Among the whole circle of Jesus' disciples it seems that a woman (identified as Mary of Bethany in John 12:1-3) was the only one to realize that her teacher (Luke 10:39; John 11:28) was to be killed and buried so soon. Knowing that she might not be able to anoint his dead body, she now anoints him as her Messiah to prepare him for burial (26:12; see her sister Martha's faith in John 11:27).
26:1-5 Having seen Jesus teaching the crowds in the temple (21:23, 45-46), the religious leaders had to act very quickly to have him out of the way before the Passover meal. That would begin on the Friday evening within two or three days (see the timing of the Last Supper, 26:14-35).
26:6 This meal was "in the house of Simon the leper" (as in Mark 14:3). But there was no way a leper would be allowed to sit at table with his guests. There are various possibilities. He could have been healed as was the leper in 8:1-4, and then pronounced ritually clean (Leviticus 14:1-20; Luke 17:12-14). Or he might have been healed but still be in isolation as a leper outside the city (Leviticus 13:45-46).
It is tempting to connect Simon the leper with the home of Martha and her sister Mary where Jesus was welcomed (Luke 10:38-39; John 12:1-3). Perhaps he was the husband of Martha, or the father of the two sisters and their brother Lazarus who was raised from the dead (John 11:5, 17-44). This could also have been the home from where the Messiah received the donkey colt and its mother (see 21:2-3).
26:7 Some suggest that the alabaster jar of ointment was in readiness for Mary's wedding, but John's Gospel says it was bought specially for the day of Jesus' burial (John 12:7). The pure nard worth three hundred days' wages (20:2; Mark 14:3) was a perfume from India (Nalda) and its expense suggests a wealthy home (see note on the rich young man, 19:22).
Perhaps Mary was thinking of "the valley of the shadow of death" and "you anoint my head with oil" (Psalm 23:4-5). Or she wanted at least one occasion on earth when the Messiah, whom she and her sister had recognized (John 11:27), was anointed as King.
26:8-9 John the beloved disciple identifies Judas Iscariot as the main complainer, "not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the purse and used to steal what was put in it" (John 12:4-6).
26:10-12 Jesus accepts Mary's insight in anointing him for burial (John 12:7). There would be many other opportunities to care for the poor, but for this occasion a very extravagant anointing of the Messiah was appropriate and appreciated.
26:13 To this day wherever the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John are read in over a thousand languages, Mary's devotion is remembered.
It is usually assumed that Jesus' Last Supper with the disciples was a Passover meal. But this model has serious problems. The Jewish Passover from its institution to the present day has always been a family meal. In a Jewish Seder the mother has duties and the children ask questions about the meaning of the event (originating from Exodus 12:25-27). A gathering of thirteen males apart from their families could never be viewed as a Passover meal.
Secondly, there was no way devout Jews could go out after a Passover meal. That was a time to remember the events of the Exodus (see Exodus 12:11). Not only did Jesus and his disciples go out to the Garden of Gethsemane, and a large Jewish crowd came out to arrest him (26:47), but there was an informal gathering of the Sanhedrin with priests, scribes, and elders (26:57). This is unthinkable because all devout Jews would have to remain in their own homes that solemn night.
A third problem is that the high priest and other religious leaders clearly wanted Jesus crucified and out of the way before the Passover celebration began (26:3-5; Mark 14:1, 2). And all four of the Gospels say that Jesus was crucified on the Day of Preparation (Matthew 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14, 31, 42).
John's Gospel says specifically that the Last Supper was "before the festival of the Passover" (13:1) and the trial of Jesus before Pilate was before the Passover began (18:28). That means that Jesus was being crucified at the same time as the Passover lambs were being killed on the Day of Preparation in the temple area.
Since the Last Supper cannot have been a Passover Meal, it must have been the meal rabbis often ate with their closest disciples the evening before a major festival. As their rabbi, the Messiah would want to explain how the Passover related to his own death as the Passover Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36; 1 Corinthians 5:7). He also needed to explain that though he would not be physically present with his disciples, the Holy Spirit would teach and empower them (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). And the meal would end with a prayer that expressed the Messiah longing for the oneness of his disciples in love for one another (John 17:1-26). Twenty-four hours later after the crucifixion the apostles would find themselves explaining what Jesus had taught them during their own family Passover meal.
A Jewish day began at sundown, and continued through the night and the hours of daylight till the next sunset. Having begun on the Thursday after sunset, the Day of Preparation (Matthew 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14, 31, 42) would continue on what we call Good Friday. During the daylight hours thousands of lambs would be ritually killed by the priests in the temple area. These would be cooked and served after sundown for the family Passover of each of the families who normally lived in Jerusalem and nearby villages like Bethany. But in addition hundreds of families would have come up from Galilee and other parts of the Mediterranean and they would each rent a place for their family Passover meal.
