The Gospel of Matthew Lesson 24, Chapter 26:1-35

Lesson 24, Chapter 26:1-35
The Last Supper

Holy and Eternal Father,
Help us to live as souls at prayer at all times, throughout the activities of our ordinary days and in our various circumstances.  You never abandon us, Lord, and we can have confidence that You are constantly aware of our daily efforts.  We owe You that same vigilance in our prayer lives, giving You prayers of praise for Your Fatherly care and concern as well as prayers for our friends and loved ones and for the sad condition of the world in general.  Please send Your Holy Spirit to guide us in our study of Jesus’ gift of Himself in the Eucharist as He began His walk to the Cross in the Upper Room of the Last Supper.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

+ + +

This Passover, called pesah in Hebrew, is not named after Christ’s suffering as many believe.  It refers to the “passing over,” when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors of the Israelites, passed by and did not strike them down.  In other words, the Lord, giving help to his people, came down from above.  Our passing over “that is to say, pesah “will be celebrated if we put behind us both earthly things and Egypt and move on to heavenly things.(1)
St. Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, 4.26.9

The highest point in the evolution of Pesach came in the last century of the second Temple, when the Jews suffered from the heavy oppression of the Romans.  It was during this period that the Messianic hope flamed up, and in the minds of the Jews the deliverance of the future became bound up with the first redemption in Jewish history: the deliverance from Egypt.  Jews had long believed that in the deliverance to come, God would show the same sort of miracles that he had performed in redeeming the Jews from Egypt.  This belief gained added strength in this period of Roman occupation and oppression.  Jews began to believe that the Messiah would be a second Moses and would free the Jews the self-same eve, the eve of Pesach.  So Pesach became the festival of the second as well as the first redemption; in every part of the world where Jews lived, especially in Palestine, Jewish hearts beat faster on the eve of Pesach, beat with the hope that this night the Jews would be freed from the bondage of Rome, just as their ancestors were released from Egyptian slavery.
Jewish scholar Hayyim Schauss (1938) The Jewish Festivals, page 47.

It was God’s plan to set the sacrifice and resurrection of the Christ and the redemption of mankind that would open the gates of heaven (CCC 1026) within the context of three annual sacred feasts.  These feasts remembered the salvation and redemption of the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt and the celebration of the Israelites as the “firstfruits” of the covenant people in the Promised Land (Ex 12-13; Lev 23:4-14):

  • The Passover sacrifice on Nisan 14th (Lev 23:4-5)
  • The pilgrim feast of Unleavened Bread on Nisan 15th      ” 21st (Lev 23:6-8)
  • The feast of Firstfriuts on the day after the     Sabbath (Saturday) on the first day of the week (Sunday) during the holy     week of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:9-14).

Some scholars have suggested that the Passover sacrifice did not take place on the Thursday of Holy Week and that Jesus did not celebrate the sacred meal of the Passover victim at the Last Supper on the time appointed by the Sanhedrin and the Temple hierarchy and that those at the Last Supper only consumed the bread and wine that became His Body and Blood.  Some say the Passover sacrifice took place on Friday as Jesus was dying on the Cross.  There is absolutely nothing in either sacred Scripture or in our Sacred Tradition to support such theories:

  • St. John’s Gospel sets the countdown to the Passover     sacrifice as six days from Jesus’ dinner in Bethany the day before He rode     into Jerusalem on Palm/Passion Sunday, identifying the Passover sacrifice     that must be kept on the 14th of Nisan as Thursday (as the     ancients counted).
  • The date of the Passover and all the annual feasts were     set by the religious hierarchy according to the lunar calendar.  That     Jesus would use another calendar is preposterous “that would be a violation     of the Law (Num 28:11, literally = at the new moons).  The 1st     century AD Jews knew that the solar calendar was more accurate than a     lunar calendar, but they were obligated under the Law to set all the feast     days according to the lunar calendar.  The sacred feast of the Passover     victim had to be celebrated after sundown on the first day of Unleavened     Bread on the first full moon after the spring equinox on the 15th     of the lunar month.  Jesus announced His commitment to the Law “until all     things have taken place” (Mt 5:18-19), and He also announced His support     of those of made those decisions who sat on the “chair of Moses” (Mt 23:1-3).  It was necessary that the first sacred meal of the New Covenant     was to take place on the day the Old Covenant sacred meal was celebrated.      Jesus would never have encouraged His disciples to violate the Law in an     illicit Passover meal.
  • All the Gospels agree that Jesus’ Last Supper took place     on the night the Old Covenant people celebrated the eating of the Passover     sacrifice and that Jesus and those assembled with Him ate the meal before     He offered Himself, Body and Blood, in what had been the unleavened bread     and the wine of the sacred feast (Mt 26:21; Mk 14:22; Lk 22:14-15;      Jn 13:26b).
  • Some of the confusion over the day of the Passover sacrifice     comes from the Jewish leaders’ refusal to enter Pilate’s Praetorium to     prevent becoming ritually unclean and unable “to eat the Passover” (Jn 18:28).  However, St. John’s Gospel always refers to the entire 8-days     from the Passover sacrifice to the end of the feast of Unleavened Bread as     “Passover,” as does the Jewish Mishnah and Jews today.  The     faithful brought their festival communion sacrifices (hagigah) to     the Temple during the holy week of Unleavened Bread and ate communal meals     at noontime with family and friends in the city of Jerusalem (Dt 12:5-7,     11-12; Lev 6:17/24-23/30; 7:11/7:1-34/24; Mishnah: Hagigah, 1:1-1:6).      If a Jew became ritually unclean on the day of the Passover sacrifice, he     could ritually bath and be declared ritually clean again by sundown, at     which time the Passover meal began.  But if he became ritually unclean on     the first morning of Unleavened Bread, he would not attend the required     morning Sacred Assembly at the Temple (Lev 23:7-8; Num 28:18) nor could he     present his communion hagigah sacrifice.

Matthew 26:1-35

St. Matthew reveals the forward movement toward the fulfillment of God’s plan for Jesus’ sacrificial death in three scenes in Matthew 26:1-15:

  1. Jesus’ announcement that the Passover will signal his     coming crucifixion and the plotting of the chief priests and elders with     the High Priest to kill Him (Mt 26:1-5).
  2. The woman disciple who anoints Jesus in preparation for     his death and burial at a banquet in Bethany (Mt 26:6-13).
  3. Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus to the religious     leaders (Mt 26:14-15).

Matthew 26:1-5 ~ The Chief Priests and Elders Conspire Against Jesus
1 When Jesus had finished all these words, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that in two days’ time it will be Passover, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”  3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace [courtyard] of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, 4 and they consulted together to arrest Jesus by treachery and put him to death.  5 But they said, “Not during the festival, that there may not be a riot among the people.” [..] = literal translation (IBGE,vol. IV, page 73).

St. Matthew’s Gospel is divided into seven sections beginning with the genealogy and infancy narratives (Section I), followed by a series of parings of five narratives and five of Jesus’ discourses, and concluding with the Passion and Resurrection (Section VII).  Jesus’ last discourse in chapter 25 ends like the other five discourses with the verb teleoin a formula statement: When Jesus had finished all these words… 

Matthew 26:2 ~ he said to his disciples 2″You know that in two days’ time it will be Passover, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” With this statement Jesus reminds His disciples of the purpose of His mission on this last visit to Jerusalem.  After His victorious entrance into the city on the 10th and His success with the crowds of pilgrims and in answering the challenges of the religious authorities, it must have surprised the disciples to again hear a prophecy of His death.  Notice that in all these circumstances and unfolding events that Jesus is completely in charge of His destiny.

Question: What day is this?  This is Jesus last teaching day in Jerusalem, and according to Jesus’ statement in verse 2 it is two days before the Passover sacrifice.  Remember to count the days as the ancients counted and to consider that it was six days until the Passover on Nisan the 14thwhen Jesus ate dinner on Saturday Nisan the 9th at the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus in Bethany in John 12:1-7.
Answer: As the ancients counted, it is Wednesday, Nisan the 13th; it was the day before the Passover sacrifice.

