Feb 10 2013 - Matthew 26:47-68 – Legions of angels
Immediately after Jesus' baptism by John, he spent 40 days fasting in a deserted place. At the end of this time, the devil came to tempt him. In one of those temptations, Jesus was taken to the top of the temple. The devil suggested that he should throw himself down; surely God would send an angel to catch him so that he would not come to any harm. Jesus resisted the temptation of the evil one and angels did come to minister to him (Matthew 4:11).
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus has begun to face the terror of the ordeal before him; not merely death on a cross, but bearing the sin of the world. At the end of his prayer-ordeal, when he has determined to do the Father's will, an angel came to minister to him and strengthen him (see Luke 22:43).
Now Judas the betrayer has arrived, and with him "a large crowd armed with swords and clubs" intent on seizing him and taking him to be tried before the Sanhedrin. For one brief moment, one of the disciples, Peter, is bold enough to draw his sword and seek to defend Jesus. But Peter is rebuked and told to put his sword away. Jesus says, "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?"
These words of Jesus suggest that the words of the devil in the desert may have returned to tempt Jesus in this moment of crisis – perhaps they had never been far from him. He knew that he could call not upon one angel, but legions of angels to fly to his protection. But the temptation no sooner entered his mind than it was refused. The Father had sent him into the world for a purpose. Just as he had been baptised by John "to fulfil all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15), so also now he submits to be taken captive and to be led away to false trial and unjust death, that "the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled" (26:56).
Jesus' death is a story of human wickedness and injustice. In this respect, sadly, it is far from unique. Scenes like this are played out daily in many parts of our world. What is unique is the person and mission of Jesus. He was sent by God to suffer and submit to betrayal, injustice, torture and death that, by this very means, and by his resurrection from the dead, he might defeat the power of human wickedness. In his death wickedness is brought to judgment; by his resurrection justice triumphs and righteousness reigns. And, at the empty tomb, it is angels who proclaim the good news to the disciples.
But for now, the acceptance of the way of the cross leaves Jesus abandoned. For, no sooner has he declared, "this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled", than his followers fulfil what was spoken of them; "the disciples deserted him and fled."
For me, one of the most mysterious verses of Scripture is Hebrews 1:14, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Do angels minister to me? Maybe they do, but I remain as unaware of the legions that surround me as Elisha’s servant (see 2 Kings 6:15-17).
Heavenly Father, teach me what it means to follow Jesus. Help me to follow in the way of the cross and not to yield to the temptation to turn tail and flee when the going gets tough. May your ministering angels keep guard over me and your Spirit strengthen me to do your will.