This first episode about the Last Supper looks at the context of the Passover feast and the preparations made for Jesus to share it with his disciples.
This first episode about the Last Supper looks at the context of the Passover feast and the preparations made for Jesus to share it with his disciples.
Hello and welcome to Series 12 and Episode 9. This is 'The Last Supper'. We are going to be looking at the account in Luke 22: 7 - 16 as the main text.
Introduction and Recap
In Series 11 and Series 12, we have been studying the events of the last week of Jesus' life, and if you are following all the way through these episodes, you will be very familiar with the outline of the story. To remind ourselves of the key points: in Series 11, we started with Jesus entering Jerusalem in the last week of his life, the so-called Passion week, and he entered in a great blaze of glory with the Triumphal Entry; thousands of people gathering to welcome him into the city, anticipating that he might well be the Messiah, coming to redeem Israel, perhaps overturn the Romans, perhaps introduce a new political system, perhaps reform Temple worship and get rid of the corruption in the Temple, certainly bring healing and blessing to people as he had done for three years. It was a great day. That was the Sunday. The Monday was marked by a confrontational event that Jesus orchestrated in the Temple compound. He went there early and challenged the market traders, who were selling animals and birds for the religious sacrifices that took place regularly in the Temple. Also there were money-changers there to deal with the difference between Roman currency and Jewish currency used for the Temple taxation system. Jesus challenged this, overturning the tables and accusing them of financial and spiritual corruption.
On Tuesday, there was a long day of debate and discussion between Jesus and his religious opponents - the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders, the high priests, the priesthood, the Teachers of the Law, the Pharisees the Sadducees, the Herodians - all the different factions were against him, hoping to get rid of him, as we've explained in earlier episodes. Those difficult questions didn't trap Jesus. He told some parables which criticised them. Then he condemned the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law as hypocrites. He left the Temple and spoke to the disciples. They drew his attention to the glorious building of the Temple. He predicted amazingly that the Temple was going to be destroyed, not one stone left on top of another. At the beginning of Matthew 24, we see that statement. Then they asked him some questions about the future, which we see in Matthew 24: 2 - 3. When will this happen to the Temple? What will be the sign of your coming, or your return, the Second Coming? What will be the sign of the end of the age. We followed through at the beginning of Series 12 with seven episodes, looking in detail at the teaching that Jesus gave to his disciples privately, while sitting on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem. He gave this teaching explaining the future. He explained that the Church's life would be lived in a time of complexity and suffering, with difficulties in the world around, some persecution. The Gospel would be proclaimed all the way round the world, but in times of difficulty. He then explained that within a generation the nation of Israel would be overturned, and the Temple destroyed. He went on to teach about the Second Coming, saying that it was going to be a glorious, wonderful, powerful, worldwide event. Jesus would return to the earth in glory and power to bring judgement and redemption. People who didn't believe would mourn, but believers would be redeemed and filled with joy.
Then in Matthew 25, Jesus told three parables that encourage people to be ready and watchful for the Second Coming because no-one knew when it was going to come and they needed to be ready; that was a sign of true discipleship.
In the last episode, we moved on from that Tuesday event to an event which probably took place on the Wednesday of that week. We can't be certain of the chronology but it is likely that on the Wednesday of that week, Jesus, who was staying in the village of Bethany just outside Jerusalem, was hosted by a man called Simon the Leper. We looked at the story in our last episode, especially as recorded in Mark's Gospel, and we saw how Mary, Martha and Lazarus - the other family that Jesus knew so well in Bethany - came to the house, and how Mary took a very expensive alabaster jar of perfume and anointed Jesus as a symbol of her devotion, and also as a prophetic sign of his forthcoming death because the Jews anointed the bodies of dead people before they were buried. Something sinister happened during that event which is the link between that story and the event we are going to look at today, which took place the following day on the Thursday. This concerns Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus' twelve Apostles. We have known for some time, from the Gospel narrative, that Judas did not have a strong loyalty to Jesus, that he was corrupted in his thinking. We found out in the story of the anointing at Bethany that he was financially corrupt and stole money from the common purse which the disciples used to finance their travelling. We found out at the end of that story that this was the moment that Judas made the decision that he was going to betray Jesus to the Sanhedrin, to the High Priest and the religious authorities. They were looking to try and arrest Jesus and amazingly for them, Judas Iscariot was going to help them.
