Did Judas Receive the Bread and the Cup?

jesus gives morsel of bread to judasWhen Matthew narrates the scene of the last supper, Jesus was dining with his twelve disciples (Matt. 26:20). So Judas was present–at first.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (Matt. 26:21). The disciples replied, one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” (26:22). Matthew doesn’t focus on any individual yet. Then after Jesus said it would have been better if the betrayer had never been born (26:24), Judas speaks. “Is it I, Rabbi?” (26:25).

The narrative continues in Matthew 26:26-28 with the dispensing of the bread and the passing of the cup, and the impression is that all twelve disciples receive the bread and cup from Jesus. Matthew doesn’t report anyone missing.

But the Fourth Gospel sheds some light on this table. When Jesus said “one of you will betray me” (John 13:21), the disciples were uncertain of the betrayer’s identity (13:22). The beloved disciple (probably John?) was sitting beside Jesus (13:25). He asked, “Lord, who is it?” (13:25). Jesus responded, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it,” and then Jesus dipped a morsel and handed it to Judas, who must have been sitting next to him on the other side (13:26). Despite what a moment this was, the rest of the group seemed oblivious (13:28). But Judas knew that Jesus knew.

Now comes John 13:30: “So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.”

Here’s how the events may have unfolded at the last supper. Jesus prophesies a betrayer from the twelve, and the disciples respond with uncertainty (Matt. 26:20-25). With this conversation still hanging in the air, the beloved disciple asks the identity of the betrayer, Jesus says he will give a dipped morsel to the betrayer, Jesus then gives the dipped morsel to Judas, and after receiving the morsel Judas immediately left (John 13:25-30).

Only then does the meal transition to the breaking of the bread and the passing of the cup (Matt. 26:26-28). While Jesus began the meal in 26:20 with all twelve disciples present, by the time he interpreted the bread as his body and the cup as his blood, Judas had already left (John 13:30).

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12 thoughts on “Did Judas Receive the Bread and the Cup?

  1. On this reading, does the reduction in number from 13 to 12 signify anything? Jesus as the cornerstone among the other foundation stones? When Jesus ascends to heaven, a twelfth must be added (hence Acts 1). But in this meal, the 12 (not 13) actually symbolize the true Israel. Thoughts?

  2. I like those thoughts.

    Also, the New Covenant, unlike the Old, represents a pure instead of mixed community. Everyone in the NC knows the Lord, right? So it may be significant that Judas leaves before the elements are interpreted and the “my blood of the [new] covenant” language is spoken. The presence of Judas represented a mixture of community since he was a false disciple. And the absence of Judas meant a pure and reconstituted Israel, since–as you pointed out–the number reduces from 13 to 12 at the table.

  3. What about Luke’s account?

    “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.” (Luke 22:20–21)

    • Great question, Tim. When you read commentators on Luke’s Gospel, one argument you find is that Luke sometimes ordered his accounts topically instead of sequentially. For example, the saying in Luke 22:18 comes before the bread-breaking in Luke’s account, but it occurs after the cup-sharing in Matthew and Mark’s accounts. And in Luke 22:22 he pronounces a woe on his betrayer after the speaking about the “cup,” whereas in Matthew and Mark’s accounts Jesus speaks a “woe” on his betrayer before the elements are interpreted at all. In Luke 22:23, Luke places the disciples questioning “which of them it could be who was going to do this” after the interpretation of the bread and cup, but Matthew and Mark place that moment before the interpretation of the elements. These examples show that Luke’s account of the last supper differs in sequence from the consistent accounts in Matthew and Mark. This tells us that Luke’s design is not about the sequence of the events or sayings at the last supper. So Luke 22:21-23, ” ‘But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it is has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!’ And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this,” is not placed sequentially in the last supper account. Matthew and Mark’s accounts rightly place that passage in Matthew 26:20-24 and Mark 14:17-21 before the events of the breaking of the bread and the passing of the cup. And in John’s parallel account in John 13, he reports that Judas immediately left the room after the discussion about who Jesus’ betrayer would be (John 13:21-30).

