Now during the day He was teaching in the temple, but at evening He would go out and spend the night on the mount that is called Olivet. And all the people would get up early in the morning to come to Him in the temple to listen to Him.
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching. The chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might put Him to death; for they were afraid of the people.
And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, belonging to the number of the twelve. And he went away and discussed with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Him to them. They were glad and agreed to give him money. So he consented, and began seeking a good opportunity to betray Him to them apart from the crowd.
Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.” They said to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare it?” And He said to them, “When you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters. And you shall say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ And he will show you a large, furnished upper room; prepare it there.” And they left and found everything just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover.
When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and 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.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing.
Understanding And Applying the Text
This passage is controversial in the church today. Is the body and blood of Christ present in the Eucharist or not? Is the Lord’s supper only a representation and reminder of the death of Christ? What did Christ mean when He said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood”
In the 16th century, there were two reformers, Luther and Zwingli. They disagreed on the meaning of this passage. As a result, the reformation never united. It is the understanding of the word “is” in Jesus’ phrase, “This is my body.” The irreconcilable differences among them led to the eventual fragmentation of the Reformation. The last chance of a united Reformation died on October 1st, 1529. Luther and Zwingli came together in Marburg to discuss their differences.
What is interesting is that among the many issues they had resolved all but this one. It was only the interpretation of “is” in Jesus’ words that they came to an impasse. Reformed, Lutheran and Catholic traditions all agree. Christ’s body was present in the sacrament. The disagreement was in how it was present. Zwingli denied that Christ’s body was present in any way. To Zwingli the key words were, Do this in remembrance of me.” It Lord’s supper was a memorial.
Martin Luther understood Jesus’ words literally. When Jesus said: “This is my body,” that is what he meant. Luther believed Christ body was there alongside the elements. Zwingli saw those words as figurative. The physical body of Christ could not be everywhere at the same time. So Christ’s body could not be present at the table. He understood Jesus’ words metaphorically. “This signifies my body.”
There are sincere men of God on both sides of this debate. But the sad truth is that since the sides are contradictory, they cannot both be right. Either Christ is present. Or He is not. While we all have the legal right to our opinion and beliefs. We do not have the moral right to misrepresent Christ. Even if that misrepresentation is unintentional.
How then can we understand this scripture? The best way to resolve questions of this nature is by asking 4 basic questions
- What do the scriptures clearly say?
- What did the early church and church fathers teach?
- Where did the teaching originate?
- What is the plainest reading of the scripture?
The answer to the first question is exactly what this debate is about. From this passage alone either could be correct. But the scripture does address this elsewhere. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which 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.” I Cor. 10:16-17. This passage contradicts Rome’s understanding. The Eucharist is not a re-sacrificing of Christ. It is not a participation with the blood and body of Christ.
I Cor 11:23-27 “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.’ In the same way also 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.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” Drinking and eating unworthily profane the body and blood of Christ. This is a strong implication of the presence of the body and blood of Christ.
Question 2. What did the early church fathers believe about this issue? They were all in general agreement. They all believed and taught the physical presence of Christ. The body and blood of Jesus Christ were present in the Eucharist. They affirmed this in several church councils. None of them were infallible. And together they were not infallible. But, the fact that they all agree is significant. Some Protestants try and claim church councils were Catholic. They are right they are catholic. That is they were universal. And these councils were all before Rome became apostate.
Justin Martyr wrote in his first apology.
“For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word and from which out blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”The Apologies of Justin Martyr The First Apolgy of Justin Martyr Chapter 66 “The Eucharist”
Who was Justin Martyr? He was not an apostle. He was not taught by an apostle. He was the third generation. Those taught by the apostles taught Justin Martyr. So we are very early in church history. Justin Martyr’s apology to the Emperor is a clear statement of what the early church believed.
Question 3 Where did the teaching originate? If the early church taught the presence of Christ where did the memorial idea come from? The memorial understanding is relatively new and novel. Any new theological idea is probably heretical. That does not deny the concept of progressive revelation. Progressive revelation is a revealing of something that was previously hidden. The memorial view has to be a correction. That is correcting a heresy taught by the church for thousands of years. I would have to wonder why God would allow His church to teach a heresy for so long.
Zwingli’s argument sounds reasonable. It is only when applied to scripture it shows weakness. Zwingli claims Christ’s physical body cannot be everywhere at the same time. I would agree with Zwingli based on my understanding of physics. While this violates my understanding. It is not a contraction. To say I do not understand, does not mean it cannot be. With God all things are possible.
Question 4 What is the clearest reading of the scripture? Unless we are pulling a Bill Clinton what does “is” mean? The clearest reading is that Christ’s physical body are present in the Eucharist.
The gram supports both understandings.
Honest men can disagree. But while we disagree. Two contradictory statements cannot both be true. Learn from those who have gone before us. They wrestled with many of the same issues we face today. Paul admonished Timothy to be diligent to present himrself approved to God.