THE SUPPER BEFORE THE LORD'S DEATH

During the hours immediately leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ He met with His disciples in a large, upper room (Mark 14.15), and there He and His disciples had supper. Each of the four gospel writers wrote concerning this supper. Except for small differences in wording Matthew 26.1-36 and Mark 14.1-31, said the same things. Although Luke 22.1-38 provided the same essential details he placed a couple of the events in a different chronological order. John's account of the supper (chapter 13.1-30) was considerably different from the others. This is not to say his account contradicted the other writers. Rather, it is to say he provided details the others had left out, and he excluded some details the other three had given.

It is important to examine the stated purpose of this supper. Follow the account as it is given in Matthew, chapter 26. After His teachings recorded in the previous chapter the Lord said to His disciples: "Ye know that after two days is the feast of the Passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified" (verse 2). Mark this. It was THE PASSOVER that was to follow "after two days." Next, pick up the narrative with verse 17: "Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the Passover?" The two days now had passed. What was the inquiry of the disciples? It was where were they to prepare to eat THE PASSOVER. Read the instructions Jesus gave them in the next verse: "Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at thy house with my disciples." Again, notice it is THE PASSOVER that will be kept. The disciples' response is recorded in the 19th verse: "And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the Passover." It is the same. It was THE PASSOVER they made ready. The focus is upon the Passover. This was so consistently stated that it is too plain to miss.

Let the point be made another way. It was not the Lord's Supper that was mentioned as being only a couple of days away. Then, when the day arrived the disciples did not ask the Lord about the place where Communion was to be served. Jesus did not instruct the disciples to tell the unidentified man that He intended to observe the Lord's Supper at his house. In turn, the scripture did not state the disciples set up the Communion Table. Read Mark, chapter 14; then read Luke, chapter 22. The story is the same. The focus is upon the Passover; not the Lord's Supper.

Now, continue to follow what is said in Matthew, chapter 26. After the disciples completed the preparations for the Passover, the scripture said: "Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve. And as they did eat…" (verses 20, 21). From all that had been stated before it should be plain what the Lord and the disciples were eating. They were eating the Passover Meal.

While they were eating the Lord unloaded a "bombshell." He told the twelve: "Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me" (verse 22). Their reaction is understandable: "And they were exceeding sorrowful"; and each looked within himself, and "began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I? (verse 22). Christ's reply was: "He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me" (verse 23). After pronouncing a dreadful woe upon the perpetrator of this evil, Judas asked the Lord, "Master, is it I?" To this Jesus replied: "Thou hast said" (verses 24-25). This is a Jewish expression. It is an affirmation to the question asked. It is the same as if Christ had replied, "yes, Judas, it is you."

The question may be asked, why did Judas ask the Lord if he was the betrayer? He certainly knew he was. According to verses 14-16, he had already consulted with the chief priests to betray Him, and he now simply looked for opportunity to complete the deed. If one will for a moment put himself into the mind frame of Judas, it should be clear there were a couple of reasons for him to ask this question. One, he did not at this point want to give himself away so he acted as the other eleven disciples did. They had asked, "Lord, is it I?" Judas simply did the same thing. Second, the Lord's announcement of a betrayer not only was a "bombshell" to the other disciples; it was also a "bombshell" to Judas. He most certainly would have been surprised the Lord had knowledge of this fact. He now desired to know if Jesus knew who the person was. So, he asked the Lord if he was the one to find out how Christ would respond. He got his answer.

After this, the first part of verse 26 said: "And as they were eating…" Again, it is reasonable from the context to conclude that what they were eating was the Passover Supper. But then in the rest of the verse believers will quickly pick up language that they readily recognize: "Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body." Then, in the next two verses the language remains quite familiar: "And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." The Lord declared He would not drink again of this vine's fruit until He drank it new in His Father's kingdom (verse 29); and after singing, the gathering in the upper room appeared to have ended (verse 30). Clearly, verses 26-28 contained the language recognized as the language of the Lord's Supper; and it agrees with what Paul said took place the night that the Lord Jesus was betrayed (I Corinthians 11.23-26).

