Mark 14:42-65. Like a lamb to the slaughter.

And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” And they all left him and fled. And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.”

Jesus has eaten his last Passover with his disciples, and they have slipped out of the city to the garden of Gethsemane. Judas has already agreed to betray him to the chief priests, and has gone out at some point during the meal to give him away. Jesus has warned the others that the sword of God’s anger will fall on him, and that they will all fall away. Peter has been sure that this won’t happen- that he will never desert Jesus. But we saw straight away that Peter doesn’t share in Jesus’ sorrow; when Jesus weeps, he weeps alone. Then the time is over- Judas and the soldiers are coming.

  1. The description of the disciples as “the Twelve”, and especially of Judas as “one of the Twelve”, is repeated in this chapter (14:10, 17, 21, 43). Why does Mark do this?
  2. Judas needs to identify Jesus to the soldiers in one way or another. Why is a kiss peculiarly appropriate?

  3. Jesus doesn’t resist arrest, saying “let the scriptures be fulfilled”. Which scriptures?

  4. Why do the disciples wait until Jesus’ statement before they flee? And why does Mark tell us about the young man who ran away naked? Is it an irrelevant detail, just there for a bit of colour?

  5. When Jesus is brought to trial, the thrust of the first accusation against him concerns the Temple. Why should that be a big deal to either the accusers or to Jesus?

  6. The second accusation is more obviously central; the high priest asks Jesus whether he is or is not the Messiah. What is Jesus’ answer?

 

  1. The description of the disciples as “the Twelve”, and especially of Judas as “one of the Twelve”, is repeated in this chapter (14:10, 17, 21, 43). Why does Mark do this?

Mark is describing a betrayal, and he wants us to see how sharp a betrayal it is. Judas was one of the Twelve- a number Mark uses as shorthand for the group of Jesus’ closest disciples. These twelve men had been hand-picked by Jesus to follow him. There were twelve of them because there were twelve tribes of Israel and they were the true Israel in embryo, the leaders of the new people of God. They joined with Jesus in his labours and were sent out to bear witness to him throughout the land. They were with him wherever he went. They listened to all his public teaching, and often had private sessions afterwards so that Jesus could explain things to them in more depth. They watched him and learned how he handled people, how he prayed, even how he ate and slept. They were closer to him than his mother and brothers. They were the apostles, the chosen and carefully trained men who acted as personal representatives of Jesus. Eleven of them would be the men who would lead the first church.

But now it is the twelfth of them who leads this group of Jesus’ assorted enemies to him. One of those men, the ones chosen to be the real Israel, the true people of God, Jesus’ family; one of them tries to destroy him.

 

  1. Judas needs to identify Jesus to the soldiers in one way or another. Why is a kiss peculiarly appropriate?

It is driven by practical concerns. The soldiers- probably the Temple police, who were Levites, under the command of the High Priest by Roman permission- may well have seen Jesus in the Temple, but are unlikely to know him well. In the darkness and flickering torchlight, Judas needs to mark Jesus out as the target for arrest. If the enemies simply burst in and try to grab everybody, there would be confusion. Swords and clubs would be waving (Judas knows that some of the disciples are carrying steel), and men shouting and running around. It would be hard for soldiers to identify anybody, even to tell friend from foe. It would be easy for one man to melt away into the hillside and escape. The attackers have no way of knowing that Jesus wouldn’t do that; and if he does do it, their assault would be in vain. In the circumstances, taking hold of Jesus to kiss him is a clever tactic. It disarms any suspicions the disciples might have; here is a band of armed men! But look! Judas is out in front of them and coming to embrace Jesus. They must be friends! It identifies Jesus to the men of Judas’ party. And the embrace will effectively immobilise Jesus, preventing him from escaping.

But more than those things, this is part of the sharpness of the betrayal. Judas walks up to Jesus and says, “Rabbi”, “My teacher”, and kisses him. The kiss which is meant to be a mark of love and respect is used to mark Jesus out as the target. Even at the moment of treachery, Judas is outwardly professing love for Jesus.

  1. Jesus doesn’t resist arrest, saying “let the scriptures be fulfilled”. Which scriptures?

Jesus tells the mob that he has no intention of fighting, and never would have fought arrest, even if they had come by daylight in the Temple. But they come for him in this way because it was foretold that he would be taken by treachery. His comment stresses the incongruity and underhandedness of it all. They come armed to the teeth, and in darkness, to arrest one who they could have taken in the Temple in broad daylight at any point if their arrest had been justified. Jesus has not been hiding from them like a criminal. He has been going around openly in Jerusalem as a law-abiding citizen, going into the Temple and teaching under their noses. But now that the dishonest arrest is taking place, he will not resist. He will let the Scriptures be fulfilled.

Jesus is not surprised to see Judas coming. We know from the other Gospels that he knew the identity of his betrayer (Matt 26:25; Jn 13:27). And Jesus knew the scriptures.

Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Ps. 41:9). It was straight from the Passover meal where Jesus broke bread and shared it with the twelve, that Judas went to the priests to tell them where they could find the one they hated.

For it is not an enemy who taunts me- then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me- then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within god’s house we walked in the throng… My companion stretched out his hand against his friends; he violated his covenant. His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords” (Ps. 55:12-14, 20-21).

Psalms 41 and 55 are both psalms of David, psalms about, or to be sung by, the king of Israel, the anointed of God. Jesus knew them well, and knew that they would find their fullest expression in him.

Everything that happened in the garden, and then in the trial, and then on the cross, took place as the working out of God’s great design. David was betrayed by Ahithophel and others, but David was just a pattern. The armed men following Judas were God’s instruments brought there by God. Jesus could have avoided arrest- he has walked through crowds before. He could have called down legions of angels to defend him. But the scriptures must be fulfilled. So instead, he submitted willingly to the arrest, knowing that he would soon offer up his life, the creator being taken by mere creatures, in obedience to his Father and to save those he loved.

  1. Why do the disciples wait until Jesus’ statement before they flee? And why does Mark tell us about the young man who ran away naked? Is it an irrelevant detail, just there for a bit of colour?

It is at Jesus’ words that the disciples flee. They have been determined to stand by him, even to death, and they were ready to do that. Jesus himself offered no resistance to the soldiers, but one of those standing there did. An unnamed man (John tells us that it was Peter, but Mark doesn’t mention his name) drew his sword and aimed a blow at one of the arresting party. Yet Jesus himself refused to fight. He is not going to kick and scream. He has decided to lay down his life, and he shall take it up again. A willing sacrifice does not need to be hunted to death. His defence is left to someone else- someone who doesn’t understand Jesus’ willingness to die. The disciples have been expecting Jesus to lead a rebellion- they go about armed, and one of them now shows that he is willing to die for Jesus, fighting against stupid odds. The priests were expecting trouble- this is why they couldn’t arrest Jesus publicly- the crowds would have rioted. They know that Jesus is with only a few men, but they would have sent enough soldiers to subdue those few. It would have been a large-enough group of well armed police against eleven men who had never killed anyone in their lives. The man who strikes out with his sword is willing to die for the Messiah. But Jesus has no intention of fighting and every intention of being arrested and eventually laying down his life. When that became obvious, the disciples’ nerves broke. Jesus has warned them repeatedly that his enemies would take him, that he would be handed over, that he would die, that the shepherd would be struck down. But they still are taken by surprise when it happens. They seem still to have been expecting him to defeat all his enemies and reign in glory. They would be willing to fight by his side against even insurmountable odds, but they are not willing to stand by his side and be meekly arrested with him, going to trial and death without making any complaint. When the crunch comes, they are not ready to take up their crosses and follow Jesus.

The young man is likely Mark himself, appearing in his own work as a film director might cast himself in a cameo role. We know that his family owned a large house in Jerusalem, used for church meetings in Acts. Maybe Mark has heard something of the goings on in the upper room, and has followed Jesus and the others when they left the house, grabbing the nearest item of clothing handy. The point, perhaps, is that he doesn’t want his readers sneering at the disciples for cowardice. He ran too, and so would any of us.

  1. When Jesus is brought to trial, the thrust of the first accusation against him concerns the Temple. Why should that be a big deal to either the accusers or to Jesus?

Jesus is led off to the High Priest’s house, where the chief priests, elders, and scribes, have come together. These men formed the Sanhedrin, the whole council (v55). They have convened to try Jesus. This is quick movement on their part. Ancient Jewish sources say that the Sanhedrin quorum was 23 members, so messengers have likely been sent out within minutes of Judas reporting to the High Priest.

This may or may not be an official formal trial, but it is all the trial Jesus will have from the Jewish authorities. and it is a travesty, in no sense a fair trial. Mark tells us that far from being gathered to weigh evidence and determine the truth of accusations, they have been “seeking testimony against Jesus, to put him to death” They are not interested in justice, but only in arriving at a “guilty” verdict. And that verdict is the one that matters. Having condemned Jesus in v64, the Sanhedrin will hold a further brief consultation at first light (15:1), and will then force Pilate’s hand and have Jesus put to death.

This trial is irregular in many ways, and is even in breach of many of the Jewish laws. According to the Mishnah (tractate “Sanhedrin”), capital trials must take place by day, must not reach a verdict in a single day, must take place in a courtroom, and must begin with the ase for the defence. While those laws may not have been in force in Jesus’ day, there were other laws which had been in place since Moses. To condemn a man, there must be at least 2 witnesses whose testimony agrees (Num 35:30; Deut 17:6; 19:15). The high priest knows how thin the case is when he grasps desperately at straws and tries to make Jesus answer the accusations in v60f.

