After predicting the betrayal of Judas (Matthew 26:20-25), Jesus and the disciples proceeded with the Passover meal, which is also known as the Lord’s Supper. The particular occasion under consideration is a special moment for only special friends who would eat together in the first-century Jewish culture. At this time, the enemies of God are conspiring against the Lord (Matthew 26:1-5; 14-16), which cast a shadow over a delightful occasion. Even so, the Resurrection will reveal the events to come as integral to the joyous final redemption these events helped produce.
Background of the Passover Feast
The background of the Passover is critical to understand its meaning. On the first feast day, Israel celebrated as a covenant community, a reminder of the deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 12). As the Passover established the boundaries of Israel as a people, the Lord’s Supper establishes the Christian community. Christ invests the Passover elements with new meaning in the Lord’s Supper depicting His authority.
The Lord God originally had the people of God eat unleavened bread because they left Egypt in haste (Deuteronomy 16:3). Now, Jesus gives bread to His disciples and says, “This is my body” (Matthew 26:26). By interpreting the Passover meal, Jesus demonstrates the power of God to direct His people in their remembrance of the salvation that He has won in His finished work.
Jesus directs His disciples to drink of the fruit of the vine (Matthew 26:29), which is a reference not to grape juice but wine. The Lord likens wine to the blood that He will “pour out for many” (Matthew 26:27-28). To the Jews, such imagery, “fruit of the vine,” would recall the bloody slaughter of the Passover Lamb. By using this imagery, Jesus is anticipating His violent death by crucifixion to save the people of God (Matthew 1:21).
The Purpose of the Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper is a sign of the presence of Christ among the people of God and their unity in Him. Paul spoke to the Corinthians about the factions among them but called particular attention to their abuse of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 10-11).
Jesus Gives Himself to His People in the Lord’s Supper
In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is giving Himself to His redeemed people. In the physical realm, the Lord Jesus is located at the right hand of the Father in heaven. There is no transformation of the bread and wine into the physical body of Christ today. The Church has taught, since the Council of Chalcedon in AD 431, that the humanity of Christ is not mingled with the deity of Christ, so it cannot be spread over space. In the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit communicates Jesus to His people and makes the people of God present to His person in heaven.
The Lord’s Supper and Unity in the Local Church
The unity of the church is a unity in Christ alone. The Lord’s Supper seals this unity among the people of God in that when they feed on Christ; they are made partakers of the same body. The Corinthians ate the Lord’s Supper in various groups aligned with their factions. Such behavior is offensive to God and showed that the Corinthians neither understood nor appreciated the death of Jesus nor the gift of the Lord’s supper.
The Lord’s Supper always acts upon the people of God when they participate in it, for it is received by faith. The people of God derive benefit and nourishment from it by feeding on the bread and wine of the Lord Jesus. When Christians harbor sin and abuse and take the Lord’s Supper, they receive judgment from the Lord. The Corinthians were experiencing sickness and premature deaths because, as a Church, for they were offending God at the Lord’s Supper.
Frequency of Communion in the Local Church
The New Testament does not give a conclusive answer to how often the Lord’s Supper should be held for the Church is at liberty on such an issue. Even so, the Early Church (Acts 2:42-48) took the Supper frequently, for it is to be a constant feature of the life of the local church. In Acts 20:7, the church at Troas met weekly to “break bread.” At Corinth, the regular purpose of church gatherings was to preserve the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:18).
The Lord’s Supper is a meal Jesus invites His people to partake on the Lord’s Day. In particular, this is important because either before or after the Lord’s Supper, the people of God hear the Word preached. The Word of God is to be central in the life of the church, so the Lord's Supper is to be pivotal in the life of the local church. Christ invites His people to worship and dine with Him, so they should not neglect the Lord’s Supper, but participate in it each week.
The Lord’s Table anchors the service and shapes it by focusing on the cross of Christ and His return as the hope and joy of Christians. Non-Christians also see in the Lord’s Supper the work of Christ portrayed before them and are reminded that these benefits are made available only to those who believe in Christ.
Dr. Robert Letham says, “The degree to which the church desires communion is a reliable gauge of how eagerly it wants Christ. The keyword is ‘often.’ The question to ask is, ‘how far do we desire communion with Christ?’” (Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, 767). As Robert Bruce says, “If Christ is not both eaten and digested, he can do us no good, but this digestion cannot exist where there is not a greedy appetite to receive him” (Robert Bruce, The Mystery of the Lord’s Supper, 45).
The Importance of the Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper is a reminder to the people of God to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Far from making the Lord’s Supper a mere routine activity, participating in the Lord’s Supper weekly is an enriching experience to look forward to with expectation and eager anticipation to the Resurrection Day.
At the Lord’s Supper, “we should reflect on the past, present and the future and remember Christ in his death, thanking him for his complete salvation” (John Frame, John Frame, Systematic Theology, 1069). As Christians, we should examine ourselves in the light of the Lord to consider whether we are trusting in Christ, or, if we are not, what that will ultimately mean (Lamentations 3:40; 1 Corinthians 11:28). Christians are to repent of their sin and seek reconciliation with others wherever possible. As we engage in self-examination, Christians cast themselves on Christ and are welcomed at the Lord’s Table.
The Lord’s Supper serves as a means of God’s grace for Christians to strengthen them in Christ. Self-examination is not a barrier to communion but a preparation for it. Self-examination provides a time to renew our focus and hatred of sin and with dependence to take the bread and cup with joy and hope in our Lord.
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Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the Host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. He received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOG, Instagram, read more of his writing at Servants of Grace, or sign to receive his newsletter. When Dave isn’t busy with ministry, he loves spending time with his wife, Sarah, reading the latest from Christian publishers, the Reformers, and the Puritans, playing golf, watching movies, sports, and spending time with his family.