What is meant by all of this? The answer is simple. Jesus incorporated the Lord's Supper into the last Passover Meal He took with His disciples. This was something new. Never before in a gathering of the Jews to observe the Passover had one taken bread and told the gathering, "This bread is my body." Never before had one taken the cup and told the gathering," This is my blood." The Lord introduced a new thing. The disciples could not have made ready the Lord's Supper. At the time they prepared for this supper they had no idea what the Lord's Supper was. So, they had made ready the Passover; not the Lord's Supper.

That the Lord combined Communion with the Passover should not be considered a strange thing. Picture yourself at a wedding reception supper. You are seated at the table. The waiters bring you your drink, your salad, and some snacks. You start eating and drinking. Then, you are served your main meal: meat, potatoes, and a vegetable. You continue to eat. Later, the supper ends after you are served a desert. All of this is a part of one, continuous supper. Yet, there are definite divisions to the one meal. The same was true with regard to this Passover. Luke made it clear in his account a cup was served, even before the cup was given that represented Christ's blood (compare Luke 22. 17 with verse 20 of the same chapter). Writers commenting on the way the Jews conducted the Passover in the days when Christ was on earth report it was a common practice to pass several cups during the course of the meal. The Lord's Supper simply was added as a new part of this one, continuous supper.

There are several reasons why the point needed to be established that Jesus introduced the Lord's Supper to His disciples while they were eating the Passover Meal.

First, it is important to notice that Christ was ready to mark a transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament. During the Old Testament the Hebrew children had a historic event that was referred to as Redemption. Review Exodus, chapter 12. There, it spoke of this redemption. The Israelites were in bondage. They were slaves to the Egyptians. Some years later, Jehovah reminded Israel He had "brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt (Deuteronomy 7.8). Nine plagues had come upon Egypt. The 12th chapter described the tenth plague. It was a devastating one. At midnight on the 14th day of the month, "the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle" (verse 29). When Pharaoh and all Egypt saw what God had done for Israel's sake, they were ready for the Israelites to depart from their land. They were finally freed from their bondage. But that was not the whole story. The Lord had commanded Israel to take unblemished, male lambs of the first year on the 10th day of the month. Then, on the 14th day of the same month they were to kill the lambs in the evening, and they were to "take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses" (verse 7). During that night they were to roast the lamb, and eat it along with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs. What part of the lambs were not eaten were to be burned. Then, the Lord told Israel: "For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will PASS OVER you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt" (verses 12-13). From what is capitalized one can see how the term, Passover, came into being. Thus, along with the reality of this redemption, there were also the slain lambs and the markings of blood.

Israel not only had the reality of the nation's historic deliverance; they also had a way to memorialize the event. The Lord commanded: "And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; YE SHALL KEEP IT A FEAST BY ORDINANCE FOR EVER" (Exodus 12.14). As the Lord had commanded the days of unleavened bread during the time of Israel's deliverance, so, each year they were required to keep the Passover and the days of unleavened bread (Exodus 12. 15-20). This is what Jesus and the disciples were doing during the night of His betrayal. They were remembering Israel's redemption from Egyptian bondage as required by the Law.

By inserting the Lord's Supper into the Passover, Christ showed there was a transition from the realities of the Old Testament to the New. Something greater than Israel's redemption from Egyptian bondage was about to happen. The Lord had come into the world "to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20.28). There was something greater than the slain lambs taken from the flocks on the 10th day of the month. Now the saints are admonished: "Behold the Lamb of God!" (John 1.36). Indeed! Those lambs may have been considered unblemished, but they could never reach the unblemished state of the Son of God (I Peter 1.19). There was now something greater than the blood from these slain lambs. That blood gave way to Him "in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1.7). As the realities changed from lesser to greater things, so also did the ceremonial figures change. The bread was now the body of Christ. The cup was now the blood of the New Testament that was shed for the remission of sins. Christians read and rejoice in the deliverance of the Hebrew children during the days of Moses. They can even see these things as typifying Christ. However, they no longer keep this Passover Feast. This Passover gave way to Christ, who is our Passover. Paul wrote: "For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (I Corinthians 5.7-8). This Passover, the Lord's Supper, is done in remembrance of Christ (I Corinthians 11.24-25); and Paul concluded the thought by saying: "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come" (I Corinthians 11.26).

