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Wednesday in Holy Week is known by some traditionalist Christians as Spy Wednesday.
Find out why:
The reading for Wednesday of Holy Week is John 13:21-32.
The painting shown is Judas Betrays Christ (1308-1311) by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319). Art and the Bible tells us that it refers to Matthew 26:15. Here are the relevant verses from Matthew 26 to put it in better context:
14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.
This is what happened on Good Friday (Matthew 27:3-10). Emphases mine:
3 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus[a] was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7 So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. 8 Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
Matthew Henry’s commentary has this analysis:
27:1-10 Wicked men see little of the consequences of their crimes when they commit them, but they must answer for them all. In the fullest manner Judas acknowledged to the chief priests that he had sinned, and betrayed an innocent person. This was full testimony to the character of Christ; but the rulers were hardened. Casting down the money, Judas departed, and went and hanged himself, not being able to bear the terror of Divine wrath, and the anguish of despair. There is little doubt but that the death of Judas was before that of our blessed Lord. But was it nothing to them that they had thirsted after this blood, and hired Judas to betray it, and had condemned it to be shed unjustly? Thus do fools make a mock at sin. Thus many make light of Christ crucified. And it is a common instance of the deceitfulness of our hearts, to make light of our own sin by dwelling upon other people’s sins. But the judgment of God is according to truth. Many apply this passage of the buying the piece of ground, with the money Judas brought back, to signify the favour intended by the blood of Christ to strangers, and sinners of the Gentiles. It fulfilled a prophecy, Zec 11:12. Judas went far toward repentance, yet it was not to salvation. He confessed, but not to God; he did not go to him, and say, I have sinned, Father, against heaven. Let none be satisfied with such partial convictions as a man may have, and yet remain full of pride, enmity, and rebellion.
No man could be more evil than Judas Iscariot. Only eleven other men in all of history have had the intimate, personal relationship he had with the incarnate Son of God, No man has ever been more exposed to God’s perfect truth, both in precept and example. No man has been more exposed firsthand to God’s love, compassion, power, kindness, forgiveness, and grace. No man has had more evidence of Jesus’ divinity or more firsthand knowledge of the way of salvation. Yet in all of those three indescribably blessed years with Jesus, Judas did not take so much as the first step of faith.
In a way that defies comprehension, Judas persistently resisted and rejected God’s truth, God’s grace, and even God’s own Son. Also in a way that defies understanding, he managed to completely conceal his wicked rebellion from everyone but Jesus. His hypocrisy was so complete and deceptive that even when Jesus predicted that one of the disciples would betray Him, Judas was not suspected.
Judas was so totally trapped in the darkness and corruption of sin that he became a willing instrument of Satan. Because this false disciple had totally renounced Christ, “Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot” (Luke 22:3), and it was then a simple matter to persuade him to betray Jesus (John 13:2). Judas’s heart was so utterly hardened to the things of God that long before he consciously considered betraying Him, Jesus called him a devil (John 6:70).
Even so, Judas could not escape the divinely designed signal of guilt that reminds men of their sin and warns them of its consequences. Just as pain is an intrinsic and automatic warning of physical danger, guilt is an intrinsic and automatic warning of spiritual danger. It was not that Judas suddenly became afraid of God, else he would have turned in desperation to the One he knew could forgive him. Nor was he afraid of men. Although he was now discarded and despised by the Jewish leaders, they had no reason to harm him. It was rather that Judas suddenly realized the horrible wrongness of what he had done. An innate awareness of right and wrong is divinely built into every human being and cannot be totally erased, no matter how deep a person may fall into depravity or how consciously and rebelliously he may turn against God. This is intensified by the convicting pressure of the Spirit of God.
Judas’s remorse was not repentance of sin, as the King James version suggests. Matthew did not use metanoeo, which means a genuine change of mind and will, but metamelomai, which merely connotes regret or sorrow. He did not experience spiritual penitence but only emotional remorse. Although he would not repent of his sin, he could not escape the reality of his guilt. Genuine sorrow for sin (metamelomai) can be prompted by God in order to produce repentance (metanoeo), as Paul declares in 2 Corinthians 7:10. But Judas’s remorse was not prompted by God to lead to repentance but only to guilt and despair.
Because he was a kind of witness against Jesus, perhaps Judas thought that by admitting the wickedness of what he had done he would be punished as a false witness, as Deuteronomy 19:16–19 prescribed. Under that provision, he would have been crucified himself, suffering the penalty imposed on the one he caused to be falsely convicted. Instead of looking to Jesus’ for forgiveness and trusting in His atoning death, Judas’s perverted mind may have led him to believe that by dying he somehow could atone for his own sin.
