On that final Thursday of His ministry, Jesus' apostles, according to His instructions, made preparations for the keeping of the Passover. They gathered in an upper room that evening and ate the Passover while Jesus spoke of many things--important things that they needed to hear, even if their comprehension of such was limited at that time. Each of the gospel accounts devotes space describing the dialogue and activities in that upper room (Matt. 26, Mark 14, Luke 22). John, in chapters 13-17, gives the most detailed account, though he does not address everything the other writers did. In addition to the Passover meal itself, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, predicted Judas' betrayal and Peter's denials, instituted the Lord's Supper memorial, gave a farewell discourse to His apostles, and prayed for His disciples.
Let us now focus our attention upon Jesus' establishment of the Lord's Supper memorial.
"And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body.'" While they were still reclining around the table in the upper room, Jesus takes the opportunity to establish a special memorial. Matthew affirms that Jesus "blessed" the bread; Luke's account states that Jesus "gave thanks" (Luke 22:19). Although the wording is different, the meaning is the same. When Jesus "blessed" the bread, He "gave thanks" for it. Jesus did not ask the Father to bless the bread, and it would be inappropriate for one to do such today. To bless the bread, as Jesus shows here, is to give thanks for it, and it is man's responsibility to give thanks.
There was only one kind of bread used during the Passover feast--unleavened (Exod. 12:15). Thus, it is certain that the bread Jesus took and distributed on this occasion was unleavened. Therefore, it seems best that unleavened bread be used today in the Lord's Supper memorial, though such is not specifically commanded in the New Testament. An additional reason for the use of unleavened bread is that it is a symbol of purity, and hence, is a more appropriate representation of the sinless body of our Lord.
Luke 22:19, though similar in many respects, does provide some additional details. Therein Jesus said - "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." Jesus' purpose in distributing unleavened bread and telling them that it represented His body was starting to be revealed. He was establishing a memorial by which He intended for His disciples to remember Him and the great sacrifice He was about to make. He makes a similar comment later after blessing the cup (cf. I Cor. 11:25). It can be seen from Acts 20:7 (and attested to by historians of the early church) that Christians gathered together on the first day of every week (i.e., Sunday) to remember Jesus' death by partaking of this memorial. Today, faithful disciples should do likewise in their assemblies on the first day of the week.
"Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you.'" What exactly was Jesus thanking God the Father for when He gave thanks for the cup? It is doubtful that He was expressing gratitude for the container; rather, He was thanking God for the contents of the cup. The fact that He commanded all of them to drink from it indicates that it was important to Jesus that all of His disciples participate in this memorial.
"For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." It was common practice for blood to be used in the establishment of covenants (e.g., Exod. 24:6-8). The old covenant, which was sanctified by the blood of animals, would be fulfilled through Jesus' death on the cross (cf. Col. 2:14), and simultaneously the new covenant would be sealed and sanctified by His blood. Thus, the fruit of the vine used for the Lord's Supper memorial would be a symbol of His covenant-confirming blood.
The primary purpose in Jesus' death is clearly seen in this verse. His blood would be shed "for many for the remission of sins." Although there is no contradiction, elsewhere the Bible is more specific in declaring that Jesus died for all (cf. Heb. 2:9; I John 2:2). His death was for all, but only those who obey the gospel to have their sins remitted will be benefited by His atoning sacrifice.
It should be noted here that there are some who incorrectly argue that Acts 2:38 teaches that one should repent and be baptized because their sins have already been forgiven (at the point of faith, supposedly). The Greek text for Acts 2:38 should definitely be translated in such a way as to communicate the idea that repentance and baptism are both required in order for one to receive the remission of sins. That is, the word "for" should not be translated as "because" in that verse. Well, Stephen, that's intriguing, but what does that have to do with Matthew 26:28? Interestingly enough, the Greek phrase used in Acts 2:38 is identical to the phrase used here in Matthew 26:28. Jesus' blood was shed "for the remission of sins." Jesus did not shed His blood because the sins of the world were already forgiven--and no one in their right mind would argue such. If the world's sins were already forgiven, Jesus would not have shed His blood at all! It should be easy for all to see that if one changes the word "for" to "because" in Acts 2:38, then consistency would demand that the same be done in Matthew 26:28 (after all, the exact same phrase is used!). Of course, no one is willing to make the change in Matthew, so why do they attempt to do such in Acts, unless they are simply trying to cover up or deny a doctrine that is plainly taught in the New Testament? Friends, Jesus died for the remission of the world's sins, and we must repent and be baptized for the remission of our sins. The Bible could not be plainer on these points.
