Matthew 26:17-30 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’ “ 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.
20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” 22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” 25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “Yes, it is you.”
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Luke 22:7-23 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” 9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. 10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there.” 13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
Mark 14:12-26 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13 So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.” 19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?” 20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” 23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” 26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
The story was told of a great revival that broke out through the ministry of a well-known evangelist of by-gone days. There were various accounts told of the response of that evangelist on the night when the power of God’s Spirit fell on the audience, causing many to repent and come to saving faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. One version portrayed a very lengthy night of soul-stirring prayer. At a later date a Christian leader had the opportunity to ask the song leader, who accompanied the evangelist what happened that night, after they returned home. The song reported that rather than a lengthy and pious prayer, the evangelist, exhausted from the demands of the day, plopped into his bed with the words, “Good night, Lord, I’m tired.”
That man’s account is believable. But so often stories seem to be embellished with the passing of time. Family folklore is this way. The war stories of my seminary days are a lot more dramatic now than they were some years ago. As time goes on, we tend to glorify and to horrify the past, making our accounts of past events greater than life. This is simply a human phenomenon. We expect it to happen, and so most of us tend to discount stories of the past a little, to compensate for the exaggerations which accompany history.
Looked at from this point of view—expecting the past to be glorified—we find Luke’s account (and, the other gospel accounts as well) of the last supper amazingly brief and unembellished. Somewhere 30 to 50 years after our Lord’s death, resurrection, and ascension, the gospel of Luke was written (depending upon which conservative scholar you read). In spite of all the time which passed, and of the great significance of the “Lord’s Supper” or “Communion,” neither Luke nor any other gospel writer makes a great deal out of the celebration of the last Passover, just before our Lord’s death. I am not saying this celebration was unimportant, but rather that because of its importance, I would have expected it to have been a more detailed account. This brevity is the first of several “tensions of the text.”
There are other tensions as well. Why is nearly as much space devoted to the preparation for the Passover meal as for the partaking of it? Furthermore, why was Jesus so eager to partake of the Passover, when it preceded and even anticipated His death? Finally, why is there such confusion and consternation (including a deletion of some of the text) over Luke’s account of the Lord’s Table, in which it appears that the (traditional) order of the bread and wine may have been reversed?
Before we begin to look more closely at the partaking of the Passover, let us pause for just a moment to remind ourselves of the broader setting in which this event is found. The Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem have already determined that Jesus must die (not to mention Lazarus, John 11:47-53; 12:9-10).After the meal at the house of Simon the Leper, at which Mary anointed the feet of Jesus, “wasting” her expensive perfume on him, Judas decided to betray the Lord, approached the chief priests, and received an advance payment (Matthew 26:14-16; Luke 22:1-6). Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and after He cleansed the temple, the sparks really began to fly, with the religious leaders making every effort to discredit Him, or to get Him into trouble with the Roman authorities (Luke 20:19-20). When these efforts, as well as their attempts to penetrate the ranks of our Lord’s disciples miserably failed, the chief priests were delighted to have Judas approach them with his offer. It was only a matter now of waiting for the right chance. This could have been the Lord’s celebration of the Passover, along with His disciples.
At the meal itself, a number of events took place. It would seem that the Lord’s washing of the feet of the disciples was the first item on the agenda (John 13:1-20). During the meal, once (cf. Matthew 26:20-25; Mark 14:17-21), if not more (Luke 22:21-23), the Lord spoke of His betrayer. The meal seems to have included some (perhaps most all) of the traditional Passover elements, and in addition, the commencement of the Lord’s Supper, with words that I doubt the disciples had ever heard at a Passover meal (Luke 22:19-20). John’s gospel avoids giving us yet another description of this ceremony. He, unlike the other gospel writers, includes an extensive message known as the “upper room discourse” (John 14-16), concluded by the Lord’s “high priestly prayer” of intercession for His followers, which may have been prayed during the meal time, or perhaps later on in Gethsemane (John 17). The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) report the disciples’ argument about who would be the greatest, along with our Lord’s response (cf. Luke 22:24-3), the Lord’s specific words to the over-confident Peter (Luke 22:31-34), and then His words about being prepared to face a hostile world (Luke 22:35-38). With this the party is said to have sung a hymn and to have departed to the Garden of Gethsemane, where our Lord prayed, with little help from His disciples (Luke 22:39-46). The arrest of Jesus then follows, concluding in His being handed over for crucifixion.
