“Rabbi” vs. “Lord” from the Mouth of Judas

In the two places where Judas addresses Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, Judas calls him “Rabbi.”

  • 26:25, Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
  • 26:49-50, And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.”

This title is woefully inadequate, especially given all that Judas has heard Jesus say and seen him do. At the Last Supper scene, the other disciples called Jesus “Lord” (Matt. 26:22). But Judas didn’t use the title “Lord.” When his turn came, he said “Rabbi.”

The use of “Rabbi” shows the spiritual distance of Judas from Jesus. Is that title really the best he could do?

Jesus had driven out demons, healed paralytics, fed thousands with some bread and fish, walked on water, stilled a storm at sea, and made the blind see. After witnessing all these miracles and more, and after three years of ministry with Jesus, the word Judas decides to use is “Rabbi.”

A Miracle in the Garden of Gethsemane

On the night Jesus was arrested, Gethsemane was a place of intimidation. A sword-and-club-wielding crowd entered the garden with Judas leading the way. Then Judas gave the kiss of betrayal, cuing the arresting party to make their move.

But when they seized Jesus, things took a violent turn. Peter drew his sword and swung at the high priest’s servant Malchus, cutting off the man’s ear (Matt. 26:51; John 18:10). All Four Gospels report this physical intervention. And all four also report Jesus’ instructions to Peter: “Put away your sword.”

Only Luke’s Gospel tells us what Jesus did next for the high priest’s servant. He turned to the wounded man and “touched his ear and healed him” (Luke 22:51). A miracle, right there in the Garden of Gethsemane. A miracle, right in the middle of the armed crowd’s efforts to seize Jesus. A miracle, right there for the opposition to see and remember.

Did anyone in the crowd second-guess what they’d come to do? What was Malchus thinking after he left the garden that night?

Jesus was certainly no threat. In the face of hostility, he showed compassion when the opposite might have been expected. Surrounded by his enemies and accompanied by his wavering disciples, Jesus displayed strength and restraint, power and humility, authority and mercy.

The Words of Judas in the Gospel of Matthew

While each Gospel reports that Jesus had twelve disciples, we only know a few of the things they said. In Matthew we hear the voice of Judas four times, in 26:15; 26:25; 26:49; 27:4.

  • “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” (26:15)
  • “Is it I, Rabbi?” (26:25)
  • “Greetings, Rabbi!” (26:49)
  • “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (27:4)

Let’s observe some features of these lines from the mouth of Judas.

  1. The first two lines are questions, and the last two lines are statements.
  2. The middle two lines both use the title “Rabbi.”
  3. The middle two lines are both directed at Jesus.
  4. The first and last lines are both directed at the chief priests.
  5. Each line is associated in some way with Jesus’ betrayal.
  6. The first line results in Judas receiving thirty pieces of silver, while the last line results in Judas giving back the money.

Notice anything else?

The Disillusionment of Peter at Gethsemane: Moving from Defending Jesus to Denying Jesus

All four Gospels report Peter’s denial of Jesus. And though Peter denied that he would ever deny Jesus (Matt. 26:35), Jesus had prophesied a threefold denial before the night was over (26:34).

It was the night of Jesus’ arrest on Passion Week. The disciples were at Gethsemane with Jesus, who had been praying in close proximity to Peter, James, and John (Matt. 26:36-44). Then the betrayer, Judas, arrived to fulfill his arrangement with the religious leaders (26:14-16, 45-46). He kissed Jesus, which signaled the arresting party to make their move (26:49-50). Peter intervened, drawing his sword and slicing off a man’s ear (26:51). Then Jesus told Peter, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (26:52).

Peter didn’t want the arrest to happen. On an earlier occasion, he had protested Jesus’ teachings about suffering in Jerusalem and being killed (Matt. 16:21). At that time Peter had taken Jesus aside and rebuked him: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (16:22). And though Jesus had continued to teach about his coming suffering and death (17:22-23; 20:17-19), Peter had not accepted this as the Messiah’s work.

