THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN
CHAPTER 13 - PART I
THE LAST WEEK IN JERUSALEM continued:
The transition from chapter 12 to chapter 13 and
addressing the Last Supper Controversy

Christ is present.  The One who prepared that [Holy Thursday] table is the very One who now prepares this [altar] table.  For it is not a man who makes the sacrificial gifts become the Body and Blood of Christ, but He that was crucified for us, Christ Himself.  The priest stands there carrying out the action, but the power and the grace is of God.  'This is My Body,' he says.  This statement transforms the gifts.
St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Holy Thursday

The day of Unleavened Bread came round, on which the Passover had to be sacrificed, and he sent Peter and John, saying, 'Go and make the preparations for us to eat the Passover.'  [...]  They set off and found everything as he had told them and prepared the Passover.  When the time came he took his place at table, and the apostles with him.  And he said to them, 'I have ardently longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer...'
Luke 22:7-8, 13-15

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Jesus ends His public ministry in chapter 12 verse 36 and the "light" departs from the people of Jerusalem.  In the next passages John summarizes Jesus' entire 3-year ministry by quoting from two Old Testament texts.  But why did John choose these two passages?  Because of all the Old Testament texts he could have chosen these two most powerfully illuminate Jesus' mission. The first is Isaiah 53:1 from the Song of the Suffering Servant quoted in John 12:38. It is the passage that most graphically specifies the details of Christ's suffering.  As always, St. John expects the reader to refer to the entire text:

In John's summary of Jesus' ministry at the end of chapter 12 he compares Jesus' mission to the ministry of the prophet Isaiah by drawing our attention to these passages.  Like the people of Isaiah's time many Jews and Israelites have chosen darkness over the "light" of Christ.  God does not desire this incomprehension on the part of these people.  It is His desire that all come to Christ, but in their arrogance and their sin they have passed judgment on themselves.  In rejecting God's prophet they have in effect excommunicated themselves and God has condemned them in their blindness and has incorporated it into His plan to reveal the sin anchored in their hearts that will precipitate judgment on the Covenant people.  Isaiah 6:10 is quoted in Matthew 13:14-15 when Jesus is asked why He speaks in parables; the verse is quoted here in John 12:40; and by Peter in Acts 28:26-27 as an explanation of the blindness of many of the Jews and their refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Then St. John brings his summary to a conclusion by putting the main themes of the events together in one final statement in John 13:1 that these events have occurred just "before the Passover" [related to John 12:1] and that now Jesus "hour" has come [related to John 12:23] when He will show the depth of His love through His sacrificial death: Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father, having loved those who were his in the world, loved them to the end.

ADDRESSING THE LAST SUPPER CONTRAVERSY

St. John Chrysostom: from a homily delivered on Holy Thursday from the Homilies on the Treachery of Judas circa 380 AD: Christ is present.  The One who prepared that [Holy Thursday] table is the very One who now prepares this [altar] table.  For it is not a man who makes the sacrificial gifts become the Body and Blood of Christ, but He that was crucified for us, Christ Himself.  The priest stands there carrying out the action, but the power and the grace is of God.  'This is My Body,' he says.  This statement transforms the gifts.

St. John began what we designate as Chapter 12 with the warning that it is only 6 days until the Passover festival, identifying the day of the sacrifice of the Passover lambs and kids as Thursday, Nisan the 14th , as the ancients counted.  You may recall that with no concept of a 0-place value, the first in any series is always designated as #1'if the next day was Palm Sunday then day #1 of the 6 days is Saturday and #6 would be our Thursday; which agrees with the Synoptic Gospels.

John continues his narrative with Jesus' triumphal entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem where He is acknowledged as the King-Messiah by the crowds of people gathered for the 8-day feast celebration of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits (which fell after the Sabbath of Holy Week, within the 8-day festival).  After His entry into the Holy City, Jesus went to the Temple to teach.  The Synoptic Gospels record that every day that last week, Jesus taught in the Temple.  On the day before the Passover sacrifice Gentiles who desire to see Jesus approach the Apostle Philip.  When this message is conveyed to Christ He immediately announces that "His hour has come!"  The hour of His glorification is at hand. Jesus gives His last discourse to the people who are once again divided over His identity and after warning them that, now is judgment being passed on this world  and that the light will be with you only a little longer, Jesus departs'"the Light of the world" departs from the presence of the people of Jerusalem and Jesus public ministry comes to a dramatic end.

St. John has condensed the Synoptic Gospel's Sunday through Wednesday teachings and parables of Holy Week into this one episode.  It is now Wednesday, day 5, and Jesus will withdraw across the Kidron Valley to the Mt. of Olives and the village of Bethany to dine with His friends at the home of Simon the Leper.  That evening He will be betrayed by the Apostle Judas, son of Simon, man of Kerioth [see Matthew 26:1-16; Mark 14:1-11].  The next day the Passover Sacrifice will take place in the Temple in Jerusalem in memory of the first Passover in Egypt centuries earlier.

