Q & R: How do you explain this verse?
Here's the Q:
6(AF)While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and (AG)after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."
27And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you;
28for (AH)this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for (AI)many for forgiveness of sins.
In lieu of your stance on the Christian Gospel or the Atonement, how do you justify your stance on this verse in Matthew concerning the last supper? If you don’t think that Jesus came to “save the lost” and to provide forgiveness of sins through his life, death, resurrection and ascension then how do explain this verse?
Thanks for your question. It will allow me to offer a few comments on some of the meanings of the Last Supper.
First though, before answering, if we were talking in person I'd let you know that I'm curious about a few things. What exactly do you think my "stance on the Christian Gospel or the Atonement" is? How did you come to that conclusion about my stance - have you read any of my books, or relied on how others present my views? If you've relied on others, who, and why? Does your question imply that "Christian Gospel = the Atonement?" And if so, which theory of atonement do you want to equate with the Christian gospel?
My conviction is that the original Christian gospel was the gospel of Jesus: the good news of the kingdom or commonwealth of God, at hand and available to all. That is a message of liberation and transformation (the core meaning of "salvation" - more on that in a minute); any particular atonement theory is at best a corollary to or rationale for that central message, not the message itself.
OK - on the verses you quoted - thanks for asking my opinion on them. I share this brief meditation not to justify myself (!), but to celebrate the meaning of these rich verses on this Holy Saturday. Of course, this isn't an exhaustive commentary, but more of a devotional meditation.
While they were eating
They were eating the Passover meal, a meal which recalled God's primal saving act for the Jewish people - God's liberation from slavery in Egypt. Jesus, like Moses, was leading people to freedom - freedom from domination and exploitation by Rome, freedom from a corrupt religious-industrial complex, freedom from enslavement to sin in all its dimensions: personal immorality, social oppression, dehumanization, injustice, cycles of violence, and all forms of evil. By identifying himself with those who are crucified, not the crucifiers, Jesus would also be imitating Moses - who didn't identify with the house of Pharaoh but those Pharaoh victimized. For me, the primary Biblical context of the eucharist is the Passover meal, not one of the later Levitical meals.
Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."The next day, Jesus would be handed over to suffering and execution. In the ancient world, execution was widely understood as the separating of blood from the body. The cross was a torture technology for doing so ... excruciatingly. Now, by consuming his body and blood (metaphorically, sacramentally, transubstantially, consubstantially ... however you wish to understand it, this meaning can apply), his disciples will reconstitute and reintegrate within their bodies what the Romans will separate. They will become, in this way, the body (or ongoing embodiment) of Christ ... a theme Paul will celebrate some years in the future.
And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you
Even Peter is included, even though he will soon deny the Lord. Eating and drinking involve personal choice, personal surrender ... and at the same time, this personal involvement takes place in a communal meal. So in the eucharist, the realities of personal commitment and communal participation are perfectly integrated.
This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.
An old covenant is coming to an end. That is the covenant centered in circumcision, law, ethnic purity, animal sacrifice, exclusive atonement, Temple, priesthood, and holy city. By his death, Christ puts an end to the need for circumcision, law, ethnic purity, animal sacrifice, exclusive atonement, Temple, priesthood, and holy city. A new covenant is being inaugurated. This is a covenant of ...
Repentance and faith, not circumcision
Love, not law
Grace for all people, not ethnic purity
The once for all self-giving of Christ, not animal sacrifice
The ministry of reconciliation through the love of Christ, not exclusive atonement through a sacrificial system,
A temple made of living human beings who embody Christ, not a temple made of stones
A priesthood of all believers for all the world, not an exclusive priesthood by a few for a few,
The commonwealth of God "for all nations," not a holy city for one nation.
Because the old has been put away and all things have become new in this new covenant, forgiveness now can be freely proclaimed - not just to people of one religion but to the whole world, inviting people into a grace-based way of life, not a guilt-based way of life ... As Paul said it (in one of my favorite Easter passages):
For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.... All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5)
Thanks be to God!