NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verses 50b-51: Then the men went forward and grabbed Jesus and arrested Him. When that happened, one of Jesus’ disciples grabbed his dagger and pulled it out. He swung it at the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.
Nothing in Jesus’ demeanor seemed to faze these people. But after examining other Gospel accounts we find that according to John, Jesus did exchange words with them and at first they were somewhat intimidated1 but soon got over it. Also, Luke tells us that at the supper, Jesus told His disciples that if they didn’t have any knives, they should get some. At that point, they told Him they already had two.2 John tells us it was Peter who pulled the dagger. In the process, he escalated the tension. But Jesus intervened, and by healing the wounded man’s ear stopped any further violence, but not before Jesus rebuked Peter for his careless actions. If He had wanted to, our Lord could have opened Peter’s eyes just like He did for Elisha’s servant, so he could see the army of angels standing ready to come to the Messiah’s rescue.3
But Jesus was more interested in fulfilling the scriptures,4 than impressing His disciples. John Gill has put together an excellent summary of these scriptures:
“The several parts of the sufferings of the Messiah are foretold in the writings of the Old Testament; the spirit of Christ, in the prophets, testified before hand of them; as that he should be reproached and despised of men,5 be spit upon, smote, and buffeted,6 be put to death,7 and that the death of the cross,8 and be buried,9 and also the several circumstances of His sufferings, which led on to them, or attended them; as the selling Him for thirty pieces of silver,10 the betraying Him by one of his familiar friends,11 the seizing and apprehending Him, and which is particularly referred to here,12 His disciples forsaking Him,13 and even His God and Father,14 His suffering between two thieves,15 the parting of His garments, and casting lots for His clothing,16 the giving Him gall and vinegar when on the cross,17 and not breaking any of His bones,18 yea, the Scriptures not only declared, that these things should be; but the necessity of them also, that they must be; because of the purposes and decrees of God, which are eternal, immutable, and unfrustrable; for as God had determined on His salvation of His people by Christ, and that through His sufferings and death, these were determined by Him also, even the time, nature, manner, and circumstances of them; and which the Scriptures declare, and therefore must be likewise; and because of the covenant of grace, which is sure, unalterable, and unchangeable; in which Christ agreed to assume human nature, to obey, suffer, and die in it, and so do His Father’s will, which was to bear the penalty of the law, and undergo the sufferings of death, and which therefore must be, or Christ’s faithfulness fail.”19
Verses 52-54: Jesus said to the man, “Put your dagger back in its place. People who use swords will be killed with swords. Surely you know I could ask my Father and He would give me more than twelve legions of angels. But it must happen this way to show the truth of what the Scriptures said.”
Even in this moment of seeming complete helplessness, Christ shows that He is still the Master of the situation. They could not capture Him before this moment, neither were they forced to wait one hour longer. The Scriptures had foretold this point in time, and since they spoke of Him they must be fulfilled through Him to the letter. Jesus would have it no other way. Had Christ been in hiding previous to this hour, but now on this occasion ventured as close to Jerusalem as possible only to be caught, then the nature of His sacrifice would have taken on a different light. But this was the exact hour, ordained of the Father. It could not have been one second sooner nor later.
There are two things I feel are important to make note of in this section. First, after Jesus told Peter to put the dagger back in its sheath, He then stated: “Surely you know.” This means that sometime between when Peter joined Jesus as a disciple and now, he became aware of the special protection that Jesus had with God’s guardian angels. Perhaps it was after Peter learned the whole story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness,20 or a short time earlier when Jesus was praying and the angels came to comfort Him.21
When speaking of the angels available for Him to call, our Lord uses the military term “legions” to describe how big the angelic army was. According to Bible historians, a legion, from the Latin legio, to collect or choose, was a particular division or battalion of the Roman army, which at various times contained different numbers. During the period of our Savior’s journey, it probably consisted of 6,200-foot soldiers and 300 cavalry horses. Therefore, twelve of such legions would amount to about 78,000 men. But what number in a legion meant to the Roman army was not necessarily the same as an angelic legion.
Verse 55: Then Jesus said to the group, “Why do you come to get me with swords and clubs as if I were a criminal. Every day I sat in the Temple area teaching. You did not arrest me there.”
Jesus now challenges this mob to explain why they picked this time and place to arrest Him. But this was a rhetorical question because He was about to give them the answer. This was designed to point out that no one should doubt that the ensuring events were all under the control of God’s will. So when we read that Jesus promised that we may have trials and tribulations, let us not forget that it’s all in God’s plan, so face it, accept it, and let God work a miracle through it. That way, when we experience such moments of exasperation during our journey, we can assure ourselves that God is in control.
Though we may see those in whom we trust fail or forsake us when things get tough, yet we can trust in our God. But the disciples were more than just friends; they counted for more than mere followers. They were the ones that Jesus rescued from lives that were meaningless to the rest of the world and had no chance of ever impacting society for the good in any way. He gave them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk with the Son of God and thereby be qualified to go out and rescue others in the world from similar insignificant lifestyles so they too could make a difference in the world. Then we should rejoice that we were counted worthy to be one of them.
1 See John 18:6
2 Luke 22:35-38
3 II Kings 6:17
4 Isaiah 53:1-12
5 Psalms 22:6-8; Isaiah 53:3
6 Isaiah 1:5-6; Micah 5:1
7 Psalms 22:15; Isaiah 53:12
8 Psalms 22:15-16; Zechariah 12:10
9 Isaiah 53:9
10 Zechariah 11:12-13
11 Psalm 41:9
12 Isaiah 53:7-8
13 Zechariah 13:7
14 Psalms 22:1
15 Isaiah 53:12
16 Psalm 22:18
17 Ibid. 69:21
18 Ibid. 34:20
19 Exposition of the Bible Commentary, Matthew 26
20 Matthew 4:6, 11; 16:27;
21 Luke 22:43