Peter believed a commonly-held view about the Messiah, that at his coming the Promised One would overthrow the political powers, liberate God’s people, establish the kingdom of God, vindicate the righteous, and pour out justice on God’s enemies. The idea of God’s Messiah having to suffer and die challenged this prevailing view. The Son of David would come to rule and reign, not die, right?

Back to Gethsemane. The thing Peter did not want to happen was happening before his very eyes. Authorities had seized his Messiah. God’s Promised One was being taken into custody. So Peter rushed to defend him. What a display of boldness and courage–and misunderstanding.

The scene became a moment of disillusionment for Peter, because Jesus looked at him and said, “Put your sword back into its place” (Matt. 26:52a). Jesus stopped Peter from stopping the arrest. The arrest must happen, that Scripture be fulfilled (26:54, 56). Peter had not yet embraced the role Jesus had come to embody: a Messiah who would reign and establish God’s kingdom but who must first suffer and die. “Put your sword back into its place” was a command that must have jarred the disciple. Jesus really planned to go through suffering and death! The Christ, whom Peter had followed for years and believed to be the Son of God, was seized as the disciples looked on.

This was a crucial moment in Peter’s life. His sword-swinging instinct may have shown boldness and resolve, but before the night was over, Peter would say of Jesus, “I do not know the man” (Matt. 26:72). He would deny Jesus not once, not twice, but three times (26:70, 72, 74), just as Jesus had said (26:34).

Jesus didn’t seem to be the Messiah whom Peter expected. Arrest didn’t look like triumph. Being taken into custody didn’t look like God’s kingdom coming. What a moment of disillusionment for Peter! If we see Peter’s boldness at Gethsemane and his cowardice at the high priest’s courtyard and then ask, What changed? What made him go from defending Jesus to denying Jesus? The narrative may give us the turning point in Matthew 26:52, when Jesus said, “Put your sword back into its place.”

Does Matthew 26:52 Teach Pacifism?

peter swinging his sword in gethsemaneWhen the arresting party seized Jesus at Gethsemane, Peter drew his sword. In close proximity was the high priest’s servant, Malchus, who lost an ear as Peter swung it (Matt. 26:51; John 18:10).

Jesus responded immediately: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). Jesus issued a command and grounded it in proverbial wisdom.

First, the command. Jesus told Peter to sheathe the sword (Matt. 26:52a). Peter was going to defend Jesus, who had just been seized by the armed crowd (26:47, 50b), but Jesus stopped this intervention. Jesus emphasized the fulfillment of Scripture (26:54): the arrest must continue so that the Suffering Servant could be led like a lamb to slaughter.

Second, the proverbial wisdom. After commanding Peter, Jesus said, “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52b). Like other examples of proverbial wisdom, this is a general truth. Those who sow violence may reap violence. Those who respond with physical force may be overcome by physical force themselves. There are exceptions to this proverbial wisdom, of course, since not everyone who takes the sword will necessarily die by the sword. Yet Jesus’ words serve as a fitting warning in a fallen world.

Now the question: does Matthew 26:52 teach pacifism for believers? I say no. To insist that the verse teaches pacifism would be to absolutize what is a contextually-governed command. Jesus is speaking to Peter, not to all believers. Telling Peter to “put your sword back into its place” doesn’t, by implication, mean every believer must do the same. In fact, he told his disciples earlier to sell their cloaks and buy swords if they didn’t have one (Luke 22:36).

Consider, too, the circumstances, which also shed light on the command. Peter was trying to stop the arrest. Every passing moment was a moment closer to Jesus’ death on the cross, and nothing must thwart the proceedings. Peter surely meant well, for he courageously stepped in to defend his Messiah, yet Jesus had already taught his disciples what “must” happen. Jesus must suffer many things from the religious leaders (Matt. 16:21), he would be delivered into the hands of men (17:22), and he would be condemned to death (20:18). So in a specific set of circumstances, and to one disciple rather than to all believers, Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place” (26:52a).