As a side note it is interesting that in the beginning no mention was made of a cup being included as a part of the Passover Feast. Beside the lamb there was the unleavened bread and the bitter herbs (Exodus 12.8), but drinking from the cup did not become a regular part of the custom until a later time. However, since Jesus followed the then present custom and included the cup as a part of this supper it is hard to argue this innovation was contrary to God's Will. Rather, it argues the Hand of God was in the matter. By having the cup incorporated as a part of this meal the Lord was preparing for the day when the cup would be a symbol of His shed blood.

When the Lord combined the two feasts into one supper, it was the same as if He was saying good-bye to the Old and hello to the New.

Second, another reason why it is important to notice the combination of the Passover and the Lord's Supper into one meal is because from this truth the elements of the supper is revealed. It has already been shown by the scripture that from the 14th day to the 21st day of the month in which the Passover was observed, the Israelites were forbidden to have leaven in their homes. They were prohibited from eating leaven. The bread had to be unleavened bread. All of this is taught in Exodus 12.17-20. Since Christ incorporated the Lord's Supper into the Passover Supper it should be evident that the bread He took, blessed, broke, and gave to His disciples, and told them to eat it had to be unleavened bread. If it were not so, then He that came to fulfill the Law would have instead broken the Law. Leaven is spoken of as an evil in the Bible. Leaven represented false doctrine. Read Matthew 16.5-12. Leaven represented evil that could spread. Read I Corinthians, chapter 5, particularly verse 6. To use leavened bread during Communion to typify the Lord's body shows dishonor to the Lord. It is more than a poor way to typify Christ. It is an abominable way to do it. Consistent with the scriptures, the bread must be unleavened.

Likewise, by a careful study of the Bible it should be plain the "fruit of the vine" that filled the cup was wine. The Law commanded Israel: "Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine" (Deuteronomy 16.13). The LORD instructed Moses: "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the LORD" (Leviticus 23.34). In other words, the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated in the 7th month. It was during that general period that the corn and wine were harvested. However, the Passover was celebrated in the 1st month. According to Smith's Bible Dictionary, p. 55, the Feast of Tabernacles was held in the month called Tishri, and this month corresponds to our present day month of October. On the other hand, the Passover was celebrated in the month called Nisan (or Abid), and this month corresponds to our present day month of April. Therefore, there is a passing of about 6 months from the time of harvest to the time of the Passover. The Jews who lived in the time of Christ's earthly ministry did not have the knowledge of preserving the grapes from fermentation. Even if they desired they could not keep the grapes that long of a period from becoming wine. Since the Lord's Supper was instituted at the same time in which the Passover Supper was held it should be as certain that the content of the cup was wine as it is certain the bread was unleavened.

Third, still another reason why it is important to notice the one supper included both the Passover and the Lord's Supper is to see that Judas Iscariot departed from the feast before it had ended. By examining each of the four gospels there is support to argue Judas never participated in the Lord's Supper. As has already been noted an examination of both Matthew and Mark will show the chronological events surrounding the supper to be the same. Luke provided the same essential details, added some other information, and listed some data the other two gospels provided in a different chronological order. An examination of John's account will show a narrative much different from the other three. John provided details not given in the other gospels. He also enlarged upon details lightly touched upon in the other gospels. However, he totally ignored one major part of the event that the others had reported.

According to both Matthew and Mark it was while Christ and the disciples were eating the Passover that the Lord unloaded the announcement about the betrayer. He mentioned this before He took the bread and the wine of the Lord's Supper. However, it is with regard to this matter that Luke departed from the order given by these two gospel writers. He placed the announcement after the Lord's Supper had taken place. As a matter of fact, Luke also placed another major event after the Lord's Supper. Both Matthew and Mark wrote about the dispute who would be granted to sit closest to the Lord in the kingdom and the Lord's follow up reply about who would be greatest, even before Jesus and the disciples entered into Jerusalem (Matthew 20.17-28; Mark 9.33-36); whereas Luke had given this event after both the supper and the conversation about the betrayer (Luke 22.19-27). All of this leads to the conclusion that Matthew and Mark were more concerned with the chronological order of events whereas Luke was more concerned about giving a topical order to the events. Therefore, he recorded the events of the supper and then picked up on the other topics.

