Friday, June 8, 2012

Denial, Betrayal, Arrest, and Covenant - Luke 22 – Jesus' Final Week part 4

(Click here to read Luke 22)

Luke 22:19-23 (ESV)
 19  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21  But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.

Betrayal hangs heavy in the air at the Last Supper. On this night, Jesus has been betrayed by one of his inner circle, and one of his very closest friends will deny even knowing him. He shares the table with both of them tonight.

Tonight, he will be arrested. He will be tried at morning as a heretic and an insurrectionist, both crimes punishable by death.

For a few days, Jesus has confined his activities to the public courtyard of the temple, surrounded by crowds of his followers. He had entered the city less than a week before, to the praise of the people as they called him Messiah, the Chosen one, while he was riding a donkey. He and the crowds went from the gate to the temple, where Jesus overturned and overtook the courtyard from the corrupt moneychangers and businesses that were taking advantage of faithful pilgrims (Luke 19).

(Click here to see notes on Jesus' dramatic entrance to the city)

At night, he went alone to the Mount of Olives, arriving back at the temple early in the morning to join the camp of misfits and teach about the Kingdom of God (Luke 20-21). The authorities have increased surveillance and pressure, hoping to trap him into saying something violent or revolutionary so they could have him removed by Rome (Luke 19:47-48, 20:21, 26, 22:2).

Luke 22:1-2 (ESV)
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.
They couldn't remove Jesus legitimately, and the critical mass of supporters surrounding him would have been witness if they tried. If they were going to hang onto their corrupt control, they would have to act clandestinely.

Luke 22:3-6 (ESV)
Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

Evidence suggests that Jesus knew of Judas' betrayal. Certainly he knew that his teaching and his life were to lead to his death. He predicted his death twice in chapter 9 (vv22 and 44), and once right before entering the city (Luke 18:32-33), saying explicitly that he would die at the hands of the Roman empire.

Betrayal, Denial, and Loss

When he has his two closest disciples leave the courtyard to prepare the Passover for them to share together, he does so with great care and secrecy (vv7-13). It seems like he has been making plans in secret to leave the temple courts and share this last significant meal with his disciples. By keeping it a secret, he also kept it from Judas. The Last Supper was a surprise party for his disciples, but one with great sober intention.

Jesus knew he was in danger, and his secrecy suggests he knew he was in danger by his close friend. His hours were numbered. His words at this event were going to be some of the most important he would ever speak to his disciples. He made sure they would not be disturbed, at least long enough to share this final meal.

In Luke 15 (see notes), Jesus told the story of a Father betrayed by his son. Such a loss is far more complicated than even a death. In his story, this father willingly received his wretched son back, forgiving him entirely for what he'd done.

Jesus knew the bitterness of betrayal. He felt the napalm burn of being attacked and abandoned utterly by one for whom he gave his ministry. Judas was a friend. Jesus had crowds around him, but only twelve that he shared with as he shared with Judas. Thousands would have probably loved to have the access that Judas had. And Judas was not always a traitor. Luke 6 says that Jesus picked his closest twelve after a night in prayer, and describes Judas the one who would “become a traitor” (6:12-13,16).

After sharing the Passover meal with his disciples, he prophesies to Peter, one of his closest, that the rooster would not crow for morning until Peter had denied him three times (vv31-34). Later, after his arrest, his friend is recognized in the courtyard where he is held prisoner. Peter had an accent, as Jesus would also have had, that set him apart as being from the multi-ethnic and low-income neighbourhood of Galilee. Peter is recognized in the dark by his accent, three times by other strangers waiting by the fire. He adamantly denies ever knowing his closest and dearest friend (vv54-62).

Trials could only legally happen during the hours of daylight. When the rooster crows, Jesus is led out of the house for his trial, and locks eyes with his comrade. Peter remembers what Jesus had said at Supper, and his heart breaks. Verse 62 says he wept bitterly.

Betrayal and denial are bitter. Jesus had said to his disciples that to follow him would mean to deny themselves.

Luke 9:23-26 (ESV)
 23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

On this night, to avoid a cross, Peter denies his Lord, and leaves him to die alone.

Luke 22:61-62 (ESV)
 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.
Jesus has traveled with these twelve from Galilee to Jerusalem, preaching of the Kingdom of God. He has repeatedly described this Kingdom as an upside-down one, a Kingdom completely contrary to the values of the empire. He says that the message of the empire is good news to the poor (Luke 4), and that in it the first will be last, and the last, first.
It is these men who were closest to Jesus during that journey, who now respond to news of his suffering and betrayal with an argument over which of them would be greatest. This is not the first time they've had this argument. The first time this argument is recorded in Luke was right at the very beginning of their calling with Jesus, also right after he told them he was to die.

Luke 9:46-48 (ESV)
46  An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among all of you is the one who is great.”

On the night he is to be betrayed and arrested, Jesus patiently describes the radical nature of this different Kingdom to the people who should have understood it best.

Later that night, as Jesus asks for their comforting company and prayer during deep agony (v44), these men will prefer to sleep (vv45-46). What could possibly encourage Jesus to continue his path to execution, when it seems his message of a different Kingdom has been so badly misunderstood or forgotten?

The Last Supper

Luke 22:14-16 (ESV)
 14  And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

This Supper with his disciples and what it represents is what makes the difference between Jesus' message of a Kingdom as a utopian idea, and the Kingdom of God as a present reality.

