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An Empty Cup
Means Nothing

An Empty Cup Means Nothing

by Richard Nichols

Published in
The Christian Informer
October, 2000

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Last updated:
September 30, 2000.

Several years ago, when we lived at Greenville, SC, a sister approached us with a question which was, to the best or our recollection, "Should the cup and fruit of the vine be separated when discussing them at the Lord's table." She then said that she thought they ought not to be separated. To this we agreed.

In Luke 22:20 (KJV) we read, "Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you." Or the American Standard Version, and others call it "the new covenant in my blood". From this we see two spiritual elements pictured in what is referred to, in this passage, as "this cup". Hebrews 9:15-17 reads, "And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth." Again, in verse 15 of this passage the American Standard Version and others employ the word "covenant" demonstrating that "testament" and "covenant" are synonymous. The Moffett translation of Jesus speaking in Luke 22:20 is, "This cup means the new covenant ratified by my blood for your sake." Which is in agreement with the teaching of Hebrews 9. Therefore, we are given the one spiritual element "the new covenant" or "new testament" which was put in force or ratified by the other spiritual element "the blood of Christ."

We all know the covenant and the blood are two different things. Surely no one thinks that Jesus "shed the covenant" on the cross. In Acts 20:28 Paul give instruction to the elders of Ephesus "to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." He again writes to Christians in Corinth saying, "Ye are bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). He shows that the Christians who comprise the church were bought or purchased with the blood of Christ. We also know the church and the blood are two different things with a clear spiritual relationship. This brings us to a simple but pertinent question - "Can the purchased object also be the purchase price?" Certainly not! We might say, "We bought a coat for $100." No one would think that the coat, and the money paid for the coat, were the same thing. If we can see that the coat and its purchase price are not the same, cannot we see that the church and the blood of Christ which purchased the church two different things. Likewise, the cup filled with fruit of the vine, and the fruit of the vine, are two different things, and neither gives its proper signification without the other.

In 1 Corinthians 10:16,17 we read where the inspired writer reasons, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread." To constitute "the cup of blessing" the two elements must be present in their proper positions. The one cup (drinking vessel) needs to be filled with fruit of the vine for the saints to drink. Also there needs to be one bread or loaf (artos) to be eaten.

We understand the language when we say, "the cup of water." Where is the water? In the cup of water. Similarly, we understand the language when the Scripture calls it, "the cup of blessing." Well, now look at Isaiah 65:8. In that passage there is a very interesting statement. It says, "Thus saith the LORD, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it...." Where is the "blessing"? In the "new wine" which is found "in the cluster." In the communion where is the blessing? In "the cup of blessing."

To bring the new wine out of the cluster and present it for drinking, as in the Lord's supper, it must go through the ancient process called "pressing." A mechanical device was invented to crush or press great quantities of grapes to extract the juice for drinking-the device was naturally called a "winepress". Passage after passage in the Old Testament refers to the winepress (See Numbers 18:27,30; Deuteronomy 15:14; Judges 6:11; 7:25; 2 Kings 6:27; Isaiah 5:2; 63:3; etc.).

Strong wine, intoxicating wine results from the process called "fermentation." No vine on earth has ever produced fermented wine. The liquid which is produced by pressing grapes is "grape juice", or as Jesus called it, the "fruit of the vine"-literally "product of the vine." There is a little picture presented in the dream as told to Joseph in an Egyptian prison way back in Genesis 40:10,11. The Pharaoh's butler or cup-bearer, telling his dream, said, "And in the vine were three branches: and it was as though it budded, and her blossoms shot forth; and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes: And Pharaoh's cup was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand." Here we have a beautifully simple picture of a cup being filled with the fruit of the vine, or grape juice, by simply pressing the grapes and allowing their content to fill the cup. This was a service for Pharaoh which the butler saw himself again performing in his dream. Joseph interpreted the dream to say that the butler would be restored to his former position doing this very act for the king.

The function of a drinking vessel, a cup, is to hold a liquid to be drunk. Just as we may hand someone what we call, "the cup of water," we may also hand someone, "the cup of blessing." The communion cup containing fruit of the vine is the "cup of blessing" because inspiration called it that (1 Corinthians 10:16).

When it comes time for the Lord's supper, in the process of worship, bread should be there ready for use to be the body of Jesus. In all four detailed accounts of the communion Jesus says of the bread which he took, "This is my body." When should the bread be called the "body of Jesus"? What do the Scriptures say- "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body" (Matthew 26:26); "And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body" (Mark 14:22); "And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19); and in the last account, "And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:40). Scriptures say, "Jesus took bread."

From these passages we see, bread, a loaf (artos) is to be consecrated, set apart, "blessed" which is from EULOGEO meaning "to speak well of, (religiously) to bless (thank or invoke a benediction upon, prosper):-- bless, praise" (Strong). Jesus gave it to the disciples, commanding them "to take and eat," announcing "this is my body." Today, the one, before the congregation taking care of the Lord's supper, needs to make the proper observations to let all present know that we are about to partake of the body of Christ. The Scripture says, Jesus "gave thanks" before he broke it and gave it to the disciple. So he who attends to the Supper should take the bread, give thanks and request God's blessing, before he brakes it to partake of it. (Note - Jesus' breaking the bread was not a special breaking to make it the broken body. However, I'll possibly pursue this for another article). After he breaks the bread and partakes, the one at the table should give it to the congregation to "take, eat." When the bread is blessed and thanks are given, then to the Christian it is the body of Christ in which each disciple communes. It does not become the literal flesh or body of Jesus, but the figure of His body. The disciple sees or discerns the body of Jesus in the bread.

The flour, in a bag sitting in the grocery store or placed on the kitchen shelf, and the water, in the pipe or the tap, are not the body of Christ. Neither are those same elements when mixed together into dough the body of Christ. Even after that same dough is baked into a loaf of bread, it is still not the body of Christ. Only when that bread is properly placed along with a cup of fruit of the vine does it approach being the body of Christ. But those elements all become what they are to be spiritually, when the proper steps are taken to make them those spiritual elements.

To the Christian an empty cup has no spiritual meaning. A cup, on a kitchen shelf or boxed with other cups in a store, is not the New Testament. You can't point at a cup in a store and tell a clerk, "I want to buy the New Testament." Talk about giving you a strange look! No empty cup anywhere, under any circumstances, is the New Testament. Even when you put grape juice into a cup it is still not the New Testament, otherwise mothers would be handing their youngsters the New Testament at the breakfast table. Oh, how silly!

The juice in the cluster of grapes is not the blood of Christ. Grape juice is not the blood of Christ sitting in a bottle in the back room of the meeting house. Grape juice alone is never, and under no circumstances the blood of Jesus. It is easy to see that you cannot sensibly go to a vineyard, and remark to the farmer, "You sure are growing a lot of the blood of Jesus." He probably would wonder about your sanity. You cannot go down to the supermarket and ask a clerk to help you find a bottle of "the blood of Jesus." "No, no," you say, "I see that; it has to be in the Lord's supper to be called that." Right! But a cup in the correct setting, which is, when it has been filled with fruit of the vine to represent the blood of Christ, and placed with the bread in the Lord's Supper, can be, and should be, called the New Testament. Remove the one cup and you cannot have the blood of Christ. Remove the fruit of the vine from the cup and you cannot have the New Testament. Jesus said, "This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:25); or "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you" (Luke 22:20). Let's all make a conscious effort to use proper terms and proper references which always magnify the unity of the elements in the Lord's Supper.