IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 2, Number 13, March 27 to April 2, 2000


by Dr. Knox Chamblin


I. THE PLOT. 26:1-5.

A. The Close of Jesus' Teaching Ministry.

"When Jesus had finished saying all these things," kai egeneto hote etelesen ho Iesous pantas tous logous toutous (v. 1a). The first six words (kai...Iesous) exactly match the conclusions of the previous four discourses (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1). The last three words (tous...toutous) occur also in 7:28; 19:1. But the seventh word, "all" (pantas) occurs only here, signaling that this is Jesus' final discourse and embracing the teachings of all five.

B. The Chronology. 26:2a.

We have come to Wednesday, the 13th of Nisan - or (more likely) the night of Tuesday the 12th. See Appendix B.

C. The Opposition.

It was "the chief priests and the elders of the people" (v. 3a) who challenged Jesus in 21:23. They "were based in Jerusalem and come to the fore in the passion narrative. Up to this point, the far-flung scribes and Pharisees have occupied center stage as Jesus' antagonists" (Gundry, 518). The chief priests and elders (acting, in Bruce's words, as "a steering committee" of the Sanhedrin) now gather in the home of Caiaphas the high priest to plot Jesus' arrest and execution, v. 3b. By setting this action over against Jesus' further prediction of his passion, v. 2b (cf. 16:21, etc.), Matthew suggests that the Jewish leaders are in a sense following Jesus' orders (note the opening "then" of 26:3). Even in planning his death, his enemies are under his lordship.

D. The Timing. 26:5.

This verse refers not to a period of time (as though the arrest should be postponed until Passover or the days of Unleavened Bread are over), but to "the festal assembly" (Gundry's translation, 519, of en te heorte). It is feared that Jesus' popular support (especially among pilgrims from Galilee?) would cause a riot (v. 5b) if the arrest were attempted during a public gathering (cf. Lk 22:6, "when no crowd was present"). Thus, as matters turn out, Jesus is arrested in the middle of the night, 26:47-56.


A. The Scene.

These vv. (par. Mk 14:3-9) and Jn 12:1-11 record the same event (that of Lk 7:36-50 is different); see Carson, 525-26. All accounts locate the supper at Bethany. On the difference in chronology, see Appendix B. Mt and Mk further identify the place as the home of Simon the Leper. This probably means "the former leper," and it is likely (though it cannot be proven) that Jesus had healed him. It is also possible that Simon was the father of Lazarus, Mary and Martha (Bruce, Matthew 83), though again proof is impossible. Mt/Mk speak merely of "a woman" who anoints Jesus; Jn identifies her as Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus.

B. The Perfume.

1. The extravagance. The woman comes "with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume [myrou barytimou]" (v. 7). Mk uses a similar expression, "an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume [myrou polytelous]" (14:3), but adds "made of pure nard [nardou pistikes]," an addition found also in Jn 12:3. The perfume is thus identified as an oil extracted from the root and stem of the nard plant, grown in northern India. That it had to be imported helps to explain its great value. The disciples recognize that "the perfume could have been sold at a high price" (26:9); Judas estimates that the jar held "a year's wages" (literally "three hundred denarii," Jn 12:5). To pour the perfume onto Jesus' head (26:7), Mary would first break off the thin neck of the alabaster flask. Such lavish expenditure expresses the extravagance of her love for Jesus.

2. The contrasts.

a. The woman and the Jewish leaders. The woman's "beautiful thing" (v. 10) stands in stark contrast to the leaders' murderous plot (vv. 3-5). Her extravagant action springs from a heart of love, their - equally extravagant - action from hearts filled with hate (cf. 15:10-20).

b. The woman and Judas. The expensiveness of the perfume which the woman uses for Jesus, sharply contrasts with the wealth which turns Judas against him (v. 15; see III. below).

c. The woman and the disciples. Over against her extravagant love stands the disciples' indignation over what they perceive as a waste (vv. 8-9). The implication seems to be that had the disciples loved Jesus as this woman did, they could more readily have identified with and praised her action.

C. The Meaning.

1. A prophecy of death, 26:12. "When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare for burial." For references to such actions, see Jn 19:39-40 (between death and burial) and Lk 24:1 (after burial). It is uncertain whether the woman consciously acts with a view to Jesus' burial (a desire to show love for Jesus, would alone provide sufficient motivation). The important thing is that Jesus interprets her action this way, and thus underscores the prophecy of his imminent death (v. 2). Carson observes (p. 527, following David Daube) that the customary anointing of the body for burial would be omitted in the case of one executed as a criminal. If the woman does perceive that Jesus is about to die and deliberately anoints him in anticipation of his burial, then Jesus may intend a further contrast between her and the disciples (cf. 2. c. above) - namely, that had the disciples perceived as clearly as she the inevitability and imminence of his death and the meaning of her action, then their response would have been not indignation but identification with her act of devotion.

