Mark 14:43–52

It was with a kiss, the gesture of honor and affection for an esteemed Rabbi, that Judas betrayed the Son of Man. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his series in the gospel of Mark, explaining that Judas was not the only one who betrayed Jesus that evening.


This morning, we continue our study of the gospel of Mark. I will be reading from Mark 14:43–52, and I will ask the congregation to stand for the reading of the Word of God:

And immediately, while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely.”

As soon as he had come, immediately he went up to Him and said to Him, “Rabbi, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.

Then they laid their hands on Him and took Him. And one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.

Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”

Then they all forsook Him and fled.

Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.

This is the divinely inspired record of Judas’ betrayal of our Savior. We ought to take to our hearts the grave significance of what is recorded here, not only for our information, but for our admonition and edification. Please be seated. Let us pray.

O Lord, as we contemplate this act of infamy by which our dear and sweet Redeemer was betrayed, we acknowledge that the seeds of betrayal always lurk in our own hearts, in our own weaknesses. We pray that when we think we stand, we guard against such arrogance, lest we fall as well. Speak to us now through Thy sacred Word, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Betrayal in the Dark

On this past Maundy Thursday evening, I looked with many of you at the incident of Jesus’ betrayal by the treacherous kiss of Judas, which is known in history as the kiss of death. Mark’s record tells us that while Jesus was saying His betrayer was at hand, Judas came with a great multitude of soldiers.

We assume that the soldiers with swords and clubs were a mixture of members of the temple guard belonging to the Sanhedrin as well as members of the Roman garrisons stationed in Jerusalem. They came to a designated place because the arrest of Jesus would not be made in a public arena or under the light of day but rather in a secluded spot, covered by the cloak of darkness.

Every aspect of the incident in this text indicates an action that took place among the children of darkness. It was one of the most wicked acts of all history, and it was appropriate that it took place not in the light of the sun but in the darkness of the night.

We read that Judas had given the multitude of soldiers a signal, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely.” This expression doesn’t mean that Judas was concerned for Jesus’ safety. Obviously, that was not foremost in his mind. Rather, his expression to the arresting officers that Jesus be led away safely meant simply that this action be undertaken so those involved in His arrest and seizure would not be at risk.

“Lord, Lord”

“As soon as he had come, immediately he went up to Him and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him.” On Maundy Thursday evening, I spent most of the time talking about the significance of the kiss of betrayal and the incredible paradox involved. This gesture of profound honor and affection, customarily given by disciples to their Rabbi, was the method Judas used for a most evil and wicked mission.

We also note in the text that the language describes the kiss of Judas as not a simple, brief peck on the cheek, but rather the Greek indicates a kiss lavishly bestowed upon Jesus, signifying an especially deep sense of affection and honor. The kiss itself was not only an action of contradiction, but it was a contradiction with a vengeance. The other element found in Mark’s account that I did not get into on Maundy Thursday is the way Judas spoke to Jesus.

On one occasion some time ago, I preached on Matthew 7:21–23, the end of the Sermon on the Mount, which I introduced as being the scariest sermon I have ever heard. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described a situation that would come to pass in the last day when He said: “Many will come to Me and say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not do this in Your name? Did we not do that in Your name?’” And Jesus said: “I will say to these people, ‘Depart from Me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you.’”

In that sermon, I called attention to an extremely unusual but significant cultural form of expression contained in Jesus’ warning. He did not say, “Many will come to Me in that day and say, ‘Lord, did we not do this in Your name?’” But Jesus portrayed those who will come professing to be affectionate towards Him saying, “Lord, Lord”—“Lord” repeated.

Affectionate Repetition

Addressing someone by the repetition of their name is an unusual but significant Hebraic gesture that we find only about fifteen times in all sacred Scripture. We see it in the Old Testament when Jacob feared to go with his family into the land of Goshen, and God came and spoke to him, saying: “Jacob, Jacob, don’t be afraid. Where you go, I will go with you” (Gen. 46:2–4).

Even earlier in the Old Testament record was the poignant moment on Mount Moriah, when Abraham laid his son Isaac on the altar. At the last second, God interrupted and called to him, saying, “Abraham, Abraham, lay not your hand upon your son, for now I know that you trust Me” (Gen. 22:11–12).

Later, in the Midianite wilderness, when God called Moses to the task of leading the people of Israel in the Exodus, He spoke to him out of the burning bush, saying, “Moses, Moses” (Ex. 3:4). In the midnight summons to Samuel, God said, “Samuel, Samuel,” to which the lad replied, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth” (1 Sam. 3:10–11).

When Elijah was taken up to heaven in the chariots of fire, Elisha stood there looking and he said, “My father, my father” (2 Kings 2:11–12). In David’s cry of lament at the news of the death of his son, he screamed, “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom. O Absalom my son, my son” (2 Sam. 18:33).

In the New Testament, we see a few more examples. Jesus spoke so tenderly to Martha when she objected to the attention Jesus showed Mary at Lazarus’ home, and He said to her: “Martha, Martha” (Luke 10:41). Jesus said to Saul on the road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). When Jesus warned Simon Peter of his impending denial, and he said he would never deny Him, Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, Satan would have you and sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you” (Luke 22:31–32).

The most dramatic use of the repetition came from the cross itself when Jesus cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). He also used it in His lament over the city: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I would have taken you to Myself as a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not” (Matt. 23:37).

Do you see what the repetition of the name means? Every time the personal form of address is used in repetition, it communicates an intense and profound sense of personal affection. Jesus was saying that at the last day, people would come to Him whom He did not know, who did not belong to Him, who would pretend they belonged to Him, and would not only use His name but repeat it as if they were on intimate terms: “Lord, Lord, didn’t I preach, didn’t I teach, didn’t I give my money?”

