The Last Supper
In our study we have seen certain "patterns" emerge, cycles where a series of events continue to repeat themselves in order to drive home a point. The most prevalent cycle in John is that which sees Jesus declaring His divinity (by teaching or miracle) and His hearers either believing or disbelieving His claims.
There were several objectives that the repetition of this cycle seemed to aim for:
1. To make clear Jesus' claims and actions.
You may or may not believe it but there is no doubt that Jesus taught and demonstrated through His power that He was the Son of God. People can choose to disbelieve and reject this notion, but Jesus' message was clear: He believed and wanted us to believe that He was divine and the Messiah.
2. To provide proof for the claims.
John records several miracles in detail in order to support the claims of Jesus. Some may not have believed, but he writes as one who believed strongly the proof before Him.
3. To record the reaction of the people.
Jesus demonstrated that the disbelief among the Jews was widespread, not just a fluke or a narrow opinion. John describes the familiar scene of Jesus demonstrating great power and the leaders, and eventually the crowds that celebrated Him, turn against Him in disbelief and anger. This scene is repeated over and over again to reinforce the idea that some believed but most disbelieved, and this was the line where the great divide between saved and lost would be.
This brings us to our last lesson where I compared the reaction of various people to Lazarus' death and resurrection now made possible by God through Christ. In that lesson I showed you how different people had their faith strengthened by this great miracle and how others, like Judas and the religious leaders, hardened their heart in disbelief and thus repeated the cycle of faith or rejection one more time.
In this chapter John begins the narrative that will describe the final hours of Jesus' ministry here on earth, and how people reacted to Him with or without faith.
The Passover Meal – Background
Each year the Jews celebrated the feast of the Passover that commemorated the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. The feast focused on the final powerful sign God used in freeing them: He sent an angel to destroy every firstborn in Egypt (both human and animal). He instructed the Jews to kill a lamb and sprinkle their doorposts with its blood, and then cook and eat the animal while indoors that night. When the Egyptians awoke to the death of all their firstborn the next day, even the Pharaoh's child, the Jews were set free. The Lord commanded them to keep a remembrance of this time by having the Passover meal each year.
There was a set order to the meal itself: a lamb was sacrificed at the temple on behalf of a family or group of family representatives. The meat was then prepared along with unleavened bread, bitter herbs and wine for the meal.
Each element had its own significance:
- The lamb was the sacrifice offered in place of the firstborn.
- The bitter herbs (like a salad) represented the harsh experience they had as slaves.
- The unleavened bread signified the haste with which they left Egypt, no time to even make the bread rise.
- The wine was added later, but came to represent the new and abundant land that God had eventually brought them to.
According to the Law, the Passover lasted seven days and the meal was prepared and eaten on the evening prior to the Passover Day. This would be Thursday evening. During the week the Jews would make sure that no yeast or fermenting agent would be present in their homes or food. Yeast was a symbol of decay and so was eliminated totally during this time. The bread was without yeast or leaven; the wine was mixed with water as was the custom.
During the meal, the father or presider (if no father was present) would direct the proceedings: he would first eat and the others would follow; he would offer a blessing as they shared the wine; when all was finished they would stand and sing the "Halel" (Psalm of praise).
It was this meal that Jesus gathered with His Apostles to share that John describes in chapter 13.
Jesus and the Passover – 13:1-30
John does not provide any details concerning the Lord 's Supper (this is already done adequately in Matthew, Mark, Luke and I Corinthians). John does, however, provide a lot of detail as to what was said and done that night that the others do not include. His description of that evening in the upper room will go on from chapter 13 to the end of chapter 17. Most of the information includes a long prayer and teaching section by Jesus for His Apostles on His final night with them before His death.
Before He begins this prayer, however, He will do two important things for His Apostles:
1. He washes the feet of the Apostles – vs. 1-20
Vs. 1-5 – Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
Jesus was fully aware of who He was, why He was sent, that His time was near, and what kind of men His Apostles were. Knowing and accepting all of this, He still loved them and accepted what He was sent to do on their behalf. Even knowing that one of His Apostles would betray Him, even with that knowledge, He loved them nevertheless and humbled Himself to do the thing He was about to do.
In those days the host would set a jar of water, a bowl and towel near the doorway for the purpose of washing his guests' feet. It was their version of a doormat. Usually the task was given to a slave or the youngest boy in the household. Since they had borrowed the upper room and it was a private meal, no one had been assigned to take care of this detail.
Imagine, each Apostle coming in with dusty, dirty feet; no one greeting them or serving this need. Imagine as each new Apostle arrived, no one offering to do the courteous thing because it would be too demeaning. Imagine their chagrin when the Lord Himself gets up from the dinner and quietly begins to do the honors… the work of a slave, the task belonging to the one with least position and honor.
