Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

194. The Last Supper as a New Covenant

"This is my blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Mt.26 :28).

The very familiarity of the words can be a hindrance to the understanding of them. Even if the Epistle to the Hebrews did not say so explicitly, there can be no manner of doubt that Jesus had in mind the supersession of the Old Covenant made at Sinai and the fulfilment of the prophecies by Jeremiah and Ezekiel of a new and living way. So a proper appreciation of the Sacrament involves a certain insight into these earlier Scriptures.

The sequence in Exodus is simple and forceful in its lessons:

There was a fence about the mount. None must presume to approach Jehovah in His holiness (ch. 19 .-12,13,23,24).
The Law of God was rehearsed in the ears of the people (ch.24:3).
They expressed an emphatic resolution to obey (v. 3,7).
Burnt offerings and peace offerings (and before these, sin offerings? Heb.9 .-19) were slain (v.5).
The sacrificial blood was sprinkled on the altar (God's side of the covenant) and on the people (their assent to it) and also (Heb. 9:19) on the Book of the Law (the essential link between the two parties),
Thus the covenant was made. Contrast here the Covenant of Faith made with Abraham, when God only (and not Abraham) ratified the Promise (Gen.15:17).
"Then went up Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel" (v.9). The fence about the mount was gone. After the sacrifice and covenant, fellowship with the God of Israel was now possible.
"They saw God, and did eat and drink" (that is, the peace offering; v.11). The fullness, of the vision (v. 10) was greater than anything yet vouchsafed to them.
But for Moses there was a yet more awe-inspiring experience, and in this he was accompanied by Joshua-Jesus, whilst Aaron was left behind.
On this occasion, as in the Transfiguration of Jesus, "the cloud (the Shekinah Glory of the Lord) covered the mount.. . And God called out of the midst of the cloud . . . and Moses entered into the cloud" (v. 15,16,18).
Moses was shown "the example and shadow of the heavenly things" (Heb.8 :5; Ex.25).
When he re-joined the people, he came as the very embodiment of divine glory (Ex.34 :29).

In all this the anticipation of the principles of the New Covenant in Christ is easy to trace, but with differences.

The holiness of God and the sin of man still erect a barrier which is only to be removed by hearing the Word of God and believing it. Note that Israel promised obedience, but the word of Jesus is: "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom He hath sent" (Jn.6:29).

The sacrifice necessary for ratification of the Covenant is the blood of Christ: "Where a covenant is, there must also of necessity be the death of the covenant sacrifice. For a covenant is of force over the dead (the offering): otherwise it is of no strength at all while that covenant-offering still lives" (Heb.9 .-16,17).

But whereas Israel had the blood of the offering sprinkled upon them, in the New Covenant the New Israel symbolically partake of the blood: "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. . . This is my blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Drink ye all of it" (Jn.6 :53; Mt.26: 28,27). "I will put my la w in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts" (Jer.31 :33).

By virtue of this Covenant Sacrifice there is fellowship with the God of Israel, a fellowship to be more fully realised when Jesus eats and drinks with his redeemed in his kingdom (Lk. 22:16,18).

The Transfiguration of Jesus was the demonstration and guarantee that all this will be accomplished in him. Moses spoke to Jesus of "the Exodus (Lk.9 :31 Gk.) which he should accomplish at Jerusalem"-a plain declaration that Israel was still in Egypt, and did not know it. In due time Jesus will come again "in the glory of his Father" to constitute those he has redeemed out of bondage "a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" when "the glory of the lord fills the Tabernacle."

The words of Jesus at the Last Supper- "this is the blood of the New Covenant"-also make a firm link with Jeremiah 31. There note specially:

Verse 32: "Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers . . . which my covenant they brake" (symbolized at the outset by Moses' breaking of the tables of stone). This New Covenant is to stand, whereas the sheer waywardness of Israel set aside the other.
Verse 33: "I will put my law in their inward parts (into their minds; Heb.8 :10; and cp. Ps.51 :6), and write it in their hearts." But this is precisely what was already prophesied concerning Christ (Ps.40 :8). So the New Covenant is to make men Christ-like. Hence the difference, already mentioned, between being sprinkled with the blood of the covenant and actually drinking it. Cp. Hebrews 9 :14: "How much more shall the blood of Christ . . . purge your conscience from dead works..."
"Write it in their hearts." Paul combines these words with Ezekiel 11 :19,20 in another pointed contrast with the Old Covenant (2 Cor.3 :3) which could not achieve this; Dt.5 :28,29and 29:4.
In Hebrews 8 :11, where Jeremiah 31 :34 LXX is quoted, the Greek makes a delightful distinction between the verbs: "And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour . . . saying, "Get to know, learn about, the Lord: for they shall all know me familarly, or by instinct, from the least of them unto the greatest of them." And the order of words in the last phrase is perhaps intended to suggest that the first qualification for knowing God is humility: the least will learn first.
"For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (contrast Ps.103 :14)-"the new covenant for remission of sins" (Mt.26 :28). There is sharp contrast here with the Old Covenant which offered material blessing when a man showed himself obedient. The New Covenant begins with free unmerited forgiveness.
Under the law sin could only be forgiven when associated with the bringing of a sin-offering. Thus: "my blood of the new covenant for the remission of sins" was a clear declaration beforehand that Jesus would die such a death.

Also, the word "covenant" (Jer.31 :32) would set every pious Jewish reader reminding himself that there is no covenant without a covenant-sacrifice (Heb.9 :16), yet Jeremiah specified no such sacrifice. In the upper room Jesus showed how the omission is made good: "This is my blood of the new covenant..."

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