The chief priests and elders, who were probably the members of the Sanhedrin “the Jewish High Court, met together in the courtyard of the palace of the reigning High Priest, Joseph Caiaphas, to discuss their plan to kill Jesus.  Their fear of the crowd’s support for Jesus causes them to avoid arresting Jesus during the crowded religious festivities, so they plan to find another way.  It is ironic that later this courtyard will be site of another of betrayal during Jesus’ trial inside the palace (Mt 26:69-75).

Matthew 26:6-13 ~ Jesus’ Dinner with Friends in Bethany and His Third Anointing
6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7a woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on his head while he was reclining at table.  8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant and said, “Why this waste?  9 It could have been sold for much, and the money given to the poor.”  10 Since Jesus knew this, he said to them, “Why do you make trouble for the woman?  She has done a good thing for me.  11 The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me.  12 In pouring this perfumed oil upon my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.  13 Amen, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she had done will be spoken of, in memory of her.”

Question: Where did this dinner take place?
Answer: In the home of a former leper named Simon.

Simon was probably a man Jesus had healed of leprosy.  Lepers could not keep company with healthy people and had to remain isolated from the population (Lev 13:45-46).  The guests “reclined” at table, indicating that this was a formal banquet.  Reclining at a banquet table was a sign of the privilege of free men.  Slaves stood to eat.  At this banquet honoring Jesus, He is anointed for a third time by an unnamed woman.

There is controversy among Bible scholars over how many times Jesus was anointed and the apparent discrepancy over what day St. John recorded Jesus’ dinner in Bethany as opposed to the Synoptic Gospels. The accounts agree if there were two different dinners at Bethany the last week of Jesus’ life and two different anointings, for a total of three different anointings during the course of Jesus’ ministry by three or possibly two different women (Mary of Bethany may have anointed Christ twice: once on Saturday and a second time on Wednesday of the last Passover holy week).  Each anointing of Christ symbolized the three holy offices He fulfilled as God’s supreme Prophet, High Priest, and Davidic King (CCC 436):

  • Anointing # 1: Early in Jesus’ ministry an unnamed sinful     woman anointed His feet with ointment and wiped His feet     with her hair at the home of the Simon, a wealthy Pharisee who did not     respect Jesus (Lk 7:36-38).
  • Anointing #2: Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus’ feet and     wiped His feet with her hair on Saturday, Nisan the 9th.      The next day on the 10th of Nisan, the day the sacrificial     lambs or kids were to be chosen (Exodus 12:3), Jesus rode into Jerusalem “the sacrificial Lamb of God, there for all to see and judge His perfection (Jn 12:1-3).
  • Anointing #3: An unnamed woman anointed Jesus’ head     at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany two days before the Passover.      As the ancients counted this is Wednesday, Nisan the 13th (Matthew 26:1-16: Mark 14:1-11)

There are many similarities between the two accounts of Jesus being anointed His last week in Jerusalem in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark during the dinner at Bethany two days before the Passover sacrifice, indicating that Matthew and Mark are recording the same event.  However, there are many differences when compared with the Gospel of John’s account of the dinner at Bethany six days before the Passover:

John 12:1-13 Matthew 26:1-16 Mark 14:1-11
The event takes place six days before Passover at Bethany
before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm [Passion] Sunday (Jn 12:1; 12-19).
The event takes place two days before Passover (Mt 26:2) at Bethany (Mt 26:6)
after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm [Passion] Sunday (Mt 21:8-11)
The event takes place two days before Passover at  Bethany (Mk 14:1)
after Jesus entry into Jerusalem on Palm [Passion]  Sunday (Mk 11:1-10).
Prior to the dinner, Jesus had not arrived in Jerusalem  and the people were looking for Him (Jn 11:55-56). The chief priests and  Pharisees were looking for someone to inform them about Jesus’ whereabouts so  they could arrest Him (Jn 11:57). Jesus taught at the Temple and cured the sick every  day that week (Mt 21:14-26:1).  He announced his coming arrest and  crucifixion to His disciples. The chief priests and elders conspired to arrest  and kill Him (Mt 26:2-5). Jesus taught at the Temple every day that week (Mk 11:11-13:47). The chief priests and scribes conspired to arrest and kill Him(Mk 14:1-2).
The dinner was in Bethany “… where Lazarus wasMartha  waited on them …” (Jn 12:1-2). Dinner was in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper  (Mt 26:6). Dinner was in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper (Mk 14:3).
  Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and Jesus’ Apostles attend (Jn 12:1-34).   The disciples/Apostles are present as guests (Mt 26:8).   Those who attend are unnamed with the exception of Simon,  the host (Mk 14:3).
  Mary of Bethany has “ointment of pure nard” (Jn 12:3).*   Unnamed woman has “an alabaster jar of very expensive ointment”  (Mt 26:7).*   Unnamed woman has “an alabaster jar of ointment  of pure nard” (Mk 14:3).*
  Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes His feet  with her hair (Jn 12:3).   The woman anoints Jesus’ head (Mt 26:7).   The woman broke open the bottle and anoints Jesus’  head (Mk 14:3).
  “Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples”, protests the waste  (Jn 12:4).   Disciples are indignant over the waste (Mt 26:8).   Some who were there were indignant over the waste (Mk 14:4).
Judas says the jar is worth 300 denarii and  protests it should be given to the poor (Jn 12:4-5).   Could have been sold at a high price and given  to poor (Mt 26:9).   Worth over 300 denarii and should be given to  the poor (Mk 14:5).
Jesus defends Mary and says “Let her keep it for the  day of my burial** (Jn 12:7). Jesus defends the woman as doing a good work (Mt 26:10). Jesus defends the woman as doing a good work (Mk 14:6).
“The poor you always have with you, but you do  not always have me.” (Jn 12:8). “For you always have the poor with you, but you will  not always have me” (Mt 26:11). “For you always have the poor with you … but you will  not always have me” (Mk 14:7).
  “In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to  prepare me for burial.” ** (Mt 26:12).   “She had done what she could; she has anointed my body  beforehand for burying.”** (Mk 14:8).
  “… wherever this Gospel is preached … what she has done  will be told in memory of her” (Mt 26:13).   “… wherever the Gospel is preached … what she has done  will be told in memory of her” (Mk 14:9).
  Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Jn 12:12-15). Judas betrays Jesus (Mt 26:14-16)+
(Jesus’ “hour” has come).
Judas betrays Jesus (Mk 14:10-11)+
(Jesus’ “hour” has come).
  Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.>

The similarities between Matthew’s dinner and Marks dinner “two days before the Passover” suggest the Gospels are recording the same event, while the dinner in John’s Gospel is a dinner earlier in the week, “six days before the Passover.”  The same word in Greek, muron, is used in all three accounts to describe the ointment (see *), and the accounts in the Gospels of John and Mark identify the cost of the bottle as 300 denarii.  This information seems to suggest that the jar of ointment used on Saturday was the same jar used on Wednesday.  Also note the difference between Jesus’ command to the woman “to keep it for the day of my burial” when Mary of Bethany anointed His feet in the Gospel of John on Saturday and His statement “she did it to prepare for the day of my burial” on Wednesday in St. Matthew’s Gospel.  Also note that Jesus told the disciples that she “has anointed my body beforehand for its burial” in St. Mark’s Gospel on Wednesday when the unnamed woman anointed His head in both accounts in Matthew and Mark’s Gospels as opposed to His feet at the Saturday dinner (see **).

St. Mark includes a significant detail in Jesus’ third anointing on Wednesday: She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head (Mk 14:3b).  It is reasonable to assume that in obedience to Jesus’ command on Saturday that Mary of Bethany kept the half-used jar of ointment and on Wednesday, knowing that Jesus has prophesied His death, she has broken open the bottle to get the last of the ointment to anoint His head.  On Saturday it was Judas who complained about the waste of the ointment, but on Wednesday the other disciples repeated his complaint.

