God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 11:25-26 The Real Presence
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, April 26, 2023
25 In the same way after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Later in the same meal, Jesus reduced the meal to the two elements: the bread, which he had already offered, and the wine, which he now took up in the cup. The text never mentions wine, but wine was used in the Passover, and grape juice would not have been available in the spring of the year when no old grapes remain and no new grapes have yet sprouted. So the cup is wine, and Jesus says, “this cup (this wine) is my blood.” And more than that, he calls it “the new covenant in my blood.” This new covenant or new testament is Jesus’ last will and testament. It is not a time for ambiguous language or word pictures. Wills need to be exact and clear.
The Real Presence
What does “this is my body, this is my blood,” mean? We receive his body and blood with the bread and the wine. We call this the real presence. We receive two earthly elements and two heavenly elements: bread and body, wine and blood. “Are the earthly and the divine mixed together? That’s not what the text says. Do the earthly change into the divine? The text doesn’t say that, either. Are then the divine elements really there or are the bread and wine just symbols that represent Jesus’ body and blood? The text certainly doesn’t say that either.”
Look at the one speaking. It’s not just anyone, but God himself. He has the power to do or make anything (Job 37:23), and what he says should be taken as literal, true, and utterly reliable (John 8:26; Proverbs 22:21).
Look at what the incarnation of Jesus says about Jesus and about the body of the church. The Deity, the Son of God, was not changed when he became a man. The manhood was taken up into the Godhead (Philippians 2:7; Colossians 2:9). In our Athanasian Creed we confess:
“Though he is both God and man, Christ is not two persons but one, one, not by changing the deity into flesh, but by taking the humanity into God; one, indeed, not by mixture of the natures, but by unity in one person; for just as the rational soul and flesh are one human being, so God and man are one Christ.”
The man Jesus Christ shares in all of the properties and attributes of God, for he is the Son of God, and “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” (Colossians 1:19). It is possible for his body to do what other bodies are incapable of doing (Mark 6:48; John 20:19). He is able to be really and truly present in the supper.
We base this understanding on the clear passages that present the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper: The Words of Institution in the Gospels and here in 1 Corinthians 11. Those who have made errors have generally followed Zwingli who went digging through John chapter 6 to understand something not connected to John chapter 6. The body and blood of Christ are not present in the same way that a slice of ham is present in a ham sandwich. It is present in a miraculous way.
If we reduce the eating and drinking of the sacrament to symbolism, as if our faith “ascends and communes” (as some say), why would Jesus attach so much significance to the eating and drinking? Symbols are intellectual things; why repeat the act at all? When he washed their feet, it was a symbol, and we generally don’t repeat it (many Christians never do it even once). But he wants us to repeat the sacrament often.
Paul said earlier that “The cup of blessing that we bless is a joint partaking of (NIV “participation in”) the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a joint partaking of (“participation in”) the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:16). If the sacrament were nothing but a symbol, then this participation or fellowship would be only with the benefits of Christ, not the body and blood of Christ. For as I have mentioned before and as Paul will soon warn, it is possible to eat and drink these things without their benefits, but still to be “guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord” (11:27). That cannot be unless it is truly his body and blood that are present. For a man cannot be guilty of harming another man if he only strikes or stabs at the other man’s picture (a symbol of the man). He can only be guilty of harming another man if he actually strikes or stabs or shoots the man himself.
When we do this “in remembrance of him.” to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes,” this is another way of remembering that we are doing this to strengthen our faith, for our faith in Christ is based upon God’s words and promises, not vague hopes or half-formed ideas. We thank the Lord for his atoning death whenever we gather, even if we don’t celebrate the sacrament on some occasions. For he has “prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5), and “his works are pondered by those who delight in him” (Psalm 111:2). Wisdom says to the simple: “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed” (Proverbs 9:5). The Prophet says: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all people, a banquet of aged wine” (Isaiah 25:6). And “A river watering the Garden flowed from Eden” (Genesis 2:10), but after the Fall this was closed off from God’s people, and so “God the Lord established for the church a different Tree of Life in the garden of Paradise: Christ is the true timber of life, whose leaves serve for healing (Revelation 22:2). He gives us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink in the Holy Supper, otherwise we would have no life in us” (Gerhard, The Lord’s Supper, p. 7).
Most especially we should remember that Moses “took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (Exodus 24:7). That blood was truly blood; it flew from the hyssop branch and fingertips of Moses. That blood struck the people on their clothes and spatters of it landed in their hair and on their faces and perhaps even upon the lips of some. With the words, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood,” our Lord established the new covenant, not of the slaughter of many beasts to point ahead to the one final sacrifice, but the new covenant in his blood was a partaking of the one final sacrifice for the forgiveness of all sins of all people for all times.
Pastor Timothy Smith