Who is the Disciple who Defended Jesus? – Matthew 26:51-52

After Judas identifies Jesus, the temple guard takes Jesus into custody (Matthew 26:47-50). Although Jesus willingly goes to the cross, at least one of his disciples draws a sword, ready to defend Jesus with violence. Who is the disciple who defended Jesus? What did he think he was doing?

Peter Defends Jesus

Wikipedia. 2022. “Malchus.” Wikimedia Foundation.

This is a good passage to observe the growth of the Gospel traditions. In Mark 14:51, “one of those who stood by” drew his sword and attacked. In Matthew 26:47, it is “one of those who were with Jesus.” Luke tells us that the disciples took weapons to the garden, two small swords (Luke 22:38), and that the disciples saw the betrayer, “they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (22:49). Luke also adds Jesus healed the man’s ear (Luke 22:51). It is not until John 18:10 that we learn the only disciple to defend Jesus was Peter, and the servant’s name was Malchus.

In Matthew, the story of Jesus’s arrest is limited to emphasize Jesus’s own actions and his refusal of a violent defense. Since Matthew 16, the disciples have been confused about what their role in the Kingdom would be. They thought the kingdom would be political, it was not. They all swore loyalty to Jesus and were prepared to fight to defend him and help him establish the kingdom.

A disciple cuts the ear off the servant of the high priest (26:51). The arresting crowd was expecting trouble. They were armed when they entered the garden to arrest Jesus. Sometimes pastors make fun of Peter’s impetuous attack, which fails laughably. Wilson says this is another example of apostolic failure, citing Matthew 5:38-39. Jesus taught the disciples not to resist persecution (see also Matthew 10:9, don’t carry a sword; Wilson, Matthew 13-28, 365).

However, Peter may have intended to cut the ear off the servant of the priest. By mutilating his ear, he would no longer be allowed to enter the temple courts to serve as a priest. Leviticus 21:16-24 lists a series of blemishes that disqualify a priest from service in the temple, including “one who has a mutilated face.” Josephus says Antigonus cut off Hyrcanus’s ears to disqualify him from the high priesthood (Antiq. 14.13.10, 366).

John 18:10 states Peter cut off his right ear; assuming Peter is right-handed, he attacked the servant from behind. Again, this is either a laughable failure to defend Jesus or a calculated attack to mutilate the High Priest’s servant. John 18:10 add the details that Peter attacked the servant, who is identified as Malchus, the servant of the high priest. In John 18:26-27, a relative of Malchus confronts Peter, leading to his third denial.

Malchus is a servant of the high priest. He may be there in an official capacity as the representative of the High Priest. However, BDAG says the name Malchus is “almost entirely of Gentiles, in fact of Nabataean Arabs,” so “Malchus may have been an Arab slave” (JoAnn Ford Watson, “Malchus (Person),” ABD 4:487).  If so, it does not matter if he was mutilated.  Luke adds the detail that Jesus healed the man’s ear (Luke 22:51). This would mean he could continue as a servant of the high priest and participate in temple worship.

What is remarkable is the disciple does not attack Judas, the betrayer. This could be more failure on the part of the disciples (misidentifying the source of the betrayal), or understanding the servant represents the high priest.

Jesus tells his disciples to put away the swords (26:52). To his disciples, Jesus tells them if they use the sword, they will die by the sword. The disciples were ready to risk their lives to defend Jesus, as James, John (Matt 20:22), and Peter (Matt 26:35) swore. But Jesus commands them to stand down, step aside and allow him to be peacefully arrested.

“Those that live by the sword will die by the sword.” Does this passage teach pacifism? These words have inspired Christian pacifism for centuries. Is Jesus teaching that the true followers of Christ should follow him in his example of complete pacifism? Those that would say that Christians are not to be total pacifists point out that Jesus says, “put the sword in its place,” indicating that he was not to get rid of it all together but use it at the appropriate time.

Jesus is clear: he is not a rebel, and he is not leading a rebellion (whatever his followers might think. If his followers behave like the (later) Zealots, they will die like the Zealots.

Why does Judas Kiss Jesus? Matthew 26:47-50

One of the most famous scenes in the Gospels is Judas kissing Jesus when the Temple guard comes to arrest Jesus. This “Judas Kiss” becomes proverbial for betrayal. Why does Judas kiss Jesus?