Question: What is ironic about the woman disciple’s action at the Wednesday dinner opposed to the attitude of the men?
Answer: She believes the prophecy of His coming death and takes action, but the men do not seem to understand and even protest her loving act.

The last significant detail that indicates there are two dinners at Bethany, one on Saturday (Jn 12:1-11) before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the other on Wednesday that is Jesus last teaching day in Jerusalem, is Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in his first meeting with the chief priests (Mt 26:14-16 and Mk 14:3-9).  No betrayal to the chief priests is recorded in John’s Gospel after the Saturday dinner.  However, both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark record Judas’ visit to the chief priests to betray Jesus after the Wednesday dinner (Mk 14:10-11).  Luke also records Judas’ betrayal just prior to the Last Supper (Lk 22:1-6).

Matthew 26:14-16 ~ Judas’ Betrayal
14 Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?  They paid him thirty pieces of silver, 16 and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

The Apostle Judas Iscariot was the son of a man named Simon (Jn 6:71; 13:26) and was probably from the Judean village of Kariot (ishmeans man as in ish Kariot “man of Kariot”).

Question: What do we know about Judas’ character from the Gospels?  See Jn 6:70-71; 12:4-6; 13:26-29 and Mt 26:15.
Answer: Jesus said he had an evil nature.  He was the treasurer of Jesus’ community but he was a thief and stole from the contributions collected for the poor.  His offer to betray Jesus for money reveals his motive and shows that he loved money more than he loved Jesus.

Question: What is significant about Judas betraying Jesus for the sum the chief priests paid him?  See Ex 21:32; Ps 41:10/9; and the irony in Zech 11:12-17.  How do these passage relate to Jesus, His mission and His destiny?
Answer: In Psalm 41:10/9 David wrote about betrayal by one he believed was his friend and now Judas has betrayed the son of David.  Judas sold Jesus for the price of a slave (Ex 21:32).  In Zechariah’s allegory of the shepherd, the prophet speaks of the breaking of God’s covenant and the wages the “sheep merchants,” the chief priests, owed the prophet, which were thirty pieces of silver that God commanded him to throw into the treasury of the Temple.  Ironically, the chief priests paid Judas thirty pieces of silver which probably came from the treasury funds.  In the passage from Zechariah, God promises to raise up a shepherd who will punish Israel’s foolish shepherds (Zech 11:16-17).

The literal translation of Psalm 41:10 is Even my trusted friend on whom I relied, he who eats my bread, lifted up his heel against me.  To “lift up his heel” is a Semitic expression for doing violence.  St. Peter will link this passage to Judas in Acts 1:16 and it is part of the prophecy concerning the curse of the serpent in his struggle with the promised Redeemer who is the “seed of the woman” (Gen 3:15).

Thursday ~ The day of the Passover Sacrifice

The Jewish Talmud is composed of the Mishnah and the Gemarah.The Mishnah is composed of the sacred Oral Tradition of the covenant people not recorded in Scripture and the practice of worship in the Jerusalem Temple.  It is the authoritative source of halacha (Jewish law), second only to the Bible itself.  The Gemarah is the commentary on the Mishnah(there is a Jerusalem and a Babylonian Gemarah).  The section Mishnah: Pesahim records all the ritual requirements for the observance of the Passover sacrifice and the feast of Unleavened Bread.  The knowledge recorded in the Mishnah was written down after the destruction of the Temple and was completed in its final editing c. 220 AD.  We will be referring to the Mishnahfrequently in this part of the lesson.

Matthew 26:17-19 ~ The Preparations for the Passover
17 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?”  18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him,  The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”‘  19 The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered, and prepared the Passover.

St. Mark identifies the day: On the first day of the Unleavened Bread, when they kill the Passover, his disciples said to him, “Where do you desire that going we may prepare that you may eat the Passover?” (Mk 14:12; literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 140).  The Passover and the week long celebration of Unleavened Bread are listed as two separate feasts in the Old Testament (i.e. Ex 12 -13; Lev 23:4-8; Num 28:16-25) and only Unleavened Bread is listed as the pilgrim feast (Ex 23:14-17; 34:18-23;Dt 16:5-17; 2 Chr 8:13); however, in Jesus time (30 AD) the names of the two feasts were used interchangeably to refer to the entire 8 holy days.  Josephus (37-100 AD) records that in his time the term “Passover” came to mean the celebration of both feasts as one festival: As this happened at the time when the feast of Unleavened Bread was celebrated, which we call the Passover …   (Antiquities of the Jews 14.2.1).  Like Josephus, St. John refers to the two feasts as “Passover” as do Jews today.  Actually, modern Jews do not keep the Passover.  They keep the feast of Unleavened Bread from the 15th-21stbecause there is no Temple or sacrificial altar where the Passover victims can be offered.

Note that in the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old and New Testament the victim is never referred to as the Passover “lamb” as it is in many English translations.  The animal could be a lamb or a goat-kid.  The instructions for the selection of the victim in the first Passover in Egypt required the people to select  A flock-animal, a perfect one, a male, a yearling shall be to you.  You shall take from the sheep or from the goats.  And it shall be for you to keep until the fourteenth day of this month.  And all the assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it between the evenings [twilights](Ex 12:5-6, IBHE, vol. I, page 170).  Between the “twilights” can be interpreted as between dawn and dusk.

The Gospel of Mark tells us Jesus sent two disciples to prepare the room (Mk 14:13) and St. Luke tells us the two who were sent were Peter and John Zebedee (Lk 22:8).

It was the practice of the residents of Jerusalem to generously open their homes to Jewish pilgrims during the Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread and to provide rooms for the sacred meal of the Passover victim, a meal that had to be eaten within the walls of the holy city on the first night after the Passover sacrifice.  Sundown the day of the sacrifice was the beginning of the next day, Nisan the 15th, the beginning of the seven-day pilgrim Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Dt 16:5-17;2 Chr 8:13).

The owner of the banquet chamber must have already secured the Passover goat-kid or lamb for Jesus, perhaps on the 10th of Nisan when the Passover lambs and kids were chosen for sacrifice in the first Passover (Ex 12:3).  Choosing the Passover lambs and kids on the 10thof Nisan was a requirement that was no longer observed in the first century AD (Mishnah: Pesahim, 9:5).  However, that does not mean that Jesus, who clarified and fulfilled in His ministry the covenant commands and prohibitions, failed to keep this obligation like His contemporaries.  It is either an amazing coincidence that His Messianic ride into Jerusalem was on the 10thof Nisan, the day according to the commands of Exodus 12:3 that the Passover victim was to be selected, or it was the God ordained first step in the plan to fulfill the greater exodus redemption that the first Passover liberation prefigured.

The animal for the Passover sacrifice had to be an unblemished male lamb or goat-kid not younger than eight days and not older than a year (Ex 12:5; Lev 22:27).  The animal had to be large enough to feed not less than ten people and not more than twenty (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6.9.3 [423]).  If there were more than twenty people, two groups were formed with a separate Passover victim for the second group, or if the Passover victim was not large enough to feed a designated group, in addition to the Passover sacrifice a festival communion hagigah offering from either the flock or the herd (male or female) was necessary (Lev 3:1-17; 7:11-21).  Adding the festivalhagigah in addition to the Passover sacrifice allowed for everyone to be adequately fed (Mishnah: Pesahim, 6:3-6:4).  The communion hagigah festival peace offerings were the way the people ate together for the entire week long celebration after the morning Tamid service in meals of joyous celebration.

When Peter and John arrived at the house, they discovered that an upper room had already been arranged with the banquet tables and the couches for reclining at the meal

(Mk 14:15a).  However, as Jesus told them, Peter and John still needed to make certain necessary preparations (Mt 26:19).  They needed to be certain that there was an adequate supply of red wine for the banquet’s four ritual communal cups and the additional wine that the guests were to consume during the meal (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:1C).  They needed to insure that there were stone vessels filled with enough water for the three ritual hand washings (see Jn 2:6 where there were 6 stone jars each holding 20-30 gallons of water for the ritual washings).  They needed to provide the other necessary foods for the women to prepare for the meal, and if it was not already prepared, they needed to set up a roasting pit and spit of pomegranate wood to roast the Passover sacrifice (Mishnah: Pesahim, 7:1B).

In addition to all those arrangements, Peter and John also had to personally inspect the premises to be certain that all leaven, a sign of sin, had been removed from the premises

(Ex 13:7).   According to the Law, prior to noontime on the day before the beginning of Unleavened Bread (the day of the Passover sacrifice) it was necessary for the covenant people to do a thorough search of the rooms of their houses in Jerusalem to be certain that all leaven had been removed for the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex 13:6-7; Mishnah: Pesahim, 1:3-1:4).  They were also required to begin their fast at noon: On the eve of Passover [meal] from just before the afternoon’s daily whole offering, a person should not eat, until it gets dark (Mishnah: Pesahim,10:1A).  The “afternoon’s daily whole offering” is the afternoon Tamid and the “eve of Passover” refers to the Passover meal eaten on the first night of Unleavened Bread.  The Mishnah and the writings of the Rabbis only refer to the entire eight days as “Passover,” as does the Gospel of John.

All the Gospels and two thousand years of Christian tradition agree that the Jewish festival of the Passover, when the Passover victims were slain, took place on the Thursday of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem, the day before His crucifixion on Friday (Jn 19:31).  Those of the covenant community who were offering the Passover sacrifice for their family and friends gathered at the Temple with their Passover victims at noon for the afternoon Tamid worship service.  The sacrificial ceremony of the Passover lambs and kids began immediately after the body of the afternoon Tamid lamb was placed on the altar fire (Mishnah: Pesahim, 5:3).

The Passover Liturgical Service at the Temple

On the day of the Passover sacrifice, it was necessary for the afternoon Tamid lamb to be offered earlier than the normal ninth hour/three o’clock in the afternoon (Mishnah: Pesahim, 5:1B).  The afternoon Tamid, normally slain at the ninth hour (three in the afternoon) was offered an hour earlier to give enough time for the many Passover victims that were to be sacrificed: So these high priests, upon the coming of their feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour till the eleventh, but so that a company not less than ten belong to every sacrifice (for it is not lawful for them to feast singly by themselves), and many of us are twenty in a company (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 6.9.3 [423]).

The sacrifices of the Passover goat-kids and lambs took place from the ninth hour (three in the afternoon) to the eleventh hour (five in the evening) at which time the Temple services were normally completed (Mishnah: Pesahim, 5:8B).  The only other change in the liturgical service of the afternoon Tamid during the Passover was in the offering of the incense.  The incense was not offered until after the afternoon Tamid lamb was laid on the altar fire in the normal daily liturgy of the afternoon service.  However, on Passover the incense was offered at the conclusion of the Passover sacrifices.  The offering of the community’s prayers in the burning of the incense was always the climax of any worship service.(2)

On the day of the sacrifice, the lamb or goat-kid for the Last Supper was taken to the Temple, probably by Peter and John.  It was not necessary for everyone to attend the sacrifice.  A relative or even one’s slave (if he was a Jew) could present the animal for sacrifice since the Passover sacrifice was not a pilgrim festival (Mishnah: Pesahim, 8:1-8:4).  The groups that represented their households assembled at the Temple with their animals at noon.  The different groups were divided into three large divisions in fulfillment of Exodus 12:6: And the whole assembly of the congregations of Israel shall slaughter it … (Mishnah: Pesahim, 5:5A-B):

  • “whole” = division #1
  • “assembly” = division #2
  • “congregation” = division #3

After the afternoon Tamid was placed on the altar fire, the first division came forward with their animals into the Court of the Priests.  As soon as they entered the courtyard the doors were locked.  The priests blew three blasts on the silver trumpets as the signal that the lambs and goat-kids were to be sacrificed. The leader of each group carried a sacrificial knife with which to slit the throat of the animal while a Levite collected its blood in a chalice (a silver shekel from year two of the first Jewish Revolt depicts an engraved image of the sacrificial chalice).  The Levite then handed the chalice to a priest who tossed/splashed (zarak) the blood against the base of the altar (Mishnah: Pesahim, 5:5-5:6; 2 Chr 30:16).  If the size of the Passover victim was not sufficient to feed the numbers of people included in one group, then a free-will festival sacrifice, a male or female animal from the flock or herd, was also sacrificed at the same time and its blood was collected and splashed against the altar (Mishnah: Pesahim, 6:3-6:4)

While the sacrifices were taking place, the Levitical choir sang the Hallel Psalms 113-118, also called the Egyptian psalms.  Psalms 113-117 recounts the story of the Exodus liberation, while Psalm 118 gives joyous thanksgiving to God the Savior and speaks of the Messiah as “the stone which the builders rejected” which “has become the cornerstone,” the verse Jesus quoted to the chief priests after the Parable of the Tenants (Mt 21:42; Ps 118:22).  As the Levitical choir sang the first line of each verse of the Hallel Psalms, the people repeated every opening line but to the other lines the people responded with “Hallelujah,” “Praise God, Yahweh!”  However, when the Levitical choir came to the 118th Psalms, the congregation not only repeated the first line but also repeated three additional lines that promised the coming of the Messiah (Mishnah: Pesahim, 5:7): We beg you, Yahweh, save us [Hosanna]!  We beg you, Yahweh, give us victory!  Blessed in the name of Yahweh is he who is coming! (Ps 118:25-26 NJB; emphasis added).The first line of Psalms 118:26 contains the words the crowd shouted on Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem, as recorded in Matthew 21:9.   This line can also be translated “Blessed is He who is coming in the name of the LORD [Yahweh]!” as Jesus quoted this line in Matthew 23:39, applying the passage prophetically to Himself.

The Egyptian Hallel Psalms were repeated until all the animals of a division had been sacrificed (Mishnah: Pesahim, 5:7).  After the first division sacrificed its victims, the bodies of the animals were skinned, the entrails were removed and cleansed, the inside fat was removed, and then the fat was put in a bowl where it was salted before being placed on the altar fire (Mishnah: Pesahim, 5:10).  When all was completed for the first division, the second division entered the Court of the Priests, and the same ritual of sacrifice was repeated.  When all the animals (Passover lambs and kids and the communion hagigah offerings) had been sacrificed, the Passover service was concluded by the burning of incense on the Altar of Incense in the Holy Place of the Sanctuary.

Flavius Josephus wrote that during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (54-68 AD) at one annual Passover service 256,500 sacrifices were slain.He wrote that at the end of the afternoon the blood from the sacrificial victims splashed against the sacrificial altar reached the ankles of the priests, and the Kidron brook, where the Temple drains emptied out, became a river of blood (Wars of the Jews, 6.9.3 [424]).  When the liturgical celebration and sacrifice of the Passover was completed, the skinned body of every Passover lamb or goat-kid and free-will hagigah festival offering was taken by each group back into to city of Jerusalem.

The Night of the Last Supper

After the Temple service, the people returned to where they were staying in Jerusalem.  There they roasted the whole body of the Passover sacrifice and in some cases, the hagigah festival offering on a spit of pomegranate wood.  They had to be careful in roasting the Passover victim so that no bones were broken.  Anyone who carelessly broke a bone of the Passover victim was punished by receiving forty lashes and the sacrifice became invalid (Mishnah: Pesahim, 7:1B, 7:11C; Ex 12:46; Num 9:12).  It was also necessary to prepare the other foods which accompanied eating the meat of the sacrifice: the two kinds of bitter herbs, the vinegar or salted water for dipping the herbs, the chopped fruit mixture, and the baked loaves of unleavened bread (Ex 12:8-28; 13:3-10; Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:3).  The pilgrim Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed the Passover sacrifice allowed the covenant people to relive the themes of judgment and redemption that the Israelites experienced in the first Passover event and to eat the sacred meal of the Passover as a sign of covenant renewal and continuation.  So sacred was this meal that the penalty for deliberately failing to eat the sacrifice of the Passover on the first night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was excommunication from the covenant people (Num 9:13).(3)

The Law of Moses required that the Passover and the eating of the sacred meal on the first night of Unleavened Bread was to take place in the early spring during the first full moon of the spring equinox (Ex 12:6; Lev 23:5; Num 28:16; Mishnah: Pesahim, 1:1).  The Church establishes the date for Easter in the same way “on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the spring equinox.(4)  Concerning the importance of the setting of the Feast of Unleavened Bread in association with the vernal equinox, the first century Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (d. 50 AD), who was a contemporary of Jesus, wrote:  And there is another festival combined with the feast of the Passover […].   This month being the seventh [in the civil calendar] both in number and order, according to the revolutions of the sun, is the first in power; on which account it is also called the first in the sacred scriptures.  And the reason, as I imagine, is as follows.  The vernal equinox is an imitation and representation of that beginning in accordance with which the world was created.  [..].  And again, this feast is begun on the fifteenth day of the month, in the middle of the month, on the day which the moon is full of light, in consequence of the providence of God taking care that there shall be no darkness on that day (Special Laws II, 150-155).

