Who Will Sit at the King’s Table?
While David was fleeing to the wilderness after Absalom usurped his throne, he wrote Psalm 55. How often songs are inspired by upheaval and emotional trauma and are written on parchment splattered with blood and tears. Psalm 55:12-14 says,
12 For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, then [otherwise] I could bear it; nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, then I could hide myself from him. 13 But it is you, a man my equal, my companion and my familiar friend. 14 We who had sweet fellowship together, walked in the house of God in the throng.
David was referring to Ahithophel, who had betrayed him. Ahithophel did not hate David, but yet he betrayed him. When Jesus gave Judas the morsel of bread to identify him as the betrayer, this act was based on a prophetic psalm. John 13:18 says,
18 I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen, but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, “He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.”
This quotation was taken from Psalm 41:9,
9 Even my close friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
David again was referring to Ahithophel, who had betrayed him. David himself had been taken by surprise by the betrayal, and so he says, “my close friend, in whom I trusted.” Jesus, however, knew the Scriptures and was not taken by surprise when Judas betrayed him. For this reason, Jesus did not include “in whom I trusted” in the quotation of John 13:18, for that phrase did not apply in Jesus’ case. Instead, He says in the same verse, “I know the ones I have chosen.”
Jesus identified Judas by having him eat His bread literally, and if John and Peter knew the Scriptures, they might have understood the connection between Judas and Ahithophel. How much they may have comprehended at the time is unknown, but John certainly understood it many years later when he compiled his gospel.
The Four Cups of Wine
Although this Hagigah meal was not the Passover itself, in some ways it was treated in that manner. This is seen in the four cups of wine that were drunk on Passover, for this appears to have been done also at the Last Supper when Jesus instituted Communion. The four cups are:
1. the Cup of Blessing or Sanctification
2. the Cup of Plagues
3. the Cup of Redemption
4. the Cup of Praise.
The key words for each cup are: (1) Bring, (2) Rescue or Deliver, (3) Redeem, and (4) Take. This tradition was based on Exodus 6:6, 7,
6 Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. 7 Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God...
These were the four great things that God was to do for Israel at the time of Passover. The first Cup was of Blessing or Sanctification and answers to the word “bring.” It implies that God brought Israel out of Egypt and sanctified (or separated) them in order to bless them and make them a blessing to all families of the earth (Gen. 12:3).
The second cup was to memorialize Israel’s deliverance from the plagues of Egypt. The third cup was to memorialize Israel’s redemption from bondage in Egypt.
The fourth was the cup of praise for taking Israel as His people and being a God to them. In one sense we might identify this as the New Covenant cup of wine, because in the New Covenant oath that God made in Deut. 29:10-15, He swore “that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God” (vs. 13). The people them-selves were incapable of becoming His people by their own will and vow when the Old Covenant was instituted at Mount Horeb, so God swore by Himself to make them His people by His own power.
The Final Cup Postponed
It appears that Jesus offered His disciples only the first three cups at that Communion. It appears that the final cup was that which Jesus referred to in Matt. 26:29,
29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.
That fourth cup (of Praise) was reserved for the time of rejoicing at the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, when the first stage of God’s New Covenant oath would be fulfilled in the overcomers. In the interim, between the Passover Age and the Tabernacles Age, the disciples were to remember His blood during the Pentecostal Age. This is the origin of the Communion Table, which Christians have celebrated since it was instituted. So Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 11:23,
23 For I received from the Lord which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread…
Paul had taught the Corinthian church about Communion, delivering to them the revelation of its origin and its prophetic significance.
24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
It was about remembrance, originating with the Remembrance Meal (hagigah), yet also identified with Passover when Paul calls the communion cup “the cup of blessing.” He wrote in 1 Cor. 10:16, 17,
16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.
Here Paul identifies the cup that Jesus gave the disciples in Luke 22:20. It was the first cup—the Cup of Blessing—which has become the cup used in Christian Communion, wherein we fellowship (or commune) with Christ. Since this was written more than twenty years after the day of Pentecost, it is clear that the Christians were not yet communing with Christ in the Kingdom. They drank the cup of blessing only, because they were not yet partaking of the Cup of Praise.
