1 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he told his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” 3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people met together in the palace of the high priest, who was named Caiaphas. 4 They planned to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, so that there won’t be a riot among the people.”
6 Now while Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of expensive perfumed oil, and she poured it on his head as he was at the table. 8 When the disciples saw this, they became indignant and said, “Why this waste? 9 It could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor!” 10 When Jesus learned of this, he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a good service for me. 11 For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me! 12 When she poured this oil on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
14 Then one of the twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me to betray him into your hands?” So they set out thirty silver coins for him. 16 From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray him.
17 Now on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is near. I will observe the Passover with my disciples at your house.”’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had instructed them, and they prepared the Passover. 20 When it was evening, he took his place at the table with the twelve. 21 And while they were eating he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” 22 They became greatly distressed and each one began to say to him, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if he had never been born.” 25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus replied, “You have said it yourself.”
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat, this is my body.” 27 And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, from now on I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:1-29).
There are all too many people who look upon the death of Jesus Christ as a tragic accident, and upon our Lord Himself as the victim. I don’t know where this idea comes from, but it is not from the Gospels themselves. The Gospel writers are careful to demonstrate that the death of Jesus Christ is not only the purpose of God, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, but it was also His doing, in spite of significant opposition. I urge you to consider our text with this in mind. Our text is not an unrelated conglomeration of stories; it is a carefully laid out demonstration of the sovereignty of our Lord in bringing about His death as prophecy indicated and the purposes of God required.
The Tension in This Text: Something, or Someone, Has to Give
1 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he told his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” 3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people met together in the palace of the high priest, who was named Caiaphas. 4 They planned to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, so that there won’t be a riot among the people” (Matthew 26:1-5).
Our Lord’s Declaration Regarding His Death
The first two verses of Matthew 26 contain our Lord’s declarations regarding His imminent death. Note that Matthew wants us to recognize that these words follow the completion of the Olivet Discourse in chapters 24 and 25. I believe our Lord wanted us to view His impending crucifixion in the light of the larger plan, as He has just outlined it. The cross is part of God’s all-encompassing plan of redeeming fallen man, and thereby to glorify Himself.
Note further that when Jesus speaks of His death, He does so as something His disciples already know: “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be delivered up for crucifixion” (verse 2). The possibility of our Lord’s death had probably haunted His disciples for some time. Think of all the attempts on His life. For example, Herod sought to kill Him while just an infant (Matthew 2). After Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, the Pharisees plotted to kill Him (Matthew 12:14). When Jesus introduced Himself as the Messiah in the synagogue at Nazareth, He then spoke of His bringing salvation to the Gentiles, as well as to Jews. Hearing this, the crowd sought to throw Jesus over a cliff (Luke 4:28-29). Jesus spent a good bit of His time in Galilee because the Jews in Judea were seeking to kill Him (John 7:1). When Jesus determined to go to Bethany, where Lazarus already had died, His disciples realized the danger that this posed:
So Thomas (called Didymus) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go too, so that we may die with him” (John 11:16).
Jesus was referring to more than just these attempts when He told His disciples that they knew He was to die. On several earlier occasions in Matthew, Jesus specifically foretold His coming death:
From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Matthew 16:21).
When they gathered together in Galilee, Jesus told them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men (Matthew 17:22).
18 “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the experts in the law. They will condemn him to death, 19 and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged severely and crucified. Yet on the third day, he will be raised” (Matthew 20:18-19).
In Matthew 16:21, our Lord informed His disciples that He would suffer and die in Jerusalem, and then be raised from the dead on the third day. He also indicated that He would suffer at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes. In Matthew 17:22, Jesus added that He would be betrayed. In Matthew 20:18-19, our Lord added that He would be handed over to the Gentiles, and that He would be crucified. All these things the disciples “knew,” or should have known, because Jesus told them so.
Now, in Matthew 26:1-2, Jesus underscores two very important details regarding His death. The first is not new – He will be crucified. The second detail is new – He will be crucified during Passover. The death of our Lord will be soon, just a couple of days away. And His death will be by crucifixion, a very public death.
The Conspiracy of the Jewish Leaders
Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus was opposed by the scribes and Pharisees. But now the most powerful Jews in Israel have taken up the cause. We know why from John’s Gospel. Not long before (after the raising of Lazarus), they met to discuss how to deal with Jesus and His popularity among the people:
47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation.” 49 Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.” 51 (Now he did not say this on his own, but because he was high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered.) 53 So from that day they planned together to kill him (John 11:47-53).
