At the Last Supper, did Jesus know he would rise again?

An interesting question has come to my mind in the renewed discussion on whether the risen Jesus has blood. To a slightly off topic question about the Last Supper from Rick Ritchie I gave an answer on which I am now expanding.

Rick thought it strange that Jesus would ask his disciples to do something in memory of his death before that death actually happened. I disagreed, writing:

I don’t see an inherent contradiction in the disciples being asked to repeat this in remembrance of him. I can quite imagine for example a dying old man taking his children to his favourite place and asking them to gather there regularly to remember him after he has gone. Similarly with Jesus’ Last Supper, on the understanding that he knew he was about to die.

But this question then occurred to me:

Would Jesus have said this if he had been sure at the time that he would rise again?

That is, would Jesus have asked his disciples to eat the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of him if he had known that his death was only a temporary matter, for a few days? This of course raises the question of whether he did in fact know this.

The synoptic gospels (Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:19; Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:34; Luke 9:22, 18:33) have Jesus predicting his resurrection as well as his death, even as he was on his final journey to Jerusalem; in John the equivalent is Jesus’ confident “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25) as well as the more enigmatic “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (2:19). Some scholars certainly hold that these resurrection sayings are not original words of Jesus, but in claiming this they are showing their naturalistic presuppositions, that Jesus could not know the future – and for some of them that the resurrection was in fact only “spiritual” because they cannot accept the physical reality of a “supernatural” event.

But perhaps we need to avoid an opposite error, that of making Jesus so divine and always so confident in his divinity or at least in his calling that he always knew and was confident that he would be resurrected. It is hard to explain the agony in Gethsemane if Jesus is taken as knowing this for certain. On my understanding we see a truer picture of the earthly Jesus as a man called by God, knowing that he was called by God and that God would work things out for him in the end, but at times lacking confidence in that calling. This is not to deny his divine nature, but to suggest that this nature was concealed during his earthly life, even from his own human mind. On this understanding Jesus is a better example for us as we follow in his path.

So, to come back to the Last Supper, at this time was Jesus sure that he would rise again from the dead, and within a few days? Well, we do read in Matthew 26:32 a further prediction of his resurrection, but not a confident one. In John 14:3 we have a reference more to the Second Coming than to the resurrection, and there are also the confusing words of 16:16, repeated in the following verses but never properly explained.

So, then, are we to take Jesus’ words at the Last Supper as a reflection of his temporary lack of confidence in his resurrection? That would imply that they were not intended as anything like the solemn ceremony many have interpreted them as. The three synoptic evangelists, and Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, certainly portray the event as something of great significance. But is this in fact largely a product of later theological reflection?

I write this largely to put the cat among the pigeons. I have no fixed position to present. But I would love to receive comments on this!

20 thoughts on “At the Last Supper, did Jesus know he would rise again?

  1. An interesting question to think about is whether Jesus thought his physical resurrection would be at his ultimate Second Coming, not an event just three days later. And if you split hairs, wasn’t his resurrection really the second coming?

  2. Hi Peter. Interesting thoughts – really enjoyed reading them.

    I think that for many years I think I viewed Jesus as pretty much divine, although I knew in theory that he was both. So my view ended up being like in most of the films and paintings – a distant man, almost floating along the roads of Judea on a brief trip out of heaven. However it was hard to identify with this person – I knew I should love him but found it hard to love someone I didn’t know. And he didn’t seem much like my friend.

    However considering his humaness has been brilliant. I now feel like I know him as a person, someone who can be my friend, someone I can learn to love. The genius of God coming as a person so these things become possible.

    So, yes, what state of mind was he in at that time? What did he know for sure? What were his doubts?

    I have been involved with a project called the Mark Drama recently (www.themarkexperiment.com). This is a drama of the whole of Marks Gosple which a church group can put on with the help of a director. When you have to act it out, it really makes you have to face these kind of questions.

    So … I don’t know what to think about your original question. However what it has made me think is the love he shows to us that he went through with it all anyway, despite his doubts of what was/wasn’t going to happen.

  3. ElShaddai, I know you are interested in full preterism, but is it the full preterist position that the resurrection was the second coming? It clearly wasn’t the Apostle Paul’s understanding. But I do see the resurrection as the beginning of the age to come, which is now here running in parallel with the old age – to oversimplify a complex subject.

    Chris, thanks for your thoughts, which tie up well with mine. See also what I wrote about the blood of the risen Jesus: I consider that not only when he was on earth but even now in heaven Jesus is fully human and so able to be our friend.

