Theme: Jesus is always in control.
This weeks lessons show us the first Lord’s Supper and the events surrounding it.
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says,My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.
Not long ago a friend sent me a card with a picture of a small boy wearing a straw hat floating on an inner tube on a tranquil country pond. His head was thrown back. He was in perfect peace. The caption read: “Each life needs it’s own quiet place.” The verses we come to next in Matthew 26 are like that. They are a quiet place at the center of the storm that is about to break upon the body of Jesus Christ. The rulers of the people were plotting how they might take Jesus’ life. Judas had offered to betray Jesus to them at the earliest possible opportunity. Evil was afoot. But while it was gathering, Jesus collected his disciples for one final time of fellowship and teaching before the crucifixion.
The center point of these last moments is the institution of the Lord’s Supper, recorded in verses 26-30. But the account is preceded by verses that tell how Jesus arranged for the observance (vv.17-19), and the words of the institution are bracketed by an announcement of Judas’ betrayal in verses 20-25, and a prediction of Peter’s denial in verses 31-35.
The point of the introduction is that Jesus was in charge of what was happening (vv, 17-19). He was no puppet captured in some unguarded moment but rather a willing, voluntary sacrifice who was ordering the events leading up to his arrest. He had arranged to eat the Passover in the home of an unnamed man from Jerusalem, and now he sent two of his disciples to make the preparations (Mark 14:13). The secrecy of Jesus’ directions was probably designed to prevent a premature arrest since Jesus knew that Judas was looking for a chance to hand him over to the authorities (Matthew 26:16).
The dating of the meal is a puzzle. Matthew says that it was on “the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,” suggesting that Jesus ate the regular Passover at the prescribed time, which would have been the 15th of the month of Nisan. But John says that Jesus ate this meal on the day before the Passover, which would have been the 14th.
John indicates his dating in a number of places, but the clearest is the passage that explains that Caiaphas and the other members of the Sanhedrin would not go into Pilate’s palace when they brought Jesus to Pilate for trial because that would have defiled them and kept them from eating the Passover (John 18:28). John also explains the breaking of the legs of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus as an act intended to hurry the deaths of these men because the Jews “did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath” (John 19:31). In John the problem facing the Jewish leaders is how to get Jesus arrested, tried, and executed before the Passover Sabbath begins, since they had been precipitated into their hurried action by the unexpected offer of Judas to betray his master.
How is this chronological difficulty to be resolved? Liberal scholars merely say that either the Synoptic gospels or John is wrong. The majority of others side with Matthew, Mark, and Luke and try to understand Johns time references in alternate ways.1
In my judgment the best and simplest solution is that Jesus knew and no doubt planned that he would be crucified at the very time the Passover lambs were being slain, as John indicates, and therefore arranged to eat this meal with his disciples a day early. This is the view of R. T. France2 and some others. It explains why there is no mention of the lamb in these accounts, which would be strange if this were an actual Passover celebration, and also why nothing is reported of Jesus’ activity on the Wednesday of this week if the meal were on Thursday. In my understanding of the chronology, Jesus arranged for the meal on Wednesday afternoon, ate it with his disciples that evening (the beginning of the 15th of Nisan, was arrested that night, tried and executed by noon the next day (Thursday), and was removed from the cross and buried by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea by nightfall, which was the beginning of the Friday Passover.
I think that the Passover Sabbath began on Thursday evening continuing into Friday, and was followed by the regular Saturday Sabbath, and that Jesus rose from the dead sometime before dawn on Sunday morning, having been in the tomb a literal three days and three nights, as he prophesied (Matthew 12:40). The women came to the tomb on Sunday morning following the two Sabbaths.”3
1 See D. A. Carson, The Expositors Bible Commentary, vol. 8, Matthew, Mark, Luke (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), pp. 528-532; and John A. Broadus, Commentary on Matthew (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1990), pp. 524,525.
2 R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1985), p. 365.
3 The Greek text of Matthew 28:1 is literally “after the sabbaths” (plural) though this is usually translated as a singular in English Bibles.
How is this passage the calm before the storm?
What is the point of this introduction to Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion?