Perhaps you’ve received news that was so bad—the death of a friend, the loss of a job, the disruption of a relationship—that it took some time for the news to sink completely into your psyche. Sometimes our minds need time to process the implications of major life changes. Throughout Mark’s Gospel Jesus increasingly explained that He came to earth to die for His people. But not until Mark 14 does the imminence of Jesus’ death finally begin to register in the disciples’ hearts and minds.
Mark 11–13 describes Jesus’ entry into and teaching in the temple. Jesus’ end-times sermon is His last major public speech. In Mark 14 the cross approaches more rapidly than ever. The Jews secretly plot to destroy Him, His body is anointed for burial, Judas agrees to betray Him, Jesus symbolically offers His broken body and shed blood to His disciples in the Lord’s Supper, and He is handed over to His killers. Jesus is preparing Himself and His disciples for His death.
Preliminary Preparations (14:1–11)
Conspiracy and Betrayal (14:1, 2, 10, 11)
In the middle of Holy Week, two days before the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Jewish leaders “assembled at the palace of the high priest” (Matt. 26:3) to discuss how they might kill Jesus “by trickery” (Mark 14:1).1 This conspiracy accents Jesus’ holiness. There was no legal, ethical way to bring Him into judgment. Instead the high priest would illegally sacrifice Jesus for the sake of the people (cf. John 11:49–52) after the festival. Fearing that a public arrest could spark a riot (Mark 14:2), the Jews needed a spy who could signal an opportune time to apprehend Jesus “in the absence of the people” (Luke 22:6). Despite the Jews’ planning, God determined that His Son would die at the hands of a wicked Jewish high priest on a public stage (Acts 26:26) on one of the busiest days of the Jewish year! “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing. . . . The counsel of the Lord stands forever” (Ps. 33:10–11)! In the words of the Latin poet and bishop Fortunatus, “Man’s work faileth, Christ’s availeth.”2
Judas Iscariot, into whose heart Satan had already entered (Luke 22:3), had always followed Jesus for personal gain (John 12:6; cf. 1 Tim. 6:10). Betraying Jesus would be his last chance to profit from the man he considered to be a failed revolutionary. For his treachery, Judas received thirty pieces of silver, a guilty conscience, and—for his unrepentance—an eternity in hell. Judas and the Jewish leaders are a sobering warning to “kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little” (Ps. 2:12).
In the face of this treachery we witness one of the most beautiful acts of devotion recorded in the Bible.
Although Mark was a careful historian he intentionally broke from his commitment to chronological order when he showcases Mary’s deed of devotion between two acts of treachery.3 Mark teaches us that Christ willingly went to the cross. The Jews and Judas have plotted His death. But days earlier Jesus had already allowed Mary to anoint Him for His burial. Also, by moving Jesus’ anointing closer to His death and burial, Mary’s actions seem all the more fitting.
Jesus and the disciples were reclining at the table in the house of Simon the leper. In attendance at the dinner were Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha; Martha was serving (John 12:2). Excusing herself from the meal Mary returned with a stone jar containing a perfume extracted from a Himalayan plant. It was expensive, worth more than a year’s wages. Mary broke the seal and poured the perfume over Jesus’ head, rubbing it on His feet with her hair (John 12:3), anointing Him for His burial (Mark 14:8). While John uses Mary’s name, Matthew and Mark simply call her “a woman,” perhaps to emphasize not her personal identity but her gender. Allegations that the Bible is misogynistic are unmistakably false. In an age dominated by men, Christ and the Gospel writers consistently exalt women. Here, only a woman grasped Christ’s imminent death. Misunderstanding her devotion twelve angry men grumble about her “wasteful actions.” With words gushing from wells of envy, ignorance, and self-interest the disciples demonstrate the kind of hasty speech to which we can too often relate (Mark 14:5).
In response to the disciples’ criticism and with the weight of the world on His shoulders, Jesus defended Mary’s devotion. Jesus’ disciples have allowed good things, such as social justice (Mark 14:5), to complete with worship. A dozen poor people might have been fed for a year with the money Mary spent on her perfume. But in Jesus’ economy social justice can never eclipse worship. Eradication of poverty is a noble effort but not the greatest good. The good news is not that religion brings physical relief but that Christ died for sinners. Because the only lasting legacy we can leave is spiritual all our resources must serve the cause of the gospel (Luke 16:9–12). Mary understood that at the gospel’s heart is Christ’s death; she presents this gospel with astounding beauty (Mark 14:6, 9). If we present the gospel in a stale, bland, or bare way, we have perverted it.
From Passover to Lord’s Supper (14:12–26)
On the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus tangibly linked one of the most solemn elements of the Jewish religion to His coming death.