  4. As far as I know it, full preterists believe that the second coming was a spiritual event in AD 70. I do not agree with that position and reject the implication that there is no future redemption of Creation.

    The question I have not able to answer to my satisfaction is whether the destruction of Jerusalem was a sign that the covenant between God and Jewish people had ended. Paul wrote that the Jews had been put aside until the time of the Gentiles was completed, but the events of AD 70 fit powerfully with the descriptions of the covenant curses of the Mosaic covenant, nevermind God’s promises in Jeremiah and Ezekiel to create a new covenant in the hearts of his people.

    If the Church has only temporarily taken the place of the Jews, then my understanding would be that the destruction of Jerusalem was another sign (in addition to Pentecost) to confirm that Jesus was installed at the right hand of God as Lord of Lords and had begun his reign, conquering all enemies, in this case the apostate Jewish religious leadership.

    If the Church has permanently replaced Judaism in covenant relationship with God, then the destruction of Jerusalem was a sign that the old covenant between God and Jewish people had ended.

    The age to come exists now spiritually through the Church; we await the physical consummation of God’s redemptive plan.

  5. Thanks, ElShaddai. Well, if AD 70 was the fulfilment of the curses of Deuteronomy 28, what is the fulfilment of the restoration promises of 30:1-10? Perhaps 1948 and 1967, and even a future restoration of the Temple? Or is all this fulfilled in the church? Interesting but complicated questions, and not really on topic here. But I agree with you in rejecting full preterism.

  6. I think “contradiction” is not quite what I had in mind. My point was to show that besides “This is my body,” there were other things said at the Last Supper that, though they make sense to us now, may not have been understood fully by the disciples. On any understanding of the Lord’s Supper, even a memorial understanding, we cannot say the disciples all had full understanding of what they were doing. At that point in the story, given how they were portrayed, what he was doing was probably enigmatic to them. If St. Paul equates remembering Jesus with proclaiming the Lord’s death, then a large part of what “remembrance” itself would entail was not probably clear to the disciples, even if it was clear to Jesus. My broader point was that Jesus had a broader purpose than communicating only to his disciples on that night. He wanted to communicate to us.

    Your questions as to what Christ understood when are interesting. When I finally rented “The Last Temptation of Christ” (and endured the awful first half hour, though in hindsight it is helpful to the movie as a whole), I found the wrestling with that question to be intriguing. And of all the movies I have seen, I think by the end of the movie, it has the highest Christology. The others, though pious, make him something neither fully God nor fully man.

    Could Jesus perhaps know intellectually that he would rise, while being emotionally overwhelmed by what he faced?

  7. Thanks, Rick.

    On any understanding of the Lord’s Supper, even a memorial understanding, we cannot say the disciples all had full understanding of what they were doing.

    Indeed, I would never claim otherwise.

    Jesus had a broader purpose than communicating only to his disciples on that night. He wanted to communicate to us.

    I’m not so sure about this one. But I would accept that he wanted to communicate something which he knew would only be understood later, whether by the disciples or by others.

    Could Jesus perhaps know intellectually that he would rise, while being emotionally overwhelmed by what he faced?

    Yes, that suggestion makes sense to me.

  8. Given the earlier discussion of how to conceive Jesus as fully human, I can understand some reticence toward talking about Jesus thinking about us.

    I just noticed that one of the passages I would cite to suggest he did differs in various versions. In John 17:20, Jesus says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (NIV). Most versions take this as future, while NASB uses the present tense. It seems to be a present participle, taken as future by many translators. Has this passage figured into your perpective on this one way or the other?

  9. Didn’t Jesus explicitly predict his resurrection several times? It doesn’t do to say that you deliver the very words of God and that you will rise from the dead if you don’t really know you’ll rise from the dead.

    As for Gethsemane, isn’t Jesus’ separation from the Father a bad enough thing to anticipate to cause agony without assuming that he thought it would last forever?

  10. Yes, Jeremy. I clearly stated that Jesus predicted his resurrection, and denied the sceptical position that these predictions were added to his words after the event.

    But it is quite possible to predict something but then later to doubt its truth. Some weather forecasters yesterday predicted a sunny afternoon for today. Maybe when they saw it snowing this morning they began to doubt their prediction. But in fact they were correct, the evening sun is shining on me as I write. I don’t put Jesus’ predictions of his resurrection in quite the same category as weather forecasts, but we should not assume that the human Jesus was always 100% confident about the truth of his predictions.

    As for Gethsemane, you may be right, I don’t know.

