Preparing the Upper Room – Matthew 26:17-19

After Jesus is anointed at Bethany and Judas offers to betray him, Jesus instructs his disciples to prepare for the Passover meal. Matthew 26:17-19 is a summary of Mark 14:12-16. Matthew omits the sign (a man carrying a jug) and he does not describe the room as a large, upper room, or a “guest” room.

Upper Room

The Cenacle Today

The first day of Unleavened Bread refers to the first day of a seven-day festival starting on Nisan 15, beginning with the Passover meal on the evening of Nisan 15. Based on Exodus 12:18, on Nisan 14 a family would dispose of all the leaven in the house. The first meal eaten with unleavened bread is the Passover meal. This explains the tradition of matzah crackers at Passover. Matzah made of flour and water. In Sephardic tradition allows for eggs in the mix; Ashkenazi forbid eggs. The flour must be from one of the five grains: wheat, barley, spelt, rye or oat. There are many variations on this recipe among different Jewish communities.

In the context of the first Passover, The Israelites left Egypt so quickly they could not wait for bread to rise, so they ate unleavened bread. Sometimes matzah is called “poor man’s bread,” so it reminds the Jews of their slavery in Egypt, the “bread of affliction” (Deut 16:3).

Jesus has a disciple in Jerusalem who allows Jesus and his disciples to use a room in his house (26:17-18) The Greek word δεῖνα means “a certain man,” a person the speaker does not wish to name (BDAG; used only here). Jesus identifies himself as the teacher, and that his time is at hand.

Who is this unnamed disciple? A (possibly) wealthy disciple who owns a house in Jerusalem with a room large enough for at least thirteen men to eat. This implies cooking area and people to prepare and serve the meal (although this could be done by the disciples themselves along with Jesus’s female followers). Oddly, this unknown disciple is not mentioned again (was he not invited to the Passover meal he was hosting?) Did Jesus have any wealthy followers in Jerusalem? John suggests both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were both members of the Sanhedrin. Joseph owned a tomb near the city, which may indicate wealth. The linen they used to prepare Jesus’s body was costly and seventy-five pounds of spices was a very  expensive burial gift (John 19:38-42).

In Mark, the location is called an “upper room,” although Matthew just refers to a house (ESV, the word does not appear in Greek; πρὸς σὲ “with you.” Nolland has “at your place” (Matthew, 1064). Since the traditional location of the upper room is near several large homes from the first century, it is possible the room is a large space used for storage in a mansion-like home. (See here for the mansions possibly belonging to the high priests Caiaphas and Annas.)

The traditional location of the upper room is near the Zion Gate, near the Tomb of David. Although the location shown to tourists is certainly not the upper room (it is an old mosque abandoned after the six-day war), the area has many large homes (both suggested locations for Caiaphas’s home is not far; proximity to David’s Tomb fits well with Peter’s sermon in Acts 2).

With the meal prepared, Jesus predicts two betrayals, with the sign of the bread and wine between.

The Anointing at Bethany – Matthew 26:6-13

Jesus is at a special meal hosted in the home of Simon the Leper in the village of Bethany (26:6). During the meal a woman anoints Jesus. Why is the anointing at Bethany important?

Anointing at Bethany Jan van Scorel

Bethany was a small village near Jerusalem (1.7 miles; John 11:18 has two miles). In Matthew 21:27, Jesus stayed in the village after clearing the temple. The name may come from two Aramaic words, beth and anya, meaning “house of the poor” or “poorhouse.”  Matthew mentioned a healed leper in 8:1-4 (and 11:5 refers to healing lepers), but Simon the Leper is not mentioned by name.  One problem: in John 12:1, the meal is hosted by Lazarus, not Simon the leper, and it is six days before Passover (John 12:1). Most Christian readers assume Simon the Leper is Lazarus (both are common names).

At some point during the mean, a woman anoints Jesus with an expensive perfume (26:7). In Matthew and Mark, the woman is unidentified. John 12:3 says the woman was Mary, Lazarus, and Martha’s sister.

She anoints Jesus with a “very expensive ointment” (ESV). This translates μύρον (Hebrew מֹטָה), which is sometimes rendered myrrh. We are familiar with myrrh from the three gifts of the Magi (Matthew 2:11, although the word is σμύρνα; BDAG says σμύρνα is the “the resinous gum of the bush ‘balsamodendron myrrha’”). Myrrh is associated with bridegrooms twice in the Hebrew Bible. In Song of Songs 3:6-7, Solomon’s litter, or the couch he is sitting on) is perfumed with both myrrh and frankincense. In Psalm 45:7-8, the bridegroom king’s robes “fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.”

