The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
Institution of the Lord’s Supper
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Now we are in Thursday of our Lord’s final Passover Week, which corresponds to the Christian Holy Week.
Before discussing this transition from Passover to the Sacrament, we can be sure this feast took place on a Thursday. John MacArthur says (emphases mine):
at that time in the history of Israel, Passover was celebrated both on Thursday and on Friday because the customs in Galilee differed from the customs in Judea. And so, the Lord on Thursday evening celebrates a Galilean Passover Day, and yet there is another Passover Day on Friday which means that Jesus can keep the Passover one day and die during the Passover as the Passover lamb the next day. And God had arranged history and tradition and custom and circumstance to make that a reality.
Matthew’s account of the events of the Last Supper are briefer than Luke’s or John’s. We’ll look at Luke’s Gospel now. Incredibly, after this meal, the disciples got into another argument as to who was the greatest. Jesus once again brought them down to earth, telling them they were not to lord themselves over others. After all, He — the greatest of all — was serving them (Luke 22:24-27):
25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
John’s Gospel gives us the washing of the feet. For whatever reason, the Twelve neglected to wash their feet when they entered the room, a social norm as discussed in last week’s post. Jesus humbled Himself to do it. Remember that Peter objected, and, in His reply, Jesus said that not all were clean (John 13:3-11):
3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet,[a] but is completely clean. And you[b] are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
Returning to Matthew, at this point, Judas admitted that he had betrayed Jesus (Matthew 26:21-25):
21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 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.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
Matthew does not mention details of this moment, but John does. The Apostles asked Jesus who the betrayer was (John 13:26-30):
26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
Many will want to know if Judas stayed for the main feast of the Last Supper. MacArthur says that he did not:
Jesus got rid of him before they actually ate the meal because he should have no part, should he, in the Lord’s Table. So, he was dismissed. What a scene of preparation as Jesus has the final Passover. After that, of course, verse 26 says, “And as they were eating.” They went back to the meal, back to the Passover.
Now on to today’s passage in Matthew. Verse 26 gives us the blessing and words still used today in Catholic and mainline Protestant prayers of consecration and remembrance. Christ’s giving of His own body meant that His ultimate sacrifice would replace the Jewish mandate of Passover. Matthew Henry explains:
Christ is to us the Passover-sacrifice by which atonement is made (1 Corinthians 5:7) Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. This ordinance is to us the passover-supper, by which application is made, and commemoration celebrated, of a much greater deliverance than that of Israel out of Egypt. All the legal sacrifices of propitiation being summed up in the death of Christ, and so abolished, all the legal feasts of rejoicing were summed up in this sacrament, and so abolished.
The words of Jesus in verse 27 are equally included in the aforementioned prayers of consecration and remembrance. Jesus went on to say that His was the blood of the covenant — the New Covenant — poured out for many — meaning Gentiles, too — for the forgiveness of sins (verse 28). This was not a one-time exclusive offer to the Apostles, but an everlasting one for those they would minister to and to the countless generations after them, wherever they were — and are — in the world.
Below are excerpts of Henry’s analysis of the Sacrament, the new ordinance.
First, of the bread, the body of Christ:
We have here the institution of the great gospel ordinance of the Lord’s supper, which was received of the Lord. Observe,
I. The time when it was instituted–as they were eating. At the latter end of the passover-supper, before the table was drawn, because, as a feast upon a sacrifice, it was to come in the room of that ordinance …
II. The institution itself. A sacrament must be instituted it is no part of moral worship, nor is it dictated by natural light, but has both its being and significancy from the institution, from a divine institution it is his prerogative who established the covenant, to appoint the seals of it …
1. The body of Christ is signified and represented by bread he had said formerly (John 6:35), I am the bread of life, upon which metaphor this sacrament is built as the life of the body is supported by bread, which is therefore put for all bodily nourishment (Matthew 4:4,6:11), so the life of the soul is supported and maintained by Christ’s mediation.
(1.) He took bread, ton apton—the loaf some loaf that lay ready to hand, fit for the purpose it was, probably, unleavened bread but, that circumstance not being taken notice of, we are not to bind ourselves to that, as some of the Greek churches do. His taking the bread was a solemn action, and was, probably, done in such a manner as to be observed by them that sat with him, that they might expect something more than ordinary to be done with it. Thus was the Lord Jesus set apart in the counsels of divine love for the working out of our redemption.
(2.) He blessed it set it apart for this use by prayer and thanksgiving. We do not find any set form of words used by him upon this occasion but what he said, no doubt, was accommodated to the business in hand, that new testament which by this ordinance was to be sealed and ratified. This was like God’s blessing the seventh day (Genesis 2:3), by which it was separated to God’s honour, and made to all that duly observe it, a blessed day: Christ could command the blessing, and we, in his name, are emboldened to beg the blessing.
(3.) He brake it which denotes, [1.] The breaking of Christ’s body for us, that it might be fitted for our use He was bruised for our iniquities, as bread-corn is bruised (Isaiah 28:28) though a bone of him was not broken (for all his breaking did not weaken him), yet his flesh was broken with breach upon breach, and his wounds were multiplied (Job 9:17,16:14), and that pained him … [2.] The breaking of Christ’s body to us, as the father of the family breaks the bread to the children. The breaking of Christ to us, is to facilitate the application every thing is made ready for us by the grants of God’s word and the operations of his grace.
