The Power of Darkness


Mark 14

The chief priests and the scribes were looking feverishly for a way to arrest Jesus, put him to trial and kill him with a minimum of possibility that this would provoke an uprising from the people. They found their way in the cunning, covetous hypocrisy of Judas.

I. Unbridled affection and Deceptive betrayal.

A. The rightly informed affections of Mary.

    1. This meeting took place in the home of Simon the leper. Other guests from Bethany were there including Lazarus who had been raised from the dead and his sisters Mary and Martha. Martha was serving (John 12:1–3).
    2. Mary took a box of expensive perfumed ointment, worth a year’s wages for a dayworker, and anointed Jesus head and feet (Mark 14:3; John 12:3). She wiped his feet with her hair. Both the gift and the action were filled with an exuberant show of love and self-giving.
    3. This act of exorbitant and sacrificial affection immediately provoked scorn from those around and scolding from some. They acted as if this show of the priceless worth of Jesus was wasted action and wasted ointment. If she were so willing to depart with it, the least she could have done was sell it for its value and then give the money to the poor. But merely to pour it out on Jesus !. . . of what use was that? It seems that Judas Iscariot was the leader of this scornful banter.

B. The disappointing covetousness of Judas.

On cue and in character, Judas went to the chief priests to make a way for them to arrest Jesus in a clandestine manner. Of course, he was paid for this betrayal. Jesus had previously taught how much material interests affected the spiritual receptivity of people. One of the most obvious and destructive ways that original sin manifests itself is in covetousness (Mark 10:23–25; Romans 7:7, 8). Paul knew that when the commandment “Thou shalt not covet” arose in his conscience as a prosecuting attorney, the entire table of righteous law stood against him.

II. Shadow gives way to light (Verses 12–26)

A. The Passover is predictive of Jesus’ substitutionary death.

    1. The disciples prepared the Passover following Jesus’ instruction about how to find a room for the meal. The events followed just as Jesus said they would (12–16). Though there are some things in which Jesus did not take the prerogative of his own infinite knowledge of all things to speak, it is clear that nothing was hidden from his sight, but in his eternal perspective he knew all things for he had been present as the Son in the counsels of eternity. Also, he continued in his eternal relation with the Father as generated by him; he emptied himself of the external display of divine glory and submitted himself to the external display of a life of a servant (Philippians 2:6, 7). He executed the eternal covenantal plan of God in the human nature and performed the lowest task of servitude in being treated by men as a felon, undergoing the shame of a cross, in order to terminate in his own body the wrath of the Father held justly against the elect sinners for whom he died.
    2. At the Passover Jesus revealed that one of them would betray him. Judas already had made his plans to do so. Again, Jesus knows all things and has decreed all things. He revealed it as one who dipped with him in the bowl. This was not a specific identification of Judas necessarily, for all were taking from the one bowl. It does indicate that this betrayal comes from one who is feigning intimate friendship and fellowship. They were eating from the same bowl. John records that Jesus did in particular give a piece of bread to Judas Iscariot (John 13:26–30), but apparently in the perplexity of the moment this did not register with the other disciples.
    3. Verse 21 indicates both elements of the constant biblical refrain of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. God’s decree integrates into all of its events the moral responsibility of all the human actors in the decreed drama of redemption. The Son of Man goes “Just as it is written of him,” in passages such as Isaiah 53, Zechariah 3:8, 9; 12:10; 13:7. But even though prophesied and thus certain, the one who does it is no less responsible for executing sinful, covetous, treacherous desires of his heart. Non- existence would be better than the eternity of torment to which he will be assigned.

B. (Verses 22–26) The Lord’s Supper recalls the completeness and abiding effects of Jesus’ death.

That this was indeed an instituted ordinance of the New Testament church is seen from 1 Corinthians 11:23–26. Paul summarized the vital elements of the observance beginning with a report that this was divinely revealed to him (22a) and closing with an affirmation of its symbolism, its perpetuity, and its promise.

