In St. Luke's account of the Last Supper, we encounter a curious anomaly. As He prepares to serve the Passover meal, Our Lord says:
I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God ... I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." (Luke 22:15-18)However, after telling His disciples that He will not eat or drink of the Passover until "the kingdom of God comes," we read:
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And likewise the cup after supper, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." (vs. 19-20)The difficulty is this: if Jesus said He would not eat or drink with His disciples until the kingdom had arrived, and then proceeded to eat and drink with them anyway, in what sense may we say that the kingdom of God had arrived on earth, there in the Upper Room?
The prophets had promised that, when the Messiah would come, he would rule as a Son of David from the throne of David, and restore the Kingdom of David by reuniting all twelve of the tribes of Israel under one single head:
One Nation, One Davidic KingBut what kind of king was David? What kind of king was the first Son of David, Solomon? For that matter, why did David set up the political and religious capital of his kingdom in Jerusalem?
I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all sides ... and I will make them one nation in the land ... and one king shall be king over them all; and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms ... My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. (Ezek. 37:21-24) The King Will Rule from David's Throne Forever
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given ... Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. (Is. 9:6-7)
We must travel back, now, to the early days of the history of the patriarchs.
In the days of Abraham, we encounter a mysterious (for the modern-day reader - not for the ancient Jews) figure, a priest-king named Melchizedek:
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!" And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Gen. 14:18-20)Who is this Melchizedek? His name is a compound of two Hebrew words, melek = "king", and tsedeq = "righteousness." He was, the text tells us, the king of shalem, the Hebrew word meaning "peace." Not only was he the king of Salem, he was also the "priest of God Most High," a priest who brought out "bread and wine."
I said a moment ago that the identity of Melchizedek is only a mystery for modern readers, but not for the ancient Jews, and this is true. We find in the targums (Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Old Testament) that Melchizedek's identity was taken for granted - he was Shem, Noah's firstborn son:
And Malka Zadika, who was Shem bar Noah, the king of Yerushalem, came forth to meet Abram, and brought forth to him bread and wine. (Targum Psuedo-Jonathan, Sec. III, Genesis XIV)So we see that Mechizedek is a king, but also a priest, who offers bread and wine, and is identified with Shem, the only righteous firstborn son in the Old Testament.
That he is king of shalem is significant as well, for this city is identified in Scripture as nothing less than the city of Jerusalem. Note the use of synonymous parallelism in this Psalm:
In Judah God is knownA brief recollection of Abraham's life will show us the connection between the two cities. After Abraham attempted to offer his son Isaac on Mount Moriah, but was prevented by God, he gave thanks that God had provided a substitute sacrificial ram, and the text tells us, "Abraham called the name of that place The LORD will See to It." In Hebrew, that name is rendered Yehovah yireh.
His name is great in Israel. His abode has been established in Salem
His dwelling place in Zion. (Ps. 76:1-2)
Now, where is Mount Moriah, the place Abraham was standing when he said "this place is called Yehovah yireh?" We know from 2 Chronicles exactly where Mount Moriah is:
Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to David his father. (2 Chr. 3:1)Let's put the pieces together, then:
1) Moriah is in Jerusalem
2) Moriah is where Abraham offered Isaac
3) Jerusalem used to be known as Salem
4) Melchizedek was the king of Salem
5) Abraham renamed the place Yehovah yireh
6) This name was appended to the current name, so that the compound name became Yirah-Salem, or "Jeru-salem."
7) Therefore, Melchizedek was a priest-king in Jerusalem
8) Abraham offered Isaac in Jerusalem
9) David later became king and set up his political-religious capital in Jerusalem
All of this leads us to expect - to anticipate - what we find in Psalm 110, which is the only other place in the Old Testament where Melchizedek is mentioned.
Significantly, this Psalm was a coronation hymn that would be sung at the enthronement of the Son of David. You can envision the scene: as the newly crowned Davidic King ascends to the throne, the choirs sing this song:
YAHWEH says to my adonai: "Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool." ...What an odd declaration to sing to the new king as he ascends to the throne! You are a priest?!
