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The Last Supper: Luke 22:7-38

April 20th, 2011


The Last Supper

7Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”

9“Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked.

10He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there.”

13They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

The Last Supper appears in all four gospels.  See my post on Mark’s account of the Last Supper here, and Matthew’s here. As with all the synopotic gospel accounts of this event, Luke’s begins with Jesus telling Peter and John to “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” This involved finding the room where the meal would be held, and making the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb and preparing it for the meal. This was an all day job.

Jesus’ instruction about where to find a place for the meal seems to be some sort of prearranged signal. Normally, men did not carry water jars, women did. Men carried leather bottles or skins. So a man carrying a water jar would be unusual, and easy to spot.  This may have been a way for Peter and John to find the place without Judas hearing its location. It also seems to indicate that the Last Supper was held in the home of a supporter. At that time, with Jerusalem crowded with pilgrims looking for a place to celebrate Passover, it was common for hosts to combine several families in one large room for their Passover meals. But Jesus was able to get a room for him and his disciples alone. Some Biblical scholars believe that the Last Supper was held in the home of John Mark’s family. I think it’s possible that the man carrying the water jar was John Mark himself.

14When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

This was Jesus’ last meal before his crucifixion. Jesus knew what was to come right after this, but his disciples still had no clue. But was that the reason he “eagerly desired” to eat it with his disciples? Maybe partly, but I think the main reason was that this was the point at which the new covenant would begin. The sacrifice of animals for sin would soon no longer be required. The Passover meal would give way to the Lord’s Supper.

17After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

19And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

20In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

Only in Luke does Jesus take the cup twice. This wasn’t unusual. A typical Passover meal had 4 cups of wine, each with its own blessing and words of explanation. Verse 17 says that Jesus gave thanks for the wine. That traditional prayer of thanks was “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the world, who has created the fruit of the vine.” After he gave the prayer of thanks, Jesus reiterated what he had said about the meal; it was his last until the kingdom of God came. Jesus did eat with his disciples after the resurrection (Luke 24:42-43, John 21:12-13, Acts 1:4), so he must be referring to the age of the church rather than to the future kingdom, when Jesus comes in power to reign. The Lord’s Supper, which he introduced here, has been observed by believers ever since in the present kingdom, the church of Jesus Christ.

Then Jesus broke the bread and gave thanks again, probably the traditional Jewish blessing over the bread: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the world, who has caused bread to come forth out of the earth.” But then he added the line that is so familiar to us today: “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus changed the meaning of the breaking of the bread forever with that statement. Before that, the breaking of the unleavened bread was done to remember the Jews’ escape from Egypt, and it’s still practiced by Jews for that purpose today. But for Christians, the breaking of the bread symbolizes the breaking of our Lord’s body for us.

In the same way, Jesus took the cup and changed its meaning as well. Luke says this took place after the meal was finished. With the ritual meal completed, Jesus went straight to the new meaning of the wine; it represented his blood, which was shed for us. Did the disciples have any idea what he was talking about at the time? Probably not. But they would soon find out, and they did eat the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis in the early church. They called it, “the breaking of bread.” (Acts 2:42-46, 1 Corinthians 10:16)

Jesus’ instruction to “do this in remembrance of me” still rings true. It’s not that we could ever forget the most significant figure in history. But when we celebrate the Lord’s supper, or take communion, whatever else you believe about that practice, we do it to remember not just Jesus, but his sacrifice for us. When we symbolically eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus, something happens to us on the inside. It makes his sacrifice for us very personal. I have at times been overcome by emotion in that moment, when all Jesus did for me is brought home in a very real way. It’s important to remember the life of Jesus, his teachings and his miracles, but Jesus instructed us to do this specific thing in order to remind us of his sacrifice, that his body was broken and his blood was shed for us.

21But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” 23They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

Now, for the first time, Jesus reveals his knowledge of Judas’ plot to the disciples, but doesn’t tell them who is the guilty party. In Middle Eastern culture, it was and is still considered the worst form of treachery to betray someone after having broken bread with them. So when Jesus said “the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table,” that would have been deeply offensive to the rest of the disciples. When you ate with someone, you were saying, “these are my people.” That’s why it was considered so scandulous that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. The same principle was at work here. The fact that Judas was a disciple of Jesus and had traveled and worked with him for 3 years made it all the worse.

The other disciples had no idea who might be the one to betray Jesus, which means Judas had kept his secret well, and Jesus had also kept it even though he knew. In Matthew, each of the disciples ask Jesus in turn if they are the one. (Matthew 26:22-25, blog) When Judas asks, Jesus confirms that he is the traitor. No one overheard them? In John, Peter asks John, who is in the place of honor next to Jesus, to ask which one is the traitor. Jesus reveals the answer to John, and John must have revealed it to Peter since he asked. (John 13:23-26)  So Peter and John must have known who the traitor was before Judas left, but John seems to indicate that when Jesus sent Judas on his way, the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus had said to Judas. (John 13:28-29) Was this a case of denial, or just being dense? Maybe they just didn’t want to believe it. It’s hard for me to believe that Peter and John would have done nothing to stop Judas if they had really understood that Judas was about to betray Jesus. We know that one of the swords the disciples had belonged to Peter, and he used it in the garden. (John 18:10) Maybe Jesus gave Peter and John a look that said, “Don’t stop him, I know what I’m doing.” Sometimes God gives us hard truths that we don’t want to accept. Sometimes when we want to rush into action, he holds us back and asks us to trust him. That may be what was going on here.