    1. Jesus moved quickly from the predictive element of the Passover into the memorial aspect of the Lord’s Supper. He acted as if his redemptive event was complete. He had been telling them of the certainty of his ill treatment, his crucifixion, and his resurrection. Now in symbol he points to his broken body and his shed blood.
    2. As he had indicated that he came to give himself a ransom for many, now he says that his blood is shed for many. He calls it the blood of the covenant. Hebrews uses a similar phrase—the blood of the eternal covenant—to indicate that all the covenantal promises from Adam through David, and in the prophets were fulfilled in the shedding of Jesus blood (Hebrews 13:20). Paul told the Corinthians, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us . . . was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in him are yes, and in him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” (2 Corinthians 1:19–21 NKJV)
    3. (Verse 25) The next banquet event of Jesus with his disciples would be in the consummated kingdom of God. Again, this includes a prediction of his death, for on this earth he would drink of this fruit of the vine. It included a perfect confidence in the effectuality of his death, for only on that basis would there be this kingdom of redeemed subjects.
    4. The hymn probably was Psalm 118, the last Psalm of the Hallel sung intermittently throughout the Passover meal. Read Psalm 118 and note how prophetic it was of the next hours of Jesus’ suffering and its result. His rejection though he is the cornerstone is seen as covenantally determined: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:22–24 ESV). All of this is done in the interests of steadfast love and an effectual salvation (1–4, 29; 14, 15, 21). Jesus was to be the festal sacrifice bound with cords to the horns of the altar (27).
    5. The words of Psalm 116:1–4 must have been particularly poignant to Jesus in this time. “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!” (3, 4 ESV).

III. Weakness more powerful than strength (27–40).

A. Jesus Predicted their Weakness

    1. Their falling away would be a fulfillment of Scripture. Again, based on Scripture, Jesus predicted their falling away from him when the powers of the world closed in on him. He based the prediction on Zechariah 13:7. “The sheep will be scattered.”
    2. Peter, as well as the others, denied that they would deny him. They all were saying the same thing about their confidence that they would not deny him, but Peter seemed peculiarly insistent on this. They all seemed to have overcome the moment of hesitation experienced when he predicted the betrayal by one of them (19).
    3. To Peter’s protest, Jesus issued a detailed description of the peculiar nature of his denial. Jesus told him that he would give three separate instances of denial before the final crowing of the cock. Even in the face of Jesus’ sobering prediction, Peter insisted that he would be willing to die before he denied Jesus. All of them did the same. How little do we see the weakness of our fallen souls. Surely, we need divine strength for doing the will of God. The increase of truth, the resurrection of Jesus, and the ministry of the Spirit in light of those elements of salvation history give the Christian assurance that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6 ESV).