      Consider this too. We know that Judas departed from the disciples at some point because he shows up with a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and Pharisees (John 18:3) so that he might betray Jesus to them with a kiss. In other words, the question isn’t whether Judas left the room but WHEN. And neither Matthew, nor Mark, nor Luke report when Judas exited the home where the last supper was being held. The Synoptics, then, are silent. Only John tells us when Judas left, and Judas left immediately after the conversation about who Jesus’ betrayer would be–a conversation that Matthew and Mark report, in sequence, BEFORE Jesus broke the bread and passed the cup.

      • It seems that you’re basing much of your argument on John’s Gospel, which of all the four Gospels, is the most lenient when it comes to ordering of events. The Synoptics are the ones that are typically considered to be more chronologically reliable (consider how John places the clearing of the temple at the beginning of his Gospel narrative and the Synoptics place it at the end…and no, even though the Church Fathers believed there were two temple clearings, evidence does not support that…it supports a John who placed segments of the narrative in odd places to support the themes he wanted to portray). Perhaps John had Judas leaving at that time in order to emphasize the high priestly prayer’s designation for the 11 who would lead the church. Judas clearly leaves the party early, but you can’t just claim that Matthew and Mark are the right ones and Luke is wrong just because Matt and Mark seem to agree with one another. Validity isn’t about majority.

      • Hi Anderson, thanks for your note. We’ll have to agree to disagree on the number of temple cleansings. I believe the one reported in John 2 is different from the temple cleansing in the Synoptics. Contrary to your claim, there is much evidence to support two temple cleansings.

        My argument is that in John’s Gospel, Judas left “immediately” after a conversation that, when seen parallel with Matthew and Mark, occurred before the breaking of bread and the passing of the cup. It is impossible to be 100% sure, of course, but I’m not arguing for dogmatic certainty. But because of John’s comments, I think it is more likely than not that Judas was not present as Jesus interpreted the bread and the cup. The Synoptics, as you know, are silent on when he left. God bless!

  4. There is nothing in the other Gospel accounts that suggests that Judas Iscariot left before the Lord’s Supper was instituted. And there is positive evidence that he partook of it: ““This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table” (Luke 22: 20,21).Judas received the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper from the very hands of Jesus.

  5. The Passover meal has 4 cups. The cup that Jesus shared that represented his body was the third cup of Redemption/New Covenant. So in these four he would have definitely shared the cup with Jesus. Understanding the traditional Passover meal reveals so much meaning in the last supper account.

    • There may have been four cups at the Passover meal, but we can’t be sure. None of the accounts mentions four cups. As David Turner points out in his BECNT commentary on Matthew, the earliest source for Seder liturgy is m.Pesah 10, and the Mishnah “was not redacted and written” until around 200 AD. We should be cautious in assuming that certain practices were definitely practiced by Jesus and the disciples 150 years earlier. Just cautious, that’s all.

      To say Judas “would have definitely shared the cup with Jesus” is a statement that would have to be reconciled with John’s expanded account of the conversation about the betrayer. When viewed parallel in Matthew’s account, John’s words tell us that Judas left immediately after that conversation.

  6. There is no way you can know that Judas did not take the cup and the bread. You were not there. It’s great to be a detective and it is helpful in many ways to piece together the sequence of events, but I find this to be very doubtful. It is important because so many (Baptist, Lutherans) deny the Lord’s Supper to non-believers. If Jesus gave it to Judas, why do we not give it to non-believers? If a non-believer is willing to partake and they approach communion with an open heart, the bread and the cup are a very real, tactile testimony to the Lord, that could be used to open their hearts to the reality of the Gospel. Why is it so important to you to take this away?

  7. Pingback: Did Judas Receive the Bread and the Cup? | Effectual Grace

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