The Last Supper

Matthew 26:17-30


From Exegetical Commentary on Matthew, 2006, AMG Publishers.

[17] Passover was a weeklong celebration that started on Thursday in A. D. 30 with the feast of "unleavened bread" called zuma (the neuter plural of zumos [106], unleavened. The verb zumō [2220] means to cause fermentation).

Both feasts, commemorating the Hebrews' liberation from slavery in Egypt, were celebrated in Jerusalem. The Passover began on Thursday after six in the evening when ceremonially the new day began with each Jewish home searching for leaven (used to make dough rise) in their houses and removing it. It takes much less time to make unleavened dough than leavened. The shortened preparation and baking period was to remind the Jews of their hasty departure from Egypt (Ex. 12:33, 34). Because of its permeating effect, leaven became a symbol of the spread of evil (Matt. 16:6, 11-12) and also of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:33) throughout the world.

The word "passover" (see v. 2) comes from the Hebrew pesach (6453, OT), derived from the Hebrew verb pacach ([6452, OT], to leap over). When the angel of death saw the blood of the slain lamb sprinkled on the lintel and doorposts of a house, he would "pass over" that house, sparing its firstborn children (Ex. 12:27-28).

The disciples asked Jesus, "Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?" (a.t.); similarly, Mark 14:12: "that You may eat the Passover?" (a.t.). They knew Jesus wanted to share the Passover meal with them, but they were not expecting Him to lay down His life as the Passover Lamb in a few short hours.

[18] Jesus told them to "go into the city." Jerusalem was crowded during this time, but the Passover had to be celebrated inside the city. Jesus sent them "to (prs [4314], toward) such (dena [1170], an indefinite pronoun used when a person does not wish to disclose a name) a man (not in the original text)."

Though from a human perspective Jesus had probably not made prior arrangements, the triune God foreknew the person and the meeting. Luke 22:8-12 tells us that Peter and John went into the city to meet and follow a man bearing a pitcher of water into a house. Jesus told them to tell this person that the Master was going to eat the Passover meal with His disciples at his house: "The Master (didskalos [1320], teacher, the title by which Jesus was acknowledged) saith, My time (kairs [2540], season, appointed time) is at hand (eggs [1451], near, ready); I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples."

[19] The disciples then "did as Jesus appointed (from suntssō [4929], arranged together; from sn [4862], together; and tssō [5021], to order, arrange) them; and they made ready (from hetoimzō [2090], to prepare, to make ready) the Passover" (a.t.).

[20-21] In the evening (opsas [3798], the close of the day just before darkness), Jesus ate supper with His disciples within the city limits. While eating, He addressed the disciples: "Verily (amēn [281]) I say (légō [3004], I say intelligently and firmly) unto you, that one of (from ek [1537], out of from within, i.e., the circle of disciples) you shall betray (from paraddōmi [3860], to betray or deliver) me." In the strongest manner, Jesus asserted that one of those nearest to Him would betray Him.

[22] Only Matthew records the fact that the disciples became "exceedingly (sphdra [4970]) sorrowful (from lupéō [3076], to make someone sorrowful or grieved)" twice during the latter part of Christ's ministry. In Matthew 17:23, they became sorrowful because of Jesus' predicted death. The fact that Jesus promised that He would be raised from the dead should have comforted the true disciples, but they did not understand this.

Now the true disciples became sorrowful because Jesus told them that one of them would betray Him. "Every one" (hékastos [1538], each) individually asked whether he himself were the one. They all use the negative , which in Koine Greek, is used in a direct question to indicate an expected answer of no. "It is not I, is it?" They all felt certain they could never stoop so low.

[23] Jesus did not answer them directly but said, "He that dips (embpsas, the aorist participle of embptō [1686], to dip in; from en [1722], into; and bptō [911], to dip; thus, proleptically, "the one having dipped" or "the one who dips [once]") his hand with Me in the dish (from trblion [5165], a bowl or dish), the same shall betray (from paraddōmi [3860], to deliver) me" (a.t.). John tells us that Jesus originally spoke these words only to John himself as he leaned back onto Jesus' breast as they reclined at the table (John 13:22-26).

[24] Here in Matthew, Christ explained that the "the Son of Man goeth" to conform to Scripture "as it has been written (gégraptai, the perfect passive of grphō [1125])" (a.t.). But in Luke 22:22, Christ gave a more specific reason why "the Son of Man goeth," using hōrisménon (the perfect passive participle of horzō [3724), to define or specify), "as it is specified" or "defined (by the Father)" (a.t.).

