JESUS MARKS THE TRANSITION FROM THE OLD COVENANT TO THE NEW BY CELEBRATING THE LAST PASSOVER AND INSTITUTING A NEW MEMORIAL
These verses are packed with rich theology:
- Establishing the chronology of the final week leading up the Crucifixion to establish that Jesus offered Himself as the perfect Passover Lamb at the precise time of fulfilment of OT sacrificial typology.
- Demonstrating the divine sovereignty over all of the events of history – with God even controlling the events for which evil men like Judas must bear personal responsibility and judgment.
- Demonstrating the ways in which Jesus precisely fulfilled the OT sacrificial system and orchestrated the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.
- Exegeting the doctrines of redemption, substitutionary atonement and particular atonement.
- Explaining the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper and its memorial significance while refuting the errors of transubstantiation and consubstantiation.
Grant Osborne: In this rich pericope, Jesus’ preparations (vv. 17–19) show his control over the situation and perhaps supernatural knowledge of what is about to transpire. His prophecy of the betrayal (vv. 20–25) distinctly shows supernatural awareness not only of Judas’s betrayal but also its fulfillment of Scripture, and the words of institution (vv. 26–30) show his sovereignty and also interpret his coming death in its redemptive significance and in establishing a new covenant.
Walter Wilson: The meal scene is divided into two units, each of which concerns Jesus’s death: the prediction of betrayal (26:20–25) and the interpretation of the bread and cup (26:26–29). Thematically, the juxtaposition of units corresponds to the logic of the woe pronounced by Jesus in 26:24. Both the Son of Man and his betrayer have destinies to fulfill, and these destinies are intertwined. The body of the first unit consists of two parallel exchanges, 26:21b–23 and 26:24–25. Thus a general prediction of betrayal (26:21b) provokes a general response (26:22), to which Jesus responds with a word of confirmation (26:23). This word then segues to a specific prediction of betrayal (26:24) that provokes a specific response (26:25a), to which Jesus responds with a further word of confirmation (26:25b). Supporting the balance of this structure is the similarity of the questions posed in 26:22 (“Surely it is not I, Lord?”) and 26:25a (“Surely it is not I, Rabbi”). . . The narrative progression in our text, then, has the effect of singling out Judas, making it clear to the reader that Jesus knows not only that there is a traitor in their midst but also which one of them it is (cf. John 13:21–30).
Charles Swindoll: At this point in Matthew’s account, everything is moving inexorably toward Christ’s crucifixion. The Last Supper is the calm before the storm. Within a matter of hours, He would be betrayed by Judas, arrested at Gethsemane, pushed through a series of unjust trials by both Jews and Romans, scourged severely, mocked, and nailed to a cross by heartless soldiers, where He would die a slow, excruciating death. But before all this, He and His twelve disciples gathered around a common table for the Passover meal —their last supper together.
R. T. France: It is the group’s last meal together, but already the presence of the traitor casts a cloud over the Passover celebration, and when Jesus goes on to explain the meaning of his own approaching death, by means of a creative reinterpretation of the traditional Passover ceremonial, the atmosphere of foreboding is deepened.
J. Ligon Duncan: He is pre-explaining the meaning and significance of His death tomorrow. It is important that His disciples realize that the death that He is going to die is not an accident. It is something which He is embracing which is part of the plan of God, and so He is pre-explaining what is going to happen to them tomorrow for their spiritual ratification. And, of course, He is instituting a new ordinance which all Christians are to observe in all ages until He comes again. And that ordinance itself is designed to strengthen our faith and give us assurance of His love and of the certainty of His benefits.
Stu Weber: This portion of the narrative includes three brief paragraphs revolving around the Passover meal:
- Jesus’ careful preparation for the meal (26:17-19),
- his revelation that a betrayer was in their midst (26:20-25),
- and the institution of the Lord’s Supper (26:26-29).
This emphasis on the Passover strengthened the symbolism of Jesus as the Passover lamb (cf. 26:2).