YAHWEH has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." (Ps. 110:1, 4)
But that is precisely what the Davidic Kingship entailed. In the book of Deuteronomy, God made a concession to Israel in a proleptic, anticipatory way - He knew that when they came into the land, they would want a king to rule them, so that they could be like all the other nations. God, foreseeing this, gave them certain parameters within which they could work:
When you come to the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and dwell in it, and then say, "I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are round about me"; you may indeed set as king over you him whom the LORD your God will choose ... Only he must not multiply horses for himself ... And he shall not multiply wives for himself ... nor shall he greatly multiply for himself silver and gold. And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, from that which is in the charge of the Levitical priests ... and he shall read in it all the days of his life ... that his heart may not be lifted up above his brethren ... (Deut. 17:14-20)The king, the Son of David, was to be steeped in the written Law and to possess his own copy of it, which was - notice - a privilege of the Levitical priests. In all things, he was to ensure that "his heart may not be lifted up above his brethren" - in other words, he was to be a servant.
The paradox of the Davidic Kingship - indeed, of the Kingship of Melchizedek, and even of the natural kingship of the father in the patriarchal home - was that the king should exercise his superior authority precisely by serving as an inferior would.
I repeat: the king most clearly and powerfully exercised his authority when he acted as a priest in the service of his people.
Thus, when Solomon (whose name itself is linked to Melchizedek - one was king of Shalem [peace], and the other was a king named Shalomohn [peace]) ascended to the throne, he did so as a servant:
1) For his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he rode upon David's mule, not on a noble white horse (1 Kings 1:38-40)
2) He built the temple for God, along with all of the holy vessels and utensils (1 Kings 6-7) - normally something the Levites would do, as they did during the exodus
3) At the dedication of the temple, it is Solomon who prays the high-priestly prayer (1 Kings 8:22-53)
4) On that same occasion, Solomon is the one who offers sacrifices to God (1 Kings 8:63-64)
5) After dedicating the temple, it is Solomon who performs the priestly act of blessing the people (1 Kings 8:54-61)
6) Because God blessed Solomon with great wisdom, it is he who became a priestly mediator of God's Torah to the nations (1 Kings 10:1, 24)
Unfortunately, the glory days of Solomon's reign as the ideal king-priest were not to last. God had prohibited three things for the king: 1) multiplying gold, 2) multiplying horses, 3) and multiplying wives. We see from 1 Kings 9-11 that Solomon slowly-but-completely violated each of those prohibitions.
We read that "Solomon gathered together ... fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen" (1 Kings 10:26). Worse, he violated the specific prohibition in Deuteronomy 17, "he must not ... cause the people to return to Egypt in order to multiply horses" (vs. 16), as we read, "And Solomon's import of horses was from Egypt." (1 Kings 10:28)
Not only did Solomon multiply gold for himself, we read the rather apocalyptic statement that "the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold." (1 Kings 10:14)
By the time we reach chapter 11, the process of decay is completed, as we read the opening words: "Now King Solomon loved many foreign women." He amassed 700 wives and 300 concubines, who "turned away his heart after other gods." (vs. 4) The litany of idolatry that follows is painful, especially considering the unique status as priest-king that Solomon had previously enjoyed:
Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. ... Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. (1 Kings 11:5-6)You do the math. Seven hundred wives, plus 300 concubines - and Solomon built shrines and alters for each of the gods and goddesses that his wives worshiped. We're talking about thousands and thousands of idolatrous shrines, alters, high places, etc. What happened to Solomon, the priest-king after the order of Melchizedek?!
In a word, he started acting more like a king, and less like a priest. Even though the greatness of his kingly authority was exercised supremely through his priestly function, he began to lean more toward kingly power (gold, horses, and foreign women through whom he could forge political alliances with other nations) and away from priestly service. As Solomon discovered, when you grab for royal authority and reject priestly service, you lose whatever power you had (Solomon's kingdom was torn in two as a result of his sin) - but when you grab for priestly service, your royal authority is increased in the process. That's the paradox. And that's the lesson that Our Lord was trying to teach His disciples that night in the Upper Room.
