Passover and the Lord's Supper, Part Two
P. G. Mathew | Monday, April 22, 1996
Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew
The Lord's Supper is taught in four places in the New Testament--Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and 1 Corinthians 11. In Matthew 26:26-30 we read, "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.' Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, every one of you. This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom.' When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." In this text we see how our Lord Jesus ended the old covenant and established the new covenant by abolishing the Passover celebration, which was based on the sacrifice of prescribed animals, and instituting the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
This new sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ is known by various names. In 1 Corinthians 11 we find the phrase kuriakon deipnon , meaning the Lord's dinner or the Lord's supper. God is the host and we are the guests, and when we come to his table, he feeds us that which nourishes our life. This sacrament is also called the breaking of bread, as we read in Acts 2, and holy communion, meaning a time when we commune with the triune God and his church. It is called the Lord's table and the eucharist, which comes from a Greek word, eucharisteo , meaning to give thanks, as found in Matthew 26:27. When Jesus took the cup, he gave thanks. So there are various names by which this sacrament is known.
The Context: Passover
Jesus instituted this new sacrament during the last Passover he celebrated with his disciples. The Passover meal was a ceremonial occasion ordained by God, and thus the meal followed a certain order. First, the family or household would make certain preparations. All leaven was cleaned out of the home, and certain elements were assembled, including an unblemished lamb, sacrificed and roasted, unleavened bread, wine, green vegetables, bitter herbs, and a bowl of salt water.
When the meal was ready, the father or master would pronounce a blessing upon the festival and on the first cup of wine. All would drink from the first cup, and then the youngest person would ask "What does this ceremony mean to you?" The father would explain how the Passover commemorated the Israelites' redemption from Egyptian bondage by the Lord through a blood sacrifice. Next, all would drink the second cup of wine, and sing Psalms 113-115, the first part of the Hallel psalms (Psalms 113-118).
When the meal was served, the leader would bless the bread by blessing God: "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth." The third cup of wine would be drunk after the leader pronounced a blessing through a prayer of thanksgiving which went something like this: "Blessed are thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine." This is where we see the word eucharist, or thanksgiving, used. Then the participants would sing the rest of the Hallel psalms, Psalms 116-118, and drink the fourth cup of wine.
The idea of drinking four cups of wine is based on the fourfold blessings found in Exodus 6:6-7. There we read, "Therefore, say, to the Israelites, 'I am the Lord,'" and then we read the first blessing, "'and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. . .'" The second blessing was, "'I will free you from being slaves to them. . .'" The third blessing was "'I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with acts of judgment.'" We must note here that the third cup represented redemption, and this was the cup in the Lord's Supper that Jesus Christ blessed and gave to his disciples. The fourth blessing was, "'I will take you as my own people and I will be your God.'" This speaks of the presence of God with his church. Of this cup Jesus said, "I will not drink of it until I drink it anew in the kingdom," meaning when he comes again. When Christ comes again, the fourth blessing of having God with us will be realized fully.
The Institution of the Lord's Supper
How was the Lord's Supper instituted? In Matthew 26:26 we are told that Jesus acted "while they were eating," meaning during the Passover meal. Jesus took a piece of bread, probably a thin sheet of bread like that commonly found in the Middle East. Having blessed God, he broke it, and as we already noted, the usual prayer of blessing for the bread was "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth." Here we see that blessing the bread did not mean blessing the inanimate substance of bread, but rather, blessing God who gave the bread.
Next, Jesus broke the bread into pieces. We assume here that Judas, the son of perdition, had already left. Some scholars say he was still present, and if that is true, he was incurring judgment on himself as he partook of the Holy Communion. After breaking the bread, Jesus gave it to his disciples. In this action we see salvation coming from Jesus Christ. In the act of his giving the bread, we see the idea of grace, and in giving it to each one, we see particular salvation, that Jesus loves and died for each one of us.