Judas Kiss

Judas slipped out at some point during the Passover meal to bring a crowd to where Jesus was praying with his disciples (Matthew 26:47). The “large crowd” is Jewish. Luke 22:52 mentions “officers of the temple”; John 18:3 adds the “officers from the chief priests.”  It is possible that some Roman guards were sent along to ensure peace. The Romans usually increased police activities during Passover since there were large crowds in Jerusalem. If this is the case, Pilate may have had some information about the arrest of Jesus prior to the trial and may have discussed the issue with his wife. She dreams of Jesus according to Matthew 27:19.

This is a “delegation of temple police” (Davies and Allison, Matthew, 507), but the high priest sometimes used some rough types to enforce tithes. The High priest Ananias (48-59) used “thugs” to enforce tithes, and Josephus says some of his servants were “wicked men” (Antiq., 20.181; 206-207). They are well-armed with swords and clubs. A sword (μάχαιρα) is the same word the disciple will use to attack the servant of the high priest. Jesus will point out that he is not a rebel, so there is no need for a show of force!

Judas kisses Jesus to confirm his identity (26:48). Why was a signal important? Even though Jesus had been publicly teaching in the Temple, it is unlikely that anyone would know him by sight in the relative darkness of the torchlight. There were no photographs, and the people making the actual arrest may never have seen Jesus in the temple.

The signal was something more than a “normal” greeting. He greets Jesus and kisses him. This kiss is an elaborate show of affection; the same terms are used to describe the father’s kiss at the prodigal son’s return and of the prostitute that washes Jesus’ feet with her tears. In the book of Acts, it is the same word used for the Ephesians church leaders after Paul’s farewell speech to them. It was not normal for a student to approach and kiss his master without permission. This is a bold insulting move.

Judas again refers to Jesus as rabbi while making this insulting signal to the arresting Jews. In Matthew, only Judas calls Jesus “rabbi” as opposed to Lord. R. T. France sees this act as a public repudiation of Jesus and his teaching. Old Testament allusions are thin for Judas kiss. When Joab assassinates Amasa, he made like he was going to kiss the general and then stabs him in the stomach (2 Sam 20:9-10). Proverbs 27:6 says, “profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”

Whether this is an insult or not, Jesus’ response is controlled: “Friend, do what you came for” (26:49). The “friend” is unusual, maybe something like “buddy” in American slang. There is no hint of sarcasm (and the older translation “comrade” does not work in contemporary English). The word is often used for an actual friend or companion, even a “drinking buddy” (BrillDAG). Jesus may want to remind Judas of the Passover meal they shared a few hours earlier and Jesus’s prediction that Judas would betray him.

Only Matthew uses this word to refer to Judas. Significantly, the king in the wedding banquet parable used the same word when addressing the unprepared guest (25:12). In the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The master addresses the complaining servant as a “friend.”

“Do what you came for” (ἐφʼ ὃ πάρει) is ambiguous. This could be understood as a question, can be translated as a question (as in the KJV, “wherefore art thou come?”), or as a statement, maybe roughly equivalent to “let’s get this over with.” As a question, it could have the sense of “you kiss me and call me rabbi? “Is that what you came here to do?”  John 13:27 has, “whatever you are going to do, do it quickly.” The Good News Bible has “Be quick about it!” This might sound testy, but it captures the moment well. Jesus has prepared himself through the prayers in the garden, now the moment is there, and he wants to move along toward the ultimate conclusion n the cross.

The arrest happens because Jesus allows it to happen (Nolland, Mathew, 1110). A central theme in this passage, and in the whole trial and crucifixion story, is that Jesus goes to his death as a humble and submissive servant, giving himself over to the death of the cross. Jesus knows why Judas is there, so his greeting is for the disciples and the arresting crowd to hear. Jesus is surrendering and not resisting arrest at all. Like John 12:27, this is the very thing he came into the world to do, so why would Jesus resist arrest? But at least one of the disciples does not “stand down” and allow Jesus to be arrested without a fight.

“Let This Cup Pass From Me” – Matthew 26:39-44

Matthew 26:39 (ESV) And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Matthew 26:42 (ESV) Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

Matthew 26:44 (ESV) So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.

What is “the cup” Jesus is about to drink? The metaphor of a cup for God’s judgment is common in the Old Testament, and it probably has the same meaning here.

Jeremiah 25:15–29 (ESV) Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.

