How many were with Ye’shua/Jesus at the meal He was eating, the evening before He was executed? You may well reply: “Unnecessary question? The passage says: ‘And in the evening, He comes with the twelve.’” Mark 14:17. So that seems to settle the matter, does it not? Actually, does it?
Sadly, many, many books, commentaries and centuries of careless preaching have promoted the view that there were only the Twelve. However, when we look a little harder and with more care, there are questions to ask.
Luke 22:12 says “And he will show you a large furnished upper room…..Having gone there, they prepared there the Passover.” “A large furnished room…”. Why a large room for twelve people and furnished? Any member of a Home group/Bible Study group will know that food is served to similar numbers in quite small rooms. And look, they went to the Upper Room1 to prepare Passover, it is likely to have been at least as big as the family room.
Perhaps also you have in mind a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, regularly used as a visual aid when preachers speak about this meal. But, it is time to set aside those Renaissance paintings, painted for the artist’s wealthy patrons of the day. Paintings that are more concerned with incorporating the faces of the patron’s powerful associates, friends and families than accurate portrayals of this meal Ye’shua/Jesus is having with his followers. In truth, those old paintings were more political than biblical. We have to put them aside in our search for a truthful answer.
In fact, the Twelve were reduced to eleven, plus Ye’shua/Jesus, after Judas had left the room, John 13:26b-30. Very well, provided we remain only with the contextual evidence of the Gospels, we may keep to the conventional number. Yeshua sits with the Twelve until Judas leaves and then the group is reduced to twelve in total. However, the Gospels are not the totality of the Bible; not even of the New Testament’. So we must consider if there is evidence elsewhere?
In Jesus and the Eyewitnesses2, Professor Baukham refers to the account of the election of a replacement for Judas Iscariot: “Peter states that a candidate for this vacancy must be someone who has
‘…accompanied us [ie, the eleven remaining members of the twelve] during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us3, beginning (arxamenos) from the Baptism of John, until the day He was taken up from us’ Acts 1:21-22 NRSV”
But who were those who accompanied the Twelve?
Note, not someone who is a convert since the resurrection.
Not an occasional participant at some events where Jesus spoke.
Not even someone who had been around most of the time but
someone who “accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in & out among us,”.
This was to be an important appointment. For the election there would have to be a defined approved constituency, a returning officer, candidates, qualifications for the post to be filled and the role of the elected person clearly defined, ie the specific role of the Twelve as Apostles. Humanity tends to be formal about such matters and a record is kept of the proceedings, usually known as The Minutes.
Here, in Acts 1:15-26, we find: the minutes of the Election to fill the casual vacancy among the Twelve pursuant upon the treachery and death at his own hand of Judas Iscariot A1: 16-20
- Retuning Officer: Peter A1:15
- Vacancy: Member of the Twelve, an Apostle A1:20c
- Requirements for the vacancy: Candidates must have been present with the Twelve whenever Jesus was there among the Twelve – beginning with the Baptism of John to the day when He was taken up from us. A1:22
- Role: witness (martyra4) to His resurrection A1:22
- Candidates: Justus (Joseph called Barsabbas) and Matthias A1:23
- Constituency: The Brothers and a nameable number (known by name) amounting to 120 persons, who had been present throughout with the Twelve whenever Jesus was present. A1:15, 21
- The Elector: God, by lot, cast among the 120 A1:26
“And having prayed: knower of the hearts of all men, show us which you have chosen of these two”, lots were cast The result being:
- Elected Apostle: Matthias A1:26
The purpose of characterising the event in this manner is to show that it was a serious, properly conducted and recorded election in which God participated. We must therefore take seriously this number of 120 persons known by name who were always present whenever Ye’shua/Jesus came and went among the Twelve.
If the 120 were always present when Jesus was present with the Twelve it follows unavoidably then, that the 120 were present when Ye’shua/Jesus was at the Passover meal the evening before He was executed.
Is there more evidence to support this proposition that Ye’shua/Jesus was always in the company of 120 people even when the text does not directly refer to them? Supporting evidence comes from an unexpected source in Mark 10:32 :
And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,
“they were on the road,”. Who is this “they” that is going up to Jerusalem? Ye’shua/Jesus is walking ahead of them. Again who is this “them”, who it seems were amazed. Then there are “those who followed who were afraid.”.
So there is Ye’shua/Jesus and there is a group who are amazed, then another group who were afraid. Here is a well-presented picture of a line of people trailing along the road to Jerusalem: Ye’shua/Jesus….the amazed…..the afraid.
Next we are told, Ye’shua/Jesus takes aside the Twelve to tell them what is to happen. Perhaps they form a circle , off to the side of the road. He explains the unpleasantness that is to happen to him before He rises again after three days. It seems there is a kind of heirachy among the followers of Ye’shua/Jesus
a) Yeshua the master
b) Peter, James and John the Beloved who are leaders among the Twelve
c) the Twelve, including Peter, James and John
d) The others
You can see here that Peter, James & John are not identified on this occasion but you will remember the Transfiguration, Mark 9:2-13.
This crowd of others who are rarely mentioned, are almost certainly the known nameables we found in (Acts 1:15 – 26), in the “Upper Room” taking part in the election of a replacement for Judas described above. Altogether these c) & d) groups above total 120 and the bulk of them tend to be taken for granted. There is a clue as to why this may be so for some of them in Acts 1: 13 & 14.
It is very likely that this 120 at the election and these others with Ye’shua/Jesus and the Twelve are the same small crowd of people. This is not a crowd who were sometimes together but always present when Ye’shua/Jesus is present with the Twelve.
From here we can go on to say, with confidence, that if Ye’shua/Jesus is together with the Twelve at this last Passover so too were the rest of the 120 on the evening before He was executed. It was a large gathering. Lots of food was prepared.
How many were with Ye’shua/Jesus, at the meal He ate the evening before He was executed? One hundred and twenty.
- Bailey K Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, SPCK ↩
- Baukham Richard Jesus and the Eyewitnesses Eerdmans 2006, page 114 ↩
- The expression “went in & out” is semitic roughly the same as the English “comings & goings” ↩
- Our word witness hardly does justice to the Greek word. We might better say today: “I saw him alive after His crucifixion, Crucify me too if you like but I saw him alive and that’s the truth.” ↩