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 schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”
Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.
The Sanhedrin was the body that exercised civil and religious, and to some extent criminal, jurisdiction over the Jewish nation. At the time of Jesus, it was composed of three groups: the chief priests; the scribes or teachers of the law; and the elders, who were heads of tribes or tribal divisions. Think of them as the Presbytery of Jerusalem combined with the Jerusalem City Council, with some authority over the Jerusalem Police Department.
While everyone else is planning to celebrate the Passover, the commemoration of God’s miraculous delivery of Israel from slavery in Egypt, this august body of men is focused on how to kill Jesus. Do you see the irony? While the Jews are preparing to kill and eat the Passover lamb, their leaders are preparing to kill the Lamb of God. The men who should have been shepherding the sheep instead plan to kill the good shepherd. And Jesus knows all about it! He tells his disciples this will happen. And not because he just has this sinking feeling, but because he and the Father have planned this all along.
Matthew 26 is not the only indication the Sanhedrin wanted to get rid of Jesus. In fact, there are about 15 references in the gospels to this desire of theirs. After Jesus raised Lazarus, they planned to kill Lazarus, too. (John 12:9-11) (There’s another irony, trying to kill a man who was supposedly dead.) But after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and his cleansing of the temple, they had finally had enough.
Oh, foolish Sanhedrin! You do not know that your rage and anger, your plotting and planning, serve only to do God’s sovereign will, as Peter explained at Pentecost: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) God uses even the vilest sin to bring about salvation for his people. Praise him for his marvelous grace and mercy!
And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us. (Martin Luther)