The Timing of the Betrayal

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people
gathered in the palace of the high priest,
whose name was Caiaphas,
and plotted together in order to
arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.
But they said, “Not during the [Passover] feast,
lest there be an uproar among the people.”

–Matthew 26.3-5

For quite some time, this statement by the members of the Sanhedrin befuddled me. Their reasoning was not the issue. I could understand why they would want to wait until the huge crowds left Jerusalem before killing this revered Man. But what confused me was what actually happened. This conversation apparently took place on the Wednesday before the crucifixion. Barely two days later–not before, but during, the Passover–they would satiate their blood-thirsty hearts and murder Jesus. What changed?

On the heels of this discussion, the betrayer entered the picture with the question, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” Both Mark and Luke record the emotion of the religious leaders at Judas’ request: gladness. With joy in their hearts they forked over thirty pieces of silver and waited for the time when they could fulfill their desires.

So the answer to the question, then, is that Judas’ offer to betray him changed the Sanhedrin’s minds, right? In one sense, that is true. But as in the rest of life, there are really two causes: divine and human, primary and secondary. Judas’ offer is clearly the human, secondary cause, but we must not miss the divine and primary. For before the chief priests and elders had even gathered, Christ himself predicted, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified” (Matthew 26.2). The plan had been predetermined. The fullness of the times had come. His death would happen at the time of the Passover–and not a day later–because Christ himself determined to demonstrate himself as the singular fulfillment of the Passover picture. He himself would be “our Passover lamb [who would be] sacrificed” (1 Co 5.7).

Judas is culpable for his own actions. His own ignominious ending proves it. But behind it was a sovereign God who was working out his perfect will. Sinlessly using the sin of others, the Lord of all fulfilled his word perfectly to show himself to be the Lamb slain for the sins of his people. As we consider the heinousness of Judas’ betrayal this weekend, let us remember God’s grace in timing such a sinful action to magnify his own worth and glory.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never-failing skill,
he treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

–William Cowper
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