Life of Christ 164
The visual image that comes when we think of the Last Supper is Leonardo da Vinci's famous 1498 painting. In actuality the seating arrangements would have been entirely different. On formal occasions the Jews of Jesus' day did not sit down on chairs at a table. Instead, they partially reclined on low cushions around a much lower table and their feet would have been stretched out behind them. You will recall the stories of two different women who anointed Jesus' feet while He was attending banquets and this would have been a similar arrangement. The Talmud tells us that the end of the Passover table was kept uncovered and was used to hold the various dishes of food. Instead of da Vinci's picture it would have been laid out more like this:
We know from the interaction that takes place during the Last Supper that Jesus sat at the head of the table and had someone on His right hand and His left. We also know that at one point Christ whispered something privately to John, who was leaning on His breast, regarding the identity of the traitor in their midst. We also know that Jesus and Judas had a private conversation in which Jesus told him that He knew he was the traitor. We also know that Peter beckoned to John across the foot of the table to ask him who the traitor was. The above chart fits all of these scenarios.
The Pharisees held that it was a great honor to be seated in the chief seats at a feast and Jesus had just that morning rebuked them for it. (Matthew 23.6) Sadly, as Jesus and His Apostles enter the Upper Room a dispute breaks out amongst them over who would get to sit where. Although the Apostles were still clueless regarding the approaching crucifixion they did realize a crisis point had been reached. Their interpretation of the events led them however to a completely different conclusion. They believed that Jesus was about to be accepted by the nation as her Messiah and they were about to fill high places of authority in the kingdom. In my opinion, some of them thought that their seats around the Passover table in the Upper Room were indicative of their level of authority in the soon arriving kingdom. Thus it was that they began to quarrel among themselves over access to the chief seats.
What a grief this must have been to Christ! He is hours from the unspeakable horror of Calvary and the men He is counting on to hold everything together after He leaves are selfishly quarreling among themselves. Jesus contrasts that sad display of pride with words exalting the primacy of serving.
24 And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.
25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.
26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.
28 Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations.
29 And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me;
30 That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Jesus then takes His instruction a step further by giving them a never to be forgotten illustration of His point. Assuming the garb and work of a servant He rises to wash the Apostles' feet. (John 13.1-17) To drive the point home He began, not with those seated by Him at the head of the table, but with Peter who had impetuously responded to Jesus' remonstrance by rushing for the foot of the table. Many and good are the sermons preached from this story but we must never lose sight of the context. Jesus is hours from death. The Apostles are hours from the dark night of the soul. Israel is hours from violently rejecting the very reason for her existence. Spiritual war is breaking out on all sides and the devil throws everything he has at the Son of God.
|Christ Washing the Disciples' Feet|
…and in the middle of all of that selfishness, pride, and horror Jesus teaches the greatest lesson on service ever delivered. The antidote to pride is a selfless and humble service.