Peter Defends Jesus in the Garden

At the Last Supper, Jesus predicted the disciples would all fall away, even Peter. Peter, as the leader of the disciples, denies this vehemently! Jesus declares to Peter that not only will he deny him, he will do so three times before the night is out! Jesus says Peter would disown him in only a few hours, not dawn. Westerners miss this since we start the day at midnight and usually associate a rooster crowing with dawn. The rooster was used to mark the changes in watches during the night, thus it is only a few hours until Jesus is arrested.

Malcus earPeter’s statement might be a reaction to a ‘slur” on his loyalty. Peter is willing to fight to defend the Lord, he is ready to be killed defending the Lord, he is completely loyal. Remember Peter is the first disciple to grasp who Jesus was, in Mark 8 it was Peter who declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Even though at that time he understood properly, he does not understand here that the Messiah was going to suffer and die, he will defend the Lord, and die by his side. But that is not the plan, the Messiah is to be abandoned. Peter is speaking as a representative of the disciples, after he speaks, all the disciples join in with him in declaring their loyalty.

Yet when the time for action arrives, Peter does attempt to defend Jesus and wounds a servant (John 18:8-11). When the soldiers arrive to arrest Jesus, Peter attacks the servant of the High Priest, cutting off his ear with a short dagger (μάχαιρα). This servant, Malchus, is named in John’s Gospel, although he is unknown to us. The name appears in inscriptions, although almost exclusively for Gentiles and Nabatean Arabs (BDAG).

Why attack the servant of the High Priest? It is possible he was leading the group to the garden to arrest Jesus. Malchus was not a slave carrying a torch for the people in charge, he was the personal representative of the High Priest. JoAnn Watson points out “The servants of the high priest were known to perform the underhanded dealings of the high priest” (“Malchus (Person),” ABD 4:487).

It is likely that this is a badly aimed attack rather than an attempt to maim the man so he was no longer permitted to enter the Temple. Maiming priests by cutting off their ears is well known in the Second Temple Period. Rather than a blundering attempt to save Jesus, this may have been a calculated attack on the man in charge of the arrest. Rather than killing him, Peter humiliated him and rendered him useless as a servant of the High Priest.

Peter’s actions are sometimes dismissed as laughable, but they represent the actions of the most zealous of Jesus’ followers. Jesus wanted to protect them by giving himself up to the arresting guards, but Peter seizes the moment and “starts the revolution.” Even if this is a colossal failure, it is better than the response of the rest of the disciples! Jesus orders Peter to put his sword away, telling everyone that he intends to “drink the cup the Father has given him,” is a reference to the cup of God’s wrath, the crucifixion which he is about to face.

Peter is therefore not a bumbler who can’t do anything right, but the most faithful of Jesus’ disciples and seems willing to attack an important and potentially powerful member of the High Priest’s household.

The Hidden Messiah?

Last Supper - BreadThere is perhaps another hint of eschatology in the Last Supper. Craig Evans suggests that the broken piece of bread which Jesus distributes is the afikoman (ἀφικόμενος, אפיקומן, Wikipedia). At the beginning of the Seder, a small portion of bread is broken off, to be consumed at the end of the meal. The bread represented the whole of the Jewish people and the broken portion represented “what the Messiah will eat when he returns to celebrate with Israel.”(Evans, Mark 8:27–16:20, 390).

This was first suggested by David Daube (He That Cometh), although D. B. Carmichael, (“David Daube on the Eucharist and the Passover Seder” 45–67)  finds additional support for this understanding of the bread in Melito of Sardis, a second century writer who creates a “Christian Haggadah.” Melito uses the term ἀφικόμενος twice with reference to Jesus as the coming Messiah.

If the breaking of the bread does reflect the afikoman tradition, then it explains how Jesus could say that bread somehow represented him and his body.  The bread already represented something, the Messiah. Jesus is making a claim that he is in fact the Messiah when he breaks the bread. This is how the disciples understood breaking of bread in Luke 24 as well.  If the breaking of bread was a messianic self–revelation then it would be strong evidence in favor of the Last Supper as a messianic banquet.

Unfortunately there is no solid evidence that this traditional use of the bread was current in the first century, so Evans suggestion may not be helpful in showing that the bread is an allusion to messianic themes.

The Last Supper and the Messianic Banquet

In Mark 14:25 Jesus states that he will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until he drinks it anew in the Kingdom of God. Since the emphasis is on drinking wine when the kingdom comes, this should be taken as an allusion to an eschatological banquet which celebrates the final victory.  Craig Blomberg states that the Last Supper was a “foreshadowing of the messianic banquet” and connects the event to Isa 25:6–9.  Similarly, Allison says “Jesus announces that he will feast at the messianic banquet.”  But what is there in this saying which implies a connection to the eschatological feast I described earlier in chapter 3?