The point in all of this is simply to remind you that the meal was a lengthy one, during which time the Passover was memorialized, and also the Lord’s Supper was inaugurated. It was also during this time that a great deal of teaching took place, as recorded primarily by John. The so-called “Last Supper” was but a part of a larger whole. We must therefore study and interpret it in this broader context.
It is beneficial to briefly review the meaning of the Passover Meal before we look at our Lord’s last Passover celebration. It think it is important to begin by drawing attention to these remarks by Plummer, one of the well-known scholars who has written a classic commentary on the gospel of Luke:
“… we are in doubt (1) as to what the paschal ritual was at this time; (2) as to the extent to which Jesus followed the paschal ritual in this highly exceptional celebration; … ”89
These days it has become very popular to reenact the Passover, showing how many of the elements have a kind of symbolic, prophetic element. These descriptions of the Passover ceremony come not from the Scriptures, however, but from tradition—traditions which are not necessarily accurate, and even if they were correct, we have no assurance that they reflect a genuine faith and obedience to the Word of God. May I remind you that Jesus often rebuked the Jews for their traditions. We have no assurance that these traditions are entirely correct, nor that Jesus personally observed them. Thus, I am committed to an interpretation which takes only the information supplied to us by the Scriptures themselves.
The Passover itself began at the exodus of the Israelite nation from Egypt. The word which Moses brought to Pharaoh from God, “Let My people go, …” was challenged by Pharaoh: “Who is this God, that I should obey Him?” The plagues were God’s answer to this question. But while Pharaoh often agreed to release the people of Israel, he would renege once the pressure was off. The final plague was the smiting of the eldest son of the Egyptians, which resulted in the release of the Israelites. The first-born sons of the Israelites were spared by means of the first Passover celebration. The Passover animals were slaughtered, and some of the blood was placed on the door posts. When the death angel saw the blood on the door posts, he “passed over” the house. This celebration was made an annual feast for the Israelite nation, with a number of stipulations:
11 “This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.” 14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance. For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat—that is all you may do. Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.” 43 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover: “No foreigner is to eat of it.” 48 “An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it (12:11, 14-20, 43, 48).
“Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Feast remain until morning (34:25).
The Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month (23:5).
4 So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, 6 But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day 10 “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they may still celebrate the Lord’s Passover. 12 They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations. 13 But if a man who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, that person must be cut off from his people because he did not present the Lord’s offering at the appointed time. That man will bear the consequences of his sin. 14 “‘An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must do so in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for the alien and the native-born’” (9:4, 6, 10, 12-14).
“‘On the fourteenth day of the first month the Lord’s Passover is to be held (28:16).
1 Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt by night. 2 Sacrifice as the Passover to the Lord your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the Lord will choose as a dwelling for his Name. 5 You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the Lord your God gives you 6 except in the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name. There you must sacrifice the Passover in the evening, when the sun goes down, on the anniversary of your departure from Egypt (16:1-2, 5-6).
There are a number of stipulations and regulations governing the observance of the Passover, as can be seen from the texts above. First, the Passover is to be partaken of only by those who have embraced the faith of Israel. No “uncircumcised” person could eat of it. This did not exclude foreigners who had accepted the faith of Israel, as evidenced by circumcision. Second, the Passover was to be observed on the 14th day of the first month, at the time when the Israelites first partook of the Passover lamb in Egypt. The animal was to be slain on the evening of the 14th, and the meal to follow shortly afterward. Third, no bones of the animal were to be broken, and no leftovers were to be kept until the next day. Fourth, the Passover celebration also commenced the Feast of Unleavened Bread. No yeast was to be used, and all leaven was to be removed from the dwellings of the Israelites on the first day of the celebration. Finally, the Passover animal could only be slaughtered at the place which God would designate (Deuteronomy 16:2, 5-6), which would later be specified as Jerusalem.