26:14-16 When he saw Jesus accepting the Messianic anointing of Mary, this was too much for Judas. And he went out that night to meet the senior temple priests and arrange the betrayal. The religious authorities now had to work quickly to have Jesus condemned by the Sanhedrin, taken to the Roman governor, crucified on the Day of Preparation, and buried before Passover began at sunset on Good Friday.
26:17-20 According to the chronological model we are using "the first day of Unleavened Bread" would be the Thursday before the Day of Preparation which would begin at sundown that evening. The meal would be in an upper room provided by a disciple in the city (26:18; Mark 14:13-15). The apostles would know that this eating of the Passover would not be the family meal which would take place on the Friday evening. It would be a time for the apostles to eat with their rabbi as he filled out various aspects of the meaning of the Passover which they would each celebrate the next day with their own family.
26:21 Judas had already arranged the betrayal (26:14-16), and Jesus knew this.
26:22-23 When the other apostles asked who would be the betrayer, Jesus said it was the one who had been the first to dip his hand into the dish which was served with the bread.
26:24-25 On the one hand the Messiah as Son of Man would be die according to the ancient prophecies (perhaps Psalm 22:1-18; Isaiah 53:3-5). On the other hand history will remember Judas as the betrayer. And Judas now knew that his intention was already known to his teacher.
26:26 There is no mention of the lamb that would be eaten at every Passover meal. But bread and wine were the standard fare even in the poorest homes in the eastern Mediterranean. And eating together was an essential part of family life as well as the fellowship of a rabbi with his closest disciples.
Since Jesus was physically present with them, the apostles would know that "this is my body" was metaphorical. Paul explains that eating the communion bread was "a sharing in the body of Christ" and partaking of that one bread constitutes Christians into one body (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).
The command to "keep doing this" is recorded in Luke's Gospel (Luke 22:19; and also by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:24-26). And the main topic of conversation at the meal and the prayer that closed it is remembered in John 13:1-17:26).
26:27-28 Drinking the communion cup was connected with the blood of the covenant. This perhaps looks back to the blood that witnessed the covenant made at Sinai (Exodus 24:3-8). Luke tells us that Jesus called the communion cup "the new covenant in my blood," which would connect it with the new covenant predicted by Jeremiah which would write the law of God on people's hearts instead of tables of stone (Jeremiah 31:31-33).
Paul also viewed drinking the communion cup as "a sharing in the blood of Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:16). The blood of Christ is often used as a shorthand for the sacrificial suffering and death of the Messiah for our redemption (Acts 20:28; Romans 3:25; 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13; Colossians 1:14, 20; Hebrews 9:12-14; 1 Peter 1:19). Redemption means being freed, as in the redemption from bondage in the Exodus. And an essential aspect of our freedom is the assurance of forgiveness and adoption as children of God (Romans 8:14-17). This is perhaps why Jesus connected the communion wine with the shedding of his blood "for the forgiveness of sins."
The simplicity of sharing bread and wine together was later overlaid with traditions that made the communion service into an awesome ritual. In this century Christians have experienced more and more of the richness of meaning in the bread and wine of the communion service. This includes worship and thanksgiving, teaching and prophetic ministry, prayer for the church and the world, the assurance of forgiveness and cleansing from sin, the Holy Spirit giving gifts and the fruit of the Spirit, family love, fellowship in the oneness of the world-wide church, and proclaiming the manifold wisdom of God (Proverbs 9:4-6; Ephesians 3:10).
We should not be surprised if the Messiah had all these and no doubt other meanings in mind for Christians to discover (John 16:13). The communion service was to be the weekly gathering of his body (Romans 12:4-7; 1 Corinthians 12:4-12; Ephesians 4:15-16), the very heart of the church he intended to build among all nations (16:18; 28:19,20). It was usually on a Sunday (Acts 20:7).
We can imagine the Messiah's horror when denominations use the communion service as a means of dividing themselves from others and excluding those they want to condemn for various reasons.
26:29 The wine that Jesus enjoyed with his disciples at the Last Supper cannot have been his own blood. The next time he would drink wine with them would be after his resurrection. As Peter explained to the Roman centurion Cornelius and his relatives and close friends (Acts 10:24): "God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead" (Acts 10:41; see Luke 24:30, 41-42). One of the occasions when Jesus ate with the apostles is actually called "the breaking of bread" (Luke 24:35), which in the Book of Acts is Luke's expression for the communion service (2:42; 20:17).
26:30 The article is inserted in the NRSV on the assumption that this is the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) sung at the end of a Passover meal. The text actually reads "Having sung a hymn of praise." Which reminds us that singing together is normally part of a communion service (as in Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:15-16).