Jesus was becoming so popular and powerful among the people that the religious leaders realized if He were not stopped, everyone would believe in Him. What a testimony to the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. The religious leaders knew that if Jesus won the crowds over, they would lose their positions of prominence, power, and prestige. The Romans were willing to let them rule so long as they maintained law and order, and Jesus appeared to be a threat to the status quo.
It was none other than Caiaphas, the high priest, who proposed that Jesus must be killed. After our Lord’s triumphal entry and taking possession of Jerusalem and the temple, the Jewish elite were terrified by the threat Jesus posed. And so they conspired to put Jesus to death. They weren’t quite sure how they would do this, but they did agree on one thing: it could not be done in a way that incited the crowds. They were resolved to arrest Jesus “by stealth,” that is, they would do it in a very secretive (and likely underhanded) manner. They wished to do it in a way that did not attract attention, especially the attention of the masses. Thus, they would not dare to kill Him during the Passover, or they would have a riot on their hands, or so they feared. They would seize Jesus after the Passover celebration (including the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread) was over.
I believe Matthew is laying out our Lord’s prophecy regarding His death in a way that sets it in direct opposition to the plan of the Jewish leaders. At their meeting in the palace of Caiaphas, they agreed that they would kill Jesus, but it must be done in a way that did not incite the masses to riot. They did not have all the particulars worked out. They did not determine how they would gain access to Jesus, nor precisely how they would kill him. They did resolve that they would kill Jesus by stealth, that is by treachery that was secretly executed. What they did to Jesus would be done in secret, as much as possible. This meant that Jesus would most certainly not be killed by crucifixion. That was far too public. Their method of choice was generally “stoning” because that was what the law prescribed in the case of blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16; Matthew 26:65-66), as well as many other offenses. It was what some of the Jews had attempted on several occasions (John 8:59; 10:31; 11:8). Crucifixion just wouldn’t accomplish what they had in mind.
A second restriction that the Jewish leaders agreed upon was that they did not dare to kill Jesus during the feast (Matthew 26:5). That would surely provoke the people to riot. Since the Feast of Unleavened Bread lasted for a week, the entire feast period (plus the two days leading up to the feast) would be nearly two weeks.
And so here is the dilemma. Jesus told His disciples He would die during Passover, in just two days. The Jewish leaders agreed that He must not be killed for nearly two weeks. Jesus said that He would die by crucifixion, and (earlier) that the Romans would be involved. In other words, Jesus indicated that His death would be brought about in a very public matter, and it would involve much suffering and persecution. The Jewish leaders purposed to wait until after the feast; Jesus said He must die during the feast, as the Passover Lamb.
No two plans for His death could be more diametrically opposed. What Jesus told His disciples would happen was exactly what the Jewish leaders determined would not happen. Somebody is not going to get their way. Someone is going to have to give way to the other. This is the tension Matthew sets up at the beginning of the events leading to the cross. It is a tension Matthew wants us to feel. Matthew wants his readers to pay attention to whose plans are fulfilled, and whose plans are not. If Jesus is to die as He has said (and as prophecy has required), He must do so against the plans and efforts of the most powerful Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. I am reminded here of the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, or of the “battle of the gods” at the exodus.
At the Table With Jesus: Worship and Whining
6 Now while Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of expensive perfumed oil, and she poured it on his head as he was at the table. 8 When the disciples saw this, they became indignant and said, “Why this waste? 9 It could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor!” 10 When Jesus learned of this, he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a good service for me. 11 For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me! 12 When she poured this oil on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (Matthew 26:6-13).