  11. The answer to the question of Christ thinking He was giving His life forever to save humanity as a sacrafice or that He would die as a human [temporary death – flesh body gone] and then be resurected to the right side of God is found on the cross when He tells the thief “today, you will be with me in paradise” obviously knowing His future with the Father.

  12. Mark, that’s an interesting point. But since the repentant thief did not immediately rise again, not surprisingly these words have usually been taken to refer to some kind of intermediate state rather than to the ultimate resurrection life.

  13. “If Jesus knew he would be resurrected, wasn’t His death an empty gesture?
    He knew he wouldn’t be dead forever, just out of earth for a few days”.
    (where was He during these 3 days? in paradise with the thief on that same day? or paying the price for all our sins, separated from the Father, in hell for 3 days?)

    “We know crucifixion was painful, but that’s not the only point. Thousands of people were crucified. It was Jesus’s death and resurrection that makes the story important to Christians. However, Christ died with the knowledge that he would be resurrected, which would render his gift meaningless”. Or does it?

    “Christians have subjected people to torture far worse than crucifixion, and prolonged their agony far longer than Christ suffered on the cross. Crucifixion is less painful compared to “slow slicing”, the practice of using a knife to methodically remove body parts from the condemned over the course of 3 days”.

    Ask any decent man in your church or non-church community, if they would give their lives in order to save humanity: They would.
    Of course they would, specially if they knew everything would be ok 3 days later.
    They would even if they had no certainty of an after life in heaven.
    They would even if they were not the direct son of God.
    They would even if they were certain they would seize to exist, both physically and spiritually.
    They would even if they were certain an eternal existence in hell awaited them, covered in fire, getting poked in the eyes, through eternity.
    They still would pay the “ultimate price” to save humanity. Most people would, regardless of their faith or belief.

    It is not then “just” the death and pain themselves that give Christ the merit of saving us. It is that He rose again, defeated death, showing us a path to follow, to an eternity with the Father, in a better place.
    By resurrecting He showed us He is in fact God.
    “People say, show me a man who rose from death, and I will believe that He is God”. He did!!!

    Whether or not he knew he would rise again (and I am sure he did), that is not the point. He knew He had to show his disciples(and all of us) that through Him, life is eternal, by resurrecting, so that everyone who believed in Him, would be granted eternal life, by His grace and forgiveness, forgiving all our sins.


    If He was not sure of His predictions, how would the rest of us flawed/normal human beings then be expected to have bullet proof, 100%, faith?
    Is there not a day that our humanity questions the existence of a creator?
    If doubt is part of our nature…where we then created to doubt? flawed? set up?
    But if you choose to follow His steps on Earth, thus accepting His existence as creator and savior:
    by His grace you will be saved…..even when those doubts creep in, even after tsunamis, earthquakes, loss of loved ones, pain, or child suffering.


    But what if you don’t attempt to follow His steps.
    It would be fair that you would simply seize to exist, physically and spiritually, at the time of your physical death.
    But that seems not to be the case:
    If you don’t follow the steps, you are condemned to a painful eternity (getting poked in the eyes, with pointy knives on fire). Let me say that again: painful eternity, in hell.
    That is what does not seem fair: to be condemned to that painful eternity, based on our earthly actions, done in a “few” years of life in this world, for a living being that did not ask to be created, nor tested.
    (few years of life in this world…..merely an insignificant fraction of eternity).
    In my human opinion, not fair indeed. The price for “free will” seems a bit high, huh? if you don’t do good in Earth, you will suffer ETERNALLY in hell? doesn’t seem very “loving” from our creator. Be good for an insignificant amount of time, or suffer forever in hell…..FOREVER. not fair at all, huh?
    There are good men, fathers, mothers, people that simply do not accept Jesus as their savior. Is it fair to them to suffer eternal fire? Wouldn’t it be better to just seize to exist? as opposed to eternal pain?
    At church we claim everyone will have had a chance to hear the gospel, before judgement day. To my earthly eyes, this is not the case. Everyday people die worldwide, without having EVER heard the gospel, or the name “Jesus”. (try the far east in the first half of last century, for example)
    People will be judged according to their own law?
    (if your law requires you to force “by force” your faith on someone else, stone a sinful person, decapitate your enemy, kill thousands in the name of your god, etc……. your law will not save you)

    How that works, we do not know. But the good thing about it all, is that we do not need to know or understand it.
    Just like science may or may not be able to explain everything…. we do not need to know it all. It is beyond us.

    Everything did not come from nothing. There is a creator. Ours is one of love, not holy war. Our is one of relationship, not religion. Ours is one of action, not of self meditation on distant mountains.
    Ours came to Earth. Suffered our own troubles. And rose again.
    It is not just that He died for us. It is that He lives for us.
    Ours is one of love: Jesus Christ.