26:31-32 Judas had already left before the end of the meal (26:25, 47; see John 13:30), and now Jesus goes for a walk with the eleven that remain across the Kidron valley. We note again that twelve men going out for a walk after a Passover meal is unthinkable, which confirms our model in which the Passover proper will be celebrated twenty-four hours later.
On the Mount of Olives Jesus warns the apostles that they will all desert him and quotes from a Messianic chapter (Zechariah 13:7). But he also assures them that he will be raised from the dead and they will meet him again in Galilee (see 28:10; John 21:1-23).
26:33-35 Jesus words to Peter will be fulfilled that night within a few hours (26:57-58, 69-75).
Matthew has recorded that on three occasions Jesus not only warned of his death but also announced the certainty of the resurrection (16:21; 17:22; 20:19). In recording Jesus' grief and agitation Matthew cannot be speaking of a fear of death, or even of suffering. Jesus' horror as Son of Man was at the humiliation he would undergo, and the enormity of the depths his own people would sink to in rejecting their Messiah.
26:36-38 After their walk on the Mount of Olives (26:30), Jesus chooses the quiet garden of Gethsemane (John 18:1) to pray for strength to face the night and day ahead. He feels the need of the prayer support of the three apostles who were with him on the Mount of Transfiguration (17:1-2).
26:39-40 They hear him asking the Father if there was any way for him to avoid this ultimate sacrifice, but they quickly drop off to sleep. The Epistle to the Hebrews explains that his prayer "with loud cries and tears" was heard (Hebrews 5:7), but the result was that "through the eternal Spirit he offered himself without blemish" (Hebrews 9:14) to "endure the cross, disregarding its shame" (Hebrews 12:2) "so that through death he might destroy (a better translation is "make ineffective") the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death" (Hebrews 2:15).
26:41 The Messiah was Son of Man, but from his baptism he had known the power of the Holy Spirit for his ministry (3:16; 4:1; 12:28). He had taught his disciples to look to the same power (10:20). Now as Son of Man he senses his own weakness in this crisis, but by the Spirit he is able to offer himself for sacrifice (Hebrews 9:14). But he fears that his disciples will respond according to their fleshly instincts instead of the power of the Holy Spirit (as explained by Paul in Romans 8:4-6). The Lord's Prayer includes a petition for being kept from the hour of trial (6:13).
26:42-47 Twice more he looks to the apostles for prayer support, but they drop off to sleep again till Judas arrives with a crowd to arrest him (John records that this included a detachment of soldiers and temple police, John 18:3).
26:48-50 The soldiers and police might not be able to recognize Jesus, so Judas used a typical Middle Eastern hug and kiss on the cheek as a sign to identify the one who was to be arrested. This was probably the way Jesus' early disciples greeted one another, as did the early Christians (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14).
26:51 Luke tells us that the apostles had two swords among them (Luke 22:36-38), and Simon Peter used one of these to defend his teacher (John 18:10). Luke the physician is often interested in observing the exact medical condition, and he notes that it was the servant's right ear that was healed by Jesus touching it (Luke 22:50-51).
26:52 We are to love our enemies and pray for them (5:44), but that does not prevent us from protecting ourselves and our families when attacked (which may explain Luke 22:36-38). And Paul tells us that governments may need to use violent means to control criminals (Romans 13:4).
But non-violence is the right course in some situations. In this case Jesus knew that he was to be crucified and raised the third day (as he had stated on three occasions, 16:21; 17:22; and 20:19), and he was empowered to face this as a willing sacrificial victim (Hebrews 2:17; 10:4-7).
26:53 Jesus knew the Father would have delivered him instantly if he had asked for angelic deliverance from crucifixion. But his sacrifice had to be voluntary. And it seems that the joy of resurrection for himself and all others would have been impossible without the Messiah going through death on the cross (Hebrews 12:2; see Romans 6:9; 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:17-19; 2 Corinthians 13:4; Ephesians 1:19-20; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:18).
26:54 For Jesus as Son of Man the sense that "it must happen in this way" was based partly on the suffering servant texts (Psalm 22:1-18; Isaiah 53:3-5; Zechariah 13:7). But these fitted into an emerging sense of Messianic destiny which Matthew has outlined in this Gospel.
For the Son of Man this certainty was based on many other strands of Old Testament teaching concerning the blessing of all nations in the promises to Abraham, the Exodus, the sacrificial system, royal priesthood, the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36), and the impossibility of eternal life until the Messiah could personally defeat death (see references in 26:53).
