HANDBOOK TO THE GOSPELS
JESUS IS ARRESTED AND TRIED
137. Plot by the chief priests
A woman anoints him
138. The passover with the disciples
Jesus predicts betrayal
Jesus refuses to drink
The rite of communion
Jesus teaches humility
Jesus predicts thrones
139. On the mount of Olives
They promise to stay
Discussion about weapons
140. The garden of Gethsemane
141. Jesus is arrested
142. The trial by Caiaphas
143. The trial before Pilate
PLOT BY THE CHIEF PRIESTS
Mark and the others report next that the chief priests and the
elders laid a plot to arrest Jesus, but that they feared an uprising
by the people. Then they report that Judas Iscariot, for no reason,
comes to the chief priests and offers to betray Jesus to them. This
offer has caused some readers to speculate that the arrest was
actually planned by Jesus and Judas. It's not impossible, and it
would explain Judas' later remorse.
A WOMAN ANOINTS HIM
Mark and Matthew report another incident when an unnamed woman
came into the house where Jesus and the disciples were staying, and
anointed Jesus on the head with oil. The disciples were indignant, and
grumbled about it:
DISCIPLES: Why has this waste of the ointment been made?
For it might have been sold for more than 300 pence,
and given to the poor.
JESUS: No, no, it was a thoughtful act for her
to perform, and she will be remembered for it.
For you will always have the poor with you,
but you will not always have me.
This last sentence is a quotation from the Torah, where
Moses is reported to have said, For the poor shall never cease out
of the land. (Deut.15:11)
Luke does not report this story, probably because he has
already included the report from document G about the adulterous
woman who bathed his feet and anointed them with ointment
(Luke 7:36-50). The story here in Mark and Matthew does
not identify her as a prostitute, however.
THE PASSOVER WITH THE DISCIPLES
This evening was the passover meal, and the scene is depicted
quite vividly. Jesus sends two of the disciples into Jerusalem
with instructions to follow a man with a pitcher of water and ask
him for a room where Jesus and they can have the meal together.
Once they are sitting down to dinner, Jesus speaks to them:
(Mark 14:18-21;Luke 22:21-23;Matt.26:21-24)
I tell you all, that one of you
shall betray me, one that dips his sop in the
same bowl with me. For the son of man goes
to his death, just as other prophets; but
woe to those who have condemned me to death!
I have paraphrased his statement above, since there is no place in
the Old Testament where it says that the messiah would be betrayed
and killed. But they were all sorrowful, and amazed, and looked
at each other; but could not answer him. He goes on:
With desire I wanted to eat this
passover with you before I suffer;
but I tell you, I will not eat of it,
until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
Take this cup, and divide it
among yourselves, for I tell you, I
will no more drink of the fruit of the vine,
until the kingdom of God shall come.
Mark's version is different, and reads like it had been copied from
the second epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. Mark tells us that
Jesus blessed the bread and broke it in pieces, and passed it around
to them; and also that he took a cup, and gave it to them, and
(Mark 14:22-25;Luke 22:19-20;Matt.26:26-29)
Take this bread; it is my body; and take
this cup; it is the new covenant in my blood,
which is shed for many. For I tell you, I
will no more drink of the fruit of the vine,
until the kingdom of God shall come.
(II Cor. 11:23-25)
This is my body which is given
for you; this do in remembrance of
me.(passing around the cup):
And this cup is the new covenant in
my blood; this do, each time you do
it, in remembrance of me.
It seems extremely likely that the author of Mark copied from Paul's
epistle to the Corinthians, as shown above. The version in Luke
seems more primitive, and is more like an expression of an anguished
soul than either Mark or Paul, and does not have any reference to
the symbols of the body and the blood. It remains a puzzle, if
Jesus said it was one who dipped the bread with him in the bowl,
why the rest of the disciples did not realize who it was. It is
notable that even Paul says that it was to be a commemorative act
in his memory, not a cannibalistic rite of eating the god and
drinking its blood; which is a quintessentially pagan notion, not
a Jewish or Hebrew one. That explanation must have crept in once
the religion of worshipping Jesus had spread to Asia Minor and
Greece and Rome.
