Episode 127 - The Last Supper, part 3
Hi everyone, Josh Hawkins here, this is Episode 127 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last couple of episodes I’ve been talking about what church history has called “The Last Supper”, a phrase used to describe the Passover meal that Jesus ate with His disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem before being crucified in April of 29AD. I’ve worked through how the Passover lamb that was eaten for the meal would have been purchased on Wednesday by Judas, how Peter and John brought it to the Temple for sacrifice the next day, and then how they spent the rest of the day, Thursday, in Jerusalem preparing for the feast. Jesus and the other ten would have arrived on Thursday evening from Bethany, and as they came into the room, a dispute arose among them as to who was the greatest. Why? Remember, as I said in the last episode, it’s not random why they’re arguing - they all were debating about who should be seated in the positions of honor near Jesus at the table. Jesus responds to their argument with a gentle correction in Luke 22, saying that one’s greatness is measured by humility and servanthood. Jesus is going to give them a practical example of this as we’ll see in the next episode. But today I want to move forward in looking at more details in this scene, so let’s start by reading from Luke 22:
And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
(Luke 22:15–18 ESV)
After everyone had found their place and reclined at the table, the Passover feast formally began. Jesus took a cup of wine, raised it, and spoke words of thanksgiving and praise. He said that He fervently desired to eat the Passover with the Twelve before He suffered. Oh, don’t just pass this moment by. What does it look like for God in the flesh and the first sinless man since Adam to say that He fervently desired something? He was looking forward to the joy of sharing this meal with them. Not just because the food will be good or the conversation will be memorable, but also and primarily because of what the Passover meant for the nation of Israel. I want to take a little time to develop this today, because this is often misunderstood.
The celebration of “Passover” was instituted by God for Israel through Moses as a remembrance of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. This is a meal commemorating how God brought them out as a demonstration of His strength and as a testimony to His faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham. God had promised to give Abraham and his seed a very specific plot of land in the Middle East. He promised him descendants as numerous as the stars, and He promised that it would be through him and His seed that all the rest of the nations would be blessed. So God’s mighty deliverance of His people was rooted in His covenant - God’s reputation and name was at stake. Does that make sense? So, now back to the Passover. Recall what happened on that last night in Egypt for the Israelite slaves. Let’s read a few verses from Exodus 12:
"Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning… At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock… It was a night of watching by the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the Lord by all the people of Israel throughout their generations."
(Exodus 12:22,29,42 ESV)
Alright, well many of us probably already know this story well. But when we read this in context, we have to remember that Israel has not been given the Law yet. They don’t have any formal instructions from God about sacrifices and offerings for sin and no instructions about atonement - there are no clearly defined parameters of sin and righteousness. Why? They received all of that at Mount Sinai, which of course doesn’t happen until after Israel is delivered from Egypt. So what does this mean? It means that the Passover story doesn’t actually talk about the sacrifice of the lamb in terms of the forgiveness of sin. Of course later on God teaches Israel about sin sacrifices, but we can’t just read that back into the Passover story from Exodus. Imagine yourself talking to one of the Israelite slaves in Egypt for a second. They might say to you: “hey, I’ve been here working my tail off, and there’s just so much crazy stuff going on… This guy Moses is getting us all into trouble and making Pharaoh really mad.” And now imagine Moses coming back to the camp that night and saying: “guys, this time it’s going to get really ugly. God is going to strike down all the firstborn in the whole land in Egypt sometime around midnight tonight. His wrath is going to fall on the land, but He is going to have mercy on you to deliver you from that coming wrath. If you want to be delivered, kill a lamb, sprinkle the blood on the doorpost of your house, and don’t leave your house. This is how you’ll escape God’s wrath.” So what’s the simple mechanism of the Passover communicating? It’s not too complicated. Based on a simple sacrifice, the message God is communicating through the Passover is: “One life, the life of the lamb, redeems my life if I apply the blood and stay in the house. That’s the way I will be delivered from the wrath to come.” Does that make sense? Now often times we look back and say “ooooh the lamb is Jesus!” but if you were to ask one of the Hebrew slaves, they’d say “the lamb and the blood was so that our children didn’t get killed! When we put the blood on the door, we didn’t experience the wrath of God!” So yes, ultimately the Passover lamb is Jesus, but Passover was about the deliverance of the nation of Israel in context to the wrath of God and in context to His covenant with them. God saves from His wrath because He is merciful. All that had to be done was to apply the blood of the sacrifice and stay in the house. Does that make sense?