I. (:17-19) PASSOVER PREPARATION
A. (:17) Secret Itinerary for Passover Celebration
“Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying,
‘Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?’”
Charles Swindoll: The Jewish observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread recalled the unleavened cakes baked prior to the exodus from Egypt (Exod. 12:39). The festival began with the offering of the Passover lamb. Preparations for the special meal “came during the daylight hours on Thursday, the fourteenth of Nisan” when lambs were offered in the afternoon and prepared to be eaten in the evening —Thursday night. That meal was called the Passover. The rest of the Feast of Unleavened Bread then extended for seven more days.
As the day of Passover dawned, the disciples were naturally becoming concerned about where they would observe the annual meal. To forsake the meal would have been a violation of the Law, which required particular feasts to be observed annually (Lev. 23). Undoubtedly, they assumed that their rabbi had arranged for the meal somewhere in Jerusalem, since they were from Galilee. The disciples were more than willing to make the necessary preparations for the meal; they just needed to know the venue (Matt. 26:17). . .
If the Passover meal was to be observed at the home of somebody known by the disciples, why didn’t Jesus simply tell the disciples outright? Some have suggested that because Jesus knew Judas had set in motion a plot to betray Him (Matt. 26:16), He had to make the arrangements for the Passover meal behind the traitor’s back. This could be the reason He didn’t observe the feast at the home in Bethany where He was staying. That would have been an obvious place for an arrest, and the meal would have provided a great opportunity for Judas, as the streets of the city would have been mostly empty while families remained indoors to observe the Passover. But Jesus wasn’t about to let Himself be caught in Judas’s diabolical web until it was time. Though His time was “near” (26:18), the moment for His arrest had not yet come.
Once Peter and John completed the preparations (see Luke 22:8) and the time for the Passover meal arrived, Jesus and the disciples assembled at the planned location. I can just imagine Judas following Jesus and the other disciples as they wound through the crowded Jerusalem streets, unsure of where they were going, his eyes shifting back and forth as his brain went into overdrive searching for the best moment to report Jesus’ secret itinerary to the Jewish authorities. Yet by the time they arrived at the prearranged room, any opportunity for immediate betrayal had slipped away. He would have to wait for the right moment.
B. (:18-19) Sovereign Control of the Messiah over Passover Plans
“And He said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.’ 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.”
Daniel Doriani: Jesus told two disciples to enter Jerusalem and find “a certain man” (26:18). That man, Mark says, will be carrying a jar of water. By tradition, men carried water in skins and women carried it in jars—to direct the disciples to a man carrying a water jar is like telling them to go to the mall and look for a man carrying a red purse. When the disciples see the jar-carrying man, they must follow him to a house. The owner of that house will have an upper-story guest room, large and well furnished (Mark 14:12–15).
Van Parunak: –Luke 22:20 tells us that the identification was not by name or address, but by the unusual circumstance of a man (rather than a woman) carrying water from the well. Note his authority over this otherwise unknown man.
Robert Gundry: This paragraph ends with emphasis on the disciples’ exemplary obedience to his ordering them to prepare for his adherence to the law of Passover along with them.
“my time is at hand” – Contrast John 2:4 – “My hour is not yet come”
II. (:20-25) PREDICTION OF BETRAYAL
A. (:20-21) Bombshell Prediction
“Now when evening had come, He was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples. 21 And as they were eating, He said, ‘Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.’”
Craig Blomberg: Jesus interrupts the festivities with the horrible prediction of v. 21. He has never previously mentioned betrayal in his passion predictions, and the topic introduces a painfully dissonant note into the conversation, breaking the intimacy of table fellowship and marring the joy of the Passover festivity (though see Matt 20:18). The rest of the Twelve apparently know nothing of the events of vv. 14-16. By speaking to the issue, Jesus makes it clear that he knows full well what Judas is up to. When the events unfold, he will be giving in to them willingly, not tricked by any ruse.
