There is no mention of the actual lamb at the last supper, but when Jesus took bread and called it his body, and wine and called it his blood, he alluded to it. In inviting his disciples to eat and drink Jesus made them participants in the forgiveness and life which he saw would flow from his sacrifice, just as he had intimated in his discourse on the ‘bread from heaven’. . . (p. 527).
That is from David Seccombe’s The King of God’s Kingdom.
I basically agree with this. You could fault him for depending too much on John and Paul. The discourse about bread is from John and probably is constructed on some things Jesus actually said. But it is hard to reconstruct the thought of the historical Jesus from it. And the idea of “participation” comes from Paul (1 Corinthians 10:16).
But in the main, I think he is on solid ground, especially when he says that “Jesus took bread and called it his body, and wine and called it his blood.” Most of the words of Jesus come to us through a filter of decades of tradition as his words were passed on for the purpose of teaching in the church. But his words at the table must have begun to be repeated within weeks, if not days of the crucifixion. How old is the rite of eating bread and drinking wine as a part of Christian worship?
The Book of Acts puts it right at the beginning (Acts 2:42) and there is no reason to doubt that. Therefore, the church must have begun to quote what Jesus said at the Last Super almost immediately. So these are probably the most certain words of Jesus that we have.
So what did Jesus mean by his words? Seccombe thinks that, though it is not explicit, Jesus must have been thinking of the Suffering Servant poems in Isaiah. He quotes Isaiah 53:10-11. This is likely. There are many pointers to the probability that Jesus’ thinking included a unique interpretation of those poems and an application of them to the notion of the messiah.
The idea that suffering and sacrifice might lead to forgiveness and renewal is an impediment for contemporary Western people. Of the people who say they are spiritual but not religious, many have a problem with religious symbolism and ideas having to do with sacrifice. We want mercy and grace without sacrifice.
But Jesus was a Jew celebrating Passover. He purposely came to Jerusalem for Passover. For each family who participated in the temple rite, this involved slitting the throat of a lamb, draining blood into a bowl and having a priest throw the blood on the altar. You cannot take Jesus’ calling the wine his blood out of that context.
So Seccombe says,
Schweitzer, and more recently Wright, are firm on this point: a sacrificial doctrine of Jesus’ death was not something which made its appearance later; Jesus himself pursued his ministry and moved towards his death under ‘doctrinal’ influences: he believed that God wanted him to bear the guilt of the nation by means of his own death, so he moved his life in that direction (p. 529).
I think it is helpful to have someone like Seccombe remind us of this. He teaches in South Africa. He is familiar with the fact that animal sacrifice is not something only practiced in the ancient past. He knows that in many developing nations it is still common in the countryside and among some of the cultures and religions. He makes the interesting claim that if it were not for Jesus, animal sacrifice would be as common today as it was in the ancient world (p. 530).