Passion Part 2: Mark 14:32-72

Two Out of Three Trials

If you were put on trial as a Christian, would you be condemned or acquitted? Why?

At the Last Supper, there was a tension that was established between the self-giving of Jesus and the betrayal/abandonment of his followers. That tension was heightened in three trials that the Lord faced: a trial of character before his Father, a trial before his countrymen (symbolized by the Sanhedrin) and a trial before the nations (symbolized the Roman governor Pontius Pilate). This study will cover the first two trials and the subsequent estrangement between the Master and his followers.

The Garden of Gethsemane

32 They went to a place which (had) the name “Gethsemane” and (HE) said to HIS disciples, “Sit here as I pray.” 33 (HE) took Peter, James and John with HIM and (HE) began to be overwhelmed and distressed. 34 (HE) said to them, “MY soul is full of grief, even to death. Stay here and keep watch.” 35 Going out a little ways, (HE) fell upon the ground and prayed so that if it were possible the hour might pass HIM by. 36 (HE) said, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup away from ME. But, not as I will, but what you (will).” 37 HE went out and found them sleeping, and (HE) said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Are you not strong enough to keep watch for one hour? 38 Keep watch and pray so you should not come into temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.” 39 Again, going out to pray, HE said the same words. 40 Again, coming, h(HE) found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy, and they did not know what to answer HIM. 41 (HE came a third time and said to them, “Are you now sleeping and being at ease? Enough! The hour has come. Look! The SON OF MAN is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up; let’s go. Look! The (one) betraying me is near.”

14:34 “MY soul is full of grief, even to death.” This reflects the Greek translation of Jonah 4:9, in the Septuagint, “I am exceedingly sorrowful, unto death.”

“Stay here and keep watch” Jesus seemed to be so overwhelmed, he wanted the three disciples to stand guard so he could pray.

14:37 “Are you not strong enough to keep watch for one hour?” Keeping a watch (standing guard) lasted either three hours (Roman tradition) or four hours (Greek tradition). Peter was so weak, he could not even keep watch for an hour. This was not only a comment on his physical endurance, but on his character.

14:38 “The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.” This statement does not oppose the dual nature of human nature (spiritual vs. corporeal); instead it opposes attitudes from these two aspects of the human condition. Enthusiasm to do the right thing (spiritual) can sometimes conflict with human laziness (corporeal). The measure of character is placing these conflicting urges into their proper priority.

14:41 “Enough! The hour has come.” The word translated “enough” is obscure, as it indirectly modifies the verb “has come.” We assume the noun “hour” referred to Jesus’ time of suffering, but some scholars have identified the word “enough” with economics. In other words, “enough” meant a bill was paid in full (the normal meaning in popular Greek). If this is the case, then the phrase did not refer to Jesus but to Judas; the phrase could be translated, “The money has been paid! The hour of fulfilling the deal has come.” This, of course, is a minority view among scholars.

I heard a recent homily that paralleled the scene in Gethsemane with the Transfiguration. At both, Jesus prayed in the company of his three closest disciples: Peter, James and John. However, one portrayed agony, while the other portrayed glory. In the garden, Jesus suffered inner torment over his destiny. At the heart of his distress lie the figurative cup he would drink from. Mark 14:36 echoed the challenge Jesus made to John and James in the question of Kingdom leadership: “Are you able to drink the cup which I drink or to be baptized in the baptism which I am baptized?" This was a cup of suffering that carried the theme from the Last Supper; entry into the Kingdom would come through a blood offering that recreated a covenant between YHWH and his people.

Compare the distress of Jesus with the slumber of his followers. In a strange way, the temptation Jesus faced was the same lurked before the followers. Faithfulness would be put to the test. As much as Jesus saw human fragility in himself (“Take this cup from me”), he saw it in his followers (“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”).

The prayer and chiding of the disciples repeated three times. Then it was the time of action. The prayer was over. The slumber ceased. The betrayer was at hand. Soon, Jesus would be abandoned.

