We are now entering Mark’s passion narrative, the account of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. All of these upcoming events take place in or around Jerusalem. We previously meditated on Jesus’ response to the questions put before Him regarding the destruction of the temple and the manifestation of His kingdom. We now find Jesus in Bethany, the hometown of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 11:1). A town located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, approximately two miles east of Jerusalem. Chapter fourteen opens with Mark revealing the plot of the chief priests and scribes to kill Jesus. Let’s begin!
14 “Now the Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread were two days away; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest Him covertly and kill Him; 2 for they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise there will be a riot of the people.”
FOCUS ONE: THE PLOT
Mark begins this narrative by giving the reader a time marker. He mentions that Passover and unleavened bread were two days away. The Passover would have started on Thursday after sunset. Passover commemorated the “passing over” of the homes of the Israelites by the angel of death, who killed the first born of Egypt (Exodus 12:1-13:16). “The Passover began on the 14th day of Nisan (the first month of the Jewish calendar) with the slaying of the Passover lamb, and continued into the early hours of the 15th.”
Unleavened bread was a feast commemorating the departure of the Israelites from Egypt (Exodus 23:15), and it began immediately after the Passover and lasted from the 15th to the 21st.
Mark tells us that these celebrations or memorials were to begin in two days. Matthew, however, tells his readers that Jesus predicted that He would be crucified in “two days” (Matthew 26:2), which would be Friday because, as He states, it is Wednesday evening! Mark does not tell us how important that information is to the reader.
The chief priests and the scribes wanted to kill Jesus, but they didn’t know how to seize Him without the people getting upset. Trying to do something like that during the festival might cause a riot. The Greek word for “stealth” or “covertly” is the word(dolos). It means deceit, guile, or betrayal. It involves trickery and deception. They would have taken Him immediately if they could have, but fear of the people necessitated a more concealing approach!
As the passion narrative begins, we find that these leaders are looking for a way to seize and kill Jesus. Later in verse 10, we see Judas ready to betray the Lord. Judas becomes the man that fills in the blank spots in their plans!
3 “While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon [a]the Leper, He was reclining at the table, and a woman came with an alabaster vial of costly perfume of pure [b]nard. She broke the vial and poured the perfume over His head. 4 But there were some indignantly remarking to one another, “Why has this perfume been wasted? 5 For this perfume could have been sold for over three hundred [c]denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they were scolding her. 6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! Why are you bothering her? She has done a good deed for Me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. 9 Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the entire world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her.”
FOCUS TWO: MARY ANOINTS JESUS
I mentioned earlier that Jesus was in Bethany at this time. More specifically, He was at the home of Simon, the leper. It seems this man is only mentioned in the New Testament concerning this story. At some point, Simon was healed by Jesus and prepared this dinner for Jesus to honor Him. Considering that there are many other “Simons,” a name prevalent on that day, we can be thankful that Matthew and Mark retained the name so we can distinguish him from the other Simons (Simon the Pharisee and Simon Peter, the apostle, for example).
Matthew and Mark both place this meal at the home of Simon the Leper. John informs us that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were also at this meal and that it was Mary, Martha’s sister, who took the costly perfume and anointed Jesus’s feet (John 12:1-3). Mary comes forward on her initiative, humbly and sacrificially, to show her love and adoration for the Lord. Little did she realize the greater significance of her act!
She offers her costly perfume and pours it over Jesus’ head. One pound of “very costly perfume of pure nard” was equivalent to a year’s wages. This “nard” was an oil extracted from the root of a plant grown in India. She gives freely from her heart! We can picture those eating, reclining at the table with their feet extended away from it, making it easy for Mary to anoint the feet of Jesus. What she did, she probably never realized! Her anointing of Jesus became a symbol that anticipated His death and burial only two days later (Matthew 26:2).
We must take notice of a striking contrast between Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples, and Mary. Judas Iscariot (the one that intends to betray Jesus, cr. v.10) was upset that she didn’t sell the perfume and give the money to the poor. Sounds good in theory, but not in principle! Judas was a thief and had control of the money bag (John 12:6). He wasn’t interested in the welfare of the poor; he was interested in his welfare.
Jesus responds to those that rebuked her by telling them to “let her alone.” The poor of this world will always be with you, Jesus said, but “you do not always have me” (v. 7). In other words, opportunities to help the poor, feed the poor, and minister to them will always be available to you. But My presence is limited in time. This particular moment was not the time for meeting the needs of the poor. Instead, it was the time for “sacrificial worship” of the One who would soon be crucified for the sins of fallen mankind!
His following words are fascinating. “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for the burial” (v. 8). Mary most likely never realized what she did. “But it became a symbol that anticipated His death and burial.” His last words in this section regarding Mary are a wonderful testimony to her sacrificial love that moved her heart with pure worship of the Lord. The very fact has guaranteed his promise of what Mary has done that it has been included in our New Testament! Every time we read the gospel narratives, we read of what Mary has done, and we talk about it!
10 “Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to [a]betray Him to them. 11 They were delighted when they heard this, and promised to give him money. And he began seeking how to betray Him at an opportune time.”
FOCUS THREE: JUDAS SEEKS TO BETRAY JESUS
He seeks the priests out! They didn’t come to him; he went to them. That Judas (Iscariot) was not a Galilean like the others should get our attention. “Iscariot” means man of Kerioth, a small town in Judea about twenty-three miles away from Jerusalem.
“It should be clear that Judas never had any spiritual interest in Jesus,” Rather, he was motivated politically. He expected Jesus to manifest His power so that He would overthrow Rome and become an influential political leader, not to the exclusion of being a “religious” one too. Perhaps he thought he would gain prestige, power, and influence because of his association with Him. But when it became clear to him that this wasn’t going to happen, he “went off” to the chief priests to betray Him.
Mark’s account is much less detailed than Matthew’s and Lukes’s. Matthew shares a bit of the conversation that took place. “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” Their answer? “They weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him” (Matthew 26:15-16). Exodus 21:32 tells us that this was the price of a slave. That gives us an idea of what Judas thought about Jesus, right?
Luke tells us something that Mark and Matthew do not. Luke tells us what is going on with Judas at this time. Sure, he was upset that Jesus was not acting as he hoped He would, but then we read: “And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot. . . And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them” (Luke 22:3-4). Let’s back up a bit to understand what’s happening with Judas.
In the gospel of John, we are told that “during supper, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him” (John 13:2). This took place at the feast of Passover and does not excuse Judas Iscariot for his actions. Judas, without faith in Jesus, already desired to do the very thing Satan wanted. They agreed, so his actions were the natural outcome of his wicked heart.
Something more eye-opening happens after Jesus washes their feet. Jesus not only speaks about one of them betraying Him, but He also gives direct insight into who it would be! “He who eats My bread has lifted his heel against me” (John 13:18). And then in verse 26, “Jesus then answered, ‘that is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.”
“The host at a feast (in this case, Jesus) would dip into a common bowl and pull out a particularly tasty bit and pass it to a guest as a special mark of honor or friendship.” Jesus gave it to Judas. Whether or not he ate it is uncertain, but we know that “after the morsel, Satan entered into Him” (v. 27).
We should notice the progression (perhaps digression) from before the feast till after the morsel, from satanic influence to satanic possession. Jesus said that “he who is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30). Judas is an example of how tragic it can be for someone who rejects and hardens their heart against Christ.
“BEHOLD, NOW IS THE ACCEPTABLE TIME, BEHOLD, NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
- * Macarthur Study Bible