While Jesus was eating the Passover meal with his disciples in 30 AD he took one of the cups of wine used at the meal. There were four cups of wine traditionally used in this meal:
- The cup of benediction used at the beginning of the ceremony
- The cup beginning the meal after Psalm 113 and 114 were read (the first part of the Hallel, or Praise Psalms) and while a dialogue took place to explain the meaning of the meal.
- The cup after the meal and the prayer that was always said at the end of a Jewish meal
- The cup at the end of the reading of Psalm 115-118 (the end of the Hallel Psalms)
In Matthew 26:27-29 Jesus has taken one of these single cups and used the explanation portion of the Passover meal to introduce his own symbolism. He may have been using the third cup used at the end of the meal.
In Jesus’ teaching and symbolism the focus is removed from the blood of the Passover lamb and is instead focused on his blood that will be shed on the cross. Concerning the cup, Jesus’ disciples are told, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant.” Before we become completely Christianized and insensitive to these words spoken by Jesus we must realize how shocking these words must have been to the Jewish disciples. First, remember the blood of the Passover lamb was merely smeared on the doorposts the night before the Hebrews left Egypt around 1440 BC. The lamb’s blood was not eaten or drank. Eating blood or meat with blood in it was forbidden in the Mosaic Law. And, obviously human sacrifice and cannibalism were also forbidden, and the concept was surely repulsive. With this in mind we must understand that it was a very uncommon, unacceptable thing to say: “Drink this, it is my blood.”
Jesus commissioned an additional teaching into the instructional portion of the Passover meal to be used by his followers between his first coming to earth and his second coming. Jesus blood would authorize the New Covenant spoken of in Jeremiah 31:31-37; 32:37-40; Ezekiel 34:25-31; 36:26-28
This adjusted portion of the meal that the church calls The Lord’s Supper, or Communion, is to serve a basic purpose: It is a simple, consistent explanation and reminder of Jesus’ work of salvation.
There have been many distractions, additional teachings and philosophies of men that have tried to gain equal footing alongside Jesus’ work on the cross. Other rituals and practices have desired a superior position as the prized object of faith in place of Jesus over the past 2000 years. But, these words and this cup bring us back to God’s plan of salvation through the work of his Son. Salvation is found only in the person of Jesus. Salvation is not a work Jesus instructs us to achieve. Salvation is not a list of things we must avoid if we want to go to heaven. As Peter preached to the Sanhedrin a few weeks after he had eaten this Last Supper with Jesus:
“Salvation is found in no one else.” – Acts 4:12
Jesus had told the Jews in Galilee while he was teaching in their synagogue in Capernaum (John 6:59):
“I am the bread of life…I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” - John 6:35, 53
Peter understood Jesus’ symbolism and replied:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:68-69
Jesus gives these words and this practice to his followers with the expectation that they will continue this instructional ritual until he returns with his Father’s kingdom on earth as he had promised. Jesus said this would be the last time he drank wine until he had physically returned to earth and the Kingdom of God had been set up:
“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.” – Matthew 26:27