Leon Morris: by New Testament times they had adopted the Greco-Roman habit of reclining. They would lean on the left elbow with the head toward the table and the feet away from it; the right hand was free to take the food. They used triclinia, couches for three. The tables were arranged in a U shape, with the principal couch at the junction of the two arms. In this case Jesus was in the place of the host, namely in the center of the triclinium at the head.
Van Parunak: Each of the last three parables describing the delay in the Lord’s return distinguishes true from false disciples. Judas is an instance of the evil steward, the five foolish bridesmaids, the servant with one talent.
B. (:22-23) Pinpointing One of His Intimate Companions as the Betrayer
“And being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him,
‘Surely not I, Lord?’ 23 And He answered and said,
‘He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me.’”
D. A. Carson: Jesus’ point is that the betrayer is a friend, someone close, someone sharing the common dish, thus heightening the enormity of the betrayal.
J. Ligon Duncan: It’s interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus with this word in verse 23 calls the disciples to examine their hearts because in verse 26, they are going to begin taking the Lord’s Supper together. Isn’t that interesting? In I Corinthians 11, the apostle will tell us, before we come to the Lord’s Supper, we are to examine ourselves to see if we have discerned the body. And the Lord Jesus right here is calling on His disciples to examine their hearts. They are going to be taking the Lord’s Supper in a few moments.
C. (:24) Prophetic Fulfilment but Personal Condemnation
- Prophetic Fulfilment
“The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him;”
- Personal Condemnation
“but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!
It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”
Leon Morris: Jesus proceeds to make two things clear: one is that his death has its place in the will of God and thus nothing has been done to him outside the divine purpose, the other that this does not palliate the guilt that rests on the person who is to be his betrayer.
Van Parunak: The Lord anticipates no restoration for Judas, and Matthew later (27:3-10), alone among the gospels, records his tragic end. The difference between his sin and that of Peter illustrates an important spiritual principle. The Lord instructed Moses to distinguish two classes of sins (Num 15:22-31). For sins of ignorance (15:24-29), specific sacrifices could be offered. But for presumptuous sins (literally sins “with a high hand,” 15:30-31), no sacrifice was available, and the offender was cut off from his people, a principle echoed in Heb 10:26.
Peter did not purpose or plan his failure. In fact, when the Lord announces it, Peter protests vigorously that it will not happen (26:33). He finds himself in a situation beyond his strength, and succumbs in the weakness of the moment, and (John 21) the Lord restores him to fellowship. But Judas sins deliberately, with premeditation and preparation. For him there is no restoration.
S. Lewis Johnson: Now we must not think that this doctrine of the sovereignty of God means that men are not responsible. Notice the next statement that our Lord makes. He said, the Son of man goeth as it is written of him, but woe unto that man through whom the Son of man is betrayed. So he expresses the viewpoint that Judas is liable to terrible judgment even though he is part of the plan of God in the betrayal and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot flee behind the sovereignty of God and say that because God is sovereign, we, therefore, are not responsible. The Son of man goeth, as it is written, but woe unto that man through whom the Son of man is betrayed. And incidentally, that word, woe, expresses terrible judgment – not light judgment – terrible judgment.
And then to enforce it, he adds, it had been good for that man if he had not been born. Now that statement is a statement that thoroughly and completely refutes the doctrine of universalism and establishes also the doctrine of the eternal punishment of the finally impenitent. I know that that doctrine has fallen upon very evil times, and it is not popular to speak about hellfire and damnation. In fact, it is generally thought that if a man preaches hellfire and damnation, he’s old fashioned, out-of-date, and thoroughly irrelevant. But let me assure you, again, if you read the Bible and pay particular attention to what it says, you will not have any difficulty with the doctrine of eternal punishment.
D. (:25) Focus on Judas as the Betrayer
“And Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, ‘Surely it is not I, Rabbi?’
He said to him, ‘You have said it yourself.’”
D. A. Carson: it is enough of an affirmative to give Judas a jolt without removing all ambiguity from the ears of the other disciples.
