THE LORD’S SUPPER
By Lonnie Kent York
The night before our Lord was to endure his suffering for all mankind, he assembled himself with his beloved apostles to share in the Passover. This gathering possessed great solemnity, and was filled with great symbolic significance for those who latter would follow Him in faith. Our Lord knew that this would be his last opportunity to teach and establish divine principals. Therefore the events of that evening should capture our attention. This particular evening our Lord established what we call THE LORD’S SUPPER.
The events of that evening were guided by the purposeful design of a divine being. These events were the actual fulfillment of a type set forth in God’s scheme for our redemption. Being in the mind of God, these events were no mere happenstance, rather the purposeful fulfillment of God’s design. These events were prefigured by the Passover established by God for Israel. This institution, being established by a divine being, was to be carried out by the faithful in the divine service throughout the coming era. We need to examine the Passover in the light of the Lord’s Supper, thereby viewing the divine plan of God for the church today.
Heb. 10: 1 “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things,”
From this text we learn that those divine services under the Old Testament were shadowy images of divine services that would be established under the New Covenant. As such, they possess the stamp of Divine approval. God did not establish those institutions under the Old Testament just for the sake of doing something. No, He established them as shadowy images of what He had in mind for the coming age. Yet, as Paul indicated, they were not the same things. God just did not establish something for the sake of doing some thing, rather He had a plan, a design, a purpose for the thing. Such things would be fulfilled in Christ. “Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, see, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.” (Heb 8:5)
If we can understand this simple concept, then we can state a principle which establishes this truth:
- It must have been divinely ordained by God to be a foreshadowing of the better object that would be fulfilled in Christ.
- There must be some notable point of resemblance between the type and the image. This does not mean that there is exactness in the resemblance, rather that there must be some dissimilarity.
- There must be evidence that the type was designed and appointed by God to represent the thing typified. This does not mean that the New Testament must so declare, rather that there can be no other conclusion.
- The type must prefigure something in the future. It must serve in the divine economy as a shadow of things to come. (BIBLICAL HERMENEUTICS, by M. Terry, pages 334-8)
The Lord’s Supper was divinely ordained by Christ for Christians during the Christian age. We can see this by specific statements made by our Lord during the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
“This do in remembrance of me.” Luke 22: 19
“For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” I Cor. 11: 26
Christ came not to do His own will but that of the Father’s (John 6:38). Being the Son of God, we then have the stamp of divine authority in the establishment of the Lord’s Supper. We must, if we serve God in truth, observe that institution in the manner that Christ established. Man does not possess the authority to alter or change that institution.
There were attempts to change the original pattern of observance of the Lord’s Supper. These were by man’s authority. The New Testament records for us the attitude of God towards man’s intervention.
In 1 Corinthians, we find that Paul warned them that they could not eat the Lord’s Supper under the changes that had been made. In the same context, Paul says “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: …” (1 Cor. 11:23f). Paul went back to the original institution of the Supper. That was the pattern. That is our pattern for today. We must not change it to fit our needs. Remember, we are serving God, not man.
Over the years since the days of the Apostles there have been some major alterations to the divine pattern for the Lord’s Supper. The Roman Catholics changed this most precious institution when they removed the cup from the common people in 800 AD Another change by the authority of man came in the late 1890’s. This was done by J. G. Thomas, when he invented the individual communion set. This innovation was fought by many major religious institutions, but finally gained acceptance. This practice was introduced into the Church of Christ by G. C. Brewer in 1915. Again, there were many battles fought over this innovation, but it finally found acceptance by the majority of churches. These were all by the authority of man – not God. God be thanked that there are still those who practice this most precious institution in the God designed pattern.
We must remember that to alter the commands of God will bring destruction.
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and form the things which are written in this book.” Rev. 22: 18, 19
The first notable resemblance between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper is that both were establish by a Divine Being. These two institutions were establish the night prior to the events that they would later memorialize. Having this stamp of divine authority, they possess that characteristic of unchangeableness. We must, then, honor the authority that established these institutions. They both were establish for specific purposes. As we review some of the other points of resemblance, this point will be made clearer.
One resemblance between these two divine institutions that is first apparent is that both contain three literal elements to call to remembrance three spiritual reminders of the events that were about to take place. These events would be reflected by the elements contained in these institutions. To better understand this each institution will be looked at separately.
Ex. 12:24-27 & 42 “And ye shall observe this thing for an ordnance to thee and to thy sons for ever. And it shall come to pass, when ye be come to the land which the LORD will give you, according as he hath promised, that ye shall keep this service. And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the LORD’S Passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, …” “It is a night to be much observed unto the LORD for bringing them out from the land of Egypt: this is that night of the LORD to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations.”
The first literal element in the observance of the Passover was the Passover Lamb. In Exodus the twelfth chapter we have the details of the Passover. The lamb is the central item, and the one upon which the greater importance is given. In verse eight we have the three literal elements mentioned:
“And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.”
In verses three to eight we find that the lamb was required. This lamb, according the verse 27, was to remind Israel of the passing of the death angel over the houses of the Israelites in the land of Egypt, whereby their lives were spared.
The second element was “unleavened bread.” This was to remind Israel of their affliction and trouble in Egypt:
Deut. 16:3 “… even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste:”
The bread was unleavened because God commanded it, and because it also illustrated that they left the land of Egypt in haste. (cf. Ex. 12:33-34)
The third element was “bitter herbs.” This was to remind the Israelites of their bitter bondage in Egypt.
