NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
But there is an underlying truth here not easily seen. You can only be betrayed by a friend, never by an enemy. So if anyone today is accused of betraying our Lord, they must first of all have claimed to be His friend. And the price of betrayal is also noteworthy. We know that 30 shekels of silver were the price to be paid to replace a servant who had been accidentally killed by a neighbor’s bull.1 Also, when Israel and Judah were negotiating with Zechariah on keeping the union together, he said to them, “If you want to pay me, pay me. If not, don’t!” So they paid me 30 pieces of silver. Then the Lord told me, ‘So that’s how much they think I’m worth. Throw that large amount of money into the Temple treasury.’ So I took the 30 pieces of silver and threw them into the treasury at the LORD’s Temple.”2 So it appears that either Judas Iscariot did not value our Lord’s capture too highly, or else the leading priests didn’t think his help was worth much more than that. But in either case, it was a disgrace for the royal son on of David, the promised Messiah, the Son of the living God to be betrayed for such a pitiful amount. Yet today, there are some who do the same for even less.
Early church scholar Origen had this to add: “Luke’s Gospel shows most clearly the kind of opportunity for which Judas was looking when it says, ‘And he sought an opportunity to betray Him in the absence of the crowds,’3 that is, when the people were not with Him but when He was alone with His disciples. His betrayer did the deed after supper when Christ was alone in the garden of Gethsemane. For once Judas reached his agreement with the Jews, he determined that his opportunity would come when Jesus was not with the crowds. Notice how even today the betrayers of Jesus Christ, Word of truth, and Word of God, see their best opportunity to hand Him over at a time when Christians are being persecuted.… They are at their worst when the number of His faithful is at its fewest. And since there is a time for all things, for Solomon, said: “there is a time to be born and a time to die,’4 the time for betraying the Word of truth was specifically when very few of the faithful were with Christ.”5
While all of this may have been a surprise to the disciples and followers of Jesus, it was known to Him from the beginning. That’s why He was able to remain so calm and resolute. But His chief disciples did not have such faith or confidence and would deny that he even knew Him. So Jesus will soon have to deal with their anxiety and total disbelief in what was happening under circumstances that will test their commitment to the breaking point.
Verse 17: On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the followers came to Jesus. They said, “We will prepare everything for you to eat the Passover meal. Where do you want us to have the meal?”
We must remember, that Jesus and His followers were in Bethany, about 1½ miles from Jerusalem at this time. So the question was, into which city were they supposed to go so they could prepare for the Passover meal? It is important to notice that according to Jewish tradition, Passover is an eight-day festival that celebrates Israel’s emancipation from Egyptian slavery and their freedom to seek the Promised Land. During this commemoration period, there are many meals eaten and lighting of candles. This is how they prepare for the final day when the lamb is sacrificed. So when the disciples asked Jesus where they should go to start preparing, it was not just for one meal, but for the initial meal.
As far as the sacrifice of the lamb was concerned, that place was already settled in the Law of Moses: “You must not sacrifice the Passover animal in any of the towns that the LORD your God gives you. You must sacrifice the Passover animal only at the place that the LORD your God will choose to be the home for His name. There you must sacrifice the Passover animal in the evening when the sun goes down. This is the festival when you remember that God brought you out of Egypt. You must cook the meal and eat it at the place the LORD your God will choose. The next morning you may go back home.”6
Chrysostom tells us his understanding of this timing for this first meal that Jesus was to eat with His disciples. He writes: “By ‘the first day of the feast of unleavened bread,’ he means the day before that feast. For it is customary always to reckon the day from the evening.1 He mentions this with regard to the evening of the Passover. It was on the fifth day of the week they came to Him. Hence, on the day before the feast of unleavened bread, they came to Him. As to the time, Mark says, ‘On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb.‘8”9
Verses 18-19: Jesus answered, “Go into the city. Go to a man I know. Tell him that the Teacher says, ‘The chosen time is near. I will have the Passover meal with my followers at your house.” They obeyed and did what Jesus told them to do. They prepared the Passover meal.
Again, it is necessary that we keep in mind that any meal eaten during the time was considered a part of the Passover. So it is clear that this would be the first and last one they would eat together. What was important now was finding the right place. The Greek word translated from the Aramaic that Jesus uses to identify the individual they should contact is deina. It refers to a particular person whose name one cannot immediately recall or someone whose name is not important enough to mention. Jesus did not need to give them the man’s name. Jesus clearly says: “a man I know.” This is the same reading in the Aramaic Version, so leaving out the man’s name was not something the scribe overlooked in the translation.
Luke researched this event and came up with a more definitive scenario: “He [Jesus] said to them, ‘Listen, after you enter the city, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you. Follow him into the house which he enters. Tell the master of the house, “The Teacher says to you, my time is at hand. Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’”10
So Jesus’ instructions to His disciples to prepare the meal were very ordinary for that day. But since this took place before Passover Day, it is explained by Rabbi Maimonides: “It is a positive commandment of the Torah to eat matzah [flatbread without yeast] on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan, as is stated: “In the evening, you shall eat matzot.”11 This applies in every place and at every time. Eating matzah is not dependent on the Paschal sacrifice. Rather, it is a mitzvah [commandment] in its own right. The mitzvah may be fulfilled throughout the entire night. Throughout the other days of the festival, eating matzah is left to one’s choice: If one desires, one may eat matzah. If one desires, one may eat rice, millet, roasted seeds, or fruit. Nevertheless, on the night of the fifteenth alone, [eating matzah] is an obligation. Once one eats a piece the size of an olive, he has fulfilled his obligation.”12 Therefore, since Jesus would not be able to eat the actual Passover lamb in the Seder Meal with His disciples, He was satisfied to eat this meal of unleavened bread as His last supper.
Taking all this into account, some Bible scholars believe that Jesus and His disciples had the meal of flat matzah on Thursday evening, because after the meal they went over to the Mount of Olives for the night, and it was there He was arrested early Friday morning and would be on the cross before sundown that same day. But for all intents and purposes, knowing the exact date in history is not as significant as knowing that He did die and rose again from death to provide eternal life for all who believe in Him as their Lord and Savior.
1 Exodus 21:32
2 Zechariah 11:12-13
3 Luke 22:6
4 Ecclesiastes 3:2
5 Origen: Commentary on Matthew, 78
6 Deuteronomy 16:5-7
7 We know from Jewish literature that to begin the day with the evening was a widespread practice in antiquity.
8 Mark 14:12
9 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 81.1
10 Luke 22:7-13
11 Exodus 12:18
12 Mishnah Torah, Sefer Zemanim, Tractate Chometz U’Matzah, Ch. 6:1