  14. He provides the way out, the path to Heaven!
    It is in us to make sure the gospel goes worldwide, so everybody will have a chance to hear the good news!!

    share Christ with someone today!

  15. David, thank you for reopening this old discussion. I don’t have time to get into this again, except to say that I agree with most of what you say, including your objections to the traditional Christian teaching on eternal punishment.

  16. Okay… So I realize this conversation is a couple of years old, but I did want to add a couple things for everyone to think about. Seeing as how it never clearly says, “Jesus predicted the future because He is God” in the Bible, we have to speculate. He was fully God while also fully man. We all agree on that, even though it’s not a concept we can fully grasp. He could not see into the future like Father God in heaven on the throne. Just like many others in the Bible, Father God gave Him clear visions on His purpose and His calling while on Earth. Is it possible that, at the last supper, when Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me,” that He knew what was going to happen because the Father had revealed it to Him? And even though scripture strongly suggest that Christ knew He would rise again, said that, not out of doubt, that He would not rise from the dead, but that He knew He would no longer physically be on Earth with them and to do that to remember the Jesus they had followed and listened to for all that time? Is it possible that He knew He would rise from the dead to prove to the world that He overcame death and knew He wasn’t physically staying; knowing all that with certainty because the Father showed Him that and He trusted the Father with everything that He was while on Earth?

    As for the above comments about being unfairly judged, Romans 1:20 says, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20 ESV) Whether they have heard the full gospel or not, we are all without excuse. The Lord knows the hearts of His creation and will judge fairly those who call on His name.

    Also, Romans 8 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (‭Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭18-21‬ ESV) In other words, we didn’t ask to be born into sin. It’s because of the fall of man.

    Does He create people knowing that they will reject Him and sin against Him? Yes. Unfortunately. Luckily, according to His truth, He gives us the key to unlock our chains and be set free. Scripture tell us that God is love, but why create us if He knew we were headed toward imminent destruction? We can sort of piece this together with different scripture although there are likely answers we just can’t know until we see Jesus face to face.

    Please allow me to start with this, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (‭Ephesians‬ ‭1‬:‭4-6‬ ESV). Yes, He loved us before we were ever created. “…the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭31‬:‭3‬ ESV). An everlasting love.

    God’s purpose was to create a world in which His glory could be manifest in all it’s fullness. “God’s wrath and God’s mercy display the riches of His glory, but we cannot see either without the fall of mankind. We would never know grace if we had never needed grace. Therefore, all of God’s plan—including the fall, election, redemption, and atonement of mankind—serves the purpose of glorifying God. When man fell into sin, God’s mercy was immediately displayed in God’s not killing him on the spot. God’s grace was immediately evident in the covering He provided for their shame (Genesis 3:21). God’s patience and forbearance were later on display as mankind fell deeper and deeper into sin. God’s justice and wrath were on display when He sent the flood, and God’s mercy and grace were again demonstrated when He saved Noah and his family. God’s holy wrath and perfect justice will be seen in the future when He deals with Satan once and for all (Revelation 20:7–10).”

    David brought up some points that are frequently asked by non-believers but did not give much in the way for answers. Christ’s death was far more than a crucifixion. “As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—” (‭Isaiah‬ ‭52‬:‭14‬ ESV). David, I’m not sure where you are getting anything else from.

    David, you also said in your post, “Ask any decent man in your church or non-church community, if they would give their lives in order to save humanity: they would.”

    I have to disagree with you on this one. I know plenty of decent men in and outside of church and not one of them would die for a man that has raped his daughter or murdered his wife. Yet, the Father sent His son to do just that. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (‭Romans‬ ‭5‬:‭7-8‬ ESV) Is scripture lying?

    All that to say, God’s love in unconditional and unrelenting. He wants us to be in relationship with Him. He is not some angry smiting God who sits on His throne and throws thunderbolts. He is not the Father who beats His children when they do something wrong. He is a God of love, grace, and mercy. Those who deny Him, do so by their own free will and it breaks His heart. Everything He does, He does with a purpose. Everything He allows, He allows so that we may have a chance to see His glory. He loves us more than we could ever comprehend. He is for us. He wants us to inherit His Kingdom with Him.

    Go love on someone today and share with them the furious, unrelenting, incredible, unconditional love of God.

  17. Jarrad, to be honest, the issue is that I don’t have time to go through the details of everything you wrote. I didn’t see anything specific that I disagree with but I don’t want to state full agreement with something I have not studied in detail.

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