Let's connect the story and catch up with that part of the story by reading Luke 22: 1 - 6.
‘Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread called the Passover was approaching, and the chief priests and the Teachers of the Law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the twelve, and Judas went to the chief priests and the officials of the Temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.’Luke 22:1-6, NIV
This is a sinister passage. Demonic, evil influence has captivated Judas' imagination, his mind and his motivation, and he betrayed Jesus. This happened either later on the Wednesday, or early on the Thursday of Passion week. The high priests and religious authorities are now in a strong position because Judas can come to them at any point and advise them of Jesus' movements from place to place, so that they can find him in a secluded place and quietly arrest him, so that it doesn't draw the attention of the crowd.
Jesus is fully aware that this is what is happening but he has another priority at this point and that is to share together the Passover meal, which we call the Last Supper. This is a very well-known event in the life of Jesus and has many different levels of significance, some of which we will look at in this episode, and then we will find further meaning in these events in subsequent episodes. Let's read the first part of our passage Luke 22:7 - 13.
‘Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John saying “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover” ”Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. 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 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’. He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.” They left and found things just as Jesus had told them, so they prepared the Passover.’Luke 22:7-13, NIV
We have already discussed a little about the Passover festival but I want to give more detail now, so that we can understand the event that is taking place here and particularly the meal that the two disciples are preparing. There were three major religious festivals, or feasts, every year in Judaism. These took place in Jerusalem and the first one, every year in March or April, was the Passover. The second one, in May or June, was Pentecost, and then, in September or October, was the feast of Tabernacles. We have actually seen an example of Jesus coming to the feast of Tabernacles in Series 8, Episode 1, as recorded in John's Gospel. Jews from all over the country, and around the surrounding nations, often came in large numbers to these festivals. They were the gathering point of their religion, and they were events that people really wanted to get to but it was a big effort. If you came from Galilee, this could be a week or two of your year taken up - if you include the travelling as well as the actual event which lasted quite a number of days. Each festival had a particular theme and the theme of the Passover was the exodus, or the escape, of the Israelites from Egypt in the Old Testament in the time when they were enslaved in Egypt, working as bonded labourers for the Egyptian pharaoh. They escape miraculously. It is the miraculous escape that is celebrated in the feast of the Passover. Pentecost and Tabernacles celebrated other aspects of the life of ancient Israel.
Let us now look at the original story, the original event in order to understand the significance of the Passover. I'm going to read from Exodus 12: 6 to 14. This describes the occasion when Moses is preparing the Israelites to make a sudden departure from Egypt whilst God is judging the Egyptians.
‘Take care of them until the 14th day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door-frames of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night, they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire with the head and legs and internal organs. Do not leave any of it till morning. If some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are you to eat it - with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat in haste - it is the Lord's Passover. On that same night I'll pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I'll bring judgement on the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. 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.’Exodus 12:6-14, NIV
The Jews tried to capture some of these events in the Passover feast. On the very first occasion after the sacrifice of the animal the blood of the animal was put on the door-frames, as a sign of God's grace and God's protection for them from the judgement that was coming on Egypt; they were to be spared. They were to eat the lamb with bitter herbs and bread made without yeast. All the food in the Passover meal was significant. Lamb was the sacrificial animal, the bitter herbs indicated the bitterness and the suffering of their stay in Egypt. The bread made without any yeast or leaven was bread made in haste, in preparation for quick departure. They were to eat with their shoes and cloaks on, with their sticks or staffs ready to go, and they had to escape at the moment that God called them to go. It was a huge event in the life of ancient Israel. It was remembered with great devotion and appreciation at the Passover feast. The interesting thing is that unlike other festivals, the central event was actually a family meal. The lamb was slaughtered and by the time of Jesus, the lamb would be slaughtered in the Temple, then brought back to the home or the place where people were staying. Then there would be a family meal, presided over by the father, or the head of the family. With all these different ingredients in the meal, and some other ingredients which the Jews had added in over time - but which aren't mentioned here. The story of the first Passover would be told during the meal, with several cups of wine in celebration and in remembrance. That is the event that we are talking about - a Passover meal. We call it the Last Supper because it was on the last night of Jesus' life on earth, before he was crucified the following day.
