Our lesson constitutes one of the saddest chapters in history. It reveals to us the depths of human ingratitude, selfishness, weakness, and fear to a remarkable degree. Nevertheless, it is a most helpful lesson to those who are in the right attitude of heart to receive it, because it warns against weaknesses more or less common to all and against dangers to which all are exposed. It emphasizes our Lord’s words to the twelve apostles, words which are applicable also to all of his followers – “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” And in respect to the Apostle Peter’s experience and our Lord’s magnanimity in dealing with him, the lesson gives encouragement to others who, like Peter, have strayed from the right path unwisely.
To get the proper bearings of this lesson we go back to the early hours of the same evening when Jesus and his chosen twelve met to eat the Passover Supper. For three years our Lord had been training those twelve men, preparing them to be his representatives in the world, his mouthpieces to the Church. They had seen his power, known his teachings and themselves had exercised the power of healing and casting out devils, his power operating through them. He had been on the alert to instruct them as to the need of humility; that they must become as little children, simple, earnest and obedient in order to be fitted for the Kingdom which they were called to share with him. On several occasions he had been obliged to call to their attention the necessity for meekness and humility, as he perceived the spirit of ambition and rivalry amongst them. On this last evening which he would spend with them in the flesh he had noted with regret that when assembling for the Passover Supper they had neglected the usual hospitalities of the time not only toward each other but also toward him, their Leader, their Master whom they professed to believe was the special Son of God, the Messiah. They had neglected to wash one another’s feet and his feet, a custom, almost a necessity to comfort in that dusty land, where sandals are worn instead of shoes.
Forgetful of his own weight of care and sorrow, and anxious for the welfare of his followers, Jesus improved the opportunity to teach them all a great lesson in humility. He took water in a basin and a towel and did the feet-washing, while the disciples, ashamed, confused, [R4167 : page 140] knew not what to say or do under the circumstances, except Peter, who protested that he could not thus have the Master act as his servant; but when Jesus explained that there was a symbolical meaning to the matter, Peter also was anxious for the washing. Lest they should fail to get the lesson, our Lord, after he had finished, explained it, saying, If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, have displayed humility and willingness to serve any of you in the most menial capacity, you surely ought to be willing to follow the same example with one another, and to perform the most menial service for one another, even to the extent of washing one another’s feet, as opportunity may offer.
It was not long before this that Jesus, talking to the apostles, told them plainly that he would be delivered up to the authorities and that the disciples would all forsake him. This seemed a hard statement to the apostles; an intimation that Jesus lacked confidence in them, and it was the impulsive Peter who spoke up and declared that although all should deny the Lord and forsake him he would never do so. It was then that our Lord prophetically told him that before the second cock crowing at night he would deny his Master, and assured him that Satan desired to capture him, but that he was praying for him that his faith would not fail. Surely these statements were of value to the Apostle in his hour of temptation; surely they helped to put all the apostles on guard against what was to be expected.
Proceeding further in his cautioning our Lord declared, “Verily I say unto you, one of you shall betray me!” What consternation must have prevailed! Could it be that amongst those who were so highly favored of the Lord and so long associated with him there could be one so base as to deny his Lord?
Let us not lose the force of this lesson; let us remember that the Lord’s disciples down through the Gospel Age have been as the Apostle here declares of the twelve, “Men of like passions with you,” men from the common walks of life, neither above nor below the average standard of human imperfection! Let us remember that the same Lord who cautioned those twelve respecting the trials coming upon them is still mindful of his Church, his flock, and we may suppose especially mindful of all who are in any prominent place of responsibility amongst the brethren. He still guards us, warns us, seeks to keep us from falling under the power of the Adversary. He still prays for his faithful, those who at heart are loyal to him, but who have weaknesses of the flesh which are liable to make their temptations more severe. As our Lord’s interest in and efforts for the apostles increased as they neared the special hour of their temptation, so we may be sure that it is also with respect to his Church in general today, when the last members of his Body, the “feet of him,” are approaching the crucial hour, “The hour of temptation that cometh upon the whole world to try them.” – Rev. 3:10.