Proof that Judas’s sorrow was ungodly and selfish is seen in the fact that he made no effort to defend or rescue Jesus. He had no desire to vindicate or save Jesus but only to salve his own conscience, which he attempted to do by returning the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.
Heretics masquerading as Christians can write as much revisionist baloney as they like and make notionally new and revealing documentaries about Judas. They are wrong. Enough said.
Wednesday of Holy Week is sometimes referred to as Spy Wednesday as Judas comes into the picture:
(Image credit: whatshotn)
On March 15, 2016, I was appalled to read of two Anglicans — a bishop and an priest — coming forward to defend Judas. Even worse, on Good Friday morning — Good Friday, at 9 a.m., when children are watching! — BBC One will broadcast a programme about him: In the Footsteps of Judas.
The BBC should be broadcasting about Jesus’s suffering and dying so brutally for our sins — and how Judas fulfilled Old Testament prophecy in this regard.
The BBC, the programme makers and these two Anglicans are out of bounds.
The Telegraph has the full story. The Revd Kate Bottley says:
“This is not to say ‘Oh Judas, he’s all right really’, what we are saying is perhaps there is something else to this character than that kiss and that betrayal,” she said.
“I don’t think any of the other disciples were whiter than white – we just probably didn’t hear about it – because they were all human and we are all a bit messed up.”
The Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds:
feels “a bit sorry” for Judas.
He said that the lost apostle, viewed by many Christians as a figure beyond redemption, has, he said had a “lousy press” for the last 2,000 years.
Apparently, clergy do not need to know the Bible anymore. Jesus knew early on that Judas would betray Him. He said that Judas was a devil (John 6:70-71, emphases mine):
70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.
He said that after He fed the Five Thousand, long before the final week of His ministry.
I suppose the aforementioned clergy would simply say they would discount that as John might have just put that in there and that we have no way of knowing whether Jesus ever said that.
And there are many ‘Christians’ who say that John’s gospel is an allegory.
Hatred for Judas was so deep in the years following the closing of the New Testament that several incredible legends about him evolved. They describe bizarre occurrences, characterizing Judas as ugly, evil, and totally repugnant. One, in the apocryphal Coptic Narrative, said that Judas, having betrayed Christ, was infested with maggots. Consequently, his body became so bloated that on one occasion he was trying to ride on a cart through a gate, and being too large to fit through it, he hit the gate, his body exploded, and maggots spewed all over the wall. Obviously, that story is not true, but it shows the high level of contempt for Judas in the early centuries.
When I was in seminary, I wrote my dissertation on Judas Iscariot. During the year that I spent working on it, and since then, I have found it extremely difficult to write or speak on. Sin is never more grotesque than it is in the life of Judas. When we study Judas and his motivations, we are prying very close to the activity of Satan. But there are valuable reasons for examining Judas and his sin. For one thing, to understand Jesus’ love in its fullness, it helps to look at the life of Judas, because despite the awfulness of Judas’ sin, Jesus reached out to him in love.
My links at the top of this post discuss Judas’s life in more detail. He was a bad man. A tragic, sin-filled human being. Look at the image at the top of the post. Jesus said it would have been good for Judas not to have been born.
How anyone — especially a bishop and a priest — can have sympathy for him is astounding. If I were the Archbishop of Canterbury I’d want to meet with each separately to discuss their future in the Church.
The gospel reading for Spy Wednesday in Year C of the three-year Lectionary is John 13:21-32:
13:21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.”
13:22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.
13:23 One of his disciples–the one whom Jesus loved–was reclining next to him;
13:24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking.
13:25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
13:26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.
13:27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.”
13:28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.
13:29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor.
13:30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
13:31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.
13:32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
What Jesus had just said before becoming troubled in spirit (verse 21) was (John 13:18-20):
18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled,[d] ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
When He announced that one of the apostles would betray Him, all (but one) were stunned to the point where Peter asked John to enquire of Jesus who it was (verses 22 – 24). John was the logical apostle to ask, because he was close to Jesus’s heart and was reclining next to Him at the Last Supper. People stretched out on the floor to eat in ancient times.
John duly whispered the question to our Lord, who whispered back that they would know when He gave one apostle a morsel of moistened bread (verses 25, 26). With that, he handed it to Judas.
Matthew Henry’s commentary has this analysis of what could have been going through Judas’s mind at that moment and Jesus’s continuing generosity:
[1.] That Christ sometimes gives sops to traitors worldly riches, honours, and pleasures are sops (if I may so speak), which Providence sometimes gives into the hands of wicked men. Judas perhaps thought himself a favourite because he had the sop, like Benjamin at Joseph’s table, a mess by himself thus the prosperity of fools, like a stupifying sop, helps to destroy them. [2.] That we must not be outrageous against those whom we know to be very malicious against us. Christ carved to Judas as kindly as to any at the table, though he knew he was then plotting his death. If thine enemy hunger, feed him this is to do as Christ does.
