Bread and Cup

Symbols of Jesus Life

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“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine” (Genesis 14:18). (All quotes from ASV, except as otherwise specified).

by James Parkinson

There are hints of the Memorial of our Lord’s sacrificial death early in the Old Testament. About four thousand years ago “Melchizedek [Meleki-tzedeq, King of Righteousness], king of [Jeru]Salem, brought forth bread and wine; and he was a priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18). Again, the Memorial emblems are foreshadowed. And Paul says of Melchizedek, “Neither his father nor his mother is recorded in the genealogies; and neither the beginning of his days nor the end of his life; but, like the Son of God, his priesthood abides for ever” (Hebrews 7:3 Lamsa).

Later, Joseph’s life contained several hints. (1) Joseph began in Egypt as a slave in the house of Potiphar, Captain of the (Royal) Guard, and then proceeded to be progressively advanced in authority there. This Captain “made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand” (Genesis 39:4). (2) When Joseph was falsely accused, he was humbled and put into the King’s (Pharaoh’s) Prison. Yet “the keeper of the prison looked not to anything that was under [Joseph’s] hand because Jehovah was with him; and that which he did, Jehovah made it prosper” (Genesis 39:23).

Some two years later, Pharaoh had two dreams of 7 good and 7 bad things. Joseph was called to interpret them, which he did. (3) He was then exalted to the second-highest position in Egypt. Joseph’s life in Egypt evidently was intended to typify three stages of Jesus’ existence:

(1) The Logos (“without him was not anything made that hath been made” John 1:3). (2) Humbled to leave his spirit nature to become human — albeit a perfect human being. Here he spent his life for the benefit of others and ultimately gave his life for Adam and all his posterity. (3) When he was resurrected by his Father to the divine nature, he received the second-highest position in the universe, “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).

The account infers that during this time Pharaoh suffered severe stomach upset and so sent his baker and butler to the King’s Prison, where they too were put under Joseph’s charge. One night they each had a dream: the butler dreamed of grapes which he pressed into Pharaoh’s cup. The baker dreamed of bread on his head from which the birds did eat. Joseph interpreted each correctly. On the third day, Pharaoh (on his birthday) had determined which one was guilty of the food poisoning. He hanged the baker but reinstated the butler to his food-tasting and serving office. Fruit of the vine and (unleavened) bread were also used for the Memorial emblems introduced to Jesus’ disciples nearly two thousand years later.

Both Joseph and Melchizedek typify our Lord Jesus, the one who was to offer the sacrifice of flesh and blood, typified by the Memorial emblems of the bread and the cup (fruit of the vine).

Wine or Grape Juice?

There is a long-standing question as to whether Jesus introduced his Memorial with wine or grape juice. There are rational arguments on both sides: Wine (with alcohol): A case was expressed in WT July 1883, “So far as the Jewish custom is concerned, it disproves instead of proves the claim that wine contains the leaven quality, for the Jews use wine at the Passover and put away leaven. … The vintage season in Palestine was September and October, and the Passover was about six months later. The wine made in October would of necessity be fermented before April. … If anyone should feel himself endangered by tasting wine at the remembrance of our Lord’s death, we would recommend that such a one should use raisin juice instead, which, though not wine, is certainly a ‘fruit of the vine’ ” (page 6).

In 1904 the same author wrote, “So far as we are able to judge, the Lord used fermented wine when he instituted this Memorial. Nevertheless, in view of his not specifying wine, but simply ‘fruit of the vine,’1 and in view also of the fact that the alcoholic habit has obtained so great and so evil a power in our day, we believe we have the Lord’s approval in the use of unfermented grape-juice or raisin-juice.” (Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 6, page 476 footnote).

Wine (grape juice): Samuele Bacchiocchi, the first non-Catholic to graduate from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, points out, “wine in English, vinum in Latin, oinos in Greek, and yayin in Hebrew, have been used historically to refer to the juice of the grape, whether fermented or unfermented” (Samuele Bacchiochi, “Wine in the Bible,” abridged edition, Berrien Springs, MI: Biblical Perspectives, 2002, page 19).

