Did Judas take communion?

Question
Matthew, Mark, and John seem to imply that Judas took the Lord's Supper. However, Luke appears at first glance to say otherwise. So, a charge is often made about Jesus not guarding the Table since he knew Judas would betray. If Jesus was properly guarding the Table, why did he allow Judas to take communion?
Answer

There are three main questions that need to be answered here: (1) What does 1 Corinthians 11 say about communion? (2) Did Judas take communion? (3) Did Jesus conduct the Table properly?

The Table in 1 Corinthians

Paul discusses communion in 1 Corinthians 11. He says:

1 Corinthians 11:17-34: 17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. 32 When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.

Briefly, Paul is saying that Corinth had a serious problem with division. Unlike the unity that Christ demonstrated prior to the Lord's Supper where he washed the disciple's feet, etc. (John 13:1-17, etc.), Corinth was sinning and not properly conducting the Supper. In part, their division was spurred on by their lack of love for one another and their lack of holiness individually (humiliation of the poor and drunkenness) and was making the Lord's Supper an empty ceremony (if even that!). There was no unity (1 Cor. 5:11; 6:15, 18; 8:10-13) and thus no true worship.

Paul was instructing the church to be godly in worship pertaining to the Lord's Table. He desired them to follow the example set by Christ (Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20) which was one of truth and unity. He desired them to understand the importance of this type of worship; that is, the essence of true worship is the inner experience of treasuring the true beauty and worth of God, which results in corporate unity.

However, some were taking the meal unworthily. They did not properly discern the Lord's body (verse 29). Some in Corinth were celebrating the Supper in a way that destroyed the unity it represented, and this brought God's judgment. So, Paul says for each person to examine himself individually (cf. Psa. 4:4; 17:3; 26:2; 77:6; 119:59; 139:23-24; Lam. 3:40; Hag. 1:5, 7; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 6:3-4; 1 John 3:20-22). The Lord's Supper is a call to love and self-examination, and self-examination leads to more holy lives and thus church unity.

How should we examine ourselves? This answer if explained in full is rather long and complex. Briefly, however, there are three basic things to ask ourselves: (1) Do we intimately understand the purpose of the Table and that Christ loved the church and gave himself for her? 2) Have we confessed any attitudes and actions that are inconsistent with the love of Christ for his church? (3) Do we trust Jesus for the forgiveness of these bad attitudes and actions and for the will and power to walk again in love?

Judas, Betrayal, and the Table

Mathew (Matt. 26:19-30), Mark (Mk. 14:10-26), and John (Jn. 13:1-30) indicate that Judas "may not" have partaken of the Lord's Table.

In Matthew we read:

Matthew 26:20-27 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me." 22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, "Surely not I, Lord?" 23 Jesus replied, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." 25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you." 26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you.

After Jesus had told Judas what was in his heart (Matt. 26:21-25; John 2:23), the text does not say so, but Judas could have left between verses 25 and 26. Just because something is omitted does not mean it did not happen. In addition, in John 13 below, it clarifies that Judas probably did leave.

In Mark we see a similar version of the same events we saw in Matthew. We read:

Mark 14:18-23 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me - one who is eating with me." 19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?" 20 "It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." 22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." 23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.

While this text also does not say so, Judas could have left between verses 21 and 22.

In John we seem to find some clarification that Judas did leave before the Supper:

John 13:18-13 "I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.' 19 I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. 20 I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me." 21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, "I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me." 22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, "Ask him which one he means." 25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" 26 Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. "What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him, 28 but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

John appears to clarify for us that Judas left the table "immediately" after the dipping of the bread. So, viewing Matthew 26:25-26 and Mark 14:21-22 through John's expanded version of the events, there is an indication that in all three of these Gospels Judas probably left before the Lord's Supper.

Luke 22:1-23, however is worded somewhat differently. At first glance, he appears to say that Judas may have participated. In part, he says:

Luke 22:17-23 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." 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. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him." They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

Judas still appears to be at the table. And this does not appear to agree with Matthew, Mark, and John. So this appears to be a discrepancy. But is it?

Luke wrote using different styles. At times, truths were viewed chronologically and elsewhere topically. Luke did not always write in a sequential fashion. For instance, in Luke's narrative of Christ's baptism (Luke 3:1-20), he mentions the story of John the Baptist, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and his baptizing of the multitude in the Jordan River. He then immediately mentions that King Herod arrested John the Baptist and shut him up in prison (Luke 3:19-20). However, in a chronological timeline we know John the Baptist baptized Jesus prior to his imprisonment and beheading (Matt. 3:13-17;1 4:1-12; Mark 1:9-11; 6:14-29; John 1:29-34). So, Luke adhered to the topical subject matter rather than the sequential order of the events. Luke is not contradicting the chronological events. He merely phrases them topically and not necessarily chronologically.

