Institution of the Lord’s Supper and the Upper Room Discourse


Jesus’ Last Supper with His Disciples and Intimate Discourse in the Upper Room on the day he was arrested.

Historical Background:

The Gospel of Matthew is entitled to the Apostle Matthew. He is one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. The early church fathers suggested indisputably Matthew as the author of the book. But in the recent time, there are many questions raised over the authorship of the book. The author has not imprinted his name; neither does the book clearly identify its author. Matthew also has not claimed to be the author. To be meticulous, the Gospel of Matthew is fundamentally anonymous.

Indeed, one of the major Greek manuscripts has the title “According to Matthew,” yet, it is not sure if the original document bears the same title. J. Knox Chamblin wonders that the title did not belong to the original documents, because modern day findings of the first century history reveal that the subscribed title was originated no later than 140 A.D.[1]

The Matthew could not have been written earlier than 40 A.D. and after A.D. 100. Bearing some first century historical events and writings of the early Church Fathers in our mind, we can safely put the gospel of Mathew in around A.D. 70. Since the first of four gospels, “Mark cannot be earlier than A.D. 40, for Caligula’s attempt to profane the temple is reflected in ch. 13; John, the latest of the Gospels, cannot be dated long after the year 100, for a papyrus fragment of it, found in upper Egypt, has been assigned to the second century by competent papyrologist.”[2] When we try to date in between 40 to 100, the most likely result would be around A.D. 65-70. Elwell and Yarbrough affirm that the A.D. 70 is the most certainly correct.[3]

With some references from the text itself, the authorship of the gospel is established by scrutinizing the internal evidences within the passages. The writings reflect so much of Jewish school of thought. “The fact of his Jewish standpoint is further indicated by his Old Testament quotations.”[4] The author has applied the Scripture from the Old Testament in an orderly way suggests he was trained in Jewish school of thought, so he had good understanding of Jewish methods of writing. A Gentile Christian could not have described the relationship of Jesus to the Jews so deliberately and clearly.

Moreover, we have many references from the early church fathers attesting Apostle Matthew as the author. Among the Church Fathers, Papias, Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius, Epiphanius, and Jerome are worth quoting who attested and quoted Matthew in their early writings. The gospel that bears the name of Matthew is identified by these Fathers.

According to Papias (circa A.D. 130), Matthew composed the gospel in the Hebrew language and later he himself interpreted it into Greek.[5] Irenaeus (circa A.D. 180) adds, “Now Matthew among the Hebrews published a writing of the Gospel in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome and founding the Church.”[6] Origen also confirms in the same tone of Irenaeus that “Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ,” a Jewish Christian composed in Hebrew.[7] Eusebius (circa A.D. 330) writes that Panaenus (circa A.D. 190) himself found the Gospel of Matthew on the hands of the newly converted Christians in India whom Bartholomew preached and left behind the copy of Matthew which was in the Hebrews.[8]

All of these external evidences do not only verify the authorship of the gospel but also invite conflict about the language Matthew might have used originally to record the teachings and life of Jesus Christ. Since we do not have an original manuscript in order to confirm the original language of the book, it has evidently some substantial variations if we presume that the book was written in Hebrew. Nobody has seen it yet. Craig L. Blomberg suggests that the original manuscript is not unlikely in Hebrew, but the highest probability would be to say that Matthew himself or some other Greek-speaking Christian scribe would have later interpreted in incorporation with Mark and other hypothetical document (Q) into Greek.[9]

The writing styles, use of Jewish framework and method, and treatment of the historical issues from Jewish perspective largely exhibits the recipients are primarily the Jewish Christians. Blomberg also admits that the external evidences consistently corroborate that Jewish Christians are the main target group of this gospel.[10] The fact is that the Gentile Christians who often are also addressed in the gospel cannot be overlooked.[11] The modern scholars have conjectured most likely places from where the book was originated or they were destined to. The proposed possible regions of the origin of the books are Syria, especially center of Antioch or Sepphoris in Galilee.[12]

Cultural and Grammatical-Literary Background:

The historical narrative of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29) should be carefully assessed from Jewish cultural perspective. Everything Jesus used and shared with his disciples in the upper room has significant meaning and implication. Sometimes, the Lord’s Supper or the Last Supper is considered on a par with the Feast of Unleavened Bread or the Passover Feast. The Synoptic Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke indicate that Jesus ate the Passover Meal with his disciples on the day of the Passover Feast (see Matthew. 27:17; Mark. 14:12; and Luke. 22:7-14).

