St. Matt. xxvi. 17-19; St. Mark xiv. 12-16; St. Luke xxii. 7-13; St. John xiii. 1.)
When the traitor returned from Jerusalem on the Wednesday afternoon, the Passover, in the popular and canonical, though not in the Biblical sense, was close at hand. It began on the 14th Nisan, that is, from the appearance of the first three stars on Wednesday evening [the evening of what had been the 13th], and ended with the first three stars on Thursday evening [the evening of what had been the 14th day of Nisan]. As this is an exceedingly important point, it is well here to quote the precise language of the Jerusalem Talmud:1 'What means: On the Pesach?2 On the 14th [Nisan].' And so Josephus describes the Feast as one of eight days,3 evidently reckoning its beginning on the 14th, and its close at the end of the 21st Nisan. The absence of the traitor so close upon the Feast would therefore, be the less noticed by the others. Necessary preparations might have to be made, even though they were to be guests in some house - they knew not which. These would, of course, devolve on Judas. Besides, from previous conversations, they may also have judged that 'the man of Kerioth' would fain escape what the Lord had all that day been telling them about, and which was now filling their minds and hearts.
Everyone in Israel was thinking about the Feast. For the previous month it had been the subject of discussion in the Academies, and, for the last two Sabbaths at least, that of discourse in the Synagogues.4 Everyone was going to Jerusalem, or had those near and dear to them there, or at least watched the festive processions to the Metropolis of Judaism. It was a gathering of universal Israel, that of the memorial of the birth-night of the nation, and of its Exodus, when friends from afar would meet, and new friends be made; when offerings long due would be brought, and purification long needed be obtained - and all worship in that grand and glorious Temple, with its gorgeous ritual. National and religious feelings were alike stirred in what reached far back to the first, and pointed far forward to the final Deliverance. On that day a Jew might well glory in being a Jew. But we must not dwell on such thoughts, nor attempt a general description of the Feast. Rather shall we try to follow closely the footsteps of Christ and His disciples, and see or know only what on that day they saw and did.
For ecclesiastical purposes Bethphage and Bethany seem to have been included in Jerusalem. But Jesus must keep the Feast in the City itself, although, if His purpose had not been interrupted, He would have spent the night outside its walls.5 The first preparations for the Feast would commence shortly after the return of the traitor. For, on the evening [of the 13th] commenced the 14th of Nisan, when a solemn search was made with lighted candle throughout each house for any leaven that might be hidden, or have fallen aside by accident. Such was put by in a safe place, and afterwards destroyed with the rest. In Galilee it was the usage to abstain wholly from work; in Judea the day was divided, and actual work ceased only at noon, though nothing new was taken in hand even in the morning. This division of the day for festive purposes was a Rabbinic addition; and, by way of a hedge around it, an hour before midday was fixed after which nothing leavened might be eaten. The more strict abstained from it even an hour earlier (at ten o'clock), lest the eleventh hour might insensibly run into the forbidden midday. But there could be little real danger of this, since, by way of public notification, two desecrated thankoffering cakes were laid on a bench in the Temple, the removal of one of which indicated that the time for eating what was leavened had passed; the removal of the other, that the time for destroying all leaven had come.6
It was probably after the early meal, and when the eating of leaven had ceased, that Jesus began preparations for the Paschal Supper. St. John, who, in view of the details in the other Gospels, summarises, and, in some sense, almost passes over, the outward events, so that their narration may not divert attention from those all-important teachings which he alone records, simply tells by way of preface and explanation - alike of the 'Last Supper' and of what followed - that Jesus, 'knowing that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father7 . . . having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.'8 But St. Luke's account of what actually happened, being in some points the most explicit, requires to be carefully studied, and that without thought of any possible consequences in regard to the harmony of the Gospels. It is almost impossible to imagine anything more evident, than that he wishes us to understand that Jesus was about to celebrate the ordinary Jewish Paschal Supper. 'And the Day of Unleavened Bread came, on which the Passover must be sacrificed.'9 The designation is exactly that of the commencement of the Pascha, which, as we have seen, was the 14th Nisan, and the description that of the slaying of the Paschal Lamb. What follows is in exact accordance with it: 'And He sent Peter and John, saying, Go and make ready for us the Pascha, that we may eat it.' Then occur these three notices in the same account: 'And . . . they made ready the Pascha;'10 'and when the hour was come, He reclined [as usual at the Paschal Supper], and the Apostles with Him;'11 and, finally, these words of His:12 'With desire I have desired to eat this Pascha with you.' And with this fully agrees the language of the other two Synoptists, St. Matt. xxvi. 17-20, and St. Mark xiv. 12-17.13 No ingenuity can explain away these facts. The suggestion, that in that year the Sanhedrin had postponed the Paschal Supper form Thursday evening (the 14th-15th Nisan) to Friday evening (15-16th Nisan), so as to avoid the Sabbath following on the first day of the feast - and that the