(Continued from May-Jun 2012 issue)

The night before Jesus was crucified, He met with His twelve disciples for a last meal together. Leonardo da Vinci commemorated this event in his famous painting “The Last Supper.” These men were gathered to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover, so, a more accurate description of this event might be “The Last Passover.”

The Passover

The Passover was a memorial of the night God delivered the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. The night of their exodus from Egypt, each family in Israel killed a lamb and applied the blood to the sides and top of the door of its house, then roasted the lamb and ate it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exo. 12:1-11). The Lord passed through the land that night to strike the Egyptians, but when He saw the blood applied to the doorposts of an Israelite house, the Lord would pass over the door and not allow “the destroyer” to kill the firstborn in that family (Exo. 12:23). The blood of the Passover lamb protected Israel from God’s judgment and brought about their redemption from slavery in Egypt; it pictured the blood of Christ, which protects us, as believers, from God’s judgment upon our sins and frees us from bondage to sin.

As they celebrated the Passover that night, Jesus did not mention the symbolism of the lamb and its shed blood, but He did attach new meaning to the unleavened bread and the wine. As they were eating the Passover meal, Jesus took the unleavened bread, blessed and broke it, and shared it with His disciples, saying, “This is My body which is given for you.” After the Passover meal was finished, He took the cup of wine, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:19-20). The bread and wine did not literally become the body and blood of Christ, as some churches teach; these elements merely pictured His body and blood as Jesus suffered and gave His life for our sins. Jesus told His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” As they would celebrate the Passover in years to come, they were to remember, not just the exodus from Egypt, but also Jesus’ death on the cross and all it accomplished for them.

Washing the Disciples’ Feet

As they prepared to eat the Passover meal, Jesus laid aside His outer garments, girded Himself with a towel, and began to wash the disciples’ feet (John 13:2-4). Peter initially refused to allow the Lord to perform such a menial task for him, but Jesus answered, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this. … If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (John 13:7-8). By washing their feet, Jesus illustrated that spiritual cleansing from sins could only come through Him and His sacrificial death. At that time, the disciples did not understand the purpose of Jesus’ death (Luke 18:34), but, after His resurrection, they would remember what He did for them that night and realize what it meant for them, spiritually.

Stooping down to wash their feet, Jesus demonstrated why He came into this world—not “to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus was, indeed, the Christ, anointed by God the Father to be Israel’s King, but before He would sit upon the throne of David, He must suffer and die. The eternal Son of God emptied Himself of the glory and form He had with the Father, “taking the form of a bondservant and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).

Jesus’ example of true, humble service provided a lesson these men needed to learn. While traveling with Jesus and hearing Him teach about the coming kingdom, the disciples often argued among themselves about which of them would be the greatest in that kingdom (Mark 9:33-34). The disciples had this same argument that very night, leading Jesus to respond, “For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet, I am among you as the One who serves” (Luke 22:24,27). After His ascension into heaven, Jesus would have a special purpose for the apostles, a ministry that would require of them a genuine humility and absolute trust in the Lord.

This would be a difficult night for the twelve apostles. As they had traveled with Jesus the last few years hearing Him teach and preach the good news of their promised kingdom, they never imagined what was about to happen. Jesus had told them several times that He would eventually go to Jerusalem, be delivered to the Gentiles, suffer and die at their hands, and be raised again after three days, but, “they understood none of these things” (Luke 18:34).

“One of You Will Betray Me”

After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus was troubled in His spirit and told them, “One of you will betray Me” (John 13:21). This was unthinkable. How could one of them, who had been with Jesus the last three years, who had listened to His wonderful teaching, who had witnessed His powerful miracles—how could one of them betray Him? Jesus’ words filled them with sorrow, with doubts, and with fear, and they each asked Him, “Lord, is it I?” (Matt. 26:22).

When Judas asked, “Is it I?” Jesus answered, “You have said it” (Matt. 26:25), and He quietly sent Judas away, saying, “What you do, do quickly.” Judas “went out immediately,” but the others did not realize that Judas was the betrayer (John 13:27-30).

When they had finished eating the Passover meal, Jesus told the eleven apostles who remained, “I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you” (John 13:33). “Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake'” (John 13:36-37).

Jesus then told them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” (Matt. 26:31-32). Peter answered, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble” (Matt. 26:33). Peter spoke boldly, as he often did, but this time we can hear the arrogance in his response.

