Betraying the Son of Man
No treachery is worse than betrayal by a family member or friend. Julius Caesar knew such treachery. Among the conspirators who assassinated him was Marcus Junius Brutus. Caesar not only trusted Brutus, but he had also actually favored him as a son. Roman historians tell us that, at first, Caesar resisted the onslaught of the assassins. But when he saw Brutus among them with a dagger in his hand, Caesar stopped struggling and, pulling the top part of his robe over his face, he asked the famous question, “Even you, Brutus?”
Shakespeare’s well-known line is still used today to express shock at the betrayal by a friend. If you’ve ever experienced that kind of betrayal, it is heartbreaking. The one you thought loved and supported you, turns on you in your time of greatest need. Sometimes we’re deceived into thinking we’re the only ones who’ve ever experienced this kind of trauma. But it’s not true.
In Luke chapter 22, we come to the scenes of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. He has just concluded His agonized wrestling with drinking the cup of God’s wrath against our sin. It has been a physically, spiritually, and emotionally draining experience, but He is committed to doing His Father’s will. What happens next, though not unexpected must have hurt very deeply.
Let’s read about those events in Luke 22, verses 47 to 62.
This text reveals to us several VARIATIONS on the theme of “Betraying the Son of Man.” Sadly, we will see ourselves in these variations.
The First VARIATION (on betraying the Son of Man) is
Our text tells us that Judas enters the garden and draws near to where Jesus and the eleven disciples are gathered. He is at the head of a large group of people. Jesus is still urging the disciples to pray against temptation even as Judas arrives. Notice, the text specifically mentions Judas as one of the Twelve. Luke also points this out in verse 3 of this chapter. The double reference emphasizes the horror of this act; first, it marks Judas’ intention to betray Jesus, and now it marks the act being carried out.
Judas had a prearranged signal between him and the authorities. He began to kiss Jesus; not just once on each cheek like the typical eastern greeting, but to kiss Him profusely. Most likely, Judas wanted no mistakes about who was the target of this arrest.
But Jesus confronts Judas; “…with a kiss do you betray?” The very act of love, friendship, and mutual trust is turned into treachery by Judas. It seems Jesus is making one last appeal to Judas’ conscience; but sadly, his conscience is seared beyond feeling. His disillusionment and greed have turned his heart to stone.
Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was a very open act. It signified a conscious choice he made at some point; at least by the time he agreed with the religious leaders and received the payment for his services. Although we don’t know all the events that brought Judas to this point of action, he was certainly conscious of the insincere affection he now lavished on Jesus.
But what about you and me; are we ever guilty of betraying Jesus through insincere affection? Most of us would quickly deny betraying Him. I know – He’s not here physically, but what about those who are part of His body, the church? If you injure my body, you injure me, right? Have we ever offered someone a handshake and a smile while inside we detested them, and couldn’t wait to share their failures with someone?
What about First John 4:20 and 21? “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” Our ability to love our brother proves the genuineness of our love for Jesus. Our insincere affection is a betrayal of all that He is and represents.
The Second VARIATION (on betraying the Son of Man) is,
Maybe you wonder how an impulsive reaction can betray Jesus. One of the definitions of betray, is “to fail or desert, especially in time of need.” So, let’s think about what happened here. Luke’s account is very brief. He just tells us that when the disciples saw the menacing crowd of soldiers and what was happening, they said “Lord, should we strike with the sword?”
What’s the reason for the sudden boldness of the sleepy-eyed disciples who were huddling behind Jesus? John records that when Jesus asked the soldiers who they were looking for, they said “Jesus of Nazareth.” When Jesus said, “I am,” the whole group fell backward to the ground. So, I can imagine in that moment of confusion the eleven were emboldened and asked Jesus if they could strike.
Without waiting for an answer, Peter lashes out and strikes at the first available victim. I believe he intended to kill the man, but he only slashed off his ear. John tells us the man’s name was Malchus and that he was a servant of the High Priest.
Did Peter’s hasty action support what Jesus had taught them? No, of course not! Here was Peter, a disciple of one who taught the way of forgiving love, even to enemies, and he’s trying to kill the one coming against his Master. His actions were a betrayal of the very things Jesus had taught in the Sermon on the Mount and on other occasions during His ministry. And Jesus rebuked him by saying “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”
I’m a follower of Jesus but I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many times my impulsive reactions have betrayed Him. When I responded in anger to that rude driver on the highway, I betrayed my Lord. When I snapped at the waiter for messing up my order multiple times, I betrayed my Lord and His teaching. Maybe you have some examples of your own.
Perhaps you think those things aren’t as serious as what Peter did. Well, anything that hinders Jesus’ message is a big deal. If someone rejects Christ and His message because of my impulsive reactions, I am betraying the Lord’s trust in me. I believe that’s serious!
But don’t you just love Jesus’ response? He literally asks the soldiers for permission to postpone His arrest until He can heal the injured servant. So, He touches the servant’s ear and heals him. Incredible! He’s not thinking about Himself, He’s thinking about His purpose; to save life, not destroy it. Only God, in His amazing grace, can take our impulsive reactions and make something beautiful out of them. That doesn’t excuse our poor choices; it just shows His power.
