I. THE TREASON OF JUDAS. (Vers. 1-6.) The Sanhedrin was in session, anxious to seize on Jesus and get him removed; for they feared that an attached populace would declare for him rather than for the old leaders. It was a vain fear. The people were fickle, and as ready to cry out for his crucifixion as they had been to cry "Hosanna!" Yet the fear of losing popularity goaded the Church leaders to desperation. Being beaten in debate by the Master-Mind who tabernacled among them, they can only expect by treachery to secure their purpose. They find their ready instrument in Judas. And here consider:
1. The worldliness of Judas. He had evidently joined the cause of Jesus in hope of a place in a world-kingdom. But our Lord's prophecies of his speedy suffering and death have blighted all these hopes. How can he best make his peace with the world, which is getting the upper hand, and before which Jesus is going down? Judas believes that he can best do this by betraying Jesus to his enemies, and, to make the transition the easier for himself, he consents to do the shameful work for thirty pieces of silver - the mean price of the life of a slave! It was not covetousness pure and simple which led Judas to such a bargain, but astute worldliness. He was making his peace with the world on the most liberal terms.
2. Notice the Satanic inspiration under which Judas acted. It is evident that Scripture represents the sphere of evil as under the domination of a great personality called Satan. He can enter into men and take possession of them. But we are not to suppose that he has the same intimate access to the human spirit which God the Holy Ghost enjoys We have reason to believe that Satan moves men by presenting in all their attractiveness the worldly motives such as we have noticed. Further, the Satanic impulse is such as in no way to relieve the subject of it from responsibility. No one will be able to plead "not guilty" on the ground of Satanic temptation.
3. Notice the mean prudence under which the traitor acted. Had the band come in open day, when the entranced populace hung upon the lips of Jesus, there would have been a dangerous emeute, and life been lost. Accordingly, Judas seeks to betray Jesus "in the absence of the multitude." There is a meanness and cowardice about most of the diabolic wickedness which goes on in the world; a cowardice, moreover, which is generally overtaken by just and terrible retribution.
II. PREPARATIONS FOR THE LAST PASSOVER. (Vers. 7-13.) Jesus meanwhile directs the two disciples, Peter and John, to make ready the Passover. He so times the celebration as to have it over on the Thursday night of the Passover week, and without haste, to secure the further preparation which his spirit required. And here we have the facts set before us
(1) that he owed accommodation to the consideration of a stranger; and
(2) that his supernatural knowledge guided the disciples in their quest of a guest-chamber. There, then, in the guest-chamber of a stranger, without taking the lamb to the temple, but in the primitive fashion, the two faithful men made ready for their Master. It was a recurrence to the primitive ritual.
III. THE PASSOVER FEAST. (Vers. 14-18.) With the twelve accordingly he comes at the appointed hour, and sits down to the significant feast. He tells them with what desire he had contemplated this last Passover before he should suffer. He will not again eat of it till it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. The order of celebration was first the passing round of the wine-cup; next, the bitter herbs, dipped, as salad would be, in a red sauce made of almonds, nuts, figs, and other fruits; next, another wine-cup, after which the father of the family explained the nature of the rite; then came the morsel of unleavened bread and the piece of the roast lamb, made palatable by the aforesaid sauce; the last act was the passing round of a third wine-cup (cf. Godet, in loc.). It must have been a touching and tender type in the eyes of him who was so soon to be offered. We should have listened to his explanations on that occasion with peculiar interest. His references must have been somewhat veiled in presence of the betrayer, yet sufficiently explicit to have broken ordinary hearts. It was a marvellous feast - the Paschal Lamb himself partaking of the Passover; the Antitype experiencing a special benefit through the study of the type! What a solemnity, moreover, is thrown over the whole scene through his indication that it is all shortly to be fulfilled!
IV. THE INSTITUTION OF THE LORD'S SUPPER. (Vers. 19, 20.) Upon the more formidable feast, which is to pass away on fulfilment, Jesus founds a simpler feast, to be celebrated till he comes again. It is to consist of bread and wine, two of the elements there at the table. The bread is to represent his body, which is to be broken for his people; and the wine his blood, which is for them to be shed. In this way a memorial more lasting than brass or marble is to be reared, and his gracious presence is to be experienced in the Christian Church. The new institution was a promise of the most gracious kind, regarding the season when he would be absent from them.
V. THE INTIMATION OF THE BETRAYAL. (Vers. 21-23.) Along with the solemn joy there is dashed profoundest sorrow at the intimation of betrayal by one of the apostolic band. A traitor is there, and they should know it. Good sign in that each man suspects himself! They all, except Judas, ask Christ if it is he. Last of all, it would seem, came the inquiry of the real traitor. But this unearthing of the false one does not shake him from his foul purpose. Christ could not do more for him than he here does, even though it does not saw him. How salutary is self-suspicion! How dangerous self-confidence! - R.M.E.
Sought how they might kill Him.
1. The persons making this conspiracy, the chief priests, scribes, and elders; that is, the whole Jewish sanhedrim, or general council; they all lay their malicious heads together, to contrive the destruction of the holy and innocent Jesus. Thence learn, that general councils have erred, and may err fundamentally, both in matters of doctrine and practice; they did not believe Jesus to be the Messias, after all the miracles wrought before their eyes, but ignominiously put Him to death.
2. The manner of this conspiracy against the life of our blessed Saviour; it was clandestine, secret, and subtle. They consulted how they might take Him by craft, and put Him to death. Learn thence, that Satan makes use of the subtlety of crafty men, and abuseth their parts as well as their power for his own purposes and designs: the devil never sends a fool on his errand.
3. The circumstance of time when this conspiracy was managed, at the feast of the passover.
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