Jesus Gives the Sign of Bread and Wine – Matthew 26:26-30

Some of the details we are familiar with are not found in this version. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 is the earliest written version of the Lord’s Supper (or Communion, or Eucharist), Luke 22:19-23 has similar words focusing on the bread and wine. What is important about 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 is that Paul uses the words “on the night he was betrayed” and all three synoptic gospels include the prediction of betrayal as part of the meal.

bread wine

There were many other parts of a Passover meal which Jesus does not reinterpret as anticipating his death. Jesus does not comment on eating lamb or the bitter herbs, etc. All of this is completely familiar to a Jewish reader, in the same way an American does not need to explain to Americans the food on the table at a thanksgiving meal (everyone knows:  turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, cranberry sauce, that weird sweet potato dish with the marshmallows, etc.) Matthew only includes the elements of the meal Jesus uses to explain the kind of death he was about to die, the two elements which become part of Christian worship practice in the earliest Christian communities.

The bread is his body (26:26). Remember this is unleavened bread, Jesus broke (κλάω) the bread. The verb s only used for breaking bread in the New Testament (Matt 14:19, 15:26, the two feeding miracles and this passage). As in English, “break bread” can refer to eating a meal (Acts 20:7, 11, although this arguably could be a communion). In classical Greek the verb is used for breaking branches (‘snap” for example, BrillDAG).  

In Deuteronomy 16:3, the unleavened bread was called “bread of affliction.” If the bread is unleavened, then breaking the bread is a visual analogy to what is about to happen to Jesus’s body. Although his bones are not broken, his body will be beaten and abused. Nolland (and others) suggest sharing the bread occurred during a question an answer part of the Passover meal based on Exodus 12:26-27. By sharing the bread, Jewish families were demonstrating that they were part of the community that was redeemed from slavery in Egypt by the blood of the lamb (Matthew, 1075). They are looking back to the salvation event of the Old Testament, when God imitated a covenant with his people.

The cup is the blood of the covenant (26:27-28). During the Passover meal, there were four cups of wine associated with stages in the meal. Most scholars think this is the third cup, the cup of blessing. It came after the meal and the father pronounced a blessing on the cup (as Jesus does in verse 27).

Sharing a cup of wine is unusual for a Passover meal. Each person has their own cup to drink from when the blessing is offered. Think of the way protestants do communion. Everyone gets  their own mini-cup rather than sharing a single cup of wine. This may be logistical, sharing a single cup among 500 people is not practical.  In this case, the sharing may indicate the covenant Jesus is inaugurate is for all the disciples equally. We often make the point that sharing the bread and the cup is a sign of Christian unity, based on 1 Corinthians 11.

Matthew does not include the word “new” (1 Cor 11:25; Luke 22:20).  In the King James Version, the words “new testament” appear, but the word “new” is likely not part of Matthew’s original text. It was added by later scribes who knew the communion liturgy from 1 Corinthians 11:25 or Luke 22:20. The word “testament” is a translation of the Greek word διαθήκη, now commonly translated as “covenant” because “testament” does not mean the same thing as covenant in contemporary English.

Matthew describes the blood as “poured out for many” and adds the phrase “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 14:24).  Blood “poured out” (ἐκχέω) can refer to a violent death (Gen 9:6, referring to murder; the blood of the martyrs is “poured out” Matt 23:35; Acts 22:20, Stephen), so “poured out” may evoke Jesus’s physical death on the cross. But the word is used in the Septuagint in the context of sacrifice (Lev 4:7, for example). The word is commonly associated with drink offerings, pouring out a little bit of wine on an altar (Sirach 50:15, the high priest Simon son of Onias poured out the “blood of the grape” on the altar and made a pleasing odor to the Most High).

In LXX Exodus 24:6 Moses sprinkled (imperfect of ἐκχέω) blood on the altar when he read the book of the Covenant to the people. This is a very important Old Testament text for the last supper since God is inaugurating the original (old) covenant with blood, and seventy elders go up the mountain, see God’s glory and “ate and drank” (24:11). A covenant is usually established with a sacrifice and a shared meal (eating and drinking, almost always wine). Both Mark and Luke understand Jesus’s death as providing forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4; Luke 1:77), but Matthew makes the connection between the sacrifice that Jesus is about to make and the forgiveness of sins.

Finally, Jesus predicts he will not drink the fruit of the vine again until he drinks new wine with the disciples in his Father’s kingdom (26:29). The point here is that the breaking of the body and the shedding of blood is in the very near future. Jesus is about to pour out his blood to inaugurate the new covenant.