Likewise, the bread of Communion, Paul says, does not speak of the body of Jesus, but the body of Christ. The body of Jesus was broken for them, but the body had taken on new significance in later years. Paul says “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body.” In other words, all true believers who are in fellowship with Jesus are represented by the “bread” and included in the “body.”
Hence, when believers break the bread with each other, they signify by doing this that they too are willing to be broken for each other. This is a covenant of fellowship, not only between Christ and His body, but also between members of that body.
For this reason, when my wife and I partake of Communion, we each break the bread given to us, and then we each give half to the other. This signifies our willingness to be “broken” and even to die for the other, if necessary. Being married, this simple act also conveys a third level of meaning, in that it brings further depth of meaning to our own marriage covenant. It means our marriage is patterned after the New Covenant, as was seen from the beginning before the advent of sin and death. It is based upon agreement, rather than obedience.
In other words, each time we partake of Communion with other believers, we renew our own marriage covenant, vowing continued fellowship and harmony between two members of the greater body.
The New Covenant
The New Covenant was necessary because the Old Covenant had been broken by the sins of the people. The vows that Israel had made to God in Exodus 19:8 were not kept, and so the judgments of the law had been justly applied to them. God expelled them from the land, ending His covenant relationship with them. However, the promises of God, on which the “new covenant” revelation was based in Jer. 31:31, revealed God’s intent to save Israel and Judah—and ultimately the whole creation.
The New Covenant, was pictured in the promises to Noah (Genesis 9:9-17), Abraham (Gen. 15:6-21), Isaac (Gen. 21:12), Jacob (Gen. 35:9-12), Moses (Deut. 29:10-15), David (Psalm 89:3, 4), and others. They are all promises, vows, or oaths that God made to us, as distinct from vows that man has made to God.
These are the promises of God (2 Cor. 1:20), which neither the Old Covenant nor the judgment of the law had power to annul (Gal. 3:21). In other words, the law establishes the justice of God and measures out its judgments upon sin, but in the end the promises of God are greater. The judgments of the law cannot prevail against the promises of God. In the end, God will indeed make all men His people and will be their God, as He vowed in Deut. 29:13-15.
For this reason, God’s judgments are temporary—not “eternal” or “everlasting,” as so many have thought. When various translations speak of “everlasting” judgment, they misunderstand and mistranslate the Hebrew word olam and the Greek word aionian. These words mean “age,” or, more literally, an unknown, hidden, or indefinite time period. They are limited by the law of Jubilee.
All families of the earth will indeed be blessed in the end, after the law’s judgment has been swallowed up by the grace that is found in the law of Jubilee.
In the fifth century A.D. the Church lost the true definition of the New Covenant, even though it continued to partake of Communion to memorialize it. In earlier centuries, even the Jews kept their feasts while being largely ignorant of their meaning. Why should Christians be any different?
Most Christians today believe that the promises of God—which were fully established and ratified by the blood of Christ—will be effective for only a small percentage of humanity. According to them, the judgments of the law will prevail for eternity, and they see no way for God to fulfill His oath. To them, the Old Covenant is stronger than the New. The will of men is stronger than the will of God. The problem is that this view makes God a failure, for if He were unable to overcome the will of men and save all mankind, then He should not have made such an oath at all. Ecclesiastes 5:4, 5 says,
4 … Pay what you vow! 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.
The divine plan will be fulfilled, regardless of men’s opinions, for the promises of God did not originate in the mind of man, nor are they dependent upon man’s opinions, decisions, or their abilities. The success of God’s vows depend solely upon His ability, love, and wisdom to get the job done. His intent is perhaps best expressed in the law of Jubilee, when, after working unceasingly and unsuccessfully to repay their debt incurred by Adam’s sin, every man returns to his lost inheritance by grace alone.
Who is the Greatest?
