ORIENTATION AND CONTEXT
Significance of Text
Luke 22:14-20 is an important passage about issues central to the Christian faith. This passage is known for its association with the Eucharist. However, this passage was intended to be more than a short story that is read while we partake of a Sacrament. The author of Luke's Gospel intended to send a message to his audience by including this text.
The focus of the first half of Luke 22 is on the final Passover meal that Christ shared with His followers. While there is some mention of the preparations made for His final Passover meal with His disciples, the focus appears to be on what happened at the meal itself. Christ used a meal that was highly familiar to the disciples to send a message about Himself and all who follow Him. Christ uses the Passover meal as an object illustration to point out the truth about Himself and His identity, as well as a truth about the unity of believers.
Luke 22:14-20 is significant because in it, Christ demonstrates an important truth about His identity. In Luke's Gospel, Christ is presented as “Savior” (Luke 2:11) by the angel who visited the shepherds at Christ's birth. At the final Passover meal with His disciples, Christ uses the Passover meal to reinforce the concept that He is both Savior and Deliverer. The fact that the Passover meal is chosen is significant, since to the Jewish mind the Passover meal was associated with God's deliverance from Egypt. He clearly intended to send the message that, as God used Moses to deliver His people from their physical bondage in Egypt, so God has also sent Jesus to deliver His people from their spiritual bondage to sin.
This passage is also significant because in it, Christ demonstrates an important truth about the unity of the church. At the table with Christ were His disciples (Luke 22:14). These disciples came from various walks of life. Some were former tax collectors (Matthew 9:9), and some were ordinary fisherman (Luke 5:1-10). Some were zealots, and others had occupations that are not expressly mentioned in the Gospel accounts. Some were likely poor, and others were likely rich. All of these individuals, coming from different walks of life, were sitting at the same table and calling the same Person their Master.
This passage is also significant in that it is the foundation for a Sacrament of the modern church. That is, since the modern church follows through on Christ's command to “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19), the modern church should understand the meaning of these words of Christ, and why Christ chose the Passover meal to initiate this Sacrament.
Luke 22:14-20 also raises theological questions. When Christ initiated this Sacrament, did He intend to send the message that the Jewish way of life is no longer significant? Did Christ intend to imply that the Old Covenant that God gave to Israel through Moses no longer applied? Did Christ intend to imply that the Exodus from Egypt was no longer relevant? In what way did Christ intend His disciples to understand His statement that the unleavened bread was His body and the wine was His blood? Why did Christ choose this Passover feast to teach His disciples about His identity in the manner that He did? For some of these questions, the answer is quite simple. For others, there are several theories about the answer, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Historical and Social Setting
The author of Luke's Gospel is not expressly stated within the Gospel account itself. What we do know, however, is that Luke's Gospel is the first of a two-volume work, along with the Acts of the Apostles. Most scholars will agree that “The tradition that both this Gospel and the book of Acts were written by the same person is almost certainly correct” (Achtemeier, 583). Thus, we can learn about the author from both the Gospel account and the Acts of the Apostles.
The author of Luke-Acts intended to “write an orderly account” of the life of Jesus and the activity of the early church. The author also had access to “eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:2), and was apparently close to some of these individuals, since accounts of these events had been “handed down” (Luke 1:2) to him. Therefore, the author of this account was likely someone who was close to one or more of the apostles, or had met with them at some point. It seems unlikely that someone who did not have access to the original eyewitnesses, as well as other accounts that had been written, would have falsely made this claim while writing a truth-finding work on a historical person. This would have been obvious to the Christian community, and in my opinion would likely have been easily rejected.
Christian tradition teaches that Luke, the traveling companion of Paul the apostle, is the author of both Luke and Acts. The case for this point of view is strong. First, since Luke and Acts share the same author, we can gain insight into the author of Luke by looking at comments made in the Acts of the Apostles. A notable clue in Acts comes from the “we” sections of Acts (Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18,and 27:1-28:16). These sections are a series of firsthand reports in which the author describes his travels alongside Paul the apostle. In order for the author to use the first-person in these instances, he would have to be present with Paul. Luke is the most likely person to have been with Paul during each of these times.
Second, early church tradition names Luke as the author of this Gospel. Few scholars would dare to dispute that “The uniform testimony of Christian tradition, dating back to early times, names Luke as the author of the third Gospel” (Hiebert, 114-115). If the authorship of this Gospel were in question in the early church, we should expect to see disputes about its authorship. The fact that such disputes did not arise implies that the authorship of this Gospel was not in question.