In verse 23, Jesus holds Judas responsible for his actions. Even though Jesus would go as it had been decreed, Judas still ultimately paid the price for his treachery. As I said in my post on 22:1-6, Judas betrayed Jesus of his own free will. Predestination and election do not remove our responsibility for our own sin.

24Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The disciples eventually got around to their favorite subject; which of them was the greatest. One of my problems with rap music is the way rappers constantly brag on themselves. If the disciples were alive today, maybe they’d be rappers! This controversy among the disciples may have started with a dispute over places at the table. As I said earlier, John had the place of honor, next to the host. Places at the dinner table were assigned in that culture according to status. So this argument may well have started with an argument over who would recline where. But Jesus taught them a lesson in humility by washing their feet. He was the host, their rabbi, the one with the highest status, but he took on the duty of a slave. I can’t help but think that what Jesus said in this passage either immediately preceded or followed that action. Maybe he said these things while he washed their feet. The lesson he teaches them applies to all of us. Rather than seeking to promote our own position or agenda, we should focus on serving others.

Then Jesus assures them that because they stood by him in his trials, they would receive positions of authority in his kingdom. And they did, after Pentecost. They became the leaders of the early church. It wasn’t the kind of position of authority they had in mind, but God’s plans for us rarely conform to our preconceived notions. And in the kingdom to come, they will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. We may think we have dreams of glory in this life, but if we’ll submit to God’s plans for us, our petty dreams are nothing compared to what God has in store, in this life and the life to come.

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”

33 Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.”

34 But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” (NLB)

I use the New Living Bible here because it communicates the plural meaning of the word you in verse 31 where the NIV does not. Satan asked God to allow him to sift the disciples like wheat, apparently in the same way that he asked God for permission to take away Job’s comforts. (Job 1:6-12) It seems odd that Satan can ask God for anything, but apparently he can and does, at least in certain cases. What does it mean to “sift each you like wheat?” In the ancient world, wheat was sifted through a sieve as a way of separating the wheat kernels from pebbles, twigs, and other impurities. If Satan’s desire was similar to what he tried to do to Job, he wanted to put the disciples through trials to see if they would fail. And they did go through many trials in the coming days, but they did not fail because of Jesus’ prayers. Jesus specifically prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail in the coming trials. It seems Satan got permission to test the disciples, and especially Peter, the way he wanted to. But the prayers of Jesus for Peter kept his faith from failing. He stumbled, but came back, unlike Judas, who did fail.

Why did Jesus pray especially for Peter? Because he could see that Peter was the natural leader of the group. Peter denied Christ, but stayed near him rather than running away like the others. When he repented and was restored by Jesus after the resurrection, he did strengthen his brothers, especially after Pentecost. What’s really encouraging about this to me is the knowledge that just as Jesus prayed for Peter, he also prays for me, and for you. How many times would we not have merely stumbled, but utterly failed, had not Jesus prayed for us? He intercedes for us even now. (Romans 8:34)

35Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.

36He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’[b]; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

38The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That is enough,” he replied.

This is a curious passage. It seems Jesus is warning his disciples of the hard times they’re about to face. Some think that the command to arm themselves with swords is about the travels they will undertake to spread the Gospel. It was common for travelers to arm themselves with short swords or daggers for protection against bandits on the road in those days. These weren’t the long swords that soldiers used. They were the ancient world’s equivalent of a handgun. But later, in the garden, when Peter used his sword, Jesus stopped him and said, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:51-52). In John, Jesus implied that Peter’s use of the sword was frustrating the completion of his mission. “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). So the command that the disciples buy swords is puzzling. There is no record in the New Testament of the first Christians using the force of arms to spread the Gospel. In fact, some of the most shameful events in the history of Christianity involve just that, such as the Crusades. Maybe this was a reference to the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and how the disciples, and especially Peter, would be responsible for protecting the church in Jerusalem. They may well have needed to arm themselves as they fled the city when it began to be surrounded by the Roman army.

Jesus quotes from Isaiah 53:12 in verse 37. The word transgressors is more properly translated criminals or rebels. This is a prediction of how Jesus would die a criminal’s death. But crucifixion was used most often for rebels, those who had offended Rome in some way. Jesus was, in fact, executed on a false political charge, that he claimed to be King of the Jews. He was counted among the rebels.

In the passage from Isaiah that Jesus quotes here, immediately after it says “he was numbered with the transgressors,” it says this:

For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

Jesus was executed among criminals and rebels and counted among them because he bore the sin of many. And just as he prayed for Peter, he made intercession for the transgressors. He who never sinned bore all of our sin, and even now makes intercession for us. We are the transgressors for whom he intercedes. We are the criminals and rebels. We are the ones who have rebelled against God, and yet Jesus still pleads on our behalf. And because he does, we need not fail.

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