What did Jesus sing? (Matthew 26:30)

The first worship song in the New Testament

Here’s the only record of Jesus singing:

Matthew 26:30 And having sung, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Singing would be unremarkable today. Churches spend lots of time doing it. But this (|| Mark 14:26) is the only time the Gospels mention Jesus or his disciples singing.

So, what would they sing? I mean, it wasn’t from a Wesleyan hymnbook or a Hillsong stream.

Dick France suggests:

The Passover meal traditionally ended with the chanting of the latter part of the Hallel (Psalms 113–118), and that is the probable reference of “singing” (hymneō) here.
— R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Eerdmans, 2007), 996.

Come to think of it, Matthew has been drawing our attention to the latter part of the final Hallel hymn, with three quotes from Psalm 118:22-26:

  • 21:9 “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
  • 21:42 “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes.”
  • 23:39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Imagine singing something like that with Jesus present! If the crowds had shouted Psalm 118:26 to Jesus, could the disciples have sung of the Christ, the king anointed by God, coming in the name of the Lord?

The rest of verse 30 could have held Messianic significance also. Jesus has been teaching them from the latter part of Zechariah (chapters 9–14):

So, what significance does the Mount of Olives hold in Zechariah?

It’s where the book reaches its culmination, where God’s reign is finally restored. It’s where God saves his desolated flock, bringing them back under his reign, providing a way of salvation for them. With echoes of how God had split the Red Sea to rescue his people, Zechariah’s final vision is of God splitting the earth to lead his people to salvation:

Zechariah 14:4–5 (NIV)
On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.

I wonder if they realized the significance of where Jesus was leading them that night. If they did not understand the dark valley he was about to enter (the shepherd being struck), they probably had no idea of the earth-shattering salvation that would rise for them on the third day, the shepherd’s promise to his flock: After I have risen, I will lead you … (26:31).

Maybe they didn’t understand how Zechariah informed Jesus’ ministry yet. Maybe it was something Matthew understood later as they sang of their Saviour.

Open Matthew 26:30.

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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