Jesus warned Peter what he would face that night, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32). When Peter insisted, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death,” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me” (Luke 22:33-34).

Even in telling His disciples such unsettling news, Jesus comforted and encouraged them as well. Satan would shake Peter up that night. Jesus knew Peter would struggle with guilt and doubt over his failure, so He assured Peter of three things: 1) Jesus had prayed for Peter, 2) Peter would return to Jesus, and 3) Jesus still had a ministry for Peter of strengthening his brethren. Satan would like us, as believers, to think that if we commit sins that are too terrible, God can no longer use us in His service. Peter must have felt this way after denying Jesus. However, the Scriptures assure us that “where sin abounds” God’s grace “abounds much more” (Rom. 5:20).

“I Am the Way”

Jesus led His disciples from the upper room to go to the Mount of Olives. As they journeyed, Jesus spent the time preparing the Eleven for what they were about to face. He knew they were uneasy and told them:

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 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 to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” (John 14:1-4)

The disciples were troubled that Jesus was going away, but Jesus was going to prepare a place for them. Most assume Jesus was talking about going to heaven, however, in order to prepare a place for His disciples, Jesus first had to go to the cross and sacrifice His life for their sins. Though He was going away, Jesus promised them He would return and receive them to Himself, so that “where I am, there you may be also.” Jesus was referring to His return to earth to establish His kingdom, a kingdom prepared for these apostles, a kingdom in which they would sit on twelve thrones and rule with the Lord Jesus (Luke 22:29-30).

Thomas insisted they did not know where He was going, thus they could not know the way. Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus’ words could not be plainer. There is only one way to have a relationship with God, only one way to heaven! Jesus is not “a way;” He is “the way.” Many feel this view is exclusive and narrow minded, but it is the truth. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12).

“Abide in Me”

Jesus explained to the Eleven that He was the source of life, telling them, “Abide in Me, and I in you.” He illustrated this by comparing Himself to the vine and His disciples to branches. A branch severed from the vine cannot bear fruit; it becomes worthless, so it is cast into the fire. Similarly, Jesus told His disciples, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Jesus reminded them how much He loved them, so much that He was willing to lay down His life for them (John 15:13). “Abide in My love,” He told them (John 15:9-10). By keeping His commandments and loving others as Jesus loved them, the disciples would be filled with joy, in spite of the difficulties they were about to undergo (John 15:11).

Jesus told them, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (John 15:16). After Jesus completed the work of redemption and ascended back into heaven, the Twelve would be sent forth to continue Jesus’ ministry to Israel. Jesus wanted them to understand that, as servants of Jesus Christ, they would experience tribulation. The world would hate them, Jesus said, “For it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

Another Helper

To help His disciples deal with the coming tribulations, Jesus promised them, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:16-18). Jesus reassured His disciples they would not be left alone, like orphans. The Holy Spirit would come to dwell within them to support and comfort them. Jesus had been their Teacher the last three years, but they didn’t always understand the things He said. Jesus told them that when the Holy Spirit comes, “He will teach you all things, and bring to remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:25-26).

The Lord’s Prayer

Most people associate the expression “the Lord’s Prayer” with the prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray, a prayer they were to offer in anticipation of the coming “kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 6:9-13). Jesus did not pray this prayer Himself. The true Lord’s Prayer is recorded in John 17, where Jesus prayed for His disciples:

“I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. … Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. … But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. … I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:9,11,13,15-17)

We cannot know if His disciples heard this prayer, but if they did, Jesus’ words must have comforted and strengthened their hearts. It should also encourage us to know that Jesus further prayed:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:20-21)

Think of the condition of Jesus’ disciples that night. Jesus had told them some very disturbing news:

  • One of them would betray Jesus.
  • Jesus was going away and they could not come.
  • All of them would stumble that night because of Jesus.
  • Simon Peter would deny Jesus three times before morning.

These were men of faith, but the events of the last week and the things Jesus had just told them had drained them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The disciples were confused, afraid, and full of questions: What would happen this night? Which of them would betray Jesus, and why? What would make all of them stumble? Would Peter really deny Jesus three times? If Jesus went away, how and when would He establish His kingdom?

The disciples did not know all that was about to happen, but as the events of that night unfolded, they would come to see how weak they truly were.

Next Issue: “Gethsemane”