We need to take time to consider these final hours of the life of God’s beloved Son. Isaiah says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold” (42:1). Life is so busy and prone to distraction and interruption that in order to appreciate the wonder and love of our Saviour we need solitude and time. We do not know the time when we shall die, or even if we shall die, in view of the rapidly unfolding events telling us our Lord is at the door, but he knew when and how he would die ( John 18:4). We can only begin to imagine how this weighed upon him as well as knowing that the salvation of the world depended on his compliance with his Father’s will. In those final hours we shall see how completely he exemplified his own words in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’,

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt 5:44).

Betrayal

Strengthened in Gethsemane by the heavenly visitor, resolute and unfaltering, the Lord called upon his disciples to arise because his hour had come. Lights flickered in the distance among the olive trees: Judas, with a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, and armed with swords and staves, led them to the place where he knew Jesus oftentimes resorted with the disciples ( John 18:2). Jesus knew that Judas would expect to find him there. He could have frustrated the plans of the rulers by disappearing in the darkness of the night, but his Father’s will required submission: he was where he knew they would find him.

Judas’ kiss was the prearranged signal and he even encouraged them to “lead him away safely” (Mark 14:44). The Lord and his disciples went forth to meet Judas and his band: they would not take him, he would go ( John 10:17–18). Simulating devotion Judas came to the Lord saying, “Master, master; and kissed him” (Mark 14:45). There is a sense in which his sin was worse than that of the rulers; he was a friend, “mine own familiar friend” (Psa 41:9): this hypocrisy, this unforgivable outrage illustrates the utter depravity, the treachery of human nature and is a lesson for all of us who have committed our lives to the service of Christ.

In that atmosphere of unreality, of flickering light and shadows, evil was abroad. Jesus’ final appeals to Judas went unheeded, “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” and then, “Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” (Matt 26:50; Luke 22:48). Before he could answer, Jesus went forth and identified himself. The impact on his captors was dramatic, “they went backward, and fell to the ground” ( John 18:6). They were awed by his dignity and purity (like Saul when David ‘disarmed’ him at the cave, 1 Sam 24); for the moment they were powerless before him; he had command over them. In the hours of questioning to follow, through all the abuse, the scourging and final torture, he remained their master.

His victory over himself had been won: now he would triumph over the malice of men (Col 2:15).

Peter’s sword

Jesus was seized by rough hands. The disciples asked whether they should use the sword, but before Jesus could answer, Peter, his love and anger surging to the surface, brought down his sword, a wild blow which only succeeded in severing Malchus’ ear. There are a number of lessons here that magnify our love and respect for our Saviour. He cautioned all there present, including his captors, who came with swords (Matt 26:47), against the use of the sword, affirming that those who take the sword would perish by it (v52). And then we learn about another dimension of his trials which we would never have appreciated had it not been for this incident. He unveils the fact that if he had prayed for help to his Father, twelve legions of angels would have immediately been at his disposal (v53). Truly he was in all points tempted as we are (Heb 4:15), and beyond; there was another dimension about which we know little. But such a request he would not make as it would have contradicted his Father’s Word:

“But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (v54).

Peter’s action, as at Caesarea Philippi (16:22–23), was not the allegiance he sought. The Son of God had come to bring deliverance, not to seek it.

And finally there was his last act of healing. Stepping forward, and loosing himself from his captors (Mark14:46), he “touched” Malchus’ ear and healed him in a final demonstration of his Father’s power and presence with him (Luke 22:51).

He then posed the question why they had “come out as against a thief,” when he was daily teaching in the Temple and they took him not (Mark14:48– 49; Matt 26:55–56). Why the darkness and the treachery when he was easy prey in the Temple? He knew the answers. The Galileans, many of whom were his loyal followers, must not become aware of these actions – they had to be secretive. But then bringing the pro forma of Scripture into focus he reflects,

“but the scriptures must be fulfilled” (v49).

John tells us that they “took Jesus, and bound him” (18:12). It was a hollow victory – their victim’s battle, his conquest, was on a higher level about which they knew nothing. The disciples, witnessing his submission and perceiving that his death was inevitable and the expected Kingdom was not to be, were gripped by fear, and forsaking him they fled, leaving Jesus alone with his enemies (Matt 26:56).

Unseemly haste and illegalities

John tells us that our Lord was first taken to Annas, the high priest and father-in-law of Caiaphas (18:13), who lived in opulence and security. This provided Caiaphas with time to assemble as many sympathetic members of the Sanhedrin as possible, and witnesses bringing charges against Jesus. Asked by Annas about his teaching and his disciples he fearlessly and factually directed him to those who had heard him in the Temple. Used to fawning subservience, one of Annas’ officers smote Jesus saying, “Answerest thou the high priest so?” (v22). It was the first of many blows to disfigure those noble features until he was “so marred more than any man” (Isa 52:14).