In verses 52 and 53 Jesus confronts the religious leaders with their own cowardice. He asks why they didn’t arrest Him as He taught each day in the Temple. But then, as He did earlier in the Garden, he acknowledges the spiritual powers involved in this event. He says, “This is YOUR hour and the power of THE darkness.”
It’s true; all these things needed to happen just the way they did in order to fulfill prophecy. But those who committed these acts of betrayal were personally responsible for their impulsive reactions.
The Final VARIATION (on betraying the Son of Man) is,
So, Jesus is led away to the house of Caiaphas, the High Priest. Peter follows at a distance even though Jesus had warned him not to in John 18:8. John knew the High Priest and was able to get Peter admitted by convincing the slave girl who kept the door that it was OK. But Peter’s failure to watch and pray left him vulnerable to temptation. He would now proceed to fulfill Jesus’ exact prediction, denying His Lord three times with increasing vehemence!
When those who were admitted to the courtyard kindled a fire to warm themselves, Peter moved toward it to warm himself. A maid looked at him intently. She was most likely the one who had opened the door for him. She said to the others around the fire, “this man was also with Him.” Immediately, Peter denied her statement saying, “I do not know Him.” Our English translations miss the force of Peter’s denial; it was a complete denial and disowning of Jesus. The one who pledged to go with Jesus to prison and to death denies even knowing Him.
What do you think Peter did after that? Do you think he stayed there by the fire? I doubt it. Remember, it is nighttime, so the light of the fire exposes his identity. I suspect after this first confrontation he went slinking toward the exit. Things were getting too uncomfortable.
As he slowly makes his way toward the exit, he’s confronted by another man who says “you are also one of them.” Mark’s Gospel says he was confronted by another maid. Peter is being recognized by multiple persons as having been with Jesus. He has been exposed and the word is getting around. Again, he is quick with the vehement denial.
Now you can imagine Peter is getting really uncomfortable. Where can he go to get away from these accusations? The only way is to get out of that courtyard; but in order to do that he must get to the gate. So, he lays low for a while.
About an hour later, according to the text, he is confronted by another man who is 100 percent positive that Peter is a Galilean and part of Jesus’ group. John tells us this man was none other than a relative of Malchus! “Didn’t I see you in the Garden” he asks? Surely his eyes were not betraying him. Now Peter is caught; the game seems to be up. But he responds with vehemence, “I do not know what you are saying.” Matthew and Mark both record Peter cursing himself and swearing to God with oaths that he didn’t know Jesus. Even as the words of the third denial are passing over his lips – the rooster crowed.
At this point, it is likely that Jesus was being led from Caiaphas’ house to a place of overnight security. He turns and looks at Peter. We can only imagine what was in that look. Was it sorrow, disappointment, and grief? I believe there was so much love in the look Jesus gave to Peter. And then, Peter remembered; he remembered the words of Jesus. “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you know me.” And Peter stumbled out of that courtyard into the darkness of the night – sobbing bitterly.
He had been so confident in his ability to stand with Jesus, to protect him from harm at any cost. Now he was keenly aware of his utter failure. What a betrayal of the one he claimed to love so dearly.
How many times have you and I done the very thing Peter did? We talk confidently, but when faced with the hostility of the crowd and fear for our own well-being we fold just like Peter did. We close our mouths and seek a quiet corner where no one will notice us. We don’t want to be associated with the hated Jesus.
Maybe you’ve found yourself in situation where those who follow Christ are being ridiculed and made fun of; and you kept quiet. You didn’t want anyone in that group to know that you were a disciple of Jesus. Or maybe there was a discussion on a particular subject that would’ve benefitted from the interjection of biblical truth. But because you didn’t know how it would be received – you stayed silent. And in doing so you denied that you knew Jesus.
You see, it’s easy for us to look at Peter and see his failure. But it’s harder to look into our own hearts and admit the same weakness. You and I don’t like to face our own cowardice and fear. But this account in the Scripture is not recorded simply so we know how events unfolded. No, these things are written for us to learn from; to understand they reflect our humanity and our attempts to be faithful in our own strength.
Yes, the betrayals in this text are varied; but they all have the same roots. Greed, pride, the fear of man, these and many other things cause us to deny and betray our Lord. Sometimes it’s more easily recognized than others, but the temptation is always there.
If we allow bitterness to creep into our lives like Judas did, we can be sure there will be an unpleasant harvest. If, like Peter, we trust in the strength of our flesh we too will fail miserably. But oh, the tender love of Jesus! Peter went out and wept bitterly – in repentance. Judas, condemned by his own choices realized what he done – but instead of repenting he went out and hanged himself. When was the last time you or I wept over our betrayal of the Son of Man? I’m so thankful for His great mercy and forgiveness.
So, consider these variations of betraying the Son of Man, insincere affection, impulsive reaction, and vehement rejection. And then, ask God to help you recognize the things that set you up for failure. He is faithful and will provide the strength and wisdom you need.