The Last Supper and the arrest of Jesus

"The Last Supper" by Fritz von Uhde, 1886, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.

In this article, I discuss, among other things, the time of Jesus' arrest and execution (see also the article on the birth of Jesus), what happened at the Last Supper, and what actually happened in connection with the arrest.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, see for example, Mark chapter 11.7. According to Matthew 21.7, Jesus used two donkeys to fulfill one of the prophecies that the Gospel of Matthew is so full of: "Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey." The two donkeys may be due to a misunderstanding on the part of Matthew, who may not have understood that a single donkey could be both a donkey and a colt at the same time. Luke and Mark only know about a foal, not about an adult donkey. In all these three gospels it is stated that Jesus knew that there would be a donkey tied inside the city, which he asks two disciples to fetch. John just tells that Jesus got hold a young donkey, not how. John's interpretation of the prophecy is also a little different from Matthew's: “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt." (Johs. 12.15). In John there is no sign of neither gentleness or meekness.

Unfortunately there are no precise indications in the gospels, of when this took place - or rather the indications points in different directions. The only thing that can be said with some certainty is that it must be at the latest in the year 36, when Pilate was called home to Rome (more below). The Synoptic Gospels know only of one visit to Jerusalem and let the whole period of Jesus' ministry last less than a year. This should indicate that the entry into Jerusalem took place in or shortly after the year 30. John, on the other hand, knows of many visits to Jerusalem and lets Jesus' ministry period last more than three years. This would indicate that the entry into Jerusalem took place in the mid-30s.

However, all the Gospels agree that the entry into Jerusalem took place just before Passover. However, at least one Jewish scholar disagree with this. He believes that the events surrounding the time of Jesus' entry to Jerusalem, and the behavior of the Jews on that occasion, indicate that the entry must have taken place in connection with the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), which takes place in the September or October. This is not to say that Jesus was not arrested at Easter time, but the scholar believes that Jesus simply stayed in Jerusalem in the months between the Feast of Tabernacles and Passover. In my opinion such a time frame would also agree more with all the things that Jesus manages to accomplish after entering Jerusalem and before the arrest.

Immediately before the entry to Jerusalem, Jesus were staying in Bethany, where he ate dinner with Lazarus, Martha, and Mary (John 12.1-2). According to John, he is followed to Jerusalem by a large crowd of people who have visited him in Bethany, while the other Gospels know nothing of any meal (at this point, later Jesus dines in Bethany with Simon the Leper), and the crowd does not arrive until Jesus gets closer to Jerusalem. After the entry, Jesus cleansed the temple - more about that in a future article about the trial of Jesus. Then the Gospels have Jesus tell a number of parables and the gospels also refers to some discussions he has with the disciples and others. After that, not much else really happens before the meal that has become known as "The Last Supper".

When did the Last Supper take place?

This meal, in turn, is much discussed. One issue that has been discussed is when the meal took place, another where it took place, and a third what actually happened at the last supper. The discussion about the "when" arises because there is disagreement as to whether the Last Supper was the official Passover meal (Seder) or not. The first is suggested by the Synoptic Gospels, among others in Mark (14:12), where it says: "On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, 'Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?'” And later: "When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve" (Mark. 14.17). This is apparently the actual Passover meal that was eaten the day before the first day of the "Feast of Unleavened Bread". This is the 15th of Nisan (the first month in the Jewish church year, which typically falls in March or April according to the Gregorian calendar) and the meal must therefore have been eaten on the 14th of Nisan. John, on the other hand, says that "It was before the Passover" (John 13.1) and it is usually interpreted as if the meal took place on the 13th of Nisan, that is, the day before the Passover meal. Some believe that the day is confirmed by Jesus breaking the bread before the wine, which would indicate that it was not an Passover meal in which the wine is drunk before the bread is eaten. John also knows that Jesus rode into Jerusalem five days before the Passover. John 12.1 indicates that Jesus came to Bethany six days before Passover, and John 12.12 tells that he went to Jerusalem the next day. If Passover starts on a Friday, five days before must be a Sunday as expected. However, there is some doubt as to whether the 15th of Nisan fell on a Friday or a Saturday, the year in which Jesus was crucified. If the 15th of Nisan was a Saturday, five days earlier was a Monday. The entry into Jerusalem is usually believed to have taken place on the 10th of Nisan. It is the day that the lambs which is to be slaughtered for Passover is chosen, and that would be in line with the idea of ​​Jesus as the "Lamb of God." If the 15th of Nisan fell on a Friday, the entry into Jerusalem took place on Sunday as normally assumed. But in that case, the crucifixion cannot have taken place on Friday, but must have happened already on Thursday. One last possibility, of course, is that John was wrong and that Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on Sunday and was crucified 6 days later on Friday, not five days later on Thursday. Incidentally, you must also remember that a new day began at sunset, not as we are used to at midnight. There are other indications that point in different directions. If Jesus exhaled on the cross at the same time as the Passover lambs were slaughtered in the temple, the Last Supper could not have been the Passover meal, for it was - for good reasons - not eaten until the lambs had been slaughtered. Mark, however, mentions that The Last Supper took place, on the day that the Passover lambs were slaughtered, and then the crucifixion cannot have taken place until the next day (Mark 14.12).

