NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Some Jewish scholars see this anguish of the Messiah as, “…the suffering which must precede His coming.”1 However, others accept it as the trials and suffering the Messiah would endure. After these hymns of praise, the participants lift their cups and say, “Blessed art thou, O Lord, God and King, who are mightily praised, God of thanksgivings, Lord of wonders, who chooses song and psalm, King, God, the life of the world.”2 The fourth cup is consumed and then the meal concludes.
In one Jewish article on these four cups I found the following: “First Cup – God chose us to be His holy people. To accomplish this He promised to unburden us from our enemy’s entanglements. Second Cup – God teaches us that we cannot effect our own release and that in our helpless state we must trust in Him and in Him alone for our salvation. Third Cup – God further reveals to us that His sovereign work of salvation necessitates both divine power and payment. Our salvation would cost Him dearly, even the life of the Lamb. Fourth Cup – God lets us know that the redemption which is ours is still not fully complete. We must await the future with hope for Messiah’s coming, for He alone can transform us fully into the holy people He has ordained us to be.”3
I wonder how more meaningful it would be today for Christians to say these same things after each sip from the communion cup. The Eucharist in many churches has become – Let’s get this over with so we can get on with the service inconvenience. In one large church, since it is somewhat time-consuming and expensive to serve the Lord’s supper to the entire congregation, they have established a communion room where people can go and be given the cup and the bread individually at the opportune time. Since Jesus gave this to promote harmony among His followers, it’s hard to see how this can be done on a singular basis.
The apostle Paul adds something in his repeat of what happened here between Jesus and His disciples at the time of this meal. He says: “When supper was over, He did the same with the cup. He said, ‘This cup is the new promise made with my blood. Every time you drink from it, remember me’.”4 The KJV reads, “As oft as you do this.” This has given rise to the belief that it is to be done frequently. Jesus only did it once, but He knew that it was connected to the Passover Meal, which was once a year. Nevertheless, I accept that what pleases Him the most is not how often it is done, but that when it is done, it is done to remember what He did for all those who believe.
Verse 29: “I want you to know, I will not drink this wine again until that day when we are together in my Father’s kingdom and the wine is new. Then I will drink it again with you.”
Based on this, we can see that Matthew may be referring to the fourth cup in his recollection of the last supper. We must also note that Jesus then states that the wine inside represented His blood. All of those present were certainly aware of the original use of blood in establishing the old covenant. It is also interesting, that while Jesus equates the wine as a symbol of His blood, according to Jewish traditional teachings the wine at this supper was to be red.
In the Talmud, we read, “Rabbi Judah said: It must possess the taste and appearance of wine. Said Raba, What is Rabbi Judah’s reason? Because it is written, Look not thou upon the wine when it is red.”5 Jewish scholars say: “Thus it does not merit the name wine unless it has its appearance too.”6 This is because you cannot call it wine unless it is red, and the reason why red wine most fitly represented the blood sprinkled on the door-posts of the Israelites at Passover. So likewise the blood of Christ, shed for the remission of the sins of His people is red.
This leads us now to Moses: “Moses read the scroll with the special covenant written on it. He read the covenant so that all the people could hear him. And the people said, ‘We have heard the laws that the Lord has given us. And we agree to obey them.’ Then Moses held the bowls full of the blood from the sacrifices. He threw that blood on the people. He said, ‘This blood shows that the Lord has made a special covenant with you. The laws God gave you explain the covenant.‘”7
That must have gone through their minds as Jesus held up the cup to signify a new covenant with God through His blood. There is an additional factor concerning the blood that is given: “This is because the life of the body is in the blood. I have told you that you must pour the blood on the altar to purify yourselves. It is the blood that makes a person pure.”8 No wonder Jesus said that His blood was being poured out for the forgiveness of sins.
Furthermore, God gave the prophet Jeremiah a word about the new covenant that Jesus was introducing here, “This is what the Lord said, “The time is coming when I will make a new agreement with the family of Israel and with the family of Judah. It will not be like the agreement I made with their ancestors.”9 Then Jesus announces that this will be the last time He will use the wine of the old covenant to celebrate the new. The next time it will be the new wine of the new covenant.
At this point, the words given in Isaiah may have crossed our Lord’s mind, “But the Lord was pleased with this humble servant who suffered such pain. Even after giving himself as an offering for sin, he will see his descendants and enjoy a long life. He will succeed in doing what the Lord wanted. After his suffering, he will see the light, and he will be satisfied with what he experienced.”10 This verse gives weight to the theory that Christ was inaugurated and God’s kingdom established after His resurrection.
His statement, then, that some of them would not taste death until they saw this happen, is taken by some scholars as the time between His resurrection and His ascension, not to His second coming. We can see this born out when Jesus joined two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus, and later on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Some scholars also point out that by Jesus leaving the city with His disciples, He was violating the canon. However, in the Jewish verbal tradition, there are no unified agreements on this, as we see in the discussion between Rabbi Judah and others about spending the night in Jerusalem.11
There was more than one reason by our Lord chose to go to the Mount of Olives after the meal. This was the place where the high priest stood and burned the red heifer, and sprinkled its blood. The Jewish Mishnah states, “All the walls there were high, save only the eastern wall because the High priest that burns the Red Heifer and stands on the top of the Mount of Olives should be able to look directly into the entrance of the Sanctuary when the blood is sprinkled.”12 Could it also be that from Calvary’s brow Jesus was able to look across and see the Temple glowing in the dark? Perhaps this was why He cried out on the cross with such passion, “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.”13
1 Ibid., footnote (33)
2 Haggadah, ibid, pp. 81-97
3 Tim Hegg: Torah Resource
4 1 Corinthians 11:25 – God’s Word Translation
5 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Pesachim, folio 108b
6 Ibid., footnote (11); Proverbs 23:31
7 Exodus 24:7-8
8 Leviticus 17:11
9 Jeremiah 31:31
10 Isaiah 53:11
11 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Pesachim, folio 95b
12 Mishnah, Fifth Division: Kodashim, Tractate Middoth, Ch. 2:4
13 Luke 23:34