Once Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him (verse 27). In light of John 6:70, Henry explains:
now Satan gained a more full possession of him, had a more abundant entrance into him. His purpose to betray his Master was now ripened into a fixed resolution now he returned with seven other spirits more wicked than himself, Luke 11:26. Note, [1.] Though the devil is in every wicked man that does his works (Ephesians 2:2), yet sometimes he enters more manifestly and more powerfully than at other times, when he puts them upon some enormous wickedness, which humanity and natural conscience startle at. [2.] Betrayers of Christ have much of the devil in them. Christ speaks of the sin of Judas as greater than that of any of his persecutors.
Please, never think that Judas was a sympathetic character or that he deserves a hearing. If Jesus considered His betrayal worse than His persecution, Judas’s heart and soul were rotten.
Jesus dismissed Judas from the Last Supper (verse 28), but in a way that the apostles did not understand (verse 29).
Christ hereupon dismissed him, and delivered him up to his own heart’s lusts: Then said Jesus unto him, What thou doest, do quickly. This is not to be understood as either advising him to his wickedness or warranting him in it but either, (1.) As abandoning him to the conduct and power of Satan. Christ knew that Satan had entered into him, and had peaceable possession and now he gives him up as hopeless. The various methods Christ had used for his conviction were ineffectual and therefore, “What thou doest thou wilt do quickly if thou art resolved to ruin thyself, go on, and take what comes.” Note, When the evil spirit is willingly admitted, the good Spirit justly withdraws. Or, (2.) As challenging him to do his worst: “Thou art plotting against me, put thy plot in execution and welcome, the sooner the better, I do not fear thee, I am ready for thee.” Note, our Lord Jesus was very forward to suffer and die for us, and was impatient of delay in the perfecting of his undertaking.
Henry wrote that the apostles were too guileless to see the very worst sin was about to be committed:
Note, It is an excusable dulness in the disciples of Christ not to be quick-sighted in their censures. Most are ready enough to say, when they hear harsh things spoken in general, Now such a one is meant, and now such a one but Christ’s disciples were so well taught to love one another that they could not easily learn to suspect one another charity thinks no evil.
Judas left in the night (verse 30). Henry explains:
[1.] Though it was night, an unseasonable time for business, yet, Satan having entered into him, he made no difficulty of the coldness and darkness of the night. This should shame us out of our slothfulness and cowardice in the service of Christ, that the devil’s servants are so earnest and venturous in his service. [2.] Because it was night, and this gave him advantage of privacy and concealment. He was not willing to be seen treating with the chief priests, and therefore chose the dark night as the fittest time for such works of darkness. Those whose deeds are evil love darkness rather than light. See Job 24:13, &c.
After Judas left, Jesus announced that He was now glorified (verse 31), indicating His crucifixion to come:
The presence of wicked people is often a hindrance to good discourse. When Judas was gone out, Christ said, now is the Son of man glorified now that Judas is discovered and discarded, who was a spot in their love-feast and a scandal to their family, now is the Son of man glorified. Note, Christ is glorified by the purifying of Christian societies: corruptions in his church are a reproach to him the purging out of those corruptions rolls away the reproach. Or, rather, now Judas was gone to set the wheels a-going, in order to his being put to death, and the thing was likely to be effected shortly: Now is the Son of man glorified, meaning, Now he is crucified.
MacArthur explains that Jesus purposely chose Judas:
He chose Judas because Judas was necessary to bring about His death, which was necessary to bring about the redemption of the world.
Prophecy was clear that Christ would be betrayed by a close friend. Why did Jesus choose Judas, then? He chose him to fulfill prophecy–not only the prophecy specifically about Judas, but also the prophecies of His own death. Somebody had to bring it to pass, and Judas was more than willing. God used the wrath of Judas to praise Him, and through the deed that Judas did, He brought salvation. Judas meant it for evil, but God used it for good (cf. Genesis 50:20).
You see, Judas fit right into the divine master plan. Judas’ betrayal was predicted in detail in the Old Testament. Psalm 41:9 says, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”
… The picture of David and Ahithophel in Psalm 41 is fulfilled in a greater sense in Jesus and Judas. The phrase “lifted up his heel” portrays brutal violence, the lifting of a heel and driving the heel into the neck of the victim. That is the picture of Judas. Having wounded his enemy, who is lying on the ground, he takes the giant heel and crushes his neck.
