14. The Judgment Of The Cross
There are times when for all the Bible reading in the world, the sincere prayer, the attendance of meetings- the flame of a true faith burns dim, the fire of real devotion flickers. And there may not be any particular omission or slip in our spiritual lives which is responsible for it; it simply happens. I would imagine every one of us are bound together by an assent to this. It’s simply so. Reader and reader and reader, from black Africans to the chain of believers strung out through the vastness of Russia, from little Indian congregations to the huge ecclesias of North America, from reader to writer- we’re all bound together in this realisation and admission. We hear words, read articles; and sometimes nothing can really reach us, nothing and nobody shakes us any more. And we are in that state of numb indifference more often and more deeply than we might care to admit. I read recently of how the Church of England interviewed people leaving church on Sunday mornings, asking them what they remembered from the sermon. The results were shocking. And when they were asked what was said the week before, or the month before, or how many sermons they remembered in their lives- it was pathetic. And we shouldn’t be too complacent. People in the world around us don’t remember sermons, and they don’t act on them. And with us, for all our listening to and reading of Christian words, are we really better people? In this lies the limitation, it seems to me, of all platform speaking and article writing. We just don’t remember, we rarely act- although, thankfully, we sometimes do. But it would be wrong to imply that our forgetfulness is of itself sinful. It would be like saying sneezing was a sin. It’s just how we are. But all the same, realising this, we need something to shake us, right to the bone. Thankfully, there is just such a thing, something far beyond human words.
The Voice Of The Cross
The blood of Christ is personified as a voice that speaks to us, a better word than the voice of Abel’s blood which cried out it’s message (Heb. 12:24 NIV; Gen. 4:10). This is after the pattern of how the commanding voice of Yahweh was heard above the blood sprinkled on “the atonement cover of the ark of the Testimony" (Num. 7:89 NIV). The ark was made of shittim wood- from a root meaning ‘to flog, scourge or pierce’, all replete with reference to the cross. And it was there on that wooden box that Yahweh was declared in the blood sprinkled upon it. Note how there is an association between the blood of atonement and the throne of judgment in 2 Sam. 6:2 and Is. 37:16, as if we see a foretaste of our judgment in the way we respond to the Lord’s outpoured blood for us. The Lord Jesus in His time of death is the “propitiation", or rather ‘the place of propitiation’ for our sins, the blood-sprinkled mercy seat. “There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat...of all things which I will give thee in commandment" (Ex. 25:20-22). The blood of Christ is therefore to be associated with the commanding voice of God, such is the imperative within it. Rev. 19:13 draws a connection between Christ’s title as “the word of God" and the fact His clothing is characterised by the blood of His cross. His blood is His word. The blood of both old and new covenants enjoined the obedience of God’s word upon those sprinkled with it (Heb. 9:19,20). The blood and God’s word were linked. Rev. 19:13 draws a connection between Christ’s title as “the word of God" and the fact His clothing is characterised by the blood of His cross.
Hebrews 12:25-29 goes on to draw a parallel between the voice of the Lord’s blood and the sound of the earthquake and voice of God when the Old Covenant was inaugurated, a noise that made even Moses exceedingly fear and quake (Ex. 19:18 LXX). The voice of the Lord’s blood shakes all things, the only thing unshaken by it is the Hope of the Kingdom. It shows forth, as a voice, God’s righteousness (Rom. 3:25,26 RV). When 1 Cor. 1:18 speaks of “the preaching (Gk. ‘the word’) of the cross", we have the same idea; the word of the cross, the word which is the cross, preaches to us of itself, as we behold it. Paul declared unto Corinth “the testimony of God", i.e. “Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1,2). This message was “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power", “the wisdom of God", “Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:17,23,24; 2:4,5). Indeed, “the cross of Christ" is put for ‘the preaching of His cross’ (1:17). All these things are parallel. The cross is in itself the testimony and witness of God. This is why, Paul reasons, the power of the cross itself means that it doesn’t matter how poorly that message is presented in human words; indeed, such is its excellence and power that we even shouldn’t seek to present it with a layer of human ‘culture’ and verbiage shrouding it. In the context of commenting on His impending death, the Saviour said that He came to bear witness unto the Truth; for this cause He came into the world (Jn. 18:37 cp. 12:27, where the cross is again “this cause" why He came). His death was therefore a witness, a testimony, to the finest and ultimate Truth of God. “The work that the Father gave me to finish...testifies" (Jn. 5:36 NIV); and thus when “it[was] finished" in the death of the cross, the full testimony / witness was spoken and made. When He was lifted up in crucifixion, the beholding Jews knew that His words were truly those of the Father; they saw in the cross God’s word spoken through Christ, they saw there the epitome of all the words the Lord spoke throughout His ministry (Jn. 8:28). The Lord’s blood was thus a spoken testimony to all men (1 Tim. 2:6 AVmg.). Beholding the cross and the water and blood that flowed from it, John struggled with the inadequacy of human language: “He that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true" (Jn. 19:35). Years later he described himself, in allusion to this, as he “who bare record [in the past tense] of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 1:2). He had earlier commented that the Spirit, water and blood of the cross bore witness (1 Jn. 5:8). John seems to be saying that the Lord’s final death which he had witnessed was the word of God, the testimony of Jesus Christ. And as he had been a faithful witness to this, so now he would be of that further revelation he had now seen in the Apocalypse.
The Lord in Jn. 6 taught parallels between belief in Him leading to eternal life, and His words, blood and body having the same effect. The word of Christ is in that sense His body and blood; it speaks to us in “the preaching (word) of the cross". There are parallels between the manna and the word of Christ; yet also between the manna and His death. His words give life as the manna did (:63), and yet the manna is specifically defined as His flesh, which He gave to bring life (:51). In this context He speaks of gaining life by eating His bread and drinking His blood, in evident anticipation of the memorial meal He was to institute (compare ‘the bread which I give is my flesh’ with ‘this is my body, given for you’). Eating / absorbing His manna, the sacrifice of the cross, is vital to the experience of eternal life now and the future physical receipt of it. Assimilating the spirit and life of His cross into our lives is the vital essence of eternal life; and He foresaw that one of the ways of doing this would be through remembering that cross in the breaking of bread service. And yet notice how the Lord took that bread of life and gave it to the disciples as His guests at the last supper. To take the bread is to show our acceptance of the gift of life which is in Jesus. The Lord had taught that His crucifixion would confirm the truth of the Father’s word which had been spoken by Jesus (Jn. 8:28); again, the cross is associated with a voice.
The Lord was “the word made flesh"; having spoken to us through the words of the prophets, God now speaks to us in His Son (Heb. 1:1,2 RV). His revelation in that sense hasn’t finished; it is ongoing. Right now, the Lord Jesus speaks with a voice like many waters and a sword of flame- according to John’s vision of the Lord’s post-resurrection glory. John exalts in the fact they touched and saw “the word of life"; the Lord Jesus personally was and is the voice of God’s word. When John writes that “that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you" (1 Jn. 1:3), he doesn’t mean to say that he is simply giving a transcript of the Lord’s spoken words. He is telling men about the person of Jesus, the man he personally knew, and in doing this he was declaring God’s word to them. If the very being of the Lord Jesus was the expression of God’s word, it is little to be marvelled at that the cross, being as it is the crystallisation of all He was and is, should be in an even more intense sense the voice of God to us. And the same process of the word becoming flesh must be seen in us too. We have the witness within ourselves; for the witness is the word and life of Christ, His eternal life, which lives in us (1 Jn. 4:10,11). The Lord Jesus didn’t witness to His word by giving out bits of paper or teaching a catechism; He was, in person, the constant exhibition of the word He witnessed to. And with us too. I’m not saying don’t write books, give out literature, speak words from platforms...but the more essential witness to men is that of our lives, that witness which wells up from the word and life of Christ within us. The way God’s word is made flesh can be seen in Hosea. His going and marrying a worthless woman is prefaced with the statement that this was the beginning of the word of the Lord (Hos. 1:2). The command to go and marry her was not so much “the word of the Lord" to Israel as his marriage and example of true love to his wife. Hosea’s example in his marriage was the word of the Lord to Israel. He made the word flesh. The Lord did this to perfection, and yet like Hosea we in principle must do the same.
