Matthew 26.26-30 Lord's Supper
January 22, 2006 Sunday Series: Observance of the Lord’s Supper
Matthew 26:26-30 And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (26:26–29)
“Observance of the Lord’s Supper”
Introduction: After Judas left and Jesus was alone with the eleven faithful disciples, He transformed the Passover of the Old Covenant into the Lord’s Supper of the New Covenant.
Passover was the oldest of Jewish festivals, older even than the covenant with Moses at Sinai. It was established before the priesthood, the Tabernacle, or the law. It was ordained by God while Israel was still enslaved in Egypt, and it had been celebrated by His people for some 1,500 years.
But the Passover Jesus was now concluding with the disciples was the last divinely sanctioned Passover ever to be observed. No Passover celebrated after that has been authorized or recognized by God. Significant as it was under the Old Covenant, it became a remnant of a bygone economy, an extinct dispensation, an expired covenant. Its observance since that time has been no more than a religious relic that serves no divinely acknowledged purpose and has no divinely blessed significance. To celebrate the Passover is to celebrate the shadow, after the reality has already come. Celebrating deliverance from Egypt is a weak substitute for celebrating deliverance from sin.
In fact, Christ ended the Passover and instituted a new memorial to Himself. It would not look back to a lamb in Egypt as the symbol of God’s redeeming love and power, but to the very Lamb of God, who, by the sacrificial shedding of His own blood, took away the sins of the whole world. In that one meal Jesus both terminated the old and inaugurated the new.
Jesus’ institution of the new memorial consisted of three primary elements: the directive (vv. 26a, 27), the doctrine (vv. 26b, 28), and the duration (v. 29).
And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; … ” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; (26:26a, 27)
It is not certain as to what part of the meal they were eating at this time, but the supper was still in progress, and our Lord instituted the new memorial in the midst of the old.
First, Jesus took some bread and offered a blessing of thanks to His heavenly Father, as He always did before eating (see, e.g., Matt. 14:19; 15:36). The unleavened bread was baked in large, flat, crisp loaves, which Jesus broke into pieces before He gave it to the disciples with the instruction, “Take, eat.” The fact that He broke the bread does not symbolize a broken body, because John makes clear that, in fulfillment of prophecy, “Not a bone of Him shall be broken” (John 19:36; cf. Ps. 34:20), just as no bones of the original Passover lambs in Egypt were broken (Ex. 12:46).
Shortly after that, when He had taken a cup and given thanks again, He gave it to them saying, “Drink from it, all of you.” The verb behind given thanks is eucharisteō, and it is from that term that we get Eucharist, as the Lord’s Supper is sometimes called.
As would be expected, all eleven disciples drank of it (Mark 14:23). It should be noted that the Roman Catholic practice of not allowing the entire congregation to partake of the cup is in direct contradiction of Jesus’ explicit directive, of the disciples’ obedient example, and of Paul’s later teaching (see 1 Cor. 10:16, 21; 11:28).
Those two acts of Jesus were normal features of the Passover, in which unleavened bread was eaten and diluted wine was drunk at several points during the meal This was probably the third cup, called the cup of blessing. Paul refers to it by that name in his first letter to the Cor-inthians: “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?” (10:16). It is from the King James translation of that verse (“ … is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?”) that Communion, another name for the Lord’s Supper, is derived. A few verses later Paul refers to this cup as “the cup of the Lord” (v. 21).
“this is My body. … for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (26:26b, 28)
Breaking the unleavened bread was a normal part of the traditional Passover ceremony. But Jesus now gave it an entirely new meaning, saying, “This is My body.” The original unleavened bread symbolized severance from the old life in Egypt, carrying nothing of its pagan and oppressive “leaven” into the Promised Land. It represented a separation from worldliness and sin and the beginning of a new life of holiness and godliness.
By His divine authority, Jesus transformed that symbolism into another. From henceforth the bread would represent Christ’s own body, sacrificed for the salvation of men. Luke reports that Jesus added, “given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (22:19), indicating He was instituting a memorial of His sacrificial death for His followers to observe.
In saying the bread is His body, Jesus obviously was not speaking literally. A similarly foolish misunderstanding already had caused the Pharisees to ridicule Him and many superficial disciples to desert Him (see John 6:48–66). It is the same misunderstanding reflected in the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. That literalistic notion is an absurd misinterpretation of Scripture.
