Luke 22: 14-20 – Last Supper of Jesus

This passage contains the account of JesusLast Supper with his disciples. The expression “Last Supper” is not used by Luke or by any of the gospel writers. It is not even found in the New Testament. But the sayings of Jesus in Luke 22: 15, 16, 18 indicate that this is his last supper with his disciples before his suffering and death. Was this supper a Passover Meal? We know that the synoptic evangelists want to present Jesus’ Last Supper as his Passover Meal. But they do not describe the details of the Passover Meal. In fact both Matthew and Mark have inserted between the accounts of the preparations and he actual meal, an independent tradition about Jesus’ announcement of his betrayal (Mt 26: 20-25; Mk 14: 17-21). And in these gospels the preparations for the Passover Meal finally lead to the institution of the Eucharist. But the Lukan account is slightly different. He has transposed the announcement of the betrayal to after the meal itself (Lk 22: 21-23). The effect of this transposition is that the story of the preparation for the Passover Meal (Lk 22: 7-13) is now followed immediately by the account of the meal itself (Lk 22: 14-18) together with the institution of the Eucharist (Lk 22: 19-20). It must also be mentioned that the Lukan account in Luke 22: 14-20, more than its parallels in Matthew and Mark, contains elements of a Passover Meal.

Let us first take a look at the composition of Luke 22: 14-20. The initial verse (Lk 22: 14) can be considered as the introduction to the narrative. The rest of the Lukan periscope has two sections:

  1. Jesus’ celebration of the Passover Meal (Lk 22: 15-18).
  2. His institution of the Eucharist (Lk 22: 19-20).

The first section, Luke 22: 15-18, consists of two elements, parallel to each other and they refer to eating (Lk 22: 15-16) and drinking (Lk 22: 17-18) respectively. Moreover, the second verse in each item is introduced by the words “I tell you” (Lk 22: 16, 18). It is explanatory; it gives a reason for eating and drinking now and relates these actions to the kingdom of God.

In Luke’s account of the Last Supper, especially in Luke 22: 14-18, there are several elements of the Passover Meal. In Luke 22: 15 the meal itself is explicitly mentioned as the Passover Meal. Luke alone has this explicit identification. Again, Luke alone mentions two cups (Lk 22: 17, 20). The bread (Lk 22: 19) and the two cups spoken of here refer to the course of the Passover Meal. The cup mentioned in Luke 22: 17 could refer to the first or the second cup of the Passover Meal and the cup “after supper” in Luke 22: 20 (cf. 1Cor 11: 25) would be the third cup of the Passover ritual, the “cup of blessing” (cf. 1Cor 10: 16). The Jewish Passover Meal was a ‘memorial’ of the historic deliverance of Israel from Egypt (cf. Ex 12: 3-14; Num 9: 1-14; Deut 16: 1-8). It was a reliving of the great saving act of God in the past. Jesus’ command to repeat the meal in his memory (“Do this in remembrance of me” Lk 22: 19) and his words over the bread and the cup of wine (Lk 22: 19-20) also imply the Passover character of the Last Supper.

The second section of the Lukan account (Lk 22: 19-20) contains Jesus’ re-interpretation of the bread and the cup of wine in terms of his own body and blood with the directive to his disciples to do this in his memory. Jesus’ Passover Meal (Lk 22: 14-18) is thus given a new significance here; it leads to the illusion of the Eucharist (Lk 22: 19-20).

The account of the institution of the Eucharist is found in the synoptic gospels (Mt 26: 26-30; Mk 14: 22-25; Lk 22: 19-20) and in Pauline Epistle (1Cor 11: 23-25). But Jesus’ words over the bread and over the cup, namely, the words of institution are not exactly the same in all four accounts. The differences in the Eucharistic words may be attributed to the influence of different liturgical traditions in the early Church. While the words of institution in the gospel of Luke are similar to those in Pauline Epistle, the Matthean formula comes closer to that of Mark. The Pauline-Lukan formula may reflect the Eucharistic liturgy of the Antiochian Church and the Markan-Matthean formula may be based on the Jerusalem Church’s liturgy. However this may be, the words of Jesus over the bread and over the cup are separated by a meal in the accounts in Paul and Luke (cf. 1Cor 11: 25; Lk 22: 20 “after supper”). But Mark and Matthew mention no intervening meal, and they do not record the command to repeat the actions of Jesus in his memory which is retained once by Luke ad twice by Paul.

