Betrayal—is there anything more painful? A husband cheats on his wife; a citizen plays the traitor; a friend stabs you in the back; your neighbour turns against you; a confidante exposes your story. At some level, I suppose all of us have experienced the pain of betrayal. But none of us have experienced the kind of betrayal experienced by our Lord. After all, we are sinners and, at some level, might even deserve such mistreatment. But not our perfect Saviour.
Judas’s betrayal of Jesus on Passover night so long ago was the beginning of what would prove to be an unimaginably deep and painful 24 hours in Jesus’ life. And while we might be tempted to respond to such betrayal with anger and bitterness, doing all we could to make the fiend pay—perhaps even gathering around us those who might partner with us in bringing about vengeance upon the individual—Jesus responded by establishing a commemorative meal.
When Jesus was betrayed, he prepared his disciples to celebrate what was transpiring! He used the betrayal as an opportunity to inaugurate a new covenant. “Amazing love, how can it be, that you, my God, would die for me!” “Hallelujah, what a Saviour!”
In this study, we will reflect on the events of the eve of the crucifixion. We will look at the last Passover and at the first Lord’s Supper. And we will do so against the backdrop of Psalm 22.
Jesus was heading for the darkest hour of his life. Since the day of his birth, he had been heading for this hour—for the cross. In fact, just weeks after he was born, Simeon, at the temple, pronounced that days of sorrow lay ahead of him (Luke 2:33–35). That day had come.
But long before Simeon prophesied, King David recorded Psalm 22, in which he wrote of his own struggles—his own hour of darkness. Perhaps he wrote this at the betrayal of his son, Absalom. His psalm records both his sense of abandonment by God and his later experience of God’s faithful deliverance.
This psalm, though written by and about David, points most significantly to the greater David, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Psalm 22 is referenced many times in the New Testament, especially in the crucifixion accounts of the Gospel writers (particularly, Matthew, for whom fulfilment of Scripture was a major theme).
In the next three studies, with Psalm 22 serving as an inspired backdrop, we will look at Jesus’ betrayal, the brutality he experienced, and the blessing that culminated from what was otherwise a very painful week. That first Easter Weekend revealed, in a profound way, our need for him.
In this particular study, we look at his betrayal as he commemorated the last legitimate Passover in Israel’s history and inaugurated the Lord’s Supper as the new Passover for his new covenant people.
It’s Supper Time
Paul tells us that Jesus inaugurated the Lord’s Supper “on the night when he was betrayed” (1 Corinthians 11:23). Why does he mention this? No doubt because of the warning he would give to those who partake of the Lord’s Supper. God wants each church member to examine themselves: Are they truly a Christian? Or are they perhaps like Judas?
Paul was perhaps helping the church to think about the circumstances surrounding the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper in order to drive home the sobriety of what it means to be a Christian. He wanted the church to think about Christ and the cross on which he secured our justification and by which he brought to pass the new covenant people of God.
Paul wants his readers to consider the Lord’s sufferings that they might more appreciate the Supper and the value that God places upon the saints who are invited to it. It is important for those who celebrate the Supper to spend time contemplating the night in which Jesus was betrayed, which pointed to what the Communion meal signifies—the sacrificial giving of his body and his blood.
The betrayal by Judas would commence the heartache which Psalm 22 records. The cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (v. 1) record not merely Jesus’ experience on the cross, but the culmination of what began on Passover evening in the upper room. This cry would intensify over the next 24 hours. I believe Psalm 22 captures this. Consider the progression as you notice the cry in vv. 1–2 and then the confusion in vv. 3–11.
Jesus told the disciples about the impending trouble (Matthew 26:3–35, 45–46). And he found himself, within hours, completely alone at the cross (Psalm 22:12–21a). And because of this, we need never be alone (Psalm 22:21b-31). The Lord’s Supper proclaims this to us.
The Last Supper
The story of the Last Supper is told in Matthew 26:17–25.
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.
When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
Passover was the most significant feast in the Jewish calendar. It was combined with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Passover proper was a one day event (14 Nisan in the Jewish calendar). The Feast of Unleavened Bread followed, and was a seven-day celebration. Often the latter term was used to encapsulate both festivals.
