As Christians we are familiar with the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples. Years ago I wrote a Thinking Points article about how secretive Jesus was in not revealing to his disciples where the meal would be eaten. He then used his “Sacred Secret Service”, which included a man carrying a water jar, a chore normally left to women and girls, who led Jesus’ disciples to a house whose owner had already furnished a large room where the Last Supper would be held (Luke 22:10-12).
Now, realizing how thoroughly the Last Supper has been examined and researched, I come back to the subject with trepidation, bearing my two cents. Please forgive me if what I say below is nothing new to you.
But looking again at the Last Supper, I wonder how Jesus managed to make those secret arrangements and keep them from his disciples, who, after all, were with him night and day. Jesus works in mysterious ways.
The Last Supper was in fact a Passover meal. Just before God brought the Israelite slaves in Egypt out of bondage, He instituted the Passover meal of roasted lamb eaten with bitter herbs and unleavened bread, one lamb per household, unless the household was too small, in which case two families could share a lamb. The blood of the lamb was to be put on the sides and top of each house’s doorframe, so that when God passed through Egypt to strike down the firstborn of humans and animals He would pass over the Israelite houses marked with lamb’s blood. The Passover meal was subsequently eaten every year to commemorate God’s passing over the homes of Israelites and sparing their firstborn from death.
So Jesus and his disciples reclined at the same table and shared the Passover meal. But didn’t Jesus do several mysterious new things at that meal? First, he broke brittle unleavened bread and said “This is my body given for you; do this (break bread) in remembrance of me” (Luke 24:19). Later, he took a cup of wine, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Lk 24:20). Did the disciples understand what Jesus meant at that time? Probably not, though they understood after his crucifixion, death and resurrection. The most recent books of the Bible are called the New Testament, or Covenant.
Unlike the first Passover where an unblemished lamb was sacrificed and roasted over flames and its blood was used to save the Israelites from physical death, Jesus became the sinless Lamb sacrificed once and for all to save everyone who believed in him, not from physical death but from eternal death and the flames of Hell.
Thus, Jesus and his disciples ate that momentous Passover meal. But wait a minute, didn’t God say at the first Passover that the meal was to be eaten by family units, one lamb to be shared by one household? I wonder if by the time of Jesus it had become normal for groups other than families to share the Passover meal. If not, then was Jesus not declaring to the world that his disciples were now members of his family? After all, was it not Jesus who had earlier asked a crowd, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? … Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48-49)?
More than needing an annual reminder that God once saved the Israelites from death, Mankind needs God himself, for with God comes eternal life. Today, Christians normally do not eat the Passover meal, but instead partake of the Holy Communion sacrament of bread and wine, in remembrance of Jesus Christ who gave his life that we might live forever. We eagerly await his return with the eternal life he promised to all who believe in him.
By the way, why was it called the Last Supper when we know that Jesus ate other suppers with his disciples and others after his resurrection? Who called it that?