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Through Suffering to Triumph (26.1-28.20).
Matthew’s description of what follows in the next few days is very much abbreviated compared with Mark’s and Luke’s. While seemingly following Mark or his sources in general, much of the time he abbreviates, while at the same time continually introducing new items of information, and his differences in grammar are against the idea that he simply copies Mark and occasionally changes his wording. If he is using Mark he is appropriating it and adapting it so as to make it his own. But it may simply be that both drew on the same recognised and established tradition, with Matthew adding to it from his own reminiscences.
For Matthew in contrast to Mark often gives us details of what happened through the very words of Jesus Himself, a further confirmation that he had kept a written record of what Jesus said. The suggestion that with Mark’s Gospel in front of him he would simply ‘put words on Jesus’ lips’ must be rejected out of hand. The words of Jesus’ were reverenced too deeply for that. Consider how Paul goes out of his way to emphasise the fact when he actually cites Jesus’ words or His specifically stated ideas (1 Corinthians 7.10, 12, 25) in contrast with his own. Matthew thus clearly considered that he did know what Jesus Himself had said, indicating the closeness of his relationship with Jesus. The distinctive features introduced by Matthew also suggest an eyewitness.
As we come to this section we should note its context. Jesus has just made clear to His disciples (for the four, having heard His momentous words, could hardly have failed to pass on what He had said to the others) what coming history will unfold, and had climaxed it by a picture of His own coming again in glory (chapters 24-25). High expectations would thus be in the air among His disciples who would tend to see what they were looking for in His words. At this stage they were still anticipating a new earthly Kingdom of Israel, and they were looking for Jesus to introduce it (compare Acts 1.6). Like many of us, what did not fit into their preconceptions they overlooked. He was therefore about to bring them back down to earth with a bump.
This whole Section may be analysed as follows:
In ‘a’ Jesus speaks of His coming deliverance up to DEATH and in the parallel reveals Himself as the One Who through RESURRECTION has defeated death and has been enthroned in Heaven. In ‘b’ The Chief Priests and elders plot Jesus’ DEATH, and in the parallel they seek to prevent the truth of His RESURRECTION being known. In ‘c’ a woman prepares Jesus for His DEATH, and in the parallel women receive news of His RESURRECTION and see the risen Christ. In ‘d’ Judas is unfaithful and arranges to betray Jesus for money, and in the parallel the women remain faithful and Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, is also faithful and freely identifies himself with Jesus and gives his own tomb to receive Jesus’ body. In ‘e’ Jesus sends His disciples to prepare for the Passover so as to act out the giving of Himself to DEATH, and in the parallel God acts out His approval of His Son and something of what His death has accomplished through the signs which accompany His RESURRECTION. In ‘f’ Jesus inaugurates the Lord’s Supper as a symbol of the sealing of the new covenant in His blood, and in the parallel Jesus is offered up on the cross, shedding His blood in order to seal that covenant. In ‘g’ Jesus declares that His disciples will all fall away because of Him that very night. Peter denies it and is then informed that he will in fact deny Jesus three times (temporarily washing his hands of Him), and in the parallel Pilate washes his hands of Him, and the soldiers mock Him. In ‘h’ Jesus offers Himself to His Father in Gethsemane and is accepted, leaving His fate in His Father’s hands, and in the parallel He is offered by Pilate to the crowds and is rejected. His fate is in the hands of men. In ‘i’ Jesus is tried before Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest, and in the parallel He is tried before Pilate, the Gentile governor. In ‘j’ Peter denies Jesus and goes out and weeps bitterly, and in the parallel Judas who has betrayed Jesus is filled with remorse and goes out and hangs himself. Centrally in ‘k’ Jesus is seen as rejected by the central Jewish authority, the official Sanhedrin, and is handed over to the Gentile Pilate. Thus Matthew commences by emphasising the coming death of Jesus, and he ends by emphasising the resurrection, and centrally he emphasises Jesus’ betrayal by His own people and especially by their leadership. Note how these three aspects parallel the contents of Jesus’ earlier predictions (16.21; 17.22-23; 20.18-19; compare Luke 24.7).
Having thus surveyed the whole we must now divide it into subsections.
Preparation For What Lies Ahead (26.1-19).
In this subsection we see Jesus’ (and God’s) preparations for what lies ahead which are interspersed with indications of the activities of the Chief Priests concerning Him.
This first subsection may be analysed as follows:
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus speaks of the coming Passover and proclaims that He will then be handed over to be crucified, while in the parallel He prepares for the proclamation of His death at the Passover meal. In ‘b’ the Chief Priests and Elders conspire against Jesus, and in the parallel the Chief Priests and Judas conspire together against Jesus. Centrally in ‘c’ Jesus is anointed by the woman for His burial as she reveals her great love for Him, in total contrast to the hostility of the Chief Priests and the perfidy of Judas. Note how all are preparing for His death in different ways. His Father by arranging for Him to be anointed, the woman by revealing her spiritual love and anointing Him, Judas by betraying Him, and the Chief Priests by plotting against Him.
Jesus Predicts His Crucifixion And The Chief Priests And Elders Plot His Death (26.1-5).
This last section of the Gospel opens by revealing the plot. On the one hand Jesus declares that He is to be ‘delivered up’ by His Father to be crucified, and on the other we discover the gathering of the Chief Priests and Elders who, unaware of Jesus’ prophecies, are determined to bring about His ‘delivering up’ in one way or another. As so often, evil will be utilised by God in order to bring about good.
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus finishes all His words, and in the parallel the chief priests and elders conclude their deliberations. In ‘b’ Jesus announces His coming death, and in the parallel they plot to kill Him. Centrally in ‘c’ are described the villains of the piece, and especially Caiaphas.
Jesus Predicts His Crucifixion (26.1-2).
26.1 ‘And it came about that when Jesus had finished all these words, he said to his disciples,’
‘And it came about.’ This is Matthew’s regular way of immediately following Jesus’ main discourses (compare 7.28; 11.1; 13.53; 19.1). Distinctive, however, here is his reference to ‘ALL these words’. It is as though he were summing up the whole of Jesus’ teaching ministry in one phrase. It indicates that now the teaching ministry of Jesus is over, and it is the time for the next phase in His ministry. The words connect what He has just been saying with all that follows.
26.2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man is delivered up to be crucified.”
Matthew is constantly aware of Jesus’ exact words (compare 26.27-29, 31-32), and of words spoken by others (26.15, 61, 66, 71), the latter no doubt passed on by early converts who were present, and we have an example of it here. While the Chief Priests were still struggling in their minds as to when they would be able to deal with Him (verse 5), Jesus’ words make clear that He was in no doubt as to what would happen. He knew when His hour was to be.
‘In two days.’ Jesus knew that He had but two days left, and then the Passover would come and He would be delivered up by the Chief Priests and Elders into the hands of the Romans, in order for Him to be crucified. Crucifixion was a Roman form of punishment. Recognising how the Jewish leaders were going about things, He realised what was to be His inevitable end. ‘Two days’ indicated a very short time, being less than the standard ‘three days’ which usually indicated a short time.
In Jesus’ day the description ‘The Passover’ regularly indicated the whole Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12), an eight day Feast, although Passover itself, which was celebrated on the first day, commemorated God’s great deliverance of His people from the angel of death, and subsequently from Egypt. On this day the Passover lambs were offered in the Temple, and then the carcasses were taken to homes within the city of Jerusalem where, as their new day began in the evening, they were eaten by families who gathered for the purpose. They were eaten along with unleavened bread (all leaven having been removed from their houses) and bitter herbs. It was a time of both solemnity and rejoicing, and it reminded them that they themselves were not only a part of that great deliverance, but could look for God to again deliver them in the future. It was thus a time when great expectations were aroused.
This would then be followed by the remainder of the Feast, the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The first day of the seven (on which Jesus celebrated the Passover meal in the evening and was crucified the following morning) was a special Sabbath, with a multiplicity of offerings and sacrifices being required (see Numbers 28.17-25), including the second Chagigah, a peace offering of which any who were defiled could not partake (thus John 18.28). Many personal thankofferings and freewill offerings would also be offered on that day. And similar offerings and sacrifices would continue throughout the seven days of the feast. On what would be to us the evening of the Sabbath, but was strictly the commencement of the second day of the feast of Unleavened Bread when the Sabbath was over, a sheaf of the firstfruits of the harvest would be gathered, which on the next morning would be waved before the Lord. It was significantly at this time that it was discovered that Jesus had risen from the dead, ‘the firstfruits of those who slept’ (1 Corinthians 15.20). Unlike Passover, Unleavened Bread was also an agricultural feast celebrating the commencement of the first harvest of the year, but the two had become one.
“The Son of man is delivered up to be crucified.” Jesus continues to speak of Himself as ‘the Son of Man’. He wants them to recognise that Daniel 7.13-14 is in process of fulfilment, and that what is happening, is happening in accordance with the purposes of God revealed in the Scriptures. But what a seeming contradiction in ideas. The Son of Man, who should be approaching the throne of God in the clouds in order to receive glory and kingly rule is rather to be handed over to men. But a careful study of the passage in Daniel reveals that the One described there also comes out of tribulation, the tribulation through which His people must also pass (Daniel 7.25). Thus even there He is to come to God out of suffering.
‘Delivered up.’ Humanly speaking He is being ‘delivered up’ by the Chief Priests and Elders (verse 3) and by Judas (‘betrayed’ is strictly ‘delivered up’). But that is only the human side. In the final analysis He is being delivered up by His Father, for with Jesus the undesignated passive verb regularly refers to God. And thus while men were convinced that they were delivering Him up, His disciples were intended to recognise that it was really God Who was delivering Him up (compare Romans 8.32). By carrying out their evil designs the Chief Priests and Elders would unwittingly be following out the purposes of God. The same had been true in the case of John years before. He too had been ‘delivered up’ (4.12) in accordance with the will of God. Jesus being ‘delivered up’ (sometimes translated ‘betrayed’) is in fact a theme of this passage, see verses 16, 21, 23, 24, 25, 45, 46, 48, and it reminds us that God is in control even while man is doing his worst.
‘To be crucified.’ Jesus now had no doubt as to what His fate was going to be. This was the Roman method of punishment, and He would know, as all knew, that there were already a number of Jews lined up to be crucified at the Feast. They were intended to be object lessons to the Jews. But He alone knew at this stage that He would be among them. Again there is the dual thought that it was both the Romans and God who would be crucifying Him. In the end all was in His hands.
We should not lose sight of what was involved. It indicated that His own people were rejecting Him and handing Him over to the Gentiles. Being crucified would in their eyes, put Him under a curse. He was avowedly being cut off from Israel. But what they failed to recognise was that by their action they were in fact cutting themselves off from God and from being His people (21.41, 43), and that this would finally result in the destruction of Jerusalem.
These verses are a record of the fourth major prediction of Jesus' death given by Him to His disciples (compare 16.21; 17.22-23; 20.18-19), but only this and the previous one mention crucifixion. He was thus becoming increasingly aware of just how His death was going to be arranged by the Jewish leadership, in such a way as, in their view, not to taint themselves.
Members of the Sanhedrin Meet In Order To Plot Jesus’ death (26.3-5).
Matthew now passes quickly from Jesus confident declaration concerning His ‘delivering up’ to the to-ing and fro-ing of the Jewish leaders. It is clear that they did not share His certainty. They were not sure quite what to do. All they did know was that somehow they must get rid of Him.
26.3 ‘Then were gathered together the chief priests, and the elders of the people, to the court/palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas,’
This gathering took place in the palace of the High Priest, which would be built around a central courtyard. It is possible that they gathered in the courtyard around which the palace was built before proceeding to a room overlooking the court, or alternatively that they gathered in a room which could be seen as a part of the courtyard, because it opened out onto it. Or the word can be seen as applying to the palace which was built around the court, and centred on it. The gathering was composed of Chief Priests and Elders. The Chief Priests were the leading authorities of the Temple and included the High Priest, the Temple Treasurer, the Leaders of Priestly Courses, the Captain of the Temple, and so on. All were priests in authority. The Elders would be those members of the lay aristocracy, including some Scribes, especially Sadducean Scribes, who were hand in glove with the Chief Priests. These were all ‘rulers of the people’, although the official Sanhedrin would also additionally include some Scribes of the Pharisees and other lay members, who had seemingly not been invited. Those gathered here were the ones called in because of their united agreement, and because the High Priest knew that they would be in sympathy with him. Jesus had offended these men by His condemnations of the Temple and its trafficking, and by His whole attitude towards them. They would feel that what He taught demeaned them in the people’s eyes. We note that the Scribes of the Pharisees, and the Pharisees as such, were not heavily involved at this stage, although some of the above might have been Pharisees. This gathering was a matter of political expediency, for these were the men who more directly ran the country (under the Romans) and were concerned constantly to appease the Roman government, even though not being on the best of terms with the governor. They constantly made concessions in order to survive. And they were afraid that Jesus’ activities could only bring trouble on them. Their aim above all things was to maintain the status quo, which guarded their own wealth, and their concern was probably mainly political and financial rather than religious, although in Judaism such attitudes were all very closely combined. We can see from their attitude why Jesus had declared that the Temple had to be destroyed, for that was their power base.
We learn here for the first time in Matthew that the official High Priest at the time was Caiaphas. He would be the chairman of the Sanhedrin and politically very influential. His father-in-law Annas was also seen as High Priest by the Jews. He had been deposed by the Romans. The Jews, however, considered that the High Priesthood was for life. Thus they now saw themselves as having at least two High Priests (see Luke 3.2), and paid Annas great honour. (Once a man was High Priest, and had officiated as such on the Day of Atonement, he was High Priest for life).
26.4 ‘And they took counsel together that they might take Jesus by subtlety, and kill him.’
The purpose of their gathering was in order to discuss together how they could deal with the menace in their midst. But they were aware of how ticklish the situation was, for unfortunately, as they knew, the main part of the common people, especially the large number of visitors for the Feast from Galilee and Peraea, favoured Jesus, and saw Him as a prophet. Thus they knew that to arrest Him publicly could easily arouse the passions of the already impassioned crowd. Such an arrest would therefore necessarily have to be carried out with subtlety so that it would not incur trouble. Nevertheless their main intention was clear. It was necessary for Him to be put to death ‘for the sake of the nation’ (John 11.49-50). The only question was as to how they could bring it about without any trouble.
‘They took counsel together.’ Compare the Davidic Psalm 31.13, ‘For I have heard the defaming of many, terror on every side, while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life.’ That too spoke of a member of the Davidic house who was finding the way difficult and found himself being plotted against, and in danger of his life. Compare also Psalm 2.2, ‘the rulers took counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed (Messiah)’. It was not therefore a new attitude for Jewish leaders that we find here.
26.5 ‘But they said, “Not during the feast, lest a tumult arise among people.” ’
They had, however, the sense to recognise that it could not be done during the Feast as the public arrest of One Whom many saw as a prophet would undoubtedly arouse the fanaticism of many in the crowds. Indeed those sent to arrest Him might even be stoned. It would thus need to be postponed until after the Feast. With the governor’s eagle eye on them they could not afford trouble during it. And the problem was that in an overcrowded Jerusalem Jesus always seemed to be surrounded by crowds. They thus had no way of getting at Him while He was alone with only His disciples for company. They knew that such a situation might sometimes happen at night, but then they had no idea where He was.
Note the deliberate contrast between Jesus knowing when it was going to happen, and the uncertainty of these men who had no idea when they would be able to do it. (It would be the treachery of Judas that would make them suddenly change their minds, when like minds came together). Note also their hatred which is in such contrast with the woman about to be described. They simmered in fury, she glowed with love,
In The Face Of Their Uncertainty God Arranges For Jesus To Be Anointed For His Burial As His Plan Goes Smoothly Forward (26.6-13).
Meanwhile attention turns back on Jesus and His disciples. They had been invited for a meal at the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany, a village on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. And as they were there a woman came into Simon’s house and poured expensive perfumed oil on His head (and on His body - verse 12; John 11.2 adds, and also on His feet). For her it was probably an act of love and gratitude, made with a desire to honour Him and pay homage to Him, although possibly also including a recognition that soon He would no longer be with them. But Jesus saw further, and saw it as His Father arranging for Him to be anointed in preparation for His burial. To Him it was a visible assurance that His Father was with Him. The incident is described here by Matthew because it ties it in closely with the Passion narrative, and fits well into Matthew’s pattern, but chronologically it was probably some days earlier as depicted in John’s Gospel. Ancient writings tended to be topical rather than chronological.
Comparison with Luke 7.36-50, which is superficially similar, reveals so many differences that it is quite clear that they are different incidents, although the one may have had unconscious influence on the wording of the other as it passed on in the tradition.
Note that in ‘a’ we have the service that she performed and in the parallel the assurance that it would ever be remembered. In ‘b’ the disciples state what could have been done with the perfumed oil, in the parallel Jesus states what has really been done with it. Centrally in ‘c’ Jesus stresses the good work that she had done on Him.