Last Supper - BouveretFirst, the description of the meal is laced with allusions to shared meals in the Mosaic and New Covenant passages. For example, Gundry suggests Jesus is blending Exod 24:8, Isa 53:12, and Jer 31:31.  The “blood of the covenant” in Exod 24:8 is followed by a meal on Sinai in which Moses, Aaron and the seventy elders eat and drink before God. This meal at the establishment of the first covenant is the foundation on which the meal at the establishment of the new Covenant is built in Isa 25:6–8. As I have already observed, rather than a meal restricted to only the leaders of Israel at Sinai, the eschatological banquet includes all people at Zion.

Second, Jesus clearly alludes to the new covenant text (Jer 31:33). Jeremiah 31 combines both an eschatological meal and a marriage metaphor to describe the restoration of Israel’s relationship with her God at the end of the Exile. That a covenant was ratified with the blood of a sacrifice is commonplace in the Hebrew Bible, but of primary importance is the sacrifice which accompanied the first covenant in Exod 24:8. Dunn includes the Last Supper in his section on “heavenly banquet.” (Jesus Remembered, 427). Vincent Taylor sees the meal as eschatological and describes verse 25 as an allusion to the messianic banquet: Jesus’ “messianic consciousness is manifest” (Mark, 547). C. S. Mann describes the section as “thoroughly Jewish” and contains an allusion to the messianic banquet (Isa 25:6–8) (Mark, 580). Robert Gundry thinks this saying is a prediction that Jesus will return to “transform the Passover meal into the messianic banquet.” (Mark, 843).

Third, the messianic banquet text in 1QSa sheds some light on the Last Supper as an anticipation of the eschatological meal. As I argued in chapter 6, 1QSa was initially thought to describe a Eucharist–like meal, although this has been (rightly) abandoned for the most part in recent scholarship. However, there are still remarkable comparisons and contrasts between the two meals. The participants in the meal in 1QSa are seated according to their rank, with the Messiah of Israel at their head. After the Messiah blesses the food, they drink new wine and eat the first–fruits of the bread. At the last supper Jesus eats with his twelve disciples, a number invoking the twelve tribes of a reconstituted Israel. Jesus indeed blesses the bread and wine, although there is no reference to sharing these among the participants at Qumran. The meal at Qumran was to celebrate the coming of the Messiah, so also here in the Last Supper. Jesus declares to his disciples that the New Covenant in imminent and that he will not drink wine again until he drinks it “new” in the Kingdom of God. Like the Qumran community, Jesus’ celebration of Passover is an anticipation of the coming eschatological age.

In summary, the Last Supper is an anticipation of the messianic banquet. As such, it is an intertextual blending of several traditions beginning with the covenant meal in Exod 24 and the restoration of the marriage of Israel and her God in Jer 31. Because discussion of the Last Supper is usually laden with theological questions about later Christian practice, the Jewish eschatological implications can be overlooked. Jesus finally reveals himself as the one who will initiate the New Covenant and restore Israel to her rightful place.

Are there other eschatological overtones to the Last Supper (either from the Passover or the Prophets) that might illuminate the meaning of this important meal?

Why Did Judas Betray Jesus?

A few years ago the media went wild over the ‘Gospel of Judas,” a gnostic text which (it was claimed) described Judas as a faith disciple of Jesus, chosen to be the betrayer because he was so faithful. I first encountered this idea through William Klassen’s book Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996). Klassen argued that Judas was not the betrayer, but rather the most faithful disciple. Jesus had to be handed over to the authorities, so he entrusted this job to Judas. In order to make this theory work, Klassen has to make the “anti-Judas” statements into “later additions” by the church.  This includes the brief note in Luke that “Satan entered him” and the much later references to Judas as a thief in John’s gospel.  He makes much of the fact that Paul never mentions the betrayal or Judas.

Thirty Peices of SilverKlassen does have a point, the later texts do indeed offer a more pernicious view of Judas.  In John 12:1-8, Judas is described as a thief. He is embezzling from the disciples, and when a woman anoints Jesus’ feet with a precious perfume, he feels that he has been “cheated.” The perfume was not sold, he could have skimmed quite a bit from the sale (in John 13:28-30 Judas is the keeper of the funds for the disciples.) Greed could be a factor in Matthew 26:14-16 as well – Judas asked the priests “What will you give me….?”

