Final Night With the Apostles (Matthew 26:20-56; Mark 14:17-50; Luke 22:14-53; John 13:2-18:11)

In the evening, Jesus and the apostles arrived at the house in Jerusalem where they would be partaking of the Passover meal. The reference in Mark 14:17 to the “twelve” may indicate that, after having completed the preparations, Peter and John returned and that thereafter Jesus and all twelve apostles departed. Another possibility is that “twelve” functions as a collective designation for the apostles, meaning that Jesus arrived with the company of apostles numbering ten at the time. This included Judas Iscariot (the son of Simon) who had already, in his “heart” or deep inner self, yielded to the devil in the determination to betray him. (John 13:2)

Ancient Jewish sources provide background for understanding developments in connection with the Passover meal. The eating did not begin until after dark and all had reclined at the table. Four cups of wine were to be available. (Mishnah Pesahim, 10:1) The meal itself was to end by midnight. (Tosefta, Pesahim, 5:13) The head of the household or the one officiating pronounced a blessing over the first cup of wine. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 10:2; Tosefta, Pesahim, 10:2, 3) In conjunction with the second cup of wine (if the celebrants were part of a household), the son would ask his father about the significance of the event. If the boy was too young to ask questions, the father would teach him as much as he could comprehend. The head of the household would then begin a recitation of the Hallel, either all of Psalm 113 or both Psalm 113 and 114. The mixing of the third cup of wine was followed by a blessing for the food. When it came time for the fourth cup, the Hallel was completed. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 10:4, 6, 7) After the meal, the entire night would be spent in consideration of the laws of the Passover. (Tosefta, Pesahim, 10:11, 12)

After all were reclining at the table, Jesus, in view of the suffering that would soon befall him, mentioned that he had very much desired to share the Passover meal with the apostles. (Matthew 26:20; Luke 22:14, 15) He indicated that this would be his last Passover meal with them, for he would not be eating it until it would be “fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:16) He thus appears to have alluded to his role as the “Lamb of God,” or the fulfillment of the Passover sacrifice, and the joy he would be sharing with his disciples when he returned in glory, revealing himself to be the king by his Father’s appointment. For his devoted disciples, this joy would be comparable to sharing in a royal banquet when united with him either upon being resurrected in an incorruptible state or upon experiencing a change from mortality to immortality. (John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17)

Probably early during the course of the meal and likely before the introduction of the third cup of wine, Jesus, fully aware that his Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from him and would be returning to him, undertook the task of a lowly servant. (John 13:3) Not one of the apostles had thought to serve his fellow apostles by washing their feet, which would have become dusty during the course of their walk.

Jesus, however, stood up, laid his outer garment down, girded himself with a towel, poured water into a basin, and commenced washing the feet of the disciples. To Peter it seemed inconceivable that his Lord, the Son of God, would wash the feet of a disciple, prompting him to say by way of objection, “Lord, are you washing my feet?” Jesus told Peter that, though he did not then comprehend this action, he would later come to understand it. Still, Peter protested, “You will never wash my feet.” He simply could not understand that Jesus, whose greatness he recognized, would perform the task of a lowly servant; it did not seem right to him. “If I do not wash [your feet],” said Jesus to Peter, “you have no share with me.” Immediately Peter stopped objecting. Highly valuing his relationship with Jesus and not wanting to jeopardize it in any way, he declared himself ready to submit to more extensive washing. “Lord, not my feet only,” Peter said, “but also my hands and head.” (John 13:4-9)

Jesus pointed out that one who had bathed only needed to have his feet washed. Whereas the hands and the head were not in contact with the ground as one walked about, the sandals did not keep the feet clean. Therefore, as Jesus said, the bathed person who had his feet washed would be completely clean. Making an application to more than physical cleanness, he continued, “And you [apostles] are clean, but not all.” Jesus said this because he knew the one who would betray him and, therefore, the one who was not morally clean. (John 13:10, 11) He had treated Judas just like the other apostles, washing his feet and in no way acting in an unloving or resentful manner toward him. Nothing in Jesus’ words and actions gave a hint to the other apostles as to who the betrayer could possibly be.