Old Testament passages concerning the Feast of Passover:

For the first century Jew and Israelite, the Passover and Unleavened Bread feasts not only looked back in history to a time when God redeemed the children of Israel from slavery to the Egyptians and when Israel was set aside from all peoples of the earth has Yahweh's holy Covenant people, but the covenant people also looked forward to a future redemption of Israel when the Messiah would come free His people from bondage and oppression to the Roman Empire to lead them on a "new Exodus" to freedom and nationhood.  Jewish scholar Hayyim Schauss writes of this longing for the Messiah at the Feast of Passover in his book The Jewish Feasts: The highest point in the evolution of Pesach came in the last century of the second Temple, when the Jews suffered from the heavy oppression of the Romans.  It was during this period that the Messianic hope flamed up, and in the minds of the Jews the deliverance of the future became bound up with the first redemption in Jewish history: the deliverance from Egypt.  Jews had long believed that in the deliverance to come, God would show the same sort of miracles that he had performed in redeeming the Jews from Egypt.  This belief gained added strength in this period of Roman occupation and oppression.  Jews began to believe that the Messiah would be a second Moses and would free the Jews the self-same eve, the eve of Pesach.  So Pesach became the festival of the second as well as the first redemption; in every part of the world where Jews lived, especially in Palestine, Jewish hearts beat faster on the eve of Pesach, beat with the hope that this night the Jews would be freed from the bondage of Rome, just as their ancestors were released from Egyptian slavery (Hayim Schauss, The Jewish Feasts, page47).

Indeed, this was the time when that longing for redemption would be fulfilled as Jesus, the new Moses, would begin His journey, in the last Passover Feast celebrated that night in the Upper Room, to lead His Covenant people out of bondage to sin and death to victory in the Resurrected Christ and to the promise of the true Promise Land, Heaven. [See the chart The Typology of Jesus and Moses].

John 13:2 They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him.

Some translations render this opening phrase as: "After supper."  Although the wording in the literal Greek is somewhat ambiguous, verse 26 clearly indicates that supper is still in progress: It is the one to whom I give the piece of bread that I dip in the dish.  And when he had dipped the piece of bread he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.  In his commentary Fr. Brown points out that the phrase uses a present participle and suggests a more literal translation of the first words of this passage should be "while supper was in progress."  Fr. Brown notes that the Greek word for 'supper', deipnon, is the same word St. Paul will use in 1 Corinthians 11:20-34 when he speaks of the Church's commemoration of the Last Supper explicitly as a deipnon [Anchor Bible Commentary: The Gospel According to John, page 551]

Notice that unlike the Synoptic Gospels, St. John's Gospel does not identify the Upper Room and does not even indicate that the meal took place in Jerusalem.   Once again he assumes the reader is thoroughly familiar with the Synoptic Gospel accounts found in Matthew 26:20-35; Mark 14:17-42; and Luke 22:7-13.

and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray him.  This is the final struggle, the coming of the darkness, and human agents are becoming tools of the "the prince of this world." 

Question: Does this passage agree with the Synoptic Gospels?  Had Judas already betrayed Jesus before the Last Supper in the Upper Room?  Where and when did this occur? See Matthew 26:21-25; Mark 14:17-21; and Luke 22:21-23.
Answer: Yes.  The Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark provide the information that Judas betrayed Jesus on late Wednesday afternoon, or perhaps Wednesday night, which in Jewish time was the beginning of Thursday. Judas left to betray Jesus after the dinner in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper.

Chapter 13:1-2 are the first of several passages in John's Gospel that has generated a storm of controversy among Biblical scholars. The leading question is this: Is the supper in John's Gospel the Passover meal of Nisan 15 as prescribed by the Law of the Old Covenant?  Many scholars interpret verses 1-2 of John 13 to indicate that the meal in chapter 13 is not the Passover feast and that John does not agree with the Synoptic accounts that the Passover sacrifice was the day before His Last Supper with the Apostles and therefore was not the sacrificial meal of Nisan 15.  Instead, it is their interpretation that the sacrifice of the Passover Lambs took place at the Temple on the very hour that Jesus gave up His life on the cross.  This is an interpretation which has never been a tradition in the Church previously, although, it enjoys much favor today.  It is a theory that has become very popular with Protestant scholars.  This interpretation is attractive to Protestant theology because if Jesus and His disciples did not celebrate the true Passover sacrificial meal on the proper feast day then the Last Supper cannot be described as a "sacrificial meal" which is central to the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist. 

However, today many Catholic scholars also favor this interpretation because they are drawn to the idea of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross being paralleled to the sacrifice of the Passover Lambs in the Temple in Jerusalem.  There is, in fact a connection between Jesus' sacrificial death that is directly parallel to a sacrifice at God's Temple in Jerusalem and that is the Tamid daily sacrifice of two lambs which was commanded by God in Exodus 29:38-42 as a perpetual, on-going, sacrifice [the Hebrew word tamid means "standing" as in continual or perpetual].  This sacrifice prefigured Jesus' sacrifice as the "true Lamb of God"; it is a sacrifice which continues as the Tamid, "standing or perpetual" sacrifice,  in every Catholic Mass where the whole Christ—humanity and divinity'body, blood, soul, and divinity, is perpetually offered up for the sins of the world [see the "standing" Lamb in Revelation 5:4-6].  We will discuss this connection in chapters 18-20. 

The passages in John's Gospel that lead many scholars to find a discrepancy between the fourth Gospel and the Synoptic Gospel accounts are found in John 13:1-2, and 29; 18:28; 19:14, 31, and 42.  The chief difficulties seem to stem from a misunderstanding of Old Covenant feast days, a misunderstanding of Jewish customs to include counting without the concept of a mathematical 0-place value, and a misunderstanding of the way the first century Jews kept the calendar according to their ancient traditions. We will discuss each of these passages in turn but let's first address the theory that John has reshaped his traditions in order to have Jesus' last meal with His disciples take place before the start of Passover so that he can make the crucifixion appear to occur on the afternoon during which the Passover lambs would be slaughtered for the sacrificial meal that evening.

ARGUMENT #1 / part 1: John's supper is not a Passover feast.  In 13:2 he does not identify the supper as a Passover and instead 13:1 indicates that the meal took place before the Passover.  In fact chapter 18 indicates that Friday was the "real" Passover sacrifice.

