Continuing an examination of St Mark’s Gospel, today’s post discusses the days before that fateful Passover which culminated in Jesus’s crucifixion.
As this short passage has been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used in public worship, it becomes part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential for an understanding of Scripture.
The Plot to Kill Jesus
1 It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, 2for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.”
We are now into the Wednesday evening before the Passover when Jesus died for our sins. This particular Wednesday is known by some Christians as Spy Wednesday (read more here and here). It takes place during Holy Week, between Palm Sunday and Easter.
Note that the Sanhedrin — Jewish leadership, which included the chief priests and scribes — wanted to finish Jesus off in secret, without the knowledge of the people (verse 1). After Jesus’s public ministry in the region and His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), they feared a backlash from the people which would have threatened their power structure, in both a religious and political context.
As faithful Jews had converged in Jerusalem for the Passover, the Sanhedrin were not eager to risk their wrath, which is why they did not want their operation put into play until afterward (verse 2).
Matthew Henry’s commentary contains a good observation about the heartlessness of the Sanhedrin. They did not say that they wanted to postpone Jesus’s arrest and death because such a scene over Passover would have interrupted the Passover devotions of the faithful. No. They did not want to do it then because they feared for their own lives as a result (emphases mine):
Now see, [1.] How spiteful Christ’s enemies were; they did not think it enough to banish or imprison him, for they aimed not only to silence him, and stop his progress for the future, but to be revenged on him for all the good he had done. [2.] How subtle they were; Not on the feast-day, when the people are together; they do not say, Lest they should be disturbed in their devotions, and diverted from them, but, Lest there should be an uproar (v. 2); lest they should rise, and rescue him, and fall foul upon those that attempt any thing against him. They who desired nothing more than the praise of men, dreaded nothing more than the rage and displeasure of men.
This is a good warning to us against courting men’s approval for our own personal security or prestige. It can lead to all sorts of heartless thoughts and hateful machinations.
Matthew 26:3 mentions that the Sanhedrin’s discussion about Jesus’s fate took place at the High Priest Caiaphas’s house. John MacArthur explains:
The Sanhedrin … the Chief Priests and the scribes is just representative of this ruling group, 70 men plus the High Priests who were involved in all these plans.
John 11 details this meeting, which my post (see link) discusses further. The Sanhedrin gathered a few days after Jesus raised His good friend Lazarus — Mary and Martha’s brother — from the dead. John 11:45-53 relates the effect that this miracle had on the Sanhedrin:
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.
Note that St John states Caiaphas had no idea he would utter the words in verse 50. Caiaphas and the Jewish leaders understood those words in an immediate sense: sacrifice Jesus so that we can live our comfortable lives in peace. In verse 51, John explains that it was, unbeknownst to the High Priest, a prophecy for the world going forward. Jesus would die for sinners’ sake, wherever they were and are in the world. He came to gather God’s children unto Him.
In reality, as we know, the Sanhedrin hadn’t figured on the emotional mob which would show up two days later shouting for Barabbas’s freedom.
MacArthur says in his sermon that, regarless of what the Sanhedrin wanted, God would turn events to His own timetable. He calls our attention to the prophecy in Isaiah 53:3:
3 He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
and to the wisdom of Proverbs 19:21:
21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
MacArthur also discusses misconceptions and heresy surrounding the substitutionary atonement of the Crucifixion.
It was not divine child abuse on God’s part nor failure on Jesus’s:
Isaiah 53 says He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. He was chastened for our peace with God. And God was fully satisfied with His sacrifice and that’s why He raised Him from the dead and exalted Him to His right hand, made Him a High Priest over His own and one day will send Him to establish His everlasting Kingdom. He didn’t die an unexpected death.
He was killed by the one who loved Him perfectly, to satisfy divine justice and divine righteousness on behalf of unworthy, undeserving sinners so that, not for us, so that God might give to His Son through His Son’s death a redeemed humanity to praise Him forever and ever and ever and ever.
There’s an old liberal idea denying the atonement of Christ, denying His substitutionary death, denying that He was a sacrifice in our place on whom the justice of God fell so that we might escape it, an old liberal thing that says Jesus is just an example of giving yourself up for someone, a model of love. That concept of Jesus as an example would say to us that you need to be willing to give your life up for somebody you care about, throw yourself in front of the bus and push the person off. Is that what it was?
That old liberal heresy has reappeared in the last month in a book by Rob Bell called Love Wins. That’s a heresy. And the supposed ten thousand people that are in that, whatever it is, I can’t call it a church, but whatever it is in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he is, he also denies eternal punishment. The people who are sitting there listening to this ought to run as fast as they can in the opposite direction from that place before they end up in the hell he denies because if you deny the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, then you deny the gospel. This is the heart of everything.
In closing, here is what MacArthur has to say about the Feast of Unleavened Bread mentioned in verse 1:
The Feast of Unleavened Bread, you remember, commemorated the exodus when they made the Unleavened Bread [and] left Egypt … The Feast of Unleavened Bread was seven days long … Exodus chapter 12 verses 15 to 20. It was held on Nisan 15th to the 21st, that would be around April … The day before the Unleavened Bread was Passover and that was the order they appear in verse 1. The Passover is on the fourteenth, starting the fifteenth and running for seven days, [then] the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because you remember that when they left Egypt, prior to their leaving with their Unleavened Bread, there was the Passover. Kill the lamb, put the blood on the doorpost and the lintel and the angel of death will [pass over] you. And they were celebrating God’s salvation of them in Egypt with their Passover. They still do it, it’s the Jewish Seder.
Passover, by the way, comes from a Hebrew word pesach which means to jump over because the angel of death jumped over their blood-splattered houses in Egypt. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was then connected to the Passover so that they were terms used interchangeably.
Next time: Mark 14:10-11