Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

183. A Meal Prepared (Matt. 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13)*

Traditionally there was free accommodation available for those who came to Jerusalem to keep the Passover. But, like most, Jesus had already made arrangement: "Then came the first day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat" (Lk.22 :7,8).

These words are usually taken to mean that on the morning of the 14th Nisan (Ex.12 :18), Jesus sent his two disciples ahead to prepare the Passover supper, and that the same evening he and the rest of the twelve followed to the "guest chamber", and there the Passover meal was eaten.

In Study 181 reasons were supplied for concluding that this commission was given to Peter and John in the earliest hours of the 14th Nisan (say, soon after 6 p.m.) on the evening previous to the killing of the Passover, and that Jesus and the rest followed a few hours later (about 8 o'clock?) and in the upper room partook of an ordinary supper. Reasons were also suggested why the language of Passover should be used for what was not actually a Passover meal.

It is that framework which will be assumed (as encountering fewer difficulties than any other hypothesis) in this and the ensuing studies.

Two disciples

The duty assigned to the two apostles would involve little more than the responsibility of supervision, since in a house which could offer a large guest chamber the actual work of preparation would be attended to by servants. Indeed, most things had already been done before their arrival, for the room was "furnished and prepared" (Mk.).

There is subtle symbolism here: They follow a man who carries water of life in an earthen vessel, into a room 'up from the ground' (anagaion); there, after due preparation, Jesus uses the water to cleanse his disciples; then, in a meal of fellowship, the rest of the water becomes the Wine of a New Covenant (Jn. 2:1-11).

It is remarkable that Jesus should select these two disciples for such a duty. It was a practical application of the principle he was to enunciate to them all a few hours later: "He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve" (Lk.22 :26; cp. 19:29).

It was also a lesson to those who in later years remember Jesus as the Lord's Passover "slain for us", that only the best and most competent should have comparable duties assigned to them. The Breaking of Bread service is no place for learning to preside over a meeting. And the word of exhortation which is to prepare the mind for remembering Jesus should not be assigned to "the least esteemed in the church" who are deemed inadequate for "more important"!!) public duties.

But whilst Peter and John concerned themselves with the outward formalities of preparation on behalf of their Master and fellow-disciples, the soul of Jesus was troubled about a vastly more vital preparation which he must now make for them. "I go to prepare a place for you." The words are usually applied exclusively to his ascension to the right hand of the Father, but this is to limit them unduly. His Last Supper with his disciples, his agony in the garden, his witnessing a good confession before Pontius Pilate, his suffering at the hands of the Roman soldiers, his enduring of the long drawn-out horrors of crucifixion—all these were part of "preparing a place in the Father's House", his preparation for the New Passover. Peter and John saw to merely a few outward forms.

A man with a water pot

The device by which they were directed to the upper room was certainly mysterious. "Behold there shall meet you a man, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in." Jesus must have specified by which gate they were to enter the city, and there the man with the water-pot would be on the look-out for them. Instead of the obvious instruction: "Go, and enquire in such and such a street for the house of So-and-so," there was this arrangement which had about it almost a flavour of conspiracy.

Such mystery and secrecy must have been necessary. The arrangement with the householder had evidently been made in advance. The sign to guide the disciples to it was also pre-arranged. The sight of a woman or servant-girl bearing a pitcher of water would be common enough in the streets of Jerusalem, for this was normally woman's work. But to see a man carrying water was as unusual as to see a woman sawing up lumber or ploughing a field.

The Lord's recent actions and pronouncements in the temple had finally made up the minds of the nation's leaders to tolerate him no longer whether he be Messiah or not. And Jesus knew this.

So because "they took counsel to put him to death," Jesus took special precautions against them. Every night in that last week he quitted the city with his disciples. To be detected there after dark was to invite immediate arrest or sudden assassination. Humanly speaking, daylight and the friendly crowd were his only insurance policy during those tense exciting days. Each day as darkness fell he left the city. At the beginning of the week he returned to the friendly relaxed home at Bethany (Mt.21 :17), until the danger intensified. And since he had no wish to bring trouble upon the heads of those he loved best (Mt.21 :46; Lk. 21 :37), instead he betook himself to the slopes of the Mount of Olives where there was a garden to which he had the key, thanks again to the practical kindness of some wealthy friend; and here where the Gestapo would never dream of looking for him, he and the twelve slept rough, probably in a garden chalet.

This situation also helps to explain why Jesus, without giving warning, came to the upper room twenty-four hours earlier than expected. Judas had probably arranged with the chief priests to have Jesus arrested as he and the twelve were eating the Passover meal. It would be a time and place when Judas felt sure of bowing beforehand where his Master would be. And at the time the streets of Jerusalem would be empty, so there would be small risk of disturbance in the city.