Psalm 55 contains another clear prophecy of Judas and his betrayal. Imagine Jesus speaking these words:
For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, then I could bear it; nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me. Then I could hide myself from him. But it is you, a man my equal, my companion and my familiar friend. We who had sweet fellowship together, walked in the house of God in the throng.
He has put forth his hands against those who were at peace with him; he has violated his covenant. His speech was smoother than butter, but his heart was war; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords. (vv. 12-14; 20-21).
Zechariah contains a prophecy about the betrayal of Christ by Judas in even more detail. It gives the exact price he was paid for his treachery, just as it is recorded in the New Testament. Zechariah 11:12-13 prophetically gives the words of Judas, talking to the Jewish leaders:
I said to them, “If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!” So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.” So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the Lord.
That describes to the letter what Judas did after the death of Jesus Christ. He took the thirty pieces right back to the house of the Lord and threw them down. Matthew 27 says that the thirty pieces were picked up and used to buy a potter’s field, exactly fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 11.
It is important for children and those new to the faith to understand Judas’s story and his betrayal of Christ. Knowing that all was prophesied in the Old Testament will help them to understand why Jesus had to choose him as an apostle.
Now, wouldn’t such an explanation have made a much better television programme? Clearly, to borrow Martin Luther’s words to Zwingli — ‘another spirit’ — moves through Judas’s defenders.
Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday in traditionalist Catholic circles.
The name is fitting as the chief priests close their deal with Judas, eager to betray our Lord for a few months’ wages.
These posts explain this fateful day and a bit about Judas himself:
St Mark’s Gospel has these accounts, with commentary from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur:
Mark 14:1-2 – what the Sanhedrin were thinking
Mark 14:10-11 – Judas volunteers to betray our Lord
On another subject relevant to Holy Week, some churches will be holding Tenebrae services. This post explains more about them.
Continuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.
The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.
Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? I wonder.
The Plot to Kill Jesus
1 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. 2 And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.
Judas to Betray Jesus
3 Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. 4 He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. 5 And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. 6 So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.
The end of Luke 21 tells us that Jesus spent the night before Passover — Wednesday night — on Mount Olivet, the Mount of Olives.
Meanwhile, the Jewish hierarchy plotted His death in a way that would not excite the crowds coming to Jerusalem for this feast (verses 1, 2).
They were aware how popular our Lord was. Only days before, a huge crowd lined the road on his triumphal entry into the city. If He were killed, there might be a mass revolt. It is also worth remembering that more and more Jews were in the city by now, possibly 2 million. The more people, the greater the Roman presence.
John MacArthur explains:
… they’re all very, very aware that this is exactly the kind of time that if anything starts that looks anywhere near like a riot, the Romans are going to come down hard with military force and change the relationship we currently have with them, which gives us a certain measure of freedom. We’ve got to arrest Him, we’ve got to arrest Him now.
John 11:45-57 explains more about the mindset of the Jewish elite, including their fear of losing their power and prestige. Verses 47-53 are particularly pertinent:
47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If 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.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.
Returning to Luke 22 now, verse 3 tells us: ‘Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot’. Matthew Henry says:
Whoever betrays Christ, or his truths or ways, it is Satan that puts them upon it.
Satan was already in Judas. Jesus stated this in John 6:70-71:
70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.
Our Lord made the same observation of the Jewish elite in John 8:38-47, specifically verses 43 through 47 (emphases mine):
43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
Judas was obsessed by materialism; in fact, he was the one who kept the money bag for Jesus and the Apostles. This should serve as a warning to us not to place money and possessions above the Holy Trinity. This also extends temporally to our family and friends. Are some people too obsessed with earning money to attend to their loved ones? We have read many cautionary tales about parents who hardly ever see their children then wonder why they end up in rehab. They realise, too late, that they should have been better parents. The same holds true when people lose friends because they haven’t kept in touch often enough; they’ve been too busy with work. But I digress.
Verse 4 of today’s reading tells us that Judas went off to discuss with the Jewish leaders how he could betray Jesus. It is for this reason that traditionalist Catholics refer to Wednesday of Holy Week, or Passion Week, as Spy Wednesday.
Henry has this observation about treachery by insiders, more insidious than that from external enemies:
Note, It is hard to say whether more mischief is done to Christ’s kingdom by the power and policy of its open enemies, or by the treachery and self-seeking of its pretended friends: nay, without the latter its enemies could not gain their point as they do.
The Jewish leaders welcomed Judas’s proposition and agreed to pay him (verse 5). The 30 coins amounted to a few months’ wages. Judas went off to contemplate how he could execute his betrayal quietly, without attracting the attention of the crowd (verse 6).
The devil moved them to do what they did and now the devil had another of his own children, Judas, and he moved him to do what he did. In fact, he not only moved him, he not only made treacherous suggestions to Judas, he moved in. There’s a progression there.
