In previous studies I have observed with you the distinction in what is being remembered when the bread and fruit of the vine are taken. When Jesus took the bread he said to remember his body.
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” (Matthew 26:26 ESV)
And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” (Mark 14:22 ESV)
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19 ESV)
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23–24 ESV)
Notice the consistency is what is to be remembered. Jesus said, “This is my body” in every account. Therefore, when we take the bread we are remembering the body that was sacrificed for our sins. We are remembering the cross. We are remembering the crucifixion of our Lord.
But when Jesus came to the fruit of the vine he said to remember something different.
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27–28 ESV)
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:23–24 ESV)
And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20 ESV)
In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:25 ESV)
Notice again the consistency in what is to be remembered. In every account recorded Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant.” This statement, “my blood of the covenant” is easy to quickly pass by because we are not Jews and have not made the Old Testament connection. In our lesson today we are going to look at what “the blood of the covenant” means and why it is relevant for us when we partake of the Lord’s Supper. Turn in your Bibles to Exodus 24.
The Blood of the Covenant in Exodus
The scene in Exodus 24 is that the people of Israel are at Mount Sinai. The Law of God has been given, the ten commandments declared, and many other laws for the people to obey. After the law was given, God extends an invitation to Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the 70 elders to worship the Lord. Moses alone was allowed to come near. This action shows an important principle: we cannot worship God without a mediator because we are sinners. Like the Israelites, we cannot approach the mountain of the Lord. When the tabernacle was constructed, no one could pass the veil into the presence of God. We need someone to go before God on our behalf. None of these actions can begin without a mediator.
So Moses declares to the people all the words of the Lord and the laws. Listen to the answer of the people in verse 3, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” The people understand that the grace of God constrains them to obey. Then Moses writes down all the words of the Lord and built an altar to the Lord at the base of the mountain. Watch what Moses does next.
And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. (Exodus 24:6 ESV)
Moses takes the blood of the animal and divides half. Half the blood when into basins and the other half he throws against the altar. The blood against the altar symbolized the divine side of the transaction. The blood does not first go on the people, but on God’s altar. God must be the one to offer forgiveness and atonement.
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.” (Exodus 24:7 ESV)
Now Moses reads the book of the covenant to the people. Notice their acceptance of the covenant laws. The people that they will do what the Lord has spoken and they will be obedient. Now verse 8 is the key to our story and our point of the connection to the New Testament.
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 24:8 ESV)
With the other half of the blood that was in the basins, Moses takes that blood and throws it on the people. I want you to imagine the animal blood being thrown against all the people in this great assembly. Listen to what Moses says this means: “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” The sprinkling of the blood indicated the people’s acceptance of the covenant. It was sign of their acceptance to do all that the Lord had spoken. Therefore, the blood also indicated a confirmation of fellowship between the people and God. Consider that the people were going to fail at keeping the Book of the Covenant. Therefore, the blood of the covenant is sprinkled on the altar and the people as an imagery of atonement. The blood of the covenant is there when we fail to keep the book of the covenant. Now this is not the end of the scene. Notice what happens next.
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank. (Exodus 24:9–11 ESV)
With atonement made, the blood sprinkled, and fellowship confirmed, they are able to see the glory of God. Then a covenant meal occurs. The text is not telling that all this happened and then Moses was hungry so they ate a meal. This is a covenant meal. A covenant meal was a common event in ancient near eastern times as is served to solemnize and ratify an agreement between two parties. We still see the usage of the meal with diplomats and world leaders sharing in a meal after a treaty or agreement.
Before we return to the New Testament and apply this symbolism to the Lord’s Supper please consider the order of events. First, the blood was spilled. Second, atonement is offered by God with the blood sprinkled on the altar. Third, the book of the covenant is read and a commitment was made by the people to obey, symbolized by the blood of the covenant being sprinkled on the people. Fourth, the covenant is ratified between God and the people as God and the leaders of Israel eat in a meal.
The Lord’s Supper
Consider the words again about what Jesus is saying concerning the memorial. Jesus first takes the bread and consider what Jesus said. “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” The sacrifice of the body of Jesus is what he asks us to remember. Notice how this ties directly to Exodus 24. The blood must be spilled first. The death of the perfect lamb must occur.
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. (Romans 3:25 NIV 2011) The apostle Paul makes the same point. The blood of Jesus is shed making atonement for the people. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2 NIV 2011)
Then Jesus takes the cup and consider what Jesus said. “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27–28 ESV)
The covenant initiated by Christ’s blood is the covenant that brings us forgiveness of sins. But even more, it is a statement that we belong in covenant with Jesus, marked with his blood for obedience. The writer of Hebrews make a direct connection to this event and ties it to the sacrifice of Jesus.
