The Study of the Church
by James T. Bartsch
"For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." 1 Corinthians 11:26
A. The Old Testament Background of The Lord’s Supper.
1. The Lord’s Supper that Jesus instituted the night he was betrayed (Matt. 26:2, 17-20) is directly linked to the Old Testament Passover (Ex. 12:1-13,21-27, 42-49; 13:3-4) and Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12:14-20; 13:5-10).
2. Passover holds great significance. On the tenth day of the first month of each new year, each household was to take and pen an unblemished male lamb or goat of one year (Ex. 12:1-5). On the fourteenth day at twilight each household was to kill its lamb, roast it, and eat the flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Ex. 12:6, 8). They were to smear blood on the door frames of their houses (Ex. 12:7). God would strike down the first born of each Egyptian household (Ex. 12:12), but He would pass over the homes of the Israelis because of the blood (Ex. 12:13, 22-23). (Note: The month of Abib is the first month of the Jewish religious calendar, which is based on the moon, not the sun. It corresponds with our March-April. After Israel went into Babylonian captivity, the Jewish people gave Babylonian names to four of their months, so Abib became known as Nisan, as in Neh. 2:1 and Es. 3:7.)
3. From the fourteenth to the twenty first day of the month, the Hebrews were to eat only unleavened bread (Ex. 12:14-21). No work was to be done on the fourteenth and twenty-first days (Ex. 12:16). No leaven was to be found in their homes during that time on pain of exclusion from the Covenant Community (Ex. 12:19-20).
4. The Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month combined with the Festival of Unleavened Bread from the fourteenth to the twenty-first days were to be perpetual observances (Ex. 12:14, 17, 24-25; 13:3-10).
5. What did the Passover lamb symbolize?
a. The death of the lamb was obviously a substitute for the deaths of the first-born of each Israeli family. That lamb looked ahead to the sacrificial, substitutionary death of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who died to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). The Jewish people before the cross, of course, could not have known that.
b. The lamb’s blood, applied to the door frames of the homes, alerted God and the “destroyer” (Ex. 12:23) that here was a household of faith. Its inhabitants trusted that the lamb’s blood would prevent the death of the first-born in that household. Egyptians presumably could have applied the blood to their homes. If they knew about the provision, however, they did not believe it was necessary, and so they did not apply any blood. In the same way, Jesus’ blood is available today to pay for the sins of the entire world (John 1:9, 29; 1 John 2:2). His blood is effective, however, only for those who receive Him in faith (John 1:10-13; 3:16-18, 36).
c. The fact that the lamb had to be unblemished speaks to the fact that Jesus was unblemished – he had no sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:13-14). Only a perfect lamb could achieve a perfect sacrifice.
d. The blood of the lamb is emblematic of the blood of Jesus, which alone is able to pay for the sins of mankind (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
6. What did the unleavened bread stand for?
a. The absence of any leaven (yeast) suggests the idea of freedom from any corrupting influence or sin. Purity and holiness mark the bread of the festival.
b. Bread is the staff of life. Jesus would later claim “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:32-35, 41, 47-51, 57-58). Whoever believes in Jesus, the Bread of Life, has eternal life (John 6:27-29, 35, 40, 47).
B. The Lord’s Supper as Instituted by Jesus
1. Jesus took the Passover meal, celebrated on the fourteenth day of the first month, and invested in it a new significance.
2. First, he took the unleavened bread, blessed it, broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). The broken bread, absent any leaven, symbolized Jesus’ sinless body, which, within hours, would be brutalized and marred to pay for human sin.
3. Then he took the cup, which had become part of the Passover meal, gave thanks for it, and gave to his disciples to drink (Matt. 26:27). Jesus said,”This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28).
4. What is the purpose of the Lord’s Table? Its primary purpose is to serve as a memorial of what Jesus did for us on the cross. The bread reminds us of his body, and the cup reminds us of his blood. That is why Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24-25).
a. There has been much debate over what Jesus meant when he said of the bread, “Take, eat; this is my body;” and when he said of the cup, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant” (Matt. 26:26-28). It is important to understand that Jesus was not saying that the bread was literally his body. Nor was he saying that the cup was literally his blood. It was not so then, and it is not so now.
b. Jesus was speaking in metaphorical language. The molecules of the bread remained bread molecules when he distributed it – they did not miraculously become the molecules of his flesh. The molecules of the fruit of the vine he passed around retained their grape origin – they did not miraculously change into molecules of his blood.
