Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The Secret Last Supper
When I think about and prepare a meal I mostly focus on three things: 1) will it taste okay 2) will it be nutritious and 3) will it be easy to make. Perhaps number 3 is really number 1 for me. But what if every element of the meal, and even how it is prepared and laid out, had significance far beyond the nutritious or gastronomic value of the food itself?
This time in our study of Luke’s gospel we look at what for many was probably a special meal, a feast even, but one for which the significance had long descended into normalcy. We’re talking about the Passover. It was like our Thanksgiving when everyone gathers and expects to have certain foods like turkey, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce.
But at this particular Passover meal, Jesus imbues the meal with eternal significance that should bless us even to this day—always fresh and nutritious in ways that feed the soul for eternity.
In Exodus 12 God instructed the Israelis how to celebrate a yearly feast to commemorate His rescue of the nation out of slavery in Egypt. For them, the calendar started over. The month was called Nisan, which corresponds to our March/April. On the 10th day of the month each family was to pick out a spotless one-year-old male lamb, or if they were too poor then families would go in together.
They were to wait four more days and then on Nisan 14 they were to kill that lamb, pour out its blood into a basin, then roast the entire animal over a fire and eat it, leaving nothing until morning. As I mentioned last time, they were to take some of the blood from that lamb and put it on the lintel and doorposts of their houses. This would protect them when the angel of death killed every firstborn and instead would “pass over” their homes. The meal also consisted of bitter herbs and unleavened bread. The bitter herbs were to remind them of the bitterness of their captivity and the unleavened bread the haste of their departure.
This feast was to be celebrated every year. Families would gather in Jerusalem and take a lamb to the priests to be sacrificed. They would then bring it back home, or to a guest home, roast it and eat it in a special ceremony which we’ll talk about in a bit. 14 Nisan was on Thursday, so the lamb was slain on Thursday but not eaten until Friday the 15th of Nisan due to the fact that the Jews counted days from sundown to sundown.
Keep in mind as we go through this that everything Jesus and His disciples are doing is steeped in history and symbolism. The symbols are about to become very real. And I want to start by saying that the identity of the lamb is none other than Jesus Christ. John the Baptist, Jesus’ relative and the last of the Old Testament prophets, declared this when Jesus came to be baptized. John said: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
In the original Passover, all were under a death sentence, just as Paul the Apostle would later say: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The Israelis escaped death by appropriating the blood of the lamb and eating of that sacrifice. We escape the penalty of sin by appropriating the blood of the Lamb of God and partaking of His sacrifice.
So let’s continue on:
8 – 13
There was quite a bit to do in preparation for the Jewish Passover meal. Jesus assigns Peter and John with the task. They had to find a place in busy Jerusalem to hold the feast, buy a lamb, have it sacrificed, purchase the other parts of the meal, and bring it all back to their Passover Feast location. The preparations began at 3:00 with a visit to the priest to sacrifice the lamb, and conclude at 6, when the feast began. Normally all homes in Jerusalem would be opened up for pilgrims coming from all over Israel and the known world. But Jesus needed a private place, a secret place, to make sure 1) He could do and say some very vital things and 2) ensure He was not arrested too soon.
So in a bit of cloak and dagger, Jesus tells His men to go into town and look for a man carrying a water jar. Sounds pretty normal but it wasn’t. When men carried water they used leather skins. Maybe it was more manly or something. Only women carried water jars. I’m convinced this was a prearranged sign. Perhaps Jesus made arrangements for a private residence and also arranged for a sign so that none of His disciples, including Judas, would know the location prior.
Remember the religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus in private and Judas was their inside man. But it was too soon so the two men go into Jerusalem, find the man and follow him into a house. They have a script to say and find everything as Jesus said it would be. The “guest room” would have been the second story under a flat roof, accessible by an outside stairway. No one but the owner of the house and Jesus (and now Peter and John) knew what was going on. The “furnishings” were couches and a small table where the disciples and Jesus would recline during the meal.
Now all is set for what we call The Last Supper.