After Jesus spoke of the New Covenant in His blood, he told the disciples that one of them would betray Him. Their reaction is given in Luke 22:23,
23 And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing.
We know, of course, from other accounts (especially John’s gospel) that Peter signaled to John to ask Jesus who it was. Jesus identified Judas by giving him bread. Luke 22:24 continues the story, saying,
24 And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.
No doubt this occurred after Judas left the room to betray Jesus. The other gospel writers do not tell us that this dispute arose during the Last Supper. Yet they record a similar dispute that had occurred earlier in Matt. 20:20-28. This dispute started when the mother of James and John requested that her sons might sit on Jesus right and left hand in the Kingdom. However, since she was not present at the Last Supper, it is plain that this issue was brought up a second time on this occasion. In both cases, Jesus gave essentially the same answer.
No doubt the disciples looked back on these occasions and were embarrassed for their lack of understanding even on the eve of Christ’s crucifixion. Perhaps that is why only Luke records this incident.
Luke 22:25, 26 gives Jesus’ answer,
25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles [ethnos, “nations”] lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. 27 For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”
It was common among the nations to bestow a title of honor upon those who had served their country as rulers. It was the title, Euergetes, or “Benefactor.” It was the equivalent of Soter, “Savior,” and Pater Patriae, “Father of the Country,” the latter being the title given to Augustus Caesar just before Jesus was born (2 B.C.).
Jesus said, however, that His disciples should not think politically as did the nations. The example that Jesus set forth in washing the feet of the disciples revealed the way that spiritual authority works in the Kingdom of God. Authority is given in proportion to a person’s willingness to serve.
This is most important, perhaps, when considering the idea of a “chosen people.” Many have thought like the nations in this matter, conferring “elect” or “chosen” status upon men on account of their fleshly identity from Adam or Israel or bloodline from a king in the past. Jesus said that authority was bestowed according to one’s level of servanthood.
Another criteria is also mentioned in Luke 22:28,
28 And you are those who have stood by Me in My trials.
Hence, to servanthood should be added the criterion of loyalty. The fact that Judas had already gone out to betray Jesus shows that he was not one of the disciples who had stood by Him in His trials. He was therefore disqualified for rulership.
The Lord’s Table
In 1 Cor. 10:21 Paul speaks of Communion as being “the Lord’s table.” This is taken from Luke 22:29, 30, where Jesus says,
29 and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you 30 that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Here now, we see the underlying meaning of Communion. Those who served the King, having positions of authority as counselors or judges, were said to eat and drink at the King’s table. This was a Hebrew idiom for being supported financially by the Kingdom treasury. So David, who sat at the king’s table, was excused by Jonathan in 1 Sam. 20:28, 29,
28 Jonathan then answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem, 29 for he said, ‘Please let me go, since our family has a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to attend… For this reason he has not come to the king’s table’.”
Years later, when David was king, he desired to do something for his friend Jonathan, who had been killed along with Saul in their final battle with the Philistines. He found one of Jonathan’s sons yet alive. We read in 2 Sam. 9:7,
13 And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will surely show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan, and will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul; and you shall eat at my table regularly.”
In 2 Sam. 9:13 that story concludes,
13 So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate at the king’s table regularly. Now he was lame in both feet.
In other words, Mephibosheth had communion with David the rest of his life, “for he ate at the king’s table regularly.” He was not one who served the table, but one who ate at it. In Luke 22:27 Jesus made a point of saying that he who ate at the table was greater than he who served it. The next verse identifies the “greater” ones in the Kingdom as being “those who have stood by Me in My trials.”
Since Judas did not stand with Jesus in His trials, he was barred from eating at the King’s table, indicating that he would not receive authority to rule one of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Note also that Jesus did not say in verse 30 that all of the original twelve disciples would judge the twelve tribes. Judas was being excluded from this list. Luke would later write the book of Acts, showing how Judas was replaced, first by Matthias, the temporary stand-in, but later, I believe, by Paul himself. Even so, all who remain loyal to Jesus in times of unfaithfulness and betrayal will sit at the Lord’s Table when He comes into His Kingdom.