NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verses 1-2: After Jesus finished saying all these things, He said to His followers, “You know that the day after tomorrow is Passover. On that day the Son of Man will be handed over to His enemies to be killed on a cross.”
Now we see a significant change in the direction of our Lord’s warning. It is no longer something in the future, but events in the next few days that would change the world. So often when we read in the Gospels about when the feasts were scheduled to commence, it is easy to think that they were fixed dates just like what we have in our calendars. But a research of Jewish literature shows that each feast was schedule based on many factors. One leading Rabbi said: “When the court institutes a leap year, they write a letter to all the people in distant places, notifying them that a leap year has been instituted, and the reason for which it was instituted. These letters were written in the name of the ‘nasi.’‘1”2
The Rabbi continues: “They would say, ‘Let it be known that I and my colleagues have agreed to add to this year this many days’ – for it was possible for them to declare a month of twenty-nine days or a month of thirty days. The intent is that the court had the option of notifying the people in the outlying areas that the month would [probably] be either full or lacking. Scholars add: ‘Since through calculations, it is possible to know whether or not it is likely for the moon to be sighted on the thirtieth night, the court would notify the people in the outlying areas accordingly. This notification would, however, be conditional on the actual sighting of the moon‘.”3
Scholars believe that this Rabbi’s statement is based on a narrative in Jewish tradition that tells how Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel sent letters to Jews throughout the diaspora notifying them of the declaration of a leap year.4 So, apparently, Jesus and His followers received word that the Sanhedrin had scheduled the Passover and it was only two days away. With Christ’s reference here to the Passover, let us look at another simile. Out of a family’s whole flock, only one sheep would be chosen to die as a sacrifice to pay for their safe passage out of Egypt. How would this sheep be chosen? What would determine its being picked depended on the qualifications necessary? It must have no injuries, cuts, or bruises. It must be clean and whole in every way.
Among the flock that Jesus led on this day, He alone was the one who met those prerequisites. No one could volunteer to take His place: not Peter, not James, not John. And since no one could substitute for Him back then, no one can substitute for Him now: not the Chinese Buddha of Nepal, nor the Muslim Mohammad of Arabia, nor the Hindu Vishnu of India. He alone is still the one Lamb who qualifies to pay for the redemption and salvation necessary caused by sin in the world.
So how could our Lord know for certain that the time had come for Him to be offered up as the Lamb of God? Early church scholar Origen gives us his answer: “We know that the Father had set the hour of His Passion. For He said to his mother at one point, ‘My hour has not yet come.’5 In another place, ‘Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour!6 No, this is why I came to this hour.” And elsewhere, “Father, the hour has come! Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.”7 Since the Father set the hour of His Son’s Passion, He could not suffer anything from the time the devil had departed from Him until His Passion.‘8”9
In his sermon on this text, Chrysostom gives his interpretation: “Notice how Jesus has thrown into the shade what was most painful to them. For He does not say, ‘You know that after two days I am betrayed,’ but ‘You know that after two days is the Passover feast,’ to show that what is done is a mystery. A feast and celebration are being kept for the salvation of the world. With foreknowledge, He is prepared to suffer all. So then, as though this were sufficient consolation for them, He did not even say anything to them now about a resurrection. He had already spoken about it and did not need to speak about it again. And moreover, as I said, He shows that even His suffering itself is a deliverance from countless evils, having by the Passover reminded them of the ancient benefits received in Egypt.”10
Verse 3: Then the leading priests and the older Jewish leaders had a meeting at the palace where the high priest lived. The high priest’s name was Caiaphas.
Some Bible scholars believe that this meeting took place two days earlier just as Jesus was teaching His disciples on what was going to happen (see Verse 1). Here Matthew mentions the “leading priests.” This not only included the past and present high priests, but also those who were the heads of the 24 courses of the priests chosen to be members of the Sanhedrin. Then, he mentions the “older Jewish leaders.” These no doubt included the doctors of the law and Scribes. Most of these were Pharisees, but some were Sadducees. There may have been one or two members of the Herodians as well. The Aramaic version states that this group consisted of the “high priests, scribes, elders, and people of the court.” Therefore it included civil magistrates and religious judges so that it represented both the ecclesiastical section as well as the lay people.
One Jewish scholar offers this inside account: “We appoint to a Sanhedrin – both to the Supreme Sanhedrin and to a minor Sanhedrin – only men of wisdom and understanding, of unique distinction in their knowledge of the Torah and who possess a broad intellectual potential. They should also have some knowledge concerning other intellectual disciplines, e.g., medicine, mathematics, the fixation of the calendar, astronomy, astrology, and also the practices of fortune-telling, magic, sorcery, and the hollowed teachings of idolatry so that they will know how to judge them. We appoint to the Sanhedrin only priests, Levites, and Israelites of a lineage of fine repute who can marry into the priesthood. This is derived from Numbers 11:16: ‘And they will stand there with you.’ Implied is that they should resemble you, Moses in wisdom, the fear of heaven, and in the lineage.”11
So we are not talking about a small group of rebel clergy. Rabbi Maimonides also tells us, “A king of Israel may not be included in the Sanhedrin, for we are forbidden to disagree with him and repudiate his words. The High Priest, by contrast, may be included in the Sanhedrin if his knowledge makes him fitting.”12 This honorable Jewish judicial body had always met in a chamber within the Temple court. According to the Jewish Mishnah, we read that in the Temple court there were six chambers, three on the north side and three on the south side. Those to the south were the “Wood Chamber”, the “Golah Chamber,”13 and the “Chamber of Hewn Stone” (in Hebrew, “Lishkat ha-Gazit”). It says of the Chamber of Hewn Stone, that it was there the Great Sanhedrin of Israel used to sit and judge.14 But under the stress of this situation with a rogue prophet about to strip away not only their hypocrisy but their power over the people as well, they threw out the rules and decided to do things their way.
1 In Biblical usage, nasi signifies an important person, ranging from a king to a tribal chief or the head of a large family. In this case, it refers to the President of the Sanhedrin.
2 Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, op. cit. Sefer Zemanim, Tractate Kiddush HaChodesh, Ch. 4, Halacha 17
4 Ibid., Footnote (47)
5 John 2:4
6 Ibid. 12:27
7 Ibid. 17:1
8 Origen frequently cites Proverbs 11:21 to indicate the progression through which the design of the divine economy is worked out with regard to the world.
9 Origen: Commentary on Matthew 74
10 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 79.2-3
11 Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, ibid. Sefer Shoftim, Tractate Sanhedrin veha’Onashin haMesurin lahem, Ch.2, Halacha 1
12 Ibid. Ch. 2, Halacha 4
13 The Chamber of the Well (Hebrew, Gola) is one of the chambers in the northern part of the Court. From this chamber, water was supplied for use in the Court. This chamber was called Gola (diaspora) because it was built by people who returned from exile in Babylon. Alternatively, some say it was named after the wheel (galgal) located within the chamber, that was used to draw the water from a pit in the ground.
14 Mishnah, op. cit. Fifth Division: Kodashim, Tractate Middoth, Ch. 5:3-4