7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” 9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. 10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there.” 13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
There is a note of urgency expressed in verse 7, for the day came when the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. The Passover must be celebrated in Jerusalem, and the lamb had to be sacrificed and eaten at the appointed time. Matthew’s gospel is even more emphatic here:
He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house’” (Matthew 26:18-19).
Jesus sent two of his disciples to make the necessary preparations, two of His most trusted disciples, Peter and John. These were two of the three who were in the “inner circle” of the three disciples (Peter, James, and John), whom Jesus sometimes took along, apart from the others (cf. Luke 9:28). What was so important that two of His most trusted disciples had to prepare the Passover? This becomes evident in the directions Jesus gave as to the place where the Passover meal was to be eaten.
If I were Peter or John, I would have been somewhat distressed by Jesus’ directions. He did not give the name and the address of the man with whom arrangements had been made.90 When you think about it, there is a kind of “cloak and dagger” dimension to this account. The disciples were sent on what amounted to a treasure hunt. They were to find an unspecified place by going into the city and being found by a man who would be identified only by the fact that he was carrying a water pot. It is not even said that the man would speak to them, but they were to follow him to the house he entered. There, the owner of the house (presumably another man) was to be asked where the guest room was where the “Teacher” could eat the Passover with His disciples.
Had it not been Jesus who gave these instructions, one would probably have not been very inclined to follow this plan. There is a certain similarity in these instructions to those given to the “two” (unnamed) disciples who were to obtain the mount on which Jesus was to ride into Jerusalem in His “triumphal” entry (Luke 19:30-31). The purpose for the two sets of arrangements was the same, and thus required a vagueness in each case.
It had already been determined by the religious leaders in Jerusalem that Jesus should be eliminated, earlier (cf. John 7), and now with even greater determination after the raising of Lazarus (cf. John 11:45-53). The one thing which the religious leaders needed was privacy. They wanted to arrest Jesus, away from the curious eyes of the crowds, who favored Jesus, and who would very likely revolt at the sight of Jesus being arrested and put to death by the religious leaders (cf. Luke 19:47-48; 20:19-20; 22:3-6).
Luke gives the account of Judas’ agreement with the chief priests and officers (22:3-6) just before the Lord’s instructions concerning the preparation for the last supper (22:7-13). This order of events is significant, for had Judas known in advance the place where the Passover was to be eaten, he could have arranged for Jesus’ arrest there. And this would have been an ideal time, for everyone would be off the streets, eating the meal with their own families. Jesus’ gave instructions which assured that this meal would not be interrupted, and that his arrest would take place in the garden of Gethsemane, later that night.
There is, by way of application, a wonderful truth to be seen in these verses. Whenever God truly calls on us to do that for which we feel unprepared and at “loose ends,” that which seems ill-defined, we shall discover that He has long before gone before us, making the necessary arrangements. The two disciples would surely not have felt “in control” of this situation, just as the two disciples who went to fetch the Lord’s mount for His entry would have felt matters were not very well defined. But in each case the text is clear: they found things to be exactly as Jesus had described them. While the disciples may not have been confident that things would work out well, they did.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you believed that God was leading you to do or say something, but you really didn’t know how things would work out? Have you ever done something in obedience to what you believed to be the leading of God’s Spirit, only to find that He had been there long before you arrived? When God instructs us to do something that He intends to come to pass, He will always have gone before us, preparing the way for us. All we need to do is to obey, trusting that things will work out as He has planned. While we may not know the outcome as the two disciples did in our text, we may be assured that it will be just as God has ordained it. How wonderful it is to walk in obedience to His will and His word, and to watch Him open the doors before us, preparing our way. And how wonderful to know that what God has not told us is for our own good.
14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
As we begin to consider the “last supper” let us start by considering some of the characteristics of this event.
