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Paul says there is always a “way of escape” when a person is tested. Virtually all tests revolve around idolatry of some sort. Idolatry is a soulish desire that is stronger than the desire of one’s spirit, or spiritual man. So Paul concludes his remarks about testing (or temptation) in 1 Cor. 10:14, “Therefore, my brethren, flee from idolatry.”
This passage transitions us into a discussion of communion and how idolatry can affect it. In 1 Cor. 10:15 Paul begins with a statement of confidence in the Corinthian believers:
15 I speak as to wise men, you judge what I say.
Paul felt it necessary to let them know that he was confident in their wisdom about communion, on account of his previous scolding over their lack of judicial wisdom in 1 Cor. 6:5,
5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brothers?
In his introduction to communion, Paul seems confident that the church of Corinth—or at least the elders, regardless of their faction—understood the principles on which communion is based.
Paul begins in 1 Cor. 10:16, 17,
16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
The cup of blessing was traditionally the first of four cups of wine that were consumed at the Passover celebration. The four cups are:
1. The cup of blessing
2. The cup of plagues
3. The cup of redemption
4. The cup of praise
According to Jewish tradition, these four cups originated from Exodus 6:6,7, where four words stand out:
6 Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver [natsal, “rescue”] you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. 7 Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”
God blessed Israel by bringing them out of Egypt. The plagues of the second cup referred to their manner of deliverance. God also redeemed Israel and then took them as His people.
At the last supper when Jesus instituted communion at the time of Passover, He drank only three cups of wine with the disciples, saving the last one for a later time. Matt. 26:29 says,
29 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.
That fourth cup was the cup of praise, commemorating how God promised to “take you for My people, and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:7). So why did Jesus postpone this cup? Was He not taking the disciples as His people?
The concept of being God’s people is more than just a designation of fleshly people of the nation of Israel. God seemed to take them as His people at Mount Horeb when they vowed obedience to Him, for we read in Exodus 19:5, 6,
5 Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…
Most people assume that this was when the Israelites became God’s people. However, God did not say that they would be His people if they vowed to obey Him. No, being His people was conditioned upon their actual obedience and keeping His covenant. A vow is only as good as one’s ability to fulfill it. Good intentions did not make them God’s people. Did any of them fulfill their vow? Not in a way that would satisfy the perfect standard of a righteous God.
Hence, forty years later God made a second covenant with them (Deut. 29:1), in which God Himself took an oath to do whatever was necessary to make them His people. He told Moses to gather all the people before Him (including aliens), and we read in Deut. 29:12, 13,
12 that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into HIS OATH which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
This second covenant on the plains of Moab differed from the first covenant that was made at the base of Mount Horeb. The first was man’s vow to God; the second was God’s vow to man. The first covenant could make Israel God’s people only if they were truly obedient. But that covenant did not work, because “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23) and “there is none righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10).
So God made a second covenant—one that was sure to work, because it was based upon God’s ability to keep His vow, not upon man’s ability to keep vows. This second covenant, Moses said, was like that which had been made previously “to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” God had made promises and vows to them as well.
God’s vow to Abraham was that he would be a blessing to “all the families of the earth” (Gen. 12:3). Acts 3:25, 26 interprets “blessing” to mean that God will turn them from their wicked ways. Hence, God vowed that Abraham’s “seed” was to bring about worldwide repentance, and God took personal responsibility (by His oath) to ensure that this will indeed take place.
God included non-Israelite aliens in His great oath, including the multitude that had come out of Egypt with the blood-line Israelites. Exodus 12:37, 38 speaks of them, saying,
37 Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children. 38 And a mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock.
These are the aliens who were included in both of the covenants that God made with the nation of Israel. Like the Israelites, they failed to keep their vow in Exodus 19:8, but they were included in God’s oath forty years later to make them His people.
In fact, God’s oath applied beyond those who were gathered under Moses. The worldwide scope of blessing that was promised to Abraham was restated and defined specifically in Deut. 29:14, 15,
14 Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, 15 but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today.