Third, the author claims to have had been handed some of his information by “eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:2). If this were not the case, we should expect to see this claim disputed. This would be especially true if the Gospel account was written by a later author, as some have speculated. However, when we look for accounts that dispute this claim, all we hear is silence.
Some modern scholars, however, have attempted to dispute that Luke wrote the Gospel that bears his name. Perhaps the most common reason cited for disputing the authorship of Luke's Gospel is that it does not reflect the theological persuasions of Paul the apostle as reflected in his epistles. Surely someone who traveled with Paul would write a Gospel that left a trace of Paul's theology, right? Perhaps not. Some scholars have pointed out that “Luke was not a slavish imitator of Paul in his theological outlook. He had his own distinctive slant on the Christian faith. His Gospel.......represents his own, independent assessment of the significance of Jesus” (Wood, 704). That is, the author of Luke's Gospel was likely doing exactly what he claimed to be doing—investigating the life of Christ in order to write a factual, orderly account. Others have pointed out that “It is likely that Paul's Letters were not collected, copied, and distributed before the year A.D. 90. If Luke wrote before that time, he may not have known about the Letters” (Achtemeier, 583).
The date of composition for Luke's Gospel is also debated. Some scholars, such as Alex Varughese, date Luke's Gospel to “the late 70s or early 80s” (Varughese, 140). Others date this Gospel to the early 2nd century (Varughese, 140). However, a strong case can be made that this Gospel was composed around 60 A.D. Some scholars have pointed out that “Two termini fix within limits the time of writing of Luke: it must have been written before Acts, and after the development of Christianity to the point where it would attract the attention of a Gentile inquirer like Theophilus” (Tenney, 179). It seems that Acts was written prior to Paul's execution around A.D. 64. Luke appears to have knowledge of Paul's imprisonment in Rome, but no knowledge of his execution at the time of his writing. Such a devastating event would surely be mentioned in the book that covers the ministry of Paul the apostle. Yet it is not. Hence, we can infer that Acts was written prior to Paul's execution. Since Luke's Gospel was the first volume, it must have been written prior to Acts. If Acts can reasonably be dated to around 64 A.D., then it is no stretch to say that Luke was likely written around 60 A.D.
Luke wrote his Gospel for “Theophilus” (Luke 1:3). Although we do not know exactly who Theophilus is, scholars have presented several theories about the identity of Theophilus. Some scholars have suggested that Theophilus “might be either a symbol or a substitute for the true name of Luke's addressee” (Longman, 51). Others have suggested that Theophilus was the real name of the man who was responsible for funding Luke's effort (Powell, 152). Others have suggested that, since the name “Theophilus” means “Lover of God”, this Gospel may have been written to a Christian community made up of “lovers of God”. This, however, is the least probable option. It is apparent that Luke intended for his Gospel to be read by an individual, not necessarily a group. Furthermore, we have no external collaboration that a group calling themselves “Theophilus” existed among the Christian community of the first century. The most probable option is that Theophilus was either a Gentile convert to Christianity, or had heard about Jesus and was requesting more information about Him. He was apparently an individual of respectable status, judging by the manner in which he is addressed by Luke (Luke 1:3). Whatever the case may be, Theophilus wanted to obtain more information about Christ, and Luke fulfilled this wish for him.
Each of the cannonical Gospels is a historical narrative. Luke's Gospel is no exception. In fact, Luke made his intended purpose for his Gospel clear when he wrote “I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3). Luke was clearly interested in historical facts about the life of Christ. This is also reflected in Luke 22:14-20. This passage is to be understood as a historical account of Christ's final Passover meal with His disciples.
Even though Luke wrote his Gospel as a historical narrative, other genres are present in his Gospel. One such example comes from Luke 22:14-20 itself! While Luke is writing a historical account of the final Passover meal that Christ shared with His disciples, Christ uses symbolic language to teach His disciples. In speaking of the wine being His blood and the bread being His body, Christ is clearly using this terminology symbolically. He did not mean that the bread was literally His body, or that the wine was literally His blood.
An examination of the first part of Luke 22 shows that Christ gave His disciples specific instructions about how to prepare for this Passover meal. Christ knew exactly where and when the meal would be eaten. In other words, Christ planned the stage that would be used to introduce this Sacrament to His disciples.