"This Is My Body"
As he broke the bread and distributed it, Jesus said, "This is my body." These words appear in every text concerning the institution of the Lord's Supper. What Jesus Christ was really saying was that the Passover was fulfilled in him. This was a surprising statement for the disciples, because this statement was not part of the Passover ritual. But in saying this Jesus was announcing that the Old Testament was ended, that the old covenant was coming to a close, and that the new had begun.
What did Jesus mean when he said, "This is my body"? The Roman Catholic church would say that because of the use of the copula estin , meaning "is," Jesus was identifying his body with the bread. They say that when he spoke of the bread, he was speaking about his literal body. This is the doctrine of transubstantiation. It means that when Jesus said "This is my body," the bread became his literal physical body. So today the church teaches that when a priest says, "This is my body," during the Mass, the bread converts into the literal, physical body of Jesus Christ.
Now you may wonder how this can be true if the bread still looks and tastes like bread. Can a person really chew the literal, physical body of Christ? Thomas Aquinas, a student of Aristotle, interpreted and defended this doctrine of transubstantiation by saying that the substance of the bread could change without any change in its accidents. This meant that the substance or essence of the bread could become the actual physical body of Christ without any change in the accidents (empirical characteristics), meaning the taste, shape, color, and form of the bread. Aquinas' explanation demonstrated the influence of Aristotelian thought in his use of categories. Using this logic, Aquinas said that the bread would still taste like bread, but would actually be transformed into the physical body of Christ which one could chew with one's teeth and from which one could receive life, as we read in John 6.
Aquinas' explanation prompted another question. In those days there were many mice in churches. What would happen if a mouse ate some consecrated bread? In his writings Thomas Aquinas clearly stated that the mouse would be eating the literal physical body of Christ, and the literal physical body of Christ will be in the mouse.
Can We Eat Christ's Body?
Does the Bible really teach that the bread converts to the physical body of Christ? When Jesus said, "This is my body," certainly he was there in his body, so right away we notice that there is a problem with this idea that the bread converts. So we must say that the bread, rather than becoming the literal body of Christ, points to Christ's body that is given for us. Jesus was saying that the bread the disciples were eating signified his body which would be broken on the cross for their salvation.
Jesus made similar statements in the Bible. In John 10:9 he said, "I am the gate." Now it would make no sense to insist that there is identity here. Jesus is not saying that he is a literal, physical gate. In John 15 he said, "I am the true vine." Again, we do not insist there has to be identity that Jesus Christ is vine. He is not a literal, physical gate or a literal, physical vine. In John 6:35 he said, "I am the bread of life," but he is not literal bread. In Revelation 22:16 we read, "I am the root and offspring of David," but we do not literally believe that Jesus Christ is a root. So you see, it makes no sense to interpret Jesus' words to mean that the bread becomes his literal body. There is no magic, yet the Roman Catholic church has maintained this idea of transubstantiation for many years.
In Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 11:23 it says, "Do this in remembrance of me." This phrase also ought to tell us something. Would Jesus say to do this in remembrance of him if he was physically, literally being consumed by the worshipers? No, the reason we ought to remember him is that the Son of God took upon himself a physical body, and in that physical body Jesus Christ is now on the right hand of God the Father. He is not with us physically; he is away, and that is why we remember him. Not only that, when you read other passages we are told to continue observing this sacrament of holy communion "until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). That should tell us that Jesus Christ is not physically present so that we could chew on him.
Like communion, baptism is also a sacrament. Baptism points to our spiritual birth by the Spirit, and just as baptism signifies and seals our union with Christ, the Lord's Supper signifies and seals our continuing communion with Christ. The Holy Spirit causes Christ's people by faith to experience communion and fellowship with Christ, who died, rose again, and is now seated on the right hand of God the Father. As a result of this real spiritual communion, which is made possible by the ministry of the Spirit, God nourishes us spiritually.