We see Jesus, the Son of David, the true Shalomohn, the Davidic Messiah who was to restore the kingdom and reunite the tribes, standing in the Upper Room - doing what? Doing the very thing that the Davidic Kings before him did: offering the todah sacrifice.
Briefly: the todah sacrifice - or "thank offering" - was part of the Levitical "peace offering" described in Lev. 3:1-9 and 7:11-17. It consisted of a bloody sacrifice of either cattle or sheep, and an unbloody sacrifice of bread and wine.
The todah was offered to God in thanksgiving and remembrance for some past deliverance from danger; in fact, the Passover celebration was a perfect example of the todah. A lamb was slaughtered, and bread and wine were consumed, while the one making the offering remembered and gave thanks to God for previously delivering Israel from bondage in Egypt.
Of all the sacrifices offered in the Old Testament, the todah was the predominant sacrifice of the Davidic Kingdom. A good many of the Psalms written were todah Psalms, confessing and proclaiming the greatness of God for some past deliverance - including the famous 22nd Psalm, the Psalm which begins "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?", the very Psalm which Our Lord quoted from the Cross.
If todah is Hebrew for thanksgiving, it should come as no surprise that it corresponds to the Greek word for thanksgiving, eucharistia - the Eucharist.
So again, what do we see in St. Luke's account of the Last Supper? We see the Davidic King, the Son of David, offering up the singular and unique sacrifice of David's Kingdom - the todah, the Eucharist.
In so doing, He acts the part of Melchizedek, who also brought out bread and wine, and who also was a priest-king. The early Christians saw the significance of this, and that's why St. Paul refers to Melchizedek nine times in the book of Hebrews - six of which are quotes from the coronation hymn, Psalm 110 - when he compares Jesus to this mysterious and ancient priest-king.
But if Jesus is bringing about the kingdom in the first century, then where is it? To restate the original problem, why does He say "I will not eat or drink with you until the kingdom comes," and then proceeds to eat and drink with them?
The answer lies in the nature of Jesus' kingship, which is a Davidic Kingship, which is a Melchizedekian Kingship, which is a priest-kingship.
St. Luke shows us that the kingdom is the central theme of this Last Supper, because immediately after Our Lord offers the disciples the unbloody todah/eucharist sacrifice of His own body and blood, we read that "a dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest." This was a common dispute amongst the disciples, according to the gospels - they knew Jesus was the Davidic Messiah, and they knew they had been called to help Him usher in the kingdom. So naturally, they wanted to know who would have the highest position of power in this royal arrangement - in fact, this is their explicit question in Matthew 18: "At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?'" (vs. 1)
That they are clearly thinking of the kingdom here in St. Luke's Gospel is confirmed by the way in which Jesus answers them - He answers by speaking to them of royal hierarchy and kingdoms:
And he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves." (vs.25-26)Our Lord here restates the paradox that governed - or was supposed to govern - the Davidic Kingdom: the most powerful in authority is the one who is most like a servant. The one who is the greatest of kings is the one who most acts likes a priest. And this is the clincher:
For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves. (vs. 27)Here is the utter mystery of the King - He is unquestionably the king, the ruler, the authority ... and yet, it is as king that He is among them "as one who serves." And what had He just served them? The Eucharist, the todah, the sacrifice that was a hallmark of David's Kingdom.
In acting as a priest there in the Upper Room, in doing what a priest does (offering a sacrifice), Our Lord makes the kingdom a present reality - and then He tells them to "do this" perpetually in imitation of Him (a phrase that only the Gospel of St. Luke records, not including St. Paul's record of the phrase in 1 Cor. 11).
