Episode 129 - The Last Supper, Part 5 - Opening Up the Gospels

Hi everyone, Josh Hawkins here, this is Episode 129 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 128 we looked at one of the most beautiful events in the Gospels from Luke 22 and John 13, when Jesus took the posture of a slave and washed His disciples feet at the Passover Meal in the upper room in Jerusalem. I talked about how this would certainly not have been the task for the head of the meal, and how Jesus displayed true humility and greatness before His disciples as an example for them to follow. In today’s episode we’re going to continue our look at the Passover Meal and the events that took place that evening in April of 29AD. But before we do that, let’s take another look at John 13 and the foot washing for a second. Jesus said something there that will be important to remember for what we’ll be looking at today, so let’s read from John 13: “He came to Simon Peter, 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.”” (John 13:6–11 ESV) So Jesus comes to Peter, and Peter in innocence and sincerity says “not just my feet Lord, but all of me!”. And Jesus responds by saying “Peter, you are clean, but not all of you are clean”. Luke says that Jesus knew who was going to betray him. This is the first indication Jesus gives of the trouble and trial that was going to come to everyone in that room on that night. Now let’s get back to the Passover meal. Following the washing of the hands and the washing of the disciples’ feet, Jesus proceeds to recline at the table again and proceed with the next part of the meal. Bitter herbs would be dipped in vinegar and then passed around the table, and a cake of unleavened bread would be broken. Then the participants in the meal would recount the events of the first Passover from the book of Exodus and corporately consider its significance. Remember how important this meal was for the Jewish people. The events of the Exodus are what set Israel – and therefore Israel’s God – apart from the rest of the nations. It was God’s way of saying “this is who I am, and the gods of the nations are nothing like me – I’m separate, I’m holy”. There’s so much more I could say about the theme of the exodus – I’ve already mentioned it in several past episodes and I’ll say a little more later in the series. Now the next part of the meal would involve taking the cup of wine and filling it again. The host would raise it up and a series of long prayers would follow, all ending with the singing of Psalm 113 and 114. Remember, this meal was not like a 30 minute sit-down at the dinner table with the family. There were many stages to it, including extended times of singing, prayer, and the Scriptures. When we read the Gospels, we can be left with the impression that the meal started, Jesus washed their feet a few minutes after, and then after Jesus sits back down and starts handing out the food, Judas leaves to go betray Him. Remember, all we have in the Gospels is a short summary, and there are so many events that aren’t recorded. Understanding this helps us to see the events of John 13 better. Jesus says: “After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”” (John 13:21 ESV) This prediction right here is something that all four Gospels record. I think it’s possible to assume this being spoken sometime after the raising of the second cup, being a good while into the meal ceremony at that point. What was implicit earlier when Jesus had said “not all of you are clean” in John 13:10 as well as “He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against me” in John 13:18 has now become explicit. One of Jesus’ closest followers would betray Him. And so the disciples are all troubled and began to question among themselves who it was who would be so selfish and do such a thing. Matthew 26 says: “And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 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.”” (Matthew 26:22–24 ESV) Whoa. Jesus said that it would have been better for the one who was to betray Him to not have been born. This isn’t really a clear response, so just imagine yourself as one of the Twelve. Undoubtedly you’d be wondering – “does He know something that I don’t know? Could it be me? Could it be the guy reclining next to me? I thought I could trust all these guys, I mean, we’ve spent the last two years together and we’ve seen so much.” Well, Matthew goes on to say: “Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”” (Matthew 26:25 ESV) Jesus was asked by Judas if it was he who would betray Him, and Jesus said clearly, “yes, it’s you”. Scary. We’ll return to this in a second. Now at some point in this sequence of events that evening, the actual meal would begin – they would start eating the main course, which included the lamb. Everything up to that point was preparation and ceremony. The first part of the actual meal was to take unleavened bread, the meat of the lamb, and some herbs to be dipped and then passed around and eaten. When we understand this, which of course was something that would have been intimately familiar to Jews in the first century, it makes the next event the Gospels record for us so much more comprehensible. So remember, Jesus had said to Judas “you’re the guy who is going to betray me.” Then John’s Gospel records this: “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?”” (John 13:23–25 ESV) Ok, so here we see Peter motioning to John to ask Jesus who it was he was talking about. That seems to make it pretty clear that Peter or John didn’t hear Jesus say to Judas “you’re the guy, Judas, you’re going to betray me”. Right? If Jesus just said that aloud for everyone to hear, surely Peter wouldn’t be asking the question. Here’s where the arrangement of the Twelve around the table really matters. Remember that they are all reclining around the table, propped up by their left elbow and their feet facing outward. Look at this diagram that I showed you back in Episode 126. I said that Peter took the last place at the table, because in the last episode I showed you that Jesus came to him first when He washed their feet. I also said that Judas took the place of honor, and John was also next to Jesus. That becomes explicit when we see the individual conversations between these three disciples and Jesus. So Matthew 26, Judas asks Jesus, “am I the guy who’s going to betray you?” And Jesus says “yes”. If no one else heard Jesus say that, it would have put Judas in very close proximity to Jesus. Think about it for a second – if everyone is reclining on their left elbow, all Judas would have had to do was to lean to the right a little bit and whisper in Jesus’ ear. And Jesus’ reply would not have had to be loud either. Does that make sense? That’s exactly why no one else heard Jesus tell Judas that he was the one. Now it’s also important to understand that what we just read in John 13 – both John’s question and Jesus’ reply to him – was not something that the other disciples heard either. How do we know that? We’ll see in a second. But let’s get back to the meal. The next stage involved dipping the bread in the herbs and passing it. Jesus takes it, dips it, and passes it to Judas who would have naturally been the first to receive it. It wasn’t like Jesus dipped it and then handed it all the way across the table. It was so subtle. So when John asks Jesus “Lord, who is going to betray you?” and Jesus says “the guy who I’m about to give this dipped bread to”, He’s really just saying “it’s the guy next to me.” Does that make sense? Now John, being on the other side of Jesus and reclining on his left elbow, would just have had to lean back to talk to Jesus. This is why John says that he leaned back against Jesus’ chest. That was also a quiet conversation that nobody else heard. And John continues: “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.” (John 13:26 ESV) It was at this point that Judas’ destiny was sealed, and he rushed out into the night to carry out the plan of betrayal. Again, none of the other Twelve had heard anything else up until this point. Even if they did hear, it wouldn’t have been obvious to them what was actually happening. John makes this clear when he says: “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 13:27–30 ESV) Doesn’t this make so much more sense when we see the seating arrangement at the table? Judas was right next to Jesus, leaning on his left arm. He would have been looking at the back of Jesus’ head. And John would have been on the other side of Jesus, where he could just lean back into Him. And it seems likely that Peter was in the lowest place across the table from them, where he could motion to John to ask Jesus who would betray him. These details are important – we love the details because we love Jesus and we want to fellowship with Him and talk with Him about these days of His life. Oh, how confusing must it have been for the rest of the Twelve? What was happening? What about all this talk about His death? Where had Judas gone? Why was Jesus saying what He said? There are so many more questions than answers. Now that the picture is hopefully clearer in your mind, spend time pondering and meditating on this scene. In the next episode we’ll continue looking at Jesus’ words now only to the eleven around the table at the Last Supper.