Today we finish the Gospel according to Matthew. Jesus has silenced the Jewish leaders and prophesied against Israel. He has taught His disciples about His coming suffering, death, and resurrection. He has now told them what to expect between His ascension and second coming. He has told them to always be ready for that coming. All that is left for Jesus to do is fulfill the Scriptures by dying on the cross, rising on the third day, and ascending to heaven.
Chapter 26 begin with Jesus yet again telling His disciples of His coming death, but He now tells them that it is only two days away (26:1). The religious leaders, fresh off of their public defeat by Jesus, are together plotting His death (vv. 3-5). So Matthew now records the anointing of Jesus for His burial (vv. 6-13). The Gospel of John records this as happening before the Triumphal Entry, likely for theological reasons, but Mark agrees that this was after. We know from the Gospel of John that this was Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who anoints Jesus, and that it was Judas Iscariot that led the indignation by the disciples over the cost of the ointment (vv. 8-9 – see John 12:4-6).
Jesus statement that the poor will always be with them (v. 11) is not saying that the poor should not be taken care of while He was alive. Quite the contrary, He is reminding them who would have “given this to the poor” that they need to live that life of generosity after He is gone. That Jesus says this is for His burial (v. 12) reinforces what He just told them about His coming death. It is after this incident that Judas Iscariot changes his mind about Jesus (vv. 14-16). Perhaps because he sought profit from following Christ and he now realizes there is none to be had, but more likely because he now believed Jesus that He was about to die, convincing Judas that He was not the Messiah, after all.
Matthew then records the Passover Jesus kept with His disciples the night before His death (vv. 17-29). Note that while Jesus reclined at table (the eating position in first century Israel) “with the Twelve” (v. 20), this does not preclude others being present. In fact, there were others present. While eating, Jesus announces the betrayal of Judas Iscariot (vv. 21-25). The disciples who still believed in Jesus knew that He knew their hearts better then they did, and all asked if they would be the betrayer. After Jesus pronounces judgment on the betrayer, the unbelieving Judas wants to know what Jesus really knows, and he asks Him “Is it I, Rabbi” (v. 25)? And he discovers that Jesus knows it is.
Knowing what is coming the following Day, Jesus now establishes the New Covenant with His disciples, and the Lord’s Supper (vv. 26-29) which is to be done as a memorial, and as an identification with Him in His suffering (see 1 Cor 10:16). The wine that points us to His blood (v. 28) is a reminder of the blood that established the Mosaic Covenant, whereby the people swore obedience (Ex 24:7-8). The blood represented the punishment for disobedience. And here was Jesus, the only One perfectly obedient, making a New and better covenant by guaranteeing it with His own blood (see Heb 12:24). However, Jesus also points them forward to the day they would dine together again at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (v. 29 – see 25:10). His death guarantees our end.
Jesus then goes with His disciples back to the Mount of Olives, the place where He gave His final teaching (v. 30 – see Matt 24 and 25). Jesus then tells them how they will all fail Him that night, as predicted in Zechariah 13:71 (v. 31). With even the disciples abandoning Jesus, He will be rejected by the whole of Israel. His instructions to meet Him in Galilee (v. 32) after His resurrection points to the forgiveness and acceptance of His disciples, making them God’s true people. Peter’s cavalier guarantee that he would certainly not abandon Jesus leads Jesus to tell him of his outright denial of Jesus (v. 34)
Jesus and His disciples wind up in the Garden of Gethsemane. He leaves most of them to go pray (v. 36), but He takes Peter, James, and John with Him (v. 37). This should remind us of the last time Jesus was with these three separately on a mountain (see Matt 17:1-8). It should have reminded them of the last time they were with Jesus separately on a mountain! But it didn’t. So Jesus asks them to literally “stay awake” with Him (v. 38) after telling them the deep sorrow He was feeling, and they cannot (v. 40, 43). Think of this in the context of the parables of the previous chapter. He needed them to be wise, and be ready, and watch, and stay awake. And they failed.
And think of Jesus in this situation. It makes me cry to think about it. He knew what was coming the next day. He was just betrayed by one of the Twelve. He knows all of His other disciples will abandon Him; that the people He came to save (Israel) would reject Him. He knew the leader of His disciples would outright deny Him. He takes His three closest friends, Who He told about the coming crucifixion the next day, and Who He told He was sorrowful unto death, and they doze off on Him. And here is Jesus, left to Himself – completely rejected by men! And He is praying, praying, praying ever so fervently to the Father, “Daddy, if there’s another way, please do it that way.” And though the text doesn’t say it, Satan was there. Where else would he be? This is the final temptation!2 The scene of a garden evokes memories of the first temptation to sin in Eden. Jesus was under attack. It makes me wonder who Jesus was talking about in verse 41: the three Apostles, or Himself…
And in His darkest hour as touching His humanity, Jesus again passes the test: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (v. 39). “Abba, if this cannot pass from me, Your will be done” (v. 42). Satan may have gotten Peter, James, and John to give into temptation and human weakness, but Jesus successfully defended against Satan’s attack. All that was left was for Christ to strike the death blow to Satan.
