Matthew 26:17 [T]he disciples came to Jesus and asked, Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?
Passover recalled the event that finally convinced Pharaoh to set God’s people free. Israelite families slaughtered a lamb and applied the blood to the door frames of their homes (Exodus 12:7). When God struck down the firstborn males in Egypt, he saw the blood and passed over them.
Jesus was determined to die during Passover because he was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The Passover lamb saved the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, and the Lamb of God saves us from the slavery of sin. Jesus was getting ready to eat his final meal with his disciples.
Matthew 26:20-21 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.
We might imagine that every eye turned toward Judas Iscariot, since he did not truly believe (John 6:64). But knowing the badness of their own hearts, the disciples doubted themselves. They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?
Like the disciples, we should never be too confident of our own moral resolve. [I]f you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall (1 Corinthians 10:12), wrote Paul. When we consider how often we have failed, we will put no confidence in ourselves, but look only to Christ to keep us firm to the end (1 Corinthians 1:8).
Matthew 26:25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi? Jesus answered, You have said so.
Judas had already made an arrangement with the religious leaders to hand Jesus over to them (Matthew 26:14-16). But they didn’t want it to happen during Passover (Matthew 26:5), when so many people were in Jerusalem, lest a riot break out. The religious leaders were not in charge of Jesus’ death, however, even though they thought they were. No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord (John 10:18), said Jesus. Jesus would die during Passover, just as he determined.
Matthew 26:26-28 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, Take and eat; this is my body. Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus used his final meal to introduce the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20), which the church has observed ever since. The bread represents Jesus’ body, and the cup represents his blood. They both remind us of his death for our salvation. Jesus bore the punishment for our sins so that we could be forgiven (Isaiah 53:5).
But who should receive the Lord’s Supper? Anyone who wants to? Only those who are good enough? What about children? The question is answered well by a reliable catechism.
Who are to come to the table of the Lord? Those who are truly displeased with themselves because of their sins and yet trust that these are forgiven them and that their remaining weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ, and who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and amend their life. . . . (Heidelberg Catechism, Question 81. See also 1 Corinthians 10-11).
The Lord’s Supper should never be taken thoughtlessly, or carelessly, but should be received by anyone who believes in Jesus Christ, and is trying to follow him.
Matthew 26:36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane.
This was a garden outside Jerusalem where Jesus often went with his disciples (John 18:1-2). Judas was no longer with them, but would know where he could find them. Gethsemane means oil press, and olives were likely pressed there to extract their oil.
This is where Jesus would pray until his sweat was like drops of blood (Lk.22:44). He may have developed hematidrosis, a condition caused by stress, in which capillaries in the sweat glands rupture, causing blood and sweat to mix. Like olives being crushed, it was the Lord’s will to crush him (Isaiah 53:10), wrote Isaiah. And he was in anguish (Luke 22:44), wrote Luke.
Matthew 26:38 My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.
Jesus was not exaggerating. The depth of his sorrow was so overwhelming that it nearly killed him before he went to the cross. It wasn’t the physical pain he dreaded so much as bearing the Father’s wrath against our sin. This was his greatest source of agony, and something believers will never have to go through.
Matthew 26:39 My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.
Jesus referred to the cup of God’s wrath mentioned by the prophets (Isaiah 51:17, Jeremiah 25:15). Nothing was more important to Jesus than pleasing his heavenly Father (John 8:29), so nothing was worse for him than bearing his Father’s wrath. He could barely bring himself to do it.
If there was any other way for the world to be saved, the Father would have answered Jesus’ prayer. But there was no other way for the world to be saved. The death of a million angels could not atone for our sin—only the death of God’s Son could do that. It must have broke the Father’s heart, but he denied his Son’s request, so that we could be saved through him (John 3:16).
Matthew 26:39b Yet not as I will, but as you will.
The one who always did his Father’s will would do it to the end. Not your will but mine be done, is what we say to God whenever we sin. In effect, this is what Adam and Eve said when they ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6). And clearly, we are their offspring. By putting our will ahead of God’s will, paradise was lost. By putting his Father’s will ahead of his own will, Jesus won it back for us. As soon as he finished praying, Jesus went out and surrendered to the guards.
Reflection and Review
What is the meaning of the Lord’s Supper?
Why was Gethsemane an appropriate name for the garden where Jesus prayed?
Why did Jesus fear the cross?