Memorializing Christ’s Death—How Much Longer?
THE MEMORIAL of Christ’s death has only a limited run. To first-century Christians, the apostle Paul wrote: “For as often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives.” (1 Cor. 11:26) This plainly means that, when the Lord Jesus Christ does arrive, the proclaiming of his death by means of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, or Evening Meal, will stop.—1 Cor. 11:20.
At Passover time of the year 33 of our Common Era, the Lord Jesus Christ established “the Lord’s evening meal.” Indicating its purpose, he said to his faithful apostles: “This is my body which will be given for you; do this as a memorial of me.” Also, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.” (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:23-25, The Jerusalem Bible; The New English Bible) The pouring out of Christ’s blood and the laying down of his perfect human body in sacrifice brought his direct, personal, living presence with his earthly disciples to an end, especially so when he ascended back to heaven on the forty-second day from that time. So the Lord’s Evening Meal was to be celebrated each year on its anniversary date (Nisan 14) as something to remind them of Christ’s death in their behalf. It would rekindle their appreciation of this.
With his coming absence and his return in mind, Jesus said to his disciples when inaugurating the Memorial: “In the house of my Father there are many abodes. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going my way to prepare a place for you. Also, if I go my way and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you home to myself, that where I am you also may be.”—John 14:2, 3.
Until Jesus came to receive the last of these disciples to himself in the heavenly place prepared for them, the memorial of his death would continue being celebrated. When all are finally united with him above for the purpose of acting as priests with him and ruling as kings with him, the Memorial celebration on earth will cease.
Christ’s reign for the 1,000 years in heavenly glory will be the proper time for his earthly subjects to celebrate his kingship, not his sacrificial death on earth. It will be the time for mankind to be glad, to rejoice with him in his royal reward. Mankind will then be receiving in full the benefits of his sufferings and death that had to precede his glorification in heaven.
How many “will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years”? A limited number, 144,000 disciples. (Rev. 7:2-8; 14:1-3; 20:4-6) They are pictured as sealed with the “seal of the living God.” The apostle John says:
“I heard the number of those who were sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel. Out of the tribe of Judah . . . Reuben . . . Gad . . . Asher . . . Naphtali . . . Manasseh . . . Simeon . . . Levi . . . Issachar . . . Zebulun . . . Joseph . . . Benjamin.” These were sealed with God’s holy spirit. (2 Cor. 1:21, 22) Their number is confirmed by Revelation 14:1-5, which says that they were marked in the forehead with Christ’s name and with that of his Father. Also, they stand with the glorified Lamb Jesus Christ on Mount Zion, the heavenly one, not the earthly one in the Middle East where ancient Jerusalem once stood.—Heb. 12:22; Rev. 3:12.
In ancient fleshly Israel, the priests and the Levites who served under them at Jehovah’s temple were taken exclusively from the tribe of Levi. This is not the case with the 144,000 who “will be priests of God and of the Christ.” According to Revelation 7:4-8, only 12,000 of these are taken from the tribe of Levi. The 132,000 others will be taken from the other 11 tribes named. This proves that the 12 tribes there named are not the same as the 12 tribes of fleshly Israel.—1 Cor. 10:18.
Those “tribes” out of whom all 144,000 are taken and sealed are spiritual Israelites. Those not selected and sealed are rejected. A similar thing occurred with ancient natural Israel during the first century of our Common Era. Just a “remnant” of the natural fleshly Israelites were chosen, although “many,” the whole nation, were called and had the opportunity to furnish the 144,000 associate priests and kings for Jesus Christ in heaven. The remainder of the unbelieving nation was rejected. Reportedly, 1,100,000 of these suffered a violent death when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. Likewise today, those of the spiritual Israelites who are not sealed with the “seal of the living God” do not receive his protection during the coming whirlwind that forms when the “four winds” are let go by the four angels at God’s due time so as to ‘harm the earth, the sea and the trees.’