On the other hand, John plainly disagrees with the Synoptic Gospels on account of the Last Supper. He writes that the Last Supper took place before the Passover Feast (see John 13:1-4, 21-30). Some scholars argue that the Last Supper was an ordinary meal or some sort of special meal. But the Gospel writers mistakenly coupled this supper with the Paschal because of its nature.[13] The Synoptic Gospels do not make any reference to the bitter herb, dipping bowl, roasted lamb, and the cup of Elijah. The Synoptic writers record Jesus and the disciples drinking from a common cup when they should supposedly be drinking from an individual cup in the Paschal meal. Thus, the scholarly debate is still ongoing in the issue if the Last Supper was a Passover Meal.

Likewise, some scholars argue that John was more concerned about the theology rather than recording historical events accurately. According to John, the Passover feast was yet to be celebrated when Jesus was brought before Pilate for the trial. Apparently, the Jews stayed outside of the Pretoria, so that they would not defile themselves but could eat Passover the same night (see John 18:28; cf. 19:14).

Because of the nature and sensitivity of the Last Supper, scholars from both partisan have made serious attempts to resolve the Synoptic accounts with John’s account without losing the one’s theological significance and historical accuracy at the same time. The grammatical-literary discrepancies of these two accounts are resolved without invalidating one or the other by applying two possible dates for celebrating the Passover meal in Jesus’ days. Therefore, Jesus and his disciples could have eaten the Last Supper on Tuesday night following the unofficial calendar while the High Priest and other Pharisees followed the official calendar and ate the Passover on Friday evening, the day Jesus died.[14]

This supper was an atypical meal because Jesus himself instituted the Lord’s Supper. In that day when Jesus was having the Last Supper with the disciples in the upper room, “Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat, this is my body (Matthew 26:26; cf. Mark 14:22; Luke 22: 15-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25). As Jesus is a leader and was hosting the feast, the responsibilities of a father would take in the feast falls upon him. So, he would lead the disciples through different stages of rituals, singing hymns, reading the scripture, raising the cups and songs. [15]

Jesus takes the bread and blesses it and breaks it. He gave thanks and “by that thanksgiving made the Holy Communion to be a Eucharist – a service of thanksgiving.”[16] We give thanks to God for Jesus’ work on the cross. When the “breaking bread” passage occurs in the Bible, each “breaking bread” passage is followed by miracles whether it was of feeding several thousand people or in the house of Cleopas on the way to Emmaus. After breaking bread, Luke writes, their eyes were opened and they recognized him (Luke 24:30-31). “The breaking of bread constantly has its saving effects, both spiritual and temporal.”[17] Bread stands as the main source of life. Jesus claims, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:48). He is not simply feeding people bread to keep them alive temporally. He is so definitely stressing that he is the source of that bread which gives life. “He spoke himself as the Food for his people.”[18] Jesus is channeling people to leap into life of abundance.

Here, Jesus demands his disciples to eat the body. The Greek word used for eating here is φάγω which means “to eat” in some certain alternative tenses. However, the Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries suggest that it also literally and figuratively means “eat, meat.”[19] In this case, the word φάγω is indicating to eating Jesus’ meat. This imperative command to the disciples is consistent to his prior teaching that a man must eat the flesh of the Son of Man in order to inherit eternal life (see John 6:53-56).

Verse 27-29: “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying “Drink of it, all of you, for this my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” When Jesus said the “blood of the covenant,” he is referring to the covenant relationship of the Father and the Israelites in the Exodus 24:8. Moses takes the blood and sprinkles upon the Israelites to remind them of the covenant that cannot be restored unless blood is shed. “There the sacrificial blood was dashed on the altar, the book of the covenant, and the people, to confirm the solemn agreement which the people had made to observe God’s law.”[20] That blood of Jesus is shed on the cross to redeem us.

Most Bible scholars believe that Jesus took the third cup out of four. In the Passover feast, Jews put four main cups on the table besides other cups for individuals. Each one holds profound meaning and every Jew is aware of the significance of the cups. They stand for four promises that God made to his people in Exodus 6:6-7. “They became known as The Cup of Sanctification, The Cup of Deliverance, The Cup of Redemption (Blessing), and The Cup of Acceptance (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16).”[21] Furthermore, Blomberg writes that “Jesus may not have drunk the fourth cup of wine; at any rate he knows he will not be celebrating this festival again until his second coming.”[22] It reminds us of his promise that he will not drink until that day we drink together with him in the kingdom of the Father.