c. What he meant was that the bread that was broken stood for his body that would soon be broken; and the cup of which they drank stood for his blood that would soon be shed.
d. The Scripture says clearly that Jesus died for our sins once (Rom. 6:9-10; Heb. 9:12; 10:10), and that one death was utterly sufficient. To insist, today, that when a human being serves the bread and cup, the elements are suddenly changed into Christ’s body and blood, gives miraculous powers to a person he does not possess, and, in my opinion, it implies repeated deaths of Jesus, a concept that is as ghastly as it is wrong.
e. Those who insist that the bread and cup literally become the body and blood of the Lord make the same mistake that many in the crowd of five thousand made when they watched him feed them all with five barley loaves and two fish (John 6:1-14). On the next day they came seeking for another hand out from him (John 6:26). He warned them not to seek food that spoils, but the food that “endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). Jesus spoke of the bread out of heaven that God gives (John 6:32-33) which imparts life to the world. When they asked for that bread (John 6:34), Jesus said that he himself is the bread of life, and that those who partake of him will never hunger or thirst (John 6:35). Jesus said, furthermore, that his listeners needed to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood,” or they would have no life in themselves (John 6:53-56). His Jewish listeners struggled over his statements (John 6:52). Many of his disciples found the saying too difficult (John 6:60-61), and some withdrew from him (John 6:66).
f. What did Jesus mean by these difficult statements? Jesus did not mean that every one should come up to him and start gnawing on his arm Nor was he suggesting that they make an incision in one of his veins and start sucking out the blood! The text gives the answer. He simply meant that they needed to trust in him – rely on him (John 6:29, 35-36, 40, 47, 64)!
g. By the same token Jesus did not mean that bread turned literally into his body, nor that the cup turned literally into His blood. He clearly meant that partaking of unleavened bread and the cup was a means of remembering him and his sacrificial death, which instituted the New Covenant (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24-26). Jesus died once, and his death is sufficient for salvation. There is no rite in which we can participate which earns us more grace, is there?
5. It is interesting to note that, though the Lord’s Supper is the Church’s memorial of his death, the nation of Israel (and the world’s citizens) will have their own memorial of Jesus’ death during the Millennium. A Millennial Temple will be built, and animal sacrifices will be offered! Multiple examples can be found in Ezekiel 40, 43, 45, and 46. Even Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread will be observed again (Ezek. 45:21)! If we think that partaking of the Lord’s Supper means we are imbibing Christ’s body and blood, what are we going to say about the animal sacrifices that will be offered in the Millennial Kingdom?
a. Provisions are made in the Millennial Temple for rinsing and slaughtering animals (Ezek. 40:38-43).
b. Provision is made for an altar for burnt offerings of animals (Ezek. 43:13-27).
c. Various animals will be offered in sacrifice (Ezek. 45:15-25).
d. The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread will be observed from the fourteenth to the twenty first day of the first month (Ezek. 45:21).
e. The prince will offer sacrifices, including animal sacrifices (Ezek. 46:2-7, 12), and the people are responsible to provide lambs for the daily burnt offering (Ezek. 46:13-15).
f. What are we to make of these sacrifices? Why have them at all, since Christ has already died? Will they mark a resacrificing of Christ’s body? Unthinkable. Clearly these sacrifices will be, for the nation of Israel, memorial in nature, just as the Church’s observing the Lord’s Supper is memorial in nature (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24-25).
6. What is the significance of the Lord’s Table?
a. It is a way of remembering what Jesus did for us on the cross (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24-25).
b. It is a way for the church publicly to share together in the deep meaning of Christ’s body and blood (1 Cor. 10:16).
c. It is a way to promote unity in the local church (1 Cor. 11:17-22). The one bread, of which we all partake, is a reminder that we are all of one body, the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:17).
d. It is a reminder that, by trusting in Jesus, through his death and resurrection we are partakers of the New Covenant, not the Old Covenant (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 9:15).
e. It is a way to proclaim publicly Christ’s death and it’s significance (1 Cor. 11:26).
f. It is an affirmation that Jesus is coming back (1 Cor. 11:26) and that he will establish his Father’s kingdom here upon earth (Matt. 26:29; compare Matt. 6:10)!
g. It is a time of self-examination, a time of judging ourselves, a time of purging out the old leaven (1 Cor. 5:6-8) so that we do not partake of the Lord’s table unworthily (1 Cor. 11:27-32).
The Lord’s Supper
This study is based on, and the upcoming links will reference the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. (www.Lockman.org)
(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB 1995. Used by Permission.)
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Updated March 5, 2022