Embraced  by  Truth . . .
                                    reflections on theology and life

Theology > Jesus > Christ's Death > The Lord's Supper  


Each of the four Gospels reports the last Passover Meal that Jesus celebrated, an event which was also the occasion for the first Lord’s Supper observance (Matt. 26:17-30; Mk. 14:22-26; Lu. 22:7-38; Jo. 13:1-30). While the Passover represented the past, the Lord’s Supper represents the future. At the center of both is God’s redemption of His people, with the Passover associated with the Old Covenant and the Lord’s Supper associated with the New Covenant.

The actual term, “the Lord’s Supper” comes from I Cor. 11:20. Communion (I Cor. 10:16) is another name for this practice of the Church, and it is also known as the Eucharist, which comes from the Greek word meaning “to give thanks” (I Cor. 11:24). Additionally, some identify the “breaking of bread” in Acts 2:42 with the Supper.

Jesus participated in Passover observances like all the Jews of His day, for the nation annually remembered their deliverance from Egyptian captivity by God’s mighty hand through Moses. As the Passover neared, which was to be the last observance for Jesus, His disciples inquired: “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?” (Matt. 26:17). They knew that He would observe the Passover because He had done so in the past. The preparation included: securing a lamb and having it properly slaughtered by a priest in the late afternoon between 2:30 and 6:00 p.m.; getting unleavened bread and bitter herbs; securing in a bowl a sauce consisting of nuts, fruit, spices, and vinegar; and obtaining a supply of wine. Jesus told them where He would “keep the Passover,” and they went and “prepared the Passover” (vs. 18-19).

In the evening Jesus arrived to observe the Feast with His disciples. According to the Mishna, the Passover included the drinking of four cups of red wine, with perhaps the first three cups being diluted, two or three parts water to one part wine, but not the fourth cup. The first cup was drunk at the commencement of the meal, the second during the meal, the third as the cup of blessing, and a final cup at the singing of the hymn, the Hallel, from Psalms 115-118. The four cups had come to represent the four promises of God to the nation in Exodus 6:6-7: “I will bring you out,” “I will rescue you,” “I will redeem you,” and “I will be your God.” In Luke 22, verse 17 refers to the first or second cup; and verse 20 refers to the last cup, or possibly the third cup.

At this last Passover for the Lord, as the meal was ending, He took first the bread and then the cup. The “cup” was a cup of wine, perhaps the fourth and last cup, which was undiluted, though some argue for the third cup. Whether it was the third or the fourth cup, it was a cup of wine that Jesus used to observe the Passover and to initiate the Lord’s Supper (see: Drinkers of Wine).

The Lord “gave thanks,” which at Passover was a special thanks said over the bread and the wine by the head of the group. The wine represents “the new covenant,” which looks back to Exodus 24:8; and it represents the blood of Christ “shed for many” (Matt. 26:28), not for all and not for a few, but “for many,” shed for the remission of their sins.

Jesus made reference to the “fruit of the vine” (v. 29), which was a common way of referring to wine by the Hebrew people; it was the terminology used in Jewish blessings over the meal or over the wine. All drank the wine, for Jesus said: “all of you” (v. 27). No precedent in the upper room was set by Jesus to justify the Roman Catholic practice of only the priest drinking the wine.

In connection with the cup, Jesus indicated that He would not drink of the fruit of the vine until He drank it in the kingdom. Does this indicate that wine will be the heavenly drink (see: Isa. 25:6 and Amos 9:13-14)?

Interpretations of the Lord's Supper are varied:

Transubstantiation – the Roman view which affirms that the actual elements, the bread and wine, continue to look and taste like bread and wine, but through the actions of the priest during the observance of the Mass the elements are actually changed into the very body and blood of Christ.

Consubstantiation – view developed by Martin Luther over against the Roman view; affirms that Christ is in, with, and under the bread and wine but the elements do not become the actual body and blood of Christ; but Christ is actually present in the observance.

Dynamic – view of Calvin and the Reformed Churches; understanding is somewhere between Luther and Zwingli; Christ is spiritually present during the observance giving spiritual nourishment to those participating; the observance is sacramental, meaning grace is given.

Memorial – view of Zwingli; affirms that the elements are symbols of the body and blood; the observance is simply a memorial whereby the Church proclaims the death and resurrection of Christ and anticipates His return; in the observance there is a renewal of the individual’s commitment to Christ; what is done is done in remembrance of Christ (I Cor. 11:24-25).

Return to: Christ's Death; Next Article: Prayer in Gethsemane

For overview of THEOLOGY, see: Site Map - Theology
Copyright © Embraced by Truth
All rights reserved.
Materials may be freely copied for personal and academic use;
appropriate reference must be made to this site.
Links are invited.