All the Gospels both the Synoptic and John agree that Jesus was crucified the day before the Jewish Sabbath and the Sabbath falls, as we know, on Saturday. However, this can be explained by the fact that if the Passover feast started on Friday, this was considered a particularly holy Sabbath and Saturday would then be the ordinary Sabbath.

I have to admit that, on this subject like so many other subjects in the New Testament, the descriptions are so contradictory that it is impossible to reach a definitive conclusion. Personally, I must admit that I am most in favor of the description in John, because he simply seems to be the most credible when it comes to the description of the events in Judaea. However, if Jesus was crucified on a Friday, it must have been in one of the years 27, 33 or 36, as it was the only years in Pontius Pilate's tenure that 15th of Nisan was a Friday. 27 or 36 are my own personal favorites. If Jesus, as Luke states, was approximately 30 when he began his ministry, and he was born in or around 6 BC, as many believe, the ministry began around 24. If on the other hand, as stated in John, his ministry lasted for around 3 years, it would play well along with an arrest in 27. This would also fit with the fact that Pilate was at that time new in office, and perhaps had to assert his power. Conversely, 36 also sounds likely, if it is correct that Herod married his sister-in-law in 33 or 34 and John the Baptist was executed after this, and Jesus' ministry began somewhat before John's execution, and then he preached for around three years before he himself got arrested. In that case, the execution could very well have taken place in 36. This would then harmonize with certain scholars' beliefs that the riots in Jerusalem before and after Jesus' execution were a contributing factor to Pilate's recall to Rome.

Where did the Last Supper take place?

The Cenacle on Mount Zion, claimed to be the location of the Last Supper .

The Gospel of John does not mention where the meal took place. Matthew tells us that Jesus sent his disciples into the city to a pre-appointed but unnamed person who would supply the premises for the meal. (Matt. 26.17-18). Mark says pretty much the same thing, although only two disciples were sent into the city and the very explanation they got from Jesus on how to find the place was somewhat more specific: "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." (Mark. 14.13-15). Luke's account is very close to that of Mark, but Luke further adds that the two disciples who are sent into the city are Peter and John (Luke 22.8). Nevertheless, a later tradition places the house where the Last Supper took place outside the city walls. The "city" does not necessarily have to be Jerusalem itself, but could have been one of the suburbs, like Bethany, and then Jesus may have eaten the last meal with Lazarus, the same place he ate a little over a week earlier. In any case, it must have been with relatively wealthy people, who owned a house with several floors, and also could afford to feed Jesus and his entourage. If it had been with Lazarus and his family that the meal took place, it would most likely have been mentioned, so Jesus had probably more wealthy friends or aquainntances in or around Jerusalem. In any case, the house where the sacrament took place has long since disappeared, and the location would today be underground, even if it was on the first floor, as the street levels of Jerusalem are today at least four meters (13 feet) higher ,than they were 2000 years ago.

What really happened during The Last Supper?

Many artists have "depicted" the Last Supper. Most famous is probably Leonardo da Vinci's version, which was much talked about, not least after the publication of the novel "The Da Vinci Code". In this case, because of the alleged symbolism of the painting, not least the very feminine-looking disciple sitting just to the left of Jesus (seen from the viewer). I will refrain from commenting on the symbolism, but the picture is of course completely wrong as are most paintings of the event. Jesus and the disciples are sitting on chairs at a table, which they have hardly done. Rather, they would have been lying on cushions for which there was a tradition at the time. All three synoptic gospels actually mention the cushions in connection with Jesus' explanation of how the room is to be found. Jacopo Robusti, known as Tintoretto has also placed Jesus and the disciples at a table, but here, unlike da Vinci, there are a lot of serving staff also present.

In addition to the meal itself, the Gospels agree that Jesus told in plenum that one of the disciples would betray him. Only in Matthew and John is the name given: "Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said,'Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?' Jesus answered, 'You have said so." (Matt. 26.25) and "Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot." (John 13.26). Most interesting, however, is a previous remark in John: "I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen." (John 13:18) and the following "So Jesus told him, 'What you are about to do, do quickly.'"(Johs. 13.27). This indicates - at least to me - indicate that the "betrayal" was actually agreed upon in advance between Jesus and Judas Iscariot. At least that is as good an explanation as that Judas was simply evil, or that he wanted to "force" Jesus to show his powers. When the synoptic gospels have not understood this, it may very well be because their sources were simply not familiar with the details of Jesus' arrest. I will in a separate article discuss this possible "conspiracy" between Judas and Jesus in more detail. The modern Danish translation of Matthew 26.50 also suggests a preplanned arrangement between Jesus and Judas: After the arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus says to Judas. "Min ven, nu har du gjort dit.", which translated into "My friend, now you have done your part." The English translation is a little different though: as it has Jesus reply “Do what you came for, friend.” and King James' Bible has "And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come?". The latter sounds very strange though, as Jesus had already, several hours earlier, predicted Judas' betrayal.

