Verse 71. "We ourselves have heard" - We have heard him profess himself the Son of God; he is therefore guilty of blasphemy, and, as an impious pretender to a Divine mission, we must proceed against and condemn him to death. See the note on Matthew xxvi. 66. Thus they proceeded as far as they could; he must now be brought before Pilate, as the Jews had no power to put him to death. His trial before Pilate is related in the subsequent chapter.
ON our Lord's agony in the garden, related in the 43d and 44th verses, much has been written, but to little purpose. The cause of this agony seems not to have been well understood; and there have been many wild conjectures concerning it. Some think it was occasioned by "the Divine wrath pressing in upon him; for, as he was bearing the sin of the world, God looked on and treated him as if he were a sinner." There is something very shocking in this supposition; and yet it is truly astonishing how general it is. The ministry of the angel, in this case, is a sufficient refutation of this opinion; for what sort of strength could an angel give Christ against God's indignation? Angelic strength could not enable him to bear either the sin of the world or God's wrath. If an angel could have succoured him in this, an angel might have made the whole atonement.
Indeed, the ministry of the angel, who must have been sent from God, and sent in love too, is a full proof that God's wrath was not poured out on our blessed Redeemer at this time. Dr. Lightfoot conjectures that his conflict in the garden was with a devil, who appeared to him in a bodily shape, most horrible; and that it was through this apparition that he began to be sore amazed, and very heavy, Mark xiv. 33; for, as Satan assaulted the first Adam in a garden in a bodily shape, it is not unreasonable to conclude that in the same way he assaulted the second Adam in a garden. St. Luke tells us, chap. iv. 13, that when the devil had finished all his temptations, he departed from him for a season: this season in the garden, probably, was the season, or fit opportunity, for him to return-the prince of this world came and found nothing in him, John xiv. 30. But, though there was nothing in the immaculate Jesus on which Satan could work, yet he might, as the doctor supposes, assume some horrible shape, in order to appal his mind, and shake his firmness; and the evangelist seems to intimate that he had desired to be permitted to try or sift the disciples in this way, see ver. 31; and it is probable that it is to some personal, horrid appearance, that the apostle alludes when he speaks of the messenger of Satan that buffeted him, 2 Cor. xii. 7. The angel, therefore, from heaven, may be supposed to come against this angel from hell; and, as the one appeared to terrify, the other appeared to strengthen him. It was not necessary to exert the Divine power to crush this devil, and therefore an angel from heaven is sent to counteract his influence. This is the sum of Dr. Lightfoot's reasonings upon this very difficult subject.
Others suppose that, while our Lord was praying intensely in the garden, the extreme fervour of his application to God in the behalf of the poor deluded Jews, and in behalf of the world, was too much for his human nature to support; that he, in consequence, fell into a swoon, in which he had a VISION of an angel coming from heaven to strengthen him. Let these sentiments stand on their respective merits.
What renders this circumstance more difficult is, that there is no mention of it in any of the other evangelists: and it is worthy of remark that, among many of the ancients, the authenticity of these two verses, the 43d and 44th, has been doubted, and in consequence they are omitted in several MSS., and in some versions and fathers. The Codex Alexandrinus and the Codex Vaticanus, the two oldest MSS. in the world, omit both verses; in some other very ancient MSS. they stand with an asterisk before them, as a mark of dubiousness; and they are both wanting in the Coptic Fragments published by Dr. Ford. They are however extant in such a vast number of MSS., versions, and fathers, as to leave no doubt with most critics of their authenticity. After all that has been said, or perhaps can be said on this subject, there will remain mysteries which only the bright light of the eternal world can sufficiently illustrate. That Christ was now suffering, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, and that he was bearing in his body the punishment due to their sins, I have no doubt: and that the agony of his mind, in these vicarious sufferings, caused the effusion from his body, of the bloody sweat, may be easily credited without supposing him to be at all under the displeasure of his heavenly Father; for, as God can see nothing but as it is, he could not see him as a sinner who was purity itself. In every act, Jesus was that beloved Son in whom the Father was ever well pleased.
As to the angel strengthening him, probably no more is meant by it than a friendly sympathizing of one of those heavenly beings with their Lord in distress: this circumstance is the most difficult in the whole relation; but, understood thus, the difficulty is removed; for what strength could the highest angel in heaven afford to our blessed Lord in his atoning acts? Surely, none. The bare supposition is insupportable. But, if we allow that the angel came to sympathize with him during his passions the whole account will appear plain and consistent.