The other writers describe an argument among the Apostles concerning who was the greatest, because they probably did not like the seating arrangement. Jesus silences them with this action.
Vs. 6-11 – So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, "Lord, do You wash my feet?" Jesus answered and said to him, "What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter." Peter said to Him, "Never shall You wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head." Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you." For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, "Not all of you are clean.
Of course Peter breaks the awkward silence with a show of protest. He does not understand all the implications of this action and what Jesus will say about it later, and what it will mean later. The implication hereafter is that they will realize that God washed their feet! Jesus presses him by saying that without this Peter cannot remain a part of Jesus. Peter reverses himself and goes to the other extreme: if washing my feet unites me to you, wash me all over to make sure. Jesus reassures him that only this is necessary for now and those who have a clean heart (meaning they sincerely believe and act from it) are completely clean (absolved) and have no need for further purification. Then He makes reference to the fact that there is a traitor among them: one who has received the foot washing but whose heart was unclean!
Vs. 12-17 – So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Later they will feel the impact of this gesture (that God humbled Himself before them). For now, He uses the foot washing as an example upon which they should base their attitude toward one another. If the Master can wash your feet, certainly you can do it for one another.
Today we have doormats, but the need to humble ourselves before one another is still the basic way we avoid strife and division caused by pride.
Vs. 18-20 – I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, 'He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.' From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.
Here Jesus reveals to them not only that He will be betrayed by one of them but that the betrayal was prophesied long ago by David (Psalm 41:9). In addition to this He tells them that this will be another indicator of His divine nature: the ability to predict the future accurately. At this point the Lord does the second important thing for His Apostles.
2. He reveals the traitor – vs. 21-30
Until now, the Apostles have not grasped what Jesus has been saying to them. In the following verses the Lord not only makes it plain to the Apostles, but He also reveals to Judas that He knows what Judas is planning to do.
Vs. 21-30 – When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me." The disciples began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking. There was reclining on Jesus' bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. So Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, "Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking." He, leaning back thus on Jesus' bosom, said to Him, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus then answered, "That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him." So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, "What you do, do quickly." Now no one of those reclining at the table knew for what purpose He had said this to him. For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, "Buy the things we have need of for the feast"; or else, that he should give something to the poor. So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night.
Imagine the scene:
Thirteen men reclining on cushions around a table. The host or organizer of the dinner sat at the head of the table so he could protect and serve the honored guest or preside. The honored guest would assign seats around the table, usually in order of status. There was complaining among the Apostles about who was important. It seems that John and Peter organized the dinner (Luke 21:7-8) and it seems that they had hoped to take the coveted spots next to Jesus. John, as host, in the first seat with Jesus to his left as the guest of honor, followed of course by Peter the leader and then the other Apostles doing the best they could. Probably Judas last, since they knew he was a thief and untrustworthy.
Things start as planned with John taking the first spot (we know this because he leaned his head on Jesus). Jesus in the honored position which no one contested. But John tells us three important facts:
- When washing their feet, He came to Peter last.
- When speaking to John, Peter had to gesture to him to get his attention.
- Jesus spoke and handed the morsel directly to Judas. This means Judas was next to the Lord and Peter sat at the end of the table.
Perhaps when assigning seats Jesus placed Judas next to Himself because He knew what was to come. And Peter, in a pout, went to sit as far away as he could. This certainly explains his behavior when Jesus came to him with the water and towel to wash his feet. Much of the evidence points to this scenario.
In any case, Jesus forces Judas' hand without any of the others knowing what had taken place. The idea that "Satan entered him" is not to suggest that Judas was demon possessed and not responsible for his action. This reference indicates when Judas finally gave in fully to the temptation. Judas was no longer under the influence of Christ, he had completely given himself over to the sin he was about to commit, therefore Satan was now controlling him.
We will stop here because the next section begins Jesus' last prayer and exhortation for His Apostles before He is killed. Even though the Lord's Supper is not described here, this passage does provide lessons that are usually found in those passages where the Lord's Supper is found.
1. A servant is not above his master
If we choose to follow Jesus, we must follow Him in all His ways, not just some. If He was willing to wash feet before the communion, so must we. In other words, if He was willing to humble Himself, so should we; otherwise we do not belong at the table.
2. A servant should examine himself/herself
If Judas would have examined his heart full of disbelief and greed, he might not have fallen into the total control of Satan. When the Lord hands us the communion bread, let us make sure it is not an accusation of infidelity and hypocrisy, like the morsel He handed to Judas. Let us be sure our hearts are right before we sit to eat with the Lord and we are not sitting in Judas' seat. He was in a position of honor (next to the Lord) before men, but Jesus knew his heart.