(1)The “last supper” was a segment of a larger whole. Even in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the account of the actual celebration of the “last supper” brief, but in the gospel of John, it is not even recorded. John’s gospel gives us a much fuller account of our Lord’s rather extensive teaching on this occasion, known as the “Upper Room Discourse.”
(2)The account of the “last supper” is not only brief, it does not “read back” into the event the greatly enhanced understanding of this event in the light of later events, such as the death of Christ on the cross. It is not until Acts and the epistles of the New Testament that the full meaning of “communion” is seen. Luke waits until later to spell out this unseen significance. Luke describes the event from the historical perspective of those who were there, not from that of those saints who can look on the event in terms of its added meaning in the light of the cross.
(3)The “last supper” was the last supper in that it marked the end of one dispensation and the entrance into another. It instituted the age of the “new covenant” and anticipated (at the cross) the end of the period of the “old covenant.” The “last supper” is unique, never to be reenacted. It is the closing of one chapter, and the beginning of a new one.
(4)The “last supper” was the inauguration of a new “church” ordinance, although it was not recognized as such at the time. The church will go back to this celebration as the historical roots of its celebration of “communion,” but the disciples had no grasp of the newness of this celebration at the time.
(5)The meaning and significance of this celebration of the “last supper” was almost totally missed by the disciples. They did not understand what Jesus was doing, and they were busy thinking about the identity of the betrayer, their own sadness, and who was the greatest among them.
(6) Jesus did not seek to explain to His disciples, at this point, all that He was doing meant. Indeed, in the fuller teaching of John’s gospel, it was clear that they would not understand.
(7)The last supper was not, in its observance, a glorious occasion. Regardless of how the artists might have portrayed it, this was a time of confusion, of fear, and of self-seeking on the part of the disciples. Jesus was the only one present who knew the meaning of what He was doing.
(8)The “last supper” was a modification of the Old Testament observance of the Passover. But there is little information given to us about the “ritual” that was observed by our Lord, or even that Jesus followed the normal Jewish ritual of that time. The part of the celebration that is emphasized is that which was utterly foreign to the Passover celebration, that which our Lord added.
(9) The mood of the “last supper,” especially for the disciples, was dominated by the gloom of our Lord’s betrayal and of His imminent death on the cross. The disciples did not know what was about to take place, but there was a sadness, a heaviness, in their spirits, knowing that something ominous was about to occur.
(10) In spite of and in contrast to the disciples, Jesus approached this meal with eagerness: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (v. 15).
Having familiarized ourselves with the context and characteristics of the “last supper,” I now wish to turn our attention to the meaning of this event, as Jesus reveals it to the disciples here. There is a problem with this passage, as you should know. The basic problem, it would seem, is that there are too many “cups” here, and thus the order of events given by Luke seems to contradict that found in the other gospel accounts. One easy solution is to retreat to the ceremony which allegedly took place at the celebration of the Passover, and to point out that there were numerous “cups.” The solution which some ancient copyist(s) seem(s) to have taken is simply to exclude the last half of verse 19 and all of verse 20. No everything matches, nice and neat. I think there is a much simpler explanation—one which points to the “punch of the passage”—which can be seen by this simple arrangement of the verses in view:
15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
Luke’s account, more dramatically than the other two, emphasizes the fact that the “last supper” had two distinct meanings. The extra cup is no problem when viewed from the standpoint of Luke’s structure. Verses 15-18 refer to the significance of the Passover for the Lord Jesus. The reference to “eating” (the bread, presumably) and “drinking” is to its meaning for Him, as Israel’s messiah. The reason why He can say that He has eagerly desired to eat the Passover is revealed in verse 16: He will not eat it again until its fulfillment in the kingdom of God. So, too, for the cup. He will not drink the cup again until the kingdom of God is fulfilled.
Now this is a very important point, I believe. Normally, we tend to look at the Passover as being a prototype of the death of Christ on the cross. Jesus, in verses 14-18, looks beyond the cross, to the crown. The joy set before Him is the kingdom, and the suffering of the cross is the way this joy will be realized. Thus, Jesus focused on the joy of the fulfillment of the Passover and was encouraged and enabled to endure the cross because of it.
