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The Night Of The Betrayal

The prominence given to the Breaking of the Bread in the New Testament is seen from the way in which the ordinance, as well as being recorded in three Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark and Luke) was confirmed to the early churches through the apostle Paul, who received it from the Lord by direct revelation. As in other doctrinal matters, the apostle did not have to depend upon the testimony of men. The Lord Jesus Himself told Paul how the Remembrance was to be kept (1 Cor. 11:23-26). In view of the special importance to us of what took place in the Upper Room it may seem quite incidental to mention that the night was the one in which the Lord was betrayed. Nevertheless that very circumstance is emphasized by Paul, being part of the divine revelation to him. It is fitting therefore that we should ponder deeply the events of that night, for what was being enacted outside in the darkness and in the palaces of earthly power and in the hearts of men, rendered the Lord's words and actions in the quiet and seclusion of the Upper Room the more poignant.

The climax of the all-embracing plan for the redemption of man, hidden from times eternal, was approaching. The purpose for which the Son of God "emptied Himself" to become manifest in flesh was about to be accomplished. But the Saviour refused to be deflected from the supreme task He was about to undertake by the awful experiences which lay in His path. On His last journey to Jerusalem He strode on purposefully whilst the disciples reluctantly followed, amazed that their Lord should deliberately place Himself in the hands of those who were determined to destroy Him (John 11:7,8,16; Mark 10:32).

In Jerusalem the attacks were devious and fierce by which the Jews tried to trap the Lord in His speech. They asked Him subtle questions, they attempted to make Him speak against Caesar and against God. But He amazed and confounded His enemies as calmly He turned their barbed shafts back upon themselves, while the common people listened eagerly to everything He said (Matt. 22:15-46; Luke 21:37,38; Mark 12:37). These setbacks filled the chief priests with anxiety. They were losing ground, soon the people could give their allegiance to Jesus and look to Him as their King. The rulers admitted, "If we let Him thus alone, all men will believe on Him: and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation" (John 11:48). In desperation they plotted to kill Him, while crowds flocked to hear His gracious and authoritative teaching. The situation was hourly becoming more critical, for the city was filling with Jews from far and near preparing for the Passover. The rulers would have preferred to wait until after the feast to arrest the Lord, as they wished at all costs to avoid violence in the crowded city and trouble with the Roman governor. But delay had now become too dangerous in view of the intense interest His teaching had attracted. So there must be an immediate arrest, but it must be done unobtrusively in the darkness to avoid the possibility of a riot developing. Who knew the nightly haunts of this Nazarene? Where did He secrete Himself when the tense public debate subsided and the sun had set? Who would dare to betray the guiltless Son of God?

The chief priests must have been greatly relieved when Judas offered to do the foul deed. He would be the ideal man; with his help they would be sure of success, but they must act speedily to forestall any attempt by the followers of Jesus to make Him King. The Jews had but a vague notion as to how their plot would develop, but the Lord knew. The events of each hour during those critical days, as indeed of every moment of His life, were predetermined steps to the cross, the culmination of the divine plan of salvation. Thus when the feast of the Passover came, He carefully made arrangements to be with the twelve disciples in the Upper Room, knowing full well that one of them was the traitor. The precise chronology of this passover week has been discussed at great length by scholars, but to little spiritual profit. On which day of the week the Last Supper took place is of little importance compared with the spiritual significance of what transpired during that precious time of communion between the Lord and His disciples before they wended their way together to the garden of Gethsemane for the last time.

During those few hours in the Upper Room great events were taking shape. The devil was making his last desperate throw, using one of the Lord's own followers in an attempt to bring about His downfall. The terrible agonies of the cross would soon become a reality for the Saviour, but His thoughts were directed rather to the eleven who were anxious and fearful. They needed strength and reassurance for the ordeal which lay ahead. After the days of trial they were to become the human instruments in the establishment of the kingdom of God; they were to endure persecution and perhaps the martyr's death, but as yet they were unprepared. They were still fondly expecting to share with their Master the glorious rule of an earthly kingdom.

With the traitor lurking in their midst, the Lord touchingly administered a practical lesson in humility. Knowing that the great work of redemption had been committed into His hands and that the eternal happiness of mankind rested upon the events of the next few days, He stooped and washed the feet of the disciples, including Judas Iscariot. Even the faithful eleven, however, were completely out of touch with the realities of the situation. They had been arguing amongst themselves about who should be the greatest, and they must have been ashamed to learn that unless they were prepared to stoop down and wash one another's feet, the Lord would be unable to use them in His service in the kingdom of God. This practical lesson in humility, associated as it is with the ministry of the Upper Room, reminds us of the vital necessity of ridding our hearts of pride at all times, but above all as we gather each Lord's day for the breaking of the bread. "Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" is the exhortation of Scripture (Phil. 2:5). Thoughts of His humiliation and self-abnegation, filling our minds, will induce in us a spirit of Christ-like humility pleasing to the Lord.

What followed must have been a bitter experience for the Saviour. With much prayer He had chosen His disciples and had watched over them for three years, and now one of them had shown himself to be the son of perdition (John 17:12) and pledged himself for filthy lucre to the service of Satan. The account in Matthew's Gospel (26:23-25) together with what John records (13:21-30) leads us to believe that early in the evening, before the institution of the Remembrance, Judas left the Upper Room. He forsook the blessed companionship of the Master and plunged himself into misery for earthly gain, committing the foulest treachery in this world's history.

Within the Upper Room the atmosphere was now more relaxed, more conducive to intimate conversation. The Lord had much to say to the men He was soon to leave as witnesses in a hostile world. But as well as meeting the immediate needs of the disciples, of at least equal importance was the necessity to inaugurate that unique divine ordinance which we know as the Remembrance. Multitudes of disciples worldwide, in succeeding generations until the Lord's return, would need a means by which they could in fellowship together week by week recall to their minds the cross and all that is associated with it. Happy for us that the Lord, although in the shadow of the cross, was not too preoccupied to remember us! The united worship which flows from the hearts of the Lord's people as they contemplate the Saviour is a delight to God and a source of renewal and refreshment of spirit to those who participate. The ministry of the Upper Room being completed, the little band went

out into the darkness and, as they had often done before, withdrew into the garden of Gethsemane, a secluded place where "He oft-times resorted". Now for the last time in the quietness of the garden the Lord knelt to pray to His Father. In agony of soul, for the wrath of God would soon fall upon Him on account of sin, His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. Meanwhile Judas was leading his accomplices to the retreat he knew so well and had no difficulty in finding his Victim. Arousing the sleeping disciples, the Lord waited for Judas who was at the head of a large company armed with swords and staves. He planted the traitor's kiss on the Master's cheek, the sign which enabled the chief priests' servants to complete the arrest in the sure knowledge that their prisoner was Jesus. Although the disciples had shortly before assured the Lord they were ready to die for Him, as soon as they realized what had happened they all forsook Him and fled, and He was led away by His captors to be tried by the Jewish council. Thus ended "The night in which He was betrayed".

Endpiece

Martin Luther said he studied his Bible as he gathered apples. First he

shook the whole tree, that the ripest might fall; then he climbed the tree and shook each limb, and when he had shaken each limb, he shook each branch; and after each branch, every twig. Then he looked under every leaf. Search the Bible as a whole. Read it as you would any other book. Then study Book after Book. Then give attention to the chapters and after this carefully study the paragraphs and sentences. And you will be rewarded if you then search the meaning of the words.