Jesus established the new covenant in his flesh and blood. Some translations have “new covenant” and some do not. The old promise the Lord had made with his people was ratified through the administration of Moses by sacrificial blood (Exodus 24:8). Now, he is making the new covenant through the administration of his own blood which is the inauguration of the covenant of grace.[23] He made the new covenant with his prophet Jeremiah (see 31:31-34). The same covenant Jesus made not by giving any writing law but craving his divine laws into our heart and mind by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, we must always remember that Jesus Christ himself instituted this essential ordinance or communion. In Luke’s gospel, he stresses in the continuation of the communion “Do this in remembrance of me” until he returns to the world with his full glory and power (Luke 22:19). Bread and blood are figurative elements of Jesus Christ. “This held that the elements of bread and wine remained exactly what they had been but that, in the sacramental context, they were signs or reminders of the heavenly Lord with whom the believers communicated spiritually.”[24]

Christ became food for our soul and body. The bread and wine elements should not be blended with the soul of Jesus. It is not like he gave us his soul. He surely dispensed his abundant grace to us and enabled us to receive his grace by the work of the Holy Spirit. The bread is broken and the blood is poured out for those who are called by their names. In fact, there is a debate whether breaking the bread means literally breaking the body of Jesus. Some argue that breaking of bread cannot be applied literally to Jesus, because his single bone was not broken while he was on the Cross (John 19:36). But to me, his body was literally broken apart from bones. His shoulders were dislocated after hanging on the Cross. His face was beyond recognition (see Psalm 22:14; Isaiah 52:14).

Jesus seals the new covenant with his own blood. This is the covenant for the remission of our sins. He is the great sacrifice for our sins. He has given himself to us:

He could not be our Life if he had not given up his own life. It is not the body of Christ in his earthly ministry; it is the body on the cross that feeds us. It is not the blood in the veins; it is the bloodshed that saves us. The Lord’s Supper was instituted on the night before Jesus was betrayed. It pointed on to the cross. It is now the great memorial of Christ in his sacrifice for us.[25]

The upper room discourse is leading the story toward the cross. He is administering his disciples as a servant but at the same time, he is fulfilling the role of priesthood. He himself is the lamb for the remission of sins of mankind.

As we move on with our daily lives, we are faced with many struggles where we feel helpless yet wanting to do something. Our sinful thoughts and actions still pervade us and we wish to attack them through our own strength. For people in ministry where ministers want to live a continual life of holiness, the struggles are even greater. There is a sense of divinity in each of us wanting to be in charge, wanting to change what we can, and sometimes actively pursuing that sanctification on our own. In the end, the struggle is endless; the human nature is just saturated by sin. And once a month or weekly, there is communion taking place. The verses from this passage are repeated. One is asked to meditate on what Jesus said during the Last Supper- it is done.

The struggle exists, yet the struggles have already been conquered. The Last Supper reminds us to come to His Word daily for His Word has revealed to us that in flesh we may be still struggling but the battle is already won. For each sin, for each humanly struggle, the blood has already been shed to win us over from the Evil one. For each doubt, and for every sinful thought, we rely on God’s Word to empower us to keep living the life of holiness and the life of casting demons. The Evil has no more bondage upon us. The bondage has been cut off and we are victorious.

As we participate in communion weekly or monthly, it is a day of remembrance and encouragement to every Christian of the victory. In our culture of self-sufficiency and self-empowerment, this is the reminder of our weakness to the core. The struggle that is overcome in one’s flesh is just temporary. The victory that Jesus has freely given us truly overcomes our struggles forever.

Works Cited

1. Blomberg, Craig. Jesus and the Gospels: an Introduction and Survey. 2nd ed. Nashville, Tenn.: B & H Academic, 2009. Print.

2. Buttrick, George Arthur, ed. “Matthew.” The Interpreter’s Bible: the Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised Standard Versions with General Articles and Introduction, Exegesis, Exposition for Each Book of the Bible. Vol. 7. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1951. Print.

3. Chamblin, J. K. “Matthew.” Baker Commentary on the Bible. Ed. Walter A. Elwell. 4th ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2008. 719. Print.

4. Elwell, Walter A., and Robert W. Yarbrough. “The Gospel of Matthew.” Encountering the New Testament: a Historical and Theological Survey. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2005. 79-85. Print.