Passover was instituted by God in Exodus 12:1–28, 43–13:10. After keeping a lamb in the house for four days (commencing 10 Nisan), the animal was slain on 14 Nisan to commemorate Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt.
But at this historic Passover, God’s promised and provided Lamb would be slain, thereby rendering any subsequent Passovers unnecessary. I would go so far to say that to continue to celebrate the Passover Feast could be tantamount to blasphemy as, practically, it is a denial of the once-for-all, and therefore all-sufficient, sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world.
This Feast included unleavened bread (signifying the haste with which Israel fled Egypt), wine (four toasts, which signified the four promises that God made to Israel on that night [Exodus 6:6–7]), and bitter herbs (signifying the bitterness of Israel’s bondage in Egypt).
It was a meal of remembrance. Israel was to observe this feast to remember what God had done. But it also served to remind old covenant Israel that a better covenant was coming. It served to remind them that they needed the ultimate and final Passover Lamb. It served to remind them that, as wonderful as political freedom was, they needed a far more important freedom: freedom from their bondage to sins. This Passover therefore pointed to God’s promised Lamb who would secure this freedom. Sadly, for many—for most—they missed the point. As most missed the point on the eve of the crucifixion.
The Passover lamb was to be slaughtered at “twilight,” which literally means “between the evenings.” This is important, for it helps us to understand what many see as a contradiction in the Gospel accounts of Passover weekend. It is clear that Jesus and the disciples celebrated Passover on Thursday evening. But it is also clear from John that many Jews celebrated Passover on the Friday. How do we explain this?
Jesus and the disciples were from Galilee in northern Israel. In that region, Jews marked the day from sunrise to sunrise. However, in southern Israel (Jerusalem’s locale) they marked days from sunset to sunset. Therefore, for the Galileans, Thursday evening would have been the beginning of Passover, whereas to those of Judea and Jerusalem, Friday would be.
This had a practical advantage since at least 250,000 Passover lambs were slaughtered at Passover. Having two Passovers would help logistically with this important task.
But there is another providential blessing that arises from this. Jesus could both celebrate Passover and be the Passover Lamb, slain at the precise time that Passover lambs were being slaughtered on Friday at the temple (see Matthew 27:45; John 19:12–16; 1 Corinthians 5:7).
But back to the Passover. Jesus, having eaten the Passover meal with his disciples (as he was determined to do [Luke 22:15]), revealed that he was about to be betrayed by one of them. He had repeatedly told them that he would be handed over to be crucified. He now made clear that that will happen at the hand of one who was eating this Passover meal with them.
The Eleven were horrified and consumed with sorrow at this prophecy, and they each began to exercise self-examination: “Is it I, Lord?” (v. 22). You have to appreciate their humility, particularly in the light of their recent argument about who was the greatest (20:17–28). Jesus answered that the culprit was one “who has dipped his hand in the dish” with him (v. 23). In other words, the betrayal would definitely stem from one of them.
John tells us that Peter urged him to ask Jesus for specifics. Jesus revealed to John that it was Judas. Apparently, John didn’t tell anyone. Perhaps he couldn’t believe it. Perhaps he was hoping for the best. We might expect this from the apostle of love! Regardless, Judas’s interaction with Jesus resulted in self-condemnation (v. 25), which is tragic in the light of Jesus’ stern warning (v. 24).
The betrayal, of course, had already occurred (vv. 14–16; see vv. 1–5). All that remained was for Judas to provide the murderous conspirators with a venue where he could fulfil his treacherous betrayal. That venue would be Gethsemane.
It is interesting that it was only at the last minute that the disciples became aware of where Jesus would share the Passover Feast with them. Presumably, Jesus was delaying Judas’s opportunity to betray him. He wanted to be on the Father’s schedule. There was a particular hour when he should be betrayed, and not a moment too soon.
Without belabouring the point, we should notice a couple of things about the betrayal.
First, it occurred in the context of a meal. This made the betrayal all the eviller, and all the more painful.
In the ancient world, meals were a time for friends to be together. Meals spoke of genuine hospitality—that is, of love. Meals were a time when relationships were strengthened. You get that sense when the text tells us that “they reclined,” suggesting intimacy around the meal. In fact, the Passover lamb was to be shared, often by ten or more people (the maximum was twenty). It was an act of communion, fellowship, and partnership.
