IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 2, Number 14, April 3 to April 9, 2000

COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 26:17-30

by Dr. Knox Chamblin

THE LAST SUPPER. 26:17-30.

I. A PASSOVER MEAL.

Thus does Mt identify the meal (26:17-19). On the chronological question, see Appendix B. As an alternative to the view that the Synoptics and Jn reflect different calendars, it may be that Jesus, foreseeing that his life would end before he could participate in the meal at the official time, conducted an anticipatory Passover with his disciples. "My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples" (v. 18; cf. Lk 22:15). The disciples' exact obedience to Jesus' instructions (vv. 1-8-19), recalls 21:1-6.


II. THE LAST SUPPER AND THE PASSOVER MEAL. See Appendix C.

A. The Preliminary Course.

For all four cups red wine was required, because the redemption from Egypt was accomplished by the shedding of blood. Jesus makes the statement of v. 23 during this course. The "bowl" contained herbs and a fruit puree (a sauce of dates, raisins and sour wine), which were scooped out with bread. Because all the disciples "dipped their hands into the bowl" with Jesus, this statement alone would not divulge the traitor's identity (but see Jn 13:26).

B. The Passover Liturgy.

Lk 22:17, and this account alone, refers to the drinking of the second cup. The placement of the saying "I will not drink again..." at this point in Luke's account (v. 18), indicates that Jesus himself did not partake of the third cup - the cup over which he speaks the words of Mt 26:27-28.

C. The Main Meal.

1. Judas' departure. Jesus' words of judgment upon the traitor, and his conversation with Judas (vv. 24-25), come before the beginning of the main meal. Joining Mt's evidence to Jn 13:26-30, we conclude that Judas left the room before the main meal commenced, and therefore before the words of institution were uttered. He is thus excluded from the "all" of v. 27; he is not embraced by the promise of the forgiveness of sins (v. 28; cf. the terrifying words of v. 24). On v. 25b ("You have said," Su eipas) as indicative of Judas' hypocrisy, see Gundry, 527.

2. The grace over the bread. Jesus, as the host (or paterfamilias), offers the blessing over the unleavened bread (v. 26; it is God who is blessed, not the bread), and then pronounces the words of v. 26b.

3. The meal itself. If this was an anticipatory Passover meal (cf. A.), then Jesus and his disciples "must have dispensed with the paschal lamb, which could be slaughtered only in the Temple on the official date (and no mention is made of Jesus and His disciples' eating the lamb)" (Bruce, Matthew, 84). Moreover, as Jesus himself was to be the Paschal Lamb (1 Cor 5:7), his refraining from eating the lamb on this occasion might be consid-ered just as appropriate as his refraining from the bread and the wine over which he speaks the words of institution.

4. The grace over the third cup, 26:27a. At this point Jesus offers the interpretation of v. 28. Cf. the phrase "cup of blessing" in 1 Cor 10:16. The saying which Lk presents before the main meal (22:18), Mt and Mk present after the grace over the third cup (26:29). Yet observe in both vv. 26 and 27, the accent on the disciples' partaking of the elements. Jesus himself partakes of neither the bread nor the wine during the main meal (cf. B.). Quite understandably he refuses, for he interprets these elements as representing his own body and blood.

D. The Conclusion.

"When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives" (v. 30). The "hymn" is the close of the Passover hallel (cf. the use of Ps 118 at the Triumphal Entry). That Matthew then speaks immediately of their departure, strongly suggests that the fourth cup was omitted - not just by Jesus but by the whole company. The reason has been given in v. 29. That last cup is reserved for the Messianic Banquet (cf. 8:11), when God's Kingdom is consummated, when Jesus has vanquished all his enemies (lastly death itself), and when righteous-ness and peace are fully and finally established.


III. THE WORDS OF INSTITUTION.

A. The Mystery.

However we interpret these words, we must acknowledge their elusiveness and their mystery. We may say that the spiritual presence of Jesus is just as real as the physical presence of the bread. But to say that is not so much to dispel the mystery as to deepen it. We believe and obey these words, but we do not claim to have fathomed them. See further K. Chamblin, Paul and the Self, Chapter 12, on "the Disclosure of God" in the Eucharist.

B. The Words over the Bread. 26:26.

The accent is upon the giving, not the breaking. The bread is broken so that it might be distributed. Jesus gives his body as an atoning sacrifice, in order to save his people from their sins. As a sacrifice interpreted against the background of the Passover, it was essential that his body not be broken; it was to be a whole, unblemished sacrifice till the end. Cf. the quotation of Ex 12:46 in Jn 19:36, "Not one of his bones will be broken."

C. The Words over the Cup. 26:27-28.

1. The forgiveness. That Jesus promises "the forgiveness of sins" by the shedding of his blood (v. 28), is extraordinarily reassuring to the reader of Mt. For in no other Gospel does Jesus lay such stress on radical obedience (chs. 5-7), and on good works as the proof of genuine discipleship (22:11-14; 25:1-30). "Despite his stressing obedience to Jesus' commands, Matthew bases forgive-ness on the pouring out of Jesus' blood. Therefore obedience is evidential of true discipleship, not meritorious of forgive-ness" (Gundry, 528).

2. The blood. Jesus closely relates this cup (and its red wine) to his own blood. It is therefore shocking that he asks his followers to drink the cup, for Jews were forbidden to consume blood. As "the life of a creature is in the blood" (Lev 17:11), drinking blood would violate the Sixth Commandment. Yet this is the very reason Jesus commands his followers to drink his blood: by this means they partake of the Life he offers (cf. Jn 6:53-59).

3. The gift. The blood for the atonement (like the body of the victim) is provided not by the person who needs saving, but by the Savior. So it has been from the very beginning. God provides the substitute for Isaac on the mountain (Gen 22:8, 13). And, says Yahweh in Lev 17:11, "The life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life." Thus God the Son pours out his own blood (v. 28) to save his people from their sins (1:21). Cf. Rom 3:25; 8:32.

4. The separation. The costliness of the gift is indicated in the very fact that there is one word of institution over the bread, and another over the cup. That separation signals that salvation is to be accomplished by the separation of Jesus' blood from his body in a violent death (cf. Jeremias, Eucharistic Words).

5. The new covenant. Jesus speaks the words of v. 28 in conscious and deliberate fulfillment of Jer 31:31-34. The word "new" is textually doubtful here, but not in 1 Cor 11:25 and Lk 22:20. According to Jeremiah, the old covenant (that of Sinai) and the new have a common Author, a common law, and a common threefold objective (salvation, obedience, and fellowship with God). But Jeremiah also teaches, and the NT confirms, that under the New Covenant (1) the Law is administered in a more personal way (it is internalized, not replaced; cf. Paul passim); (2) more direct access to God is provided (cf. 27:51, and Heb passim); and (3) the forgiveness of sins is actually accomplished by the death of Jesus (v. 28b, "the forgiveness of sins"; cf. 1:21; Rom 3:25-26).

6. Salvation for "the many." Messiah dies not just for Jews (the "few") but for Gentiles too ("the many," pollon); cf. comments on 20:28). Such is the efficacy of Jesus' atoning blood, and such is the breadth of God's covenantal love.

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