Jesus fully supported the authority of the priesthood in fulfilling the rites and rituals of the Sinai Covenant, which certainly included appointing the dates of the designated feast days.  That week, teaching at the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus addressed the issue of the authority of the Temple hierarchy: Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you…(Mt 23:1-3; emphasis added).  Jesus would not have told the people to obey the hierarchy of the Church one day and then do the exact opposite by celebrating the Passover on day other than that designated according to the liturgical calendar on the next day.  The hierarchy of the Church determined the day for the Passover sacrifice and sacred meal as prescribed by the Law of the covenant according to the lunar calendar.  The eating of this sacrificial meal in the middle of Nisan in 30 AD, at the time of the full moon, was the last legitimate sacrificial meal of the Old Covenant.  It was a sacred meal that was transformed and fulfilled in the first Eucharistic sacrifice of the New Covenant people of God.  It was absolutely necessary for the faithful remnant of Jews who became the restored Israel of the New Covenant to participate in this last Old Covenant ritual meal in order to be able to comprehend its transformation and fulfillment as a true sacrificial meal in the offering of Christ the Lamb of God in the Eucharistic banquet.

Sundown began the next Jewish day, Nisan the 15th, and it signaled the beginning of the celebration of the pilgrim feast of Unleavened Bread.  The meal began after sundown, and it had to be completed before midnight (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:1A; 10:9).  That night, by the light of the full moon, those invited to eat the sacred meal with Jesus made their way to an upper room in the oldest section of the city known as the City of David, on Mt. Zion.  Only ritually pure covenant members were permitted to take part in this ritual meal.  The sacred meal was reserved only for those in covenant with Yahweh who were circumcised (if male) and ritually clean, a condition that reflected the spiritual purity of the covenant member’s circumcised heart (Ex 12:43-51).  The requirements for this pilgrim feast included:

  • Attendance at the sacred meal of the Passover victim on     the first night of the feast of Unleavened Bread.
  • The eating of bread without leaven during the seven-day     holy week.
  • The observances of the required Sacred Assembly during the     morning Tamid service on the 15th and the 21st of     Nisan and the other daily Tamid services to which covenant members brought     communion hagigah festival sacrifices to be eaten in communal meals     in Jerusalem during the week.

The liturgical service of the Passover sacrifice on the 14thof Nisan was not a pilgrim feast; therefore, it was not necessary to be present at the sacrifice of the Passover victims; however, it was absolutely necessary to be present that night for the sacred meal.  The food served during the sacred meal at sundown on Nisan the 15th included:

  • Two kinds of bitter herbs and salt water or vinegar:     representing the gift of life and the bitterness of their bondage in Egypt that caused tears and suffering.
  • Haroset/Charoseth (a mixture of chopped apple or     chopped figs with red wine): representing the red clay of Egypt and the sweetness of God’s redemption.
  • Unleavened bread: the bread they made in haste when they     escaped from Egypt.
  • Four communal cups of red wine (and additional red wine     for individual cups): the four cups stood for the four ways God promised     to redeem Israel.  The red wine also represented the blood of the     sacrificial victim that became the sign of their redemption on the     doorways of their houses from the threshold to the lintel to the door     posts, forming a cross.
  • The roasted whole body of the sacrificial lamb or kid (no     bones broken) and the optional hagigah sacrifice: the Passover victim     represented the sacrificed animal that died in the place of the firstborn     of Israel.

Four communal cups of red wine, each mixed with a little water, were consumed during the meal.  Each cup represented the blood of the victim and one of the four ways God promised to redeem His people from slavery in Egypt from Exodus 6:6-8 (NJB):  So say to the Israelites, “I am Yahweh…

  1. I shall free your from the forced labor of the Egyptians  “Cup of Sanctification
  2. I shall rescue you from their slavery “Cup of Forgiveness
  3. I shall redeem you with outstretched arm and mighty acts of judgment “Cup of Blessing/Redemption
  4. I shall take you as my people and I shall be your God” “Cup of Acceptance

The Cup of Sanctification and the ritual prayers began the meal, and the Cup of Acceptance closed the meal and sealed the people’s commitment to the covenant for  another year when the host uttered the words “It is finished.”  Jesus was the host of the sacred meal.  He came to the meal dressed in the seamless garment of a priest, signifying the liturgical nature of the meal (Jn 19:23-24).  St. John’s Gospel tells us He reclined at the table with His guests.  The Fathers of the Church identify St. John Zebedee as the “beloved disciple” who shared Jesus’ couch, reclining against Jesus’ chest (Jn 13:23).(5)

The pouring of the Cup of Sanctification to which a little water was added was followed by the Kiddush, the Prayer of Sanctification.  Holding the Cup of Sanctification in His right hand as he elevated the cup in front of those assembled, Jesus recited the ancient prayer, blessing the wine and also saying a blessing according to the day of the week.  The prayer opened with the words: Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, who hast created the fruit of the vine … The opening prayer was followed by the blessing of the day, and then the prayer was concluded with the words:Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, who hast sustained us and enabled us to reach this season.Ritual prayers were to accompany every part of the meal. Concluding the prayer, Jesus passed the communal cup, and everyone present at the meal drank from the Cup of Sanctification which, like the events of the first Passover, sanctified and set  Israel apart in holiness from all other peoples of the earth.

Normally, the drinking of the first communal cup was followed by the first of three ritual hand washings, but this was the first of several changes Jesus made in the order of the meal.  Instead, He took water from the stone vessels that contained the ritually blessed water and He washed the disciple’s feet in a symbolic act to inaugurate the Apostles’ mission as the chief servants of the Kingdom (Jn 13:3-16).

After the first ritual hand washing, perhaps when Jesus washed His Apostles’ feet, the servants then brought in the food.  Each food item had symbolic meaning, allowing the covenant people to relive the first Passover experience.  The Mishnah records Rabbi Gamaliel’s instructions on the foods served in the ancient Passover: Whoever has not referred to these three matters connected to the Passover has not fulfilled his obligation, and these are they: Passover [victim], unleavened bread, and bitter herbs.  Passover because the Omnipresent passed over the houses of our forefathers in Egypt.  Unleavened bread “because our forefathers were redeemed in Egypt.  Bitter herbs “because the Egyptians embittered the lives of our forefathers in Egypt.  In every generation a person is duty-bond to regard himself as if he personally has gone forth from Egypt, since it is said, “And you shall tell your son in that day saying,  It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt’ (Ex. 13:8).  ‘Therefore we are duty-bound to thank, praise, glorify, honor, exalt, extol, and bless him who did for our forefathers and for us all these miracles.  He brought us forth from slavery to freedom, anguish to joy, mourning to festival, darkness to great light, subjugation to redemption, so we should say before him, Hallelujah” (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:5).

In addition to these foods, there was also the hagigahfestival peace offering that was included if it had been determined that the Passover sacrifice was not enough to feed a large group attending the meal (Mishnah: Pesahim, 6:3-4).

