Yet we know from Jesus' statement that the bread that Jesus broke and handed out to his disciples that night was not ordinary bread. What did Jesus do to the bread to make it so special?
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying.... (Matt. 26:26)
This is the verse prior to Jesus' statement above, and it is critical for understanding the nature of the bread Jesus handed to his students.
First, the bread was not the meal. The statement is clear that they were already eating when Jesus took the bread. The Greek word is ἐσθίω (esthiō), and this communicates that they were already eating when Jesus took the bread. The translation appropriately says:
"While they were eating...."
Then the verse says Jesus "took the bread." "Took" here is being translated from λαμβάνω (lambanō) which means, according to the lexicon, 'to take with the hand,' or 'lay hold of.' This means that Jesus reached over and took the bread into his hands.
After he took the bread into his hands, the English translation says:
"he gave thanks...."
But did he really "gave thanks?"
The Greek word being translated into "gave thanks" is εὐλογέω (eulogeō). This means, according to the lexicon:
1) to praise, celebrate with praises
2) to invoke blessings
3) to consecrate a thing with solemn prayers
a) to ask God's blessing on a thing
b) pray God to bless it to one's use
c) pronounce a consecratory blessing on
Where, in this definition does it say εὐλογέω means to "give thanks?" To "give thanks," as ecclesiastical Christian teachers preach, is to say something like, "Thank you Lord for the food we have before us..." This is usually followed by "....and [all the other things] You have given us..." This is usually extended with a listing of the various things the person is thankful for, such as a family, a good job, or money or some kind of award or other momentum recently received.
While it is certainly nice to thank God (though many ecclesiastical Christian teachers teach to be thanking Jesus, as though Jesus is God) for everything received, this leads to the premise - as we are asking God for stuff - that it is God's job to deliver the stuff we ask for, and our job is to graciously receive it all.
This assumes a relationship between us and God (or Jesus, as many preach) that God (or Jesus) is our servant. He is there to give us whatever we want, as long as we ask for it with prayer.
This assumption is diametrically opposed to Jesus' teachings.
Jesus' teachings taught that our position is God's servant. Our purpose is to please God. This is why Jesus said:
"For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'" (Luke 4:8 and Matt. 4:10)
And this was not just Jesus' instruction. He was quoting this instruction given by Moses (see Deut. 6:13), and repeated by many of the prophets.
Jesus also said:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21)
"For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Matt 12:50)
So is asking God for stuff and then thanking Him for the stuff what Jesus taught?
When we ask God for stuff, we are asking Him to do our will.
And what about asking God for wealth, as so many of today's ecclesiastical Christian preachers suggest? Jesus clarified this as well:
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." (Matt. 6:24)
Is asking God for money and thanking Him for the money all that bad? Certainly it is better than not bringing God into the equation at all. David's prayer of thanks illustrates the correct way to "give thanks:"
"You are my God, and I will give You thanks; You are my God, and I will exalt You." (Psalm 118:28)
But to this question of what Jesus was teaching, Jesus states clearly about the 'giving thanks' prayers of the ecclesiastical Jewish priests:
"Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." (Matt. 6:8)
and with regard to the long-winded 'giving thanks' monologues given by the priests, Jesus said:
"And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words." (Matt 6:7)
Rather than our prayer being focused around asking God to give us stuff and thanking God for the stuff He's given us, Jesus suggests that our prayers be about praising God and asking to do God's will, with the "Lord's prayer":
"'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'" (Matt. 6:9-10)
While the prayer continues, these are the two most important elements:
1) "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name" ("Thy Name" in King James): What does this mean? "Hallowed" means to venerate and praise. The statement thus means to praise God's Holy Names. This was an important teaching of Jesus, and this was also reflected by Jesus' students, who chanted, as Jesus' was walking down to Jerusalem:
"Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!" (Matt. 18:26)
In other words, Jesus' disciples were praising Jesus as coming in "the Name of the Lord". A person who "comes in the name" of someone is not only representing that person; but one who proclaims that person's name. For example, if we wanted a lawyer to represent us in court, the lawyer would say to the judge, "I've come in the name of so-and-so." Because Jesus is coming in God's Name, meaning he is representing God. Jesus is also praising God's Name, and asking us to praise God's Name, as he tells us to pray: "Hallowed be Your Name."
Note also that the word "blessed" in "Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord" is also translated from the Greek word εὐλογέω (eulogeō), just as "gave thanks" is being translated from εὐλογέω (eulogeō). In other words, εὐλογέω (eulogeō) doesn't mean to "give thanks." It means to glorify or offer praise.
