When you finish this session, you should be able to:
- Understand the last week of the life of Jesus and its theological implications
- Comprehend the commission of the ecclesia by Jesus
The last three chapters of Matthew’s Gospel tell us the story of the final week in the life of Jesus. First, we will look at the events on Wednesday and Thursday of that week. Then, we will observe the events of Friday and Saturday. Finally, we will view the events of Sunday and the commission of the ecclesia by Jesus.
| Overview |
Death, Resurrection, and Final Instructions: Matthew 26.1-27.66
Matthew began his book with a brief look at the birth of Jesus. He concludes his book with the death and resurrection of Jesus. There are five events in the life of Jesus, which make his life efficacious for us. They are the virgin birth, sinless life, violent death, powerful resurrection, and visual ascension of Jesus. They are often called the Christ Event. It was the totality of the life of Jesus that brought the power of the kingdom into the present evil age.
In the first two chapters, he dealt with the birth of Jesus. In the last three chapters, Matthew talks about Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.
The Final Week – Wednesday and Thursday: Matthew 26.1.75
| The Introduction to the Passion: Matthew 26.1-16
Passion is the term, which has come to be associated with the last events of the life of Jesus on earth, usually those in the last week of his earthly life before his death.
| Jesus Foretold and Unleased the Passion: Matthew 26.1-5
Jesus is the guide of the events of the passion. He is never pictured as just enduring them. As with the birth narrative, there is a gathering together of leaders to plot the death of Jesus. Some things never seem to change. The Jewish leaders did not want his death to occur until after the Passover, in order to avoid a riot in Jerusalem. It is clear from Matthew that the Jewish leaders are not in charge of the process, but that Jesus is in charge.
| Jesus Received His Anointing for Burial: Matthew 26.6-13
There is a sharp contrast here between the loving devotion of the woman and the plot of the Jewish leaders. What the woman used to anoint the feet of Jesus was worth about a year’s wages. The disciples are not impressed with the use of funds, but Jesus sees this as a necessary action to prepare him for his coming death.
| Jesus is Betrayed by Judas: Matthew 26.14-16
Jesus was not concerned about the amount of money, which was used in the anointing of his feet. However, Judas, the treasurer of the group, was depressed by this action of the woman. He used her gift to Jesus as the occasion to go to the chief priests and offer to sell Jesus to them for thirty pieces of silver. From that moment, Judas looked for a time to turn Jesus over to the Jewish leaders so they could consummate their plot.
- Jesus Commands the Passover to be Prepared: Matthew 26.17-19: The disciples show concern for the tradition of Passover. In their desire to partake in this annual event, they ask Jesus where it will occur. Jesus used this moment to give them an added insight into his own death. He told them that his time of death was near. Being the great Passover himself, he would share this last celebration meal with his chosen ones.
- Jesus Foretold His Betrayal: Matthew 26.20-25: Originally the Passover meal was eaten while standing, but by the time of Jesus, the Jews had adopted the Hellenistic custom of reclining. During this celebration, Jesus prophesied concerning his betrayal. He indirectly named his betrayer. The betrayer had just dipped his hand into the common bowl with Jesus. Once again, in a truly human way, Jesus reaffirmed the necessity that he must die according to the prophecies of Scripture. The horror of betrayal by one of the inner circle rings a warning to the converts of Matthew’s ecclesia, that no one is above such temptation.
- Jesus Institutes Communion: Matthew 26.26-29: Matthew demonstrates that this celebration was different from the common Passover meal, which they had enjoyed together. Jesus defined the wine in the cup he was sharing with his disciples to be a symbol of his blood, a metaphor describing his life poured out in sacrifice to create a bond of life between God and his new people, the ecclesia. His sacrifice would lead to the forgiveness of sin. When Jesus had finished this first time of communion with his disciples, he affirmed that this is the last cup of wine he will drink with them before his death. But, true to form, he will celebrate with them yet in the future.
| The Passover Meal: Matthew 26.17-29
The Passover meal was concluded with the singing of Psalm 114.1ff and Psalm 118.1ff, which recalled God’s redemption of Israel from Egypt and of the individual from death. This is the only time in the Gospels where Jesus is recorded as singing—it was the night before his death. Jesus broke the joy of the occasion with an announcement that the disciples are all going to fall away from him that very night. What a shock! As usual, Peter did not want to hear any of this talk about Jesus dying. He declared that all the rest of the disciples may fall away, but he would not do so. In a loving way, Jesus affirms that he, too, would fall that night.
| Prayer and Arrest in Gethsemane: Matthew 26.36-56
- Jesus Praying: Matthew 26.36-46: The band of disciples now move to Gethsemane. His disciples had been with him in all kinds of circumstances—now they were going to be with him at the beginning of his suffering. Jesus felt the heaviness about what was about to occur to him. At that point in his life, he turned to those whom he had trained and loved for support and companionship. Jesus implored them to be watchful and help him pray. They refused by their action and when he returned to them after his own prayer, he found them asleep—which is an eschatological reflection of them being unprepared.
