Home > Bible > The Plot To Kill Jesus, His Anointing By Mary, Judas’ Betrayal: Matthew 26:1-16

The Plot To Kill Jesus, His Anointing By Mary, Judas’ Betrayal: Matthew 26:1-16


The Plot to Kill Jesus

1 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (NLB)

This particular warning to Jesus’ disciples is only found here in Matthew. Though Jesus had warned his disciples that he would be betrayed before (Mark 9:31, 10:33, Luke 9:44), he did not reveal that the betrayal would come from one of the Twelve until the Last Supper. (Luke 22:21, blog) I wonder where they thought the betrayal would come from, if they thought about it at all. I can imagine them scanning the crowds for possible spies, or casting suspicion upon some in Jesus’ larger group of disciples. But Jesus had no more public appearances until his trial. Any betrayal would have to come from someone in a position of trust, someone who knew where Jesus would be.

3 At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest, 4 plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. 5 “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.” (NLB)

While Jesus warned his disciples of what was to come, his enemies met in secret to plot against him. They didn’t want to do it during Passover, though they ended up doing just that. Luke says they were afraid of the people. (Luke 22:2) Why were they so afraid to arrest Jesus during this particular time? It wasn’t just because of Jesus’ popularity. He would be no less popular the next week. It was also because of the mood of the Jewish people during Passover.

Passover is the celebration of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, where they had been slaves. It’s a sacred festival, but also a time when Jewish nationalism was at its height. After all, in the time of Jesus, Jews were essentially slaves once again, this time to the Roman Empire. The Romans got very nervous every Passover, because this nation that they occupied was celebrating deliverance from slavery! It was Israel’s most important festival, and it happened every year. It was typical for uprisings to occur during Passover for just that reason. Add to that the fact that the Messiah was expected to be revealed during Passover. This inspired many false Messiahs to stir up trouble during the festival. So the Romans were on high alert every year at this time. In Jesus’ day, the Herods and the high priests were in cahoots with the Romans. It was in their interest to keep the peace, and not allow any trouble. If there was a riot, Roman troops would be dispatched to put down any disturbance with “extreme prejudice.” Those in charge would be held responsible for it. So the chief priests wanted very much to get rid of Jesus, but do it in such a way that it would not cause a revolt.

Because of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem as king a few days earlier, and his defeat of his critics in the temple courts (22:15-22, blog, 22:23-33, blog), expectation was building that Jesus would be revealed as the Messiah during this Passover. Being revealed as the Messiah did not mean holding a press conference to announce it. It meant that he would come in glory to defeat the Romans and free Israel. Jesus had taken great pains to make sure his disciples knew that this was not the time for that, but the crowds did not know this. They thought Jesus might be the one to free his nation from bondage that very week, as God had done for Israel in Egypt. That was the festival they were celebrating at that moment, and it had special significance for many because they believed that if Jesus really was the Messiah, then their days under the heel of Rome would soon end. For all of these reasons, the Romans were on a “hair trigger,” and the chief priests and elders were afraid of the people.

As it turned out, their fears were unfounded. Though they arrested Jesus at night, away from the crowds, they did try and execute him during Passover. No one rioted, not even Jesus’ disciples. During his Triumphal Entry, large crowds followed Jesus, shouting praises to the Son of David. In the temple courts, large crowds listened to him teach. But at his trial, no one showed up to demand his release. Only supporters of the chief priests and Barabbas showed up for that. As Jesus walked on the road to Calvary, no one tried to free him. When Jesus did not do what they expected of him, the crowds abandoned him, and his disciples fled. In the end, even his Father turned away from him. The chief priests were afraid that the crowds would try to make Jesus king, but in the end, he died alone, for you and me.

Jesus Anointed at Bethany

6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

This event also appears in Mark 14:1-9 (blog) and John 12:1-11. Matthew and Mark both say this took place at the home of Simon the Leper, but John says it happened at Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ house in Bethany. It seems likely that Simon was a relative of theirs, and that this was the larger family residence. In that culture, extended families lived together in connected structures. Scholars believe, because of the references in each of the gospels to that effect, that Jesus and his disciples stayed with this family during that Passover week. They appear to have been a wealthy family, with a large enough home to house at least thirteen guests, and because of the value of the perfume that was used here.