26.6 ‘Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,’
It would appear probable that Jesus and His disciples had been invited to Simon’s house for a meal. Quite probably Simon had been healed of leprosy by Jesus, and his name may well be mentioned as a reminder that as the Coming One Jesus heals the lepers, as is evidenced here by Simon, the one time leper (11.5), for Matthew is usually sparing with names. Bethany was also where Mary and Martha, with their brother Lazarus, lived, and John 12.3 in fact tells us that the woman who did this was Mary, and that Martha was in fact assisting by serving at table. Simon’s wife would be delighted to have help when feeding such a large party, and it would be typical of Martha to volunteer. Or it may be that Simon was the father of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. But Matthew does not want to take attention away from Jesus, and so he only mentions the former leper whose very name reminds us that Jesus is the healer of lepers. Jesus and His disciples were probably in fact encamped nearby on the Mount of Olives. They had all come together for this meal.
26.7 ‘There came to him a woman having an alabaster cruse of very valuable perfumed oil, and she poured it on his head, as he reclined at meat.’
As they reclined at the table a woman came in with an alabaster cruse of very valuable perfumed oil (liquid spikenard) and poured it on His head. The thin-necked alabaster vessel, commonly used for such purposes, would be snapped at the neck in order to release the oil. The value of the oil would probably be the equivalent of what a working man could earn in a year (John 12.5).
Her aim in anointing His head (emphasised by Matthew and Mark) was possibly in order to reveal that she saw Him as the Messiah (the Lord’s Anointed - compare 1 Samuel 15.17; 2 Kings 9.3), but she may not have been fully conscious of that, and the stress therefore on the anointing of the head may rather be Matthew’s and Mark’s, who may also have had in mind His High Priesthood (Exodus 29.7; Leviticus 8.12; 21.10). They may well have seen this as God’s way of pointing ahead to His coronation (28.18). The fact that she also anointed His body (verse 12) and His feet (John 12.3) suggests that for her it was an act of overwhelming love, made with a desire to pay Him due honour. But the emphasis here is in fact not on her love but on what she has done for Jesus. She has encouraged Him and prepared Him for a proper burial.
This is a rare example of someone doing something for Jesus. Perhaps it echoes 25.35-36 with the thought that this was even more unique for it was actually done for Jesus Himself. And yet even then His disciples dared to criticise her!
26.8-9 ‘But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “To what purpose is this waste? For this perfumed oil might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.” ’
While John tells us that Judas was prominent in this indignation, there is no reason to doubt that he was not the only one, as Matthew reminds us here. And they were overall quite right in their general viewpoint. This incident is not to be seen as an excuse for unnecessary extravagance. It was a unique moment in history. But the place where they failed was in not recognising that sometimes an extravagant gesture which reveals a tender love is worth more than its weight in gold. Judgment on such matters requires a fine line to be drawn, and this particular ‘extravagance’ was typical of the kind of woman that Mary was. She was the kind who wanted to express herself forcibly. It would not necessarily have been right for everyone. Martha would never have done it, even though she loved the Lord equally in her own way. She was too practical. What made it right was the spontaneous love that lay behind it towards the One Who had come from Heaven and was about to suffer. It is very possible that she had taken on board the fact that Jesus was anticipating His death and wanted to demonstrate her spiritually based love before it was too late. What is certain is that she saw Jesus as worthy of every denarius of what she gave.
26.10 ‘But Jesus perceiving it said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? for she has wrought a good work on me.” ’
When Jesus saw their attitude He instantly intervened. He knew the true love in her heart and it was an encouragement to Him at this hour of tension, at a time when He was aware of so many who hated Him. She had done Him much good. And it was a reminder also to Him that His Father was watching over Him. Thus He wanted them to know that it had accomplished in Him something far greater than its monetary value at a unique moment in history.
Literally ‘worked a good work’. The idea probably connects with 5.16. ‘That they may see your good works and glorify your Father Who is in Heaven.’ What this woman had done was work a good work to the glory of God. Note the play on words found also in the Greek.
26.11 “For you have the poor always with you, but me you do not always have,”
He reminded them that this was a special time. They would always have the poor with them, but He would not be with them for much longer. So someone who had recognised this, and had wanted to demonstrate her love, was not to be criticised. Let them also take note that soon He would be gone, and then they would be unable any longer to physically reveal their love. There are times when lesser things must give way to the greater.
26.12 “For in that she poured this perfumed oil on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.”
Even as the woman had performed her act Jesus knew why His Father had arranged for this to happen. He was preparing His body for burial (as a condemned criminal His body would not be anointed when the time came). That she had also poured the perfumed oil ‘on His body’ is suggested here. John tells us that this included the feet. Jesus thus pointed out that unknowingly she was preparing Him for His burial. It was a reminder to Him from His Father that all was well, and it was a pointer to the disciples that they must be ready for His coming death by violent means. For He knew now that His death would be by crucifixion as a criminal, which might well result in His being buried unanointed.
26.13 “Truly I say to you, Wherever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, what this woman has also done will be spoken of for a memorial of her.”
Jesus then points out that this is so precious a moment that it will never be forgotten, and thereby takes the opportunity of reminding His disciples that the Gospel is to be preached throughout the whole world (compare 24.14, and see 28.19). Even though He must die they must recognise that that will not interfere with the future that He has promised. ‘This Gospel.’ The Good News of His death and burial as expressed in this anointing, good news because it would deal for ever with the problem of sin (20.28; 26.28), will then lead on to His resurrection. Indeed it was because of the supreme importance of His death that this that she had done was so important, and that was why she would ever be remembered for it. It was a prophetic acting out of what was to come.
This remarkable account, followed as it is by an increasing emphasis on women, is a deliberate indication of the new worth being put on women by the Gospel (compare 14.38; 15.21; where they shared the covenant meal, and see 15.21-28; 27.19, 55-56, 61; 28.1-11). Just as Matthew had emphasised the move from ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ to an interest in the Gentiles, so now he brings out the growing importance of women (something also very important to Luke).
Judas Seeks To Betray Jesus In Return for Silver (26.14-16).
The overflowing love and generosity of the woman contrasts vividly with the behaviour of Judas. Here was one of the chosen twelve whose heart was so hardened that he would sell Jesus for far less than the woman had sacrificed out of love for Jesus. She had sacrificed on His behalf the equivalent of a year’s wages. Judas would sell Jesus for what in comparison was a pittance. While she was identifying herself with Jesus fully in the light of His coming death, Judas was trying to find a way out of his commitment to his own financial advantage.
The impression given in all the Gospels is that Judas betrayed Jesus for financial gain, and that can hardly be doubted. But we still have to consider what changed him so as to make him make such a move. It would not just be the result of momentary greed, something must have lain behind it. He had after all been willing and ready to suffer the privations of being a disciple. Furthermore Jesus would not originally have chosen him had He not thought that he was genuine.
We do not know how early on it was when He began to have doubts about him. Even John 6.70 does not necessarily indicate that He had already pinpointed Judas. Jesus might well have been aware from the Scriptures that He would be betrayed by one of His Apostles, without knowing exactly which one. John’s added note about Judas could easily have been an ‘after the event’ one.
Certainly at some stage there must have been a lessening of Judas’ original commitment, and in the context we can in fact spot a number of possible additional motives.
We can, of course, never be sure precisely what made Judas do what he did. There may have been a mixture of motives. The only thing that we finally know is that he did it.
Note that in ‘a’ Judas speaks of delivering Him up, and in the parallel seeks ways of delivering Him up. Central in the construction is the great emphasis placed on ‘and they weighed to Him thirty pieces of silver’. It brings out that Judas’ God was Mammon, and that that was all that both he and the Chief Priests thought Jesus was worth. He was selling the possessor of Heaven and earth for a pittance.
26.14 ‘Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests,’
‘One of the twelve.’ The words have an ominous ring to them. Out of twelve men chosen by the Lord of the Universe for His service, one was a turncoat and a traitor (John 6.70). His name was Judas Iscariot, which may mean ‘man of Kerioth’. He is the only one identified in this specific way. The reason why is clear. Mistaken identities might not matter too much in most cases, but no one wanted to be mistaken for this man. There was only one Judas who was like this.
‘Went to the chief priests.’ The attitude of the Chief Priests towards Jesus was clearly known to the disciples, and it was this fact that enabled Judas to see an opportunity of earning some extra money for himself. Perhaps, he thought, they would be willing to pay him for information that would enable them to arrest Jesus, Who was seemingly going to be arrested anyway. It was certainly worth a try.
26.15a ‘And said, “What are you willing to give me, and I will deliver him to you?”
Approaching the chief priests he put to them his proposition. For the right sum he would enable them to arrest Jesus somewhere where it was quiet. The question was as to how much it was worth to them. It may well be that he himself named the sum that he required on the basis of the Old Testament indication of the value of a prophet, and of a moribund Shepherd of the people. See Zechariah 11.12. He had it all carefully thought out. Alternately the chief priests may have made the offer for similar reasons. But whichever way it was, the price was agreed. Little did he realise that his name, and the price he would receive, would become as famous as the act of the woman who had anointed Jesus, but that in his case he would become proverbial for treachery, dirty dealings and betrayal. Ironically he too would be remembered wherever the Gospel was proclaimed.
26.15b ‘And they weighed to him thirty pieces of silver. ’
The chief priests were so eager to get their victim that they seemingly paid the money out up front, and this to someone who had criticised the woman earlier for not thinking of the poor. (Ironically it would later actually be used for the poor - 27.7). Note the emphasis on the deliberate ‘weighing of the silver’. It was a deliberate payment of blood money, a price sarcastically described by Zechariah as ‘the goodly price that I was valued at by them’ (Zechariah 11.13). It was the price of a moderately valuable slave. (In LXX the verb used here regularly translates the Hebrew verb for ‘weighed out’. It means literally, ‘placed, stood’). Matthew appears to be suggesting that he was paid it there and then, although he does not actually say so. Certainly Judas received it early enough to be able to fling it back at the chief priests later (27.3-5).
26.16 ‘And from that time he sought the opportunity to deliver him to them.’
And with the money in his hands Judas went away and began to plot Jesus’ betrayal, keeping his eyes open for any opportunity that would enable him to fulfil his promise. ‘To deliver Him.’ The ‘delivering’ of verse 2 was thus to be commenced by one of Jesus’ own chosen disciples. He had had to choose between Jesus and Mammon. And he had chosen Mammon. His sole desire now was the betrayal of Jesus in accordance with His own prophecy.
Jesus’ Time Is At Hand And The Last Fatal Passover Is Made Ready By The Disciples (26.17-19).
This subsection had begun with, ‘after two days the Passover comes and the Son of Man is to be delivered up to be crucified’ (verse 2). Now Jesus sends His disciples to prepare for that Passover, with the indication that ‘His time is at hand’. And with that in view they make ready the Passover. Even they must have realised by now that this was to be no ordinary Passover.
That Jesus’ time was at hand comes out throughout this subsection. In verse 2 it is ‘after two days’. In verse 12 the woman’s act has ‘prepared Him for His burial’. In verse 16 Judas is seeking to betray Him ‘from that time’. Now Jesus declares that ‘His time is at hand’. Thus this subsection is preparing the way for what follows. His hour has come (John 13.1). Interestingly the only suggestion of delay has been at the hands of the chief priests and elders in verse 5. But Judas’ betrayal has brought even them into line. All is going forward as determined. But that still does not excuse those involved. It was not their intention to accomplish God’s will by means of the cross. Their motives were very much different. It was happening in spite of their evil motives, not because of them. (We can compare how God used Assyria as the rod of His anger, but still punished her because of her excesses - Isaiah 10.5 onwards).
Note that in ‘a’ the disciples ask when they should make ready the Passover, and in the parallel they make ready the Passover. In ‘b’ Jesus sends them to a man in the city, and in the parallel they are to tell him that Jesus will keep the Passover at his house in the city with His disciples (Passover had to be observed within the city boundaries). Centrally in ‘c’ we learn that His time is at hand.
26.17 ‘Now on the first day of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you wish that we make ready for you to eat the Passover?” ’
While initially the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread had been two separate feasts combined, they had gradually come to be seen as one and the whole could therefore be described as ‘the Passover’ or as ‘the Feast of Unleavened Bread’. This is witnessed to both in the Old Testament (see 2 Chronicles 30.13 -15) and in Josephus. Thus the first day of unleavened bread here refers to the day when the leaven was removed from houses preparatory to the Passover itself.
All the disciples would be in expectancy of celebrating the Passover within the city walls, which was obligatory. Thus it was quite natural for them to ask Jesus where preparations had to be made. They could not observe it in Bethany. Matthew mentions no names for he does not want to clutter up his account with detail. His eye is on the main events. The partaking in the Passover lamb was a central aspect of Passover, and thus it can be described in terms of ‘eating the Passover’. Like all Jews Jesus and His disciples observed the Passover annually, and like large numbers of Galileans they would go to Jerusalem for the purpose (see John 2.13, 23; 6.4; 12.1).
26.18 ‘And he said, “Go into the city to such a man, and say to him, “The Teacher says, “My time is at hand. I keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.”
As they again probably expected, (it would not be the first time that it had happened, for they probably came up to the Feast of the Passover every year), Jesus had already made arrangements for a house in the city in which to observe the Passover, and He thus gave directions accordingly. We learn in the other Gospels that Jesus had also made certain arrangements so as to ensure that no one, apart from two fully trustworthy disciples, knew in which house the celebration was to be held until the actual event took place (Mark 14.13-16), by which time it would no longer matter. The meal would be over before the information could leak out.
“The Teacher says, “My time is at hand. I keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.” This would appear to have been an arranged password. Jesus was often spoken of as ‘the Teacher’. Or it maybe that a friend had arranged it and informed Jesus that he had booked it in His name as ‘the Teacher’. ‘My time is at hand’ would indicate to the houseowner that it was now time to prepare for the meal, but it had the double significance that the time was now drawing near when Jesus would fulfil His destiny (compare 26.2). This Passover was to be of especial importance (compare John 13.1).
‘Keep the Passover.’ Compare ‘eat the Passover’ (verse 13). The impression is definitely given that this is to be an ‘ordinary’ Passover meal including all the accoutrements. This is thought by some to be a difficulty as they consider that John indicates that Jesus died on the same day as the Passover lambs were offered in the Temple (although he nowhere says so).
EXCURSUS. Note on whether this was the Passover meal itself.
There are a number of views taken of the situation:
Some have argued that the meal described in John 13 could not have been the Passover meal. They have argued:
However these arguments are not convincing. Consider the following:
But this immediately faces us with a problem. The words in John 18.28 (‘they themselves did not enter the palace in order that they might not be defiled but might eat the Passover’) might appear to suggest that Jesus died at the same time as the Passover sacrifice, otherwise they would not still have the prospect of being able to eat the Passover. That would mean that the scene in John 13 occurred on the night before the Passover feast. But as we have seen the other Gospels make clear that Jesus officiates at the Passover feast (Mark 14.12; Luke 22.7), and there can be no doubt that both are depicting the same feast.
But what must be borne in mind is that John 18.28 may be speaking of ‘the Passover’, not as meaning the Passover feast itself, but in a general sense as including the whole eight day feast, which was regularly called ‘the Passover’. Compare 2.23 where ‘the feast of the Passover’ is clearly the seven days of the feast and Luke’s use in 22.1. In that case ‘eating the Passover’ may refer to the continual feasting during the week (unleavened bread had to be eaten throughout the week and there would be many thank-offerings as well), and especially to the second Chagigah (special peace-offering), and not to the actual Passover celebration, in which case there is no contradiction. We can compare with this how in 2 Chronicles 30.22 the keeping of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (verse 13) which includes the Passover (verse 15) is described as ‘eating the food of the festival for seven days’.
Against this, however we should note that ‘to eat the Passover’ does at least include eating the Passover supper in the Synoptics (Matthew 26.17; Mark 14.12, 14; Luke 22.8, 11, 15). That does not, however, necessarily tie the enemies of Jesus to using it in the same way after the Passover supper has passed.
Alternately it has been suggested that in fact the men involved had been so taken up with the pursuit of Jesus into the night as a result of Judas’ unexpected offer to lead them to Jesus in a place where He could be taken without fear of the people, that they had not yet had time to complete their Passover meal. They would not have been disturbed until they were part of the way through it. We only have to consider the facts of that night to recognised how involved their night had been! They may well have been disturbed in the middle of their Passover meal with news that it was possible to catch Jesus and His disciples alone and have convinced themselves that such a delay was justified in order to deal with Jesus at what was clearly a crucial moment. Once they had dealt with Him they could go home to finish eating their Passover, which had been suddenly delayed for reasons of state, with contented minds. Technically the meal had to be finished before morning came, but they may well have felt that circumstances alter cases. They were experts at manipulating legislation.