The Cross And Self-Examination
As a man or woman seriously contemplates the cross, they are inevitably led to a self-knowledge and self-examination which shakes them to the bone. A number of passages shed light on the way the cross leads to self-examination.
As Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms, he saw in that beautiful little boy something terrible; for he looked ahead to how His soul would one day be pierced in crucifixion, “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Lk. 2:35). The same word is used for how thoughts will be revealed at the judgment (Mt. 10:26; 1 Cor. 3:13; 4:5). In the piercing of the Son of God, the thoughts of hearts would be revealed. But the question arises: revealed to whom? We may (rightly) assume: to ourselves. But Luke’s Gospel emphasises the ability of the Lord Jesus to know human hearts (5:22; 6:8; 9:2,6,47; 24:38). Could it not be that the cross is used by the Father and Son to know the minds of men? They see in our response to it the real you and the real me. “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts" (Prov. 20:27); our self-examination is what reveals us to the Lord. What we think about at the memorial meeting, as we are faced with the memory of the crucified Saviour, is therefore an epitome of what we really are. If all we are thinking of is the taste of the wine, the cover over the bread, the music, what we didn’t agree with in the exhortation, all the external things of our Christianity; or if we are sitting there taking bread and wine as a conscience salver, doing our little religious ritual to make us feel psychologically safe- then we simply don’t know Him. We are surface level believers only. And this is the message we give Him. Our spirit / attitude is the candle of the Lord, with which He searches us. Our thoughts when confronted by the cross reveal us to Him who died on it. Likewise Joseph (one of the most detailed types of the Lord) knew / discerned his brethren by his cup (Gen. 44:5). 1 Cor. 11:31,32 further suggests that our self-judgment at the breaking of bread is in fact the lord’s judgment of us: “If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord". We expect Paul to say: ‘But when we judged ourselves, we are chastened...’. But he doesn’t; our judgment is what reveals us to the Lord, and is therefore the basis of His judgment of us. Even if we flunk conscious self-examination from an underlying disbelief that we will attain the Kingdom, then this of itself reveals our hearts to Him. Because of this connection between the breaking of bread and judgment, it would seem that the first century church experienced the physical chastising of the Lord in terms of being struck with sickness and even death at the memorial meeting (1 Cor. 11:29,30). Thus at ecclesial meetings- particularly the breaking of bread- the early church confessed their sins and prayed for healing from the afflictions some were smitten with as a result of their sins (James 5:14-16).
Those who beheld the cross “beat their breasts", Luke records (23:48). The only other occurrence of this phrase is again in Luke, concerning how the desperate, sin-convicted publican likewise beat his breast before God in contrition (18:13). Does this not suggest that those breast-beaters were doing so because “that sight" convicted them of their own sinfulness? Their “return" to their homes uses the Greek word usually translated ‘to repent’. The cross inspired their repentance. The records of the crucifixion are framed to focus upon the response of individuals to the cross. The response of those who beat their breasts is very similar to that of the Centurion:
Returned / repented
The parallel is between his glorifying God, and their returning / repenting. The need for repentance is a strong theme in Luke (10:13; 11:32; 13:3,5; 15:7,10; 16:30; 17:3,4)- as if he perceived that the ultimate motivation to repentance was in the cross. The apocryphal Acts of Pilate 4.5 claims that “all the crowds who were gathered together for the observation of this…returned striking their breasts and weeping awful tears". And yet the record of the cross also leads to faith, not only conviction of our desperation (Jn. 19:35, “these things" = the record of the cross). The humble man “smote his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner". “Be merciful" translates the word elsewhere translated “make propitiation", in describing the atoning death of Jesus on the cross (Heb. 2:17). The man’s sinfulness drove him to plead for the cross: ‘Please God, make a propitiation for me’ was his plea. He realized his need for the cross. And we should look back at the cross and feel and know the same need.
Serious meditation upon the Lord's work ought to have this effect upon us. Can we really see his agony, his bloody sweat, without a thought for our response to it? It's impossible to passively behold it all. There is something practically compelling about it, almost in a mystical way. Because “Christ died for the ungodly", because in the cross “the love of God" was commended to us, therefore “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Rom. 5:5,6,8). As the smitten rock gave out water, so the smitten Saviour gave out the water of the Spirit. This link between the shedding of the Lord’s blood and the shedding of love in our hearts is surely because an understanding and relation to His sacrifice brings forth in the believer a response of love and spirituality. As the love of God was shown in the cross, so it will be reflected in the heart of he who truly knows and believes it.
1 Cor. 11:29 invites us to discern the Lord’s body at the memorial meeting. The same word occurs in v.28: “let a man examine himself". It’s too bad that the translations mask this connection. We are to examine / discern the Lord’s body, and to do the same to ourselves (1). The two are inextricably related. Meditation upon and analysis of His body will lead to self examination and discernment. In this lies the answer to the frequent question: ‘What should we examine at the breaking of bread? Our own sins, or the facts of the crucifixion / resurrection?’. If we think about the latter, we will inevitably be led to think of the former.
In Isaiah 6:1-4 we have a vision of “the Lord high and lifted up", enthroned in the temple, with an earthquake, the temple filled with smoke, the doorposts that held up the veil being shaken (with the implication that the veil falls; 6:4). Note how Rev. 15:5-8, building on this passage, has the veil being removed, the Most Holy opened, and the temple filled with smoke. This sends the mind straight to the rending of the temple veil at the crucifixion and the earthquake (Mt. 27:51). The Lord “high and lifted up" (6:1) is a phrase that occurs later in Isaiah (52:13), concerning the crucified Lord, lifted up and exalted “very high" by the cross. John 12:37-41 tells us that Isaiah 6 is a vision of the Lord Jesus in glory; and in this passage John quotes both Isaiah 6 and 53 together, reflecting their connection and application to the same event, namely the Lord’s crucifixion. So it is established that Is. 6 is a vision of the crucified Lord Jesus, high and lifted up in glory in God’s sight, whilst covered in blood and spittle, with no beauty that man should desire Him. The point is, when Isaiah saw this vision he was convicted of his sinfulness: “Woe is me, for I am undone...". The vision of God's glory as it would be in His crucified Son convicted Isaiah of his sinfulness to a very fine degree. The vision occurred "in the year that King Uzziah died" (Is. 6:1)- and he died of leprosy, smitten of God for his sin. Isaiah would've known Uzziah, and prophesied against him. And yet now, after the vision of God's glory, Isaiah declares that he is a man "of unclean lips" (Is. 6:5). And it was lepers who had to cover their upper lips (Lev. 13:45). He felt no better than Uzziah, the well known smitten-by-God king of Isaiah's time. Likewise before the experience of God's glory as it was and is in Christ, we shouldn't feel that we are any better than the most famous sinner.