Luke includes at this point the teachings on being a servant
which the others report that he said on the occasion of the request
by James and John to sit on his right hand and his left hand in
Chapter XIV. Luke also includes at this point the verse promising
them all thrones in his kingdom; but this verse is doubtful:
firstly, because he has never given any indication that he will be
a ruler, and secondly, because the verse is not found in Mark,
which Luke appears to be copying, and thirdly, although it is also
found in Matthew at the point where Jesus is discussing riches and
wealth, it is an illogical statement because it includes the TWELVE
disciples judging the twelve tribes of Israel, which no longer
existed. (Matt.19:28;Luke 22:28-30)
THEY GO ONTO THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
Following this, Mark tells us that they went onto the Mount of
Olives to the east of Jerusalem, where he predicts that they will
all desert him, and they all promise that they will not:
JESUS: All of you shall forsake me this night, and run
away from here;
but I will see you in Galilee.
PETER: No, Master, though everyone else runs away, I will
not; I will never desert you.
The verse where Jesus tells them that he would see them again in
Galilee looks like an interpolation, and is not found in Luke.
Luke's version only speaks of Peter, but it is wholly mythical,
because it tells how Satan, the mythical devil, asks God to let
him have Peter:
JESUS: Simon, Simon, Satan asked to have you, that he
might sift you as one sifts flour; but I made supplication
for thee, that thy faith fail not; and do thou, when once
thou hast turned again, stablish thy brethren.
and what can one say about that but that it is mythological?
Then Jesus goes on to predict that not only will they all desert
him, but Peter will actually deny knowing Jesus three times:
(Mark 14:30-31;Luke 22:33-34;Matt.25:35)
JESUS: I tell you truly, Peter, that before the cock crows
twice this night, you shall deny me three times.
PETER: No, no; if I must die with you, I will never deny
DISCIPLES: Me, too; I will never flee from you.
Luke also reports a brief enigmatic discussion at this point on
the need for weapons:
JESUS: When I sent you forth on your mission, did you
DISCIPLES: No, master.
JESUS: But now let him that has a purse, let him take it,
and let him that doesn't have one, sell his cloak, and
all of you buy a sword.
DISCIPLES: Master, we have two swords.
JESUS: It is enough.
Is this an authentic dialogue? It is doubtful; he has never
taught violence. He must have spoken in the subjunctive, and it
was remembered as an order, something like this:
JESUS: Look, even if you took your purse or wallet, or sold
your cloak, and bought a sword, it would not save me from my
destiny, that I am to be arrested and killed.
DISCIPLES: (still not understanding): We have two
JESUS: (giving up on them): Okay, okay, that's enough,
you don't understand, we won't talk about it any more.
THEY GO INTO THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE
The next incident is one which shows, if it shows nothing
else, that Jesus was a human being, feeling fear of death in the
highest degree, and needing to calm and compose himself by prayer
before he gets arrested. All of the gospels report that he took
Peter, James, and John off to one side, and said to them:
(Mark 14:32-36;Luke 22:39-42;Matt.25:36-39)
JESUS: My soul is sorely troubled unto death; abide
here, and wait for me. (He goes further off by
JESUS (pleading): Abba, Father, all things are possible
unto you; remove this cup from me, I pray; however, not
what I want, but what You want; that I must do.
Luke inserts two verses, saying that two angels appeared to him
and strengthened him, and that he sweated blood. But that is just
as likely to have actually happened as is the earlier report that
he was seen on Mount Hermon with Moses and Elijah. Anyway, he
returns to where he left the three disciples and found them
sleeping, and rouses Peter:
(Mark 14:37-40;Luke 22:45-46;Matt.25:40-43)
JESUS: Why are you sleeping? could you not watch with
me for one hour? Well, watch now, and pray that you
do not fall into temptation; the spirit indeed is
willing, but the flesh is weak.
