In the Bible, bread (and beer, usually translated “strong drink,” liquid bread made from grain) is priestly and wine is kingly and prophetic. Bread comes first and wine later. Bread is alpha food while wine is omega food. You eat bread in the morning and drink wine at night. Bread is suitable for children while wine is for adults. The grain harvest precedes the grape harvest; Pentecost comes before the Feast of Booths. The Tribute Offering uses bread in the wilderness, and has wine added once the promised land is reached. Bread is made quickly, but wine takes much longer to ferment and mature.((These associations have been explored at length in Jeffrey J. Meyers, “Concerning Wine and Beer,” Rite Reasons 48-49.))
The entire Old Creation, the childhood of humanity (Galatians 4), is the time of bread, while the New Covenant, our maturity in Christ, is the time of bread and wine. Between the two comes the breaking of the bread, the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus comes as priest, not as king. He refuses to act as king and divide peoples’ inheritances. Instead, He professes to be doing nothing more than obeying His Father. In this regard, it is as priest that He dies, and then ascends to be enthroned.
Thus, the sequence of our ritual recapitulates the whole of human history and reinserts us into God’s historical plan as He renews the covenant with us sinners Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day. God’s plan is done before His face, and thus our ritual is a memorial, a form of prayer, done before His eyes. It shows us not only the contour of life and history, but also that life and history are under Him.((Romans 11 uses the analogy of the olive tree, which is the history of the covenant. We are plugged into that history, so that it becomes our history.))
The Old Creation is a time during which the loaf of bread is formed. Humanity is formed up to a certain point, and then is broken, in Jesus. Biblical bread (that is, the symbolic bread of Leviticus 2) is made by adding together flour, water, oil, salt, and sometimes leaven. A variety of elements are combined together through the “salt of the covenant” (Leviticus 2:13) and these elements can be seen to represent the human race: Israelite and Gentile, man and woman, with the Spirit.
If the “bread” consists only of oil mixed with flour and salt, it is not baked over fire; but as we shall see in a moment, the inclusion of salt speaks of fire and baking. Baking puts the formed loaf into the fire, and completes the bread-making. All the elements are transformed by the heat into something new. Now, what I have just described is a sequence: Form the loaf and then bake it. But in fact, salt represents fire in the Bible, and the inclusion of salt is the beginning of the baking process for that reason. Thus, the making and baking of the loaf should be seen as going on at the same time. This is made clear by the fact that the first form of “bread” discussed in Leviticus 2 consists only of flour, oil, and salt. The salt is the essential part of the baking; actual fire is optional.((Mark 9:49 reads: “For everyone will be salted with fire, and every sacrifice is salted with salt.” (The second half is not found in some manuscripts, but it has many witnesses in favor of it and there is no scholarly consensus.) The fiery taste of salt speaks for itself. Salt is not a symbol of preservation or of destruction as such, but is a symbol of the fire of the Spirit, baking God’s people and destroying His enemies. The “salt of the covenant” speaks of the Spirit, who is the bond of our covenant with Jesus.))
Moreover, every form of bread found in Leviticus 2 is broken, by being divided into the part burned up as a memorial to Yahweh and the part left for the priests.
Jesus is formed as The Loaf at His baptism, the climax of human development up to this point in history. Then He is broken. Though no bone of His personal body was broken, we see the breaking of the bread in the fact that as Jesus died the veil of the Temple was rent (Matthew 27:50- 51). The removal of the veil means that there is now full access to God, but the veil might simply have fallen. Its being ripped in half signifies the first half of the curse of the covenant, which is to be ripped in half and devoured by the birds and beasts (Genesis 15). Ripping bread in half has the same meaning. Both rippings speak of Jesus’ taking the curse on Himself for us – its first part, because He was not left to be eaten by birds. He died, but was not destroyed. His death is like that of believers, not like that of the wicked, who both die and are “destroyed” in hell.((Medieval pictures of demons eating people in hell are not without symbolic foundation in the Bible. Not only did the dogs eat Ahab and Jezebel, and not only do the vultures gather to devour the wicked, but the primeval serpent is cursed in Genesis 3 to eat the dust, and we have to recall that in Genesis 2, man is made of dust. Unless sinful dusty man is made into something new by redemption, he will be eaten by Satan. Christian artists have not intended that their pictures of hell be taken literally, of course, but as displaying the Biblical symbolism.))
