanhedrin brought up charges themselves, no trial was supposed to be held before an annual Sabbath (1st day of Feast of Unleavened Bread), a trial resulting in a death sentence had to last at least two days, and a person could not be condemned based on his own incriminating testimony. But all of that is incidental to what actually occurred. They could not find a way to twist his words into condemnation until the false witnesses who testified, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days’” (26:61). Christ had meant it of himself, but they supposed it was blasphemy against the temple (which technically was not blasphemy, but the Sadducee priests cared more for their control of the temple than strict adherence to blasphemy definitions). But Christ did not correct them or even reply. Frustrated, Caiaphas finally swears and oath and demands that Jesus tell them whether he is the Messiah.
This is the point. Caiaphas and his priests are in charge of the temple and therefore to a large extent in charge of the nation. They believed it theirs just as the tenants believed they were in control of the vineyard (21:33-41). Caiaphas is already convinced that Jesus is not the Christ. The Christ, he no doubt reasons, will be someone nurtured through the priestly system, granting authority and honor to them as he rises to power. It could not be some Galilean who is merely a favorite among the poor and common peasantry. Therefore, any claim of Jesus that he is the Messiah would surely be blasphemous (again not technically but in a roundabout way). Caiaphas knows that Jesus rode into Jerusalem with the markings of the Messiah. The people praised him as the Son of David—the title of the Messiah. And Jesus proposed the question of why David in Psalm 110 calls the Messiah Lord if he is a son of David—implying that the Messiah has greater rulership authority than even the greatest king Israel ever had. That—to the Sadducee priests—was blasphemy no matter what the more technical Pharisees might say.
And so, Caiaphas poses his question: “tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (26:63). (Note that Son of God does not mean deity in the mind of Caiaphas. He means it in the sense of the savior coming with the intent and blessing of God.) Jesus not only answers yes, but refers to Daniel’s prophecy intentionally aligning the idea of the Messiah holding God’s authority and blessing with his meaning for asking the Psalm 110 question. He says, “I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Daniel 7:13-14 states, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
Caiaphas cries out that Jesus’ words are blasphemous. He asks for a judgment, and the corrupt Sanhedrin calls out, “Death!” (26:66). This was no doubt not the full Sanhedrin, but the common 1/3 that met to hear cases. One third plus the high priest equaled 24 members. Upon Christ’s ascension to heaven, we see in Revelation 5 that he enters the throne room of God. God holds in his hand the scroll containing his will and determined future in reconciliation with his people. An angel asks who is worthy to take the scroll (in other words, to satisfy the reconciliation of God to man). At first, no one can be found, emphasizing the unique and demanding nature of the reconciliation. But then Jesus, the Lamb, comes forward to take the scroll. Notice that in the scene, the 24 elders sit on thrones (symbols of judgment), watching the affair. When the Lamb takes the scroll, the elders fall down in worship and call out their judgment: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10) and then “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13). Notice for both court scenes the issue at hand is the same—Is Jesus worthy of the title Messiah-Savior, whose role is to effect reconciliation to God? The earthly Sanhedrin of 24 elders said, “No!” They condemned him to death. But the heavenly Sanhedrin of 24 elders reverses the condemnation and proclaims him worthy.
Back in Matthew 26, the evil elders and their followers spit at Christ and strike him. They mock him as a prophet by striking him and asking him to prophecy who it was that hit him. But Christ does not speak. His performance as Messiah is not dictated and controlled by these men. He still does not dance to their flute or mourn at their dirge (11:17). He still does not produce signs on their demand (12:38-39). But unknown to them his prophecy was being fulfilled that very moment as Peter denies him in the courtyard of Caiaphas.
An interesting point is how Peter had entered the courtyard. Matthew doesn’t tell us, but John does. In John 18:15-16 reads, “Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, 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.” Many commentators suppose that this other disciple is John. They assume that John keeps his name out of it, but implies that it was he. But again, this does not seem to fit with the circumstances. John is a fisherman from Capernaum, the son of a fisherman. How would he be known to the high priest? Why did not Caiaphas call John in and question him about Jesus earlier? Why is the high priest okay with John’s association with Jesus, but Peter still thinks that he might get in trouble unless he denies association with Jesus? That John is the other disciple mentioned just doesn’t seem to fit.
But which disciple do we know for certain knows the high priest? Judas, the traitor, knows the high priest. He struck a deal with Caiaphas to betray Jesus. He led the guard out to arrest Jesus. Where would we think Judas has gone? He is right there with the party bringing Jesus back to Caiaphas. Being known by Caiaphas, he enters his courtyards. And Judas then tells the servant girl to let Peter in while he goes to watch the trial.
It appears Judas had hoped that Christ would be embarrassed, maybe ridiculed, maybe beaten so that Judas could again elevate his own status by the humiliation of Jesus. After all, Jesus embarrassed Judas on several occasions now. But Judas appears to be stunned that the council has determined that Jesus should die. It doesn’t seem that Judas thought it would go that far. So when condemnation is made and they set out to take Jesus to Pilate, Judas changes his mind about the whole affair. He tells the priests he has changed his mind and tries to give them back the 30 pieces of silver. But they rebuff him and continue on their way to Pilate. Judas leaves their company and enters the temple, throwing the money in the courtyard in despair. He leaves and heads south—away from the priests and Jesus heading north, away from Gethsemane and Bethany and that association to the east, away from the house of Caiaphas to the west. He leaves the city and comes to the intersection of two valleys—the Kidron valley running north-south and the Hinnom valley running northwest to southeast. These two valleys surround Jerusalem to the east and to the southwest. Here Judas, in despair for his deed, hangs himself.
Acts 1 tells us that he fell headlong in the field and “burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out” (Acts 1:18). This gruesome scene occurred because in hanging himself on Passover, which was followed by the high holy first day of Unleavened Bread, which then was followed by the weekly Sabbath, no one probably wanted to touch the dead body of this stranger and thus defile himself at this celebration time. Remember the women even waited until after these days to go prepare Christ’s body at the tomb. So Judas hung over the valley for a few days until the sun worked its heat on him, causing him to swell and then burst open as Acts recounts.
The priests were on their way to Pilate as morning dawned (the first hour of the day for the Jews, the sixth hour for the Romans).