The information in Matthew 26 begins Matthew’s account of the events of the Atonement—from the Savior’s foretelling of what was about to happen to Him through Peter’s three denials of Christ. The important events leading up to and including the Atonement account include (1) the Savior’s Last Supper with His disciples, at which He instituted the sacrament—an ordinance that represents His Atonement; (2) His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, during which He experienced intense agony of body and soul, yet submitted His will to His Heavenly Father; and (3) His betrayal, arrest, and trial before the Jewish council.
As the Feast of the Passover approached, the Savior knew that His betrayal and Crucifixion were near, and He prophesied to His disciples that these things would occur during the feast time. The chief priests and scribes gathered together at the palace of Caiaphas, the high priest, to consult about how they could take Jesus and kill Him without creating an uproar among the people. The chief priests and elders represented the religious and lay leadership of the great Jerusalem Sanhedrin. They knew that many people admired Jesus Christ, and they were concerned that if they tried to take Jesus when there were so many pilgrims in Jerusalem for the holidays, there would be riots.
The chief priests covenanted to pay Judas Iscariot “thirty pieces of silver” to betray Jesus Christ into their hands (Matthew 26:15). This sum fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah: “If ye think good, give me my price. … So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver” (Zechariah 11:12). According to the law of Moses, thirty shekels of silver would compensate an owner for the death of a slave (see Exodus 21:32). Thus, in addition to fulfilling prophecy, the betrayal price reflects the low regard Judas and the chief priests had for the Savior.
No one is foreordained to do evil—Judas chose to betray the Savior. The Joseph Smith Translation explains that one reason for Judas’s betrayal was the doctrine the Savior taught: “Nevertheless, Judas Iscariot, even one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests to betray Jesus unto them; for he turned away from him, and was offended because of his words” (Joseph Smith Translation, Mark 14:31; compare Mark 14:10, footnote a).
During the time of Moses, the Lord had instituted the Passover feast to help the children of Israel commemorate the time when He delivered them from bondage in Egypt. On that occasion, the Lord smote the firstborn of the Egyptians, but He “passed over” the houses of the children of Israel who put the symbol of the blood of a sacrificial lamb on their doorposts (see Exodus 12:3–14, 26–32). At the Last Supper, the Savior instituted the sacrament, a new symbolic “meal” of commemoration. Just as partaking of the emblems of the Passover pointed to the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ and helped ancient Israel remember their release from Egyptian bondage, partaking of the sacrament helps us remember Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice, which can release us from the bondage of sin.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles asked: “Do we see [the sacrament] as our passover, remembrance of our safety and deliverance and redemption?” (“This Do in Remembrance of Me,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 68).
The Apostles had traveled with the Savior throughout Galilee and Judea. In the course of their travels and interactions with Him, they had become His trusted friends. Surely they were shocked by His announcement during the Passover meal, “One of you shall betray me.” Each of them in turn began to ask, “Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:21–22). President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles encouraged us to follow the example of the Apostles in these verses and consider whether counsel from the Lord and His servants pertains to us:
“There is a lesson to be drawn from the twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew. The occasion, the Last Supper.
“‘And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.’ (Matthew 26:21.)
“I remind you that these men were apostles. They were of apostolic stature. It has always been interesting to me that they did not on that occasion nudge one another and say, ‘I’ll bet that is old Judas. He has surely been acting [strange] lately.’ It reflects something of their stature. Rather it is recorded that:
“‘They were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?’ (Matthew 26:22.)
“Would you, I plead, overrule the tendency to disregard counsel and assume for just a moment something apostolic in attitude at least and ask yourself these questions: Do I need to improve myself? Should I take this counsel to heart and act upon it? If there is one weak or failing, unwilling to follow the Brethren, Lord, is it I?” (“That All May Be Edified” , 237).
For insights on the custom of dipping in a dish, see the commentary for John 13:26–27.
When Jesus instituted the sacrament during the Last Supper, He taught His Apostles that the emblems of the sacrament represented His body and His blood (see also 3 Nephi 18:1–3, 7, 11). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland discussed the significance of the sacramental emblems:
“With a crust of bread, always broken, blessed, and offered first, we remember his bruised body and broken heart, his physical suffering on the cross where he cried, ‘I thirst,’ and finally, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (John 19:28; Matt. 27:46.)
“The Savior’s physical suffering guarantees that through his mercy and grace (see 2 Ne. 2:8) every member of the human family shall be freed from the bonds of death and be resurrected triumphantly from the grave. …
“With a small cup of water we remember the shedding of Christ’s blood and the depth of his spiritual suffering, anguish which began in the Garden of Gethsemane. There he said, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death’ (Matt. 26:38). He was in agony and ‘prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground’ (Luke 22:44).