- Jesus Arrested: Matthew 26.47-56: To prevent any misunderstanding in the garden at night, Judas arranged to identify Jesus by a kiss. When this event occurred, Jesus—still in charge—commanded that Judas does what he has come to do. At this point, Matthew introduces an act of violence, which Jesus dealt with on the spot. There are three things which one might learn from this:
- First, violence is self-destructive and futile. There seems to be an inherent flaw in human affairs, which always appears to return violence to the one who is violent. That flaw is our fallen nature that Satan taps into while we are living in the now but not yet.
- Second, Jesus rejected violence from the standpoint of the confidence that his Father would protect him. He may lose his physical life, but no one could touch the source of his real life.
- Third, if this was not the will of the Father, he would have sent his heavenly army to fight the Jewish leaders at that point.
| The Jewish Trial: Matthew 26.57-75
In Matthew 26.57-58 the stage is set for the trial phase of the passion of Jesus.
- Jesus Before The Sanhedrin: Matthew 26.59-68: From the start of the Jewish trial, the innocence of Jesus is clear. Matthew demonstrates that no convincing witness can be found to speak against Jesus. The Jewish leaders had resorted to an unscrupulous way to indict Jesus. Finally, the minimum number of required witnesses came and reported that Jesus said that he could destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days. They had interpreted his words differently than he meant them and now turned them on Jesus to destroy him. When the high priest asked for a response, Jesus remained silent. When the high priest insisted, Jesus gave a veiled “yes.” He said, “you said it, I didn’t, but this you will see, the one whom you accuse is in rulership with God.” To this response, the high priest ripped off his garments, which in Judaism was a sign of indignation at blasphemous words or acts. The high priest asked for a judgment to which the Sanhedrin responded that Jesus deserved death. A rash of ill-treatment, including striking, slapping, spitting, and mocking, followed at the hands of the Sanhedrin.
- Peter Denies and Repents: Matthew 26.69-75: In contrast to Jesus who openly proclaims the truth about himself, Peter takes the road of denial as foretold by Jesus earlier. He moved from one denial to another—all the time digging himself a deeper hole. He first responded that he did not know what the maid was talking about, explicitly stating that he did not know Jesus. Upon completion of his denial, Peter heard the deafening sound of a cock crowing. He went away and wept bitterly, which indicates immediate repentance. While anyone can fall, God’s mercy is available to the repentant person. While Peter’s weakness comes out on the short end as compared to the courage of Jesus, he does better when compared to the despicable act of Judas.
The Final Week – Friday And Saturday: Matthew 27.1-66
The Roman Trial: Matthew 27.1-31
| Jesus was moved from Sanhedrin to the Roman governor: Matthew 27.1-2
Judas Committed Suicide: Matthew 27.3-10: Judas realized his sin and brought back the money to the Jewish leaders. This may indicate their responsibility in the death of Jesus and even in the act of Judas’ suicide. Matthew is the only one who tells us the fate of Judas. There is a clear contrast between Peter and Judas. Judas felt remorse for his actions and tries to undo his crime against Jesus. He told the Jewish leaders that Jesus was innocent, but it fell on deaf ears. The confession of Judas should have resulted in a new trial for Jesus, but it didn’t. They take no responsibility and return the money back to Judas. He killed himself and they used the money to buy cemetery ground.
| Jesus’ Trial Before Pilate: Matthew 27.11-26
There are three parts to this trial:
- Part #1 – The Interrogation of Jesus: Matthew 27.11-14: The accusation given to Pilate was that Jesus was the King of the Jews. To claim political kingship was treason and was a capital offense. Pilate was amazed by Jesus.
- Part #2 – Jesus and Barabbas: Matthew 27.15-23: We have another contrast—this time between Jesus and Barabbas. Pilate shrewdly tried to get out of any responsibility in this matter. He knew that the only crime which Jesus had committed was the arousal of envy in the Jewish leaders of the day. He had the option to offer freedom for one prisoner. His hope was that the people who had supported Jesus would wish to turn him loose. He was surely aware of the behavior of Jesus when he had entered Jerusalem and the response of the people to him. Here are innocence and guilt side by side.