Arrest of Jesus

43 While HE was still speaking, immediately, Judas, one of the Twelve, and the mob from the chief priests and scribes and (Council) elders accompanying him, arrived, (armed) with swords and clubs. 44 The (one) betraying HIM had given them a (pre-planned) signal, saying, “WHOEVER I should kiss, HE is (the man), seize HIM and take HIM away securely.” 45 Arriving, he immediately came up to HIM and said, “Rabbi,” and kissed HIM. 46 They grabbed HIS hands and arrested HIM. 47 Someone standing nearby drew (his) sword, struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 Having answered, JESUS said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to seize me as against a bandit? 49 Every day, I was before you in the Temple teaching and (you) did not seize me. But (this is way it is) in order that the Scriptures should be fulfilled.” 50 Leaving HIM, (they) all ran away. 51 A certain young man followed HIM, wearing only a fine linen cloth, and they seized him, 52 but leaving the fine linen cloth, he ran away naked.

14:44 “Whomever I should kiss, he is the man.” The kiss is a sign of greeting and brotherly intimacy. The signal was ironic, to say the least.

14:46 “...cut off his ear.” The act of cutting off an ear was meant as intimidation, not as a direct threat to one’s life. A missing ear would be a sign of shame.

14:51 “wearing only a fine linen cloth” The fine linen cloth was a tunic. The word “only” is literally “on (his) nakedness.”

The arrest of Jesus was the tipping point for the betrayal/abandonment of his disciples. Judas arrived with the “mob” of the elite (more likely with Temple guards in tow) and kissed Jesus as a sign for action. In the scuffle, the servant of the high priest (his representative?) had his ear cut off. Jesus objected with an insinuation that the arresting party made their move under the cover of darkness as an act of cowardice. At this point, the Master was abandoned; Mark 14:51-52 symbolized the shame of the disciples in the young follower (clothed in fine linen that could represent a baptismal garment) who left the Lord (with the linen stripped away from the man), only to be flee naked.

Jesus passed the trial of character before the Father, his followers did not, to their shame.

Trial before the Sanhedrin

53 (They) took JESUS away to high priest and all the chief priests and elders and scribes gathered together. 54 Peter followed HIM from a distance until (he arrived) inside the courtyard of the high priest and (he) was sitting with the servants, warming (himself) by the fire. 55 The chief priests and entire Sanhedrin sought (damning) testimony against JESUS to condemn HIM to death, but (they) did not find (any). 56 For, many offered false evidence against HIM and (their) testimonies were not in agreement. 57 Standing up, some offered false testimony against HIM, saying, 58 “We heard HIM saying, ‘I will destroy this hand-built Temple and build another not made by hands in three days.’” 59 Even then, their testimony was not in agreement. 60 Standing up in (their) midst, the high priest asked JESUS, saying, “Do (YOU) not answer these (damning charges) which (they) are testifying against you?” 61 (HE) was silent and did not answer (him). The high priest questioned HIM again and said to HIM, “Are YOU the Christ, the son of the Blessed (One)?” 62 JESUS said, “I AM, and you will see ‘SON OF MAN sitting at the right hand of the Almighty’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’” 63 The high priest, tearing his tunic, said, “Why do we have a need for witnesses? 64 You heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” All judged HIM (guilty) being subject to death. 65 Some began to spit on HIM and to cover HIS face (with a blindfold) and to punch HIM (with their fists) and to say to HIM, “Prophesy.” The guards took control of HIM with slaps.

14:60 “Do (YOU) not answer these (damning statements) which (they) are testifying against you?” This question in Greek actually had two negatives. Literally, it is “Do you not answer nothing (about) these (charges) which they are testifying against you?” While, at first glance, these make no sense in English, the double negative added emphasis to the question (the reason to add “damning charges”). In addition, the verb “asked” in the phrase “the high priest asked Jesus” could also be translated “demand.” In other words, the high priest demanded an answer from Jesus to the charges made against him.