In Mark 15:23 women tried to give wine mixed with myrrh to Jesus before the crucifixion. The mixture would act as a narcotic to dull the pain during the crucifixion. But myrrh is also used for anointing the dead before burial, John 19:39 says Joseph of Arimathea anointed Jesus with myrrh (σμύρνα) and aloes.  The oil was in an alabaster flask (ἀλάβαστρος). Perfume was often stored in a long-neck container that must be broken (BDAG).

This is a public act of worship. She anoints Jesus’s head with an oil with a pungent aroma while Jesus is sitting as the guest of honor at a festive meal. Everyone is looking at what the woman is doing.

The disciples are offended at the waste of money (26:8-9) The disciples are indignant (ἀγανακτέω). In Matthew 20:14 the disciples were indignant because James and John asked to be seated at the best seats when the kingdom comes.  The perfume could have been sold for much (Mark has 300 denarii), a sizable donation to the poor! Remember Bethany means “house of the poor,” so if the perfume was sold, it could support families right there in the village!  The disciples might have remembered Jesus’s command to the rich man in Matthew 19:21, sell everything and give it to the poor (Nolland, Matthew, 1053).

Jesus praises the woman since she is preparing him for his burial (26:10-13). Jesus is not telling his disciples to not care for the poor (or worse, spend lots of money on your church or for other luxury goods!). “The poor you will always have with you” is an allusion to Deuteronomy 15:11. Since you will always have poor people in the land, be generous towards them and care for the needy!

But in this case, the woman’s action is prophetic. She is preparing him for his burial, and event that happens within 48 hours (26:12) .Her story will be told wherever the gospel is proclaimed in memory of her (26:13). There is a subtle reference to burial in this saying. “In memory of her” uses the noun μνημόσυνον. As in English, “a memorial” can be a memory, but also a monument set up to remember someone, like a modern tombstone. The related noun μνημεῖον (literally “token of remembrance,” BDAG) refers to a monument, but also a grave, and the word is used for Jesus’s tomb.

What is the happening in this story? Why is the anointing at Bethany important? Since the woman publicly anoints Jesus’s head, this may not be some random act of worship. Richard Bauckham suggested the woman acted “in association with others, who thought it best to take Jesus by surprise and so encourage him to undertake the messianic role about which he may have seemed to them very ambivalent” (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 190-92) Kings were anointed with oil as they began their reign, and the word messiah means “anointed one.” The woman may be publicly announcing it is time for Jesus to step into his role as the long-awaited messiah.

One problem is the reaction of the disciples: they are indignant at the waste of money. Is this some evidence that the disciples who lived near Jerusalem (Simon (Lazarus), Mary and Martha) understood Jesus more messianically than the Galilean disciples? Simon does not object, the Galilean disciples do. Nolland says the varied background for anointing makes it impossible to be more precise about her intentions (Nolland, Matthew, 1052).

If Bauckham is right, then the disciples gathered at Simon’s home two days before Passover expected Jesus to do something during the festival. Since the triumphal entry Jesus has seemed poised to begin some messianic action, to act like a Davidic king and begin God’s judgment on the Temple aristocracy. The anointing therefore is a push in that direction.

It would be quite unexpected for a woman to anoint a king. But it would be completely expected for a woman to anoint a body for burial. It is possible the anointing was intended to encourage Jesus to be the messianic king everyone expected. But Jesus interprets the action as preparing his body for burial. This once again upends messianic expectations (recall Matthew 16:21-23): Peter rebuked Jesus when he first predicted his crucifixion.

Is it possible Judas was offended by Jesus rejecting the anointing as messianic, instead taking it as preparation for burial? Like Peter rebuking Jesus in Matthew 16, Judas may have been shocked that Jesus was going willing to his execution rather than beginning messianic judgment and inaugurating the renewed kingdom.  If the woman’s action became known publicly, then the Temple authorities may have assumed this was the beginning of a messianic rebellion, Jesus might be about to lead his disciples into Jerusalem and cause some problems during Passover. This might speed up their plans, they need to arrest Jesus immediately.

What does the Bible Say about Caiaphas? Matthew 26:3-4

Matthew 26:3 says, “the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas.” At this meeting these leaders plot to secretly arrest Jesus and have him willed. What do we know about Caiaphas?

The first century Jewish historian Josephus refers to him as high priest several times. Joseph Caiaphas was appointed high priest about AD 18 by Valerius Gratus and removed from office by AD 36 by Vitellius (Ant 18.33-35). His father-in-law Annas was appointed high priest by Quirinius around AD 6 and deposed by Valerius Gratus in AD 15. Because a high priest is appointed for life, Luke 3:2 refers to the “the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.”

The Romans deposed high priests to limit the power of the office. That Caiaphas was high priest from 18-36 implies he “knew how to get along with the Roman authorities” (Nolland, Matthew, 1047). Caiaphas presided over Jesus’s execution (along with Annas, John 18:12-14). He will also oppose the apostles (Acts 4:6, members of the “high-priestly family”). Acts 4:1 may imply Caiaphas and Annas were Sadducees.

