A Christian website
Jesus' life and words

Jesus' Words after...

Jesus' Words after the Last Supper: Chapter 1


Jesus' Last Evening

Five Chapters of John's Gospel examine a very short time interval at the end of Jesus' life, the time between His last supper with His disciples and His arrest. This long account is not found at all in the other Gospels.

A. Some assumptions

The writer of John's Gospel says clearly that he was with Jesus at His last supper, with Him on the way to where He was betrayed and also that he witnessed Jesus' crucifixion and death.

I believe that what Jesus did and said that evening was of the greatest importance to our author, especially within the context of Jesus' death and resurrection. He would thus have taken great pain to be as honest and truthful as possible. I thus believe that his text is sufficiently accurate to lend itself to be studied in detail. The problem here is: either a detailed textual analysis is worthwhile, or it is not. If the text is not faithful to what Jesus said and did, such an analysis is definitely not and so, a complete waste of time.

That this text could be unfaithful to what took place is to me utter nonsense. The writer of this Gospel states in his prologue that Jesus is God-made-man. You do not start fooling around with God's pronouncements if you are at all pious: God's word is much to precious for that! Not that I claim that we have a verbatim report, just that the text is an accurate expression of Jesus' words and actions.

B. The Johannine account of Jesus' last evening

As I have already mentioned, John's description of events which lasted only a few hours on the eve of Jesus' death takes up five of his Gospel's twenty-one Chapters (13 to 17). This comes to about 3800 words, or 19% of his Gospel's roughly 20000 words in the King James' Version.

His account is in two very unequal parts. The first one, which is mostly about Jesus' washing His disciples' feet, is only about 700 words long while the second part is about 3100 words or 15.5% of those of the whole Gospel. The length of this second part, an account of Jesus' talks and prayer following the Last Supper and lasting at most a couple of hours, can be compared with that of Jesus' arrest, trial, crucifixion and death, found in his Chapters 18 and 19. This last account makes up about 2000 words or 10% of his Gospel's words while describing events lasting roughly a day. The account of the Risen Jesus, found in his Chapters 20 and 21, makes up about 1500 words or 7.5% of his Gospel's words.

The very length given to reporting Jesus' talks and prayer shows their supreme importance to the author of John's Gospel, an importance he must have felt at the latest soon after Jesus' resurrection. He would, at least by then, have felt a strong need to see them written down. And so, when he decided to compile his Gospel, he only had to include in it his already written report.

C. The time sequence of Jesus' last words

Jesus' last talks and His prayer to God Father are addressed to and heard by a close group of His followers.

Jesus' first talk to His disciples, the second half of Chapter 13 and the whole of Chapter 14, is rather short at under 1000 words. It starts after the meal and Judas' departure. Jesus is then all alone with His faithful disciples.

In it Jesus is interrupted by four questions, each asked by a different disciple (Peter, Thomas, Philip and Judas) and ends with Jesus telling His disciples that it is time to leave: «Arise, let us go hence.».1 For this reason, I call this first talk «Jesus' Last Talk at Table». The dialogue between Jesus and the disciples plays a major rôle in its structure. Each question forces Jesus to go back on a point He has already made, and from which He then goes forward. The psychology of these exchanges is very credible. It definitely shows how Jesus managed to alleviate His disciples' fears and insecurities.

Jesus' second talk and His prayer are much longer at 2100 words. The second talk itself constitutes Chapters 15 and 16 and the prayer, Chapter 17. Each is very different in style.

In the second talk, Jesus is talking to His disciples and is interrupted twice, first by the disciples murmuring between themselves and then later by their affirmation of understanding. The first interruption forces Jesus to come back on a point He had already made while the second permits Him to move forward to the next phase of His predictions. This talk is essentially based on two analogies, one about a vine, its fruit and its farmer, the second, about a woman giving birth. It thus uses the allegorical method of teaching so dear to Jesus. As this talk is said to have taken place after Jesus' departure from the hall where He and His disciples ate, I assume that it was said on the road. That would explain why it is much more bitsy than the first. I have entitled it «Jesus' Talk on the Walk».

Thirdly, in Chapter 17, Jesus is talking (praying) to His Father rather than to His disciples. They do not interrupt Him. It is a prayer meant to be heard by the disciples, as it concerns their new mission. It makes psychological sense as the disciple's at the end of the previous talk made a deliberate and unequivocal act of faith in Jesus.