And the time had finally come. Judas approaches Jesus with that same patronizing “Rabbi” (v. 49 – see v. 25). Peter then tries to defend Jesus with earthly means (v. 51), after failing to use spiritual means in the garden. That Jesus says He can stop this through prayer (v. 53 – spiritual warfare!) but chooses to let it happen that the Scriptures would be fulfilled (v. 54 – I can hear Jesus echoing the words from His baptism “Let is be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” – see 3:15) shows so clearly the grace, the faithfulness, and most of all: the love of Christ. I didn’t deserve it. None of us did. Like the disciples (v. 56), we ran from Jesus. And He saved us anyway.
Matthew then records the illegal trial of Jesus. We know the real reason the religious leaders wanted Jesus gone. But they couldn’t execute Him under Mosaic Law for proving they were hypocrites. So they need to charge Him with something. That they were looking for “false testimony” (v. 59) to justify their endeavor would be almost mind-boggling if we all didn’t seek ridiculous and selfish rationalizations for our sin. The only testimony that two could agree on (necessary for a legal proceeding) is that Jesus said He was able to destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days (v. 61). Ironically, that isn’t what Jesus said. He told the Jews to destroy the Temple and He would raise it up in three days (see John 2:19). They were about to prove Him right!
So the High Priest is left to ask Jesus outright if He is the Messiah and the Son of God (v. 63). It appears the Pharisees got Jesus’s point in 22:41-45. And Jesus says He is (v. 64). The Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven is a reference to Daniel 7:13-14. It is also a reference to His coming in judgment, confirming what He said in 23:39 about the Jews. And with that, the Jews were able to charge Him with blasphemy (vv. 65-66). How cosmically ironic that they found the falsest (see v. 59) possible charge – charging God Himself with blasphemy. Having now been rejected by the Jews, abandoned by His disciples, and falsely condemned to death and mocked by the religious elite, Jesus is now denied by Peter (vv. 69-75). As Isaiah prophesied:
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.Isaiah 53:3
Afraid to take responsibility, the Jews take Jesus to the Romans to be executed (27:1-2). In the meantime, Judas now regrets betraying Jesus because Jesus was innocent (vv. 3-4). He didn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah, but he knew he didn’t deserve to die. Also note that Judas was there during the trial. He watched it happen (v. 3). Unable to live with the guilt, Judas takes his own life (v. 5). The chief priests do not want the money, so they buy a plot of land called “the potter’s field” with the thirty pieces of silver. This is a reference to Zechariah 11:12-13. In context, it is a passage about God “annulling the covenant that I had made with the peoples” (Zech 11:10).
Jesus winds up before Pilate, the governor of Judea. When Pilate asked Jesus if He is the King of the Jews, Jesus says He is (v. 11). He would give no such answer the Jews (v. 12), to Pilate’s amazement (v. 14). Pilate does not want to put Jesus to death. Since he always released one Jewish prisoner to the Jews during Passover (v. 15), Pilate tries to be shrewd by offering choice between Jesus or “a notorious prisoner” names Barabbas (v. 16 – his name is from the Aramaic Bar Abba, meaning literally “Son of the Father”). Pilate knew why Jesus was here (v. 18), and his wife wanted him to let Jesus go (v. 19).
But the religious leaders convince the crowds to ask for Barabbas’s release (v. 20). They literally choose the notoriously sinful “Son of the Father” to live, and the perfectly sinless Son of the Father to die. Jesus has been exchanged for the sinner and will suffer what he rightfully deserved. When the Jewish leaders shrewdly (more so that Pilate!) stir up the crowd to a near riot (v. 24), Pilate has no choice. He will send Jesus to die. But like the Jews, he is unwilling to take responsibility (v. 24). Just like with our first parents in the Garden (“my wife made me do it,” “the devil made me do it” – see Gen 3:12-13), the most heinous sin ever committed is no one’s fault! Not the Jews, not Pilate!