This last meal with his disciples was one he would not forego (for it was "with desire that he desired to eat this Passover with them"). For it the use of some home was necessary. But now the main consideration dictating measures of secrecy was not so much the avoidance of arrest as ensuring that the Last Supper go undisturbed. It was of paramount importance to avoid having such a holy occasion rudely broken up. Therefore, somehow, to the very last moment, details concerning it must be kept from the traitor apostle. What were the thoughts of Judas as he heard the instructions to Peter and John, and wondered whether such unnatural secrecy was because of himself?

It is instructive to observe that Jesus might have reasoned to himself: "Until my hour is come, until the very moment which my Father has foreordained, I am inviolate; none can harm me, or even touch me, prematurely. Then why trouble about care and precaution? "Nevertheless Jesus acted throughout as though the proper outworking of events that day depended upon himself, and not upon the control of heaven. To a finite human mind the inter-relation of predestination, the fore-knowledge of God and human free-will appears unfathomable. These mysterious factors seem to be irreconcilable. Yet, Holy Scripture teaches them as facts, and the wise man will be content to leave the matter there, believing implicitly the Bible's statements, even when they are difficult to harmonize. It is surely not unreasonable to expect that some features of the working of God are past human understanding.

The upper room

It is commonly assumed that the home which gave hospitality to Jesus on this last night before his death was the home of John Mark. A few years later, when Peter was unexpectedly released from prison, "he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying" (Acts 12 :12). This was probably the upper room which was used as headquarters of the ecclesia in Jerusalem just after the resurrection (Acts 1:13,14). It must have been a wealthy family. That home had a room to accommodate 120 people!

If this identification is correct, "the goodman of the house" (Lk.22 :11) probably died between the two events mentioned (perhaps in Saul's persecution of the Christians? Acts 26:10), for Acts 12: 12 refers pointedly to "the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark," but it has also been suggested that the name of the householder has been carefully withheld (Mt.: "such a man") because the first gospel was written so early (before A.D.44—Acts 12) that it was dangerous to mention prominent disciples byname.

"My time is at hand"

The message to the householder was: "The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples."

What did Jesus mean by: "My time is at hand", and—equally important—what would this nameless friend understand by this? It can hardly be doubted that the words referred to his imminent suffering and death, but they also describe the onset of a woman's travail—and probably by intention, with allusions to a powerful Old Testament prophecy of Messiah (Ps.l 8 :4), where the Septuagint version uses the phrase "birth-pangs of hell", an expression which was later taken up by Peter at Pentecost: "Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the birth-pangs of death." The birth of the New Creation of God was at hand (cp. Jn.16 :21; Gen.18:14).

It may be doubted whether the words of Jesus would convey this meaning to the householder. To him they probably meant that death drew near. This is impressive, for it seems to imply that even though the twelve were as yet blind to all that Jesus had tried to prepare them for, there were some among the followers of Jesus (like Mary the sister of Lazarus; Jn.12 :7) who realised before the blow fell that something of the kind was bound to happen. It was seemly that Jesus should eat his last meal in such a home. The word for "guest-chamber" (Lk.22:11) is the one used for the "inn" which rejected Joseph and Mary (Lk. 2 :7). But there was room for the Lord here!

"I must keep the passover at thy house." Although it was twenty-four hours before the Jews kept their normal Pesach, Jesus spoke of this meal as Passover because—as has been shown in Study 181—in his eyes and later on in the eyes of his disciples it took on the character of a Passover, but with the Lamb of God as the means of redemption from a bondage more rigorous than any that Egypt could impose.

Significantly, Jesus said: "... that we may eat the Passover" (cp. Lk.22 :15,16), thus implying his own need to share in the blessing of this new Passover!

At the previous Feast of Tabernacles, on the day when there was no waterpouring Jesus had bidden men come to him for Water of Life (Jn.7:37), and when there was no lighting of the great candelabrum he had proclaimed himself the Light of the World (8 :12). In the temple he had forbidden sacrifice (Mk.ll :15). And now at Passover there was no lamb but himself.

It was for such reasons, doubtless, that Jesus chose to hold the Last Supper inside the walls of Jerusalem, for that was the Jewish manner of eating their Passover. Here too is the explanation why other close and well-loved disciples were not included in the party—the number at a Jewish Passover was to be ten or only slightly more than that.

Notes: Mk. 14:12-16

A man bearing a pitcher of water. A man!—hence Lk's: "Behold!"
With my disciples. Mt's phrase, translated: "at thy house", might imply the householder's presence at the Last Supper; cp. Mt.26:27: "he took (lit: received—from whom?) the cup."
Furnished is, literally, "strewn," that is, with cushions, for the reclining guests.
Went forth— from Gethsemane? The last locative in this part of the gospel narrative has Jesus on the Mount of Olives. Mt. has here: did as Jesus had appointed them; it is the exact equivalent of "as the Lord commanded Moses," so common in Exodus, Numbers.

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