This prayer is immediately followed by: «When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.»2 It could imply that Jesus and His disciples were by now close to this brook, and had only a few steps to go over it and get in the garden. I will thus entitle this prayer as «Jesus' Prayer by the Cedron». Of course, these titles do not matter in the least and so I feel no need to try to justify them further. They are just a convenient way to note the definite division of that part of the Gospel in three separate sections.

So I will examine separately Jesus' two Maundy Thursday talks to His disciples as well as His prayer for them to His Father, but first a few words on the beginning of John's Chapter 13, as these talks are part and parcel of that fateful evening.

D. The Washing of the disciples' feet

The talks I will analyze in the following Chapters take as their starting point something Jesus did and said after the meal He had that night with His disciples: His washing of His disciples' feet. And the author introduces this event by a few rather important remarks, remarks that surely give us a good idea of how he saw what was coming. And so it seems to me important to start by looking into these.

The author of John’s Gospel starts his account of Jesus’ last evening on earth with this verse: «Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.»3 We find here two very important themes: first, death is nothing but leaving this world for the actual presence of God Father; second, Jesus will show His love for His disciples to the very end of His life on earth. Now the time Jesus will be physically with His disciples is only from now to when He is taken away after His arrest.

This is followed by: «And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him;»4 which tells us first that Jesus and His disciples had finished their supper and that Judas had already made up his mind to betray Jesus.

The next verse takes up the first point of the first verse and adds to it: «Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;».5 Here, not only is death seen as a passage from this life to God, but is, in Jesus’ case, a returning to God, which implies that He preexisted His earthly life, which is not the case for the rest of us.

There is more, as the author adds that all the events that will follow that night and the next day will happen while «the Father had given all things into his hands» and so, while He has absolute power. The author here feels the need to point out unequivocally that the events that will follow, both that evening and the next day, are done by or to a man Whose power is boundless and thus, Who could have altered their course. It follows that all what happened in that time frame was freely accepted by Jesus.

So what does this Jesus do? «He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.»6 So there is the Master of the Universe washing His disciples’ dirty feet! Simon Peter objects to Jesus washing his feet. They both argue about it, but in the end Peter submits himself to Jesus' will.7

This is followed by: «So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?»8 Jesus is now going to explain what this was all about. He could have done so as soon as Peter objected, but He wanted his obedience before his understanding. We must be ready to trust Jesus’ good judgment before ours; we must also admit that He knows better than us.

So what is His rationale for His action? He says: «Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.»9 Jesus insists that He wants His disciples to do to each other just like He did to them, that they are to follow His exemple if He is indeed their «Lord and Master». We have here an instance of what the author referred to in his first verse: «he loved them unto the end». For Jesus, love is something concrete, down to earth, practical, like washing someone’s dirty feet so she feels better.

Jesus then defines a chain of command: « Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.»10 This chain shows clearly that He takes His orders from God Father just like they do from Him. The next verse is the climax of this section: «If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.»11 Those who actually put this commandment of caring in practical terms for others are blessed. This basic theme is one of those that will come back in Jesus’ talks.

The reason why I mention these verses is that not only are they at the root of what Jesus will say later but that He considered this issue of service to others so important that He actually took the time to show in practice what He meant. He did not just use a parabole, He preached by example.

The washing on the feet is followed by Jesus telling two of His disciples who would betray Him that night.12 This text as such does not seem to me to be very much related to Jesus' talks and prayer, which are the texts that really interest me, so I will omit its analysis, just like I omitted Peter's objections to having his feet washed.

This being said, there is one point which is crucial, and that is that Jesus did not only wash His faithful disciples' feet but also His betrayer's, this while knowing full well what was to come. In washing Judas' feet, Jesus asserted that our love and caring is not to be limited to those we agree with, to those who do us no harm, but also to those who persecute us, betray us.

1 John 14:31. All quotes are from the King James Version of the Bible. Jesus' words are in red throughout as is custom in Protestant Bibles.

2 John 18:1

3 John 13:1

4 John 13:2

5 John 13:3

6 John 13:4-5

7 John 13:6-11 : Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.

8 John 13:12

9 John 13:13-15

10 John 13:16

11 John 13:17

12 John 13:18-30 I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me. Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night.

To Top

To Next Chapter

Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord, January 6th, 2008

© 2008 Jacques Beaulieu - property of Jacques Beaulieu - All rights reserved:
Any text on this website can be freely copied if then freely distributed

«freely ye have received, freely give.» (Matthew 10:8b)

Comment via e-mail to the author