Christ chose an intimate, personal setting for this meal. He continued this setting even after the meal by choosing to be with and to teach His disciples up until the point of His arrest. Even though Judas Iscariot left to betray Him, Christ continued to be with the remaining eleven disciples throughout the scene in Gethsemane in which Christ is taken away by the guards (Luke 22:21-54). Christ intended to spend His final hours before His arrest with His disciples.
PRESENTATION OF TEXT
Luke 22:14-20 “When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, 'I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.' Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, 'Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.' Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'”
Text Critical Notes
It should be noted that, in some manuscripts, the number of disciples present is given in verse 14. These manuscripts expressly state that Jesus sat down with His twleve disciples. This appears to indicate that the twelve disciples were the only ones present with Jesus during this time. However, this does not appear to be the majority view of the manuscripts that are available to us. A later copier of the text likely added this. In all likelihood, there were other individuals present at this Passover meal.
Another textual variant comes from verse 18. Some manuscripts claim that the words of Christ were something along the lines of “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes”. This implies that Christ did not drink the wine with His disciples. However, several manuscripts seem to quote Christ as saying something along the lines of “from now on, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes”, thus indicating that Christ may have drank wine with His disciples in celebration of the Passover.
Some have argued that “it is practically certain that vv. 19, 20 should be excised from this Gospel” (Eiselen, 1054). The primary argument against these passages is that “their presence in later texts is due to the fact that the actual words of institution were wanting in Luke, and they were inserted from 1 Cor. 11:23” (Eiselen, 1054). However, this case is not very strong. Other commentators have pointed out that “these words of institution may come from a non-Markan source. Similar wording in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, written before AD 60, shows that it was probably an early source used by both Luke and Paul” (Longman, 313).
Outline of Passage
I. Reclining for the Passover (v. 14).
II. Jesus addresses His apostles (v. 15-20)
A. Jesus speaks to His apostles about the Passover meal (v. 15-16).
B. Jesus passes a cup of wine to His apostles (v. 17)
C. Jesus passes bread to His apostles and explains its significance (v. 19)
D. Jesus passes a second cup to His apostles and explains its significance (v. 20)
RECLINING FOR THE PASSOVER
Luke was careful to set the stage for this Passover celebration with Christ and His disciples. While the Passover celebration was intended to remind the Jewish people of God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt, Christ ensured that this was especially true on this particular night. The message that He had for His disciples on this night would not have resonated well if the stage were not set in just the right way. Christ chose a very personal setting that resembled a Passover setting for a family. The entire night was filled with the message of God's redemption of Israel. As some commentators have noted, “the strong link Luke forges with the Passover underscores the redemptive motif” (Longman, 312). This is intentional, for the message of redemption is a major theme throughout this passage of Scripture. Other scholars have noted that “Matthew, Mark, Luke and in his own way, John, by connecting the Last Supper with the Passover meal and festival, mean to typologically cast the supper as an inauguration of a new exodus—or perhaps better, not a 'new' exodus but rather 'another exodus'” (Boulton, 25-26).
“When the hour came” (Luke 22:14) could perhaps find a modern equivalent in the phrase “When it was time to eat”. This phrase most likely referred to the time at which the Passover meal, or Seder (Hebrew: ליל הסדר) would be eaten. Whether or not Christ was present at this home in Jerusalem prior to mealtime is not clearly stated. However, when the time came for the meal to be eaten, Christ took His seat. It is clear from the following passages that Christ took the role of the head of the family. This role was usually reserved for the oldest male in the household, usually the father of the family. In doing so, Christ took the lead role in the Passover ceremony.
When Christ reclined at the table, the entire meal was likely already in front of Him. It is likely that this meal consisted of more than bread and wine, despite the fact that these are the only things mentioned in this passage. In keeping with the tradition of Passover, there were likely a number of different foods in front of Christ and His disciples. Jewish tradition likely put a meaning behind each of these foods. First, there was likely a roast lamb in front of them. While they were still in Egypt, God commanded the Israelites to “slaughter it [the lamb] at twilight....They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning” (Exodus 12:6, 8-10a). Because the Passover lamb was such a vital part to the Passover meal, it is unlikely that Christ and His disciples would not have had one in front of them. The Passover lamb reminded all of the Jewish people that the angel of death passed over them when their forefathers smeared the blood of the lamb on the doorpost (Exodus 12:21-24). Second, Christ and His disciples would likely have had maror (Hebrew:מָרוֹר), or bitter herbs, in front of them (“Jewish Foods”, Jewish Virtual Library). God also commanded the Israelites to eat bitter herbs with the Passover meal(Exodus 12:8). The maror (Hebrew:מָרוֹר) was intended to remind God's people of the bitterness of bondage. Finally, Christ and His disciples likely had a bowl of salt water in front of them (“Jewish Foods”, Jewish Virtual Library). This was used to dip the bitter herbs in.