And yet the same vision comforted him with the reality of forgiveness, and inspired him to offer to go forth and witness to Israel of God’s grace. So once again, the vision of the cross convicts men of their sin, and yet inspires them to go forward in service. In passing, it should be noted that the vision of Isaiah 6 has evident similarities with those of Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4. These likewise show something of the glory of God in the crucified Christ, and they likewise inspired men like Ezekiel and John in their work of witness and living the life of the spirit in the midst of apostasy. The only other time the phrase “high and lifted up" occurs in Isaiah is in 57:15, where we read that He who is the exalted and lofty one (AV- the same words as ‘high and lifted up’) dwells with those who are crushed (Heb. Dakka- cp. Is. 53:5,10), i.e. those who share in the Lord’s crucifixion in their lives. This passage is talking about God Himself in the first instance- just as Yahweh is spoken of as walking on the waters, and yet the Lord Jesus did this in manifestation of the Father. Likewise many NT passages appropriate words true only of God Himself to the Lord Jesus, in that He manifested the Father. And so it seems the same principle operates here. The one “high and lifted up" was the Lord Jesus in Isaiah chapters 6 and 52. Here in chapter 57 it is God Himself, and yet in that the Lord Jesus knew the depths of the cross, so He came to manifest the heights of His Father. And through this God through Him is able to dwell with the crushed. In a sense, the suffering servant has been exalted to the throne of God and yet is able to know the feelings of those who are still the suffering servants. The same idea is found in Rev. 4- the one who sits enthroned is as it were a slain lamb. There is a connection between His present glory and His previous suffering on the cross.
Rev. 4:9 alludes to the Isaiah 6 vision, and applies it to the future judgment. Yet silhouetted within the vision of the judgment throne is a slain lamb (Rev. 5:6), as if before the judgment, all will be aware of the Lord’s sacrifice. The accepted will utter praise immediately after realising the wonderful verdict pronounced for them- in terms of praising the Lord Jesus for his sacrifice, and recognising their eternal debt to the blood of His cross (Rev. 5:9). The cross and the judgment and reward are connected. This is why the Sephardim called the Day of Atonement, with all its typology of the cross, “the day of judgment". Just as the cross was a declaration of God’s Name, so will be the final judgment. Having outlined Israel’s coming condemnation at judgment day, God comments: “I will do this unto thee…for…the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name" (Am. 4:12,13). The Name of God will be articulated and glorified in the judgment.
The whole structure of the records of the crucifixion are to emphasize how the cross is essentially about human response to it; nothing else elicits from humanity a response like the cross does. Mark’s account, for example, has 5 component parts. The third part, the centrepiece as it were, is the account of the actual death of the Lord; but it is surrounded by cameos of human response to it (consider Mk. 15:22-27; 28-32; the actual death of Jesus, 15:33-37; then 15:38-41; 15:42-47). John’s record shows a similar pattern, based around 7 component parts: 19:16-18; 19-22; 23,24; then the centrepiece of 25-27; followed by 19:28-30; 31-37; 38-42. But for John the centrepiece is Jesus addressing His mother, and giving her over to John’s charge. This for John was the quintessence of it all; that a man should leave His mother, that Mary loved Jesus to the end…and that he, John, was honoured to have been there and seen it all.
The Cross And The Judgment
So Isaiah 6 shows the Lord Jesus as enthroned in glory upon the cross. John says that Isaiah saw the Lord in His glory at this time. Yet He will sit on His throne of glory when He returns in judgment (Mt. 25:31). So there is a connection between the cross and the judgment. There the Lord sat (and sits) enthroned in judgment. There, “The Lord reigned from the tree" (Ps. 96:10 LXX- the context is of the final judgment, and yet the image is so appropriate to the Lord’s death). Men smote “the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek" (Mic. 5:1). The RVmg. of Mk. 14:65 says that the Lord was hit with “strokes of rods". Perhaps it was in this sense that the rod comforted Messiah (Ps. 23:4) in that He saw immediately that prophecy was being fulfilled in Him. Our darkest moments likewise can be our greatest encouragement if only we perceive them as we should. As men mocked Him and smote Him, thus they were treating their judge at the time of judgment. In His time of dying, the Lord Jesus was the judge of Israel. This explains why when we come before the cross, not only at the breaking of bread but whenever we come into contact with Him, or reflect upon Him and His death, we are in some sense coming before Him in judgment. Indeed, any meeting of God with man, or His Son with men, is effectively some kind of judgment process. The brightness of their light inevitably, by its very nature, shows up the dark shadows of our lives. In the cross we see the glory of the Lord Jesus epitomised and presented in its most concentrated form. In Jn. 12:31,32, in the same passage in which Isaiah 6 and 53 are connected and applied to the crucifixion, He Himself foretold that His death would be “the judgment of this world". And He explained in the next breath that His being ‘lifted up from the earth’ (an Isaiah 6 allusion) would gather all men unto Him (cp. “all men" being gathered to the last judgment, Is. 49:22; 62:10; Mt. 25:32). When He was lifted up, then the Jews would know their judgments (Jn. 8:26-28). It is also worth musing on 1 Pet. 2:23, which speaks of the Lord in His time of dying committing Himself “to him that judgeth righteously". It’s as if the Father judged the world as unworthy and His Son as worthy in the time of the Lord’s death. It is possible to read Jn. 19:13 as meaning that Pilate sat Him (Jesus) down on the judgment seat, on the pavement, replete with allusion to the sapphire pavement of Ex. 24. The Gospel of Peter 3:7 actually says this happened: “And they clothed him with purple and sat him on a chair of judgment, saying, Judge justly, King of Israel". That the cross was the judgment of the world is further brought out by reflecting upon the prophesied judgment upon Egypt [common symbol of the world] in Ez. 32. There was to be darkness at noon, and “I will make many peoples amazed at thee" (Ez. 32:7,8,10 RV), just as they were by the cross (Is. 52:14). The judgment of Egypt / the world had some elements of fulfilment in the ‘judgment of this world’ which occurred through the cross.
We have suggested above that there was a sedile or seat affixed to the cross, on which the victim sat in order to get temporary relief. Thus some accounts of crucifixion describe the victim as mounting the cross as one would mount a horse. This would make the cross capable of interpretation as some kind of seat or throne. And significantly, there are men on the right hand and left of the Lord, one rejected, the other gloriously accepted. It is possible to translate the repentant thief as telling the other: “Do you not fear God when you stand condemned?". Before Jesus crucified, we all stand condemned. And he stresses that “we are condemned justly" (Lk. 23:41), for it was evident to all that here hung a just / righteous man. He, there, the just hanging for the unjust, convicts us of sin. Somehow the repentant thief came to know Jesus in the deepest possible sense. Truly could he address him as “Lord", perceiving already how the cross had made Him “Lord and Christ". The thief knew that judgment day was coming, and asked to be remembered for good there. He was surely alluding to Ps. 106:4: “Remember me, Lord, in the course of favouring your people. Visit me with your salvation". And this connection between the cross and the judgment was evidently impressed upon the thief. Doubtless he also had in mind the desperate plea of Joseph: “Have me in remembrance when…" you come into your position of power (Gen. 40:14 RV). The thief had perhaps meditated upon the implications of the Lord’s prayer: “Thy kingdom come". He saw it as now being certain because of the cross- “when you come in your Kingdom…". And yet he felt as if he was in prospect already there before the coming King, as he hung there before Him on the cross.
