To drive the point home before the culmination of his Gospel, Matthew inserts another sermon into Chapter 25. This one is also about being watchful and preparing for the coming of the Son of Man, which will be rendered ironic by the following chapter. Once again, Yeshua speaks in parables, and it can be construed he’s speaking to his closest followers, since they’re the ones to whom he’s hammered home this message.
Yeshua gives the parable of the bridegroom which features five bridesmaids who are prepared to await the bridegroom by having enough oil to keep their lamps lit, contrasted with five who don’t take enough oil. When they go to wait for the bridegroom, those who didn’t bring enough oil ask the others for some of theirs and end up going to get more. In the meantime, the bridegroom shows up and takes those who are ready to the wedding feast. Those who had to get more oil aren’t admitted to the feast and are sent on their way.
The Parable of the Talents
The parable of the talents is well known to adherents of the Prosperity Gospel. It’s the one they cite to demonstrate that Yeshua had an entrepreneurial spirit, promoting wealth and commerce. This stands in stark contrast to just about every other statement he’s made throughout the Gospels. As his invective against the Pharisees in Matthew 23 clearly demonstrates, Yeshua had very little sympathy for the well-to-do, especially those who made a huge show of donating large sums of money just to gain the praise and admiration of others. We can surmise, then, that he hasn’t suddenly had a change of heart and embraced Roman era capitalism.
The actual point of the parable is obscured by the fact that we aren’t the intended audience and don’t fully grasp what’s happening in it from a cultural viewpoint. The fact that the assets are referred to as “talents” rather than currency suggests deeds rather than possessions, but while it’s possible to cultivate an existing talent in someone so inclined, it’s not possible to give someone an innate ability. Looking at it from a standpoint of abilities, it could be interpreted as meaning the wise servants increased their knowledge or abilities by doing good works, whereas the foolish servant squandered his by being afraid to use them. But, if this was the point, Yeshua probably would have said so, instead of phrasing the story in terms of monetary assets. I believe Leviticus allows for charging modest interest or fees on money loaned to another, or perhaps the wise servants invested their money in endeavors that were of benefit to the master and reaped the profits from those. In any event, since the theme is watchfulness, the point seems to be that the wise servants prepared for the return of the master by using their talents for the greater good whereas the foolish servant simply waited and hoped for the best.
The Judgment of Nations
Matthew 25 concludes with Yeshua making pronouncements about the coming kingdom and sounding very little like someone preparing to sacrifice himself for all humanity. In his narration, the whole world (at least the world as he knew it) would be divided into sheep and goats. To one set, he lauds them for tending to him when he was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and a stranger, and explains that whenever anyone performs these acts for the least among them, they have served him. They are those welcome in the kingdom. He chastised those who did not show him such concern, and again explains that when they behave that way to the least among them, they’re treating him that way. He finishes by stating that those who show concern inherit eternal life while the others get eternal punishment.
The Plot Against Yeshua
Mark 14 and Matthew 26 present the plot against Yeshua by Temple officials, led in Matthew by High Priest Ca’iaphas. Matthew differs from Mark in providing the name of the High Priest rather than simply “the chief priests and scribes” as Mark says. This suggests that Matthew knew the name, whereas Mark consistently presents people and events in Judea with much less specificity. It also implies that Matthew may be attempting to obscure the fact that the story takes place during the Rebellion. Identifying a specific individual helps to center the story in a given time period namely the tenure of High Priest Ca’iaphas and since Matthew seems to be guided by the Scriptures, he could be following one of the conventions of the Scriptural writers in his use of anachronism. Almost all the prophetic writers were operating during the times they were predicting and using ancient settings and people to give agency to their work and to provide plausible deniability in case the stories were linked to them.
The plot itself is simple, find a way to arrest Yeshua without inciting the mob surrounding him. If only they could find someone willing to betray him.
