The Kingdom of God in Luke (Pt. 8)

Part Seven

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper/New Covenant

            I firmly believe that the words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Lk. 22:14-20) are some of the most important words in the NT.  The occasion for this world-changing event was the annual celebration of the Passover Seder, although Jesus had to celebrate it prematurely because by the time the real Passover was eaten, He would be dead.[1] 

The link between the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper are clear and underlined by Paul’s reference to Jesus as “Christ our Passover” in 1 Corinthians 5:7.  The Passover is connected to the (old) Mosaic covenant, which is to be replaced by the New covenant; and Jesus’ role in this is critical.  If I may make an observation here about the importance of the Pauline designation with reference to the Gospel accounts (particularly in Luke 22:19 where the words “do this in remembrance of me” are present); the fact that Paul has used the term “Christ our Passover” points to the replacement of the traditional Passover lamb of the Mosaic covenant with the “Lamb of God” of the New covenant.  If this surmise is accurate then we have a strong indicator of the fact that Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice not only superseded the OT Passover ritual, but that in doing so a continuity of the Passover in Jesus was created.  Since the old Mosaic covenant does not have a provision for a change in the Passover sacrifice, we are left to conclude that the only way that Jesus, the Lamb of God can be linked to the Passover (i.e. by Paul[2]) in a more than incidental way is if another covenant has taken over the Passover,[3] amplifying its significance in the Person of the Messiah.  As Bock puts it, “[Christ] has become the lamb who launches a new age.”[4]   

Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” – Luke 22:15-16.

            Jesus’ anticipation of this Passover is explained when He uses it to institute the “New covenant in my blood” in verse 20.  It is clearly prophetic, as the words “until it is fulfilled” clearly show.  This gap between His partaking of the Passover and the appointed time (Lk. 22:15-18)) when He again eats it forms a further link between the Passover and the New covenant, re-situating of it in the Kingdom of God, which once more is a future reality to be manifested upon Christ’s return. 

And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” – Luke 22:19.

            As pointed out above, the words “do this in remembrance of Me” are unique to Luke’s account.  He was doubtless told about this wish of the Lord by one who was present (Paul also includes the words – 1 Cor. 11:24-25).  The command to remember relates to both parts of the institution, as Paul shows.  The remembrance is not a mawkish sentiment wrought by a realization of approaching doom; understandable though that would have been.  None of the Evangelists say that Jesus was sad or distressed as He reclined in the Upper Room (That trial was to come in Gethsemane).  The reason for remembering Jesus is plainly centered around His death for us, although we should also consider His humble earthly ministry among sinners: the whole incarnation (Phil. 2:5-8).  Our chance of life as God the Creator intended it is all predicated on what Jesus achieved. Hence we remember.  

Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” – Luke 22:20.

            Matthew and Mark have “this is My blood of the new covenant” (Matt. 26:28/Mk. 14:24).  I see no reason at all why Jesus could not have said both Luke’s version and Matthew and Mark’s version.  What is very significant is that this is the first recorded instance of the term “New covenant” since its solitary appearance in Jeremiah 31:31.

Although it is given sparse utterance, the notion of the coming New covenant reverberates throughout the OT and was the source of hope for Israel and the Gentiles.  Jeremiah was simply giving a name to a concept that occurs throughout the Hebrew Bible (e.g. Deut. 30:1-6; Isa. 32:9-20; 42:1-7; 49:1-13; 52:10-53:12; 55:3; 59:15b-21; 61:8; Jer. 32:36:44; Ezek. 16:53-63; 36:22-38; 37:21-28; Hos. 2:18-20; Joel 2:28–3:8; Mic. 7:18-20; Zech. 9:10; 12:6-14.; 59:15-21).  Now the Lord reintroduces the term at this decisive moment.  The solemn mood surely deepened as He spoke the phrase and brought it into the closest relation to Himself and His impending death.     

The words “New covenant” would stir powerful thoughts of Israel’s restoration and glory, exactly as the prophet Jeremiah had foretold.  It is little wonder that forty days later they asked the resurrected Jesus, “Lord will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).  Such a question would have been encouraged by these words:

“But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials.  And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” – Luke 22:28-30.

