Chapter 4: ‘Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood’
(John 6:54, NKJ)
(The Passover meal of Christ, otherwise known as Holy Communion, the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper)
Beside the Sea of Galilee, not long after the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus said to those who followed Him: ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day’ (John 6:53-54, NKJ).From this time, many turned back and no longer desired to follow Him (John 6:66). Suddenly, in spite of all the miraculous signs, people were offended by what He had to say. Jesus then asked the twelve if they also wanted to leave.
Peter gave the perfect answer:
‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (John 6:68-69, NKJ).
These two proclamations of faith expressed the revelation given by the Holy Spirit: that Jesus, the ‘Christ’—the Anointed One of God, had come from the Father as the Word of God made flesh—as Manna from Heaven, giving words of everlasting life. By receiving the teaching of Jesus, Peter had received the heavenly food of God. These words were meat to our Lord, expressed and personified in His daily life. ‘My food,’ Jesus said, ‘is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work’ (John 4:34, NKJ).
The words of Jesus flowed with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, bringing life to all whom God had chosen to reveal His truth. What He had said about eating His flesh and drinking His blood was never meant to be taken literally, as though He was advocating some form of cannibalism. He explained: ‘The flesh profits nothing’ (John 6:63). Dependence upon physical, bodily flesh would not help anyone to live forever—this is what we can reasonably infer from the context. It was not the cannibalistic eating of His literal flesh and blood that was going to provide life, but rather the imbibing of His words: ‘The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life,’ He declared (John 6:63, NKJ).
The life of the flesh is in the blood’ (Lev. 17:11, 14, NKJ). ‘The blood is the life’ (Deut. 12:23, NKJ). This is what we can read in the Old Testament. Jesus was as much as saying to those who listened, ‘Receive My life into yourself!’ He was and is the living Word of God, imbued with all the fullness of the Holy Spirit. To enter into life we must accept and act upon the words of Christ with living faith, repenting of sins and turning to God in order to receive forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised (John 14:15-17; 26). ‘If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ,’ Paul wrote, ‘he does not belong to Christ’ (Rom. 8:9) … ‘those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God’ (v14, NIV).
The idea that the unleavened bread and wine of Holy Communion, sometimes called the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper, instituted by Jesus on the night of His Passover sacrifice, could be considered in any way the real flesh and blood of Christ is an unbiblical and abject nonsense. This was a notion arrived at centuries after the apostles, largely through the works of scholars who relied heavily upon Aristotelian philosophy to explain what they called the miracle of transubstantiation, whereby it was thought the bread and wine were transformed in all but appearance into the flesh and blood of Christ through the prayerful request of the officiating priest during the Communion service.
It is interesting to note that the person largely responsible for articulating this doctrine—the Dominican philosopher theologian Thomas Aquinas—also provided doctrinal support and justification for the Inquisition and the use of the secular arm for the execution (normally preceded by torture) of those found guilty of schism or heresy (Summa Theologica, 2-2, Qu.11: Heresy, Art. 3 & 4). The Church of Rome, especially, needs to reconsider the profoundly literal interpretation it places upon the testimony of Scripture and the early Church.
A variation of the doctrine of transubstantiation was developed during the Reformation in which it was said that the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine did not depend upon the prayer of the priest, but upon the faith of the participant at the time that he or she received the elements. However, a carnal and worldly interpretation of the Lord’s Passover meal ‘profits nothing’. A veil of splendid pomp, masonry, liturgy, litany, chorale and regalia might seem impressive to the participants of the Mass, engendering submissive awe and fearful respect for the services of the priests, but it hides the truth. If a doctrine is wrong, it is wrong—no matter how wonderful might be its setting.
When rendered with extreme literalism, although seeming to have a kind of mystical reality, a Roman Catholic Mass becomes a reduction of the highest spiritual teaching into mere superstition. It transforms the bread and wine into nothing more than specious magical potions, which, if accepted, do no more than lull the mind into trusting in false authority and worship. From early childhood, followers are taught to regard the wafers and wine with fear and awe—as though these elements were literally the flesh and blood of Jesus—and to take special care lest a crumb should fall. This is simply an irrational fear and devoid of true spiritual substance. Those held by such fears need to pray earnestly for release, that the veil obscuring true faith might be taken away.
‘The Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread ..’