After all any uncleanness perpetrated on the 14th of Nisan would only have lasted until the evening, and they would thus still have been able to ‘eat the Passover’, although it is true that they would not have been allowed to approach the Temple to sacrifice during the day. But if the latter was meant, why did they not say ‘sacrifice the Passover’?
In the same way his reference to ‘the preparation of the Passover’ could refer to the day of preparation for the feast, the next day being a special sabbath (not necessarily being the seventh day of the week), or to ‘the Friday of the Passover’ (paraskeue tou pascha) (19.14), prior to the regular Sabbath occurring in Passover week. The term can equally be seen as referring to the ‘preparation’ for the regular Sabbath occurring in Passover week, i.e. the Friday of Passover week, as it certainly does in verse 19.31. In that case it would not therefore refer to the preparation of the Passover feast itself (which could be any day of the week, with the day following being a special sabbath). Basically the word paraskeue can mean ‘day before the Sabbath in preparation for it’ (Friday) with the term Passover (pascha) being used to describe the whole festival. If this be the case John gives no suggestion that Jesus died at the same time as the Passover lamb.
It will be seen from all this that with our lack of knowledge of all the facts we would be very foolish to be too dogmatic about the situation.
End of Excursus.
26.19 ‘And the disciples did as Jesus appointed them, and they made ready the Passover.’
Note the emphasis on the obedience of the disciples. ‘The disciples did as Jesus appointed them.’ This may have been intended to emphasise that the Lord was always to be obeyed, and that their obedience was to be an example to all. Matthew never puts in redundant words. And the result was that they made all the necessary preparations for the Passover, including the sacrificing of the lamb in the Temple and then the bringing of it to the appointed house ready for the meal. The houseowner may well himself have provided the unleavened bread, the vegetables, the bitter herbs, the sauces and the wine. All was now ready for the final Passover. Once this was over God’s final deliverance would have been accomplished, and Passover would no longer have any significance to believers (even though it would continue to be observed by many Christian Jews. They would, however, give it a new meaning).
The Final Passover And The Declaration Of The New Covenant (26.20-35).
This second subsection is carefully patterned around the Passover meal. It commences with a warning of Jesus’ coming betrayal, describes the Passover and the establishing of the Lord’s Supper, and concludes with a warning of the coming desertion of His disciples and of Peter’s coming threefold denial. Thus the institution of the Lord’s Supper, revealing the Lord’s future provision for His own, is placed within a framework of the betrayal, desertion and denial of those who were closest to Him, which serves to demonstrate how necessary that provision was. It is a mirror-image of God’s grace at work, operating in the midst of a world in turmoil.
It can be analysed as follows:
Thus the instituting of the Lord’s Supper is enveloped within a picture of the total failure of His chosen Apostles, one in betrayal and the others in great fear, emphasising that what Jesus is to go through is something that He must go through alone. It is clear that this aloneness was necessary to the fulfilment of God’s purpose, for in the very nature of things none other could have a part in the carrying through of the essential saving activity of God in Jesus.
Jesus Reveals That He Is About To Be Betrayed (26.20-25).
In accordance with his usual method Matthew gives an abbreviated account of that Passover meal at which they ‘eat the Passover’, concentrating only on what he sees as essential for the picture that he wants to build up. It is a picture of Jesus’ triumph and compassion in the face of the failure of those whom He loved. Unlike the other Gospels, apart from the institution of the Lord’s Supper, it gives no specific teaching. Matthew is rather focusing in on the new covenant against a dark background of betrayal and failure. He is bringing out that the light is shining in the midst of the darkness of man’s failure and ignorance (4.16). Matthew also very much patterns it on the Passover.
This would not be the first Passover that they had celebrated together, for we must remember that Jesus and His disciples would probably have celebrated a number of Passovers together in the previous two or three years (John 1.13; 6.4; 12.1, and see also 5.1; 7.2 for other feasts). This was not their first time together in Jerusalem. They would therefore feel that they were very much aware of how the feast would go, in the same way as it always had (as often with Jesus they were so wrong). For fuller details of the background to the Passover see our commentary on Mark at this point.
We may surmise how each of these previous feasts would have gone, following the normal Passover ritual. After Jesus had blessed God and they had drunk the first cup of wine mingled with water, they would partake of the bitter herbs dipped in salt. At this point Jesus, as the leading figure, taking the father’s role, might well say something about the bitterness of the afflictions that Israel had suffered in Egypt. Then after a second cup of wine He would take bread, break it, bless God and hand it to His disciples, reminding them of how the bread was unleavened because of the haste with which the children of Israel had left Egypt, and that it was the bread of affliction (Deuteronomy 16.3). He might well at this stage be expected to say something like, ‘This is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate when they were delivered from the land of Egypt --’ (This was the pattern in later centuries). All of them would feel themselves as once again participating in that deliverance, and would see it as a reminder of the great deliverance yet to come. They would feel this all the more because they believed that somehow this promised deliverance was at some stage to be connected with Jesus.
The bread having been eaten, along with bitter herbs and other vegetables, all would partake of the Passover lamb whose blood had been offered in the Temple and poured out on the altar, and this would immediately be followed by Jesus again blessing God and then, after giving thanks, offering the third cup of wine, ‘the cup of blessing’, mingled with water. An explanation would at some stage be given of the significance of the Passover lamb. Jesus would have pointed out at this stage that the blood of the lamb had been given so that the firstborn sons of Israel might be redeemed from the avenging angel, and that that blood had been poured on the lintel and the doorposts as a sign of their trust in the promises of God, that is of His covenant with them, made with Moses on the basis of His covenants with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3.7-22; 6.2-8), in which they were trusting.
This would shortly probably be followed by a fourth cup of wine (it certainly was in the centuries to come) and the singing of the Hallel (Psalms 115-118), at which point the feast would be over.
Thus the major anticipated events in the feast which would be accompanied by explanation at some point would be:
But at this particular Passover a totally new picture was to be drawn by Jesus, and it takes little imagination to realise the shock that it must have been to the disciples when the time-honoured feast was suddenly taken over by Jesus and portrayed as pointing to something wholly different. They must indeed have wondered what was happening. Had it been anyone but Jesus they would have been horrified and might well have protested. It was a sign of their complete confidence in Him that they did not do so. Had the Chief Priests known about it they would certainly have considered their charges of blasphemy totally justified, for Jesus openly took the emphasis away from God’s activity in deliverance and focused it on Himself and His own act of deliverance. (We do not know how much of the old was observed, for with regard to it we are only told about the opening of the feast and its closing with the Hallel. The concentration is on the new). The general pattern was being followed, but its significance was being completely altered.
The Hallel includes many ideas, including the following:
Here are all the elements of the ‘drinking of the fruit of the vine (depicting rejoicing and celebration) in the Kingly Rule of His Father’. As Jesus said, ‘I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you within My Father’s Kingly Rule’, for then salvation will have been accomplished and they will have received life out of death (7.14; 16.25; 19.29; 25.46).
Analysis of 26.20-25.
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus declares that He will be betrayed, and in the parallel confirms to Judas that he is the one who will betray Him. In ‘b’ the disciples were deeply sorry and ask, ‘Is it I, Lord’, and in the parallel Judas asks, ‘Is it I, Rabbi.’ Note the contrasts. The disciples are deeply sorry, Judas is the betrayer. The disciples call Him ‘Lord’, Judas calls Him ‘Rabbi’. (The contrast is probably mainly Matthew’s). In ‘c’ one who has meal-fellowship with Him will betray Him, and in the parallel woe is to the one who will betray Him, it were best for him if he had not even been born. Centrally in ‘d’ the Son of Man goes at is written of Him.
26.20 ‘Now when evening was come, he was reclining at meat with the twelve disciples,’
The evening introduced the new day of the 15th of Nisan, the time for partaking in the Passover (the Jewish day began in the evening). At this meal it was specifically required that they ‘recline’, that is, lay on cushions at the tables so as to partake of the meal. The reclining indicated the joy and certainty of the meal and its significance. Up to this point therefore the meal follows the normal pattern. (All pictures of Jesus and His disciples sitting at a long table should therefore be binned as far as accuracy is concerned). The reclining was intended to indicate the restfulness of the hearts of the participants because of their confidence in God and His certain deliverance.
On the tables would be dishes containing unleavened bread, vegetables, sauces and bitter herbs. The unleavened bread symbolised both the need for the removal of corruption (all leaven was to be removed from their houses) and the haste with which the original participants expected to have to leave (no time to leaven the bread). The bitter herbs symbolised the bitterness of life that had been theirs and the afflictions that they had endured. There would also be sufficient wine for the passing around of four cups.
It is interesting that Jesus has restricted those at the meal to the twelve. It makes it very clear that He has something very special to say to them
26.21 ‘And as they were eating, he said, “Truly I say to you, that one of you will betray me.”
And it was during this meal that Jesus dropped His first bombshell, declaring that one of those present was about to betray Him, that is, was about to ‘deliver’ Him up. This must have occurred at some time after the pronouncing of the initial blessing. To Judas, who probably thought that he had covered his tracks well, this must have come like a bolt of lightning. He must have frozen in his tracks. How did Jesus know? And to all the disciples, who probably thought of betrayal in a lesser way, it must have struck home at their consciences. They knew that they were always letting Him down.
‘And as they were eating.’ This phrase commences a pattern (eating -- eating -- drinking -- drinking) which ties in with what we have seen above, as follows:
Thus we have Betrayal, Brokenness, and Shedding of Blood, which will be followed by rejoicing and celebration within His Father’s Kingly Rule.
26.22 ‘And they were deeply sorry, and began to say to him, every one, “Is it I, Lord?” ’
The seriousness with which Jesus had spoken struck home to all present except one, and they were all deeply sorry at the thought. Indeed such was their awareness of their own weakness that each thought it just possible that it might be himself, probably not in the full sense of which it was true of Judas, but in the sense of in some way letting Jesus down at a moment of crisis. This possibly brings out how tense they were all feeling. Peter, who at first was confident that it could not be him, no doubt did feel in the end that he had betrayed Jesus. In the Greek the question is, however, asked in a way that expects a negative answer. They were doubtful and yet self-confident, for they knew something of themselves and yet knew also that they loved Him.
26.23 ‘And he answered and said, “He who dipped his hand with me in the dish, the same will betray me.” ’
In the place where normally mention would be made of Israel’s betrayal by Egypt Jesus then replied that the one who would betray Him would be one of those who was dipping his hand in the dish with Him. This dish probably referred to the dishes of bitter herbs dipped in salted water which in typical Jewish fashion were shared. All would be dipping in it together. It was a poignant reminder to Judas of the enormity of his betrayal (the shared dipping indicated unity and friendship), while simply indicating to the remainder that the betrayer was one who was present at the meal. The particular activity He described, which indicated friendship and fellowship, would come home poignantly to the one to whom He was hinting, without being obvious to all (we have no indication at any stage that any of them recognised that He meant Judas). It was, however, an indication of the unforgivable perfidy of the person in question. In Middle Eastern eyes to eat from the same dish was an expression of loyalty and friendship. It was not considered honourable to do it with someone towards whom there was an intention to act with hostile intent (compare Psalm 41.9). Thus it heightened the level of betrayal.
26.24 “The Son of man goes, even as it is written of him, but woe to that man through whom the Son of man is betrayed! Good were it for that man if he had not been born.”
‘Even as it is written.’ Jesus expresses His confidence that what is to happen is what has already been foretold and purposed by God. He knows that in the Scriptures His destiny is clearly laid down, and therefore that what is to happen could not be otherwise. Thus by his betrayal Judas will unwittingly be carrying out the will of God. For when the Son of Man (Jesus) goes to His death, just as ‘it is written’ in the Scriptures and therefore must inevitably be, it will be because God’s purposes are being accomplished. It will be because what is written in the Scriptures is simply coming about. It is not Judas who has thought of it. His is just the evil hand that brings it about through his own sinfulness and treachery. It is God Who has purposed it, and in it God’s purposes are coming about through the activities of evil men. ‘As it is written.’ We note once again Jesus full confidence in the truth of the Scriptures, and His confidence that His life is bringing what is written in them to its climax.
Nevertheless that does not excuse the perpetrator of the crime. What he does, he does willingly. And therefore he should note the consequences. Woe will come on the one through whom the Son of Man is betrayed, indeed such woe that it were good for that man if he had never been born. For he is betraying not only a man, but the One Who in Himself represents both Israel (Daniel 7.13) and mankind (Psalm 8.4). Nothing could have made clearer the awfulness of the choice that he was making. Such will be his judgment that he will wish that his mother had never given him birth, in the same way as Job had wished a similar thing in the extremity of his suffering long before (Job 3.3 onwards). Job was seen as the ultimate sufferer. The idea thus depicts ultimate suffering. It is a final appeal and warning to Judas.
There is here a solemn warning for us all. As God works out His purposes in history, which purposes sweep onwards in the fulfilling of His good pleasure, we too work out our purposes in our own small part of history, and we too are accountable for every last one of them.
For the Scriptures in mind here we can consider as examples Psalm 22; Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Daniel 7.13-14 with 25-26; Zechariah 13.7; together with the typology of the offerings and sacrifices (see 1 Corinthians 5.7; Hebrews 7-13).
26.25 ‘And Judas, who betrayed him, answered and said, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He says to him, “You have said.” ’
At His words Judas the Betrayer looked at him, being no doubt not a little disturbed, and challenged Him saying, ‘Rabbi, is it I?’ And Jesus replied, ‘It is you who have said it.’ It was an indirect positive affirmation turning the question back on the questioner. He knew it because he was guilty! Now Judas could have no doubt that Jesus knew what was in his heart. But his heart was now hardened and he could not draw back. His question, as with the other disciples, is put in a form that demonstrated that he expected a negative answer. How could he do otherwise in a crowded room? But perhaps up to this point he had still hoped that he was undetected. Now, however, he knew differently.
It is noteworthy that in Matthew’s Gospel Judas is the only one who is depicted as addressing Jesus as ‘Rabbi’. Matthew does not feel that he can put the word ‘Lord’ on Judas’ lips as he had with the other disciples (that may also have been a translation of Rabbi, ‘my Great One’). The word on Judas’ lips is left untranslated from the Hebrew/Aramaic, possibly because Matthew is bringing out that Judas belonged to the old Judaism, to the Israel that was now rejected. He had not moved into the new. Was it Jesus’ clear knowledge of his activities that now precipitated Judas into premature action? Or was the betrayal already planned for that night? We will never know. But from that moment Judas was doomed, for instead of breaking down in repentance he hardened his heart, and his opportunity for repentance had slipped away.
Jesus Institutes The Lord’s Supper and Establishes The New Covenant in His Blood (26.26-30).
We are so used to the Lord’s Supper that this moment can almost pass us by unmoved. It was, however, as sensational as anything within the career of Jesus. He had made many remarkable claims, as we have seen, but none more remarkable than this. For Jesus was here taking over the most precious ceremony known to the Jews, a ceremony instituted by God, centred on God and pointing to God’s great deliverance, which had been carried on year after year in the same way, and turning it into a remembrance of Himself and a portrayal of the salvation that would be wrought through Him. If Jesus had not been of unique heavenly status this would indeed have been blasphemy of the most supreme kind. The institution of the Lord’s Supper was the clearest of indications that Jesus saw Himself as on the divine side of reality.
Moreover central to it was the fact of His own death as a sacrifice, sealing the new covenant in His blood, in the same way as Moses had sealed the old covenant in blood so long before (Exodus 24). And it was, among other things (compare Hebrews 8.6-13 where it spoke of transforming men’s lives), a covenant that provided for the forgiveness and removal of sins. Here then the full significance of His death is being portrayed (compare 20.28). He will save His people from their sins (1.21). Whatever else we read into the passage this must not be overlooked. It is central to Jesus’ thinking, and to Matthew’s purpose in writing the Gospel. And participation in the Lord’s Supper involves recognition that it is through Him and His death on our behalf that we receive the forgiveness of our sins.
The connection of the giving of the Lord’s Supper with the Passover is very relevant. Both were feasts of deliverance, and both would be continually repeated in remembrance of that deliverance. At the first Passover the deliverance was yet to take place. In all later Passovers the participants looked back to the first Passover and its already accomplished deliverance, and in spirit became a part of that deliverance. The first Passover consisted of a meal in which the participants by eating it were closely involved in God’s external activity. It was the earnest (guarantee) of their deliverance. And they were aware that what they were eating had been offered as a substitute for their firstborn sons. God had provided a ransom, and all were participating in it. Later participants looked back to in remembrance and ‘participation by faith’, and they too would remember that they had had to ransom their firstborn sons (Exodus 13.13; 34.20; Numbers 18.15-16).