III. (:26-29) PRESENTATION OF THE BREAD AND WINE IN THE INSTITUTION OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
A. (:26) Presentation of the Bread – New Covenant Significance of the Bread
“And 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.’”
Robert Gundry: The terse commands, “Take,” “Eat,” and “Drink . . .” make the taking, eating, and drinking matters of obedience. “All of you” commands drinking from the one cup that represents Jesus’ covenant-blood. There’s only one source of atonement, to which all must repair if their sins are to be forgiven. So the taking, eating, and drinking represent appropriation by faith of the benefits of Jesus’ sacrificial death. “For many” enlarges the number of beneficiaries beyond the Twelve to include those to be discipled among all nations (28:18–20). Matthew never gets around to saying that the Twelve did take, eat, and drink. So the accent stays on Jesus’ authoritative commands, which thereby become part of his updating the Old Testament law through escalating the Passover Supper into the Lord’s Supper. “For” introduces the outpouring of his covenant-blood as the reason for drinking. Not to drink would represent failure to appropriate the benefits of that outpouring. Since the forgiveness of sins depends on the outpouring, obedience to Jesus’ commands is evidential of true discipleship, not meritorious of forgiveness (compare Isaiah 53:12; Jeremiah 31:34).
S. Lewis Johnson: Incidentally, he took bread because bread referred to his body, and the body was a necessary means to the incarnation, and so he begins with the incarnation but our Lord took the bread and he blessed it and he broke it. Bread was ordinarily broken, and so it beautifully symbolized not only the incarnation but also the fact of his death. So Jesus took the bread.
Incidentally, when he says this bread is my body, he means this broken bread is my body. We do not feed on a Christ who has not been sacrificed. We feed upon a Christ who has been sacrificed in our Lord’s Supper. And when we take the bread, we do not think simply of the fact that he became a man we think also of broken bread. He is food for us only insofar as he has been sacrificed for us. There is no real spiritual food derived from just feeding on an incarnate Savior who did not die. He only becomes food for us because he dies and delivers us from judgment. So Jesus took bread and he broke it and he gave it to the disciples.
Craig Blomberg: Jesus now invests the bread with new meaning. It foreshadows his body figuratively broken and literally killed in his upcoming death. Jesus’ words here have led to massive debates, intra-Christian persecution, and huge theological edifices, the weight of which they cannot bear. The doctrines of transubstantiation (the bread and wine become Christ’s actual body and blood) or consubstantiation (Christ is really present “in, with, and under” the elements) make no sense of Jesus’ words in their historical context. As Jesus holds up a loaf and declares, “This is my body,” no one listening will ever imagine that he is claiming the bread to be the literal extension of his flesh. Moreover, in Aramaic these sentences would have been spoken without a linking verb (“is”), as simply, this, my body and this, my blood. As frequently elsewhere, Jesus is creating a vivid object lesson. The bread symbolizes (represents, stands for, or points to) his crucifixion in some otherwise unspecified sense.
B. (:27-28) Presentation of the Wine — New Covenant Significance of the Wine
“And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying,
‘Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.’”
D. A. Carson: This means that Jesus understands the violent and sacrificial death he is about to undergo (i.e., his “blood”; cf. Morris, Apostolic Preaching, 112–28; A. M. Stibbs, The Meaning of the Word ‘Blood’ in Scripture [London: Tyndale, 1954]) as the ratification of the covenant he is inaugurating with his people, even as Moses in Exodus 24:8 ratified the covenant of Sinai by the shedding of blood. “Covenant” is thus a crucial category (cf. NIDNTT, 1:365–72; Ridderbos, Coming of the Kingdom, 200–201; Morris, Apostolic Preaching, 65–111; John J. Hughes, “Hebrews ix 15ff. and Galatians iii 15ff.; a Study in Covenant Practice and Procedure,” NovT 21 : 27–96; cf. Heb 8:1–13; 9:11–10:18, 29; 13:20). The event through which Messiah saves his people from their sins (1:21) is his sacrificial death, and the resulting relation between God and the messianic community is definable in terms of covenant, an agreement with stipulations—promises of blessing and sustenance and threats of cursing, all brought here into legal force by the shedding of blood. .
