We begin this chapter in the upper room, where Jesus and his disciples are gathered for the Passover meal.
As the disciples ate the Passover meal with Jesus, a strange thing was about to happen.
We must remember that all of them there that night, including Jesus, had eaten the Passover meal many times before. They knew the ritual and the meaning behind the meal.
Not only was there a roasted lamb to be eaten, and bitter herbs, but other food items were also very much part of the Passover meal. There were three of these:
- There was a bowl of salt water on the table. This was to remind them of the tears their forefathers had shed whilst slaves in Egypt.
- There was a paste called the Charosheth — a mixture of apples, dates, pomegranates and nuts. This was to remind them of the clay with which their forefathers had made bricks in Egypt.
Through this paste were sticks of cinnamon to remind them of the straw with which the bricks had been made.
- There were four cups of wine — a reminder of the four promises of Exodus 6:6–7:
- “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”
- “I will deliver you from their bondage.”
- “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.”
- “I will take you for my people, and I will be your God.”
The disciples and Jesus knew all this. It had been part of the ritual of every Passover, all their lives. The Passover was a time of remembrance of all that lay behind in the mists of history. A reminder of God’s great deliverance of the Children of Israel from Egypt, taking them to Himself, as His people.
Thus, the prime focus of the Passover meal was deliverance from the slavery of Egypt and becoming the special people of God.
But as the Passover meal progressed in the upper room, something strange happened. Jesus did something which was not part of the normal Passover meal.
As they were still eating, Jesus took some bread, and blessed it and broke it, and said, “Take, eat. This is my body.”
What was this? This was not something the disciples had ever seen before.
What did it mean? What did these strange words of Jesus mean? “Take, eat. This is my body.”
The disciples looked at each other. What did it mean?
But they did as Jesus asked them. He passed each of them a portion of the bread he’d blessed and broken, and they ate it.
Jesus hadn’t finished his strange words. After giving them the bread, he now took a cup of wine. When he had given thanks for it, he said to them, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Again, these words were totally mystifying to the disciples. As with the bread, they didn’t understand what he meant.
He went on, “I tell you, I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”
Now, these words are perfectly familiar to us. We read them every time we remember Jesus in bread and wine. We know what they mean. But try to think what the disciples would make of them. They’d never heard Jesus use these words in this way before. He talked about my body, my blood. What had this to do with the Passover?
They had never before shared bread and wine in this way. I think they would be absolutely confused.
And what did Jesus mean when he said, “I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom”?
The disciples would not have known, as they reclined there with Jesus in that upper room that this new meal that Jesus was introducing, partaking of bread and wine, would be eaten from then on by his followers of all ages — right through the next 2,000 years to today.
“Do this in remembrance of me”, Jesus said. “Remember me always. Remember that you have been given life and salvation because of my body and my blood.”
The disciples didn’t realise that these new words of Jesus were about a new covenant. The old Passover meaning was about deliverance from bondage. It related to the old covenant.
But Jesus was introducing them to the new covenant in him. And he was doing it at the Passover meal. In fact, they were still eating the Passover meal when Jesus introduced this new, strange aspect of the meal. Matthew tells us that “as they were eating” Jesus introduced the bread and wine in this new way.
They were still eating the old Passover meal when he did this. And it was most appropriate that he did it this way. This new meal (bread and wine) was also related to a Passover. Not the Passover from Egypt, and the release from the bondage of slavery, but the new Passover in him. This new Passover meal was about release from sin, which can only be achieved through Jesus. He was now introducing the new covenant in him.
That is why he emphasised the bread as being his body, and the wine, his blood.
Later, the disciples would understand as we do, the meaning of this new meal Jesus introduced to them.
Perhaps for us, it is tempting to think about the introduction of this new supper by Jesus as something remote that happened long ago. We look back 2,000 years and maybe we don’t feel part of that momentous moment when Jesus gave his disciples this new meal of bread and wine.
Maybe we look back across the centuries to that time, and then think forward into the future to when Jesus will return. It is understandable that we might think of these two events — the supper of the upper room, and the return of Jesus as two quite separate events, being quite unconnected. Both are vitally important, but perhaps we don’t see the connection between them.
But they are connected. There are three things that join them together:
Think of an unbroken chain, beginning at the supper with Jesus and his disciples in the upper room, and ending at the second coming of Jesus. The chain starts in the upper room, and continues into the centuries between then and now.
First, then, we, as his followers in this generation, are part of that great band of followers who have remembered him in this memorial meal of bread and wine every first day of the week down through the past 2,000 years.
Those followers may not have eaten this simple meal in comfortable rooms as we do, but always they remembered him in this meal of bread and wine. Sometimes they met in caves; sometimes in prison; sometimes in hiding. Perhaps they didn’t always have bread and wine available, but always they remembered him, and wherever possible, they ate bread and drank wine in remembrance of him.
So, we keep this connection with that first supper simply by being part of the followers of Jesus over the past 2,000 years. If we could trace back over the past 2,000 years, we would get back to that supper in the upper room where Jesus introduced this supper to his disciples.
The second thing that joins us together with that long ago supper is that Jesus is with us every day. He told us that he would be with us if we gather together in his name. He is with us every day. He is our Shepherd and our King.
It’s not as if he disappeared into heaven from the Mount of Olives and has had nothing to do with us until he returns. We can’t see him, but he is with us. He told his disciples, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” We are his ecclesia. He guides us in all our ways, both collectively and individually. The New Testament records that his early followers prayed to Jesus and that he spoke to them. (eg Ananias of Damascus was told by Jesus to go to talk to Paul).
The third thing that connects us to the upper room has to do with the return of Jesus. He spoke of his return in the upper room:
“I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”
In those words, we have an immediate connection between the supper of the upper room and the return of Jesus.