And whilst Satan is powerful, God keeps Him in check. In short, it was now ‘the time’ and ‘the hour’ — words used throughout the Gospels — for our Lord’s crucifixion. Hence God allows him to enter into Judas’s soul.
Scripture was soon fulfilled in Christ’s dying for the sins of the world, past, present and future. God meant it to happen. Jesus knew it was coming. A reading the Gospels tells us this. Jesus escaped angry people — His fellow Nazarenes and the hierarchy — who wanted to kill Him. He knew those moments were not the appointed time.
MacArthur tells us not to blame the Jewish people for the crucifixion. Nor should this make Christians opposed to Israel. In fact, those who rank with the Jews of Jesus’s time are the unbelievers and mockers throughout history, including those in the future:
… it was the Jews of that generation, living in that place, at that time, in that nation, in that crowd that wanted Jesus dead, and basically blackmailed Pilate into executing Him. This is no warrant for unscrupulous people to brand all Jews as a race as Christ-killers. The truth of the matter is, Jew or Gentile, anyone who rejects Jesus Christ takes a position against Jesus Christ and eliminates any hope of eternal salvation. That’s true of anybody. But to use what the people did to Jesus, the people of that generation did to Jesus, as some kind of justification for hate crimes, and holocausts against Jewish people is anything but Christian, anything but Christian. It is satanic. That kind of bigotry doesn’t come from God. It doesn’t come from true Christians. It comes from Satan. It is anti-Christian. It is true that Israel’s leaders bore culpability. The people bore culpability. Every person, Jew or Gentile who rejects Jesus Christ bears guilt. It is true. That is no reason to hate Israel. Even God loves Israel. And one day will save that nation. And even now is building His church of Jew and Gentile. Be reminded that way back in the Abrahamic covenant we are told whoever blesses Israel, God will what? Will bless. Whoever curses Israel, God will curse.
Next time: Luke 22:7-13
We are now nearing the middle of Holy Week.
The plot against Jesus thickens.
The High Priests, looking on, yearned to arrest Him. But, after their great outpouring of affection for Him on Palm Sunday, what would the people say?
Please visit the links for more information about the most tragic week in history before and since.
After Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the days preceding His Crucifixion turned increasingly more uncertain.
Among the events of this week are the following.
He also explained the ‘signs of the age’ with regard to persecution, false teachers and natural disasters (Mark 13:3-13).
Meanwhile, the Jewish Sanhedrin were plotting how to do away with our Lord by stealth (Mark 14:1-2). As they plot, Judas offers his services. For this reason, Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday in traditionalist Catholic churches.
Maundy Thursday, which commemorates the Last Supper, follows.
Today, the notion of service (exemplified in Jesus’s washing of the Apostles’ feet) continues in Christian charity. In England, the monarch traditionally distributes Maundy money to those in need. In 2012, during her Diamond Jubilee:
The Queen was on her way to York Minster for the traditional Royal Maundy service. To celebrate her 60 years as Monarch, the Queen will hand out money to people from all of the UK’s 44 Christian dioceses.
Usually, the Maundy money is given to pensioners from one diocese each year. But this year, 86 women and 86 men – one for each of the Queen’s 86 years – will receive the money in recognition of their services to the Church and their communities.
The Royal Maundy ceremony traces its origins to the Last Supper when, as St John recorded, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples …
The Queen’s procession included The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu; The Chancellor of the Diocese of York, Judge Peter Collier QC; the Dean of York, The Very Reverend Keith Jones and other dignitaries and officials.
A short time later the Queen began distributing the Maundy gifts to the first set of recipients on the south side of the Minster as the Yeomen of the Guard followed closely behind.
After the second lesson was read by the Archbishop of York, the Queen distributed the Maundy gifts to the second set of recipients on the north side of the cathedral as music by Handel was played.
Each recipient receives two purses – one red and one white – in the centuries old tradition.
The red purse will contain a £5 coin commemorating The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and a newly minted 50p coin.
The white purse will contain uniquely minted Maundy Money of silver one, two, three and four penny pieces, the sum of which equals the Queen’s age.
For more on Maundy Thursday, please see:
Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14, with a mention of the Holy Trinity)
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
Past Churchmouse Campanologist Holy Week posts for this day include ‘Spy Wednesday: Judas offers his services’, ‘Wednesday of Holy Week: More on Spy Wednesday’ and ‘What is Tenebrae?‘ If you are unfamiliar with Spy Wednesday, the first two posts describe what happened that day. The Tenebrae post explains the hearse (candelabrum) used in Holy Week services.