The unsealed rejected spiritual Israelites will be ‘harmed’ to destruction. They will not come out of that “great tribulation” alive as the “great crowd” does, who are said to be out of every earthly tribe, nation, people and tongue.—Rev. 7:1-14.
LORD’S EVENING MEAL INSTITUTED
Jesus Christ associated the Memorial evening meal with God’s kingdom. Quite properly so, for his death in faithfulness was, first of all, for the vindication of the universal sovereignty of Jehovah God, the “King of eternity.” (Rev. 15:3) By his faithfulness to the death he was proving himself worthy of being the Permanent Heir of David with whom God made a covenant for an everlasting kingdom. (2 Sam. 7:1-29; 2 Chron. 13:5, 8; Luke 1:31-33; 22:29, 30) This fact is made very prominent by the account of the Passover of 33 C.E., as given by the Gospel writer Luke. In it we read:
“At length when the hour came, he reclined at the table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them: ‘I have greatly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it again until it becomes fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ And, accepting a cup, he gave thanks and said: ‘Take this and pass it from one to the other among yourselves; for I tell you, From now on I will not drink again from the product of the vine until the kingdom of God arrives.’
“Also, he took a loaf, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them, saying: ‘This means my body which is to be given in your behalf. Keep doing this in remembrance of me.’ Also, the cup in the same way after they had the evening meal, he saying: ‘This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood, which is to be poured out in your behalf.’”—Luke 22:14-20.a
The two cups of wine that Jesus used, according to the above account, were the last two of four cups of wine that were traditionally drunk by all sharers in the Passover during the first century C.E. So they were cups Nos. 3 and 4. Cup No. 3 was drunk after the celebrators had eaten the Passover lamb and the unleavened bread. It was called “the cup of blessing” because of the blessing pronounced over it. (1 Cor. 10:16) Jesus “gave thanks” to God for the cup before sharing it with the apostles. Thus Jesus led in celebrating the Passover according to the accepted custom of the time. He did not alter or interrupt it by introducing anything new into the observance. In this way he kept the Law as a born Jew.
However, when the Passover meal had been carried out according to the Mosaic law, Jesus was free to introduce the new evening meal for memorializing his approaching death on that same Passover day. On the table there were still unleavened bread and cup No. 4, after the drinking of which Psalms 115 to 118 of the Hallel (“Praise”) were sung. So it was “the cup of praise.”—See The Watch Tower as of March 15, 1921, pages 88, 89, under the subheading “the Cup of Praise”; also, Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical HandBook to the Gospel of Matthew, pages 45, 46, under verse 27; also, The Jewish Encyclopædia under Passover, Seder and Arba Kosoth (Four Cups).
The apostle Matthew was with Jesus that Passover night, and his account takes up after the drinking of the “cup of blessing”:
“As they continued eating, Jesus took a loaf and, after saying a blessing, he broke it and, giving it to the disciples, he said: ‘Take, eat. This means my body.’ Also, he took a cup and, having given thanks, he gave it to them, saying: ‘Drink out of it, all of you; for this means my “blood of the covenant,” which is to be poured out in behalf of many for forgiveness of sins. But I tell you, I will by no means drink henceforth any of this product of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father.’ Finally, after singing praises [psalms Nos. 115-118 of the Hallel], they went out to the Mount of Olives.”—Matt. 26:26-30.
When the faithful apostles drank cup No. 4, or “the after-dinner cup” (Ferrar Fenton), they were, according to Jesus’ words, symbolically drinking blood, Jesus’ blood. (Luke 22:20, FF) In spite of being Jews in the Mosaic Law covenant, this thought did not prove revolting to them. (Ps. 16:4) Jesus had prepared them for this by what he said to them on a previous occasion. This was shortly before the Passover of 32 C.E. and the next day after he had miraculously fed a multitude of listeners by multiplying a few loaves and fishes. (John 6:4) The apostle John tells us:
“In answer Jesus said to them: ‘ . . . I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever; and, for a fact, the bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.’