2. Jesus and the poor, 26:11. "The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me." This statement is a counterpart to that of 9:15. Jesus is shortly to depart; while he is here no expression of genuine love for him could possibly be excessive. The point of the first part of the saying is that once Jesus is gone, the poor will still be there. The statement must not be construed as a cynical admission of the inevitability of poverty. Rather, the implication is that "you can help them any time you want!" - as made explicit in Mk 14:7 (cf. the closing remarks on 25:31-46). Indeed, once Jesus has physically departed (for his spiritual presence remains, 28:20), Christians show their love for him by loving their neighbors, including the most impoverished among them (cf. comments on 22:37-40). Conversely, it is questionable how far a person who does not love God, can really love his neighbor. Significantly, according to Jn Judas' protest over the waste of the perfume (12:5), arises not from care for the poor but from a thieving heart (v. 6).

3. The woman's memorial, 26:13. This prophecy has been fulfilled by the incorporation of this story into three of the NT Gospels - that the woman's deed might by these means to be proclaimed "throughout the world." Precisely as one whose heart is utterly centered on Jesus, and who is quite unconcerned about being rewarded or promoted for her deed, she is exalted by the Lord himself (cf. comments on 20:20-28).


A. Judas' Motive.

What lies behind Judas' initiative in 26:15? Some suggestions:

1. Judas a zealous nationalist? Some think that Judas, wanting Jesus to become a Davidic Messiah in the popular sense of a mighty warrior who would lead Jewry to triumph over the Romans, engineered the arrest in order to force Jesus to assert his power. In other words, it was hoped that when that time came, Jesus would act as the disciple did (v. 51), only more comprehensively and more effectively.

2. Judas an advocate of the way of suffering? A position exactly the opposite of the first, is taken by Dorothy L. Sayers in her plays on the life of Jesus, The Man Born to be King. Judas wants Jesus to take the very path Jesus has chosen for himself - the lowly way of the Suffering Servant. But (so the portrayal goes) Judas misinterprets Jesus' Triumphal Entry, taking this to be a signal of his willingness to join cause with the Zealots - at which point Judas, now profoundly disillusioned, determines to betray Jesus.

3. Judas a slave of Mammon. Whatever else may be said, the Gospels portray Judas as one enslaved to Money - which prevented his being a slave of Jesus, God incarnate (cf. 6:24). Attention has already been drawn to Jn 12:6. Here in Mt, Judas' opening gambit is to ask, "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" (26:15). The profit motive may not have been the only one at work (it is compatible with either of the above two). But we should not underestimate the powerful effect of Money on its slaves. It became a very powerful weapon in Satan's subjugation of Judas (cf. Lk 22:3).

B. The Thirty Pieces of Silver. 26:15.

Verse 15b is verbally very close to Zech 11:12 (for further evidence of Zech's influence on the Passion Narrative, see comments on 21:1-13). Matthew's intention in the present episode is intelligible only against this OT background.

1. A huge amount. "This was no mean sum. Persian governors before Nehemiah had exacted forty shekels in tax (presumably per annum), and the amount is quoted as burdensome (Ne. 5:15). The fact that in the Mosaic law (Ex. 21:32) thirty shekels was demanded in compensation for the death of a slave indicates the high value set on human life" (Joyce Baldwin, TOTC 184, on Zech 11:12). Judas' compensation was considerable - which catered well to his greed.

2. A paltry amount. From another standpoint, the amount of Zech 11:12 is trifling indeed. For it is the wage which Israel pays to Yahweh's prophet - as a sign of the nation's low estimation both of the prophet and of Yahweh himself. Cf. 11:13, "And the LORD said to me, 'Throw it to the potter' [cf. Mt 27:9-10] - the handsome price at which they priced me!" - ironic language. Thus, says Matthew, for a mere thirty pieces of silver Judas was willing to betray Yahweh's prophet - and thus Yahweh himself!

C. A New Turning Point. 26:16.

"From then on [apo tote] Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over." "Just as in 4:17 this phrase [apo tote] indicated the beginning of Jesus' Galilean ministry and in 16:21 indicated the beginning of his teaching the disciples about the coming passion and resurrection, so here it indicates the beginning of the passion-cum-resurrection itself" (Gundry, 523). Judas' agreement to betray Jesus is the last ingredient needed for the success of the plot of v. 4.