Not every detail was prophesied, however, as for example, Judas' name. Psalm 41:9 says rather generally, "Yes, My own familiar friend whom I trusted, who ate My bread, has lifted up his heel against Me" (a.t.). Does this mean that Jesus on this occasion became aware that Judas was going to betray Him? No, the Scripture says, "Jesus knew (from oda [1492]) from the beginningwho would betray Him" (John 6:64; a.t.).

Oda (the perfect [used as a present] of edō [1492], to know innately), is also the verb used in John 13:18: "I know whom I have chosen." This innate knowledge contrasts with ginōskō (1097), a knowledge acquired by experience. Jesus knew when He chose His disciples who among them were genuine and who were not. In John 13:18, Jesus stressed a personal knowledge based on prior choice: "I speak not of all of you. I know (oda, from edō [1492], to know innately; there is no indication here that there was ever a time that the Lord did not know) whom I selected (from eklégomai [1586], to select for myself)" (a.t.).

There is no verb eklégō in the active voice. All the references in the New Testament are from eklégomai (Mark 3:20; Luke 6:13; John 6:70; Acts 1:2; 1 Cor. 1:27-28; Eph. 1:4; James 2:5; etc.). In John 13:18, Jesus spoke of the true disciples, not of Judas. Thus, Jesus' personal knowledge of His disciples was not based on any historic experience but on innate divine foreknowledge. Nevertheless, He pronounced a "woe" (oua [3759]) on the one who would betray Him, the same threat spoken repeatedly to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-16, 23. The two Greek verbs "goeth" (from hupgo [5217]) and "is betrayed" (from paraddōmi [3860]) indicate deliberate actions. What Jesus did ("goeth") and Judas did ("betrayed"), they both did willingly.

Jesus concluded the sad story of Judas by saying, "It would have been good (from kals [2570]) for that man if he had not been born (egennēthē, the aorist passive of gennō [1080], to give birth)" (a.t.). "Good" referred to Judas' (that man's) good; in other words, it would have been better for Judas if he had never been born. Judas' actions were disastrous to his own destiny. Had he died in the womb, his destiny would have been far better than his living to betray the innocent Son of God.

[25] Judas repeated the disciples' question but with one conspicuous difference. They addressed him as "Lord" (v. 22), whereas Judas addressed Jesus as "Master" or "Rabbi." To him, Jesus was just a teacher, not a personal lord and certainly not the Lord. Jesus answered, "Thou hast said," confirming the fact but not making an accusation. We are not told that after this exposure, Judas left Jesus and the disciples immediately (John 13:30).

Some believe Jesus distributed the bread and wine after Judas left. But how then could Judas have dipped the bread in the dish with Jesus? Jesus said, "The hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table" after He distributed bread and wine according to Luke 22:19-22. If Jesus did not exclude Judas from participation in this meal, no minister should limit the Lord's Supper to those he thinks are worthy of it. In a pure sense, no one is worthy of what Jesus did, but faith in the Lord's shed blood is a reverence that values Christ's sacrifice. Nevertheless, every minister of Christ should warn people to examine themselves so they participate worthily as eleven of the Twelve Apostles did (1 Cor. 11:28).

[26] Jesus took in His hand a "loaf of bread" (from rtos [740], bread, a loaf) and blessed it. To commemorate Passover, this was a flat disk of bread made without yeast. The Textus Receptus and the United Bible Society version have "blessed" (from eulogéō [2127], to bless or speak well [to]; from e [2095], good, well; and légō [3004], to speak), while the Majority Text has "thanked" (from eucharistéō [2168], to thank). The two verbs are related, both rooted in the adverb e, good, with gracing (charstō) simply being the content of the speaking (légō). "To speak well [or good]" and "to bless" are the same action.

Jesus then "broke" (from klō [2806], to break into small pieces) the bread and "gave" (from ddōmi [1325], to give) it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." The broken bread symbolized His body that was about to be sacrificed on the cross.

[27] Jesus then blessed the cup of wine. During the Passover feast, four cups of wine represented four promises given to the Jews prior to their exodus: "I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: and I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord" (Ex. 6:6-8).

[28] Jesus then said, "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed (ekchunmenon, the present passive participle of ekchnō [1632], to pour out, "which is being poured out," spoken proleptically) for many for (eis [1519], in order that, for the purpose of) the remission (from the noun phesis [859], removal, forgiveness, putting away; from the verb aphēmi [863], to send away, forgive) of sins."