Although it should not be considered a major difference Luke reported Jesus told the disciples He would not eat or drink of the fruit of the vine with them until the coming of the kingdom of God while they were still eating the Passover (Luke 22.16-18), whereas Matthew and Mark reported this after the Lord's Supper had been taken (Matthew 26.29 and Mark 14.25). Since the two suppers were really merged into one it is quite possible Jesus repeated this statement a couple of times during the course of the meal.

John's account of the supper is so different from the other three gospels that some, such as John Gill, the 18th century British Baptist theologian, believed the 13th chapter was not speaking about the Passover at all. Rather, he believed it spoke of the supper two days before that Jesus attended in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper (Matthew 26.1-13). John was the only gospel writer to record Jesus washed the disciples' feet at the time of the supper. But there was also a major omission. Nothing is said about the fact the Lord said the bread was His body and the cup was His blood. In other words, the Lord's Supper is not mentioned at all. In Matthew's account (26.14-16), and Mark's account (14.10-11), Judas contacted the chief priest after the supper at Simon's home. Luke did not connect this event to the supper in Bethany, but he was in agreement with Matthew and Mark that he contacted the authorities prior to the Passover (22.3-6). In John's account Judas left to betray Christ at the time of the supper, and it mentioned one of the reasons why some of the disciples had thought Judas had left was to "buy those things that we have need of against the feast" (13.29). In other words, the view is, this was not the Passover as the time of that feast had not yet come. Otherwise, the disciples would have no reason to believe he had left to buy the things for the feast. All of these things lead some to conclude the 13th chapter does not have reference to the Passover Supper.

There is one major difficulty with this view. Consistent with the other gospels, John did mention the "bombshell" about the betrayer: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me" (verse 21). The reaction of the disciples was as the other gospels indicated: "Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake" (verse 22). Add to this the fact that consistent with the other gospels Peter's denial of Jesus is discussed after Judas had departed. With regard to the "bombshell" it is hard to believe one can be shocked twice about the same bit of news. For example, if someone who had not heard the news before about the terrorists using commercial airplanes to fly into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon building, the shock of the news would only hit him the first time he heard about it. If someone at a later time gave him the same news, his reaction might be to seek more information; or he might reply to the second informer that he had already heard about what had happened, but he would not be shocked all over again. By the same token, it is difficult to believe the disciples would have reacted as they did during the Passover if they had been given the same news a couple of days before. Therefore, Dr. Gill's view the 13th chapter John spoke of was a different supper does not seem likely.

It is possible to answer those who believe John spoke of a different supper. John simply was led to give some details the others were not led to give in order that there might be a fuller picture of the events of the night in which Jesus was betrayed. Since the others did not record the washing of feet, John did. As far as Judas' contact with the chief priests is concerned, this should present no difficulty. The betrayal was in two parts. What Matthew, Mark, and Luke described was the betrayal in its planning stages. After making an agreement to deliver Jesus into their hands the scripture stated: "from that time he sought opportunity to betray him" (Matthew 26.16). What John described was Judas' departure to do the wicked deed. As far as the fact some of the disciples thought Judas had left early to buy things for the feast (as in 13.29), it should be noted the scripture did not indicate what that feast was. It is a presumption to hold John was speaking about the Passover Feast. Consider instead, another feast. According to Leviticus, the Lord's Passover was the 14th day of the month. Then, "on the fifteenth day of the same month is the FEAST of unleavened bread unto the Lord: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread" (23.6). Therefore, it is quite within reason to suppose the disciples thought it was to buy for that feast that Judas had departed. Since the other gospel writers had provided the essential details concerning the Lord's Supper John did not mention this part of the meal at all. He nowhere wrote about the Lord's Supper. John's account was only about the part of the supper in which the Passover was observed.