God’s covenant and oath, then, was being made with the whole earth, or all families and nations. For this reason, the fourth cup (of praise) was postponed to the time of the great reunion when Jesus drinks it with His people in the Kingdom. That cup prophesied of the day when God would fulfill His oath, the New Covenant in His blood, whereby He promised to turn all men to Himself, to make them His people, and to be their God.
In order to accomplish this, He must perfect them all. Even if all men vowed obedience and proclaimed their faith in Jesus Christ, this would only accomplish good intentions on the order of Israel’s vow at Mount Horeb. Such vows of men do not actually make them God’s people, at least not in the fullest sense of God’s ultimate purpose.
The cup of praise is fulfilled only when men truly praise Him. But praise that is tainted by idols in the heart and imperfect motives and behavior can never satisfy God, nor can it fulfill God’s intent and purpose for all nations. Praise is fully acceptable to God only when it is a “sacrifice” offered with a pure heart—that is, from one who has been transformed fully into the image of Christ. God will not cease His work until every man who has ever lived praises Him fully. Because God has not yet reached that goal, Jesus set aside the fourth cup until a future day.
In essence, the four cups of wine in the original communion prophesied of the divine plan, beginning with our deliverance from the house of bondage to the day when all things are under the feet of Christ and all are restored to Him. Yet because the divine plan has yet to be completed, we have partaken of a partial communion during the Age of Pentecost. The fourth cup has yet to be drunk.
Communion (koinonia) is an outward act that has spiritual consequences. In Hebrew thought, eating and drinking with others signifies unity (common union, or communion) between people. When done in a religious setting, it signifies friendship and covenant between God and the people, as well as unity between the individual people themselves.
For this reason, Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:16 that the wine of “the cup of blessing” in communion is “a koinonia in the blood of Christ.” It identifies us with Christ and makes us participants in the cross. Paul says elsewhere that we are “united with Him in the likeness of His death” (Rom. 6:5) and again “that our old man was crucified with Him” (Rom. 6:6).
The cup of blessing, being the first cup of the Passover meal, signified being brought (or taken) out of Egypt, as Exodus 6:6 says. In other words, we were taken out of fellowship with Pharaoh and placed in fellowship with Christ. Israel’s experience under Moses prophesied of greater things under Christ.
Drinking from the cup of blessing is a statement that says, “I am no longer in fellowship with the world and its laws of sin and death. Whereas the world and the flesh commands me to sin, I am now following the law of God (Rom. 7:25), which commands me to conform myself to the perfect image of Christ and to be obedient to His law.”
Koinonia means “fellowship” and is often translated that way. For this reason, in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul emphasizes the transfer from one fellowship to another in regard to the cup of blessing. The second cup, which is the cup of plagues, signifies divine judgment upon our flesh, even as God brought judgment upon Pharaoh for refusing to let Israel go. Though believers are now in fellowship with Christ, the flesh does not give up so easily.
The same can be said of non-Kingdom political systems and governments that do not recognize Jesus Christ as King or agree with His laws. These manifestations of the flesh also come under judgment in the cup of plagues. The beast nations have been judged one by one over the centuries, and the final judgment upon Mystery Babylon is now approaching. The pattern seen in the book of Exodus is that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart in order to complete ten plagues. Ten is the number of the complete law.
The third cup (of redemption) has been fulfilled partially, but full redemption comes only when the old man of flesh (“Pharaoh”) is fully dead, never to rise again. Paul refers to this moment as “the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23). It is fulfilled on the first day of the feast of Tabernacles, when the overcomers are “changed” (1 Cor. 15:52), putting on incorruption and immortality (1 Cor. 15:53, KJV).
In the middle of the feast of Tabernacles, Jesus Christ will return, and the Head will join the body to put the finishing touches on the body of Christ, both individually and corporately. Then this New Creation Man will be presented to the Father on the eighth day of Tabernacles, according to the law (Exodus 22:29, 30).
That final presentation of the body of Christ to the Father is signified in the final cup of wine called the cup of praise. One might also call it the cup of Judah, because Judah means praise. The only way to truly praise God (and to be part of the tribe of Judah) is to receive the circumcision of the heart. Hence, Paul says in Rom. 2:29,
29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise [position as a Jew] is not from men, but from God.