Did he really live in a palace (ESV)? The word αὐλή refers to a courtyard surrounding by open sky (BDAG), or possible a complex of buildings (a “compound”).

There are at least two reputed large homes excavated around Mount Zion which claim to be the home of Caiaphas. First, Church of St. Peter Gallicantu (rooster’s crow in Latin) on Mount Zion sits on the traditional site of Caiaphas’s home. The modern church was built 1928-1932 on the site of a sixth century monastic church and was used by the Crusaders. Second, The other “house of Caiaphas” near the Dormition Abbey in the Armenian quarter.

Caiaphas Gallicantu

Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu

The Wohl Archaeological Museum is an example of a palatial mansion (6458 square feet, with a ground floor and a basement) with a large hall (33×21 feet) on the western slope of the Herodian quarter overlooking the Temple Mount. The home a mikveh as well as a pool and cistern, along with household goods which imply it was owned by an aristocratic priestly family. Nahman Avigad suggested this was the home of Annus, Caiaphas’s father-in-law (see Schnabel, Jesus in Jerusalem, 121).

It is impossible to prove that he lived in these traditional locations, but these are homes of wealthy priests living within walking distance of the Temple. If Caiaphas did not live in the house under Church of St. Peter Gallicantu, it is at least a useful illustration of the type of home a man who served for many years as the high priest would own.

In 1990 a highly decorated ossuary was discovered inscribed with the name “Joseph, son of Caiaphas” (Ronny Reich, “Caiaphas’ Name Inscribed on Bone Boxes,” BAR 18.5 (1992): 40–44). The name is crudely scraped into the end of the ossuary, probably with a nail after the box was sitting on a shelf. A coin from the reign of Herod Agrippa was found in the tomb (AD 42/43). Although it is not certain this box belonged to the high priest Joseph Caiaphas, it does come from a wealthy family from about the time of the biblical Caiaphas.

Caiaphas Ossuary

The Caiaphas Ossuary (Jerusalem Museum)

Talk Junkies Podcast on 1 Enoch

I was interviewed for the podcast Talk Junkies last week. The topic was 1 Enoch, based on my recently published The Book of Enoch for Beginners. I enjoyed chatting with Paul about apocryphal books (and quite a few other things before we were done). Hopefully this podcast helps clarify what 1 Enoch is and what we can expect when reading books like 1 Enoch.  This is a link to their YouTube channel if you would like to listen to the podcast (like and subscribe, as the say). It is available where ever podcasts are found.

Talk Junkies 1 Enoch

The Book of Enoch for Beginners  was published on September 27 and is $12.99 in paperback (delivery is free for Amazon Prime members). The Kindle version is only $6.99 and is available to borrow in Kindle Unlimited for free. It was the  #1 New Release in “Additional Biblical Texts” category on Amazon.

What is The Book of Enoch for Beginners: A Guide to Expand Your Understanding of the Biblical World? When you travel, sometimes you buy a tour guidebook to give you the highlights of the place you are visiting. This book is like a tour guide for 1 Enoch. It is only 152 pages, so the book is not a detailed, academic commentary on Enoch. I try to explain some of the details in each section of the book and offer some suggestions on how 1 Enoch can shed like on both Judaism and Christianity in the first century. If you need an academic commentary on 1 Enoch, you should invest in Nickelsburg and VanderKam’s two-volume Hermenia commentary. They are expensive, but by far the best work on Enoch.

Why write a book on 1 Enoch? A few people have asked me why I spent time studying a non-canonical book like 1 Enoch. This book is not in the Bible, not even in the Apocrypha. Unless you are an Ethiopic Christian, you might have never heard of this book before! There are two main reasons I wrote the book, First, it is a fascinating glimpse into the world of developing Judaism in the centuries just before Jesus. Most people think of 1 Enoch as an apocalypse, and although that is not wrong, it is not apocalyptic in the modern sense. There are some wild “end of the world as we know it” scenes in the book, but they are not at all like a science fiction movie nor are there predictions about how American gas prices somehow lead to the rise of the antichrist. The book talks far more about how people live as faithful Jews in an evil world and gives some insight into what was important to Jews living in the time between the Testaments.

Second, there is a great deal of misinformation out there about what is in 1 Enoch. Recent conspiracy theories capitalize on the general population’s ignorance of the book and make claims about the book that are just not true (including flat earth theories). People think the book was suppressed by later Roman Catholics because it has the “real truth.” Movies like Noah or supernatural television shows dredge 1 Enoch for information about angels and demons. My book tries to explain what 1 Enoch actually says in order to put to rest some of these strange ideas.

Third, 1 Enoch is often important for understanding the background of the Bible. For example, I used 1 Enoch when I discussed heavenly throne room scene in Daniel. 7.

