April 1 – Anticipating Jesus’ Death

“After two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be delivered up for crucifixion.”

Matthew 26:2

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Jesus adhered perfectly to God’s timetable for His death, which was part of the Father’s larger plan of redemption.

The history of redemption most definitely centers on the cross of Jesus Christ. Hymn writer John Bowring expressed this fact well:

In the cross of Christ I glory,

Tow’ring o’er the wrecks of time.

All the light of sacred story

Gathers round its head sublime.

The apostle Paul was so convinced of the central importance of Christ’s death on the cross that he told the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul knew that without the cross of Christ there is no salvation and no true Christianity.

Jesus Himself knew the length of His earthly life was determined by God’s sovereign timetable and that the time of His death could not be altered or thwarted. Concerning control over His life, He declared, “I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). As the Son of God, Jesus was able to look forward to His death and even predict that it would be in Jerusalem and that He would rise on the third day (Matt. 16:21).

During Jesus’ ministry, people such as the Jewish leaders unknowingly threatened God’s timetable when they sought to kill Him. But all premature attempts to murder Christ failed because they did not fit into God’s sovereign plan for how, when, and why Jesus should die on the cross (John 1:29; Acts 2:23–24).

But Jesus’ reference to the Passover in Matthew 26:2 did fit into God’s plan; our Lord’s suffering and death was perfectly timed to coincide with that celebration. Passover was known by the Jews as the festival in which sacrificial lambs were slain, but now the death of the Lamb of God would forever replace Passover’s importance. We can take great comfort in all this, knowing “Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7) and that Jesus the Lamb was “foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of [us]” (1 Peter 1:19–20).

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Suggestions for Prayer: Thank the Lord that His sovereign plan for Christ’s sacrificial death could not be changed by man’s will.

For Further Study: Read John 10:1–18, and select several verses for meditation and memorization. What does the passage say about the nature of salvation?[1]


The Preparation of Sovereign Grace

You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be delivered up for crucifixion. (26:2)

In His incarnation, Jesus voluntarily limited the use of His omniscience, His glory, and certain other attributes of His deity (cf. Phil. 2:7–8). In His humility and self-imposed limitations as a man, Jesus taught only the divine truth that His heavenly Father revealed to Him. “The Father Himself who sent Me,” Jesus said, “has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak” (John 12:49; cf. Matt. 24:36).

Now Jesus knew it was the Father’s time for Him to die, and He not only declared again that He must suffer and be crucified but specified that His death was only two days away, at the beginning of the Passover. At that divinely appointed time the Son of Man would be delivered up for crucifixion.

Unbelieving skeptics have long tried to explain Jesus’ death as a quirk of fate, the unintended termination of a well-meaning revolution that was discovered and crushed or the sad end to the delusions of a madman. Others picture Jesus as a visionary whose dreams were ahead of the age in which He lived, or as a prophet who overstated His claims and thereby roused the ire of the religious establishment. But such assertions do not square with the gospel accounts and are blasphemous.

As already noted, Jesus had predicted at least three times previously that He would suffer to the death but would rise again. He had even indicated that His death would be in Jerusalem and that He would rise on the third day He was on a divine timetable, and no human plans or power could cause that timetable to vary in a single detail. “No one has taken [My life] away from Me,” He declared, “but I lay it down on my own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). When Pilate said to Jesus, “ ‘Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above’ ” (John 19:10–11).

There were many times when people sought to kill Jesus but were unable to do so. The Jewish religious leaders began plotting His death soon after He began His public ministry (John 5:18), but they were not able to fulfill that intention until it fit into God’s timetable.

The first attempt on Jesus’ life was made shortly after He was born, when Herod massacred all the male infants in the vicinity of Bethlehem. God sent an angel to warn Joseph to take Jesus and His mother to Egypt until the danger was over. On one occasion when He was ministering in a synagogue in His home town of Nazareth, the people became incensed by His claim to be fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy and by His reminding them of several instances when God chose to bless certain Gentiles rather than Jews. They succeeded in leading Him to the edge of a high cliff on the outskirts of the city, but before they could throw Him to His death, He miraculously passed through their midst and went His way (Luke 4:16–30).

After Jesus healed the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda, the Jewish leaders began “seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18). To some people Jesus became known as “the man whom they are seeking to kill” (John 7:25). But when the Temple police were sent to arrest Him for healing a man on the Sabbath, they returned empty-handed. When the chief priests and Pharisees asked the officers why they did not bring Jesus back with them, they replied, “Never did a man speak the way this man speaks” (John 7:44–46).

All of those attempts to kill Jesus, and perhaps others that are not recorded, failed because it was not God’s time or God’s way for the Son to die. Only the sovereign grace of God could have brought Jesus to the cross. No human power could have accomplished it apart from God’s will, and no human power could now prevent it, because it was now God’s plan. As Jesus declared at the Last Supper, “the Son of Man is going as it has been determined” (Luke 22:22). And as Peter declared at Pentecost, Jesus was “delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).

The appropriate time for Jesus to die was at Passover, when the sacrificial lambs were slain, because that celebration pointed to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The sacrifices of all the other lambs were but faint symbols of what the true Lamb was soon to accomplish in reality.

As Philip explained to the Ethiopian, Jesus was the Lamb predicted by Isaiah, led to slaughter but not opening His mouth (Acts 8:32–34). As Paul declared to the Corinthian believers, Jesus was “Christ our Passover [who] also has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). As Peter proclaimed to the scattered and persecuted saints of the first-century church, Jesus was the unblemished Lamb “foreknown before the foundation of the world, but [who] has appeared in these last times for the sake of you” (1 Pet. 1:19–20). As John saw on Patmos, Jesus was “the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12).[2]


1–2 For the other major passion predictions, see comments at 16:21; 17:22–23; 20:18–19. One last time, Matthew uses the formula by which he brings all his discourses to a close (v. 1; see comments at 7:28–29). In the narrative line of Matthew, this pericope is a masterpiece of irony. The judge of the universe, King Messiah, the glorious Son of Man, is about to be judged. After Jesus’ warnings against hypocrisy (23:12–31) and his demand for righteousness that involves the whole person (25:31–46), the plot moves on by stealth and by a morally bankrupt expediency (26:4–5). The passion begins.

The Passover began Thursday afternoon with the slaughter of the lamb. “Two days” (v. 2) must be somewhat under forty-eight hours, or the “two days” would be “three days” (see comments at 12:40). According to the tentative chronology (see comments at 21:23–22:46; 23:1–36; 24:13), Jesus speaks these words on the Mount of Olives late Tuesday evening, which, by Jewish reckoning, would be the beginning of Wednesday.

The “Son of Man” (see comments at 8:20) is here both glorious and suffering; as often, the themes merge. The Passover is two days away, and it is during that festival, Jesus now reveals for the first time, that the Son of Man will be handed over (for reasons to take the Greek present as a future, see Moule, Idiom Book, 7) to be crucified. Thus Jesus provides a framework for his disciples to interpret his death correctly after it happens—a framework alluded to a little more clearly in the institution of the Lord’s Supper (vv. 17–29).[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 26:1–2). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 587). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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