How Did the Disciples React to the First Eucharist?

At the Last Supper, after Jesus consecrated the bread and wine for the first time, is it possible that one or more of the disciples believed upon hearing these words that an actual transformation of the elements of the bread and wine had taken place? I think it’s possible that Judas was probably the only one who didn’t, and for four reasons.

First, at the Last Supper, when Jesus broke the bread and said, “This is my body”, he had said it in Aramaic. Semitic languages do not have words to indicate the verb “to be” in these types of statements. In Hebrew and Aramaic, the verb is implied when a subject and predicate are simply juxtaposed. What Jesus literally said as he held the bread was, “this, the body of me”. The disciples would have understood that the one is precisely identified with the other. Also, there were other expressions Jesus could have used to indicate that the bread was only to be regarded as a symbol.

Secondly, when Jesus said the words of consecration, the disciples would have immediately recalled the incident recorded in the Gospel of John chapter 6. Jesus repeats four times to a large crowd of followers that they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have eternal life. They had thought He was referring to cannibalism, and Jesus did nothing to prevent their deserting Him because they had understood Him correctly, but faithlessly. So Jesus doubles down, demonstrating that this whole dialogue was specifically aimed at the twelve disciples:

“What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (vs. 62).

He puts them in a corner with an obvious dilemma. Let me paraphrase Jesus’ words,

“I just told you that to have eternal life you and anyone must consume my real body and blood. So how will you do that when I’m not here?”

Jesus explains:

“It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (vs. 63).

Jesus is reminding them of the distinction between the spiritual and the earthly. They had seen Him change water into wine and feed thousands with a few loaves of bread, etc. This should not have been that difficult for them to accept.

Thirdly, it was Passover. On that table in the Upper Room was a paschal lamb, which according to the law, had to be fully consumed that night. It was a ceremony commanded by God to remember the Exodus and the night the Hebrews put the blood of a lamb on their doors so the Angel of Death would pass over their houses. Exodus 12:14:

“This day will be a day of remembrance for you, which your future generations will celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD; you will celebrate it as a statute forever.”

The word “remembrance” or “commemoration” is repeated several times in the Jewish Passover liturgy (Haggadah). When Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me”, I don’t think the disciples missed the connection. They knew that he was to die, and that His death was, like the paschal lamb’s, a sacrifice, the flesh of which is consumed.

Finally, the disciples may have noticed that Jesus’ identification with the paschal lamb explained the curious circumstances of Jesus’ birth. He was born in a stable, exactly where one would expect a lamb to be born. He was then swaddled and laid in a manger, which was a feeding trough. Then, with great fanfare the birth of Israel’s King was announced by a heavenly host, …to a few shepherds.


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