Here are the problems with this interpretation.  [The arguments are presented in bold type]:

  1. John's timetable is already set in Chapter 12:1 with the Passover sacrifice taking place in 6 days.
    We have already determined in chapter 12's lesson that the day of the week John has pinpointed is Thursday as the 14th of Nisan, the day of the Passover sacrifice.  A common mistake biblical scholars and commentators make is to count the days as we do with an understanding of a 0-place value [not introduced until the Middle Ages] instead of counting a sequence as they counted in Jesus' time with the first day of the sequence as day #1.  To count as we count [using 0 in the sequence] the 6th day as Passover would be Friday and Jesus would have rested in the tomb only 2 days [Friday-Saturday as 1 day and Saturday-Sunday as 2 days]!  To count as 1st century Jews counted, day 6 is Thursday and Jesus, of course, was in the tomb 3 days [Friday =day 1; Saturday = day 2; Sunday = day 3]!
     
  2. The interpretation of Friday as the Passover sacrifice does not agree with the Synoptic accounts.  Scripture refutes this statement:
    • Mark 14:12, 14, 17: On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, his disciples said to him, 'Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?"[...] "The disciples set out and went to the city and found everything as he had told them and prepared the Passover." [...] "When evening came he arrived with the Twelve.
    • Matthew 26:17, 19 & 20: Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say 'Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" [..] "The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover." [...] "When evening came he was at table with the Twelve.
    • Luke 22:7-8, 13-15: The day of Unleavened Bread came round, on which the Passover had to be sacrificed, and he sent Peter and John, saying, 'Go and make the preparations for us to eat the Passover.'  [...]  "They set off and found everything as he had told them and prepared the Passover.  When the time came he took his place at table, and the apostles with him.  And he said to them, 'I have ardently longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer..'

  3. The argument has been made that John has not identified his supper in chapter 13 as a Passover feast, but he has instead designated this supper as only a meal Jesus shared with His disciples.
    Remember there were no chapter and verse divisions when John wrote his Gospel.  In what we designate as 12:1 John has stated that the Passover is only 6 days away, and then in what we designate as 13:1 John says when Jesus withdrew from His public ministry it was just before the Passover.  It must follow that since in St. John's Gospel "the Passover" refers to the sacrifice and the meal, that when John next speaks of a meal it must be the Passover meal, this has been the main focus of unfolding events since before the description of Jesus entering Jerusalem! 
    Then too, in the accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark when Jesus is at supper with the Apostles these Gospels do not specifically tell us it is the Passover meal just as John does not in chapter 13.  These Gospels only mention it is the Passover that is coming in the verses proceeding the passage concerning the meal itself [see Matthew 26:20ff and Mark 14:17ff.].  It is understood that this meal that comes after the mention of the Passover in the previous verse is, indeed, the Passover feast.  The exception is Luke's Gospel which clearly identifies the meal as the Passover in Luke 22:14-15: When the time came he took his place at table, and the Apostles with him.  And he said to them.  I have ardently longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer...
    You may have noticed that in the Synoptic Gospels that the Feast of Unleavened Bread seems to include Passover; that they are not identified as separate feasts and the Feast of Firstfruits is not mentioned at all. That the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels speak of these 3 feast as one single festival celebration was not unusual in the first century AD; see Mark 14:12: On the first day of Unleavened Bread when the Passover lamb is sacrificed...  In the first century it was common the refer to the three celebrations of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits as one feast since they took place in a consecutive 8 day period with the Passover sacrifice on day 1 [on Nisan 14 see Exodus 12:6] and at sundown, which began day 2, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, also called the Passover Supper, during which the sacrificed lamb was eaten in the homes of the Covenant people [on Nisan 15; see Exodus 12:15-20; 13:3-10; and Leviticus 23:5-8].  The feast of Firstfruits fell on the day after the first Sabbath of the week-long feast [see Leviticus 23:11 &15] and therefore was not assigned a specific date. The entire festival period was therefore known as both Passover and/or Unleavened Bread and each day of the festival required sacrifices to be offered at the Temple. Each of these feasts required the people to do this "in memory" of the Exodus experience when Yahweh freed them from bondage and led them out of Egypt [see Exodus 12:14].  The 1st century AD Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, also refers to these three feasts as one festival: Now, upon the approach of that feast of Unleavened Bread which the Law of their fathers had appointed for the Jews at this time, which feast is called the Passover, and is a memorial of their deliverance out of Egypt.." Antiquities of the Jews 17.9.3 [also see 14.2.1]