We can conclude, then, that there is communion with Christ during the observance of the Lord's Supper, but one is not literally chewing on Christ's physical body by means of some Aristotelian magic. The Holy Spirit causes us who are believers by faith to commune with the risen Christ, and there is real presence of Christ that we experience through the ministry of the Spirit--by faith. We do not have to literally chew the body of Christ to be nourished, but by faith we feed on him who has become the Passover Lamb for us.
"This Is My Blood"
After distributing the bread, Jesus then took the third cup. Do you remember the third cup? It was called the cup of redemption, the cup of salvation, the cup of blessing, the cup of the new covenant. Jesus gave thanks to God for the cup, gave it to each disciple and said, "Drink from it, all of you."
Then Jesus said, "This is my blood of the covenant. . ." What does that "blood of the covenant" mean? We find this expression in Exodus 24:6-8: "Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people." He told people that they should obey God and keep the terms of the covenant. What did the people say? "They responded, 'We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.' Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, 'This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.'"
The blood of the covenant was sprinkled on the people. We find this idea of sprinkling with blood also in the book of Leviticus. When the priests were consecrated, they were sprinkled with blood. When lepers were cleansed, they were to be sprinkled with blood. So the idea of sprinkling with the blood of the covenant means cleansing and consecration to the service of God. When Moses sprinkled the blood on the people, he was consecrating and cleansing them on the basis of their affirmation that they would obey the covenant.
The New Covenant
In the parallel passage in Luke 22 we read in verse 20, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." What is the new covenant? In Jeremiah 31:31-34 we read, "'The time is coming,' declares the Lord, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,'" and we see that happening in the institution of the Lord's Supper in Matthew 26. "'It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them.'" You see, God performed his promise, but his people broke the covenant. They disobeyed God, as we see throughout the Old Testament.
Jeremiah 31:33-34: "'This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,' declares the Lord. 'I will put my law in their minds'"meaning regeneration, giving you a new nature by which you love God--"'I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor . . . because they all will know me,' declares the Lord. 'For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.'"
What was the problem with the old Mosaic covenant? It was external and based on obedience to his law. But we are rebels and sinners who cannot keep the law. There is nothing wrong with the law, and, in fact, Paul says it is holy, just, and good. What, then, is the problem? It is with us. In Romans 8:1 we read, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did. . . " In other words, because of our hard hearts, we could not keep the law.
God said he would make a new covenant in which his own Son would obey God's law perfectly. He would accomplish redemption for us and give it to us freely. This is called the covenant of grace, the new covenant, as we read in Luke 22 and 1 Corinthians 11. The new covenant was accomplished by Christ himself who fully obeyed God's law. And in anticipation of his death on the cross, Jesus Christ offered his disciples the bread and the wine, symbolizing salvation.
The Blood of the Covenant
What did Jesus say? "This is my blood of the covenant." Notice, Moses took the blood of bulls and other animals and sprinkled it upon the people, but here you see the blood of the most costly sacrifice. The cup signifies the blood of Jesus Christ himself. It represents the new covenant, the covenant of grace, which does not require us to do many things to achieve our salvation. Salvation is accomplished by Christ on the cross and offered to us in the new covenant. We have been made partners in this covenant he is offering us. Drink ye, every one of you, Jesus said. Eat and drink salvation, full and free.
Jesus said the blood of the covenant would be "poured out." He was speaking about the violent death that he was about to experience. Within twenty-four hours of saying this, Jesus Christ was buried. After he was arrested, beaten and crucified, there came a mighty flow of blood poured out in behalf of many. He was speaking about substitutionary atonement, which is at the heart of Passover--salvation through the death of an animal whose blood is sprinkled upon the doorposts. Jesus said his blood would be poured out "for many." This refers to particular redemption. In other words, Jesus Christ did not die to save everyone. Universal redemption is a popular idea but it is not a biblical idea. Christ loved the church and gave himself for her, meaning there is particular redemption for many, but not all. That does not mean the number of people saved will be small. No, Jesus said many. All the elect of God shall be saved. From all tribes and nations, the redeemed of the Lord shall come.