Another answer is that the “perfume incident” forced Judas to understand that Jesus was not the Messiah, at least exactly as he understood the Messiah. One option is that Judas was convinced by the anointing that Jesus was not who he claimed, and the Pharisees were right all along. Jesus had to be destroyed as a false teacher. A second option is that Judas was shocked when he finally understood that Jesus was literally going to his death. He may have expected Jesus to go to Jerusalem to overthrow the Romans, but not to die. He may have wanted to ‘force’ Jesus to use his power to destroy the Romans.

At the time of the Last Supper, Judas had already made his choice to betray when Satan entered him (Luke 22:3). Perhaps Satan’s hand in the betrayal was to tempt Judas into making the decision or perhaps to keep Judas from losing his nerve by entering him. This is an extremely unique event:  Satan is never mentioned as “entering” anyone else. Satan has become personally involved because the previous efforts to stop Jesus have failed.

Another angle here is this: What did Satan stand to gain by getting Judas to betray Jesus? Why did Satan want to kill Jesus? He should have been able to understand that it would be Jesus’ death and resurrection that defeated him. Clearly Satan tried to stop him from going to the cross in the temptations, and tried to slow him down or stop him throughout his ministry, so why help him to the cross now? Satan’s role in the killing of Jesus is an indication of the arrogance of the devil. Perhaps he thought that if he could not stop Jesus in the world, that he could stop him in death. Maybe he thought that he could hold Jesus in the grave. Another option, although less likely, is that Satan was playing the role laid out for him, and that he was not truly a free agent in the whole affair.

Thirty pieces of silver was not a great deal of money, he would not have won many friends by betraying his teacher.  I suspect that his motivations were good, he wanted to help Jesus establish himself as the Messiah and to assist him in starting a Kingdom of God in Jerusalem.

But from a purely human perspective, what did Judas hope to gain?

Bibliography: Klassen also wrote the Anchor Bible Dictionary article, “Judas Iscariot”, 3:1091-1096. For a more balanced approach, see D. J. Williams, “Judas Iscariot”, in DJG, 406-408; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, 3:208-211.

What is the point of the Anointing at Bethany?

Why does this anonymous woman anoint Jesus in Mark 14:1-8? To honor a prestigious guest with oil is not unusual, but this is an extravagant act on the part of the woman. The oil is an “alabaster flask of perfume.” The version of the story in John 12 indicates the perfumed oil could have been sold for 300 denarii, or about a year’s wages. According to Pliny the Elder, the best perfumes came in alabaster flasks, the neck of which would be broken to let the perfume out.  Nothing could be held back; all of the oil was used to anoint Jesus.

Anointing at BethanyIt might be simply an honor given to a special guest at a pre-Passover gathering. But the connection with Passover may have more to do with the symbolism of a sacrificed lamb at Passover. Many of the animal sacrifices in the Hebrew Bible are accompanied by oil (daily sacrifices Exodus 29:38–42; the guilt offering Leviticus 14:12–13).

On the other hand, this anointing may anticipate Jesus coming as king. Kings were anointed when they began their roles. One particularly important example is 1 Chronicles 29:22, where Solomon is anointed as “prince of the people” by Zadok the high priest. Jesus will soon be mocked as a king (Mark 15:2, 12) and even crowned with thorns and given a royal robe (Mark 15:16-20). The charges on the cross will call Jesus the “king of the Jews” (Mark 15:26).

Ultimately, this anointing anticipates Jesus’ death and burial. This is how Jesus himself interprets the action in Matthew 26:12, although the purpose is left more open in the Gospel of Mark. (In Luke the story has nothing to do with the death and burial of Jesus). Since the dead were anointed with spices and oils (including myrrh), the woman’s action foreshadows the women who visit Jesus’ tomb in Mark 16:1 to anoint his body.

In Mark and Matthew, a disciple objects to the woman’s display of generosity saying the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. In John 12, Judas is the disciple who objects, but he also reflects this common practice of almsgiving at feasts and festivals. For example, the intertestamental book Tobit describes the righteous Tobit risking his life to bury the dead at Pentecost. Alms giving is praised in Sirach and other Second Temple sources.

It is true that an expensive gift like this could have generated enough money to care for many poor people. That the bottle cost a year’s wages is important-this is more than a small gift honoring Jesus! Rather than spend money on an expensive, non-essential like a bottle of perfume, the money would be better used for ministry!

What is wrong with this objection? I do not think that the objection itself is wrong, although Judas’ motive was false. Judas seems to represent the thinking of a good Jewish person wanting to honor God at the time of the Passover by making good use of the money the perfume could bring.