The Master does not speak to us in audible tones, as he did to those twelve, but has he not spoken to us with equal force and earnestness? Do not the words and actions of the Lord to those disciples come to us today with the same lesson and with as much force as they bore to them? Have we not, in addition to these examples and warnings, special declarations of the Scriptures respecting the end of the age? Did not our Lord, in the parable of the suitable and unsuitable fish, explain to us that in the end of this Gospel Age there would be a separation of those in the Gospel net? Does he not again in the parable of the wheat and tares tell us of the separation due to take place in the harvest time of this Gospel Age, when only the true and the ripe wheat will be gathered into the barn? Does he not through the Apostle forewarn us that in the end of the age perilous times shall come because men will be lovers of their own selves – selfish, ambitious – lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God? (2 Tim. 3:1,2.) Does he not tell us that it would be at the time in the divine plan when God would send [permit] strong delusions, so that all might believe a lie who shall not have received the truth in the love of it and with zeal? – 2 Thess. 2:11.
Does he not also tell us that the temptations of this hour will be such as would, if it were possible, deceive the “very Elect,” but that in their case it will not be possible because of their love, their zeal and the consequent blessings and privileges that divine favor will provide for them! And if to Peter special encouragement was given – “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not” – have we not a full equivalent of this in the Scriptural assurance, “Lo, I am with you alway,” “My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in your weakness”? (Matt. 28:30; 2 Cor. 12:9.) Surely we have much advantage every way over the apostles in their trial, and this advantage is emphasized in the fact that their trial came upon them before their anointing with the holy Spirit, whereas our testings come to us at the time we are of the anointed Body. When we now look out into the future and hear the message, “The morning cometh, but a night also” (Isa. 21:12), we may well be forewarned as to what to expect in that short night of trouble which will affect the consecrated followers before it reaches the world in general. We must expect in this hour of trial that “a thousand shall fall at thy side and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee”; yet we must remember that this promise is limited to the class specified, to those who have made the Lord, even the Most High, their refuge and habitation; for no evil can come nigh their dwelling place. (Psa. 91:7,9.) Therefore, dearly beloved, putting on the whole armor of God that we may be able to stand in this evil day, we will need to watch unto prayer for ourselves and for those over whom the holy Spirit hath made us overseers, that we may feed the flock of God, which he hath purchased with the blood of his own Son. – Acts 20:28, Diaglott.
As the eating of a meal together was a pledge of faithfulness, so for the Master to dip a special sop was a special mark of favor, and this was given to Judas at the supper to indicate the one who would betray the Lord. We can better imagine than describe how the apostles, in various tones, asked the Lord, “Is it I?” and how Judas likewise asked the same question! We can imagine the look of our Lord’s eye as he gave him the sop, saying in action and look, Judas, why do you resist the loving kindnesses which I have bestowed upon you? You have professed to be my friend and disciple; I surely have done the part of a friend toward you. That glance and that sop should have overwhelmed the selfish Judas, but as the mercy of the Lord, in the taking away of the plagues from Pharaoh had so much the more hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so every additional manifestation of our Lord’s humility and kindness seems to have had the effect of hardening the heart of Judas. In answer to our Lord’s glance and sop Judas, so far from repenting, was more embittered, more determined to carry out his program. It shone in his eye; our Lord read his thoughts and answered in the words, “What thou doest, do quickly.”
Let us not lose the lesson in its application and bearing upon the Lord’s people of today. If any amongst the consecrated are cultivating selfishness and personal ambition, they are preparing themselves for such a termination as that of Judas. The influence of the spirit they are cultivating will lead them further and further from sympathy with the Lord’s cause and the faithful brethren until, like Judas, they shall be ready to sell the truth for a little personal advantage. And when such a condition of heart has been reached by those who were once enlightened and have tasted of the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come, no power will hinder them from going to the limit of their evil course. Their minds become so poisoned against the truth that the very sops of favor animate them the more toward evil. As in Judas’ case we read that then Satan entered into him, so with a similar class here; we may expect the Adversary to get fuller power and control over them.
One would think that the impressive lessons of that night would have so filled the minds of the apostles and made them so alert that sleep would have been far from their eyes. But not so; they scarcely understood how to take the Master’s words; he had said so many remarkable things which they did not comprehend; it seemed so incomprehensible that he who had come to be the Messiah and reign should be betrayed and crucified, and that they whom he had promised should sit with him in his throne should all forsake him and flee. Hence the repeated instruction that they should watch and pray made little impression. Even the three special friends of Jesus, the ones whom he made his special confidants and took with him to the Mount of Transfiguration on another special occasion without the others – even these three slumbered, except as from time to time the Lord visited them and awakened them and they noted certain incidents which they recorded for us.