I wonder if the last sentence was about himself, rather than about
Peter and the other two. He went off again, and when he returned,
he found them asleep again. He went off to pray one more time,
and when he returned the third time, he was composed, and said:
JESUS: Sleep on now, and get your rest; it is
enough; the hour is come, and the son of man is
betrayed into the hands of sinners. (They wake)
Arise, let us be going, because the one that is
to betray me is coming near.
And before many seconds had passed, Judas arrived, with guards
carrying swords and staves, sent by the chief priests and elders.
Judas had told them that he would identify Jesus by a kiss.
(Mark 14:43-52;Luke 22:47-53;Matt.26:47-56)
JUDAS: (to the guards) The person that I shall kiss,
that is the one you are to take, and take him away safely.
JESUS: Judas, do you betray me with a kiss?
DISCIPLES: Master, shall we strike with our swords?
(Striking one of the guards, cutting off his ear.)
JESUS: No, no; don't do that; this must be. (He
touches the guard's ear, and it is healed.) Put up
your sword, for all those who take the sword will
perish by the sword. If this be my cup of suffering,
shall I not drink it?
JESUS (speaking to the guards): Are you come out with
swords and staves at night, to seize me, as if I were
a robber? I sat daily in the temple teaching, and
you seized me not. But this must be; take me away.
Mark and Matthew tell us that the arrest was in fulfillment of the
scriptures; but there is no place in the Old Testament where it
says that the messiah must be betrayed and killed. Then Mark tells
us, and Matthew also, that all the disciples "forsook him, and
fled." (Mark 14:50;Matt.26:56) Mark appends two verses
about a young man who had followed him, wearing only a loincloth;
and the guards grabbed him too, but he wriggled out of the cloth,
and fled away naked (Mark 14:51). Tradition says that this
was Mark himself; it is touching and moving to think so, but we
THE TRIAL BEFORE CAIAPHAS
(Mark 14:53-59;Matt.26:57-61;Luke 22:63-68)
Jesus was taken away to the home of
the chief priest, whose name, we are told, was Caiaphas. Despite
being at night, and the night of the Passover meal, when it was
forbidden to hold a trial, all of the Sanhedrin was at the chief
priest's house. Peter, we are told, followed them, and sat in the
chief priest's courtyard, warming himself by the fire. Witnesses
were brought; and testified, but none of their testimony agreed
with each other. Some of them reported that he said, Destroy this
temple, and in three days I will build another made without hands.
But Mark says that it was false testimony, and did not agree with
the testimony of any other witness. And we must agree that it was
false testimony, for we have never heard him say this, even though
we have thrice heard him say that the temple would be knocked down,
and not one stone left upon another. John's gospel does report
him as saying this on the occasion of driving the moneychangers
from the temple. So whom should we believe? Mark, who says it
was false testimony, or John, who says that he actually said it?
Then Caiaphas turned to Jesus to interrogate him:
CAIAPHAS: What do you say? How do you answer these
JESUS: (remains silent)
CAIAPHAS: Are you the messiah, that we have been told
will come one day?
JESUS: That is the charge.
All four of the gospels concur that Jesus answered the high priest
with this evasive answer, You have said that, not me; or, as above,
That is what YOU are saying. All three gospels show the influence
of Jesus' later followers when they report that he adds, And soon
you will see the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven; but
that is a quotation from the book of Daniel (Dan.7:13), and
matches nothing which Jesus has said during his career. Mark even
changes the evasive answer and quotes Jesus as saying, Yes, I am;
but that one instance cannot outweigh the fact that all of them,
Matthew, Luke, John, and Mark himself at the second trial before
Pilate, report that Jesus answered evasively. And then Caiaphas
CAIAPHAS (tearing his clothes): Blasphemy! What further
need have we of witnesses? You have all heard the blasphemy;
what shall we do with him?
