Matthew 26:1-16 – wherever the gospel is preached

These bible study notes were prepared as part of a series of teachings on Matthew’s gospel, given in Johannesburg between 2007 and 2009.

When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away – and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some devious way and kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
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.

Jesus’ earlier and more subtle denunciations of the Pharisees and the prevailing religious establishment of the Jews turned into an overt and public condemnation in Chapter 23.

After this head-on chalenge of the Prevailing Power, with all its wealth and vested interest, the ‘itinerant miracle man’ would have to be finally put out of the way.

The death for which Jesus had gradually prepared his disciples, was near. By this time He could say to them, ‘as you know …’.

Judas must have known for some time that there was no prospect of compromise with the religious establishment, or of Jesus deposing them by miracle or force. Instead, He would willingly surrender Himself into their hands. In a very short while Jesus would be no more, and his disciples would be left, seemingly, with nothing. If Judas held any ambitions of worldly power and status, they had been thoroughly shattered.

In pondering his betrayal, Judas may have contemplated his ‘wasted years’, the sacrifices he had made and the many months without wages. Since the death of Jesus was a foregone conclusion, he might as well recoup some of his losses?

Whatever his motivation, Judas had come to the point of putting his plan into action. ‘Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death’(James 1:14-15).

Later, in Mat 26:21-25, we see Judas present at the Last Supper, seemingly without pangs of conscience, and no guilt is evident when Jesus brings his intentions to light. John says that Satan entered him at this time (Jn 13:27). We understand that Judas is given over or bound to his decision from that moment, deprived of the freedom to repent.

For all who set themselves in headstrong oposition against God, there comes the point where He surrenders them ‘to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done,’ so that ‘all may perish who did not love the truth, but delighted in wickedness.’ (Rom 1:28; 2 Thes 12:2)


According to John (Jn 12:1), the dinner at which Jesus was anointed with perfume took place six days before the Passover, but Matthew and Mark include it in their narrative of Jesus’ last hours.

They do this – probably – because of its significance to Jesus’ death and burial (v.12), and also because it was on account of this event that Judas resolved to carry out his betrayal (v.14). But, most importantly, the anointing at Bethany is brought into closer association with the cross because our Lord himself cherished that woman’s worship, and ordained that ‘wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her’ (v.13).

Like the sacrifices consumed on the altar of the Temple, the pouring out of this precious ointment was an act of pure worship. It serves as a reminder in our humanistic age – and this woman’s testimony stands for that purpose – that our religion is not about our usefulness to society or the amount of good we can do for the needy, but about our love for our Lord.

How many hours of prayer and bible study have been sacrificed to run soup kitchens and provide shelter for the homeless – not that our love for the Lord cannot be expressed in these ways! But those most focussed on practical service are more tempted to think of time with the Lord as wasteful and unproductive.

What Matthew claims as the disciples’ collective response to the spilled perfume – i.e. ‘why this waste?’ – is attributed by John to Judas Iscariot (Jn 12:4). While Judas was probably the one to express the view, it is also probable that some of the others had similar reservations. (We see this again at the Passover table – Mat 26:22 – where each of the disciples was confronted in himself, with the latent potential to betray.) But Mary is without reserve, and pours out everything she has – possibly her life’s savings – upon the body of her Saviour.

What consolation to Jesus at this time – and to any believer facing hardship or trouble – to receive such love from a fellow, and to have that body which was so despised, and soon to be tortured, ridiculed and humiliated, anointed with sweet perfume and tears.

‘I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’

Let us then honour our Saviour’s wish by keeping a memorial to Mary for that supposedly wasteful and fruitless act of worship, which He cherished so greatly, and probably remembered in his terrible hours of darkness, on the cross. We must speak of it often in our gatherings and in evangelism.


While the religious establishment was already plotting to kill Jesus, it lacked a charge on which to convict him.

The Law of Moses, of which they were the apparent custodians, imposed a curse on anyone who would kill a man secretly (Deut. 27:24). To kill Jesus without pretext would show them up for what they were – i.e. hypocrites, only concerned with position and power. (They could not dispose of him over the feast, ‘lest there may be a riot among the people’. I.e. their motives had nothing to do with worshipping God.)

Judas’ offer to hand Him over would require that a charge be laid against Him – a charge moreover that carried the death penalty. Although it is not stated that Judas laid the charge, it is implied in the fact that Judas later accompanies the temple guard to arrest Him. At Jesus’ trial, the Sanhedrin sought corroborating evidence, but could not find any (Mark 14:59).

Matthew is the only one of the gospel writers to mention the exact amount paid to Judas. As we have seen before, Matthew, of all the gospel writers, is most concerned to show how Jesus fulfilled prophecy. In this case we see a remarkable correlation with a prophecy from Zechariah, where Jehovah God says to Israel:

I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And YHVH said to me, “Throw it to the potter” – the handsome price at which they priced me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of YHVH to the potter. (Zech 11:13-14)

We see this fulfilled in the betrayal of Jesus. (Something the Watchtower Society might want to explain.)

The amount is mentioned in the Law of Moses at the compensation payable to an owner for killing a slave.

‘If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner [of the bull] must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave …’. (Exodus 21:32)

This was the handsome price the Sanhedrin was willing to offer, and Judas was willing to accept.