(1 Cor.11:23, NKJ)
We read from Matthew that ‘On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread …’ (Mat.26:17-19, NKJ) preparations were made for Jesus to celebrate the Passover. This was a special Passover meal, called a ‘seder’ in early Jewish tradition (from the Hebrew ‘order’), eaten on the evening of the 14th Nisan – the evening before the killing of the Passover lambs – that is, on the Passover Day of Preparation in which the lambs were prepared for slaughter.
Note: In the Jewish calendar, days begin at sunset. At the time of the Passover, near to the spring equinox when the length of day equals night, the hours of daylight begin at 6 a.m. and last 12 hours. In Roman times it was the practice to count the hours of daylight from sunrise, as indicated in Acts 2:15: ‘the third hour of the day’ (corresponding to our 9 a.m.). - In the first century AD, during the time of the second temple, the Jews slew their sacrifices, ‘from the ninth hour till the eleventh,’ as stated by Josephus, the 1st century Jewish historian (The Jewish War, Book 6, ch.9:3), i.e. in the twilight zone ‘between the two evenings,’ (Lev.23:5, NKJ) which was interpreted to mean from about 3.00 p.m. in the afternoon, when daylight started to fade. – It was at ‘the ninth hour’ that Jesus died (see Lk.23:44-46) at the very time the lambs were being slaughtered.
Today, people might consider the detail that Jesus died at the ninth hour as merely adding clarity to the events, but to the Jew of the first century, the timing of our Lord’s death was hugely significant. Those watching our Lord expire would have heard the blowing of the shofar – the ceremonial ram’s horn that was blown at the temple, signalling the killing of the Passover lamb.
Later that same evening, after dark, the eating of the Passover lambs took place. This was the start of the holy convocation known as the Feast of the Passover, held on the 15th Nisan. The Feast of the Passover corresponded to the eating of the original meal as described in Ex.12:11 and signified the day of Israel’s departure from Egypt, as it is written: “And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month” (Deuteronomy 33:3, KJV). That year, the Feast Day fell on the weekly Sabbath, as John wrote: “that Sabbath was a high day” (John 19:31). Mark mentions that the authorities conspired to kill Him “not during the Feast, lest there be an uproar of the people” (Mark 14:2). They wanted Him dead and His body removed before the high day Sabbath began – the Feast of the Passover, called simply ‘the Feast’. Notice also, from John’s Gospel, that those who had led Jesus away to Pilate in the morning did not enter the Gentile headquarters because they wanted to stay ceremonially clean in order that they could eat ‘the Passover’: “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover” (Jn.18:38, ESV). – This is further scriptural evidence indicating that the Passover lambs had not at that time been killed, for the Passover lambs were to be eaten in the evening on the Feast Day. Jesus sat down with His disciples on the evening of the Passover Day of Preparation and it was on the Day of Preparation that Jesus was presented by Pilate to the people: “Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ ” (Jn.19:14-15. ESV).
At the time of the eating of the first Passover meal under Moses, prophetic instructions were given for the children of Israel to eat the meal in haste, wearing cloak and sandals, and carrying a staff (Exodus 12:11). It is stated, ‘The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves’ (Ex.12:39). All households under the protection of the blood of the Passover lamb received deliverance from the final judgment of God upon Egypt (- symbolic, of course, of deliverance for spiritual Israel through the blood of Christ). As soon as the plague of the firstborn struck (Exodus ch.11—ch.12), the Egyptians were so terrified that they ‘urged the people to hurry and leave the country’ (Exodus 12:33). Nevertheless, the command to eat the bread without leaven was given before the plague occurred (Exodus 12:8). The Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be celebrated as a memorial of the day of the Lord’s deliverance of the twelve tribes from Egyptian bondage (Exodus 12:17; see also Leviticus 23:6-7).
The release of Israel from Egyptian bondage was not a long drawn out affair, it happened suddenly in one day. Likewise, our own salvation from the bondage of sin is not something that requires a long period of struggle. The release is sudden, effected through the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God (John 1:36), accredited to all who truly believe and repent. This time element is important, for it reveals that salvation is not something that one has to work towards. It is not of the future, but of the present for all who trust in the Son of God and receive His words. These we must ‘eat’ to live. The celebration of The Passover Feast is no longer limited to one day, but is a celebration that continues forever in Christ. As Paul wrote: ‘For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast,’ (present continuous tense, meaning: ‘keep on keeping the feast’) ‘not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’ (1 Cor.5:7-8, NKJ).