The first accusation brought against Jesus is that he said he would destroy the Temple. Jesus has actually said, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days, I will raise it up” (John records the words in John 2:19), but that is a promise to rebuild a temple, not to destroy one. Jesus has also taught publicly against the Temple, calling it a den of robbers. And Jesus has told his own disciples that the Temple will be destroyed (Mark 13:1-2) But the false witnesses are misquoting him, misunderstanding him, and contradicting each other. This is nothing new- it happened to Jeremiah. When he warned that the Temple would be destroyed, he was accused of speaking against it, and there were those who would have killed him (Jer 26:1-19).

The accusers use emotive language. “Made with hands” is Isaianic language referring to idols (Isa 2:8; 17:8; 31:7), and “not made with hands” evokes Daniel’s prophecy (Dan 2:45) and the kingdom of God that destroys the kingdoms of men. So they are accusing Jesus of implying that the Temple is a pagan idol, and that he is going to destroy it as he brings in the righteous Kingdom of God. As we have said before, the Temple is the centre of their religion. Tearing down the Temple would destroy everything they stand for.

John comments on Jesus’ words in Jn 2, saying that he was talking about his own body as the true temple, the dwelling-place of God. Mark’s readers will understand that while the Sanhedrin is up in arms in defence of their Temple building, which Jesus has condemned, they are actually seeking to tear down the true Temple, destroying Jesus himself. Jesus himself supersedes the temple. Before, Jews would go up to Jerusalem to meet with God- although they should have known that God was not bound to Jerusalem- for God had gone with them in the wilderness, resting on the tabernacle, before ever the temple was built. But now Jesus has come, it is his body that is the temple. God dwells in Jesus.

There is also a comparison to be made between Jesus behaviour before he condemned the Temple and their behaviour at this trial. Jesus actually went to the trouble of inspecting the Temple, to see if there was any fruit there. They have pre-judged Jesus’ case without hearing any evidence.

  1. The second accusation is more obviously central; the high priest asks Jesus whether he is or is not the Messiah. What is Jesus’ answer?

The High Priest gets to the point, asking Jesus a yes or no question: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Those two titles he uses denote the same thing. “The Christ” means “the anointed one”- a Greek word equivalent to the Hebrew, “Messiah”. “The Blessed” is a reverent circumlocution for God, used by pious Jews wary of misusing God’s name. “Son of the Blessed”, however, does not necessarily imply deity. Davidic kings like Solomon can be called sons of God. What the High Priest is asking is, “Are you the Messiah, the promised anointed King?”. This is the question underlying the whole Gospel.

The High Priest is trying to make Jesus condemn himself, to get him to either deny that he is the Messiah (in which case such a denial could quickly be made public), or to affirm it (in which case, he can be handed over to the Romans as a rebel against Caesar).

Jesus confesses that he is the “Son of Man”. He has used this title of himself before, frequently and openly (Mark 2:10, 28; 8:31, 38; 9:9, 12, 31; 10:33, 45; 13:26; 14:21, 41). There is a degree of ambiguity in the title itself, and we have previously gone through the OT background and seen it used to mean mere men, Adamic kings and image-bearers of God, the Davidic Messiah, and the mighty figure of Daniel 7. Here though, on the final occasion Jesus wil use the title in Mark, he makes it clear that it is Daniel 7:13 behind his usage. He speaks of the “Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven”. The clouds of heaven are a feature of Daniel’s vision, and the sitting at the right hand of power calls to mind Psalm 110:1. Jesus, whom the Sanhedrin presumed to judge, is actually the judge of all the earth. The Sanhedrin cannot entertain this claim. How could this battered, tired, man standing before them powerless, possibly be the great king, the glorious Messiah, the one to deliver Israel? The High Priest tore his robes in “shock”- not the special high priestly garments, which Josephus says were kept by the Roman governor, and only given back for the great feasts- and called for the death penalty. The charge now is one of blasphemy; not because they think Jesus has made a claim to be God, but because they consider his claim to be the Messiah to bring such dishonour on God’s name that it qualifies as blasphemous. How could this shabby prisoner be the glorious figure of Daniel’s vision? The whole court agrees- such a claim is blasphemous, and the blasphemer must die (Lev 24:15-16).

Then the Sanhedrin show their true colours. Spitting is a ritualised gesture meant to demonstrate disavowal of the disobedient or unclean (Job 30:10; Num 12:14; Deut 25:9; Isa 50:6), but it is also humiliating and unpleasant. They blindfold Jesus and hit him, while mocking- you’re a prophet aren’t you? Then who hit you? This perhaps reflects a Jewish interpretation of Isa 11:2-4; Isaiah speaks of the Messiah, the new beginning of David’s line, and says he will judge not by what he sees or hears. Some Jewish interpreters thought that he must therefore be able to judge by sense of smell alone. But these blows are not just a supposed test of Messianic ability- they are meant to hurt. These men are meant to be respectable responsible rulers of God’s people. But faced with the true king, they become a degenerate rabble. The light reveals the hidden depths of the darkness. And Jesus responded meekly, as should his followers.

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