The Lord’s Supper: The Blood of the Covenant

Let’s go back and look a little more deeply into what Jesus actually said when he instituted the Lord’s Supper.

(Mat 26:26-29)  While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

(Mark 14:22-25)  While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” 23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.”

(Luke 22:15-20)  And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

For reasons peculiar to the Reformation, we tend to obsess over “this is my body,” but to me, that’s not the interesting phrase. Rather, the challenging one is “This is the blood of the covenant,” found in all three passages. We miss the power of this phrase due to our ignorance of the Torah.

We need to consider how the ancients made covenants. For thousands of years, men have sealed covenants in blood. In the Middle East, they used to say that they “cut a covenant,” meaning the covenanting parties cut their arms and sucked a bit of one another’s blood. The mingling of blood was considered to bring the parties together so tightly they’d have to honor their words. (See here)

In the Middle East, this practice gave way to the sharing of animal blood in a ceremony that surely seems strange to us today. Even today in some Middle Eastern societies, when a covenant, such as a marriage, is made, the heads of the household make a solemn pact that the wife will be true to her husband and that the husband will not abuse his wife. The two men take an animal, cut in two, then take turns walking between the two halves, stepping in and through the blood.

The ceremony has this meaning: if I do not keep my promise, you may do to me what we’ve done to this animal. The two men pledge their lives to seal the covenant. And in those societies today, when a husband beats his wife or the wife commits adultery, the head of the offender’s household is often found dead, killed by the other family in fulfillment of the oath.

(The next part of the lesson is thanks to Ray Vander Laan.)

Now consider God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17 –

(Gen 15:4-21) Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.”

5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

13 Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.

18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates — 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

God wanted to assure Abraham of the certainly of his promise, and so he made a solemn covenant. Abraham’s end of the bargain was to have faith in God. God’s promise was “offspring,” which is literally the word “seed,” which is singular. In Galatians 3:16, Paul interprets this as referring to the Messiah.

God also promised to make a great nation of Abraham’s descendants.

Before the ceremony, Abraham suffered “a thick and dreadful darkness” (v. 12), which means he was very afraid. What was there to fear in making a covenant with God Almighty?

Well, we need to understand the meaning of “faith.” We take “faith” to mean that we accept the truth of what is said. We “believe” the person speaking. But the thought is deeper.

Josephus was a First Century Jew and a soldier. He tells a story of a soldier under his command who was disloyal. He caught him and threatened his life. He then told him to repent and be loyal to Josephus and he’d spare his life, giving him a second chance.

Well, the word translated “be loyal” is what we translate in the Bible as “believe.” He literally told the soldier to “believe in me.” He didn’t claim to be deity. He just wanted the man’s loyalty. You see, “faith” includes “faithfulness.”

Abraham’s end of the covenant was not just intellectual assent, accepting God’s word as true. Abraham was to be loyal to God.

Now, imagine having God himself come to you and ask for a blood oath of loyalty. You could hardly say no! But then, would you really want to bet your life on your ability to keep your word?

To firmly establish the seriousness of the covenant, God asked not for an animal, but every kind of animal used in sacrificial worship. Indeed, Abraham lined up each of the very animals that would later be used as a sacrifice under the Law of Moses centuries later! It’s no wonder Abraham was afraid.

But when night fell and it was time for God and Abraham to each walk between the animals, an amazing thing happened. God passed through both as a torch of flame and as smoke pot. He went through twice — and Abraham didn’t pass through at all.

Rather, when it was time for Abraham to walk in the blood, saying if I don’t keep my promise, you may do to me as we have done to these animals, God himself took the walk — and only God. God promised to pay the penalty for Abraham! [This interpretation is thanks to Ray Vander Laan.]

Now, the blood oath ceremony concludes with the two parties eating the sacrificed animals, the common meal representing the making of a common community, which binds the parties to their promises.

(This is the end of the material borrowed from Vander Laan.)

Hundreds of years later, Moses read the Law to the people.

(Exo 24:3-8) When 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.” 4 Moses 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. 5 Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD.

6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. 7 Then 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.”

8 Moses 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.”

Here is the first appearance of the phrase “the blood of the covenant.” It seems strange to us that Moses would divide the blood in half, burning half and sprinkling half on the people. But they were making a blood oath. Half of the blood was symbolically sprinkled on God by means of the altar. The other half on the people.

They could hardly all walk through the blood, but by having the blood sprinkled on them, they made an oath: “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.”

(Exo 24:9-11) Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.

God entered into fellowship with the people, allowing their leaders to see him, and they concluded with a feast. This is how covenants were made.

God remembered his covenant. A thousand years later, God said through his prophet Zechariah, looking ahead to the coming the Messiah,

(Zec 9:9-11) Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. 11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.

God keeps his promises.

And so we come to the Lord’s Supper. How is this cup, this “fruit of the vine,” the blood of the covenant? There are at least three ways that make some sense.