“The Savior’s spiritual suffering and the shedding of his innocent blood, so lovingly and freely given, paid the debt for what the scriptures call the ‘original guilt’ of Adam’s transgression (Moses 6:54). Furthermore, Christ suffered for the sins and sorrows and pains of all the rest of the human family, providing remission for all of our sins as well, upon conditions of obedience to the principles and ordinances of the gospel he taught (see 2 Ne. 9:21–23). As the Apostle Paul wrote, we were ‘bought with a price’ (1 Cor. 6:20). What an expensive price and what a merciful purchase!
“That is why every ordinance of the gospel focuses in one way or another on the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, and surely that is why this particular ordinance with all its symbolism and imagery comes to us more readily and more repeatedly than any other in our life” (“This Do in Remembrance of Me,” 67). For additional information on the sacrament, see the commentary for 1 Corinthians 11:17–29.
The Joseph Smith Translation clarifies that the Savior commanded His disciples to continue to perform the ordinance of the sacrament. These verses also make clear that one purpose of the sacrament is to provide the opportunity for the Savior’s followers to commemorate His Atonement:
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread and brake it, and blessed it, and gave to his disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is in remembrance of my body which I give a ransom for you.
“And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it.
“For this is in remembrance of my blood of the new testament, which is shed for as many as shall believe on my name, for the remission of their sins.
“And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall observe to do the things which ye have seen me do, and bear record of me even unto the end.
“But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I shall come and drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 26:22–26; compare Matthew 26:26–29).
The Savior’s statement, “This is my blood of the new testament” (Matthew 26:28), alluded to important terms in the Old Testament. The word that is translated testament can mean “covenant.” When the Lord made His covenant with the children of Israel, the people covenanted to obey the words of the Lord. Moses offered a sacrifice to the Lord, and then he took blood from the sacrifice and sprinkled it on the people, saying, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you” (Exodus 24:8; see also Exodus 24:3–8). When Jesus Christ alluded to this statement, as recorded in Matthew 26:28, He taught that the new “testament,” or covenant, was about to be ratified with blood, just like the old covenant, and that the blood He would shed for us would cover our sins and blot them out, just as the sacrificial blood symbolically covered the people in Moses’s day.
The prophet Jeremiah recorded, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel” (Jeremiah 31:31), indicating that Israel’s old covenant with the Lord would be replaced. When Jesus presented the cup of wine to His Apostles, He was signaling the fulfillment of the old covenant and the establishment of the new covenant.
As recorded in Matthew 26:29, the Savior told His disciples that He would not drink the fruit of the vine again until He drank it with them in His Father’s kingdom. Thus, the sacrament not only symbolizes the Savior’s Atonement but also looks forward in anticipation to the time when He will return to the earth in glory (see 1 Corinthians 11:26).
In the latter days, the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith details of a future occasion when He will drink the fruit of the vine on the earth. As recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 27, the Lord revealed that He will partake of the sacrament again on the earth with His followers, including many ancient prophets, such as Moroni, Elias, John the Baptist, Elijah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph who was sold into Egypt, Peter, James, and John, “and also with Michael, or Adam, the father of all” (see D&C 27:4–14). The Lord’s followers include “all those whom my Father hath given me out of the world” (D&C 27:14). This means that if we remain true and faithful to the covenants that we have made and endure to the end, we will be among those who partake of the emblems of the sacrament with the Savior at this future time.
The “hymn” the Savior and His disciples sang at the conclusion of the Last Supper was probably the traditional Jewish recitation from Psalms 113–18, called the Hallel. Psalms 113–14 were traditionally sung at the beginning of the meal, and Psalms 115–18 were traditionally sung as part of the formal closing of a Passover meal.
As the Savior and His disciples left the upper room and walked toward the Mount of Olives, the Savior told the disciples that all of them would be offended because of Him that night. He then referred to a prophecy found in Zechariah 13:7 by saying, “Smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad” (Matthew 26:31). Peter responded by saying that he would never be offended because of the Master, but Jesus’s reply to him illustrates that He knew Peter better than Peter knew himself—and that He likewise knows each of us better than we know ourselves. Following the Savior’s arrest later that night, His disciples temporarily became scattered and Peter denied the Savior three times.
