Matthew 26:1-16 – What a Waste


Last week we finished the Olivet Discourse, the final section of Jesus’ teaching in the book of Matthew. This week, we begin the Passion Narrative, the story of how Jesus willingly offers Himself for those he came to save. In this passage, Matthew gives us four brief scenes which build on one another towards the crucifixion, which is to come.

Jesus Predicts His Death (vv. 1-2)

This is the fourth major prediction of Jesus’ death made in the Gospel of Matthew (see also: 16:21; 17:12; 20:28). In the previous chapter, Jesus encourages His disciples with several parables that share the common theme of readiness, or preparedness. Filled with concern for them, He is reminding them again of what He is advancing towards. Just as the words of Old Testament prophecy are fulfilled through the life and death of Jesus, so are Jesus’ words about Himself.

All males would have been required by the Law to appear in Passover and to provide an offering during the feast (Deut 16:1-8, 16-7). Jesus is advancing to Jerusalem not to offer a lamb, but to be the Lamb of God “who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) In spite of all that He knows about what is to come, Jesus goes to Jerusalem willingly, so that you and I might know redemption.


The Conspiracy of the Chief Priests (vv. 3-5)

Caiaphas is mentioned here as the high priest. As you carefully study the Gospels, there may be some confusion as you see Annas mentioned in this role as well (Luke 3:2; John 18:13, 24; Acts 4:6). Annas was deposed by the Roman prefect in 15 A.D. This would have been seen as a disruption of the Law, which says that priests were to serve until their deaths. Caiaphas, Annas’ son-in-law, was appointed  high priest by the Romans. For this reason, either Annas or Caiaphas might have been thought of by the people as high priest.

The chief priests meet in secret and hope to find a way to arrest Jesus out of the public eye. Passover is a difficult opportunity because the Jewish leaders know where Jesus will be, yet they cannot arrest Him publicly because it may create turmoil. Jerusalem is packed with people during the feast and any disturbance could start a riot. If the Romans intervene, they will have to use force and the Jewish leaders will likely lose their political power (John 11:48), since the Romans have only allowed them to govern as long as they will keep the peace. Such uprisings have occurred just years before.


Jesus Anointed at Bethany (vv. 6-13)

The scene shifts to Jesus at a meal being served at the home of Simon the Leper. It is clear that Simon is known by this name because he was formerly leprous— he could not entertain guests if he was still diseased! It is reasonable to assume that Jesus healed him. In John’s account of the story (Jn 12:1-8), Jesus’ friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are at the meal. Mary takes an alabaster bottle of expensive ointment (worth about a year’s wages) and anoints Jesus’ feet, and wipes them with her hair (John 12:3). Matthew records the disciples saying “What a waste!” The Greek word here is apoleia, sometimes translated as “ruin.”

Jesus, moved by her extravagant and personal act of worship, quiets them and tells them that what she has done is to anoint Him for His burial, again forecasting His death at the hands of the Jewish leaders. Jesus rightly places this kind of worship ahead of the service of the poor, which He had emphasized in Matthew 25:32-46. The world will see a life lived for Christ as a “waste,” but to extravagantly spend our lives on Jesus is exactly what we were designed for. For anyone else to receive this kind of worship would be to violate the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Ex 20:3)

In Matthew’s account, Mary anoints Jesus’s head. In the Old Testament, prophets, priests, and kings are all anointed to set them apart for God. Mary is likely testifying to Jesus as Messiah (“Anointed One”). Jesus’ prediction of His death again demonstrates that His is a conscious and willing sacrifice on our behalf.


Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus (vv. 14-16)

In the last of these four scenes, Judas seeks out the chief priests and offers to betray Jesus. Matthew identifies Judas as “one of the twelve” disciples, those who were closest to Jesus, who sat under His personal instruction. Judas witnessed great miracles, and healed people and cast out demons in Jesus’ Name. (Mt 10:8) The gravity of his betrayal is accented by this detail.

Matthew also points out that Jesus was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, the sum paid to the prophet Zechariah in Zechariah 11:12. Zechariah was a faithful shepherd who was hated by his sheep. His fellow shepherds abused the sheep and sold them for slaughter. Zechariah’s situation prefigures Christ, who was rejected by the people He came to shepherd and to save. This is another Old Testament prophecy fulfilled by the life of Jesus.

Judas should have protected Jesus, and stood by Him. Instead, he agrees to betray Jesus into the hands of the chief priests, something which Jesus is aware of, as seen later in the chapter (26:21-25, 45-47). Jesus was willing to be betrayed in order to save us! If we experience the pain and shame of betrayal in this life by those who should have stood by us, we should recognize that Jesus was betrayed to expiate (wipe away) the sin that was done to us. We do not stand before God cloaked in shame. We stand before Him dressed in a robe of righteousness (Isa 61:10).

Each detail of this part of the Passion narrative demonstrates how Jesus went willingly, fully aware of what was going on, to the cross. He could have turned back at any point, but chose to glorify God by saving us sinners. What a great salvation Jesus worked willingly on our behalf! Our response should be that of His friend Mary, worshiping Jesus and making Him Messiah-King of all of our lives!


Study Questions

  1. Mary is a picture of the second of our “four points”: Devotion. She has responded to the love of God in Christ by devoting herself to Him in obedient love. What do you struggle to devote to the Lord (time, money, energy)? What is costly in your life that you could bring to Him?
  2. Read 1 Corinthians 1:23-27. Why does Christ’s sacrifice look “foolish” to the world? How could His life be considered a “waste” by them? How is the way of the cross “power” and “wisdom” to us?
  3. What idol is Judas serving as he betrays Jesus? Read John 12:4-6 if you need help seeing it. How is the idolatry in our lives a betrayal of Jesus?
  4. Why does the fact that Jesus’ sacrifice was conscious (He knew beforehand) and willing (He did not shrink back from it) cause us to worship Him more?