Today’s passage from St Mark’s Gospel recounts briefly Jesus’s words as He institutes the Last Supper.
Institution of the Lord’s Supper
22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23And he took a cup, and when he hadgiven thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
Last week’s post covered Jesus’s ominous words directed at Judas. Consider Mark 14:21:
For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
Mark continues the narrative of the Last Supper. Readers who wonder whether Judas was still at table might find that Matthew and Luke’s accounts do not fully answer the question. Luke 22:14-23 has Jesus blessing the bread and wine then mentioning a betrayer. Matthew 26:20-29 does not mention Judas’s leaving the table. John 13 provides the most fulsome account of Jesus’s acknowledgment of Judas’s betrayal and verses 27 through 30 tell us that he left with the moneybag, going out into the night. Yet, his Gospel does not include the specific words instituting the Last Supper.
… we don’t know all of the chronological sequence with any precision. It really isn’t that important to know what followed what. It only matters that we know what happened. All of these things that are important are laid out for us by the four gospel writers who write about Thursday night and collectively we get the full picture, if not in any kind of order. What happened is critical, the sequence is not.
However, he is quite certain that by the time Jesus instituted the Last Supper, Judas had left:
Judas is gone now. Judas is gone. It’s a good thing he’s not there because you’re not supposed to be at the Lord’s Table and eat unworthily, 1 Corinthians 11:27. Although it wouldn’t have changed anything with him.
MacArthur and Matthew Henry say that Jesus and the Apostles have already eaten their Passover lamb when Jesus begins His words of consecration in verse 22, which are still used today in the consecration or prayer of blessing at Holy Communion services.
Verses 23 and 24 describe the cup of wine which He passed to them, pronouncing it His blood. Protestants have always taken both bread and wine during their Communion services; it became widespread in the Catholic Church only at the end of the 1970s or early 1980s, depending on where one lived.
Henry specifies that this bread and wine are for spiritual nourishment only; he observes that Jesus has made sure the Apostles have had their physical sustenance beforehand.
It was instituted in the close of a supper, when they were sufficiently fed with the paschal lamb, to show that in the Lord’s supper there is no bodily repast intended; to preface it with such a thing, is to revive Moses again. But it is food for the soul only, and therefore a very little of that which is for the body, as much as will serve for a sign, is enough. It was at the close of the passover-supper, which by this was evangelized, and then superseded and set aside.
Henry adds a good point: we are to read the New Testament in light of the Old. The Old Testament holds the history behind the New. The New Testament provides the ‘Gospel key’ which unlocks our understanding of the Old. Emphases mine:
Much of the doctrine and duty of the eucharist is illustrated to us by the law of the passover (Ex. 12); for the Old-Testament institutions, though they do not bind us, yet instruct us, by the help of a gospel-key to them. And these two ordinances lying here so near together, it may be good to compare them, and observe how much shorter and plainer the institution of the Lord’s supper is, than that of the passover was. Christ’s yoke is easy in comparison with that of the ceremonial law, and his ordinances are more spiritual.
This blessing of bread and wine end ritual sacrifice, for Jesus will become the ultimate Lamb, the ultimate Sacrifice in propitiation for our sins. This, by the way, is how we answer atheists and other mockers who ask why Christians do not offer animal sacrifices. Christians have His Cross and the remembrance of Him in Holy Communion or, as some churches call it, the Supper.
Whether we consider the bread and wine as Christ’s actual body and blood as Catholics do or as an element of both as Lutherans do or as a Real Presence as Anglicans do or as somewhere between Real Presence and symbol as other Protestants do — we continue to receive it until we celebrate it again with Him in the Kingdom to come, that of God the Father (verse 25).
Let us also remember to partake of these elements in a worthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:27):
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.
John MacArthur has more on how the Last Supper initiated the New Covenant of Christianity:
[‘]This is My blood of the Covenant[‘]. Shedding the blood was always God’s requirement to establish a covenant. You see that in Genesis 8:15; Exodus 24; etc. Covenants were established, promises were guaranteed by blood … Reconciliation with God, covenant relationship with God, entering in to God’s promise of forgiveness and salvation required a blood sacrifice. That blood sacrifice could be an innocent substitute. Christ is that innocent substitute. He offers Himself on the cross. He pays the price for sin, satisfies the justice of God, takes our sins in His own body and bears in full the wrath of God for us and that is the act that validates and ratifies the New Covenant forgiveness.
MacArthur has more on the biblical covenants:
There [are] a lot of covenants in the Bible. God made a lot of promises. He promised not to drown the world again, that’s the Noahic Covenant. He gave us the law, that’s the Mosaic Covenant. He had a priestly covenant about the behavior of the priests. There was the Abrahamic Covenant which did promise salvation but no means. There is the Davidic Covenant which promises a Kingdom and a King, the Messiah and the future Kingdom. The new covenant promises forgiveness of sin, salvation, regeneration and new life. It is laid out in specific in Ezekiel 36, in Ezekiel 37 and in Jeremiah 31. It is a saving covenant. You get a new heart and a new Spirit and complete forgiveness. It’s regeneration. That’s salvation. That’s always been in operation. It’s always been in operation. But it was ratified by the death of Jesus Christ. The Old Covenant could be written constantly in animal blood because it was only a covenant of promise, it consisted of promise. The New Covenant is fully satisfied in the blood of one Lamb, the blood of Christ because it consisted not of promise but of fulfillment…fulfillment. The actual purchase of our redemption was made by Christ and He paid the price for the redemption of all the people who were before Him, all the way back to Adam.
The bloodshed, the blood which is shed, Matthew says, Matthew 26:28, the blood which is poured out. And here, please, it says, “This is My blood which is poured out for many…for many.” Isaiah 53:12 says the same thing, He did this for many. Matthew adds, “For the forgiveness of sins.
Final payment was made, now there’s no more need for the symbolic lambs, all we need to do is remember the cross…remember the cross. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” So we come together, don’t we? Regularly … And again giving confident hope, verse 25, “Truly I say to you, I will never again,” strong emphatic language, “I will never, ever, ever again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”
… so not only in the Kingdom to come will we be rejoined to the Lord, and not only will be rejoined to Him to come to His table to celebrate the Passover, but we’ll also celebrate His table, Communion. That’s the Kingdom. Matthew, Mark and Luke record this statement that I’ll never do it again until I do it with you in the Kingdom. Folks, there has to be a Kingdom … The Old Covenant has ended, the New Covenant has come, it has been ratified with the death of Christ. The last Passover, the first Communion, we celebrate that Communion till He comes. When He comes, sets up His Kingdom, we will have a new kind of worship in which we will gather together as He leads us and celebrate a Passover and a Lord’s table that both look at His cross.
The gravity and the profundity of Christ’s sacrifice for us in instituting the New Covenant is why we must not receive Communion unworthily. Mainline Protestant clergy would do well to be particularly careful about the invitation to the Lord’s table. Many no longer specify ‘all baptised Christians’. Since then, I have occasionally seen young unchurched people who go up to the altar rail and have no idea what to do. (It is for this reason I believe they are unchurched; they also look inexperienced with the liturgy.) This is why, until recently, there was a extended period of study before enquirers became communicants. Clergy who allow this laxity for reasons of ‘hospitality’ or ‘equality’ will one day have to answer for their actions in this regard.
Communion is not a snack. It is spiritual food. Not to be taken lightly — or by everyone.
Next time: Mark 14:26-31