from WL Worcester (H Blackmer, ed.), 
The Sower.  Helps to the Study of the Bible in Home and Sunday School
(Boston: Massachusetts New-Church Union, n.d.)

Table of Contents


Lesson 36

Matthew 26:36-75:  The Night of the Trial

The Story


In our last story we were with the Lord and the disciples in the large upper room in Jerusalem, where He kept the Last Supper with them. Now we go with them as they leave the room and pass through the street and out by the city gate. They went down the hill from the city and across the brook Kidron in the bottom of the valley, to the garden of Gethsemane on the lower slope of the Mount of Olives. It was near midnight but the Passover moon was shining. Gethsemane means "oil-press," and there were no doubt olive trees there, perhaps like gnarled old trees that now grow at the place. The Lord told the disciples to sit down. Three of them, Peter, James, and John, He took a little further with Him and then left them to watch while He went still further alone. The Lord was in great trial, and prayed three times so earnestly that His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Meantime the disciples fell asleep. After the prayer the Lord was strong.

Just then came Judas with a company of men from the chief priests and elders to take the Lord. You remember how the Lord had said at the table of the Last Supper that Judas would betray Him, and he had gone out into the night. He went to the priests and they gave him this band of men. He came and kissed the Lord, for this was the sign to show them which was the Lord. The disciples were frightened. Peter at first drew his sword; then all the disciples forsook the Lord and fled.

Then the men who had taken the Lord led Him up into the city, and soon into the palace of Caiaphas, the high priest. The palace was no doubt built around an open court, and the Lord was probably taken into one of the rooms opening from the court and raised above it by a few steps. He stood there guarded by soldiers while the priests came hastily together and took their places on the seat around the room. They hated the Lord; some of them were angry because He had driven the traders from the temple who paid them much money and made them rich. They were determined that the Lord should be put to death. They could not do it themselves; it must be done by the Roman governor. That night in the high priest's palace they were trying to find some excuse which they could take to Pilate, the governor, and persuade him to do what they wished.

When the Lord was taken at the garden of Gethsemane all the disciples had fled; but two of them followed afar off, John and Peter, and Peter was now in the courtyard of the palace with the servants around a little fire warming himself, for the night was cold. The Lord had told Peter that he would three times deny Him, and this very night at three different times, one and another spoke to Peter as one of the Lord's disciples, and Peter three times said that he did not know Him. Now the cock crew; it was a sign of the early morning; the Lord had also said to Peter, "The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied Me thrice." Then Peter was very sorry and he went out and wept bitterly. Afterward Peter had many chances to show that he loved the Lord, and he was one of the bravest of the Lord's disciples. Let me read you a part of the story looking back a few verses into our last lesson. (Matthew 26: 30-50; 69-75)


Our lesson gives us two scenes, the first in the garden of Gethsemane, and the second in the high priest's palace. You will be interested to open to the four Gospels and learn all the particulars that they give us. (Matthew 26: 36- 75; Mark 14:32-72; Luke 22:39-62 John 18:1-27)

The Lord's going beyond the disciples into the garden suggests how little they were able to understand and enter with Him into His trial; it is further suggested by their falling asleep when He asked them to watch with Him, even the three who knew and loved Him best. We see how severe the Lord's trial was by His being exceeding sorrowful and by the earnestness of His prayer. He knew all that was coming, and He knew that He must feel only Divine love for those who would take Him and condemn and crucify Him. The trial was deeper and more severe than we can understand.

You know that the Lord gained a victory in the trial when you see how calm and strong He was when Judas and his men came presently to take Him; even they felt the majesty of His presence as they went backward and fell to the ground. Peter drew his sword and struck a servant of the high priest. The Lord did not need to be protected by violence. Violence with anger or resentment in it, does the most harm to the one who indulges it. The Lord was gaining and making it possible for men to gain a much greater victory through the power of forgiveness and love. A legion was a division of the Roman army, when full containing about six thousand men. The word came to mean any very great number of people. "Presently" means "immediately." As you read how the disciples all left the Lord and fled, look back at the Lord's prediction in verse 31.

Now we follow from the garden of Gethsemane up into the city. The Lord was taken first to the palace of Annas. He was a man of very great influence among the priests. He had himself been high priest and was father-in-law of Caiaphas who now held the office. Annas was one of those who profited most by allowing the traders and money-changers in the temple, and was a leader among those who hated the Lord. Little is told of what happened at the house of Annas, for the Lord was soon taken to the palace of Caiaphas. A picture of the courtyard of an Eastern house helps you to imagine the palace - the court where soldiers and servants were passing, and standing or sitting in groups, some warming themselves at a brazier of glowing charcoal; a large room a little above and in sight of the court, where the priests were gathering to find excuse to accuse the Lord to the governor and to demand His death. False witnesses were called; the high priest himself tried to provoke the Lord to speak; they spit in His face and struck Him.