A similar situation applies to the Lord’s Supper. This initial institution has in mind the events that will occur on that night and in the following day, while all later participation will look back to that night and its accomplished deliverance. In the original institution those who participated were being called on to recognise in it an ‘earnest’ (guarantee and sample) of the offering of Jesus as an offering and sacrifice. It portrayed the guarantee of their future salvation and deliverance. And they would themselves also to some extent share in the fall out from Jesus’ afflictions. But those who participated in the future would ‘participate’ in it by faith, looking back to the one sacrifice for sin for ever as it was offered at the cross, and responding to it in their hearts by faith. They would be proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes again (1 Corinthians 11.26).
The question may be asked as to how the institution as described by Matthew fits in with the other descriptions found in Mark, Luke and Paul? For at first sight all appear to be somewhat different. Before going on therefore we shall consider that question first.
Excursus: A Comparison Of The Accounts Of The Instituting Of The Lord’s Supper.
The question is often asked, “Why are their different versions of the words used by Jesus at the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the Gospels and in Paul?” A partial answer, of course, lies in the fact that each is an interpretive translation of the original Aramaic. But in answering the question we will first consider the breaking of the bread passages, putting in capitals the words which are exactly the same, and we will do the same with the offering of the wine. In doing this we must remember that none of the writers always record all Jesus’ words. Each is translating from the Aramaic, and each selects and translates keeping in mind what is particularly suitable to the point that he is getting over, aware all the time of the lack of space on his manuscript (it was a continuous roll of restricted length. They could not just add on another page). It is not therefore in the main a choice between either/or but of both/and. Nevertheless basically their renderings are unquestionably similar. Let us consider them in the order in which we find them in the New Testament.
It will be noted that common to all is that HE TOOK BREAD, BROKE IT AND SAID, 'THIS IS MY BODY', stressing the essential unity of the passages. Matthew adds to Jesus' words, 'Take you, eat', Mark adds 'Take you'. Luke and Paul omit this but it is clearly implied, for Luke adds, 'Which is given for you, this do in remembrance of me,' and Paul adds, 'which is for you, Do this in remembrance of me'. Paul's 'which is for you' parallels Matthew's 'take, eat' and especially Mark's 'take you'. Luke's 'given for you' simply amplifies the idea. Thus the basic idea is the same in all, with small differences of presentation in order to bring out particular points. The additional words, 'Do this in remembrance of me' are, of course, really required in order to explain the perpetuation of the feast throughout the early church. Thus Jesus must have said it and even if we had not been told about it we would have had to assume it. Indeed, while 'This is my body' would certainly be impressive standing alone, it does require extra words for it to make sense to the initial hearers. It is possibly the writers and ministers, and not the original speaker, who with their liking for dramatic pauses wish it to stand out in its starkness, for they do it knowing that the readers/recipients would already know its deeper significance. Jesus, on the other hand, would want to make His teaching clear. Of course, what His exact words were in Aramaic can only be postulated, for we only have the Greek translations. But the Greek in each case does give the true and uncontradictory essential meaning of what He was saying.
Slightly more complicated are the words about the cup.
Matthew 26.27-28 'And he took a CUP, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink you all of it, for THIS IS MY BLOOD of THE COVENANT, which is poured out for many to remission of sins.'
Mark 14.23-24 'And he took a CUP, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them, and they all drank of it, and he said to them, THIS IS MY BLOOD of THE COVENANT, which is poured out for many.'
Luke 22.20 And the CUP in like manner after supper, saying, THIS cup IS THE new COVENANT in MY BLOOD, even that which is poured out for you.'
1 Corinthians 11.25 'In the same way also the CUP, after supper, saying, "THIS cup IS THE new COVENANT in MY BLOOD. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'
In each Jesus takes a cup and says either, 'This is the covenant in my blood', or alternatively the more stark equivalent in Hebrew form, 'This is my blood of the covenant' (which is saying the same thing). The former is interpretive of the latter for Gentile readers who would not appreciate the Hebrew idiom. The ‘new’ may have dropped out in Matthew and Mark because it was felt to be superfluous, or Luke and Paul, in interpreting, may have added that it was a 'new' covenant, because they wanted their Gentile readers to know that it was not just the old Jewish covenant renewed, but the new covenant which had already been promised. All would be aware that it was in fact a new covenant, partly in accordance with God's promise in Jeremiah 31.31, and partly because it was 'in His blood' and looked to the cross, and Jesus' very words and subsequent actions thus demanded it even if He did not say it.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all agree that He said, 'which is poured out for ---'. Mark simply adds, 'for many', Luke adds. 'for you' and Matthew adds 'for many to remission of sins'. Paul omits this but adds, 'Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me', which is actually required to be said by Jesus (or something like it) to establish the permanence of it as a symbol. As Mark's 'for many' probably has Isaiah 53,11, 12 in mind it has the same significance as Matthew's longer phrase 'for many to remission of sins'. 'Luke's 'you' simply personalises it, recognising that the 'you' is by then being spoken to the whole church who are the 'many' for whom Christ died. Thus the essential meaning is again the same. And as with the bread the importance of doing it in remembrance must at some time have been said by Jesus in order for the Apostles to take up the feast and perpetuate it as they did. To men who had such a sense of the sacredness of the Passover the onward movement would have been impossible, except on the most sacred authority. The slight overall differences emphasise the point each is seeking to bring out as they translate or paraphrase from the Aramaic, without altering the basic sense. Essentially therefore all are saying the same thing.
One possible interpretation of the evidence is to see Jesus as saying, ‘Take, eat, this is my body which is for you (with ‘given’ or ‘broken’ being interpretive), this do in remembrance of Me’. And, ‘this is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for you and for many for the remission of sins, do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me’, with each writer having been selective.
End of Excursus.
There is no question about the fact that all the Gospel writers see Jesus as having taken over the Passover symbolism, making it applicable to what He was about to do. Passover retires into the background, because a greater deliverance has taken over. The bread was no longer to be the bread of the affliction of the people, symbolic of the bread eaten by the original people so long before as they waited for deliverance from all their afflictions, but was to be the bread of the affliction of this One Who represented the people, God’s Son (2.15), and indicative of all the afflictions that He bore for them in His body on the cross (Isaiah 53.4-5; 1 Peter 2.24). It was to speak of His brokenness on that cross. The Passover lamb was replaced by the One Who was being offered up on the cross, shedding His blood for the forgiveness of sins, and offering to feed His people as they came to Him and believed on Him (John 6.35; compare John 1.29; 1 Corinthians 5.7).
Behind this new portrayal, the New Testament sees a number of strands:
The aspects of these which are especially brought out in Matthew’s description of the feast are the breaking of Jesus’ body and the shedding of Jesus blood as the blood of the covenant, together with an indication of their joint participation with Him in the heavenly banquet, in which they will share (on earth) once His Kingly Rule is revealed in power after His resurrection.
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus blesses God, and in the parallel the Hallel is sung in which God is blessed. In ‘b’ His disciples are bidden to drink, and in the parallel Jesus will not drink until the Kingly Rule of Heaven comes. Centrally in ‘c’ we discover the significance to be read into the wine.
26.26 ‘And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and he gave to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” ’
Before launching into what lies behind this symbolic gesture we should perhaps just pause for a moment in awe at these words. For centuries the Jews had broken the bread at Passover looking back to the unleavened bread eaten on the day of deliverance from the angel of death. It had occurred unchanged for year after year, and century after century. And that is what the disciples were again expecting here. But to their utter astonishment Jesus picked up the bread, broke it and instead of referring to the past said, ‘This is My body.’ It was an awe-inspiring moment. It was a clear indication that the past was behind and that a new future was beginning, and that it was a future that was associated with His death. It was an emphasis on the fact that this was a crisis moment in sacred history when everything was changing. (It was even further emphasised when He said of the cup, ‘This is My blood --’).
‘As they were eating.’ This indicates that it was somewhere in the middle of the meal, which would have proceeded something like this (mainly based on later Jewish tradition). The meal would have begun with a blessing over a cup of red wine mingled with water, which would be shared with those gathered. This was the first ‘cup of blessing’ (Luke 22.17-18). It would be followed by a washing of hands. The tables would then be arranged and bitter herbs, dipped in salt water, would be shared out and eaten, after which the dishes would be removed from the tables in order to draw attention to their significance. Then would follow the filling of the second cup of wine, and possibly at this stage (although we do not actually know for certain at which point these questions were asked) someone representing the son of the household would question the meaning of this ‘strange’ ceremony. Why these bitter herbs? Why only unleavened bread? Why these strange procedures? Why the lamb? The general explanation would be given by the ‘father of the feast’, probably utilising Deuteronomy 26.5-11, after which all the Passover dishes would be brought back to the table and each item of the feast explained, the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread and the lamb. Part of the Hallel would be sung (possibly Psalms 118 and 119) and then the second cup would be drunk, to be followed by a further washing of hands.
This would in turn be followed by a breaking of bread (it was normal at a Jewish meal for the bread to be broken and distributed, and that by the ‘father of the feast’) which was itself followed by a blessing. If this was the point at which Jesus broke the bread after blessing it, (and if the order in Jesus’ day was that which was followed later), He deliberately broke the order of the ceremony. He may well have done so. The original order (bread broken first followed by a blessing) kept in mind that the poor only had broken pieces of bread and it thus ensured that they were included in the blessing. Jesus may well, on the other hand, have been indicating that among His people there were no ‘poor’. All were richly blessed and had sufficiency of the ‘bread’, because it was found in Him. His was full provision. In this way He followed the same pattern as He had used when He had fed the crowds (14.19; 15.36). On the other hand it could be that Jesus followed the old procedure at this stage and later introduced a totally new element which ran alongside the old and would finally replace it (the Jewish Christians would continue celebrating the Passover for years to come, and would no doubt include within it the Lord’s Supper. But they would also at other times celebrate the breaking of bread, together with the drinking of the wine, as a ceremony on its own - e.g. Acts 2.42).
After this ceremony pieces of the broken bread, together with some bitter herbs, would be dipped in sauce and handed out to the company, at which point all would participate in the broken bread and bitter herbs. This being done the time had come for the eating of the lamb, and following this hands were again washed and the third cup was filled, accompanied by the giving of a blessing to God (this was the second ‘cup of blessing’). After this blessing the cup was drunk. This cup was considered by the Jews to be of great importance, as is apparent from later Rabbinic tradition. Following immediately after the eating of the lamb it was among other things a rejoicing over the Passover and a signal that the meal was over. This was probably the cup to which Jesus gave a new meaning. It would be followed by a fourth cup and the final singing of the Hallel (Psalms 115-118) and prayer, after which the whole ceremony was over.
We note from this ceremony that at least three things were queried and explained during the ceremony, the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread and the Passover lamb. Thus we find that Matthew replaces the explanation concerning the bitter herbs with the bitterness of Judas’ treachery, referred to while the bitter herbs are being dipped and eaten (verse 23); replaces the explanation of the unleavened bread, which is the ‘bread of affliction’ (Deuteronomy 16.3), with the explanation of the broken bread which represents Jesus’ body (verse 24); and replaces explanation of the sacrificial lamb with the explanation of the cup which represents the blood of the covenant (verse 25). All three are seen as preparatory to the coming of the Kingly Rule of His Father (verse 26). By all this Matthew indicates that the old has been replaced by the new.
It is also significant that all three of these aspects of the meal also connect with death. Death is to be the end of Judas’ treachery (verse 4). The eating of bread, when it is symbolic of the ‘eating’ of people (‘this is My body’), is in Psalm 14.4; 53.4 indicative of death (‘they eat up My people like they eat bread’). Compare also for a similar idea Micah 3.3 and Isaiah 49.26 in terms of ‘eating flesh’.
Furthermore the drinking of the wine described in terms of His blood is indicative of the ‘drinking of blood’, which is descriptive of death in Isaiah 49.26 (‘they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine’, i.e. they will kill one another) and Zechariah 9.15 LXX (‘they will drink their blood like wine’). Compare also 2 Samuel 23 17 (‘shall I drink the blood of men who went in jeopardy of their lives?’). Thus to eat of His body and to drink of His blood is to contribute towards, and benefit by, His death, something that we find previously indicated in John 6.51-58. Compare also how Jesus can speak of the fathers of old as being ‘partakers in the blood of the prophets’, because they slew them or approved of their slaying. It is clear then that ‘eating bread’ where it represents a human being, and ‘partaking in/drinking blood’, signifies participating in someone’s death.
Thus when at some point before the drinking of the third cup Jesus took the bread and broke it, and declared, ‘Take and eat. This is My body’ (Matthew leaves ‘which is broken for you’ to be assumed from Jesus’ actions. He is seeking to give the words their full impact), Jesus no doubt intended them at this point to remember His words in verse 2 in the light of the Old Testament background, and also to remember John 6.51-58 which followed the feeding of the five thousand. Just as they ate this bread at this Passover, bread which represented His body, so were they to participate in Him and in His coming death by constantly ‘eating and drinking’ of Him, that is, by constantly coming to Him and believing on Him (John 6.35). Furthermore, as we have seen, all knew that the bread at the Passover was ‘the bread of affliction’ (Deuteronomy 16.3). Thus later, even if not at this moment, they would recognise its deeper significance as signifying what He would endure for them on the cross, and that as something of which they must partake by continually ‘eating His flesh’ (John 6.53), that is, by continually ‘coming to Him’ (John 6.35).
We must stress again that this idea of ‘eating’ as being connected with death is firmly based in the Old Testament. God could say of His people’s enemies that ‘they eat up My people as they eat bread’ (Psalm 14.4; 53.4), while in Micah 3.3 a similar idea is in mind expressed in vivid hyperbole where the ‘eating of the flesh of His people’ is describing the disgraceful treatment of them by oppressors. This was why Jesus could say, ‘the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh’ (John 6.41), which He then followed up in vivid hyperbole when He spoke of the need for those who would enjoy eternal life to ‘eat His flesh’ (kill Him/partake of the benefits of His death - John 6.53-57). He thus already had in mind that it was through His death that eternal life could be offered to the world. So while in John 6 He initially connected Himself with the ‘bread from Heaven’ of which His people may partake and be satisfied, which they would do by coming to Him (John 6.41-50), in the end it results in His body being offered to men through a death wrought by them, as a result of which He can feed and sustain men and give them life.
It is especially significant that in Isaiah 49.26 the two ideas of eating flesh and drinking wine in this way come together, ‘I will feed those who oppress you with their own flesh, and they will be drunk with their own blood as with sweet wine’, where the idea is that their enemies will destroy each other. Thus there eating flesh/body and drinking wine/blood are both symbolic of death in the same context (as indeed in John 6).
With these ideas in mind, and in view of the sacrificial content of the next verse, it should have been quite clear to the disciples precisely what Jesus was indicating by their ‘eating His body’. By eating the bread they were indicating their need to partake of the benefits of His death, and through it to enjoy eternal life.
But a further point must be borne in mind here. To partake of His body meant that His body was mingled with their bodies. They became united with His body. And that this significance was seen comes out later. ‘The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? We who are many are one bread, one body, for we all partake of the one bread’ (1 Corinthians 10.16-17). And from this came the recognition that ‘we are members of His body’. ‘For as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ, for in (by) one Spirit were we all submerged into one body --- and were all made to drink of one Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 12.12-13). By partaking of the bread with genuine faith we enter into the work of the Holy Spirit (3.11) and are by Him made one with Christ. Thus we become one body with His body, a position continually symbolised by partaking of the bread. But He in His body has received all authority in Heaven and earth (28.18), and the remarkable thing is that we participate with Him even in that (Ephesians 1.19-2.6). That being so, as a result of His resurrection, all who are His have entered within the Kingly Rule of His Father, in which they are one with Christ, along with Him. In a very real sense the Kingly Rule of Heaven has come and is present in His body, which consists of Him and all His members. Thus wherever His body is, there is His Father’s Kingly Rule, and all men are called on to become members of that body and thus enter under His Kingly Rule (Colossians 1.13).
So Jesus is telling us that by receiving the bread we both acknowledge and claim our participation in His death and its benefits, and at the same time express our oneness with Him and each other, and our claim to a part in the Kingly Rule of God.
26.27-28 ‘And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, “Drink you all of it, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins.”
Jesus then took the cup. It was the normal custom at Passover for each participant to have his own cup, but it would appear that here Jesus shares His cup with His disciples. The change was of deep significance. It was necessary that they all participate of His cup (compare 20.23), for it was His blood that was shed in order to establish the new covenant. It stressed that only in Him was there forgiveness and life.
‘He gave thanks.’ In view of what He knew about the significance of that cup which He would have to drink this was a sign of His ultimate faith in His Father. He was able to give thanks because He knew that all that was to happen was in His Father’s will, and because He was giving thanks on behalf of them all. And He did it with full awareness of the significance of the cup for Him, as He now declares. For what this cup symbolised was what He would later seek to withdraw from as the horror of it struck home to His soul (26.39, 42).
‘Drink you all of it.’ All His disciples were being called on to participate to the full in what He was doing for them. If they would enjoy ‘the cup of salvation’ (Psalm 116.13, part of the Hallel) they must do so by partaking of the benefits of His death as symbolised by that cup. All must drink of it.
‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins.’ The phrase ‘blood of the covenant’ is found in Exodus 24.8 where it was closely connected with blood shed in sacrifices, and indicated the blood that had been shed and applied in order to ensure atonement (by whole burnt offerings and peace offerings). It was intended to seal the covenant and was applied to the people so as to bind them into that covenant. But here instead of the blood being sprinkled on them, they would partake of it symbolically through partaking of the wine. This was in order to bring home to them how much they must become involved with His death (compare Galatians 2.20, ‘I have been crucified with Christ’). They must ‘drink His blood’, that is take on themselves responsibility for His death because He was dying for them. So by it they were acknowledging their responsibility for His death.
But Jesus was also here indicating that His blood was sealing a new covenant, a better covenant, although connected with the old. This new covenant is mentioned in Jeremiah 31.31-34 and involved among other things is the imparting of righteousness to them through a spiritual transformation of their lives and through the guarantee of forgiveness (Jeremiah 31.31-34; Hebrews 8.8-13), something which the old covenant had been unable to do. The same idea is found in Ezekiel 16.8, 59, 60, 62-63, again connected with forgiveness (verse 63). In neither case, however, is it connected with a sacrifice, for it was still referring forward to the future.
The pouring out of blood in a covenant necessarily indicates a new, renewed covenant, and while we do not fully know what the shedding of blood in order to seal a covenant specifically indicated, it certainly indicated the life and death importance of the covenant. So to be a part of that covenant was a sacred thing. And as all offerings and sacrifices offered to God contained within them the idea of atonement in one way or another, that would also be included, and is inherent in the reference to the forgiveness of sins.
But the phrase ‘the blood of the covenant of you’ is also found in Zechariah 9.11, which clearly refers back to Exodus 24.8, in the words ‘As for you also, because of the blood of your covenant I have sent forth your prisoners out of the pit in which is no water.’ Here the blood of the covenant which they had with YHWH is specifically linked with the idea of God acting in deliverance, and this in a context continually in mind in Matthew’s narrative (compare Zechariah 9.9 with 21.5; Zechariah 1.1 with 23.35; Zechariah 12. 10 with 24.30; Zechariah 13.7 with 26.31; and Zechariah 11.13 with 26.15; 27.9). So ‘My blood of the covenant’ indicates a covenant sealed by the blood of Jesus as He is offered on His people’s behalf, which binds all who participate within that covenant to do the will of His Father, offers them full atonement and forgiveness, and promises full deliverance from God’s judgments. And it should be noted here that the idea of the sealing of a new covenant connects very closely with the idea of the establishing of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. That was its purpose at the Exodus (Exodus 19.6). And this connection will here come out in the next verse in the reference to the Kingly Rule of His Father. Here then are the ‘sure mercies of David, the everlasting covenant’ (Isaiah 55.3) obtained by eating ‘bread’ and drinking ‘wine’ provided by God without money and without price (Isaiah 55.1-2), something which is also there connected with the forgiveness of sins (Isaiah 55.6-7), an eating and drinking which as we have seen is closely involved with His death.
‘Poured out for many for the remission of sins.’ Here we have a link with the One Who ‘poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors’ (Isaiah 53.12; see also Mark 15.28; Luke 22.37). The pouring out of blood is regularly connected in the Old Testament with violent death and with sacrificial death. The connection with forgiveness of sins guarantees the sacrificial connection, for forgiveness was obtained through sacrifices (e.g. Leviticus 4-5 regularly; Numbers 15.25-27). Here then was how Jesus would ‘save His people from their sins’, which is the very significance of His Name (1.21). He would offer Himself as an offering and sacrifice on their behalf (20.28; Isaiah 53.10; John 1.29; 1 Corinthians 5.7; Hebrews 9.11-15, 26-28; 10.12-14).
‘For many.’ This connects with Isaiah 53.11-12, where through His humiliation the Righteous Servant, Who had been given as a covenant to the people (Isaiah 49.8) ‘declares many righteous’, and where He ‘bears the sins of many’. This linking of forgiveness of sins with the covenant is a vital part of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew. We have, for example, already seen forgiveness as closely associated with the formation of the new Israel in chapter 5-7 (see 6.12, 14-15) and chapter 18 (see 18.21-35), both of which are discourses preparing for the new future and the new Israel (21.43). But the covenant also requires obedience. That is the very nature of a Biblical covenant with God. So Jesus’ message is continually twofold, firstly that God’s blessing comes on His own totally apart from man’s deserving (5.3-9; 11.6, 25-27; 13.16-17; 16.17), and secondly that by so blessing men and women God brings them into personal relationship with Himself through covenant, a relationship which binds them and enables them to do His will, and even demands it (7.21; 12.50). To put it in more modern terms, while salvation is a free gift, there is no salvation without it being accompanied by transformed lives and genuine moral response. (The gift is always effective). That is why His demand to us that we live a life of heavenly servitude parallels with and results from His having offered Himself as a ransom for many (20.25-28).
Thus by drinking of the wine believers declare their responsibility for His death, see themselves as dying with Him (Galatians 2.20; Romans 6.4; His shed blood being as it were mingled with their blood - 1 Corinthians 10.16), claim their participation in the benefits that result from His death, and confirm themselves as part of the covenant which demands obedience to His will. They thus lay claim to participation in the eternal life being offered to men by Him.
26.29 “But I say to you, I will not from now on drink of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingly rule.”
Here we have the fourth aspect of Jesus’ words that is emphasised by Matthew in his summary of the Last Supper. First there was the betrayal, then the broken body, then the poured out blood, and now He guarantees through it the establishment of His Father’s Kingly Rule. All these previous processes are seen as necessary in order that His Father’s Kingly Rule might be established. So He now declares that this wine that He is drinking at the Passover will be the last wine that He will drink before the Kingly Rule of His Father is established and He is able to drink it new with them within that Kingly Rule.
But the question this raises is as to what exactly this means, and it is a heavily debated question. We must ask:
If we see ‘I will not from now on drink of this fruit of the vine, until that day --’ as an indication of how quickly that day will come (like a general receiving news from his spies and turning to his officers and saying, ‘the enemy are so close that this will be my last drink until the battle is over’), we will see it as referring to His shortly to be revealed enthronement and subsequent sending out of His disciples to proclaim the Kingly Rule of His Father, the Kingly Rule of Heaven (28.18-20) when He ‘goes before them into Galilee’ (verse 32). That was probably how the disciples would originally see the words.
Alternatively it could be seen as a vow of abstinence in view of the serious nature of what was coming, in which case it might be seen as referring to the final consummation of His Father’s Kingly Rule. But this founders on Peter’s words, taken at their face value in Acts 10.41, and the fact that He took drink on the cross just prior to dying (27.48). In our view therefore the first interpretation, that He will ‘eat and drink with them’ after the resurrection in the newly confirmed Kingly Rule of His Father is the correct one.
Excursus. A Consideration in Depth of the Two Alternatives.
The first impression that would come over to the disciples concerning the commonplace idea of drinking wine would be that it indicated that the Kingly Rule of His Father was shortly to be established, for they would at this stage be expecting that Jesus would drink wine with them again shortly. Indeed Acts 10.41 suggests that He did. To alter the above illustration slightly it would have seemed to them (especially in the light of what had been said on the Mount of Olives in chapters 24-25), as being very similar to a general standing before his troops prior to the decisive battle and saying, ‘Fight hard, for before we have another drink together the battle will be won’. Thus there is good reason for thinking that they would see Him as indicating here the soon establishment of His Father’s Kingly Rule (which was in line with their expectations, even if wrongly conceived) through some decisive activity of God.
(There is incidentally no reason why it should suggest that Jesus ceased drinking wine at a particular stage during the meal, for whatever else is meant by ‘from now on, henceforth’, it does not necessarily mean ‘from this very moment’ as is apparent from 26.64. It may simply mean ‘from now on once this meal is over’ as in 26.64 it means ‘from now on once I have been crucified and God then acts’. Thus we cannot build up theories on that basis).
But why else should Jesus emphasise that He will not again drink wine? It cannot simply mean because where He is going there will be no wine for He gives the impression that He does anticipate once again drinking wine with them in the future. ‘I will not -- until --.’ Thus some have suggested a High Priestly abstention on the basis of Leviticus 10.9, or a Nazirite abstention on the basis of Numbers 6.3. The problem with the former is that watered down wine was probably not meant there, the idea in Leviticus being rather on abstention from heady wine and other intoxicating liquors. The problem with both is that there is no indication as to why He should engage in such an abstention. It is true that the latter case could be supported on the basis of the phrase ‘the fruit of the vine’. For the Nazirite was forbidden to participate in anything connected with the vine. However, ‘fruit of the vine’ is used in other Jewish literature simply to signify wine, which weakens that case. But even more against it is the fact that in Luke this abstention from wine is connected with abstention from the Passover (Luke 22.15-18), something which never indicates dedication, only, if applied strictly, indicating uncleanness (or, of course, in this case absence from earth). What abstention from the Passover certainly does not indicate is dedication. For a Jew to abstain from observing the Passover was considered reprehensible, not holy.
Furthermore there is a strong case in Matthew for suggesting that a reference to the drinking of wine in this present context is to be seen as indicating participation in the cup that points to His death, in His case by His drinking the cup that His Father will give Him to drink, and in their case by their identification with Him in His death as they drink of the cup, for it immediately follows His reference to their drinking wine with precisely that idea in mind. And this is backed up in Luke’s Gospel, for although Luke puts these words concerning abstention from wine (or similar words then to be repeated later) prior to the significant participation in the wine, they are there paralleled with the idea of abstention from eating the Passover, which would suggest that what is being abstained from is Passover wine, which once more brings us back to the significance of the wine in the Lord’s Supper.
In Luke Jesus says that He will not again eat the Passover with them ‘until it is fulfilled in the Kingly Rule of God’, and continues on to say that He will not drink wine until He drinks it ‘within the Kingly Rule of God’ (Luke 22.16-18). What He may thus be seen by the disciples as emphasising in both cases is that the crisis moment is at hand which will take place within a year (‘I will not again eat of the Passover’), nay even within a much shorter time (‘not again even drink of the fruit of the vine’), which will bring about God’s triumph and victory, after which the Kingly Rule of God will be established.
If ‘eating Passover’ is to be taken even partially literally then this (‘until I drink it new with you’) clearly indicates that Jesus anticipates sharing a Passover with His disciples on earth once more (‘I will not again -- until’), and that could well be seen as signifying His participation with them in the following years by His spiritual presence among them (18.20), as they look back on the fulfilment of Passover in His death. (It is difficult to see how else He could eat Passover amongst them. After His death a literal Passover would be redundant). That being so it would indicate the soon coming establishment of His Father’s Kingly Rule.
If, however, this is to be seen as referring to keeping some kind of heavenly Passover, as a kind of spiritual celebration thought of in terms of the previous physical earthly feast (seen, say, as a celebratory feast along with the Lamb Who was slain - Revelation 5.6), with the drinking of the fruit of the vine being a similar spiritual celebration, any length of time is possible, but it does raise the question as to why Jesus laid such an emphasis at this stage on a future abstaining from Passover when the symbolic meaning could not have been apparent. Abstinence from Passover might indicate ‘uncleanness’, or might indicate ‘absence, but it never indicated dedication. Certainly the best interpretation of the idea would be to see it as indicating how quickly the time would pass prior to the coming of the Kingly Rule. So we must ask, was this only with the purpose of indicating urgency? Or was it in order to emphasise ‘the good time coming’ when all will be finally over, when ‘we shall eat the bread of Passover and drink together’? But this last would be to radically change the meaning of both the bread and the wine in context, unless we see it as signifying continuing enjoyment of the benefits of His death, in which case why see it as put off until His coming? For they certainly will sit in His presence enjoying the benefits of His death very shortly when they continually celebrate the Lord’s Table, paralleling what happened after the old covenant had been given (Exodus 24.9-11).
It is not enough to say, ‘Oh, this is speaking of the Messianic Banquet’, as though that settled the matter as to its eschatological nature, for Jesus sees the Messianic Banquet in terms of their future evangelistic ministry. He decidedly gives the impression that the Messianic Banquet will be enjoyed by some on earth who are within the Kingly Rule of Heaven (22.2-13; Luke 14.21-25).
Furthermore, if the phrase is taken in this way it would appear to be emphasising Jesus’ absence. ‘You will not see Me again until --.’ But that is patently untrue for ‘He will go before them into Galilee’ and they will see Him again after His resurrection, and will partake of food with Him (and drink - Acts 10.41), and Matthew takes great pains to indicate that He will be very much ‘with them’ (18.20; 28.20) as they go out proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God. It is difficult to see Jesus as both emphasising His absence and His presence at the same time, and there is indeed a strong emphasis in Matthew on His continuing presence.
But there is also another difficulty with seeing it as referring to a fairly long absence during which they would not have meal fellowship with Him, and that is that if that is its meaning then there is no reference anywhere at the Last Supper to the future task that lies immediately before them, something which seems frankly incredible when Jesus certainly and emphatically brings the imminent coming of His Kingly Rule in power to the attention of the Chief Priests (26.64 - ‘from now on’) and in Acts 1.3-8 tells His disciples not to be taken up with the eschatological future but to concentrate on the establishing of His Kingly Rule throughout the world (see Acts 8.12; 13.22; 19.8; 20.25; 28.23, 31).
And we might finally add to these arguments that it is doubtful if it would appear to disciples who would be thrilled with partaking of the bread and wine in future in the consciousness of His presence, that they were not actually ‘eating and drinking with Him’. They would see themselves as very much eating and drinking with Him.
However, we would fail in our duty as commentators if we did not draw attention to both main views taken of these words, both of which have strong support from different commentators. The first is, as we have seen, that Jesus was indicating, in line with some of the above suggestions, how soon, in spite of what was to follow, the Kingly Rule of His Father would begin to be established on earth, that is that the Kingly Rule of His Father would begin to come ‘on earth as it is in Heaven’, commencing from Pentecost onwards. And the other is that it is simply thinking of the consummation with His eye firmly fixed on ‘the end’.
It is true, of course, that Jesus had already to some extent been establishing that Kingly Rule while He was on earth, for those Who followed Him were to be those who ‘did the will of His Father’ (7.21; 12.50), and the presence of God’s Kingly Rule had been evidenced by the defeat of the forces of evil (12.28) and the healing of all who sought Jesus (11.5). It was, however, at that stage local. But now (on the first view) He is speaking of the momentous events that will cause it to flourish and expand in an unprecedented way as a result of His coming enthronement (28.18; Acts 2.36). The Kingly Rule of Heaven will come with power ‘from now on’ - 26.64; while ‘some standing here’ are still alive - Mark 9.1. Power is very much an aspect of the forward movement of the people of God (Acts 1.8; 4.33; Romans 1.4, 16; 1 Corinthians 1.17-18, 24; 2.4; etc). For ‘the Kingly Rule of God is not in word but in power’ (1 Corinthians 4.20). It will begin first by His breathing on them in the Upper Room and imparting to them the special unction for their own unique tasks (John 20.22), and would continue when God Himself descended to earth in wind and fire and took possession of His people so that the Holy Spirit spoke through them (Acts 2.1-4) and they proclaimed the wonderful works of God (Acts 2.11). This especially would be the fulfilment of God’s promises through the prophets (Acts 2.16-21). And from these beginnings it would spread first to Jerusalem, then to Judaea and Samaria, and then to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1.8; 28.31).
Others, however, as we have seen, see this promise as simply indicating to His disciples the certainty that one day at some time in the immeasurable future they will be with Him within His Kingly Rule, as in John 14.1-2. Their view is that Jesus is looking ahead to the consummation and deliberately ignoring all that lies between.
(Many ‘ordinary Christians’ in the modern day like this last idea, for they have a fixation with the idea of ‘being saved so that we will go to Heaven’. But we need to remember that we are not saved so that we will go to Heaven, but that that is simply a wonderful by-product of what Jesus has done. We are saved so that God might be glorified by our transformed lives, see for example 5.16; 1 Corinthians 6.11; 2 Corinthians 5.17; Ephesians 5.26-27; Colossians 1.22; 1 John 3.2), and so that we might do His will (6.10; 7.21; 12.50) and so that God might in the end be all in all (1 Corinthians 15.28)).
The real problem with this second view is that it gives the impression that the first three Gospel writers suggest that at the Last Supper Jesus totally overlooks the near future for the disciples, and concentrates only on the final triumph, as though what lay between was simply something to be endured, not gloried in. It gives the impression that in their view, according to the first three Gospels, and especially Matthew, Jesus gave no encouragement to His disciples at this time concerning what the near future now held for them, something totally contrary to the impression that we find in the fourth Gospel. Can it really be conceivable that the writers would want or intend to give that impression?
