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.

9 thoughts on “The Plot to Kill Jesus – Matthew 26:1-5, 14-16

  1. Did the anointing provoke Judas because Jesus effectively said he would die and that was not in tune with the kind of messiah Judas expected? And how would the anointing provoke the religious leaders to arrest and execute Jesus?

  2. I had to read this article several times to get to the meat of it. First, there are not enough questions, to completely encircle the issue.

    Number 1; Though Matthew does not state the name of Judas at the picking of his disciples, the fact remains, he was among his chosen twelve at the Last Supper.
    Number 2; The bulk of the agreement between Judas and the chief priests is never brought out in the open. There is absolutely no telling what they told him, to get him to agree to bring them out to where Jesus was. They could have just as easily snagged him with lies.
    Number 3; If we are to absolutely believe that Jesus is the Son of God, wouldn’t he have known who was among his chosen? And in reflection to this question, why did he go along with it?
    Number 4; As far as the anointing at Bethany, this is brought up in three gospels. Isn’t it curious how he defends her actions, as though he already knows something before hand?
    Number 5; Though Luke is the only one to demonstrate Jesus bringing up mention of the sword, all four gospels state, there was at least one sword among them. Many do not pay attention to details. As Luke pointed out when he said; “When I sent you out two by two, did you lack anything?” This affirms there were no arms among them. But when he asked that they set up a place so that he could supper with them, he directed them to a place neither of them were familiar with and in the upper room. Those two swords had to have already been there in the first place.
    Number 6; And as for what provoked the Jewish leaders to arrest and execute Jesus? You may want to review how he jammed it up their nose just before the Passover in both
    Matt 23; 1-39 and Luke 11; 39-52. Don’t forget, he said these things out in the open, for all to hear. If you were as haughty as they were, I’ll bet you would have felt the same way.

    My observations of Jesus’ wisdom and stealth has become overwhelming over the past 35 years. Incidentally, I believe there may be more to be said about that suspicious anointing.

    • On Number 1, Matthew 10:4 has Judas Iscariot, “who betrayed him.” But you are right, he is right there with the other disciples through the Last Supper. If we admit John 13 into the evidence here, Jesus washed Judas’s feet!

      As for Jesus knowing who the betrayer was (number 2), undoubtedly he knew who would betray him and may have assigned the job to Judas (although that is more clear in John’s gospel, which I am not writing on at this time).

      On Number 4, The anointing is in Mark/Matthew and John, although John has got some differences; I think Luke 7 is a different anointing. You might notice that I posted on the anointing recently (and added a link here)

      On Number 5, I will probably circle back to the (potential) violence at the arrest later, but Matthew is muted compared to Luke, and John names names:

      I have been all over the nose jamming prior to this post. But you do not kill people who disagree with theologically; no one was crucifying Essenes for calling Pharisees “seekers of soft things.” Jesus was not unique in his condemnation of temple aristocracy.

  3. Perhaps I can make a clearer point by presenting some examples I discovered in the Gospels themselves, that delivered a little more to the whole picture.
    For example, when he opened his Sermon on The Mount, on five points he started with, “You have head it said,….., but I say,…” On his very first open sermon, he voices his disagreements towards some of their faith practices.

    If we look at the episodes of the ‘Possessed man who was both blind and dumb’; in Matt 12; 22-27, Mark 3; 22 and Luke 11; 15-19, the ‘Paralytic’ in Luke 5; 18-26 and ‘The Man Born Blind’ in John 9; 1-34, it may display a clearer mood of despair put upon many of the innocent ones, who had no escape from their dilemmas, but instead, damned for it, by their own religeous leaders. (Their visible signs, were apparently telltales of their sinfulness)

    For when Jesus cured the ‘possessed man’??, (apparently, it was because he was possessed. Seems the writers back then understood it the same way). The Pharisees bark back that ‘this man (Jesus) does not cast out devils except by Beelzebub’,,, thus securing the notion, this man is in this state because of demons. Jesus knew different.
    In the story of the ‘Paralytic’ in Luke, Jesus first forgives him his sins. Again, the Pharisees bark back, “Who can forgive sins, but God only!?”, thus affirming, he is in this state because God has not yet forgiven him. [Let’s not forget their use of the ‘Day of Atonement’.]
    And with The Man Born Blind, first we need to truly realize the need the disciple had to ask that question (John 9; vs 2), in the first place. Remember, we have to see it from his viewpoint. In other words, how many other folks in that time felt they were living within that same perception? You’ll find the reason he needed to ask that, is at the end of the same ‘blind man’ episode in verse 34, by the Pharisees response before they threw him out.

    His jamming it up their nose before the Passover, was an also, on top of what I’ve displayed in this reply. When this is brought in along with his teachings as a whole, they present a much deeper and fuller impact, to the derailed leadership in that day. If Jesus was left to his vises, as they saw it, they could soon lose their seats of power; they had to get rid of him.
    And as for his going along with it, it was his last act, demonstrating just how cruel and unruly their own religeous leaders were; to damn a just man to death.

    Being that this narrow-minded approach is demonstrated in all four Gospels, interestingly, they jointly display a similar common denominator. Yes, they needed a deliverer, not coming from the outside, but from within their own culture.

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