I don’t believe Matthew 26:52 negates a believer’s actions to defend the helpless, protect the innocent, and intervene with physical force when it would be wise and just to do so. Such opportunities, and the arguments for them, are beyond the scope of this post. Nevertheless, to use Matthew 26:52 in support of pacifism is to burden the command with weight it cannot bear.

One of the Twelve and the Betrayer: Qualifying Judas in the Gospel of Matthew

In Matthew’s account of the Gethsemane scene involving Judas and Jesus, the narrator says, “While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people” (Matt. 26:47).

One of the twelve. Let that sink in. Matthew doesn’t think the reader has forgotten that Judas was from that band of brothers. He highlights this point because it is so outrageous that one of Jesus’ own disciples would betray him. The betrayer was one of the twelve!

In the Gospel of Matthew, whenever the name Judas is used, there is a qualifier which focuses either on Judas being the betrayer or being numbered with the twelve disciples.

  • 10:4, “…and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him
  • 26:14, “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot”
  • 26:25, “Judas, who would betray him, answered…”
  • 26:47, “While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve…”
  • 27:3, “Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned…”

To summarize, in the Gospel of Matthew (1) Judas’ name appears five times, (2) every mention of Judas’ name also has a qualifier, (3) this qualifier focuses either on his status as the betrayer or as one of the twelve disciples, and (4) the qualifiers appear in an alternating sequence (in 10:4 he’s the betrayer, in 26:14 one of the twelve, in 26:25 the betrayer, in 26:47 one of the twelve, and in 27:3 the betrayer).

Judas would forever be linked to that treacherous deed. And in order for us to truly see the outrage of Judas’ betrayal, the narrator reminds us he was one of the twelve.

“Friend, Do What You Came to Do”: Jesus In Control at Gethsemane

judas betraying jesus with a kissOne foot in front of the other, the betrayer walked up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi” (Matt. 26:49), and kissed him. This mark of friendship and affection was the prearranged signal for the arresting party to seize Jesus (26:48).

In the literal and spiritual darkness of Gethsemane, Jesus looked at Judas and said, “Friend, do what you came to do” (Matt. 26:50). Only then did the armed crowd seize Jesus (26:47, 50). Only then.

When Peter tried to stop the arrest, Jesus told him to put away his sword (Matt. 26:52). Jesus claimed legions of angels were at the Father’s disposal (26:53), so he was not helpless in the Garden of Gethsemane. The arresting crowd was large, Judas was betraying him, and the disciples would soon flee, but despite the intimidating circumstances, Jesus was not helpless. A vast angelic host could intervene at his appeal.

Jesus was the one in control at Gethsemane, not Judas or the armed crowd or the disciples. He told his betrayer, “Friend, do what you came to do” (Matt. 26:50), as if to show that the subsequent arrest happened because he directed it to take place! No matter how clever and sinister the conspiracy against him was, the hour of his suffering and death would not arrive earlier than the timetable established before the foundation of the world.

Now the hour of suffering and death was near. Jesus had resolved to drink the cup, and the betrayer had arrived at the appointed place. The crowd had their swords and clubs, but they were not in charge. At Gethsemane, Jesus said, “Friend, do what you came to do,” because he was no helpless victim. He was in total control.

“Rise, Let Us Be Going”: The Resolve of Jesus at Gethsemane

Three times at Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to the Father (Matt. 26:39, 42, 44). He struggled against temptation and prayed for the Father’s will to be done (26:39, 42).

Jesus’ resolve is evident when he returns to the disciples and says, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand” (Matt. 26:45-46).

Jesus did not rise to flee. “Let us be going” did not mean “let us escape.” The command meant he would meet the encroaching arresting party. Jesus knew the betrayer was coming, yet he rose anyway. Jesus knew his “hour” was at hand, yet he went anyway. After his prayers to the Father, the resolve of Jesus was clear. The words “Rise, let us be going” showed that Jesus was ready to drink the cup.