The meal they shared was the Passover. In this holy annual meal, the Jewish people remember their slavery in Egypt, from which they were dramatically rescued by God through Moses. God judged their oppressors with ten plagues that utterly destroyed their empire, and made a mockery of their idols. On their last night in Egypt, the Israelite families followed Moses' instructions to kill a lamb for their meal that night, and brush the blood of the lamb on the doors of their houses. They were to eat the lamb with bread made without yeast. That night, when the angel of the Lord came to kill the firstborn sons of Egypt, it would pass over the doors with blood, and they would be spared. By this judgment, Egypt relented when they would not from any other plague. Israel was released from slavery.

From Egypt, the new nation of Israel traveled to a mountain where they received the law, the covenant terms they would follow that showed they were God's people. In the covenant, God required a dedication of all the firstborn sons of Israel, saying that by the Passover, he had rescued them and therefore made them his own. Israelites would kill a lamb when they broke the laws of the covenant, and the blood of the innocent animal would pay for their sin.

But Jesus presented the Passover differently.

Luke 22:17-20 (ESV)
 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18  For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Jesus was offering a New Covenant. This Covenant would not be bought by the blood of lambs, or the strict adherence to a moral law. Jesus was offering himself as the innocent lamb. His life, lived entirely as the law code required, was given for the payment of any law broken by his disciples.

He sat at a table with those that would betray him to death, that would abandon him to grief, that would deny him in shame. And before any of it is to occur, he forgives it all completely. His death wasn't a strategy for overturning Rome. It wasn't a great example for his disciples to follow, though by living life according to his teaching, they would. His death was a gift, a gift of freedom from the Old Covenant. He fulfilled it entirely. It was done.

And so, this was a new Passover. Judgment for their wrongdoing, misunderstandings, or downright treachery, even that very evening, could be completely forgiven. All Jesus had been preaching about the Kingdom of God up until this day could be made possible because of the holy and righteous hearts he could now give to all those who would receive it.

And he offered, not because it was deserved, or earned, or even asked for. He gave it because of love.

The Kingdom of God in the hearts of these and the rest of his disciples would turn the empire upside down. It would turn religion upside down. People as wholly freed as they would be, free to live without fear of judgment or punishment or even death, were people who really could and would live according to the Justice and generosity that Jesus had taught.

And these would be lives set free from all bondage, as Israel had been set free from Egypt. These were lives purchased, every one, by the King of kings. There is no higher judge to call them guilty when this one calls them innocent. There is no other King that could demand honour when this one receives the highest honour.

These are lives freely able to receive the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God inside of them, the living seed of the Kingdom of God that changes the world from the grave to the sky.

Jesus' Arrest

Before leaving the upper room, Jesus told the disciples to be prepared to live their lives of freedom and resistance. He assures them that what is about to happen, his arrest and execution as an insurrectionist, must occur according to God's plan. He tells them that it will be the fulfillment of scripture (vv35-38). Though they may not understand, this surely would have been a comfort later.

He takes them to the Mount of Olives, where he had spent his nights during the last week of occupation and teaching at the temple (see notes). He prays with such anguish that he sweats blood. He asks God to let the cup pass from him, but also says he will submit to his will (v42).

Here it says that an angel came to strengthen him (v43). In the other synoptic gospels, this happens during Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, but not here (Matthew 4:11, Mark 1:15). Luke does not record angels ministering to him at his temptation. Only in Luke does it record this event happening here. This may have been the Last Temptation, “the opportune” time recorded in Luke 4:13.

Jesus is arrested in the middle of the night, at the Mount of Olives, by a crowd led by his friend, Judas. A disciple strikes a man with a sword in retaliation. Jesus tells him to stop, and heals the man immediately after (vv49-51). The purpose of his death and the message of the Kingdom of God could not be confused by violent rebellion. Jesus confronts the tactics of the aggressors come to arrest him by pointing that they had to arrest him at night when he was alone, by deception and conspiracy. They were not willing to arrest him in front of the people who were with him in the courtyard of the temple. This was corruption. They knew it, and so did he, and he called it what it was (vv52-53). He similarly pointed out Judas' betrayal when he arrived (vv47-48).

Luke 12:3-4 (ESV)
Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

Jesus is taken away to a secure location until he can be legally tried in the daylight. He is mocked, beaten, and abused. At first light, he is finally asked a question in a mockery of justice that sought to have him incriminate himself.

To the most pointed question of whether he was the Son of God, he answered more clearly than he ever had before this point by his own confession.

He told the counsel he was the Son of God.

This was enough for him to be worthy of death by the law of Moses. The verdict in this court was clear. But under Roman occupation, no one could pronounce or carry out a death sentence without a conviction by Rome. For this, they would have to prove he was a revolutionary.

This they were prepared to do.

But what was heresy to the counsel was Good News for the Kingdom of God. It was exactly this event that would inaugurate the planting of the Kingdom in the hearts of all those who would receive it. And it was this reason, that Jesus is divine, that the Holy Spirit could be offered as a gift to everyone who would receive the power of God inside them to live as Citizens of the Upside Down Kingdom of Heaven.

Luke 22:63-71 (ESV)
63  Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. 64  They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” 65 And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him.

66  When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, 67  “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, 68 and if I ask you, you will not answer. 69 But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” 70 So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” 71 Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”


vv23-24 – These two verses together seem almost absurd. Jesus just said that someone would betray him and his blood would be poured out. They change subjects to wondering which of them is best without a breath.
v52 – Jesus was NOT leading a rebellion – implied
v70 – Jesus claims to be the Son of God.

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