The Eucharist According to Matthew

It is the eve of Christ’s betrayal into the hands of Israel’s chief priests and elders. From the beginning of His public preaching ministry, Jesus has been teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus declares that the kingdom is here. Since Matthew is the most Jewish of all the gospels, the coming kingdom has been his consistent theme. Even in Jesus’s teaching material as reported by Matthew, the Kingdom has been the content. Jesus has said much about the Kingdom, and in Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord’s Supper is Kingdom centered.

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”  (Matthew 26:26-29) 

Jesus and His disciples, the twelve minus Judas, are eating the Passover meal. As is the practice, Jesus takes some bread, breaks it, and passes it to His disciples. He does something that is not normative for the celebratory feast by attributing clarified meaning to the meal. He tells them that the bread is His body. In the same way, He claimed that the wine is His blood of the covenant. I want to look at these two statements. There are some who claim that Jesus words, here, are to be taken literalistically. There are many verses in the Bible that people take literalistically that were not meant to be read as such–including the imagery in the Psalms and Revelation. They believe that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ in the eucharist. This is called transubstantiation. They believe they are literally consuming the body and blood of Christ. I do not, however, believe we ought to read the Bible literalistically. I believe we ought to read it literally, observing the historical and grammatical context, striving to understand language, and considering authorial intent. Jesus did not intend for all of His language be taken literalistically. He told parables, used metaphor and, arguably, hyperbole. Scripture is littered with symbolism. Even when we talk today, we do not intend for others to take everything we say literalistically. When I say, “I’m burning up,” I do not mean that I am literalistically on fire. I want you to understand that I am hot and probably sweating. Like in John 6, when Jesus tells the crowds that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to convey that He is their only true sustenance, I believe that Jesus intends to convey that the bread and wine represent, or symbolize, His body being broken and blood being poured out. I do not believe He instructed people to be cannibals. The reason I think Jesus is speaking representatively, here, is because He still has His flesh on Him. His blood is still inside Him. The bread is still bread, and the wine is still wine.

Jesus’s body is about to be broken like the bread. His blood is about to be poured out. While Jesus simply refers to the bread as His body, He takes much more time to clarify the meaning of the wine. It is His blood of the covenant. His blood will be poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. Up to this point, the blood of the covenant has been animal blood, meant as an atonement for the sins of the people. Jesus is telling His disciples that He will be the perfect atonement for the sins of many. The Kingdom is at hand. The Old ways are passing away and the new are coming. The Kingdom of Heaven will be different than the world has been up to this point–as Jesus has taught. It is not insignificant that Matthew here records Jesus as saying He will atone for many, not all. I think it is purposeful. To be atoned for is to have one’s sin perfectly paid for. While we might reasonably say that Jesus died to conquer all sin, Matthew is clear that only many are effectually atoned for. Not everyone receives salvation from sin. Jesus’s teaching is not universalist teaching. The Kingdom of Heaven is exclusive to the many who are atoned for in Christ. Only the many actually receive forgiveness for sins in Christ, not every single person.

Christ also says of the wine, He will not drink it again from this moment on until that day when He drinks it new with His disciples in His Father’s Kingdom. We are meant to consider the entire narrative that Matthew has presented. Jesus began His preaching ministry by declaring that the Kingdom promised in the Old Testament was at hand. It is near. It is close. It is en route. Jesus’s teaching about how the Kingdom will be has become more urgent the closer we get to His crucifixion. Jesus is not, here, saying that He will abstain from the Passover meal. He is not instructing His disciples not to observe the Lord’s Supper until His Second Coming. He is providing a timeline for the establishment of the Kingdom. The Kingdom will be established before the next Passover. That is why, in Matthew 28, Jesus proclaims, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” It is finished. The Kingdom is here. Lest we think that the Kingdom waits for some future date, let us not forget that at His Second Coming, Jesus will have ended all rule and authority and will directly hand the kingdom over to the Father such that He no longer sits as the iron-clad king we often depict or that we see in The Revelation (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24), which is one of the reasons I believe Revelation to be the story of Christianity under Rome and Matthew 24 to be a depiction of the decade preceding and including AD 70 and the destruction of the Temple. 

700 years before Jesus was born, the Prophet, Isaiah, predicted that when the Messiah came, He would be born a baby yet called Eternal Father and Prince of Peace. From the moment of His incarnation, there would be no end to the increase of His government or of peace (Isaiah 9:6-7). When we observe the Lord’s supper, we proclaim the death of Christ until He comes (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26). The Lord’s Supper is a testimony to the establishment of Christ’s kingdom. He did and is doing what He promised. If we do not believe that the Kingdom has come and Christ reigns, we ought to be abstaining from the Lord’s Supper with Him until His kingdom is actually established. Sadly, many Christians are abstaining more often from the regular observance of the Lord’s Supper, practicing it less frequently as if they do not believe Jesus is Lord. When we eat the bread and drink the wine, we praise God for finishing His work in the atoning death of Christ, who is currently our King.

So, the Kingdom comes by the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus does not abstain from the Passover meal. While the memorial view of the Lord’s Supper is not a wrong view, it is incomplete. When we observe the meal, Christ is present at the table with us in the midst of His kingdom–a view we refer to as consubstantiation. He is with us as we proclaim His gospel through the elements and testify to the presence of His kingdom on the earth.

Since the meal is a testimony about the establishment of Christ’s kingdom, we know the importance of observing the meal during the gathering and observing it often. The closer I grow to Christ, the more often I find myself wanting to observe the Lord’s Supper with the gathering of believers.

After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus *said to them, “You will all afall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’ But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee” (Matthew 26:30-32) 

Jesus and His disciples not only ate, but they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives. Matthew includes another fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture in His account because He is writing to Jews who need to see their prophecies fulfilled. Zechariah spoke about the restoration of Israel after they have sinned greatly. God, Himself, would deliver His people. Zechariah predicts that God will strike His own shepherd, the one who stands next to Him. When the shepherd is stricken, the sheep will fall away, many who will not be restored (most of Israel) and a remnant that will be refined and ultimately be delivered as the people of God (Zechariah 13:7-9). The disciples must fall away in order to fulfill the prophecy written. They will be restored.

But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too (Matthew 26:33-35).

Peter, as has become his habit, argues against Jesus in his zeal. He disagrees with the prophecy. Jesus reassures Peter that he will indeed deny Him. Yet, all of the disciples say they will not despite the prophecy and despite the fact that Jesus has not been wrong about anything yet. They must deny Him because it has been foretold. They will not, though, willfully or premeditatedly deny Jesus. They do so in moments of fear, without thinking. Jesus, who is the savior, will restore them despite their denials. He will reign. He has the authority to forgive sins and make atonement on behalf of anyone He chooses–whether or not they have denied Him. Jesus will win, and His government and peace will continue to increase upon the earth forever.

Leave a Reply