This perfectly explains His next words to His disciples:
I covenant [diatithemai] to you, as my Father covenanted [dietheto] to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (vss. 29-30)The kingdom is brought to earth in the act of the Davidic King offering the todah sacrifice, in exercising His kingship "as one who serves," but note that this kingdom of His is being handed over to His royal princes. "I covenant to you a kingdom" - but how? With this todah, this Eucharist, this - as He just said a few verses earlier - "new covenant in my blood."
You can see how it all comes together in this one act: He says to them, "this is my blood, and in serving it to you as a meal, I ratify the New Covenant - and in the same act, I covenant to you this kingdom of mine, by telling you to 'do this' as I have done it, and to do it perpetually. I am your king become I am among you as one who serves, and now I am calling you to serve at my table when you 'do this', and in so serving at my table, to eat at my table as princes."
He inaugurates them as royal princes who will judge over twelve tribes (i.e., all of Israel) because He is about to reunite the kingdom, but he makes them princes by first making them priests who are empowered to do what He just did: offer the unbloody Sacrifice of the Eucharist.
If we know our Old Testament, none of this should be news to us! What Our Lord does here, in bringing His kingdom to earth by performing an act of priestly sacrifice, is exactly what King David did when he inaugurated his kingdom.
All the tribes of Israel come to David to make him their king, and they say: "Behold, we are your bone and flesh." (2 Sam. 5:1)
We then read that "King David made a covenant with them." (vs. 3)
Then, David goes out and conquers the last enemy-held territory of the Promised Land, the city of Jerusalem. The text tells us that "David dwelt in the stronghold [of Jerusalem], and called it the city of David." (vs. 9)
At this precise moment when David is coming into his kingdom, establishing his throne, making a covenant with his people - who call him their "flesh and bone" (hint: that's the marital/covenant language of Adam to Eve in Genesis 2) - he then proceeds to act like a priest.
David goes and retrieves the Ark of the Covenant to bring it into the new political capital of Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6). As they bring the Ark to Jerusalem, David does several things that he, strictly as a king, should not have been able to do - things that only a priest could do:
1) When the Ark had gone six paces, David "sacrificed an ox and a fatling"
2) We read that David "was girded with a linen ephod," the garment of the priest
3) The Ark was then placed inside the tabernacle, "which David had pitched for it" - again, pitching the tabernacle was the job of the priests
4) David is then the one who goes into the tabernacle to "[offer] burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD."
5) After the offerings were completed, it is David who "blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts"
At the end of this rather schizophrenic episode in which David can't decide whether he's a priest or a king, he performs an act that is so typologically striking, it nearly makes you lose your breath:
when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he ... distributed among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a ['ashiyshah, "flagon of wine"].* Then all the people departed, each to his house. (vs. 19) * Also translated by some versions as "a cake of raisins," which is less in keeping with the nature of the todah sacrifice being offered hereAt the inauguration of his kingdom, then, we see David making a covenant with "all Israel" (all twelve tribes), offering sacrifices, and distributing to the congregation 1) bread, 2) meat, 3) wine. These are the three elements of the todah sacrifice, the same three elements of the Passover sacrifice, and a perfect typological symbol of the Eucharist - it is bread and wine, but it is more than bread, it is also "meat indeed" and "drink indeed" (John 6:55).
If David unites all Israel in a new kingdom, and his first royal act is to offer up the todah sacrifice, then it makes complete sense why Jesus, in reuniting the "twelve tribes" (Lk. 22:30), would make the first act of His kingdom an act of todah/eucharistia.
In short, then, the answer to the conundrum posed at the outset of this essay is as follows: Jesus says He will not eat and drink with His disciples until His kingdom comes; He then proceeds to eat and drink the todah sacrifice of His own body and blood, precisely because it is in the act of serving that sacrifice at His own table that His kingdom is made present.
Ubi Rex, ibi Regnum; ubi Eucharistia, ibi Rex.
(Where there is the King, there is the Kingdom; where there is the Eucharist, there is the King)