This Holy Week I have been highlighting sermons by the Reformed (Calvinist) pastor, the Revd P G Mathew of the Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California. I have been learning from each one, not least ‘The Clear Choice: Jesus or Barabbas’, which reminded me of a few things from religious education classes in school and added several surprising facts.
First, we discover that Barabbas and Christ shared the same name — Jesus (Joshua) — which was widely used at the time. Second, Barabbas was the son of a rabbi as his family name indicates. In Hebrew, bar means ‘son’, as in ‘Bar Mitzvah’ — ‘son of the Commandment’. (Bat means ‘daughter’. Their Arabic equivalents are bin and bint, respectively.) Abbas indicates ‘father’, which some learned rabbis were called (perhaps this is an ancient reason why this has carried through to the Roman Catholic priesthood). Barabbas, then, means ‘son of the rabbi called “father”‘.
Mr Mathew didn’t extrapolate on this, and I realise that some might object to what I am about to propose, but, two men named Jesus were brought to trial and both were known as ‘son of the father’. Is this a coincidence? Which will the crowd choose — he who is the false Jesus or He who is the true One? Is this something on which we might reflect, especially since the mob demanded that the false Jesus be set free and the true Jesus, Son of the Father, should die on the Cross? An interesting thought on which to ponder. How many times do we look for a false Jesus — one of our own making — rather than He who redeemed us from Satan and sin?
Third, both men came from what we call ‘good families’ — those with well-known lineage and/or established reputation. Barabbas, although he turned out to be a criminal, was brought up in a respectable home; his family were held in high esteem locally. Jesus was descended from King David. Both men took dramatic departures from their families. Barabbas turned towards insurrectionist and criminal acts. Jesus would fulfil Old Testament prophecy as the Messiah.
Mr Mathew writes (emphases mine):
So we may conclude that it is possible that Barabbas was the son of a prominent rabbinic family in Jerusalem. He was probably well-educated and well-connected, especially politically. His full name was probably Jesus Barabbas, which appears in in the Syrian and Armenian versions of Matthew 27:16-17. A number of scholars, including William Barclay, D. A. Carson, Robert Gundry, and Klaas Schilder, seem to accept this reading. D. A. Carson wrote, “On the whole it is more likely that scribes deleted the name [Jesus from Jesus Barabbas] out of reverence for Jesus [Christ] than added it in order to set a startling if grotesque choice before the Jews,”1 and I agree with that reasoning. If Barabbas was also called Jesus, he had a very common name in the New Testament times. Jesus is the same as Joshua, and we read of another Jesus in Acts 13 in the account of a Jewish sorcerer Elymas whose family name was Bar-Jesus, meaning the son of Jesus.
Mr Mathew compares Barabbas’s outlook with that of today’s liberation theology proponents — an earthly, political liberation of an oppressed people:
He was a political animal who believed in self-redemption, not in redemption through a messiah. The Bible calls him an insurrectionist, using a Greek word that means one who rises up against the existing authority and institutions–a seditionist, in other words. Barabbas had no interest in trusting in the coming Messiah. He wanted to become the savior of the Jewish people and attempted to liberate them from the yoke of Rome through political means. No doubt he joined the local liberation movement, whose modern counterparts would be organizations like the PLO, the Hamas and other freedom fighter groups.
To me this Jesus Barabbas, this dagger-carrying revolutionary, was the forerunner of the modern liberation theology movement which attempts to obtain its piece of the pie by the use of power, violence, and similar means, not by the practice of humility and faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Like liberation theologians who advocate the Marxist strategy of obtaining salvation, Barabbas wanted to overthrow existing institutions and take political power immediately. Eventually Barabbas and others did take part in an insurrection in Jerusalem against the Roman authority, but their rebellion was suppressed. Barabbas and his comrades were arrested by the Romans, tried, and and condemned to be crucified.
This is the clearest case yet for avoiding liberation theology, which has lured so many unsuspecting and well-intentioned clergy, seminarians and laypeople.
Like Marxist and Communist insurrectionists — including those fighting under the banners of faith (e.g. the IRA, Al Qaeda, the PLO) — Barabbas stopped at nothing in order to achieve his goals. His crimes brought him to book more than once. And let’s not forget the Zealots:
He is called a murderer in Mark 15:7, Luke 23:19, and Acts 3:14, which is not surprising. Liberation theology also believes in murder if it results in obtaining power now. Barabbas was also called a robber in John 18:14. According to Josephus the word used for robber, lestes, refers to members of the nationalist movement called Zealots, who supported themselves by robbery. Barabbas may have been a member of that movement. The two thieves who were crucified with Jesus Christ might also have been members of that movement. Why do we think that? At that time robbery was not a capital offense, and yet these two thieves were sentenced to be crucified. So we may well conclude that the thieves were also insurrectionists, murderers, and members of the movement led by Jesus Barabbas, the Zealot and patriotic freedom fighter.
