Today's meditation comes from Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:22-26, Luke 22:14-23, and John 13:1-30
I found it rather difficult to synthesize the four versions of the Last Supper in the gospels, and particularly where Judas was, and where Satan was relative to Judas, at any given time. Matthew and Mark’s gospels kept the story simple and short, moving directly from Jesus’ mention that one of them would betray him into communion. There is no mention in those gospels that Judas left at all, or that Satan was present. They also both showed that Jesus started with the bread and then moved to the cup. There was no mention of anything Jesus told them afterwards, either; they just sang a hymn and then Jesus led his three closest disciples down to the Garden of Gethsemene. Judas clearly left at some point, because hours later he arrived in the Garden with soldiers; it just isn’t mentioned when.
Luke went into more detail. He wrote in Luke 22:3 that Satan entered into Judas when he approached the chief priests and made a deal to betray Jesus. There was no mention that Satan departed Judas and entered into him again later, but perhaps he did, since John later makes mention that Satan entered into Judas after Jesus passed him the bread at the table (John 13:27). Also in Luke’s version, the cup came first and then the bread (not that this really matters). Jesus didn’t mention His betrayer until after communion in Luke’s version, suggesting that Judas was there at the time. Perhaps he was, though Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:27 that whoever eats and drinks the Lord’s supper in an unworthy manner is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. I suppose this would not be any truer of anyone in history than of Judas that night.
John didn’t actually describe the Last Supper in terms of the bread and the cup at all, but he alone recorded that Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. John 13:2 says that the supper was ended, though apparently the Greek phrase could have also been translated “during supper”—so I interpreted this as meaning they had eaten the Passover lamb and herbs, but Jesus had not yet instituted communion. Jesus’ comment that His betrayer was the one to whom He gave the bread after He had dipped it (John 13:26) is consistent with similar phrasing in Matthew 26:23 and Mark 14:20, just before Jesus institutes communion, suggesting this comment came first. Since John explicitly mentioned that Judas left right afterwards, and he was more specific about Judas’ whereabouts than Luke, his was the interpretation I used in the retelling.
It also makes sense to me that Judas would not have been present for communion, for two reasons. First, Jesus hates hypocrisy (as evidenced by his many run-ins with the religious leaders), and he knew that Judas was not one of His, as He repeatedly said that night. If His betrayer were to take communion right before Him on the very night of His betrayal, it would have been the ultimate hypocrisy. Second, Jesus was always walking the fine line of trying to tell the disciples what was going to happen to Him in enigmas and riddles (Proverbs 1:6), but without spelling it all out until after He had already risen (Luke 24:13-49). There may have been many reasons for this, but one of them was surely that He didn’t want Satan to understand His plan, or else he would never have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8). Jesus knew Satan was in the room as long as Judas was. I suspect this was another reason why He didn’t want to explain about the body and the blood until after Judas had gone.
Passover was instituted the night the Israelites left slavery. It was from then on both a ritual of remembrance, and also a prophetic act. The Egyptians painted the blood of their Passover lamb over their door posts, which protected those inside from the destroyer (Exodus 12:23). This was a perfect symbol of the blood of Jesus, God’s Passover Lamb, protecting believers from the destroyer. Here, Jesus took the last Passover meal with His disciples, and then instituted the new feast of communion on the eve of his crucifixion. Christians no longer celebrate the Jewish Passover feast, symbolic of the Old Covenant, but take communion instead, symbolic of the New Covenant.
Communion, too, is both an act of remembrance (Luke 22:19) and also a prophetic act of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Luke 22:18, Revelation 19:9), when Jesus will wed His bride: the Church. That will be its ultimate fulfillment.
I felt an almost physical oppression in my chest as I climbed the steps to that upper room. My legs felt like wood, resisting My every step.
This time tomorrow… but I stopped the thought right there. I had much yet to do between now and then.
John approached and touched My elbow as I crossed the threshold of the upper room. I turned to see him searching My face with a concerned expression. I gave him a tight smile that did not quite reach My eyes, and a tiny nod that I was all right—relatively speaking. The servants came in and began to set the evening meal on the low table: the Passover lamb, the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, and the wine.
