Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
MARK 14:1-11. THE CONTEXT
Verses 1-2 cast a sinister pall. They tell us that it was “two days before the Passover and the unleavened bread” (v. 1), and go on to say that chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to kill Jesus—but “not during the feast, because there might be a riot of the people” (v. 2).
Verses 3-9 tell the story of the anointing at Bethany, where Jesus says, “She has anointed my body beforehand for the burying” (v. 8).
Verses 10-11 tell us that Judas Iscariot offered to betray Jesus, and the chief priests promised him money for doing so.
MARK 14:12-16. THEY PREPARED THE PASSOVER
12On the first day of unleavened bread, when they sacrificed the Passover, his disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare that you may eat the Passover?”
13He sent two of his disciples, and said to them, “Go into the city, and there you will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him, 14and wherever he enters in, tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”‘ 15He will himself show you a large upper room furnished and ready. Get ready for us there.”
16His disciples went out, and came into the city, and found things as he had said to them, and they prepared the Passover.
“On the first day of unleavened bread, when they sacrificed the Passover” (v. 12a). The Feast of Unleavened Bread originally had no association with Passover (Exodus 23:15; 34:18), but came to be associated with Passover because of the Passover prohibition against leaven. By Jesus’ day, Passover was celebrated first and Unleavened Bread followed immediately thereafter.
Passover celebrated Israel’s exodus from Egypt. God had inflicted nine plagues on the Egyptians and was preparing for the tenth plague—the death of the firstborn. God commanded the people of Israel to sacrifice a lamb for each family and to sprinkle the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintel so that the death angel, seeing the blood, would pass over the Israelites’ houses and leave the firstborn untouched (Exodus 12-13).
Exodus 12:42 requires that the Passover vigil “be kept for the Lord by all the Israelites throughout their generations.” The Passover is a night of remembrance—remembering the deliverance from Egyptian slavery—but it is also a night of hope—hope that the Lord who redeemed their past will also redeem their future.
Leviticus 23 specifies the dates that Passover and Unleavened Bread are to be celebrated each year (Leviticus 23:4‑8).
Deuteronomy 16:5-7 requires that Passover lambs be sacrificed in the Jerusalem temple and eaten in the city. The pilgrims were not to begin the journey to return to their homes until the next morning. This requirement resulted in a huge number of pilgrims in Jerusalem at Passover—perhaps 200,000. The city would have been bursting at the seams at Passover.
Even though verse 12a seems quite specific, it raises some questions about timing. The “first day of unleavened bread” should be 15 Nisan, but Passover lambs were sacrificed on 14 Nisan. This verse has the “first day of unleavened bread” and the sacrifice of the lambs on the same day rather than on 14 and 15 Nisan. However, there are various possibilities for reconciling this— including the possibility that, with such overwhelming requirements for temple sacrifices, the priests might have stretched the sacrifices across two or more days.
Furthermore, there is a conflict between this verse and the account in the Gospel of John, where Jesus was crucified on “the Preparation Day of the Passover” (John 19:14; see also John 18:28; 19:31). There have been a number of attempts to reconcile the Synoptic accounts and the Johannine account. The best, in my opinion, holds that none of the Gospels has strict chronology as a high priority. That is particularly true of the Gospel of John, which is overwhelmingly theological rather than chronological. That Gospel appears to place Jesus’ crucifixion concurrent with the sacrifice of the lambs as a theological statement that Jesus is the once-and-for-all-time Lamb of God sacrificed for humankind.
“his disciples asked him, ‘Where do you want us to go and prepare that you may eat the Passover?'” (v. 12b). These preparations would include obtaining unleavened bread, bitter herbs, the sauce in which the herbs would be dipped, and a Passover lamb. As we will see in verse 14, they also include finding a room in Jerusalem where Jesus and the disciples can observe the Passover.
“He sent two of his disciples, and said to them, ‘Go into the city, and there you will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him'” (v. 12). Luke 22:8 identifies these two men as Peter and John.
Jesus’ instructions to his disciples in verses 12-16 are quite similar to his instructions to his disciples in 11:1-6, where he sent two disciples into the village to untie a colt and bring it to Jesus. Scholars are divided with regard to these two stories. Some believe that Jesus made prior arrangements before sending out his disciples. Others believe that these stories are intended to demonstrate Jesus’ divine foreknowledge and control of events.
“A man carrying a pitcher of water” would be unusual, because women or servants usually carried pitchers of water. That is one of the reasons that some scholars assume that Jesus has pre-arranged with a man to carry a jar of water as a means of identification. Some have also suggested that this covert signal was necessary to help Jesus avoid premature arrest.
However, Mark gives no hint that Jesus pre-arranged the signal or that a signal is for the purpose of avoiding premature arrest. Furthermore, the practical difficulties of such action would have been substantial. How would the disciples know exactly where and when to look? Would the man have to carry the jar of water until the disciples arrived? In a city packed shoulder-to-shoulder with pilgrims, how would the disciples find the man in the crowd? It seems better to see the intent here as evidence of Jesus’ divine foreknowledge.
