Mitch Chase serves as the Preaching Pastor at Kosmosdale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He writes:
When Matthew narrates the scene of the last supper, Jesus was dining with his twelve disciples (Matt. 26:20). So Judas was present–at first.
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (Matt. 26:21). The disciples replied, one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” (26:22). Matthew doesn’t focus on any individual yet. Then after Jesus said it would have been better if the betrayer had never been born (26:24), Judas speaks. “Is it I, Rabbi?” (26:25).
The narrative continues in Matthew 26:26-28 with the dispensing of the bread and the passing of the cup, and the impression is that all twelve disciples receive the bread and cup from Jesus. Matthew doesn’t report anyone missing.
But the Fourth Gospel sheds some light on this table. When Jesus said “one of you will betray me” (John 13:21), the disciples were uncertain of the betrayer’s identity (13:22). The beloved disciple (probably John?) was sitting beside Jesus (13:25). He asked, “Lord, who is it?” (13:25). Jesus responded, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it,” and then Jesus dipped a morsel and handed it to Judas, who must have been sitting next to him on the other side (13:26). Despite what a moment this was, the rest of the group seemed oblivious (13:28). But Judas knew that Jesus knew.
Now comes John 13:30: “So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.”
Here’s how the events may have unfolded at the last supper. Jesus prophesies a betrayer from the twelve, and the disciples respond with uncertainty (Matt. 26:20-25). With this conversation still hanging in the air, the beloved disciple asks the identity of the betrayer, Jesus says he will give a dipped morsel to the betrayer, Jesus then gives the dipped morsel to Judas, and after receiving the morsel Judas immediately left (John 13:25-30).
Only then does the meal transition to the breaking of the bread and the passing of the cup (Matt. 26:26-28). While Jesus began the meal in 26:20 with all twelve disciples present, by the time he interpreted the bread as his body and the cup as his blood, Judas had already left (John 13:30).
A Question was then asked, “What about Luke’s account?
“In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.” (Luke 22:20–21)”
Response: Great question. When you read commentators on Luke’s Gospel, one argument you find is that Luke sometimes ordered his accounts topically instead of sequentially. For example, the saying in Luke 22:18 comes before the bread-breaking in Luke’s account, but it occurs after the cup-sharing in Matthew and Mark’s accounts. And in Luke 22:22 he pronounces a woe on his betrayer after the speaking about the “cup,” whereas in Matthew and Mark’s accounts Jesus speaks a “woe” on his betrayer before the elements are interpreted at all. In Luke 22:23, Luke places the disciples questioning “which of them it could be who was going to do this” after the interpretation of the bread and cup, but Matthew and Mark place that moment before the interpretation of the elements. These examples show that Luke’s account of the last supper differs in sequence from the consistent accounts in Matthew and Mark. This tells us that Luke’s design is not about the sequence of the events or sayings at the last supper. So Luke 22:21-23, ” ‘But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it is has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!’ And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this,” is not placed sequentially in the last supper account. Matthew and Mark’s accounts rightly place that passage in Matthew 26:20-24 and Mark 14:17-21 before the events of the breaking of the bread and the passing of the cup. And in John’s parallel account in John 13, he reports that Judas immediately left the room after the discussion about who Jesus’ betrayer would be (John 13:21-30).
Consider this too. We know that Judas departed from the disciples at some point because he shows up with a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and Pharisees (John 18:3) so that he might betray Jesus to them with a kiss. In other words, the question isn’t whether Judas left the room but WHEN. And neither Matthew, nor Mark, nor Luke report when Judas exited the home where the last supper was being held. The Synoptics, then, are silent. Only John tells us when Judas left, and Judas left immediately after the conversation about who Jesus’ betrayer would be–a conversation that Matthew and Mark report, in sequence, BEFORE Jesus broke the bread and passed the cup.