This week Meridian is running a series of articles on the last week of Jesus’ life taken from ‘Source of the Light: A Witness and Testimony of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of All.’ To see the previous installment, click here.
It was Thursday of the Lord’s final week, and that day He and His apostles would share the Passover, their last supper together. Some confusion has arisen because John wrote that the next day, Friday, as Jesus stood in mortifying trial before Pilate, “it was the preparation of the passover,” the day when the Jews would search their houses and destroy anything containing leaven, the day they would take their yearling lambs to the gleaming white and gold temple for sacrifice, bearing them home again on their shoulders for the feast that night.
How could the Lord and His apostles have eaten their Passover meal instead on Thursday? Best evidence suggests that the Lord and His apostles, being Galileans, followed a calendar that began at sunrise. Thus 14 Nissan, the day of Passover preparation, began Thursday morning, and their meal was eaten that night. However, on the Judean calendar, 14 Nissan began Thursday at sunset, and the killing of the sacrificial lambs occurred on Friday afternoon before 14 Nissan had ended.
Therefore, at that same hour when the bleating of thousands of sacrificial lambs went silent, the Lamb of God, who “was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world,” 18 would also cease to breathe. The last symbolic sacrifices were offered at the very moment of the ultimate sacrifice. All things bore record of Christ and His mission for those who had eyes to see.
The Passover Meal
For their paschal meal, the last supper, the Lord sent Peter and John ahead to make preparations, saying with seeric vision that they were to go into the city where they would meet a man bearing a pitcher of water, an unusual sight in Palestine, where carrying water was women’s work. They were to follow him into a house where the master, probably a loving disciple, would have prepared a large upper room, already furnished for the feast.
It may have been just at sunset as Jesus and the other ten apostles descended the Mount of Olives and entered the Holy City in all its festive attire. The evening lamps were lit; the lamb had been roasted on a pomegranate spit; the bitter herbs, the vinegar, the unleavened cakes were ready as Jesus reclined at the table over which He would preside.
Their mood was somber, their hearts burdened as Jesus and His friends took the several hours to eat the Passover meal and perform its accompanying rituals.
“Why is this night different from all others? Why do we eat only unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and roasted lamb?” they would have asked and answered. Whatever the traditional answers, for them this night was different because the Lord would soon leave them, and they bore a love for Him that made the thought unbearable. I
In just hours, they would look for Him and find Him not. He would say, “Whither I go, ye cannot come.” Then, “supper being ended,” Jesus arose, “laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself,”i poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet. The feet of those in Palestine, clad only in sandals as they trod the filthy streets strewn with dirt and dung, were distasteful by day’s end. Washing another’s feet was the lowest of jobs, fit only for the utterly servile, fit not just for a servant but for a slave.
Washing the Feet of the Apostles
Thinking His Master too noble for such a task, Peter demurred, “Thou shalt never wash my feet,” to which Jesus answered, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” Then the impulsive, exuberant Peter, fired with love for the Lord, said, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.”
As He poured the water over their feet, He wanted the memory borne deeply into conscience. “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”ii The greatest was not the one with the most acclaim or honor, doing work of power and distinction, but the quiet servant, meeting the unspoken need.
Then Jesus told them something that shocked their sensibilities: “One of you which eateth with me shall betray me.” They all asked sorrowfully, “Is it I?” iii
John, lying on Jesus’ breast, asked who it was, and Jesus answered, perhaps to him alone, “He it is, to whom I shall give a sop.”iv Then dipping the sop, He gave it to Judas, who asked with mock dismay, “Master, is it I?” “Thou hast said,” 23 answered Jesus. “That thou doest, do quickly.”v And Judas hurried out alone into eternal darkness.
“Little children, yet a little while I am with you,” said Jesus in that upper room, and as His death approached, love was foremost on His mind. It was love that undergirded His life and His final sacrifice, love that never sought its own, love that didn’t waiver before those who were wretchedly unlovable.
Now He asked of those who would follow Him, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”vi This love would be a distinguishing mark of their discipleship.
The Institution of the Sacrament
Nothing communicated love more clearly than the Lord’s institution of the sacrament: “As they were eating, Jesus took bread and brake it, and blessed it, and gave to his disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is in remembrance of my body which I gave a ransom for you. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it. For this is in remembrance of my blood of the new testament, which is shed for as many as shall believe on my name, for the remission of their sins.” vii
The Passover had been a symbolic looking forward to the blood of the Lamb, which would be shed as a ransom for the sins of all those who would believe on His name. The sacrament was in remembrance of Him with a dual pledge that all those who partook would take upon themselves His glorious name and He would send His Spirit to be with them. They could not save themselves from sin and death, but, through His sinless life, He could. For this reason He had come. What inexpressible comfort for these disciples in this awful hour.