  4. The "Friday as Passover" interpretation does not agree with the Tradition of the Church.
    In the early years of the Church a controversy arose over the celebration of Holy Week and Easter.  The Catholics of Asia Minor who worshipped in the traditions established by their beloved Bishop, the Apostle John, wanted to keep the Feast of Easter in association with the Old Covenant dates established in Exodus with the commemoration of the Last Supper taking place on day of what had been in the Jewish calendar the 14/15th of Nisan and the celebration of the Resurrection three days later.  This would mean the day of the week for Easter would change from year to year, one year falling on a Sunday and the next perhaps on a Monday or Tuesday.  The Church in Rome, however, from the time of the 3rd Bishop of Rome to succeed Peter [counting Peter as #1], Pope Cletius [Pope from 78-90AD], demanded of Bishop Polycarp, disciple of St. John, that the Church in Asia Minor conform to Rome's established celebration, which was celebrate nearly everywhere else in the Christian world, not according to the Old Covenant dates but to the actual days of the week of the first Holy Week. This would mean the Easter Feast would be close to the Jewish Passover each year [determined by the moon cycle] but would historically follow the days of Sunday being the triumphal entry, Thursday night, Roman time, being the celebration of the Last Supper, and Sunday morning being the celebration of the Resurrection.  Bishop St. Polycarp would not yield and so he and Pope Cletius agreed that while Rome and the Church in the West would observe the historical days of Holy Week that the Church in Asia Minor could keep its more Jewish tradition of the Passover comforting with the Old Covenant custom. 
    The controversy erupted again during the time of Pope St. Victor I [AD193-203] who was resolved to force the East to accept Thursday of Passover week as the Last Supper, and the following Sunday as the celebration of the risen Lord.  Bishop Polycrates, successor of Polycarp, resisted and defied the Bishop of Rome.  Bishop St. Irenaeus, disciple of Polycarp, used his influence to prevent a split in the Eastern and Western Church but the controversy over Easter was not finally resolved until the Council of Nice where the rule for the observance of Easter was finally settled by the whole Church. It took several centuries for this dispute to be resolved but the Eastern Catholics finally submitted. It is important to understand that even though this dispute involved the day of the commemoration of the Passover and Passion events, that even St. Irenaeus, one generation removed from St. John but raised and educated in the tradition of the Eastern Church, identified the meal described in John's Gospel as a Passover meal!  He wrote about John 12:1-13:1 in his great work Against Heresies: He [Christ] came to Bethany six days before the Passover, and suffered on the day following [Passover].  So even though the week of the continuing commemoration of the events of Holy Week were in dispute, clearly the meal before the crucifixion as a Passover meal was not in dispute in the first century AD in either the Western or Eastern Church [Irenaeus was martyred in 202AD]. The celebration of Holy Thursday as being the Passover Sacrifice and that evening being the celebration of the Last Supper and the First Eucharist was clearly established as the Christian tradition in the first century of the Church!  [Note: We say the Last Supper took place on Thursday night because we keep Roman time which calculates the next day beginning not at sundown but at 12 midnight.]

We will come back to "Argument #1" later when we discuss the much disputed passage in John 18:28 and the argument according to many scholars that in John's Gospel the Passover sacrifice took place at the Temple on Friday as Jesus gave up His life on the cross and the sacrificial meal took place that night after the crucifixion.

In an attempt to reconcile the apparent discrepancy between John's account of the day of the supper and the Synoptic accounts some Biblical scholars have embraced the "two-calendar" theory.  The two-calendar theory suggests that the Synoptic Gospels and John's Gospel agree that the meal Jesus shared with His disciples took place on Thursday but that Friday was the day of the Temple Passover sacrifice followed by the meal that night. Many scholars were influenced by Annie Jaubert's book The Date of the Last Supper (Sorbonne, Paris, France, 1965) in which she argues that two calendars were commonly used in the first century: a lunar calendar of 354 days and a solar calendar of 364 days.  The Romans had introduced the solar "Julian calendar" to the Roman world in 46BC.  Jovert contends that the Jews were divided over which calendar, the solar or the lunar was divinely authorized and that the Jews of Qumran [which are assumed to be Essenes] and the purer Jews celebrated Passover by the solar calendar on a Thursday whereas the corrupt Temple authorities in Jerusalem used the wrong calendar and celebrated on a Friday.  Their argument is that this difference in calendars then is what John is reflecting: that the real Passover for "pure" Jews, like Jesus and His disciples, was on a Thursday as the Synoptic Gospels record, but the wicked Temple priests celebrated by a lunar calendar on the wrong day, therefore, the Passover was celebrated at the Temple and the Passover lambs were slain as Jesus was crucified on Friday.  Jaubert is correct when she asserts that two calendars were used in Judea in the first century, but there are several problems with her argument:

ARGUMENT #2: The Two-Calendar theory = John's Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels agree: the Passover meal Jesus celebrated with His disciples was on Thursday but Friday was the Temple Passover because Jesus used a different calendar.

  1. Neither individual people, nor communities, nor religious sects determined the dates of the Seven Sacred Feasts prescribed in the Sinai Covenant.  They could regulate their own communities, as was the case at Qumran, but they could not determine when a feast of sacrifice took place in the Temple in Jerusalem.  According to the Covenant the only place of sacrifice was Yahweh's Sacrificial Altar at the Temple in Jerusalem and the only time used to determine the feast was the lunar calendar, which was observed according the to the monthly Feast of the New Moon [Numbers 10:10; 28:11-15; Isaiah 1:13-14; Hosea 2:13; Amos 8:5].

    You may recall in John chapter 4 that the Samaritan woman refers to the Samaritan practice of offering sacrifice to Yahweh on Mt. Gerizim [4:20] and Jesus' response in verses 22: You worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know; for salvation comes from the Jews.  Legitimate sacrifice to Yahweh could only be offered at the Temple in Jerusalem and only the high priests in the Temple could determine the Feast days.  In fact the priests used a lunar/solar calendar.  The months and the feast days were determined by the phases of the moon as determined by the Law [see Numbers10:10 and 28:14b; 2 Chronicles 2:3-4; 8:13; 31:3; Isaiah 1:13; Ezekiel 46:3; Hosea 2:13/11]. Passover always came 14 days from the new moon; establishing the feast during the full lunar cycle.  To adjust for the discrepancy between the lunar months and the yearly cycle and additional month was added when it was necessary to adjust the calendar year.

    If Jesus and the Apostles were using any other day than that prescribed by Yahweh's high priest then He and the Apostles were in violation of the Covenant.  But even if the priests were not using the lunar calendar but a purely Roman solar calendar to determine the feast days [Annie Jaubert does not claim this to be the case but instead claims the reverse] it would not have made a difference in the celebration of any feast involving a sacrifice...which all feasts required. The sacrifice in the Temple was controlled by the Yahweh's high priests and the Temple was the only place sacrifice to Yahweh could be offered.