Who are some of the many? There was an adulterous woman who was caught and brought before Jesus in John 8. What did Jesus say? "Neither do I condemn you" (John 8:11). In other words, her sins were forgiven and she was saved. What about the sinful woman we read about in Luke 7? While Jesus was eating with Simon the Pharisee, she came from behind and wept, wetting Jesus' feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, and pouring perfume on them. She demonstrated that she loved Jesus, and Jesus said her sins, which were many, were forgiven. What about the paralytic who was brought before Jesus Christ in Luke 5? In Luke 5:20 Jesus told him, "Friend, your sins are forgiven." All of these are the elect, and there are many more. Christ died for many.
For the Forgiveness of Sins
What is the final purpose of the violent death Jesus Christ experienced? "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins," Jesus said. Jesus died to send our sins away from us into oblivion, that they would be blotted out and gone forever. That is the wonder of the new covenant! In Jeremiah 31:34 the Lord said, "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." That is grace. That is the new covenant. That is salvation and glory.
In Isaiah 38:17 Isaiah says that God will cast our sins behind him. That is an anthropomorphic way of saying that he will no longer see them. In Isaiah 43:25 God says he will blot out our transgressions and remember them no more. In Isaiah 44:22 God says "I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist." God forgives our sins! Why do we have to go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist and anybody else? Listen to the new covenant! Listen to what God is saying. Jesus' blood was shed for many for the purpose of forgiving all our sins.
In Micah 7:18-19 we read about God treading our sins under his feet and hurling all of our iniquities into the depths of the sea. Here is another anthropomorphism assuring us that God will never see our sins again, and "therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). In Psalm 103:12 the psalmist declares, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." That means our burden, our guilt, and our filth is gone.
Hebrews 9:22 tells us, "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins," but the truth is, blood was shed. The highest price was paid--not the blood of bulls and goats but the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Therefore, if blood was shed, there is forgiveness. Isn't that true? In Ephesians 1:7 Paul says, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us." So here we see the wonderful generosity of God in forgiving us all our sins.
What practical lessons can we learn from this account of the institution of the Lord's Supper? First, Christ is the host--this Christ to whom is given all authority in heaven and on earth, as we read in Matthew 28:18. It is his table. Now, if that is true, aren't we glad that he invited us? It is he who invited us individually. Didn't he say to take the bread, individually, and eat it, and to drink, every one of you? We are the invited guests of the King of the universe, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose death brought about total forgiveness of our sins. We can come to his table and eat with him.
Second, Christ is the mediator of the new covenant. If that is the case, he has made us partners to whom his blessings flow. In John 15:5 he said, "I am the vine; you are the branches." This should make us ecstatic. First we are invited by him, and then he makes us partners with him. What confidence this gives us!
Third, Jesus Christ is the Lamb slain on Golgotha, and his outpoured blood cleanses us from all our sin and makes us whiter than snow. Think about that. In Isaiah 1:18 we read, "'Come now, let us reason together,' says the Lord. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.'" Jesus died and shed his blood, which has cleansed us.
Fourth, this King of the universe is also our brother and friend. He said, "I call you my friends." As our brother and friend, he daily shows us how to live for his glory. He is our older brother.
Finally, as the source of all spiritual blessings, it is in Jesus Christ that we have been blessed with all spiritual blessings. Even now he fills us, not with grief, but with joy and gladness by his presence. Did he die to make us miserable? No, he died to make us happy. In Psalm 51 David asked God to blot out all his transgressions and cleanse him, that the bones which God had crushed would rejoice and be glad. We need to understand that Christ died to remove our sadness and misery and to put an end to all our grief. No wonder St. Paul could write from prison to the Philippians: "Rejoice; I say again, rejoice."
May we also rejoice as we consider these things and celebrate this sacrament in intelligent remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ!
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Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew
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