After the food was placed on the table in front of the host, the order of the meal called for the first dipping of the bitter herb in the vinegar or salted water (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:3).  The green herb was intended to remind them that God’s creation and all that it contained was good (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, and 31), but the dipping of the bitter herb in salted water represented the destructive power of sin and the tears shed by all who suffered in bondage to in Egypt.  Jesus prayed over the herbs, dipped the first bitter herb (usually lettuce), ate and then passed the herbs and the salted water around the table to those assembled to dip and eat, reflecting on both man’s blessings and the curse of sin.

The first dipping was followed by the temporary removal of the trays of food (to heighten the excitement).  Then Jesus would have poured out of the second cup of wine mixed with a little water.  The second cup was called the Cup of Forgiveness.  Jesus, in His role as the host, poured out the second cup, but it was not passed.  Instead, He placed the cup on the table as He turned to the one who had the honor of asking the host, who was usually the father of an extended family, the ritual questions. This member of the assembly was usually a young son of the household or a young man selected from among the assembled covenant members in accordance with God’s command in Exodus 13:8 ~ On this day you shall explain to your son,  This is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ The questions and related statements are found in the Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:4II:

  1. How different is this night from all other nights?  For on     all other nights we eat leavened or unleavened bread, but on this night     all the bread is unleavened.
  2. For on all other nights we eat diverse vegetables, but on     this night only bitter herbs.
  3. For on all other nights we eat meat which is roasted,     stewed, or boiled.  But this night all the meat is roasted.
  4. For on all other nights we dip our food one time, but on     this night, two times.

In response to the questions Jesus, as the host, began the story with the call of Abraham and his descendants into covenant with Yahweh and the events that led the children of Israel to migrate to Egypt during a famine when Joseph son of Jacob-Israel was Vizier of Egypt.  Then He told how the Israelites were later enslaved by the Egyptians and cried out to the God for their ancestors for deliverance.  The telling of the story of Israel’s redemption was in obedience to the three commands to recite the story every year at Passover and the command to not just remember but to relive the Passover experience (Ex 10:2; 12:26-27, 13:8).  Jesus told how Moses was sent by God to redeem the people and the ten plagues that were God’s judgment on the false gods of Egypt (Ex 12:12).  Then He told how the first Passover victims were sacrificed, how the blood was poured into the thresholds of the doorways of the houses, and how, with a hyssop branch, the blood was smeared on the doorposts and the lintel of the houses (Ex 12:22-23)It was not a coincidence in that first Passover that the sign of the blood extended from the threshold to the lintel and from doorpost to doorpost, foreshadowing the sign of the Cross.

Following Jesus’ homily on the history of Israel and the people’s redemption and liberation from Egyptian slavery the food was returned to the table, and Jesus explained the symbolic significance of the roasted Passover victim, the two kinds of bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, and the chopped fruit mixture in fulfilling the obligation to relive the first Passover redemption.  The roasted lamb or kid was the Passover victim who died in atonement for the firstborn sons of Israel, the second bitter herb signified the bitter suffering of the people in slavery to the Egyptians, the salt water symbolized the tears the Israelites shed, and the sweet chopped red apple or figs mixed with red cinnamon and red wine symbolized the red clay used to make the bricks for Pharaoh’s buildings while its sweet taste symbolized the sweetness of knowing that God had heard His people’s prayers and redemption was coming.

Then Jesus led the assembly in singing the first two Egyptian Hallel Psalms, Psalms 113:1-9 and 114:1-8.  After singing the last line of Psalms 114:8: A flint into a spring of water …  those assembled again shouted, “Hallelujah!” (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:6), to which Jesus, as the host, replied with a prayer similar to the prayer found in Mishnah: Pesahim,10:6 ~ So, Lord, our God, and God of our fathers, bring us in peace to other appointed times and festivals, rejoicing in the rejoicing in your city and joyful in your Temple worship, where we may eat of the animal sacrifices and Passover offerings …  Blessed are you, Lord who has redeemed us and redeemed our forefathers from Egypt.

According to the traditional order of the ritual meal, it was now time for the host to lift up the Cup of Forgiveness, say a blessing over it, and pass the communal cup.  However, St. Luke records that Jesus said something profound immediately after the blessing and before He passed the second communal cup.  The Gospel of Luke identifies two of the four communal cups of wine which were consumed in the sacred meal of the Passover.  St. Luke is the only Gospel writer to mention two cups: a cup passed prior to Jesus taking up the unleavened bread over which He said the words of consecration (Lk 22:17), and the third cup, the Cup of Blessing, which was the Eucharistic cup of Jesus’ precious blood (Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 15:10-16).

It was probably the Cup of Forgiveness that St. Luke mentions as the communal cup passed prior to the lifting up of the unleavened bread that was offered to become Jesus’ precious Body: 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 shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Lk 22:17-18).  It is significant that Jesus swore that He would not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God is established.  This vow is similar to His vow not eat the sacred meal of the Passover again until the New Covenant Passover was fulfilled in the Kingdom of God (Lk 22:14-16).  His words “again” or “from now on” suggests that He drank from the Cup of Forgiveness, as did all the others assembled in the room, even Judas.

Everyone present sang the last line of Psalms 114 and then everyone drank from the Cup of Forgiveness.  It was now time for the second ritual hand washing in preparation for taking up and eating the unleavened bread.  The unleavened bread symbolized the people’s covenant holiness and the absence of sin within the community of those who ate this meal under of the atoning sacrifice of the Passover victim.  As was the custom, Jesus would have taken up the basket holding the individually wrapped rounds of unleavened bread and prayed over it.  Some Rabbis say there were three separate rounds of unleavened bread with each round wrapped separately in its own cloth, stacked one on top of the other and placed in one basket with the middle bread broken in two pieces, while other Rabbis say there were only two wrapped rounds of bread.  For Christians, the three separately wrapped rounds of unleavened bread together in one basket symbolize the mystery of the Trinity, a truth not yet revealed to the Old Covenant people of God. The torn middle round of unleavened bread is identified by Christians as the sinless Son of God whose flesh was torn for the sins of man.

Taking up a round loaf of unleavened bread and holding it in His hands, Jesus broke it into two pieces, thanking God in prayer for both the grain from which the bread was made and for the command to eat it.  Next, taking up a piece of the broken unleavened bread, Jesus dipped it into the haroset; folding the fruit mixture with the second bitter herb between the two sides of the bread.  This “second dipping” (the first dipping was the herb in the salted water) was called the “sop.”  The first sop was given to the person the host wished to honor that night.  The Gospel of John records that the first sop was given to Judas who was probably sitting on Jesus’ left at the place traditionally reserved for one to be honored: So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.  Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him (Jn 13:26).  Jesus reached out to Judas one final time but Judas rejected Christ, and John’s Gospel records that he left the gathering (Jn 13:30).

The communal dish of the bitter herb and the haroset fruit mixture was then passed around the table with additional rounds of the unleavened bread.  After everyone had dipped the sop, the hagigah peace offering was brought to the table and was eaten (if the festival peace offering had been made at the time of the Passover sacrifice).  Finally the roasted flesh of Passover victim, roasted like a sacrifice, was passed and eaten by those assembled.  Jesus would have pronounced a blessing over both the hagigahpeace offering and the Passover victim.  The meat of the Passover victim had to be carefully roasted and then the meat separated without breaking any of the bones (Ex 12:46).  To break a bone of the victim was a grave offense punishable by forty lashes (Mishnah: Pesahim, 7:11C).  The meat of the Passover sacrifice had to be the last food consumed; no other food was to be eaten after the flesh of the sacrifice (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:9).  But once again Jesus changed the order of the sacred meal.

Matthew 26:20-25 ~ Jesus Announces His Betrayer
20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve.  21 And while they were eating, he said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”  22 Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?”  23 He said in reply, “He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me.  24 The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whome the Son of Man is betrayed.  It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”  25 Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”  He answered, You have said so.”