Viewed from a moral standpoint, Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples seemingly revealed the necessity of completely relying on him for cleansing from sin. Whereas believers have been forgiven of their sins on the basis of their faith in Christ and his sacrificial death for them, they still commit sins. Accordingly, they continue to need Jesus’ washing or cleansing from the transgressions committed in their daily walk. (1 John 1:8-2:2)

Jesus’ washing the feet of the apostles served as a vital object lesson for them about the way in which they should conduct themselves as unassuming servants. After having finished washing the feet of all twelve men, Jesus put on his robe and then reclined at the table. His question (“Do you know what I have done for you?”) served to draw to their attention the important lesson they should learn from his example. They rightly called him “Teacher” and “Lord,” for he indeed was such. Since he as their Teacher and Lord had washed their feet, they should have been willing to perform lowly tasks for others in imitation of his example. With a repetition of a solemn “amen” (truly), Jesus continued, “I say to you, a slave is not greater than his lord [master] nor is the one being sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)

It would have been contrary to the sense of propriety for underlings to refuse to render the kind of service a master or one with authority to commission was willing to perform and to consider the service as beneath their dignity. With a proper understanding of their position as fellow servants, the disciples would be happy to act in that capacity. They would find joy in serving others in ways that could be considered as lowly.

Jesus’ words about experiencing happiness from doing what he had taught were not directed to everyone. He fully knew the ones whom he had chosen, not being blinded by any outward appearances. Among them was one whose actions were portrayed in the treachery described in Psalm 41:9(10), “The one who ate my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” (John 13:18) The expression “lifting up of the heel” evidently signifies base treachery, the figure apparently being of a raised foot that is ready to kick. (See the Notes section for additional comments regarding John 13:18.)

Jesus explained why he had revealed that he would become the object of base treachery, saying, “When it happens, you may believe that I am [the one].” Amen, amen, [Truly, truly] I say to you, Whoever receives anyone I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (John 13:19, 20) The fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic words would provide additional confirmation that he was indeed the Son of God. This would serve to strengthen the faith of the loyal apostles, for this development would be part of the cumulative evidence for their belief in him. All who would accept those whom Jesus had sent would recognize them as trustworthy witnesses about him. Therefore, the acceptance of those sent would constitute acceptance of Jesus as the sender, the one to whom the testimony of the messengers would have led all who embraced it. Acceptance of Jesus also signified acceptance of his Father, as he was his Father’s representative.

After Jesus referred to the words of the psalmist, he became greatly disturbed in spirit, or inwardly, and solemnly declared, “Amen, amen [Truly, truly], I say to you, One of you will betray me.” (John 13:21) In great perplexity, the apostles looked at one another, with none of Jesus’ loyal apostles having any idea about who the future betrayer could possibly be. Among themselves they discussed regarding whom Jesus might have been speaking. His words distressed them. Not being able to imagine that they would make themselves guilty of betrayal, they asked, “Not I, [is it]?” (Matthew 26:21, 22; Mark 14:18, 19; Luke 22:21-23; John 13:22)

Leaving no doubt that the future betrayer was then in their midst, Jesus said, “One who, with me, dips his hand in the bowl will betray me. As it is written about him, the Son of Man is going away [according to what had been determined (Luke 22:22)], but woe to the man through whom the Son of Man is betrayed. Better would it have been for him had he not been born.” Seemingly, to divert attention away from himself, Judas asked, “Not I [is it], Rabbi?” Jesus responded, “You said [so],” which implied that Judas’ words did not conceal the truth concerning what he was about to do. (Matthew 26:23-25; Mark 14:19-21; Luke 22:21-23; see the Notes section for additional comments.)

Based on what his Father had determined respecting him, Jesus knew that he would be going away, finishing his earthly course in death and returning to his Father after being resurrected. Whereas the Son of God had to lay down his life to serve as his Father’s means for liberating from sin those who put faith in him, this did not mean that the treachery of Judas was excusable. Judas chose to follow a course in opposition to Jesus. Like the other apostles, he could have remained loyal but, instead, allowed satanic influence to corrupt him. That is why Jesus pronounced woe on the future betrayer. The nature of the treachery was such that it would have been better for Judas not to have be born.