How is it now? The night of trouble nearing, the hour of trial that shall try all that dwell upon the face of the whole earth coming close, and with the many warnings of the Master through the Word that we should watch and pray lest we enter into temptation! – how is it with us? Alas! many of those who, like Peter, James and John, have been specially favored of the Lord, especially near to him, fail to realize the importance of the time in which we are living, fail to realize that the foretold temptations are about to come upon them and that, like Peter, they will be in great danger of being swept away, sifted out from amongst the Lord’s faithful.
We can imagine our Lord’s condition to some extent. His great hour of trial was upon him; he realized it to the full; it meant not only that his own faithfulness, past and present and on the day following, would decide respecting his loyalty to the Father and his right to obtain the high reward of glory, honor and immortality, but it meant additionally that the interests of the whole world of mankind were in the balance! Victory would mean eventually the deliverance of all the prisoners in bondage to sin and death; failure would mean the loss of everything! Can we wonder that his soul was exceeding sorrowful, and that in his intensity of feeling bloody perspiration oozed from his pores? Ah, dear Master! Well was it written of him, “Of the people there was none with me.” Even his most intimate and most beloved disciples failed to appreciate the conditions and to render him the sympathetic aid which he craved. What would those disciples afterward not have given to have had back the opportunity of ministering to their Lord in his hour of trial! What a privilege they let slip! There is a lesson here for us also, for although the Master is not in the flesh and will suffer no more, some of his members are still in the flesh, some who must suffer with him if they would reign with him. Our sufferings are not all just like those of the Master, nor are they just the same with each of us; each has his own experiences to prove, to test, to fit, to polish him that he may be made meet for the Master’s use. Have we, each for the other, that sympathy, that yearning love which would lead us to help one another and to bear one another’s burdens and thus to fulfil the Law of Christ, the Law of Love? or have we the Judas spirit to injure? or have we the spirit of slothful indifference and lack of appreciation which would lead us to slumber while the interests of others of the Body are at stake, while the brethren are suffering and are in trial? Our practical answer to these questions the Lord is looking for, and his love and his favor will be upon those who manifest most of his Spirit. To us much has been given, in that the hour of testing along these lines comes to us after we have received the anointing of the holy Spirit. Of us correspondingly more will be expected – “We ought also to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
When our Lord in his agony prayed the Father, “If it be possible let this cup pass from me,” we are not to suppose that he meant the cup of death, for he had already explained to his disciples that this death was necessary, and that he had come into the world for this very purpose. What, then, was the cup which he asked might pass from him? We reply that quite probably he referred to the particular ignominy which would be associated with his crucifixion; which would attach to his execution as a blasphemer against God and between two thieves. Another Scripture gives us to understand that the severity of our Lord’s anguish was in respect to his own faithfulness, upon which depended his resurrection. If he failed in even one little item, one jot or tittle of the Law, his own life would have been condemned and forfeited as much as was Adam’s and as a result he would have had no resurrection and no future life, and the whole work, for which he had come into the world, would have been a failure. The Scripture we refer to says, “Who in the days of his flesh offered up strong crying and tears unto him who was able to save him from [out of] death. And he was heard in respect to the thing which he feared.” Although none of his disciples gathered around him to assure him that he had been without spot and blemish and that every act of his life had been in full conformity to the divine will, God more than made up to him such encouragement by sending specially an angel, who ministered unto him, who served him in respect to the thing which he feared, who therefore must have given him assurance from the Father that he had been faithful, that he was approved.
On the strength of that assurance our Lord arose firm, calm, strong for all the coming events of that night and the next day up to the moment of his death. And so it should be with us: Properly there should be some anxiety in respect to the future; the Lord will not be pleased if we are careless as respects the matter of making our calling and election sure. We are to appreciate life, and particularly the life more abundant which has been promised to us if we prove faithful. We are so to appreciate this that our eyes will be toward the Lord for such ministrations of his love and favor as will give us assurance that we are still his and that the glorious hopes and promises are still ours. And his assurances or comfort may not come through earthly ministrations; the Lord himself will see to it that every member of his Body who is deeply earnest and anxious on the subject will have the proper witness of the Spirit, the proper testimony to his heart of his continued acceptance and faithfulness.