Notice: the fact that the bread of the Passover was unleavened is here given spiritual relevance. Paul understood that only unleavened bread could be offered with the sacrifices and that the sacrifices themselves had to be without fault, spot or blemish—as a symbol of purity. Associated with Christ, the unleavened bread represents the pure offering of the body of Christ—who was and is the embodiment of sincerity and truth. As we ‘eat’ of His body—His flesh—the Bread of Heaven—so His words will be our food for life and He will abide in us and we in Christ. These terms are all metaphors for the Word of God: ‘The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us’ (John 1:14, NIV). ‘This is the bread that came down from heaven … he who feeds on this bread will live forever’ (John 6:58, NIV).
As the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, it was incumbent upon all Israelites to remove leaven from their homes so that for seven days from the 14th day to the 21st day of the first month they would not eat or keep any leaven. This was given as a holy ordinance to remind the people of their deliverance from Egyptian captivity (Exodus 12:17-20). As a raising agent in bread, in biblical times, the leaven was produced when bread without salt began to ferment—hence it became a common symbol for corruption in rabbinical writings. Egypt, in the book of Revelation (Rev.11:8), is equated with Sodom—which, like Egypt, was a place of corruption which received God’s judgement (Gen.18:20; 19:24-25; Exodus 6:5-6). In Paul’s usage, leaven denotes the sinfulness of the old life which has to be left behind and rejected if we are to celebrate new life in Christ. Those who continue in old and corrupting ways should not be accepted into the fellowship of Christ’s body and family—that each Church congregation might remain unleavened and free from the corrupting influence permeating from false brethren (1 Cor.5:1-7).
In association with the Passover sacrifice, therefore, leaven denotes sin, and unleavenedness denotes purity. This fact should not be overlooked when we take the bread of communion, during the Lord’s Supper (also called the Eucharist). The unleavened bread symbolizes the purity of Christ at the time He died for us. He did not die as the embodiment of every filth and corruption—He was the pure unleavened Bread of Heaven, broken and given for us. Only when we do as He commanded and eat unleavened bread during the communion service do we truly show the death of the Lord. The institution of the Lord’s Supper is an emphatic statement that Jesus, the Christ—the Holy One of Israel, died in a state of absolute purity as the perfect, unleavened offering for our salvation.
‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; ..’
(1 Cor.11:25, NIV)
The “fruit of the vine”, as used during the communion service, stands as a metaphor for the blood of Christ, which He poured out for us on the cross. ‘Without the shedding of blood,’ we are told, ‘there is no forgiveness’ (Heb. 9:22, NIV). Jesus had to give His life, symbolized by His blood, that all who look to Him as Lord might be forgiven their sins. We were redeemed, Peter said, “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pet.1:19). The price of our redemption from sin was paid with the precious blood of Christ—His incorruptible life shed on the cross. For we ‘were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold,’ Peter explained (1 Pet.1:18, NKJ), indicating the priceless, pure and everlasting nature of Christ’s gift for us, in comparison to which even the most precious metals are impure, subject to wear and contamination, and have a possible corrupting influence. Christians are everlastingly redeemed from sin and death as a result of the perfect and incorruptible life Christ offered for us on the cross.
Christ’s blood did not become corrupted. His blood, symbolic of His life—for ‘the life’ is ‘in the blood’ (Lev.17:11) did not become impure. It is also written, ‘nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption’ (Acts 2:27, NKJ; Ps.16:10). Of course, the psalm is referring to the fact of the resurrection and that Jesus’ body did not see decay. It is not speaking of the corruption of sin, but if Jesus had become the embodiment of sin upon the cross, the figure of Christ’s body undergoing the corruption of death could have been used as a metaphor to imply that Jesus had become spiritually impure. However, we find the opposite being stated. Jesus’ body and blood did not suffer any decay or decomposition. Symbolically, therefore, the metaphor of the bread and wine of communion stands for the unleavened, pure and incorruptible life of Christ, as He gave it on the cross for our sakes. His blood, indicating His sacrificed life, was also given to ratify the new covenant of God with man.