That they ate the sacred meal of the Passover victim before Jesus gave them His Body and Blood is confirmed in all the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper:

  • And while they were eating, he said, “Amen, I say to     you, one of you will betray me” (Mt 26:21).
  • And while they were eating, he took bread, said the     blessing, broke it and gave it to them … (Mk 14:22).
  • When the hour came, he took his place at table with the     apostles.  He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover     with you before I suffer…” (Lk 22:14-15).
  • So he dipped the morsel* and took it and handed it to     Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot (Jn 13:26b).

*the morsel referred to in this verse is the second dipping of bitter herb wrapped in a piece of unleavened bread with the mixed fruit, the “sop” that was given first to the most honored guest during the ritual meal.

Question: Why didn’t the disciples know who would betray Jesus after Jesus told them it was one who dipped the sop in John 13:26?
Answer: Since they all had just eaten the bread dipped in the haroset, probably several times, they didn’t know which of them He was referring to.

Once again we have confirmation that Jesus is in control of His own destiny.  He knows He will be betrayed and He knows His betrayer.  It is tragic that Judas, even faced with the accusation of his treachery, does not turn back from the course he has set for himself.  His exit from the lighted room of the assembly to go into the outer darkness of the night is an image of his departure from the light of Christ into the darkness of sin and death.

Matthew 26:26-30 ~ The Offering of the Body and Blood of Christ
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.”  27 Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink for it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.  29 I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.”  30 Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

26 While they were eating … As they were finishing eating the meat of the Passover sacrifice, Jesus surprised them by taking up some of the unleavened bread.  According to the ritual of the meal, after eating the Passover victim no other food was to be consumed.  They were to wash their hands a third time and drink the third cup, the Cup of Blessing (Redemption) with the after-meal blessing.  Then those assembled were to complete the singing of the Hallel psalms with the drinking of the fourth communal cup, the Cup of Acceptance.  Between the communal cups of wine, the people may drink from their individual cups, but between the third and fourth communal cups no other wine may be consumed (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:7 III-IV).  The meal had to be concluded by midnight and the bones of the animal burned (Mishnah: Pesahim,10:9).

To their surprise, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said,  “Take and eat; this is my body.”  27 Then he took a cup, gave thanks,  and gave it to them, saying, “Drink for it, all of you, 28 for this is my  blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.”  The words “which will be shed”  are literally in the Greek text “is being poured out” in the present participle and identify Jesus as the sacrificial victim.   The liturgical command “poured out” is the instruction in the blood ritual for a sin sacrifice in the book of Leviticus  (IBHE vol I, Lev 4:7b, 18, 25, 30b).  The instruction for the blood ritual in the Hebrew text of Leviticus for the blood of other  sacrifices is that they are either splashed (whole burnt offering and communion/peace offering) against God’s sacrificial altar  or in some rituals will be sprinkled towards the veil of the Holy of Holies or smeared on the horns of the sacrificial altar or  the incense altar in certain rituals of sacrifice (see IBHE, vol. I; Lev 1:5, 11; 2:8; 4:7a, 18a, 30a; also see Ex 24:6 and 8  on the altar and the people).  Jesus’ actions not only fulfilled His promise in the Bread of Life discourse (Jn 6:22-59)  that those who eat His flesh and drink His blood will have eternal life because His flesh is true food and His blood true drink,  but His dress in the seamless garment of a priest and His ritual words that repeat the words of the covenant ratification ceremony  at Mt. Sinai and the blood ritual for a sins sacrifice in Leviticus signify that the Last Supper is a liturgical ceremony  in which a new covenant is being formed and a sin sacrifice is being offered.

Literally offering Himself (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) in what Jesus has announced is a New Covenant sacred meal  that night in the Upper Room, Jesus was beginning His journey to the altar of the Cross and was the fulfillment of the  prophecy of the prophet Jeremiah: Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall make a new covenant  with the House of Israel (and the House of Judah), but not like the covenant I made with their ancestors the day I  took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt, a covenant which they broke, even though I was their Master, Yahweh declares.   No, this is the covenant I shall make with the House of Israel when those days have come, Yahweh declares.   Within them I shall plant my Law, writing it on their heats.  Then I shall be their God and they will be my people.   There will be further need for everyone to teach neighbor or brother, saying, “Learn to know Yahweh!”   No, they will all know me, from the least to the greatest, Yahweh declares, since I shall forgive their guilt  and never more call their sin to mind (Jer 31:31-34 NJB).

Just as Jesus announced that this is my blood of the covenant (Mt 26:28), in Exodus 24:8  Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you”   Sts. Luke and Paul and some MSS of Matthew even include the words “new covenant” in the offering of Jesus’ blood (Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25),  and Jesus words which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins identify His sacrifice as a sin offering, as prophesied in Isaiah 53:12: Therefore, I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, because he surrendered himself  to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many and win pardon for their offenses.   His promise is that through His flesh and blood one is spiritually united to His very life and the promise of eternal life (Jn 6:54-55).   Those present would have understood that in some way that the sacred meal had been transformed forever into something much more profound than eating the flesh of a sacrificial animal in memory of a past historical event that recalled God’s redemption and Israel’s thankfulness.

His words at the Last Supper and His statements in the Bread of Life discourse are, however, shocking to an Old Covenant Jew.  There was a covenant prohibition against eating raw meat (flesh) or consuming blood (Gen 9:3-4; Lev 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-12, 14; 19:26; Dt 12:16, 23; 15:23).  The penalty for breaking this covenant prohibition was excommunication from the covenant community (Lev 7:27).  However, Jesus is speaking of His glorified flesh and blood not His human flesh and blood.  It is blood that is the vehicle of atonement for sins: Since the life of a living body is in its blood, I have made you put it on the altar, so that atonement may thereby be made for ;your own lives, because it is the blood, as the seat of life, that makes atonement(Lev 17:11).  Under the old Law the sacrifice of the animal was a symbolic act in which the animal’s life was a substitute for the life of the offerer.  In the offerer’s confession over the body of the animal just prior to its death, the offerer acknowledged he deserved God’s divine judgment for his sins (sin and reparation sacrifice).

Question: How does Hebrews 9:22-28 apply this concept of the shedding of blood as a remedy for sin to Christ’s sacrifice?
Answer: The imperfect shedding of animal blood on God’s sacrificial altar only prefigured a more perfect sacrifice in which the Christ offered on our behalf His perfect sacrifice on the altar of the Cross to atone for the sins of man, achieving redemption once and for all time for those who claim the atonement of His precious blood.

St. Paul identifies this cup Jesus offered as His Precious Blood as the Cup of Blessing: Is the Cup of Blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? (1 Cor 10:16).  The Jews also called the third cup the Cup of Redemption “a fitting name for the cup of Jesus’ Precious Blood that becomes the cup of our redemption and salvation.  The Cup of Blessing becomes the cup of Psalms 116:13: I will raise up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.   St. Luke records that Jesus calls the cup of His Blood the cup of the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you (Lk 22:20).  Jesus’ walk to the Cross began that night in the Upper Room as He held the holy offering of His Body and Blood for the sins of mankind in His own hands.

We call the gift of this Sacrament that our Lord gave us on the last night of His life the Eucharist, a word derived from the Greek words eucharisteinand eucharistia, meaning an expression of “thanks” or “thanksgiving” and comes from Jesus’ words of thanks to the Father as He prayed over the bread and the wine that became His Body and Blood.  The Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of the glorified Christ, who is really and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine.  It is in this way that He offers Himself in the sacrifice of the Mass to be received by His faithful covenant people who come to His altar in a state of grace to receive the spiritual food of Holy Communion.  The word “Eucharist” is used for all three aspects of Christ’s one mystery:

  1. The Real Presence: Christ in His abiding Parousia     (presence) in His Church on the earth today.
  2. The sacrifice of the Mass: Christ in His continuing action     as our High Priest who continues to communicate to His Church the graces     His merited on Calvary
  3. Holy Communion: Christ uniting Himself in fellowship with     the believer and nourishing his soul in preparation for eternal life.

Question: What vow does Jesus take that makes drinking the fourth communal cup of the meal impossible?
Answer: He vows not to drink wine again until His Kingdom is established.