Dawn was about to break by the time Caiaphas had collected the Sanhedrin and the witnesses. Jurisprudence had brought into being measures to safeguard the rights of prisoners. But in this instance they were thrown to the winds. Without elaborating what they were we can say that Jesus’ trial was no trial at all but judicial murder. There was the pretence of justice, but as time was running out and worshippers were gathering in Jerusalem for Passover there was an unseemly haste in all the procedures: Jesus was arrested by conspiracy, tried by enemies and testified against by false witnesses.

Time was the crucial factor. A suitable charge had to be made, followed by Pilate, the governor, confirming the death sentence. All this had to take place before the worshippers realised what had happened. The machinations of wicked men were abroad that night; it was their “hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53).

Mark tells us that “they led Jesus away to the high priest” (14:53), reminding us of Isaiah’s most notable chapter detailing the sufferings of God’s Son and Servant, “he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter” (53:7). Peter, we learn, recovered himself and smitten with remorse tentatively made his way into the quadrangle around which the high priest’s house was built, “to see the end” (Matt 26:58).

Before Caiaphas

Jesus was arraigned before Caiaphas the high priest, the scribes and the elders. False witnesses against Jesus had been sought to put him to death. Many were found but their witness was filled with discrepancies, and it was impossible to formulate a charge. Finally two came forth with a garbled version of what he had said three years before in the Temple, “I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days” (Matt 26:60–61). Pressed by the desperate high priest to answer, we are told that Jesus “held his peace,” exactly as Scripture had prescribed,

“as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isa 53:7).

Can we imagine the temptation to set the record straight, to vindicate himself against such a “contradiction of sinners against himself ” (Heb 12:3)? With the power at his disposal he could have shamed them and exposed their hypocrisy: here was the purest of Adam’s sons, the sinless Son of God, being condemned in history’s greatest crime! “In his humiliation his judgment was taken away” (Acts 8:33; Isa 53:8 LXX). His calm, unruffled silence and his dignity must have added to the drama. As the rulers lifted their heads and looked at him, many must have felt they were being judged by their victim. Was not their confusion an answer to prayer (Psa 55:9)?

Caiaphas had demanded that Jesus answer the charges relating to the Temple being destroyed and raised up. If confessed to, Jesus could be convicted of sacrilege and sorcery, both capital convictions under Jewish law, but not Roman. And what would Pilate care about these!

Suddenly Caiaphas, feeling the strain, resorted to an adjuration, an oath which needed to be answered (Lev 5:1). He had ‘found’ a solution which had he realised it before could have saved him humiliation. Sure it was illegal, but what was one more illegality when justice had long since been abandoned. If the prisoner would affirm his claim to be the Christ, the Son of God, he could formulate a charge that called for the death sentence in both Jewish and Roman Law. Before the Jews he could be charged with blasphemy; and as Jewish Messiah he was also a king, and as a king in a country subject to Rome, he was a threat to Caesar and guilty of treason.

Arising and facing Jesus, Caiaphas adjured Jesus “by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt 26:63). To this Jesus confessed, adding the salient words, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (v64). He knew what the effect of those words would be before he uttered them. They are majestic words, indeed more of a proclamation than a confession, void of shame and guilt: he knew they had given Caiaphas the weapon he needed. Notably he warned his accusers that in time, God’s time, the tables would be turned: they would have to face the coming of the Son of man in power and glory (cp Rev 1:7; Luke 13:28). It was a sober warning, but they were in no mood to hear it.

The trial was over, and all the tension dissipated. Caiaphas “rent his clothes,” an action required of lepers (Lev 13:45), but forbidden by high priests (21:10)! Unwittingly he had disqualified himself – he was a moral leper. Jesus was charged with blasphemy and all those present chimed in with their assent; it was a unanimous verdict.

Decorum was cast aside, even by the Sanhedrin: they spat in his face, they blindfolded him, buffeted him and even “the servants did strike him”; they were not slow to join in the disorder, adding their share of blows and taking licence from their masters.

All this Jesus knew would happen. He was not taken by surprise. Possessing a perfect knowledge of Scripture, he understood from early days what obedience to his Father’s will would involve. Isaiah had foretold what he would say and do: “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (50:6). He had prepared himself long ago, his ear being clearly attuned to his Father’s voice. Despite the shame and the pain, he “was not rebellious” neither would he ‘turn away back’ (v5).

 Conclusion

Jesus had passed through the spiritual crisis and now the physical was upon him. We shudder as we behold the indignities heaped upon him and protest as we see him covered with blood and spittle. We would dissociate ourselves from those animal natures that mocked him and lashed him. But it is good for us to summon our courage and look with steadfast gaze upon the fateful scene. And why? Because it tells us of his love, and it reminds us that it is possible to put him to open shame again.