John 13 and Love’s final attempts


The Last Supper - Da Vinci 1495-98

When we think upon the scene of the last supper our minds to go straight to Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Last Supper painting however; the scene was much different. Unlike da Vinci’s painting, Jesus and His disciples were not all lined up at the table. In fact the seating was more of an upside down “U” with the thirteen men seating on the outside and the food in the center. This style of table arrangement was the style of the era for both Roman and Jew. For Romans they called this the triclinium which was a table with three couches around it in the form of a “U”. The Jewish style was much like this except it would most likely be lower to the ground and less grand. Now instead of seats to sit in there were couches one would lay on their left side with their head at the table. They would use their left hand supporting their head so their right hand would be free to reach around for food. Another important fact is that with all the disciples going around the table in this fashion the one in front of Jesus (or considered to His right) would be able to lean back with their head on His breast to speak to Him in a more private manner. This specific person we know would be the one “whom Jesus loved” which has become to be known by most as John himself. “There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.”  John 13:23. Now the one hosting the feast would never sit at the end but instead would sit in the middle. Also contrary to popular opinion the one to the right of the host was not the seat of honor but rather the seat to the left was considered the seat of honor, as the host is leaning back on their breast. This one in the seat of honor is none that Judas Iscariot.

“When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Luke 22:14-15 Now Jesus had earnestly desired that He might partake of this meal with His disciples, He had been looking forward to this for quite some time. This was the first Passover and only He would get to have with them in their three years together. We can be sure that Jesus had been anticipating this moment for multiple reasons.

Oh how he must have excited to finally sit down with them for the Passover. During the first Passover Celebration at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in John 2:23, He had not yet gathered all twelve of His disciples, in fact He had only gathered part and they would eventually part ways until He fully called them as seen in the synoptic Gospels. During Jesus’ second Passover Celebration of His three years of ministry we see that  in John 6:4 at the feeding of the five thousand, He and His disciples are heading to Capernaum and then on to Galilee. With this being said all the more reason why Jesus was looking forward to this particular Passover as it would be His last one on earth until He returns, plus it would be His first one with His twelve disciples in Jerusalem.

According to Luke’s account of this Passover meal a dispute arose as to who was considered to be the greatest among Jesus. “And there arose a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.” Luke 22:24. It is here that Jesus responds to the disciples whoever were to be the greatest was to become the servant. In the Gospel of John, Jesus does something the other Gospels do not speak of, that being when Jesus began to wash the disciples’ feet as seen in John 13. Here Jesus is not only showing how He is the greatest because He has gone the lowest but He is demonstrating His love by serving them. Now William Barclay breaks down even more the conditions as well as why they might be disputing over the greatest.

“The roads of Palestine were unsurfaced and uncleaned. In dry weather they were inches deep in dust and in wet they were liquid mud. The shoes ordinary people wore were sandals, which were simply soles held on to the foot by a few straps. They gave little protection against the dust or the mud of the roads. For that reason there were always great waterpots at the door of a house; and a servant was there with a ewer and a towel to wash the soiled feet of the guests as they came in. Jesus’ little company of friends had no servants. The duties which servants would carry out in wealthier circles they must have shared among each other. It may well be that on the night of this last meal together they had got themselves into such a state of competitive pride that not one of them would accept the duty of seeing that the water and the towels were there to wash the feet of the company as they came in; and Jesus mended their omission in the most vivid and dramatic way.

He himself did what none of them was prepared to do. Then he said: ‘You see what I have done. You call me your master and your Lord; and you are quite right; for so I am; and yet I am prepared to do this for you. Surely you don’t think that a pupil deserves more honour than a teacher, or a servant than a master. Surely if I do this, you ought to be prepared to do it. I am giving you an example of how you ought to behave towards each other.’”[1]

