"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Pictures of the Supper: The Marriage Feast

The final picture of the Supper is the substance of the anticipation of the Supper: The Marriage Feast of the Lamb

The Lord's Supper occurs in light of eschatological expectation. We have seen the principle of fellowship meal over bread and wine with Abraham and Melchizedek in Genesis 14. We have seen the institution of the Passover meal, that looked back to redemption from Egypt and grew to look forward to the coming of Messiah and final sacrifice. In both Passover and the Exodus 24:11 covenant meal we have seen the principle of a celebratory meal in light of sacrifice. Since the Supper happens in light of this eschatological expectation, we naturally ask if it is the full realization of eschatological expectation or if the Lord's Supper also looks forward to another reality.

The first example we might cite that the Supper is looking forward to a future time is Paul's instructions on the celebration of the Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:26. There, Paul states that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. ” The final clause “until he comes” indicates the Supper is an instituted ritual that will continue until such time as Christ returns. They question arises, why would the celebration of the Lord's Supper cease at that time?

Jesus hints at a future aspect to the Supper at the institution of the Supper. In the Luke account, eschatological references are made when Jesus tells the disciples that “I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:16) Similarly, Jesus reflects on the cup that “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:18) This selection indicates that there will be a continuation of eating and drinking in the eschaton. Since Paul has indicated that feast is not equivalent to the Lord's Supper, we must inquire as to what is that meal.

Of significance to note in our study is the treatment of another meal in the Scriptures. Isaiah 25:6-8 gives some relief to the oracles of judgment against Israel by foretelling the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. Full restoration is pictured as a feast on a mountain with rich food and aged wine. This is the time of comfort, where the Lord “will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth.” (Isaiah 25:8) The same themes are repeated in Isaiah 65:13-17, where new creation is also added to the picture of the wedding feast.

The first coming, and so the Lord's Supper, must be seen as corresponding to the promise of Isaiah 25 and 65. The promise of the Supper was a communion with Christ's blood and body. (1 Cor 10:16) In commenting on this passage, John Calvin suggests that “from the physical things set forth in the Sacrament we are led by a sort of analogy to spiritual things.” Scripture describes the purpose of both bread and wine in Psalm 104:15, where it is written God gives “bread to strengthen man's heart” and “ wine to gladden the heart of man.” Scripture seems to understand that this can, to some degree be experienced in the Lord's Supper, with the first fruits of comfort and new creation. The first coming inaugurated the blessings promised in the imagery of Isaiah 25 and 65. John 2 describes the wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus turns the water into wine when the wine had run out. This was a "sign" because the Old Testament promised an age of abundant wine, and Jesus was beginning to fulfill that promised age.

Although there is already an aspect of the eschatological hope of the Passover and covenant meal in the Lord's Supper, that hope is not yet fully realized. Isaiah 25 functions within a broader deliverance section that includes chapter 26, where the resurrection of the dead is promised. (Isaiah 26:19) Although Jesus is the first fruits of that, final fulfillment awaits the resurrection of believers. If Isaiah 26:19 awaits Jesus' second coming for fulfillment, it is not a stretch to say Isaiah 25:6-8 also has not been realized in fulfillment. Although God in Christ is present at the Lord's Supper when we celebrate it, it is not in such a way that there are no more tears and a new incorruptible creation as Isaiah 25 and 65 promise, respectively. This promise of comfort comes in the context of the previous chapter where commentator Alec Motyer notes the reference to the elders in Isaiah 24:23 looks back to Exodus 24:11.* Isaiah 25 connects Exodus 24 with this eschatological hope as well. Since Exodus 24 also looked forward to the Lord's Supper, we must say that since the promises of Isaiah 25 have not been realized, and the Lord's Supper too still looks forward to this eschatological feast.

The unrealized aspect of the eschatological hope in the Lord's Supper and the marriage feast of the lamb is confirmed by the re-occurrence of the imagery of the marriage feast in Revelation 19:6-10. This passage in Revelation has obvious parallels to Isaiah 25:6-8 and Isaiah 65:13-17. Since Isaiah 25:6-8 pictures the feast as the place of God “wiping away tears” and Isaiah 65:13-17 pictures the feast as the place of new creation, we see the bridal picture of Revelation 21:1-6 also reflects this wedding feast. The Wedding Feast in Isaiah 25:6-8, 65:13-17 and Revelation 19:6-10, 21:1-6 all are pictures of this one feast, the culmination of the eschatological hopes of the end of suffering, new creation, and the unencumbered reign of Christ, where sin no longer not only has no rights, but no influence over the creation and the believer.

In this way, we see the Lord's Supper looks towards the Second Coming of Christ. Russell Moore described the eschatology of the Supper as “The meal Jesus feeds us then is a sign of an eschatological banquet, with the church acknowledging the 'already' and pining for the 'not yet.'” The not yet would be the consummation of the marriage. Figuratively, this would indicate the enjoyment of the full benefits of union with Christ. These benefits, then, will not be “through a mirror darkly” inhibited and encumbered by sin, but in a state of sinless enjoyment. The sustenance of bread would no longer be spiritual and in hope, but actual and perpetual. The joy of the wine would never decline, but ever increase. Since both of these point to their reality in the person of Christ, the reality of the blessings are apprehending, depending, and delighting in the person of Jesus Christ, the Lord God and Savior of His church in the marriage feast of the Lamb at the end of the age.

*[Alec Motyer. Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1999), 171.]

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