The occasion was the night of His betrayal and the eve of His death. It was a deeply moving scene as Jesus Christ gathered with His disciples for what has come to be known as The Last Supper. Millions from every part of the world instantly recognize the scene when it appears in Christian art. The early believers marked it upon the walls of the Roman catacombs as it was etched into their memory. It was on the night of the Jewish Passover that the Lord Jesus introduced something entirely new. He took a loaf of bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to His disciples saying, “Take, eat; this is My body. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is My blood of the new testament which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28). Two other gospel writers join in the same account (Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20).
Names of the Supper
It is called the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20) since He has convened it and He is the principal guest of honor. “The Lord’s table” (1 Corinthians 10:21) has a wider meaning and includes all of His provision for His people, not simply the Supper. The feast is called the Communion (1 Corinthians 10:16) because there is a common sharing or fellowship with Christ and one another as we partake. It is called the Breaking of Bread (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 10:16) because it reflects the simple manner of an ordinary meal in which the phrase would normally be used. Many speak of remembering the Lord because of His command which was expressed in this way. There are others who have used the expression eucharist, meaning “thanksgiving,” since He gave thanks for the elements (Matthew 26:26), but it is not called this in Scripture.
Certain churches apply the word “sacrament” to the supper. This came from the Roman soldier’s oath of allegiance upon joining the army (sacramentum). Later understanding of this word has drifted considerably from this idea. There are churches which consider a sacrament to mean a rite by which God confers His grace (“a means of grace”) and that it has supernatural properties which do something for the participant. It is believed by some to be linked with the forgiveness of sins. However, there is no such teaching as this in the Bible. Those who emphasize the sacramental idea are in contrast with those who see the feast as a commemoration or memorial in which the symbols reflect (rather than confer) spiritual realities. It is well to recall that the Jewish animal sacrifices never removed sins but were an anticipation of the blood of the Lord Jesus shed on the cross. His blood alone could remove sins (Hebrews 9:12-14).
Historical Background Of The Supper
The Lord’s Supper was instituted on the night of the Jewish Passover. God’s hand had delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt 1500 years before. At His command they slew a spotless lamb and applied the blood to their doorposts as a protection from judgment about to fall upon the whole land (Exodus 12). Each detail of the feast, ordained for their perpetual observance, had profound significance. It pointed to the great sacrifice which would truly protect from God’s judgment by taking away the sins of the world. God was preparing His own Lamb long before (Genesis 22:8; Isaiah 53:7). Jesus was hailed by John the Baptist as “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). One of His glorious titles is The Lamb (Revelation 5:6, 12). He was the fulfillment of the Passover feast. “Christ our Passover, is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). The older feast was only a shadow of the greater fulfillment to come (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 10:1).
Every godly Jew faithfully kept the Passover (Matthew 26:17). It was a remembrance of his redemption. On the night of this sacred observance, Jesus introduced the memorial observance of bread and wine. Thereafter it was to remind believers of His body given and His blood shed for their salvation. It was to become to Christians what the Passover was to the Jews, and would be no less sacred. It replaced the Passover in the eyes of God. Israel had many ceremonies, but the Christian church was given only one collective observance.
The Lord Jesus directly communicated to the Apostle Paul the importance of that which was delivered unto believers for their observance. Jesus said, “This do … in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25). The Lord’s Supper became a regular part of their worship (Acts 2:42, 46). The early church kept the observance once a week as the center of their gatherings (Acts 20:7). It was celebrated on the day of Resurrection. The so-called early church “fathers” or leaders noted that it was celebrated every Lord’s Day or Sunday (Justin Martyr and the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve).
Celebration Of The Supper
1. Who May Participate? Certainly if the Passover was only for Jews (Exodus 12:43), the Lord’s Supper is only for Christians. It was for “His own” that the Lord first instituted the feast. It was the disciples who began to break bread in memory of Him after He was risen. Moreover, the supper is for prepared Christians. Some believers were careless about their spiritual condition when participating and were warned of God’s judgment (1 Corinthians 11:18-31). The believers were to exclude those who continue in unjudged evil (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) as well as those holding doctrines which undermine either the gospel or the person of Christ (2 John 9-10; Galatians 5:12-13). Stated affirmatively, all who confess Christ as Lord and Savior and who have a walk consistent with that faith should be welcomed to the Supper.
2. What Is The Procedure? We have the example of the Lord in His establishment of this remembrance as our principal guide. It seems to have been characterized by simplicity rather than elaborate ceremony. He did not specify any fixed rules or procedure. The upper room was not an ornate house of worship with railed-off communion table. He alone presided. The elements were simply bread and a cup, two very common elements of the table. No special kind of bread is mandatory, although it is probable that unleavened bread was used at that time. The stress is laid upon our being personally clean (unleavened) when we observe the feast, rather than on the kind of bread used (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). The cup contained “the fruit of the vine” (Mark 14:25; Matthew 26:29). To what extent this extract was fermented or was mixed with water is also debated endlessly. Scripture is not specific. The important thing is that we see that the loaf and the cup typify the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. We are to be occupied with Him, not the nature of the material symbols. Each of the disciples took some of the loaf and shared the cup. The section in 1 Corinthians 14:26-34 seems to be an extension of the discussion in 1 Corinthians 11 as to the type of meeting attended by the believers when there was breaking of bread. Participation by several of the brethren is indicated. The need for order, rather than confusion, is stressed. A fellowship meal was often associated with the observance.