So this meal that Jesus is celebrating with the Twelve is a Passover meal, and Jesus knows that the Twelve understand the national significance of it. By celebrating the Passover with His disciples and reminding them of His death, He is beckoning them to see Him as God’s passover lamb. If they apply His blood, they will be saved from God’s wrath and inherit the covenantal promises God has made. And this all connects once again to the theme of the division of Israel that I have mentioned so much in this series. Those who think they will inherit the promises solely based on their ethnicity will not, but those of faith who bear the fruits of repentance will. Now look back at what Jesus says in Luke 22:16:
And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
(Luke 22:15–16 ESV)
What’s that all about? Well if you’ve been tracking with me in this series, you’ve heard me say before that that at the time of Jesus, there were several different ideas floating around in the minds of the Jews about how everything that God had said to Israel through the prophets would happen. Israel was under the oppression of Rome, God was not dwelling in the Temple, and it seemed as if God had hidden His face from them. I’ve talked in the past about several different movements - the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots. All of them have different answers to the question of “why didn’t God’s promises all come to pass after we came back to the land after Cyrus’ decree and Nehemiah?” The two I’ve been highlighting a lot in this series are the Pharisees and the Zealots. The Pharisees believed that their piety and perfect obedience to the Law would merit the coming of the Messiah and the deliverance of the nation from their enemies. The Zealots believed that it was through the strength of man in partnership with God that the promises would be established. But as I’ve also mentioned in past episodes, there was another movement in Israel - something that the Essenes were somewhat connected with, which essentially said “what the Law and the Prophets spoke about won’t happen by any human movement, but will happen apocalyptically and eschatologically by the power of God alone.” Now what does this all have to do with the Passover meal? Well, this apocalyptic perspective is what I believe Jesus has been affirming not only through His entire ministry but highlighting again here at the Passover meal. In some Jewish literature before Jesus’ time, some said that Passover pointed to the eschatological banquet, the marriage supper, from Isaiah 24 and 25. I believe this is what Jesus is alluding to when He says “I won’t eat this again until the kingdom of God comes.” Jesus is interpreting the Passover eschatologically and apocalyptically - this is not just about when Israel was freed from slavery in Egypt. There is still a yet future deliverance for the nation - something that both Moses and the Prophets speak about over and over in passages like Deuteronomy 30 and Jeremiah 32. I don’t think we should primarily have in mind here some “spiritual deliverance from sin”, but a real gathering of the people of Israel from the nations of the earth back to the land promised to them in the Abrahamic covenant. This is something that God alone would bring about, by His own hand and by His own strength - just as He did in the exodus from Egypt. It won’t happen because of human merit or human movements - God’s zeal for His covenant and His name was what brought salvation for Israel then, and that same zeal is what will bring about a final exodus and a final restoration of Jerusalem at the end of the age, just as the Law and Prophets had promised.
Now back to this scene just for a second. Remember, the Gospels are only offering a quick summary of what would have been a meal lasting for many hours, with many stages in it. Jesus lifts up the cup of wine and says that He will not drink of it again until the kingdom of God is established. But as we’ve seen already, before God brings about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel by His own strength alone, the Messiah, that final king, would first have to suffer. Jesus is once again affirming His coming suffering here. We know that the Twelve are still not completely connected to what this means, as is evidenced by the way they react to Jesus’ arrest and capture later on. But Jesus is once again being tender and patient with them, giving us a glimpse into His heart.
Well, in the next episode we will look more at this scene in the upper room where the Passover meal continues and Jesus washes His disciples’ feet. In the meantime, go back and watch any of the episodes in this series you may have missed - you can find them all on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and see you next time.