The Last Supper

Bible Verses

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 upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there."

They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, "I have 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." After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave t to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."

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

Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But 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. For 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. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me."

Luke 22:7-34

 

... so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"

Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."

"No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet."

Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."

"Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!"

Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord', and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

John 13:4-17

Explanation

This part of the story took place on Thursday afternoon and evening, although, the Passover celebrations officially started on the Wednesday evening when the first three stars were visible in the sky.

Passover is and was one of the most important times of celebration and remembrance in the Jewish religion. It remembers and celebrates the time when God freed the Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt. God told his prophet Moses to tell all the Jews to prepare a special meal of roast lamb (the best and most healthy lamb) and un-leavened bread (bread that is made without yeast). When the lamb was killed, the blood was to be put on the door posts and lintel of the main door of the house. This was to be a sign that the people in the house were Jews. Because on that night, an angel came and killed every first born male in that area of Egypt, including the son of the Pharaoh and even the first born of all the animals that the Egyptians kept. So, the name for the meal came to be 'Passover' as the angel 'passed over' the homes of the Jews.

God had already sent six plagues to the Egyptians (including a rain of frogs!) to tell the Pharaoh to free the Jews, but he hadn't taken any notice. However, this time Pharaoh was so frightened that he set the Jews free. He later tried to recapture them, but God saved them in another way (but that's another story!).

So remembering the Passover meal is very important to Jews as it was a very special sacrifice made of the best lamb. Also the sacrifice eaten in the meal represents the special promise that God made to the Jews. Normally a Jewish sacrifice is a promise from man to God, not the other way around!

So back in Jerusalem, on the Wednesday night, the Passover time had started and the official preparations were underway. On the Wednesday evening every house was searched from top to bottom by Priests and important Jewish officials, to make sure that there was no bread made with yeast left in any house. If any was found, it was taken outside the city walls and stored, so it could be destroyed after the end of the feast on Friday. The law said that no work was to be done on the Thursday after midday, only preparations for the Passover meal that would be eaten on the Thursday evening. Most people didn't eat anything after midday, until the meal, so an early lunch was normally eaten.

After the early lunch, Peter and John were sent out by Jesus to get everything ready for the meal. This should have really been the job of Judas, and involved getting a room suitably furnished, decorated, and the food and drink arranged, including the Passover Lamb. But Jesus gave the job to Peter and John instead, because he knew Judas was going to betray him.

So Peter and John went into the city and found the man as Jesus had told them. They might have known him, as it is thought that the house they used for the meal might have belonged to the father of Mark, one of Jesus' disciples. So the man could have been a servant of Mark's father that they knew.

It was common for large groups to share the Passover meal together, but Jesus wanted a separate room for just him and his closest disciples, because he knew the meal was to be a very special one. The room in the house was the one used by guests and would have been fairly simply decorated and furnished, with a simple table in the middle of the room, some large cushions to sit / lay on arranged in a horseshoe shape and all the food for the meal except the Passover Lamb, which still had to be sacrificed in the Temple.

The food would have consisted of:

  • four cups and red wine to go in them (The wine used is the normal everyday wine watered down 2:1 and the cups are special shaped ones about two fingers long by two fingers wide and about two and a half fingers tall.)
  • the special unleavened bread
  • and a small portion of bitter herbs (There are five kinds of herbs used, that are dipped in a mixture salt vinegar and water and then sometimes dipped in another mixture of chopped apples, nuts, raisins and almonds.)

After the room has been arranged, Peter and John would have gone to the Temple with the Lamb to sacrifice it. It would now have been about 2.00pm. Normally the early afternoon service in the Temple was held at 2.30pm, but on the day of the Passover meal it was at 1.30pm, to allow time for all the lambs to be sacrificed. It was also the only day when all the Priests in the Temple were on duty. There were so many lambs to be sacrificed that two queues were made so the sacrifices could be made in a more orderly way.

First the lamb had to be checked by a Priest to make sure it was fit and healthy and then either Peter or John would have cut the lambs throat whilst the other held it. The Priest caught the blood in a special gold bowl and then threw the blood on to the burning altar as the sacrifice. The Priest then skinned and gutted the lamb, and the internal organs were then also burnt on the altar while a psalm was sung. A big stick, often a stripped rosemary branch, was then used to kebab the lamb from mouth to rear and it was roasted in a special oven in the Temple courtyard. If any part of the lamb touched the side walls of the oven, it was made unclean, a new lamb had to be bought and the whole sacrifice started again! When the lamb was cooked, Peter and John would have carried the lamb, using the spit on their shoulders, back into the city to the house just before sunset. Men from all over the city would have been doing the same thing, so the streets would have been very busy. About the same time, Jesus and the other disciples, including Judas, would have come into the city from Bethany and met with Peter and John in the room, ready to celebrate the Passover meal.

When the first three stars had appeared in the sky, silver trumpets were blown three times from the top of the Temple walls to let the city know that the Passover meal could start.

The room where Jesus and his followers were to have the meal would have been lit with lamps and candles and might have had some floral decorations put around the walls and everyone would have dressed in their best clothes.

