What does Matthew chapter 26 mean?Jesus has concluded His public teaching ministry as well as His final teaching to the disciples before His death and resurrection (Matthew 16:21). He tells them that He will be delivered to be crucified in two days, on Passover. At the same time, the high priest is meeting at his home with the chief priests and elders. These men have already determined that Jesus needs to be killed (John 11:48–53). All that remains is their plans to make this happen (Matthew 26:1–5).
Christ and His disciples go to a dinner in Bethany, at the home of a man identified as Simon the leper. This is probably someone Jesus had healed. While Jesus reclines at the table, a woman opens an extraordinarily valuable bottle of perfumed ointment and anoints His head with it. This is Mary, the sister of Lazarus, the man Jesus has raised from death (John 11:1, 43–44). The disciples call this action a waste, saying the ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor. John specifies that Judas is the primary complainer in this instance (John 12:1–8). Jesus corrects their attitude. As it will turn out, there will not be time for Jesus' body to be properly anointed before His hasty burial (Luke 23:52–56; Mark 16:1–5). The woman has performed a beautiful act of devotion that also serves to fill in this gap. Not only is her act justified, but it's also permanently tied to the story of the gospel (Matthew 26:6–13).
It's possible that this mild rebuke is the last straw for Judas. He goes to the chief priests and offers to turn Jesus over to them. Christ's enemies not only need someone to tell them where Jesus can be found away from crowds, they need someone to help identify Him to the arresting soldiers. In an era without photographs, and with little variation of clothes or hair, this was no small thing. They give Judas 30 pieces of silver and move up their timeline for Jesus' arrest and trial (Matthew 26:14–16).
Jesus and the disciples hold their Passover meal in the borrowed upper room of a house in Jerusalem. Jesus reveals that one of them will betray Him. He acknowledges to Judas that He knows exactly who this traitor is. Jesus introduces the sacrament of communion, commanding His disciples to eat a broken piece of bread as a symbol of His body. They are to drink a cup of wine as a symbol of His blood, soon to be shed for forgiveness of sins. A typical Passover meal used four cups of wine, at designated moments. The third of these is the cup of blessing, and it's possible this is the one Jesus identifies with His blood. If so, this would mean Jesus abstained from the fourth cup, representing the assembly of God's people, as a symbol of what will happen at His glorious return (Matthew 26:17–29).
After the Passover meal, Jesus tells the disciples that every one of them will abandon Him, but He will meet them in Galilee when He is raised up. Peter declares that he will not succumb to fear. He brashly promises to die before denying Jesus, putting his own loyalty above that of the other disciples. In response, Jesus predicts that Peter will directly deny association with Him three times before morning (Matthew 26:30–35).
The group walks to a garden called Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. Jesus has most of the disciples sit down and walks farther in with Peter, James, and John. He asks them to watch while He prays. He will return three times to find them sleeping. Jesus is in indescribable mental agony. The weight of what is about to happen is beyond human understanding. And so, in a very human and entirely legitimate prayer, Jesus tells God what He "desires," which is that these events would not have to happen. In the same moment, Jesus also explicitly commits to obeying the will of God the Father. Obviously, no one would "want" to suffer torture and death, but Christ is loyal to God's plan above all else (Matthew 26:36–44).
By the time Judas arrives with a crowd of soldiers and temple officers, Jesus is fully resolved to carry out the work of suffering the Father has given Him to do. It's possible Judas took this group to the upper room, first, and then came to look for Jesus in Gethsemane. Judas' pre-arranged sign is a friendly kiss. This is an especially despicable form of betrayal: the act itself requires trust, and Judas goes even further by referring to Jesus as his teacher. Christ, for His part, grants Judas one last kindness by referring to Him—possibly with sarcasm—as a "friend" (Matthew 26:45–50).
Peter (John 18:10) lashes out with a sword, maiming a servant. Peter is no swordsman, and this clumsy attack might even have been meant for Judas. Jesus immediately brings an end to this violence, telling Peter to put his sword back into its sheath. This is not the time or place for bloodshed. Not only does Jesus have the power to defend Himself (John 18:4–8), He could easily ask God to send tens of thousands of angels to fight for Him. That's not what needs to happen, however, so Jesus agrees to be arrested, and the disciples scatter into the night (Matthew 26:51–56).
Jesus' illegal and entirely false trial takes place in the middle of the night, at the mansion of the high priest. This occurs before members of the Jewish ruling body known as the Sanhedrin. Most likely, there are only enough members there to make their decisions official. Several false witnesses try to bring a charge against Jesus, but their claims are so contradictory that none of them are compelling (Mark 14:56–59). This not only speaks to Jesus' innocence, but false witness is a crime in and of itself; it should result in the death penalty (Deuteronomy 19:18). Among these failed attempts is a deliberate misquotation of Jesus own words (Matthew 26:57–61).
Finally, the high priest challenges Jesus over His claims of being the Messiah and the Son of God. Jesus not only accepts these terms, but drastically multiplies them. In His response, Jesus claims the power and judgment of God Himself (Psalm 110:1; Daniel 7:13). The men who have already rejected Jesus' role as Messiah (John 5:39–40) respond to this with rage and disgust, sentencing Jesus to death and triggering physical abuse (Matthew 26:62–68).
Peter, waiting in the courtyard (John 18:15–18), is accused three times of being with Jesus. Part of this accusation is brought on by his distinctive Galilean accent. Vowing on sacred objects and cursing himself, Peter does everything he can to avoid being associated with Christ in this dangerous moment. He denies even knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crows. He runs away, weeping bitterly under the crushing weight of what he has done (Matthew 26:69–75).