Monday, October 31, 2011

Matthew 26:17–25

Matthew 26:17–25 (ESV): The Passover With the Disciples

Synopsis

This passage gives us some details about the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples, which was, appropriately enough, the Passover meal. (If you’re not sure why that’s so appropriate, see below.) The Last Supper—a significant enough event that it’s usually capitalized like that—is probably most remembered for the institution of the Lord’s Table—also known as the Lord’s Supper, Communion, Holy Communion, Eucharist, Sacrament of the Altar, Blessed Sacrament, and probably numerous other titles—but that doesn’t come until the next passage. In this passage, Jesus’ disciples prepare the location for the meal, and Jesus begins it with them.

First, Jesus’ disciples come and ask him where he’d like to have Passover, and he tells them to go and find a “certain man” and have it at his place:

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.’” (verse 18 (ESV))
So they do, and prepare it as instructed. That evening, as they’re eating, Jesus says something that, to me, seemed shockingly blunt: “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (verse 21 (ESV)). The disciples get very sad at this, and one by one (presumably excluding Judas), they ask him, “Is it I, Lord?” (verse 22 (ESV)).

He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” (verses 23–24 (ESV))
Then Judas asks him, “Is it I, Rabbi?”, to which Jesus answers, “You have said so” (verse 25 (ESV)). (The ESV Study Bible says that “you have said so” is “A Greek expression that deflects responsibility back upon the one asking a question,” so this is essentially Jesus’ way of saying yes to Judas’ question.)

Thoughts

If you’re not familiar with the Jewish custom of Passover then the fact that Jesus’ last meal with his disciples was the Passover meal might not seem significant to you. Passover was initiated in Exodus 12, when God was sending the ten plagues against the Egyptians. For the tenth plague God told the Israelites that He was going to kill the firstborn male child in every Egyptian household, but that He was going to spare the Israelites. He had previously sent plagues which only impacted the Egyptians and not the Israelites, but this time He gives the Israelites some instructions: they are to slaughter a lamb and sprinkle some of that lamb’s blood on the doorframes of their houses. When the LORD went through Egypt slaughtering first-born children, He would “pass over” any house that had this blood on the doorframe. The Israelites were also to eat the lamb, once it had been slaughtered, and some specific instructions are given on how to eat it.

For the Christian, there are obvious parallels between the manner in which God saved the Israelites from His wrath and the manner in which Jesus saves us from our sins: because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God “passes over us” when He is doling out His wrath. The New Testament often talks about Jesus’ blood being on us, and about us being saved by the blood of Jesus; the original Passover, which God instituted with the Israelites, is a picture of what Jesus has done for us. The fact that Jesus is next going to introduce Communion (or whatever you call it at your church) to his disciples, in the next passage, makes this even more like the original Passover: we are eating the lamb (metaphorically) when we celebrate Communion.

So it is very significant that this is the last meal Jesus has with his disciples: celebrating a Jewish ceremony which is intended to be a picture of exactly what Jesus is about to do for the world, and then (in the next passage) extending that ceremony with one of his own, in which we celebrate not what Jesus is going to do but what He has done. This is Jesus’ last night on earth as a human; you could view it as the turning point between the celebration of Passover and the celebration of Communion. (Assuming that Communion was intended to replace Passover, and not just supplement it; Christians don’t seem to celebrate Passover—I don’t know of any denominations who do, although I don’t study such things—so it seems that over the years this is the consensus that Christians have reached, although I don’t see that it was strictly stated anywhere that we shouldn’t celebrate Passover.)

The reason I find Jesus’ prediction of his betrayal so blunt is that I expect there to be a lot more mystery around the whole thing than there seems to be. Why, at this point, didn’t the other disciples try to stop Judas? Did they not hear Jesus’ interaction with him? Or did they not think it was coming as quickly as it did (that very night)? It’s especially interesting to compare this passage to John 13:21–30 (ESV); in that telling of the story Jesus explicitly tells John that Judas is the one who will betray him, and we are also told that when Jesus tells Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly” (John 13:27 (ESV)), the other disciples don’t seem to know what he’s talking about. So it seems that there is either enough privacy for Jesus to talk to Judas semi-privately, or something else is capturing the disciples’ attention enough that they don’t realize Judas is the one who is about to betray Jesus (except for John, who is told explicitly—but even he doesn’t try to do anything to stop it). It’s also interesting that Judas goes through the charade of asking Jesus “Is it I?” just like the other disciples did. I don’t know if he’s assuming that Jesus won’t actually know it’s him (if he’s decided that Jesus isn’t really the Son of God), or if he’s just trying to brazen it out until the end, or if he simply has to ask the question along with everyone else so as not to make himself stand out.
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