According to Jewish law, you could not eat with a leper. Therefore, scholars assume that Jesus must have healed him at some point, though that isn’t recorded in the gospels. But even though he had been healed, Simon was still known as the leper. That’s how great a stigma leprosy had in that culture. Even after Jesus has freed us from something, we may still carry the stigma of our past bondage. If you were saved out of criminal behavior, addiction, or some other sin that carries a social stigma, it will take a long time for you get your reputation back. Ask anyone who’s been sober for years if people still think of them as an addict. Reputations are hard to restore, and people may may still think of you a certain way, but Jesus doesn’t. He sees you as the new creation you are. He reclined at the dinner table with Simon “the Leper.” He stayed in Simon’s family home. People may remember your past sins, but God doesn’t.

John identifies the woman who anoints Jesus as Mary, Martha’s sister. (John 12:3) She is the same one who sat at Jesus’ feet while her sister Martha made all the preparations for a meal. (Luke 10:38-42, blog) It was their brother Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead, probably at this same location, or wherever their family tombs were. (John 11:1-44) They were supporters of Jesus throughout his ministry. Mark and John both identify the perfume as nard, which was an expensive, fragrant oil. He says that she also poured the oil on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. The act of pouring it on his head was reminiscent of the way kings were anointed. When guests’ heads were anointed with oil in a home, only a dab of oil was applied. To break open an expensive jar and pour the whole thing out was like anointing Jesus king. Then she added some to his feet and wiped them with her hair, signifying that she was his slave. Washing the feet of guests was the duty of slaves, and this family, being people of means, probably had slaves. But Mary, during this Passover week when so many expected Jesus to become king of Israel, anointed Jesus as her king, and washed his feet, declaring herself to be his slave.

Matthew only says that the nard could have been sold at a high price, but in Mark and John, its value is placed at 300 denarii, or a year’s wages for a working man. How much would would that translate to now, in 21st Century America? $30,000? $40,000? Even if it’s only $20,000, can you imagine owning a bottle of perfume that cost that much? I can’t. In John’s account, Judas leads the objection, probably because he was in charge of the money for the group. He’s probably the one who came up with that figure. But according to Matthew and Mark, the other disciples agreed with him. John comments that Judas said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:6) But John didn’t defend what Martha did at the time either. He either agreed with Judas and the others, or he kept silent. Sometimes, when someone does something that seems foolish and extravagant for Jesus, we criticize because we feel guilty that we haven’t done as much.

10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you,[a] but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

In John’s version of this event, Jesus says that the perfume was intended to be saved for his burial. (John 12:7) So Mary knew that the nard was being saved for that purpose. But as I stated earlier, I think, in her mind, she was anointing him king. Maybe she thought it would not be needed for its intended purpose now that Jesus had ridden the mount of a king into Jerusalem. But Jesus took her extravagant offering and used it for its true purpose. This was the only anointing for burial his body would receive. His mother Mary would not get the chance to use the myrrh that the Magi had brought for that purpose. By the time she reached the tomb, Jesus was risen. Jesus’ friend and follower Mary did for him what his mother Mary would not get the chance to do, and she used what was probably an irreplaceable family heirloom to do it.

Because this story found its way into three of the four gospels, Jesus’ prophecy in verse 13 was fulfilled. 2,000 years later, this story is still told, and what Mary did is still remembered. How will we be remembered? Do we extravagantly give our best to Jesus, or are we one of the complainers? Are we ready to give our best to Jesus, who gave his all for us? Do we proclaim him our king, and call ourselves his slave? If we will, the fragrance of our devotion will affect everyone around us. It may make some uncomfortable. What we have in mind may be different than what God has in mind, but if we devote ourselves to Jesus like Mary did, he will use our devotion in ways we can’t imagine.

Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus

14 Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Judas’ meeting with the chief priests to discuss handing Jesus over to them. See my post on Mark’s version of this passage here, and Luke’s here. Luke’s account has the most detail. One difference between Matthew’s account and the others is that only Matthew has Judas asking for money. All Mark and Luke say is that Judas went to the chief priests (Luke adds that he also went to the officers of the temple guard) to discuss with them how he might turn Jesus over to them. They make it seem like Judas simply went to them to talk about it, and they offered him money to do it. But Matthew makes it clear that Judas specifically asked them how much they would give him to betray Jesus. We know that Judas was in charge of the money for the group, and John says he helped himself to money from their bag. (John 12:6) So it’s clear that money was, at least, a big part of Judas’ motivation.

