The Last Supper

He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this,
and divide it among yourselves.—Luke 22:17


Matthew, Mark, and Luke all recount the institution of the memorial the last evening our Lord was with his disciples, the day we would term Thursday, which that evening had turned into the opening night of the fourteenth of Nisan. John speaks of the same evening, but as he wrote his gospel much later than the others, and the others had adequately covered the memorial institution, John omits these matters and recounts other significant events of the evening. For example, only John tells of our Lord washing the feet of his disciples, leaving us a lesson of humble service.

Matthew was the first gospel writer. His narrative is broad, inclusive, and arranged topically in the sense that some narratives are augmented with related experiences from different occasions. This is helpful for a comprehensive and conceptual understanding of our Lord’s ministry, but it does not always distinguish subtle details of the narrative.

Mark, the amanuensis of Peter, was the second gospel writer and would have had access to Matthew’s gospel. This explains the high degree of similarity in the material covered in these two gospels. Mark shortened the narratives and clarified specifics as an editor might do with a previous record before him. For example, Mark specifies that when Jesus cursed the fig tree, the disciples marveled at its withering the next morning, not moments after it was cursed (Mark 11:20,21; compare Matthew 21:19,20). Mark specifies that Jesus cast out the money changers the day following his triumphant ride into Jerusalem and inspection of the temple, showing that this was not a rash act of impulse, but the thoughtful discharge of duty (Mark 11:11-15; compare Matthew 21:10-12).

Luke, the associate of Paul, was the third gospel writer. He determined to arrange his narrative in “consecutive order” (Luke 1:3, NASB), include material Matthew and Mark had not, and clarify some details of sequence and number. Let us consider his account of the last supper. It begins: “When the hour was come, he [Jesus] sat down, and the twelve apostles with him” (Luke 22:14). In verse 16 he referred to a Passover “fulfilled in the kingdom of God,” ­evidently symbolic of a celebration of victory ­together with the overcoming saints in glory. Verse 17 recalls Jesus’ introduction of the cup which appears before any mention of the bread. This differs from the record in Matthew and Mark which pass by this first cup, mentioning only the second which came later.

This cup opened the ceremonies of the evening. It was customary for a host to pass such a cup to his guests, as we might offer beverages to arriving guests before an evening meal. Jesus gave it to his disciples to ­divide among themselves, explaining that he would not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the greater ­rejoicing in the kingdom to follow.

This is the cup referred to by Paul: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). Notice that Paul mentions the cup before the bread which is appended in verse 17. There was a cup before dinner and there was another later, after they had begun to dine. The later cup followed the emblem of the bread, but this first cup was before the dining.

In the next chapter Paul mentioned the bread first, then the cup which followed: “He took the cup also, after supper” (1 Corinthians 11:25, NASB). This is not the same cup though the meaning of Christ’s blood is attached to both. This is the cup which Matthew and Mark refer to when Jesus instituted the memorial symbolisms, and which Luke terms “the cup after supper” (Luke 22:20).

The Memorial Institution

Luke 22:19 begins the memorial institution proper. Matthew 26:26 says this occurred “as they were eating” the evening supper, which Luke for brevity does not disclose, but he does give the meaning of the symbol: “This is my body which is given for you.” He then proceeds to the cup: “Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). The word “shed” is even more graph­ic in the NIV and NASB which read “poured out” for you, agreeing more with the symbol which was poured for them.

By these two symbols, bread and wine—body and blood—Jesus represented the wholeness of his sacrifice on our behalf: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53). Most gladly do we receive this precious gift of life once we appreciate the meaning of these symbols. But to the Jews who heard these words, it was a stumbling stone which their faith was insufficient to mount. Even the twelve were confused, but their faith was sufficient to endure until the mat­ter was made clear (John 6:67-69). Without the ransom sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, we would have no standing, no life, no hope.

New Symbols

Jesus used familiar elements to which he applied new meanings. They had been intimated in the Old Testament, as for example Mel­chi­zedek had “brought forth bread and wine” (Genesis 14:18) for Abraham, laying down in type what our Lord Jesus, the greater Mel­chizedek, provides for the seed of Abraham. Joseph, while in prison, interpreted the dreams of the breadmaker (baker) and wine server (butler), about our Lord’s death (prison) experience (Genesis 40:5). Each dream referred to “three days,” representing the three days of our Lord in the grave. On the third day the baker’s life was over, his flesh destroyed, just as Jesus’ flesh which was given for the life of the world was at an end, not restored. The butler was lifted from prison and served Pharaoh in honor, just as Jesus was raised to life and seated at the right hand of God, to administer the wine of redemption. In this sense the symbols were not new.

But these symbols were new as pertains to the Passover season. In Egypt at the first Passover, Jesus’ body and blood were shown differently. It was not as bread and wine, but as the flesh of the lamb eaten by the Israelites, and the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the doorposts and lintels. There was unleavened bread in that ancient rite, but it did not represent our Lord. The unleavened bread in the Passover type, as the bitter herbs, represented qualities or circumstances which accompany our feasting on the antitypical lamb Jesus. The bitter herbs represent the bitter experiences of life which draw us to the lamb. The unleavened bread represents the condition we wish to maintain, purged from the old leaven of malice and wickedness (1 Corinthians 5:7,8). Wine is not mentioned in the Passover type at all.