14:62 “SON OF MAN sitting at the right hand of the Almighty” is an allusion to Psalm 110:1: YHWH says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool for your feet.” (World English Bible)

“...coming with the clouds of heaven.” is a reference to Daniel 7:13:

I saw in the night visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.” (World English Bible)

The preposition “with” is in the original Hebrew, while the Greek Septuagint translation has the preposition “on.” “...with the clouds” implied arrival (the “clouds” were symbolic of the divine presence, so the Son of Man would arrive with YHWH for the final judgement); “...on the clouds” implied heavenly transportation.

14:64 “The guards took control of HIM with slaps.” In context, 15:64a (“some began to spit on HIM...”) was the disdain of the Sanhedrin, since the pronoun “some” is indeterminate; members of the Sanhedrin itself could have insulted Jesus. The violence continued as Jesus was turned over to the guard in 15:64b.

The trial before the Sanhedrin was the second in the series of tests Jesus endured. This time, Jesus was to reveal himself to the religious leadership of the Jewish nation (and, by extension, to the people). Of course, the meeting was a kangaroo court; the testimony was prearranged and the verdict was preordained. The coordination of the charges and testimony was messy, but that didn’t stop the high priest from finally asking the key question: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Only in Mark’s gospel did Jesus answer in the affirmative, “I AM.” He finished with the prophecy shared by Matthew and Luke: “Soon you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Almighty’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’” The combination of the answer and the prophecy confirmed the identity of Jesus within the context of the end times. He declared the present Sanhedrin would see the coming wrath of YHWH. If we add to this the testimony of 14:57 (“I will destroy this hand-built Temple and build another not made by hands in three days.”) we can clearly see the Lord painted the trial in apocalyptic terms; his rejection by the leadership would help usher in the Tribulation (with its spectacular signs) and those leaders would stand on the wrong side. Why? Simply because the high priest and his minions could only see in power politics with the Romans; in doing so, they failed the people because of their shortsightedness. They could not imagine Jesus addressed the end times in the personal and existential condition of death itself.

By consensus, Jesus was condemned and abused, only to be presented to Pilate for the final condemnation.

Peter Denies Jesus

66 When Peter was down in the courtyard, one of the high priest’s female servants appeared. 67 See Peter warming (himself), she (intentionally) looked at him and said (to him), “You are also with JESUS the Nazarene.” 68 He denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are saying.” He went out into passageway (of the courtyard) [and a rooster crowed]. 69 Seeing him, the female servant again began to say to the bystanders, “This (person) is from them.” 70 Again, he denied (it). After a moment, the bystanders again said to Peter, “Surely you are from them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 He began to swear and to invoke an oath, “I do not know that man (of) whom you speak.” 72 Immediately, a rooster crowed a second time. Peter remembered the statement that Jesus said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” He broke down and wept (bitterly).

14:68 “I neither know nor understand what you are saying.” Use of the two verbs “know” and “understand” makes this statement emphatic, since there is little difference between the verbs in this sentence.

14:71 “He began to swear and to invoke an oath.” Profanity is not involved in this phrase. Instead, Peter expressed a protest like “May I be accursed if...” (See 1 Samuel 20:13, 2 Samuel 3:9 and Acts 23:12 for examples.)

In Mark’s gospel, the denial of Peter acted as a transition between the Sanhedrin trial and the trial before Pilate; it also fulfilled the prophecy of Jesus about Peter. The blowhard head of the disciples was actually a curious coward. Jesus warned him in the Garden three times to stay awake (and aware of temptation), yet he continued to sleep. Now, he denied the any knowledge of the Master three times. Mark used the parallel of triples to show the slide of the boastful Peter from slothful bystander to liar trying to escape his identity as a disciple. The evangelist (indeed, all of the gospel writers) used someone at the bottom of society (a servant girl) to initiate the questioning and heighten the shame of Peter. The speed of his slide only added to his shame, but ultimately, to his repentance.

Do you identify with Peter? How?

Two trials, one of character, one of acceptance. Jesus won the first, then, according to the will of the Father, was condemned at the second. But Jesus was not the only one on trial. The followers were and they failed. The people were and they were betrayed by the leaders. The ministry and popularity of the Christ fell apart. Next would come the judgment of the world, symbolized by Pontius Pilate.

Have you been judged recently? How has that critique affected you?