Paschal Lamb was therefore in that year eaten on Friday, the evening of the day on which Jesus was crucified, is an assumption void of all support in history or Jewish tradition.14 Equally untenable is it, that Christ had held the Paschal Supper a day in advance of that observed by the rest of the Jewish world - a supposition not only inconsistent with the plain language of the Synoptists, but impossible, since the Paschal Lamb could not have been offered in the Temple, and, therefore, no Paschal Supper held, out of the regular time. But, perhaps, the strangest attempt to reconcile the statement of the Synoptists with what is supposed inconsistent with it in the narration of St. John15 is, that while the rest of Jerusalem, including Christ and His Apostles, partook of the Paschal Supper, the chief priests had been interrupted in, or rather prevented from it by their proceedings against Jesus - that, in fact, they had not touched it when they feared to enter Pilate's Judgment-Hall;16 and that, after that, they went back to eat it, 'turning the Supper into a breakfast.'17 Among the various objections to this extraordinary hypothesis, this one will be sufficient, that such would have been absolutely contrary to one of the plainest rubrical directions, which has it: 'The Pascha is not eaten but during the night, nor yet later than the middle of the night.'18
It was, therefore, with the view of preparing the ordinary Paschal Supper that the Lord now sent Peter and John.19 For the first time we see them here joined together by the Lord, these two, who henceforth were to be so closely connected: he of deepest feeling with him of quickest action. And their question, where He would have the Paschal Meal prepared, gives us a momentary glimpse of the mutual relation between the Master and His Disciples; how He was still the Master, even in their most intimate converse, and would only tell them what to do just when it needed to be done; and how they presumed not to ask beforehand (far less to propose, or to interfere), but had simple confidence and absolute submission as regarded all things. The direction which the Lord gave, while once more evidencing to them, as it does to us, the Divine foreknowledge of Christ, had also its deep human meaning. Evidently, neither the house where the Passover was to be kept, nor its owner,20 was to be named beforehand within hearing of Judas. That last Meal with its Institution of the Holy Supper, was not to be interrupted, nor their last retreat betrayed, till all had been said and done, even to the last prayer of Agony in Gethsemane. We can scarcely err in seeing in this combination of foreknowledge with prudence the expression of the Divine and the Human: the 'two Natures in One Person.' The sign which Jesus gave the two Apostles reminds us of that by which Samuel of old had conveyed assurance and direction to Saul.21 On their entrance into Jersalem they would meet a man - manifestly a servant - carrying a pitcher of water. Without accosting, they were to follow him, and, when they reached the house, to deliver to its owner this message:22 'The Master saith, My time is at hand - with thee [i.e. in thy house the emphasis is on this] I hold23 the Passover with My disciples.24 Where is My25 hostelry [or 'hall'], where I shall eat the Passover with My disciples?'26
Two things here deserve marked attention. The disciples were
not bidden ask for the chief or 'Upper Chamber,' but for what we have rendered,
for want of better, by 'hostelry,' or 'hall' -
There can be no reasonable doubt that, as already hinted, the owner of the house was a disciple, although at festive seasons unbounded hospitality was extended to strangers generally, and no man in Jerusalem considered his house as strictly his own, far less would let it out for hire.35 But no mere stranger would, in answer to so mysterious a message, have given up, without further questioning, his best room. Had he known Peter and John; or recognised Him Who sent the message by the announcement that it was 'The Master;' or by the words to which His Teaching had attached such meaning: that His time had come; or even by the peculiar emphasis of His command: 'With thee36 I hold the Pascha with My disciples?' It matters little which it was, and, in fact, the impression on the mind almost is, that the owner of the house had not, indeed, expected, but held himself ready for such a call. It was the last request of the dying Master - and could he have refused it? But he would do more than immediately and unquestioningly comply. The Master would only ask for 'the hall:' as He was born in a Katalyma, so He would have been content to eat there His last Meal - at the same time meal, feast, sacrifice, and institution. But the unnamed disciple would assign to Him, not the Hall, but the best and chiefest, 'the upper chamber,' or Aliyah, at the same time the most honourable and the most retired place, where from the outside stairs entrance and departure might be had without passing through the house. And 'the upper room' was 'large,' 'furnished and ready.'37 From Jewish authorities we know, that the average dining-apartment was computed at fifteen feet square;38 the expression 'furnished,' no doubt, refers to the arrangement of coches all round the Table, except at its end, since it was a canon, that the very poorest must partake of that Supper in a reclining attitude, to indicate rest, safety, and liberty;39 while the term 'ready' seems to point to the ready provision of all that was required for the Feast. In that case, all that the disciples would have to 'make ready' would be 'the Paschal Lamb,' and perhaps that first Chagigah, or festive Sacrifice, which, if the Paschal Lamb itself would not suffice for Supper, was added to it. And here it must be remembered, that it was of religion to fast till the Paschal Supper - as the Jerusalem Talmud explains,40 in order the better to relish the Supper.