We have noted how the Epistle to the Hebrews brings these strands together (see 26:39; especially Hebrews 2:15; 12:2). And this is why Matthew set this Messianic certainty as the turning point in Jesus' ministry with the threefold death and resurrection announcements (16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19).
26:55-56 Jesus had told Peter that "it must happen this way" (26:54) and he repeats this certainty to the crowd, who had heard him teach openly in the temple, and now came to arrest him like a criminal on the run.
The religious leaders were not allowed to carry out a death penalty. So they had to get Jesus condemned and crucified by the Roman governor. But first there had to be an examination by the Sanhedrin, which was Jewish supreme governing body and judicial court.
26:57-58 The Messiah is now taken to be examined by a specially called meeting of the Sanhedrin, and Peter watches to see what would happen from the courtyard. He should have been looking to the Holy Spirit for courage and the right words (10:19-20; 26:41).
26:59-60 Jewish law required at least two witnesses for a death sentence (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; see Matthew 18:16 for the same rule among Christians). The religious leaders kept to this letter of the law, but were willing to base their case on false witness if necessary.
26:60-61 The two witnesses claimed Jesus had said he could destroy the temple and rebuild it three days. This was true but only a half-truth (see John 2:19-21, where he used the word temple as metaphorical of his own body). He had also prophesied that he would come as reigning Messiah in that generation to destroy the temple in Jerusalem (see comment on 24:1-2, 33-34). On three occasions he had also said that he would be crucified and raised the third day (16:21; 17:23; 20:19). The false witness was therefore a combination of a metaphorical statement with these prophecies. The witness of these two men was also used as a taunt by the crowd at the cross (27:40).
26:62-64 At first Jesus refused to answer (as in Mark 14:61; 15:3-5). There was no need to speak in his own defence. But when he was required to answer under oath he replied by pointing out a prophecy of a human (like a son of man) who would have an everlasting dominion and kingship (Daniel 7:13-14).
His judges understood this prophecy to refer to the Messiah Son of God, and the implication was that Jesus was claiming it applied to himself. Jesus had used this same prophecy to speak to his disciples privately (24:3) of the termination of the Jewish religious establishment (24:29-30).
26:65 The statement of the two witnesses was no longer needed, because now Jesus could be accused of blasphemy for suggesting before the Sanhedrin that a Messianic text about the Son of God (26:63) referred to himself. The high priest was right in thinking that such a claim would be blasphemy by anyone but the Messiah himself (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). And the crowd who gathered later that day at the cross knew that this was the crime for which Jesus was convicted by the Sanhedrin. (27:42-43). Their blindness was to assume that a preacher from Galilee could not be the Messiah Son of God.
The next morning (27:1, 2) Pilate was persuaded to assign the Roman penalty of crucifixion. This was because the chief priests and elders had argued that the claim to be Messiah implied a claim that he was king of the Jews in rebellion against Rome (27:11, 17, 22, 29, 37).
26:66-68 Having pronounced Jesus guilty, the venerable members of the jury immediately began to spit, slap, and taunt him for his Messianic claim (26:68).
It was jealousy that moved the religious leaders to reject Jesus as their Messiah (as Pilate saw clearly, 27:18; see Acts 5:17). But Matthew immediately points out that Peter, the chief among the apostles, denied that he had ever known him.
26:69-70 Peter was sitting as an onlooker with the guards in the courtyard of the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, while the Sanhedrin had gathered and found Jesus guilty of blasphemy (26:57-58). When he was recognized as a disciple of Jesus by a servant-girl, he first said he did not know what she was talking about.
26:71-72 Then he denied with an oath (5:33-37) before another servant-girl that he had ever known Jesus of Nazareth.
26:73 The despised area of Galilee was obviously connected with the dialect of its inhabitants.
26:74-75 The third denial (26:33-34) was supported by cursing and swearing (thereby breaking the third commandment in Exodus 20:7).
Peter's failure was a typical fleshly instinctive response, which could not have happened if he had been looking to the Holy Spirit (see comment on 26:41). When reminded by the cock's crowing of Jesus' warning, Peter broke down and wept (as in Mark 14:72; Luke 22:62).
After the resurrection Peter's threefold denial was healed by Jesus' threefold questions by the Sea of Galilee about his love (John 21:15-17). He was then ready for Messianic leadership depending only on the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:15-16; 2:14, 32-33, 38-39; 3:4-8; 4:8, 13, 25-31; 5:3, 12-15, 29-32; 8:14-17; 9:32-35; 10:44-47; 15:6-8).
Paul did complain of another lapse into fleshly fear (Galatians 2:11-14). But writing to the new churches of what is now northern Turkey, Peter reminds them of "being kept by the power of God" (1 Peter 1:5) and goodnewsing by the Spirit (1 Peter 1:11-12; see 2 Peter 1:21).