Closing his Last Supper, Jesus said, I tell you the truth, from this moment I will not drink the vine’s produce with you until the day when I drink it with you anew in my Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29).
What did he mean? According to some communion talks, Jesus was referring to the big banquet at the end of time when everyone is under God’s authority. But that doesn’t really work: within a few days, Jesus was eating with them again (Luke 24:30, 43; John 21:5-13; Acts 1:4).
And those meals were significant. He wanted them to know he was bodily resurrected, with flesh and bones and hands and feet and a stomach (Luke 24:39-43). He was no ghost. His Father had raised him up out of the grave to the throne, giving him messianic authority over all nations. He used those meals to commission his ambassadors to proclaim amnesty for the nations in the name of the one appointed by God to rule over them (Luke 24:46-47).
Jesus’ resurrection marked the re-establishment of his Father’s kingdom. That’s how the apostles told it. He had already led them to expect that they would see him receiving the kingdom in their lifetime.
No, Jesus was not asking them to look to the distant future when the kingdom is fully here. He was asking them to recognize that the kingdom of God was being restored to the earth through his death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father where he now reigns.
The context for Matthew 26:29 isn’t what is still future for us. Matthew makes that clear by pointing us to the past, wrapping Jesus’ statement in a Zechariah sandwich:
- It’s preceded by a phrase from Zechariah 9:11 — the blood of the covenant (26:28).
- It’s followed by Jesus quoting Zechariah 13:7 — the shepherd struck, and his sheep scattered (26:31).
What Jesus said on the night before his death was his most detailed teaching on the atonement. It’s worth the effort to understand how Jesus understood the human predicament he was resolving.
The back story
Earth began under heaven’s rule, but had fallen to evil. So, God formed a nation under his rule by rescuing them from Pharaoh and forming them into a people under his law and leadership. When Israel accepted the terms of this covenant, Moses marked them as God’s people by sprinkling them with blood — the blood of the covenant (Exodus 24:8).
Struggling against the nations, they asked for a human king to lead them in battle, a shepherd anointed by God to lead his flock and embody his rule over them. David led them to victory, but his sons had eventually fallen to the nations. Josiah was the last God-appointed king. He was one of the best they ever had (2 Kings 23:25), yet he was struck down in a battle with Pharaoh Necho. Egypt appointed the next king, and Babylon the last three. Then the kingship died completely, with God’s nation absorbed into the kingdoms of the world.
Why would God allow a good king like Josiah to die like that? Hadn’t the Torah of the Lord promised blessing for the obedient and trouble for the disobedient (Deuteronomy 27–31)? The problem was that, even before Josiah’s time God had decreed the end of the kingdom because the kings were misrepresenting him so badly (2 Kings 21:10–16), abusing his flock as irresponsible shepherds (Ezekiel 34).
But it still feels like unspeakable tragedy when the good king dies, evil wins, God’s kingdom falls, and they lose their identity as God’s nation. Josiah’s death became a focal point for lamenting the fall of the kingdom (2 Chronicles 35:25).
That’s the paradox Zechariah 13 presents. God decreed the demise of his shepherd, the Davidic king who represented his reign. YHWH of hosts issued that decree knowing it would leave his flock vulnerable to the wolves that run the kingdoms of the world, that his little nation would be in peril of losing their identity:
Zechariah 13:7 (NIV) “Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the Lord Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones.”
Zechariah is balancing two truths. On the one hand, he is lamenting the tragic loss. On the other he is asserting that YHWH of hosts orders history. The earthly king and kingdom are dead, but the heavenly sovereign lives and decrees what happens on earth, even when it feels tragic and meaningless to us.
And the heavenly sovereign has also decreed the return of the king in whom the kingdom is restored:
Zechariah 9:9–11 (NIV)
9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
Did you notice the blood of the covenant in verse 11? It’s referring back to Exodus 24:8, since the phrase is found nowhere else. Zechariah affirms that God would restore the fallen kingdom in a new anointed king because he is faithful to the Sinai covenant, the agreement that marked them as his people and God their sovereign.
That’s why the restoration of the kingship does not depend on a son of David being able to defeat the nations. The son of David arrives in peace, removing the war horses and chariots from Israel, proclaiming peace to the nations, because the God who is faithful to his covenant people has miraculously rescued the captives from their seemingly fatal captivity (waterless pit).
Fulfilment in the Christ
At the Passover festival of AD 30, the crowds in Jerusalem hailed the return of their long-awaited king (Matthew 21:1-9). But Jesus knew the rebellion against God’s reign was not over. The temple was controlled by bandits. Colluding with the rulers of the nations (Herod and Pilate), they would perpetuate the sins of their ancestors, assassinating the king God had sent them. The nation was still living the Josiah tragedy: the shepherd struck, God’s flock decimated.
This is what Jesus described as my blood of the covenant. The king would not let his tragic death stand as an accusation against humanity; his blood would be poured out on humanity as the marker of a new covenant uniting the world under God. The blood of the king cries out for the forgiveness of sins. This is how the ultimate rebellion against God becomes the means by which humanity is returned into his Father’s reign, my Father’s kingdom.
As Zechariah said, this new covenant relationship fulfils the Sinai covenant and the mission of Israel. It fulfils the covenant with David that his son would represent God’s rule on earth forever and inherit the nations. It fulfils the covenant God made with Noah for all people and creatures and the earth itself. This covenant is nothing less than the restoration of heaven’s reign to the earth, as decreed at creation.
And for the people who are in Christ
That’s what Jesus meant by my blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. That’s the hope he envisioned when he spoke of drinking anew with you in my Father’s kingdom. That’s what we’re saying each time we eat the bread and drink the cup in celebration of our king.
Open Matthew 26:29.
- My blood of the covenant (Mat 26:28)
- Strike the shepherd (Zech 13:7-9)
- Jesus’ paradoxical path to power (Mat 16:27-28)
- Forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47)