The Last Passover (14:12–21)
In Exodus 12 God instituted the Passover as a lasting ordinance (Lev. 23:5; Num. 9:2). The substance of the ordinance consisted of eating the roasted meat of a sacrificed lamb to commemorate the sacrifice by which God’s people were spared from the angel of death in Egypt. The lamb was to be eaten with unleavened bread to recall Israel’s hasty exit from Egypt (Exod. 12:34) and bitter herbs to recall their suffering (v. 8). The Passover was a solemn, covenantal, or family, meal. Those outside of the covenant community could participate in the Passover meal only after joining God’s people through circumcision (vv. 42–43, 48).
Jesus charged Peter and John to prepare for the Passover celebration of His small family of disciples (Luke 22:8). First, they had to find a location. Toward this end, Jesus gave rather mysterious instructions which would lead them to a house probably owned by other believers (Mark 14:13–15). Perhaps His furtiveness was to prevent Judas from knowing the location ahead of time and telling the authorities. To this house the disciples took their lamb, killed earlier in the temple, roasted it, and prepared the remaining accoutrements.4
The meal was progressing along the lines of Exodus 12 until Jesus dropped a bombshell: “One of you will betray me!” The disciples were shocked. Each, filled with sorrow, began to ask, “Is it I?” With the disciples we should ask, “Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus hath undone thee! ’Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.”5 Jesus would be betrayed by a friend who dipped bread with him in the dish (Mark 14:20; cf. Ps. 41:9). There is nothing more reprehensible in Eastern culture than to injure a host, and the Passover meal was the most intimate meal of the Jewish year. Having revealed the betrayer Jesus dismissed Judas from their midst (cf. John 13:23–26) and pronounced a curse on him (Mark 14:21). What a dreadful thing to know Jesus but still come under His curse for failing to repent.
The Lord’s Supper (14:22–26)
In instituting the Lord’s Supper Jesus made plain that the thousand-year-old Passover would be fulfilled in Him. The roasted lamb and the bitter herbs disappear from the supper; Christ would fill up the shed blood and bitter suffering which they designated. Instead, He used the most basic elements of a meal, bread and wine.6 But the bread no longer represents the Israelites’ hasty exit from Egypt but the body of Christ (v. 22). Christ’s broken body is our deliverance from bondage to our own sinful flesh. While the disciples were drinking the wine Jesus said, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many” (v. 24). What a shocking statement to the ears of Jewish believers whom God had told not to drink blood because of the life therein (Lev. 17:11).
The Lord’s Supper strengthens our faith by combining a physical exercise with a spiritual promise about Jesus’ body and blood. These actions and words proclaim the gospel. Like the Passover, the Lord’s Supper communicates our deliverance from both human bondage and divine judgment (Exod. 12:27). We receive nothing magical from the bread or wine. But we receive Christ spiritually as the elements communicate Him to us. Christ is not to be simply studied, admired, or imitated. We must feast on Him by faith, believing that in Him we have everything we need for body and soul. The Lord’s Supper helps us to do that.
Like the first Passover the Lord’s Supper is both a solemn remembrance and a joyful anticipation. This would be Jesus’ last earthly Passover (14:25). But He would drink the fruit of the vine again in the fully realized kingdom of God. There will be a joyous marriage feast in heaven. If you are entrusting yourself to Christ you will sit at a table and drink the new wine7 of heaven with Christ. After dinner Christ and His disciples left the warm, familiar confines of the upper room and approached the garden where He would be betrayed. Fittingly, the hymn they sang was likely a portion of Psalm 118 which extols the faithfulness of God in the face of tribulation and urges trust in God as a remedy to fear.
Prayer and Betrayal (14:27–52)
In the cool evening air on the Mount of Olives three events took place that underscore Jesus’ sacrificial service.
A Sad Prediction (14:27–31)
As the hour of his betrayal approached Jesus gently told His disciples that they would all stumble, literally “be scandalized,” because of him (v. 27). God would strike the Shepherd and the sheep would be scattered (Zech.13:7; cf. John 6:61, 68–69). Christ’s arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death, although part of God’s plan, are scandalous events which understandably rattled the disciples’ faith. The Gospels reveal an ebb and flow in terms of the visibility of Christ’s humanity and divinity. In Gethsemane His divinity was heavily cloaked. Jesus singled out Peter as one who would deny Him three times (14:30). In response to Jesus’ strong language (“assuredly I say to you”) and specific sign (“before the rooster crows twice”) stubborn, self-confident Peter insists, “I will never deny you!” Like Peter, we are often shaped by our own impressions of ourselves rather than by what God says about us. We say we are ugly; God says we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). We say we are sturdy; God says, “Man is like a breath” (Ps. 144:4). God’s word is a true mirror, flattering or not.
