Matthew 26

Matthew 26  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 10
THIS CHAPTER BRINGS us back to the history of the last few days of the Lord’s life on earth. The opening verses give us a peep into the palace of the high priest, and we find it to be full of craft and counsels of murder. In verses 6-13, we turn from this most atrocious wickedness in high places to behold an action of love and devotion in a humble home, where some of the godly remnant dwelt. From John 12 we gather that the woman was Mary of Bethany. She evidently anointed both His head and His feet, but Matthew, emphasizing His kingly character, mentions that His head was anointed, as befits a king: John emphasizing His Deity, tells us that His feet were anointed, though a great servant like John the Baptist was not worthy to unbind His sandals.
The disciples were entirely out of sympathy with this act of devotion, regarding it as mere waste. Their complaint was instigated by Judas Iscariot, as John’s Gospel shows us, yet it revealed them as thinking first of money and then of the poor, while ignorant and mystified as to His approaching death. The woman thought neither of money nor of the poor. Christ filled her vision, and He knew how to interpret her action. Very probably she acted more from instinct than from intelligence; but she was conscious that death now threatened the Object of her affection and worship, and the Lord accepted what she did as for His burial. Not only did He approve but He ordained that her devoted act should be held in continual remembrance wherever the gospel is preached. And so it has been.
The woman’s devotion stands in the strongest possible contrast with the hatred of the religious leaders, related in the preceding paragraph, and the treachery of Judas, related in the paragraph that follows. Violence reached its climax in the leaders—they would slay Him at once without scruple. Corruption reached its climax in Judas, who having companied with Jesus for three years was desirous of making the paltry profit of thirty pieces of silver by His betrayal. A bond-slave in Israel was estimated as being worth thirty shekels of silver, as Ex. 21:3232If the ox shall push a manservant or a maidservant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. (Exodus 21:32) shows.
Then again, if the second paragraph of our chapter (verses 6-13) shows us the devotion of a disciple to her Lord, the fourth paragraph (verse 17 and onwards) shows us the solicitude of the Lord for His disciples, and how He counted on their remembrance of Him during the approaching time of His absence.
The passover was eaten in the place of the Lord’s choosing, and as it proceeded He identified the traitor and warned him of his doom. The going of the Son of Man by betrayal into death had been predicted in the Holy Writings, but this did not in any degree lessen the gravity of the traitor’s act. The fact that God is omniscient and can foretell men’s acts does not relieve them of responsibility for what they do. By his act Judas revealed his true self. Jesus was about to reveal Himself fully by His death.
As the Passover meal drew to its close Jesus instituted His supper as the memorial of His body given and His blood shed for us for the remission of sins. In the wording of verses 26-29 there is nothing that definitely states that the institution is to be observed until He comes again: for that we have to turn to 1 Cor. 11. The fact is inferred in verse 29, for the cup speaks of blessing and joy, and of that the Lord will drink in a new way when the kingdom comes: meanwhile the cup is for us and not for Him. Today He is marked by patience: in the day of the kingdom He will enter into blessing and joy in an altogether new way. Meanwhile we have the memorial of His death, for in it His body and blood are presented to us not conjointly as though He were a living Man on earth, but separately: this bread, His body, and that cup, His blood, poured forth; thus symbolizing His death.
On their way to the Mount of Olives Jesus foretold how His death would mean their scattering, as the Scripture had said, but He pointed them to His resurrection and appointed a meeting place in Galilee, where He would regather them. Peter, however, filled with self-confidence, resisted the warning to his own undoing, and also to his missing the fact and import of the resurrection. All the disciples were marked by the same thing, though not to the same degree.
They were very soon put to the test in Gethsemane. There Jesus entered in spirit into the sorrow of the death that was before Him, but wholly in communion with His Father. His very perfection caused Him to shrink from all that was involved in suffering and death as the judgment of God, yet He accepted that cup from the Father’s hand. Further, it was a tribute to the perfection of His manhood that He should desire sympathy from the chosen disciples, but the prophetic word was fulfilled—“I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psa. 69:2020Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. (Psalm 69:20)). Peter and the others, who were so sure that they never would deny Him, could not watch with Him one hour. Their flesh was to weak, but as yet they knew it not. Neither did they know that the treachery of Judas was coming to fruition, and the crisis was upon them.
