And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; …” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; (26:26a, 27)
It is not certain as to what part of the meal they were eating at this time, but the supper was still in progress, and our Lord instituted the new memorial in the midst of the old.
First, Jesus took some bread and offered a blessing of thanks to His heavenly Father, as He always did before eating (see, e.g., Matt. 14:19; 15:36). The unleavened bread was baked in large, flat, crisp loaves, which Jesus broke into pieces before He gave it to the disciples with the instruction, “Take, eat.” The fact that He broke the bread does not symbolize a broken body, because John makes clear that, in fulfillment of prophecy, “Not a bone of Him shall be broken” (John 19:36; cf. Ps. 34:20), just as no bones of the original Passover lambs in Egypt were broken (Ex. 12:46).
Shortly after that, when He had taken a cup and given thanks again, He gave it to them saying, “Drink from it, all of you.” The verb behind given thanks is eucharisteō, and it is from that term that we get Eucharist, as the Lord’s Supper is sometimes called.
As would be expected, all eleven disciples drank of it (Mark 14:23). It should be noted that the Roman Catholic practice of not allowing the entire congregation to partake of the cup is in direct contradiction of Jesus’ explicit directive, of the disciples’ obedient example, and of Paul’s later teaching (see 1 Cor. 10:16, 21; 11:28).
Those two acts of Jesus were normal features of the Passover, in which unleavened bread was eaten and diluted wine was drunk at several points during the meal. This was probably the third cup, called the cup of blessing. Paul refers to it by that name in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?” (10:16). It is from the King James translation of that verse (“… is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?”) that Communion, another name for the Lord’s Supper, is derived. A few verses later Paul refers to this cup as “the cup of the Lord” (v. 21).
“this is My body … for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (26:26b, 28)
Breaking the unleavened bread was a normal part of the traditional Passover ceremony. But Jesus now gave it an entirely new meaning, saying, “This is My body.” The original unleavened bread symbolized severance from the old life in Egypt, carrying nothing of its pagan and oppressive “leaven” into the Promised Land. It represented a separation from worldliness and sin and the beginning of a new life of holiness and godliness.
By His divine authority, Jesus transformed that symbolism into another. From henceforth the bread would represent Christ’s own body, sacrificed for the salvation of men. Luke reports that Jesus added, “given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (22:19), indicating He was instituting a memorial of His sacrificial death for His followers to observe.
In saying the bread is His body, Jesus obviously was not speaking literally. A similarly foolish misunderstanding already had caused the Pharisees to ridicule Him and many superficial disciples to desert Him (see John 6:48–66). It is the same misunderstanding reflected in the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. That literalistic notion is an absurd misinterpretation of Scripture.
Jesus’ statement about eating His body was no more literal than His saying He is the Vine and His followers are the branches (John 15:5) or than John the Baptist’s calling Him the Lamb of God (John 1:29).
As the disciples drank of the cup Jesus said, “This is My blood of the covenant.” From Luke we learn that the Lord specified “new covenant” (22:20), clearly distinguishing it from all previous covenants, including the Mosaic.
When God made covenants with Noah and Abraham, those covenants were ratified with blood (Gen. 8:20; 15:9–10). When the covenant at Sinai was ratified, “Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’ ” (Ex. 24:8). When God brought reconciliation with Himself, the price was always blood, because “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22; cf. 1 Pet. 1:2). A sacrificial animal not only had to be killed but its blood had to be shed. “The life of all flesh is its blood” (Lev. 17:14), and therefore for a life truly to be sacrificed, its blood had to be shed.
Jesus therefore did not simply have to die but had to shed His own precious blood (1 Pet. 1:19). Although He did not bleed to death, Jesus bled both before He died and as He died-from the wounds of the crown of thorns, from the lacerations of the scourging, and from the nail holes in His hands and feet. After He was dead, a great volume of His blood poured out from the spear thrust in His side.
Obviously there was nothing in the chemistry of Christ’s blood that saves. And although the shedding of His blood was required, it symbolized His atoning death, the giving of His unblemished, pure, and wholly righteous life for the corrupt, depraved, and wholly sinful lives of unregenerate men. Representative of the giving of that sinless life was the pouring out of that precious blood for many for forgiveness of sins. That blood made atonement for the sins of all mankind, Gentile as well as Jew, who place their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. The many includes those who trusted in God before Christ died as well as those who have and will trust in Him after His death. Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and every other true believer who lived before Christ, was saved by Christ’s atoning death, as are believers of the New Covenant age. It was because of that truth that Jesus declared to the unbelieving Jewish leaders, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
26 This is the second thing Matthew records that takes place “while they were eating” (cf. v. 21). Jesus takes artos, which can refer to “bread” generally (4:4; 6:11; 15:2, 26) but more commonly refers to a loaf or cake (4:3; 12:4; 14:17, 19; 15:33–34; 16:5–12). This loaf was unleavened (cf. Ex 12:15; 13:3, 7; Dt 16:3). He then gives thanks, probably with some such traditional formula as “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth.” He breaks it, distributes it (if the imperfect indicative variant is original, it may imply that he personally gave the bread to each of them), and says, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Few clauses of four words have evoked more debate than the last one. But three things must be said.