Peter’s shameful rant also shows us that success against sin does not come by trying harder. Peter flexed the muscles of his own resolve . . . and fell flat on his face. A short time later Jesus unveiled our greatest defense against sin: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (14:38). Simply pledging to try harder will not make us like Jesus. But Jesus also provided a glimpse of hope. He pledged that after the disciples would abandon Him, after His resurrection He would find them in Galilee (v. 28). The good news of the gospel is rooted in the unrelenting pursuit of a loving and powerful God.
Powerful Prayer (14:32–42)
As the night became palpable in Gethsemane Christ experienced intense isolation. Many had left Him (John 6:66), Judas had agreed to betray Him, the disciples would abandon Him and already were unable uphold Him up in prayer. He was sorrowful (even to death), troubled (Matt. 26:37–38), and distressed (Mark 14:33). The overwhelming terror of the thought of God’s judgment and the weight of our sins pressed out of Him bloody sweat. The pictures of Christ praying in a composed posture serenely looking up to heaven distort reality. In Gethsemane Christ lost His composure, throwing Himself on the ground in earnest prayer (v. 35). Still, Jesus is both submissive to His Father (v. 36) and tender toward His disciples. He acknowledged their desire to stay awake and their sorrowful struggle with sleep (Luke 22:45). Mark emphasizes not the disciples’ failure but the fact that Jesus alone wrestled with His accursedness. Gethsemane is a window into the infinite loneliness of hell. To God’s praise, Christ’s isolation secures fellowship with God.
After three bouts of prayer, Jesus received angelic aid (Luke 22:43) and returned to His disciples, calling them to march forward to meet His betrayer (Mark 14:42). What resolve!
Betrayal and Arrest (14:43–52)
In the dark of the garden Judas and a great multitude of soldiers cross Jesus and His disciples. Cued by Judas’ betraying kiss, “They laid their hands on him and took him” (v. 46). Christ’s words from Mark 10:33 are beginning to be fulfilled: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes.” Christ’s humiliation is beginning to climax. Wicked men handle Him like a criminal, though as Jesus points out, as a public figure He had never been a security threat. Now they accost Him as if He were a terrorist. They understand His threat to their godless self-interest.
Still oblivious to Christ’s plan, Peter (John 18:10) tried to fulfill his vow with violence (Mark 14:47). Hear the divine resolve in Jesus’ rebuke: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matt. 26:53–54). Instead of the legions of angels Jesus chose a legion of soldiers. Those who swore never to forsake Jesus began to disappear one by one. Mark himself, who had quickly wrapped himself in a sheet after having been awakened by the news of Jesus’ arrest, fled from the site, leaving the sheet behind (Mark 14:51–52). Jesus is abandoned! Mark 14 shows that in the face of the total depravity of the Jewish leaders, in the face of the total breakdown of commitment by His disciples, in the face of His own overwhelmed soul, Jesus stood firm to purchase the salvation of God’s people. That is our confidence. 1. The Passover lamb was killed and the meal eaten on the fourteenth day of the month Nisan, on the Jewish calendar. The fifteenth day of the month marked the beginning of the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. Because these holy days are so close in proximity they are often spoken of as the same event (as they are here). 2. Psalter Hymnal (Grand Rapids: Publication Committee of the Christian Reformed Church, 1959), 361. 3. Most scholars agree that the anointing took place the day before Jesus’ triumphal entry (John 12:1, 12). Chronologically Jesus’ anointing belongs at the end of Mark 10. 4. Unlike DaVinci’s arrangement in The Last Supper, the disciples did not sit at chairs on one side of a tall table. Instead they reclined on pillows around a low table, each resting on his left hand, so as to leave the right free. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 2 (London: Longmans, Green, 1900), 492. 5. Psalter Hymnal, 351. 6. The fact that we associate the use of wine at the Passover is due to rabbinical additions. Still, it is worth noting that when Jesus celebrated the Passover he too employed the use of wine. The Jerusalem Talmud (Pesachim 10:1) suggests that the four cups stand for the four words used in Exodus 6:6–7. 7. Interestingly, his first miracle was turning water into wine. The contention that either that wine or the Passover wine was only grape juice “is not worth serious discussion.” Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 485 n. 2. Rev. William Boekestein is the pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, MI.
Points to Ponder and Discuss
1.How does Mary’s act of devotion in Mark 14:3–5 speak to those who might be marginalized by society? 2. When was the last time your devotion to Christ made you stand out? 3. How should Mark 14:7 (and Acts 20:32–35) drive us to do good to the poor? 4. How does Exodus 12:43–49 encourage us to “fence the communion table”? 5. How do these verses help us to see the Lord’s Supper as an invitation to church membership? 6. How does Mark 14:19 help us to not be so confident in our works that we cease to reflect on our sin and seek the Savior’s forgiveness and help? 7. How does Jesus’ prayer in the garden teach us that our prayers should balance our feelings with resignation to God’s will? 8. In what ways can you see yourself in Mark 14:47?