Before the feast of the Passover Jesus, knowing that his time had come to pass from this world to the Father, having loved his own while they were in the world, loved them to the end. And during supper, when the Devil had already put it into his heart that Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, should betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he came out from God and was going to God,….
On the one hand, Matthew, Mark and Luke, and on the other, John, agree that Jesus was crucified at the time of the Jewish Passover. However, they do not agree on the precise relation to the feast itself.
In Matthew, Mark and Luke, the twenty-four hour period (sunset on Thursday to sunset on Friday), in which the Last Supper was eaten and Jesus was arrested and then crucified, constituted the 15th of the month Nisan, which is the feast of the Passover.
In John the Last Supper is before Passover and the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus are clearly dated to Passover Eve, the 14th of Nisan. Thus only after the body of Jesus was in the tomb did sunset mark the opening of the feast, when the Passover meal could be eaten, on the 15th of Nisan.
The Calendar of the Church follows the three synoptic Gospels rather than John. Usually, in preaching and teaching, the special material in John is then “slotted” into the time sequence of the synoptic Gospels. Here we shall simply seek to enter into the theology presented by John in verses 1-3.
What Jesus knew at the Last Supper
John introduces us, at the eve of the Crucifixion, to the self-consciousness and the inner knowledge of Jesus. The “hour” of his death as the necessary beginnings of his glorification had arrived; and Judas has accepted the diabolical suggestion that he should betray Jesus. In this context, Jesus knew not only that the Passover Festival would be inaugurated by his death and that one of his disciples would betray him, but also what the significance of his death must (by divine necessity) be.
John summarizes in four phrases the foreknowledge of Jesus concerning this “hour” (14th Nisan):
1. That he should pass from this world to the Father;
2. That the Father had given all things into his hands;
3. That he came out from God; and
4. That he was going to God.
Consequently, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them to the end.
For us to enter into the depth of the meaning of these four phrases we need to read meditatively the rest of this Gospel. In brief, the death of Jesus is the appointed means of the return of the divine emissary, the Incarnate Son, to his Father in heaven, for by his death as the Lamb of God for the sin of the world, his mission is completed. At the same time, his death is also an end in itself, since it is the final and complete act of holy love of the Son of God for those whom he had gathered out of the world, that is his disciples. In his passion and death Jesus loved his disciples completely and finally, to the uttermost.
We are rightly amazed to read (verses 4-5) that Jesus, super-conscious at this hour” of his divine origin and destiny, undertakes the menial task of washing the feet of the disciples, and thus, by powerful, active symbolism, presents glory in humiliation, which also characterizes the whole Passion. (See Meditation 5, for the reflection upon The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet.)
The narrative of the events of Holy Week, from the Entry into Jerusalem to the burial in the tomb, can be told and understood as if it is the moving story of a holy martyr, laying down his life for a cause he passionately believed in. No doubt many have and continue to interpret it in this way. John’s Gospel protests against any such reading and interpretation, and calls upon us to see Jesus as the Logos made flesh, the Son of God made man, the emissary of the Father, sent from heaven to earth to bring God’s salvation and redemption for sinful man living in an evil world. At the very center of this bringing salvation is the sacrificial, atoning death of the Son of God made Man on the Cross of Calvary.