Bacchiochi continues, “The ancient testimonies surveyed indicate that at least four methods were known and used in ancient times to preserve grape juice unfermented: (1) boiling the juice down to a syrup, (2) separating the fermentable pulp from the juice of the grape by means of filtration, (3) placing the grape juice in sealed jars which were immersed in a pool of cold water, (4) fumigating with sulphur the wine jars before sealing them.” The fermentation of wine must be stopped at a critical time, before the alcohol oxidizes to ketone and then vinegar. Earlier he notes, “Ancient writers tell us that the preservation of unfermented grape juice was sometimes simpler than was the preservation of fermented wine” (page 7).

(1) Bacchiochi also notes, “The Jewish historian Josephus,
who was a contemporary of the apostles, explicitly calls the three clusters of grapes freshly squeezed in a cup by Pharaoh’s cupbearer as ‘the fruit of the vine.’ This establishes unequivocally that the phrase was used to designate the sweet, unfermented juice of the grape” (page 49).

Each of us should do our best to understand what is meant by “the fruit of the vine” or “cup” which we should use in the Memorial of our Lord Jesus’ sacrifice for the life of the world. But then we should think kindly also of others, whether or not they may share that understanding.

Things More Important

That which the Memorial emblems symbolize is more important than the emblems themselves. Our prime emphasis is to be our Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrifice: “This do in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). But that also implies that we each must accept all others whom He has called. “He that eateth and drinketh, eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself, if he discerns not the body” (Christ’s body of consecrated believers; 1 Corinthians 11:27-30).

The apostles doubtless had their problems when discerning “the body.” Peter and his brother Andrew had to forgive James and John for trying to be the chief apostles. Ten apostles needed to be merciful to Peter for denying Jesus in his last hours. John and Peter needed to be understanding of the others for not even trying to be near Jesus in his last hours. The other ten needed to be patient with Thomas for not believing their report that they had seen Jesus since his crucifixion. As we contemplate the Memorial, let each ask, “Whom among my brethren do I need to forgive?”

If I find my heart is resentful of another fallible brother (or sister), I need to change myself. If I fail and remain resentful, I should consider following the precedent in Numbers 9:9-12, and observe the Memorial thirty days later (the 14th day of the second Hebrew month).

Memorial Dates

How is the Memorial date to be reckoned? Jews today observe Nisan 15, the first day of the Feast of Passover. The Passover lamb was to be sacrificed in the evening of Nisan 14, but today since there is no temple at which to sacrifice the lambs, they do not observe the 14th. “At the place which Jehovah thy God shall choose, to cause his name to dwell in, there thou shalt sacrifice the Passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 16:6). Jesus instituted his Memorial on the eve of Nisan 14. Therefore we should observe our Lord’s Memorial on the eve of Nisan 14. On the common Gregorian calendar used modernly, it will correspond to Nisan 13, after sunset. For the next three decades this will be after sunset on the dates listed on the chart above.

It may be noted that the Memorial never falls on a Monday, Wednesday, or Saturday. It is an artifact of the fixed Jewish calendar (since Hillel II, about AD 400), which keeps a high
holy day (such as the first day of the Feast of Sukkoth) from occurring adjacent to a weekly Sabbath, and keeps a day requiring physical activity from falling on a weekly Sabbath.

Sequence of Jesus’ Introduction of the Memorial

Luke records history “in order” (sequentially, Luke 1:3), while Matthew and Mark organize some of it topically. Thus the probable sequence of bread and cup is in Luke 22:14-20.

The Last Supper was not the Passover meal, as the Passover lambs, and the true Lamb of God had not yet been slain. It was at the Passover season and so may be properly called a
Passover meal. Therefore, to “eat” here may primarily mean bread.

Luke 22:15-18

Bread (1) — With [unattainable?] desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer: for I say unto you, I shall not eat it, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.

Cup (2) — And he received a cup, and when he had given thanks, he said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: for I say unto you, I shall not drink from henceforth of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.

Luke 22:19-20

Bread (3) — He took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave to them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.

Cup (4) — And the cup in like manner after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured
out for you.

Matthew 26:26-29 simply combines bread and cup topically: “Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it; and he gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins. But I say unto you, I shall not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Thus, either sequence should be proper for observing our Lord’s Memorial.





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