“Take it – this is my substance. ...” (Mark 14:22-26)

During their meal he picked up some bread and after he offered it to God he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take it – this is my substance.” Then he picked up a cup and offered it to God, and gave it to them and they all drank from it. Then he said to him, “This is the essence of my testament – to be distributed around. Truly I tell you, I won’t be refreshed from this fruit of the vine until the time I drink it fresh in the realm of the Lord.” After singing praises to God they departed for the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:22-26)

'Substance' versus 'body'

Most sectarian translations of these verses translate the Greek word σῶμα (sōma) to "body" - as if Jesus is referring to his physical body. Yes, the word can mean the physical body in the right context. But was Jesus really referring to his physical body?

His body was sitting in front of them and they were looking at his physical body. How could he be referring to the bread as his body if his body was right in front of them? That would be ridiculous. It would be like a person who is driving a car pulling out his wallet and saying that his wallet is the car.

Furthermore, because he is passing the bread around for his disciples to eat, this would also equate to Jesus asking his disciples to become cannibals. As if Jesus would be asking his disciples to eat his physical body? That notion is simply grotesque - and Jesus would have never indicated that his disciples become cannibals. (Though the Romans were sometimes prone to cannibalism - and they, in fact, started this grotesque ritual of putting a cracker on the tongue while saying the cracker is the physical body of Christ.)

The Greek word σῶμα (sōma) has other meanings as well. It can mean, according to Thayer's lexicon, a group or body of men or a “society.” Or, when used in a metaphorical sense, it can refer to as an “ethical or mystical” body or a “heavenly body.” It can also be used to describe a vehicle of one’s consciousness, which can be, for example, a vehicle of dedication or servitude.

Note that Jesus has offered the bread to the Supreme Being before he begins referring to it. (Yes, this was an offering, not just "giving thanks" as has been translated in sectarian translations by those who do not make offerings to God like Jesus and his followers did.) This means that he is referring to something that has been consecrated.

Jesus is thus referring to the bread that he just offered to the Supreme Being. So we know he wasn’t referring to his physical body. His physical body did not become the bread. His physical body continued to exist separately from the bread. Rather, Jesus was using the term metaphorically to indicate that his very substance – the body of his life – like the bread he offered – is an offering to God.

This, of course, is metaphorical. So it must be understood that Jesus was not referring to his physical body. For this reason, the word "substance" better describes the fact that Jesus is saying that the substance of his life is dedicated to doing the will of God. This was captured by Jesus himself as he stated, also metaphorically:
“My food is to do what pleases Him who sent me and to complete His work." (John 4:34)

'Blood' or 'essence'?

This is practically the same issue with regard to the reference Jesus makes to the grape juice, which he has also offered to God. The Greek word αἷμα (haima) can certainly mean “blood” when speaking literally about the blood of humans or animals. But this is not what Jesus is referring to. Such a statement would equate Jesus to referring to his disciples as some sort of vampires - who drink the blood of their teacher. Again, a grotesque proposal.

Rather, the Greek word also can mean, according to the lexicon, “the seat of one's life” or in a metaphorical sense, “of those things that resemble blood, grape juice” - referring to things that are the essence of other things.

Within the metaphorical context of Jesus' reference here, the word would be better translated to “essence.” That is, Jesus refers to what is the essence of his life - his service and offering his life to God.

Another way to put this: People often use the metaphorical term, 'lifeblood' when they are speaking of something that is the essence of something. For example, a company spokesperson who is referring to the outstanding nature of their employees might say something like, "our employees are the lifeblood of this company." That statement could also be, "our employees are the essence of this company."

Fruit of the vine

The reality that Jesus was not speaking of the blood of his physical body is confirmed in the verse following this. The “fruit of the vine” is considered the essence of the vine, not its blood.

Jesus refers to the grape juice he has just offered to the Supreme Being. Metaphorically, the juice is the essence of the grape, and the grape is the essence of the grapevine.

Again, Jesus is referring to the fact that his life is an offering to God. This means that his very essence is an offering to God. The very essence of Jesus is doing God's will. Jesus stated this repeatedly to his followers. Here are just a few times he referred to this:
"Not everyone who says to me, ‘lord, lord,’ shall enter the sanctuary of the spiritual realm – only one who does what pleases my LORD in the spiritual realm." (Matthew 7:21)
“Who is my mother or my brothers?” And he looked around, upon those who sat around him, and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Because whoever shall do God’s will – this is my brother, and my sister and mother!” (Mark 3:33-35) 
“Abba – LORD, everything is possible for You – please let this cup be taken from me – yet not what pleases me but what pleases You.” (Mark 14:36)
“My food is to do what pleases Him who sent me and to complete His work." (John 4:34)
"By myself I can do nothing; As I hear, I make choices, and my choices are just because I do not seek to please myself but to please Him who sent me." (John 5:30)

The essence of Jesus

This is the essence of Jesus. To do God's will. You see, Jesus loves the Supreme Being. And because he loves God, he wants to please God. This is a natural thing. When we love someone, we naturally want to please that person.

Rather than Jesus being God himself, as many incorrectly ascribe him, Jesus loves God. Jesus is thus God's representative. He is God's loving servant. This was clearly stated by God Himself when Jesus was baptized:
As soon as Jesus came out of the water, he saw the heavens open and the Spirit descended upon him like a dove. Then a voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Servant, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11)