The Passover with the Disciples

17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.” 26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

There are two ‘worlds’ behind the text: the world that produced it and the world of the time in which it is set.

The two worlds behind this text

a. The world of the author and their community

Matthew adds to what Mark says in his version of the Last Supper:  “This is my blood of the covenant which will be shed for many” by saying, “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). For a community in turmoil, Matthew presented the breaking of the bread as a healing and nourishing event.  Jesus’ sacrifice was a merciful act for many.

b. The world at the time of this text

(i) Characters:

Matthew gives Jesus the title ‘Son of Man’.

Matthew also has Judas call Jesus Rabbi

The Twelve

Matthew follows Mark in naming the people he eats with as the inner circle of disciples, the twelve. The twelve are reminiscent of the 12 tribes of Israel, restored in the kingdom of God. They do not comprise the total discipleship group.

Matthew is the only Gospel which explicitly names Judas as the one who would betray Jesus.  Once Jesus has made this pronouncement that someone will betray him the disciples all ask, “Surely not I, Lord”?  Even Judas asks, but interestingly he is the only one to use the title ‘Rabbi’ for Jesus.  He continues his deceit and feigns innocence.  Imagine sitting to a meal with someone you knew had arranged such a fate for you!  Jesus says to him “You have said so”, not condemning him even at this moment.

(ii) Geography:

The story takes place in Jerusalem.  Matthew’s account would indicate that Jesus has been in Jerusalem since ‘Palm Sunday’, about 5 days. Jerusalem would have been full of Jews celebrating the Passover. The Temple Mount would have been full of people, purchasing and sacrificing unblemished animals at the Temple.

First century Israel at the time of Jesus 33 AD

Mount of Olives 
After singing together and praising of God at the end of the Passover ritual, Matthew tells us they go off to the Mount of Olives.

(iii) Customs or rituals:


Whilst there are clear references to the Last Supper being a Passover meal, what Matthew recounts is not a typical 1st Century experience. Indeed, the entire passion occurring during the Festival of Passover his unlikely; historical inaccuracies (trials during the season were prohibited and families usually celebrated the Passover together) and literary inconsistencies (John says it was before Passover) result in most scholars concluding that the placement of the event at Passover is theological in intent rather than historical. That aside, for Matthew it is Passover so we cannot ignore that.

It was Jewish practice to celebrate the Passover, one of the three festivals of obligation which brought righteous Jews to Jerusalem and the Temple.The festival recalled the ‘passing over’ of the angel of death in the 10th plague, allowing the Israelites to flee into the desert. In Hebrew this festival is called ‘pesah’, literally meaning ‘passing over.’

Ex 12:14-20 details the way in which the festival was to be remembered:

“This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance. 15 For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel.16 On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat; that is all you may do.17 Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.”

Sometimes called the Festival of the Unleavened Bread, the festival lasted for a week, with the Passover meal being eaten on the first night.

More information can be found here:

Unleavened bread  
The Hebrew Matzah, is the unleavened bread; that is, bread made without yeast.  This unleavened bread was the bread of the exodus, symbolic of the haste with which the Israelites fled.  

Questions for the teacher

How does the information assist you in understanding the text? What else do you need to know?
What do the students already know about the world behind the text? What else might the students need to know? What could be some questions the students might ask?