April 13, 2017: Verse of the day

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In keeping with first-century Jewish customs, Jesus and the disciples were reclining at the table and eating, resting on cushions with their heads toward the table and their feet extended away from it. The first Passover in Egypt was eaten in a hurry. As the Lord God instructed the Israelites, “You shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste—it is the Lord’s Passover” (Ex. 12:11). But through the centuries, Passover celebrations had become prolonged events, allowing the participants to linger during the meal as Jesus and the disciples did on this occasion. This final Passover lasted long enough for Jesus to wash the disciples’ feet, confront Judas Iscariot, eat the Passover meal, institute the Lord’s Table, and give the disciples a significant amount of additional instruction (cf. John 13–16).

The Passover consisted of several features. The feast began with a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance, protection, and goodness. The opening prayer was followed by the first of four cups of diluted red wine. A ceremonial washing of the hands came next, signifying the need for holiness and cleansing from sin. It was probably at this point in the meal, at the very moment they should have been recognizing their sinfulness, that the Twelve began debating who among them was the greatest (Luke 22:24). Jesus responded by washing their feet and teaching them an unforgettable lesson about humility (cf. John 13:3–20).

The hand-washing ceremony was followed by the eating of bitter herbs that symbolized the harsh bondage and affliction the Hebrew people endured while enslaved in Egypt. Along with the bitter herbs, loaves of flat bread would also be broken, distributed, and dipped into a thick paste made from ground fruit and nuts. The eating of bitter herbs was followed by the singing of the first two psalms of the Hallel, and the drinking of the second cup of wine. The Hallel (Pss. 113–18) consisted of hymns of praise and is the word from which the term “hallelujah” (meaning, “praise the Lord”) is derived. At this point, the head of the household would also explain the meaning of the Passover.

Next, the roasted lamb and unleavened bread would be served. After washing his hands again, the head of the household would distribute pieces of the bread to be eaten with the sacrificial lamb. When the main course was completed, a third cup of wine would be received. To complete the traditional ceremony, the participants would sing the rest of the Hallel (Pss. 115–18), and finally, they would drink the fourth cup of wine.

At some point in the celebration, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me—one who is eating with Me.” The word betray (a form of the Greek verb paradidōmi) means “to give over” and was often used to describe criminals being arrested or prisoners being delivered to punishment. Though, on several prior occasions, Jesus had predicted His death, He had not previously explained to the disciples that He would be betrayed by one of them.

Jesus’ words echoed those of David who, after being betrayed by one he trusted, exclaimed,

For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, then I could bear it; nor 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 and my familiar friend; we who had sweet fellowship together, [and] walked in the house of God in the throng. (Ps. 55:12–14)

In Psalm 41:9, David similarly lamented, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” David’s pain was caused by the betrayal of his advisor Ahithophel, who joined Absalom’s rebellion against David (cf. 2 Sam. 16:15–17:3). In a culture where eating together was regarded as a sign of friendship, to betray someone while eating with them compounded the treachery, making it even more contemptible (John 13:18).

Jesus, of course, knew who it was that would betray Him since He knew what was in the hearts of everyone (John 2:24), including the wicked intentions of Judas (John 6:70–71; 13:11). But the other disciples suspected nothing. Judas was so skilled at hiding his hypocrisy that they trusted him as their treasurer, even while he was pilfering money from them (cf. John 12:6). They ignorantly considered him a man of integrity.[1]


18 The Passover meal was originally eaten while standing: “This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover” (Ex 12:11). But in Jesus’ time it had become customary to eat it in a reclining position. While Jews normally sat for meals, reclining was the posture for a more formal banquet or celebratory meal. Jesus uses the solemn formula “I tell you the truth” (cf. v. 9 and comments at 3:28) to disclose the fact that one of them would betray him.

Jesus further identified the betrayer as “one who is eating with me.” Meals were rituals of social status in the Mediterranean world, and to share table fellowship with someone indicated friendship and social acceptance. To betray a friend after eating with him was, and still is, regarded as the worst kind of treachery in the Middle East. Jesus may have had in mind Psalm 41:9: “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”[2]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2015). Mark 9–16 (pp. 285–287). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Wessel, W. W., & Strauss, M. L. (2010). Mark. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 944–945). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

 

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