  2. Then too, defying the priests of the Temple was not consistent with Jesus' practice of perfectly keeping the Law of the Old Covenant and upholding the authority of the men who represented Yahweh to the people of the Covenant:  Matthew 23:1: Then addressing the crowds and his disciples Jesus said, 'The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses.  You must therefore do and observe what they tell you...  And since a Passover lamb or kid, according to the Law could not be sacrificed anywhere except at the Temple, Jauberts suggestion that an alternate solar calendar's Thursday night  [our time] meal, not approved by the Temple and with a lamb not sacrificed at the Temple was a Passover meal is impossible.  You cannot have a Passover meal without a Passover lamb sacrificed at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Jesus kept the Covenant.  The Old Covenant would not be fulfilled and replaced until the day of His resurrection.

    Realizing that Jesus could not have made a Passover sacrifice anywhere but the Temple, some scholars have suggested there was no lamb at Jesus' Passover Supper with the disciples, since He Himself was going to provide the lamb in His own flesh.  If one argues that this meal was not a legitimate sacrificial meal of the Passover then one is undermining the sacrificial character of the first Eucharistic celebration. The Old Covenant Jews who were to become the New Covenant people of God had to see the clear delineation between the Old Covenant sacrificial meal and its fulfillment in the New Covenant sacrificial meal in the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

WAS THE LAST SUPPER A SACRIFICIAL MEAL?

Today many Biblical scholars maintain that the Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with His disciples was not the actual Passover meal.  The misinterpretation of difficult passages in John's Gospel has led them to conclude that either John contradicts the Synoptic accounts, which clearly identify this "Last Supper" as the sacrificial meal after the Passover sacrifice, or they suggest that Jesus and the disciples disapproved of the date set for the Temple sacrifice, and therefore, celebrated their own Passover meal a day earlier [known as the two-calendar theory].  The difficulty with both these theories is that only the High Priest, God's representative to the Covenant people, could set the date of the feast day and the sacrifice could only be performed on that day, Nisan 14 of the official Temple liturgical calendar, at God's holy altar of sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem.  If Jesus and the disciples did not eat the sacrificial meal of the Passover on the day prescribed by the High Priest for the sacrificial meal to be eaten, then the sacrificial character of the first celebration of Eucharist is distorted and damaged, and the celebration of the Last Supper becomes only a "symbol" of a sacrifice and not a reality.  To embrace the theory that the meal Thursday night [Thursday our time] was not the genuine Passover lamb sacrificed at the Temple and was, therefore, not a sacrificial meal is an attack on the belief of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and upon the Mass as a representation of Christ's unbloody sacrifice. 

Part of the difficulty is that we no longer understand the nature and character of the Old Covenant sacrificial system. The actual sacrifice of the animal was only the first step in the process.  The desired result was to reestablish communion with God. The bloody sacrifice provided the necessary atonement for sin: For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you for performing the rite of expiation on the altar for your lives, for blood is what expiates for a life (Leviticus 17:11), and the restoration of communion with God. Through the bloody sacrifice the sin, which had separated the sinner from Yahweh, was covered; the sinner had sanctified, consecrated, and surrendered himself and the fruit of his labor to God.  Yahweh now turned to the sacrificer, welcomed him, and was reunited with him/her in the eating of the sacrificial meal, communion was reestablished.  The meal became an expression and a promise as well as an actual symbolic attestation of the blessedness offered to the covenant people in fellowship with Yahweh.  It was the highest sacramental point of the whole process of sacrifice: the sacrifice and burning of the victim answered to sanctification, the sprinkling of the blood on the altar to justification, and the meal celebrated the mystical union with God. It is this sacrificial meal that Jesus transformed into His mystical union with the New Covenant people that night in the Upper Room.

This event is what became the celebration of the Mass in its deepest and most intimate union with the risen Christ.  The fruits of our labor are brought forward to the altar.  The priest accepts our offering of bread and wine and in the words of consecration our offerings are supernaturally transformed into to unbloody sacrifice--the essence of the body and blood of the risen Savior, Christ Jesus.  The sacrifice is accepted, atonement is made and then we come forward to offer ourselves to Him in celebration of the reestablishment of communion with God by eating the sacrificial meal and becoming mystically united with God the Son.

That night in the Upper Room Jesus transformed the sacrificial meal of the Passover Lamb, a sacrifice that over a thousand years earlier had redeemed the firstborn of Israel from the sentence of death, and a sacrificial meal that was intended to unite the people in a mystical union with God and to nurture them spiritually on their journey to the Promise Land.  Everything that happened the night of the first Passover prefigured Christ as both the sacrificial victim and as the meal.  That night of the Last Supper, holding Himself in His own hands, Jesus gave us the Sacrament that would provide for our loving union with Him and with real food for our spiritual journey through life to the "Promised Land" where He waits to receive us in His heavenly kingdom.

Two sacraments were born that night in the Upper Room, the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  Jesus as our High Priest was the first to give us from His own hands the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.  At every celebration of the Lord's Supper we must remember we cannot have the Eucharist without the Priest nor can we have the legitimate Priest without the Eucharist.  In his Letter to the Priesthood, Holy Thursday, 2004, Pope John Paul II stated the origin of the priesthood: At the Last Supper we were born as priests... and addressing the connection between the Eucharist and the priesthood John Paul II wrote:We were born from the Eucharist.  If we can truly say that the whole Church lives from the Eucharist...we can say the same thing about the ministerial priesthood: it is born, lives, works and bears fruit "de Eucharistia."  There can be no Eucharist without the priesthood, just as there can be no priesthood without the Eucharist.

