Matthew 26:20–25

“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” (v. 24).

Per the custom of their day, Jesus and His disciples recline at the Passover, lying on cushions arranged like a horseshoe around the table (Matt. 26:20). Some commentators believe that the room in which they are commemorating the exodus belongs to John Mark, an associate of Barnabas and Paul (Acts 15:36–41) and probable author of the second book of the New Testament. Whether or not this is the case, we do know that Jesus sees this Passover as the beginning of events absolutely critical to His work. In 26:18 Matthew uses the word kairos, one of the Greek terms we translate as “time.” This is significant because kairos refers to a decisive or special moment. Christ knows the climactic point of His ministry is soon to come while He is eating His last supper.

Such knowledge of the future is also shown when Jesus reveals that He will be handed over to sinners (vv. 20–21). This betrayal fulfills Scripture (v. 24), but how? First, the Messiah must feel the punishment His sinful people have earned and Judas’ betrayal may be one way the Father metes out His wrath. Israel pledged to follow God and then betrayed Him, breaking His Law (Hos. 8); now Jesus — the true Israel — endures in the place of His people the same betrayal they deserve for double-crossing the covenant Lord. In Christ, God repays Israel in kind. Moreover, though the Psalms belong to the entire covenant community, the Psalter is uniquely the king’s song book. David’s greatest son can only sing the Psalms if He feels a friend’s betrayal (see Ps. 55).

Of course, Judas does not operate independently of the Almighty’s sovereign decree (Matt. 26:24–25). But Judas’ evil purpose makes him no less guilty for bringing about what God has ordained. John Calvin comments, “Men can do nothing but what God has appointed, still this does not free them from condemnation, when they are led by a wicked desire to sin. For though God directs them, by an unseen bridle, to an end which is unknown to them, nothing is farther from their intention than to obey his decrees.” Christ’s betrayal results both from divine fiat and human sin, yet God, mysteriously, remains untainted by evil in the process. This exemplifies the doctrine of providence.

Coram Deo

Calvin reminds us to “always place before our minds the providence of God, which Judas himself, and all wicked men — though it be contrary to their wish, and though they have another end in view — are compelled to obey.” The Lord is able to bring about what He wills even through the wicked deeds of men. We should therefore trust that He is working out His good purposes for His people even as others do evil to us (Rom. 8:28).

For Further Study