In the previous 2 posts we discussed the 4 promises of the Exodus as well as the parts of the Passover meal. While this particular post is out of order chronologically from the New Testament, I think it will clarify one of the most basic events in Christianity while giving it both context and meaning. Let’s begin.
“Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. Matthew 26:17-20 ESV
Pay attention to this illustration for a few minutes.
In western culture we would say that the seat in the middle of the table, just under the windows here, would be the host’s spot. But historically we actually know that in ancient Israel that the host’s spot is second from the left, Jesus is seen here wearing a head covering. This is not normal to us, but it is what they would have known. There are now some other things that must be pointed out as well in order to fully understand the scriptures which follow. There were 2 seats of honor, one on either side of the host’s spot. So that would have put the first 3 spots on the left side of the drawing as the head of the table. Next there were dipping bowls for the oil with bitter herbs for Passover, usually this was shared by 3 people since they were reclining at the table on their left elbow and reaching to dip with their right hands, see guy on bottom left of the drawing. And finally, the last seat on the far right bottom is the server. And although in western culture we would look down on this, it was an honor to be a server and in fact when all in the group were basically equals the washing of feet usually fell to this person as well.
Now, while not actually in the gospel accounts, we know that during the Seder the Jews would have raised the first glass of wine and blessed it and recounted out loud together the first promise of the Exodus, (#1) I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. Then they would have drank to freedom. Then they would have started the meal.
“And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”” Matthew 26:21-22, 26 ESV
He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. (This is the portion of the Seder when the matzo unleavened bread is dipped into the oil with the bitter herbs) The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” (For Jesus was referring to the matzo, made without leavening. This type of bread was pure and only for subsistence. It was not pretty or filling like big fluffy loaves of bread. The Jews came to see the leavening as sin and the matzo as the bread of life, literally the bread they ate while they stayed alive during that first Passover. And so by Jedus saying eat this bread, it’s my body, He was actually saying that He was without sin and that He would become the bread of life.)
Around this point they would have raised a glass of wine, blessed it and recounted out loud the second promise from the Exodus (#2) I will deliver you from slavery to them. They would have celebrated the fact that they were mentally free from the bondage of being enslaved. But I think they would also remember that Jesus had just told them someone would betray Him, and so therefore a reminder that there are many enslavements beyond physical slavery…greed, drunkenness, immorality, adultery, etc…
They then continued on with the Seder, now carving and spreading the lamb meat to each person. Then they would have taken the wine, raised it and blessed it a third time and recounted the third promise of the Exodus (#3) I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. What was probably lost on them at this moment was that the redmemption which God had done through the plagues back in Egypt and allowed for a physical recovery of His chosen people, Jesus was himself being offered up this very Passover for all people of all time. To redeem mankind from the curse of he penalty of sin not by war but by love. He was going to pay the price for redemption for us.
And he took a cup, (this is the 4th cup) and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Matthew 26:21-30 ESV
This is the 4th cup, the cup of the 4th promise of the Exodus (#4) I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God. It was te wording of a groom to a bride, but even more than that it was that God as saying He would be the protector of His own. And we see here that Jesus doesn’t partake of this cup…He passes on God’s protection this night. And we know what must come next.
Around this time there was also a 5th cup which had been added to the Seder. It came from reading the prophecy of the Major prophets and psalmists which said that there was one more cup…the cup of God’s wrath. And so Jesus did drink this one. He swallowed it to the last drop, and even while on the cross he cried out “It is finished!”. He paid the penalty for or sin to redeem us, so that we could be free of our enslavement to sin and the father of lies so we can be the bride of Christ.
One other item I’d like to point out.
“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” Luke 22:24-27 ESV
I don’t think was as random or narcissistic as we might think at first glance. I think, if you’ll look back up at the drawing of the table, that probably they were instead trying to decide who would sit in the 2 places of honor on either side of Jesus. We know from John 21:20 that John, the disciple that Jesus loved, had leaned back onto Jesus’s chest during the last supper. Therefore we can actually identify that the person on the bottom left was John. The next was Jesus. And then we can identify the next person, next to Jesus, believe it or not, as Judas Iscariot. Yes, as we read earlier, Jesus was dipping his bread together with Judas…they were sharing a bowl with John! And I’d like to posit that Peter was in the servers spot. Read below:
“During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, (at the end of the line) who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.” John 13:2-17, 21-30 ESV
And so hopefully this exposes the deeper meaning and purposes of Jesus’s actions and words during his last supper.