Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to him…
The institution of the Holy Supper was in connection with the eating of the Passover. The occasion was most appropriate and significant; for the Jewish feast had been instituted to foreshadow what the Christian festival was founded to commemorate (see 1 Corinthians 5:6-8). The two sacraments of Christianity express all that was expressed in the entire circle of the ceremonial law, and more. All the washings are embodied in the sacrament of baptism; all the sacrifices and feasts in the Eucharist. Consider -
I. THE JEWISH PASSOVER.
1. The lamb typified Christ.
(1) It was a male of the first year, to set forth the excellence and the maturity of his humanity. He was "the Son of David," viz. that Son in comparison with whom the other sons of David are nowhere. He was "the Son of man," viz. in comparison with whom no other son of Adam may be named.
(2) It was "without blemish." He was in his birth immaculate, in his life and death perfectly righteous. In all points unique in purity, wisdom, and goodness.
(3) It was taken from the flock, to show that the humanity of Christ was to be real. It was accordingly no phantom. He was "bone of our bone."
2. Its sacrifice foreshadowed his Passion.
(1) "Taken from the flock" in order to be sacrificed, it became a vicarious victim. It became the substitute for those that were spared in consequence of its selection. So Christ, having identified himself with our race, was "taken" as our Substitute.
(2) In the original institution the blood of the lamb sacrificed, and sprinkled in faith upon the door posts and lintels of the houses, protected the inmates from the sword of the destroyer. So is there life and salvation where by a sure faith the blood of the Lamb of God is sprinkled.
(3) The place of the sacrifice was ordained to be that which the Lord should choose. Jerusalem was that chosen place.
(4) The time was the fourteenth day of the month Abib (cf. Exodus 12. (6-10; John 18:28). "Between the two evenings," viz. the "ninth hour," when Jesus cried with a loud voice and gave up the Ghost.
(5) Even the direction respecting the preservation of the bones of the lamb from fracture had its prophetic meaning (cf. Exodus 12:46; John 19:36).
3. The feast anticipated his communion.
(1) The Egyptian had no right to the Passover. It was not for the idolater, but for the believer. So neither are the blessings of redemption in Christ designed for the obstinate sinner, but for the humble believer.
(2) It was to be eaten with unleavened bread. Leaven, being a kind of corruption, was an emblem of insincerity and falsehood. The faith which saves is not that of the hypocrite, but that of the true man (see 1 Corinthians 5:8).
(3) It was to be eaten "with bitter herbs." The unleavened bread and bitter herbs together made the "bread of affliction." So if the sinner would commune with Christ, he must come with contrition and repentance.
II. THE CHRISTIAN INSTITUTE.
1. The elements of the sacrament.
(1) Bread. This was to represent, signify, or be an emblem of the body of Christ.
(a) It was not his very body. "This is" equivalent to a common Hebrew idiom (cf. Genesis 40:12; Genesis 41:26; Daniel 7:23; Daniel 8:21; 1 Corinthians 10:4; Galatians 4:24).
(b) Bread signifies all food which supports the life of the body. So is the body of Christ, discerned by faith, the sufficient and necessary food of the spirit.
(2) Wine. This was to represent his blood.
(a) "This is" cannot be literally taken. For in Luke (Luke 22:20) the words are, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood," which it will not be contended is to be literally taken. The drinking of literal sacrificial blood was a custom amongst idolaters. But this was never practised in the service of Jehovah (see Psalm 16:4).
(b) Blood, viz. of the vegetable kind is chosen to set forth the life of the resurrection of Christ, which is that in which the true Christian has communion with him.
2. The treatment of the elements.
(1) The blessing. This was observed both in respect to the bread and the wine. This was no miracle of transubstantiation. It was, as explained in the evangelists, "giving thanks." The cup used was the "cup of blessing" of the Passover. Christ, as Man heading the table of the redeemed, gives God thanks. True believers will all say "Amen" to this benediction and thanksgiving.
(2) The breaking of the bread and pouring out of the wine vividly call to remembrance the prominent features of the Passion. And forasmuch as Christ himself broke the bread and poured the wine, he evinced the voluntariness of his suffering for us. But that this breaking of the bread and pouring of the wine was not the actual suffering of Christ as the transubstantiationist must maintain, is evident, for Christ said," With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer' (see Luke 22:15).
(3) The participation. This set forth the believer's communion with Christ, his assimilation to Christ, his incorporation with Christ, and his union in spirit with the Lord. He gave the elements to his "disciples" - mark, not as apostles, which they were, but as disciples, viz. that "all" disciples might claim this privilege. Bread to strengthen; wine to gladden. The cup is by Ignatius called ἄγαπη, as it was the symbol of love. By Paul it is called the "communion" (see 1 Corinthians 10:16).
(4) The description. "My blood of the covenant." It is the sign and seal of the "better promises" of the "new," or excellent, and "everlasting" covenant.
(5) The hymn. Praise at such time is to us most fitting. "Christ, removing the hymn from the close of the Passover to the close of the Lord's Supper, plainly intimates that he intended that the ordinance should continue in his Church, that is, it had not its birth with the ceremonial law, so it should not die with it" (Henry).
(6) The departure, immediately afterwards, to the Mount of Olives, was also significant. For he was destined thence, after his actual Passion, to ascend into heaven to receive for us the blessing of the covenant.
3. The admonitory incident.
(1) "As they were eating, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me." As at its institution the Passover separated between Israel and Egypt in mercy and judgment, so now at its transformation into the Christian sacrament, mercy and judgment were to separate between the spiritual and sordid Israel. Judas was the type of his nation also when his wickedness recoiled upon him, as the wickedness of the Egyptians had recoiled upon them.
(2) The presence of treachery in the Church is an occasion of sorrow to the true believer. "They were exceeding sorrowful:" for the Lord, that his great love should be requited with villainy; for their college, that its credit and influence should be compromised.
(3) It is also an occasion for heart searching. "They began to say unto him every one, Is it I, Lord?' The search of true self-examination is particular and special. The evil concealed in us can be fully discovered to us only by the Lord. "He that dippeth," etc. (ver. 23; cf. Psalm 41:9). External communion with Christ in his ordinances is an aggravation of treachery to him.
(4) "The Son of man," etc. (ver. 24). It had been foretold that Messiah should suffer (cf. Isaiah 53:3; Daniel 9:26). But though Divine mercy brought infinite good out of that suffering, those who inflicted it were none the less criminal. How resolute is the devil of hypocrisy! "Judas answered and said, Is it I, Rabbi?" - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?