This lesson will be different. Harmonizing the Gospels has always been a major chore and fraught with controversies. The Last Supper narrative is part of the most thoroughly picked over portion of the story. There remains much controversy and many unanswered questions. Because of this, it’s very easy to lose track of John’s emphasis here.
First, let me help you settle the narrative outline by linking to a reference I rather like: Last Seder: A Jewish Reading of the Last Supper. This will give you enough background that you can better picture in your mind what’s going on. God help us; the biggest problem we have is overly sanctifying each little detail. Mainstream church traditions invest so much drama into this story that no one is able to actually picture it taking place. The real event was pretty mundane by comparison.
The central issue here is how Jesus gave this ritual meal new meanings. In particular, He seized upon the original symbolism and gave it new life in Himself. He was the Passover Lamb; the Exodus was replaced with the Cross and everything it means. By embracing Jesus as our Messiah, we have left behind the slavery of our old lives wallowing in human comforts. We follow Christ out into the wilderness to face a much more stern existence, but one that has far more meaning at peace with God.
Jesus knew what kind of men these were that had been His called disciples during the past three years or so. He quoted Psalm 41 where David mentions his long and grave illness during the time Absalom was building his rebellion. It was David’s son depicted in this Psalm, hoping his father would die from that illness.
The specific reference is to Ahitophel, one of David’s advisers, but Absalom’s spy. Ahitophel had been physically close to David the whole time, eating from the same table often. The disciples would have recognized this reference. It was one more thing that turned upside down all their expectations that night. So He noted that He was telling them this so their hearts would burn it into their memories for later.
He started talking about how, if He commissioned one of them to do something, whoever received them in the name of Jesus was receiving Jesus and the Father, as well. This was quite the opposite of what was about to happen, and Jesus the man choked up on it. He blurted out the statement that one of them would betray Him. Judas knew, but feigned ignorance as they all looked to one another, perplexed at the very idea.
John was to the right of Jesus, if for no other reason than this young cousin of His was His closest buddy, the one guy here who seemed most able to understand the character and personality of Jesus. Peter was the presumed second-in-command and gestured or whispered to John to ask more directly who the traitor would be. Since they were all reclining, John simply leaned back against Jesus’ chest with his head and whispered his question. Jesus replied that He would give the “sop” (Korech) to the guilty party. Jesus then took some matzo, smeared horseradish on it, placed a bit of roasted lamb on top, added another layer of matzo, and dipped it in a fruit and nut puree on the table. It symbolized a special favor for someone. This He handed to Judas; it was a significant honor.
Then He told Judas he better get on with his plan. Judas cut himself out of the rest of the meal and the symbolism Jesus put into it. He left immediately to inform the Temple officials when and where they could find Jesus for a nice quiet arrest away from the crowds. Here was the trusted adviser spying for Jesus’ enemies, a man who knew the personal habits of Jesus. Judas knew the group would eventually wander out to the Garden of Gethsemane just across the Kidron Valley from the eastern wall of Jerusalem. It was a short walk and it needed only one lookout to watch the only route between the Upper Room and road past the garden entrance.