Matthew 26:17-30 Part 1


In order that we might understand as much of what Matthew provides us here in this text as possible, we need to take another brief look at the feasts.  The context is vital, as usual.

And remember that the first hours of a new twenty-four hour day began at dark in Israel.  This was the case because it follows the creation ordinances in Genesis one through three.  First it was void and dark; and then God created light.  So “dark” is first in the day.  And “light” comes after it.

But the Passover Lamb was slain in the temple complex and prepared (roasted) during the last hours of sunlight on the fourteenth day of the first month (roughly corresponding to our April).  And the meal was eaten after dark, which was the early hours of the fifteenth day.

So our text (nothing having been recorded as happening on Wednesday) begins on Thursday with Passover preparations.  But Friday (the fifteenth day of the first month) begins when the sunlight fades into dark on the fourteenth.

So the Passover feast was celebrated during the first hours of the fifteenth day (we would call that fifteenth day “Friday”).  And that feast was also called the Feast of Unleavened Bread because it was the beginning of a seven-day festival in which all leaven was excluded from diets… and even removed from homes.

The Passover sacrificial lamb was, at the same time, a reminder that Israel had been “saved” from bondage, and a foreshadowing of the Perfect Lamb to come; where the seven-day absence of leaven reminded them of their perpetual obligation to purity of heart and life.  They were saved; and because of that, there was an obligation to God of purity of heart and life.

Leaven was simply a portion of sour-dough in a state of fermentation (which is not, in and of itself, evil).  But it was used, during this festival, as an image of impure desires, disorderly affections, unbelief, false doctrine and unlawful behavior – basically evil; displeasing to God, dishonoring to Him.  It showed ungrateful hearts toward Him Who saved them. 

So, beginning with the Passover (also called the feast of unleavened bread), for a whole week the people of Israel were reminded, first of all, of God’s salvation; and then, secondly, of their obligation to Him of purity of heart and behavior.

And as we’ll see in the coming weeks, as we hear the preaching of these fourteen verses, the images of the Old Covenant feasts have reached their fullness in the life of believers in Christ.

Now.  One more thing before we come to the text.  There was a ritual involved here in the Passover feast (liturgy)… one that took up the whole evening.  And, the symbols and images rightly understood, there was great emotion and spiritual value and concrete teaching for the families of Israel.  And for us to understand what was happening between Jesus and His disciples, we have to get a picture (at least a broad outline) of the Passover feast ritual.

As we go through this very quickly, please remember that it would be a sacrilege for us to participate in a Passover feast, because it was a foreshadowing of that which was to come.  And our Lord did come; and He is the “Fullness” of all of these images.  So now we have a “better” Covenant… promised by God and completed in Christ.

But… here’s the order of the feast.  Whole families would gather and recline at table (the whole afternoon having been taken in preparations).  Usually several families would gather together (unless a family was very large), because the sacrificial lamb had to be completely consumed (the inedible parts burned to ashes the next day).

Once everyone was situated the Passover began with a cup of wine and a blessing.  Then the bitter herbs were introduced (to remind everyone of the bitterness of life in Egypt); then the unleavened bread and the roasted lamb.  Then the man of the house, (the housefather, or the head of the household), with a prayer, would dip some of the bitter herbs into the roast lamb and eat it.  And all the others would follow.

Then there was another cup of wine… at which time a son would ask the father to explain the feast and the reasons for it.  And the father would explain why.  And then they would all sing the first part of the Hallel… Psalms one hundred thirteen and one hundred fourteen.

And when they were finished singing, the father would wash his hands and take two sheets of unleavened bread, breaking one and putting it on top of the unbroken one.  He would offer prayer, after which he would wrap a piece of that bread in bitter herbs and eat it with some of the lamb.  And then everybody would join in to eat.  (It was at this point in the feast that Matthew writes verse twenty-one, “while they were eating….”  And the dialogue commences about one of them delivering Jesus up.  And that continues through verse twenty-five.)

But the head of the house would always eat the last morsel of lamb, and there was no more eating.  Then came the third cup of wine and the singing of Psalms one hundred twenty through one hundred thirty-six, concluding the Passover feast.