"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." Jesus' talk of drinking with them in the future should not be understood in a physical, literal sense; rather it is figurative of the communion He shares with all of His disciples who participate in the memorial (cf. I Cor. 10:16). This is the case because the kingdom would not be established until the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 (cf. Mark 9:1), and by then Jesus would have already ascended into heaven, making it impossible for Him to physically partake with them again. Also, Jesus stated that He would drink it "new" with them. This probably refers to the new manner in which He would commune with them, not physically but spiritually.
Was Jesus speaking literally in this context when He referred to the bread and the fruit of the vine, saying, "This is My body" and "This is My blood" ? There are some who affirm such. Some Catholics, for example, believe in a doctrine called transubstantiation; that is, they believe the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine become the literal body and blood of Jesus when blessed by a priest. There are many reasons why this doctrine cannot be true, but perhaps the strongest argument against it is the simple fact that when Jesus spoke these words He was still right there with them! Thus, that which the apostles partook was not His literal flesh and blood. Jesus referred to the unleavened bread in a symbolic way when He said it was His body. We speak in a similar fashion today when we point to a photograph and say, "This is my family." Obviously, the picture represents our family, but the photograph itself is not our family. The only way the apostles would have understood Jesus to be speaking literally is if His physical body had disappeared when He spoke these words and the only thing that remained for them to see was the unleavened bread He had just given thanks for. But, since His physical body was still 100% there after He spoke these words, it is impossible for one to rationally conclude that Jesus intended for them to literally eat His body or drink His blood. Another powerful argument against the idea of transubstantiation is that after Jesus tells them that "This is My blood" , He goes on to say that He would "not drink of this fruit of the vine" again until He did so in His Father's kingdom (26:29). Did you catch that? The fruit of the vine which Jesus had distributed and instructed them to drink was representative of His blood, but literally it was still just fruit of the vine, as His words indicate here. It had not been changed into literal blood.
We noted earlier that using unleavened bread in the Lord's Supper seems to be most reasonable based upon what Jesus used. Regarding the cup, it should be observed that the word "wine" is nowhere used in the gospel accounts regarding the institution of the Lord's Supper. Of course, even if it had been used, such would not demand the use of intoxicants at the Lord's table, since the Hebrew and Greek words translated as "wine" can refer to an unfermented beverage, depending upon the context (e.g., Isa. 16:10; John 2:1ff). Jesus simply referred to the liquid as "fruit of the vine," so certainly grape juice is appropriate for use in the memorial today.
Dear listeners, let us now shift our attention to another important passage that addresses this subject.
I CORINTHIANS 11:23ff
Though there is some repetition from the gospel accounts, much can be gleaned from this passage regarding how to properly honor this memorial Christ has established. Let us read the verses and then note five primary thoughts Christians should focus on while partaking of the Lord's Supper.
I Corinthians 11:23-29 - "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus Christ on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body."
1. When we partake of the Lord's Supper, we should LOOK BACKWARD.
That is, we should focus on the past, reflecting upon Jesus' crucifixion nearly 2000 years ago and the symbolic elements of the memorial (the bread and fruit of the vine representing His body and blood, respectively; I Cor. 11:23-25).
Paul declared in verse 26 that when we partake of this memorial, "we proclaim the Lord's death" . What a horrible thought it is to consider the sacrifice of Jesus upon a cross! Contemplating such ought to touch our emotions deeply. Anytime anyone is unjustly condemned, our hearts should grieve for them. One should magnify that sorrow infinitely when considering why Jesus died the way He did. He did it for you, for me, and for the rest of the world. When partaking of the bread and the cup, we should always consider the physical torture Christ went through for His enemies--the sinners of this world--you and me.