While in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman brings in a flask of what Mark describes as “very expensive” ointment and breaks it over Yeshua’s head. Mark’s account states that people who witnessed it criticized the gesture, saying the ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Matthew, however, specifies that it was the disciples who raised objections. Throughout his Gospel, Matthew has been more likely to paint the disciples in a less favorable light by attributing differences with Yeshua’s mission to them rather than nameless bystanders. This could be due to the differences between rival sects, in particular the emerging Catholic Church, which claimed authority through Peter who they identified as the chief apostle and first Pope. Mark seems to agree with Paul’s ministry on adherence to the Law, whereas Matthew contradicts Paul’s and Mark’s conclusions, so Matthew may also wish to call into question the authority of groups that claim a particular apostle as the source of their authority.
Mark and Matthew both provide very sparse accounts of Judas agreeing to betray Yeshua. The main difference in their portrayals is that Mark says Judas went to the chief priests and offered to betray Yeshua for an unknown reason, and they offered to pay him, whereas Matthew says Judas asks how much they’ll pay him to betray Yeshua, making his motives slightly less curious. This would have an ironic meaning, given Yeshua’s attitude toward wealth and prosperity. Neither Gospel goes into further details, though Mark says the Temple officials were very happy with the offer.
It’s not clear what motivated one of the Twelve to betray Yeshua and neither Mark nor Matthew provide clarification. It’s possible that it was known Judas turned Yeshua in without knowing why, so Mark and Matthew simply stated it without elaboration or came to the logical conclusion that it was for money. But it doesn’t answer the question of why one of Yeshua’s handpicked closest followers who had been with him throughout his exploits in Galilee would turn against him in this manner just when it seems he’s fulfilling his predictions.
Compounding the problem is that Judah or Judas is also the name of one of Yeshua’s brothers, as stated in the account of his family during the story of his rejection in his home region earlier in both Gospels. So, even though Judas is frequently identified by the nickname “Iscariot” it’s possible this was a further attempt by a family member to apprehend Yeshua and would explain Judas’ actions after seeing what happens to Yeshua in custody. It could also be an nod to the Scriptures, since Matthew alludes to Joseph in the birth narrative by giving Yeshua’s father the name and having him take the family into Egypt for protection. Joseph’s brothers, including Judah, also betrayed him and sold him into slavery in Egypt. Judah was also the majority tribe in Judea, which takes its name from the tribe, so “Judas” could be symbolic of Judea rejecting the Messiah as they rejected the prophets. Other words that Matthew puts into the mouths of “the Jews” in the penultimate chapter supports this notion in his Gospel, though that could also be a smokescreen as we shall see.
The Gnostics, who viewed Jesus as a god incarnate who assumed human form to impart secret wisdom on his followers, revered Judas second only to Jesus (and possibly Mary Magdalene). They were responsible for the Gospel of Judas, which explains that Jesus encouraged Judas to betray him so he could be crucified and return to the heavenly realm. Neither Mark nor Matthew have shown any inclination to portray Yeshua in this manner, both showing him to be an earthly miracle worker and itinerant preacher. So, we’re left to speculate on Judas’ motives in these Gospels.
Passover and Lord’s Supper
The disciples ask where Yeshua wants to observe the passover. In Mark, Yeshua gives them instructions to go to town and find a man bearing water and inquire where “The Teacher” is to eat with his disciples. The symbolism in Mark is interesting, in that in astrology, the water bearer is Aquarius, and that’s the next age to follow the Age of Pisces, during which the Gospels are set. We are currently entering the Age of Aquarius in our time. Mark has the disciples find the water bearer and ask where Yeshua can observe the passover. Matthew omits the detail of the water bearer and instead sends his followers to “a certain one” to tell (not ask) the owner that Yeshua will be dining there.
Later, while they’re gathered, Yeshua reveals that one of the Twelve will betray him. This immediately sets off the disciples, who each ask “Is it me?” Mark has Yeshua respond that it’s one of them who is dipping bread with him without identifying anyone. Matthew has the disciples question Yeshua, before finally having Judas ask, to which Yeshua says, “You have said so.” This doesn’t seem to cause Judas any trouble among the Twelve and they proceed with their meal. Both Gospels follow the same order, of Judas approaching the Temple authorities, then attending the meal, then betraying Yeshua.