Further connection between the cross and the judgment is found in considering Zech. 12:10, which states that men would look upon the pierced (i.e. crucified) Saviour, and mourn in recognition of their own sinfulness. This verse is quoted as having fulfilment both at the crucifixion (Jn. 19:37) and also at the final judgment (Rev. 1:7). There is strong connection between these two events. And so it has been observed that the cross divided men into two categories: The repentant thief and the bitter one; the soldiers who mocked and the Centurion who believed; the Sanhedrin members who believed and those who mocked; the women who lamented but didn't obey His word, and those whose weeping isn't recorded, but who stood and watched and thought; the people who beat their breasts in repentance, and those who mocked as to whether Elijah would come to save the Lord. Reflect for a moment upon the fact that the women wept, and amongst them were the Lord’s relatives (Lk. 23:27). Lamentation for criminals on their way to die was not permitted in public. Suetonius (Tiberius 61) reports that “the relatives [of the crucified] were forbidden to go into mourning". Likewise Tacitus (Annals 6.19), Philo (In Flaccum 9,72) and Josephus (Wars Of The Jews 2.13.3,253). This is all quite some evidence, from a variety of writers. So why did they make this great sacrifice, take this great risk? The cross has power. Whether we feel it is impossible for us to be emotional, given our personality type, or whether we feel so lost in our own griefs that we cannot feel for Him there, somehow sustained reflection on the cross will lead us out of this. We will mourn, come what may. Yet the tragedy is that those women who risked so much didn’t necessarily maintain that level of commitment to the end. For the Lord had to tell them that they should weep for themselves given the calamity that would befall them and their children in AD70- for they would not listen to Him.
The language of Is. 63:1-5 applies with equal appropriacy to both the cross and the judgment. It is the time when the servant gains salvation and redemption for His people, alone, when all others have failed, with stained clothes reminiscent of Joseph’s, with all their reference to the death and resurrection of the Lord… and this is far from the only example of where prophecies can apply to both the crucifixion and the final judgment. We are justified by the blood of Christ; but dikaioo is a word of judgment- we are declared acceptable, as in a court decision. And this occurs because of the cross; there we were declared acceptable to our judge.
There seems to be a link made between the Lord’s death and the judgment in Rom. 8:34: “Who is he that judgeth / condemneth? It is Christ that died…", as if He and His death are the ultimate judgment. The OT idea of judgment was that in it, the Lord speaks, roars and cries, and there is an earthquake and eclipse of the sun (Joel 3:16; Am. 1:2; Jer. 25:30; Ps. 46:7; Rev. 10:3). Yet all these things are associated with the Lord’s death. God will judge every man’s work “forasmuch as ye know that ye were...redeemed...with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb slain..." (1 Pet. 1:17-19). The link between our judgment and Christ’s death needs to be reflected upon here. Our appreciation (“forasmuch...") of the cross is related to how we will be judged. The Lord’s death should influence our works and therefore it is intimately related to our final judgment. We will be judged in accordance with how far we have let the cross influence our daily works.
The cross leads to thoughts being revealed (Lk. 2:35); and the judgment process likewise will lead to thoughts being revealed (s.w. in Mt. 10:26; 1 Cor. 3:13; 4:5). The Lord’s death is described as His washing “his garments in wine, and his vesture in the blood of grapes" (Gen. 49:11 RV). Treading out the grapes is a Hebraism for judgment, and yet it is used here and in Is. 63:1-3 regarding the Lord’s treading of the winepress alone in His death. Indeed, the Isaiah passage is clearly applicable to both the crucifixion and the final judgment of the Lord Jesus. The reason being, that in His death was the judgment of this world.
When the disciples got carried away wondering where the future judgment would be and how ever they would get there, the Lord replied that where the body is, thither the eagles naturally gather. One of the well known shames of crucifixion was that the body was pecked by birds, even before death occurred. The idea of an uncovered body attracting birds (i.e. the believers) would have been readily understood as a crucifixion allusion. Whilst this may seem an inappropriate symbol, it wouldn’t be the only time the Bible uses language which we may deem unfitting. Consider how Ps. 78:65,66 likens God to a drunk man awakening and flailing out at His enemies, striking them in the private parts. I always have to adjust my specs and read this again before I can really accept that this is what it says. So in Mt. 24:28, the Lord seems to be responding to the disciples’ query about the physicalities of the future judgment by saying that in reality, His crucifixion would in essence be their judgment, and this is what they should rather concern themselves with. They would gather together unto it and through this know the verdict upon them, all quite naturally, as eagles are gathered by natural instinct to the carcass. The thief on the cross wanted the Lord to remember him for good at judgment day. Yet He replied that He could tell him today, right now, the result of the judgment- the thief would be accepted. It’s as if the Lord even in that agony of mind and body…realized keenly that He, there, that fateful afternoon, was sitting in essence on the judgment throne. And for us too, the Lord on Calvary is our constant and insistent judge. It could even be that when the Lord told the Sanhedrin that they would see the son of man coming in judgment (Mk. 14:62), He was referring to the cross. For how will they exactly see Him coming in judgment at the last day?
One of the most powerful links between the cross and the judgment is to be found in Jn. 3:14-21 (which seems to be John’s commentary rather than the words of Jesus Himself). Parallels are drawn between:
- The snake lifted up on the pole (=the crucifixion), teaching that whoever believes in the crucified Christ should live
- God so loving the world (language elsewhere specifically applied to the crucifixion: Rom. 5:8; 1 Jn. 3:16; 4:10,11)
- God giving His Son (on the cross, Rom. 5:15; 8:32; 1 Cor. 11:24), that whoever believes in Him should live
- God sending His Son to save the world (1 Jn. 4:10; Gal. 4:4 cp. Jn. 12:23,27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1)
- Light coming into the world (at His death, the darkness was ended).
All these phrases can refer to the life and person of the Lord; but sometimes they are specifically applied to the cross. And further, they are prefaced here in Jn. 3 by a reference to the Lord as the snake lifted up on the pole. The essence of the Lord, indeed the essence of God Himself, was openly displayed in it’s most crystallised form in the cross. There was the epitome of love, of every component of God’s glory, revealed to the eyes of men. There above all, the light of God’s love and glory came into the world. In this context John’s comment continues: “This is the condemnation / judgment, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest". If we understand “the light" as pre-eminently the cross, we see further evidence that there indeed was and is the judgment of this world. The Lord described His impending death as “the judgment of this world" (Jn. 12:31); and here He says that the judgment of this word is that He is the light of the world and men shy away from Him. The link between the light of the world and the snake being lifted up on the pole would have been more evident to Hebrew readers and thinkers than it is to us. The “pole" on which the snake was lifted up was a standard, a pole on which often a lamp would be lifted up: “a beacon upon the top of a mountain...an ensign (s.w.) on an hill" (Is. 30:17). The ‘light’ would have been understood as a burning light rather than, e.g., the sun. The light of which the Lord spoke would have been understood as a torch, lifted up on a standard. The same Greek word is used in describing how the jailor asked for a “light", i.e. a blazing torch, in order to inspect the darkened prison (Acts 16:29). Speaking in the context of the snake lifted up on a pole, Jesus would have been inviting His audience to see Him crucified as the light of their lives. And this would explain why Isaiah seems to parallel the nations coming to the ensign / standard / pole of Christ, and them coming to the Him as light of the world (Is. 5:26; 11:10,12; 18:3; 39:9; 49:22; 62:10 cp. 42:6; 49:6; 60:3).Lk. 1:78,79 foretold how the Lord would be a lamp to those in darkness- and this had a strange fulfilment in His death. His example there on the cross was a light amidst the darkness that descended on the world. In the light of His cross, true self-examination is possible. Significantly perhaps, the Greek word for “light" occurs in Lk. 22:56, where Peter sits by the “fire" and was exposed. It was as if Peter was acting out a parable of how the “light" of association with the suffering Christ makes our deeds manifest. The day of “light" is both the crucifixion, and the last day of judgment, when all our deeds will be made manifest before the light (Lk. 12:3). By coming to the cross and allowing it to influence our self-examination, we come to judgment in advance.
