Background to John 13-17 (The Last Supper)

Israel had two main feasts - Passover and Tabernacles (with Pentecost in between). Passover was in Spring, the time of new-life, of new beginnings. As such it represented salvation. 

In the original Passover Israel was saved from slavery, curse and destruction in Egypt, through the blood of the Passover Lamb and the power of God. This was prophetic of the salvation Christ would bring to all men from the slavery to sin and resulting destruction, so that in Christ we enter into a new life of freedom serving God. Thus Passover was fulfilled in the first Coming of Christ, when Christ was the Passover Lamb sacrificed for us (1Cor 5:7) and the Firstfruits from the dead bringing us into new life (1Cor 15:20,23). The Feast of Tabernacles is at the end of the agricultural cycle and represents the harvest at the end of age (resurrection and judgement), the consummation of God’s plan of salvation. This will be fulfilled in the second Coming of Christ.

The Passover sacrifice was the first and foundational sacrifice for the Old-Covenant. Through the blood of the Passover Lamb, Israel was saved and separated unto God. The Old-Covenant through Moses, was then established between God and Israel at Sinai which regulated their fellowship. 

When Jesus, God’s Passover Lamb was sacrificed for us, He fulfilled the Feast of Passover and the Old-Covenant, and in so doing He established the 
NEW-COVENANT in His Blood (the Old-Covenant was designed only as a temporary preparation for the New). Thus His death was both the fulfillment and ending of the Old, and the founding sacrifice and beginning of the New. 

This was reflected in how Jesus conducted His Last-Supper with His disciples in the night before His death. It was a Jewish Passover Feast in which they remembered the Exodus from Egypt (their salvation in Moses that undergirded the Old-Covenant), but Jesus also used all the details of the Feast (which God had led the Jews to observe), to reveal His coming Salvation and New-Covenant. He moved the focus from the passover lamb they were eating to Himself as the true Passover sacrifice, and from the past Exodus (from Egypt to the promised land) to His coming Exodus (from the world to the Father’s glory). 

As Israel, having trusted in the blood of the lamb, exited with Moses, so all those who trust in the Blood of Christ leave the world and return into God (spiritually at first, and then physically). Thus Jesus at the Last Supper transformed the Passover onto a higher level, by revealing how He would fulfil the Passover in His Death and Resurrection and thus establish the New-Covenant in His 
Blood. He kept the old Jewish Passover while also introducing the new. 

Thus He transformed it from the Memorial Feast of the Old-Covenant, into the Memorial Feast of the New-Covenant in His Blood by saying: “do this in remembrance of Me” (thus instituting the Lord’s Supper - 1Corinthians 11:23-26).

John 13-17 contains Jesus’ last recorded teaching given at the Last Supper. It is vital to know the setting we have just described in order to understand its significance. This teaching has a special place as the foundational teaching for the New-Covenant. At the Last-Supper, Jesus revealed what He would do through His death and resurrection, and the working of the New-Covenant that He would introduce, especially instructing us to remember Him in His death and resurrection as the basis of everything: 

1. The BASIS of the Covenant (and all its blessings) is in His BLOOD (Matt26:26-28) and the ORIGIN (Source) of our new LIFE is His EXODUS to glory (John 13:1,31-36; 14:1-12; 16:5-7, 16-22, 27, 28; 17:1, 11-13).

2. Our COMMANDMENT is to LOVE with HIS LOVE (John 13:34,35; 14:15,24; 15:9-14,17; 17:11,20-26).

3. Our POWER comes through PRAYER in His NAME (John 14:12-14; 15:7,16; 16:23,24).

4. Our HELP is from the SUPPLY of the SPIRIT (John 14:16-17,26; 15:26,27; 16:7-15).

5. Our FRUITFULNESS is through the WORKING of His WORD (John 14:21-26; 15:3,7; 17:17,19).

THE ORDER OF SERVICE FOR PASSOVER as practiced by Israel for thousands of years.

*1. The FIRST CUP of THANKSGIVING - thanking God for the blessings of Creation.

2. A Washing of Hands - the host passes the basin and prays. This symbolises the need to be prepared, to be spiritually (cleansed) to participate in the fellowship of the Feast.

3. The Afikomen and the Matza Tosh (a special pouch with 3 layers, each containing a piece of unleavened bread). The host removes the middle piece of bread and breaks it. The other two pieces stay hidden inside the pouch.
He chooses the larger half to be the ‘Afikomen’, a Greek word meaning ‘desert’, literally, ‘that which comes later’. He then wraps it in a white, linen cloth and hides it in the house. Later, the children search for it while the adults wait. When it is found, the host gives a reward to the finder, and removes it from the white linen cloth. 

4. Bitter herbs (representing their suffering in Egypt) are dipped in salt water (tears of sorrow). 
The Lamb (God’s provision) is brought in for them to feast upon under God’s protection.

*5. The SECOND CUP - the Cup of Plagues (Judgement), with teaching on the origin of the Feast, including the 10 Plagues of Egypt that were part of Israel’s miraculous deliverance. 

6. Singing (Psalms 113,114).

7. Another washing of hands. Then the host makes a sop of lamb in bread with bitter herbs, and dips it in sauce and gives one to each guest in turn.

8. The Feast (the Passover Lamb) is eaten, as much as each wants.

9. During Supper: The Afikomen brought forth, broken and distributed for all to eat.

*10. After Supper: THE THIRD CUP (The Cup of Blessing or Salvation). This represented the fact that every blessing of the Covenant is in the Blood of the Lamb.

11. Singing (Psalms 115-118).

*12. The FOURTH CUP - The Cup of Praise for the future consummated salvation promised by God.