From the text you can see that it was as Jesus was finishing the last of the lamb, and when it was time for the third cup of wine, that He reached for another sheet of bread, verse twenty-six (completely unheard of in the Passover feast), and began a new institution for His people… to be celebrated from then on (the same one that we will celebrate next Sunday).  But from that day forward (Passover 30 AD), the Passover feast was obsolete; for the real sacrificial Lamb was to be slain that very day.

So now let’s go to the text of the Gospel and see what Matthew has written for us (verse seventeen).  He says,


“At the onset of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples approached (or “drew near”) to Jesus saying, ‘Where do You wish we should make ready for You to eat the Passover?’”


Many commentators have become quite mixed up about the days, here… translating this as “on the first day of the feast of unleavened bread….”  But what is meant here is the preparations for the feast, which then began after sunset.  We’ve already explained that Friday began at dark.  And that was the first day of unleavened bread… not Thursday.

But Matthew is simply saying that it was time (since it was probably sometime Thursday morning) to get everything ready for that night.  There was a lot to do:  find a place, secure an unblemished lamb, take it to the temple complex and have it inspected, slaughter it and give some of its blood to a priest, roast it over open fire; and shop for all the other things necessary, and set it all up for a big feast to be attended by thirteen or so people.

So, “at the onset” of all of that (Thursday some time), some disciples came to Jesus and said, “Where do You wish we should make ready for You to eat the Passover?”  Now Matthew doesn’t fill in any of the gaps here, does he?  The disciples’ inquiry, written all by itself, assumes some things.  Apparently it had already been discussed that Jesus and His disciples would celebrate Passover together… just the thirteen of them; without families, and without any of their close friends in Bethany.  This was a very critical, and very intense, time during which Jesus had already foretold His suffering and death!

And none of the arrangements had been made!  They didn’t even know where yet!  And they were probably a little anxious about it, since the feast was tonight!  But there was a reason for their not knowing, which we’ll see in a minute.

So they approach Him with this question (which sounds a little strange to us) about making the Passover ready for Him to eat!  It sounds like Jesus is the only One Who’s going to eat it.

But that’s not the case.  Jesus was the obvious Leader of the group; and He would “host” the feast and be the Head of the household.  “…for You to eat the Passover” is what we might call a “colloquialism” for “hosting the feast”.  In other words, “Where do You wish we should make ready for You to conduct the Passover celebration?”  (That certainly doesn’t say it all, but it’s “getting at” what is meant here.)

Then, as recorded in verse eighteen, Jesus said to them,


“You go into the city to a certain one and say to him, ‘The Teacher says My time is near; with you I observe the Passover with My disciples.’”


What Matthew doesn’t say here (but Mark and Luke do), is that only two were appointed to go.  Luke names them.  It was Peter and John.  But the name of the man they’re supposed to contact is withheld from them.  Jesus says it’s “a certain man”.  Mark includes all of Jesus’ instructions on how Peter and John are to find him.  And apparently this man owned a house in Jerusalem that had some size, because this room on an upper floor not only could accommodate the Passover feast; but it was large enough to contain at least one hundred twenty people at Pentecost!

But Jesus’ secrecy with regard to this man’s name and where he lived isn’t directed toward us….  I mean, there’s nothing being purposely kept from us and there’s nothing mysterious about all of this.  The man’s name and the location of his house are simply being kept from Judas!

He had already conspired to deliver Jesus over to the priests at an opportune time; and the opportune time was when the crowds weren’t around.  And what better opportune time would there be than when all the people were celebrating Passover in their own places!  If Judas had known the man’s name and where he lived, he surely would have given the information to the priests!  And they would have sent soldiers to the man’s house to arrest Jesus.  It would have been a perfect set-up.

But Jesus had said to Peter and John, “Tell Mr. so and so that My time is near….”  But not yet!  The institution of the New Covenant meal was not going to be precluded or interrupted by His being “delivered up” by this traitor before it was time!  So the elaborate instructions, and the secrecy, were solely for keeping the traitor uninformed about where they were going to be that night.

But the man who owned the house is apparently a trusted follower of Jesus.  That’s inherent in the text, and it’s a necessary inference because he will know immediately who “O Didaskalos” is… The Teacher.  And he will know what it means when he hears, “My time is near….”  It will move him into action, and he will provide his house and all support for Jesus and the disciples to celebrate Passover there.