The arrest of Jesus

The Capture of Christ by Fra Angelico, ca. 1440, Museo di San Marco, Florence.

After the meal was finished, and Judas had left the party, Jesus and the remaining disciples went out to the Mount of Olives, where they sat down (and apparently did nothing, but maybe chat); this was traditionally in the Garden of Gethsemane. However, only Matthew and Mark know the name of the place. They, on the other hand, know nothing about it being a garden, but just say "somewhere". Luke only knows that it was on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39) and only John knows that it was a garden: "When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it". Unfortunately John does not tell on which side they were already located. Kedron/Kidron/Qidron Valley* is a valley between The Temple Mount and Mount of Olives, so most likely the garden was located on the Mount of Olives like the synoptic gospels "know". The name Gethsemane may come from the Aramaic Gaḏ-Šmānę, which literally means "oil press". Since the garden apparently was located on the Mount of Olives (which had got its name from the many olive trees that grew on the mountain), it is usually assumed that Gethsemane was an olive grove where oil was pressed from the fruits. However, a single scholar believes that the name is a distortion of the Arabic word, Yessamine (meaning jasmine). Oil was also pressed from jasmines but the jasmines were special in that the oil, which used primarily for making perfume was extremely expensive, and the jasmine plants therefore was only to be grown by the royal family (or their representatives) and the oil and perfume used by royals. Therefore, as Jesus was allowed to enter such a garden, it emphasized his affiliation with the upper class, which is also documented in many other places in the Gospels.

* Different spellings of the same place name

Regardless of the meaning of the name, Jesus stays at the place with his disciples, even though he leaves them to pray a few times. At some point, Judas Iscariot appears. With him, according to Matthew 26:47, was "a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people." It is on this occasion that one of Jesus' disciples cuts off the ear of the high priest's servant with his sword. Mark has almost the same story: "Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders." (Mark 14.43) Mark also knows the story of the severed ear (Mark 14:47). Luke just knows that it was "a crowd", but since he also knows the story of the high priest's servant's ear, he must have known that at least the high priest had representatives in the crowd. In Luke, Jesus heals the ear before he is taken away (Luke 22.51). John names both the disciple, Peter and the servant, Malchus (John 18-10), and he also knows who came to arrest Jesus: "So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons." (John 18.3). What the expression "a detachment of soldiers" actually covers is also discussed. Some believe it must be the Sanhedrin's (the Jewish council) police force. Others believe that it simply was the Jewish temple guard and some even believe that it must have been members of the Roman military guard stationed in the Antonia fortress next to the temple. The guard force in the fortress is today believed to have consisted of a cohort (about 500 men), half of whom were on guard at a time. Even if only part of this force were sent to arrest Jesus, eg a centurion of 80 men, troubles must have been expected. Otherwise, it was probably more than enough to arrest 12 peaceful religious men. So maybe there were far more men with Jesus than just the disciples, and it was probably not just one of them who was armed - especially as Jesus earlier had ordrered those who didn't own a sword, to go buy some, even if they had to sell their cloak to do so. (Luke 22.36)

According to the Synoptic Gospels, Judas "reveals" who Jesus is, by kissing him. John knows nothing of any kiss. On the other hand, all the Gospels agree that Jesus mocks the group for wanting to arrest him in secret, since he has previously appeared in public, preached in the temple, etc., see for example Mark. 14.48-49: "Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”. Why it was necessary for Judas to reveal Jesus with a kiss is one of the things that is unclear today as Jesus must have been quite famous in the city. He had regularly discussed with ordinary people, priests, Pharisees and scribes. However, a kiss was a common way for a student to greet a "teacher", so it may have been completely irrelevant to the identification of Jesus, and just Judas' way of showing Jesus his respect, which would not least be relevant, if the whole arrest had been agreed on between Jesus and Judas in advance. That such an agreement could have existed also appears from the apocryphal Gospel of Judas. More on that in a later article.

Jesus is arrested and taken to the high priest and from there on to Pilate. I will return to this my next article, "
The Trial of Jesus", As the only evangelist, Mark mentions a young man who is in Gethsemane. He only appears wearing a sheet. When someone grabs him, he throws the sheet and flees naked. It may come as a surprise that neither Matthew nor Luke, who have largely based their Gospels on Mark, mention this story. Some believe that this suggests that the story is a later addition to Mark, but why the story should have been added in that case is unclear. Others believe that Matthew and Luke did not understand the meaning and therefore omitted the story. If we assume that the story is original, then what can it suggest? Some scholars believe that the young man was preparing to go through an initiation into a cult of which Jesus and his disciples were members and they typically refer to the story of Lazarus which is told in John (John 11.1-38). However, it does not seem logical that Jesus should initiate such a initiation process if he knew he was to be arrested that same evening. That, of course, may have been the end of an initiation that lasted several days. However, there are other conceivable explanations as well. I will give one of them in my next aricle.