By Sam E. Stone
To the Jew, Passover was the most important of all the annual observances in Jerusalem. Passover was celebrated on the 14th of Nisan. At this feast, Jews remembered their deliverance from Egypt. They would eat bread that had not had time to rise, just as their forefathers had done as they hurried to escape Pharoah and his soldiers. At the feast, each family group would first sacrifice a lamb, then roast it for the meal.
Luke describes the preparations Jesus made for his disciples. He sent James and John ahead to secure a lamb and the other necessary supplies—herbs, bread, and wine. He chose the home of one of his followers where they could have this special meal. It was to be in an upper room where Jesus could have a quiet and private last evening with the 12.
All four Gospels mention the last supper, with each adding varying details. It took place on “the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed” (Luke 22:7). For Jews the “day” began at sundown, so this took place on Thursday evening probably around 7:00-10:00 p.m.
Luke explains that they reclined at the table. Rather than sitting in chairs like we do, this was the typical way for people to eat a banquet meal at this time and place. They likely had a low table with couches around it. I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. This would be his last chance to celebrate this important occasion with those closest to him on earth. He wanted to prepare them for what was to come. In addition, this Last Supper was also the First Supper. The meal introduced the Lord’s Supper for all who came after them.
Jesus was about to be slain as the perfect lamb (John 1:29). Later the apostle Paul wrote, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). In dying for our sins on the cross, Jesus fulfilled what the Old Testament had predicted. One day all Christians will share in the wedding supper of the Lamb in Heaven (Revelation 19:9).
The cup described in Luke 22:17 was not part of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, but one of several cups included in the Passover observance. Jesus explained that he will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes. The church began on the Day of Pentecost that followed. Christ has been present with his followers each Lord’s Day since that time as they have assembled to remember him.
The Lord’s Supper
Using bread, a basic element of life everywhere, Jesus provided a way for his followers to remember that his body was offered on the cross. To the believer, the bread represents his body. When he said, “In remembrance of me,” Jesus alluded to the fact that the Passover meal was observed in remembrance of God’s deliverance of the Jews from captivity in Egypt. From now on, the Lord’s Supper will be observed in remembrance of our deliverance from sin by Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross of Calvary.
After the Passover cups had been shared, now an additional cup of “the fruit of the vine” was passed to the disciples. This was to remind Christ’s followers of his blood sacrifice for them, the new covenant. A covenant is an agreement between two parties. Hebrews 9:15-22 shows how the shedding of blood was necessary to seal a covenant in Old Testament days.
Jesus then told the disciples that one of them was going to betray him. Naturally the disciples wondered who could do such a thing. We don’t know exactly when Christ sent Judas away from the meal, but we know he was present for part of the evening (John 13:26-30).
The Lesson in Humility
Ironically another challenge followed immediately. The 12 argued over which of them was considered to be greatest! Lewis Foster suggests, “Perhaps Judas was responsible for the discussion about the greatest. If Judas rushed in when they were being seated and took the place next to Jesus, this may have offended Peter—and others as well.” When no one was willing to do the servant’s job of washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus himself performed this humble task. He gave them an object lesson in service (John 13:1-20).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.