Yet so it was; and in the rest of this chapter we see the amazing contrast between the Christ of God and all others who in any way came into contact with Him. All display their own peculiar deformities: His is the one serene figure in the center of the picture.
First there comes Judas, the traitor; masking his treachery with such hypocrisy that nineteen centuries after the event “the traitor’s kiss” remains a proverbial expression of disgust. In the language of Psa. 41:99Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me. (Psalm 41:9), here was “Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of My bread,” and he had “lifted up his heel against Me” (John 13:1818I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me. (John 13:18)). Hence Jesus addressed him as “Friend,” but asked him the searching question, “wherefore art thou come?” (ch. 26:50). He had come to betray his Master so that he might gain thirty paltry pieces of silver.
The sickening hypocrisy of the false disciple is followed by the fleshly zeal of a true one, whom we know to be Peter from John’s Gospel. The self-confident man sleeps when he should be awake, and he smites when he should be quiet, and when his action would have been to his Master’s discredit, had it not been disallowed. A time is coming when “the saints” will be “joyful in glory,” (Psa. 149:55Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds. (Psalm 149:5)) when “the high praises of God” (Psa. 149:66Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a twoedged sword in their hand; (Psalm 149:6)) will be “in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance” (Psa. 149:5-75Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds. 6Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a twoedged sword in their hand; 7To execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people; (Psalm 149:5‑7)); but that is at the time of the second Advent and not the first. Peter’s action was entirely out of place and inviting a sword-stroke upon himself. It was also entirely out of harmony with his Master’s attitude, who had irresistible might at His disposal and yet suffered Himself to be led as a lamb to the slaughter, as the Scripture had indicated.
When God would blot out from under heaven the cities of the plain He sent but two angels to deliver the blow. If twelve legions had been launched at the rebellious world what would have happened? The prayer that would have launched them was not uttered, and Peter’s blow, that was struck as much for himself as for his Master, was simply ridiculous. When we are content to suffer as Christians we are spiritually victorious; when we take the sword we lose the spiritual battle and ultimately perish by the sword. One of the main reasons why the Reformation of four centuries ago was so badly arrested and defaced was that its chief promoters flew to the sword in its defense, and thereby turned it into a national and political movement rather than a spiritual one.
Next we see the Lord calmly dealing with the rough mob who, led by Judas, had come to arrest Him. He showed them the unsuitability and even folly of their doings. Yet in the presence of this mob the fortitude of all the disciples collapsed, and they forsook their Master and fled. Such are even the best of men!
The mob deliver Him to the leaders of Israel, and these men who claimed to represent God, had thrown away any pretense of seeking righteousness. We are not told that they were misled into accepting false evidence, nor that they were tempted into receiving it because it was thrust upon them. No, it says, they “sought false witness against Jesus, to put Him to death” (ch. 26:59). They SOUGHT it. Has there ever, we wonder, been another trial upon this earth where the judges started by hunting for liars, that they might condemn the accused? Thus it was here; and in the presence of it Jesus held His peace. Judgment being utterly divorced from righteousness, He met them with a dignity that was Divine, and He only spoke to affirm His Christhood, His Sonship, and to affirm His coming glory as the Son of Man.
On this they condemned Him, but the high priest broke the law by rending his clothes as he condemned Him, thereby only condemning himself. This was the signal for a pandemonium of insults, in the midst of which stood the serene figure of our Saviour and our Lord. The calm brightness of His presence helps us to see the dark degradation in which they were sunk.
Lastly, in this chapter, Peter reaps what he had sown by his self-confidence. We read of his following afar off in verse 58, now we find him amongst the enemies of his Lord and unable to stand. He proves himself to be weak just where he had appeared to be strong, inasmuch as impetuosity is not the same thing as courage. Fleshly energy had impelled him into a position where he never ought to have been, and he fell. We cannot throw stones at him. Rather let us pray that if we find ourselves in a similar case we may be granted repentance similar to that recorded in the last verse-a repentance that started directly the fall had been consummated.
The copyright for this material is assigned to Scripture Truth Publications. Used by permission.