Those of us who live in the West are predisposed to think chronologically, and thus we would assume that verses 6-13 took place shortly after Jesus’ words in verses 1-2. But in fact this is not the case. Matthew gives us no clear indication regarding the timing of this event, but John’s account makes a number of things clear to us:
1 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 So they prepared a dinner for Jesus there. Martha was serving, and Lazarus was among those present at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took three quarters of a pound of expensive aromatic oil from pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus. She then wiped his feet dry with her hair. (Now the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfumed oil.) 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was going to betray him) said, 5 “Why wasn’t this oil sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?” 6 (Now Judas said this not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money box, he used to steal what was put into it.) 7 So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She has kept it for the day of my burial. 8 For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me!” (John 12:1-8)
This meal took place six days before the Passover, while Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:1-2 were spoken two days before Passover. Matthew tells us about an unnamed woman who anoints Jesus with precious perfumed oil; John tells us that this woman was none other than Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. We are not really surprised because this dinner was served in Bethany, where Lazarus and his sisters lived. Matthew names only one person in his account, Simon the leper (Matthew 26:6), a man whose name we don’t really recognize. All others are nameless in Matthew’s account. Not so with the Gospel of John. He names Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus, but he does not mention Simon the leper. He also names Judas. John informs us that it was Judas who protested, apparently stirring up his fellow disciples. John also provides the motive for Judas’ protest. Judas was the treasurer of the group, and he was accustomed to helping himself to some of the funds in his possession.
Let us consider the relationship between Matthew 26:1-5 and verses 6-13, first from Matthew’s perspective, and then from John’s.
In Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples that He will be crucified in just two days, during Passover. No reaction from the disciples is recorded (either by Matthew, or by any other Gospel writer). The disciples seem oblivious to what lies ahead. But then we read in the following verses about a meal that occurred several days earlier, a meal which Jesus and His disciples attended. A woman takes this occasion to worship and adore her Lord by anointing Him with an expensive fragrance. The disciples are incensed, protesting that this money could have been put to better use. Better use? What better use could this fragrance have? Who is more worthy of this extravagance than Jesus? And yet the disciples are angry with her for being wasteful.
Jesus sees more than just an act of adoration in what this woman has done; He sees preparation for His burial. Four days before He speaks to His disciples concerning His death, this woman (Mary) seems to know what is ahead. She sees this, perhaps, as her final act of devotion to Jesus.
Matthew’s account provides us with one connection between verses 1-5 and verses 6-13; John’s account provides us with yet another. Matthew’s focus is on Mary (although unnamed) at this moment. Jesus’ prediction of the manner and timing of His death (just two days away) seemed to have little impact on the disciples. Perhaps it just went over their heads. Mary, however, seems to have been listening more intently. She was preparing Him for His burial, and Jesus commended her worship as such.
When we come to the account of this anointing in John’s Gospel, we find that it was Judas who protested regarding this “waste” of the precious substance. How fitting that it was Judas who objected. He believed that Jesus was not worthy of such extravagant worship; Mary believed that He was worthy. The disciples seem to have foolishly joined with Judas in his protest. We now see that money was more important to Judas than Jesus was (what Mary did to Jesus, Judas objected, was a waste of money). To Mary, Jesus was worthy of her most precious possession. Mary was right.
A Deal with the Devil
14 Then one of the twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me to betray him into your hands?” So they set out thirty silver coins for him. 16 From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray him (Matthew 26:14-16).
Reading only Matthew, we might wonder what the connection is between verses 1-13 and verses 14-16. Thanks to John’s Gospel, we know what the connection is. Judas and Mary are the keys to this text. Mary represents the godly response to Jesus and to His predictions regarding His death. She, unlike Peter (Matthew 16:21-23), does not resist His death; she prepares Him for His death and burial. Judas does not consider Jesus worthy to follow any longer, and so for a few silver coins, he will betray Him. And this he does by means of a kiss, a mock act of love and devotion.
After reading verses 3-5 of Matthew 26, we can see how Judas would appear to be the perfect solution to the Jewish leaders’ dilemma. Judas was one of the intimate followers of Jesus. He could provide them with the ideal place and time to seize Jesus privately, by stealth, and kill Him. Or so it would seem. The meal described in verses 6-13 provided the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for Judas. He was angered by the waste of the precious perfume, or rather the money it could have produced if sold. He would have been able to steal some of that money unnoticed. Jesus’ rebuke must have been the icing on the cake. That was it for Judas! If he could not get money the way he normally did (by stealing some from the bag he kept as the treasurer), then he would get it from the enemies of Jesus, who would pay well for his betrayal.
And so the deal was struck, a deal with the devil himself. John put it this way:
1 Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end. 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus (John 13:1-2).
For thirty silver coins Judas would give these leaders the inside information which would facilitate the private seizure of Jesus. It was a bargain made in hell.
Matthew began this chapter by establishing the tension between our Lord’s prophecy regarding His death (in two days, on Passover, by crucifixion) and the plans of the Jewish leaders (secret arrest and killing, not during the feast). It would seem that the Jewish leaders now have the upper hand. They now appear to have the solution to their problem of gaining access to Jesus secretly, and at the right time.