Then Jesus, with the absolute knowledge of the events of that night, gave them news to make the heart shudder: “All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered”—scattered by fear, and the sword, and the trembling of the spirit. Could this be true for every one of His closest friends? But Peter with a rush of heartfelt emotion said, “Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.” viii “I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death,” to which Christ sadly replied, “I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.” ix
Peace, I Leave with You
“Peace” was a greeting given among the Jews. Shalom. On this night as the lights began to burn low in the upper room, the Lord offered the deepest peace: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.”
When armies clash, when neighbors look at each other with enmity, when the ambitious are relentlessly self-seeking, when fear and worry clutch the soul and cloud all good intentions, when one can never get enough, this is not peace. Peace, in fact, can never be the gift of the world and its inclinations. It is the natural gift of knowing God, of living radically different from the world.
Submissive instead of willful, forgiving instead of revengeful, willing to suffer instead of seeing another suffer, loving not just friends but also enemies. With these principles Christ’s true followers would be utterly set apart, and He could say to them just minutes before He faced all the torment that Satan could unleash upon Him, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” x
Preparing His Apostles
It was a night for Him to reveal hidden mysteries of the kingdom. They would soon be persecuted as the devotees of an executed criminal, and He needed to prepare them. While He was with them, He could comfort and bless them, give them courage when they faltered. And now He promised, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” If they loved Him and kept His commandments, He would send them another Comforter that would abide with them forever—”Even the Spirit of truth; . . . for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” xi
What extraordinary and powerful comfort this was can be seen in the later lives of those who listened intently to His words. Peter, that very night, would retreat in fear and deny that he knew the Lord, but only days later at Pentecost, when he received the Holy Ghost—this Comforter—he became mighty and unshakable.
Then Thomas, thinking of his Lord’s imminent departure, asked, “Lord, we know not whither thou goest.” How will we find you when you are gone? Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “In my Father’s house are many mansions. . . . I go to prepare a place for you.” xii
They sang together with the last cup of their Passover meal, sang perhaps in a circle, as if offering a prayer. Then with whispered conversation they came out of the gate of the city, down the steep hill, and through the Kidron Valley, the sound of running water from a swift brook filling the air. Behind them were the oil lights of a celebrating city, ahead just a few hundred feet the dark specter of the Mount of Olives, where olive trees still grow in healthy abundance, the very image He needed for further teaching about their relationship to Him.
“I am the Vine”
“I am the vine,” He said, “ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” xiii What, nothing? Despite our pretended self-sufficiency, without Christ we are as worthless as a branch broken from a tree, withered, dry, and utterly useless. And who were these eleven without Him “but unschooled Galileans, some of them fishermen, one a publican, the rest of undistinguished attainments, and all of them weak mortals?” xiv
Therefore, if, like us all, they were wandering, unsure, and helpless without Him, He implored, “Ask.” “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask
what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” xv Again, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” xvi
Ask the Father in my name. “For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me.” xvii For them as for us all, He would be their intercessor with the Father, plead their cause, advocate their case. Because they had believed on Him, and therefore on the Father who had sent Him, He would no longer call them His servants but His friends. “I have loved you,” He said. “I have loved you.” xviii
“Greater Love Hath No Man than This”
Then He explained what He would do because of this love. He would give His very life: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” xix For their love for Him they would weep and lament in the next days, weep while the world rejoiced, but He who has the power to promise said, “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.” xx
Still, discipleship for them would not be without its terrible costs. The world would hate them as it had hated Him. They would be excommunicated, turned out of the synagogues, and become social outcasts. He said, “Whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.” He told them of this shadowed future not to dismay or unnerve them, not to make them shiver in the night, but to strengthen them, that when these things “shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them.” xxi
Then Jesus lifted up His eyes to heaven to pray, pleading with His Father not for Himself but for His loyal followers who would in the next cruel hours lose His sustaining presence. “I pray for them . . . which thou hast given me. . . . I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” xxii In that long night and the years to come, they would need this prayer.
i John 13:4
ii John 13:8,9
iii Matt. 26:22
iv John 13:26
v John 13:27
vi John 13:34
vii JST Matt. 26:22-24
viii Mark 14: 27,29
ix Luke 22: 33-34
x John 14:27
xi John 14: 18, 17
xii John 14: 5,6,2
xiii John 15:5
xiv James Talmage, Jesus the Christ, p. 561
xv John 15:7
xvi John 16:23
xvii John 16:27
xviii See John 15:9
xix John 15:13
xx John 16:20-21
xxi John 16:4
xxii John 17: 9, 15