I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you…
Jesus is alone with His disciples, minus Judas. They are in the Upper Room celebrating the Passover meal. Jesus has just announced that one of them will betray Him, and then Judas left the Upper Room leaving Jesus alone with the other 11. At this point Jesus takes the bread and the wine and observes the very first Communion. In a matter of hours when Jesus is crucified two things will happen simultaneously: the Old Covenant will end, and, the New Covenant will begin. Whereas Passover has been observed while the Old Covenant was in effect, it will subside as God’s plans advance to the New Covenant. Communion will become the ritual that memorializes the death of Jesus and the basis of the New Covenant.
There are 3 parts in this passage: the Body, the Blood and the Kingdom. Let’s use that as our outline.
First, the Body of Jesus. Symbolized by the bread. Read verse 22, “…” All three Gospels (Mt, Mk, and Lk), record the same formula: “Jesus took the bread, broke it, gave thanks and then gave it to His disciples saying ‘Take this, eat it, this is my body” Luke adds the phrase, “Do this in remembrance of me”. We’ll come back to that.
The “Body” of Jesus can mean several things in the NT. Obviously it refers first to His actual physical body as a man. Another meaning is the Church, the whole community of believers. For instance, Ephesians 1 says, “the Church, which is Christ’s body”.
But here we see another meaning: the bread. The bread “is” His body, “Take this and eat it, this is My body.” In John 6 Jesus referred to His human body as bread, “I am the bread of life. I am the bread that came down from heaven. If any man eats of this bread he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” The entirety of that chapter is to strike home that fact that Jesus took on a physical body to give us spiritual life.
It doesn’t mean that the bread is His literal human flesh. It is absurd we have to clarify that, but, Roman Catholicism’s whole religious system is built upon this notion. The bread and the wine were symbols of His body and His blood. Jesus spoke figuratively over and over again: “I am the Door”. Does he have hinges and a handle? “I am the Temple”. Was he made of stones? He is called the Cornerstone. Is he scrunched up under some corner of a building? “I am the vine” Did Jesus have leaves and fruit growing off His body? No. These are symbols, figures. What a cornerstone is to a building Jesus is to the Church. What a vine is to branches Jesus is to the Church. What a door does is what Jesus does: gives access. What the Temple was Jesus is: the location of how someone meets God. It is absurd to watch people take literally what is meant figuratively in Scripture. Just as it is absurd to watch people take figuratively what is meant literally.
Jesus says “take and eat, this is my body.” He says in John 6, “eat of this bread, eat my flesh”. This is graphic, but it is figurative. It’s a very simple idea: The eating of the bread, symbolizing His flesh, simply means that we have “internalized” that truth. We internalize bread by eating it, we internalize the truth of Jesus by believing in Him.
A point that may be obvious to all of us here but still needs to be made is this: the reality that Jesus came in the flesh. A reality most affectionately celebrated at Christmas time, “And the time came for the baby to be born; and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. And he was named ‘Jesus’.” (Lk 2:6-7; Mt. 1:25). Or again we see John gloriously open his Gospel this way: “And the word was God…and the word became flesh” (Jn. 1:1, 14). Hebrews 10 quotes the Christ’s own words speaking to God the Father, “a body you prepared for Me…here I am, I have come to do your will” (Heb. 10:5, 7). Turn with me to 1 John 4. Here the beloved Apostle warns in verses 2-3
You see, our salvation is not in us becoming gods – that is impossible. Our salvation rather is in God becoming a man. And that is just what happened in the life of the man from Nazareth. He existed eternally before that as the Word, then, when the time came, He came to us as one of us – a man. 1 Timothy 3:16 says, “Beyond all question the mystery of godlines is great: He appeared in a body…” Philippians 2:6-7 say,
“Jesus, who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man…
Second, the Blood of Jesus. Symbolized by the wine. Notice verses 23-24, “….” All 3 Gospels again record the same formula: “
Here Jesus is speaking of the immanence of His own death. For the entirety of His ministry He kept saying “My hour has not yet come.” But now the hour was upon Him. Very very soon His own blood is going to be spilled. And thus we must zero in on the all important topic of blood. Hebrews says “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”
It is important to note that Jesus says “My blood”. Not bulls blood. Not goats blood. Not lambs blood. “My blood.” Human for human. One perfect human for all of sinful humanity. The blood of a man needed to be shed for the sins of men. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” Hebrews 10:4 says.
Here we are brought to the crux of the matter: where there is sin there must be blood. A holy God requires blood when He is sinned against. The holiness of God is the justification of His wrath against sinners.
