The new-covenant Passover meal we call the “Lord’s Supper” is not, as some believe, a re-shedding of Jesus’s blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Nor is it primarily a reminder of our sinful state. It is a remembrance of the once-for-all new-covenant sacrifice Jesus made for us. When we partake of this little meal, we hear God the Father say, “Because my Son has shed his blood for the forgiveness of your sins, I will remember your sins no more.”
It’s beautiful and fitting that the first explicit mention of the new covenant in the New Testament comes from the mouth of Jesus. And he mentions it at the most fitting moment. After sharing his final Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus takes a chalice of wine and says to them, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).
There is a world of meaning packed into those words that would change the world.
Great Pivotal Moment
Reclining around the table that evening, the disciples were observing from front-row seats a pivotal moment of redemptive history. The great Passover “Lamb of God,” who had come to “take away the sins of the world” (John 1:29), was inaugurating a new-covenant Passover meal of remembrance to go along with his inauguration of the long-awaited new covenant foretold by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31–34). The author of Hebrews quotes it in full:
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,”
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more. (Hebrews 8:8–12)
It’s unclear how much the disciples grasped at the time. But when Jesus said the cup represented “the new covenant in [his] blood,” he meant he was far more than a Passover lamb whose blood would momentarily shield God’s covenant people from a momentary judgment.
He meant that he had “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). He meant that through his shed blood, he would completely achieve what centuries of the shed “blood of bulls and goats” could never achieve (Hebrews 10:4). He meant that his sacrificial death would make it possible for God to “be merciful toward [the] iniquities” of all his covenant people, for all time, and “remember their sins no more.”
Why the Old Covenant Became Obsolete
By all accounts, Christianity is now one of the world’s great religions, distinct from Judaism. But to Christianity’s Founder and the first generation or two of his followers, what we call “Christianity” was Judaism. It was Judaism with its great messianic hope fulfilled and without the old covenant’s caste of priests performing its required continual animal sacrifices. It was (and is) new-covenant Judaism.
The book of Hebrews provides the most in-depth explanation of why the old covenant had to be replaced by the new covenant. “If that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second” (Hebrews 8:7).