Matthew 26:57-27:9

57  Those who had seized Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were gathered together. 58 But Peter was following Him at a distance as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and entered in, and sat down with the [p] officers to see the outcome.

Jesus is arrested and taken back to Jerusalem in the middle of the night.

There are two interesting figures that we’re reintroduced to: Annus and Caiaphus.

Annus was the first high priest appointed under direct Roman rule. Previously, the Jewish nation had been a part of a subordinate kingdom ruled by the Herod family, but after the Romans deposed Archelaus, Judea came directly under the rule of Rome. The Romans chose Annus to act as the head of the Jewish religion (and therefore, also civic) life, under Roman authority.

Caiaphas was really a political office holder. He had been appointed high priest by the previous proconsul of Judea, Valerius Gratus. According to Josephus, after assuming office, Valerius deposed the sitting high priest Annus and began to regularly replace high priests until he appointed Caiaphus, Annus’ son-in-law, and was relieved shortly thereafter by Pontius Pilate.

Because the Mosaic law stated that the position of high priest was a lifetime appointment, however, Annus maintained great influence and authority among the Jewish people. Having a family member in the official position also ensured that he maintained some control over the nation.

John 18:13 tells us that the Roman and Jewish officers took him first to Annus for a brief interview:

12  So the Roman [e]cohort and the [f]commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, 13 and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people.

15  Simon Peter was following Jesus, and so was another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, 16  but Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in. 17  Then the slave-girl who kept the door *said to Peter, “ You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He *said, “I am not.” 18 Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself.

Traditionally, the disciple who is never identified by the author of John is John, so we’re given some insight into John’s family’s political connections as he is known to the high priest and let into the courtyard. Perhaps it is because of these connections that John is able to sit and listen and move about freely without facing the types of challenges that Peter does.

John asks that Peter be let in. John and Peter both repented of their earlier abandonment of Jesus and return now to see what happens to Him. As Peter is let in, the girl watching the door challenges him about whether or not he is one of Jesus’ disciples. Perhaps she had seen him in the temple that week with Jesus, or maybe she assumed that because of his look and because he was a Galilean and Jesus was as well that he was a follower of Christ. Peter lies that he is not a disciple. He was in hostile territory and was afraid. He loved the Lord, but feared the circumstances he was in. So he fell.

19  The high priest then questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in [g]synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. 21 Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.” 22 When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?” 23  Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” 24  So Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Annus questions Jesus. As Matthew makes clear, the entire ‘trial’ is an attempt to get Christ to say something incriminating that would allow them to make the case to the Roman authorities that Jesus deserved to die under Roman law.

The Romans had little patience or mercy for seditious persons. Given the Messianic fervor and the expectation that the Messiah would be the King of the Jews and overthrow Rome, they are attempting to find something credible that Jesus had said that would condemn Him before Pilate. So Annus asks about Christ’s ministry and teaching.

Jesus points out the truth. He has followed the practice of other rabbis and preached in the synagogues and the temple and in public places. There were plenty of Pharisees and Sadducees present as well as thousands of other Jews on different occasions, if He had spoken anything that could have been taken as seditious or worthy of condemnation, they would have known by now.

Unhappy with His answer, a guard strikes Him thinking He has shown improper deference to the high priest. Jesus simply states that He has spoken the truth. After getting nothing from Christ, Annus sends Him to his son-in-law, the state appointed high priest, Caiaphus.

59 Now the chief priests and the whole [q] Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. 60 They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, 61 and said, “This man stated, ‘ I am able to destroy the [r]temple of God and to rebuild it [s]in three days.’”

Such was the haste with which this ‘trial’ was thrown together that they were not even able to get reliable liars to testify against Him. They solicited false testimony, but were unable to find two or three that agreed together until two men managed to say that Jesus had said He would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. (He had actually said, “Destroy this Temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

But it was enough that the two men had managed to lie in the same manner. Destroying the Temple would have been seen as an act of treason and rebellion.

 62 The high priest stood up and said to Him, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” 63 But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I [t] adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are [u]the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus *said to him, “ You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, [v]hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Caiaphas demands answers, but Jesus remains silent, so Caiaphas gets to the heart of their objections of Christ and demands to know whether Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus affirms this and tells Caiaphas that when he sees Christ again, it will be at the right hand of God.

65 Then the high priest tore his [w]robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; 66 what do you think?” They answered, “ He deserves death!”

67  Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others [x]slapped Him, 68 and said, “ Prophesy to us, You [y]Christ; who is the one who hit You?”

The gospel narratives make it clear that everything about this ‘trial’ was a sham. Christ is condemned to death by the religious authorities for blasphemy, but they had no authority to condemn Him. He would have to be brought to the Roman authority.

But this wasn’t about justice, it was about silencing a critic and a rival. So they opted to have some fun with Jesus first, blindfolding Him and spitting on Him or striking Him demanding that He tell them who had hit Him.

69  Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” 71 When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73 A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk [z]gives you away.” 74 Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “ Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

We cut back to Matthew’s account of Peter’s denials. John had previously recorded that nearly as soon as Peter was in the courtyard, he had denied Christ. Matthew records all three in the same paragraph. Matthew was less interested in the chronological unfolding of the events of that night than of the narrative. So all of Peter’s denials are grouped together.

I wonder how Peter felt about that. Knowing that all of the gospels included this failure. Did it embarrass him? Did it encourage him to know that others could learn from his failure and avoid it or follow his path back to restoration after their own failure?

Here it’s all laid out, Peter is challenged three times, twice by slave girls and once by a crowd that recognizes his Galilean accent/dialect. All three times, Peter denies it, even adding cursing and swearing oaths upon himself the third time should he be lying. He is living in fear now, seeking to save his own life, and upon the third denial, he hears a rooster crow.

