Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. (Matt 26:17-19)
It is now Thursday of Holy Week, the day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This is the day that the Jews celebrated the Passover with a very specific meal, with each aspect commemorating a part of God’s redemption of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. The meal included roasted lamb, bitter herbs, unleavened bread, fruit sauce, and wine. This meal was being prepared during the day on Thursday so that they could dine together after sundown. It is interesting to note that, while these preparations for the meal are mentioned in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke), only Matthew records Jesus’ words “my time is at hand.” We know that Jesus meant that He was about to be sacrificed as God’s Passover Lamb in order to atone for the sins of His people, but the disciples probably understood this to refer to their own Messianic interpretations, such as finally overthrowing the Roman occupying force.
That evening, Jesus ate the Passover meal with the Twelve, just as He had planned. He likely had John on the right side of Him in a seat of honor, and His betrayer, Judas, on the left side as they reclined at the table. Each of the gospel accounts adds something unique to our understanding of what transpired and was said during this meal, at which Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. The Gospel of Mark was the most succinct.
And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. (Mark 14:17-23)
The Gospel of John adds the most detailed dialogue, as well as the story of Jesus washing the feet of the Twelve (John 13:1-17). This is known as the Upper Room Discourse of John 13-14. Jesus washed His disciples’ feet to demonstrate the point He made in Luke 22:24-30, that the greatest leaders are those who serve. In John 13:21-30, Jesus warned the Twelve about the betrayer in their midst. The teaching that Jesus did during this time was especially significant, as this would be one of His final opportunities to do so. His main point was that the defining characteristic of His followers should be love for one another (John 13:34-35). After this dialogue, Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn together (Mark 14:26), probably from Psalms 113-118. Then they left the Upper Room and headed out to the Mount of Olives. Perhaps one of the final thoughts Jesus had in mind as they headed out were from Psalm 118:22-23: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Once at the Mount of Olives, Jesus conveys His final teaching in his Farewell Discourse of John 15-17, including two of His I AM statements (the Way,the Truth, & the Light — the True Vine), the promise of the Holy Spirit (John 14, 16), and culminating in His High Priestly Prayer (John 17). After this final discourse, Jesus concluded by foretelling Peter’s denial (Matt 26:31-35). Then He went with his disciples over to the Garden of Gethsemane where His betrayer would find Him and have Him arrested. Just before this, Jesus issued some final practical instructions, which are only recorded in Luke 22:35-37.
Finally in the Garden of Gethsemane, we are met with the scene where Jesus famously struggled in prayer, agonizing with sweat like great drops of blood. Facing His own death was not easy for Jesus just because He was God incarnate. He was also fully human, remember, and He was about to bear the burden of all of our sin resulting in a loss of communion with the Father.
And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:41-46)
Jesus had spent His final hours sharing a meal with His disciples, giving them final instructions, praying earnestly for them, and warning them to stay alert. But while He was praying, they were sleeping. He was ready to face His death, and they had no idea what was about to happen.