SANHEDRIN: Oh! oh! He is indeed worthy of death.
And then those high-ranking and noble members of the Sanhedrin
began to spit on him, and to put a cloth over his face, and to
strike him. And the officers too slapped and beat him.
Meanwhile, in the courtyard, a little dialogue ensued between
Peter and one of the maids of the high priest:
(Mark 14:66-72;Matt.26:69-75;Luke 22:56-62)
MAID: Weren't you one of the ones with this Nazarene?
PETER (fearful): I neither know, nor do I understand
what you are saying. (The cock crows.)
MAID (to others): This man was indeed one of them.
PETER: I know not this man of whom you speak.
OTHERS: Of a truth you were with this man; for you are
PETER (swearing): I tell you, I do not know the man.
(The cock crows again.)
PETER (breaking down): Oh! oh! what have I done? The
cock has crowed twice, and I have denied my master three
times, just as he said I would. Oh! oh! (Begins to weep.)
Is this story, perhaps the best-known of all the tales about the
disciples, true or not? John tells the same story about Peter,
but says that he, the "beloved disciple", was also there in the
high priest's courtyard; but Mark says nothing about any other
disciple being present. No matter; the story is believable,
whether it is invented or not.
THE SECOND TRIAL
Luke now reports the details of the trial, but in a form
slightly different from Mark's, and following the denials by Peter
instead of preceding them. This is usually interpreted by scholars
as a second trial, before the entire Sanhedrin, and in the proper
courtyard of the temple. There is no report of the witnesses and
their lack of agreement, nor of Jesus being silent, but only the
SCRIBES AND PRIESTS: If you are the messiah, tell us.
JESUS: If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask
you, you will not answer.
Luke reports that it was here that Jesus quoted from the book
of Daniel about the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven.
ALL: Are you the son of God?
JESUS: You say that I am (or, You say that I say that).
ALL: We do not need any more witnesses, for we have all
heard it from his own mouth.
Again, this dialogue is improbable, because the Jews did not have
any theory about a "son" of God; God was unique and did not sire
any human children. Nonetheless, even this fabricated dialogue
reports Jesus as being evasive in his answer.
THE TRIAL BEFORE PILATE
Now the chief priests and scribes hustle Jesus off to appear
before Pilate. Why? The reason is often given that they had no
authority under Roman rule to inflict death, however much they may
have had the authority to hear cases and inflict other punishments
according to the Torah. Matthew inserts a report from somewhere
about how Judas tried to return the money and get Jesus released,
and when they would not accept it nor release Jesus, he went and
hanged himself. Matthew further reports that the chief priests
would not use the returned money for temple operations, but bought
a field which became known as the field of blood, and cites from
the Old Testament to explain all this (Deut.23:18;Zech.11:12-13;
Once they had Jesus before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate,
Luke reports that they accused Jesus of perverting their nation:
CHIEF PRIESTS: We found this man perverting our nation, and
saying that we should not give tribute to Caesar, and that he
is the king of the Jews, and that he has come to lead the Jews
against the Romans.
This is false accusation, since Jesus actually said, Give to Caesar
what is Caesar's; and he has never said ANYTHING about being a king,
or that he plans to lead the Jews against the Romans. But Mark
and Matthew do not report this false accusation. Then Pilate asked
Jesus if he is a king, and again Jesus gave his evasive answer:
(Mark 15:2;Matt.27:11;Luke 23:3)
PILATE: Are you the king of the Jews?
JESUS: It is you who say that.
Here all four gospels agree that this is how Jesus answered. The
gospel of John reports that Jesus added enigmatically, My kingdom
is not of this world.
PILATE (to Jesus): What is your answer to these
JESUS: (remains silent)
Mark and Matthew tell us that Pilate marvelled at Jesus' silence.