With this in mind let us now turn our attention back to the sitting position; if the disciples are arguing about washing feet and who was the greatest, then this would have transpired before they sat down to eat. Jesus will come in later and wash their feet during the meal. So before Jesus washes their feet first He has everyone sit down, this means the seat of honored has been given to someone. So who was sitting to Jesus’ left? Is this not the seat of honor and of the highest position? Who was sitting here? John is on His right and Peter is on the other side as we will see later on. Though the Bible does not clearly say, from looking at the information that we have been given we can deduce that it was most likely Judas, here is why. The first is that when Jesus hands Judas the bread (John 13:26) he must be within reaching distance of Jesus. The second is to be found in Matthew 26:25 “And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, ‘Surely it is not I, Rabbi?’ Jesus *said to him, ‘You have said it yourself.’” Here Jesus reveals to Judas that He is aware of Judas’ pending betrayal. Now logically they would not have been able to have this exchange without others hearing unless Judas was sitting to the left of Jesus and able to lean in and whisper. Surely if they were on opposite sides the other eleven disciples would not have let him leave that room alive.

Jesus quotes in John 13:18, the words of David in Psalm 41:9 “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” Here Jesus is revealing to Judas and in front of everyone the pain that Judas’ betrayal will have on Him. To see just how painful the sting of betrayal is from a friend let’s look at the words of David in  13But it is you, a man my equal, my companion and my familiar friend; 14We who had sweet fellowship together walked in the house of God in the throng.” The idea that an enemy was to hurt David was bearable but for a close friend to betray him this was too much for his heart. Jesus with this in mind declares the pain in His heart that a close friend had lifted up his heal against Him. According to William Barclay the idea of lifting up ones heal was an act of brutal violence. Jesus was revealing the wound in His heart from Judas and this was His next to last attempt to reach out to Judas who so far has rejected all other attempts.

Jesus in John 13:26 offers Judas a piece of bread, according to William Barclay’s commentary on John this is a symbol of affection, friendship and even a desire to reconcile through any differences.  The way one was to respond to this was to in turn give a peace back. However, instead of responding back to the Lord he hardens his heart and it says in John13:27 that “Satan then entered into Judas” and Jesus knowing this sends Judas to go and do that which was in his heart.

Now let us look what all this information we have produced actually means. First Judas has been given the seat of greatest honor where as the rest are upset by this. Secondly Jesus chooses to wash his feet in love. Thirdly Jesus reveals that one will betray Him and that it breaks His heart. Then Judas actually asks Jesus if it is him and Jesus responds with “It is as you have said.” Peter in his curiosity asks John who was right beside Jesus and Jesus gives him the sign of the one He gives bread to. Jesus in His last attempt to reach Judas’ heart then hands the piece of bread to Judas as a sign of His affectionate desire for friendship with him. However, Judas chooses to reject this gesture and Satan enters in and Jesus knows Judas has been lost and sends him away.

As the heartbreak sets in Jesus comes face to face with the reality, that not only is He no longer going to be in relationship with His friend, but His friend is in the act of betrayal that will lead to His friend’s eternal damnation. For soon the eyes of fire will become quenched as rivers poured forth, on this night when His cheek is kissed. Jesus after a torturous time of prayer beholds the soldiers coming to get Him with Judas at their helm. Beholding Judas at their helm Jesus declares I am being betrayed now to the rest of His disciples.And He *came the third time, and *said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough; the hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.” Mark 14:41

As Judas approaches Jesus, he greets Him with a kiss saying “Hail rabbi!” Here we see Judas betraying his closest friend with an act of friendship that is rooted with vile treachery. Jesus having spent hours earlier that night intimately pursuing His close friend’s heart, is now being betrayed in the most intimate of ways, with a kiss. With each pursuit at the last supper Judas chose to reject the one who loved him unto betraying Him shortly after with a false act of love.

Oh may our hearts never reject the love of Christ as Judas did. May our hearts never become so dull and hardened that we miss His love reaching out to us and ultimately rejecting it. Oh the pain in the heart of Christ that the one whose breast He has just leaned upon rejected Him and would go on to betray Him with a kiss.


[1] Barclay, William. The Gospel of John. The Daily Study Bible. Vol 2. St Andrew’s Press, Edinburgh, 1975

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Posted on April 6, 2012, in On the Life of Christ and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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