I hadn’t realised that Barabbas and the thieves were that political. I’d just thought they were common crims. And I do recall a discussion years ago in which someone told me the New Testament was bunk because robbery was not a capital offence, yet the thieves were crucified. Therefore, the New Testament was a tissue of lies. If someone ever uses the same argumentation with you, you’ll now know how to respond!
Like many freedom fighters, Barabbas had a popular following. No doubt they comprised the mob who demanded his freedom that day before Pontius Pilate. This is no different from elevated revolutionaries like the late Yasser Arafat of the PLO. Amazingly, around this time last year I had an intense discussion with two practising Catholics about him. I said he was a Marxist revolutionary. They said that he was a great statesman! The same dynamic is at work in the Good Friday account of Christ’s condemnation. Mr Mathew explains:
In Matthew 27:16 Barabbas was described as notorious, but this word really means famous, popular, and notable. Barabbas was well-known in Jerusalem, and it seems he had a large following. He was even known to the Sanhedrin. Therefore, when Barabbas was sentenced to crucifixion, his fans–the Jerusalem crowd–and the Sanhedrin gathered early in the morning to demand his release.
Why did so many people side with Barabbas? They believed in this world, not in the world to come. They believed in having political power now. They believed in materialism and self-redemption. They did not believe the prophets and the promises of God. No, they wanted to take matters into their own hands, leaning onto their own understanding and saving themselves by whatever means. They wanted to wage guerrilla warfare. Their slogan was, “Power now! Fame now! Position now! Wealth now! Dignity now!“
While I was traveling through South India several years ago, I saw this slogan scrawled on a wall: “Salvation is through the barrel of a gun.” Those who wrote it, in other words, would say, “We do not wait and believe. We refuse to be humble, gentle and meek. We refuse to endure. We are no longer hoping for pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by. We are people of action who use raw power to obtain what we want.” I am sure Barabbas would say the same things.
With that in mind, it becomes clearer why Jesus’s followers stayed at home that day. It is much the same for us. After all, the law-abiding stay at home when there are violent demonstrations, such as the one in London on March 27, 2011.
And it is also clear why Jesus Christ could not fulfil the ambitions of the Zealots or the Sanhedrin:
They wanted a Jesus who would use raw power to give them political salvation. We see this problem today even among evangelicals who think that they should get a piece of the pie also. They engage in tremendous political action, but such activities will not bring salvation.
The Sanhedrin, the religious authority, concocted some charges against Jesus Christ. They were liars, but they came up with three political charges which they thought would sound very relevant before Pilate. What were they? We read about them in Luke 23:2. First they said, “We have found this man subverting our nation,” although Jesus Christ was not an insurrectionist like Barabbas. Then they claimed, “He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar,” which again was a lie, as we read in Matthew 22, Mark 12 and Luke 20. Finally they said Jesus claimed to be Christ, a king, who would set himself up in opposition to the existing power of Rome.
These charges were merely trumped up lies. The last charge, that Jesus is the Christ, a king, is true in that Jesus is the Messiah who introduced the spiritual kingdom of God, the kingdom of righteousness, into this world. But Jesus was not a political king, an earthly king, as he himself told Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world.” In fact, Jesus argued with Pilate that if he were an earthly king, his disciples would have used power to prevent him from being arrested and delivered unto Pilate. But as the humble Savior and Messiah, Jesus Christ did not use soldiers or swords to enforce his kingship.
So, let this serve as a warning about seeking ‘liberation’ in this life now through warped Christian theology, ‘social justice’ and — on the other end of the scale — dominionism.
Which Jesus will we follow: Barabbas or Christ? As Mr Mathew says, Christians have a ‘clear choice’.
My 2009 posts for Wednesday of Holy Week were ‘Spy Wednesday: Judas offers his services’ and ‘What is Tenebrae?‘ If you are unfamiliar with Spy Wednesday, please read last year’s post for background on what it is and what happened that day. The Tenebrae post explains the hearse (candelabrum) used in Holy Week services.
Picking up from my Palm Sunday post, we see that, to many, Jesus was viewed as a potential upset to the established religious and political order of the day. The Jewish hierarchy were more concerned with this than the Romans were. After all, the Romans made no attempt to stop His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
On Spy Wednesday, the chief priests were still looking for someone to inform on Jesus’s whereabouts so that He could be brought to trial. His raising Lazarus from the dead in Bethany was a step too far and threatened their status quo. Certainly, more people would have believed in Him after that final miracle. What if a considerable number of people became followers of Christ? What about the people throwing palm branches at Jesus’s feet on Palm Sunday? They could have led a religious rebellion against the Jewish Establishment. The chief priests could be replaced, their authority overturned.