I have stated before in this blog that I have a hard time believing that Judas was bad from the start. Judas took part in every aspect of Jesus’ ministry. He wasn’t just part of the crowd, or the larger group of Jesus’ disciples, he was one of the Twelve. Jesus chose him to be part of the leadership of his disciples. Many believe that Jesus knew from the beginning that Judas would betray him, that, in fact, he chose him for that reason. But Jesus gave authority to the Twelve to preach the Good News and to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness, and Judas was included in that (10:1-4, blog). Judas traveled with one of the other apostles and did all of those things in Jesus’ name. When Jesus fed the 5.000, he had the Twelve distribute the food (14:13-21, blog). Judas took part in that. I don’t believe Judas could have done those things if he had always been a “bad apple.” I can understand why Jesus would still have called Judas and loved him even if he knew from the beginning that Judas would betray him, but I have a harder time understanding why he would send Judas out to minister in his name if he knew that. I’ve also wondered why Judas would have put up with the hard life of a disciple for three years if he wasn’t a true believer in Jesus. Wouldn’t he have gotten fed up and left? It seems more likely to me that Judas started out as a genuine disciple, but something went very wrong for him somewhere along the line.

It occurs to me that, when Jesus chose the Twelve, he must have given Judas the responsibility of keeping the money for the group. It seems like Matthew, as a former tax collector, would have been the logical choice for this job. But Jesus gave the job of keeping the money to Judas, I’m sure knowing full well that Judas had a weakness in this area.

For me, the main clues about what went wrong for Judas are contained in this chapter, and its corresponding chapters in the other gospels. Judas, like the other apostles, probably believed that Jesus would save Israel from the Romans and become king. All the times that the apostles argued about which of them would have the highest status when Jesus came into his kingdom, Judas would have been part of that discussion. They were all concerned about what their role would be in Jesus’ coming kingdom. Since Judas was in charge of the money, I imagine that he believed that when Jesus became king, he would be the king’s treasurer. He would become very rich.

But then Jesus started telling them, over and over, that he would be crucified and rise again. None of the apostles really understood this until it actually happened. I think Judas was probably in denial about this, as they all were. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the mount of a king, with crowds shouting hosannas to the Son of David, they all probably forgot everything Jesus had told them about his coming suffering. When Jesus reminded them of it in verses 1-2 of this chapter, Judas probably was not there. This last reminder was probably only said to Peter, Andrew, James and John on the Mount of Olives. Then, when Mary anointed Jesus like a king, “wasting” the precious jar of nard, and Jesus turned it around by saying she had anointed his body for burial, I think something snapped in Judas. All three synpotic gospels seem to connect the two events; Mary’s anointing of Jesus, followed by Judas’ betrayal. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Some have said (and I’d really like to believe this) that Judas turned Jesus over to the chief priests believing he could force Jesus to reveal himself to them as the Messiah. Then the chief priests would proclaim Jesus king, and they’d all live happily ever after. If that was part of his motivation, he could not have anticipated that Jesus would refuse to defend himself to them. But I don’t believe that Judas knew he was handing Jesus over to be killed. I don’t think he believed it would go that far. If he intended for Jesus to be crucified, he would have gone straight to the Romans. Only they could crucify a man. But even if Judas thought Jesus would call down the armies of Heaven in the presence of the chief priests if Judas could force him to do so, it seems clear from the gospels that his main motivation was money. After the incident at Simon the Leper’s house, I think Judas realized he would not become the king’s treasurer unless he did something drastic. His dreams of wealth were slipping away, so he decided to get what he could while he could.

I don’t think that Judas was pretending to be a believer in Jesus for all of the time he followed him. I think he really believed, but he believed the wrong things for the wrong reasons. He believed in a Jesus who would become king and make him rich and powerful. Many today make that same mistake. They believe in a Jesus who will prosper them financially, rather than one who asks them to be the servant of all. Jesus taught that we cannot serve both God and money (6:24). Judas is a graphic example of that. If money is your god, eventually you will betray God for the sake of money like Judas did. I saw a tragic example of that in a ministry I was involved in. A leader in ministry (which Judas also was) betrayed his family, his friends, and his Lord for money. If we are only interested in Jesus for what he can do for us, this is often the result.

The sad and ironic thing about this story is that the amount that Judas received was a pittance. A piece of silver was worth about a dollar in our money today. Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty dollars. If we allow ourselves to serve money rather than God, even if we become as rich as Bill Gates, that is a pittance compared to the incomparable riches that we have in Christ Jesus.

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