Summary: A planned betrayal. Institution of Communion. Singing Praise. On to Gethsemane.
THE LAST PASSOVER.
Even before the chief priests and the scribes had wrongly determined that the death of Jesus should not take place ‘during the feast’ (Matthew 26:5), Jesus had already predicted exactly when His death would take place (Matthew 26:2). They were wrong, He was right. Jesus remained in control throughout.
Jesus also knew that the anointing which He received at the hands of a woman in Bethany was in preparation for His burial (Matthew 26:12). Today’s passage follows on immediately after Jesus’ prediction concerning that woman (Matthew 26:13).
The Greek wording of Matthew 26:14 is stark, dark, and foreboding: “Then having gone one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, to the chief priests.” Having gone, Judas asked a price: and “thirty pieces of silver” - the value of a slave (cf. Exodus 21:32) - was fixed upon. Thereafter Judas sought an opportunity to “deliver up” Jesus (Matthew 26:15-16): but the matter was in Jesus’ own hands.
The Passover meal was designed to commemorate the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 12:14). Out of it grew our Lord’s Supper, in which we remember what Jesus was accomplishing on this very night, centuries later, in delivering us out of ‘the bondage of sin and death’ (Romans 8:2). It was only apt that Jesus and His disciples should keep the Passover one last time (Matthew 26:17), before Jesus fulfilled all it stood for in His Passover sacrifice on Calvary’s hill (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Still in control, Jesus sent a message to a man saying, “My (appointed) time is near; I WILL keep the Passover at your house” - and the disciples made ready the Passover (Matthew 26:18-19). It should have been a happy meal but, under the shadow of the Cross, ‘with bitter herbs they shall eat it’ (Exodus 12:8). Jesus had solemn words to speak (Matthew 26:20-21).
Jesus knew who His betrayer was, even before anyone else in His little group knew. The other disciples did not ask, ‘Is it Judas Iscariot?’ but rather each of them asked, “Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:22). Well, it was one of them who was dipping in the dish with Him, but woe betide that man. “The Son of man goes as it was written of him,” said Jesus, but “it would have been better for that man (who betrayed Jesus) if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:23-24). Judas Iscariot could not even bring himself to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, but asked, “RABBI, is it I?” - to which Jesus answered, “Thou hast said” (Matthew 26:25).
It is here, at last, that the Passover meal begins to fuse into the Lord’s Supper. “As they were eating” Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples. Usually the person presiding over a Passover meal would lift the unleavened bread and say, ‘This is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate in the wilderness.’ Jesus said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26).
Jesus knew that He would soon be going to the Cross, and was using the opportunity as a teaching moment. HE is the bread of life, and the bread of Communion represents HIM (cf. John 6:35). And just as He was present with the disciples in the first Communion, so He is a very real presence with us when we remember Him in this way which HE first ordained.
Each of the four cups of the Passover meal was associated with a line of Exodus 6:6-7. The third cup is linked to the words ‘I will redeem you.’ Jesus took this cup and invested it with new meaning (Matthew 26:27-28). Instead of the blood of the original Passover lamb, it comes to represent His own blood.
Jesus inaugurated a new covenant in words similar to the institution of the old (Exodus 24:8). In an echo of the last verse of the fourth Servant Song, ‘He bare the sin of many’ (Isaiah 53:12), Jesus’ blood is “shed for many for the remission of sins.”
Like Passover, Communion refers back to a past deliverance. Like Passover, Communion provides sustenance for the journey. Like Passover, Communion anticipates the future.
For Israel it is the promised land, and even in exile the hope is still expressed: ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ For Christians it is a heavenly banquet over which Jesus, their Messiah and ours, will preside (Matthew 26:29).
Our passage ends with praise (Matthew 26:30). The disciples' “hymn” book was the book of Psalms. Their Psalms for Passover would end, ‘O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for His mercy endures forever’ (Psalm 118:29). And with that they would proceed to Gethsemane.