1. FIRST CUP of Thanksgiving: “
When the hour had come, He sat down and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God (predicting His imminent death)." Then He took the (first) CUP, and gave THANKS, and said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes" (Luke 22:14-18).

2. The WASHING.  The disciples (arguing over their position in the coming Kingdom) were not ready to sup (Luke 22:24). Jesus responded by Washing their Feet, demonstrating His humility and love for them, cleansing them from their pride! (John 13:1-17, Luke 22:25-30). He was also showing His whole work of salvation though this acted parable (according to Phil 2:5-11). This footwashing represents our need to be cleansed from our sins and the dust of the world even when we have had the bath of the New-Birth, especially before receiving Communion (1Cor11:28, 1Jn1:9).

3. The AFIKOMEN and its origin is shrouded in mystery to the Jews. No rabbinic explanation can make sense of it. However Jesus in the Last Supper revealed its true meaning. The 3 pieces of unleavened bread in the single matza tosh of 3 layers represents the Trinity, one God in 3 perfect Persons: Father, Son, and Holy-Spirit (leaven = sin, so unleavened bread means sinless humanity). The middle Person (the Son) came forth out of God and was revealed in human form while the Father and Spirit remained hidden. ThenJesus (the middle piece) was broken (He died for our sin), was wrapped in white linen cloths, and was buried (hidden from sight). The bread used was (1) unleavened, (2) striped, (3) pierced (a perfect picture of the body of Jesus broken for us. As we shall see Jesus declared the Afikomen was an acting out (proclamation) of His coming out of God, living a sinless life, then suffering death and burial.   

4. BITTER HERBS dipped in salt water (the suffering of man under the bitter curse which Jesus would have to bear), referred to by Jesus in Matthew 26:23 in connection with His betrayal by Judas.

5. The SECOND CUP is the Cup of Judgement, that Jesus in Gethsemene asked the Father to be spared from.  But He had to drink it otherwise we would have to drink the eternal punishment for sin. At this time Jesus taught on the Exodus, when the 10 plagues fell on the unbelievers, whereas believers were saved by the blood of the lamb (judgement fell on the Lamb instead). Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath in our place! This is when Jesus announced Judgement on Judas for betraying Him (Matt26:21-25), for rejecting Christ means you choose to drink this cup yourself.

6. SINGING of Psalms 113,114 celebrating God’s mighty power to deliver His people.

7. The host gives a SOP of lamb to each in turn starting with the guest of honour (in this case Judas).  Jesus uses this to identify His betrayer in a subtle way (John 13:23-30). This offering of the Passover Lamb (Himself) to Judas to eat is a picture of salvation. To eat the lamb is to receive Christ. So Jesus reached out to Judas, making him a last offer of salvation. He takes but does not eat it. In rejecting Jesus’ love, satan enters his heart. He then left quickly. 

8. SUPPER (the Passover Lamb) is eaten. Now the unbeliever has left (13 becomes 12), Jesus can introduce the New-Covenant - for believers only (Jn13:31). Unbelievers only see Christ as having died (the present state of the drama of the Afikomen, but believers by faith see Him risen up again for them, and receive (eat) His risen life. This symbolises believers feeding on God’s provision (the Lamb, Christ) by faith, secure under the Blood from the judgment and curse falling on the world, as in the original Exodus: “He has prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies.” 

9. THE AFIKOMEN brought forth from its hiding place, broken and distributed for all to eat (during Supper) This symbolised Jesus appearing again, risen from the grave on the third day. This is when: “Jesus took bread (Afikomen), blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this (Afikomen) is My body, which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19, Matt 26:26). Thus Jesus interpreted the Afikomen as Himself, His body broken, buried and then resurrected again and given for us to eat. Those (children of God) who discover the risen Christ get and eternal reward! Thus, the Afikomen (the Communion Bread) represents the Resurrected Christ (His resurrected human life and nature) which is distributed and given to us by Jesus Himself. That’s why when He brought the Bread forth Jesus said: "Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him” (John 13:31). ‘Afikomen’ = ‘that which comes after’-thus we only eat of Christ after His death and resurrection. 

10. THE THIRD CUP - of Salvation: He took the Cup, after Supper saying: "This Cup is (symbolises) the New Covenant (even Christ Himself)in My Blood, which is shed for you (the wine is in the Cup, but then poured out for us). Then He gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. For this (wine) is (symbolises) My Blood of the New Covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins”(Luke 22:20,21, Matt 26:27,28). This is the Cup we drink at Communion (1Cor 11:23-26). Here Jesus is saying that He is the real Passover Lamb whose Blood is the basis for an eternal New Covenant replacing the Old (temporary) Covenant established at the original Exodus with the blood of animals (the passover lamb). The Cup itself = Christ, the Covenant in (based upon) His Blood = the Wine. It is ‘the Cup of Blessing that we drink’ (1Cor 10:16,17). Every blessing of salvation is in the Cup (in Christ, our Covenant) - in the Blood. As we drink (receive) the ‘Blood’ we receive all that is in the Covenant, especially forgiveness. Jesus then taught on the life and blessings of the New-Covenant (John 13:33-14:31). 

11. SINGING of Psalms 115-117. “I will take the Cup of Salvation and call upon the Name of the Lord” (Ps 116:13)

12. The FOURTH CUP of PRAISE - for the future salvation that is guaranteed by Christ’s Blood and that will be fulfilled and consummated at His Return (Matt 26:29). They sang a final Messianic Psalm118 to celebrate this (see v26, Matt 26:30a). They then leave the Upper Room (John 14:31) to go to Gethsemene on the Mount of Olives (Matt 26:30b).