PILATE (to the chief priests): I find no fault in this
PRIESTS: He is stirring the people to rebellion ever since
he came here from Galilee.
PILATE: Is he therefore a Galilean? Send him to Herod.
Luke then reports that he sent Jesus as a prisoner to be examined
by Herod, the ruler over Galilee, who happened to be in Jerusalem.
Herod was glad to see Jesus, because he wanted to see a miracle;
but Jesus remained silent again. So Herod's soldiers mocked Jesus
and sent him back to Pilate dressed in royal garments. Pilate
again spoke to the chief priests:
PILATE: I have examined this man, and find no fault in him.
Nor did Herod, who sent him back to me. I will have him
whipped, and let him go.
At this point Mark and Matthew tell us that there was a Roman
custom of releasing a prisoner during passover, and that Pilate
(Mark 15:6-10;Matt.15-18;Luke 22:16-19)
PILATE: Shall I release unto you this man the king of the Jews?
CROWD: No, no; there is a man named Bar-Abbas in prison, who
killed people during the last insurrection. We pray you, that
you release this man Bar-Abbas, according to your custom of
releasing to us one prisoner during our holiday.
PILATE: What then should I do with this man that you say is
the king of the Jews? (To himself) I can see that these
men have delivered this man to me out of envy and persecution.
PRIESTS AND CROWD: Crucify him, let him be crucified.
PILATE: Why? what crime has he committed?
CROWD (shouting): Crucify him, crucify him!
Matthew reports that Pilate's wife had sent him a note requesting
him to free Jesus, because of a dream she had had; and that Pilate
gave in to the crowd, and washed his hands in water in front of
them, and said:
PILATE: I am innocent of the blood of this man.
and then that he sent Jesus with the soldiers to be crucified, and
released Bar-Abbas to them. But this whole scene is doubtful; it
is unlikely that the Roman governor would have let himself be
pushed around by the Jews, and the washing of hands was a Jewish
custom, not a Roman one. Nor does history show that the Romans
had such a custom of releasing a felon at Passover.
We may have noticed that Luke has a great deal of material
during the visit in Jerusalem which is not in any other gospel.
This has led some scholars to posit yet another document which
only Luke possessed, which is called Document J or the Jerusalem
document. I have shown another table at the end of this chapter
listing the passages which may have constituted this document.
JESUS IS LED TO BE CRUCIFIED
Mark and Matthew then tell us that as they led Jesus to be
crucified, they dressed him in royal garments (again!), and put a
crown of thorns upon his head, and made fun of him, saying, Hail,
thou king of the Jews! and then spit on him. Then they took off
the royal garments, and put his own clothes upon him. But this
is unlikely; the Roman soldiers would have been matter-of-fact
about it, and would not have sneered at Jesus nor called him
something they would not have believed that he could have
been, even in scorn.
But many scholars believe that this entire scene was made up
by the later Christians, with the intent of exonerating the Romans
from the charge of deicide and of putting all the blame on the Jews.
The Zealotists believe that the Romans arrested Jesus because he
had a large popular following and they thought he was planning an
insurrection against Roman rule, and therefore they executed him.
But that too is improbable; it is unlikely that Jesus could have
been organizing a rebellion and executed for it and that all the
teachings in the gospels against violence were invented by the
And finally, Jesus has said nothing in the gospels up to this
point against the Romans or about throwing them out of Palestine.
Nor has he even mentioned Rome or the Romans.
TABLE 17-2. Probable contents of Document J
|Event or teaching
2nd lamentation (If thou hadst known the things of peace)
Jesus refuses to eat or drink during the Last Supper
He that is chief must be servant of all
Satan tries to win Peter from God
The discussion about weapons
In the garden of Gethsemane
The arrest of Jesus
The second trial before the Sanhedrin
The chief priests make false accusations to Pilate
He is sent to Herod and back
3rd lamentation (Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me)
Jesus is crucified
One of the malefactors speaks
Jesus gives up the ghost