Up to this point in his gospel John has never disagreed with nor has he contradicted the Synoptic Gospels.  He has only included information not covered in the other 3 stories of Jesus' ministry.  It is obvious that St. John assumes we have read those accounts, and therefore, he goes out of his way not to repeat the information found in the Synoptics.  Why then would he purposely divert from those accounts with no explanation?  Is it possible that a faulty interpretation is the problem and not St. John's account?  We might note that it would not be unusual for the orthodox Jews as well as the less religious Jews to use two calendars: the traditional and liturgical lunar calendar as well as the more modern [to them] civil solar calendar.  Today most Catholics use two calendars: the modern Georgian calendar [the Catholic Church reformed the Julian calendar in the 1500s] and our liturgical calendar that lists all Holy days. But is there more evidence in Sacred Scripture that the Synoptic Gospel's accounts and John's Gospel agree that this was a Passover meal?  How much do events in John's account and the Synoptic Gospels agree?

Question: Look carefully at John 12:12-14 describing Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and then read 12:23 and 12:36c: Now the hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. [..] Having said this, Jesus left them and was hidden from their sight", and the verse in John 13:1 and 2: "before the festival of the Passover,[...]....and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him.  How do these verses agree with the account in Matthew 26:1-2; 6, and 14-17?  How do other events recounted in the Synoptic Gospels agree with John's sequence of events? Remember to count the days mentioned in Matthew 26:1 as they did in ancient times with the first day mentioned being day #1 of the sequence.
Answer: In Matthew's account Jesus concludes His ministry and announces His death: it is the approach of His "hour" and so He leaves Jerusalem.  Matthew provides the additional information that Jesus went to Bethany to have dinner with friends.  In Matthew's account Judas went to the chief priests before the Passover sacrifice but after the supper Wednesday night in Bethany which also agrees with John's account: Matthew 26:1-2; 6, 14-17: Jesus had now finished all He wanted to say, and he told his disciples, 'It will be Passover, as you know, in two days' time, and the Son of man will be handed over to be crucified.'" [...] vs.6"Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon, a man who had suffered from a virulent skin-disease...[..] vs.14 "Then one of the Twelve, (the man) called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, 'What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?'  They paid him thirty silver pieces, and from then onwards he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.  Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say 'Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?'   Also see the same sequence in Mark 14:10-11; and Luke 22:3-6.  The sequence of events agrees with John's account in the fourth Gospel.

A chart of the unfolding events concerning the Passover supper in the four Gospels may illustrate this agreement more clearly:

Matthew Mark Luke John
      12:1-11:
Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany ..dinner with friends
21:1-7
Jesus and disciples on the Mt. of Olives at Bethpage..  a foal is selected.
11:1-7
Jesus and his disciples approaching
Jerusalem at Bethpage and Bethany close by the Mount of Olives..
a foal is selected.
19:28-33
Jesus and his disciples near Bethpage and Bethany, close by the Mount of Olives..  a foal is selected.
12:14
Jesus mounted a foal selected for Him to ride into Jerusalem
21:1-11
Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem: Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord!
11:1-10
Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem: Hosanna! Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord!
19:28-38
Jesus triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem: Blessed is he who is coming as King in the name of the Lord!
12:12-19
Jesus triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem: Hosanna! Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel.
21:12-16
Jesus cleanses the Temple a second time. The first time is in the Gospel of John 2:13-22.
11:11
"He entered Jerusalem and went to the Temple.." that night He returned to Bethany
19:45-46
Jesus cleanses the Temple
 
21:18-21
He cursed the fig tree early in the morning.
11:12-19
Jesus curses the fig tree and cleanses the Temple a third time.  At evening he leaves the city
19:47
He taught in the Temple every day
 

21:23-24:46
Jesus teaches in the Temple each day
11:27-13:37
Jesus teaches in the Temple daily
19:47-21:48: (20:1)
He taught in the Temple every day."  (21:37) "All day long he would be in the Temple teaching, but would spend the night in the open on the hill called the Mount of Olives.  And from early morning the people thronged to him in the Temple to listen to him.
12:20
(While teaching at the Temple) Among those who went up to worship [at the Temple] at the festival were some Greeks.
26:1:
Jesus had now finished all he wanted to day, and he told his disciples, 'It will be Passover, as you know, in two days; time, and the Son of man will be handed over to be crucified.'
(Wednesday day)
13:33-37
Jesus last discourse
and warning to "stay awake"..
14:1-2:
It was two days before the Passover and the feast of Unleavened bread and the chief priests...looking for a way to arrest Jesus

...and have him put to death"
(Wednesday day)

21:34-36
Jesus' last discourse
and warning
22:1:
The feast of
Unleavened Bread, called the Passover,
was now drawing near...
 
12:23-36
Jesus "hour" has come; He gives his last discourse and warning (vs. 35) "The light will be with you only a little longer now"
12:37: Having said this, Jesus left them and was hidden from their sight.
13:1:
Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come to pass...
26:6-16:
The anointing at Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper.
(Wednesday afternoon)
14:3:
He was at Bethany in the home of Simon...
(Wednesday afternoon)
   
26:14-16:
Judas' betrayal. (day 5-6 = becomes sixth day at sundown* /Wednesday night our time)

*sundown begins the next day for the Jews
14:10-11
Judas betrays Jesus
22:3-6:
Judas betrays Jesus, Satan entered into Judas...
(Wednesday night our time)
13:2:
They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him.  In other words, before the time of the meal Judas had already decided to betray Jesus.
26:17-19:
Thursday = day #6: Preparations for the Passover supper: Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say,
'Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?'
14:12-16:
Thursday = day #6: Preparations for the Passover supper:

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, his disciples said to him, 'Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?'