- The words “this is my body” had no place in the Passover ritual; as an innovation, they must have had stunning effect, an effect that would grow with the increased understanding gained after Easter.
- Both the breaking and the distributing are probably significant. The bread (body) is broken, and all must partake of it. The sacrificial overtones are clearer in vv. 27–28, but the unambiguous sacrificial language connected with Jesus’ blood requires that v. 26 be interpreted in a similar way.
- Much of the debate on the force of “is” (In what sense is the bread Jesus’ body?) is anachronistic. The verb itself has a wide semantic range and proves very little. “Take this, it means my body” (Moffatt) has its attractions, though it is scarcely less ambiguous. But what must be remembered is that this is a Passover meal. The new rite Jesus institutes has links with redemption history. As the bread has just been broken, so will Jesus’ body be broken; and just as the people of Israel associated their deliverance from Egypt with eating the paschal meal prescribed as a divine ordinance, so also Messiah’s people are to associate Jesus’ redemptive death with eating this bread by Jesus’ authority. On the development of the theology of the Lord’s Supper across the centuries, see Howard Clarke’s admirable summary (Gospel of Matthew and Its Readers, 207–19); at greater length, see Gordon T. Smith, ed., The Lord’s Supper: Five Views (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2008).
26 In this ominous setting of betrayal and “going away”, Jesus introduces a creative new element to the traditional Passover ritual; his memorable words and actions have become the basis for Christian worship ever since. For the sequence of four “eucharistic” verbs see the introductory comments on 14:13–21, and also p. 562, n. 18 for the meaning of the “blessing.” The form of words traditionally used was “Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the world, who bring forth bread from the earth.” At a Passover meal the bread Jesus took would be unleavened, unlike the leavened loaves presumably used at the feeding miracles in 14:17–20 and 15:34–37. The traditional Passover ritual included an explanation of the meaning of the unleavened bread and herbs (m. Pesaḥ 10:3–5), and Jesus takes that opportunity to introduce a new level of symbolism. The Passover bread did not directly symbolize the killing of the lamb, but when Jesus identifies it as his body the symbolism of death is clearly intended,22 and the shedding of blood in v. 28 will confirm this. In breaking the bread he symbolizes his own death, and makes it unmistakably clear that his predictions of death in Jerusalem are to be literally fulfilled. The vicarious words “given for you” are not found here in Matthew and Mark (see Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24), but in telling his disciples to take the bread and eat it (see below on vv. 27–28 for the shocking nature of the symbolism) Jesus implies that his death is in some sense for their benefit. Just as eating the Passover lamb identified the participant with the redemption from Egypt, eating the bread and drinking the wine convey the benefits of Jesus’ redemptive death to those who share his table. Only Matthew includes the explicit commands to “eat” and “drink” (though these are of course implied by the giving of the bread and the cup in the other accounts), perhaps reflecting the words used by the eucharistic minister in his own church context, as in subsequent eucharistic liturgies.
Subsequent Christian debate about the sense in which the bread “is” Jesus’ body and the wine “is” his blood (v. 28) cannot be settled by the choice of the verb, since “is” can have a range of meaning from complete identity (surely impossible when Jesus is physically holding the bread) to symbolic equivalence; for a suggestive example of the latter sense from within this gospel cf. the statements “the sower is the Son of Man,” “the field is the world” etc. in 13:36–39 (similarly in 13:19–23). It is also relevant that the most vivid NT language about eating and drinking Jesus’ flesh and blood is found in John 6:48–58, where the context makes no reference to literal bread and wine.
The words about the bread (26:26)
‘And while they were eating, Jesus took bread [labōn … arton], and having blessed God [eulogēsas] he broke it [eklasen], gave it [dous] to his disciples and said [eipen], “Take, eat; this is my body.” ’ The main meal is underway. Using three adverbial participles and two indicative verbs, all in the aorist tense, this verse reports five distinct actions of Jesus.
The participles labōn and eulogēsas (from lambanō and eulogeō) denote the two actions that precede the breaking of the bread. The stated object of labōn is ‘bread’; the object of eulogēsas is not expressly stated, but is understood to be ‘God,’ not ‘the bread.’ The common blessing over bread—‘Praised be thou, O Lord, our God, king of the world, who causes bread to come forth from the earth’—may have been supplemented at Passover with special thanks for the unleavened bread.33 Jesus then breaks (the indicative eklasen, from klaō) the loaf of unleavened bread (artos) into pieces to be given (the participle dous, from didōmi) to the disciples. The accent falls not on the breaking but on the giving. This is evident from Jesus’ fifth action, his utterance (the indicative eipen, from legō): ‘Take, eat [Labete, phagete].’ The parallel in Luke 22:19 makes the matter explicit: ‘This is my body which is given for you [to hyper hymōn didomenon].’ The original text of 1 Corinthians 11:24 reads ‘This is my body, which is for you [to hyper hymōn]’ (esv and niv), not ‘which is broken [for klōmenon] for you’ (kjv and nkjv). Jesus gives his body (sōma) over to death (Matt. 26:28) as a ransom for the many (20:28, again the verb didōmi). As he is a Passover sacrifice (1 Cor. 5:7), his bones must not be broken: see the quotation of Exodus 12:46 in John 19:36. Further study of Jesus’ words is reserved for later.
