The Last Supper


One vital key to understanding Scripture, is in being able to see the event as it happened in that ancient culture. Too often, wrong interpretations of GOD's ways are made simply because the culture was not understood. Such is the case with "The Last Supper." From the wall of a 12th Century Spanish Church at San Baudelio to the contemporary painting from the Sri Lanka Christian Art Association, impressions of the Last Supper seem to always follow the same traditional view. Whether they be Stained Glass Representations, Sculptures, Oil Paintings, Lithographs or Pencil Drawings, they too often ignore the Biblical culture and picture this Last Supper as something European. One can even buy a Handcrafted Olive Wood representation of this last Supper for only $1,950. Unfortunately it doesn't depict the true event.

The first and most obvious error, is that the Palestinians didn't sit in long-back chairs around grand oak tables, whether they be rectangular, round or square. Rather, they normally sat on the floor. Their table was a cloth spread out on the floor, or perhaps on occasion they would have a piece of wood slightly elevated off the floor. Around this they dined, occasionally reclining back on a pillow or simply laying on their sides.

Another assumption that is questionable is the number of people who sat with Yeshua (Jesus) the night of the Last Supper. Nearly all artists portray only the twelve apostles, and while Matthew, Mark and Luke all wrote that He sat down with the twelve apostles to eat, it is unreasonable to think that there were not other disciples coming and going as the evening progressed. On an earlier occasion in MARK 9:35-36 it says that Yeshua sat down, calling the Twelve to Him, then taking a child in His arms. Even though He specifically called the Twelve to Him, there were no doubt still others present.

When Yeshua spoke during supper concerning the one who would betray Him, He said, "It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish" (MARK 14:20). This seems a strange response from Him if only the twelve apostles were present. To make such a distinction suggests there must have been others in the room. If there were only the twelve there, why would He distinguish the betrayer as one of the Twelve?

Yeshua and the twelve apostles just didn't slip away somewhere and nobody followed them. Only by walking upon the sea or outpacing His followers high into the mountains could Yeshua ever find solitude. He was consistently engulfed by the masses as they brought to Him their needs. Thus we should not be surprised to find other disciples joining them around the table during the evening.

One likely participant at the supper was Lazarus. When Yeshua revealed to them during the evening that one of the Twelve was going to betray Him, it caused quite a stir, "And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?" (MATTHEW 26:22). We are told that a certain disciple was resting his head upon Yeshua's chest,  but the disciple is not named. He is simply referred to as the one "whom Jesus loved" and the one Simon Peter "beckoned to" so as to find out who the betrayer was.

JOHN 13:23-26 Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom [chest] one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.

This disciple is only identified as one "whom Jesus loved". I'm sure Yeshua loved a lot of people, but it is interesting that only one disciple in the Bible is named, as being loved by Yeshua. "Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus" (JOHN 11:5). On four later occasions the phrase "whom Jesus loved" is used in the fourth Gospel but never is this individual identified as being anyone other then Lazarus. It behooves us to expect that GOD has set aside this special designation in the gospels, the disciple "whom Jesus loved", only for Lazarus.

It is also curious that Lazarus is identified in JOHN 12:2, at a supper just prior to the Last Supper, as being "one of them that sat at the table with him" [with Yeshua]. These inspired words seem to be just a casual remark, but they firmly establish for us that Lazarus did indeed sup with Yeshua during these final days.

It is somewhat awkward that right after this Last Supper, just when the Lord was disclosing unto them that "the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table", that then the Apostles should be discussing "which of them should be accounted the greatest" (LUKE 22:24). An interesting explanation is offered by C. F. Burney in his book entitled The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel, page 144. Although he believes that the mystery guest "leaning on Jesus' bosom...whom Jesus loved" was a John different than the Apostle, the reading is still most interesting. Read it here (I took the liberty of rendering the Greek into English, and my comments are in red).

Then, after Yeshua's capture in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mark's Gospel mentions "a certain young man" following them (MARK 14:51). His name is not given, but that he was not one of the Twelve seems likely. The Companion Bible gives the following note concerning him.

That this might be Lazarus, is probable: (1) because the Lord had returned to Bethany each preceding night of that week; (2) because Lazarus would be looking out; (3) because of the linen robe, betokening his social position; (4) and especially because he was wanted: "The chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death" (John 12:10). None of the apostles were arrested. Peter (though suspected) and another (John 18:15) were unmolested; (5) his name is not given here by Divine guidance, because Lazarus was probably still alive and therefore in danger.

Another reason Lazarus seems a more logical choice as this un-named disciple, is the discourse Peter had with Yeshua about this "disciple whom Jesus loved" in JOHN 21:20-23. Peter asked the Lord what would become of this disciple and Yeshua seemed somewhat vague in His answer. "Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die." As Lazarus also had been raised from among the dead, it is of little surprise that the brethren would wonder what would now become of him, especially because Yeshua had told Martha that just before raising Lazarus from among the dead, "whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" (JOHN 11:26). Would he die again or live eternally like Yeshua? But if John was the disciple in question, this whole discourse between Peter and Yeshua makes little sense.

The last verse of JOHN 20 quite nicely sums up the whole Gospel, "But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God". Then chapter 21 starts a new theme and seems to be tacked on to the gospel account, as if it was an afterthought or an appendix of some sort. The writer then closes that additional chapter by commenting, "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen." In other words, he included this additional account (perhaps related by Lazarus) of the experience at the sea of Tiberias, but there were many more accounts by others which he didn't include.

The reason most think John was this "disciple whom Jesus loved" is because of verse 24 of chapter 21. The reader must decide for himself, does verse 24 explain who the mystery guest was? Consider another possibility.

JOHN 21:24 This is the disciple [Lazarus] which testifieth of these things [not the whole fourth Gospel but only the visit by Yeshua at the sea of Tiberias], and wrote these things [chapter 21]: and we know that his testimony [Lazarus', the eye witness] is true.

A question that begs to be answered is that if this unnamed disciple at the Last Supper was in fact the writer of this gospel, as Church Tradition assumes, why all the mystery? Why does not John declare it was himself, instead of describing the mystery guest as "one of his disciples, whom Yeshua loved"? But if Lazarus was still alive, and the Sadducees (JOHN 12:10) still wanted him dead, that would be ample reason to conceal his identity.

One additional side note concerning this Last Supper meal. In that culture they didn't eat with knives and forks, or even chopsticks. They simply broke off a piece of flat bread, wrapped it around a fragment of food and then dipped it in a common bowl. If the host wanted to show honor to one of his guests, he might then place the dipped sop into the mouth of his guest. This is the significance of what Yeshua did to Judas Iscariot who was even now preparing to betray Him. Likely, with all the commotion, only Lazarus was close enough to hear Yeshua's words, "He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it."