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. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. 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. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” 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. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Matthew, and the other gospel writers, were clear Jesus knew what was coming. Jesus was not dragged off against His will. God was in control. Jesus prayed that if there were any other way the cup of God’s wrath passed by. Jesus made clear here as well as with Caiaphas and Pilot, He could end it at any time. But He loved His church enough to suffer and die for her.
This group did not sneak up on Jesus. They were not delta force soldiers or a seal team. They were carrying torches. You could have seen them leave the temple, cross the Kidron Valley, and climb up the Mount of Olives. Their armor was noisy. It rattled the whole way. You could see the touches. The touches drew attention to themselves. You did not need divine insight to see them coming. You only needed eyes and ears. You would have known well before they got there.
It was dark. In our modern age with electricity and lights everywhere all night we are not aware of how dark night is. This is why Judas needed to point out which one in the group was Jesus. It was not because they could not recognize Jesus. He had been on Temple day after day teaching. They needed someone who could recognize Jesus in the dark.
Judas walks up to Jesus and kisses him. It was a common Jewish practice at the time to welcome friends with a kiss. But Judas was no friend. He was a thief and traitor. Hiding the truth is what thieves and traitors do.
The last kiss our Lord received was from a traitor. Judas gave the appearance of affection. But his deception bought him little. Christ’s reply showed He knew what was happening.
There are many within the church today who show affection to Jesus but inwardly are traitors.
Matthew tells us one of the disciples drew a sword. He cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest. John tells us this was Peter. (John 18:10-11)
Striking the ear tells us a lot. If a fight had ensued the disciples would have lost. First, they were outnumbered. Second, they lack fighting skills. Either Peter’s aim was off. Or he hit a piece of armor that caused his sword to bounce. And since this was a servant of the high Priest it is doubtful he wore armor. In either case, this demonstrates a lack of fighting skills. Peter may have been a great fisherman but he was a lousy soldier.
Jesus was quick to admonish Peter. He told Peter to put his sword back. Luke tells us Jesus healed the ear of the servant. (Luke 22:51) Even while He is being led to an unfair trial Christ showed compassion.
I have often wondered why a fight did not ensue at that point. Why didn’t the soldiers respond to Peter’s attack? They would have justified it as self-defense. They were carrying out their orders. The disciples started the assault. Peter was a clear threat. The soldiers were under orders to bring Jesus back for trial. That implied being alive. There was no such command about leaving the disciples alive. The natural reaction would have been to strike back. At least at Peter if not all the disciples.
To this, I see several answers. Some are natural and some are supernatural. First, it was dark. The darkness may have concealed Peter’s action. Second, there was a mob of people. It was impossible to know who was who. The confusion concealed who struck whom. Third, Jesus put an immediate end to it. Jesus de-escalated the situation. Jesus’ concern even now was protecting His sheep. And fourth, God the Father restrained the soldiers from taking action. Any or all of these may have restrained the soldiers.
It is also interesting to note Jesus did not have Peter’s sword removed. Rather He had it sheathed. Christ reconfirmed the Law. The Law forbids the private rendering of justice. God prohibits us from deciding the punishment or avenging an evildoer. Are we never allowed to use violence to oppose injustice or a violent person? Peter was addressing an evil. The evil was occurring in real-time. Still, Jesus condemned him for drawing his sword. If we apply this at all times without exception Christ appears to deny the right to self-defense.
There are those who misapplied this passage. They try to remove the sword from all judges and juries. They deny self-defense. They contend that it is unlawful to ever use the sword. Yes, it is true no one may use the sword to full his own desires or private sense of justice. Yet the magistrates are God’s ministers. They are to execute His judgments. We must distinguish between a civil court and the court of conscience.
If we defend ourselves against violence we are not subject to criminal punishment. Why? The robber is a common enemy of society. God’s injunction against private justice does not apply to defense against violence. But for a defense to be valid all anger, hatred, and revenge, must be set aside. This is rare. That is why Christ reminds us of the general rule, we are to abstain from using the sword
Jesus’ prohibition must have confused Peter and the disciples. Were they not defending both themselves and their Lord? An injustice was being administered. Why did the rule of self-defense not apply? Jesus gives them the reason. It was so the Scriptures would be fulfilled.
Jesus knew the Scriptures prophesied salvation came through His death. That must be fulfilled (Luke 22:37).