I could not stop staring at the lamb.
I settled on to a cushion at the head of the table. John sat beside me, still glancing often at My face. The other disciples chatted amongst themselves, though the atmosphere felt strained. It had already been an intense week, even for them. They all knew the religious leaders wanted Me dead, and feared that by extension, their lives were in danger too. I knew they also wondered why we were celebrating the Passover a day early, on the thirteenth instead of the fourteenth day of Nissan. I’d told them repeatedly as plainly as I could, but they still hadn’t understood. Tonight I would be still more explicit. But not yet.
I watched Judas, who fidgeted in his seat constantly. I needed him out of the room before I spoke plainly. The disciples still wouldn’t understand what I said until afterwards, but Satan might, if he heard it. If that happened, all would be lost.
When they had finished all but the last loaf of unleavened bread, I rose from the table, wordlessly laying aside My outer garment and tucking a towel around My waist. An empty basin sat by the threshold along with a pitcher of water. I poured the water into the basin and carried it to Matthew, who sat nearest Me. I set it down beside his cushion and gestured to him to swivel around and remove his sandals. He stared back at Me in astonishment.
I nodded and beckoned again with My fingers. Slowly he obeyed, though I could sense his acute embarrassment. The rest of the disciples watched in silence as I washed Matthew’s feet, and then used the towel about My waist to dry them. Next I moved to Bartholomew beside him, who obeyed more readily now that he’d seen the precedent. None of them knew what to make of this.
Next I came to Judas. He removed his sandals and placed his feet in the basin at once, but he winced just slightly as his eyes met Mine. Up close, I could see his dilated pupils. He was nervous, not sure if I knew, or if I would publicly confront him for his treachery. As I washed his feet, I thought of Solomon’s proverb, You will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you.
Without a word, I moved on to James, and then to Peter, who recoiled from Me.
“Lord, are You washing my feet?”
“What I am doing, you do not realize right now, but you will understand later,” I assured him.
“Never shall You wash my feet!”
If it were any other night, I might have smiled. Tonight, though, I just said wearily, “If I do not wash you, you have no place with Me.”
Peter blinked as he absorbed this. Then he plunged his feet in the basin, leaning forward and spluttering, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!”
This wrung a short laugh out of Me, even tonight. Good old Peter.
“He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet; otherwise he is completely clean,” I answered. Then I said to the rest of them, “And you are clean—but not all of you.” I glanced at Judas as I said this, whose eyes shifted this way and that. Now he knew that I knew. He was itching to leave already, probably trying to think of an excuse.
When I’d finished washing all of the disciples’ feet, I placed the basin back by the door, removed the towel and replaced My outer tunic before settling back at the head of the table. They all watched Me uncertainly, not sure what to do or say.
“Do you know what I have done for you?” I looked at each of them in turn, pausing to see if they had any reply. When they did not, I went on, “You call Me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’; and you are correct, for so I am. So if I, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example, so that you also would do just as I did for you. 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. I am not speaking about all of you,” I added, with a sidelong glance at Judas. “I know the ones whom I have chosen; but this is happening so that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.’” Judas squirmed again. How much more direct would I need to be? “From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it does happen, you may believe that I am He. Truly I say to you, the one who receives anyone I send, receives Me; and the one who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”
Still no one spoke, and still Judas remained at the table. The oppression in My chest grew. I needed him to leave before I did what needed to be done next. Time to just come right out and say it. “One of you is going to betray me.”
Shock rippled around the table, and the disciples began to murmur amongst themselves—all except Judas, whose eyes darted this way and that, his breathing short and shallow. But the other disciples were so focused on themselves that they did not even notice.
“It isn’t me, is it?” asked Peter first, loudly. Before I could reply, James cut in, “Surely, not I?” at the same time Philip and Bartholomew talked over each other. “Is it me, Master?”
Instead of replying, I rose and took the last loaf of unleavened bread in My hands. I saw Peter make eye contact with John, and gesture at Me with his head in silent communication. When I sat back down again, John reclined against Me with his head on My chest and whispered, “Lord, who is it?”
