Who Is Invited?

“I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).

Yes, this verse sounds very much like another from Mark 14.  But it is a little different.  In this one, Jesus says “I will not drink this fruit of the vine . . . until . . . I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

The passage again calls to mind the great banquet scene in Isaiah 25 and  Matthew 22, both of which are images of the kingdom of God at the end of time.  Jesus’ vow here is not just an oath to make the promised kingdom happen.  It is also a warning.  He does not promise to drink with everyone, but only with those in his Father’s kingdom.  I appreciate the way J. A. Motyer (in his commentary on Isaiah) sums up the point: “In the end, there will be a great gulf fixed between those who are at the feast and those who are not.  It will not suffice to have belonged to a group close to the kingdom, to have stood on its very threshold, or to have known some who entered.”

You’ve got to actually enter into the kingdom.

It requires entrusting your life to God, believing his guidance is better than your own and that of the world about you.  It means turning from the ways of the world, dying to it and being raised to a new life (Romans 6:3-4).  It means being “born again” (John 3:5), having your past washed away (Acts 22:16), being cleansed (Ephesians 5:26), and having God adopt you into His family (Galatians 3:26-27).

This is, however, but the beginning.  Submitting to the rule of God is a life-long life-style. That is, in its essence, the requirement of Kingdom belonging, and the condition to fellowship at the great banquet of God.

The Great Banquet

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:24-25).

The last line is a puzzling one.  Both Matthew and Mark mention it.  It contains both a vow and a promise.  The abstention from wine might not seem like much of a vow for many of us.  We have other alternatives.  But given that wine was the staple drink of the ancient world, refusing it would be tantamount to not drinking anything!  It was a serious vow.  But what does it mean?

There are two ways to look at this promise:

First, it was an assurance that the arrival of the Kingdom of God was imminent.  Jesus would soon rise from the dead, ascend to the father, and take his place at the right hand of God, ruling over all authority, power, and dominion.  The Church, where that rule would be seen on the earth, would be established and God’s people would gather regularly to fellowship with Christ in the Lord’s Supper.

But second, perhaps something more future also is involved.  Isaiah had promised a glorious banquet in the presence of the Lord (25:6-9).  This promise was mentioned several times by Jesus and connected to the Kingdom of God at the end of time (see Matthew 22).  John refers to it in Revelation 19 as the “wedding supper of the lamb.”  The promise not to drink wine until he drinks it with us looks forward to that day when we will eat and drink together with Jesus, in His presence, at the end of the time.  The vow Jesus takes here is our assurance it will happen.  The Lord’s Supper is a weekly reminder that something greater is coming.

In Agreement With God

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:22-24).

In the ancient world, serious agreements (covenants) were sealed by slaughtering animals and cutting them in half.  Participants in the agreement walked between the halves and then burned them in sacrifice (see Jeremiah 34:17-20).  The notion was: “If we do not fulfill our part of this agreement, may we become as this animal.”

Whenever I read this passage in Mark 14, I am reminded of a story in Genesis 15.  There, in a crisis of faith, Abraham asks how he can believe God will make good on his promises.  God has him to prepare several animals for sacrifice, cutting them in half.  But Abraham is not asked to walk between them.  Instead, God, in a flame of fire, passes between them and burns them up in sacrifice.  The point is this: God is making a covenant with Abraham, a covenant guaranteed solely by God and his wholly by His being.

When we become God’s children, we enter into an agreement with God, an agreement so serious it is guaranteed by the sacrifice of God Himself – signified by the blood of Jesus.  This event in Mark 14 is Christ’s initiation of the Lord’s Supper.  Our observance of that Supper each week  is a reminder not only of Christ’s death, but also of His covenant with us and the promises of that covenant.  It is also a reminder that those promises, so integral to the covenant, are guaranteed by the life of God himself.

Sharing in Christ’s Life

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them (Mark 14:23).

Ages before, God had said “I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people” (Leviticus 17:10). Keep in mind that the statement “cut them off from the people” implied a death sentence – likely to be carried out by God Himself.

In the Old Testament, life was bound up in blood (Leviticus 17:11). It was too precious to be used as food. If it was used at all, it was to be offered to God for forgiveness of sins, but never to be consumed by humans. So imagine how horrified the disciples must have been when Jesus passed around his cup of wine, had his disciples drink from it, and then told them: “This is my blood.”

Christ’s blood was certainly an atonement offering – his ransom price for our sin. But his life was also the life of God. To drink the blood of Christ was to share in his life and destiny. His life is the only life worth sharing so intimately, and the life of Christ is the only life worth emulating (John 6:53ff).

In the Lord’s Supper, we remember not just that Jesus died, or that he died for us, or even that he died so we might find forgiveness. It is also a reminder that we have voluntarily decided to share in his life. While we affirm this decision in observing the Lord’s Supper, to be true, it must be seen in the way we live each day.