I want you to let your mind dwell for a moment on the supper of that upper room, with Jesus and his disciples reclining at the table.
Now, let your thoughts roam over the next twenty centuries. Somewhere, in many places, Jesus’ followers have partaken of this same meal each Sunday across all of those centuries.
Next, think about us being here today. We are part of this scene, just as our fellow followers have met over this meal over the past twenty centuries. We are doing exactly what Jesus and his disciples did 2,000 years ago. In that way, we are directly connected to that first supper, and all of those over the past twenty centuries.
Finally, I want you to let your mind look forward to the return of Jesus. To that day when he will once more drink wine with us anew in his Father’s Kingdom.
But before we come to that moment, it is important for us to be reminded of what will happen at Jesus’ return.
First, let’s just run over in our minds what his return means to you and me. We all believe implicitly that Jesus will return. But we need to be sure that the knowledge of his return is not just an academic fact in our minds.
It is more than an academic fact. It is something that we will be absolutely involved in personally. It’s not just a story about the future. It’s not going to happen to someone else. It’s going to happen to you and me. And you will be closely and irrevocably involved with his return, whether you have died before he comes or are alive when he comes.
Let’s quickly go over what the scriptures tell us about his return. We know these passages well, of course, but think about them from your own perspective.
I want to focus on just two passages of scripture — Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 4. Keep your finger in these two places.
First, Matthew 24. (Jesus is speaking to his disciples on the Mount of Olives the day before he was arrested):
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:29–31)
This literal descent of Jesus from heaven with his angels will be utterly unprecedented.
- He will come with power and great glory. His coming will be blindingly brilliant.
- Myriads of angels will be with him. We’re not given much information about these angels in Matthew, but 2 Thessalonians 1:7 gives us a better look at them:
“… when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire …”
Imagine this. Jesus descending in power and brilliant, dazzling glory. Myriads of angels with him in flaming fire.
But there’s more. As the people of this earth (including us) gaze into the sky to see this amazing and powerful and brilliant display of Jesus returning to the earth, the air is suddenly pierced with the massive blast of a trumpet.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 talks about the “sound of the trumpet of God”. Matthew 24:31 describes it as a “loud trumpet call”. 1 Corinthians 15:52 proclaims “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
This trumpet blast will reverberate all over the earth, in every nation and to every ear.
As Jesus descends, Matthew 24:31 tells us (confirmed in 1 Thessalonians 4:17) that he will send out his angels to gather his elect.
This is where we will be personally involved, for we each will be invited by an angel to come to Jesus, our bridegroom, even while he is still in the air, descending from heaven. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 tells us that we will be caught up to meet him in the air as he comes.
About a week ago, I received a letter telling me I had a chance to win $55,000 in a Lucky Number Giveaway. Let me read you a paragraph from this letter:
“Mr. Hyndman, please sit tight for the next few days. Take a few minutes to get used to the idea of what it feels like if you are the confirmed winner of this $55,000.
In the next few days, important documents will arrive at your Beechworth home marked “Express Mail”. Then be prepared to respond at once.’’
Bearing in mind what we’ve just read about the return of Jesus, lets rephrase this letter. How would you feel if in the coming week you received a letter like this:
“Mr. Hyndman, please sit tight for the next few days. Take a few minutes to get used to the idea of what it will feel like to know that you are going to be with Jesus. You will actually be caught up in the air to meet him as he comes.
In the next few days, you will see an amazing and unprecedented sight in the heavens. Drop everything when you see this sight. Be absolutely prepared, for an angel will come to you to invite you to go to Jesus, even as he is descending from heaven. Be prepared to respond at once.’’
How would you feel to receive such a letter?
Well, my brothers and sisters, we have already had that letter. Did you know that? You’ve already received it. It’s right here in Matthew and Thessalonians. We’ve read it many times. What does it mean to you?
Because Jesus wanted to be sure we understood this letter, he reinforced the letter when he told the parable of the ten virgins. (Matthew 25:1–12)
All ten virgins were waiting for the bridegroom — just as we are. At midnight comes the cry — “Behold the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Note, it is not the bridegroom who calls to us. It is someone else. In our case, it will be the angel who comes to us to invite us to come to meet our bridegroom, Jesus.
Then we will be caught up in the air to be with him. As Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 — “and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
And shortly after that, will come the Marriage Supper of Jesus and his bride — us. Another supper. Here is where we come back to that great link that connects the supper in the upper room with the Marriage Supper of Jesus. In both cases, Jesus was, and will be, there.
This Marriage Supper connects us directly to the supper in the upper room:
“I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29)
And this Marriage Supper will be when he will do that with his now immortal bride.
In the upper room, the bread was the bread of the earth, pointing to Jesus as the bread of life. Remember he told his disciples at his first coming:
“… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life …” (John 6:53–54)
The wine at the supper in the upper room represented his blood to be shed on the cross within hours of this supper. In his shed blood, our sins are forgiven.
But the wine he will drink with us at the Marriage Supper with his bride will have a different meaning. No longer will it represent his blood shed on the cross. He told his disciples that he would drink it new with them in my Father’s Kingdom.
This is new wine — the wine of celebration, the wine of new life, shared with his now immortal bride — us, and all his followers who have long waited for him to return.
This is the great link between these two suppers — the wine representing his death in the upper room, and the new wine representing life in the Kingdom. It represents new life for his bride, immortality and life everlasting with the bridegroom of our love.
There is a living and vibrant link running through the past 2,000 years, linking us with Jesus and his disciples in the past, and linking us to Jesus and his disciples in the future, as we sit down with them at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
The last time Jesus drank wine was in the upper room. Now, for the first time since then, he will drink wine again, at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and we will be with him, to share the wine of celebration of new, immortal life. With Jesus, our bridegroom and King.