In order for him to die on a cross, he must first be sentenced. To be sentenced, he must be tried. To be tried, he must be arrested. And to be arrested, he must be betrayed. Jesus said, “Rise, let us be going,” because the moment of betrayal had come, a moment ordained from the foundation of the world, a moment that would lead to the cross and to the cup.

The Glory of the Transfiguration and the Agony at Gethsemane

Scholars have noted important connections between the episode of the transfiguration (in Matthew 17) and the episode at Gethsemane (in Matthew 26). There are at least seven points of contact.

  1. Both events are associated with a mountain. In Matthew 17 the mountain is unnamed (17:1), while in Matthew 26 the mountain is the Mount of Olives (26:30).
  2. Both events involve Jesus taking the same three disciples. In 17:1, he took Peter, James, and John. And in 26:37, he separated the same three from the other disciples.
  3. At the transfiguration we hear the words of the Father (17:5), while at Gethsemane we hear the words of the Son (26:39, 42).
  4. At the transfiguration, the disciples fell on their faces (17:6). At Gethsemane, Jesus fell on his face (26:39).
  5. At the transfiguration, the disciples were awake and alert to all that took place (17:4, 6, 8). At Gethsemane, Jesus repeatedly found them sleeping (26:40, 43, 45).
  6. The transfiguration displayed the divine glory of Jesus (17:2). The episode at Gethsemane displayed the overwhelming sorrow of Jesus (26:37-38).
  7. After the transfiguration, Jesus says the Son of Man would suffer at the hands of others (17:12). At Gethsemane, Jesus was delivered into the hands of others (26:45-46, 49-50).

Weak Flesh and the Need for Prayer

The episode of Jesus at Gethsemane teaches us, among other things, about prayer.

First, Jesus, the one and only Son of God, prayed. And if Jesus prayed, why should we not? If Jesus prioritized prayer, should we not view the practice with supreme importance and devotion and perseverance? If prayer mattered to Jesus, let it matter to us.

Second, Jesus embodied his own teachings on prayer. There are multiple allusions to his teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount. For example:

  • “My Father” (Matt. 26:39, 42; see 6:9)
  • “as you will…your will be done” (26:39, 42; see 6:10)
  • “that you may not enter into temptation” (26:41; see 6:13)

We learn here that Jesus doesn’t just teach his disciples what to pray. The teaching for his disciples was the example he himself modeled.

Third, there are times we’re not praying when we should be praying. Jesus had asked the disciples at Gethsemane to “remain here, and watch with me” (Matt. 26:38), and this watchfulness probably involved a call to prayer because of 26:41: “Watch and pray.” Yet when Jesus returned to Peter, James, and John, he found them sleeping (26:40, 43). Earlier Jesus had told the disciples they would fall away “this night” (26:31), and yet disciples slept instead of prayed. Jesus had told Peter “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (26:34), yet Peter slept instead of prayed.

Fourth, we need to pray because we are weak. We’re not as strong as we think we are. The disciples had already declared their intentions: Peter insisted he wouldn’t fall away or deny Jesus (Matt. 26:33, 35a), and all the disciples claimed the same (26:35b). They had willing spirits, but good intentions don’t sustain devotion to Christ. Jesus said, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (26:41). Prayer comes from a recognized position of weakness not strength. Prayer says, “I am weak and tempted, but God is faithful and able to deliver.” Jesus and the disciples were heading into temptation, but only Jesus prayed.

Fifth, we need to pray because God’s will matters most. We have desires, and God invites us to ask and intercede and plead, but prayer also involves the practice of submitting our desires to God. Think about these words: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will….My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matt. 26:39, 42). True prayer is not an exercise in manipulating God to accomplish our will on earth.

“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.”
Matthew 6:9-13