            Was this proffered kingdom something new and unexpected?  Nothing indicates that it was.  What may well have been surprising was the promise of the disciples’ exalted position in the Kingdom. 

There were twelve tribes in Israel and twelve main disciples (although Judas Iscariot was to be replaced).  But is it tenable to believe that the disciples hailed from all of those tribes?  Actually, the question is moot, because the special duty of the twelve will be that of judging the tribes, not leading them.  Jesus will be upon David’s throne, just as Gabriel had said (Lk. 1:32).  It would be naturally assumed the twelve tribes would mean exactly that; the twelve tribes of Israel.[5]  The name “Israel” would mean nothing else in this setting but those Jews directly descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Whatever is or is not to become of the meaning of that name later in the NT is not my concern right now.  My duty is to read what is in Luke, not freight supposed Pauline or Petrine reconstructions into the time before the Cross.  There is no room in the context for swapping the expected messianic New covenant, Israel plus the Nations Kingdom for a multinational spiritual body.[6]

The Kingdom and the New Covenant

            Before moving on I must insist a little more that we carefully consider the association of the Kingdom of God and the New covenant.  The Kingdom of God is the New covenant Kingdom.  The New covenant Kingdom is the covenanted Kingdom spoken of so often by the OT Prophets.  It arrives, to use the metaphor in Daniel 2, once the “stone cut out without hands” strikes down the kingdoms of man and the messianic Kingdom of righteousness replaces it. This, of course, did not occur in the first century A. D.

            But how can this be so, when the Lord instituted the New covenant in Luke 22 in anticipation of its coming into effect after His Passion?  This important question will have to wait until we examine 1 Corinthians 11, but I can say two things by way of preparation for later:

  1. The fusion of the first and second comings of Christ in the OT is not always apparent.  But here at the Lord’s Supper, and in consideration of Luke 19:11 etc., we can clearly see a two-phase work.  The first phase is centered on the cross and resurrection of Christ and the New covenant benefits which were unleashed from them (presently enjoyed by the Church within the bounds of the third major promise of the Abrahamic covenant – 1 Cor. 11:25-26 cf. Gal. 3:8).  Thus, the salvific benefits of being in the New covenant (and hence not under the Law) are present in “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:14), while the storied Kingdom of God still waits in the wings for the return of the King.
  2. Any attempt to introduce the Kingdom of God right after the cross and resurrection, however noble, constitutes a misunderstanding of the term and a direct contradiction of our Lord’s declaration immediately prior to Calvary and Mt. Olivet.  That the book of Acts in particular uses the term will have to be explored, but it is my contention that although one may validly speak of aspects of the Kingdom of God in the preaching ministry of the Apostles, the focus is not on the “already” but rather on the “not yet.”[7]                 

[1] See Robert H. Stein, “Last Supper,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Editors: Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 446. 

[2] In 1 Corinthians 10:16 the Apostle asks, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?”  Stein says the term “cup of blessing” is taken from the third cup of the Passover (Ibid, 447), but there is no biblical warrant for the assertion.   

[3] “It signifies, not a temporal repetition but a new, eschatological beginning.” – I. Howard Marshall, Commentary on Luke, 806. 

[4] Darrell Bock, Luke 9:51 – 24:53, 1727.

[5] I shall discuss the complexion of the twelve tribes further on.

[6] Any theological interpretation which converts this expectation into an ecclesial one has gone the wrong way.  E.g., “The Institution Narrative…is a key transitional text for linking the royal Davidic identity and mission of Christ with the early apostolic church as the restored Davidic kingdom.” – Scott W. Hahn, “Kingdom and Church in Luke-Acts,” in, Reading Luke, edited by Craig G. Bartholomew et al, 306, cf. 318, 320.  The expectation of a restored and beatified New covenant Kingdom where all God’s covenants are fulfilled cannot be diverted or altered even by God; in fact, especially by God, since He has placed Himself under oath to fulfill those covenants.     

[7] I realize, of course, that this position must be argued for, not merely asserted. 

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