“It is he to whom I give this bread once I have dipped it.” I broke a piece of bread from the end of the loaf, and rose again to dip the bread in the dish of oil. Then I handed it across the table to Judas, and our eyes locked. The others at last noticed this, looking from Judas to me.
“It isn’t me, is it, Rabbi?” Judas asked at last, his voice even.
“You have said it yourself,” I replied.
The others looked at one another, their expressions a mixture of alarm and confusion. Judas took the bread from Me, and put it in his mouth. At that moment, though I did not see it with My natural eyes, I knew that Satan had entered into him. I could sense it.
“What you do, do quickly,” I told him in a low tone.
Judas rose from the table as soon as I said this and sped out of the room without looking back. As I watched him go, I felt an unexpected pang of pity for the suffering I knew he would yet endure. Once Satan had used him for his own purposes, I knew that Judas would come back to himself and would despair for what he was about to do to Me. He would be dead before I was. But he had made his choice long ago, and was beyond My help. There was nothing more I could do for him.
“Is… he going to make a purchase for the meal?” asked Peter, suspicious. Judas was our treasurer and had often gone on such errands in the past. “Or to offer alms to the poor, perhaps?”
I met Peter’s questioning gaze, but did not answer. He would understand all too soon, and I had more important business to attend to at the moment. I took what remained of the last loaf of unleavened bread, and poured some wine into the simple chalice before me. Then I looked up to Heaven.
“Thank You, Father, for Your provision,” I prayed, “of this bread and wine, and also of the Passover Lamb it represents.” I saw the look of confusion that passed among the disciples at this. Surely, they were thinking, the Passover lamb we just ate represented itself? I went on, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then I took the loaf and broke it right down the middle, flinching only a little. I passed half to John on one side, and to James on My other.
“Take and eat; this is My body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
James gingerly held the half loaf I’d handed him, a look of horror on his face. But John broke himself a piece and passed it to Philip on his other side without comment. James finally followed his lead and did the same. They were all now remembering the comment I had made which had lost me some ninety percent of my disciples early in My ministry. I had announced that My followers must eat My flesh and drink My blood, or else they would have no life in them. This had so confused and revolted them that the vast majority had left, and I never had explained Myself to those who remained. How could I? None of them dared disobey Me now, though I knew they still did not understand.
Once they had all solemnly taken and eaten their piece of the bread, I passed around My chalice of wine.
“Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is being poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it with you, new, in My Father’s kingdom.”
Each man took a sip and passed the cup around in silence. When James finally handed it back to Me, I took the last swallow, savoring it in My mouth. Then I looked around the table, My heart burning as I looked into each man’s eyes one by one. I saw not the fearful, uncertain men before Me now, but the firebrands they would become when they had received the Holy Spirit. I saw some of them as old men; others, I knew, would not live long enough to see old age. The Holy Spirit gave Me just a flash of their futures—glorious ones, all. I swallowed the lump in My throat before I could speak again.
“I am giving you a new commandment,” I managed, “that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another.”
I had so much I wanted to tell them, and these were My last few hours in which to do so. I prayed silently for guidance. I knew they would understand none of it now—and because they did not understand, they would have three days of utter hell ahead of them. If they could just hang on through those three days which would look like the end of all their hopes…
“Let not your hearts be troubled!” I almost begged them, praying as I said it that they would be able to hold onto My words in the the coming days, when they would need them most. “You believe in God; believe also in Me!”
I told them all I could that night: of the coming Holy Spirit, of peace, of their direct path through Me to the Father, of the tremendous power of prayer, and of their sorrow turning to joy. I could tell from the heaviness of their expressions that all they heard was goodbye. They did not understand the manner in which it would come, but they felt the significance of My speech.
I felt the same heaviness Myself. When I had finished, I ended the meal with a hymn: one of David’s psalms set to music. The others joined in with Me, and all of our voices merged together in a beautiful, if halfhearted, cacophony. The noise of it had always made me smile, though today the finality of it wrung tears from My eyes.
I felt the pull in My spirit now. I desperately needed to withdraw and talk to My Father. I hadn’t much time left.