When it comes to paintings on the Last Supper, many people’s minds go straight to Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting. It is not only the most famous painting portraying the Last Supper—it’s also one of the most famous and certainly most recognizable paintings of all time. And yet, when I read the gospel accounts of the Last Supper, especially John’s account, I can’t help but picture something different than what Da Vinci portrayed.
In 1863, a few centuries after Da Vinci’s painting was made, a Russian painter named Nikolai Ge made his own painting of the Last Supper, and to me, it is by far the most striking portrayal that I have seen. In the painting, Jesus and his disciples are gathered around a small table, lounging together—all of them except Judas. The scene being portrayed is the moment immediately after Jesus’ statement that one of the disciples would soon betray him. Imagine that moment.
The Scripture tells us that Satan had already put it into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus, and throughout the evening, Jesus alluded to it several times. When he washed the disciples’ feet—including Judas’ feet—he told them that not all of them were clean. Later on, the Scripture tells us that Jesus became “troubled in spirit,” and Nikolai Ge’s painting seems to take note of this detail. Jesus then tells his disciples outright that one of them will betray him. Just imagine that.
Different people seem to have different opinions about Judas. Some feel set against him from the start, while others tend to feel sorry for him. John tells us in an earlier portion of his account that Judas was a thief, and that he used to steal from their money box. Either way, it’s hard for us to ever think of Judas as a true disciple. And yet, there he was, dining with the rest of Jesus’ closest companions. In one of the tensest moments recorded in Scripture, Matthew tells us that after hearing Jesus say that one of them would betray him, Judas asks, “Master, is it I?” to which Jesus responds, “You have said it.”
In the painting, Judas is shown wrapping his head, and the contrast of the lighting is unmissable. Jesus and the other disciples are shown in the light, but Judas is covered in shadow. And not only that—he has his back turned to the light. Or in this case, The Light, as in The Light of the world. To make this contrast even stronger, John tells us in verse 30 of the chapter that when Judas went out, it was night. He literally walked away from the Light and into the Dark.
Oftentimes, people will say, “If only Jesus would come and show himself again, then people would believe in Him.” Perhaps we even say that to ourselves. And yet, Scripture refutes that. Judas wasn’t just a passerby—he was one of the twelve!
The painting strikes me because it shows the moment of Judas’ sin. His sin isn’t what happened later in the garden, when he betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Sin is what’s blinding him at that very moment.
Sin is not merely what happens when we do something that dishonors God; sin is what casts a shadow over us, blinding us to the truth, and thus making us believe that the decision we are making is the right one, until eventually we can’t tell the light from the dark.