Treachery is universally despised and properly so, hence Satan, the traitor to God, and Judas, the traitor to our Lord Jesus, stand out prominently as representatives of that condition of mind and heart which should be shunned by all, the condition of heart which the Lord declares merits and shall have the Second Death, everlasting destruction. From the various Gospel records we find that Judas, leaving the company of the Lord and the eleven apostles, went again to the Chief Priests, with whom he had already been in conference. He finished the bargain and became the guide of a band of temple guards or temple policemen and their followers. These, armed with their clubs or maces, took with them lights needed for the searching of the foliage, although the moon was at its full. From the standpoint of the rulers the midnight hour was the most favorable because a large concourse of people then in Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover included many who knew Jesus and had been witnesses of his miracles and his arrest in day time might have led to a tumult. Our Lord probably went to the Garden because it belonged to a friend and because in the open his disciples would have a better opportunity for escape from arrest; though it does not appear that there was any special endeavor to make an arrest, except that mentioned by Mark of a young man who followed with the crowd as they led Jesus away and who had on a long, loose garment, and when they laid hold upon it he fled from them naked. This is supposed to have been John Mark, the writer of the Gospel of Mark, and that he lived on the premises of which the Gethsemane Garden was a part.
Our Lord’s agony, prayer and comforting at an end, he returned to the apostles, saying, “Sleep on now, and take your rest.” Your opportunity for watching with me or speaking a word of comfort has passed; your opportunity for waking your own hearts and minds to prayer as a safeguard against coming trials and testings is past. Behold the band of those who will arrest me! A little ahead of the band came Judas, who indicated the Master by the traitorous kiss, which John, for very shame, did not record. Judas, finding his deception recognized as the Master said, “Betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” left him and joined the band who had come for his arrest, while Jesus, coming out of the cover into the open, said, “Whom seek ye?” After he had answered their reply, saying, “I am he, let these my friends go their way,” we read that the men went backward and fell on the ground. This was doubtless the result of a power our Lord exercised upon them, the power by which he might have resisted them entirely had he so desired. What he did was sufficient to show them and his apostles that his surrender was not one of necessity, but that the Father’s will might be done.
Awhile before Jesus had said that they should have some swords, and, finding that there were two, he said they were enough. The Apostle Peter was evidently the bearer of one of these and as the armed men approached the Lord, Peter used the sword and smote off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the High Priest. This incident was evidently of the Lord’s intention to show that his surrender was not because of cowardice on the part of the disciples or himself. It also furnished the opportunity of healing an enemy by our Lord’s touch and the opportunity of saying to Peter, “Put up thy sword; they that take to the sword shall perish by the sword”; in other words, My followers are not to fight with carnal weapons, my Kingdom is not to be established in this manner.
Annas had been the High Priest for a number of years and had been followed in the office by several of his sons and now his son-in-law, Caiaphas, filled the position. Nevertheless, Annas in a certain sense was recognized and hence our Lord was first taken before him. Annas questioned him but did not attempt a judicial investigation. This was had before Caiaphas and apparently in another part of the palace of the High Priest.
It was apparently while our Lord was being examined by Annas that Peter, who warmed himself at the fire, was questioned three times respecting his identity with our Lord as one of his followers, and three times he denied and directly the cock crowing began. Peter heard it, and our Lord, while being led from the presence of Annas to the judgment seat of Caiaphas, looked upon Peter. What a sermon there was in the glance toward Peter! He who had boasted of his courage that he never would deny the Lord had failed. How much weaker he was than he had supposed! How the Lord’s prophecy had come true, Before the second cock crowing thou shalt deny me thrice! He went out and wept bitterly, sick at heart and thoroughly ashamed of himself, resolving, no doubt, that he would be less boastful in the future and do more of the watching and praying which the Master had enjoined.
We know not how close parallels to some of these experiences may lie before some of the Lord’s dear people now. But let us hope that if any of us should come so sadly short of our own hopes and privileges that the Master would not only pray for us, as he did for Peter, but that he would turn upon us also his glances of reproof, of chiding, and also such glances as would remind us of his sympathy and love that we might not be overwhelmed with our own sense of weakness and shame, but that our repentance, unlike that of Judas, should be like that of Peter, sincere and acceptable to the Lord.