The Last Supper: Megalomania or Mission?

In my last post I discussed Jesus’ statement that he came, as Son of Man, to give his life as “a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Here we begin to grasp Jesus’ sense of destiny. He sees himself as the Son of Man (from Daniel 7) who fulfills the role of the suffering Servant of God (Isaiah 52-53).

Daniele Crespi, "The Last Supper," 1624-25

Jesus’ understanding of the purpose of his death is revealed most clearly in the event we call The Last Supper: Jesus’ final meal with his disciples before he is betrayed and crucified.

In the Gospel of Mark, this final meal occurs on the occasion of the Passover, the Jewish feast that commemorates the Exodus, when God delivered the Jews from bondage in Egypt. Here is Mark’s description of the key moments of this feast:

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:22-25)

It’s all too easy for Christians to miss the potential scandal of Jesus’ action. He and his followers are remembering God’s salvation of Israel from Egypt, not to mention God’s faithfulness to his people throughout the ages. Jesus, as host of the meal, makes a most unexpected pair of assertions. “This is my body” and “This is my blood of the covenant.” Until that moment in history, the Passover was primarily about God and secondarily about Israel. But now Jesus, an apparently faithful Jewish man leading a celebration of the Passover, says in so many words: “In fact, this is all about me!” Astounding! Shocking!

If you have a hard time relating to the apparent offense of these statements, suppose that this Sunday when your church celebrates communion, instead of saying to the people, “This is the body of Christ, broken for you,” your pastor were to say, “This is my body, the body of Mark Roberts. Here is God’s salvation, in me.” Blasphemy, you say!? Indeed! Your pastor’s future would suddenly be in jeopardy, I can assure you.

Yet this is more or less like what Jesus was doing with the Passover. Either he was struck by a fit of megalomania or he was somehow telling the startling truth of his life and mission. Even as Passover was all about God’s salvation of Israel, now that salvation was being embodied in Jesus himself.

In my next post I’ll explore the meaning of Jesus’ statement that the cup is “[his] blood of the covenant.”

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