Another example may help. In the very next chapter in Luke we read of Jesus' rejection in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30). Luke uses this set of events for his introduction of Jesus' ministry in Galilee, whereas Matthew (4:12) and Mark (1:14) tell of this event in terms of its chronology. So, again, while much of Luke's gospel is chronological (Luke 1:1-4), at times Luke also orders the events of Jesus' life according to the basic flow of redemptive-history and the geographical movement of Jesus' travels.

Though these texts present a general outline to Jesus ministry, the choices involving arrangement of material reveal how difficult it is in some cases to determine an exact sequence. At some point, each evangelist covered Jesus' teaching on a topical, not a chronological basis. (Darrell L. Bock, 1995).

We can avoid some of the difficulties created by the slightly differing ordering of events from one gospel to another by recognizing that chronology was not the only criterion for the arrangement of the gospel materials (Robert H. Stein, 1987).

So, the alleged Lukean discrepancy does not really exist.

Jesus and the Table

In my opinion, the Judas situation is really a non-issue when compared to some other events surrounding the institution of the Lord's Supper. While I believe Judas left before the institution of the Supper, couldn't other disciples have had some problems too?

Jesus knew that Peter would deny him (Matt. 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 13:36-38; 18:15-18, 25-27) and that his disciples would temporarily abandon him (Zech. 13:7; Matt. 26:31-35, 56; John 16:32). Not only did they temporarily abandon Christ, the eleven fell asleep when they were commanded to watch and pray (Matt. 26:31), and they were all late for the resurrection! (Matt 28:8; Mark 16:8; Luke 24:8-11; John 20:2). Yet these eleven participated at the Table. So, those that question if Judas was a partaker of the Table should have the same question concerning the denial and desertion of the other disciples.

Like Peter (Matt. 26:33), however, I believe the other ten all had good intentions and believed better things of themselves than they should have (as many times we do!). At the time they participated at the Table, they had "examined themselves" and did not see deficiencies in their faith. From their perspective, they ate and drank and discerned the Lord's body with what knowledge and understanding they had at the time. However, as we saw above, Jesus did verbally warn them. Matthew 26:31 is very clear saying that Jesus told them "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'" These are such sobering and searching words, but Jesus also said before the institution of the Supper, "I know those I have chosen" (John 13:18). So, Jesus guarded the Table, and, being sinless, he did it correctly by encouraging each to "examine himself" (1 Cor. 11:28). So, in light of Christ's example, I must interpret 1 Corinthians 11 as being the "individual examination of one's self" and not an elder physically withholding the elements (except in matters of church discipline - 1 Cor. 5; Matt 18:15-18, etc.).

So, Jesus guarded the Table for the disciples. He spoke searching, encouraging, and engaging words, even causing the disciples to ask questions. Imagine the tension at the Table when Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me - one who is eating with me." They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?" (Mark 14:18-19). What would be going on inside you if you had heard these words in the presence of the Lord? Would you not examine yourself?

While I doubt if Judas partook of the Table, if he did, it was in an "unworthy manner" and he was "guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord" and ate and drank "judgment on himself." If he did partake, it was not because our Lord failed in any way. Jesus himself informed him in advance of his betrayal (Matt. 26:20-29; Mark 14:17-25; Luke 22:14-23; John 13:18-30) that he was fulfilling the prophecy of the reprobate. Jesus stressed individual self-examination.

Jesus gave Judas three years of the best teaching a man could ever have (both in Word and deed), he had witnessed miracles, he experienced the power of God (Heb. 6:1-8), he lived with Christ, and even near the end, Jesus washed his feet revealing his love for Judas, and during this whole time was given space for repentance (Rom. 2:4). But alas, he did not repent (2 Tim. 2:24-26; cf: Acts 1:16; 2:23; Psa. 41:9). Judas had no excuse; neither does anyone else (Rom. 1:20)).

Hebrews 10:26-31 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Jesus properly guarded the Table with sobering, searching words. The Lord's Table is a time of individual introspection (1 Cor. 11:28), repentance and confession (Mark 11:25), for the sake of church unity (1 Cor. 1:10; 12:25), and all to the glory of God alone (1 Cor. 10:31). Partaking of the Table should not be done lightly.

References

Bock, Darrell. "The Words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive, or Memorex?" in Jesus Under Fire, eds. Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland. Grand Rapids, MI:Zondervan, 1995 (p. 84).

Robert H. Stein. The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction. Baker, 1987 (p. 218).

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).