Question: "What happened in the upper room?"
Answer: The events that occurred in the “upper room,” also known as the “Cenacle,” are described in Matthew 26:1–29, Mark 14:12–25, Luke 22:7–20, and John 13:1–38. During these last hours that Jesus spent with His beloved friends, He ate with them, instituted the New Covenant in His blood, gave them last-minute instructions and encouragement, and prayed His “high priestly prayer” over them. Then He went out to face the sorrow, betrayal, rejection, and death for which He had come into the world.
This poignant last meeting with His disciples, whom He loved, begins with an object lesson from Jesus. The disciples had been arguing about who among them was the greatest (Luke 22:24), displaying a distinctly ungodly perspective. Jesus quietly rose and began to wash their feet, a task normally performed by the lowest, most menial slave. By this simple act, Jesus reminded them that His followers are those who serve one another, not those who expect to be served. He went on to explain that, unless the Lamb of God cleanses a person’s sin, that person will never be clean: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:8).
During the Last Supper, Jesus also identifies the traitor, Judas, who would betray Him to the authorities and bring about His arrest. It is indicative of the disciples’ weak faith that each of them considered the possibility that he might be the traitor. But Jesus confirmed that it was none other than Judas, whom He instructed to leave and do quickly what he had to do.
After Judas’s departure, Jesus instituted the New Covenant in His blood, a new command that those who follow Him are to love one another and live by the power of the Holy Spirit. We remember this act each time we observe the Christian ordinance of communion, celebrating Christ’s body broken for us and His blood shed for us. After this, Jesus made His first prediction of Peter’s coming denial (Luke 22:31-38).
The apostle John gives us very little information about the events of the evening in the upper room. He does tell us that Jesus prayed over the disciples in what is called His “high priestly prayer” in John 17 because the following chapter begins by saying that after He had spoken those words, He and the disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He was betrayed. The prayer of Jesus for the disciples is the culmination of His dealings with them and is a poignant reminder of His deep love and concern for them. Knowing that He would soon be leaving them, He committed them to the care of His Father, asking that they may be one and asking that the Father keep them in Jesus’ name (verse 11). He asks His Father to keep them from the evil one (verse 15) and to sanctify them by the truth, which is His Word (verse 17). He applies this same prayer to believers in all ages, saying, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (verse 20).
Many of the events of the upper room echo down to us today. We live under the New Covenant instituted at that time, we observe the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of that night (1 Corinthians 11:23–26), and we live under the blessing of His prayer for all those who love and follow Him.