It is a solemn agreement, but not like that given to Israel through Moses. Now, the agreement is between God and spiritual Israel, the Church of Christ. It is a covenant of promises, ratified with the blood of the Lamb. In Jeremiah we read:
This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer.31:31-34, NKJ; Heb.8:10-12).
Paul had been called to minister the new covenant ‘of the Spirit’ (2 Cor.3:6), not one written with ink or engraved in letters on stone. Spiritual Israel obeys ‘the law of the Spirit of life’, and is no longer under the condemnation of the letter of the law of sin and death (Rom.8:1-2). ‘The righteous requirements of the law’ are fulfilled in all who live ‘according to the Spirit,’ Paul wrote (Rom.8:4, NKJ). The ones who are Christ’s are indwelled and led by the Holy Spirit (Rom.8:9). Christ’s own Spirit-filled life was poured out as a holy offering for our sakes. The cup of wine that He gave His disciples symbolized the new covenant in His blood—now offered to us through the Gospel, that we might receive forgiveness, justification and adoption, as God’s children of the Spirit.
‘Do this in remembrance of Me’
(1 Cor.11:24, NKJ)
This was the solemn request of Jesus on the night of the Passover, just hours before He died. It is not a matter to be taken casually. Therefore, we must give serious thought to all that He commanded and to the meaning conveyed through the holy rite of the new covenant—known generally as the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.
The statement, ‘Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes,’ (1 Cor.11:26, NKJ) indicates that the point being stressed is not about how often it should be eaten, but for what purpose it is eaten. What is important is not whether it is taken once a week or once a month, etc, but how it is understood and proclaimed. The rite of the new covenant proclaims the Lord’s death and expresses belief that He now lives and will come again. Certainly, the annual remembrance during the season of the Passover carries the greatest significance, but this is not Easter. Easter refers to the pagan festival of Oestre, the Teutonic goddess of spring. Why discard the Hebrew name for this festal period?
Historically, there has been antipathy towards the Jews and anything Jewish. A question faced by the early Church was whether to celebrate the resurrection on the first day of the week and hold another commemorative communion service on the Friday, or to follow the Jewish dating for the Passover on the 14th of the first month of the Jewish calendar, regardless of what day of the week it happened to fall upon. For several hundred years, both systems of dating were used, but within the influence of the Roman Empire and the Church of Rome, it was the Friday – Sunday observance that became accepted. The Emperor Constantine authorized rejection of the Jewish custom for setting the date: ‘… it seemed to every one a most unworthy thing that we should follow the custom of the Jews [in dating the Passover] in the celebration of this most holy solemnity …we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews, for it is truly shameful for us to hear them boast that without their direction we could not keep this feast’ (The Council of Nicaea, A.D. 325, Eusebius of Caesarea: Vita Const., “Letter of the Emperor”, Book 3, 18-20; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol.14, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, p.54; ed. Henry R. Percival, Christian Lit. Co., New York, 1890). In the British Isles, the problem over the date for the annual remembrance—known to historians as the Quartodeciman Controversy—was the reason for the Synod of Whitby in A.D.664 (Bede: Ecclesiastical History of the English People; trans. D. Farmer, Leo Sherley-Price; Penguin, London, 1990). The Celtic bishops had maintained the custom that they believed had been passed down to them from the Apostle John: that of commemorating the 14th day of Nisan as the day of the Lord’s death, according to the Jewish calendar. However, the English King Oswy of Northumberland, who had summoned the bishops, accepted the tradition of the Roman Church, whose authority was believed by him to have emanated from the Apostle Peter. Gradually, the Roman view prevailed throughout the British Isles.
Nevertheless, there is considerable merit in reflecting upon the Holy Days of the sacred calendar, for they foreshadow the events concerning the coming of Jesus in symbolic language. Even so, as Christians, we are not under the letter of a law concerning the keeping of holy days—be they of the Law given to Moses or derived from elsewhere. The choice about what particular day or days of the year we decide upon to remember the Lord’s Passover sacrifice is not a matter affecting salvation. The new covenant enjoins us to follow the commands of Christ and the law of the Spirit written in the heart (Jer.31:33). It matters only that we remember and do according to His example. We are not honouring the day, but the event.