2) The second aspect of the "Lord's prayer" is "Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'" What does this mean?
The key phrase is "Your will be done." This means that Jesus is asking us to ask God to allow us to do God's will. He is asking us to ask God if we can become one of God's servants, and do His will, rather than be focused upon doing our own will.
"Your Will" is being translated from the Greek phrase σύ θέλημα (sy thelēma). σύ means 'your,' and θέλημα means, according to the lexicon, 'what one wishes or has determined shall be done,' and 'choice, inclination, desire, pleasure.' In other words, Jesus is suggesting that we ask God if we can learn to do what God wants and desires - rather than asking God to do what we want and desire.
As we apply this understanding of how Jesus suggests our focus should be as we pray, and his central teachings with regard to serving God, we can now properly understand what Jesus was doing with the bread, as he εὐλογέω (eulogeō) with it.
Jesus was praising God and offering the bread to God.
Offering food and gifts to God while singing and praising His Names was a long cherished method of worshiping God - one that had been handed down from teacher to teacher for thousands of years. It was practiced by Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Samuel, Solomon, Eli and all the other teachers that formed the lineage that Jesus was a part of:
All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the LORD freewill offerings.... (Exodus 35:29)
Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the Name of the LORD, the Eternal God. (Genesis 21:33)
Do we think that Jesus would reflect on their teachings in all ways, yet abandon the venerated process of offering to God and praising God's Names?
Certainly not. Jesus embraced their teachings, one and all. While he might not have been involved in the slaughter of animals - as it was not required for sustenance during his time - Jesus nevertheless offered his foodstuffs to God just as his predecessors did.
And once an offering is made, the offered food becomes spiritualized. It becomes holy because it has been offered to God:
"The rest of the grain offering belongs to Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the offerings made to the LORD by fire." (Lev. 2:3)
And what was the purpose of these offerings? The purpose of making offerings to God - "fellowship offerings" or "freewill offerings" as they are called in the Old Testament - is to establish a relationship with God.
This is true of any relationship. When we want to have a relationship with someone, we will offer them a flower or food or some other gift. It is no different with the Supreme Being.
God is a person, and love for God means to love a personal God. It is a personal feeling for a particular person: God. To love God requires we come to know God. This means establishing a relationship. And by offering gifts to God, we open the door to establishing a relationship with Him.
When God sees that we want to establish a personal relationship with Him by offering gifts to Him, He opens up our ability to perceive Him. This creates the opportunity to know Him, love Him, and serve Him.
Jesus did not make a big public ceremony of his offerings. He railed against the pompous Jewish priests who made their temple offerings subject to their personal prestige and authority. Jesus taught his disciples to make offerings to God in a personal way; to connect with God without the prying eyes of judgmental people:
"But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen." (Matt. 6:6)
And this is in fact what Jesus was doing at this 'last supper' with his disciples. He had made a private personal offering to God with the bread, and then broke the bread and handed it out to his students. He may or may not have gone into a separate room, but he didn't need to, as he could silently pray and make his offering with his thoughts.
Then he said: "Take and eat; this is my body."
Was Jesus talking about his physical body? Obviously not, since his physical body sat in the chair while the bread was being handed out and eaten.
Was Jesus talking about some crucifixion ceremony where his disciples would be purified of their sins once they ate the bread? No, because Jesus' body had not yet been murdered.
Jesus was speaking in allegorical terms. He was connecting the offered food with his body because the body was considered a vessel for the spiritual self, and he was suggesting metaphorically that he - his teachings and his desires - were connected to his offerings to God.
In other words, Jesus was saying that he considered his life to be an offering to God.
And this is evidenced by what occurred a few days later, as Jesus laid down the life of his physical body as an offering to God. Jesus was illustrating, by not resisting being arrested, and by allowing his body to be murdered because of his teachings, that Jesus was God's servant and Jesus' life was an offering to God.
And yes, realizing this has the ability to save us. Not with some kind of magical "eating of the body of Christ" ritual, but from the realization that Jesus was trying to teach us to love God with all our hearts, all our minds - our whole life and being.
Should we follow the teachings of ecclesiastical Christian teachers who have turned Jesus' devotional life into perverse rituals intended to supposedly purify us, we will not understand the real intent of Jesus' activities and teachings. We will only understand what has served the historically violent and hierarchical organizational Christian machine and its offspring sects that for over 1,700 years have controlled the dialog regarding the teachings of Jesus.
Instead, we can simply understand the real teachings of Jesus by what he actually taught:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)