First, Abraham made a blood oath with God to be loyal to him. The penalty for disloyalty is death. But Abraham did not walk in the blood. God did. And God the Son paid the price that we, Abraham’s spiritual descendants, all owe for our disloyalty. His blood “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” is the price for our breach the covenant with God.

Second, Jesus was also paying the price for every breach of the Law of Moses. The Israelites made a blood oath but couldn’t keep their promises. And Jesus was paying that price, too.

Third, let’s look to the Bible’s next reference to the “blood of the covenant.” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians,

(1 Cor 11:25-27) 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.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

Paul says the Jesus made a “new covenant” with his blood. As we drink his blood, we are going all the way back to the original meaning of the blood oath — we are drinking the blood of the Messiah, entering into communion with him and promising to be loyal — to be faithful — to him. And he is promising to keep his promises to us. This is serious business.

Finally, Hebrews explains the symbol in unambiguous terms –

(Heb 10:19-22) Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

The reference to having “our hearts sprinkled” is a reference back to Exodus where Moses sprinkled the people to bring them into covenant with God (see Heb 9:18-22). We have had the blood of Jesus sprinkled on us, making us a part of the holy community, recipients of the promises of the covenant with God, and parties to a blood oath.

And for this reason, the writer warns us,

(Heb 10:26-31) If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

31 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Do you see the picture? Why does he say that when we deliberately continue to sin we trample the Son of God under foot? It’s because we’ve taken a blood oath.

Why does such sin “treat as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant”? Because we’ve promised to be loyal to the Son in a blood oath.

As you take this most holy communion, as you feast with God himself, remember two things.

First, remember that God himself has paid the price for your sins. The penalty is paid in the blood of Jesus. When we drink this cup, we are remembering this gift and giving thanks.

Second, remember that if you deny Jesus, if you deliberately continue to sin, you violate that oath, trample on the blood of Jesus, and if you despise Jesus’ blood, you have to pay with your own.

Drink deeply and gratefully. Approach God with confidence. Expect to see him, as Moses did, face to face. Remember that you are feasting with God Almighty.

And so don’t you dare make a mockery of Jesus’ blood. Keep your word. It’s not that you have to be perfect. It’s enough to be faithful.

The cup is a renewal and participation of a holy blood oath made thousands of years ago. As we take it, we take with Abraham, the Israelites, and the early Christians. We become a part of their household and we share in their covenant.

We should drink deeply.

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16 Responses

  1. I’ve long puzzled over the same. Especially since we in the church of Christ tend to elevate 1 Corinthians 11 over the other passages, it seems strange that we haven’t focused more on the cup being the covenant in Jesus’ blood.

    I find Exodus 24 to be one of the most powerful Lord’s Supper passages. I’d never made the connection with Hebrews 10, though. That’s very powerful.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. Jay
    I’ve heard this teaching before with a little different twist. God was the only one of the parties to walk through the animals and a covenant was good until death do us part. (marriage) On the cross, God died, the covenant was ended and the resurrected God (Christ) was free to marry another. (his bride the church). Therefore His blood was the blood of the new covenant and all relationship with God is now in Christ alone.
    Your thoughts?

  3. Jay

    Thanks. Some say tat Abraham walked through the blood path. I believe Ray has it correct. Abraham knew he could not keep the promises much less could his descendants.

    When Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves to cover their nakedness, if God had a sense of humor he would have laughed at their feeble attempts to cover sin. Instead he gave them skins.

    An innocent creature had to forfeit it’s life to cover them.
    And so it goes on and on until Jesus paid the final price.

    Bob

  4. Jay,
    Thank you for a most enlightening post on a puzzling phrase. I had thought of the cup as the life of Jesus in which we participate. I had never linked the covenant to Abraham and to the blood sprinkled on Israel.

    Again, thanks greatly!

    Jerry

  5. Jay

    We studied Ray’s lesson on the above several years ago, and was amazed at the meaning. God must have said, Son, I have just promised your gift to mankind.
    There was no way Abraham could have walked through the blood path. He knew he could not keep the covenant, neither could his descendants.

    Even Adam and Eve tried to hide their nakedness from God by sewing Fig leaves as a covering. I will admit that took a lot of skill and effort on their part. If God had a sense of humor he must have laughed. But instead he gave them skins to give them a sense of covering or an imputed righteousness. They did nothing to earn the skins.
    The sadness about the story is that an innocent animal had to forfeit it”s life because of their rebellion.
    The OT truly is “The Scheme of Redemption” for fallen mankind.
    Our only hope is a penitent faith and obedience to” Love God and your neighbor”. Everything else will fall in place if we obey these two. In 1 COR, 12: 13 The greatest of these isLovw.

    Bob

  6. Jay

    We studied about the blood path several years ago using Ray’s series, Faith Lessons on the Promised Land”.
    Abraham could not have kept the covenant neither could his descendants.