“and wherever he enters in, tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?'” (v. 14). As noted above, people were required to eat the Passover in Jerusalem. The anointing of Jesus took place in Bethany (14:3-9), a village near Jerusalem but not part of Jerusalem. Presumably he is still in Bethany when the disciples offer to go and make Passover preparations. That would explain the necessity of finding a room in Jerusalem in which Jesus and his disciples could observe the Passover.
As was also true in 11:2-3, Jesus gives his disciples very precise instructions with regard to what they are to say. He assumes that the man carrying the jar of water will cooperate and will provide a guest room—a sign of divine providence. The people of Jerusalem would be expected to accommodate Passover pilgrims in their homes, but the demand would be overwhelming. This is the sort of situation in which a person would want to make arrangements as far in advance as possible.
“He will himself show you a large upper room furnished and ready. Get ready for us there” (v. 15). Most Jerusalem homes would be simple single story houses. To have “a large room upstairs, furnished and ready” suggests a certain amount of prosperity.
We don’t know if this is the same upstairs room where the disciples gathered after the resurrection (Acts 1:13). Acts also tells about disciples gathered at the home of “Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark” (Acts 12:12)—who is likely the author of this Gospel. So there is an outside chance that the upper room of the Passover belonged to the mother of the author of this Gospel.
“His disciples went out and came into the city, and found things as he had said to them, and they prepared the Passover” (v. 16). Again, it seems that this verse is intended to suggest the power of Jesus’ divine foreknowledge.
MARK 14:17-21. WHEN IT WAS EVENING, HE CAME WITH THE TWELVE
These verses are not included in the lectionary reading, but the preacher should be aware of them. In these verses, Jesus announces that “he who eats with me” will betray him (v. 18). He further announces, “It is one of the twelve, he who dips with me in the dish” (v. 20)—an especially terrible betrayal in a culture where sharing food is a sign of significant friendship. Jesus then pronounces a woe on the one who will betray him.
MARK 14:22-26. THIS IS MY BODY
22As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had blessed, he broke it, and gave to them, and said, “Take, eat. This is my body.”
23He took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them. They all drank of it. 24He said to them, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many. 25Most certainly I tell you, I will no more drink of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it anew in the Kingdom of God.” 26When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
The observance of Passover would typically involve the following (Lane, 501):
• A blessing of the festival and the wine.
• Drinking the first of four cups of wine.
• Presentation of the food—unleavened bread, bitter herbs, stewed fruit, and lamb.
• The son’s question: “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
• The father’s recounting of the Exodus story.
• A word of praise and thanksgiving for redemption.
• The singing of a Hallel Psalm (from Psalms 113-115).
• Drinking the second cup of wine.
• The taking of bread and the offering of a blessing.
• The breaking of bread and the distribution.
• Eating bread with bitter herbs and stewed fruit.
• Eating roasted lamb.
• Drinking the third cup of wine with a prayer of thanksgiving.
• The singing of a Hallel Psalm (from Psalms 116-118).
• Drinking the fourth cup of wine.
By the time that the Gospel of Mark was written, the Lord’s Supper would have been an established ritual within the early church—observed as a Christian rather than a Jewish rite. The church simplified the Passover observance and tailored it to its theology and needs. The focus became Jesus rather than the Exodus. However, the church retained the Passover emphasis on the blessings bestowed by God in the past and the hope of blessings to be bestowed in the future.
“As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had blessed, he broke it, and gave it to them” (v. 22a). As you can see from the list above, the taking of the bread and the offering of a blessing take place halfway into the festivities. Jesus assumes the role of father in blessing, breaking, and distributing the bread. As noted above, this would have taken place after the drinking of the second cup of wine. The Passover blessing would have been, “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the world, who brings forth bread from the earth” (Edwards). The blessing was therefore a blessing of God rather than bread.
“Take, eat. This is my body” (v. 22b). Matthew’s Gospel reports Jesus as saying, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26). Luke’s Gospel reports Jesus as saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). Paul reports Jesus as saying, “This is my body which is broken for you. Do this in memory of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).
Protestants and Catholics interpret these words quite differently:
• Catholics, interpreting these words literally, believe in Transubstantiation— that the bread and wine, when consecrated, become the body and blood of Christ, even though they maintain the appearance of bread and wine.
• Lutherans believe in Consubstantiation or Real Presence—that “the body and blood of Christ are present to the communicant ‘in, with, and under’ the elements of bread and wine” (Britannica). “Luther illustrated consubstantiation by the analogy of iron put into fire: Iron and fire are united in red-hot iron; yet the two substances remain unchanged” (Encarta).
• Most Protestants interpret Jesus’ words metaphorically, and find in the bread and wine symbols of the body and blood of Jesus and a promise that Christ is truly present with us when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
But we all agree that Jesus transformed the meaning of the bread and wine so that they now point to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross rather than to the Exodus experience. And we all agree that Jesus is present with us in some form in the Eucharist.
“He took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them. They all drank of it” (v. 23). This would be the third of four cups. As noted above, under usual procedure, they would have eaten the roasted lamb between the distribution of the bread and the distribution of the wine.