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:13–22 ESV)
Christ’s death is pictured as a sprinkling of blood for the new covenant which we are under. Death is required for a “last will and testament” to be established. Notice that the sprinkling of blood is a picture of atonement and forgiveness that was being given through the covenant. This is why we see in Matthew’s account concerning the fruit of the vine the explanation of this being for the forgiveness of sins:
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:27–28 ESV)
The blood of the covenant is poured out for the forgiveness of sins. This is commemorating the new covenant through Jesus’ death under which we find forgiveness of our sins.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1 Peter 1:1–2 ESV)
Notice how Peter ties obedience to Jesus and sprinkling with his blood. We are bound to covenantal obedience by his blood. Just as the people responded to the offer of atonement by committing themselves to obedience and the blood was sprinkled on them to mark that occasion as “the blood of the covenant,” we are committing ourselves to obedience to the Lord as we partake of the cup which is Jesus’ “blood of the covenant.” This imagery fits was Paul was teaching in 1 Corinthians 11 concerning the Lord’s Supper.
Proclaiming the Lord’s Death
Notice that 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 is the recounting of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. After quoting what Jesus said notice what Paul teaches next.
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26 ESV)
Here is the proclamation of our obedience, just as we see the people of Israel doing in Exodus 24. Now we may read this and say that Paul did not say that we are proclaiming our obedience, but proclaiming the Lord’s death. But notice what Paul means by proclaiming the Lord’s death in the rest of the verses.
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:27–32 ESV)
I submit to you that this is what it means to eat in an unworthy manner. Paul is not speaking about how many cups are used, or if the elements are passed too quickly, or if we used prepackage bread or homemade bread. Paul is calling for an examination of ourselves when we eat. Why? We do this because we are making a declaration about the Lord’s death that we will obey what our Lord has told us to do. Notice how this fits verses 29-32. Some have understood this to mean that the Corinthians were eating the Lord’s Supper wrong so the Lord was killing them. No, the problem is that the Corinthians are disobedient to the Lord but are still pretending to be Christians and still pretending to be part of the covenant. When we eat and drink and do not discern what this eating and drinking means, we are bringing judgment upon ourselves. Look at verse 31: If we were properly evaluating ourselves, we would not be judged, but when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord, so that we may not be condemned with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:31–32 HCSB)
If we understood what we were proclaiming when we partook of the Lord’s Supper, then the Lord would have no need to bring judgment upon us. But we are falsely partaking, we are judged by the Lord and bringing condemnation on ourselves. The Lord’s Supper is our proclamation to the world, to one another, and to the Lord that we will keep the covenant. Then we see Moses and the leaders eating and drinking, communing with God on the mountain. We are making the same proclamation of obedience and then are in communion, eating and drinking, with our Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16).
So what does this mean for us as we get ready to partake of the Lord’s Supper? When we partake of the bread we are remembering the body of Jesus sacrificed on the cross so that atonement could be offered to the world. Our hearts are focused on the death of our Lord Jesus. When we partake of the fruit of the vine we are remembering the blood of the covenant. In this we are declaring our acceptance of the covenant, receiving atonement, and proclaiming to do all that is written in the book of the covenant. The blood of Jesus is being sprinkled on the people indicating the fellowship we have with the Lord because Jesus died, bringing forgiveness through the new covenant.
Atonement for our sins has been made and we must make the proclamation until he comes that we will do all that the Lord has commanded. Therefore, Paul instructs us to examine our hearts. We need to take this moment and understand what we are professing as these elements are passed. We are professing our commitment to this covenant. We are not just eating and drinking. We are proclaiming the Lord’s death. We are proclaiming his death that brings us life such that we will obey him and follow him. We are proclaiming our participation in this covenant. We are proclaiming our obedience from the grace we observe from our Lord’s death. So take a moment now and judge yourself. Pray to God for forgiveness. Get your heart right with God. Dedicate yourself to keep the covenant with your Lord. Judge yourselves so that we do not fall under God’s judgment. Then as we eat, the apostle Paul says that bread we break is a participation in the body of Christ and the cup we drink is a participation in the blood of Christ.
Jesus died to make atonement for our sins. This great sacrifice of love should lead our hearts to proclaim as Israel proclaimed, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” We are required to keep all of the covenant, not just the parts that we like or want to keep. We are required to do all that is commanded not just the commands we think are important or convenient. His blood releases us from the judgment we deserve from our sins. But his blood demands that we desire him, love him, serve him, and obey him from the heart. Nothing less is accepted. Therefore each week we assemble together as we are commanded, we remember the body of Jesus and the blood of the covenant, renewing our covenant commitment to the Lord, finding forgiveness, and striving to obey him. His blood is your atonement. Consider how the imagery of Exodus 24 and Jesus’ words at the institution of the Lord’s Supper are summarized in the words of the apostle John:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7 ESV)
How can we not respond to his covenant and find salvation by turning to him in faith and obedience?