But it may then be asked, why should we see Jesus as here referring to ‘the coming of His Father’s Kingly Rule’ as something that had in mind the events that were soon to follow after the resurrection, rather than as something awaiting the consummation?
It will be noted that in every case of the expression of the idea of ‘the coming of the Kingly Rule of God’ (whichever verb is used) it was seen as present among them or as ‘near’ so that they could come in contact with it for themselves. Furthermore it did not come in openly outward form, but was within or among them in a way evidenced by His power. It is quite clear therefore that in all these cases the idea of the coming of the Kingly Rule of God (or the drawing near of the Kingly Rule of God) is of the presence of the Kingly Rule of God among them, and not (except as a continuation of the process) of the coming of the everlasting Kingly Rule. The only exception in Luke might be, ‘Your Kingly Rule come’. But there the phrase is equivalent to Matthew 6.10 where ‘your Kingly Rule come’ parallels ‘your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven’, thus indicating that what is in mind is the present situation. The coming of the Kingly Rule there is the same as the establishing of the Father’s will on earth, looked at from a different point of view, and of the hallowing of His name among the nations by His divine activity. The Kingly Rule of God is coming to earth.
On the other hand, in the case where the Kingly Rule of God is spoken of as in the future it is never spoken of as ‘coming’. In that case it is men who come to the Kingly Rule of God, and not the Kingly Rule of God that comes to them. “And they will come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and will sit down in the Kingly Rule of God” (Luke 13.29, compare Matthew 8.11).
Similar usage to Luke can also be found in both Matthew and Mark although the only two directly relevant verses (apart from Matthew 6.10 mentioned above) are:
In the first case the Kingly Rule of God has already ‘come upon’ them (ephthasen). In the second the Kingly Rule of God will come (eleluthuian) with power within the lifetime of some of those present. In both cases the words have in mind participation now, or definitely in the very near future, in the Kingly Rule of God, and in both cases that Kingly Rule is revealed in terms of power.
Thus our conclusion must be that when Luke speaks of the ‘coming of the Kingly Rule of God’ in one form or another he has in mind its present manifestation. Indeed in the light of his previous words his readers could hardly have seen it in any other way. This being so it would suggest that it is the present Kingly Rule of God among them which is in Jesus’ mind when He speaks of ‘not drinking of the fruit of the vine until the Kingly Rule of God comes’ or of ‘not drinking of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s Kingly Rule’.
All these facts suggest that having announced the rejection of the Scribes and Pharisees in chapter 23, and having announced God’s coming judgment on the priesthood and the Temple, together with its destruction, in chapter 24, and having prepared for the last Judgment in chapter 25, Jesus is now concerned to emphasise the soon-coming establishment of His Kingly Rule in the world as a result of His death and resurrection, an event which is almost upon them.
End of Excursus.
‘Drink of the fruit of the vine.’ That is, joyously and triumphantly in participation with Him in His death. As Matthew will make clear Jesus will in fact drink of some kind of wine on the cross once His agony is mainly over and the battle has been won (27.48), but the next celebratory drink will be with His Apostles within the new Kingly Rule as they gather at His table to eat and drink with Him (as in Acts 2.42, which would include wine; 1 Corinthians 10.16 where there is the communion of the body with His body, and a communion with His blood in the drinking of wine; Acts 10.41 where the Apostles ate and drank with Him after He was raised from the dead). In these words therefore He proclaims the certainty of His victory, the fruits of which will be enjoyed shortly. They have nothing to fear. The next stage is already certain. Indeed, as we have seen, if Acts 1.3-11 tells us anything it is that His Apostles are not to be looking to the eschatological future, but to the conquest of the nations in His Name, (although always in readiness for His coming). That being so, that perspective is surely what He points them to here.
26.30 ‘And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the mount of Olives.’
The celebration coming towards its end it closes as usual with the Hallel (Psalms 115-118), after which they leave the city proper and return to the Mount of Olives (but still remaining within the bounds allowed during the Passover. The western slopes of the Mount of Olives would be within those bounds, Bethany itself was outside them). And thus in a few short verses Matthew has brought out the main significance of the meal. As so often he was not concerned about the detail, but with the main message. And he signals the close of the meal by speaking of the singing of the Hallel.
This would be sung by the disciples with particular feeling as they began to grapple in their minds with what Jesus had been saying, for it considered many of the questions that must have been flooding through their minds, as will be seen by the contents repeated from our introductory words above. Here Matthew deliberately connects the promise of the certainty of the coming of the Kingly Rule of His Father with the Hallel (verses 29-30). This speaks of God being their help and their shield (Psalm 115.9-11), and the One Who will multiply blessing to His people from Heaven (Psalm 115.12-15; compare Matthew 5.3-10; 13.16-17; 16.17), so that they will bless the Lord (Psalm 115.18). It reveals Him as the One Who will deliver them from death to life even when they are greatly afflicted (Psalm 116.8-10; compare Matthew 7.14; 16.25; 19.29; 25.46), so that they will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord (Psalm 116.13; Matthew 26.27-28). Thus they will offer to Him the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord (Psalm 116.17), praising Him for His covenant love towards them (Psalm 117.2; 118.2-3), for He is their strength and their song, and has also become their deliverance (Psalm 118.14; Matthew 1.21). The gates of righteousness will be opened to them for them to enter in (Psalm 118.19; compare Matthew 5.6, 20; 21.32), because He is their salvation (Psalm 118.21; Matthew 1.21), and this because the stone which the builders rejected has become the headstone of the corner (Psalm 118.22; compare Matthew 21.42). Thus ‘blessed is the One Who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Psalm 118.26; compare Matthew 21.9; 23.39). Here are all the elements of the ‘drinking of the fruit of the vine (depicting rejoicing and celebration and partaking of the cup of salvation) in the Kingly Rule of His Father’. As Jesus said, ‘I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you within My Father’s Kingly Rule’ (when He came to them after the resurrection), for then salvation will have been accomplished and they will have received life out of death (7.14; 16.25; 19.29; 25.46) and will be going out with His salvation to the world with ‘the Good News of the Kingly Rule’ (24.14).
‘They went out to the Mount of Olives.’ Mention of the Mount of Olives at such a crucial time would ring bells in the minds of Christian Jews. The Mount of Olives was the place where great events were to take place when God began to act (Zechariah 14.4-9) which would lead to the establishment of God’s Kingly Rule (Zechariah 14.9). Now those events were beginning.
The Outworking Of The Passover Feast (26.31-32).
In the words that follow Jesus puts in clear terms what His words at the Passover have signified, following the same previous pattern of betrayal, death and Kingly Rule as before. He will be ‘betrayed’ by His disciples, His blood will be shed as the shepherd of the sheep, but He will rise again in order to lead them and will meet them in Galilee where they will learn of His enthronement and His Kingly Rule (28.18). This parallels the betrayal, death and establishment of His Kingly Rule spoken of in the previous verses.
26.31 ‘Then Jesus says to them, “All you will be offended in me this night, for it is written, ‘I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered abroad’.” ’
Jesus once again stresses the failure of His disciples. ‘All you will be offended in Me’ or ‘will fall away because of Me’ or possibly better ‘will suffer a grievous lapse because of Me’ this night (strictly ‘will be caused to stumble’). His point is that this very night they will fail Him at the crucial moment, and that this must be expected because it is what the Scriptures have declared. But He said this, not because He was a fatalist, but because He believed that God was actively at work fulfilling His will, and knew the weakness of His disciples’ faith. While His words no doubt upset them at the time they would be a comfort to them once it had happened. They would remember that He had known that it would happen because there was a divine necessity to it, and that knowing this He had still given them the symbols of the bread and wine as an assurance that they were within His covenant. Their bruised souls would recognise that they were not finally cast off. But this failure would do them good. Much of their self-seeking and self-confidence would have been knocked out of them, and they would recognise how dependent they were on God in readiness for the coming of the flooding down of the Holy Spirit. It was a necessary part of their preparation for the future.
For support for His statement Jesus turns to the Old Testament (Zechariah 13.7-9). The context of the saying is that God will bring about His purposes through the smiting of His shepherd and the failing in courage of those for whom He is responsible, the lost sheep of the house of Israel. This will then act as a refining influence on a remnant of them so that in the end He will be able to recognise them as His people, and they will recognise Him as their God. Here we have a continuation of the idea of a new nation arising out of the old (21.43). It is quite likely that in speaking of the smiting of the shepherd Zechariah had the prophecy concerning the suffering Servant (Isaiah 53.6) in mind.
The quotation is taken from Zechariah 13.7 where the full quotation in the Hebrew text is, ‘Awake O sword against my shepherd, and against the man who is my fellow,’ says YHWH of hosts. ‘Smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.’ There YHWH is calling on the sword of those who are antagonistic to Him to awaken in order to smite His shepherd, and this because it is God’s way of working. God will make use of the activities of evil men. They become His sword. It continues the idea that we saw in verses 1-3. The Son of Man is delivered up both by God and men. Man proposes, but YHWH disposes. Thus in the end the sword they wield has become His sword, which is why Matthew or his source can abbreviate its translation as, ‘I will smite the shepherd’. Compare Isaiah 50.6; 53.1-12. This is the shepherd Who has come to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (10.6), who were distressed and scattered as sheep without a shepherd (9.36). But man’s response will be to smite the shepherd even as He is making the attempt to feed them. Thus God will allow another scattering in which the disciples will have a part as they face up to the forces of evil, in order finally that they might be refined. This indeed is how God works until He achieves His final victory. We must through much tribulation enter under the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 14.22). But when His disciples thus lapse they must recognise that He is the shepherd who seeks His sheep when they go astray (18.12). First, however, they need to recognise that they will be involved in being scattered. They have to face up to what they are when they rely on their own courage and on themselves.
‘Of the flock.’ This explanatory addition stresses that it is not just the sheep in general who will be scattered, it includes the sheep of His flock (compare Luke 12.32 where His little flock will be given the Kingly Rule).
26.32 “But after I am raised up, I will go before you into Galilee.”
However, Jesus now makes clear that the smitten Shepherd is Himself, and that once He has been smitten He will be raised up, for God will raise Him up. And then like a shepherd going on ahead of His sheep to survey the ground and seek out new pastures He will go before them into Galilee. We are reminded of how the Ark of the covenant of YHWH went before the people in order to prepare a resting place for them as they progressed towards the place of salvation (Numbers 10.33). This idea that Jesus is with His disciples in all circumstances is one that is emphasised by Matthew (18.20; 28.20). He was ever conscious of his Lord’s watch over him and presence with him.
And once there they will meet Him, and eat with Him (John 21.13), and as usual, (and as also in the case of the ‘the breaking of bread’), the skins of water or wine which accompanied men everywhere in that hot climate are to be assumed (Acts 10.41). And there they will learn that the Kingly Rule of His Father has come (28.18). Here the idea is of the shepherd who goes ahead of His sheep, in order to prepare pasture in the way ahead. But why to Galilee? Because Galilee was Scripturally the place where light would shine out of darkness (4.16); because Galilee was where He had performed most of His mighty wonders; because Galilee was where He had given the majority of His teaching (5.1); because Galilee was not gripped in the same religious stranglehold as Jerusalem; because the hills of Galilee had been where He had regularly met with His Father (14.23); because Galilee was the centre of His outreach; and finally because for most of them Galilee was the home to which they would return when danger arose. And He expects them to go there, and wants them to know that when they do so they will find Him there, ready to feed them and make all things right. He does not want their minds centred on Jerusalem or their aims tied up in Jerusalem (compare John 4.20-24). He wants them to look to the One of Galilee (see Isaiah 9.2-7), for their outreach is to be to the world.
Galilee was from the beginning the place where the light was especially to shine (4.15-16). Indeed we elsewhere gain the impression that, had they been obedient after His resurrection was notified to them, to Galilee is where they should have gone immediately (28.7, 10; Mark 16.7). It was probably fear and disobedience that kept them in Jerusalem (John 20.19), as they hid themselves away feeling that all the world was seeking them out. And that is why Jesus graciously appears to them there. But He will not allow them to be tied to Jerusalem, its horizons were too limited.
Matthew also does not want to link them with Jerusalem, for in his eyes, as in the eyes of Jesus, Jerusalem is tainted and condemned, and Jesus’ new followers (and Matthew’s readers) need therefore to be seen as removed from the choked atmosphere of religious Jerusalem to the spiritual freedom of Galilee. They need to see the One of Galilee as the source of the light of the Gospel (4.15-16) without His message being hampered by the restraints of bigoted Jerusalem. It is in fact probable that Matthew was never really happy ministering in Jerusalem. As a former tax collector he would never be accepted there and would in fact tend to be held in contempt there, except by the faithful, and he would thus be only too conscious of its pernicious influence. He knew that it was overly religious and stultifying.
It was very different for Luke the Gentile. To Luke and his fellow-Gentiles, to whom Jerusalem was but a symbol. it was the famed centre from which God’s word was to go out (Isaiah 2.2-4) and was the very hub of things from the point of view of the New Testament. He rejoiced in what he knew of the Jerusalem church and saw Jesus as connected with Jerusalem, both in death and resurrection life. Unlike Matthew and Peter he was not aware of the oppressive and pernicious religious atmosphere of a Jerusalem that could choke true faith and wither it, and as a result had to be destroyed. Thus to him, as to far off Gentiles, Jerusalem was in a sense the centre from which their faith had sprung, even though only as a symbol and something that could easily be left behind. It was never something that gripped them. Their reaction to its destruction, in contrast with that of many Jewish Christians, who would be divided in their hearts, was probably mainly that it demonstrated how right Jesus had been in His prophecy. Yet even Luke has to show in Acts how in the end God had to drive the Apostles away from Jerusalem with its fatal fascination, a Jerusalem in which they nearly got bogged down.
Peter Protests That He Will Certainly Remain Faithful. He will Not Be One Who Is Scattered (26.33-35).
This is the final part of the Matthaean sandwich which began at verse 20 (betrayal, Lord’s Supper, denial), bringing home that God’s wonderful provision in salvation has come to a world steeped in denial. And yet these three verses also form a sandwich in themselves, in that we have Peter says, Jesus says, Peter says, emphasising Peter’s failure. Mention of ‘the others’ is almost an afterthought. The failure of Peter mirrors the whole, for by the time that this was written Peter was the acknowledged ‘first among equals’, and probably to large parts of the church, along with Paul, representative of them all.
26.33 ‘But Peter answered and said to him, “If all shall be offended in (caused to stumble by) you, I will never be offended.” ’
Peter was clearly upset at the suggestion that he would allow himself to be unfaithful. He protests that even if all the others prove to be so, he will not. He is not the stumbling kind. Nothing will move him from His Lord’s side. And he no doubt meant it and believed it. Like the others he had no conception of what it was really going to be like, and of the weakness of his own faith in the face of Satanic opposition and the unusual methods of God. What was to happen would leave them all totally baffled, and in the end distraught, for Jesus did not follow the pattern that they had laid out for Him. They would thus be battling with the unknown in order that through their initial failure they might learn in the end to overcome it, and might recognise that their current ideas about the ‘coming of the kingdom’ were all wrong.
26.34 ‘Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, that this night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” ’
Jesus gently puts him right. He tells Peter that even before the night has passed he will certainly deny Him three times. ‘Before the cock crows.’ The middle watch of the night was called cockcrow by the Romans. It was during that period from 12.30 onwards that the cocks would constantly crow. But Jesus probably has in mind the crowing that heralds the dawn. The Rabbis said, ‘When he hears the cock crowing he should say, Blessed is He Who has given to the cock understanding to distinguish between day and night’. And by that time Peter would three times have denied Him.
Peter’s behaviour would in fact be a mixture of cowardice and great bravery. In the Garden he would try to put up a fight against insuperable odds, and would undoubtedly have willingly died there and then. But when he was forbidden and had to sheathe his sword, he was perplexed and frustrated and did not know what to do. So, increasingly unsure of himself, and still not knowing what to do, his nerve would break and he would flee and ‘be scattered’ with the other disciples, as unbelievingly they saw their Master allow Himself to be bound. They had seen Him walk away from such situations before. Why then did He not do it now? It almost looked as though He wanted to be arrested.
Then Peter would partially recover his nerve and follow at a distance (in the company of someone who had no fear that he himself would not be accepted there), even entering the enemies’ headquarters, in order to try to discover what would happen to Jesus. And once there he would not only lie about who he was, which would be understandable, but would vehemently deny any loyalty to Jesus. Indeed he would deny Him outright. And yet he would still remain in dangerous proximity to Jesus until the full realisation of his own failure came and he went away to be alone and ‘weep bitterly’. It was a strange mixture, but so very typical of Peter.
For this was all, in fact, typical of Peter’s character, brashness, boldness and impetuosity and yet with a proneness to his nerve collapsing at crucial times, especially when caught on the hop. Both weaknesses had to be refined, and to his credit they soon were. How different from these failing men were the brave men who faced the Sanhedrin in the early part of Acts. Having failed Him once they would not fail Him again. They had learned to stand firm.