Jesus’ blood is being shed to establish the New Covenant. His blood is the basis of the New Covenant. In Jeremiah 31:31-34 God laid out the New Covenant that would come in the future. It was for Israel specifically:
- Regathered to their land after being scattered throughout the nations and having their land become very prosperous
- Regenerated spiritually, having the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and an internal knowledge of God and His commands
- Remission of sins, all their uncleanness will be forgiven
- Ruled by David and His descendents
- Renown among all the nations
- God will dwell in their presence, His temple in Jerusalem,
So the question is: if the New Covenant was for israel specifically, why do we Gentiles in the Church talk as though we are part of the New Covenant. The answer is because we are. The New Covenant has not been fully realized. It won’t be until Jesus returns and His kingdom is setup on the earth. All those promises for Israel under the New Covenant will come true at that time. And God will make this happen irregardless of Israel. He is not going to do all this because of Israel, but despite them (Ez. 36:22-3). You see, the Old Covenant was the basis of their punishment. The New Covenant is the basis of their restoration. Under the Old Covenant God promised to punish them if they didn’t live up to their end of the deal. And they didn’t. And they’ve been punished. But God, for the sake of His own great Name, is going to restore Israel on the basis of the New Covenant.
So in our passage what we see is the Old Covenant was ending and the New Covenant was emerging. The Old Covenant came through Moses, the New Covenant comes through Jesus. This scene joins the Old and New Covenant together, it is a transitional moment where God is moving His plans forward from the Old Covenant to the New. The Old Covenant is being observed in the ritual of the Passover, a custom implemented through Moses. However, in this very same meal Jesus implements the New Covenant ritual of Communion. The Passover included roasted lamb and unleavened bread; Communion involves bread and wine. The Passover remembered the blood of the lamb that protected from the angel of death in Egypt; Communion reminds us of the body and blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, that was sacrificed to save us from sin and death. The Old Covenant was to give way to the New. The Old Covenant was ratified by the blood of animals, the New Covenant by the blood of Jesus. Under the Old Covenant men were in bondage to the Law, under condemnation because of their inability to keep it. Under the New Covenant, men are freed from the Law, freed from the death penalty incurred for failing to keep it. Jesus kept the Law perfectly in His life, which is the meaning of His coming to fulfil it. The penalty the Law demanded for sin was the penalty Jesus paid at the cross.
Communion, therefore, is an act of Thanksgiving. Paul calls it the cup of thanksgiving in 1 Corinthians 10. We take the cup gratefully recognizing that Jesus has freed us from the penalty of Death under the law by His own death. He met the demands of the Law at the cross. Thus, the Law no longer has claim to us. No longer can it demand our blood. The blood of Jesus was offered in place of our own.
Third, the Coming Kingdom. Notice verse 25, “…” Communion is pointing us to the past to remember what Jesus accomplished for us in His death. But from the very first Communion Jesus wants this ritual to make us look forward too. Communion should build anticipation of what lies ahead.
How did Jesus want it to do this? Well, because a day is coming when we are finally physically with Jesus in the future kingdom and in that day we will enjoy the full meal with Him. Matthew records Jesus saying “I will not drink of the vine again until I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom”. Key in on “with you.” All hope, all anticipation, all eagerness of the future for believers centers on the time when we can finally be “with” Jesus. At the Rapture we are told we will be caught up to Jesus in the clouds to be “with” him forever. Jesus prayed in John 17 to His Father that believers would be “with” him and see His glory. Being with God is the yearning of every believer. Being with people is the yearning of God, “God Himself will be with them and be their God” Revelation 21 says.
The future kingdom is the time when the fullness of the New Covenant blessings will be realized. The New Covenant was promised to Israel in the OT. But, for now the spiritual blessings are offered to the Gentiles. In the future kingdom the nation of Israel will receive all the spiritual blessings promised through the New Covenant, and all the physical blessings: possession of their land, the prosperity of their land, their increase in population, the presence of their God in their midst, etc.
Communion is like “appetizers”. The full course is coming and it will be glorious. Paul was personally taught by Jesus about Communion. He taught this same future-looking-aspect of Communion to the Corinthians that Jesus taught to the disciples. In 1 Corinthians 11:26 he said, “For whenever you eat this bread or drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
Communion has one eye looking back to Christ’s death and the other eye looking forward to Christ’s return. Think about it: from the very first Communion Jesus has the disciples thinking ahead to the last Communion. Take every Communion as though its our last brothers. We are one more communion closer to our Lord’s return.
Here are 3 applications. They are 3 mistakes to avoid when it comes to Communion.
First, Don’t trust in Communion to save you. It is a sign pointing to the reality. The sign can’t save. Jesus, the reality can save.
Second, don’t neglect Communion. Make Communion precious to you. Treasure the fact that Jesus died for you to save you. Relish the fellowship with others who hold to the truth like you do. Let Communion raise your anticipation for the coming of Jesus.
Third, Let Communion be a checkpoint for you. Check yourself. Or, as Paul says, “Judge yourself, lest you be judged by God.” Turn to 1 Corinthians 11:27-32. Don’t take Communion while you live in sin or threaten the unity of the Church. God will punish any believer who acts like that and who treats Communion with irreverence.