Can you imagine the relief and the joy that the Jewish leaders felt when Judas came to them with his offer of betraying Jesus? I can almost see the smiles on their faces. Now, it would seem, they have the means to accomplish their plans and to achieve their goal of removing Jesus and thus the threat He posed. They should not count their chickens before they are hatched. The following verses show how our Lord turns all of this to His advantage, so that His prophecy (not to mention many other Old Testament prophecies) is fulfilled.
The Perfect Private Opportunity for Betrayal – Or Was it?
17 Now on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is near. I will observe the Passover with my disciples at your house.”’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had instructed them, and they prepared the Passover (Matthew 26:17-19).
Without further revelation, we might think that the end is near for Jesus, nearer than He prophesied. According to Matthew’s bare-bones account, the disciples know it is time for them to observe the Passover with their Lord, and they don’t know where that will be. Surely they will need to make the necessary preparations. All Jesus needs to do, it would seem, is to tell them where He wishes to observe Passover and they will take care of these preparations.
Matthew simply tells us that Jesus instructed them to go to the city “to a certain man” and tell him that the Master’s time is near, and that He will observe Passover at his house. What man? What house? Which disciples? Matthew withholds this information from his readers. He merely tells us that the disciples did as Jesus instructed. Knowing what we do from verses 14-16, we might easily conclude that Jesus is walking straight into a trap. If Judas knew where this private celebration would be held, all he had to do was to inform the Jewish leaders and Jesus could be arrested privately.
Matthew leaves us holding our breath, wondering if Jesus will be arrested. From his abbreviated and somewhat vague description of events, we might conclude that Jesus informed all of His disciples where the Passover would be observed. Thankfully, we are given a much more detailed account by Mark:
12 Now on the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 13 He sent two of his disciples and told them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Wherever he enters, tell the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 16 So the disciples left, went into the city, and found things just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover (Mark 14:12-16).
As always, Jesus had carefully made the necessary preparations to assure that His purposes would be accomplished. Mark informs us that Jesus told only two of His disciples how to prepare for the Passover, and thanks to Luke (Luke 22:8), we know that one of these was not Judas. The two disciples were Peter and John, presumably the most trustworthy of the bunch, the two who would become prominent leaders in the church after Pentecost.
Jesus had carefully prearranged for the Passover with an unnamed person, who would appear to be a follower of Jesus as Messiah. Even if overheard by the other disciples (something I am inclined to assume), the instructions our Lord gave to Peter and John would not have given the specific information Judas would have required. Even Peter and John did not know where they were going ahead of time. They would be met by a man carrying water. Was this by previous arrangement, or by providence? We are not told. Did this man know to meet the disciples, or did they providentially come upon him? The two disciples were told to follow this man to the place where he was taking the water. Was this the water for the disciples’ feet to be washed? We do not know. But inside they would meet the owner of the house. They were to indicate to him that they were looking for the room where “the Teacher” would observe Passover. He will then show them the room he has already prepared. Presumably the disciples would make any remaining preparations, and then at the last moment Jesus would arrive with the rest of His disciples. That would prevent Judas from slipping out and revealing the place where they would privately gather. Judas may have been willing to betray Jesus at this point, but he was not able, because Jesus had prevented him from doing so. Jesus is in control, not Judas, and not the other disciples, and not the Jewish leaders who were determined to kill Him. Indeed, this meal would not be the occasion for them to get the best of Jesus; it would be the occasion that Jesus would set in motion the events which would lead to the fulfillment of His prophecies regarding His death, during Passover.
Another Shocking Revelation
20 When it was evening, he took his place at the table with the twelve. 21 And while they were eating he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” 22 They became greatly distressed and each one began to say to him, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if he had never been born.” 25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus replied, “You have said it yourself” (Matthew 26:20-25).
In the Book of Proverbs, we are told, “The wicked person flees when there is no one pursuing, but the righteous person is as confident as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1). How could Judas be anything but uneasy about His relationship with Jesus and His disciples? And He had good reason, for Jesus knew from eternity who would betray Him:
“But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus had already known from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) (John 6:64)
70 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is the devil?” 71 (Now he said this about Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for Judas, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.) (John 6:70-71)
How Judas must have dreaded looking Jesus and his fellow disciples in the eye, knowing he had agreed to betray them all. But he must hold out until he could discern a favorable time to hand Jesus over to His enemies, and this could only be done by remaining among them.