John tells us that after hearing the rooster, Peter looks up and sees Jesus and their eyes meet. Given what we know of the Lord, the look must have been filled with compassion. Jesus knew it would happen and He still loved Peter regardless. He had already promised them all that when it was all finished, He’d be waiting for them.

It was too much for Peter. The guilt of his betrayal broke him and he ran from the high priest’s home, sobbing uncontrollably. We’ve all been there. It’s part of our human nature that when we’re confronted with the guilt of our own conduct, every fiber of our being wants to run from God. It is not God who condemns us as much as we condemn ourselves. God is all knowing, which means, He’s already aware of the sum of our failings, weaknesses, and sins, but He loves us regardless and wants to always move forward. More often than not, we’re the ones who want to hide, who want to wallow in condemnation and in guilt because we feel as if we deserve to be miserable and to be punished.

And if we were living under the law, we would be right. A sacrifice would be required and the sentence of the law would need to be carried out.

But we’re not under the law, we live and breathe and exist in the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Jesus is waiting for us calling us back, calling us to move past our failings and to move forward with Him.

Peter would return and regroup with the others. He would continue to torture himself with his failings. Christ would have to intervene personally and restore him and help him move past it. We should allow the Lord to help us move forward and put our failings behind us. To learn from them and move on rather than flee from Him.

27  Now when morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus to put Him to death; 2 and they bound Him, and led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate the governor.

The Jewish authorities had condemned Jesus, but had no authority to kill Him. So they would next take Him to Pontius Pilate for a civil trial.

But before we go there, Matthew takes the time to contrast Peter with the other fallen disciple, Judas.

3 Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty [a]pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” 5 And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. 6 The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.” 7 And they conferred together and [b]with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. 8  For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “ And [c]they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one whose price had been set by the sons of Israel; 10  and [d]they gave them for the Potter’s Field, as the Lord directed me.”

Matthew tells us that Judas upon seeing Christ condemned regretted his actions. It was a good start. Remorse was an appropriate response.

It’s curious that Judas was surprised by the fact that the priests condemned Jesus. Given the level of animosity they held for him, what did Judas think would happen? Was he expecting the people to rally for Jesus? Was he expecting Jesus to resist and start a revolution? The only man who knows the answers to those questions dies in this passage.

But Judas feels remorse for his actions and tries to set things right. While Peter flees from God, Judas tries to fix his sin. He tries to atone for it himself. First he brings the money back, maybe thinking in an illogical fashion that the priests would call the whole thing off once Judas returned the money. He confesses that he has betrayed an innocent man. The priests don’t dispute Christ’s innocence, but coldly dismiss Judas’ pleas anyway.

Judas in despair throws the money to the ground and leaves. Unable to justify his actions, unable to undo his sins, and unwilling to seek out Jesus or the other disciples (possibly and likely correctly thinking that they might kill him,) Matthew tells us that Judas leaves and hangs himself.

Acts 1 recounts that Peter gives a different account of Judas’ end. In Peter’s account, Judas buys a field with his blood money, falls off of a high place somewhere on his land and bursts open with his guts spilling out onto the ground. Yikes.

So what are our possible explanations:

  1. The evangelical literalist would reconcile this by stating that Judas hung himself. The day he hung himself was considered a Sabbath and no one would claim his body or remove it, so it hung there for some time, became swollen and fell, possibly as the result of a branch breaking or due to carrion, and burst open when it hit the ground. (Hope you’ve already had your breakfast this morning.)
  2. The passages are contradictions. Judas’ end might have been an urban legend, with different apostles hearing different accounts and reporting them differently, or with the gospel writers later on using traditional accounts their local churches had heard.
  3. Matthew is not necessarily being literal, but is using a narrative type.

    Audrey Conrad, in “The Fate of Judas” (Toronto Journal of Theology [7] 1992), notes that Matthew’s unique words “departed” and “hanged himself” are found in combination in another place in the LXX:

    2 Samuel 17:23 And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father.

    Conrad notes that rabbinic interpretation of Ps. 41:9 (“Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.”) thought that Ahithophel was the traitor David was describing — and of course this same verse was applied by Jesus to Judas (John 13:18).

    Conrad still thinks there are not enough parallels (!) but we would maintain that the parallels are sufficient, and that Matthew is indeed alluding to the traitor Ahithophel in this passage, and is therefore NOT telling us that Judas indeed hanged himself, but that Judas fulfilled the “type” of Ahithophel by being a traitor who responded with grief and then died. Matthew is thereby making no statement at all about Judas’ mode of death, and Luke’s “swelling up” stands alone as a specific description of what happened.

I like explanation three myself. It seems to fit Matthew’s narrative style, especially as he also sort of blends some of the book of Zachariah and some parts of Jeremiah into a prophetic narrative of someone buying a field for 30 pieces of silver.

Speaking of which, we have differing accounts of who purchased the field: the priests or Judas?

Here I think the evangelical account is likely accurate. The priests have an objection to the money. It was blood money used to pay for the death of an innocent man. It was not lawful for them to keep it. (Funny how they weren’t particularly concerned about the legality of paying it to have said innocent man killed, but that is a pretty common feature of a lot of our religions.)

So it technically belonged to Judas, and they may have used it to buy a field legally in his name. They likely chose the field he later died in because it already contained one body and was ceremonially unclean and would be suitable as a place to bury the indigent.

I think the important part is the contrast between Peter and Judas. One disciple fled from God, but returned to his brothers and was restored. The other tried to undo his sin, failed, then fled and was never heard from again. He never returned. Never sought Christ out. He fled and perished alone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s