(4.) He gave it to his disciples, as the Master of the family, and the Master of this feast it is not said, He gave it to the apostles, though they were so, and had been often called so before this, but to the disciples, because all the disciples of Christ have a right to this ordinance and those shall have the benefit of it who are his disciples indeed yet he gave it to them as he did the multiplied loaves, by them to be handed to all his other followers.
(5.) He said, Take, eat this is my body, Matthew 26:26. He here tells them,
[1.] What they should do with it “Take, eat accept of Christ as he is offered to you, receive the atonement, approve of it, consent to it, come up to the terms on which the benefit of it is proposed to you submit to his grace and to his government.” Believing on Christ is expressed by receiving him (John 1:12), and feeding upon him, John 6:57,58. Meat looked upon, or the dish ever so well garnished, will not nourish us it must be fed upon: so must the doctrine of Christ.
[2.] What they should have with it This is my body, not outos—this bread, but touto—this eating and drinking. Believing carries all the efficacy of Christ’s death to our souls. This is my body, spiritually and sacramentally this signifies and represents my body. He employs sacramental language, like that, Exodus 12:11. It is the Lord’s passover … We partake of the sun, not by having the bulk and body of the sun put into our hands, but the beams of it darted down upon us so we partake of Christ by partaking of his grace, and the blessed fruits of the breaking of his body.
Of the cup, the Blood of Christ:
2. The blood of Christ is signified and represented by the wine to make it a complete feast, here is not only bread to strengthen, but wine to make glad the heart (Matthew 26:27,28) He took the cup, the grace-cup, which was set ready to be drank, after thanks returned, according to the custom of the Jews at the passover this Christ took, and made the sacramental-cup, and so altered the property. It was intended for a cup of blessing (so the Jews called it) …
This cup he gave to the disciples,
(1.) With a command Drink ye all of it. Thus he welcomes his guests to his table, obliges them all to drink of his cup …
(2.) With an explication For this is my blood of the New Testament. Therefore drink it with appetite, delight, because it is so rich a cordial. Hitherto the blood of Christ had been represented by the blood of beasts, real blood: but, after it was actually shed, it was represented by the blood of grapes, metaphorical blood so wine is called in an Old-Testament prophecy of Christ, Genesis 49:10,11.
Now observe what Christ saith of his blood represented in the sacrament.
[1.] It is my blood of the New Testament … The covenant God is pleased to make with us, and all the benefits and privileges of it, are owing to the merits of Christ’s death.
[2.] It is shed[:] it was not shed till next day, but it was now upon the point of being shed, it is as good as done. “Before you come to repeat this ordinance yourselves, it will be shed.” He was now ready to be offered, and his blood to be poured out, as the blood of the sacrifices which made atonement.
[3.] It is shed for many. Christ came to confirm a covenant with many (Daniel 9:27), and the intent of his death agreed. The blood of the Old Testament was shed for a few: it confirmed a covenant, which (saith Moses) the Lord has made with you, Exodus 24:8. The atonement was made only for the children of Israel (Leviticus 16:34): but Jesus Christ is a propitiation for the sins of the whole world, 1 John 2:2.
[4.] It is shed for the remission of sins, that is, to purchase remission of sins for us. The redemption which we have through his blood, is the remission of sins, Ephesians 1:7. The new covenant which is procured and ratified by the blood of Christ, is a charter of pardon, an act of indemnity, in order to a reconciliation between God and man for sin was the only thing that made the quarrel, and without shedding of blood is no remission, Hebrews 9:22 …
Jesus concluded this institution of the New Covenant by saying that the next time they will share ‘this fruit of the vine’ will be in His Father’s kingdom (verse 29).
Therefore, although He ate with the disciples after the Resurrection (Acts 10:41), this was a significant feast in which He instituted a new ordinance — the Sacrament — for the New Covenant.
MacArthur explains verse 29 this way:
there’s a reaffirmation in verse 29 of His Kingdom promise. I’ll do it with you in My Kingdom. And I believe when Jesus comes, and we enter into His Kingdom, we’re going to do this with Him. We’re going to celebrate this with Him. We’re going to remember His sacrifice together and I’m not sure that we won’t do that forever and ever and ever and ever throughout all eternity in some marvelous way that He has designed, for it’s an unforgettable and glorious redemption, never, never to be ignored, always to be celebrated.
So, He says, do this, in effect, until I do it with you in My Father’s Kingdom. But the emphasis is: I’m going to come back and drink it with you again. All three gospels, by the way, state that the Lord said that. This is a wonderful, wonderful thing that He assures us all that He’s coming to set up His glorious Kingdom. And then, in verse 30 it says they sung a hymn. Literally, the Greek says they hymned, they hymned. What was that? Well, they had already sung Psalm 113 and 14. They probably sung another 15 maybe, 16. Then, there was a fourth cup and then they might have sung 117, 118 and went to the Mount of Olives. And so, the final Passover; and so, the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
Receiving the Sacrament, Communion or the Supper — however we might refer to it in our respective churches — is the most powerful and greatest available means of grace Jesus Christ gave us through His one, sufficient oblation on the Cross.
Having asked forgiveness of our sins and reconciled with our neighbours as necessary, let us not hesitate to receive this divine nourishment for the soul on a regular basis with humility and thanksgiving.
Next time: Matthew 26:30-35