3. How Do We Discern The Lord’s Body (1 Corinthians11:29)? Certainly we should know the significance of the elements as they testify to the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross when He put away our sins by the sacrifice of Himself (Hebrews 9:26). We should have examined our own lives in self-judgment (1 Corinthians 11:28-32). Some have erroneously related to the Supper the words which Jesus spoke about eating His flesh and drinking His blood (John 6:53). However, the last statement is not on the subject of the Supper but refers to the believer’s spiritual appropriation of Christ in the full sufficiency of His saving work. The statement “This is My body” is similar to His
words “I am the Door.” Both use figurative language and are among many such statements. Incorrect religious teaching, suggesting miraculous transformations as occurring in connection with the elements, is examined below:
a. Transubstantiation. This view holds that the elements are converted into the very “body, soul and divinity of Christ.” This “real presence of Christ” means that partakers are eating His literal body. This teaches that the sacrifice of Calvary is repeated with each observance and is offered for the sins of the living and the dead. Hebrews10:10-18 denies this idea by stressing that there is only one, unrepeated sacrifice for sins, never to be offered again. The sacrifice is finished and
b. Consubstantiation. This means that the bread and wine are unchanged, but in a way which cannot be fully explained, the material substance of Christ’s body is present and communicated to those who partake. No Scripture teaches this.
c. Impanation. This view teaches that the partaker receives Christ in the Supper because “Christ transfuses His life in us, just as if He penetrates our bones and marrow” when we take the communion (Calvin).This also has no Scriptural base.
4. What Do We Accomplish By Breaking Bread? If we did nothing else we would comply with the Lord’s dying request and show that we love Him by so doing. This is a far cry from being legalistic. We would also conform to apostolic practice. Together, as believers, we remember Him in accordance with the manner of His choosing, not ours. We rejoice in the fact that He has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel and we have been included. We share personally and individually as members of the believing community, as we partake of the elements. Our unity is expressed in the one loaf (1 Corinthians 10:17). The cup speaks of communion or common sharing (1Corinthians 10:16). We are one with Him, as He is with us, in all that He has accomplished. We share His attitudes as to sin and righteousness. As often as we eat the bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11:26). The feast is a salvation message. The duration is described as “until He come.” Each remembrance has the possibility of being the last one before His return.
Preparation For The Supper
Preparation for the Passover in the Old Testament involved many things. There was no careless participation. We should be no less prepared.
1. Examination. True preparation for the Lord’s Supper begins with self-examination (1 Corinthians 11:28-32). This is to prepare, not preclude, the participant. One should first examine his own relationship with the Lord and confess any known sin. Then he should look at his relationship with others (especially other Christians). An attempt should be made to settle problems with other believers before partaking of the feast (Matthew 5:23-24). The Scriptures warn against neglect in the area of self-judgment lest God’s judgment come. In the church of Corinth, physical illness and death resulted from being careless in this area.
2. MEDITATION. If we have been entertaining ourselves recreationally and conversing on subjects not directly related to the Lord before coming to the feast, our preparation has failed. Reading the Word of God, singing spiritual songs and sharing with believers or family about the Lord Jesus are ways of spending time in preparation for remembering Him. Certainly we can only bring to Him that which has been prepared ahead of time. David said, “Neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). Celebrations of the Lord’s Supper will be freed from deadening sameness when we have prepared ourselves beforehand.
Worship is the supreme responsibility and privilege of the believer (John 4:23; Luke 10:41-42). We offer spiritual sacrifices as priests (1 Peter 2:5). Regularly remembering the Lord as He commanded should take precedence over recreational activities, family gatherings and other obligations. As a vital part of the believer’s priesthood, we have opportunity, during communion, to offer the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips to God (Hebrews 13:15). We present material offerings to God as an act of worship (Philippians 4:17-18). Finally, we should offer afresh our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2 RSV).
Jesus said, “Remember Me!”
The Lord’s Supper
1. Review the account of the first Passover observance (Exodus 12:1-14). What was the purpose of the observance (vv. 1-14)?
What part did the lamb have in the observance?
2. How did Christ use the last Passover (Luke 22:7-18) to introduce the first Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19-20)?
What new significance did the Lord Jesus attach to the bread and the cup?
3. In view of the above, and considering Isaiah 53:7, John 1:29 and Revelation 5:8-9, what does the expression “Christ our Passover” (1 Corinthians 5:7) mean?
4. The Apostle Paul further explains the purpose and meaning of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. Where did the apostle get this teaching?
What do we proclaim by partaking in His Supper? Explain.
How long should we continue to remember Him in this way?
5. What additional aspects of the elements does Paul emphasize in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17?
6. How did the early church respond to the Lord’s command to remember Him (Acts 2:42; 20:7)?
7. In what different ways can we offer “sacrifices” in worship to God (Hebrews 13:15; Philippians 4:17-18; Romans 12:1-2)?
8. What is a Christian’s responsibility before participating in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:27-32)?
What do this passage and 1 Corinthians 5 indicate about the seriousness of partaking of the Supper with unjudged sin?
9. What spiritual preparation do you normally make prior to taking the Lord’s Supper? What will you do to make your worship more meaningful in the future?
10. In the context of your total church experience (Acts 2:42) what commitment do you have to the “breaking of bread”?