It appears, then, that Jesus understands the covenant he is introducing to be the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecies and the antitype of the Sinai covenant. His sacrifice is thus foretold both in redemption history and in the prophetic word. The exodus becomes a “type” of a new and greater deliverance; and as the people of God in the OT prospectively celebrated in the first Passover their escape from Egypt, anticipating their arrival in the Promised Land, so the people of God here prospectively celebrate their deliverance from sin and bondage, anticipating the coming kingdom.
Leon Morris: When Jesus spoke of his blood as blood “of the covenant,” he was surely claiming that, at the cost of his death, he was about to inaugurate the new covenant of which the prophet had spoken. This was a big claim. Jesus was saying that his death would be central to the relationship between God and the people of God. It would be the means of cleansing from past sins and consecrating to a new life of service to God. It would be the establishing of the covenant that was based not on people’s keeping it (Exod. 24:3, 7), but on God’s forgiveness (Jer. 31:34).
Jesus goes on to speak of his blood as poured out, which is a vivid way of referring to his death. His time on earth is drawing to a close, and he is facing a violent death. But this death, he says, is for many, which means that it is a vicarious death. It is also for the forgiveness of sins (cf. 1:21; 20:28). This is central to the covenant he was about to inaugurate. Jesus had taught people a good deal about the way they should live their lives in the service of God, but he had also spoken of their need for divine help and forgiveness. Now he makes it clear that that forgiveness would be brought about by his death.
S. Lewis Johnson: Now if we believe that he died as a substitute, then, for individuals, we must hold to some form of particularism. That is, that he came to die for his own. He came to give his life for his people, as is taught in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins. And Toplady is right when he says, “Payment God cannot twice demand first from my bleeding surety’s hand and then again at mine.” If it is taught that Jesus Christ died simply to make all men savable, then Christ has died for the sins of all, and those who refuse shall also die for them, too, and that of course is contrary to the justice of God. Payment God cannot twice demand, first from my bleeding surety’s hand and then again at mine. So the doctrine of the atonement taught by the Lord Jesus demands a particularism: a definite atonement, a particular redemption. . .
So we should never say that blood means simply death. It means violent death. If you’ll look at passages like Numbers chapter 35 and verse 33 and then the context of it through the Old Testament you’ll see that our Lord was speaking here in sacrificial language. This is my blood, so he means this represents the violent death by sacrifice which I shall die. In fact, the bread and the wine are a kind of two-fold parable. In the case of the bread, it is broken, suggesting death and also suggesting violent death. And then in the case of the wine, which is red like blood – remember in the Old Testament even wine is called the blood of grapes. It was God’s way of trying to teach Israel ahead of time what was going to happen. So the bread, the broken body, the wine, the outpoured blood of sacrifice, animal sacrifice, was the figure, but here is the reality. So what he is saying then simply is this blood is that by which a new covenant is ratified. It is based on this new blood sacrifice that I will accomplish, and it is made with the true seed of Abraham. It is for many.
Van Parunak: Vs. 28 — This verse highlights two great differences between the blood of Christ and the OT sin offering.
- First, it is drunk by the people. The Old Covenant absolutely forbade the drinking of blood — Lev 17:10
- The second difference between the OT sin offering and the blood of Christ is what it accomplishes.
In the OT, the effect of the blood is universally described as “atoning” for sin (Lev 17:11). . . These sacrifices did not remove sin. They simply put them on hold, just as a credit card doesn’t really pay for a purchase, but simply acknowledges the indebtedness. The promise of the new covenant is that God would completely remove the sin: Jer 31:33ff — Thus our Lord describes his blood as “the blood of the new testament, … for the remission of sins.” In terms of the credit card analogy, he pays off the bill.