Jesus died during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, so to do as Jesus did, we need to bless, break and distribute unleavened bread also. Whether many loaves of bread are used or just one, it is the bread itself that is symbolic of the one Bread of Heaven—broken and given for us that we might become at-one with God and each other. In this sense, therefore, it is both symbolic of the sacrifice of Christ and symbolic of the unity that all Christians share in Him as members of His body, the Church—of which ‘He is the head’ (Col.1:18). Just as it is written: ‘For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we all partake of that one bread’ (1 Cor.10:17, NKJ).
The bread that is eaten is not symbolic of sin, but symbolizes the pure Word of God embodied in Christ, offered in sacrifice to God and given to us through the new covenant, that we who partake may become spiritually nourished and brought into oneness with God and each other. The bread of communion symbolizes all that Jesus embodied upon the cross. This is what we should remember when we partake of unleavened bread as our Lord instructed, during the Lord’s Supper.
‘And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them ..’ (Mat.26:27, NKJ). We are informed that He blessed ‘the fruit of the vine’ (v29). ‘I am the true vine’ (John 15:1) Jesus told His disciples shortly afterwards. The redness of red grape juice or wine aptly symbolizes the blood of Christ. It was, therefore, the fruit of the vine that He gave to His disciples in the cup. The Passover season, however, is not the period for harvesting grapes. The juice was preserved by fermentation—by turning it into wine. The alcoholic content in the wine prevented bacterial contamination. At the Passover meal, it had become customary to drink wine mixed with water. This may have been the kind of wine used during the Lord’s Supper, but in earlier Old Testament times the best wine was considered undiluted (as indicated in Is.1:22). The Bible does not say what kind of wine was used during this very special occasion, only that it was ‘the fruit of the vine’. Therefore, whether actual red wine or red grape juice is used, or whether or not it is diluted with water doesn’t really matter. It is the red wine or juice that symbolizes the spilt blood of Christ. We should not trivialize the ceremony by using anything else.
Again, we should not presume that His blood, representing His life, ever became contaminated with sin. Christians are redeemed with the imperishable ‘precious blood of Christ’ (1 Pet.1:18-19). His life—imbued with the Spirit—He offers to us through the new covenant, ratified by the blood that He poured out in sacrifice to God for our sakes. As we worthily drink the wine, we show that He died to give His life as an offering for all who truly believe and look forward to His return. In this manner, as we drink, we also express the desire to be filled with His life through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit and the nourishment of the Word of God. Holy Communion offers a renewal of our solemn vows before God in remembrance of our Lord’s great sacrifice.
The eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine, as Jesus instituted it, was not to satisfy physical hunger or thirst. Anyone taking Holy Communion needs to respectfully reflect upon the meaning and solemnity of the words of Christ. Failing to do this can result in dire consequences, as Paul warned: ‘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’ (1 Cor.11:27, NIV). ‘For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep’ (1 Cor.11:29-30, NIV). It is imperative, therefore, that we seriously and reverently reflect upon the true meaning of the Lord’s Supper, carefully considering our Lord’s words and doing just as He instructed. When we do this, the spiritual blessings of the new covenant will flow into our lives.
‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; …’
(Luke 22:42, NKJ)
Occasionally, one hears the claim that the cup of communion symbolizes not just the blood of Christ but also the cup of God’s wrath—of which, it is said, Jesus drank on our behalf when He suffered and died. The above verse is often used as though offering support for this notion—but wrongly so. It is necessary to study the biblical application of these figurative terms and the context in which they are used.
In both the Old and New Testaments, ‘cup’ is employed in metaphorical expressions, such as: ‘cup of consolation’ (Jer.16:7, NKJ); ‘cup of salvation’ (Ps.116:13); ‘cup of blessing’ (1 Cor.10:16); ‘my cup overflows’ (Ps.23:5), etc.. Most often, the metaphor refers to suffering, e.g.: ‘the cup of ruin and desolation’ (Ezek.23:33, NIV); ‘the cup of trembling … the cup of My fury’ (Is.51:22, NKJ); ‘the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath’ (Rev.16:19, NKJ). The ‘cup of the Lord’ (1 Cor.10:21; 11:27, NKJ), however, spoken of by Paul, refers not to the cup of God’s wrath, but to the ‘cup of blessing’ used in Holy Communion (1 Cor.10:16, NKJ). ‘The cup of demons’ (1 Cor.10:21) is the opposite phrase—denoting the ceremonial food or drink of false religion. One cannot expect to receive the blessings of the Lord, imparted through Holy Communion, if one is also partaking of elements presented in the counterfeit worship of devils (1 Cor.10:20-22).