Unlike Mark, Matthew has kept his readers in suspense, wondering what will come of all these things. Had we not known the outcome, we should be wondering if Judas would have known and revealed the time and place of their gathering for Passover. In the midst of the meal, Jesus drops a bomb that shakes all of His disciples: One of them is going to betray Him. All of the disciples are shocked, so much so that they are not thinking of others, but only of themselves: “Surely not I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22)
Judas knows he is the betrayer, and now he seeks to learn whether Jesus knows it or not: “Surely not I, Rabbi?” (Matthew 26:25)
Note the subtle change from the disciples’ “Surely not I, Lord” to Judas’ “Surely not I, Rabbi.” In a conversation that the others somehow did not hear, or at least did not grasp, Jesus clearly indicated to Judas that He knew he would betray Him. Jesus did more than reveal to Judas that his treachery was known; He issued a warning to Him regarding the eternal consequences of his actions:
“The Son of Man will go as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if he had never been born” (Matthew 26:24).
Once again, Matthew keeps us in suspense. He does not tell us how Judas responded. He simply goes on to describe the significance of our Lord’s death at Passover. But John gives us some important additional details:
26 Jesus replied, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread after I have dipped it in the dish.” Then he dipped the piece of bread in the dish and gave it to Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son. 27 And after Judas took the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 (Now none of those present at the table understood why Jesus said this to Judas. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling him to buy whatever they needed for the feast, or to give something to the poor.) 30 Judas took the piece of bread and went out immediately. (Now it was night.) (John 13:26-30)
From Matthew’s suspenseful account, we are left in doubt as to what became of Judas after our Lord’s shocking revelation to him that he was the betrayer. Jesus knew exactly what Judas was about to do. Did the disciples, sitting there when the private words were exchanged between Jesus and Judas (which informed Judas that Jesus knew it was him), hear? Did they understand what Jesus had just said? If they did Judas was in grave danger. You will recall that at least Peter was armed with a sword (see Luke 22:38; John 18:10-11). I doubt that had he known what Judas was up to he would have hesitated to use his sword to defend his Lord, and to eliminate the threat Judas posed.
From John’s Gospel, we know that our Lord gave Judas permission to leave, and, indeed, to get on with his mission: “What you are about to do, do quickly” (John 18:27).
Judas could not get out of that room fast enough. He could never go back. Jesus knew him to be His betrayer, and he could not be certain that the disciples might not figure it out. Whatever he did, he must do it quickly. And so Judas left the room and went immediately to the Jewish leaders to betray the Lord Jesus. And so we now know, thanks to John, that the last verses of our text are an account of what took place after the departure of Judas. The bread and the cup would be shared only among those who believed.
We dare not miss the significance of what we have just read. Our Lord’s revelation (to Judas at least) of the identity of His betrayer forced him and the Jewish leaders to revise their plans. They had earlier resolved that the arrest and murder of Jesus would not be during the feast. Now, if Judas were to enable them to achieve their goal of arresting Jesus, it would have to be now, during the feast. Judas could never return to our Lord’s inner circle of disciples. Judas must act now or never, and act he did. But that is the subject of our next study. For now we will go back to that private room, back to our Lord and His true disciples, and to the meaning of His death.
The Meaning of Passover
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat, this is my body.” 27 And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, from now on I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:26-29).
Jesus was the Passover Lamb:
4 But he lifted up our illnesses,
he carried our pain;
even though we thought he was being punished,
attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done.
5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds,
crushed because of our sins;
he endured punishment that made us well;
because of his wounds we have been healed.
6 All of us had wandered off like sheep;
each of us had strayed off on his own path,
but the Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him.
7 He was treated harshly and afflicted,
but he did not even open his mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block,
like a sheep silent before her shearers,
he did not even open his mouth (Isaiah 53:4-7).
On the next day, John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
32 Now the passage of scripture the man was reading was this:
“He was led like a sheep to slaughter,
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In humiliation justice was taken from him.
Who can describe his posterity?
For his life was taken away from the earth.”
34 Then the eunuch said to Philip, “Please tell me, who is the prophet saying this about himself or someone else?” 35 So Philip started speaking, and beginning with this scripture proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him (Acts 8:32-35).
