The Secret of the Last Supper
The Last Supper refers to the last meal that Jesus Christ had with His twelve disciples the day before His death on the cross. It is also called the Lord’s Supper.
The Last Supper is one of the topics covered by many painters. The German painter Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) in the 15th century, Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) called the ‘Father of French Classicism’ in the 17th century, Giovanni Basttista Tiepolo (1696–1770) in the 18th century, and Salvador Dali (m. 1934–1982) a Spanish surrealist painter and dozens of other painters left behind works based on the Last Supper. The most famous among these is the Last Supper painted by Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”
‘The Last Supper’, painted by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci is said to have been completed over a three year period from 1495 to 1498. It is painted in the dining room of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. This work, is considered one of the greatest achievements of the Renaissance period because of its excellent originality, formal beauty, and the way it deals with sublime subjects. In 1980 UNESCO designated Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” as a World Heritage Site as “a unique artistic achievement, of an exceptional universal value that transcends all historical contingencies.”
A prominent characteristic of this painting is the enlivened depiction of the twelve disciples’ gestures and expressions. A British art historian Ernst H. J. Gombrich explains in his book “The Story of Art,” that Leonardo da Vinci describes the reaction of Jesus’ disciples right after He said, ‘”Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me ···”’ In the four gospels in the Bible, there are recorded scenes of the disciples asking Jesus in turn who will betray Him (Matthew 26:21-22, Mark 14:18-19, Luke 22:23, John 13:25). This was the moment Da Vinci wanted to express.
While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me–one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?”(Mark 14:18-19)
The painting above is Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”. If look closely at the picture, the disciples are divided into four groups of three each. And Jesus was seated at the middle of the table. According to the commentary at the UNESCO Heritage site, the first group to the very left of the only son is Bartholomew, James the Less (a.k.a. Janes the Little), and Andrew. They are shocked by Jesus’ remarks. The second group is Peter, Judas, and John. Peter is leaning towards John, while John is sitting next to Jesus, and pushing on Judas. Judas stands out in the painting without being painted separately from the others. Leonardo Da Vinci did not follow the traditional method of deliberately isolating the traitor, Judas to sit alone. The third group is Thomas, James (John’s brother, a.k.a. James the Great), and Philip. They are eager to confirm their loyalty to Jesus. The fourth group is Matthew, Thaddeus, and Simon. They are engaged in a heated discussion and are not paying attention to Jesus.
The actions of the twelve disciples’ are recorded in the New Testament. Through their actions, we can tell that each disciple had a different personality. Thomas had many doubts (John 20:25-29), Peter had a quick and fiery temper (Matthew 15:26-29, 16:15-16, 26:33, John 13:5-9), and Judas who was in charge of the money, was good at mathematics and had worldly desires (John 12:4-6).
In Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”, symbolic elements are depicted according to the disciples’ personality characteristics. According to the Britannica Encyclopedia, the fact that Peter had a knife in his hand shows his fiery temper upon hearing the words from his teacher, foretelling how he would sever the ear of the servant of the High Priest when Jesus was arrested. The fact that Judas is holding the moneybag shows how he would sell His teacher for 30 pieces of silver.
The food at the Last Supper was bread and wine. The meaning of the bread and wine was much more than just a meal.
The Meaning of Bread and Wine at the Last Supper
The bread and wine contained in the painting ‘The Last Supper’ has a very different meaning from the food usually eaten.
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table ··· “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” ··· (Jesus) took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you,” ··· In the same way, after the supper he took the cup (wine), saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.(Luke 22:15, 19-20)
Jesus foresaw His end. Jesus, who knew of the suffering on the cross that was approaching, broke bread and gave it to His disciples saying, “This is my flesh that is given for you,” then He took the wine saying, “This cup is my blood which is shed for you.” Jesus placed a seal of approval on the bread and wine with His flesh and blood, which would be torn and shed through crucifixion. He completely sacrificed His life for the salvation of humankind.
··· Romans did not limit the number of lashes, hence sometimes victims not even sentenced to death died or were disabled under cruel supervisors. … leather whips “whose thongs were knotted and interspersed” with pieces of iron or bone, or a spike. This torture left skin hanging from the back in bloody strips.(Keener, C. S. (2012). Jesus’ Scourging. In The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. essay, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.)
Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged ··· the soldiers crucified Jesus ··· one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.(John 19:1, 23, 34)
Jesus placed His seal of approval on the bread and wine of the Last Supper with His flesh and blood, which was torn and shed through crucifixion. Therefore, the bread and wine that the disciples ate and drank on that day was not a simple evening supper. This ceremony contains the merit of the great love of the atonement of Jesus Christ.
The Biblical Name for the Last Supper is…?
Leonardo da Vinci painted a depiction of the last supper Jesus had with His twelve disciples the day before His crucifixion, and named it “The Last Supper.” Then, what is the biblical name of the last supper?
He (Jesus) replied ··· I am going to celebrate the Passover ··· at your house.’ So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover ··· When the evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve ··· took bread, ··· and broke it, ··· “Take and eat; this is my body.” ··· took the cup (wine), ··· offered it to them ··· This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many ···(Matthew 26:18-28)
The disciple Matthew was present at the Last Supper. He revealed that the day on which Jesus gave the Last Supper was the ‘Passover’ and recorded that He established the covenant through the bread and wine which they ate and drank that night. The same scene is also recorded in the 『Gospel of Mark』 and 『The Gospel of Luke』, these Gospels also recorded the ceremony of eating bread and wine representing the flesh and blood of Jesus at the Passover supper banquet as the “New Covenant” (Mark 14:16, 22-24; Luke 22:15, 19-20). John, who participated in the ‘New Covenant’ Passover supper with Jesus, wrote as follows.
Jesus said, “··· unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life ··· For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.(John 6:53-55)
Human is only sustained by eating food. Jesus said that people must eat and drink the food and drink which is His flesh and blood to have eternal life. For humankind who cannot help but die because of sin, eternal life means receiving salvation. And the way to eat and drink Jesus’ flesh and blood which contains the promise of salvation, is the New Covenant Passover.
Most people do the most meaningful things before they die. In the situation right before His gruesome crucifixion death, Jesus said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover”. (Luke 22:15). The most meaningful thing for Jesus was to feed His disciples the Passover food, sealed with His flesh and blood, giving them the forgiveness of sins and eternal life (Matthew 26:28). Paul, who worked as an apostle after Jesus’ ascension, said that the Passover, which commemorate Christ’s death, must be kept until the end of the world (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
In Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’, the biblical name ‘The New Covenant Passover’ contains the heartbreaking sacrifice and love of Jesus Christ, who gave up both flesh and blood in the hope of salvation of humankind. World Mission Society Church of God is the place where this kind of realization and this kind of sacrifice and love are put into practice, and there are the children of God, the members of the Church of God, who have inherited the true flesh and blood in that love.
- Nicolas Poussin and the Struggles of Gig Work, Getty.
- cenacolovinciano., Leonardo’s Last Supper Museum.
- E.H. Gombrich, The Story of Art, pg. 216, Phaidon, 1950.
- Keener, C. S. (2012). Jesus’ Scourging. In The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. essay, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.