“Therefore the Jews began contending with one another, saying: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ Accordingly Jesus said to them: ‘Most truly I say to you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I shall resurrect him at the last day; for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. . . . Just as the living Father sent me forth and I live because of the Father, he also that feeds on me, even that one will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. It is not as when your forefathers ate and yet died. He that feeds on this bread will live forever.’ . . .
“Therefore many of his disciples, when they heard this, said: ‘This speech is shocking; who can listen to it?’ . . .
“Owing to this many of his disciples went off to the things behind and would no longer walk with him.”
But the apostle Peter stuck to Jesus and said: “You have sayings of everlasting life; and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”—John 6:43-69.
On that occasion Jesus was not speaking to those circumcised Israelites about “everlasting life” as human creatures on a Paradise earth under his millennial kingdom. Rather, he was speaking about the very same opportunity that he was setting before the apostle Peter and his fellow apostles by means of the “sayings of everlasting life.” It was the opportunity to gain inherent life with the Christ in the heavens, “life in yourselves.” (John 6:53) By reigning with him in heaven they could pass on to mankind the life-giving benefits of his sacrifice.b
Those Jews had wanted to “seize him to make him king” to sit on David’s throne. But Jesus chose rather to let his Father make him a king in heaven. (John 6:15, 61, 62) Those Jews were in the Law covenant mediated by Moses. That Law covenant was meant to lead the Jews to Christ and thus afford them the opportunity to become a “kingdom of priests” with him.—Ex. 19:5, 6; Gal. 3:24, 25.
So, in the discussion recorded in John 6:52-65, Jesus was not talking about the world of mankind as the ones to drink his blood as well as eating his flesh, figuratively, during his millennial reign. He was talking about believers whom he would bring into the new covenant. (Jer. 31:31-34; Rev. 20:4-6) These would become spiritual Israelites. That is why, when Jesus inaugurated the “Lord’s evening meal,” he said to his Israelite apostles: “This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood, which is to be poured out in your behalf.” (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:20, 25) Or, according to Matthew 26:27: “Drink out of it, all of you; for this means my ‘blood of the covenant,’ which is to be poured out in behalf of many for forgiveness of sins.” The 11 faithful apostles who accepted the unleavened bread and the cup of wine at Jesus’ hands that Passover night of 33 C.E. were taken into the new covenant on the day of Pentecost, the fifty-second day from the Passover.
MEMORIAL AND THE KINGDOM
The old Law covenant, with its prospect of “a kingdom of priests,” acted as a tutor to lead only a small remnant to Christ, the many Jews of Israel being called or invited but only a few being chosen. (Matt. 22:1-14; Rom. 9:27-29; 11:5) But the new covenant produces what Peter called “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.”—1 Pet. 2:9.
Due to this fact, Jesus Christ can take them into the covenant for a kingdom with him. (Luke 22:28-30; Rev. 20:4-6) Consequently the “heavenly Jerusalem” can rejoice more than the earthly “Jerusalem,” which was in the Law covenant. Why so? Because God’s “woman,” the heavenly “mother,” who brings forth spiritual children for her ‘Husband,’ produces all 144,000 joint heirs of Christ and not a mere remnant of prospective Kingdom heirs.—Gal. 4:21-31; Isa. 54:1.
The spiritual sons of God, the spiritual Israelites in the new covenant, are the ones obligated to partake of the Lord’s evening meal in remembrance of his death. The apostle Paul compares these spiritual Israelites with what he calls “Israel in a fleshly way.” The material altar on which sacrifices were offered to God was called “the table of Jehovah.” When Israelites ate part of the communion sacrifices to God, they became sharers with Him, for He was represented by the altar. (Mal. 1:7, 8) Similarly, the table on which the unleavened bread and the cup of wine are put for the Lord’s evening meal may be called “the table of Jehovah.” The spiritual Israelites who partake of those Memorial emblems are thus having communion with him. They become sharers with Him as well as with one another.—1 Cor. 10:18-21; 11:25.
