“And in the same way he [Jesus] took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” (Luke 22:20)
Do you enjoy a nice wine when celebrating a great event? This Easter it may be worth taking an extra cup.
When modern western people make solemn agreements, they tend to sign a written document and perhaps celebrate with the gentle clink of some wine glasses. Ancient Near-Eastern peoples, by contrast, had a far more vivid way of solemnising a contract: they sacrificed animals and walked between the bloodied pieces (Genesis 15:17; Jeremiah 34:18).
The sacrifice invoked a potential curse upon both parties. It inferred that they would share the same terrible fate as the sacrificed beast should they fail to uphold their end of the agreement.
Thus, the shedding of blood was an important motif in making solemn agreements. Even today, a linguistic legacy of such traditions causes some people to still talk in terms of “cutting a deal.” In fact, the word, “covenant” (solemn agreement), comes from the Hebrew word, “to cut.”
At his last supper on that first Easter, Jesus told his disciples that the wine symbolised his blood of the “new covenant.” Jesus would die on behalf of humankind because none had kept God’s first covenant (the Old Testament). The shedding of his blood would indicate that the necessary sacrifice for human covenant-breaking had been made.
Wine has many symbolic meanings and practical applications in Bible. Wine was a symbol of blessing from God (Genesis 27:28). Grape harvest and wine-making were times of joyous celebration (Isaiah 16:10; Jeremiah 48:33). Jesus turned water in wine at a wedding celebration (John 2:1-12). Wine points us to the great end-times feast where Jesus says he will drink it again with His followers (Matthew 26:29).
In biblical times wine had many medicinal purposes also. The “Good Samaritan” applied oil and wine to wounds of the stranger he assisted (Luke 10:34). The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to take some wine for his “frequent stomach illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23). On cross Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh for pain. The wine of the new covenant speaks of the healing Jesus’ death brings us.
Wine is also used as a symbol of judgement. The wine of world can cause one to “stagger” and “fall” (Psalm 60:3; Jeremiah 25:27). The picture of the ancient peoples treading grapes was used as an image of judgement, with the feet of the treaders stained by grapes, as with blood, in vats full of blood red wine (Joel 3:12-13; Revelations 14:17-20). Unsurprisingly therefore, the motif of wine often symbolised blood.
Jesus’ last supper hearkened back to the Passover feast in Egypt when the children of Israel were commanded to place the blood of a sacrificed lamb on their doorposts so that God’s judgment would “passover” their house. When Christians drink the communion wine, they are reminded that God’s wrath will similarly “passover” them at the final judgment.
Jesus has paid the penalty of our covenant-breaking by shedding His own blood. He is the perfect Passover sacrifice whose shed blood was sufficient to satisfy God’s holy demands once and for all, and end the sacrificial system.
How rich in meaning and power is the cup of the “new covenant” in Jesus’ blood. As far as wine goes, it’s the best vintage on offer!
As this Easter corresponds exactly with the ancient Jewish Passover may I suggest a cup of communion wine to celebrate?
For Prayer and Reflection: Thank God for Christ’s death on our behalf. Thank Him for the shed blood of Jesus that heals us, and promises us salvation from God’s righteous judgement. Praise Him for the promise of a joyous celebration at the end of the age.
For Further Reading: Luke 22:1-20