7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough—you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
14 So I said to him, “My lord, you know the answer.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb! 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will never go hungry or be thirsty again, and the sun will not beat down on them, nor any burning heat, 17 because the Lamb in the middle of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:14-17).
Verses 26-29 of our text explain the significance of our Lord’s death, at just the right time – Passover. Leaving Judas behind, Matthew turns to our Lord, who is the true focus of this text. Jesus is the Passover Lamb, the One symbolized by the lamb sacrificed at the first Passover, just before the Israelites left Egypt (Exodus 12). He is the One foretold by Isaiah (Isaiah 52:13—53:12, etc.). His death must take place during Passover, because He is the true Passover Lamb.
Matthew does not go into great detail in our text, but he does give us the essentials. Our Lord gave the disciples bread, which symbolized His sinless body. He alone was without sin, and thus qualified to die for the sins of others, rather than for His own sins:
18 You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors, you were ransomed—not by perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Minutes after I had delivered this message in our church, we were observing communion. The relevance of this text came to me as we were partaking of the bread. The bread does not symbolize the death of our Lord; the cup does, symbolizing Christ’s shed blood. The bread symbolizes the perfection of our Lord’s body. He is the only One who has ever been without sin. He is the unblemished, spotless Sacrificial Lamb. The bread is unleavened, symbolizing the sinlessness of our Lord. It is only because of His sinless perfection that He could die for the sins of others. The sinlessness of our Lord is the reason why His shed blood is precious and effective for us.
Mary’s act of selfless, sacrificial worship now comes into even sharper focus. Mary’s fragrance was to be used for the purpose of anointing and enhancing someone’s body. What better body to use it on than the perfect body of our Lord, Jesus Christ? Her act of worship is a testimony to the perfection of our Lord, in a human body. Her sacrificial act not only prepared our Lord’s body for burial, it declared the perfection of His body as a suitable sacrifice.
Jesus then passed the cup, symbolizing His blood, which would be shed on the cross of Calvary. The meaning and significance of His shed blood is further explained as being “the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Jesus’ death on the cross instituted the New Covenant, fulfilling Old Testament texts like this:
31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33).
As the true Passover Lamb, Jesus fulfilled the New Covenant, and delivered repentant sinners from the guilt of the Old. In so doing, He accomplished the forgiveness of sins, once for all, for all who believe (“for many,” Matthew 26:28). His words looked forward, not only to His death at Calvary, but also to His resurrection:
29 I tell you, from now on I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).
We can now look back and see the hand of God in every portion of our Scripture text. Jesus revealed His plan to die by crucifixion at the time of the Passover. The Jewish leaders resolved that He would die, but in a different way and at a different time. The anointing of Jesus by an unknown woman (unknown so far as Matthew is concerned, but we know her to be Mary) was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Judas. He could not stand to see such extravagance, such waste! And the disciples bought into this argument. Only Mary, it would seem, had a grasp of what was about to happen, and acted appropriately.
Judas then went to the Jewish leaders and struck a deal. He would provide them with just what they needed – an inside track to be able to find the right time and place to seize Jesus. He would betray the Lord Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. It looked as though this could happen at our Lord’s observance of the Passover with His disciples. But Jesus carefully eliminated this possibility by sending only Peter and John, and in such a way as to not reveal the whereabouts of the meal ahead of time.
When they were all gathered at the table, Jesus shocked Judas and the others by revealing that one of them would betray Him. Judas alone received word from Jesus that it was he who would betray Him. This sent Judas into a panic, and thus while the others celebrated the Passover (and the first communion service) with Jesus, Judas was collaborating with the Jewish leaders to bring about the arrest of Jesus. But it would still be at the time and place of our Lord’s choosing, as our next lesson will show.
My friend, reminded me of these words in Psalm 2:
1 Why do the nations cause a commotion?
Why are the countries devising plots that will fail?
2 The kings of the earth form a united front;
the rulers collaborate against the Lord and his chosen king.
3 They say, “Let’s tear off the shackles they’ve put on us!
Let’s free ourselves from their ropes!”
4 The one enthroned in heaven laughs in disgust;
the sovereign Master taunts them.
5 Then he angrily speaks to them
and terrifies them in his rage.
6 He says, “I myself have installed my king
on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:1-6).
How foolish of men – no matter how powerful to set themselves against the Lord God and His Anointed, Jesus Christ. Their schemes and opposition will come to nothing.
