It was Thursday evening after 6 pm, beginning of Jewish Friday, 15th Nisan, day after Passover and beginning of Festival of Unleavened Bread.
As oil lamps flickered in the cool spring night, Jesus and the Twelve gathered in the festive upper room of Marks house to celebrate Passover Season. They would share the traditional roast lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and wine mixed with water. The feast was a memorial to the night before the deliverance of Israel from Pharaoh, when the Angel of Death passed over all those with blood of a lamb marked on their homes, and the peoples exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. Now the feast would be a memorial the night before the deliverance from sin and spiritual death by the blood of the Lamb marked on all believers hearts, and their exodus from Satans captivity into the Kingdom of God.
Even before the apostles sat down and their last paschal meal together could begin, sadly humiliating and incredible as it seems, a dispute broke out among them as to who should be considered the greatest in the coming kingdom. Its occasion was the order in which they should occupy places at the table. Peter naturally felt that he should be the privileged one because Jesus had designated him as the rock upon which he would build his church. John and his brother James were also particularly beloved by the Master, and felt that it was they who should occupy the places of honor as Christs inner circle. Some of the others made their appeal.
The Lord was disappointed with their childish behavior, but the situation offered him an opportunity for further teaching on humility. He told them calmly, In this world, kings lord it over their subjects and those in authority are given the title of benefactor. But among you, those who are the greatest should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. For who is greaterthe master who sits at the table or the servant who waits on him? Surely the master. Yet I am among you like a servant.
You have stood firmly by me in my times of trial. Just as my Father has granted me a kingdom, I now grant you the right to eat and drink at my table in that kingdom. You will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Titles to greatness and authority in Gods kingdom were self-forgetful humility instead of worldly glory, and service instead of rule. They all had a place of honor in itexcept Judas the betrayer.
The words Jesus spoke seemed to appease their unseemly strife and the Twelve sat down at the table, with Peter at the place of honor on the right hand and John on the left hand. Judas sat directly across from Christ. But the Master knew his words were not enough and this lesson in humility must be permanently etched in their minds before the Last Supper could begin.
Jesus Washes Disciples Feet
Well aware that the Father had entrusted everything to him, the Savior rose from the table. The apostles were totally shocked when they saw him take off his outer garment, gird himself with a towel, and pour water into a basin like a slave who was about to perform the lowest service. From man to man he went, kneeling at the feet of each of these sinful, blundering children who loved him, lifting their hot grimy feet in his cool and strong hands, bathing them gently and drying them with the towel.
In all the glorious story of the unbelievable humbling of the Incarnation there is no more heavenly instance of the humility of God than this. The Lord God Almighty, eternal Creator of heaven and earth, most glorious King of men and angels was kneeling on the floor to wash his childrens feet. It was his greatest act of humiliation and service, and yet he never lost for one moment the majesty or consciousness of his divine dignity; for he did it with the full knowledge and assertion that all things were in his hands, and that he came forth from and was going unto Godand he could do it because he knew this.
For a few moments they were silent and still, stupefied by love, wonder, and shame; and then Jesus came to Peter. When the Master approached him, he burst into characteristic language, You, Lord, washing my feet?
Christ replied, You do not understand now what I am doing, but one day you will. Later, when his children had seen the throne of the cross and the crown of thorns, had seen and known the bitterness of the passion and the glory to which it led, this action of their Lords would fall into place in the pattern of things.
Seeing the Son of God at his feet, Peter felt himself once more at the edge of that abyss that is the difference between the holiness of God and the sin of man, and he could not bear it. No, you will never wash my feet! he cried.
The Teacher reached for the fishermans dirty feet, waiting to cleanse them and said, If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.
Peter thought for a moment and realized it had a symbolic meaning. Somehow Christ was bringing in a way of deeper union with his children than any that had gone before, and how could that union be complete unless the children were cleansed? Then he exclaimed, Wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!
Jesus proceeded to wash his feet as he explained, A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. Submission to it symbolized the Lords constant cleansing of the soul and his disciples having a share and part in his work.
Then Christ made this comment, You are clean, but that is not true of everyone here. He knew who would betray him, and Judas sin could not be washed away with watereven from the Savior. None of the others dared to ask him what it meant.
After bathing the rest of the apostles feet, Jesus stood up, put on his garment, and sat down again at the table. He followed the deed with an application, Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly so, for I am. If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one anothers feet. For I have given you an example; you should do as I have done to you. How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. You know these thingsnow do them! That is the path of blessing.
Jesus began the paschal supper. As the head of the gathering, he took the first cup of wine and spoke thanksgiving over it. While he passed the cup around the circle of disciples, he told them, I have looked forward to this hour with deep longing, anxious to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I will not eat it again until it comes to fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. Another feast awaited him in the future when the kingdom would come. It was to be the last of the old paschal meal; and the first, the symbol, and the promise of the new.
Next, bitter herbs and sauce were handed to each apostle. Then he broke one of the unleavened cakes, set aside half of it for after supper, and passed the other half. Afterwards the second cup was filled and passed.
Christ Predicts His Betrayal
As the meal progressed, Jesus was in great anguish of spirit, fully consciousness of all that was before him. I know each one of my chosen ones well, so I am not saying these things to all of you. Scriptures declare, The one who shares my food has turned against me, and here at this table sitting among us is the man who will betray me. The Son of Man must die since it is part of Gods planbut how terrible it will be for my betrayer! This will soon come true and I tell you this now so that when it happens, you will believe I am the Messiah.
The disciples looked at one another and began to discuss among themselves who would ever do such a thing. Greatly distressed, each began to ask him, Im not the one, am I, Lord?
Then Judas asked, Teacher, Im not the one, am I?
Jesus whispered to him in a way no one could hear, You have said it yourself.
John, the beloved disciple, reclined next to the Lord at table, and Peter motioned for him to ask who would do this terrible thing. Leaning toward the Savior, John asked, Who is it?
Christ told him quietly, It is the one to whom I give the bread dipped in the sauce. Although a sign of recognition to John, the bread was to be a last appeal to all that was human in Judas. After the Master had dipped it, he gave him the bread. Judas took and ate it, and at that very moment Satan entered his heart. Filled with evil self-delusion and moral perversion, the betrayer could now do his evil deed.
The Savior saw Judas about to take the last fatal step, and his soul yearned in pity for him. But it was too late; the deed was virtually done. He told the traitor loud enough so that others could hear, Do quickly what you have to do.
None of the apostles at the table knew what he meant except John. Since Judas was their treasurer, some thought Christ told him to go buy what was needed for the festival, or to make a gift to the poor. At once, the betrayer went out into the darkness of night, but also into greater darkness of the soul that has refused the love of God.