Like Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 7, Enoch sees a flaming throne and a being with bright clothing light lightning. The name of the one on the throne in Daniel “Ancient of Days” is similar to the “Antecedent of Time.” There is a huge multitude of angelic witnesses in both Daniel and 1 Enoch.

Jim West reviewed the book as did Brent Niedergall. Click through and read what they have to say. I appreciate the early reviews on Amazon and comments I have received saying the book is easy to read and well designed. If you get the book, please consider leaving (hopefully) five-stars on Amazon and if you have the time, a short review (25 words is Amazon’s minimum). Stars and reviews sell books these days.


The Plot to Kill Jesus – Matthew 26:1-5, 14-16

The high priest Caiaphas hosts the chief priests and elders to plot to kill Jesus (Matt 26:3-4).  Although they want to arrest Jesus, they do not want to do so during the Passover festival. The festival celebrates God redeeming Israel out of their slavery in Egypt, and so celebrates the origins of Israel as a nation. The large crowds gathered for Passover occasionally rioted when provoked. If Jesus was thought to be a king or a messiah, then arresting him could lead to dangerous riots and perhaps even a Roman intervention. See Josephus, War 2.223-227; Ant. 20.105-112.

To avoid a public arrest, they want to take Jesus “by stealth” (ESV) or “secretly” (NIV). The noun δόλος (dolos) refers to deceit or cunning, the related verb δολόω is used for false accusations, “to make false through deception or distortion” (BDAG). Most of us are familiar with politicians manipulating facts to get what they want. The high priest and his cronies are willing to say and do what it takes to get Jesus out of the way quietly. Ironically, they will get him out of the way, but not quietly!

Judas agrees to betray Jesus (26:14-16). After the anointing at Bethany, Judas Iscariot approaches the chief priests and offers to deliver Jesus into their hands. In Matthew, other than listing his name with the disciples, this is the first mention of Judas.Judas is a common name in the first century, looking back to Judas Maccabees as well as Judah, the patriarch whose tribe included David and the line of kings. John 6:71 adds that his father was Simon, another common name in the first century which refers to both a Hasmonean and patriarch.

The meaning of Iscariot is less clear. The word (Ἰσκαριώθ) It likely refers to Kerioth, a village in southern Judea, twelve miles south of Hebron. The meaning would be “Judas, from Kerioth” (BDAG suggests אִישׁ קְרִיּוֹת). Others suggest the name is related to an Aramaic word, seqarya, meaning “the false one” (Nolland, Matthew, 412). However, some scholars suggest the word is related to. σικάριος, a sicarii, an urban assassin or bandit. The Sicarii were active before the Jewish Revolt and were a major factor in destabilizing Jerusalem prior to AD 70.

Why did Judas betray Jesus? Matthew follows Mark by telling the story of the anointing at Bethany before Judas’s offer of betrayal. In Mark, “there were some” who objected (Mark 14:4), but Matthew is more specific, the disciples (οἱ μαθηταὶ) were indignant that the woman anointed Jesus with the expensive oil rather that give the money to the poor. John adds an important detail to the anointing story: the disciple who raised the objection to the woman’s waste of perfume was Judas (John 12:4), and John calls him a thief who was stealing from the moneybag (John 12:6).

Plot to kill Jesus

The chief priests give Judas thirty pieces of silver (26:15) to help them arrest Jesus quietly. In Matthew 10:9 Jesus told his disciples not to take any money, yet now Judas takes 30 pieces of silver (Wilson, Matthew 14-28, 340. Wilson also comments: the chief priests seem to have extra money available for nefarious purposes!)  In Mark 14:10-11 and Luke 22:3-6, the elders promised to give money to Judas, but no specific amount is mentioned. Matthew has added the detail of thirty pieces of silver (probably a denarius). Why?

There are two possible sources for the thirty pieces of silver. First, Exodus 21:32 states that if your animal accidentally kills someone’s slave, the slave owner was compensated with thirty shekels of silver. However, most commentators connect the thirty pieces of silver with Zechariah 11:12. A shepherd is paid thirty pieces of silver and then throws the money “into the house of the Lord, to the potter” (11:13). After he regrets his betrayal, Judas will throw his thirty pieces of silver into the house of the Lord (27:5) and the priest will buy a potter’s field with the money.

From that time, Judas began to look for an opportunity to betray Jesus (26:16). He was paid to “deliver” Jesus, so Judas is looking for a convenient time and place to arrest Jesus quietly, away from the Passover crowds.

Following Mark, Matthew puts the anointing at Bethany in the middle of the story of Judas offering to betray Jesus. Like Mark’s use of the cursing of the fig tree to explain the temple action (Mark 11:12-25). Why did Judas offer to betray Jesus? What provoked the Jewish leaders to arrest and execute Jesus before Passover? Both questions are answered by the anointing at Bethany.