Perhaps it is not wise to attempt lifting the veil which rests on the unnamed 'such an one,' whose was the privilege of being the last Host of the Lord and the first Host of His Church, gathered within the new bond of the fellowship of His Body and Blood. And yet we can scarcely abstain from speculating. To us at least it seems most likely, that it was the house of Mark's father (then still alive) - a large one, as we gather from Acts xii. 13. For, the most obvious explanation of the introduction by St. Mark alone of such an incident as that about the young man who was accompanying Christ as He was led away captive, and who, on fleeing from those that would have laid hold on him, left in their hands the inner garment which he had loosely cast about him, as, roused from sleep, he had rushed into Gethsemane, is, that he was none other than St. Mark himself. If so, we can understand it all: how the traitor may have first brought the Temple-guards, who had come to seize Christ, to the house of Mark's father, where the Supper had been held, and that, finding Him gone, they had followed to Gethsemane, for 'Judas knew the place, for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with His disciples'41 - and how Mark, startled from his sleep by the appearance of the armed men, would hastily cast about him his loose tunic and run after them; then, after the flight of the disciples, accompany Christ, but escape intended arrest by leaving his tunic in the hands of his would-be captors.
If the view formerly expressed is correct, that the owner of the house had provided all that was needed for the Supper, Peter and John would find there the Wine for the four Cups, the cakes of unleavened Bread, and probably also 'the bitter herbs.' Of the latter five kinds are mentioned,42 which were to be dipped once in salt water, or vinegar, and another time in a mixture called Charoseth (a compound made of nuts, raisins, apples almonds, &c.43) - although this Charoseth was not obligatory. The wine was the ordinary one of the country, only red; it was mixed with water, generally in the proportion of one part to two of water.44 The quantity for each of the four Cups is stated by one authority as five-sixteenths of a log, which may be roughly computed at half a tumbler - of course mixed with water.45 The Paschal Cup is described (according to the rubrical measure, which of course would not always be observed) as two fingers long by two fingers broad, and its height as a finger, half a finger, and one-third of a finger. All things being, as we presume, ready in the furnished upper room, it would only remain for Peter and John to see to the Paschal Lamb, and anything else required for the Supper, possibly also to what was to be offered as Chagigah, or festive sacrifice, and afterwards eaten at the Supper. If the latter were to be brought, the disciples would, of course, have to attend earlier in the Temple. The cost of the Lamb, which had to be provided, was very small. So low a sum as about threepence of our money is mentioned for such a sacrifice.46 But this must refer to a hypothetical case rather than to the ordinary cost, and we prefer the more reasonable computation, from one Sela47 to three Selaim,48 i.e. from 2s. 6d. to 7s. 6d. of our money.
If we mistake not, these purchases had, however, already been made on the previous afternoon by Judas. It is not likely that they would have been left to the last; nor that He Who had so lately condemned the traffic in the Courts of the Temple would have sent His two disciples thither to purchase the Paschal Lamb, which would have been necessary to secure an animal that had passed Levitical inspection, since on the Passover-day there would have been no time to subject it to such scrutiny. On the other hand, if Judas had made this purchase, we perceive not only on what pretext he may have gone to Jerusalem on the previous afternoon, but also how, on his way from the Sheep-market to the Temple, to have his lamb inspected, he may have learned that the Chief-Priests and Sanhedrists were just then in session in the Palace of the High-Priest close by.49
On the supposition just made, the task of Peter and John would, indeed, have been simple. They left the house of Mark with wondering but saddened hearts. Once more had they had evidence, how the Master's Divine glance searched the futher in all its details. They had met the servant with the pitcher of water; they had delivered their message to the master of the house; and they had seen the large Upper Room furnished and ready. But this prescience of Christ afforded only further evidence, that what He had told of His impending Crucifixion would also come true. And now it would be time for the ordinary Evening-Service and Sacrifice. Ordinarily this began about 2.30 p.m. - the daily Evening-Sacrifice being actually offered up about an hour later; but on this occasion, on account of the Feast, the Service was an hour earlier.50 As at about half-past one of our time the two Apostles ascended the Temple-Mount, following a dense, motley crowd of joyous, chatting pilgrims, they must have felt terribly lonely among them. In all that crowd how few to sympathise with them; how many enemies! The Temple-Courts were thronged to the utmost by worshippers from all countries and from all parts of the land. The Priests' Court was filled with white-robed Priests and Levites - for on that day all the twenty-four Courses were on duty, and all their services would be called for, although only the Course for that week would that afternoon engage in the ordinary service, which preceded that of the Feast. Almost mechanically would they witness the various parts of the well-remembered ceremonial. There must have been a peculiar meaning to them, a mournful significance, in the language of Ps. lxxxi., as the Levites chanted it that afternoon in three sections, broken three times by the threefold blast from the silver trumpets of the Priests.