“This is my blood of the new covenant” (v. 24a). In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, “for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins”(Matthew 26:28).
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20)—note the addition of the word “new.” Paul also used the word “new” when he recorded Jesus words as, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink, in memory of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25). Jeremiah prophesied the establishment of a new covenant—a covenant where God would write his law on people’s hearts and God would “forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
The first mention of “the blood of the covenant” (and the only time that phrase is used in the Old Testament) took place after the giving of the Ten Commandments. At God’s direction, Moses assembled the elders to worship God. They made animal sacrifices and dashed blood against the altar. Moses also took blood and dashed it on the people, saying, “Look, this is the blood of the covenant, which Yahweh has made with you concerning all these words” (Exodus 24:8).
A covenant is an agreement between two parties. Essentially contracts, covenants typically describe what is required of each party and the benefits that each can expect to enjoy. Examples of human covenants would include everything from an agreement between two people to a treaty between two or more nations.
In a relationship between two parties of unequal power, the more powerful person would be in a position to dictate the terms of the covenant. In keeping with this reality, God always initiated covenants with people and established their terms. However, unlike most human covenants, where the terms would favor the more powerful party, covenants between God and humans typically were very generous to the humans.
The first covenant was established by God with Noah, and promised that God would “all flesh will not be cut off any more by the waters of the flood, neither will there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 6:18; 9:9-15).
The next covenant was established between God and Abram. God required of Abram that he leave his father’s house and go to the land that God would show him. In return, God promised to make of Abram a great nation and to bless him and to make him a blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3). While the word covenant was not used in that transaction, it bears the marks of a covenant, because God outlined what Abram would have to do and what God would do for Abram. Later, God covenanted to give the land from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates to Abram (Genesis 15:18). Still later, God covenanted with Abram to make him the father of many nations, even though Abram was old and had no children other than Ishmael, his son by a slave woman. As part of the covenant, God promised to give Abram the land of Canaan. God required Abram to observe circumcision for himself and for all his male progeny and members of his household, including slaves (Genesis 17:1-14).
God renewed this covenant with Moses (Exodus 24) and Joshua (Joshua 24) and Jehoiada (2 Kings 11) and Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:10 and Josiah (2 Kings 23:3) and David (2 Samuel 7:12-17).
These covenants were all preliminary to the new covenant established by Jesus (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25).
“which is poured out for many” (v. 24b). When Jesus said these words, the disciples could imagine him pouring out the cup of wine. Jesus had only recently experienced an anointing with expensive ointment, which caused people to say, “Why has this ointment been wasted? For this might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and given to the poor.” (14:4-5). But Jesus responded, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for me…. She has anointed my body beforehand for the burying” (14:6-9).
In like manner, a cup of wine poured out would appear to be wasteful—as would the blood of Jesus. But Jesus’ blood would be “poured out for many”—a sacrifice to bring salvation to the world. It would not be wasted, but would instead draw people everywhere to Jesus.
“Most certainly I tell you, I will no more drink of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it anew in the Kingdom of God” (v. 25). In this verse, Jesus confirms his expectation that he will soon die—but he also holds out the promise of sharing a cup of wine with his disciples in the kingdom of God. When we partake of the Eucharist, we remember not only what Jesus did for us on the cross, but also that we can expect to have fellowship with him in the kingdom of God.
There is no record of Jesus drinking the fourth cup traditionally associated with the Passover meal. It is that fourth cup that Jesus will share with his disciples in the kingdom of God.
“When they had sung a hymn” (v. 26a). This would be a Hallel Psalm (from Psalms 116-118).
“they went out to the Mount of Olives” (v. 26b). The Mount of Olives was across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. It was not part of Jerusalem proper—and Passover participants were expected to remain in Jerusalem until the next morning. But at Passover, because of the crush of the crowds, religious authorities made exceptions to accommodate the crowds.
The events that follow hard on this text are:
• Jesus foretelling Peter’s betrayal (14:26-31).
• Jesus praying in Gethsemane (14:32-42).
• Jesus’ betrayal and arrest (14:43-52).
• Jesus before the council (14:53-65).
• Peter’s denial (14:66-72).
Chapter 15 records the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Chapter 16 records the resurrection.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Brooks, James A, The New American Commentary: Mark (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1991)
Donahue, John R. and Harrington, Daniel J., Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Mark (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2002)
Edwards, James R., The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002)
Evans, Craig A., Word Biblical Commentary: Mark 8:27 – 16:20 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001)
France, R.T., The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002)
Geddert, Timothy J., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Mark (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 2001)
Hare, Douglas R. A., Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996)
Hooker, Morna D., The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Hendrickson Publishers, 1991)
Hurtado, Larry W., New International Biblical Commentary: Mark (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1983, 1989)
Lane, William L., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974)
Moule, C.F.D., The Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible: The Gospel of Mark(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965)
Perkins, Pheme, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)
Williamson, Lamar Jr., Interpretation: Mark (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1983)
Copyright 2015 Richard Niell Donovan