The Arrest of Jesus Fulfills Prophecy – Matthew 26:53-56

After a disciple tries (and fails) to defend Jesus, Jesus distances himself from a violent uprising against Rome or the Temple. In fact, the arrest of Jesus fulfills prophecy.

Arrest of Jesus

Jesus could defend himself if he wanted to. He says he could ask his Father to send twelve legions of angels (26:53-54). This verse is unique to Matthew’s version of this story. A Roman legion was six thousand soldiers plus auxiliaries, so twelve legions would be a massive force in comparison to the group assembled to arrest him. It is better to see this as an intentional contrast to the twelve disciples who (allegedly) defend Jesus. He has twelve disciples, but he could have twelve legions of angelic soldiers if he asked for them.

In Daniel 7:10, the Ancient of Days sits on a fiery throne to judge the nations, surrounded by “a thousand thousands, ten thousand times ten thousand” servants. Since the Son of Man appears before the Ancient of Days and is given authority to judge, he has command of this angelic host. 2 Kings 6:17 is the classic example of an angelic army sent to defend God’s people. When Assyria threatened to destroy Hezekiah in Jerusalem, God sends an angel to destroy 185,000 Assyrian soldiers (2 Kings 19:35-26). Daniel 10:13 also describes angelic warfare. Angelic armies are also common in other Second Temple literature.

Testament of Levi 3.3 In the second [heaven] are the armies arrayed for the day of judgment to work vengeance on the spirits of error and of Beliar.

1QM 7:5-6 All these shall be volunteers for war, perfect in spirit and in body, and ready for the day of vengeance. And every man who has not cleansed himself of his ‘spring’ on the day of battle will not go down with them, for the holy angels are together with their armies.

Building on the scene from Daniel 7:10, In Matthew 25:31, the Son of Man will come with all the angels with him to judge the nations. Jude 14-15 quotes 1 Enoch, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones to execute judgment on all.”  In Revelation 19:14, the rider on the white horse leads the armies of heaven into battle against the armies of the beast.

Jesus asks the arresting soldiers, “Am I a rebel?” (26:55). Older translations use thief, but the word could be translated as “terrorist.” The word (λῃστής) refers to a robber or a highwayman (BDAG). The same word is used to describe Barabbas as well as the two thieves crucified along with Jesus. Barabbas appears to be more than a robber, but a terrorist and a rebel.

Jesus says that he is not one of these “rebels,” yet in the following stories, Jesus is crucified with robbers and mocked by robbers. He is saying “I am not a rebel, yet you are going to treat me like one anyway.” They could have been arrested at any time since he was teaching in public at the temple for the past five days.

As Jesus is arrested, the disciples fulfill Jesus’ own prophecy from a few hours earlier, that they would all desert him (26:56). Why does the arresting crowd let the disciples run off?  Jesus is the focus of the arrest; the High Priest understands that Jesus is the irreplaceable leader of the movement (Nolland, Matthew, 1109). Perhaps the High Priest did not have much respect for Jesus’s disciples. There is no need to take a threat from unschooled fishermen from Galilee seriously. The aristocratic priests probably think Jesu’s followers are a “basket of deplorables.”

Peter does completely abandon Jesus since he is follows the arresting Caiaphas’s home, where he will deny the Lord three times before dawn.

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