It was this very psalm that the early church cited when the same people who determined to kill the Lord Jesus in our text set out to oppose the apostles and the preaching of the gospel of the resurrected Christ. Peter and John were arrested and jailed after the healing of the lame man at the temple (Acts 3and 4). After being released, Peter and John went to the church to report what had happened. Here is the response of the church:
23 When they were released, Peter and John went to their fellow believers and reported everything the high priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices to God with one mind and said, “Master of all, you who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them, 25 who said by the Holy Spirit through your servant David our forefather,
‘Why do the nations rage,
and the peoples plot foolish things?
26 The kings of the earth stood together,
and the rulers assembled together,
against the Lord and against his Christ.’
27 “For indeed both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do as much as your power and your plan had decided beforehand would happen. 29 And now, Lord, pay attention to their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your message with great courage, 30 while you extend your hand to heal, and to bring about miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God courageously (Acts 4:23-31).
What a joy for Christians to recognize that they serve the sovereign God of the universe, the Creator of heaven and earth. Let the mighty men of this world set themselves against Him. They will someday learn, as Paul did, that he was “kicking against the goads” (Acts 26:14). They will learn …
10 … that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow —in heaven and on earth and under the earth— 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11).
Even the great and powerful Nebuchadnezzar was brought to his knees before the sovereign God, acknowledging His sovereignty:
34 But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me.
I extolled the Most High,
and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever.
For his authority is an everlasting authority,
and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next.
35 All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he wishes with the army of heaven
and with those who inhabit the earth.
No one slaps his hand
and says to him, ‘What have you done?’ (Daniel 4:34-35)
Matthew began our text by setting the Lord’s prophecy about His death during Passover in conflict with the Jewish leaders’ plan that Jesus would be arrested privately and killed later, after the feast. Jesus won! And so He will always.
Matthew gives his account without connecting all the dots. At first, we are tempted to think that this is just a sequence of interesting, but unrelated, events. But when studied after the death and resurrection of our Lord, and in the light of the other Gospels, we learn that each of these seemingly incidental accounts is a part of God’s marvelous plan. We now see that all the dots connect.
The story of our lives is not complete, and thus we may be tempted to see the various episodes and chapters of our lives as somewhat random or haphazard. Some events may even appear to be contrary to God’s purposes for our lives. The dots don’t seem to connect. But I assure you that there will be a day when we (if we are true believers in Jesus) will see that Romans 8:28 is true, and that the dots really do connect. We will see that God has carefully orchestrated the events of our lives to draw us near to Him, and to sanctify us to Himself. That is something that Joseph came to see, although not until he had suffered greatly (see Genesis 41:50-52; 50:20). I believe that it is something that every believer will see as well.
In Matthew, Judas is not granted the spotlight; it is our Lord, and also the woman (in this text), who makes the right choice to worship Him as worthy, bestowing on Him her finest gifts. To Judas (and even the foolish disciples), anointing the perfect body of our Lord with a precious fragrance was a criminal waste. Why is it that we hold back our finest gifts and possessions, thinking somehow that there is a better use for them than the worship of our Lord? Let us not be like Judas in this regard, seeking only gain from our Lord, and holding back our finest from Him.
Let me suggest another application of our text. We live in a day when even Evangelical Christians have bought into the feminist agenda. They demand that women be granted the same leadership roles and positions that are given to men. They feel somehow cheated and short-changed by God’s “restrictions” concerning leadership in the church (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:9-15; 1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 14:33b-38). In our text, who would you rather be, one of the disciples, or Mary, worshipping at the feet of Jesus? Who had the greater insight into our Lord’s words, and our Lord’s death? Who enjoyed greater intimacy with the Savior? Leadership does not make one more spiritual, nor does it necessarily grant one greater intimacy with our Lord. If our goal and desire is to know Christ, and to enjoy Him, then let us hasten to His feet, and not agonize about who is the greatest.
Finally, our text provides a wonderful example, both of the unity and the inspiration of Scripture. The Bible is a divinely inspired book, not merely a collection of writings. We cannot read any one passage or book in isolation; we must read the Bible as a whole. This is why Matthew can deliberately omit some incidents, or merely a detail. All the necessary details are there, but they need not all be found in any one book. It is only with the assistance of Mark, Luke, and John, that we gain a complete account of the life and death of our Lord. What a joy it is to study His Word, as an authoritative and sufficient revelation from God Himself.