It is possible that others were present at this Passover meal with Christ and His apostles. Christ was a guest in the home of an unnamed man in Jerusalem, who may have been in the same house at the time, even if he was not in the same room as Christ and the disciples. It is also probable that servants were present at this meal. Since forks had not yet been invented, the Passover meal was eaten almost entirely by hand (“Jewish Foods”, Jewish Virtual Library). This lead to some very dirty hands that would occasionally need to be washed. Servants were usually present to offer bowls of water for those participating in the Passover meal to wash their fingers in (“Jewish Foods”, Jewish Virtual Library). Whatever the case may be, the evening's stage had been set before Christ and His disciples sat down to partake of the Passover meal.
JESUS ADDRESSES HIS APOSTLES
Christ's first recorded words to the apostles at this Passover meal expressed how much He desired to eat the Passover meal with them (Luke 22:15). In the original Greek language, these words carry an even stronger meaning than they do in the English language. The Greek phrase used by Jesus to describe His desire to eat the Passover meal is “epithymia epethymesa”, which literally means “with desire I have desired” (Longman, 312). The classic commentator Matthew Henry argues that these words demonstrate the love that Christ had for His apostles. He writes, “See the love he had to his disciples; he desired to eat it with them, that he and they might have a little time together for private conversation” (Henry, 1492). However, the main point is that Christ looked forward to, and wanted, to eat this Passover meal with His apostles.
Christ used this Passover meal to point His disciples towards a truth about Himself. Everything at the Passover meal had some significance to the Jewish community. Christ gives a new significance to the bread and wine. At any Passover celebration, there were four cups of wine. Each of these cups represent a different promise of God taken from Exodus 6:6-7. The first cup represents the promise that the Israelites would be taken out of the land of Egypt. The second cup represents the promise that God would deliver the Israelites from slavery. The third cup represents the promise that God would redeem His people. The fourth cup represents the promise that God would take the Israelites as His people. The first cup of wine that Luke mentions appears to be the first cup of the Jewish Passover seder. Thus, by saying that He will not partake of this cup, Christ may have been sending the message to His apostles that He was not going to take them out of the world. The second cup mentioned by Luke may have been the third cup of the Passover meal. Christ likely drank from this cup, and thus may have sent the message that He was, in fact, going to redeem His people. If this is the case, the message that Christ would have sent would be something along the lines of “I am not going to take you out of the world, but I am going to fulfill the promise that was made. I am going to redeem My people.” In doing so, Christ would have linked Himself to the redemption of God's people.
There was perhaps no better time to illustrate the role that Christ would play in the redemption of God's people than this last Passover meal that He shared with His disciples. In the same way that a politician may choose a certain location or use certain words to set off rhetorical triggers that send a subliminal message to those listening, so Christ also used the backdrop of the Exodus and Passover to send a message about His role in redeeming God's people. Thus, when Christ passed around the unleavened bread, or matzah (Hebrew: מַצָּה), and made the statement that “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), Christ is sending the message that He would be broken for the redemption of God's people just as the matzah bread is broken and passed around to all of God's people who are participating in the Passover seder. Christ was not intending to send the message that the bread was His actual body. Christ is here using symbolism to illustrate His point, rather than speaking literally. In the same way, when Christ passed around the cup of wine and stated 'This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood”, He was making the statement that God was making a new covenant with His people, and that the blood of His sacrifice on the cross would be the means by which this new covenant came. In these two statements, Christ was alluding to the means by which deliverance came to the Israelites while they were in Egypt. In the same way that the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, and the subsequent smearing of its blood on the doorposts of the house, caused the angel of death to pass over that household, so Christ's sacrifice on the cross and His blood that will be poured out will also keep His people from experiencing the second death.
Christ is also making it clear that this was to be a regular observance among His followers. His statement to “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), should essentially be taken as a statement along the lines of “Every time that you observe this, remember Me.” In using the Exodus and Passover as a backdrop, Christ was communicating exactly what about Himself He wanted His disciples to remember. First, He wanted us to remember Him as our Deliverer. Just as Moses led the Israelites out of physical bondage in Egypt, so Christ will lead God's people out of the spiritual bondage of sin. Second, Christ wanted us to remember His sacrifice on our behalf. In His allusions to the bread and the wine being His body and blood, Christ was communicating that He is the ultimate Passover lamb. He expected His followers to remember this.