B. The test of agonizing prayer

    1. Jesus went to Gethsemane and divided the disciples into two groups.
      • Some place on the edge of the garden, Jesus asked his disciples, except the three, to sit while he went into the garden to pray. He indicated that he would return for them when finished praying (32).
      • He took with him Peter James and John. The weight of the coming events fell with power on his soul at this point and the text says he “began to be very distressed and troubled.” This was not unfounded anxiety or a mere phantom of worry. This came as a result of a true perception of the troubles that were now beginning to come on him. This distress was not only a mental response to a knowledge of future events, but even at that time the objective descent of divine wrath had started. He sensed that the Father to whom he prayed not only would set him forth as a propitiation, but in these moments the first dew drops of divine punishment were distilling upon his soul. Jesus “began to be distressed and troubled” (33).
      • He indicated the degree of internal distress even now descending from the throne of justice upon him by saying “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death” (34). Death, the wages of sin, was seeping into the soul of Jesus. The curse made itself known to Jesus’ consciousness (Galatians 3: 13). We find that throughout this event, from this initial entry into the mysterious shadows of divine wrath and even in his words on the cross Jesus talks to the Father whose wrath he is bearing (“Father forgive them … My God My God why have you forsaken me; … Into your hands I commit my Spirit.”
    1. Jesus prayed in light of the impending event recently symbolized in the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Mark summarized this struggle of prayer in saying that Jesus “fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass him by” (35).
      • Jesus already had resolved that he must surely endure the hour. His troubled soul had been operative since he entered on this ministry but at a high level for a week. Jesus at the beginning of the week of Passover, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (John 12:27 NASB).
      • Leaving the immediate location of these three waiting disciples, Jesus addressed the Father with the deepest term of endearment, “Abba! Father.” Abba is the easy pronunciation of a word of endearment that a child uttered when he saw his Father. Even with the wrath now dripping into his soul, awaiting the full torrent of the broken dam of divine wrath, Jesus had no doubts of the love that was essential to the very existence of the Trinity.
      • “All things are possible for you” (36). Certainly, the request of Jesus was in the realm of natural possibility for the Father in and of himself. It was possible that he could will that there be no redemption. We do know, however, that it is impossible for God to lie or to deny himself (Titus 1:2; 2 Timothy 2:12). Natural possibilities are not always moral possibilities.
      • Jesus, as a person who was about to suffer exquisitely in his humanity, asked for the cup (Note Mark 10:38) to pass from him. Purely from the standpoint of the cup of suffering itself, Jesus the Nazarene did not want it. There never had been and never again would be a sorrow like his sorrow. The wrath of God is the absolute antithesis to anything desirable for the human person.
      • But, in light of the fulfillment of the covenant of redemption, a covenant in which the Son fittingly consented to follow the will of the Father even to the death of the cross (Philippians 2:8), Jesus obediently stated, “Yet not what I will (in my human nature dreading such a moment of utter misery and destruction), but what you will (as you faithfully move toward the consummation of the eternal covenant of redemption).” The Son’s submission in this moment to the fulfillment of the very thing from which his human nature shrank perfected his righteousness (See Hebrews 5:7–10). This was the final consent of his human heart to a positive command that would constitute his “becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:8).
    1. He returned to his inner circle and found them sleeping. He spoke to Peter in particular. “Peter, you have vowed to follow even to death, could you not even watch with me in prayer for one hour?” Having vowed to follow him to death, in their weakness they could not even stay awake with Jesus in this moment of the initial elevation of divine wrath into his pure consciousness, both physical and spiritual.
    2. Even after this first failure to watch, the same thing happened two more times. Jesus had predicted that Peter would deny him three times (29–31). As a precursor to that difficult moment, Peter fails even in this easier assignment, “Remain here and keep watch” (34). Even as he slept three times during Jesus’ contemplation of the hour and his momentous struggle in the first fallings of righteous wrath on his soul, so he would deny him three times, even with an oath.
    3. In spite of pledges we make in strong moments, and confidence that we express when we see things in the most rational light, we must ever acknowledge that the flesh is weak. Jesus told them to “Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (38 NASB). The fight against the power of sleep would have been training for courage in the face of physical threat yet to come. If Jesus the Son of God prayed in his moment of deepest distress, how much more should the disciples in that same moment have realized that they also stood in the need of supernatural strength. Jesus knew that all their resolution for good uttered in a time of light, would fail to materialize as the power of darkness descended (Luke 22:53).


Exceeding value, poured out freely on the prophet priest, and king.
Now anointed for his labor, He Himself the offering.
Infinite his worth,
Bound for death from birth.

Yet they did not grasp his meaning, though he gave a graphic sign.
Symbols of redemptive suffering, broken bread and poured-out wine.
Body bruised in wrath,
Blood strewn on his path.

Jesus, Shepherd, gave them warning; One of his own would betray.
His selling price was of a slave; the profit, endless dismay.
The betrayer doomed,
From his birth consumed.

Dark clouds of wrath filled Jesus’ prayer, while sleep filled the eyes of friends.
Jesus sweat blood, yielded his will, the Lord on whom life depends.
It’s his hour to die;
t’s their hour to fly.

Peter pledged his love would not fail; so said they all, “We hold fast.”
But enemy arrest and trial lay this bold boast in the past.
Until Pentecost,
Self-assertion lost.

Strange the vict’ry, to welcome death; but life is in the outcome.
Infinite worth matched countless cost, expressions of God’s wisdom.
Eternal life won,
Earthly boasting done.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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