6. A New Covenant in My Blood (1 Corinthians 11:25)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
http://www.jesuswalk.com/lords-supper/6_covenant.htm
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Stained glass window with chalice and Chi Rho symbol
All four accounts of the Words of Institution include the concept of a covenant in Jesus' blood.

"This is my blood of the covenant1...." (Matthew 26:28)

"This is my blood of the covenant2...." (Mark 14:24)
"This cup is the new covenant in my blood...." (Luke 22:20)
"This cup is the new covenant in my blood...." (1 Corinthians 11:25)

While the phrase "new covenant" appears to be omitted in the earliest manuscripts in Matthew and Mark, it is clearly present in Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25. In the last chapter we considered Jesus' blood being shed for forgiveness of sin. In this chapter let's examine the new covenant that Jesus establishes this night in his blood.

Covenants in the Old Testament

Let's begin by turning to the Old Testament. The very word "Testament" is translated "covenant," the Hebrew word berît, and the Greek noun diathēkē. A covenant is "a solemn commitment guaranteeing promises or obligations undertaken by one or both covenanting parties."3 Between nations a covenant is a treaty, an alliance. Between individuals it is a pledge or agreement. Between a king and his subjects it is a constitution. Between God and man it is a relationship with promises of blessing for keeping the covenant and curses for breaking it. Covenants were often ratified by signs, a solemn oath, and a meal. Sacrifice was often part of the process of ratifying a covenant, too, hence the phrase "to cut a covenant" (Genesis 15:9-10, 17; Jeremiah 34:18).4

We see a number of covenants in the Bible: God's covenant with Noah (Genesis 6:8; 9:9-17), Abraham and his descendents (Genesis 15:18; 17:2-21), Moses and the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:5; 24:7-8; 31:16; 34:10, 27; etc.).

Provisions of the Old Covenant

After God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt, he had them gather at the base of Mt. Sinai. There Moses went up to meet Him and received the Law, that is, the commandments associated with the Covenant that God was making with them. Though this is a complex subject, in essence God as King makes a solemn covenant with the Israelites to be their God and they to be his people. The covenant binds each party to solemn obligations:

God's Obligations

Israel's Obligations

  • God will be with Israel and lead them on their journey.
  • God will protect his people.
  • God will provide for and bless his people.
  • Exclusive love for and allegiance to God, no other gods.
  • Obedience to God's commandments.

Hardly has God given Moses the provisions of the Covenant in the Ten Commandments, when the Israelites build a golden calf, worship it, and attribute to it the salvation that God has brought. It is an amazing mark of God's great mercy that he forgives their sin and offers a second set of tablets to them. Here is the record of the ratification of this Covenant:

"3When Moses went and told the people all the LORD's words and laws, they responded with one voice, 'Everything the LORD has said we will do.' 4Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said.
He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. 5Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD. 6Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. 7Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, 'We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.'
8Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, 'This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.'
9Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. 11But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank. (Exodus 24:3-11)

Sadly, however, the history of Israel is one of sin, disobedience, and worship of false gods, followed by God's judgment and restoration of a remnant of God's people. The Covenant is clear: man's part is to love God only and to obey him. That, man seems unable to do for very long. The Covenant fails because of man's weakness.

Q1. (Exodus 24:3-11) How was the covenant with Israel ratified? What promise did the people make twice in this passage? What was sacrificed? What was sprinkled? What was eaten?
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God's Promise of a New Covenant

In the midst of one of these cycles of falling away from obedience to God, God promises a New Covenant through Jeremiah the prophet:

"31'The time is coming,' declares the LORD,
'when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
32It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,'
declares the LORD.
33'This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,' declares the LORD.
'I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, "Know the LORD,"
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,'
declares the LORD.
'For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.'" (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

This promise of the New Covenant, cited in the New Testament (Hebrews 8:6-13; 10:16-17), had echoed down the ages in the consciousness of pious Jews. So when Jesus lifted a cup, blessed God, and spoke the Words of Institution over it, the hair must have risen on the necks of all the disciples. This was something new! This was the Institution of the New Covenant!

"This cup is the new covenant in my blood...." (Luke 22:20)

Provisions of the New Covenant

What are the provisions of the New Covenant? On our part: Faith in God. Trust in God. Belief that Jesus was God in the flesh. On God's part it is salvation, eternal life, forgiveness of all our sins through the death of his Son. In addition is the provision of the Holy Spirit to live within us and enable us to follow Christ. Only a few special people received the Spirit in the Old Covenant -- prophets, some kings, some elders. But the average person wasn't included. Under the New Covenant it's different:

"Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off -- for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:38-39)
"You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you." (Romans 8:9-11)
"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, purifies us from all sin.... If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:7, 9)

The law that was external and depended upon human will and discipline to perform is now internalized in the Holy Spirit. We live in Christ, connected to Christ by the Holy Spirit, and we have fellowship with God. It is new! It is powerful! It is now!

Q2. (Jeremiah 31:31-34) How does the promised New Covenant differ from the Old Covenant? What are the promises God makes in the New Covenant? What are our responsibilities under the New Covenant?
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Confirmation of the Covenant at a Meal

At the Last Supper Jesus holds up a cup, probably the Fourth Cup of the Seder, and invests it with new meaning:

"In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.'" (1 Corinthians 11:25)

Many ancient covenants were confirmed or sealed by a sacrifice followed by a covenant meal between the parties. For example in Exodus 24:11, quoted above, after the covenant was given, God invited the 70 elders up on the mountain and "they saw God, and they ate and drank." We probably see other instances of sacrifices followed by a covenant meal in covenants between Isaac and Abimelech (Genesis 26:30), Laban and Jacob (Genesis 31:46, 53-54); and Moses, the Israelites, and Jethro (Exodus 18:12). Eating fellowship offerings in the presence of the Lord probably has a similar idea of peace between all parties (Deuteronomy 27:7).