In sitting His disciples together at the Passover table, Christ also sent a clear message about the unity of believers. His disciples came from various backgrounds and occupations, as well as from different social classes. One particular example can be cited here. At the table with Jesus were His disciples Matthew, who was a tax collector by trade, and Simon, called the zealot. Matthew, as a tax collector, essentially worked for the Roman government. Some have thought that Simon the zealot may have been linked in some way to the party of the Zealots. This party hated the Roman government, since it was a pagan government. If Simon was associated with this party, he would have likely despised Matthew, at least at first. The fact that Christ sat them down at the same table for a Passover meal demonstrates that kind of unity that He expects among His followers. If two people who, under normal circumstances, would be at each others' throats can come to the table together in unity with Christ and with other believers, then no believer has any excuse not to come to the table with other believers.
There is also some discussion about what exactly Christ meant when He stated that the matzah bread was His body and the wine was His blood. Generally, there are four different views as to the meaning of Christ's words and how they apply today. First, some take a view called transsubstantiation. This view “affirms that the elements of bread and wine are transformed, under priestly administration, into the actual physical body and blood of Jesus” (Geisler, 1171). This position takes the words of Christ in a literal sense. However, one of the difficulties of this view is that the words of Christ here do not seem to be intended literally.
A second view that is often taken is called consubstantiation. This view is often held by those in the Lutheran church. This position holds that “Christ's actual body is in and under the elements, penetrating in the same way that fire penetrates metal” (Geisler, 1171). In addition, it holds that “Christ is present not transformationally but permeationally—i.e., He penetrates and permeates the bread and wine” (Geisler, 1171). A major issue with this view comes from Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. As Geisler points out “Paul's account of the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11) says absolutely nothing about Christ's presence in the elements” (Geisler, 1173).
A third view is often called the Reformed view. Geisler explains that “The Reformed view of the Lord's Supper is that the bread and the wine spiritually contain the body and blood of Christ; He is found in the sacrament in a spiritual, dynamic sense rather than through physical or bodily presence” (Geisler, 1172).
A fourth view is often called the Memorial view. Again, Geisler explains that in this view “the memorial view of the Lord's Supper states that the Communion service is primarily a commemoration of Christ's death on the cross, following His words 'Do this in remembrance of me'” (Geisler, 1172).
Regardless of which view is correct, the focus of Luke's Gospel was not to describe in what sense the matzah and wine represent Christ's body and blood. Rather, the primary point that Luke is trying to make is about Christ, His identity, and the unity that His followers should have among themselves and with Christ.
Christ planned to have His final Passover with His disciples in a very personal setting. The purpose of this was to teach the disciples about His identity. Christ chose the background of the Passover and Exodus to teach His disciples through a tradition that was all too familiar to them. He used the Passover seder to demonstrate to His disciples that, just as Moses delivered God's people from bondage in the land of Egypt, so He would also deliver God's people from bondage to sin. In the same way that the sacrifice of the Passover lamb and the subsequent smearing of the blood on the doorposts saved the Israelites from the angel of death in Egypt, so Christ's sacrifice and His pouring out of blood would save His people from the second death.
Furthermore, Christ used this backdrop to teach His disciples about unity. The disciples of Christ who sat at the table with Him came from every background. Some were likely poor. Some were likely from a wealthier background. Some were against the Roman government. Some used to work for the Roman government. Christ unties all of these individuals at the same table. In doing this, He sends the message that His followers must stand united, regardless of political affiliation or demographic. However, Christ was not only teaching the disciples about their unity with one another. He was also teaching the disciples about their unity with Him. He expected all of His disciples to come together and “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19).
The best way that we can apply this passage of Scripture is to follow Christ's advice in it: “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:18). If we apply this passage, we will no longer see the Eucharist as a part of worship without much meaning. Rather, it will become to us a reflection of Christ as our Deliverer, Christ as our Sacrifice, and Christ as our Lord.
In addition to this, we should follow the example that Christ has set for us and unite as a church. Regardless of our demographic, political views, social status, or personal problems, we should all be able to come to the table of the Lord with the understanding that we stand united with our brothers and sisters in Christ both in the United States and around the world. We can all come to the table and give thanks to Christ for what He has done for us. After all, “Eucharist” means “to give thanks”.
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