22:7-13:
Thursday =day #6: Preparations for the Passover: The day of Unleavened Bread
came round, on which the Passover had to be sacrificed, [..] (
Jesus said) 'Go and make the preparations for us to
eat the Passover.'
 

26:20-35:
Passover meal: When evening came and he was at table with the Twelve..
14:17-42:
Passover meal: When evening came he arrived with the Twelve.  And while they were at table eating...
22:7-13:
Passover meal: When the time came he took his place at table, and the apostles with him.  And he said to them, 'I have ardently longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer...'
13:2-17:26:
Passover Meal: They were at supper... 13:4-20:
Jesus washes the Apostle's feet. John does not repeat the establishment of the Eucharist which as been so well described in the Gospels and in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 by St. Paul
26:21–25:
Judas treachery foretold and the dipping of the sop
14:17-21:
Judas treachery foretold

22:21-23:
Judas treachery foretold

13:21-30:
Judas treachery foretold and the feeding of the sop to Judas
26:26-29:
Institution of the Eucharist  
14:22-25:
Institution of the Eucharist  
22:19-20:
Institution of the Eucharist

 

 
26:30-35:
Peter's denial foretold
14:26-30:
Peter's denial foretold
22:31-39
Peter's denial foretold
13:36-38
Peter's denial foretold
26:30-56:
Jesus and the disciples leave for the Mt. of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane (verses 30 & 36); Jesus is arrested (our Thursday night but the Jewish Friday = next day began at sundown)
14:32-50:
Jesus and the disciples leave for the Mt. of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane (verses 27 & 32); Jesus is arrested (our Thursday night but the Jewish Friday = next day at sundown)
22:39:
Jesus and the disciples leave for the Mt of Olives (verse 39); Jesus is arrested (our Thursday night but the Jewish Friday = next day began at sundown)
18:1-11:
After he had said all this, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley+ where there was a garden...; Jesus is arrested. (our Thursday night but the Jewish Friday)

M. Hunt 2002            +the Kidron Valley separate Jerusalem on the east from the Mt. of Olives.

Notice that the sequence of events are in such agreement that the meal in John's Gospel must be the same meal described in the other Gospels.  Remember the argument opposed to John's meal being the same Passover meal as the Synoptics pointed to the fact that in 13:2ff John does not identify the meal specifically as a Passover feast.  Please also notice that in Matthew and Mark's account when Jesus is at supper with the Apostles that those Gospels do not specifically tell us it is the Passover meal just as John does not in chapter 13.  However, we understand it to be the Passover meal because what has transpired in the discussion for the preparation of the sacrificial meal in Matthew 26:17 and Mark 14:12, 14 and 16, just as we can assume John's meal is a Passover because he has established in 12:1 and 13:1 that the Passover sacrifice [which is followed that night by the sacrificial meal] is to be celebrated in 6 days.

In agreement with the Tradition of the Church for the last 2,000 years, we will assume that John's account is in agreement with the Synoptic Gospels and places Jesus' Last Supper with His disciples during the sacrificial Passover meal on Thursday night [our time]; which, since the Jewish day began at sundown, was the beginning of the Jewish Friday, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  As has been John's position throughout his Gospel account, he does not repeat the information presented in the other 3 Gospels but offers additional information and information of theological significance.  We will identify and discuss the other difficult passages in John's Gospel as we proceed with the study.

It is important to remember that according to the Law of the Covenant, only those within the Covenant could take part in the sacrificial meal that took place that evening of the first day of Unleavened Bread: Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron, 'This is the ritual for the Passover: no alien may eat it, but any slave bought for money may eat it, once you have circumcised him.  No stranger and no hired servant may eat it. It must be eaten in one house alone; [...].  The whole community of Israel must keep it.  Should a stranger residing with you wish to keep the Passover in honor of Yahweh, all the males of his household must be circumcised: he will then be allowed to keep it and will count as a citizen of the country.  But no uncircumcised person may eat it.  The same law will apply to the citizen and the stranger resident among you. Exodus 12:43-51

Question: Do we observe such a rule in the observance of our sacrificial meal: the most Holy Eucharist?  Why?
Answer: Yes.  Although we invite non-Catholics to come forward in the Eucharistic procession to receive a blessing, we do not invite them to take part in the Sacrament since they are not in communion with the Catholic Church and may not understand the importance and the sacred nature of this Sacrament as the Real Presence of Christ.  St. Paul warned in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29: Whenever you eat this bread, then, and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes.  Therefore anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthy is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.  Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognizing the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation (to his own damnation).

The union of Christ and His Bride the Church in the Sacrament of the Eucharist is like the marital union between and man and his wife.  It is a union that is only shared within the fullness of the covenantal bond.

 

Appendix:

There is sufficient evidence to establish that the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John agree on the day of the Passover sacrifice as Thursday, the 14th of Nisan, but only if the Gospels agree on the day Jesus dined with His friends in Bethany.  According to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark there was a dinner after Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and before Jesus' betrayal by Judas.  But the Gospel of John identifies the dinner at Bethany as 6 days before the Passover sacrifice and before Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.  These accounts cannot agree unless there were two separate dinners in Bethany.

IN DEFENSE OF TWO DINNERS AT BETHANY DURING JESUS' LAST WEEK IN JERUSALEM

What are the similarities and differences between Matthew and Mark's accounts of the dinner at Bethany compared with the dinner at Bethany in John 12:1-15?