So, too, at the Memorial the cup of wine that symbolizes the “blood of the covenant” is spoken of as “the cup of Jehovah.” When the spiritual Israelites drink from this cup, they become sharers with Jehovah respecting Christ’s blood that validates the new covenant. By this gesture the spiritual Israelites show that they worship Jehovah as their God and do not idolize any demon as god. Jehovah accepts Christ’s blood as that which puts the new covenant in force. Likewise the drinkers of the Memorial cup accept Christ’s blood as the life that he poured out in sacrifice for them to get God’s forgiveness of sins through that covenant.
Even though the Memorial cup symbolized a sacrificial death for Christ by the pouring out of his lifeblood, Jesus gave thanks to Jehovah for it. Moreover, after Jesus’ disciples drank this cup of wine, both he and they sang the rest of the Hallel (or “Praise”), that is, Psalms 115 to 118. (Matt. 26:27-30) So, when celebrating the Memorial, those in the new covenant pronounce a blessing upon this cup. It is “the cup of blessing” because Jesus blessed it. We read:
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of the Christ? The loaf which we break, is it not a sharing in the body of the Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, although many, are one body, for we are all partaking of that one loaf.”—1 Cor. 10:16, 17.
OBSERVERS AT THE MEMORIAL
A remnant of spiritual Israelites, who are members of the spiritual “body” of Christ, are still on earth. In recent years they have invited others to attend the annual Memorial celebration as witnesses or observers. These dedicated sheeplike persons were foreshadowed by Jonadab the friend of King Jehu of Israel. (2 Ki. 10:15-23; Jer. 35:1-16) Ever since the year 1935 C.E. Jesus Christ the Fine Shepherd has brought a “great crowd” of such modern “Jonadabs” or “other sheep” into association with the spirit-begotten remnant of his spiritual “body.” But first in the Watchtower issue of February 15, 1938, we read this invitation:
“ . . . After 6 p.m. on April 15 let each company of the anointed assemble and celebrate the Memorial, their companions the Jonadabs also being present. Let the emblems be unleavened bread and real red wine.”—Page 50, under “Memorial.”
Those “other sheep,” who are not of the same “fold” as the “little flock,” attended the Memorial as observers, not as partakers.—John 10:16; Luke 12:32.—See The Watchtower as of March 1, 1938, page 75, paragraphs 50-52.
Ever since, the “other sheep,” now increased to a “great crowd,” have attended the annual Memorial of Christ’s death. And why not? Though they do not drink the cup symbolizing Christ’s blood, yet Revelation 7:14 says that they “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9, 10 also shows them ascribing their salvation to God and the Lamb Jesus Christ.
So, this year, on March 23, after sundown, let all the dedicated, baptized “other sheep” assemble with the remnant of the “little flock” for the 1978 celebration of the Lord’s evening meal. As the time nears for the glorified Lord Jesus to take the remnant home to their heavenly abode, the “great crowd” of the “other sheep” will not have the opportunity to do this much longer.
a Because some manuscripts omit the words after “my body” and to the end of Lu 22 verse 20, such words are omitted by The Bible in Living English (Byington), The New English Bible, and An American Translation, evidently because the accounts by Matthew and Mark tell of Jesus’ using only one cup on this occasion. The Holy Bible in Modern English by Ferrar Fenton double brackets the questioned words as though they were spurious.
b See The Watchtower under date of January 15, 1951, pages 55, 56, paragraphs 22-25, under subheading “Eating and Drinking for Life in Oneself.” Note also issue of April 15, 1949, pages 119, 120, paragraphs 23-28. under “The Gift of Life in Himself.”
[Picture on page 9]