Isaiah 51:21–22 (ESV) Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted, who are drunk, but not with wine: 22 Thus says your Lord, the Lord, your God who pleads the cause of his people: “Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more

Psalms of Solomon 8:14–15 Because of this God mixed them (a drink) of a wavering spirit, and gave them a cup of undiluted wine to make them drunk. 15 He brought someone from the end of the earth, one who attacks in strength; he declared war against Jerusalem, and her land.

1QpHab Col. xi:12-14 Its interpretation concerns the Priest whose disgrace exceeded his glory 13 because he did not circumcise the foreskin of his heart and has walked on paths of 14 excessiveness to slake his thirst; but the cup of 15 [Go]d’s anger will consume him, increasing [… ]his [dis]grace.

Revelation 16:19 God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.

When Jesus refers to drinking a cup in Matthew 20:22–23 and 26:27, the cup refers to the suffering of the crucifixion. This raises a difficult question. Is Jesus praying to his father to avoid the suffering of the cross? This seems unlikely since Jesus predicted his suffering several times and stated his death was the main reason he came to the world (Matthew 20:28).

Cup of Wrath

As he instructed his disciples to pray, Jesus submitted to the will of the Father, knowing the will of the Father is to pour out his wrath on Jesus, the son. The theology of this prayer is important. This is a time of extreme temptation for Jesus, a temptation to not fulfill his father’s will and go through with the crucifixion. For many, Jesus is asking for the strength to endure the cross. Rather than asking to “get out of” the cross, he is asking for his humanity to be strengthened to endure the suffering he is under.

Is Jesus, while on earth, unable to know if there is an alternative to the crucifixion? Craig Blaising argued that there was a real possibility that God could accomplish the atonement without the crucifixion but that he willed that it should be through the crucifixion. Jesus would then say that he is submitting to the father by submitting to crucifixion.

It is probably best to see Jesus as genuinely tempted and troubled unto death. This makes the second half of his prayer more foundational; he submits himself to the will of the Father, not knowing the outcome. This also makes Jesus’s role as a servant clearer. While on earth, Jesus submits himself totally to the will of the Father as a servant, who came to us to die as an atonement (Mark 10:45). “Although Jesus has plainly prophesied his fate, he here recoils from it. This is not, however, an act of rebellion. Rather does the plea harmonize with the Jewish notion that God can, in response to prayer or repentance or sin, change his mind” (Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:497)

Jesus prays this prayer continually over some time (long enough for the disciples to fall asleep). It is not a quick one-sentence prayer. What we read is the substance of that prayer. When he returns to his closest disciples, he finds them sleeping rather than watching over him and joining him in prayer.


Bibliography: Craig A. Blaising, “Gethsemane: A Prayer of Faith,” JETS 22 (1979): 333–43; M. Kiley, “‘Lord, Save My Life’ (Ps 116:4) as Generative Text for Jesus’ Gethsemane Prayer (Mark 14:36a),” CBQ 48 (1986): 655–59.

Jesus’s Agony in the Garden – Matthew 26:36-38

This passage looks back to Matthew 20:22, Jesus tells James and John that they are not able to drink the cup that he is about to drink. In that context, the cup refers to the coming crucifixion, and James and John both swear that they can “drink that cup.” Like Peter in the previous paragraph, they swore to go to their deaths alongside Jesus. Now and the time has come for them to keep watch, they fail. All three will fall asleep in the garden, and all three will flee when Jesus is arrested.

Jesus's Agony in the Garden

Jesus takes Peter, James, and John and asks them to sit with him to watch (26:38) while Jesus prays. Why these three disciples? The three disciples are usually called Jesus’s “inner circle” since out of the twelve, they are almost the only disciples mentioned by name and are the only disciples featured in some episodes. These three disciples accompanied Jesus during the transfiguration (Matthew 17). This is significant because they say the glory of God. They heard the voice from heaven and saw Moses and Elijah. After that revelation of who Jesus really was, they were the three disciples who ought to understand most clearly what was about to happen in the next few hours.

More importantly, all three boasted they would suffer alongside Jesus. In Matthew 20:20-28 the sons of Zebedee requested to sit on either side of Jesus when he comes into his kingdom. Jesus’s response anticipates Gethsemane. He tells them they are not able “to drink the cup that I am going to drink.” Both were indignant, and in Matthew 20:22, they claim they can drink “the same cup as Jesus.”  Peter had a similar boastful moment when he claimed he would not fall away, only a few hours earlier (Matt 26:31-35). Looking ahead to the book of Acts, Luke only mentions Peter and John in Acts 2-5 and then informs the reader James was killed by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:1).

