The Lord's Supper, sometimes called The Last Supper, has such a depth of meaning and richness that the experience of studying this event stirs the soul. On the eve of His death, as the Jewish celebration of Passover was underway, Jesus began a new tradition for His followers that continues to the present day and has become a central part of Christian worship. As we observe this tenet of the faith, we remember the death and resurrection of our Lord and look forward to His glorious return.
The Jewish Passover
The Passover was the most sacred of all Jewish feasts according to their annual religious calendar. It commemorated the last of the Egyptian plagues when all firstborn children in the land of Egypt died, while Israel's first born children were spared because their door posts were sprinkled with the blood of a lamb, as instructed by God. The lamb was then roasted and consumed with bread that did not contain leaven. God commanded that this feast should be celebrated throughout the generations, and the account of this event can be read in Exodus Chapter 12.
The Significance of the Last Supper
At the time of the Last Supper—a celebration of Passover–Jesus took a loaf of bread and thanked God the Father. While breaking the bread and passing it to His disciples, He said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, when the supper commenced, He took the cup and said “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:19-20.
The feast was concluded by the singing of a hymn, an account of which is found in Matthew 26:30. Following the hymn, the group made their way by night to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus was ultimately betrayed by Judas, as He had predicted. His crucifixion took place the following day.
First-Hand Accounts of the Lord’s Supper:
• Matthew 26:26-29
• Mark 14:17-25
• Luke 22:7-22
• John 13:21-30
The Apostle Paul's Reference to Christian Communion
Writings in which the Lord’s Supper is mentioned in addition to the Gospels include 1 Corinthians 11:23-29, where the apostle Paul speaks of the event, including a profound statement not found in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. The following statement is recorded in the 27th through the 29th verses of that same chapter:
“So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.”
Many Christians may wonder what it means to partake of the cup and the bread unworthily. It is possible that this means drinking or eating while disregarding the authentic meaning of the bread and cup, and therefore forgetting the unfathomable price that our Lord and Savior Jesus paid for our salvation. It may also refer to allowing the ceremony to become merely a formal or dead ritual. Finally, it may also mean coming to Christian Communion in an unrepentant manner or while living with unconfessed sin in our lives. Therefore, in order to follow Paul's instructions, before partaking of the bread or the cup we should fully examine ourselves.
Time Frame Statement by Paul
Paul made another statement that is not found in the four Gospels :“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” This statement is found in 1 Corinthians 11:26. It gives us a specific time frame concerning observation of the ceremony, which is until the Lord returns.
Understanding the Symbols
From a few brief records we discover how Jesus used two of the frailest of elements to symbolize His body and blood and chose them as a monument to His death. He used bread and wine, rather than molded brass or carved marble.
Jesus symbolized His body with bread, as His body would also be broken. Although he did not suffer broken bones, He was so badly tortured that it was essentially impossible to recognize Him, as recorded in Isaiah 53:4-7 and Psalm 22:12-17.
The wine symbolized His blood, pointing to the horrible death He would soon face. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, was the ultimate fulfillment of numerous Old Testament prophecies that spoke of a Redeemer, such as Isaiah 53, Psalm 22 and Genesis 3:15. Jesus asked Christians everywhere to complete the same ceremony “in remembrance of Me,” and to continue doing so until He returned.
The Old and New Covenants and the Sacrificial Lamb
Another symbol can be seen in the death of a lamb–which was necessary during Passover–and the fulfillment of Salvation, when the Lamb of God would take away the world's sins by His death and resurrection. Now, we anticipate His return, even as we live our Christian lives under the New Covenant, which replaced the Old Covenant when Jesus was offered up as the Passover Lamb, as mentioned in First Corinthians 5:7 and Hebrews 8:8-13.
Remembrance and Celebration
Hebrews 9:25-28 states that after Jesus' death and resurrection, which was the slaying of the True Lamb of God, the former sacrificial system became unnecessary. The Lord’s Supper, also referred to as Christian Communion, is a remembrance of what was accomplished for us by Christ Himself and a celebration of what we received when He made the ultimate sacrifice.