Jesus was hours away from the cross. As He prepared for that ordeal, He spent time with those people who had been with Him for three years for a final meal and time of prayer. His final meal was the Passover, one of the most important holidays of the Jewish faith, that celebrated God’s deliverance from Egypt. On that day, Jesus Himself would become the Passover sacrifice for all mankind which we remember as the time God delivered all men from the bondage of sin.
12. And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?
Jesus’s first day on earth happened when he was born in a stable because the city was crowded during the census. It’s interesting that His last night in Jerusalem was in a city so crowded with religious pilgrims coming into town that the disciples weren’t sure about having a place to go to prepare and eat the Passover.
13. And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. 14. And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? 15. And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us.
Jesus was prepared. It almost goes without saying now, after 2000 years, but we should never doubt that Jesus would be prepared. I’ve never surprised Jesus with my actions. Here He was ready with the answer to their question and an interesting way to identify who to follow. The disciples were to look for a man bearing a pitcher of water. Coming from our modern perspective, that may not seem like a big deal. Without running water, like we have today, someone would have to bring water to the household. As you look at the culture, though, in that time, women were the people who went to the wells for water. If you think back to stories about encounters at wells, a woman was always the one who was getting the water. When Jesus told them to look for a man carrying water, it was a form of culture shock. I imagine the people around the area might have whispered and mocked that a man was doing “women’s work” when he went to get the water, but Jesus’ disciples were to look for that man and follow him: he was the key. Not only is Jesus always prepared, He will use people in unexpected ways to accomplish God’s work.
As the disciples continued this top secret mission to find a room to prepare and eat the Passover, they were to follow this servant to his final destination and talk with the master of the house asking him where the room was that had been made ready for them. If this all seems like a cloak and dagger way of doing what should be accomplished easily, remember two things: 1) the city was crowded with people trying to do the same thing. Passover was one of the feasts that called Jews into town from all over the world and everyone needed a place to prepare it. Jesus had made prior arrangements, and 2) don’t forget that the religious leaders were trying to arrest and ultimately kill Jesus. If Jesus and the disciples were wandering around, trying to find the place where they would be preparing the feast, it would have been easy for the religious leaders to spot Jesus. Since Judas wasn’t in on the secret of where this upper room was, he couldn’t tip the hands of the authorities earlier than he would eventually do. This man was obviously a person who knew of Jesus and respected Him enough to save a large room for what would be Jesus’ last supper here on earth.
16. And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover. 17. And in the evening he cometh with the twelve.
I’m not sure how the number of people adds up here because some of the disciples made the Passover ready. I can only surmise that either “the twelve” was a generic term for the disciples no matter how many were with Jesus at the time or that the disciples prepared the Passover and went back to escort Jesus to the upper room. It’s also possible that a few women accompanied the disciples when they went to look for the room and they were left behind to prepare the meal while the disciples went back to get Jesus and the other disciples. Whatever the situation, you’ll notice that Jesus went to the room with the disciples in the evening. After dark when He would be harder to see. It’s not that Jesus was afraid of upcoming events. It’s that He wanted some final time with His disciples.
18. And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray me. 19. And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I?
This was a pivotal moment in the dinner. Jesus shocked all the disciples but one with this announcement. It would have been bad enough to be betrayed by anyone, but how much worse that the betrayal would come at the hands (lips?) (caution – spoiler alert) of Judas who had traveled, ate, and slept with Jesus and the other disciples for almost three years. I don’t think the other eleven could imagine that any of them would do such a thing deliberately, I think they were imagining accidentally blurting out something that would lead the authorities to Jesus. Eleven of them asked if they were going to be the one to do it, perhaps with the idea of making sure not to go anywhere for a while. Judas joined in the questioning so that the other disciples wouldn’t figure out that he was the snitch. I can only imagine the look Jesus might have given him when Judas asked that question.
20. And he answered and said unto them, It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish. 21. The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.
Jesus highlighted the anguish of the betrayal by noting that the betrayer was one of the twelve who was eating with Him. He was even dipping his bread in the same dish that Jesus was. I don’t know if there was one dish in common for all or if there were two or three dipping dishes set out. I would imagine that with thirteen people at the table, they might set out two or three. If so, Jesus narrowed down the potential number of betrayers to one of those sitting closest to Him, and if that’s true, perhaps that highlights the extent of the tragedy even more, since those sitting closer to Jesus would generally be some of the more trusted disciples. That would make the betrayal just a bit more tragic.