This prophecy that the Shepherd would be smitten is one of many uttered by the Savior during His mortal ministry to prepare His disciples for His coming death. Examples of such prophecies are found in Matthew 12:38; 16:21; 17:9, 22–23; 20:17–19; and 21:33–39.
Found on or near the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem’s walls, Gethsemane was a garden of olive trees the Savior often visited (see Luke 22:39; John 18:1–2). On this night, the Savior had come to Gethsemane to suffer for the sins of all mankind and work out the infinite Atonement. The garden lay to the east of the temple in Jerusalem. As outlined in the law of Moses, when someone desired to make a burnt offering, he selected a “male [animal] without blemish” and presented it to the priest at the east door of the tabernacle (Leviticus 1:3). During New Testament times, the offering was presented to the priest at the eastern gate of the temple in Jerusalem. These acts can be seen as a similitude of the Savior presenting Himself to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane.
President Russell M. Nelson explained: “There in the garden bearing the Hebrew name of Gethsemane—meaning ‘oil press’—olives had been beaten and pressed to provide oil and food. There at Gethsemane, the Lord ‘suffered the pain of all men, that all … might repent and come unto him’ [D&C 18:11]. He took upon Himself the weight of the sins of all mankind, bearing its massive load that caused Him to bleed from every pore [see Luke 22:44; D&C 19:18]” (“The Atonement,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 35).
The following account illustrates one way in which the oil exuded from pressed olives can graphically represent the blood Jesus Christ shed in Gethsemane:
“One fall semester I supervised the students at the BYU Jerusalem Center as they participated in their own olive harvest and pressing activity. The olives were placed in the yam, or rock basin, and the crushing stone was pushed around and around the basin until the olives began to ooze their oil. When the oil began to run down the lip of the limestone basin, it had the distinctive red color characteristic of the first moments of the new pressing each year.
“At that instant an audible gasp came from the 170 students who surrounded the olive press to witness our re-creation of the ancient pressing process. It was a stunning, even chilling, minute until the oil turned back to its usual golden color. I believe everyone in that group had the same thought as we watched this happen. It was more than just an amazing confirmation of the symbolism we had discussed. This was, right before our very eyes, a real-life reflection of Gethsemane. … In the place called the ‘oil press,’ Gethsemane, the Savior was pressed in our behalf as he wrought for all mankind the infinite and eternal atonement” (Andrew C. Skinner, Gethsemane , 89–90).
As the Lord had done on previous occasions, He separated out Peter, James, and John from the other Apostles (see Matthew 17:1; Mark 5:37). It is not known why He singled out these three on this occasion; however, we do know that they would preside over the Church following His Ascension into heaven. Perhaps their experience in Gethsemane would provide them valuable knowledge of the Savior’s suffering, allowing them later to serve as witnesses of the Atonement. Through this they learned that because “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” they needed to “watch and pray” so they would “enter not into temptation” (Matthew 26:41).
While Matthew’s account tells us about some events of Gethsemane, we learn from additional scriptural and prophetic sources more about the meaning of what transpired there. King Benjamin taught that Jesus Christ felt “pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue,” and “anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people” (Mosiah 3:7). Alma recorded that Jesus experienced the pains, afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, and infirmities of His people “that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (see Alma 7:11–12). Alma also stated that “the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance” (Alma 7:13).
Elder Richard G. Scott (1928–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated that in carrying out the Atonement, the Savior faced great challenges:
“First, an enormous sense of responsibility, for He realized that except it be done perfectly, not one of His Father’s children could return to Him. They would be forever banished from His presence since there would be no way to repent for broken laws and no unclean thing can exist in the presence of God. His Father’s plan would have failed, and each spirit child would have been under the eternal control and torment of Satan.
“Second, in His absolutely pure mind and heart, He had to personally feel the consequences of all that mankind would ever encounter, even the most depraved, despicable sins.
“Third, He had to endure the vicious attack of Satan’s hordes while physically and emotionally pressed to the limit. Then, for reasons we do not fully know, while at the extremity of His capacity, at the time the Savior most needed succor, His Father allowed Him to shoulder the onerous responsibility with only His own strength and capacity” (“He Lives! All Glory to His Name!” Ensign or Liahona, May 2010, 76–77).