So, when you consider the ethos of a meal, especially this meal, it is the more horrific to consider Judas’s heart at this point. Surely the inspired writer pointed to this in Psalm 41:9: “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (see Psalm 55:12–14, 20–21).
Jesus was betrayed by one whom he had loved to the end (John 13:1). He was betrayed by one whom he would refer to as “friend” (26:50). He was betrayed by one was the recipient of so much good. This is painful—heart-wrenchingly painful. How would Jesus respond? By instituting an ordinance for those who are his true friends—a meal for those who are the real deal.
The Lord’s Supper
After narrating the Last Supper, Matthew goes on to record the institution of the Lord’s Supper:
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
The meal continued (v. 26), but Jesus did something that would forever change the nature of the old meal. He inaugurated a new meal. Things could have been very dismal at this point, but Jesus transformed the betrayal into an opportunity for revelation and celebration as he institutes the new meal of the new covenant.
Jesus took the bread, thanked God for it, then broke it, and gave it to his disciples (v. 26). He then took the cup of wine and, after giving thanks, commanded the disciples to all “drink of it” (v. 27).
As mentioned, there were traditionally four cups of wine used at the Passover meal, each corresponding to God’s promise to deliver his people from Egypt (Exodus 6:6–7). The first three promises are recorded in v. 6: “Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the LORD; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgements.”
Significantly, the last of those promises, recorded in v. 7, is “and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God who has brought you out from under the burdens of Egypt.” This is classic covenant language. And what was Jesus doing here? Instituting the meal of the new covenant (v. 28).
As the disciples participated in this meal, they were identifying with Jesus in his person and work. They were acknowledging that they were in covenant relationship with God through his Son. By embracing the Lamb of God, they were confessing belief that God would bypass them in judgement, because he had delivered them from bondage—not from Egypt, but from a far darker and damning enemy: sin.
Let me draw this consideration of the Lord’s Supper to a close by making four observations about the Communion meal.
First, the Lord’s Supper is a profession of faith. In other words, just as the Passover meal was a profession of faith under the old covenant, so now is the Lord’s Supper under the new covenant. These disciples were declaring their belief that, through the work of Jesus Christ, they belonged to God as his people.
Again, this all took place in the context of betrayal. So much good came from so much evil. This is our God: sovereignly, ruling over all for his glory and for the good of his people.
Second, the Lord’s Supper is for sinners. The disciples, despite good intentions, would forsake Jesus (Mark 14:26–31, 50). Though he knew this, he still included them in this meal. That is good news. That is gospel.
The Lord’s Supper is for sinners. It is for saved sinners who continue to be saved by the Lord Jesus. It is for those who know and confess that they are sinners but who also know and confess Jesus Christ as their Saviour.
Third, the Lord’s Supper is a promise. Another important observation must be made: Though Jesus, at that very moment, was being betrayed by Judas, and even as the temple guard were perhaps already on their way to arrest him, Jesus sealed this ordinance with a promise: though he was laying down his life for them, he would come back from the dead. What else could he have meant when he said, “Truly I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (v. 25). Even amid the pain of betrayal, Jesus had good news.
As precious and as valuable as this meal is—and as necessary as it is—your participation is no guarantee that you will not face further troubles. Gethsemane and Golgotha were around the corner. Your pain might be, too. Yet through it all, hang on the promise that a better day is coming. May this meal help you to remember the promised glory that awaits us in the future.
Fourth, the Lord’s Supper is only for Christians. Note that the Lord only instituted the Supper after the betrayer had left the table. The Communion meal is only for Christians—and not the Notre Dame variety but, rather, the real deal. It is not for perfect Christians, but for sinners who have been forgiven and born again by the grace of God. It is a Communion meal for those who are truly in communion with God and with one another. That is, it is a meal for Christians.
Again, these brothers would each fail the Lord, yet they were his. And this meal was to serve as a reassurance that he would keep them to the end. This meal served to encourage them that he was their God and they were his people. It does the same for us, despite our sinful failures, and despite our failed good intentions (see vv. 31–35).
So, as we partake of the Lord’s Supper, let us do so encouraged that, despite what at times can be a dark hour, we have a Saviour, who on the night in which he was betrayed, took the bread and the cup, blessed it, and offered it to those who believe on him. Let’s continue to believe.