How tragic would the betrayal be? Jesus thought about the betrayer and focused on the consequences of that betrayal so that Judas would know what he was doing before he did it. He can’t stand before God at the final judgment and say that he was hoping for something else to happen. Jesus told him, and the other eleven, that things would be so bad for him that he would wish he’d never been born. There is a theory floating around that tries to soften the betrayal by saying that Judas believed so strongly that Jesus was the Messiah that he betrayed Jesus in order to force His hand and make Him call out His army to overthrow the Romans. If he still had that thought in mind, this warning should have dissuaded him, but Judas would not turn back from his decision to betray Jesus.
22. And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. 23. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. 24. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. 25. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.
In the middle of the Passover service, Jesus blessed and broke the bread (unleavened of course). His command may have seemed strange. They were to eat it in part because it was His body. Given that I am not Jewish and that I am not familiar with all the elements of a Seder or Passover meal, what I say now may not be completely factual. It is however, what I understand to be true based on my limited research. I, of course, am open to being corrected. As I understand it, three pieces of bread are placed in a cloth cover. The breaking of the bread occurs when the leader takes the middle piece and breaks it. The larger of the two pieces is called the afikomen, which is then hidden, and comes out at the end of the meal as a dessert. The ancient tradition was that nothing was to be eaten after the afikomen. The breaking of the bread was followed by the second of four cups of wine. I think this is the part of the service we see. It is possible that this is near the end of the service when the Afikomen is eaten just before the third cup of wine, but the bread is usually broken before the second cup. While we don’t see the whole service in this part of the story, we do know one thing: the service was incomplete. Even if what we read here comes when Jesus served them the afikomen and the third cup of wine, He still committed to drink no more until He would be able to drink it in the Kingdom of God. Either the fourth cup alone, or the third and fourth cup weren’t consumed at this Passover meal.
As we understand the story behind the afikomen, it’s easy to see how and why Jesus called that piece His body: His body would be broken for them, hidden in the grave, and then would return. The cup of wine was a reminder of the blood that He was about to shed. I believe that Jesus was talking symbolically here, and not saying that the bread would literally become His body nor would the wine become His literal blood. Obviously, this has become a point of contention in all of Christendom. Perhaps we all need to give each other the same right to be wrong that we expect from them. Our relationship to God is based on the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, not what we believe about what happens with the bread and the wine. The fact that Jesus didn’t finish the meal was a reminder that even better things were to come in the Kingdom of God.
26. And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
The meal closed with a hymn. Was it perhaps the hallel, which is based on Psalms 113-118 and usually ended the Passover service? Who knows? I think so, but we won’t know until we enter into our eternal rest. Because of subsequent events, I believe that the Mount of Olives was one of Jesus’ “go to” places. When Judas sought Jesus to betray Him, he knew that Jesus would be in the area of the mount of Olives.
27. And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. 28. But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee.
Jesus’ prediction was pretty clear: everyone would run away when Jesus was betrayed because He, their shepherd-leader, would be taken and killed. As He made what must have seemed like a hope-draining comment, He noted that He would rise and see them in Galilee.
29. But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. 30. And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. 31. But he spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all.
There’s a modern tradition in our age of social media. Someone saves everything a political opponent may say, and when what the opponent said proves to be wrong, they publicize their words with the phrase, “That didn’t age well.” Peter protested by noting that he would never run away. When Jesus told Peter that not only would he run away, he would publicly deny knowing Jesus, Peter doubled down, noting his willingness to die with Jesus rather than deny Him. Note here that all the other disciples said the same thing. In the words of our time, “That didn’t age well.” We all remember Peter denying Jesus, but he went as far as the chief priest’s house before denying Jesus and running away. The only other disciple to get that far was John, if I recall correctly. All the others scattered into the night when the going got rough.
While I’m getting ahead of the story here, it’s important to remember that when Peter saw Jesus after His resurrection, Jesus forgave and restored him.No one has ever surprised Jesus and no matter how badly we may mess up, He’s ready to forgive us. He’s also ready to guide us and will give us direction in life if we ask. At the same time, we’re reminded that our experiences in this world are but an incomplete shadow of the fullness of life we’ll have when we join in fellowship in the Kingdom of God. We may not know everything God has in store and we won’t agree on all the details of what He’s done and what He will do, but when we focus on the sacrifice Jesus made for us, we can continue to work and serve together for the Kingdom of God