26.35 ‘Peter says to him, “Even if I must die with you, yet will I not deny you.” Likewise also said all the disciples.’
But at this stage all this was unknown to Peter. He had yet to know himself. And so he refutes Jesus and declares that whatever happens, even if it means dying with Him, he will not deny Jesus. And the other disciples all said the same thing, that is, that they would not deny Him either. We may ask, could God not have sustained them and seen them through this time of trouble? And, of course, He could. But we must remember two things. Firstly that they slept in the Garden when they should have been praying. They had their opportunity to build up their spiritual strength, and were even told to do it, but they spurned it. But even more importantly we must remember that that was a night like no other night since the world began. It was in fact necessary for Jesus to face the ultimate alone. No one could be seen as having any part in that, and none could share it with Him. It was necessary for it to be seen as the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus alone, because He alone could make that sacrifice (Isaiah 59.16-20), an experience that would lead to the new covenant through which His Spirit would come (Isaiah 59.21).
Agony In The Garden (26.36-46).
Jesus and His disciples arrive in Gethsemane. We who know what to expect recognise that the crucial hour has come, but it is salutary to recognise that prior to His ordeal Jesus finds it necessary to pray. Aware of something of what lies ahead His prayer is agony as He seeks to ensure that what He is facing is really His Father’s will. As with His not knowing the time of His coming (24.36) it is a sign of His true humanity that He has to verify the path that He is treading because of how awful it will be. And He does it hoping that He might be wrong in His recognition of the path that He must take, that even at this eleventh hour it might prove not to be necessary. But in spite of all His thoughts and fears He is determined to obey the will of His Father. We should note that the resources that He calls on as He faces His cup of suffering are only those available to any man. His anguish too is like theirs. And in that Garden (although Matthew does not indicate that it was a Garden), unlike one who had failed in a previous Garden (Genesis 3), He prays through until ‘He is heard for His godly fear’ (Hebrews 4.7). Then at last He is able to cease praying, with His soul at rest. He has prayed through to victory. Gethsemane means ‘ the oil press’ (gat semanim). It was a suitable name for what He would endure.
The fact that previously we have not been introduced to the emotional life of Jesus serves to underline the nature of it here as His emotions are laid bare. The very soul of Jesus is, as it were, being torn apart as He faces the cup of suffering.
The pattern is simple. Jesus arrives with His disciples, Jesus goes apart with the inner three to pray His threefold prayer, Jesus returns to His disciple.
Note that in ‘a’ comes with His disciples to Gethsemane to pray, and He tells them to sit there, and in the parallel He calls on them to arise, and to leave with Him. In ‘b’ He takes the three apart, it is the time for sore trouble, and in the parallel He returns to the disciples, it is the time for rest. The sore trouble is over. In ‘c’ He faces His first ordeal, and in the parallel He faces His third ordeal. In ‘d’ He returns to find them sleeping, and in the parallel He does the same. In ‘e’ He despairs that they could not watch for the first hour, and in the parallel He goes off to face the second hour. Centrally in ‘f’ He calls on them to watch and pray and recognises their weakness.
Interestingly there is also another pattern here in the threefold periods of prayer. The first prayer situation is given in full detail, the second in less detail and the third with the utmost brevity. And all are sandwiched within the framework of ‘a’ and ‘b’ in the chiasmus.
26.36 ‘Then comes Jesus with them to a place called Gethsemane, and says to his disciples, “You sit here, while I go over there and pray.” ’
We should note as we go through the passage the tenses of the verbs. The present tenses indicate what are almost respites in His turmoil, (He says to them -- He says to them -- He comes to the disciples -- He comes to them’). The past tenses indicate His entering into that turmoil in an emphatic way. ‘He took with Him -- and began to be sorrowful and sore troubled -- He went forward a little, and fell on His face and prayed -- Again a second time He went away and prayed -- He left them and went away and prayed’. This change of tense brings out the agony of those moments. They are moments of crisis. He was as it were alone in the oil press, being squeezed dry.
His opening words are preparatory. He must face this alone. ‘You sit here while I go over there and pray’. They will not be further involved until He returns to them at the end. But it is then quite clear that they should have been praying, and were not. Had they been they might not have betrayed Him.
26.37 ‘And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and sore troubled.’
He now took the inner three apart with Him. It is quite clear that He feels in need of their company to support Him in what lies ahead. These are the three He usually takes with Him in unusual situations (as with the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and the Transfiguration). Perhaps the description of the other two as ‘the two sons of Zebedee’ is in order to stress the fact of Peter’s presence, although Matthew has previously described them in this way, and it may be that it is just his way of describing them. However, in verse 40 Peter is again the one who is emphasised, even though in fact Jesus then addresses all three. Perhaps Matthew wants us to see that Jesus is encouraging Peter in the light of what He has previously said to him.
And even as the three move away from the others it is seemingly apparent to them that Jesus is ‘sorrowful and sore troubled’. The agony of the night is upon Him. The words used are expressive of great emotion. They recognise that something unusual is happening. They are not used to seeing Jesus in such an emotional state.
26.38 ‘Then he says to them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even to death, you remain here, and watch with me.”
Then, reaching a second point He leaves the three, speaking of His anguish which is so great that He feels almost that He will die, and calling on them to remain there and watch with Him. He wants their support in His agony. In His grief of soul He possibly has in mind Psalms 42 to 43, with their threefold, ‘why are you cast down, O My soul? And why are you disquieted within me?’ (42.5, 11; 43.5), and there we also find the words, ‘All your waves and your billows have gone over Me’ (42.7), which are so descriptive of what He was enduring, the very billows of God. But it will be clear in the end that He obtains little help from His disciples, and the purpose of their failure is in order to bring out how Jesus must bear His burden alone. What had to be experienced that night was beyond the strength and commitment of ordinary men, even those who loved Him.
‘And watch with Me.’ Passover became ‘a night of watching to YHWH’ (Exodus 12.42) because of the victory that He had achieved. These too were to watch with Him so as to seek to attain victory in what lay ahead, for they now ‘knew’ about the new Passover which was to involve the breaking of His body and the shedding of His blood, and He longed for their support. All He asked was that they keep awake and watch, although He no doubt expected them also to watch with prayer. His concern was that they be alert to the urgency of the hour, and have a sympathetic part in it. He wanted to know that they were with Him in His trial.
26.39 ‘And he went forward a little, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” ’
Then He moved on further and, falling on His face He prayed. His attitude of prayer emphasises the desperateness of the situation. He had never as far as they knew prayed in this attitude before. ‘My Father.’ It is a prayer from Son to Father, from the One Who is alone known of the Father, to the Father Whom He knows so well (11.25-27). It is the intimacy of the Godhead. ‘If it be possible.’ In His mind the question is still open. He is aware from the Old Testament prophecies of the depth of suffering ahead. The only question is, is it necessary? ‘Let this cup pass from Me.’ The cup is a regular Old Testament symbol for suffering and reception of wrath. In Isaiah 51.17, 22; Jeremiah 25.15; Revelation 14.10 it is the cup of the Lord’s anger, the cup of the righteous wrath of God against sin, and it is the one that He is being called on to drink to the full. But in the past such a cup had been taken out of the hand of His people once God had felt that they had drunk enough (Isaiah 51.22) and Jesus possibly hoped that this might now be possible for Him. ‘Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’ But only if it was within the will of His Father. He had no hesitation about doing His Father’s will. All He wanted to be sure of was, that what He was about to endure really was His Father’s will. For a full hour He prayed, and had still not reached certainty. What He was to face was not, He knew, an anguish to be entered into lightly. And the agony in His soul continued on unrelenting.
The point here is not that Jesus was afraid to die, even by the terrible torture of crucifixion. The cup that He was being called on to drink went much deeper than that. It had to do the antithesis between holiness (total set apartness to God) and sin (being totally apart from and cut off from God). It had to do with experiencing everything that was the very opposite of what He was, experiencing what was contrary to His whole Being. He was to be ‘made sin for us, He Who knew no sin’ (2 Corinthians 5.21). He was the One to Whom the very thought of sin was totally abhorrent, and He was to be drenched in the filth of mankind. His very soul revolted at the idea. But if necessary He was willing to see it through.
26.40 ‘And he comes to the disciples, and finds them sleeping, and says to Peter, “What, could you not watch with me one hour?” ’
Taking a brief respite from His agony He returns to the inner three, possibly in the hope of enjoying something of their spiritual support, but only to find them asleep. Even Peter, who had been so vociferous in his promises not to deny Him, was fast asleep. If this was not denial, what then was it? It was denial of a kind. And from a heart disappointed and stirred, and very concerned, He cries, ‘What? Could you not watch with Me one hour?’ Note that the words are said to all three.
As we read these words we have to stop in wonder, and ask why it was that three men, who had in the past regularly known the rigours of being at sea all night, were comparatively young and healthy, were used to the rigours of the road from which they had had at least a week’s rest, and were enjoying a festal celebration on which many would remain awake through much of the night, could not themselves remain awake, and that in spite of the fact that they were aware that their beloved Master was going through an ordeal such as they had never seen before, and had asked them to remain awake with Him. And yet in spite of all their best efforts they could not. This was a night on which they seemed to be able to do nothing right. It was a night when, in all but One, flesh triumphed over spirit.
We must not, of course, underestimate the tensions of the previous week. They had necessarily been busy protecting Jesus from the pressing crowds, they had been continually aware of the now constant and unceasing hostility of the Chief Priests and Elders, probably also the continued surveillance of the Temple police, and certainly the harassment of the Scribes and Pharisees, from which there was little let up in religious Jerusalem. All this must have drawn on their nervous energy and have been found exhausting. And they may well during that time also themselves have been engaged in different forms of ministry (we must not assume, because nothing is said about it, that all they did was go around after Jesus). But this is not really sufficient to explain their failure.
Perhaps verse 41 and Luke 22.31, 53 supply the clues. It was a night of unparalleled activity by ‘the power of darkness’, and the disciples did not at this stage have the power to resist it. It was certainly later seen as a night in which Satan was seen as very much active (Luke 22.3, 31, 53; John 13.2, 27). This makes the words that follow even more poignant.
‘‘And He comes to the disciples, and finds them sleeping.’ It would be as foolish to suggest that the disciples fell asleep immediately as it would be to suggest that Jesus’ words were the only ones that He prayed during the whole hour. They no doubt fought sleep off for some considerable time until eventually they succumbed. Thus there is no good reason for doubting that they heard the words recorded here. It is what He went on to pray that they cannot tell us about.
26.41 “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Jesus, knowing how very important it is for them, tells them that they must not only ‘watch’ but must also ‘pray’. Testing lies ahead for them, testing of a supreme kind (see Luke 22.31-32), and He longs that they may be saved from it. Even in the midst of His own agony His heart reaches out to His disciples, and He is aware how great their need is to engage in prayer. His tenderness is also revealed in that He recognises the vain struggles that they have made as they have fought to stay awake. He knew that the cause of their failure did not lie in their lack of spirit, it arose because of the weakness of the flesh, and because in their humanness they were facing forces that they were unable to counter.
The spirit is that part of a man which is the very centre of his self-awareness (1 Corinthians 2.11) and can be illuminated by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2.14). It is the Godward part of man (‘the image and likeness of God’), and here clearly includes the determined spiritual heart and will. The flesh is the wholly human and animal aspect of man with all its physical weaknesses and proneness to self-interest and lack of interest in spiritual things, and lack of will towards anything that is good. It is controlled by fleshly weaknesses and fleshly desires (not all necessarily sinful) and wants nothing but to satisfy them. We may surmise that the weakness of their flesh here was partly due to the activity of Satan (who had desired to have Peter - Luke 22.31; compare Ephesians 6.12). Only such pressure would help to explain why men like these could not keep awake in spite of their determination. Indeed much that happened on that night can only be explained in terms of his activity. He was trying every trick he knew. He probably actually thought that he had a chance of winning. He just did not understand what he was up against, for, in spite of having been defeated by Him, he still could not bring himself to the certainty that it was really true that God had emptied Himself to this extent and had really become this seemingly weak and frail man. It was outside his totally selfish and deceitful understanding.
The contrasts here must not be overlooked. There was only One present Whose spirit was strong enough to take Him through the physical and spiritual perils of that night. Even these brave men whom He had spent so much time in training could not cope with them. There was only One, Who in His aloneness had to represent the whole of mankind, Who was able to stand firm against the spiritual powers of darkness. Other men would one day finally overcome what man had once fallen prey to in a previous Garden, because One was here Whose spirit was strong enough to do so in this situation, in order that He might become a life-giving spirit (see 1 Corinthians 15.45), the One Who bore not the image of earth but the image of Heaven (1 Corinthians 15.49). The seed thought to all this is found here. Here was The One Man on Whom the whole world now depended.
26.42 ‘Again a second time he went away, and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away, except I drink it, your will be done.” ’
Then Jesus moves away again and His words reveal that He is still fighting His way through to full understanding of His Father’s will, which He now senses that He has almost reached. ‘If this cannot pass away except I drink it, your will be done.’ This sums up His whole attitude as He prays. For Him His Father’s will is primary. And it was vital that it should be so (see Hebrews 10.5-10). It was necessary that He be a willing and ready sacrifice. The cup of God’s ‘wrath’ (aversion to sin) must be drunk to the full of His own free choice. But it was not going to be easy.
The writer to the Hebrews puts it, ‘He learned obedience by the things that He suffered’ (Hebrews 5.8), that is, He learned in experience what the pathway of obedience fully involved in its most difficult manifestation. None other could ever learn that lesson, for no other could ever reach the point where it was required. They would fall at the first hurdle in the same way as the disciples had. We benefit from His full and unreserved obedience (Romans 5.19).
Here indeed we find the distinction between sovereignty and free will at its greatest. The One Who is sovereign over all things and is one with His Father in the predetermining of His death, must here yet freely choose to die.
‘Your will be done.’ We have a reminder here of how Jesus carried out His own teaching (see 6.10, and compare 7.21; 12.50), although the slant is slightly different. It is possibly also significant that He has only just in the last few verses referred to deliverance from temptation (verse 41; compare 6.13). The disciples are to pray that they might follow His example. But this is because these things are central to the godly life, not through any conscious connection with the Lord’s prayer. The Lord’s prayer reflects the godly life.
26.43 ‘And he came again and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.’
And once again He returns to the three and finds them asleep, for their eyes just would not stay open. Their weakness of flesh was constantly overcoming their spirit. (Old age especially brings out this weakness of the flesh when often for some it is impossible to keep awake, which is the origin of the idea of ‘forty winks’. But these were comparatively young men. It should not have been so with them. They had for a while become prematurely old).
26.44 ‘And he left them again, and went away, and prayed a third time, saying again the same words.’
The same pattern is repeated, but Matthew feels that he has already said enough to convey the essence of what happened. Unlike Luke he does not bring out the growing intensity of Jesus’ anguish. He has packed all the obvious anguish into the first prayer. He does, however, want us to know that it has not gone away, and that it endures, for he writes, ‘He said the same words’, (and note the repetition of ‘again’). He wants us to know that the same anguish is continuing right to the end. There is no respite for Jesus. In His humanness He had looked for support from His human friends, but now He has come to recognise that He must carry the burden Himself. He must enter the darkness alone.
26.45 ‘Then comes he to the disciples, and says to them, “Sleep on from now on, and take your rest. Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” ’
After more prayer, His course now made clear, His soul is at peace, and He returns to the eleven. All are asleep emphasising His aloneness. But now He sympathetically tells them to sleep on. Their prayers can accomplish nothing for Him now, and it is too late for them.
‘The hour has drawn near and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.’ For the hour has drawn near of which the Scriptures had prophesied. The One Who alone is truly human in His obedience to God, ‘the Son of Man’ in contrast to those who lack such obedience, is betrayed into the hands of ‘sinners’ (amartolos), which in Matthew signifies those who are disobedient to the Law (9.10-13; 11.19). Probably in mind are the ‘wild beasts’ of Daniel 7 who oppose those who observe His Law (Daniel 7.25). Here in Old Testament ideology is the antithesis between flesh and spirit. In Daniel 7 the ‘ideal’ people of God (the holy ones of the Most High) who sought the will of God and obeyed His Law were depicted as ‘a son of man’, that is, as revealing true humanness in their attitude towards God by their willing obedience to Him, in accordance with what had been required of man when he was first created. They followed the spirit. (Note in Daniel 7.4 how Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion, described in Daniel 5, is depicted in terms of becoming ‘human’). The nations were depicted as wild beasts who followed their own animal desires. They followed the flesh. They did their own will. They were ‘sinners’, lawbreakers. And now that the One has come Who in the end was the only true ‘Son of Man’ in terms of how God had originally created man, He is to be delivered over to the wild beasts for the indulgence by them of the flesh, so that He might be demonstrated as free from the grip of the flesh. It was necessary in order that through His victory some of the children of the flesh might be redeemed and become children of the Spirit (children of promise - Romans 9.8). It was through this that the disciples, who had after all demonstrated that they were still largely but children of the flesh, with their spirits weak, would become strong as children of the Spirit (compare Galatians 4.29; 5.16-24). This idea that God’s strengthening purposes come about through tribulation and suffering is constant in both the Old and the New Testaments (see especially Romans 5.2-5). It is tribulation and suffering that weakens the hold of the flesh and turns men’s thoughts towards God. ‘When His judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness’ (Isaiah 26.9).
