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What is transubstantiation and is it true?

Today’s question involves the meaning and biblical accuracy of a big theological word—transubstantiation. This word is common among the Roman Catholic Church because it is part of their doctrinal belief that the elements of the Lord’s Supper—the bread and the wine—actually transforms into the body and blood of Jesus Christ with the blessing of the priest. The definition of transubstantiation is: “the conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ at consecration, only the appearances of bread and wine still remaining.” Obviously, this sounds more like magic than a biblical remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ. Let’s take a look at the heart of the matter in the upper room with Jesus and His disciples on the night before His crucifixion.

The biblical text that we are looking at today comes from Matthew 26:26-29. The setting is, of course, the Last Supper with Jesus and His disciples. While they were eating the meal “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” Here Jesus is driving home an important truth on the night before His suffering—His body and blood opens the way to a new relationship with God through His sacrifice on the cross.

The nature of the language that Jesus uses at the Last Supper has confused many throughout the centuries. After all, such a meaningful command should be taken seriously and followed. There are a few lines of thought, however, that help to clarify the meaning of what Jesus was saying on that important night. First, as you read through those verses there is no indication that the words were meant to be literal. Did Jesus really mean to prescribe to His church down throughout the ages to eat His literal flesh and drink His literal blood? The simple answer is no. As you read the words of Jesus you begin to understand that in that moment as they were all gathered together turning the bread into flesh and blood would miss the point of this being a supper! They were gathered to eat a meal not to eat flesh and drink blood. Second, Jesus refers to the “fruit of the vine” at the close of this powerful moment reminding us all that this was still wine—not blood. If Jesus did not transform the wine into His blood in that powerful moment, then what makes us think that He would want us to try to do it now?  Finally, the emphasis of the Lord’s Supper is on a perpetual remembrance throughout the ages of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Our Lord didn’t prescribe a magic trick for His church, but a solemn remembrance and reflection on what He did to save us from our sin.

Beloved, let us come to the Lord’s table with a profound humility as we remember all that Jesus did for us when He died once for all to save us—the Just for the unjust—so that we can come into the presence of God by faith through His perfect sacrifice for sins.





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