Preparation for Passover
Having looked at the exodus events, now let us think about the actual events of the preparation of this particular Passover meal. The question was where was Jesus going to have the meal? He was going to have it in the city. He sent Peter and John on this surprising mission to find the place. They were to meet a man carrying water - which was unusual as usually women carried water - and he guided them to the place. It was a miraculous series of circumstances. Jesus had obviously prepared something, and he made it clear to Peter and John at the last minute but there is a degree of privacy and secrecy about this because Jesus doesn't want the authorities to discover the place of the Last Supper because it is such an important event for him to have with his disciples. So he doesn't tell any of the disciples where it is going to be and gives this coded message to Peter and John. They found the venue and then they had a lot of work to do to prepare for the meal. That meant going to buy food, prepare food, prepare the table, prepare the layout, prepare the crockery and the cutlery and all the furnishings, so that the meal was ready. They had a busy day on that Thursday. They were doing the work that would be done to prepare a very large family meal and then all the rest of the disciples came with Jesus.
The Meal Begins
We take the story up in Luke 22: 14 - 16.
‘When the hour came Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table, and he said to them “I've eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.”’Luke 22:14-16, NIV
Here is the beginning of the event. The twelve Apostles are there with Jesus. They are reclining at the table. You will probably remember from the description of earlier events in Jesus' life that the Jewish tradition wasn't to sit on chairs at tables but to recline on couches on one arm on their sides, and to eat with the other hand. Jesus saw this as a very significant event. ‘I've eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.’ He is predicting his suffering. He knows it is imminent. He probably knows it is within hours that he is going to be betrayed. He knows that Judas is now moving the process forward and in communication with the religious authorities. He is anticipating his death and preparing his disciples. He keeps telling them about his suffering.
He says ‘I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.’ That means next Passover in a year's time, I won't be here. I will have died and indeed been raised from the dead and ascended. He says he will eat it again when it finds fulfilment in the Kingdom of God. That is an interesting expression. The Jews believed that when the Kingdom of God came in full power under the authority of God the Father, and the Messiah, the Son of God, then there would be an age of the Messiah, a messianic age - an age of peace on the earth where living conditions on the earth would be renewed. Life would be lived according to the ways of God. God would rule through his Messiah from Jerusalem around the world. That was the generic Jewish belief about the Kingdom of God coming in. That is what people hoped Jesus would bring at this time but he only started bringing the Kingdom of God; it is his Second Coming that will bring this process to completion. Jesus associates here the Passover meal with the Kingdom of God in a more fulfilled sense. One of the Jewish beliefs was that the Messiah would provide a feast - an ongoing feast of wonderful food - in the age of the Messiah when the Kingdom of God came in all its fullness. We see this alluded to a number of times in the Gospels, for example, when Jesus speaks of the faith of the centurion in Matthew 8, and speaks of Gentiles coming into the Kingdom of God, he says in Matthew 8: 11,
‘I say to you that many will come from the east and the west and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.’Matthew 8:11, NIV
Notice there the concept of a feast and, likewise in Luke 14: 15, when Jesus was having a meal at a Pharisee's house, one of the guests made this very interesting statement.