Peter must have wanted to ask Jesus personally who the betrayer would be, but he appears not to have been close enough to do so without being overheard. He then got the attention of the disciple whom Jesus particularly loved (John), requesting him to raise the question. John seems to have been reclining on Jesus’ right side, with his head being in close proximity to Jesus’ breast. This would have made it possible for him to lean back to speak to Jesus (doubtless in a subdued manner or whisper) without any of the other apostles being aware of it. (John 13:23-25)

In response to the question about who the betrayer would be, Jesus said, “It is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and [to whom] I shall give it.” He then took the morsel, dipped it, and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. It would appear that Judas was within easy reach of Jesus, probably reclining on his immediate left. Thus, to the very end, Jesus treated him with kindness and even favored him with being in his close proximity. The account says that, as soon as Judas took the morsel, “Satan entered into him.” This suggests that, despite the love Jesus has shown him, Judas completely yielded to the satanic inclination that made him a traitor. Jesus then told him, “Quickly do what you are doing.” (John 13:26, 27)

As Judas handled the common fund, some among the apostles thought that he was being instructed to buy something needed for the festival or to give something to the poor. Immediately after he accepted the morsel, Judas left. The account adds, “And it was night.” (John 13:28-30) This reference to “night” seems to have had more than a literal significance. It proved to be a night of darkness, for Jesus was betrayed and arrested. If judged from outward appearances, the powers of darkness had seemingly triumphed. (Luke 22:53)

It would not have been unusual for someone to leave during the Passover meal or for several private conversations to be carried on among those eating. The meal itself was not a hurried affair. According to the Mishnah (Pesahim, 10:8), some might even fall asleep. If not all of the group fell asleep, they could resume eating upon waking up. One rabbinical view was that if all merely drowsed and did not fall into deep sleep, they could eat again. The Tosefta (Pesahim, 10:8) refers to those who had no one to recite the Hallel for them. They would then go to the synagogue for the reading of the first part, return home to eat and drink, and then return to the synagogue to complete the Hallel. If the distance was too great for them to return to the synagogue, the entire Hallel was completed the first time. This interruption of the meal with the Hallel may provide a basis for concluding that Judas left before the introduction of the third cup of wine.


The quotation in John 13:18 from verse 9(10) of Psalm 41(40) conveys the basic thought of the Septuagint rendering (“the one eating my bread has magnified [his] treachery against me”), but the words are not identical. In the Septuagint, the Greek word for “treachery” is pternismós, a term incorporating the word ptérna, meaning “heel.” The related verb pternízo basically denotes “to bite someone’s heel,” to go behind someone’s back, to deceive, or to outwit. The quotation in John 13:18, however, says “heel,” contains a different Greek word for “eat,” and uses a term for “lifted up,” not “magnified.”

Earlier, Jesus had expressed the teaching found in John 13:20. When sending out the twelve apostles, he had also told them that those who would receive or accept them would be accepting him and the one who had sent him. (Matthew 10:40)

In Matthew 26 and Mark 14, Jesus’ words about the one who would betray him precede the institution of what is commonly known as the “Lord’s Supper.” Luke 22:21-23, however, narrates the discussion about betrayal after this event. It appears that Luke’s account is not chronological but presents the progression of the Passover meal in a condensed manner from the start through to the institution of the “Lord’s Supper.” In view of the other accounts, the reference to the betrayal in Luke 22 can be understood as having taken place during the course of the Passover meal. Lending weight to this conclusion are Jesus’ words that the hand of his betrayer was with him at the table, indicating that he was then eating the meal with him. (Luke 22:21)

Institution of the “Lord’s Supper” (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20)

Interchanges Between and With the Apostles (Matthew 26:31-35; Mark 14:27-31; Luke 22:24-38; John 13:31-38)

Jesus’ Imminent Departure (John 14:1-31)

Jesus, the True Vine, and Love for Him (John 15:1-27)

Benefits for the Disciples from the Paraclete (John 16:1-33)

Jesus’ Prayer for the Apostles (John 17:1-26)

To and at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:30, 36-46; Mark 14:26, 32-42; Luke 22:39-46; John 18:1)

Arrest (Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-50; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:2-12)