In Luke 22: 19, the evangelist describes the actions of Jesus and then records his words over the bread. Four verbs are used to describe Jesus’ actions – ‘took, gave thanks, broke, gave’ (cf. Lk 9: 16; Mk 6: 41) – together forming a formula as it were. These verbs also denote the actions of the head of the family at the Passover Meal interpreting the Unleavened Bread. But Jesus interprets the bread in terms of himself, he identifies it with himself: “This is my body.” Two of the verbs that form part of the Eucharistic formula call for a comment. After taking bread Jesus ‘gave thanks.’ The participial form of the verb is used here – ‘eucharistesas,’ meaning, “after giving thanks” or “when he had given thanks.” The same form of the verb occurs in 1Corinthians 11: 24. In gospels of Mark and Matthew (Mk 14: 23; Mt 26: 27) ‘eucharistesas’ is used with the cup. In Luke 22: 17 the verb is also used with bread. The familiar name ‘Eucharist’ for the Christian celebration of the Lord’s Supper is derived from the use of this verb in these texts. Another verb in the formula here is ‘broke,’ which is found in the New Testament exclusively in reference to the breaking of bread at a meal. The bread is broken in order to be shared. The Eucharistic celebration in the early Church was also known as “the breaking of the bread” (cf. Lk 24: 35; Acts 2: 42, 46; 20: 7, 11; 1Cor 10: 16).

At the Last Supper Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “this is my body which is given for you” (Lk 22: 19). Jesus interprets the bread and identifies it with himself, to his very person. The words of Jesus over the bread, “this is my body” are to be understood not symbolically or figuratively but realistically and in terms of identity. By adding, “which is given for you” (Lk 22: 19) Jesus refers to his coming death. Jesus’ Last Supper takes place before he suffered (Lk 22: 15), and the bread interpreted by Jesus as his own body “given for them” takes on a salvific significance for the disciples. In the Greek text the form of the verb “given” is present participle which is used here with a future meaning, “to be given for you.” Moreover, the verb “give” is sometimes used in the New Testament in the sense of giving in death, in sacrifice, etc (cf. Mk 10: 45; Gal 1: 4; Jn 6: 51; 1Tim 2: 6, etc). Thus the words “which is given for you” in Luke 22: 19 have a deeper significance referring to Jesus’ death and its saving value for them. Jesus also commands his disciples to repeat this meal in his memory: “do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 20: 19). This injunction is not found in Markan and Matthean parallel text, but in the Pauline passage it is retained after the words over the bread and over the sup (1Cor 11: 24-25). For the Jews the Passover was a memorial of their exodus from Egypt (Ex 12: 14; Deut 16: 3). At the Last Supper jesus now commands his disciples to repeat what he did in his memory, as a way of re-presenting him and his saving actions in their behalf.

Jesus’ saying over the cup in Luke 22: 20 is almost the same as in First Corinthians 11: 25. However, it is slightly different from the Markan and Matthean parallel (cf. Mk 14: 24; Mt 26: 28). The cup mentioned here is the third cup of the Passover Meal, “the cup of blessing” as Paul calls it (1Cor 10: 16). The Covenantal and sacrificial significance of Jesus’ blood is unmistakable. The cup, namely, its contents, is the new covenant (cf. Jer 31: 31; 2Cor 3: 6; Heb 8: 13; 9: 15). The adjective “new” (kainos) means new in quality and not new in time. Jesus’ blood poured out in sacrifice establishes a new covenant as Jeremiah had foretold (Jer 31: 31). The new covenant replaces the old covenant which God had made with the Israelites. Just as the old covenant was sealed by the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrificed animals (cf. Ex 24: 1-8, especially verse 5), so too the new covenant is established in Jesus’ blood poured out in sacrifice. Here again, as in Luke 22: 19 (body is given), the present participle of the verb “pour out” has a future sense pointing to Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary.

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