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The Blood of the New Covenant
As the Last Supper draws to a close, Jesus refers to the cup of wine as “my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24). This is an allusion to the story in Exodus 24, where the people of Israel endorsed God’s covenant. Then, having sacrificed many animals, Moses “took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, ‘See the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (24:7-8). The new covenant will also be ratified with blood, but in this case with the spilled blood of Jesus, who, like the lambs sacrificed in the first Passover, will give his life so that God’s people might be spared.
Jesus wasn’t the first one to connect the blood of the covenant with the coming of God’s kingdom. The prophet Zechariah made this same connection in a passage we associate with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Because of God’s covenant with Israel, which was ratified with the blood of sacrificed animals, God’s king will rule over a global kingdom and God’s people will be redeemed from bondage. Jesus comes as the divinely-anointed king, not at first to lead Israel to victory, however, but to offer his own blood so that the new covenant and God’s universal kingdom might be inaugurated.
What is the nature of this new covenant? Here is the description from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah:
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah . . . I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jer 31:31, 33-34).
To sum up the meaning of Jesus’ actions and words in the Lord’s Supper, it’s as if he were saying:
- Even as God once saved his people from slavery in Egypt, so God is now saving his people from slavery to sin through me.
- Even as the blood of lambs once enabled death to “pass over” Israel, so my blood will lead to the forgiveness of sin.
- Even as the first covenant was sealed with sacrificial blood, so the new covenant will be sealed through my blood, poured out for many. I am choosing the way of death, Jesus says, so that the new life of the new covenant may come. My sacrifice will overcome the problem of sin, so that God’s kingdom may be established in all its fullness.
In my next post I’ll sum up what we have discovered about Jesus’ own perspective on the necessity of his death.