Theme: Jesus is always in control.
This weeks lessons show us the first Lord’s Supper and the events surrounding it.
He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 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 is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
What are we to say about Judas? Only that his betrayal was predicted (vv. 20-25), which showed that Jesus was in control here as well as at other moments, and that Judas’ end is clearly stated as a warning.
J. C. Ryle wrote, “Judas Iscariot had the highest possible religious privileges. He was a chosen apostle and companion of Christ; he was an eyewitness of our Lord’s miracles and a hearer of his sermons; he lived in the society of the eleven apostles; he was a fellow-laborer with Peter, James and John… Not one of the eleven seems to have suspected him of hypocrisy. When our Lord said, ‘One of you shall betray me,’ no one said, ‘Is it Judas?’ Yet all this time his heart was never changed.”1
Remember this if you are playing fast and loose with your attachment to Jesus Christ. You can come to church, hear sound preaching, volunteer for Christian work, support Christian causes, even partake of the Lord’s Supper and still perish, if you are not truly born again. And perish Judas did! Judas is in hell today. Jesus’ words about Judas’ end teach plainly “that it is better never to live at all, than to live without faith and to die without grace,” as Bishop Ryle states it2 It is possible to be as close to Jesus as Judas was and be lost.
The heart of this passage is Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper in verses 26-30. Jesus would probably have been following the ritual for the Passover. He may have blessed the bread with the familiar words: “Praise be to you, Yahweh, our God, King of the world, who brings forth bread from the earth.” But suddenly, as he finished the prayer, broke the bread, and began to distribute it around the table, he announced in words which were a sharp break from all that was familiar: “This is my body” (v. 26).
These words were remembered accurately, for they occur in each of the first three gospels as well as in 1 Corinthians 11. Yet no words in the entire Bible have been fought over more fiercely than these four. There are four main interpretations.
1. Transubstantiation. This is the view of Roman Catholicism which holds that the substance of the bread (but not its accidents) is literally changed into the substance of the body of Jesus Christ. This means that the priests literally handle Christ’s body and that the mass is a literal reenactment of Christ’s sacrifice. The difference between “substance” and “accidents” comes from Aristotle whose philosophy governed the thought of the Middle Ages.
2. Consubstantiation. This was Martin Luther’s view, not that the substance of the bread is changed into the substance of the body of Christ but that the unchanged substance of the bread is united with the substance of Christ’s body. Luther knew that the bread is unchanged, but he wanted to preserve a literal understanding of Jesus’ words: Hoc est corpus meus. The Reformed and Lutheran churches parted over this understanding.
3. A mere remembrance. This was the view of Ulrich Zwingli. It is held today by most Baptists. It views the sacrament through the words do this in remembrance of me (1 Corinthians 11:24). It sees it as a memorial only.
4. A spiritual presence. John Calvin’s view became the theology of Presbyterians, Methodists, and most Episcopalians. It holds that Jesus is truly present in the communion service, but that he is present spiritually, not in a physical way. This means that the blessing of the communion service is a real blessing linked to the observance of the sacrament, but it is to be received by faith as all other spiritual blessings are. There is nothing automatic or mechanical about its observance.
1 John Charles Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: St. Matthew (Cambridge: James Clarke Co, 1974), p. 351.
2 John Charles Ryle, St. Matthew, p. 353.
Why did Jesus mention his betrayal?
What are the four interpretations of Jesus’ words, This is my body?
It is possible to be as close to Jesus as Judas was and be lost.