While this was happening in the room above, how did it fare with Peter who had followed with John and was standing in the court with the servants warming himself? It was so easy a little while before to declare that he would never deny the Lord, and now he had denied Him three times, just as the Lord had predicted. The Lord turned and looked upon Peter and it all came back. And so it is with us if we let ourselves deny the Lord by being unfaithful to Him. We must have more courage and be more faithful, and we shall be saved the painful moments when we realize that we have denied Him.

1. Where was Gethsemane? What was it? What does the name mean? Had the disciples been there before?

2. Who came with Judas to Gethsemane? Why did they come? What did Peter do?

3. To what house did they take the Lord? Who were there? What did the priests wish to do? Why?

4. Which disciples followed to the palace? What did Peter do that made him weep bitterly?

Spiritual Study


The temptation in Gethsemane, the betrayal, and the trial in the high priest's palace were in the night. Do you see that it was night spiritually as well as naturally? Of which was the Lord especially speaking when He said to those who came to take Him, "This is your hour, and the power of darkness"? (Luke 22:53; A. 6000)

The garden of Gethsemane is spoken of as on the Mount of Olives. These trees of oil and this mount stand for the Divine love so tender and so strong. The name Gethsemane means "oil-press." A threshing-floor and a wine-press often represent states of temptation by which external and evil things are rejected from the life and the deeper things of heavenly life are brought forth. So here the oil-press is associated with a state of severe temptation in which there was a crushing and laying down of natural life and a bringing forth of the pure oil of the Divine love. A garden also suggests a laying down of life that a higher life may arise. Remember that the Lord's sepulcher was in a garden, and with a similar meaning. (John 12:24; A. 10261; R.493; E.359)

What is represented by the sword in Peter's hand? Peter himself stands for faith in the Lord, and the sword in his hand is truth which exposes and condemns the wickedness of those who betray the Lord. But it here represents an exercise of truth with so much of selfishness and condemnation in it that it would do only harm. It would do harm to those whom it attacked; it would destroy their power to listen to the Lord willingly and obey Him freely. This violence to their free hearing and obedience is represented by the cutting off of the servant's ear, for which the Lord rebuked Peter, and He healed the wound. The resentful and condemnatory exercise of truth also would react with greater harm upon those who so used it. "All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." The same truth was taught long before in the precept, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed," and in the law, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," and in several different ways in the Sermon on the Mount. (E. 131; A. 1011, 2799, 3869)

We have been thinking of Peter as a type of faith in the Lord, but of faith which as yet had much of selfishness in it. The story of Peter's denials on the night of trial further shows the weakness of that faith. The Lord warned Peter, "This day, even in this night, thou shalt deny Me thrice." (Mark 14:30) It is in a time of spiritual darkness that faith fails. (A. 10134) We read also that it was cold, so that Peter warmed himself at the fire. As the night represents the absence of truth with its light, so the cold represents the absence of love and its warmth. When love grows cold faith is sure to lose its light. This accounts for the close connection in the story between Peter's warming himself at the fire and his denying the Lord. (A. 6000; E. 820)

There were three denials more and more emphatic. We associate the number three with what is complete. In this same lesson we have learned of the thrice repeated prayer in Gethsemane, expressing the extremity and completeness of the state of temptation and of the Lord's effort to meet it rightly. Three is especially associated with what is made complete in the three degrees of life, feeling, thought, and deed. It is a first denial when we admit any evil feeling contrary to the Lord. We deny Him a second time when we think the false thoughts which the evil feeling suggests; and it is a third and last denial when we do the evil deed. Then perhaps we first realize how unfaithful we have been. (A. 4495)

Weeping and mourning are two words used in the Scriptures expressive of grief. "To mourn has respect to grief on account of night as to goods in the church; and to weep as to truths." (A. 2910) Remembering how water is always a symbol of truth or falsity, you see why the expression of grief by tears is associated with the loss or perversion of truth, and you see why Peter's grief on account of his denial was expressed in bitter weeping.

The Lord made little answer to the high priest's questions; He was silent also before Pilate and before Herod. It had been said of Him, in prophecy, "As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth." (Isaiah 53:7) Hearing, spiritually, is a willingness to attend and to obey. To those who have this willingness the Lord can speak, but not to those whose hearts are closed against Him, who question only with idle curiosity, or to criticize and deny. It is exactly so in reading the Lord's Word. Only those who read with willingness to obey can find the precious wisdom in the Bible. Ask them that have heard the Lord what He has said, for they know. But to those who read the Bible in a hostile spirit, to criticize and deny, the Lord is always silent. (A. 2542)

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