God’s Word for You
Luke 22:19 The bread is his body; his body is the bread
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, March 22, 2019
19 He took bread, and after he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
It is a simple and readily provable rule in Greek that when the definite article (“the”) occurs with both subject and predicate, or where the subject is either a proper name or a pronoun, then the subject and predicate are identical and interchangeable: “The President is Mr. Trump” is the same as “Mr. Trump is the President.” Here, Jesus explains exactly what he means by the bread in the Lord’s Supper by saying “This is my body.” We could talk about the phrase in Greek (τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου) or in Latin (hoc est corpus meum) or in old Gothic (þata ist leik mein) or any other version, but let’s apply the Greek rule. We must understand the meaning of “is” according to the sense of the Greek phrase and the rule it invokes. Jesus says, “This is my body,” which must mean the same as “My body is this.” If he were saying, “This represents my body,” then he would have to be able to say, “My body represents this,” which is not the case at all. This rules out the following interpretations:
- That the bread symbolizes Jesus’ body
- That the bread is a sign or memorial of Jesus’ body
- That all bread symbolizes Jesus’ body
- That the bread symbolizes faith
- That the bread is not the body of Christ
- That what was the bread is now the body of Christ, but no longer bread.
Of these, the last one is the closest to what the Greek text says, but even this is flawed, since Jesus still says, “This” in reference to the bread, and the bread is what was broken (his body was never broken, John 19:36; Psalm 34:20). In turn, this allows only one interpretation:
- That the bread in the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ body. It does not merely represent, stand for, or memorialize Jesus’ body. It is Jesus’ body.
Luther said, “‘This is my body’ is enough for me. I confess that the body (of Christ) is in heaven, I also confess that it is in the sacrament. I am not concerned about what is contrary to nature but only about what is contrary to faith” (Marburg Colloquy, LW 38 p. 58). An excellent example of how God might be contained in a thing outside of heaven is also seen in the baptism of Jesus, when “the Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22). The Spirit is everywhere, even within my own flesh since I am a Christian, and yet at that moment he was also completely and locally to be found within the body of that bird. So it is with the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is ascended into heaven and is sitting at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:20), and yet he tells me in the Gospel: “This is my body; my body is this.” When we consume the bread of the sacrament, we consume the body of Christ, the body that was sacrificed for our sins.
Paul says that by doing this, we participate in the sacrifice. “Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). And he compares this with the ancient sacrifices: “Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?” (1 Corinthians 10:18). The family that brought the sacrifice did not eat a representation of the sacrifice if they brought a memorial. They consumed that part of the sacrifice reserved for them (this did not apply to the burnt offering, but Christ was not offered as a burnt offering). They ate what was actually killed on their behalf, and so it is with Christ. We do not eat a representation of what was offered, but what was actually offered. In fact, the only way this would have been possible would be through the sacrament exactly as we have it. Through the miracle of the sacrament, Christ’s whole body is offered to everyone who takes the sacrament. Christ’s entire sacrifice, which paid the price of our sins and ended the debt of our sin forever, is offered and given in the bread of the sacrament. Christ is in the bread just as the Holy Spirit was at one moment in the bird. We know that Christ is in the bread, again and again, every time the sacrament is offered, because this is what he says in his words: “This is my body.” If it were only for his apostles that one time, there would be no sacrament, and he would not have added, “Do this in remembrance of me.” We do this often, again and again, to remember him and to receive what is offered: the actual forgiveness of our sins in, with, and under the bread. The bread is his body; his body is the bread. The purpose is our forgiveness, and the gospel is that this applies not only to me, but to you, as well. Trust in his body, sacrificed for you, and receive the Lord’s Supper often.
Pastor Timothy Smith