Jesus said in this scariest warning of all: “I will say to them: ‘Please leave. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know your name. Depart from Me, you workers of iniquity.’” Do you see why it is so frightening that Jesus would say that? We have verbiage in the Christian world where people ask, “Are you saved?” Or they will say, “Do you know Jesus?” That is not the issue. The issue is not, “Do you know Jesus?” The issue is, “Does Jesus know you?” Are we known of Him in that singular redemptive manner that He knows those who are His?

Jesus did not have to wait to the last day to see His prediction fulfilled that some would come calling Him, “Lord, Lord.” In the very moment of his betrayal, Judas publicly kissed Jesus and addressed Him: “Rabbi, Rabbi!” In effect, Jesus was saying: “Rabbi, the One I love. Rabbi, the One I esteem. Rabbi, the One I serve. Rabbi, Rabbi! Let me kiss You with the kiss of death.”

They All Forsook Him

Mark continues: “Then they laid their hands on Him and took Him. And one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.” The disciple who did this goes nameless in Mark’s account. Tradition tells us that Mark was the secretary of the Apostle Peter, and it was Peter’s Apostleship that stands behind the gospel of Mark. John names the nameless one in his gospel, and he identifies him as Peter, the impetuous and impulsive disciple.

Peter drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. We do not get the details in this text that Jesus rebuked him for it, picked up the ear, and put it back, as we do in Luke’s gospel. This man whose ear had just been cut off had it restored by the very One he was arresting for execution.

Jesus said to them: “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? Every day I was with you in the temple teaching. There I was. You didn’t have to sneak out in the bushes to arrest Me. You could have taken Me there easily. But you didn’t seize Me there, in order that the Scriptures may be fulfilled.”

Then we read, “Then they all”—meaning all the disciples—“forsook Him and fled.” You see, it was not just Judas. It was not just Peter. It was every last one of them. The ones who fell asleep while Jesus was in agony in prayer just a little while earlier in Gethsemane, who were now at His arrest—these heroes of the faith turned tail and fled into the darkness.

A Certain Young Man

As Mark’s account continues, he appends an extremely unusual detail in verse 51: “Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.” Why did Mark include this detail?

There are some things we can discern from the text about the strange incident of the young man following, presumably at a safe distance, who was not one of the Twelve. He clearly was a man of means because only the wealthy wore linen coverings under their tunics, so this man had to be a man of some substance. The fact that the young man only had on the linen cloth indicated that he had dressed in haste to come and follow the situation, so we can assume he lived nearby, probably in Jerusalem. These are delicious morsels for speculative theologians to chew on, and many of them say, “Why is the unnamed person in this embarrassing account included in Mark’s record?”

If he was a wealthy young man who lived in Jerusalem, it could very well have been Mark himself, who was of the priestly caste and of a wealthy family. Maybe this was Mark’s way of inserting himself biographically into the account, which would indicate he was an eyewitness of the things that took place. This is a strange way to intrude into the narrative, almost Hitchcockian, as Alfred Hitchcock used to insert himself in cameo positions in his own movies. Maybe that was the case, but it is pure and utter speculation.

The Mighty Shall Flee Naked

What I am interested in is not the identity of the young man, but the details of his flight into the darkness after his linen piece had been grabbed by one of the soldiers. He spun out of the grasp of the soldier, leaving his garments, just as Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife when she clutched his garment and he escaped by leaving the garment behind, which was then evidence for Potiphar’s wife’s lies against Joseph.

What we find in this moment of crisis is somebody reduced to nakedness fleeing in the dark. It calls attention to a text in the Old Testament, in the book of the prophet Amos, in the second chapter, where Amos goes through the list of transgressions of Moab, Judah, Israel, and so on. In Amos 2:13–16, God rebukes His people and predicts how the conditions would be when He visited His people in judgment:

“Behold, I am weighed down by you,
As a cart full of sheaves is weighed down.
Therefore flight will perish from the swift,
The strong shall not strengthen his power,
Nor the mighty deliver himself;
He shall not stand who handles the bow,
The swift of foot shall not escape,
Nor shall he who rides a horse deliver himself.
The most courageous men of might
Shall flee naked in that day,”
says the Lord.

Be Clothed Afresh

I wrote a book many years ago first titled The Psychology of Atheism, then later retitled If There Is a God, Why Are There Atheists? In that book, I have a chapter on the nakedness motif that we find in sacred Scripture as well as in Western philosophy. I did a word study of the word gymnos, which is the Greek word for “naked.”

The motif begins back in the garden of Eden, where we are told that in creation, the man and woman were naked but without shame until sin came into their lives. The very first psychological self-awareness of guilt and shame was an uncomfortable awareness of nudity.

Since that hour in the garden of Eden, human beings have been the only animals who have adorned and covered themselves with artificial garments. It is built into our fallen humanity to equate shame and humiliation with nakedness. Throughout the pages of Scripture, when God speaks of bringing judgment against the guilty, He exposes their sin and strips them of their clothes. The motif runs through the book of Revelation, in which we see judgments from God whereby He sends away the wicked in nakedness.

I wish I had time to speak longer of that motif, but it is at the heart of our understanding of redemption. All of us have garments that clothe us, and we are told our righteousness is like rotten, filthy rags. The only way any of us can ever stand in the sight of God is to be stripped of those rags and clothed afresh in the garments of the righteousness of Christ. That is the gospel.

We heard in the reading from Exodus of the consecration of the priest’s garments, of Aaron and the priests who were set apart and covered to serve in the presence of God. You and I can never stand in the presence of a holy God unless we are clothed from on high with a righteousness that is not our own. On the night Jesus was betrayed, the man in his sin ran for his life, being naked and ashamed.

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.