But the idea of drinking wine in the kingdom of God evokes the eschatological banquet (Isa 25:6-8). The parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matt 25:1-13) describes the soon-coming kingdom of God as like a wedding banquet as doe the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt 25:1-12).

The other way the Old Testament described the banquet at the beginning of the kingdom is a victory banquet, Psalm 23:4-5, the Lord makes a victory banquet in the presence of the anointed one’s enemies. Revelation 19 calls the utter devastation of the enemies of God the “marriage supper of the lamb” (and then calls on the birds to come consume the corpses).

They sing a final hymn and return to the Mount of Olives for the night. What was that last hymn? Likely one of the Hallel psalms (113-118). On the way, Jesus predicts Peter too will betray Jesus.

Did Jesus Tell Judas to Betray Him? – Matthew 26:20-25

During the meal Christians traditionally call the last supper, Jesus announces that one of the disciples will betray him. Many other things would have been said and done that evening, but Matthew is only interested in the prediction of betrayal and the bread and wine. Matthew has already told his readers Judas approached the chief priests to betray Jesus. Jesus’s response to his anointing at Bethany may have prompted Judas to make this offer, but it is not clear what motivated Judas’s betrayal of Jesus.

Judas Betrayal

The ESV properly translates the verb ἀνάκειμαι, “recline.” They are not sitting on chairs at a table (like the DaVinci painting). But they would be sitting on the outside of a u-shaped set of low tables (so that part of the painting is not bad). This arrangement allows for conversation during the meal.

When Jesus announces one of the disciples will betray him, they are all upset, and they all wondered if they were the betrayer (Matthew 26:20-22). The disciples have been “sorrowful” before in Matthew. In Matthew 17:23, when Jesus predicted his crucifixion, the disciples were “very sorrowful.”

In fact, Jesus says “Woe to the betrayer!” (26:24).  Woe introduces a bad situation for someone.  Jesus pronounced “woe” in several condemnations of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-29.  There are several examples of people who are “better to not be born.” Job, for example, cursed the day he was born (Job 3:3). In 1 Enoch 38:2, sinners are “better off never born” since they end up in a place of torment.

If the title Son of Man is based on Daniel 7:14, then it is remarkable that anyone would (or could) betray the Son of Man. No one in the first century would imagine the Danielic Son of Man failing at his mission to judge the nations because someone betrayed him.

Jesus gives a sign: the one who has dipped his hand in the dish with him will be the betrayer (26:23). Judas seems to confirm this sign (26:25). But they all were sharing food, so how is this sign helpful? It is not appropriate to use a modern Seder and try to find a particular moment when Jesus said this. John Nolland suggests this is the appetizer stage of the meal (Matthew, 1066). Was Jesus sharing a bowl of hummus with Judas? The verb ἐμβάπτω is an aorist participle, suggesting the dipping is over and now Jesus is pointing out that it was a sign to the betrayer.  But later, he points out that prior to sharing the unleavened bread, the lettuce or green herbs were dipped into a sauce “with which the words about the betrayal are associated” (Matthew, 1074).

Judas directly asks Jesus if he is the betrayer, using the title “rabbi” for Jesus. When the other disciples asked, they said “Lord.” Is this an indication Judas does not acknowledge Jesus as Lord? When Judas approaches Jesus in the Gethsemane, he will also call him rabbi. The title is not necessarily cold, nor does it indicate a lack of faith in Jesus. But Matthew presents the other disciples as calling Jesus Lord, and they too will flee and deny Jesus.

Writing many years after the event, John says Jesus dips a morsel of bread and hands it to Judas. When Judas took the bread “Satan entered him” (John 13:26-30). Then Jesus tells him to do what he is about to do quickly, and he goes off into the darkness. John comments that the disciples do not know why Judas left, thinking Jesus tasked him with giving a gift to the poor since he was the “keeper of the moneybag.” John wrote as an eyewitness many years after Judas’s betrayal and explain why Judas betrayed Jesus: Jesus told him to!

Jesus’s response is “you have said so” seems ambiguous. Sometimes this is interpreted as the English phrase “you said it,” implying agreement. When the high priest asks him directly if he is the Messiah, Jesus will similarly respond “you have said so.”  In that case the high priest understands the response as agreement, Jesus has blasphemed! So here, Jesus’s ambiguous response to Judas is an agreement that Judas is the betrayer.

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)