To a Jewish person, Passover is the most significant family get-together of the year, like the Thanksgiving meal for an American or Christmas for a British person. God commanded the Israelites to appear before Him at the temple in Jerusalem three times a year (Exodus 23:13-15), and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the first day of which was called Passover, was one of the three times. In the time of Christ, it wasn't easy to accommodate all the pilgrims who would come to Jerusalem for the annual Feast. Things came to a head when Jesus went to the Feast:
1Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, 2and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. 3Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 4And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present (Luke 22:1-6).
The historian Josephus tells us that Jerusalem swelled to over 2,700,000 people during Passover. With such a massive crowd, we can understand why the disciples and Jesus would sleep in the open on the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane. The garden was less than half a mile from the temple, an easy short walk to arrive early in the morning for all the people to hear Christ teach in the temple (Luke 21:37-38).
We have the benefit of hindsight in knowing that the Lord had no design on taking over the religious government of Israel, but the priests and the seventy elders of the Sanhedrin did not know that. They may have feared a religious coup against them and being brought to account for their money-making schemes. They could also have feared a riot and the loss of their positions if the Roman government didn’t consider them capable of keeping order. With more people arriving daily, their fears of an uprising grew (v. 2). They felt they had to do something before the Passover when religious sensitivities would be at their highest.
But how were they to arrest Jesus? It had to be kept secret. The elite religious leaders had sent the temple guards once before to arrest Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles, but when the temple guards returned, they did not arrest the Lord. Why not? Because His hour had not yet arrived. The guards were under direct orders of the high priest, yet they refused to arrest Christ after they heard Him teach. The reason they gave must have made the elite leaders even more nervous; Christ's words touched their hearts:
45Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn't you bring him in?" 46"No one ever spoke the way this man does," the guards declared. 47"You mean he has deceived you also?" the Pharisees retorted (John 7:45-47).
Such influence and spiritual authority over men was intimidating for the chief priests and teachers of the law. Thousands attended Christ's teaching from early morning till dark during the days leading up to Passover. No wonder they sought some way to get rid of Jesus (v. 2). (The Greek word anaireō is translated into English with the phrase “get rid of;” it means to kill, put to death.) While they were trying to figure out a way to arrest Messiah (apart from the crowd) and to the great relief of the religious leaders, one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, came to them with a plan of how he would betray Jesus. We’ll continue this thought over the next few days. Keith Thomas
Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke. Click on Study 58. The Betrayal of Jesus.