And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
When the Passover meal was over, Jesus did something else of immense significance. He instituted a means by which his disciples would remember him until his return. The remembrance would be in the form of a very simple meal of bread and wine.
As with the Passover, the ingredients of the meal were both real and symbolic: real bread and real wine, but when taken deliberately in remembrance of Jesus they have a deep symbolic value, which Jesus explained. The bread was to serve as the symbol of his body given for them. The cup of wine was to serve as the symbol of the New Covenant he was establishing with them through his blood poured out in sacrifice.
There are other ways by which Jesus could have asked his disciples to remember him. By sharing stories of his life, for example, or by quoting extracts from his teaching, or by some action such as giving money to the poor. But he chose symbols of his sacrifice. For they express what is at the heart of true Christianity: the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God, for the sin of the world.
The cup of wine of this new meal also was to serve as a symbol of the New Covenant that he was about to establish with them through the pouring out of his blood. The Old Covenant was an instrument of government, established by God with Moses. The New Covenant, which would now replace the Old, is also an instrument of government. But its terms, announced centuries before through the prophet Jeremiah, are very different.
For example, in this New Covenant God announced his commitment to write his laws on their hearts and minds, not on tablets of stone. This is nothing short of God’s commitment to write his holy character within us by his Spirit. God also promised personal, intimate relationship between himself as King and each of his subjects, without the need of intermediaries. And he promised that under the terms of this New Covenant the question of sin and guilt is completely answered, never to be raised again.
When Jesus handed the cup to his disciples, he was in effect inaugurating his kingdom rule in the lives of all who would trust in him and welcome him as their Saviour and Lord. One day the King will return in all his power and glory. But now, in the very city that rejected his claims, in a borrowed room, when Jesus handed the cup to his disciples, he was setting up his kingdom rule in their lives.
It is a challenging thought, however, that at such a significant moment, the hand of the betrayer, Judas, was resting on the same table as the hand of the true King. Judas could have taken Christ’s hand, submitted to his rule. But in his heart he had no time for Jesus as King. Greed had captured him. Satan had now taken over, using him to betray Jesus to death. The irony was that by that death Jesus would break Satan’s power and establish his own rule.
Two different hands, two different kingdoms, two different powers, two different destinies. As Christian believers take bread and wine in remembrance of Christ, as they do to this day across the world, they are declaring their allegiance to Jesus as King and committing themselves anew to his covenant.