Perhaps more importantly, Jesus’ “body” was the body-politic of Himself and His disciples, which was built up starting after His baptism. Their abandonment of Him in the garden of Gethsemane was the reading of this body, the breaking of the loaf. Notice that after this “priestly death,” Jesus is crowned and robed as a king by the soldiers, and crucified as “the king of the Jews,” so that the crucifixion is more His kingly than His priestly death.
Immediately after Jesus died, the centurion pierced His side so that blood and water flowed out (John 19). The blood and water are signified by the wine of the Supper, which is given to us after the bread is broken. The breaking of the bread, so to speak, releases the wine.
As mentioned, wine speaks of kingship and maturity, but in that the wine is also blood, it speaks also of suffering and death. As the book of Revelation shows us, we overcome by being ready to suffer for Jesus’ sake. His blood enables us to be suffering kings, for he who would be great in the Kingdom must be least of all. Jesus’ Kingdom will gradually cover and transform the world, but those glories will always be rooted in humility. The fact that we as kings must die points forward to the end of history, as predicted in Revelation 20, when there is a final attack by Satan upon the Church, a final tribulation.
As the course of history is encapsulated in our ritual, so is the course of human life. In the first part of our lives, God adds things into us, making us into a loaf. We learn things from our parents, teachers, and supervisors, and acquire a wife and children. In our lives, however, there is always some kind of mid-life crisis, when we are broken and our lives seem to fall apart. For women, this is focussed in menopause. For men it often means a sense that one’s life is not amounting to anything. The difficulty may be wholly internal, or it may be accompanied with outward affliction. Often people feel deserted by God as they go through this experience, as Jesus felt deserted on the cross. It is a real form of death, an experience of separation from God.
Those who have been through this experience, provided they don’t leave their wives and reject the faith, become elders. Their lives become more influential than ever before, even though they often don’t realize it. They move from the bread-time of life, the first phase, to the wine-time of life. Finally, however, the wine is poured out. The Christian dies as a libation to God, and in that death our influence spreads one last time (Philippians 2:17 & 2 Timothy 4:6). Those left behind remember what we stood for, and are moved to represent us and our concerns to others, since we are no longer present to do so.
We have set forth two simple sequences, in biography and history. In the first part of our lives we are like priests, obedient servants of our parents, teachers, and employers. Various things are added into our lives, and we become a loaf. Then we are broken, and we come out with wisdom, beginning the eldership or kingly phase of our lives. Similarly, the Old Covenant is a time of law and bread-forming, followed by the breaking of Jesus in the central crisis of history, and then by the enthronement of the Church with Jesus and a time of kingly sacrificial service.
With this simple structure in mind we must now modify this scheme just a bit. Consider biography first of all. Long before we go through our mid-life crisis, we have begun to have wisdom and to make hard decisions. We do start out as children, as priests, with bread alone, but the wine of wisdom begins to come into our lives before the crisis. In our 20s and 30s we begin to learn wisdom. After the crisis, we still have to obey, even though eldership means we are primarily manifesting wisdom.
History shows the same. Israel was a priestly/law/bread nation for 400 or so years before she became a kingly/wisdom/wine nation. But she did move into this preliminary kingly/wisdom/wine status before Jesus came and brought the great change in history.
Similarly, Jesus starts out simply as a priest. He is baptized, and soon preaches the Sermon on the Mount, a very legal address. But as time moves along, we get more “wisdom” in the form of parables. And Jesus allows Himself to be proclaimed a king six days before His crucifixion.
Thus, though Jesus comes in the middle of history, His life encapsulates the whole of history, both its priestly and kingly phases. His death is not only a breaking of bread, but an outpouring of wine, of His blood (Luke 22:20). He dies at the age of 33 or so, in the middle of His life, and so the breaking of bread may be seen as the more prominent aspect of His death. But by anticipation, He is also dying at the “end” of a full human life, at the age, so to speak, of seventy or eighty years (Psalm 90).
Our ritual applies both of these kinds of death to us, and in the same sequence. First the veil was ripped in half, and then the blood was poured out from Jesus’ side. First the priestly community of the disciples with Jesus was ripped apart, and then Jesus died as king, pouring out His blood- wine. The first points backward over the first half of human history, summing up the Old Creation, while the second points forward to the second half of human history, summing up the New Creation.
