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Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThis post continues a study of St Mark’s Gospel with an emphasis on the passages which do not appear in the three-year Lectionary for public worship.

As such, they become part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential for understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 14:12-21

The Passover with the Disciples

12 And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 13And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, 14and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” 16And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

17 And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” 20He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. 21For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”


Last week’s post discussed Judas Iscariot and his materialism which manifested itself in greed. He was a lover of money and made such an idol out of it that he betrayed our Lord. His story illustrates the importance of avoiding giving into the failings which are our Achilles’s heel.  Furthermore, smaller sins in time give way to serious sin.

In today’s reading, we move into Thursday, the day before Jesus’s Crucifixion (verse 12). Scholars have sometimes disagreed on exactly when the first day of Passover was: Thursday or Friday. Matthew Henry’s commentary reflects this:

Christ ate the passover at the usual time when the other Jews did, as Dr. Whitby had fully made out, and not, as Dr. Hammond would have it, the night before. It was on the first day of that feast, which (taking in all the eight days of the feast) was called, The feast of unleavened bread, even that day when they killed the passover, v. 12.

I’ll reproduce from last week’s post what John MacArthur says, which explains the reasons for the confusion (emphases mine):

There actually were two different evenings when the Passover was celebrated. I’ll just leave it at this. The northern people in Galilee celebrated it on Thursday evening while the Judeans, the Sadducees and the people in the south celebrated it on Friday evening. This is perfect, so that Jesus could celebrate the Passover with His friends in Galilee when they celebrated it on Thursday and still die as the Passover lamb on Friday at the time when the southern Judeans were slaughtering their lambs for their Passover. So there are actually two times; on Thursday for those in the north, and on Friday for those in the south. And that’s an important reckoning because there are texts in John’s gospel, in particular, that make it necessary to understand that.

In another sermon, he adds:

It is in the Jewish calendar the fourteenth of Nisan, year 30 A.D. And on that Thursday night is the Passover celebration for all of the Galilean Jews. In the Galilee, they celebrated their Passover on Thursday because they mark the Passover day from sunrise to sunrise. The Judean Jews in the south celebrated their Passover on Friday because they marked the Passover day from sunset to sunset. This difference we know from the writings of the Jewish Mishnah which are the official documents concerning the conduct of the Jews, and also from the history of Josephus. That’s important because that allowed our Lord to celebrate the Passover on Thursday night for a lot of critical reasons and still be the Passover on Friday, because they were two authorized and legitimate celebrations.

Note that Mark mentions that the first day of Unleavened Bread was when the Jews sacrificed the Passover lamb. The time of day when they did this ties in with the hour of Jesus’s death. If you have ever wondered about why He took His last breath at 3 p.m., MacArthur tells us it is because:

Now it is essential that our Lord be the Passover on Friday and die at three o’clock at exactly the time the Judeans were slaughtering the lambs for their Passover, for He is the Passover Lamb and God made the timing perfect because Jesus died exactly at that time on Friday.

At the end of verse 12, we read that His disciples asked where their final supper together would take place. Verse 13 tells us that He sent two of them, whom MacArthur believes to have been Peter and John, to look for a man carrying a jar of water. MacArthur points out that this would be an unusual sight because carrying water was women’s work, not men’s. It still is today in many parts of the developing world.

Jesus told the disciples that the man carrying water would meet them and lead them to the appointed room. They were to keep His identity secret, as per Jesus’s instructions in verse 14, by uttering a specific sentence and referring to Him as ‘Teacher’. There is a room which has since been declared the site of the Last Supper. MacArthur isn’t sure if it is the actual site:

I know there’s a traditional place in the city of Jerusalem where they say the Lord had His last Passover, but that is purely a traditional place. There is nothing in the New Testament that indicates where it was. And that makes sense if you’re trying to keep it a secret at that time, and maybe the disciples didn’t even know whose it was when they were there. We don’t know for sure what they knew, but we know that we don’t have any information about it.

Secrecy was important, he says, because

He must die … Friday, around three o’clock when the Passover lambs are being slaughtered, but He must also celebrate the Passover with His disciples so that He can give them final instruction, His last will and testament, if you will, and so that He can institute His table, playing off the Passover. And it has been suggested that He must also fulfill all righteousness and therefore He must celebrate the Passover commanded by God because it hasn’t been negated and it won’t be negated until this Passover is finished. For that to happen, He must not be arrested that night. He can’t be arrested until afterwards.

Also, if Jesus had announced the location in advance:

Judas will know and Judas is hungry for the money even though he’s trying to avoid the crowds, he’s not going to postpone this any longer than he has to, he just wants the money. He wants it fast. This is perfect, a perfect place away from the crowd and the leaders can capture Jesus who will be alone with His helpless disciples. Jesus cannot let that happen…cannot let it happen. And so that’s why there’s all the intrigue.

As for the man with the pitcher of water:

It tells you that the man was familiar with Jesus, the teacher. They don’t even say the word Jesus in case somebody is listening. They don’t want anybody to know where this is going to be. You just follow the man with a pitcher on his head. This tells us that our Lord had prearranged this, either actually, or supernaturally.

Jesus said that the room would be large, upstairs and prepared for the Last Supper (verse 15).