C. (:29) Physical Absence of Jesus Anticipates Future Kingdom Consummation
“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.”
Jeffrey Crabtree: Verse 29 speaks of the kingdom as if it is still future. Some aspects of the kingdom are future, while others are present.
David Turner: The institution of the Lord’s Supper is closely tied to the Passover as well as the new covenant (Jer. 31:31–34). It also anticipates the ultimate eschatological feast that inaugurates the future kingdom (Matt. 26:29; cf. 8:11; 22:2; 25:10; Rev. 19:7–9).
Robert Gundry: The passage ends with Jesus’ saying he’ll abstain from wine till he drinks it in his Father’s kingdom. “And I tell you,” “by no means,” and “from now on” stress the abstinence. “With you” implies that Jesus’ physical absence from the disciples in the coming church age—a time of persecution for them, as he has repeatedly predicted—would make wine-drinking, a celebratory sort of drinking, inappropriate for him. He’ll hardly be able to celebrate while his disciples are suffering. But a physical “with you” in the future kingdom will consummate his being physically “Immanuel . . . God [is] with us” (1:23) until his death, burial, resurrection, and implied departure to heaven, whence he’ll come back. “Anew” implies that Jesus has drunk with his disciples in the past and perhaps on this occasion—though probably not the wine of the Eucharist, for he gave the cup to them for the drinking of that wine. And since drinking that wine represented appropriating forgiveness of sins by faith in his atoning blood, it would have spoiled the symbolism for him to drink it. His blood was shed for others’ sins, not for any sin of his own. “In my Father’s kingdom” means “when my Father fully establishes his reign on earth.” The use of “my Father’s kingdom” rather than “God’s kingdom” or “the kingdom of heaven” calls attention to Jesus’ divine sonship. One of the Twelve will betray him, but his heavenly Father will vindicate him.
Craig Blomberg: From Matthew’s account emerge two key reasons for celebrating the Lord’s Supper. One looks backward; the other, forward. First, we commemorate Jesus’ redemptive death. Second, we anticipate his return in company with all the redeemed. These two points remain central to all three Synoptic accounts and should form the heart of any theology of this ordinance.
Stu Weber: We feel this same sense of anticipation as we wait for our adult children to arrive “home for the holidays.” We can imagine the heart of the king waiting for the ingathering of his entire family before participating again in the meal himself. It has been anticipated nearly two thousand years now by our reckoning. Imagine how long it has been in the reckoning of the Father’s heart! What a grand family meal it will be!
(:30) EPILOGUE – FINAL HYMN AND DEPARTURE TO THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
“And after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
Daniel Doriani: So whenever we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we share in the benefits of the new covenant: substitutionary atonement leading to the forgiveness of sins, particular redemption granting security to believers. With sins covered, with freedom from guilt, with no need to make amends for sin, we can rest in Christ. If the disciples left the final meal singing a hymn of joy (26:30), how much more should we.
D. A. Carson: The “hymn” normally sung was the last part of the Hallel (Pss 114–18 or 115–18). It was sung antiphonally. Jesus as the leader would sing the lines, and his followers would respond with “Hallelujah!” Parts of it must have been deeply moving to the disciples when after the resurrection they remembered that Jesus sang words pledging that he would keep his vows (Ps 116:12–13), ultimately triumph despite rejection (Ps 118), and call all nations to praise Yahweh and his covenant love (Ps 117). It may be that Jewish exegesis had already interpreted Psalm 118:25–26 as a reference to Messiah’s parousia (Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, 255–62).
Charles Swindoll: Whatever song they sang, the disciples’ supper had concluded, and they began the short trip through the city, across the Kidron Valley, to the Mount of Olives (Matt. 26:30). As they did, they stepped into the same dark night that Judas had slithered into earlier. And while they ascended the hill to continue fellowshiping with the King, Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, Judas descended into the depths of treachery, seeking to betray the King for a paltry reward.