Can you explain what we know about who sat where at the Last Supper?
At the Last Supper, a Passover meal was prepared. We know a lot about this meal based on the Passover Seder that is still used today. Included in the meal are bitter herbs to represent the bitterness of leaving Egypt, a roasted lamb (whose blood was smeared on the doorposts to protect from the Death Angel), and four cups of wine.
Here are some interesting insights into this Last Supper where Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. First, we know the place between the four cups where they sang a hymn, perhaps from the Haggadah, Matthew tells us that they sang a hymn and left the upper room to go to Gethsemane (Matthew 26:30).
So here’s the cool thing. These four cups have names. Here is the list in the order of the Seder meal:
- Cup of Sanctification
- Cup of Deliverance
- Cup of Redemption
- Cup of Praise (Victory)
So which cup was the last one they drank before they left? Based on what Matthew tells us, we know that there is a song that is sung between the third and fourth cup. This means that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with the cup of redemption!
Not only that but when he says that he will not drink of this cup again until he drinks it new with disciples in his FatherMatthew 26:29), we will drink the cup of victory with him at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb!
Between redemption by Jesus’ sacrifice and blood on the cross, and victory celebrated at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb is a pause for people to accept Christ. We live during that time that Peter describes as God’s slowness so that people can enter 2 Peter 3:9).
We also know from Jewish customs a little about the seating at the Last Supper. The table was arranged in a U shape so that the servers would not interrupt the meal as they served the different parts. They can walk into the middle of the table without bothering anybody.
Tables in Palestine were about one foot off of the ground. Each person would lay with legs and feet extended slightly away from the table and lean on the person behind them. Meals were a very intimate activity in Jewish society. This is why the Pharisees got upset with Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus is the host of the Passover meal. He would have sat in the middle of the U-shaped table slightly to the right. The guest of honor would sit beside him to his left. We know that John sat beside Jesus to his right (John 13:23). He is able to lean back and speak to Jesus without others hearing.
Scholars believe that Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ betrayer, was the guest of honor at this Passover. He would have sat to Jesus’ left. The reasons for believing this are that Jesus serves him the morsel of dipped bread (John 13:26) and that he is close enough to Jesus to receive the bread. Luke has Judas close enough to have Judas’ hand with Jesus’ on the table (Luke 22:21). Matthew and Mark have Judas dipping his bread in the same dish as Jesus (Matthew 26:23; Mark 14:20).
This may blow your mind. Jesus on the night he was betrayed made Judas, his betrayer, his guest of honor at the meal. He honored the man who would betray him! He served parts of the meal to the man who would serve him his death sentence.
Simon Peter is one of the furthest disciples from Jesus, probably at one of the ends of the U-shaped table. The reason we gather this is that he cannot directly ask Jesus which disciple he is referring to that will betray him (John 13:24). He must motion to John to ask Jesus because John is closer to him.
Jewish custom at the time declared that the last person to enter the house or room was required to serve others by washing their feet. Peter is the only one to decline the foot washing at first (John 13:8). He seems irate that Jesus has to wash feet.
This leads scholars to believe that Peter was the one who was designated to wash feet that night because he was the last to arrive. This would also put him at one of the ends of the U-shaped table. Peter refused to serve his brothers by washing their feet. Jesus did his job by serving everyone at the dinner.
Much of this is based on what we know of Jewish custom in the days of Jesus. But there are clues in the Gospels that may tell us some of the seating at the Last Supper.