Matthew 26 opens with Jesus’ fourth prediction of His passion and resurrection. After ending His Olivet Discourse, Matthew tells us that our Lord has finished “all these sayings” (v. 1), which likely refers to all the instruction He has thus far given in this gospel. In other words, Christ’s teaching ministry is done and it is time for Him to atone for sin and seal His victory.
The Savior has already told His disciples three times that He will die and be raised (16:21; 17:22–23; 20:17–19), but in today’s passage He explains for the first time that this will take place during Passover. This provides a theological framework for understanding the significance of the Messiah’s death. Just as the angel of death passed over all of those who were covered by the blood of the lamb (Ex. 12), so too will the blood of the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8, NKJV) shield those whom it covers from eternal destruction.
According to Matthew, Caiaphas is the high priest under whom this will happen (Matt. 26:3), but Luke tells us that Annas is also high priest at this time (Luke 3:1–2; Acts 4:5–6). In AD 15, Rome deposed Annas from the high priesthood, later replacing him with his son-in-law, Caiaphas. Yet Annas continued to wield power behind the scenes, almost like a “co-high priest” with Caiaphas.
Rome’s tendency to intervene explains the Sanhedrin’s desire to do away with Jesus and their initial reluctance to act during the Passover (Matt. 26:3–5). The Empire was quick to put down Jewish revolts, which often began during the Jewish festivals when messianic pretenders capitalized on the nationalistic fervor generated as Jews gathered to recall Yahweh’s promised salvation through His prophets. Caiaphas and the others want to kill Jesus because the messianic clamor His presence creates might draw the ire of Rome, but they want to postpone His execution lest it provoke the people to rebel against the priests for murdering God’s Messiah.
But the Almighty has other plans, and in His sovereignty He will bring about Jesus’ predicted death during the Passover. The Creator’s providence, John Calvin says, will ensure that events turn out exactly as He has planned.
John Chrysostom comments on these Pharisees, saying that “they never were afraid of the judgment of God but only the judgment of people” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, first series, vol. 10, p. 477). We can be led into sin and deceit when we fear men more than we fear God. Ask yourself today whose judgment you fear. Endeavor to care not primarily what men think but to be first and foremost concerned with fearing the Lord.
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