Jesus has repeated taught his disciples that he would give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus is going to give his life so that people could be rescued from their sins. The timing for Jesus to do this act is very important. In Mark 14:16 Jesus told his disciples to go make preparations for the Passover. Mark 14:12 declares that it is the first day of Unleavened Bread which coincided with the Passover feast. Of all the days of the year when Jesus could have decided to give his life over, he chose the Passover. The Passover is the background for what Jesus is doing as he institutes the Lord’s Supper. So to understand the Lord’s Supper properly, we first need to have an understanding of the Passover and what would have been in the mind of the disciples when Jesus sat down with his disciples.
Understanding the Passover
The Passover festival was a critical memorial in this history of Israel. The Passover recalled the exodus of Israel from Egyptian slavery. God had come to rescue his people from slavery and he would rescue his people through his servant, Moses. Moses stands before the Pharaoh of Egypt and by God’s power worked miracles before Pharaoh’s eyes to show the glory and power of God so that he would let Israel free. But Pharaoh refused. So God worked more wonders, commonly known as the ten plagues, which destroyed Egypt on many levels. The final plague was the death of the firstborn. Any house that did not have blood on the doorposts would have their firstborn child killed. However listen to what God said to Israel.
In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. (Exodus 12:11–14 ESV)
Notice that God declared that the blood would be the basis by which he would pass over the people so that God would not strike his judgments against them. This was to be a memorial forever, kept through the generations as a meal. The memorial was to remember how God struck Egypt but spared Israel (Exodus 12:27). God did not want the people to ever forget who they were and what God had done for them. They were slaves in Egypt, oppressed, helpless, and hopeless. They cried out to the Lord and God freed them from their slavery and brought them into the promised land. God spared them, loved them, and rescued them. Therefore, the Passover was a very important day in Israel’s history. It was their Independence Day. But the Passover was not merely backward looking but also forward looking. Israel was hoping for a prophet like Moses to arise, according to Deuteronomy 18:15, who would bring final freedom to the people. They would no longer be enslaved to world powers but God’s kingdom would be established under a new Moses. So the Passover had all kinds of national hopes ignited with each commemoration. God would give the final rescue and establish his kingdom over all the earth. This is one of the reasons why the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Jesus, but not during the Passover (14:2). People were hoping that Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel (Luke 24:21). Jesus has declared himself as Israel’s king as he rode into Jerusalem a few days earlier. With the Passover table set and the hopes of Israel looking for redemption, look at what Jesus does in Mark 14:22-26.
The Bread (14:22)
As they are eating this meal, Jesus makes an adjustment to the message of the Passover. What Jesus does is he reconstitutes the Passover meal into the Lord’s Supper. During the Passover meal the patriarch of the family would give thanks and praises for the bread, break it, and distribute it to the participants (Strauss). Notice that this is exactly what Jesus does. Jesus takes the bread after blessing it and gives it to his disciples. Please note that “blessing it” means to give praise or give thanks. Thanksgiving is made as the meal is eaten. But rather than distributing the bread in silence, Jesus says these words: “This is my body.” Jesus wants all the hopes of the Passover pictured in himself. “This is my body.” This is me. Now as they ate they would eat to remember Jesus. Jesus gave himself completely for us.
Jesus’ death is the hope of the Passover and the hope of the exodus fulfilled. Through the death of Jesus, by his giving his life for us, we are set free from slavery from sin. We are hopeless and helpless and without ability to free ourselves. But Jesus gives his life to set us free. Jesus will give his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the people. What Jesus is saying is that this is the gift of himself. Jesus offered himself for you. Remember Jesus giving himself for you. Jesus is the bread of life that has come down from heaven. Jesus is the bread we need for true life. What had referred to the deliverance from Egypt now refers to a new deliverance. Finally, there is a unity that is proclaimed among us as we partake. Listen to what the apostle Paul taught the Corinthians.
The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16–17 ESV)
During the Passover meal, the family was joined together to eat. We partake of this meal together but there is also a picture of us being united in the fact that Jesus gave his life for us. We who are many are one body. We are joining ourselves together each week in Christ as we partake. We are gathered as a family, proclaiming our unity to Jesus, forgiving all wrongs.