Hence, we can say that the only ones eligible to receive the fourth cup of wine, the cup of praise, are those whose hearts have been circumcised. These have entered fully into the New Covenant.
Paul also tells us in 1 Cor. 10:16, 17,
16 … Is not the bread which we break a sharing [koinonia, “communion, fellowship”] in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.
For many years, I pictured the bread of communion as the body of Jesus that was “broken” at the cross. That is certainly true, but Paul says that we are the body of Christ. Hence, when we eat the bread of communion, we are not only remembering Christ’s death on the cross but are also declaring that we are broken bread as well.
Christ’s willingness to die for us was part of His covenant with us. So also, communion shows our own willingness to die for each other as part of the same covenant. Our covenant is with Jesus, but also with His body. The law of unity makes it impossible to separate Christ from the many-membered body. On what basis? Paul says, “for we all partake of the one bread.”
The apostle continues to speak about communion throughout the rest of chapter 10 and all through chapter 11. However, in 1 Cor. 10:18 he shifts his focus to the story of Israel in the wilderness in order to remind us of his overall theme about avoiding disqualification as an overcomer. In other words, we are not to follow Israel’s bad example, which caused them to die in the wilderness without entering the Promised Land.
1 Corinthians 10:18-21 says,
18 Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? 19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
No doubt Paul was referring primarily to Israel’s sin in participating in the worship of Baal-Peor with the Moabites in Numbers 25. That, of course, was a serious sin, for in eating their meat that had been sacrificed to Baal-Peor, they covenanted with idolaters and became one body with them. Israel had no right to do this, for they were already in covenant with God (Christ). They had been married to Christ at Mount Horeb where they took their marriage vows.
Hence, being joined to idolatrous Moabites was an act of fornication as with a harlot, as Paul said earlier in 1 Cor. 6:15, 16,
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a harlot is one body with her? For He says, “The two will become one flesh.”
Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:20 that the Gentiles (ethnos, “nations”) sacrifice to demons. Their idols are “nothing,” Paul says, for they are just artistic renderings of spiritual entities that are normally invisible to the naked eye. The problem is not really the physical idol, which serves as an intermediary, but the spirit behind it.
Paul calls these spiritual entities daimonion, or “demons.” Some believe that “demons” are simply a Hebrew metaphor for physical disease or some mental (i.e., soulish) condition. Such a view fails to understand the difference between soul and spirit, as well as the link between body and soul. The soul is fleshly, or carnal, for the law says (literally) that “the fleshly soul is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11).
Demons are spiritual entities, not soulish. Though they do not originate in the soul, they may certainly enslave the soul. In fact, they may become so entrenched in the soul that it is easy to think that they are, in fact, just aspects of evil soulish behavior or mental illness. But anyone who has experience with demonic beings or who has done any deliverance ministry knows that demons are actual spiritual entities that desire to control the minds and bodies of people. To set people free requires treating them as Jesus treated them. They must be treated as actual entities and cast out in the name of Jesus.
In the Song of Moses, we read about Israel’s idolatry in Deut. 32:16, 17,
16 They made Him jealous with strange gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger. 17 They sacrificed to demons [shayd] who were not God, to gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately, whom your fathers did not dread.
Moses equates demons with gods. The Hebrew word translated “demons” is shayd, which the Septuagint renders (in Greek) as daimonios. This shows that daimonois should be defined by the Hebrew word shayd. The Hebrew word comes from the root word shud, “to be strong or powerful.” The context is perhaps more significant, for Moses essentially calls them elohim, or “gods.” That suggests that they are spiritual entities that wield power beyond the mere presence of an idol made of wood or stone.
In the laws of sacrifice, which directly impact communion in the New Testament, we read in Lev. 17:7,
7 And they shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons [sa’er, or satyrs] with which they play the harlot. This shall be a permanent statute to them throughout their generations.
Scripture uses a different word here, but nonetheless, it serves the same purpose. Perhaps it better describes Paul’s concern about believers being joined to harlots. At any rate, it is unlawful for believers to “play the harlot” by sacrificing to demons. Paul makes it clear that Israel played the harlot when they joined the Moabites in their worship of Baal-Peor.