- Part #3 – The Condemnation: Matthew 27.24-26: As his attempts to rescue Jesus fall apart, Pilate gave in to the pressure and ordered Jesus to be crucified. However, he took no responsibility and declared his innocence by washing his hands. When the people express their willingness to take responsibility, Pilate released Barabbas. Jesus was scourged—which was a normal procedure prior to crucifixion. Then, Pilate handed Jesus over to the Jews for crucifixion.
| Jesus Mocked by Gentile Soldiers: Matthew 27.27-31
The Roman soldiers dressed Jesus in clothes of royalty to mock him. The crown of thorns was not intended so much to cause physical pain—which surely it did—as it was to denote royalty with sarcasm. The soldiers, who deeply hated Jews, could think of no more derogatory title than to call Jesus in this helpless tortured position—the King of the Jews. What irony! It is the Gentiles who are shaken at the crucifixion and resurrection. It is to Gentiles that Jesus sent his disciples just before his ascension.
| The Crucifixion: Matthew 27.32-44
The movies have dramatized Jesus carrying his cross to his crucifixion. Matthew introduces Simon who carried the transverse base of the cross. The vertical bar of the cross remained fixed in the ground at the place of crucifixions in Roman times. A lot of art of this part of the story depicts the cross inappropriately.
| The Death Of Jesus: Matthew 27.45-54
Prayer and Death: Matthew 27.45-50: Jesus quotes from a song of victory (Psalm 22.1). He did this to infuse his disciples with strength in the midst of what appeared to be defeat. When they raised Jesus to the cross, they offered him something to drink. After he tasted the drink, he refused it. He did so to either reject the mockery intended or because he did not wish to be drugged by a narcotic. In either case, Jesus was still in control, even in his death. Crucifixion was originally a Persian form of punishment. The Romans adopted it—not for Roman citizens—but for rebels, slaves, and bandits. It was the most shameful and painful of all deaths. It was death by suffocation.
The Apocalyptic Events At Death: Matthew 27.51-54: The events surrounding the death of Jesus were apocalyptic events, which proclaimed the turning point of the ages had occurred. The events make four affirmations:
- Event #1 – The Temple Curtain Torn: This rending of the veil means that all people now have free access to God through the sacrifice of Jesus. The death of Jesus put an end to the sacrificial cult of the Temple.
- Event #2 – The Earthquake: The shaking of the foundations of the old creation signifies God’s judgment on the old age and the powerful in-breaking of the kingdom.
- Event #3 – The Resurrection of the Dead: His death meant life and resurrection to the saints.
- Event #4 – The Confession of The Centurion: The Roman centurion saw the events occurring and it drove him to faith. This was only the beginning of a Gentile flood into the early ecclesia. The Jewish leaders had rejected and God turned his attention to the Gentiles. What the Gentiles had mocked, they now praised and believed.
Burial and Preparation for Resurrection: Matthew 27.55-66
- Women as Witness: Matthew 27.55-56: These stories demonstrate the preparation for the resurrection narratives of Chapter 28. All the male disciples of Jesus had abandoned him in Gethsemane. In contrast to them and the mocking crowds, there were the faithful women who had followed Jesus and served him. These women viewed the course of events in a position of helplessness. They witnessed the death and burial of Jesus, the empty tomb on Sunday morning, and, finally, the risen Jesus. Hopelessness had given way to eternal hope!
- Buried by Joseph of Arimathea: Matthew 27.57-61: By the time Jesus had died on the cross, the Sabbath was fast approaching. For the Jewish mind, a corpse—especially one that had been crucified—was ritually unclean. Pilate released the body of Jesus to Joseph for burial. He gave up his own tomb and they moved a great stone to close its opening.
- Guards: Matthew 27.62-66: The Jews argued that Jesus claimed he would rise from the dead. So Pilate advanced a guard to protect against such an occurrence. An interesting decision by Pilate. Did he believe in a resurrection, or was he preparing to catch the disciples of Jesus raiding the grave to make the prediction of Jesus come true? He did not want to look bad. It is interesting that if they believed in resurrection by the power of God, they would send some mere human guards to protect against such an otherworldly occurrence. The irony of stupidity!
The Final Week – Sunday To The End Of The Age: Matthew 28.1-20
Apocalyptic Events at Tomb: Matthew 28.1-8
Jesus’ resurrection was the central focus of early Christian proclamation by his disciples. When the earth shook again, the guards also shook. They were not up for such an encounter. They had no grid to put the events of the morning of the resurrection through. The shaking of the old order and the emergence of the new order had occurred in Jesus. What a sight that must have been.
Jesus Meets Woman: Matthew 28.9-11
This small scene is unique to the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus appeared unexpectedly and the woman showed great love and reverence by touching the risen body. Jesus brought this touching to a halt by sending the woman to his disciples, which he now called brothers. His encounter with the woman brought joy to sadness. Matthew makes three points:
- Point #1: The body of Jesus was a real body that could be touched.