And the Jews unknowingly prophesy the truth: the blood of Christ is on them and their physical children (v. 25). And Pilate has Jesus scourged (v. 26 – see Isa 50:6) and send Him to be crucified. On the way, He is shamefully mocked. He is dressed like a king (vv. 28-29) and the Romans mockingly bow the knee. And they lead Him out of the city to be crucified (v. 31 – see 21:38-39). As Isaiah prophesied:
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.Isaiah 53:5
Before going on the cross, Jesus is offered wine with gall – a mild painkiller – which He refuses (v. 34 – see Ps 69:21). While on the cross, the Romans gamble for His clothes (v. 35 – see Ps 22:18). He was crucified between two criminals (v. 38 – see Isa 53:12). Passersby wagged their heads in derision (v. 39 – see Ps 22:7) and mockingly tell Him to save Himself. The chief priests join in by saying God should rescue Him if He is Who He says He is (v. 43 – see Ps 22:8).
Then darkness falls over the land at noon (v. 45 – see Amos 8:9, the curse of Deut 28:29, God’s judgment of Israel in Jer 15:9, and the judgment of darkness at the prototypical Passover in Ex 10:22). Jesus then quotes Psalm 22:1 (v. 46), not because He was literally forsaken by God3, but as a final assertion of His Messiahship and that He was fulfilling the Scriptures, including, as we have seen, much of Psalm 22.
And with that, the Light of the World died.
Upon His death, the curtain (a type of Christ, being the way to God) in the Temple was torn from top to bottom (v. 51). The way was opened to God’s presence through Christ’s death, Who came from heaven to earth. The earthquake is symbolic of God’s judgment, which was on Christ. The tombs being opened and some of the dead being raised happens after Christ’s resurrection (vv. 52-53). This shows how Christ’s work guarantees the resurrection of the just. In verse 55, we see some of the women who followed Jesus saw Him die. They did not have to fear like the male disciples, who feared arrest for association with a convicted criminal. In verses 57-60 we see another disciples of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, take the body of Jesus and bury it in his own tomb (see Isa 53:9).
The Jews then convince Pilate to send Roman soldiers to guard the tomb so the body of Jesus cannot be taken (vv. 62-65). They also roll a stone against the opening of the tomb. Barring a miracle, that body was staying put.
Chapter 28 records the resurrection of Jesus. On Sunday morning (28:1) some of Jesus’s disciples – women – go to the tomb, where they see an angel (actually, there were two, though only one addresses the women – see John 20:12) descend from heaven. The guards either faint from fear or are supernaturally put to sleep (v. 4). Notice that the angel opens the tomb, but Jesus was already gone (v. 6)! The angel tells her that Jesus has gone before them to Galilee, confirming Jesus’s words from 26:32.
The women go to tell the other disciples what has happened, but on the way, Jesus appears to them (vv. 8-9), and He tells them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee (v. 10), again confirming what He said in 26:32. When the guards tell the religious leaders what happened, the priests bribe them to lie (vv. 11-13). This lie is then perpetuated among the Jews, and was still being spread by the time this Gospel account was written (20-50 years later, depending on when this was actually written).
The eleven living Apostles go to Galilee as commanded, and go up on a mountain to meet Him (v. 16). Note in verse 17 that some doubted. These are the Apostles! They walked with Jesus. They saw all that happened. They saw Him alive after He died. And some doubted! Yet Jesus gives them the Great Commission. He uses even small faith to accomplish His work (see 17:20). Jesus starts the Commission by pointing out He has the authority (v. 18). He ends it by promising He is with His church (v. 20). Unlike the last mission He sent them on, where He sent them alone and gave them authority (see 10:1, 5), Jesus has all the authority and will go on this mission with them (us).
And our mission? Make disciples (v.19-20). The church is to make disciples of all peoples (not nations, as in, political sovereigns with geographic boundaries): no matter their lineage, their ethnicity, their background, where they live – no earthly distinction matters – make them disciples. We are to baptize them in the name of Triune God (v. 19), that is, join them to the covenant community. And we are to teach and model obedience (v. 20). This is the Great Commission. And Christ is in it with us, to the end of the age.
1 In context, Zechariah 13:7 speaks of God causing the striking of the Shepherd “Who stands next to” Him, and only a remnant of the land (Israel) being refined and calling upon the name of the Lord (being saved). God says of these believers “they are My people.” This entire prophecy is in view in Jesus’s words.
2 Luke’s Gospel speaks of an angel appearing to Jesus to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). The only other time this happens is after the wilderness temptations by Satan (see Matt 4:11).
3 First of all, Jesus couldn’t be forsaken by God. He was God in the flesh, and the Persons of the Trinity are not separable. Second of all, God did not forsake Christ and allow this to happen to Him, God actively did this to Him to save us!