Jesus’ statement about eating His body was no more literal than His saying He is the Vine and His followers are the branches (John 15:5) or than John the Baptist’s calling Him the Lamb of God (John 1:29).
As the disciples drank of the cup Jesus said, “This is My blood of the covenant.” From Luke we learn that the Lord specified “new covenant” (22:20), clearly distinguishing it from all previous covenants, including the Mosaic.
When God made covenants with Noah and Abraham, those covenants were ratified with blood (Gen. 8:20; 15:9–10). When the covenant at Sinai was ratified, “Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’ ” (Ex. 24:8). When God brought reconciliation with Himself, the price was always blood, because “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22; cf. 1 Pet. 1:2). A sacrificial animal not only had to be killed but its blood had to be shed. “The life of all flesh is its blood” (Lev. 17:14), and therefore for a life truly to be sacrificed, its blood had to be shed.
Jesus therefore did not simply have to die but had to shed His own precious blood (1 Pet. 1:19). Although He did not bleed to death, Jesus bled both before He died and as He died-from the wounds of the crown of thorns, from the lacerations of the scourging, and from the nail holes in His hands and feet. After He was dead, a great volume of His blood poured out from the spear thrust in His side.
Obviously there was nothing in the chemistry of Christ’s blood that saves. And although the shedding of His blood was required, it symbolized His atoning death, the giving of His unblemished, pure, and wholly righteous life for the corrupt, depraved, and wholly sinful lives of unregenerate men. Representative of the giving of that sinless life was the pouring out of that precious blood for many for forgiveness of sins. That blood made atonement for the sins of all mankind, Gentile as well as Jew, who place their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. The many includes those who trusted in God before Christ died as well as those who have and will trust in Him after His death. Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and every other true believer who lived before Christ, was saved by Christ’s atoning death, as are believers of the New Covenant age. It was because of that truth that Jesus declared to the unbelieving Jewish leaders, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
But I say to you, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (26:29)
As noted above, the divinely-ordained Passover remembrance ended when Jesus celebrated it that night with His disciples. Any observance of it since that time has been based solely on human tradition, the perpetuation of an outward form that has long since lost its spiritual significance. But for those who belong to Jesus Christ, that event in the upper room began a new remembrance of redemption that the Lord will honor until He returns in glory.
Fruit of the vine was a common Jewish colloquialism for wine, which Jesus told the disciples He would not drink with them again until that day when He would drink it new with them in His Father’s kingdom. He had instructed them to remember Him in the eating of the unleavened bread, which represents His sacrificed body, and in the drinking of the cup, which represents His shed blood as a sacrifice for sin. “Do this,” He said, “as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:25). That memorial was to continue until that day in His Father’s kingdom.
The Lord’s promise to drink with the disciples in that future kingdom was another assurance to them of His return, an assurance that would take on intensified meaning after His death, resurrection, and ascension. “When I return to establish My kingdom,” He promised them, “you will all be there and you will all drink the cup new with Me.” In other words, the Lord’s Supper not only is a reminder of our Lord’s sacrifice for our sins but also a reminder of His promise to return and share His kingdom blessings with us. From those words we learn that the end of this present age does not signal the end of this observance.
The supper concluded with the singing of a hymn, probably Psalm 118, the last psalm of the Hallel. Then they went out to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus would pray fervently to His Father, be betrayed by Judas, and be arrested by the officers of the chief priests and elders.
26While 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.”
27Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I 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.”
30When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
26:26–30 Resuming the Passover celebration, the meal itself begins. Jesus opens with prayer and the breaking of bread (v. 26). A common loaf would be distributed to all. The unleavened bread originally symbolized the haste with which the Israelites departed from Egypt (Exod 12). For additional laws about how to celebrate the feast, see Lev 23:4–8; Num 9:1–14; and Deut 16:1–8. Jesus now invests the bread with new meaning. It foreshadows his body figuratively broken and literally killed in his upcoming death. Jesus’ words here have led to massive debates, intra-Christian persecution, and huge theological edifices, the weight of which they cannot bear. The doctrines of transubstantiation (the bread and wine become Christ’s actual body and blood) or consubstantiation (Christ is really present “in, with, and under” the elements) make no sense of Jesus’ words in their historical context. As Jesus holds up a loaf and declares, “This is my body,” no one listening will ever imagine that he is claiming the bread to be the literal extension of his flesh. Moreover, in Aramaic these sentences would have been spoken without a linking verb (“is”), as simply, this, my body and this, my blood. As frequently elsewhere, Jesus is creating a vivid object lesson. The bread symbolizes (represents, stands for, or points to) his crucifixion in some otherwise unspecified sense.