The disciples are told to “keep watch” (γρηγορέω). The word has the sense of alertness, to “stay awake.” It was used for literal “guard duty” (1 Macc 12:27) but is used in Christian literature for spiritual alertness (1 Cor 16:13, for example).  In Matthew 24:43, Jesus tells his disciples to “keep watch” because they do not know the time of his return (Parable of the thief in the night). The command is illustrated in the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (Matt 25:1-13, which ends with those words).

Jesus says his soul is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” and asks them to stay and keep watch (Matthew 26:37-38). This is a rare word (περίλυπος). It is sorrow that covers one up, a sorrow that could cause death itself. It is sometimes translated as “afflicted beyond measure” The same phrase is used in Jonah 4:9; Jonah is so sorrowful that he would rather be dead. LXX Psalm 42:6 uses this word, “My soul is cast down within me.” It describes the reaction of the wise men in Babylon when they learn Nebuchadnezzar was going to execute them (LXX Dan 2:12). God asked Cain why he was so deeply grieved (LXX Genesis 4:6, most ET follow the Hebrew, he is angry).

Verse 38 adds that Jesus began to be “sorrowful and troubled.” Sorrowful is a common word in the NT for sorrow, but “troubled” (ἀδημονέω) is much more intense, sometimes translated as “tormented” or “disquieted” in ancient Greek (BrillDAG). Luke adds that Jesus sweats great drops of blood (Luke 22:44).

This agony in the Garden before his arrest, suffering, and crucifixion is a clear demonstration of the humanity of Jesus.

Where is the Garden of Gethsemane? Matthew 26:36

Often called the “Garden of,” the Greek word Γεθσημανί is a transliteration of גַּת שְׁמָנֵי, meaning “oil press.” The location is on the Mount of Olives. Presumably, Gethsemane was an olive orchard owned by a supporter of Jesus who allowed Jesus and his followers to stay there rather than return to Bethany. John 18:1 calls it a garden (κῆπος, a word which can refer to an enclosure), and the disciples “enter” it, implying it had a short wall marking out the boundaries of this particular orchard.

There are at least four possible sites; the most popular is the Church of All-Nations (constructed in 1919-1924, maintained by the Franciscans). The church has a small olive garden, and inside the church is the traditional “agony stone.” Early visitors reported a church at the location in the late fourth century. There was a crusader church until 1345 (Schnabel, Jesus in Jerusalem, 116).

Garden of Gethsemane

In 2020, archaeologists discovered a Jewish mikveh while excavating a tunnel under the byzantine church. A mikveh is a pool used for ceremonial washing in the Second Temple period. This is the first archaeological evidence from the Second Temple period at Gethsemane. In the first century, Jewish workers producing wine or olive oil needed to be ceremonially clean, so if there was an olive press there, it is not surprising there was a mikveh.

Church of All Nations

Church of All Nations

The primary competing traditional location of the betrayal of Jesus is the Grotto of the Agony, near the Tomb of Mary on the Mount of Olives. The Book of John about the Dormition of Mary (a sermon written by John, Archbishop of Thessalonica in the seventh century) implies her tomb was in Gethsemane. Franciscans purchased the cave in the seventeenth century, but the Eastern Orthodox Christians continued to use the cave until 1919. The site is today maintained by the Franciscans. The cave may have had an olive press (although nothing remains). The cave would be large enough for Jesus and some disciples to get out of the weather (33 feet deep, 62 feet wide).

Joan Taylor, “The Garden of Gethsemane Not the Place of Jesus’ Arrest” BAR 21 (1995): 26–35. Taylor argues, “Jesus was arrested not at the traditional Garden of Gethsemane adjacent to the Church of All Nations but rather in the cave of Gethsemane (on the way to the Tomb of the Virgin Mary).”

Garden of Gethsemane

Image Credit SPQR10 (derivative version). – Derivative work from the 1914 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, a publication now in the Public Domain., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=94596868


It is best to agree with Davies and Allision, “Traditional and modern proposals (e.g., the Grotto of the Agony) are guesses” (Matthew, 3:494).