By TonyaAnn Pember
We celebrate Communion to commemorate the last night Christ spent on earth. His last meal with his disciples is known as the Last Supper. Leonardo DaVinci’s famous painting of this event is a misrepresentation. The actual seating arrangement of the night of Christ’s betrayal was very intentional.
According to the Authentic Last Supper Exhibit at the Liberty Biblical Museum, in Jesus’ time, the upper room of a home held a U-shaped table that allowed servants to serve from the middle. The low table had no chairs, only large pillows. Each diner reclined on their left side, head toward the table, legs stretched out, and ate with their right hand. This position allowed the lowest servant to easily wash guests’ feet.
As host, Jesus would have reclined in the second spot on the left. Tradition and custom required this. The first and third positions were for honored guests. Others sat around the U in order of their importance. The least honored guest would be at the end of the U on the right side. While this seat would be across from the host, it was several yards away. This seat was nearest the basin used for foot washing and a servant would be between the host and the guest.
John 13:23 says John was “reclining next to” Jesus. For him to be “leaning back against Jesus” (v. 25) he would have been sitting at Jesus’ right, the first seat of the table. This same passage indicates that Peter “motioned” for John to inquire of Jesus. Peter had to be sitting far enough away that it might be awkward for him to shout the question, yet close enough to get John’s attention. Scholars believe Peter was sitting across the table in the least important seat.
The most honored seat for the most respected guest was to Jesus’ immediate left. On this night, Judas sat in that honored position. Judas. All four Gospel writers confirm the presence of a traitor sharing the bowl with Jesus.
Jesus knew Judas was the betrayer; he said as much at dinner. And yet, Judas was in the most honored seat. Perhaps Judas elbowed his way to that place, but it is likely our Savior seated Judas next to him. Jesus offered Judas every chance he needed to make a different choice. No greater love.
TonyaAnn Pember is a freelance writer living in Elizabeth, Colorado. She is a retired teacher and National Writing Project fellow. Her first book, Inside Story: 52 Weeks in the Word, was published in August 2021.