Before the incense was burnt for the Evening Sacrifice, or yet the lamps in the Golden Candlestick were trimmed for the night, the Paschal-Lambs were slain. The worshippers were admitted in three divisions within the Court of the Priests. When the first company had entered, the massive Nicanor Gates - which led from the Court of the Women to that of Israel - and the other side-gates into the Court of the Priests, were closed. A threefold blast from the Priests' trumpets intimated that the Lambs were being slain. This each Israelite did for himself. We can scarcely be mistaken in supposing that Peter and John would be in the first of the three companies into which the offerers were divided; for they must have been anxious to be gone, and to meet the Master and their brethren in that 'Upper Room.' Peter and John51 had slain the Lamb. In two rows the officiating Priest stood, up to the great Altar of Burnt-offering. As one caught up the blood from the dying Lamb in a golden bowl. he handed it to his colleague, receiving in return an empty bowl; and so the blood was passed on to the Great Altar, where it was jerked in one jet at the base of the Altar.52 While this was going on, the Hallel53 was being chanted by the Levites. We remember that only the first line of every Psalm was repeated by the worshippers; while to every other line they responded by a Halleluyah, till Ps. cxviii. was reached, when, besides the first, these three lines were also repeated: -
Save now, I beseech Thee, Lord;
O Lord, I beseech Thee, send now prosperity.
Blessed be He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.
As Peter and John repeated them on that afternoon, the words must have sounded most deeply significant. But their minds must have also reverted to that triumphal Entry into the City a few days before, when Israel had greeted with these words the Advent of their King. And now - was it not, as if it had only been an anticipation of the Hymn, when the blood of the Paschal Lamb was being shed?
Little more remained to be done. The sacrifice was laid on staves which rested on the shoulders of Peter and John, flayed, cleansed, and the parts which were to be burnt on the Altar removed and prepared for burning. The second company of offerers could not have proceeded far in the service, when the Apostles, bearing their Lamb, were wending their way back to the home of Mark, there to make final preparations for the 'Supper.' The Lamb would be roasted on a pomegranate spit that passed right through it from mouth to vent, special care being taken that, in roasting, the Lamb did not touch the oven. Everything else, also, would be made ready: the Chagigah for supper (if such was used); the unleavened cakes, the bitter herbs, the dish with vinegar, and that with Charoseth would be placed on a table which could be carried in and moved at will; finally, the festive lamps would be prepared.
'It was probably as the sun was beginning to decline in the horizon that Jesus and the other ten disciples descended once more over the Mount of Olives into the Holy City. Before them lay Jerusalem in her festive attire. All around, pilgrims were hastening towards it. White tents dotted the sward, gay with the bright flowers of early spring, or peered out from the gardens or the darker foliage of the olive plantations. From the gorgeous Temple buildings, dazzling in their snow-white marble and gold, on which the slanting rays of the sun were reflected, rose the smoke of the Altar of Burnt-offering. These courts were now crowded with eager worshippers, offering for the last time, in the real sense, their Paschal Lambs. The streets must have been thronged with strangers, and the flat roofs covered with eager gazers, who either feasted their eyes with a first sight of the sacred City for which they had so often longed, or else once more rejoiced in view of the well-known localities. It was the last day-view which the Lord could take, free and unhindered, of the Holy City till His Resurrection. Once more, in the approaching night of His Betrayal, would He look upon it in the pale light of the full moon. He was going forward to accomplish His Death in Jerusalem; to fulfil type and prophecy, and to offer Himself up as the true Passover Lamb - "the Lamb of God, Which taketh away the sin of the world." They who followed Him were busy with many thoughts. They knew that terrible events awaited them, and they had only shortly before been told that these glorious Temple-buildings, to which, with a national pride not unnatural, they had directed the attention of their Master, were to become desolate, not one stone being left upon the other. Among them, revolving his dark plans, and goaded on by the great Enemy, moved the betrayer. And now they were within the City. Its Temple, its royal bridge, its splendid palaces, its busy marts, its streets filled with festive pilgrims, were well known to them, as they made their way to the house where the guest-chamber had been prepared. Meanwhile, the crowd came down from the Temple-Mount, each bearing on his shoulders the sacrificial Lamb, to make ready for the Paschal Supper.'54