Yeshua then introduces the Lord’s Supper. Most Christians recognize the ritual, breaking the bread and saying “Take, eat this is my body” and blessing the cup with, “This is my blood of the new covenant.” Matthew adds the detail that it’s for “the forgiveness of sins” and both record that Yeshua says he will no longer partake of the fruit of the vine until he drinks it in the kingdom of God.” The observance has come to be known as the Eucharist, but it may have had a different meaning to Yeshua, particularly since he was identified as a Nazarene (possibly Nazarite). These individuals, who are defined in Numbers 6, entered into a covenant with God for a specified time agreeing to not cut their hair or to partake of the fruit of the vine. It’s possible Yeshua’s intent was to also enter into such a covenant, believing that the Kingdom of God was imminent and his commitment would yield a favorable result. Matthew’s audience most likely was aware of this tradition; Mark’s most likely wasn’t.
Peter, Gethsemane, Betrayal
Yeshua predicts that the disciples will abandon him, to which Peter swears to stick by him. Yeshua tells him he’ll deny Yeshua three times by the time the cock crows. They all head off to Gethsemane, where Yeshua asks his chief followers, Peter and the sons of Zeb’edee, to keep watch while he prays. It’s here where the parables about watchfulness take on their ironic meaning as none of the disciples are able to stay awake. Yeshua prays three times that he be delivered from his fate, but once he returns the third time to find his closest lieutenants asleep, he chastises them then indicates that the betrayer has arrived. Judas leads the guards to Yeshua, telling them that whoever he kisses is the one they should seize.
What’s most striking about these accounts is the sense of inevitability that they imply. Yeshua himself remarks that while he was teaching in the Temple, no one laid a hand on him, but now they come in secret as though he’s a robber. One of his followers pulls a sword and cuts off the ear of one of the guards, but Yeshua tells him to put away the sword because the Scriptures need to be fulfilled. Following this, as predicted, his disciples run away. Mark relays the curious episode of a young man wearing only a sheet that someone seizes, so he runs away naked. Some commentators have tied this incident to a passage in the Secret Gospel of Mark, which describes a ritual Yeshua performs with a young follower. The passage is described in a letter from Clement of Alexandria, who tells the recipient that the passage in the Secret Gospel is authoritative, but dangerous and should be suppressed.
The sense is given that something has been left out of the accounts, given how quickly Yeshua goes from teaching and making incendiary pronouncements in the Temple to being betrayed and turned over to the authorities by one of his followers. Adding insult to injury, are his closest compatriots, who are unable to stay awake to keep watch for him. Despite Yeshua practically telling Judas he would betray him, Matthew has Yeshua ask Judas, “Friend, why are you here?” Yeshua’s prayers while awaiting his arrest bear a closer look. Both Gospels state that Yeshua asks to be delivered from his fate, but concludes, “Thy will not my will be done.” Perhaps, Yeshua was not asking to be released from the responsibility, but for God to intervene on his behalf, and if he felt confident of this happening, he’d be much more willing to accompany the guards without a fight.
High Priest and Peter’s Denial
After capturing Yeshua, the guards take him before the High Priest, who Matthew once again identifies as Ca’iaphas, but who Mark simply calls the high priest. As usual, the details are slightly different between Mark and Matthew. Both report that Yeshua remains silent as witnesses are brought in to testify against him, and Mark states that there’s no agreement among the witnesses. Finally, when the priest asks if Yeshua is the Christ, the son of the Blessed, Mark has Yeshua state, “I am” along with the description of the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God. Matthew has him dodge the question by replying, “You have said so,” but includes the description of the Son of Man at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds. Matthew’s point throughout has been to promote the Law and demonstrate Yeshua’s adherence to it. The Law states, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no gods before me.” Matthew would never have Yeshua place himself equal to or above God. In any event, he’s beaten by the Temple officials and guards, who mock him.
Finally, Peter, the Rock upon which Yeshua said he would build his church fulfills the prediction made at supper. Having followed Yeshua all the way to the courtyard of the High Priest, he’s confronted by several people who identify him as having been among Yeshua’s followers. Peter denies it three times and the cock crows, after which Peter recalls the prediction and weeps. It all has the feel of a self-fulfilling prophecy.