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
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'
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
Jesus' first talk to His disciples, the second half
of Chapter 13 and the whole of Chapter 14,
is rather short at under
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
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
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
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,
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 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