For what reasons and upon what persons was the wrath of God poured out in Israel and Judah in Old Testament times? Was it not poured out for reasons of national apostasy upon the incorrigibly wicked who refused to repent? God sent His servants, but few listened and took heed of their warnings. Jeremiah wrote:
Why has this people slidden back, Jerusalem, in a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit, they refuse to return. I listened and heard, but they do not speak aright. No man repented of his wickedness, saying, “What have I done?” Everyone turned to his own course, as the horse rushes into the battle (Jer.8:5-6, NKJ).
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: You saw the great disaster that I brought on Jerusalem and on all the towns of Judah. Today they lie deserted and in ruins because of the evil they have done. They provoked me to anger by burning incense and by worshipping other gods that neither they nor you nor your fathers ever knew. Again and again I sent my servants the prophets, who said, “Do not do this detestable thing that I hate!” But they did not listen or pay attention; they did not turn from their wickedness or stop burning incense to other gods. Therefore, my fierce anger was poured out; ... (Jer.44:2-6, NIV).
It is the revelation of Scripture that the ‘cup of God’s wrath’ represents God’s judgement upon the incorrigibly wicked who refuse to turn from their evil ways. This cup of His fury is not poured out or given to those who are willing to repent. Indeed, the repentant are promised life: ‘For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!’ (Ezek.18:32). It is theologically incorrect, therefore, to claim that Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath on our behalf when He suffered and died. Jesus died to save all who are willing to repent—not those who refuse to repent, for whom the cup of His wrath is justly reserved. The cup of suffering that He drank was not the outpouring of God’s anger, but was the witness He had to endure for our sakes, in order to fulfil all that was written. Only those who elect to follow the way of evil and refuse correction suffer the wrath of God. This will be the fate of the wicked at the end of the age: ‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry; and your wrath has come’ (Rev.11:17, NIV).
The statement: ‘He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2) does not mean that Jesus atoned also for the sins of the incorrigibly wicked. The English preposition ‘for’, translated from the Greek word ‘peri’ can simply mean ‘concerning’ (Strong’s). Through Jesus, therefore, atonement for the sins of the whole world is available, but only those who turn to Christ in faith will benefit. Universal salvation is not the teaching of Scripture. Other such statements, e.g.: ‘Jesus Christ … gave Himself a ransom for all’ (1 Tim.2:6), need to be understood in a similar manner. His payment of the perfect sacrifice on our behalf is available for all, but to take advantage of God’s gracious gift we have to repent in faith. Likewise, John the Baptist’s comment: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29, NKJ) does not mean that the whole world, including the wicked, are now exonerated and forgiven, but that Jesus is the One through whom the world can find forgiveness. Throughout the Old and New Testaments it is clear that it is the wilfully sinful who suffer God’s wrath, not those who repent.
The cup of suffering that Jesus drank was a cup that we, as Christians, might also be called upon to drink. To James and John, Jesus put the question: ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’ (Matt.20:22, NIV). ‘We can,’ they answered. Jesus then replied: ‘You will indeed drink from My cup ..’ (Matt.20:23). The two disciples sought a place of honour by their Master’s side in His coming kingdom, but Jesus explained that such honour is given only to those who are prepared to suffer as He. By using the metaphor of drinking from His cup, He also prophesied that they would indeed suffer. James, in fact, suffered martyrdom in the early days of the Church, as recorded in Acts (12:2); while John, the writer of Revelation—if we accept the testimony of the early Church, received banishment on the Isle of Patmos (Rev.1:9). Paul expressed these sufferings this way: ‘Now I rejoice in what I suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church’ (Col.1:24, NIV). He wrote: ‘The sufferings of Christ overflow into our lives …’ (2 Cor.1:5, NIV).
As disciples of Christ, we must be prepared to take up our cross and follow Him (Lk.14:27). The cup of communion that we drink reminds us that He suffered to bring us His peace. He did not suffer God’s wrath and we are not called upon to suffer God’s wrath; but, for the sake of the Church, like the apostles, we may be called upon to suffer. As we drink the cup of the new covenant, in remembrance of Christ, we accept to do the Father’s will—whatever His will for us may be.