Is. 45:20-24 speaks of how “all the ends of the earth" will look unto “a just God and a Saviour [Jesus]" and be saved- evident reference back to the brazen serpent lifted up for salvation. The result of this is that to Him “every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess" his moral failures, rejoicing that “in the Lord have I righteousness and strength...in the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory". These words are quoted in Phil. 2:11 in description of the believer’s response to the suffering Saviour. And yet they are quoted again in Rom. 14:10-12 regarding our confession of sin before the Lord at judgment day. The connections mean simply this: before the Lord’s cross, we bow our knee and confess our failures, knowing the imputation of His righteousness, in anticipation of how we will bow before Him and give our miserable account at the judgment. And both processes are wonderfully natural. We must simply allow the power of a true faith in His cross to work out its own way in us. At the judgment, no flesh will glory in himself, but only in the Lord Jesus(1 Cor. 1:29). And even now, we glory in His cross (Gal. 6:14).
Is. 45:23-25 cp. Rom. 14:11,12, about our reaction at the judgment seat
Phil. 2, about our reaction to the cross of Christ today
:23 every knee shall bow
:10 every knee shall bow
:23 every tongue shall swear
:11 every tongue shall confess
:24 in the Lord
:11 Jesus Christ is Lord
:25 shall glory
:11 to the glory of God
Clearly our response to the cross is a foretaste of our response to the judgment experience.
There is a powerful practical result of this connection between the cross and the judgment. The Lord brings it out when He gives three reasons for denying ourselves and taking up the cross; the final and most compelling is “For (because) the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then shall he give every man according to his works" (Mt. 16:24,27). Take up the cross, do what is hard for you spiritually, because this is the basis upon which you will be judged- how far you took up the cross, really denied yourself. Before the cross of Christ, we know the way we ought to take. Before the judgment seat, we will know likewise. But we make the answer now. On the cross, the Lord Jesus was ‘manifested’, shown as He really and essentially is (Heb. 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:19,20; 1 Jn. 3:5,8; 1 Tim. 3:16). But the same word is also used about the final manifesting of the Lord Jesus at His return (Col. 3:4; 1 Pet. 5:4; 1 Jn. 2:28; 3:2). This explains the link between the cross and His return; who He was then will be who He will be when He comes in judgment. There He endured the spitting and hatred of men in order to save them. And the same gracious spirit will be extended to all His true people, whatever their inadequacies.
The second coming will be our meeting with the Lord who died for us. To come before Him then will be in essence the same as coming before His cross. Rev. 16 describes the events of the second coming, and yet it is full of allusion back to the cross: “it is done", the temple of heaven opened (16:17); an earthquake (16:18), a cup of wine (16:19). We were redeemed by the blood of Jesus; and yet His return and judgment of us is also our “day of redemption" (Lk. 21:28; Rom. 8:23; Eph. 4:30). Yet that day was essentially the cross; but it is also in the day of judgment. Likewise, we are “justified" by the blood of Jesus. Yet the idea of justification is a declaring righteous after a judgment; as if the cross was our judgment, and through our belief in the Lord we were subsequently declared justified, as we will be in the Last Day.
The Breaking Of Bread And The Judgment
The Lord Jesus clearly saw a link between the breaking of bread and His return. He not only told His people to perform it “until he come", but He said both before and after the last supper [putting together the Gospel records] that He would not keep this feast until He returned. Our breakings of bread are therefore a foretaste of the final sitting down with Him in His Kingdom- for He had elsewhere used the idea of feasting with Him as a symbol of our fellowship with Him at His return. The Rabbis had repeatedly taught that Messiah would come at Passover; the first century Rabbi Joshua said that “In that night they were redeemed and in that night they will be redeemed by Messiah". Much evidence could be given of this(2). For this reason Josephus records how the Jewish revolts against Rome repeatedly occurred around Passover time.
Yet all the Jewish feasts have some reference to the breaking of bread. The Hebrew writer picks up the image of the High Priest appearing to pronounce the blessing on the people as a type of the Lord’s second coming from Heaven bearing our blessing. And yet they also all prefigure judgment in some way. Thus the Mishnah taught: “At four times in the year is the world judged"(3). Because the breaking of bread involves a serious concentration upon the cross, and the cross was in a sense the judgment of this world, it is apparent that the breaking of bread is in some ways a preview of the judgment seat. Our attitude to the cross and all that is meant by it is the summation of our spirituality. I normally dislike using alternative textual readings to make a point, but there is an alternative reading of 1 Cor. 11:29 which makes this point so clearly: “He who eats and drinks [‘unworthily’ isn’t in many manuscripts], eats and drinks discernment [judgment] to Himself. Not discerning the Lord’s body is the reason many of you are weak and sickly". The Corinthians were not discerning the difference between the Lord’s body and a piece of bread, for they were eating the bread as part of a self-indulgent social meal, rather than discerning Him.
The eating and drinking at the memorial meeting is a judging of ourselves. It’s a preview of the judgment. 1 Cor. 11 seems to be concerning behaviour at the memorial meeting. Time and again the brethren are described as “coming together" to that meeting (:17,18,20,33,34). Believers ‘coming together’ is the language of coming together to judgment. Where two or three are gathered , the Lord is in the midst of them (Mt. 18:20) uses the same word as in Mt. 25:32 concerning our gathering together unto judgment. We should not forsake the “assembling of [ourselves] together" (Heb. 10:25)- the same word as in 2 Thess. 2:1 regarding our “gathering together unto Him". The church being assembled (Acts 11:26), two or three being gathered (Mt. 18:20)- this is all a foretaste of the final gathering to judgment (Mt. 25:32 s.w.). The command to examine ourselves (11:29) uses the same word as in 3:13 concerning the way our works will be tried with fire by the judgment process of the last day. If members of an ecclesia break bread unworthily, they “come together unto condemnation" (11:34). Yet we must judge ourselves at these meetings, to the extent of truly realising we deserve condemnation (1 Cor. 11:31). We must examine ourselves and conclude that at the end of the day we are “unprofitable servants" (Lk. 18:10), i.e. worthy of condemnation (the same phrase is used about the rejected, Mt. 25:30). This is after the pattern of the brethren at the first breaking of bread asking “Is it I?" in response to the Lord’s statement that one of them would betray Him (Mt. 26:22). They didn’t immediately assume they wouldn’t do. And so we have a telling paradox: those who condemn themselves at the memorial meeting will not be condemned. Those who are sure they won’t be condemned, taking the emblems with self-assurance, come together unto condemnation. Job knew this when he said that if he justifies himself, he will be condemned out of his own mouth (Job 9:20- he understood the idea of self-condemnation and judgment now). Isaiah also foresaw this, when he besought men (in the present tense): “Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty", and then goes on to say that in the day of God’s final judgment, “[the rejected] shall go into the holes of the rock...for fear of the Lord and for the glory of His majesty when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth" (Is. 2:10,11,19-21). We must find a true, self-condemning humility now, unless it will be forced upon us at the judgment. The LXX of Is. 2:19 speaks of a rending of the rocks, exactly the same phrase as occurs in Mt. 27:51 about the crucifixion. Rending of rocks is common judgment day language (Nah. 1:5,6; Zech. 14:4), and consider too how this happened in the theophany of 1 Kings 19:11,12, in which the still small voice would be comparable to the message of the cross. David’s example helps us understand something of how this paradox works out in practice. He of all people appeared confident in his relationship with God and his personal hope of salvation. And yet he frequently felt at times “cast off" (Ps. 43:2; 44:9; 60:1; 74:1; 77:7; 88:14; 89:38; 108:11), using a Hebrew word elsewhere commonly used about God’s final rejection of sinners. David genuinely felt a condemned man- and yet he rejoiced in God’s salvation. Few of us get the balance so right.
More positively, because we know God’s judgment, we can have some knowledge of our acceptability with God as we face the emblems. Whilst it may be hard to believe, Gal. 6: 4 says that we can prove / judge our own works, and thus have rejoicing in ourselves. Although self-examination is fraught with problems, and even our conscience can be deceptive at times (1 Cor. 4:4), there is a sense in which we can judge / discern ourselves now.
This connection between the breaking of bread and judgment day is in fact a continuation of an Old Testament theme. Three times a year, the Israelite had to ‘go up’ to present himself before the Lord at the feasts (Dt. 16:16). He was to ‘appear’ there- a Hebrew word elsewhere translated approve, discern, gaze upon, take heed, look upon oneself, perceive, shew oneself. His very presence before the Lord would have this effect: he would be revealed openly to God, and he would see himself as he was. This was the intention; and yet Yahweh went on to warn them not to appear before Him “empty", vainly, ‘to no effect’. Behold the intense relevance to our appearing before the Lord at our Passover: we can so easily present ourselves there ‘to no effect’, when the intention is that we should be manifesting ourselves to ourselves and to God. The familiar order of service, the well known hymns, the presence of familiar and often family faces...these factors (not wrong in themselves) all encourage us to ‘appear’ there to no effect. David describes the going up to keep the feasts in unmistakable judgment-seat language: “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go [up] into the house of the Lord...the tribes go up...unto the testimony of Israel [cp. the Lord Jesus, the faithful and true witness], to give thanks unto the name of the Lord. For there are set [AV mg. ‘do sit’] thrones of judgment, the thrones [an intensive plural- the great throne] of the house of David [i.e. that of Christ]" (Ps. 122:1-5). David wrote this well aware that Messiah was to sit on his throne in Jerusalem at His return and final judgment. Is it going too far to suggest that David saw in the tribes going up to Zion a type of God’s people going up to meet the Lord at the final judgment? If so, he understood their response to the invitation to go there as one of joy; we go to judgment to praise, joyful at the invitation.
Another OT anticipation of these things is found in the way the “water of separation" granted cleansing, in prophecy of the effect of the blood of Christ (Num. 19:21). But the Hebrew for “separation" is also translated ‘uncleanness’ (Lev. 20:21; Ezra 9:11; Zech. 13:1). Touching this water for any other reason made a man unclean. Only if used in the right context did it make him clean (Num. 19:21). This is why it is described with a word which has these two meanings. Thus the RSV gives “water of impurity", the Russian: ‘water of purifying’. And so it is with our contact with the work of the Lord, symbolized in the emblems. We are made unclean by it, we drink damnation to ourselves, if we don’t discern it. Only if we properly discern it are we cleansed by it.
The most evident link between the breaking of bread and the judgment / second coming is in the fact we are to do it “until he come". The Jews expected Messiah to come at Passover, and the Lord seems to have plugged into that fact. ‘Until he come’ was an allusion by Paul to the contemporary Passover prayer for the coming of Messiah at the Passover meal: “May the Lord come and this world pass away. Amen. Hosanna to the house of David. If any man is holy, let him come; if any man is not, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen". Joachim Jeremias translates the phrase: “’Until (matters have developed to the point at which) he comes’, ‘until (the goal is reached, that) he comes’" (4). He points out a similar construction in other passages relevant to the second coming (Lk. 21:24; 1 Cor. 15:25; Rom. 11:25). Thus each memorial meeting brings us a step closer towards the final coming of Jesus. It would therefore be so appropriate if the Lord did return during a breaking of bread. One day, the foretaste of judgment which we experience then will be, in reality, our final judgment. As we break bread, each time we are ‘reminding’ the Father as well as ourselves of His Son’s work and the need to climax it in sending Him back.
The whole story of Joseph is one of the clearest types of Jesus in the Old Testament. The way His brethren come before His throne and are graciously accepted is one of the most gripping foretastes we have of the final judgment. The rather strange way Joseph behaves towards them was surely to elicit within them a true repentance. He sought to bring them to self-knowledge through His cup. Joseph stresses to the brethren that it is through his cup that he “divines" to find out their sin. He also emphasizes that by stealing the cup they had “done evil" (Gen. 44:4,5). And yet they didn’t actually steal the cup. The “evil" which they had done was to sell him into Egypt (Gen. 50:20). They had “stolen" him (Gen. 40:15) in the same way they had “stolen" the cup. This is why he says that “ye" (you plural, not singular, as it would have been if he was referring merely to Benjamin’s supposed theft) had stolen it (Gen. 44:15). And the brethren in their consciences understood what Joseph was getting at- for instead of insisting that they hadn’t stolen the cup, they admit: “What shall we say unto my lord? What shall we speak? Or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants" (Gen. 44:16). Clearly their minds were on their treatment of Joseph, the sin which they had thought would not be found out. And this was why they were all willing to bear the punishment of becoming bondmen, rather than reasoning that since Benjamin had apparently committed the crime, well he alone must be punished. The cup was “found" and they realized that God had “found out" their joint iniquity (Gen. 44:10,12,16). The cup was perceived by them as their “iniquity" with Joseph. They had used the very same Hebrew words years before, in telling Jacob of Joseph’s garment: “This have we found…" (Gen. 37:32).
The cup made them realize their guilt and made them acceptive of the judgment they deserved. And it made them quit their attempts at parading their own righteousness, no matter how valid it was in the immediate context (Gen. 44:8). The cup made them realize their real status, and not just use empty words. Behold the contradiction in Gen. 44:9: “With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my Lord’s bondmen / servants". The Hebrew words translated “servants" and “bondmen" are the same. Their mere formal recognition that they were Joseph’s servants was to be translated into reality. Thus they say that Joseph had “found out the iniquity of thy servants; behold, we are my Lord’s servants". Describing themselves as His servants had been a mere formalism; now they wanted it in a meaningful reality. And the Lord’s cup can do the same to us. The way they were “searched" (Gen. 44:12) from the oldest to the youngest was surely the background for how the guilty men pined away in guilt from the Lord, from the eldest to the youngest. The whole experience would have elicited self-knowledge within them. The same word is found in Zech. 1:12, describing how God Himself would search out the sin of Jerusalem.
Joseph was trying to tell them: ‘What you did to the cup, you did to me. That cup is a symbol of me’. And inevitably the mind flies to how the Lord solemnly took the cup and said that this was Him. Our attitude to those emblems is our attitude to Him. We have perhaps over-reacted against the Roman Catholic view that the wine turns into the very blood of Jesus. It doesn’t, of course, but all the same the Lord did say that the wine is His blood, the bread is His body. Those emblems are effectively Him to us. They are symbols, but not mere symbols. If we take them with indifference, with minds focused on externalities, then this is our essential attitude to Him personally. This is why the memorial meeting ought to have an appropriate intensity about it- for it is a personal meeting with Jesus. “Here O my Lord, I see thee face to face". If it is indeed this, then the cup will be the means of eliciting within us our own realization of sin and subsequently, of our salvation in Jesus.
The brothers’ words are exactly those of Daniel in Dan. 10:15-17, where in another death and resurrection experience, he feels just the same as he lays prostrate before the Angel. Our attitude to the Lord in the last day will be our attitude to Him at the breaking of bread- just as our “boldness" in prayer now will be our “boldness" in the day of judgment. In the same way as the brothers had to be reassured by Joseph of his loving acceptance, so the Lord will have to ‘make us’ sit down with Him, and encourage us to enter into His joy. There will be some sort of disbelief at the extent of His grace in all those who are truly acceptable with Him (“When saw we thee…?"). The brothers grieved and were angry with themselves in the judgment presence of Joseph (Gen. 45:5)- they went through the very feelings of the rejected (cp. “weeping and gnashing of teeth" in self-hatred). And yet they were graciously accepted, until like Daniel they can eventually freely talk with their saviour Lord (Gen. 45:15). And so the sheep will feel rejected at the judgment, they will condemn themselves- in order to be saved ultimately. The same words occur in Neh. 8:10,11, when a repentant Israel standing before the judgment bema (LXX) are given the same assurance.
The Hebrew for “divineth" means literally ‘to make trial’; their taking of the cup was their trial / judgment. Thus we drink either blessing or condemnation to ourselves by taking the cup. The word used by the LXX for “divineth" in Gen. 44:5 occurs in the NT account of the breaking of bread service: ‘everyone should examine himself, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup’ (1 Cor. 11:28). The Lord examines us, as we examine ourselves. There is a mutuality here- the spirit of man is truly the candle of the Lord (Prov. 20:27). He searches us through our own self-examination. He knows all things, but there may still be methods that He uses to gather than information. Our hearts are revealed to God through our own self-examination. And is it mere co-incidence that the Hebrew words for “divination" and “snake" are virtually identical [nahash]? The snake lifted up on the pole [cp. the crucified Jesus] is the means of trial / divination. Through the cross, the thoughts of many hearts are revealed (Lk. 2:35), just as they will be at the last day (1 Cor. ). Thus the breaking of bread ceremony is a means towards the sort of realistic self-examination which we find so hard to achieve in normal life.
The very nature of the breaking of bread brings us to a T-junction in our lives. The Corinthians were told that they would “provoke the Lord to jealousy" by breaking bread and yet also worshipping idols (1 Cor. 10:22). This is surely an allusion to the “trial of jealousy" (Num. 5:24). A curse was recited and then the believer drunk a cup; if they were unfaithful, they drunk to their condemnation. Paul’s allusion suggests that each day we break bread and drink the cup, we as the bride of Christ are going through the trial of jealousy. Brutal honesty and self-examination, and not merely of our lives in the last few days, is therefore crucial before drinking the cup.
The breaking of bread brings us before the cross, which is in a sense our judgment seat. There can only be two exits from the Lord’s throne, to the right or to the left, and likewise we are faced with such a choice in our response to the bread and wine. The cup of wine is a double symbol- either of blessing (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:25), or of condemnation (Ps. 60:3; 75:8; Is. 51:17; Jer. 25:15; Rev. 14:10; 16:19) (5). Why this use of a double symbol? Surely the Lord designed this sacrament in order to highlight the two ways which are placed before us by taking that cup: it is either to our blessing, or to our condemnation. Each breaking of bread is a further stage along one of those two roads. Indeed, the Lord’s supper is a place to which the rejected are invited (Zeph. 1:7,8; Rev. 19:7), or the redeemed (Rev. 3:20). Like the cup of wine, being invited to the Lord’s supper is a double symbol. Another double symbol is to be found in the figure of a woman in labour. This symbolizes both condemnation (Is. 13:8) and also of spiritually coming to birth (Is. 37:3). Through the experience and recognition of condemnation for sin in this life, we can come to spiritual birth. Another is to be found in the idea of God looking upon men- He looks upon the righteous (1 Pet. 3:12 RV), and yet He looked upon the Egyptians at the Red Sea to their condemnation. God will ‘look upon’ each of us at judgment day- either to our condemnation or salvation.
And there is no escape by simply not breaking bread. The peace offering was one of the many antecedents of the memorial meeting. Once the offerer had dedicated himself to making it, he was condemned if he didn't then do it, and yet also condemned if he ate it unclean (Lev. 7:18,20). So a man had to either cleanse himself, or be condemned. There was no get out, no third road. The man who ate the holy things in a state of uncleanness had to die; his eating would load him with the condemnation of his sins (Lev. 22:3,16 AV mg.). This is surely the source for our possibility of “eating...condemnation" to ourselves by partaking of the breaking of bread in an unworthy manner. And so it is with us as we face the emblems. We must do it, or we deny our covenant relationship. And yet if we do it in our uncleanness, we also deny that relationship. And thus the breaking of bread brings us up before the cross and throne of the Lord Jesus- even now. It brings us to a realistic self-examination. If we cannot examine ourselves and know that Christ is really in us, then we are reprobate; we " have failed" (2 Cor. 13:5 G.N.B.). Self-examination is therefore one of those barriers across our path in life which makes us turn to the Kingdom or to the flesh. If we can't examine ourselves and see that Christ is in us and that we have therefore that great salvation in Him; we've failed. I wouldn't be so bold as to throw down this challenge to any of us in exhortation. But Paul does. It's a powerful, even terrible, logic. 1 Cor. 11:26 AVmg. makes the act of breaking bread a command, an imperative to action: “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, shew ye the Lord’s death, till he come". If we are going to eat the emblems, it is axiomatic that we will commit ourselves to shewing forth His death to the world, like Paul placarding forth Christ crucified in our lives (Gal. 3:1 Gk.). The Passover likewise had been a ‘shewing’ to one’s family “that which the Lord did unto me" (Ex. 13:8), the redemption we have experienced.
When the people ratified their covenant with Yahweh [cp. the breaking of bread], they had to confirm their agreement that they would be cursed for disobedience to it; and “cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them" (Dt. 27:26). They couldn’t opt out of bringing this curse upon themselves for disobedience- if they did, they were cursed.
The Passover was another foretaste of the bread and wine service we participate in. If it was eaten unclean, the offerer ate condemnation to himself. He was to be cut off from the community if he opted out of keeping the Passover; and yet he was also rejected if he kept it unclean. So he couldn’t just flunk his need to keep the feast. He had to keep it, and he had to keep in a clean state. And so with us. To simply not break bread is to deny our relationship with the Lord. But once we commit to doing it, we must search our houses for leaven, for those little things which over time will influence the whole direction and nature of our spiritual lives. The breaking of bread brings us face to face with the need for self-examination and the two paths before us. It is a T-junction which reflects the final judgment. Judas’ reaction to the first memorial meeting exemplifies this. The Lord took the sop (of bread) and dipped it (in the vinegar-wine, according to the Jewish custom), and gave it to Judas. This was a special sign of His love and affection, and one cannot help wondering whether Peter and John observed it with keen jealousy. Yet after taking it, after that sign of the Lord’s especial love for him, “satan entered into" Judas and he went out and betrayed the Lord of glory (Jn. 13:27). In that bread and wine, Judas was confronted with the Lord’s peerless love for the very darkest sinner and His matchless self-sacrifice; and this very experience confirmed him in the evil way his heart was set upon. And it also works, thankfully, the other way. We can leave that meeting with the Lord, that foretaste of judgment, that conviction of sin and also of the Lord’s victory over it, with a calm assurance of His love which cannot be shaken, whatever the coming week holds.
Judging / examining ourselves is made parallel with discerning the Lord's body: as if discerning His body on the cross inevitably results in self-examination, and vice versa (1 Cor. 11:28,29). We must discern the Lord's body, and thereby examine ourselves (these are the same words in the Greek text). Yet the Lord’s body in the Corinthian context is the ecclesia, the body of Jesus. To discern ourselves is to discern the Lord’s body (1 Cor. 11:29,30 RV). By discerning our brethren for who they are, treating them as brethren, perceiving our own part in the body of Jesus, our salvation is guaranteed. For this is love, in its most fundamental essence.
If we examine / judge / condemn ourselves now in our self-examination, God will not have to do this to us at the day of judgment. If we cast away our own bodies now, the Lord will not need to cast us away in rejection (Mt. 5:30). There is a powerful logic here. If we pronounce ourselves uncondemned, we condemn ourselves (Tit. 3:11); if we condemn ourselves now, we will be uncondemned ultimately. This is why the Greek word translated " examine" (1 Cor. 11:29) is also that translated " approve" in 11:19 (and also 1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 13:7; 2 Tim. 2:15). By condemning ourselves we in a sense approve ourselves. Our self-examination should result in us realising our unworthiness, seeing ourselves from God's viewpoint. There is therefore a parallel made between our own judgment of ourselves at the memorial meeting, and the final judgment- where we will be condemned, yet saved by grace (James 2:12; 3:1). If we don't attain this level of self-knowledge now, we will be taught it by being condemned at the judgment. This makes the logic of serious, real self-examination so vital; either we do it in earnest, and realise our own condemnation, or if we don't do it, we'll be condemned at the judgment. Yet as with so much in our spiritual experience, what is so evidently logical is so hard to translate into reality. The process of judgment will essentially be for our benefit, not the Lord's. Then the foolish virgins realise that they didn't have enough oil / spirituality; whilst the wise already knew this (Mt. 25:13). As a foretaste of the day of judgment, we must " examine" ourselves, especially at the breaking of bread (1 Cor. 11:28). The same word is used in 1 Cor. 3:13 concerning how the process of the judgment seat will be like a fire which tries us.
So, in the light of all this, break bread. Many readers of these words are isolated or only occasionally meet with their brethren for formal memorial meetings. But break bread alone, weekly if you can. I know, from years in semi-isolation myself, how terribly tempting it is to let it slip from a weekly habit. ‘I’ll do it tomorrow, next week, well soon we’ll have a visit / meeting, I’ll do it then anyway...’. Whenever the Lord started to speak about His death, the disciples invariably turned the conversation round to another tack. And it seems, from a careful analysis of the crucifixion records, that those who came to behold Golgotha’s awful scene couldn’t watch it for too long, but went away. And so with us, we have a tendency to defer facing up to the message of the cross as the emblems portray it; and even while we are doing it, to concern ourselves with anything but the essential essence of the cross; the taste of the wine, the cover over the bread, the music, what we didn’t agree with in the exhortation... all these things we can so eagerly crowd out the essence of the cross.
When you’re in isolation, nobody ever asks you point blank: ‘Do you break bread alone every week?’. We may meet together with others occasionally, and when we do we all act as if of course this is the norm of our spiritual lives; when it can so easily not be so at all. If the above reasoning has been followed, the breaking of bread is a vital, God-designed part of our spiritual growth. It should shake us to the bone, as it brings us face to shame-bowed face with the crucified Saviour. It isn’t a ritual which somehow shows us to be a keen Christian; it’s a vital act within our very personal spirituality. And so I will ask you point blank: ‘Do you break bread each week?’. Not that actually there’s any specific command to do it weekly; but it’s so evidently a vital part of our relationship with the Lord that we must ask ourselves why shouldn’t we do it weekly.
And break bread properly, not just to salve your conscience or because it’s expected of you, or because it’s your psychological routine. Be aware that there is a psychology of religious experience; all religious people like to have some physical symbolism (e.g. bread = body, wine = blood), and especially, some solemn rituals that they observe; and they feel calmer, satisfied, fulfilled after keeping them. On one level, we are religious people like any other religious people, and have the same features. But on another level, true Christianity is the one and only ultimately true religion, which by grace we have come to know. Our breaking of bread is far far more than just religious ritual, although on one level it is that. But we must rise well above this. Israel kept the Passover (cp. the breaking of bread), and yet to God they never really kept it. The Corinthians took the cup of the Lord and that of the idols; they broke bread with both (1 Cor. 10:21). But they were told they could not do this. They took the cup of the Lord; but not in the Lord’s eyes. They ate the Lord’s supper; but they had to be told that they were not really eating it (1 Cor. 11:20). They turned His supper into their own supper. They did it, but for themselves. And so in spiritual terms, they didn’t do it (1 Cor. 11:20.21). Just as the “Lord’s passover" became by the time of the NT “the feast of the Jews". They turned His passover into their own. Likewise they turned the house of God into their own house (Mt. 23:38); and the Lord called the law of God through Moses as now “their law" (Jn. 15:25). And so we must just accept the real possibility that we can break bread on the surface, but not break bread. We’ve probably all done this. Don’t let it become the norm. Likewise Israel had to be asked the rhetorical question: “Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years?" (Am. 5:25). Because they also worshipped Molech, their keeping of the feasts wasn’t accepted. So I can ask again: Do you really break bread?
So not only must we break bread by all means; we must allow ourselves the time and collected mind to enable us to do it as we are intended to. Like baptism, we can’t keep in mind at the same time all the wonderful, high things which the service means to us whilst we perform it. But we should try, as far as we can, to be as aware as possible of all these things. So may I say some things which ought to be obvious:
- Don’t noisily dash in to a memorial meeting late. Try to take your place with as little disturbance of others as possible. Bring your kids with you by all means; but try to make every reasonable effort to keep them from unduly distracting others. Try to remove all distractions, as far as you can, and minimise the possibility of interruption if you are breaking bread alone at home.
- Prepare your mind before the meeting. Realise something of what you are about to do. We could all ensure we sit in silence for at least five minutes before the meeting starts.
- If you are making comments on the readings or giving an exhortation, or simply seeking exhortation for yourself from the readings, concentrate on the things of the Lord Jesus and His cross. He is to be found in all the Scriptures. Don’t use this time as a platform for airing your crotchets or hang ups about others (even if only within your own mind).
- Don’t start talking (or thinking) about the things of this life the moment the last prayer finishes.
- Be sober, in view of the seriousness of what we are doing. Don’t allow a spirit of levity to creep in to the proceedings. We are going through a dummy run of judgment day. We stand before the Lord’s cross.
- And yet be joyful, as far as you can be. But don’t let the expression of that joy in music take you away from the focus of the meeting. Intricate part-singing in the Western world and repetitive, rhythmic choruses used elsewhere aren’t wrong per se; but if glorified in themselves they can take us away from the focus, the Head, which is the Saviour Lord Himself, and our desperate gratitude for His love.
- Don’t hold yourself back during the meeting; allow yourself to make those mental commitments you are moved to. Our flesh almost makes us feel embarrassed or insincere if we resolve to make a major (or minor) change in our lives. Let true devotion and response rise above this. We must just accept that the memorial meeting is an emotional experience; it can be nothing else, to the devoted heart. And there’s nothing wrong with this. Don’t be too proud (brethren) to shed a tear.
And especially. Don’t separate the act of breaking bread from the rest of your life. It should be the natural flow-on from your daily meditation on the Lord’s love. The mind set we have in that quiet hour should in principle be that which we have all our hours and days; for we live as men and women under judgment, ever confronted and comforted by that love of the Father and Son, so great, so free. It demands by its very nature and existence our self-examination and response, far more than just one hour / week.
(1) In the Corinthian context, the body of Christ is to be understood as the ecclesia. 1 Cor. 12 is full of this figure. The need to discern the Lord’s body at the breaking of bread means that we must go beyond reflection upon His physical body. We must recognise / discern His ecclesia too. The immediate context of 1 Cor. 11 is of unbrotherly behaviour at the memorial meeting. If we fail to recognise / appreciate / discern the Lord’s physical body, we will fail to recognise His brethren. And if we do this, we have made ourselves guilty of His body and blood, we have crucified Him again. This is why I plead with those who use the breaking of bread as a weapon for division within the Lord’s body to think again. The body which we must discern at the breaking of bread evidently has some reference to the ecclesia. We thereby place ourselves in a dangerous position by refusing to share the emblems with others in the body, and disfellowshipping those who do so.
(2) See Joachim Jeremias The Eucharistic Words Of Jesus (London: S.C.M., 1973 ed.,) p. 206.
(3) Quoted in Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching Of The Cross, 3rd ed., p. 266.
(4) Joachim Jeremias, op cit p. 253.
(5) The very structure of the Hebrew language reflects this. Thus the Hebrew ‘baruch’ means both ‘blessed’ and ‘cursed’; ‘kedoshim’ means both ‘Sodomites’ and ‘saints’.