MacArthur says that Peter and John did not return once they knew the location (verses 15, 16):

… apparently Peter and John never came back. On this Thursday, this is Thursday, they went, followed the man, got to the house, were shown the room and they made the preparation so that the rest of the disciples went out from where they were, came to the city, probably back [from] Bethany where they’ve been every night, and found it just as He had told them and they prepared the Passover.

Matthew Henry’s commentary describes the room saying that rooms would normally be for hire for this feast:

No doubt, the inhabitants of Jerusalem had rooms fitted up to be let out, for this occasion, to those that came out of the country to keep the passover, and one of those Christ made use of …

He ate the passover in an upper room furnished, estroµmenonlaid with carpets (so Dr. Hammond); it would seem to have been a very handsome dining-room. Christ was far from affecting any thing that looked stately in eating his common meals; on the contrary, he chose that which was homely, sat down on the grass: but, when he was to keep a sacred feast, in honour of that he would be at the expense of as good a room as he could get. God looks not at outward pomp, but he looks at the tokens and expressions of inward reverence for a divine institution, which, it is to be feared, those want, who, to save charges, deny themselves decencies in the worship of God.

Verse 17 sets the scene at the Last Supper. Jesus announced that one of the men in the room, one of his trusted Apostles, would soon betray Him (verse 18). The verse also mentions that they reclined at table. I explored this last week when describing Mary of Bethany’s vial of fragrant nard. John MacArthur adds more detail:

Their heads would be at the table, their feet reclining away from the table. They didn’t put their feet under the table, as we do. We sit in a chair, put our feet under the table. They were on some kind of a reclining couch of some nature with feet away from the table and their heads toward the table …

Originally, however, if you go back to the Exodus, do you remember the instruction? The instruction of God was this, “Eat with your loins girded,” that is with your belt on, all the loose ends pulled together. “Your shoes on, your staff in your hand, standing up in a hurry.” And they were to do that and traditionally did that for some years because they were remembering the hurried reality of the Exodus. That custom had changed. That tradition had changed. And Passover became a more languid experience.

The reclining would give the opportunity for our Lord to accomplish everything that He wanted to accomplish.

Reclining there with Him, eleven of the Apostles were cut to the core by Jesus’s statement of imminent betrayal. They must have wondered whether they had a serious spiritual weakness of which they were unaware, something that only Jesus could discern. Henry tells us we can detect this by their reaction in verse 19, which is not a statement of innocence but a question to Him of guilt:

Christ said this, if it might be, to startle the conscience of Judas, and to awaken him to repent of his wickedness, and to draw back (for it was not too late) from the brink of the pit. But for aught that appears, he who was most concerned in the warning, was least concerned at it. All the rest were affected with it. (1.) They began to be sorrowful. As the remembrance of our former falls into sin, so the fear of the like again, doth often much embitter the comfort of our spiritual feasts, and damp our joy. Here were the bitter herbs, with which this passover-feast was taken. (2.) They began to be suspicious of themselves; they said one by one, Is it I? And another said, Is it I? They are to be commended for their charity, that they were more jealous of themselves than of one another. It is the law of charity, to hope the best (1 Co. 13:5-7), because we assuredly know, therefore we may justly suspect, more evil by ourselves than by our brethren. They are also to be commended for their acquiescence in what Christ said; they trusted more to his words than to their own hearts; and therefore do not say, “I am sure it is not I,” but, “Lord, is it I? see if there be such a way of wickedness in us, such a root of bitterness, and discover it to us, that we may pluck up that root, and stop up that way.”

Jesus’s answer must have further disquieted them (verse 20). He simply reiterated that it was one of them ‘dipping bread into the dish with Me’. In fact, Mark’s account does not mention Judas’s departure from the table. He ends with Jesus’s ominous statement that it would have been better had the betrayer — Judas — never been born (verse 21).

Readers of this column will recall the grave shock with which the Apostles discovered Judas’s betrayal as recounted in other Gospels. Remember that they had all travelled, ate and resided together for three years. They didn’t go to their respective homes at night; they were with each other nearly all the time.

Note that Jesus states the fulfilment of Scripture (verse 21). MacArthur says:

This is related back to Psalm 55, you probably remember that Psalm because it is familiarly linked, “For it is not an enemy who reproaches Me, then I could bear it, or is it one who hates Me who has exalted himself against Me, then I could hide Myself from him, but it is you, a man, My equal, My companion, My familiar friend who had sweet fellowship together, walked in the house of God in the throng” …

Every detail, the details of His crucifixion in Psalm 22, the meaning of His crucifixion in Isaiah 53, the detail of Him being pierced in Zechariah 12:10, the details of His resurrection in Psalm 16 and other features of Old Testament prophecy all prewritten. That is why when Paul preaches the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, verse 3 he says, “Christ died according to the scriptures,” the next verse, “and rose the third day according to the scriptures.” Everything was laid out in Scripture. Our Lord was not killed at the whim of Judas, or Pilate, or Caiaphas, or Herod, or the Sanhedrin, or the Romans, or even Satan, but by God on God’s timing and in God’s manner.

In closing — to respond to those who are oppose the Bible and Christianity because of the different Gospel accounts, some of which say more than others on this and other events in Christ’s life — MacArthur advises:

… we don’t know all of the chronological sequence with any precision. It really isn’t that important to know what followed what. It only matters that we know what happened. All of these things that are important are laid out for us by the four gospel writers who write about Thursday night and collectively we get the full picture, if not in any kind of order. What happened is critical, the sequence is not.

Next time: Mark 14:22-25

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