Caiaphas was the high priest that year. He had a vested interest in keeping things the way they were. Caiaphas met with his council and explained to them that if Jesus wasn’t brought for trial and condemned to death, the nation would be destroyed. Of course, he meant the religious status quo, but he posited it as a patriotic struggle. To this he added the threat of death to all the chief priests at the hands of the Romans in quashing a rebellion. Naturally, the thought of their own deaths brought the hierarchy on side. Yet, remember that Jesus came in peace not as the focal point for a revolution. Ironically, looking ahead a few decades in history, we see that Rome did quash a rebellion — by the Jewish people themselves in 70 AD. Titus Vespasian put 1.1 million Jews to death. The Romans destroyed the Temple.
And so, Caiaphas prophesies that Jesus must die for the nation. He didn’t consciously intend to use those words, but let’s not forget that God puts people to use for His own plan. Many people find this problematic: why would God have His own Son killed? It seems so cruel. In ‘The Plot to Kill Jesus’, John MacArthur explains:
Historically, the high priest was God’s spokesman, as Caiaphas was in this case, except he was unaware he was prophesying. The very words of evil by which Caiaphas condemned himself were the same ones the Holy Spirit used to convey the truth of God. Using the evils of Satan to His own end, God was able to use Caiaphas’s own words to declare the effect of Christ’s death. God uses human instrumentation–even the hatred of men. Christ’s crucifixion on the cross is an enduring illustration of that. It was the worst thing men could do, yet it accomplished the greatest blessing on their behalf.
Looking at Judas, we see a man who went with the tide. Why did he follow Christ? Did he, like the crowds, expect some great act from Jesus? Were his expectations as a disciple basking in Jesus’ greater glory left unfulfilled? Or was he, like so many of us, just an opportunist, ready to follow — and capitalise on — whatever wave of sentiment was sweeping among the people? The sum of money he received was worth a few months’ salary, possibly less.
As we will see, the crowd will also play their part in the days to come. Some awaited more miracles — more excitement — from Jesus and were disappointed that He was ‘only’ preaching at the Temple after overthrowing the money changers’ tables on Monday.
The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born. — Matt. 26:24
Spies had already been lurking around the Temple questioning people about Jesus’ whereabouts after He finished his preaching each day earlier in the week. So far, they had gained little information for the High Priests plotting against Jesus.
Needless to say, the religious hierarchy is delighted when one of Jesus’ own disciples goes to them offering to betray Him (Matthew 26:14-16):
Then one of the Twelve – the one called Judas Iscariot – went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
The priests pay Judas the money straightaway, because according to the law, an informant had to be paid before his information could be used. They are relieved that someone has come forward to do their dirty work for them (Luke 22:5).
The priests think that the tide is turning in their favour. The climate in Jerusalem is changing. The exuberance of the crowds surrounding Jesus is more subdued. The priests and rabbis note that although the crowds are still gathering, people say that Jesus is less Messianic. He was angry on Monday and has done nothing more than preach since then. Where’s the excitement? Where’s the drama? The High Priests think that they might be able to turn this changed atmosphere to their advantage.
And this brings to mind our own fickle moods with regard to Our Lord. One minute we love Him, the next minute we ignore Him and, so often, we betray Him through our own sins and weaknesses. Looking at Judas, we see a man who went with the tide. Why did he follow Christ? Did he, like the crowds, expect some great act from Jesus? Were his expectations as a disciple basking in Jesus’ greater glory left unfulfilled? Or was he, like so many of us, just an opportunist, ready to follow — and capitalise on — whatever wave of sentiment was sweeping among the people? The sum of money he received was worth a few months’ salary, possibly less.
Indeed, John’s Gospel tells us that Judas had a love of money. He offered to guard the money bag belonging to Jesus and the Apostles (John 12:6):
6He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (New International Version)
Perhaps Judas also thought he would receive protection or just the ephemeral ‘fame’ of turning in someone notable.
Is there a bit of Judas in each of us? Would we volunteer to spy on a good person in the public eye if we knew that someone powerful and influential wanted us to? What if we were promised some sort of reward — either prestigious or monetary — for doing so?
What about our lesser ‘crimes’? Have we ever helped to get a blameless colleague sacked to curry favour with the boss? What about the committees we serve on? Have we ever suggested someone be blackballed for no good reason just to make us look better? Have we so wanted to be part of the gang or in-crowd that we laugh at and bully more modest and humble classmates or neighbours? This is what happens when we seek to be seen as ‘cool’ or one of the group.