The Blood of the Covenant (14:23-24)
Next, Jesus takes a cup which is also what would have happened in the Passover meal. As Jesus passes the cup, he does the same thing as he did with the bread, changing the message of the Passover to be fulfilled in him. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Blood always represents life before God. It is one of the earliest pictures in the scriptures where Abel’s blood cried out from the ground and that they were not to eat blood because it represented the life of the person or animal. But to initiate a covenant, blood was always needed. Covenants throughout the scriptures as well as throughout ancient times required the death of an animal as a ratification of the covenant. This death is even seen in the rest of Jesus’ words, “which is poured out for many.” Life poured out is used to speak of a sacrificial death. The phrase echoes from the prophecy of Isaiah.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12 NIV)
So these two ideas are merged together in the phrase “the blood of the covenant.” Jesus gave his life to enact a new covenant through which we enjoy forgiveness of sins and freedom from sins (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34). Listen to how the prophet Zechariah used this picture.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. (Zechariah 9:11 ESV)
The blood of the covenant sets us free from the pit that we are in. So the picture of freedom and release as in the Passover is filled in our memorial in the Lord’s Supper. Further, Jesus’ death seals us into a covenant relationship with him. This is the very idea where we see this phrase used after the exodus from Egyptian slavery.
And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:6–8 ESV)
The blood of the covenant speaks of our commitment to keeping the covenant into which we have been sealed with blood. This also speaks to our unity with Christ and belonging to him. Again, listen to the apostle Paul to the Corinthians.
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16 ESV)
We are declaring our love and commitment to Jesus and his covenant. We are affirming our end of the covenant in that we will be faithful to Jesus.
The Kingdom (14:25)
But there is one more picture that Jesus gives which is in verse 25. Jesus says he will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when he drinks it new in the kingdom of God. Jesus takes an oath before the disciples. What Jesus is declaring to them is that this is the last Passover he will be with them. What Jesus is about to do through his death on the cross is bring in the kingdom of God. The hope of the Passover is about to truly arrive. Jesus has come to bring his people into the kingdom of God so that they can have their sins forgiven and enjoy fellowship with the Lord. What an amazing declaration! Jesus has just said that he is giving his life (“This is my body”) and his blood will be poured out so that the new covenant can be put into effect (“This is the blood of the covenant”). Yet Jesus is also declaring that this will not be his end for he will drink in the kingdom of God. He is bringing the kingdom of God and he is going to be alive to see this. This same picture was also displayed in Isaiah’s prophecy.
Yet it was the LORD’S will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10 NIV)
The Lord will make his life an offering for sin, but he is going to see his offspring and his days will be prolonged. The Lord’s will is going to prosper in his hand. He will give his life but it is not over for him. The blood of the covenant reminds us of our commitment to the covenant and the forgiveness of sins that we need to belong to this covenant. Through the blood of the covenant we are joined with Christ in the kingdom now.
Hymns of Hope (14:26)
The Passover event also included singing. The people of Israel would sing the Hallel psalms, which are Psalms 113-118. In particular, they would usually sing the final Hallel psalms (115-118). So also Jesus and his disciples leave for the Mount of Olives singing these songs. Psalm 115 gives glory to God. “O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield” (Psalm 115:9). Listen to some of the words of Psalm 116. “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of the people” (Psalm 116:12-14). “I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:17). Then we hear the words of Psalm 117.
Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 117:1–2 ESV)
Then Psalm 118 begins and ends with these words, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Psalm 118 is filled with great hope.
Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. (Psalm 118:5–7 ESV)
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:21–24 ESV)
Jesus is our Passover. He gave himself so that we could escape the judgment we deserve. He gave himself so that we could enter into a new covenant that forgives our sins. He gave himself so that we could enjoy fellowship with the Lord. He gave himself so that we could be united together with each other with our Lord. In partaking we are proclaiming the benefits of the Lord and our commitment to the covenant. Let us call on the name of the Lord for salvation and offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord. Like the Passover, we have no reason for fear because of the offering of Jesus. The Lord sees the blood of Jesus and passes over us. We are brought out of slavery and led to the promised land with the Lord.