Matthew 26:17-35, The Passover of Christ

[November 25, 2012] In verses 1-2 of chapter 26 we heard Jesus announce the coming victory-death of the sovereign figure of Daniel 7:13, the “Son of Man.” Then in verses 3-5 we saw the chief priests and elders plotting with Caiaphas plotting, and in verses 14-16 we saw Judas conspiring with them. Next, in verses 31-35, we saw Peter arrogating. These beginnings punctuate (as it were) and foil (by way of contrast) the central pathway that the Lord is taking to the apex of His obedience. Their actions stand in stark contrast to His, but they are not loose ends or wild variables. Jesus’ prescience in verses 2 with respect to the chief priests and elders, in verses 21-25 with respect to Judas Iscariot, and in verses 31-34 with respect to Simon Peter let us know that He is not a helpless victim, but that these events are meant by God and provide the fulcrum for and test of His obedience. The central events here interpret the cross that lies before us: the anointing, in view of His victory in battle, for His earned Sabbath rest and His ascension to kingship; and His identification with the Passover sacrifice.

For Matthew, Jesus is not the unfortunate victim of the events that unfold in chapters 26—27. These events are the culmination of the course that He has pursued ever since His baptism by John and anointing with the Holy Spirit. His self-denial, obedience to the Father, and His selfless service to others, in the midst of which He was teaching and training His disciples, were always leading—deliberately in the counsels of God for Him—to this denouement. He has been the presence of the kingdom of the heavens in the midst of Israel, in the midst of the world (the surrounding gentile peoples)—and that presence was revelatory (it was a presence in which He made Himself known, to some)—but that presence was always meant to effect something, to effect the victory of the kingdom, to overcome the sin of Israel and the oppressive rule of the evil one. He had confronted and exposed the enemy time and again, but now it was time to slay him.

The central image in Israel’s revelatory history of God’s slaying the dragon is the event of the Passover.

Passover Preparations (Matthew 26:17-19)

In the Gospel according to Matthew the meal that Jesus ate with His disciples was the Passover Seder. The Passover lamb was sacrificed on Thursday, which would have been the 14th of Nisan. The 10th of Nisan, when the lamb was set apart (Exodus 12:3), would then have been the Sunday preceding, when Jesus entered the City as the royal Son of David, the King of Israel. These two images—the Lamb and the King—are conflated.

In these verses we see that Jesus has arranged all things beforehand with a household in the City. Perhaps this was “the house of Mary, the mother of John, who was surnamed Mark” (Acts 12:12), perhaps the same as the cousin of Barnabas of Cyprus (Colossians 4:10; see Acts 4:36), who was a man of means in Jerusalem. Jesus may have known this family, though this is purely speculative; He also had connections with people in Jerusalem through Lazarus and the disciple John (the evangelist). There is, however, too much that we do not know. While the disciples call Jesus “Lord,” Jesus is known to His host as “the Teacher.” In any case, Jesus arranged things beforehand, announcing to His host, “My time is near,” My kairos, or appointed time.

The word that Jesus uses, kairos, is fraught with soteriological and eschatological meaning pertaining to His role as Messiah. It refers to His coming passion, His arrest and execution, His faithfulness in which accomplishes His obedience unto the salvation of the world, with eschatological consequences for the whole creation. Jesus here ties this to His celebration of the Passover, the Last Supper. The disciples’ obedience in carrying out the preparations for the meal—in slight correspondence to the Lord’s own obedience—foreshadow the church’s obedience in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

The Passover meal itself is a memorial of the Passover event (the Exodus), but it also makes that event present. Those who eat it are those who came out of Egypt. So likewise, the Lord’s Supper is not the repetition or continuation of the one and sufficient sacrifice of Christ on the cross but is its memorial; but it is a memorial that makes the event present to those who partake of it in faith and identify with its salvific effects. Perhaps there is a hint of this distinction in the way that Jesus is called “Lord” with respect to His path of obedience, but here is called “Teacher.” For the church, He exercised His lordship on the cross, but in our memorial meal He is present to us as the Revealer, teaching us who He is and what He has done for us.

The Presence of the Betrayer (26:20-25)

In Matthew’s gospel we are not shown the departure of Judas before the meal. Instead, after Jesus announces the presence of the betrayer in their midst—an anticipation of the history of the church and a warning to His believers—He proceeds directly to the part of the Seder that we identify as the Lord’s Supper. Notice, however, that even though Jesus knew that one of the Twelve would betray Him, and He knew which of them it was, and warns the Twelve of His presence, He does not expose him to them or treat him differently than the rest. Probably the words in verse 25 were for his ears only, since none of the others picked up on it. (The reader, however, is expected to notice the difference in the way the other disciples address Jesus as “Lord” but Judas addresses Him as “Rabbi.”)

Jesus would not have us sorting through the church to expunge the likely betrayers. If we were to do this, it would indicate that we wanted to shun the cross. The cross is our obedience too. The death to our own souls is the pathway of the church. The betrayer has his or her place in our midst, and their role to fulfill. He (or she) is to dip his hand in the same bowl of water in which we wash our hands with our Lord.

Judas, however, does not act as a mindless marionette, whose strings are being pulled by God. Jesus’ words, “as it is written,” indicate that Judas is carrying out the foreordained will of God, yet the “woe to that man” indicate that he does it on his own responsibility. Judas acted on his own when he took the thirty pieces of silver. His hope to obfuscate his role when he says to Jesus, “I am not the one, am I, Rabbi?” (grammatically his question expects a negative answer; but the term “Rabbi” already indicating that he speaks as an outsider), fails when Jesus responds, “You have said it yourself.”

The woe that Jesus pronounces on him is the woe of God’s judgment. “It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” God’s judgment is over the whole life. These words would indicate that there is no hope for redemption. It is the nature of the judgment that falls on him. People, not Judas alone, can condemn themselves in such a way that their entire life comes under the divine condemnation, and if that is the case, one is cut off from life itself and from all that is good. This is the sin against the Holy Spirit, for which there is no forgiveness, for there is no basis left for hope. Yet even such harsh words can be provisional in view of God’s unmerited and infinite grace. Not, however, before one has a taste of it and knows full well the judgment that one has come under. There can be no benefit of grace without an acceptance and an embracing of God’s judgment and one’s self-condemnation in agreement with it, and even a love of it. And an opportunity for that has been lost, the opportunity that God intends for us to take. We do not know what is left. Jesus does not pronounce this “woe” without purpose or weight. (Even if damnation is not eternal, though its fires are, the soul was never by nature immortal; it probably can dissipate in the endless darkness of Jude 13). Nevertheless, like Israel in its rejection of the Messiah, Judas goes to “his own place” (Acts 1:25), to await the Lord’s verdict when He returns.

The Lord’s Supper (26:26-30)

The unleavened bread of the Passover meal symbolizes our Lord’s human nature. [Unfinished.]

The Scattering of the Sheep (26:31-35)

[Unfinished.]

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