They do not drink the Cup of Acceptance that concludes the meal; and therefoe Jesus does not make the official announcement ending the meal and sealing the covenant for another year – “It is finished”  instead they sing the last of the Hallel Psalms (Ps 118) and leave the city to cross the Kidron Valley to go to the Mt. of Olives.  It was not later than midnight.

Matthew 26:31-35 ~ The Prophecy of Peter’s Denial of the Christ
31 Then Jesus said to them, “This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written:  I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed’; 32 but after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.”  33 Peter said to him in reply, “Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be.”  34 Jesus said to him, “Amen, I say to you, this very night before the crock crows, you will deny me three times.”  35 Peter said to him, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.”  And all the disciples spoke likewise.

Jesus prophesies that the Apostles will all face an ordeal.  What they experience will be a crisis of faith that includes a crisis of expectation of what they understand of Jesus’ mission.  They all believe that Jesus is the Messiah “they have all risked their lives following Him to Jerusalem but they still cannot reconcile how the Son of God who has come to restore and redeem His people will allow Himself to be taken by mere men.

Question: In verse 31 Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13:7.  Read Zec 13:7-14:9.  What is significant about this passage? See Jn 10:11.
Answer: Jesus is referring to a prophecy that He applies to Himself in the striking down of God’s Shepherd and the scattering of the Apostles in that time of crisis.  The passage continues with a prophecy of God’s judgment against the people who strike His shepherd, the destruction of Jerusalem that will follow and the preservation of a faithful remnant.  The prophecy ends with a promise of the coming of the Lord in judgment with His “holy ones” at the end of the Age of man.

Question: What is Peter’s response to Jesus’ announcement that when He is killed the Apostles will desert him?
Answer: He bravely proclaims that unlike the others his faith in Jesus will never falter and he is willing to die for Jesus.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus offers encouragement to St. Peter when He tells Peter that He has prayed for him and when Peter regains his faith he is to take a leadership to “strengthen his brothers” (Lk 22:32).

In verse 34 Jesus tells Peter that before the “cockcrow” Peter will deny Him a significant three times.  The “cockcrow” was a trumpet call at 3 AM that signaled the end of the third night watch and the beginning of the fourth and last watch from 3-6 AM.  The “cockcrow” is mentioned frequently in the Mishnah as a trumpet signal and also in the diaries of Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem in the 4th century AD.  In Jesus time and as long as the Temple stood, it was, for example, the time when the altar in the inner courtyard of the Temple was cleansed (Mishnah: Yoma, 1:8), and it was the signal for the Superintendent of the Temple to call the priests to awake, ritually bathe and dress before presenting themselves for the first drawing of lots for preparing for the morning worship service (Mishnah: Tamid, 1:2).  Later it also became the signal when Christian pilgrims were called to early morning prayers.  The 4th century AD Spanish lady Egeria mentioned the signal of the “cockcrow” frequently in her diary and St. Hippolytus wrote that cockcrow prayers were always said in Church in obedience to evangelical counsel.(6)

In Jerusalem there were two different groups of night watchmen.  The Levitical guards at the Temple kept the four night watches and signaled the “cockcrow” with a trumpet blast at 3 AM and the Roman soldiers at the Antonia Fortress also kept the four night watches and signaled the “cockcrow” trumpet at 3 AM.  In Mark’s Gospel Jesus tells Peter: “Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cockcrows twice you will deny me three times” (Mk 14:30; emphasis added), noting the historical double “cockcrow.”

With this last exchange, Jesus and the Apostles reach the Mt. of Olives and Jesus’ appointment with His destiny.

Question for group discussion:

In the ritual of the sacred meal of Unleavened Bread, a little water is poured into each of the four cups of communal wine.  While it was common in ancient times to cut the strong wine with water, cutting the wine was done in large bowls into which the guests dipped their individual cups.  However, it the sacred meal of the Passover victim, only a little water is poured into each cup.  Where have you seen this ritual of pouring a little water into the communal cup in the sacrifice of the Mass?  What is the symbolic significance?  Jews do not know why this is part of their Passover ritual, but as Christians we can see the symbolic significance of water and wine in the ministry and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. See CCC 1342 where St. Justin Martyr wrote in c. 155 AD describing the practice of using water and wine in the Eucharistic celebration.


1.  The Hebrew word Pesach (also spelled Passah     and Pessah) may come from the word pasah which is an     Egyptian word derived from the root pash meaning “to hold” and in     Hebrew came to mean “pass over” as when the angel of death passed over the     blood stained doorways of the Israelites on the first Passover.  Or it may     come from the Egyptian root pesh, which means “to spread wings over     in order to protect.”  Some scholars believe “pesh” may be the correct     root because of the link to the symbolism of God’s wings of protection     which is so often repeated in Scripture: Ex 19:4; Ps 17:8; Mt 23:27; Lk 13:34; etc.

2.  There was an exception to the timing of the service if the     day of the Passover sacrifice fell on a Friday, Preparation Day for the     Sabbath.  In that case, the Tamid was offered even earlier so that there     was enough time for the people to prepare for the Sabbath restrictions.      If Passover fell on a Friday, the Mishnah records that the second Tamid     was slaughtered at about twelve-thirty and it was placed on the altar at     about one-thirty in the afternoon, while the Passover sacrifices took place     approximately between two and four in the afternoon: If, however, the     eve of Passover [meal] coincided with the eve of the Sabbath [Friday],     it [the Tamid] was slaughtered at half after the sixth hour [12:30     PM] and offered up at half after the seventh hour [1:30PM] (Mishnah:     Pesahim, 5:1D).  Therefore, Bible scholars who suggest that the     sacrifice of the Passover victims was taking place in the Temple on Friday at the same time Jesus was crucified are in error.  It was the sacrifice     of the Tamid lambs that coincided with Jesus sacrifice with the first lamb     sacrificed at the third hour (9 AM) and the second lamb at the ninth hour     (3 PM).

3.  Exceptions were made in case of illness, or the death of a     family member, or if one was delayed because of a long journey, or if one     became ritually impure.  In those cases, it was possible to keep the feast     a month later (Num 9:9-10; Mishnah: Pesahim, 9:1-9:3).  The modern     Jewish Seder is very different from the simple meal celebrated for     centuries when the Temple stood in Jerusalem.

4.  Twice a year, at the beginning of spring and at the     beginning of fall, day and night are each exactly twelve hours long.      These times are called the “equinox” meaning “equal.”  The vernal equinox     is the day of equal dark and light hours that occurs in the spring (the     word “vernal” means “spring”).  The fall equinox is called the autumnal     equinox.   The vernal equinox occurs during Lent (the period of 40 days     before sundown on Holy Thursday), and the next day the daylight hours     begin to lengthen.  The word “Lent” is related to the word “lengthen” and     is also an old Saxon word (lengthen) for springtime.

5.  Early Church Fathers who testified that John was the     “beloved disciple”: St. Polycarp (a disciple of St. John), Epistles, 5.24.3;     St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.1.

6.  See Ancient Christian Writers, vol. 38, Egeria:     Dairy of a Pilgrimage, pages 28, 30, 89, 91-92, 97-98, 103, 105,     107-8, 117-8, 121, 154 and 215; also Hippolytus, Canons 27.

Additional resources used in this lesson:

  1. Ancient Christian Writers, vol. 38: Egeria: Diary     of a Pilgrimage, translated and annotated by George E. Gingras,     Catholic University of America, Newman Press, 1970.
  2. Christ in the Passover, Ceil and Moishe Rosen,     Moody Press, Chicago, 1978.
  3. Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, Joachim     Jeremias, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1968.
  4. The Jewish Festivals from Their Beginnings to Our Own     Day, Hayyim Schauss, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, New York, 1938.
  5. The Jewish Study Bible, editors Adele Berlin and     Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Publication Society, Oxford University     Press, 1999 edition.
  6. The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, Ronald L.     Eisenberg, The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 2004.
  7. The Mishnah, editor Jacob Neusner, Yale     University Press, 1988.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *