Session #8  (Most quotes are NIV)

There are additional verbal attacks on Jesus, parables told, another feast, etc., but we have to limit this group of studies somewhere.  Now it is time to address the plot to betray Jesus.  We don’t know if this happened on Tuesday or at night.  The Bible doesn’t tell us WHEN, but Tuesday night is a reasonable guess. 

Matthew 26:1-5 is highly instructive: “When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away (Thursday)—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 schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him.But not during the festival,” they kept on saying (an imperfect verb), “or there may be a riot among the people.”

Wouldn’t the disciples wonder why Judas was “missing” from the group while he was out scheming to betray?  Perhaps not.  During the last Passover meal, Judas leaves (John 13:29) and they thought he was going off to buy something needed for the meal.  I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the disciples weren’t thinking of betrayal.

Now we surely know that our Lord Jesus wants His Christian followers to use the things He gives us wisely and to love each other as He has loved us (John 13:34).  In other words, “Love people and use things!”  Unfortunately, Judas Iscariot has this adage backward.  Despite hearing Jesus’ public ministry for at least three years, Judas seems to have lived by the mantra: “Love things and use people!”  We have all known people like that.

Tim Rice, in his libretto for Jesus Christ Superstar, tries to portray Judas as an innocent victim of circumstances who “only wants to know” what Jesus was trying to accomplish.  Nice try!  Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us that Judas had no hesitation to “discuss with the chief priests and captains how he might deliver Jesus to them.”  (Luke 22:3-4)  Judas is talking with no middle men.  These are the big boys!

Luke gives a special piece of information here:  στρατηγοῖς (strategoi!)  These “strategoi” were the captains of the Temple Guards.  From word one, this was designed to be a police action.  The Chief Priest in charge of the Temple Guards was doing the “strategizing” on how to use his armed forces to complete the mission.  These Temple Guards couldn’t withstand the Roman Legions but they can easily handle most Jewish “dust ups” on or around the Temple grounds.  In other words, these are trained and serious-minded men who are charged with the responsibility of keeping the peace, quite capable of “busting some heads” if necessary.

However, there is more information here:  Judas is discussing the matter with the Chief Priests (PLURAL).  Remember that there are three Chief Priests in charge of the Temple treasury.  One would need them “on board” for this betrayal to work—someone had to OK the expenditure of 30 pieces of silver, and the Chief Priest in charge of the guards couldn’t do it.  The “accounting department” must be part of the plot.  These little details help reinforce the notion that our Gospel writers are not slopping some words together.  This is very carefully detailed history.

Refer to the top section: Matthew reported that the leaders “kept on saying ‘NOT during the Feast.’”  But Judas’ offer is too good to pass up.  They decide to “go for it” now!

No actual photograph of the 30 pieces of silver is available (duh!), but it is reasonable to assume that these coins are Tyrian shekels which are minted in house for the Temple tax. (Naturally, there are theologians who disagree with that statement.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter!) 

Exodus 21:32 is the Mosaic determination for the value of a slave (“If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekelsof silver to the master of the slave, and the bull is to be stoned to death.”)  Thus, the Chief Priests must have gotten quite a “chuckle” out of giving Jesus a mere “slave’s value.”  Luke 22:5 and Mark 14:11 both use the same Greek word, ἐχάρησαν:  they were “delighted!”

For Judas, it is now merely necessary to find the “right time” to pull this off.  Meanwhile, Caiaphas either directly—or through a messenger—let Pilate know what was planned.  The Bible does not give us this detail, but it would have been an absolute necessity.  Our initial quote from Matthew warning of a riot (θόρυβος) among the people was a deadly serious thing.  Pilate would be happy to avoid involvement, but he would NOT be happy about Temple Guards moving around en masse during Passover week without being told why they’re moving!


This day is so special for the Jewish people that it is 30 hours long—from 6:00 p.m. Wednesday night to midnight on Thursday night!   The normal day is 24 hours, and Romans counted them like we do today:  the day starts at midnight and ends at midnight.  The Jewish day starts at sundown and goes to the next sundown.  (Remember Genesis 1 and that goofy wording “and the evening and the morning were the first day, etc.”  This reflects the Jewish day which starts at night.)  

Since this is near the vernal equinox (March 21 give or take a day), days and nights are very close to equal.  We cantherefore predict that sunset is about 6:00 p.m.  At this hour in the evening, Thursday begins.  Liturgical churches, like the Lutheran Church, follow this practice, and therefore “Easter Day” or “Christmas Day” begins at sunset of that Saturday evening, with the rubrics (rules) about colors, flowers, singing, etc. changing at that hour.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  when you read the Gospels, the Gospel of John can throw the reader off track.  John uses ROMAN time (midnight to midnight) and Matthew, Mark and Luke generally use Jewish time (6:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.)  So why is this day 30 hours long?  This is merely a practical matter.  The requirements for the day include too much for a 24-hour day:

  1. Cleaning the house of all leaven (yeast)—this means thoroughly!
  2. Obtaining a perfect, non-blemished lamb and taking it to the Temple for slaughter
  3. Getting the lamb all “dressed” for roasting, building a fire and roasting the lamb
  4. Preparing the other dishes required for the meal
  5. Getting out the once-a-year dishes for the Passover meal and cleaning them
  6. Getting each family member cleaned up and presentable
  7. Eating the Passover meal AT LEISURE on couches AFTER the sun goes down

ALL of these requirements come with heavy regulation, ceremony and proscription. When taking your lamb to the Temple for slaughter, there may be a line!  If the population had swollen to 150,000 (some even say 180,000), the priests will be very busy slicing the throats of bleating and screaming lambs in order to bleed them to death on the altar.

Exodus 12 gives us all the rules:  how, why, when, etc.  Nothing was to be left over.  Because of this prohibition against leftovers,  a whole lamb must serve between 10 and 20 people.  That means (and let’s assume 15 people as an average per lamb), 150,000 people were going to need 10,000 lambs!  

Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, claims a Jerusalem population of 2.7 to 3  million people during this week!  There aren’t enough lambs in England and Scotland to feed that many (and I’m pretty sure England has more sheep than people!  I’ve seen them!)

But even taking the smaller number, the noise of the dying lambs, the river of blood from the altar, and the oddly-festive occasion make for an “interesting” morning.  This cacophony could be heard anywhere in the city.  And the pièce de résistance TONIGHT, the Messiah will declare his arrival!  Hosanna to the Son of David!