Elder Tad R. Callister of the Presidency of the Seventy described some of what Jesus endured in Gethsemane and later on the cross in order to free all mankind from the evil one: “With merciless fury Satan’s forces must have attacked the Savior on all fronts. … The Savior pressed forward in bold assault until every prisoner was freed from the tenacious tentacles of the Evil One. This was a rescue mission of infinite implications. Every muscle of the Savior, every virtue, every spiritual reservoir that could be called upon would be summoned in the struggle. No doubt there was an exhaustion of all energies, a straining of all faculties, an exercise of all powers. Only then, when seemingly all had been spent, would the forces of evil abandon their posts and retreat in horrible defeat. … The Great Deliverer has rescued us—saved the day, saved eternity. But, oh, what a battle! What wounds! What love! What cost!” (The Infinite Atonement , 130–31).
The Savior’s words, “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt,” indicate His submission to His Father in Heaven (Matthew 26:39). What sustained Him and strengthened Him so that He could drink the bitter cup of the Atonement? Certainly, there were many factors. Scriptural and prophetic teachings give us some answers to this question.
He was motivated by complete and perfect love for His Father in Heaven and devotion to Him (see John 8:29; 17:1–26). He revealed that He “so loved the world that he gave his own life” (D&C 34:3; see also 1 Nephi 19:9). He “endured the cross” “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). President Lorenzo Snow (1814–1901) taught that the Atonement “required all the power that [Jesus] had and all the faith that He could summon for Him to accomplish that which the Father required of Him” (The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Clyde J. Williams , 98).
The Savior’s submission to the will of the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane set an example for us, inviting us to submit to God’s will in our life. Elder Robert D. Hales (1932–2017) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “It takes great faith and courage to pray to our Heavenly Father, ‘Not as I will, but as thou wilt’ [Matt. 26:39]. The faith to believe in the Lord and endure brings great strength. Some may say if we have enough faith, we can sometimes change the circumstances that are causing our trials and tribulations. Is our faith to change circumstances, or is it to endure them? Faithful prayers may be offered to change or moderate events in our life, but we must always remember that when concluding each prayer, there is an understanding: ‘Thy will be done’ (Matt. 26:42). Faith in the Lord includes trust in the Lord” (“Behold, We Count Them Happy Which Endure,” Ensign, May 1998, 77).
During New Testament times, it was customary for men to greet each other with a kiss on the cheek (see Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:26). Such greetings were a symbol of respect, particularly when bestowed by a pupil upon a great rabbi. They communicated brotherhood and friendship. Thus, there was irony in Jesus’s words when He said to Judas, “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” (Matthew 26:50), and “Betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48).
The Savior’s statement that He could pray and summon “more than twelve legions of angels” (Matthew 26:53) helps us appreciate His willing submission to His arrest and the abuse that followed. Taken literally, “twelve legions of angels” would have been between 36,000 and 72,000 angels. His cursing of a fig tree a few days before had shown that He could destroy with a word (see Matthew 21:19–20). He had power to defend Himself but chose not to use it at this time. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob taught his people of the Lord’s power, saying, “He can pierce you, and with one glance of his eye he can smite you to the dust!” (Jacob 2:15).
Gerald N. Lund, who later became a member of the Seventy, wrote about the Savior’s voluntary choice not to use His power to defend Himself from the abuses He experienced:
“Imagine the Being whose power, whose light, whose glory holds the universe in order, the Being who speaks and solar systems, galaxies, and stars come into existence—standing before wicked men and being judged by them as being of no worth or value!
“When we think of what he could have done to these men who took him to judgment, we have a new and different sense of his condescension. When Judas led the soldiers and the high priests to the Garden of Gethsemane and betrayed him with a kiss, Jesus could have spoken a single word and leveled the entire city of Jerusalem. When the servant of the high priest stepped forward and slapped his face, Jesus could have lifted a finger and sent that man back to his original elements. When another man stepped forward and spit in his face, Jesus had only to blink and our entire solar system could have been annihilated. But he stood there, he endured, he suffered, he condescended” (“Knowest Thou the Condescension of God?” in Bruce A. Van Orden and Brent L. Top, eds., Doctrines of the Book of Mormon: The 1991 Sperry Symposium , 86).
Jesus Christ’s response when Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant shows the compassion of the Son of God even toward those who wished to harm Him.
Caiaphas was the high priest from A.D. 18 to 36 and was a son-in-law of Annas, who was the high priest from A.D. 7 to 14. Caiaphas belonged to the Sadducees. During New Testament times, the position of high priest had become a corrupt political appointment rather than a legitimate priesthood office. Caiaphas held the position longer than any other high priest in New Testament times, indicating his close cooperation with Roman government leaders like Pontius Pilate.