Similarly, the Supper speaks of both halves of our lives. Whether we are one year old or one hundred, it points backward to our bread time and forward to our wine time. Each time we do it, we affirm that we are being broken, and that we will at the end be poured out. But more than this: Paul speaks of his being poured out before he actually dies (Philippians 2:17 & 2 Timothy 4:6). The full outpouring comes at the final end, at physical death; but the meaning of that outpouring is applied to and manifested in us before we reach the end, and that is what makes us prophets. The breaking of the bread speaks of our transition from priests to kings, and the outpouring of the wine speaks of our transition from kings to prophets.
Thus, the rite of the Supper also points to this third phase of our lives. In a sense, the third, prophetic phase of life and history is an amplification of the kingly phase, as the kingly phase of life an amplification of the priestly phase. While serving as priests, we learn how to be kings; and then we are broken so that we can become kings. While serving as kings, we learn how to be prophets; and then we are poured out so that we can become prophets.
In the history of Israel, the transition from the priestly Mosaic time to the kingly Davidic time consisted of the Tabernacle’s being ripped in half. Between Eli and Solomon, the Holy of Holies was located in one place and the Holy Place in another. The Tabernacle was a symbol of Israel as God’s people-house, and its being rent in half is equivalent to the breaking in half of the body-politic, the bread, of Israel.
The transition from kingly times to prophetic times came when the Temple was completely torn down, and taken into exile. The Temple was poured out. And as the Temple was, again, a symbol of the body-politic of Israel, its being poured out represented the people’s move into exile. God’s people became prophets, moving from ruling one nation to being involved in the rule of the entire “world” as that world was set up in Daniel 2 and 7. They became advisors to the emperors; and the first of these was one of the very first men taken into exile: Daniel.
Now, both the period from Eli to Solomon and the period in Babylon are associated with the wilderness period between Egypt and the Promised Land. It is clear in Jeremiah that Judah and Jerusalem are Egypt, and that moving to the safety of Babylon (under Daniel’s protection) is a move out of Egypt. With the coming of Cyrus seventy years later, the people left that wilderness and moved into the new Promised Land, which was not only the land of Canaan but the entire imperial oikumene. The period from Eli to Solomon, during which Israel was delivered from Philistia (Egypt; Genesis 10:13-14) is the same kind of wilderness passage.
The first of these “death” experiences consisted of the breaking of the body-politic that had been formed at Sinai. The second consisted of the pouring out of the new kingly body-politic into a wider world.
With this type in mind, we can see Jesus’ death in two phases. To be sure, His death on the cross was total, involving priestly, kingly, and even prophetic aspects. But from the perspective we are discussing here, Jesus’ priestly death came when He was cut off from His body-politic, and left alone, in Gethsemane. Then He was made king, and then He was poured out as King on the cross. This outpouring is the beginning of the prophetic phase of His life, and we who drink His blood are those sent forth into all the world as prophets.((The wilderness period is the time of the Apostolic Age, from Pentecost to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.))
Thus, the ritual of the Supper, by making us priests and kings, also makes us prophets, since the prophet is a combination of the two in a more mature, larger way. We are made priests/kings/prophets in a world that is even larger than the empires set up in Daniel 2 and 7.
We can see the prophetic phase as part of the overall ritual if we consider that the ritual ends, and we are sent out. The rites make us priests and kings, through bread and wine, and then the rites kill us twice, through the broken body and outpoured blood of Jesus. Twice dead, we are now raised to the fullness of prophetic life, and sent out to carry this with us, as prophets, into the wider world. It is the sending forth, the commissioning and dismissal with which the Supper and the whole worship service end, that speaks of our being prophets, for we are sent forth to “disciple the nations.”
The prophet is not called to die, for he has already died twice, and is now a mature image of God, a member of the Divine Council. Jesus died as priest to become king, and He died as king to be seated at God’s right hand as His chief prophetic counsellor, as well as king and great high priest.((Indeed, the ascension should be linked more with Jesus’ assumption of prophetic office than with His assumption of kingly office. Jesus was king primarily on the cross.)) His double death is given to us, so that now all the people are prophets (Numbers 11:29; Acts 2:17- 18).
Much more could be written on this, but this is enough to illustrate the point that ritual, history, and biography follow the same pattern. With these in mind, we shall be able to say much more about the infinite implications of the simple rite of the Lord’s Supper.
James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis. This piece was originally found in “From Bread to Wine.”
To download Theopolis Lectures, please enter your email.