By putting together what each gospel writer wrote, an argument can be made Judas was not present when Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper. Here is how it can be done. There is a major difference noted between the Passover portion of the supper and the Lord's Supper. The Passover included the sop. When talking about the betrayer during the Passover Jesus told the disciples, "He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me" (Matthew 26.23). Mark used similar language: "It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish" (Mark 14.20). However, Matthew, Mark, and Luke made it plain the Lord's Supper did not involve the dipping of the hand in the dish. The bread was not dipped into the dish. The bread and the wine were taken separately. Jesus took, blessed, and broke the bread before giving it to the disciples to take and eat as a symbol of His body. Then, He took the cup and gave thanks before giving it to the disciples to drink as a representation of the blood of the New Testament. Clergy today that dip the bread into the dish to give to their members thinking they are following what was done during the Lord's Supper are simply wrong. They are really following the practice more consistent with what was done during the Passover.

None of the other gospels writers provided as much detail about the betrayal discussion as John did. Here is what he wrote: "When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, 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, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. He then HAVING RECEIVED THE SOP WENT IMMEDIATELY OUT: and it was night" (John 13.21-30). Although John never recorded the Lord's Supper, he did provide the key detail that makes the chronology of events more clear. Judas left right after he received the sop. This was a part of the Passover, not the Lord's Supper. He was present during the Passover. He left before the Lord's Supper was instituted in order that he might keep his agreement with the chief priests to betray Christ.

There is yet one more verse that needs to be reviewed. As noted previously, Luke's order of the events had the announcement of the betrayal after the Lord's Supper had ended. Then he wrote, Jesus said: "But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me IS with me on the table" (Luke 22.21). From this reading it would appear Judas was still present even after the Lord's Supper ended. However, it should be noted the word "is" is in italics. What does that mean? Words provided in italics in the King James Version of the Bible mean those words were not actually found in the earlier, known manuscripts of the Hebrew language Old Testament or the Greek language New Testament. Rather, they were words supplied by the English translators. In this case, one cannot fault the translators for supplying a verb. Without the supplied word the text would be translated: "But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me…with me on the table". Clearly, it is understood a verb is needed to make the sentence complete. It may have met the standards of proper Greek to leave the verb out, but it does not make for a complete English sentence. Therefore, the fault does not lie with the translators in supplying a verb. However, it appears there might be a problem with the verb they decided to use. In place of "is", try "was". The sentence then would read: "But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me WAS with me on the table". Since Luke recorded the event after the supper had ended it would make the sentence consistent with all of the gospels, and still leave in place the view Judas had left the upper room before the Lord's Supper.

Why has such an issue been made concerning when Judas departed from the others? Here is the reason. The Bible does not teach Communion is open to everyone. When Peter preached the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the day of Pentecost, he commanded those who "were pricked in their heart" to repent and be baptized. The scripture then said: "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in BREAKING OF BREAD, and in prayers" (Acts 2.37-38; 41-42). Based upon what is laid out in this chapter, it is plain there were particular souls identified as appropriate to break bread with the others. Excluded from the Lord's Table would be those who did not gladly receive the word, did not repent, were not baptized to be added to the body of believers, or who did not continue faithfully in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and prayers. The whole context must be looked at to see those who were the participants in the "breaking of bread". It is even possible that those who previously had been baptized, if they abide not in the apostles' doctrine, are to be kept from the Lord's Supper. So, Paul told the church at Corinth: "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one NO NOT TO EAT" (I Corinthians 5.11).

Believers, either by ignorance of a person's relationship to Christ, or by a lacking of will to follow the course laid out in the scriptures, may from time to time sit at the table with those who should not be eating the Lord's Supper. However, there were no imperfections in Christ. He provided His saints with a model to be followed. He "knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him" (John 6.64). Therefore, following the Passover, Christ told Judas after giving him the sop, "That thou doest, do quickly." Judas did as Christ had said and "went out immediately". After examining all of the gospel accounts of this supper it appears that it was after he left that the Lord instituted the supper that memorializes "the Lord's death till he come". Judas had every right to sit at the table during the Passover. He was a Jew who could celebrate Israel's redemption from Egyptian bondage. He did not have a right to sit at the table to remember the redemption that came to poor sinners through Jesus Christ our Lord.

For these reasons this subject has been worthy of examination.
David K. Mattingly