People at that time did not sit up to high level tables like most people do now. Instead, people ate meals half sitting/ half lying on mats and large cushions around a low level table (that was sometimes hung from the ceiling on chains!). You rested on your left side with your head towards the table and your feet away from it, so your right hand was to used to eat with. (The famous picture of the Last Supper by Leonardo Di Vinci is a very nice picture, but it is not very accurate!)

This was probably the first time that Jesus would have been 'head' or 'master' or leader of the prayers at the meal. It was normal for people to be seated around the table in order of importance, with the most important people at one end of the horseshoe shape and the least important at the other end of the horse shoe. This was why the disciples started to argue was the best, as it decided who got to sit near to Jesus.

The Bible doesn't say where every disciple sat, but some of the positions have been gathered from the Bible. Below is a diagram of how the table and positions of the people we know were seated / lying.

John sat at the most important end of the table because he had organised the meal and was thought of the most important disciple. In John's gospel, it says that Jesus rested his head on John's chest, so we know Jesus sat next to him. Judas actually sat in one of the most important seats, the one on the left of the 'master'. It is believed that he was the first to be passed the food dishes after Jesus had blessed it. The Bible also says that John and Jesus talked about Judas being the traitor at one point and that no other disciples could hear them. This would be be explained in John's and Jesus' heads could get very close (Matt 26:25).

We know that Peter sat at the other end of the table as a sight of humility, as Jesus had told them off for arguing about who the best disciple was. So in doing so, Peter would have tried to make himself look good by going to the worst seat!!! It also explains how Peter and John talked quietly without anyone else hearing them.

The rest of the disciples would have sat in the other places as they were most convenient, or best suited talking to each other.

This meal has become to be known as the 'Last Supper' as it was the last meal that Jesus ate before he died.

The Passover meal starts with the host (or master) of the meal (Jesus at the Last Supper) saying grace and giving thanks to God. There are two parts to the opening prayer, one to give thanks for the first cup of wine and one to ask that the group might meet together again the next year at the Passover meal. When the first cup of wine had been passed around and drunk to start the meal, the master then washes his hands to symbolise cleaning himself ready for the meal (the rest of the group wash their hands later in the meal!).

This is probably when Jesus washed the disciples' feet. The job of washing feet usually went to the lowest servant. Having a towel was also the sign of a servant. In the time of Jesus, people wore open sandals and there were no nice roads or sewers, so your feet would get very dusty and smelly. So the disciples would have been very surprised to see Jesus washing their feet and some didn't want Jesus to do it at first. After Jesus had washed their feet, he explained why he did so. It was a sign that even the most important people must be like a servant, willing to do anything for other people. Also that the lowest people would become the most important people in God's eyes. It has also been seen as a sign that Jesus was preparing the disciples' feet ready to go and tell all the world about him.

After the washing (normally only the hands of the master!) the main food dishes are put on the table. The master dips the herbs in the marinades, says a prayer and hands the herbs round to eat. Next the special unleavened bread is split or broken and one half is put aside for later. The other half is put on a plate and raised into the air and a special prayer is said thanking God for freedom from slavery and living in freedom.

The second cup is then filled and it is traditional for the youngest male taking part in the meal to ask why Passover is celebrated. The story of the Jews escape from Egypt is then told. The cup is then raised twice and prayers are said that end with the saying of Psalms 113 - 118. The cup is raised a third time, the special 'Hallel' prayer is said and then the cup is passed round and drunk. This ends the first part of the meal.

The main part of the meal then starts. Everybody washes their hands and the 'sop' is made and eaten. The sop is a kind of sandwich made of the roast lamb and herbs, rolled in the bread and then dipped into the marinades and passed around and eaten. As Jesus was the master of meal and Judas was seated in the most important guest place, Judas would have received the first sop from Jesus.

The third cup was filled after the sop had been eaten. This is known as the 'blessing' cup. The drinking of the cup was the official end of the meal. This is when Judas left the meal to go and tell the Priest how they could arrest Jesus.

Jewish law says that after the third 'blessing' cup has been drunk, that no food may be eaten. However, it is common that the other half of the bread is eaten as an after dish. This is what happened during the Last Supper and is where the Christian Communion, Eucharist or Mass comes from. (The different names are used by different churches.)

Jesus raised the bread and prayed over it. He then gave the bread a new and special meaning, saying that it would represent his body, that like the bread would be broken when he died. He then took up the fourth and final cup that ended the meal and also gave this part of the meal a new and special meaning. Jesus said that the wine represented his blood that would be split when he died, so that people could be forgiven of their sins against God. He also said that the symbols were not only to remind his followers that he had to die, but that he would also come back to earth one day to judge everyone and make the world perfect.

This meal is still very important to all Christians who use Communion, Eucharist or Mass to remember that Jesus died for our sins and that one day he will come back.

After the meal was over, Jesus and the disciples would have said the final prayers of the meals which are Psalms 115 - 118 & 136 and sung a final hymn.

Jesus spoke to Peter (who was also called Simon!) after the meal and said that he would betray him three times before the following morning, but Peter didn't believe Jesus (more on that later in the story!). Jesus also then predicted his own death and said that the disciples should trust in God that everything would work out for the best.

They would have then started to depart from the meal. This would have finished about 11.00pm. However, most of the disciples would have followed Jesus out to a favourite meeting place of theirs which was a garden in a quiet part of the city (and more on that too later in the story!).