John 12:1-15 Matthew 26:1-16 Mark 14:1-11
Six days before Passover and before Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (12:1; 12) Two days before Passover (26:2, 6) and after Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (21:4-9) Two days before Passover (14:1) after Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (11:1-11)
  Jesus announces His future arrest and crucifixion to the disciples (26:2) The chief priests and scribes conspire to arrest Jesus and have Him put to death (14:1-2)
Dinner with Lazarus' family; Martha served (12:2) Dinner at the home of Simon the leper (26:6) Dinner at the home of Simon the leper (14:3)
Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Jesus, and the Apostles attend (12:1-3, 4) The disciples and Jesus are guests of Simon (26:6, 8) Those who attend are unnamed with the exception of  Simon and Jesus (14:3)
Mary of Bethany has a jar of pure nard (12:3) Unnamed woman with an alabaster jar of ointment (26:7) Unnamed woman with an alabaster jar of pure nard (14:3)
Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus' feet and wipes His feet with her hair (12:3) A woman anoints Jesus' head (26:7) A woman anoints Jesus' head (14:3)
Judas Iscariot protests the waste (12:4) Disciples indignant over the waste (26:8) Some who were there were indignant (14:4)
Judas says the jar is worth 300 denarii and protests it should be given to the poor (12:5) Could have been sold at a high price and given to poor (26:9) Worth over 300 denarii; should be given to the poor (14:5)
  Jesus says: "You will not always have me with you" (26:9) Jesus says: "You will not always have me with you" (14:5)
Jesus defends Mary saying: "Let her keep it for the day of my burial" (12:7) Jesus defends the woman as doing a good work (26:10) Jesus defends the woman as doing a good work (14:6)
"The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me" (12:8) "For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me" (26:11) "For you always have the poor with you ..; but you will not always have me" (14:7)
  "In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial" (26:12) "She had done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying" (14:8)
  Wherever the Gospel is preached what she has done will be remembered (26:13) Wherever the Gospel is preached what she has done will be remembered (14:9)
Jesus enters Jerusalem (12:12-15) Judas betrays Jesus (26:14-16) (Jesus' "hour" has come) Judas betrays Jesus (14:10-11)* (Jesus' "hour" has come)

*Luke also records Judas' betrayal just prior to the Last Super in Luke 22:1-6.

The Gospels of Matthew and Mark appear to record the same event:

While the accounts in Matthew and Mark appear to agree, they do not agree with the account of the dinner at Bethany in the Gospel of John:

The differences in the accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark compared to the account in the Gospel of John suggest two different dinners which Jesus attended with His friends in Bethany and two separate anointings (there is a 3rd anointing earlier in Jesus' ministry recorded in Luke 7:36-38).  It is possible that Mary of Bethany was present at both dinners, and both anointings of the Messiah could have been given by her on two separate occasions 5 days apart (as the ancients counted).  It is significant that Jesus tells Mary to keep some of the nard at the first dinner, suggesting a further need for the ointment: "Jesus said, 'Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial' " (John 12:7).  However, in both Matthew 26:12 and Mark 14:8 Jesus announces that the anointing is in preparation for His burial: "She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying" (Mark 14:8).  It is possible that Mary of Bethany used a bottle of expensive nard to anoint the feet of Christ on Saturday and then as directed by Jesus used the same bottle of nard two days before the Passover (as the ancients counted), on Wednesday at the dinner party in the home of Simon the Leper, breaking open the jar (Mark 14:3) to get the last of the ointment to anoint Jesus' head in preparation for His Passion. The accounts in the Gospels of Mark and John identify the bottle as costing 300 denarii (Mark 14:5; John 12:5).

The key point which supports two dinners is that Judas could not betray Jesus and set the events of Jesus' arrest and crucifixion in motion until Jesus' "hour had come."  There is no mention of Judas' betrayal in the events during or after the dinner recorded in John 12:1-11.  Jesus' "hour" in the Gospel of John does not come until John 12:23 on what would have been Wednesday, His last day teaching at the Temple in Jerusalem.  When the Gentiles ask to speak to Jesus His response is: "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified."  The next mention of His "hour" in the Gospel of John is in 13:1: "Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end."  This passage sets up the events of the Last Supper described in John 13:2-18:1.

Judas betrayed Jesus to the Jewish authorities after the Wednesday dinner at Bethany but before the Passover sacrifice.  The liturgical rites and the sacrifices of the Passover festival began in the Temple on Thursday, Nisan the 14th (the 6th day from the Sabbath dinner in Bethany), and the celebration of the sacrificial meal began that night in the Upper Room at sundown.  At sundown it became the 15th of Nisan and the beginning of the Jewish Friday, the "Preparation Day" for the "Great Sabbath" of Passover Week.

Resources used in this chapter:

  1. The Anchor Bible Commentary- The Gospel According to John vol. II
  2. Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament
  3. Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus
  4. The International Critical Commentary –St. John
  5. The Navarre Bible Commentary- St. John's Gospel
  6. St. Ignatius Study Bible – St. John
  7. Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus
  8. Homilies of the Gospel of John, St John Chrysostom
  9. The Search for the Historical Jesus
  10. Mishnah
  11. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
  12. The Temple: Its Ministries and Services
  13. Sketches of Jewish Social Life
  14. The Works of Josephus: The Antiquities of the Jews
  15. The Jewish Book of Why, vol. I
  16. Offerings, Sacrifices and Worship in the Old Testament
  17. The Jewish New Testament Commentary,Professor David Stern [Jewish New Testament Publications, 1999].
  18. The Jewish Feasts,Hayyim Schauss, [Union of American Hebrew Congregations, copyright 1938; 10th printing 1965].
  19.  

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