But at this last supper of our Lord, clearly there would be no blood on the table. Necessarily, Jesus would have to use a different symbol. Thus he took the wine to represent his blood shed for us. Following the suggestions in Time Elements of the Passover: Type and Antitype (p. 7) there would be no lamb on the table. So Jesus used the bread to represent his body.

The Betrayer

As early as John 6 when Jesus mentioned the new symbols of bread and wine, there is mention of a betrayer among his disciples: “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (John 6:70). At the last supper when Jesus used these symbols as a memorial of his offering, the betrayer was still present: “Behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table” (Luke 22:21).

At this solemn point the spirit of rivalry sprang up again. Jesus’ mention of a betrayer seems to have provoked among some of them protestations of their fidelity, one vying with another for the greater dignity, “which of them should be accounted the greatest” (v. 24). Jesus admonished them respecting their ­attitude, that the chiefest among them should be the servant of all. This was amply demonstrated in his own example as he had continually cared for, nourished, and served them during the recent years and months of their associa­tion.

Probably it was at this point that Jesus illustrated his lesson by his own example: “He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded” (John 13:4,5). One by one he proceeded, prob­ably in silence as the lesson of humility and service they saw became fixed in their memory and hearts, further sanctified by later reflection.

So should we, if we would be pleasing to the Lord, value the services we are able to render to the Lord’s people. Do we serve while others stand by? Let us value the privilege, rather than regret their lack. Do others serve while we are passed by? Let us thankfully appreciate and support the loving labors of others. Let the spirit of appreciation, humility, and eagerness to spend and be spent, mark our days.

Our Lord washed them all, even his be­trayer: “Ye are clean, but not all” (John 13:10). “With all the … accursed treachery in his false heart [Judas] … had felt the touch of those kind and gentle hands, had been refreshed by the cleansing water, had seen that sacred head bent over his feet, yet stained as they yet were with the hurried secret walk which had taken him into the throng of sanctimonious murderers over the shoulder of Olivet.”—Farrar, The Life of Christ, ppg. 285,286.

John’s Account

Jesus took his place at the table again, but his heart was heavy. “He was troubled in spirit,” perhaps manifest with a tear or a quiver of voice, “and said, Verily, verily … one of you shall betray me” (John 13:21). The disciples looked at one another, each sorrowing, asking “Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:22). John, close to Jesus, asked the same, and the master replied: “He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot” (John 13:26). The circumstances at last forced the question also of Judas: “Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said” (Matthew 26:25). “That thou doest, do quickly” (John 13:27), whereupon Judas departed, leaving the innocent disciples to suppose he was arranging something for the upcoming feast.

Do we ever have pricks of conscience? Do we respond with cold hearts, or contrite ones? Let us mark the circumstances of providence for our correction and seek “a principle within, of jealous, Godly fear, a sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near” (Hymn 130).

Going Away … Coming Again

Judas went out into the night: “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him” said Jesus of his impending experience (John 13:31). Jesus then explained that he would leave his disciples and where he would go (to the Father), they could not then join him, but would later. These words were confusing to them but are clearer to us now.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2,3).

In Jewish customs, these familiar words are actually words a bridegroom would speak to his bride-to-be when she has accepted his proposal for marriage. A young man tendering his proposal would offer his lady a cup of wine which, if accepted and imbibed, signaled a positive reply to the invitation, eliciting the words of our text from the groom.

It was customary for a man about to take a bride to return to his father’s home, and however spacious and commodious it may be, add onto it a new place for himself and his bride. When his father approved the construction, the groom would return at an unexpected moment to take his bride. Jesus had earlier passed the cup and his disciples had received it. Thus he affirmed in language of a groom to his bride that though he must go away, he would come again and receive them unto himself.

Our bridegroom went away for more than eighteen centuries, but he has returned and one by one is claiming the members of his bride to join in the holiest of matrimony on the other side. Soon will be the announcement, “his wife hath made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7). Then will occur the joyous marriage and the regeneration of the groaning creation.

The remainder of John 14 took place in the upper room until Jesus announced: “Arise, let us go hence” (John 14:31). Jesus knew that ­Judas knew he often resorted to the Garden of Gethsemane, and willingly went to his destiny (John 18:2). On other occasions he had turned and walked from imminent danger knowing it was not the proper time. But this was the proper time, so he arose and walked to his ­appointment with prophecy.

As they walked eastward toward the Mount of Olives perhaps Jesus noticed the temple gates and the image of vines, eliciting his lesson of the vine and the branches of John 15. Through chapters 16 and 17 he exhorted them to love and faithfulness, soon crossing the brook Cedron leading to the foot of the mount and its olive grove. After three times in prayer, a band came to arrest him, but when he acknowledged them, “they went backward, and fell to the ground” (John 18:6). Again, Jesus could simply have walked away. But he called to them again, yielded himself, and paid for us our ransom.