‘The hour is drawn near (eggiken).’ Compare 21.34 where ‘the time of the fruit drew near (eggisen)’, the time of accounting. Previously ‘eggiken’ (has drawn near) has exclusively depicted the coming of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (3.2; 4.17; 10.7). Perhaps there is here then an indication that in what is about to happen the Kingly Rule of Heaven will be manifested, and this is especially so in view of the connection with the Son of Man of Daniel 7, where the delivering over of the son of man resulted in the reception of Kingly Rule. But it is also used in verse 46 of the ‘drawing near’ of the Betrayer in what is probably a deliberate play on words. The drawing near of the Betrayer will issue in the drawing near of God’s Kingly Rule, for the hour that has ‘drawn near’ includes all aspects of His activity in saving the world. Undoubtedly central here, however, is the idea that the hour of His betrayal and death has drawn near.
‘The Son of man is betrayed into hands of sinners.’ Compare 17.22, ‘the Son of Man will be betrayed into hands of men.’ Men will betray Him and deliver Him up because they are sinners, because they are bestial. The word ‘sinners’ is unusual for Matthew, and being here set against the title Son of Man, probably recalls the situation in Daniel 7 as we have suggested above.
‘Sleep on now, and take your rest.’ There is a question here as to how we translate ‘now’ (loipon). It can mean ‘what remains, what is left’ i.e. the remainder, and thus mean ‘from now on’. How we translate it will depend on whether we see the whole phrase as a question or a statement. And that will also depend on whether we see the next verse as following immediately or as following after a short interval (we can read it as either). The question is as to whether Jesus is being ironic, ‘Go on, carry on sleeping, I am about to be betrayed’. Or is asking sadly, ‘Do you sleep on and continue to take your rest at this momentous hour? Do you not realise what is happening’ (compare verse 40). Or is He saying sympathetically, ‘sleep on now for the remainder of the time that remains, and get some rest, for it will not be long, and soon you will not feel like sleeping’. The last would seem to be what He really has in mind.
26.46 “Arise, let us be going forward. Behold, he who betrays me is at hand.”
We do not know how long Jesus then waited there for His disciples to enjoy their rest, but inevitably the moment came when He looked up and saw the torches of a large crowd of men coming up the mountain towards them, moving with ominous precision. As a consequences He turned to His disciples, and waking them, cried, ‘Arise, let us move into action. Look the one who delivers me over (the Betrayer) is at hand.’
The verb for ‘going forward’ regularly indicates going forward into military action. Thus this is a call to be ready for what is about to happen. He knows that in contrast to Judas they are all with Him in heart, and He makes them a part with Him in these final moments. This is how God’s people must always face betrayal, by going forward to meet it, confident in God.
Jesus Is Betrayed And Refuses Any Suggestion Of Rescue, For This Is Why He Has Come. All His True Friends Desert Him (26.47-56b).
The traitor arrives with a great crowd of armed men, and Jesus makes clear that He is now ready to drink of the cup. He rejects any suggestion of rescue, and indeed points out that if He wished to be rescued He had the available means at hand. But it could not be, because the Scriptures must be fulfilled. The will of His Father must be done. He now had no doubt about His destiny.
The pattern of this next ‘Matthaean sandwich’ is - betrayal and desertion (26.47-56), trial before the Chief Priests and elders (26.57-68), denial by Peter (26.69-75). We commence with the betrayal and desertion.
Not that in ‘a’ Judas the Betrayer arrives, and in the parallel the remaining disciples flee. Foe has replaced friend. This is Satan’s hour. In ‘b’ the great crowd arrive with swords and staves, and in the parallel Jesus draws attention to the fact. In ‘c’ we have the hypocritical pretence at friendship, and in the parallel it is contrasted with the faithfulness and reliability of One Who would spring to Jesus aid at His request. In ‘d’ one of His followers draws his sword, and in the parallel Jesus forbids it. And centrally the ear of the High Priest’s servant is cut off, symbolic of the fact that even the High Priesthood is seen as having failed to hear.
26.47 ‘And while he yet spoke, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great crowd with swords and staves, from the chief priest and elders of the people.’
The description is both awesome and contemptuous at the same time. Awesome because it depicts a great crowd, armed to the teeth with swords and staves, descending on the relatively unarmed small party at night, and one that was coming as representing those who saw themselves as the power in the land (apart from Pilate). But contemptuous because of what it contained when considered more carefully. First there was Judas, ‘one of the twelve’. The unnecessary additional description is stressing the enormity of his betrayal. (‘My own familiar friend in whom I trusted, the same has lifted up his heel against me’). Then there was the ‘great crowd’. Matthew deliberately and contemptuously adds ‘great’. So many to deal with so few. And what do their swords and staves suggest if nothing less than a band of brigands? (see 1 Samuel 17.43). A motley crew indeed. It was as though Matthew was saying, ‘this was all that could be expected of those chief priests and elders’. None of the first three Gospels mention the Roman guard standing at the back in case of trouble. They do not want to so dignify this rabble.
Alternatively Matthew may have been seeking to draw out that it is the Jewish people, backed by the Jewish leadership, who are arresting Jesus (a ‘great crowd’ often surrounded Jesus, usually representing the lost sheep of the house of Israel). Their armaments then draw attention to their belligerence in total contrast to the usual crowds (a fact which Jesus later draws attention to). This is the other side of the Jewish nation. Their belligerence can be compared to Jesus’ quiet response. What a contrast between the two parties.
26.48 ‘Now he who betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, “Whoever I shall kiss, that is he. Take him.” ’
We now learn of the arrangement that Judas had made. It is clear that there was a fear that in the dark, and among a group of people, all with beards, and with their heads covered, the wrong person might be arrested. In the circumstances that would be disastrous for news would then reach the pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem that a failed attempt had been made on Jesus, making the possibility of His arrest even more difficult. If they were to do it they had to get it right first time. And the arresting party would not necessarily know Jesus well.
The sign to be used, a kiss, possibly illuminates Judas’ thoughts. A kiss between men, except between those who were related, was usually used by a higher to a lower, a Rabbi to his student, the father to the prodigal son. Perhaps the iron had entered into Judas’ soul and he intended to indicate, as a riposte to Jesus’ earlier indication that He knew what he was about, that he had gained the mastery. But a kiss was also occasionally used between special friends (1 Samuel 20.41). And it may be that it had become a token of brotherhood among Jesus and the disciples in accordance with 12.50, as it would be later among Christians (Romans 16.16; 1 Corinthians 16.20; 2 Corinthians 13.12; 1 Thessalonians 5.26; 1 Peter 5.14) where it was almost certainly a sign of brotherhood. We can consider also Luke 7.45 where philema, "a kiss, a mark of friendship," is used by our Lord as indicating what Simon the Pharisee had omitted to give him, and may there refer to a sign of special welcome, although even there it would have been from a host to an honoured guest. Whichever way it was it would indicate friendship, esteem and affection rather than the opposite. In the same way as Judas had eaten with Jesus from the same dish, a token of friendship, so did he feel free to kiss Jesus. It goes with his callous words, “Whoever I kiss, that is he. Take him.” It is clear that he had little compunction and little sense of honour, something which must be remembered when we feel like sympathising with him. Even rogues can have a sense of honour, but Judas had none until it was too late. John alone omits mention of the kiss. He probably saw it as so heinous that he could not bear to bring it to mind.
‘Take Him.’ That is, ‘lay hold of Him’. He did not want there to be any possibility of Jesus escaping lest he lose his reward or be shamed.
26.49 ‘And immediately he came to Jesus, and said, “Hail, Rabbi,” and kissed him.’
As Judas arrived on the scene he went immediately to Jesus and kissed him. There was no hesitation.
And he said to Him, ‘Hail, Rabbi’. In Matthew the title Rabbi is reserved for Judas’ lips, probably in order to indicate that he was still of the old Israel. His disciples called Him ‘Lord’. The aim behind his apparent peaceable approach was probably in order to disarm Jesus and His disciples until it was too late. But he knew very well that he was marking Jesus down for death.
‘Kissed Him.’ The word is intensive and signifies kissed effusively. This may have in mind Proverbs 27.6, ‘’the kisses of an enemy are profuse’. But it clearly sickened Matthew. His point was that Judas was not just betraying Jesus. He was enjoying it. This is all the more effective in that none of the narratives speak adversely against Judas other than by a statement of the facts.
26.50 ‘And Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are come for.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus, and took him.’
Jesus’ reply is equally significant. He only uses ‘friend’ of those who are in a doubtful position and as used by a superior to an inferior (20.13; 22.12). Perhaps this ties in with what we saw about the kiss above. Perhaps He is reminding Judas of his place. For He knows perfectly well why Judas is here and He will not pretend. But He still by it leaves open the possibility of repentance.
‘Do what you are come for.’ Literally it is ‘friend, for what you have come’. Some therefore translate as ‘what have you come for?’. But it is more probable that we are expected to add something, ‘I know what you have come for’, or ‘do what you have come for’. But it is certainly an indication that Jesus will not interfere with his purpose.
‘Then they came and laid hands on Jesus, and took him.’ Compare, ‘the Son of Man is delivered over into the hands of sinners’ (verse 45). Unlike Pilate they did not wash their hands of Him. They ‘laid hold of Him’. They were ready to bear the guilt. Compare Judas’ words in verse 48. This was their response to the offer of friendship.
26.51 ‘And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and smote the servant of the high priest, and struck off his ear.’
But things did not go quite so smoothly as they had hoped, for one of Jesus’ disciples drew a sword, probably with the intention of getting Jesus momentarily released so that He could slip away. (He hardly expected to defeat the whole crowd). He probably had the wild hope that they could then smuggle Jesus away in the dark, while he and one or two others (at least one other had a sword - Luke 22.38) held the crowd back, giving their lives in the attempt. It was typical of the impetuosity of Peter, so that we are not surprised elsewhere to be told that it was him (John 18.10). It is a reminder that he was actually ready to die for Jesus on the impulse. Where he failed was when the circumstances had altered. Not all warriors have the nerve of good spies.
‘And drew his sword.’ We are reminded of the man whom Joshua met who had a drawn sword in his hand (Joshua 5.13). That too had been in anticipation of the establishment of God’s Kingly Rule. Thus when Jesus tells His disciple to put up his sword He is stressing that this time the Kingly Rule of Heaven is not to come in by physical means. It is not coming through a drawn sword. It is a Kingly Rule of a different kind. On the other hand we must nor forget that one day He Himself will come with a sword, the sword of His powerful word of judgment (Revelation 19.15, 21).
‘And smote the servant of the high priest, and struck off his ear.’ How skilled a swordsman Peter was we cannot be certain, although it is doubtful if he would carry a sword unless he felt that he could use it. But the night was dark, and the target may well not have stood still. Thus the actual cutting off of the ear was probably accidental (fortunately for the High Priest’s slave). We note that Matthew is only interested in the fact, for he does not mention the healing. He probably therefore has in mind that the Chief Priests were deaf to the words of Jesus, so that this was poetic justice, or he may even have had the thought that thereby the High Priest was defiled by proxy (mutilation would have rendered him incapable of continuing to act). Perhaps there is also a hint of the fact that in the not too distant future the High Priesthood will cease.
Some have questioned this on the grounds that if he had done this the disciple would also have been arrested, and in fact perhaps he would have been if Jesus had not instantly acted, although even that is doubtful. They wanted the bigger fish. For men in those days were used to violence, and a slave’s ear meant little, while it was the arrest of Jesus that was important. Thus once Jesus had obliterated the evidence, those who had seen it probably shrugged it off, or even began to doubt whether they had actually seem it happen, for it was all over in a flash. And there was by then no evidence of a case to answer. (It would have done Jesus’ case no harm at all if they had said, ‘this disciple cut this man’s ear off, and Jesus healed it’. The problem was that they would have been laughed out of court).
26.52 ‘Then Jesus says to him, “Return your sword into its place, for all they who take the sword will perish with the sword.” ’
Jesus then turned to His disciple and said firmly, “Return your sword into its place, for all those who take the sword will perish with the sword.”
It was a timely warning that the sword had no place in what He had come to do. It was an instrument of death, not an instrument of life, whereas their responsibility would be to take out life to men. Jesus was not talking about war or self-defence. He was talking about aims and attitudes in religious matters. And His words were just commonsense. The sword is not something to be used lightly, and not at all in the affairs of God, for violence simply breeds violence, and leads to death not life.
‘Return your sword to its place.’ Perhaps there is here an echo of 1 Chronicles 21.27, when the avenging angel did the same when David sought forgiveness through sacrifice. The disciples were to see that they were not to be avenging angels, but messengers of hope and forgiveness.
‘All those who take the sword will perish with the sword.’ Compare ‘he who sheds man’s blood, by man will his blood be shed’ (Genesis 9.6). But there the thought was positive, justice must be meted out for murder. Here the thought is rather of the necessary eventual consequences. The man of violence must expect to die violently, and that included those who were just now surrounding Him with swords and staves. It would also not have taken the disciples long to work out that to behave like this was not to love one’s enemies and be perfect as their Father in Heaven is perfect (5.44-48).
26.53 “Or do you think that I cannot beseech my Father, and he will even now send me more than twelve legions of angels?”
Then He reminded His disciples that they were not so see what happened to Him as evidence of His failure to achieve His aims. Had they not realised Who He was? Did they not remember that He had said that angels were subject to His command? (13.41; 16.27; 24.31; 25.31). Did they not yet appreciate that He had only to call on His Father and would then be sent twelve legions of angels, a far more effective force than He and the eleven disciples all acting together? After all even Elisha had been surrounded by angelic forces (2 Kings 6.17). How much more therefore was Jesus? So they must see that this was not happening to Him because He was powerless, but because it was a necessary step in the purposes of God.
26.54 “How then would the scriptures be fulfilled that thus it was necessary for it to be?”
For if angels (or even puny men) intervened, how could the Scriptures be fulfilled which said that this had to happen (Isaiah 50.6; 53.8)? This emphasis of the fulfilment of Scripture to the full is common in Matthew. Note the element of divine necessity. The occurrence of this treatment that He was receiving had been long known to Him and had been recently confirmed to Him in Gethsemane.
26.55 ‘In that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Are you come out as against a robber with swords and staves to seize me? I sat daily in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me.” ’
This verse deliberately reverts back to verses 45-47. ‘In that hour.’ Which hour? The hour in which the Son of Man was betrayed into the hands of sinners -- that is, into the hands of those who came to Him with swords and staves (verses 45, 47). Both Jesus and Matthew want it to be clear what these men are doing. Those who would have proudly represented themselves as being described within the term a ‘son of man’ (observers of the Law and faithful to the Temple) were in fact behaving like wild beasts towards One Who was the true Son of Man and had been teaching that very Law in the Temple. How incongruous it all was. Israel were rejecting the godliest Teacher of Israel that they had ever known, and trying to treat Him as though He was a fierce robber who could only be arrested at night, when His only crime had been to teach among them quite openly in the Temple, using no violence and available to them without violence. And why? Because they were afraid of what the people would do if they arrested an innocent man. And now their swords and their staves witnessed against them. They marked them for what they were, brigands coming at night to arrest the One Who had only sought to bring them to God, treating Him as though He were a robber, because they were frightened that if they arrested Him by day the common people would react against them. Let them consider what kind of people this revealed them to be, men who surreptitiously used violence to achieve their ends, (and that against One Who had shown no violence), sneaking around in the dark for the purpose so that they could do it without anyone knowing. (All they could therefore surely expect was to perish by the sword, as one day they would when Jerusalem was destroyed).
26.56 “But all this is come about, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him, and fled.’
But it was not to be seen as too surprising, for it was necessary in order that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. We must see from the description ‘prophets’ all from Abraham onwards, and thus including the Books of Moses, and the Psalms of David. These had all spoken of man’s dastardly behaviour towards the true people of God, and especially to the unique One Whom He would send, not only in Daniel 7 but all through the Scriptures. It matter little whether we see this as written by Matthew or as spoken by Jesus, for it only repeats what Jesus has said in verse 54.
‘Then all the disciples left Him, and fled.’ They had still been hovering there courageously, but in the end it was all too much for them. Jesus was clearly resigned to His fate, and it appeared to leave them with little to do, and with Jesus bound and taken it seemed to be the wisest course. Perhaps also, with Jesus securely bound, they were conscious that eyes were also beginning to look around for other victims. To hang around would have been folly. So they ran.
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