5. Glo: Experience the Bible Like Never Before. Vers. 1.7.0.0423. Orlando, FL: Immersion Digital, 2009. Computer software.

6. O’Connor, James T. “”This Is a Hard Teaching. Who Can Accept It?”” The Hidden Manna: a Theology of the Eucharist. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005. 119. Print.

7. “St. Matthew.” The Pulpit Commentary. Ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones and Joseph S. Exell. 1st ed. Vol. 1 & 2. Chicago: Wilcox & Follett, 1950. XIX. Print. Ser. 33.

Footnotes:


[1] Chamblin, J. K. “Matthew.” Baker Commentary on the Bible. Ed. Walter A. Elwell. 4th ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2008), 719.

[2] George Arthur Buttrick, ed. The Interpreter’s Bible: the Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised Standard Versions with General Articles and Introduction, Exegesis, Exposition for Each Book of the Bible: Matthew. Vol. 7 (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1951), 240. Print.

[3] Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough, Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 79.

[4] H.D.M. Spence-Jones, and Joesph S. Exell, eds. The Pulpit Commentary: St. Matthew. 1st ed., Vol. 1. (Chicago: Wilcox & Follett Co., 1950) XI. Print.

[5] Ibid, XIV.

[6] Ibid, XV.

[7] Ibid, XV.

[8] Ibid, XV.

[9] Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: an Introduction and Survey. 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: B & H Academic, 2009), 154. Print.

[10] Ibid, 150. Print.

[11] H.D.M. Spence-Jones, and Joesph S. Exell, eds. The Pulpit Commentary: St. Matthew. 1st ed., Vol. 1. (Chicago: Wilcox & Follett Co., 1950) XIX. Print.

[12] Craig L Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: an Introduction and Survey. 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: B & H Academic, 2009), 151. Print.

[13] Glo: Experience the Bible Like Never Before. Vers. 1.7.0.0423. Orlando, FL: Immersion Digital, 2009. Computer software.

[14] New International Version Study Bible.

[15] Glo: Experience the Bible Like Never Before. Vers. 1.7.0.0423. Orlando, FL: Immersion Digital, 2009. Computer software.

[16] H.D.M. Spence-Jones, and Joesph S. Exell, eds. The Pulpit Commentary: St. Matthew. 1st ed., Vol. 2. (Chicago: Wilcox & Follett Co., 1950) 541. Print.

[17] Tibor Horvath, “Who presided at the Eucharist: a comment on BEM.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies. 22.3 (Sum 1985): 604-607.

[18] H.D.M. Spence-Jones, and Joesph S. Exell, eds. The Pulpit Commentary: St. Matthew. 1st ed., Vol. 1. (Chicago: Wilcox & Follett Co., 1950) 522. Print.

[19] Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, G5315. E-Sword Computer Software. There is another Greek word ἐσθίω could have been used, but the Matthew chose to use the prior one to this. It also means “eat, devour, live” but it does not have connotation of eating ‘meat’. Strong’s Number G2068.

[20] George Arthur Buttrick, ed. The Interpreter’s Bible: the Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised Standard Versions with General Articles and Introduction, Exegesis, Exposition for Each Book of the Bible: Matthew. Vol. 7 (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1951), 575. Print.

[21] H.D.M. Spence-Jones, and Joesph S. Exell, eds. The Pulpit Commentary: St. Matthew. 1st ed., Vol. 2. (Chicago: Wilcox & Follett Co., 1950) 540. Print.

Glo: Experience the Bible Like Never Before. Vers. 1.7.0.0423. Orlando, FL: Immersion Digital, 2009. Computer software.

[22] Craig Blomberg, “Jesus’ Judean Ministry.” Jesus and the Gospels: an Introduction and Survey. 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: B & H Academic, 2009), 387. Print.

[23] H.D.M. Spence-Jones, and Joesph S. Exell, eds. The Pulpit Commentary: St. Matthew. 1st ed., Vol. 2. (Chicago: Wilcox & Follett Co., 1950) 540. Print.

[24] James T. O’Connor,  “”This Is a Hard Teaching. Who Can Accept It?”” The Hidden Manna: a Theology of the Eucharist. 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005), 119. Print.

[25] H.D.M. Spence-Jones, and Joesph S. Exell, eds. The Pulpit Commentary: St. Matthew. 1st ed., Vol. 2. (Chicago: Wilcox & Follett Co., 1950) 551. Print.

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