Summary: The New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus is superior in four ways.
Jesus’ final meal was with his twelve apostles on Thursday night. Jesus earnestly desired to eat the last Passover meal with his disciples, and then institute the first Lord’s Supper with them.
John MacArthur notes that there were several stages in the Passover meal, which was spread out over a period of hours and interspersed with conversation. The meal opened with a prayer thanking God for his preservation, deliverance, protection, goodness, and blessing. Next came the first of four cups of diluted red wine, known as the cup of blessing. That was followed by a ceremonial washing of the hands, symbolizing the need for cleansing from sin. It was most likely at this point that the disciples began arguing among themselves about who was the greatest (Luke 22:24). In response, Jesus washed their feet (John 13:3–5) and instructed them concerning humility. The next element was the eating of bitter herbs, dipped along with pieces of bread into a paste made from fruit and nuts. That act symbolized the bitterness of Israel’s slavery in Egypt. Then they sang Psalms 113 and 114, the first two of the Hallel Psalms (113–118), after which they drank the second cup of wine. After that the father of the family, or as in this case Jesus as the head of the table, explained the meaning of Passover. Then came the main meal, consisting of the roasted sacrificial lamb and unleavened bread, after which they drank the third cup of wine. The ceremony closed with the singing of the remainder of the Hallel Psalms (115–118), and the drinking of the fourth cup of wine.
It was during the Passover meal that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. When they came to the main course of the meal, consisting of the sacrificial lamb and the bread, Jesus referred to the bread as his body, which was given for them. And then they drank the third cup of wine, which Jesus referred to as the cup that was poured out for them and is the new covenant in his blood.
This evening I would like to focus attention on the meaning of the cup that is the new covenant in his blood.
14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took 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.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. (Luke 22:14–23)
A Passover meal lasted several hours. Jesus instituted the first act of the Lord’s Supper when he referred to the bread, which was part of the main course of the meal, as his body, which was given for us. After a significant amount of time, Luke records that likewise Jesus took the cup after they had eaten, and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (22:20). By calling the cup of wine “the new covenant in my blood,” Jesus was intentionally contrasting his upcoming sacrificial death with the blood sacrifices of the Old Covenant.
Commentator Kent Hughes helps us understand the significance of the Old Covenant. After the people of God left Egypt and were on their way to the Promised Land, God gave them a Covenant, that is, a promise that he would be their God and they would be his people. He gave them the Ten Commandments (in Exodus 19 and 20), and further regulations about how they were to live as his people (in Exodus 20:18-23:33).
The Covenant was confirmed in Exodus 24. After the Covenant was read to the people of God, they all “answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord” (24:3-4). Verses 5-8 says: