Two Cups

Divide it Among Yourselves
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He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.—Luke 22:17,18

Only Luke records the passing of the cup referred to in the text heading this article. Matthew and Mark both refer to the cup during the supper, but not to this first, preliminary cup; John passed by the memorial emblems of the last supper altogether. Luke also mentioned the later cup (Luke 22:20), thus distinguishing the two. Evidently the “fruit of the vine” in both cups represented the life of our Lord, shed for us.

Luke, the writer of this account, was not present at the last supper. Therefore, his information must have come from others, ultimately from one of the disciples present at that meal. One might suppose he came to this fact through his personal research while in Israel during the two-year imprisonment of his mentor and companion, the apostle Paul, at Caesarea (Acts 24:27; Luke 1:1-3). Paul reflects the same two cups in his first epistle to the Corinthians, an epistle written before Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea. Therefore, it is likely that Luke received this information from Paul, and that Paul received it from other disciples on a previous visit to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18; 2:1).

The words of our Lord accompanying the passing of this cup indicate there was a special meaning to it. He declined to drink of it himself, saying “divide it among yourselves,” and then explaining that “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.” True to his words, he abstained not only that evening, but even the following morning when he was crucified: “They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink” (Matthew 27:34). That “vinegar” was evidently sour wine, for Mark’s account says, “they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not” (Mark 15:23).

To have drunk that wine would have violated his earlier statement that he would not drink of the “fruit of the vine” until the kingdom. If the wine itself has symbolism—referring to our Lord’s life shed for us—then his refusal to drink, yet his tasting of it later, likely also carries some meaning.{FOOTNOTE: Matthew 27:48, Mark 15:36, and John 19:28, 29 show that Jesus was offered some of this pain numbing drink again near the end of his suffering. John says they “put it to his mouth” and that “when Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished.” It does not affirm that he drank the vinegar that was put to his mouth. Probably he merely tasted it here also, uttered his last words, and died.}

Jesus said of the second cup, the one passed during the last supper, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28, NASB). It was appropriate for him to abstain, for he himself did not need forgiveness of sin. It was appropriate for him to distribute it to the others, because Jesus would be the source of redemption for them and all of us.

That Jesus “tasted” wine at his crucifixion—not the pleasant sweet wine, but the sour, vinegar wine—likely represents our Lord’s sufferings incident to the giving of his life in redemption for others.


Paul spoke of the symbolism of the cup at the last supper on two occasions, once in first Corinthians chapter 10 and then again in first Corinthians chapter 11. In the first case, Paul exhorted the brethren to holiness and reminded them what happened in ancient Israel: “With many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:5).

In verse seven Paul said, “Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them,” citing the example and the punishment the offenders received, and continued the same kind of exhortation down to verse fourteen: “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.”

But what kind of idolatry would brethren in Christ be involved with to warrant such advice? Paul explained that in verses 15 through the end of that chapter: the idolatry of joining in the spirit of pagan festivities. If they joined in such festivities, eating meat dedicated to idols for the occasion, they would be improperly involving themselves in the fellowship of other gods. That would be idolatry.{FOOTNOTE: It is not the meat itself which is at issue, but eating such meat in company with pagans, participating in the spirit of the occasion. “I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he? All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient” (1 Corinthians 10:20-23).

Respecting the meat itself, Paul advised in verses 25 and 26, “Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” For more involved social situations, Paul gave further advice on the same subject in verses 27-29.}

To make his point, Paul reminded us of the sacrifice that we do have fellowship in, namely the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Thus, in verse 16 Paul introduced the symbols used at the last supper: “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17, 18, NASB).

The sequence of symbols is first the cup and then bread. This matches the account of Luke where Jesus first offered a cup to his disciples and later, during the meal, probably near its close, he passed the bread representing his body. Paul refered to the cup as “the cup of blessing,” that is, a cup for which they gave thanks, or asked a blessing. In this case it appears to have been some refreshment to open the activities of the evening. It is the same as the first cup mentioned by Luke, and Paul says it represents “the blood of Christ.”

In chapter 11 Paul commented on the symbols a second time, in connection with the matter of unity and kindness within the church. Here, he put the bread first and then the cup. He specified in this case that the cup was “when he [Jesus] had supped” (1 Corinthians 11:25). That is, after Jesus had dined, had eaten the last supper. In chapter 10 it is called “the cup of blessing” and later the bread is mentioned. In chapter 11 it is the bread, followed by the cup that was after supper, to distinguish it from the first cup. The essential picture is the same in either case. The fruit of the vine represented the blood of Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:25).

If there is a point of distinction between the two cups, perhaps the first suggests our beginning appreciation of the sacrifice of Jesus which draws our thanks and gratitude, and the second represents our later and deeper appreciation of the cost involved in this redemption. In the tabernacle arrangement there is something which shows two steps in our recognition of our Savior’s gift. First, the one approaching God enters through the gate, into the enclosure within the white linen curtain defined as the court. Thus, we appreciate what Christ has done for us, and it encourages our further approach toward God. Then we come to the altar, showing the sufferings implicit in Christ providing that gift.

Eating and Drinking

If we pursue our faith during the present Gospel age, we will sacrifice with Christ now, and ultimately celebrate a joyous meeting with him in the heavenly kingdom. Then Jesus will “drink it new with you [us] in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). The word “new” in this case, in the Greek, is kainon, new in kind, rather than neos, new relative to time. It will be different in kind because it will be a cup of rejoicing, rather than a cup tinged with sorrow because of the suffering involved in the present.

There is a sense in which our rejoicing in the kingdom begins even now, with the blessings of the present time. God “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:13). In this sense, we “eat and drink” with our Lord in celebration of present blessings. We are made to “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).

Perhaps this feature is indicated by what our Lord did with the apostles after his resurrection. He would not drink even a little of the sour wine offered to him for relief at the cross. But later, the disciples “did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:41). “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15).

The same symbols, eating and drinking, to represent spiritual interchange and fellowship, are expressed in the Old Testament also. When Moses was called up to Mount Sinai to see a vision of God, he was accompanied by Aaron, Aaron’s two eldest sons Nadab and Abihu, and to represent the nation as a whole, “the seventy elders of Israel.” Thus, when God deemed it appropriate to show himself in a vision to demonstrate his presence with Israel, he authorized an august company of seventy-three others to accompany Moses, so that the testimony would be sure and beyond reproach.{FOOTNOTE: Previously, at the giving of the ten commandments for the first time, those commands were spoken from heaven in the ears of all the Israelites gathered at the base of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:23-25, 20:1-19, Deuteronomy 5:4,22-24). Thus everyone in the camp was assured that these commands were from God, not simply from Moses himself. This experience is the background for Paul’s advice to us: “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh” (Hebrews 12:25), that is, our Lord Jesus who speaks to us from heaven as the representative of God.} “They saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness ... they saw God, and did eat and drink” (Exodus 24:10, 11).{FOOTNOTE: The description of God’s appearance in Exodus 24:10 is similar to God’s later appearance to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:26).} Eating and drinking here also are used in connection with godly, solemn, but delightful, fellowship.

The Offer to Barzillai

In 2 Samuel 19, there is an interesting account of an aged friend of King David, named Barzillai. He showed kindness and comfort to David’s men in their time of need. In appreciation, David asked Barzillai to return with him to Jerusalem, and receive favor from the king: “Come thou over with me, and I will feed thee with me in Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 19:33).

Barzillai respectfully declined the invitation, citing his age, eighty years old, and his reduced capacities: “Can thy servant taste what I eat or what I drink?” (verse 35). He would live out his days on the east side of Jordan, where he had lived so long. But he would ask the favors of King David on behalf of Chimham, perhaps a son of Barzillai.

When Jesus came into his kingdom, and “sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3), the high calling opened up. Some of righteous character, kindly disposed to the new king, but accustomed to earthly hopes, declined the favor of eating and drinking at the table of the new king. They would remain on the other side of Jordan, with earthly prospects. But Chimham, of a younger generation, would receive the favors of the new king and dine with appreciation at the royal table in Jerusalem.

Parable of a Great Feast

The symbol of eating and drinking appears also in a parable of Jesus about the high calling, represented as a great supper to which God invited many guests: “A certain man made a great supper, and bade many ... the master of the house ... said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city ... that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:16-23). Matthew’s account adds, “Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready” (Matthew 22:4).

Proverbs 9:1,2, may be a background Old Testament passage for this parable. It mentions both the food and drink prepared for the feast: “Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars: She hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table.”

If we appreciate what has been prepared at such great cost of sacrifice by Christ, and planning and preparation by our heavenly Father, then we gladly accept the high honor and privilege of these rich spiritual blessings.