In vv. 27–28 Jesus turns from the bread to the cup. This is the third of four cups of wine drunk at various stages throughout the evening festivities. It was probably a common cup passed around for all to drink. “Offered” is the same verb as “gave” in v. 27 and does not imply that drinking was optional. Each of the four cups was linked to one line of Exod 6:6–7a. This one tied in with God’s promise, “I will redeem you,” in v. 6c and hence specifically to his original liberation of the Israelites from Egypt (m. Pesaḥ. 10:6–7). But again Jesus adds new meaning. As they all drink (the “all” refers to all the disciples, not to all of the wine!), he proclaims that the cup stands for his blood about to be shed in his death on the cross. The “blood of the covenant” harks back to Exod 24:8. The use of “cup” rather than “wine” links this passage with 20:22–23 and 26:39. “Fruit of the vine” (v. 29) was a stock phrase used in thanksgiving prayers for the wine (m. Ber. 6:1) and therefore does not refer to unfermented beverage, “though it was customary to cut the wine with a double or triple quantity of water.”
Here is the inauguration of Jeremiah’s new covenant (Jer 31:31–34). “New” does not appear in many of the best manuscripts of Matthew (℘37, א, B, L, Θ, 33, and some Middle Egyptian and Boharic mss.) but does in Luke 22:20, from which it was probably borrowed by later copyists and inserted here. Nevertheless the newness is clear from the Old Testament allusions. Jesus’ death will prove redemptive and provide a vicarious atonement. Verse 28 offers a significant parallel to 20:28. The forgiveness of sins “for many,” that is, for all who accept Jesus, echoes Isa 53:4, 10, 12. The covenant language implies the creation of a community, now to be constituted of those who in their eating and drinking identify with the benefits of Jesus’ sacrificial death. This “true Israel” stands over against the natural Israel of the old covenant.
Verse 29 anticipates both Jesus’ departure and his return. He warns the disciples that he will not again be drinking (or eating or performing any other part of this Passover liturgy) in the immediate future, but he looks forward to rejoining them for the messianic banquet (recall the imagery of 22:1–14, and cf. Rev 19). The kingdom which is now inaugurated will then be consummated in all its fullness. Jesus’ words may suggest that he refused to drink the fourth and final cup of this particular meal.
All three Synoptics have accounts of Jesus’ Last Supper and so-called “Words of Institution.” Interestingly, John’s Gospel says nothing about the bread and wine, through he preserves a much fuller account of Jesus’ teaching on this last night of his life (John 13–17). But a fourth, closely parallel account does appear in Paul (1 Cor 11:23–26) with distinctive parallels to Luke. The most important of these is the addition of the phrase “do this in remembrance of me.” From this command virtually all branches of Christianity have seen grounds for repeating some kind of “Lord’s Supper” (“Holy Communion” or “Eucharist”) ritual, though they scarcely agree on many of the other details surrounding its observance. No particular timetable for celebrating the Lord’s Supper is commanded here. The early church apparently included it at the culmination of a “love feast” or fellowship meal (cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7–12; Jude 12). One may determine certain principles for correctly observing this ordinance by combining all of the scriptural references, but most church practices go well beyond anything specifically mandated in Holy Writ. This does not mean that all of these practices are wrong, merely that they may not be made normative.
From Matthew’s account emerge two key reasons for celebrating the Lord’s Supper. One looks backward; the other, forward. First, we commemorate Jesus’ redemptive death. Second, we anticipate his return in company with all the redeemed. These two points remain central to all three Synoptic accounts and should form the heart of any theology of this ordinance. Verse 30 rounds off this section by describing the departure of Jesus and the eleven from the upper room, the house, and the city of Jerusalem. But first they sing one or more hymns, probably the closing round of Hallel (praise) Psalms (Pss 115–18) that formed part of the Passover liturgy. Then the little entourage returns to the Mount of Olives where they heard Jesus preach just two days earlier (24:1).
MacArthur, J. (1989). Matthew. Chicago: Moody Press.
Blomberg, C. (2001, c1992). Vol. 22: Matthew (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Page 390). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.