Matthew 26:1-27:66 – The Passion and Death of Jesus the Messiah
SummaryIn Jerusalem Jesus celebrates the Passover with his disciples. He then goes to a garden on the Mount of Olives to pray, where he is betrayed by Judas. After trials before the High Priest Caiaphas and Pilate the Roman Governor, he is condemned to death and handed over to be crucified by the Roman soldiers while many women look on. At evening Joseph of Arimathea receives and buries the body and a guard is set to secure the tomb.
Matthew's Passion Narrative follows his model Mark in basic outline and content. But Matthew's narrative more carefully binds the passion and death of Jesus the Messiah to his role as teacher and Son of Man who comes at the end of the age. In a uniquely Matthean addition, the formulaic conclusion of Jesus' words in his last teaching discourse is immediately joined to one more prediction of the coming betrayal and crucifixion of the Son of Man (26:1-2). With other added details Matthew heightens the crime and death of Jesus' betrayer (26:14-16; 27:3-10), notes a dream revelation to the wife of Pilate that Jesus is a "righteous man" (dikaios; NRSV reads "innocent"), has Pilate "wash his hands" of any responsibility for Jesus' death, accompanies Jesus' death with an earthquake and a resurrection of the saints, and reports a posting of a guard at the tomb by the Jewish leaders to prevent the theft of Jesus' body. Matthew's narrative of Jesus' passion and death is composed of the following sections and themes:
Matthew 26:1-5 opens the narrative with the plot to kill Jesus. Jesus announces that the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified. In ironic fulfillment, the leaders of the people conspire to arrest Jesus and put him to death.
In Matthew 26:6-13, Jesus' anointing with costly perfume by a nameless woman at Bethany is described by him as a preparation for his burial and as a key part of the preaching of the good news.
In Matthew 26:14 16, Matthew alters Mark's narrative by making Judas appear greedy, asking how much the leaders are willing to pay him in order to betray Jesus. They agree to pay him thirty pieces of silver.
After sending his disciples to prepare, Jesus gathers with them to eat the Passover meal, (Matthew 26:17-35). Jesus first foretells that one of them will betray him, and then takes a loaf of bread and a cup of wine and, after blessing them, shares them with the disciples as his body and blood of the covenant of the Father's kingdom. Framing the meal and parallel to the announcement of the betrayal, Jesus predicts that Peter along with all of the disciples will deny and desert him.
After the meal, Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (Matthew 26:36-46). While the disciples sleep, three times Jesus prays earnestly to the Father that he might be spared the drinking of the "cup" of his death. Obediently he submits to the Father's will and the betrayal is at hand.
The arrest of Jesus takes place as Judas arrives with a crowd and betrays Jesus with the agreed upon signal, a kiss (Matthew 26:47-56). Twice Jesus emphasizes that all of this is happening in fulfillment of the scriptures. The truth of his assertion is confirmed by the note that, as he has predicted, all the disciples desert him and flee.
In Matthew 26:57-68; 27:1-2, Jesus is put on trial before the High Priest. Various charges are brought against Jesus, but he remains silent. To the high priest's question whether he is the Messiah Jesus responds with a somewhat ambiguous, "You have said so," and a scriptural quotation about the Son of Man. Jesus' remarks are seen as blasphemy and worthy of death. Jesus is bound and handed over to Pilate.
Ironically, in the midst of Jesus' trial, Peter, too, is interrogated regarding his relationship to Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75). As Jesus has predicted, three times Peter denies that he knows Jesus. The cock crows and Peter repents.
In a unique motif, Matthew narrates the death of Judas, Matthew 27:3-10. When Judas sees what his betrayal has occasioned, he repents of his sin of having betrayed "innocent blood" and attempts to return the thirty pieces of silver to the leaders. Upon their refusal, in despair he hangs himself, and in fulfillment of scripture the leaders use the money to buy a burial field.
Jesus now goes on trial before Pilate (Matthew 27:11-31). To Pilate's question whether he is "King of the Jews," Jesus responds as to the chief priest, "You say so," but otherwise remains silent amid the accusations. Matthew adds unique features to the trial scene before Pilate. Pilate's wife notes that she has been warned in a dream (see Matthew, chapters 1 and 2) to have nothing to do with this "righteous man" (27:19; see 1:19 and throughout). After agreeing to release a prisoner, Barabbas, instead of Jesus, Pilate washes his hands of this "innocent" man's blood, while the people answer "His blood be on us and upon our children!" (27:24-25). Pilate then hands Jesus over to be crucified. The soldiers dress Jesus up in a robe, a crown of thorns, and a reed and mock him as "King of the Jews" and then lead him away to be crucified.
On the way to Jesus' crucifixion and death (Matthew 27:32-56), a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, is compelled to carry the cross to Golgotha, where Jesus is placed on the cross with two bandits on either side. Those who pass by mock him as "Son of God" and "King of Israel." Darkness comes over the land from noon until three o'clock, when Jesus cries out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and then breathes his last. To Mark's note regarding the rending of the temple curtain at Jesus' death, Matthew adds that there is a great earthquake and that many of the dead come out of their tombs (27:51-53). Many women who have followed Jesus from Galilee stand watching from a distance.
After Jesus' death, Joseph of Arimathea, described as a "disciple" of Jesus, goes to Pilate and asks for the body. Joseph receives the body and lays it in his own new tomb and rolls a large stone in front of the door, while Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sit opposite the tomb, watching (Matthew 27:57 61).
The passion narrative concludes with the setting of a guard at the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66). In this unique addition to the narrative, Matthew notes the concern of the leaders that Jesus' disciples will come and steal the body and then claim he has been raised from the dead. Pilate orders them to make the tomb secure by setting a guard.