- Point #2: By using the term brothers for his disciples, he had restored what had been lost by their rejection. Here is the ever-present mercy of God in action.
- Point #3: The risen Jesus appeared to people, not to satisfy personal needs, but to send them on missions. The disciples could no longer cling to their old relationship with Jesus. They now encountered the same Jesus but received a new mission.
False Teaching About Resurrection: Matthew 28.11-15
While the women bring the good news to the disciples, the guards go to the chief priests and elders and they make up a lie to counter the good news of the resurrection. The need of the Jewish leaders to keep this news quiet was to bribe the Roman soldiers. Having failed to prevent the resurrection, they are reduced to trying to render it unbelievable. Not believing in the resurrection may have been an ever-present problem to Matthew’s ecclesia as it still is in too much of the world today.
Jesus Came to His Ecclesia to Commission It: Matthew 28.16-20
This final paragraph is unique to Matthew. It is the key to understanding his whole Gospel. The words of Jesus may be divided into three sayings:
- Saying #1: The Announcement of His Authority
Because he died and was resurrected, Jesus had received total power over the universe. This power enabled him to initiate a universal mission. What all believers and unbelievers alike would see and experience at the end of time, the ecclesia would see and experience from the death-resurrection onward—the power of God to do his work in this present evil age.
- Saying #2: The Commissioning of His Disciples
This commissioning is divided into three parts.
- Part #1: The disciples were sent into the world to make other disciples. The whole gospel of Matthew has explained what being a disciple means. In short, it means to follow Jesus by obeying his teaching and doing his works.
- Part #2: The second part told them that they should baptize these disciples into this new relationship with God.
- Part #3: They are told that they should involve themselves in all areas of what Jesus taught. This means to imitate Jesus in the proclamation of the kingdom and performing the works of the kingdom. They must do the words and works of Jesus.
- Saying #3: The Final Promise to Sustain: The final word of Jesus was the promise to always be with his disciples. Here is Jesus consoling and strengthening his disciples. He will not be an absentee landlord. He will be with them. He is Immanuel—God-with-us. This is the all-powerful Jesus setting his dynamic rule for his new people, so they may do his continued work on earth by the power of the Holy Spirit. The picture is completed by Matthew, who does not show Jesus ascending as in Luke and Acts. Jesus is pictured by Matthew as coming to his ecclesia and remaining with her all the days to the end of the age.
Some Basic Affirmations
While betrayal is painful, God can use it to bring benefits.
- The sacrifice of Jesus is celebrated in communion, which depicts the bond between God and his new creation.
- Praying is part of being prepared.
- Innocence and guilt can often stand side by side.
- The death of Jesus means victory for his followers.
- Deception never works.
- God is certainly with us.
What can Jesus Followers Learn?
- When you are betrayed by someone close to you, look for God to turn that to your benefit and the benefit of others.
- Communion, breaking of bread, and drinking of the cup, can be an important time of bonding between God and his new creation.
- When you pray on a continual basis, you are preparing yourself and becoming more intimate with God.
- Death brings new life.
- Don’t get caught up in a deception of any kind. It will only come back to bite you in the end (no pun intended!)
- Regardless of what your life situation looks like, God is with you.
Catalog your ideas about the following thoughts.
- Betrayal by Judas: Who has betrayed you? What happened to them? What were your responses? What can you learn to help you through the next betrayal (yes, I said the next one!)?
- Jesus Prays: How difficult or easy is it for you to pray? If difficult, how can God help you improve this important part of your new life?
- Women as Witness: In what ways do you believe that women have or do not have a role to play in ministry? What societal presuppositions have helped you to form your opinion? Are your opinions biblical or societally influenced?
- Jesus Came to His Ecclesia to Commission It: What part do you have to play in the ecclesia? What is your personal commission from Jesus?
Community Discussion Questions
➡ |CDQ Info|
- How do you react when you believe resources could be better used in a community of faith?
- Do you have all the information needed to have an informed opinion?
- What can you do to become more informed?
- What do you believe occurs when you participate in a communion service in your community of faith?
- In what ways does this story of Jesus praying in Gethsemane teach you that you don’t always get what you want when you pray?
- How difficult is it for you to pray, “not my will, but you will be done in my life?”
- How have you found yourself in day-to-day life committing the denial of Peter? Why?
- What would you like God to do to help you improve?
- When well-intended leaders yield to the pressure of the crowd, how does that make you feel? What can you do about it in your community of faith?
- What events in your life were the turning points to bring you from living in this present evil age to the life of the age to come in this present evil age?
- Why is it important to understand your own commission by God and the commission of your community of faith to his ministry in this world?