14 – 16
First off, forget the Michelangelo “Last Supper” painting. They didn’t sit at chairs at a table like we do today. They sat on the ground, their elbows underneath them and their legs stretched out at an angle at this low table—probably more the height of a coffee table than a dining room table of today.
As the host of the meal, Jesus was in charge. First he prefaces the celebration with two important remarks: “I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you” and “I will not eat it again until is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” Jesus is very emotional at this point. He sees great significance in this meal not only for what it stands for but also the fact that this is the last opportunity for Him to be with and speak into the lives of these men prior to the cross.
Some commentators suggest that Jesus here refused to eat the Passover lamb likely because He Himself was that Lamb. He will also not drink one of the cups, which we’ll get to in a moment.
17 – 21
What Jesus is now hosting is the Passover, or Seder. Here’s a great article on a modern Seder and the significance of the many elements.
Luke doesn’t give us the entire meal but we can fill in the details.
What’s in focus here are the goblets of wine and the matzohs (the unleavened bread). The host would have four goblets and the bread was kept in a “tash” a square white silk bag with three compartments.
The four glasses represent the four statements of God to His people as He initiated the Passover in Exodus 6:6-7:
"I will bring you out; ... I will deliver you; ... I will redeem you; ... I will take you to be my people."
Some believe the cup of verse 17 is the first cup. Others that it is the third, for “I will redeem you.” If that’s the case, then it would be more likely that the cup of verse 20 is the third cup because Jesus gives it incredible significance, connecting it with the redemption with His shed blood and the new covenant which replaces the old.
But an argument in favor of the 3rd cup being the one in verse 17 is that some scholars think Jesus partook of the first three cups but not of the last one for: “I will take you to be my people”. Jesus has not yet come back to take us to be with Him. That celebration happens at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
Let’s get back to the three pieces of thick unleavened bread. The host takes the middle matzoh, breaks it in half and hides it in a napkin under a pillow or under the table. The children would then look for the hidden bread and when it was found the host would break off pieces for everyone to eat. It was to be eaten in a reverent manner. Finally, the third cup is drunk.
That third piece of bread, broken, buried, resurrected and eaten—and the third cup of redemption, are the symbols Jesus uses to talk about His body being broken, buried, resurrected and given to us—and His shed blood washing us from our sin.
Jesus says that we are to “do this in remembrance of Me”. The word means “recollection”. This started what we all “The Lord’s Supper” or communion. We don’t celebrate Passover as the Jews did and do. We celebrate the new meaning of this feast often. Every time it should remind of that God has called us out of the world, delivered us from sin by redeeming us by His body that was broken, buried and resurrected and His blood that was shed to make a new unbreakable covenant of eternal life with God – and that just as surely He will come and take us to be with Him forever.
It’s interesting to me that Luke just goes right from redemption to betrayal:
21 – 23
Luke emphasizes that Judas was there for the inception of the Lord’s Supper. He took the bread and drank the wine. But he was not a true disciple. God’s sovereign hand controlled every aspect of the crucifixion. Jesus here pronounces a “woe” on Judas. Although manipulated and even perhaps possessed by Satan—he still had personal choice. He chose to betray Jesus. For that, he will suffer the consequences.
As we conclude this portion, the disciples are busy arguing amongst themselves who would betray Him, which leads to the counter argument of “I’m more dedicated to Jesus and thus better and greater than you!” More on that next time.
In closing I have just a couple of thoughts on Jesus’ feelings about The Lord’s Supper:
- It was to be prepared (vs 7) – do you prepare your heart for communion, or any communing with the Lord?
- Jesus “fervently desired” to share this meal, as He does every communion and time with you. (vs 15) Do you feel the same?
- The Lord’s Supper is a shared experience (vs 17). We each take communion, and have an individual relationship with the Lord, yet it is a shared experience with the body of Christ. I think we need to be careful not to hold ourselves aloof or apart from regular fellowship.
- Judas was there in body but not in spirit (vs 21). Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you attend church, sing the songs, and even take communion, that you are a born-again believer. That only comes by ceding authority over your life to Jesus, acknowledging your sin and asking for God’s cleansing and forgiveness through His blood. It’s a serious note to end this message on, but our eternal destinies are a series matter!