2. When we partake of the Lord's Supper, we should LOOK OUTWARD.
That is, we should "proclaim the Lord's death" by our participation in the memorial (I Cor. 11:26). How are we proclaiming His death through such? Primarily, we are affirming our belief that Jesus died for the sins of the world. Of course, we need to make sure the rest of our lives are also proclamations of that truth.
3. When we partake of the Lord's Supper, we should LOOK FORWARD.
That is, to the future when Jesus will come again. According to verse 26, we should partake of the memorial on a weekly basis until death or "till He comes" , whichever comes first. We should look forward into the future and rejoice knowing that this world is not our permanent home. We know there is a better place for us. There is a heavenly home being prepared for the faithful. Christ is coming again, and partaking of the Lord's Supper should remind us of that very fact. We should look forward to the future Judgment.
4. When we partake of the Lord's Supper, we should LOOK INWARD.
That is, we are to "examine" ourselves and partake of the memorial in a worthy manner (I Cor. 11:27-29). We must look into our hearts and judge ourselves. Are we living as we should for God? Are we doing everything by His authority in our lives? Are we in fellowship with God at this time or is there some sin that is separating us from Him? We must "discern the Lord's body" (verse 29) by reflecting inward, realizing the price that was paid for our redemption. If we don't recognize the serious importance of what Jesus has done for us and if we fail to ensure that our lives are in harmony with His will, then we are not partaking of the Lord's Supper in a proper way. If we are not examining ourselves, then our physical participation in the memorial is not pleasing to the Lord.
And on that point, I'd like to digress for just one moment. There are some today who encourage other activities to be engaged in while the Lord's Supper is being observed. Take singing, for example. Though God wants us to sing with grace in our hearts to Him and teach and admonish each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16), how can one properly do this if he is trying to be mindful of the points we are stressing regarding the Lord's Supper? How can one genuinely "examine himself" if he is singing and focusing on the message the words contain? If one sings and partakes of the memorial simultaneously, either his singing or his partaking will be done without much thought (perhaps both). It would seem that silence is most conducive for properly partaking of the Lord's Supper memorial.
5. When we partake of the Lord's Supper, we should LOOK UPWARD.
That is, we should give "thanks to God the Father" for the great love that He has shown us (Col. 3:17). Admittedly, this thought is not contained within the text we considered in I Cor. 11, but it is, of course, something upon which we should focus. At the Lord's table especially, it is good to offer prayers of thanks and gratitude for the sacrifice of Christ and for God's great love! Not only has He created us and richly blessed us with so many earthly things, He has also manifested His love for us in the greatest way possible by providing a way to come back to Him when we sin--a way to be saved through Jesus! We must always look upward, so to speak, and thank God for His matchless love.
Let's briefly review before we close. In this lesson we've considered what the Lord's Supper is--a memorial to Jesus Christ consisting of unleavened bread and fruit of the vine. We've learned how the memorial is to be partaken--in a grateful manner which remembers Jesus' great sacrifice and examines oneself. We've seen who should partake of the Lord's Supper--all disciples of Christ. We've learned when and where the memorial should be observed--every Sunday (until He returns), as the first century Christians did in their assemblies.
Finally, there is an important reason why the Lord's Supper should be partaken of (in addition to the simple truth that Jesus commanded such). Monuments are designed to commemorate the worthy deeds of those to whose memory they are built with the hope that future generations--when they learn of the deeds commemorated by the monument--will be inspired with the same spirit and be led to emulate those worthy deeds. Likewise, the Lord's Supper memorial was instituted to perpetuate the memory of the self-denying spirit and heroic deeds of Jesus Christ for the good of mankind. May all those who participate in this memorial be motivated by the sacrificial death of Jesus to emulate His life and righteous actions for the good of others. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.