If the 70 elders ate in God's presence as representatives of the people of God to confirm the Old Covenant (Exodus 24:11), now the 12 apostles eat in Jesus' presence as the beginnings of the new people of God to confirm the New Covenant.

The Lord's Supper as Confirming the Covenant

It seems clear by Jesus' words at the table that the Last Supper was a kind of covenant meal, where Jesus introduces the New Covenant in his blood:

"Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'" (Matthew 26:27-28)

Each of the apostles are invited -- even commanded -- to drink of the cup, binding them to this covenant.

In 1 Corinthians 11:25 Jesus' command extends beyond that special night: "Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." While the text doesn't say so, I believe that whenever we celebrate the Lord's Supper we are sharing a Covenant Meal at Jesus' Table. We eat his Bread and drink his Wine, and so renew our commitment to the New Covenant he established so many years ago.

Q3. What is the significance of the 12 Apostles drinking the Cup of the Covenant? To whom would they correspond under the ratification of the Old Covenant? (Hint: Exodus 24:11.) What is the significance of us drinking the Cup of the Covenant?
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The Meal as Giving and Receiving Hospitality

Though it isn't part of the covenant aspects of the meal, it is useful to look at the Lord's Supper as a meal of close fellowship. In the ancient Near East, hospitality was a very high responsibility. When a stranger came to your home, you as host had a responsibility not only to offer him a meal, but to protect him while he was your guest. Examples are found in Abraham offering food to heavenly guests (Genesis 18:1-8) and Lot risking his life to defend them against enemies in Sodom (Genesis 19:1-8).

On the other hand, if you had received someone's hospitality, for you to seek to harm that person would be unthinkable. Judas' betrayal was especially heinous because he had received Jesus' hospitality and trust, but turned against him. Jesus said, "But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me'" (John 13:18, quoting Psalm 41:9; cf. Matthew 26:23; Mark 14:10). Judas' treachery betrayed the trust of hospitality:

"Even my close friend, whom I trusted,
he who shared my bread,
has lifted up his heel against me." (Psalm 41:9)
"All your allies will force you to the border;
your friends will deceive and overpower you;
those who eat your bread will set a trap for you,
but you will not detect it." (Obadiah 1:7)

These verses represent the negative, the breach of the law of hospitality. But the positive, the observance is profound. Sharing a meal together was for those in the ancient Near East a powerful sign of a close bond with another person. It is twice used as a symbol of deep communion with God himself.

"You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows." (Psalm 23:5)
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me." (Revelation 3:20)
Q4. Why is the Lord's Table such a time of intimate fellowship with Jesus? In your experience with having meals with friends, what makes the difference between a casual, forgettable meal, and one which is rich with memories? How can this insight make your experience of the Lord's Table more meaningful?
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Invitation to the Covenant

One of the most winsome passages in the entire Bible uses the metaphor of invitation to a fellowship meal with the idea of the covenant, which also echoes through the last book of the Bible (Revelation 21:6; 22:17):

"Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
"Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.

"Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
According to the faithful mercies shown to David." (Isaiah 55:1-3)

Jesus has offered that New Covenant, that everlasting covenant, to us, in the Cup signifying his blood shed on the cross. And he invites us to drink -- first, each of the apostles

"Drink from it, all of you." (Matthew 26:28)

and then each of us

"This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." (1 Corinthians 11:25)
Lord's Supper: Meditations for Disciples on the Eucharist or Communion
Available as e-book and paperback.

We are invited guests at Jesus' table where we share intimate table fellowship. And we are instructed to renew the covenant he has made with us on every occasion when we drink the Cup of the Lord. What an honor! What a privilege! What a joy!

"May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (Hebrews 13:20-21)

Prayer

Father, when I think about the Covenant you've made with me I am overwhelmed. When I think about your love extended to me, I am amazed anew. Your heart's desire is to know me and love me intimately. May that be my true heart's desire towards You. In Jesus' holy name, I pray. Amen.

References

Common Abbreviations www.jesuswalk.com/lords-supper/refs.htm

  1. In Matthew 26:28 the earliest manuscripts omit the word "new" (p37,45 Aleph B L Θ 33 copbo(ms)), while many later manuscripts include it (A C D K W Δ Π Byz Lect vg, etc.) apparently from the influence of its presence in both Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25. If it were present originally in Matthew, there would be no reason to omit it. The United Bible Societies Editorial Committee gave the reading of "covenant" by itself a {B} likelihood of being the original (with {A} being the highest certainty ranking) (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (United Bible Societies, 1971), p. 64).
  2. In Mark 14:24, the earliest manuscripts omit the word "new" (Aleph B C D* L W Θ Ψ itd,k copsa(ms), bo geo1), while many later manuscripts include it (A K P X Δ Π f1 f13 itmost vg syrs,p,h copsa geo Byz Lect). The likelihood is pretty high {B} that the original lacks "new" (Metzger, p. 113).
  3. Paul R. Williamson, "Covenant," DOTP 139-155.
  4. Elmer B. Smick, berît, TWOT #282a. Joachim Guhrt, "Covenant," NIDNTT 1:365-372.

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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