The eating of the first Passover did involve the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, but it was done so as to deliver the first-born sons of Israel from death. It was done as well as a preparatory step to the exodus, their release from Egypt by Pharaoh, their crossing of the Red Sea, and their entrance into the promised land. Thus, the sacrifice of the Passover lamb was not focused only on the preservation of the lives of the firstborn, but on the possession of the promised kingdom.91 In the same way, Jesus saw this Passover as prophetic, as anticipatory of the coming of the kingdom, and in this He could rejoice.
For the disciples (and, indeed, for the Jews) the Passover meal had a very different significance. For them it was the end of one order, and the entrance into another. It spelled the end of the Mosaic covenant, and the inauguration of the new covenant, that which the prophet Jeremiah prophesied (Jeremiah 31:31). That which God promised Abraham was to be realized and accomplished through the faithful obedience and sacrificial death of the Messiah, whose death inaugurated a new order, based upon the new covenant. The full meaning of the meal, and of our Lord’s death would only be grasped after His death and resurrection. It surely was not grasped at this moment by the disciples.
They were quickly distracted by what Jesus said next. He told them that He was to be betrayed, and that His betrayer was at the table, one of them (verse 21). At a time when Jesus’ rejection, suffering, and death were imminent, here He is, reaching out one last time to Judas, warning him of the destiny which awaits him if he follows through with his plan to betray Him. Both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man are underscored by Jesus’ words. The Son of Man was going, as it had been predetermined by God, and yet woe to that one who would do it. Judas was going to be held accountable for his actions (verse 22). How sad that Judas did not heed this warning.
How sad it was that one could be so close to the Savior, could have heard so much, and yet did not believe. How many people have thought themselves saints, when they were really wolves and not sheep, falsely religious, but not Christians (cf. Matthew 7:13-23). Judas was warned. He was even urged to turn from his course, but he did not. How tragic is this man.
While the disciples are different than Judas, they are not that different. The principle difference between Judas and the other eleven was that they believed, they were saved, and Judas was not. Judas did not lose something which he once possessed, for he never possessed it. But the disciples are so like Judas in that they are thinking mainly of themselves, and not of Jesus. They, too, are seeking their own self-interest. And so, the discussion among them as to who would betray Jesus quickly deteriorated into an argument as to who was the greatest. How typical—of them, and of us.
At the most “spiritual” times, in the most pious of surroundings and ceremonies, our sinful desires are still present. The significance of the Passover, and of the Lord’s supper has nothing to do with what we add to it, but only with what Christ Himself has done. In that alone we can rejoice. The amazing thing is that the disciples and even Judas, for all their sin, did not ruin this meal for the Savior. They did not ruin it because He observed it in the light of what God was doing, not in what men were doing. There is no benefit to rituals or ceremonies, my friend, there is only benefit in Christ. It is what he has done that gives any ritual significance. May we approach the Lord’s table as the Savior did, with great joy and anticipation, looking back, but also looking forward to that day when the kingdom of God shall come.
90 The assumption here is that Jesus had already made arrangements with the owner of the “upper room,” and this He may very well have done. Jesus did not say so, however. It is also possible, as in the case of the acquisition of the Lord’s transportation into Jerusalem (the donkey and its foal), that the man did not know in advance, by prior arrangement, but gladly let Jesus use the room. The question here is somewhat academic, and would only inform us as to how routine or miraculous this preparation was.
91 I am going to have to think about this more carefully, but let me throw out some points to ponder. As a rule, we tend to equate the Passover lamb with the atonement. It would seem more accurate to see the annual day of atonement in this light, and that sacrificial animal as typical of Christ and His death. The Passover lamb, however, was more anticipatory. It looked forward to the possession of the kingdom, and to the new age, the new covenant, which would make it possible. The Passover lamb did not die in the place of all the nation, but only to save the first-born.