    Adam and Eve sewed Fig leaves as an apron to cover their nakedness. If God had a sense of humor he would have laughed at their feeble efforts to be righteous. Instead God gave them skins to cover their sin. Thus the start of an innocent being or animal forfeiting their lives so they could live.

    The OT is the “Scheme of Redemption’ ot\r the plan to bring us back from sin and death to eternal life.

    Bob

  7. Ted,

    Paul spends too much energy showing the continuity of the church with Israel, for the marriage/divorce/remarriage metaphor to hold water for me.

    Thank you, Jay, for pointing out the relevance of the “trampling under foot.” I just have to say, WOW! I wish I’d caught that. You continue to challenge me.

  8. PS – Jay, I think you’re just showing off now with the 326 comments under Perseverance! 🙂 LOLOL

  9. Tim, I think I can explain to you why in the mainstream CoC we don’t focus more on the cup being the covenant in Jesus’ blood. I think it is shied away from because it would give the one-cuppers ammunition. They like to say that the cup represents the New Covenant and since there is only one New Covenant there must also only be one cup.

  10. Nick, doesn’t Paul use the exact same divorce analogy as Ted in Romans 7?

    Verse 4 “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”

    Ted just views it slightly differently, i.e. from God’s side rather than ours. Rather than us being made dead to the Law by Jesus’ death, Ted looks at it as God dying, thus being freed from his marriage to Israel, then rising and marrying a new bride the church.

  11. Jack and Nick,

    We remain under the Abrahamic covenant — Galatians and Romans are quite clear. The Law is fulfilled in Jesus, not repealed. But its fulfillment changes the way it’s honored — per yesterday’s post on My Yoke is Easy.

    Therefore, we are still under the Law, as fulfilled by Jesus, in one sense. We are no longer subject to the Law, in its pre-Jesus existence, in another sense.

    Notice that in Rom Paul begins by telling us how we’re freed from the law and ends by telling us how to honor the law. Here’s how I’ve got it figured:

    Paul writes,

    (Rom 7:6) But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

    What is this “new way of the Spirit”?

    (Rom 3:31) Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

    (Rom 8:3-4) For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

    It seems clear enough that if we live according to the Spirit, the righteous requirements of the law are fully met in us. Paul explains this in very broad terms in c. 8 and then gives us the details in 12 – 15.

    Living according to the Spirit means using our Spirit-given gifts in service to God and living a life of loving service to our fellowman.

    Paul wraps it up in c. 13 —

    (Rom 13:8) Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

    And so are we under the Law? Well, the law no longer condemns us.

    (Rom 7:4 ESV) Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

    “Fruit,” of course, is an allusion to the work of the Spirit in us, as Paul will explain later.

    5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.

    The problem with the law is that it doesn’t fix sin. Those under the law still sin — indeed, the more law, the more sin.

    6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

    We’re freed from the law, but not freed from serving God. It’s just that we serve because our hearts have been reshaped by the Spirit, not because there’s a Rule Book that tells us what to do.

    The freeing from the law thus entails freedom from our sinful passions (by the Spirit) and transformed desires that cause us to delight in love and service (by the Spirit).

    But — irony of ironies! — we wind up obeying the Law by loving our neighbors — which is what God wanted all along.

    The external, written law dies and the internal, joy-filling law springs to life by the power of God’s hand working within us.

    But now the Law doesn’t stand against us to damn us. Rather, the law teaches us how to follow Jesus.

    (Rom 13:10) Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. But this is not a love commanded from On High on penalty of damnation. That’s not real love. Rather, real love is a heart transformed to truly have a passion for others, that finds fulfillment in service.

    (Gal 5:22-25) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

    (Gal 2:19-20) For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

  12. Nick,

    I had no idea the topic would trigger so much discussion. It’s a new record for this site. Those Calvinists and Arminians both sure perservere when it comes to arguing!

  13. I hope you weren’t referring to me Jay. I’m not Calvinist or Arminian.

    I am a student of the Bible who is following Christ.

    You are right that it has become nothing more than a long argument.

    What are your thoughts about those who agree with rey and are declaring disbelief that the Bible is true, do you agree or disagree with them?

  14. Jay,

    i’m not exactly sure i understand “trampled underfoot”–do you mean to say this refers to our walking between the “animal,” stepping on the blood? Surely i’ve got that wrong. i thought you meant to say we don’t walk through the animal bits the same way Abraham didn’t. i understand the connotation of “trampling underfoot,” but were you trying to explain the direct allusion there? i didn’t catch it.

    –Guy

  15. Jay, just wanted to say thanks for your site. I taught the adult bible class yesterday from your article on the Lord’s supper. I have grown up in the church and can only remember one sermon trying to explain the Lord’s supper. I mentioned this to the class and gave them a handout of your article, also mentioning your website and suggesting it to them!

    I am 70 years young and an elder in the church.

    Thanks again!

    Dewey

  16. Dewey,

    Thanks for the kind words — and the advertising!

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