’One of those at table with him heard this; he said to Jesus “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”’Luke 14:15, NIV
and this provokes Jesus to tell a story or a parable: the Feast in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is basically saying that he is shortly leaving this life and this earth and he won't be sharing Passovers like this with his disciples again. It is probably true that Jesus shared the Passover meal in previous years during his ministry with his disciples because John makes it clear that Jesus often came to the Passover meal. They had some memories of being with Jesus at the Passover but he said to them on this occasion, this is the last; you won't see me again at the next Passover. I won't be there. I will eat with you in the Kingdom of God in its fulfilment - the messianic feast. These are powerful sentiments. Jesus is going to use the Last Supper to teach his disciples to prepare them for sudden, dramatic and irreversible changes that are going to take place in their lives when he is arrested, tried, dies and is raised again from the dead.
What reflections do we have as we think about this remarkable event? It was a very tense situation. They were meeting in secret. None of the Apostles knew where this venue was going to be until they arrived there, apart from Peter and John who had been working all day preparing for the meal. Jesus knew the religious authorities were hunting for hi; maybe they were even asking people in the street where Jesus was, or had they seen Jesus. There was tremendous tension over the situation of Judas. Judas had been difficult and awkward in their last social gathering - the day before at Bethany when Mary had anointed Jesus. He had objected to the event. He had been unhappy about what was happening and he disappeared sometime after and no-one knew quite where he had gone. He had disappeared from the group but in fact we found out from the text we started with today that he had gone straight to the religious authorities and offered to betray Jesus. There was suspicion about Judas. There was an uneasy relationship between him and the other disciples. There were Jesus' dark predictions of his suffering. It was a tense situation but, on the other hand, a good way of looking at it is to remember that all the way through Passion week Jesus is ultimately in control of events. It looks as though they get out of his control but he is allowing certain things to happen because he is going to use even the darkest events for the good.
It is worth remembering that many months ago when Jesus was at the Mount of Transfiguration, up there to the north-east of Galilee, with Peter, James and John, and when Moses and Elijah appeared, the conversation between Moses, Elijah and Jesus, as recorded in Luke 9: 31 was this,
‘They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment in Jerusalem.’Luke 9:31, NIV
This was all part of the plan and Jesus knew that his Father would use Judas' betrayal to fulfil the ultimate plan. Jesus actively chose to die at the time of Passover. He chose when to come to Jerusalem. He chose the date of the Triumphal Entry. He chose to provoke the authorities on the Sunday and the Monday and the Tuesday, by the Triumphal Entry, by the cleansing of the Temple and by the parables and questioning and discussion. These were provocative gestures. He was bringing everything to a climax.
Passover emphasises two themes. These themes are going to become very important for us as we continue looking at the death of Jesus. There are two themes that I want to highlight. Number one - it's the theme of Exodus - escape. The Jews escaped from the enslavement by the Egyptians and so those who follow Christ will escape from the power of sin and God's judgement through the death of Christ. How will they do it? Through atonement, through the sacrifice of one person on behalf of the other. This principle was established in the Old Testament as the basis of the animal sacrifice system, as seen in Leviticus 17: 11,
‘for the life of a creature is in the blood and I've given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar, it's the blood that makes atonement for one's sins.’Leviticus 17:11, NIV
God has chosen that the blood, both of animals and in Jesus' case, human blood, will be the symbol and the power to bring about forgiveness of sins. In it will be a substitute as a representative of a life given in order that another life may be saved. We will be talking more about this, in other episodes, but Paul was clear that when Jesus died, he was actually fulfilling the Passover, amongst other things. 1 Corinthians 5: 7, Paul says
‘for Christ, our passover lamb, has been sacrificed’,1 Corinthians 5:7, NIV
This meal symbolically is connected with the forthcoming death of Jesus. There is much more to say about the Last Supper and everything that happens, which we will be explaining in the episodes that follow. I hope you will join us.
The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.
- What special meals do you share?
- Can the symbols in the meal provide useful messages?
- Read the events of the first exodus that passover commemorated in Exodus 12:1 -16
- How important is the Jewish history of the exodus and in particular, the Passover, now to non-Jews?