When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples,“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.
For twenty-five chapters, ever since the introduction of Jesus as the descendant of King David in verse 1 of chapter 1, the story of Christ’s life has been moving toward a powerful, gripping climax, which is the murder of the King followed by his resurrection. The story started slowly, but it has been building in intensity throughout the three-year ministry and has now reached the point where the final act of the drama is at hand.1 The King has come to Jerusalem for the final time, and the leaders of the people, who hate him, are plotting his arrest and execution.
Jesus had been preparing the disciples for his death by teaching them about it in advance. He has done it three times.
Once in Matthew 16:21. “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
A second time in Matthew 17:22. ”When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.’”
The third prophecy is in Matthew 20:18. “We are going to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
These prophecies grow increasingly detailed; at first, merely Jesus’ death and resurrection; next, his betrayal; third, the involvement of the Gentiles in his mocking, flogging and specifically his crucifixion. In Matthew 26 Jesus reveals when this will happen. It will be after two days. “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified” (Matthew 26:2). In all human history no events have ever been of greater significance or been more specifically prophesied than these. For this drama is the turning point of history, the very center of Christianity.
As Matthew arranges his material, three events lead up to the arrest and crucifixion: 1) the plot of the Sanhedrin to arrest and kill Jesus (vv. 3-5), 2) the anointing of Jesus in Bethany (vv. 6-13), and 3) the offer of Judas to betray Jesus to the priests (vv. 14-16).
This is not the first time the religious leaders had met to discuss what they should do. They had been opposing Jesus all along. They had tried to catch him in some misstatement. At the end of chapter 21 we are told that “they looked for a way to arrest him” (v.46). Here they finally get specific. They decide to arrest Jesus secretly, but not during the seven days of Passover since there were millions of excitable people in the city, not a few being Jesus” followers, and they feared a riot.
1 This is also the beginning of the last of the ten sections of Matthew as I have outlined them for this volume: 1) The Coming of the King (chs. 1-4); 2) The Sermon on the Mount (chs. 5-7); 3) The Power of the Kingdom (chs. 8-10); 4) Is Jesus Really God’s King? (chs. 11-12); 5) The Parables of the Kingdom (ch, 13); 6) The Withdrawal of the King (chs. 14-17); 7) The Citizens of the Kingdom (chs. 18-20); 8) The King’s Final Break with Judaism (chs. 21-23); 9) The Sermon on the Mount of Olives (chs. 24-25); and 10) The Kings Death and Resurrection (chs, 26-28).