Now, while we’re here, let me say that regardless of all that we’ve heard about the last Passover and the first Lord’s Supper, and regardless of the great paintings (by Salvadore Dali and others) of what that supper might have looked like, there may have been more than thirteen people there!  I says MAY… have been.

Because the last part of Jesus’ instructions to Peter and John about what to say to this man include this (verse eighteen):


“…with you I celebrate the Passover with My disciples….”


Now, it could be that the term “with you…” has reference only to proximity; and that it means “with his assent and assistance, and in his home”.  But it has to be said that there is no grammatical reason that I know of to exclude this trusted believer and follower from being a participant in the Passover feast… and then, later on, to receive from the Lord the bread and wine.  Jesus says here, “with you (accusative singular, and in the emphatic position at the beginning of the sentence), I observe the Passover with My disciples”!

And simply because there is no reference to him at the feast, or in the new meal at the end, I don’t think that’s evidence enough for us to declare that there were only thirteen people there.  There might have been fourteen… or more!  Surely he would have celebrated Passover… even if he were a single man or a widower.  And a faithful friend and follower of God’s Messiah/Son would have wished with all his heart to celebrate Passover with Him… especially since it’s obvious that he knows about Jesus’ coming suffering and death.  And it’s also obvious that he knows the reason for the stealth and secrecy in all of this.

So, even though verse twenty says that Jesus was reclining with the twelve, which He obviously was, there may have been at least one other there who wasn’t included in the text.

Anyway, back at verse nineteen Matthew writes:


“And the disciples did just as Jesus charged them, and they prepared the Passover.”


Now, Matthew wasn’t one who went; and he writes none of the details.  But we know that Peter and John did “just as Jesus had charged them”… or “instructed them”.

They went into the city and found the man who was carrying the jar (as Luke writes), or the big urn… probably filled with something important; and they followed him to his destination as they had been instructed.  And then they relayed the message to the man of that house (not the man with the jar, but the owner):  “The Teacher says, ‘My time is near… with you I observe the Passover with My disciples.”

Apparently the man’s response was positive.  And Matthew says, “and they prepared the Passover” (“they” meaning the two disciples).  The man of the house may have served them in every way they wished, but it was they who prepared it.

Maybe the man had sheep from which he could choose an unblemished lamb; maybe he already had bitter herbs; and maybe he already had wine.  Otherwise Peter and John would have purchased all of these things and then taken the lamb to the temple for inspection and slaughtering.  (Only two of every Passover celebration were allowed in the temple complex because of the tremendous crowds wanting to get in and get their preparations done.)

But having done all the shopping and all the duties at the temple (the same thing everybody else in the city was doing), the disciples would have gone someplace to roast the lamb, and then back to the man’s house to make unleavened bread and set up the feast.

I always think of these things as I’m getting ready for our celebration of the Lord’s Table; and it’s instructive to us that these two men didn’t delegate these responsibilities to somebody else.

It’s very easy for elders and deacons in the Church to abdicate their leadership and leave these “minor details” to their wives… who are quite willing to take the responsibility and do it well.  They clean the utensils and press the linens and tablecloths and cook the bread (or go out and buy it) and choose the wine (or grape juice); and you see them down in front of the Church, bustling around, working hard to make everything nice… and ready for the men to step up and serve it.

And in most cases, if they didn’t do all these things, the whole communion service would be a joke.  But Matthew writes:  “and they prepared the Passover”.  Peter and John did it.  The men did it.  And they did it in the house of a man who loved Jesus and anticipated all these things coming to pass.

And I’m sure that there was great wonder and awe in the minds and hearts of Peter and John at all of these things:  a man unknown to them beforehand, but expecting them; a traitor among them (the identity of whom was unknown to them at this time); the celebration of Passover with God’s Messiah/King; but with anxiety and foreboding concerning Jesus’ predictions of His suffering and death.  But they prepared the Passover.  And the next scene in Matthew’s text is in the evening, and everything is ready; and all the disciples are reclining at table with the Lord Jesus Christ.