The blood of Jesus still coursed through His veins when He spoke these words, but it was soon poured out on the cross. It would atone for all sins, no matter what kind. Jesus did not mean that the symbol, the wine itself, would be shed to forgive sins, only the reality behind the symbol-His physical blood, for "without shedding of blood [there] is no remission (phesis)" (Heb. 9:22).

In John 6:54 Jesus said, "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life" (a.t.). But this should be taken in light of the immediate context: "It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak to you are spirit and are life" (v. 63; a.t.). Accordingly, "Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4; a.t.). The Word of God is food to us, and we should treat it as such.

Metaphors based on eating foods and drinking fluids are common in the Bible. Unbelievers are said to have "drunk of the wine of the wrath of (the whore of Babylon's) fornication" (Rev. 18:3); to have "blood to drink" (Rev. 16:6); and they would drink of "the wine of the wrath of God" (Rev. 14:10). In 1 Corinthians 10:2-4, Paul tells us that those baptized into Moses at the crossing of the Red Sea drank from the spiritual rock that was Christ. No one would question the metaphorical nature of these statements and, in light of their extensive use throughout the Bible, it is foolish to press for relative literalism here. We say relative, because even here an absolute literalism would require Christ's physical body and blood-not so-called "converted" bread and wine.

Nothing we do materially can result in our regeneration. Faith, specifically "in his blood" (Rom. 3:25), secures eternal life. Paul says, "For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift (dōron [1435]) of God" (Eph. 2:8; a. t.). Physical bread and wine cannot propitiate the wrath of God. Only faith in Jesus' atoning death produces the legal remission of sins and sanctification. Jesus qualified this as the blood of "the new (from kains [2537], qualitatively new, i.e., of a different kind, no longer the blood of lambs and bulls that could not take away sin; Heb. 10:4) testament (from diathēkē [1242]; a person's will to his heirs upon his or her death)."

The United Bible Society and most modern English versions, following a few older manuscripts, do not have the adjective "new" (from kains) but only "the blood of the testament (or covenant)." But in Luke 22:20, Christ clearly said, "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you." The Father wills to His heirs eternal life-His own life-on the death of His Son. Believers become "joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17, cf. v. 29; Heb. 2:11). The life of God in humans was lost when Adam sinned at the beginning of history. In the Old Testament, it was regained by faith in the promises of God.

That is what Abraham did (John 8:56). He looked forward to what Christ came to do as we look back to what He did. A new chronology would have given us a néa (from néos [3501]) subsequent but not qualitatively distinct) testament, but we have a kainē (from kains, qualitatively new) testament (Luke 22:20). What is new is based on the death of the Testator, Jesus Christ.

Why does Matthew 26:28 say "for many" (1 Tim. 2:6; 4:10; cf. 2 Cor. 5:17)? Did Jesus Christ in becoming flesh (John 1:14) die only for many or for all? He died for all by giving all an opportunity to believe, and among the "all," we find those who did believe, those who do believe, those who will believe, and those who did not or will not believe. But this latter group refuses to accept His free gift of salvation and thus do not obtain it. That is why Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:10, calls Him "the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe."

The present participle, "being shed"-reflecting once again Jesus' fluctuation between the timeless plans of the Father and the temporal realizations-does not contradict the once-for-all (hpax [530]; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 3:18) nature of the atonement. Jesus does not die again (Rom. 6:9, 10; Heb. 6:4-6).

[29] The single "no­t" in English translates the two Greek words ou (3756) and (3361). The two combined gives the strongest negative possible in Greek: never at any time, never in any way, absolutely not. The aorist tense of the verb "drink" (, the aorist subjunctive of pnō [4095], to drink) implies "at any one time." "Until that day" brings us to the return of Christ. Jesus did not tell us just how this new (from kains, qualitatively new) commemoration will be celebrated.

In 1 Corinthians 11:26, the apostle Paul tells us that whenever (hoskis [3740]) we celebrate the Lord's Supper, it shows forth His death till (chris [891], continually) He comes. This celebration will extend through the age of grace, until Christ returns in glory (Matt. 25:31) to create His new (from kains) heaven and a new (from kains) earth (Rev. 21:1, 4). A new order will supplant even death.

[30] When Jesus and His disciples finished their last meal together, they "sang a hymn" (from humnéō [5214], to praise with a hymn), possibly from Psalms 113-118, which the Jews called their Hallel, from the Hebrew verb "to praise" (2 Chr. 7:6; Ezra 3:11). Psalm 114 especially celebrated Israel's exodus from Egypt.

Spiros Zodhiates (1922-2009) served as president of AMG International for over 40 years, was the founding editor of Pulpit Helps Magazine (Disciple's predecessor), and authored dozens of exegetical books. 

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