26:26 Take and eat; this is my body. Jesus draws on the Passover meal to infuse meaning into his coming death. Matthew has already highlighted the theme of Jesus as enacting return from exile and new exodus (as these themes converge in Isaiah [e.g., Matt. 1–4; 14:19]). The same connection is made here by identifying Jesus with the Passover sacrifice that brings forgiveness and freedom.
26. While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it. At this point Passover passes over into the Lord’s Supper; for it was while, toward the close of the Passover meal, the men were all eating freely (see on verse 21) that Jesus instituted the new sacrament that was to replace the old. A few more hours and the old symbol, being bloody—for it required the slaying of the lamb—will have served its purpose forever, having reached its fulfilment in the blood shed on Calvary. It was time, therefore, that a new and unbloody symbol replace the old. Nevertheless, by historically linking Passover and Lord’s Supper so closely together Jesus also made clear that what was essential in the first was not lost in the second. Both point to him, the only and all-sufficient sacrifice for the sins of his people. Passover pointed forward to this; the Lord’s Supper points back to it.
Having taken from the table a thin slice or sheet of unleavened bread, Jesus “gave thanks” and then started to break up the slice. Though the original, in referring to the prayer, uses one word in verse 26 (literally “having blessed”; cf. Mark 14:22), and another in verse 27 (“having given thanks”; cf. Mark 14:23)—the first participial form occurring in connection with the bread, the second in connection with the cup—there is no essential difference. Both Luke (22:19) and Paul (1 Cor. 11:24) read “having given thanks” where Matthew and Mark read “having blessed.” It is not incorrect therefore, in both Matt. 26:26 and 27, to adopt the rendering, “Jesus … gave thanks.” For more on this see on 14:19. The words which the Lord used in this thanksgiving have not been revealed. To try to reconstruct them from Jewish formula prayers would serve no useful purpose. How do we even know that our Lord availed himself of these prayers?
The breaking of the bread, to which reference is made in all four accounts, must be considered as belonging to the very essence of the sacrament. This becomes clear in the light of that which immediately follows, namely, He then gave it to his disciples and said, Take, eat; this is my body. To interpret this to mean that Jesus was actually saying that these portions of bread which he handed to the disciples were identical with his physical body, or were at that moment being changed into his body, is to ignore a. the fact that in his body Jesus was standing there in front of his disciples, for all to see. He was holding in his hand the bread, and giving them the portions as he broke them off. Body and bread were clearly distinct and remained thus. Neither changed into the other, or took on the physical properties or characteristics of the other. Besides, such an interpretation also ignores b. the fact that during his earthly ministry the Master very frequently used symbolical language (Matt. 16:6; John 2:19; 3:3; 4:14, 32; 6:51, 53–56; 11:11). It is striking that in all of the instances indicated by these references the symbolical or figurative character of our Lord’s language was disregarded by those who first heard it! In each case also, the context makes clear that those who interpreted Christ’s words literally were mistaken! Is it not high time that the implied lesson be taken to heart? Finally, there is c.: when Jesus spoke of himself as being “the vine” (John 15:1, 5), is it not clear that he meant that what a natural vine is in relation to its branches, which find their unity, life, and fruit-bearing capacity in this plant, that, in a far more exalted sense, Christ is to his people? Is it not clear, therefore, that the vine represents or symbolizes Jesus, the Genuine Vine? Thus also he calls himself—or is called—the door, the morning star, the cornerstone, the lamb, the fountain, the rock, etc. He also refers to himself as “the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48), “the bread that came down out of heaven” (John 6:58). So, why should he not be, and be represented and symbolized by, “the broken bread”? Accordingly, the meaning of “the broken bread” and the poured out wine is correctly indicated in a Communion Form which represents Christ as saying: “Whereas otherwise you should have suffered eternal death, I give my body in death on the tree of the cross and shed my blood for you, and nourish and refresh your hungry and thirsty souls with my crucified body and shed blood to everlasting life, as certainly as this bread is broken before your eyes and this cup is given to you, and you eat and drink with your mouth in remembrance of Me.”
It was the desire of our Lord, therefore, that by means of the supper, here instituted, the church should remember his sacrifice and love him, should reflect on that sacrifice and embrace him by faith, and should look forward in living hope to his glorious return. Surely, the proper celebration of communion is a loving remembrance. It is, however, more than that. Jesus Christ is most certainly, and through his Spirit most actively, present at this genuine feast! Cf. Matt. 18:20. His followers “take” and “eat.” They appropriate Christ by means of living faith, and are strengthened in this faith.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 4, pp. 151–153). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 601). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew (pp. 991–992). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.
 Chamblin, J. K. (2010). Matthew: A Mentor Commentary (pp. 1293–1294). Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor.
 Brown, J. K. (2015). Matthew. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (p. 295). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 908–910). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.