Caiaphas’s responsibilities as high priest included controlling the temple treasury and overseeing temple rituals, which made him considerable money. Because of these temple responsibilities, he probably would have regarded the Savior’s cleansing of the temple courtyards as a challenge to his authority and a threat to his wealth (see Matthew 21:12–15). After the Savior raised Lazarus from the dead, Caiaphas stated that it was necessary to put Jesus to death, and he possibly even led out in the conspiracy (see John 11:49–53). As high priest, Caiaphas presided over the Sanhedrin and was one of the main interrogators of Jesus Christ on the night of His arrest.
The council referred to in Matthew 26:59 was the great Sanhedrin of Jerusalem—an assembly of 71 members, including Levites, chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and those of other political persuasions, all presided over by the high priest, who was Caiaphas at this time. It was the highest Jewish court of justice and the supreme legislative council in Jerusalem. Its main function was to interpret Jewish law and regulate Jewish life. The chief priests and others of this council “sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death,” implying that they were unable to find credible witnesses, that their case against Him was weak, and that their actions were premeditated (see also Bible Dictionary, “Sanhedrin”).
By definition, blasphemy meant to revile, despise, mock, or curse God. Jesus Christ did none of these, but Caiaphas considered the Savior’s statement that He would sit “on the right hand of power” to be blasphemous (see Matthew 26:63–64). However, the Savior’s claim to divine power and authority would have been blasphemy only if it had been untrue. When Caiaphas heard this statement, he rent his clothes and declared that the Savior had spoken blasphemy—an offense punishable by death under the law of Moses (see Leviticus 24:11–16). He and the members of the council pronounced that the Savior was now “guilty of death.” However, since blasphemy was a Jewish matter and of no concern to the Romans, the Jewish leaders changed the charge to sedition when they took Jesus to Pilate. For more information on this charge of sedition, see the commentary for Mark 15:1–2.
The Son of God would have been in terrible physical condition as He stood trial before Jewish leaders. During the hours prior to His interrogation, Jesus had experienced the agony of Gethsemane. He had been back and forth across the Kidron Valley. He would have also been experiencing the effects of blood loss and likely the effects of chills from the night air upon His weakened body. He had also likely not slept in many hours. It was in this weakened physical condition that He faced additional abuse at the hands of His accusers. Nephi prophesied that “because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men,” the Savior would willingly suffer the indignities and abuses heaped upon Him (1 Nephi 19:9).
The Jewish leaders spit in Jesus Christ’s face, buffeted Him, and slapped Him (see Matthew 26:67). They blindfolded Him and mocked Him (see Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63–64). The Apostle Peter later declared, “Christ also suffered for us, … who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not” (1 Peter 2:21, 23).
Elder Bruce D. Porter of the Seventy taught that the Atonement required the Savior to endure the abuses of the Jewish and Roman leaders without sinning: “The cruelties and indignities suffered by Jesus during the various trials represented a last-ditch effort by Lucifer to cause Christ to stumble. A single misstep—a cross word, an angry outburst, even a moment’s indulgence in self-pity or pride—and all was lost. Hence, every possible indignity was heaped upon the Savior: false accusations; blasphemous outbursts; a crown of thorns; the horrible scourging by bone-embedded whips; the mock robe of royalty; the spitting, taunting, and physical blows of the soldiers. The whole pitiable drama was masterminded by Lucifer in the hope that he might yet find a way to nullify the Redeemer’s triumph at Gethsemane” (The King of Kings , 106–7).
President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) invited us to remember Peter’s great love for the Savior and the Savior’s trust in him as we think about Peter’s actions in denying the Savior three times:
“I do not pretend to know what Peter’s mental reactions were nor what compelled him to say what he did that terrible night. But in light of his proven bravery, courage, great devotion, and limitless love for the Master, could we not give him the benefit of the doubt and at least forgive him as his Savior seems to have done so fully. Almost immediately Christ elevated him to the highest position in his church and endowed him with the complete keys of that kingdom.
“… Hearing the bird’s announcement of the dawn reminded him not only that he had denied the Lord but also that all the Lord had said would be fulfilled, even to the crucifixion. He went out and wept bitterly. Were his tears for personal repentance only, or were they mingled with sorrowful tears in realization of the fate of his Lord and Master and his own great loss?
“Only hours passed until he was among the first at the tomb as the head of the group of believers. Only weeks passed until he was assembling the saints and organizing them into a compact, strong, and unified community. It was not long before he was languishing in prison, being beaten, abused, and ‘sifted as wheat’ as Christ had predicted. (See Luke 22:31.)” (Peter, My Brother, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [July 13, 1971], 5). For more on Peter’s denial, see the commentary for John 18:15–18, 25–27.