Num. 9:11 “… and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.”
Of interest is the way that the previous verse appears in the LXX, or Greek version of the Old Testament. It literally could be translated by: “and eat it with unleavened bread upon bitter herbs.” The “and” is “upon,” both in the Greek and the Hebrew. The same is found in Ex. 12:8, where the Greek word is “epi.” This implies that the unleavened bread was eaten with the bitter herbs upon the bread. A fitting picture of two symbolic elements bonded by one over all picture.
The bitter herbs was to remind them of their bitter bondage in Egypt.
Ex. 1:14 “And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage,”
Together, these two elements would remind the Children of Israel that they left their bondage in haste. What a fitting picture to remind them of what God provided through the Passover. Although they were two different reminders, they were very closely associated together. Again, this was by the design of God.
Like the Passover, the Lord’s Supper was instituted to help us remember what Christ has done for our salvation. Those of us who partake of the Lord’s Supper do so to remember. “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” (1 Cor. 11:26)
As we remember the death of Christ, we must also remember that through the death of Christ we have established the covenant that enables us to be reconciled to God. God has never dealt with His children except through a covenant. As we view the death of Christ, we see the establishment of a covenant. There are three things necessary to establish a covenant, and we see in the death of Christ all three of these things.
- There is the body offered in sacrifice.
- There is the shedding of the blood of the sacrifice. This shed blood then ratifies the agreement or covenant.
- There is the covenant itself, which is ratified by the shedding of the blood of the sacrifice.
With this concept in view, there were three events that occurred on the cross by the death of Christ.
- Christ offered His body in sacrifice for our sins. God had prepared a body for His son so that it could be offered as a sacrifice. If Christ were not totally human, He could not have been the sacrifice.
- Upon the cross Christ shed His blood. There are several verses that clearly state that Christ shed blood upon the cross. But, the one scene that stands foremost is when the soldier took his spear and pierced the side of our Lord. (John 19:34)
- It took the death of Christ to establish the New Covenant. (cf. Rom 7:1-4; Heb 9:16-17)
The elements of the Lord’s Supper picture all of these things. Each element pictures for us what Christ has done for us on the Cross. The first element is “unleavened bread.” We do not have to wonder about the interpretation, our Lord provides us with the correct meaning: “This is my body…” (Matt. 26:26). As we partake of the unleavened bread, we remember that it took the body of Christ to be our sacrifice. Without that sacrifice, we could never have been reconciled back to God.
The second element is “the cup.” Again, we do not have to wonder about the meaning placed upon the cup. Christ provides us with the interpretation and meaning. “This cup is the New Testament in my blood…” (Luke 22:20). The cup, which contains the fruit of the vine, represents to us the covenant through which we have our reconciliation to God.
The third element is the “fruit of the vine.” This was contained in the cup and is a separate element. Although separate, it cannot exist outside the cup and possess spiritual significance. Again, Christ provides us with the meaning and interpretation. “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matt. 26:28)
The cup, which contains the fruit of the vine, is similar to the unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Together they picture for us what God intended for us to remember. Without the shedding of the blood of Christ, we could not have the covenant. The covenant cannot become effective without the shedding of the blood. What wisdom God has shown. By selecting elements that cannot be used separately, God has shown to us the importance of both the blood and the covenant. To remember one without the other is to do an injustice to the pattern of God.
Whenever we observe the Lord’s Supper we are to remember Christ’s death upon the cross. To add anything to this picture corrupts the image that Christ wanted us to see. Remember, it took the body of Christ as a sacrifice to redeem us. It took the blood, or death of Christ to establish the covenant as an effective instrument for our salvation. Indeed, as we commune, we do show forth the death of Christ. This is to be done just as He instituted it, till He comes.
The significant comparison is that both institutions possessed a lamb. In the Passover we have a literal lamb that was sacrificed. “… every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house:” (Ex. 12:3). This lamb, when prepared and eaten according to the commandment of God, would provide salvation for the house wherein it was eaten.
As Christians, we too have a lamb that was sacrificed. “For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us:” (I Cor. 5:7). We do not have to speculate. This verse clearly identifies Christ as our Passover lamb.
Clearly, from this first comparison, we can see that God designed the first Passover as a type for the true Passover. Christ is our Passover. He offered his life in sacrifice for us that we might have salvation. As the Israelites would observe the Passover from generation to generation to remember the events of that night, so, too, Christians observe the Lord’s Supper to remember the death of Christ.
To see this type and antitype clearly, a comparison between the lamb of Passover and Christ our Passover will be outlined. In the following comparisons and contrast, we shall discover the undeniable link between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper. (The Old Testament verses will be from Exodus 12, unless otherwise stated.)
Christ meets this qualification. According to Luke, “Jesus began to be about thirty years of age,” (Luke 3:23). This was the age of recognized maturity. We can see this principle from the requirements of the priest in Num. 4:3: “From thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter into the host, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation.” Also, Christ was a man.
During this three days the lamb was to be inspected. If there were any spots of blemished that came during this time, then that lamb was unfit to be used as a sacrifice. Also, during this time food was withheld from the lamb. This permitted the bowls to be cleared of any substance, thus making the lamb fit for roasting whole.
From the time that Christ began his ministry until his death was three and half years. During this testing time, his enemies attempted to discover any blemish in the life and character of Christ – without success. During this time Christ subjected himself to Satan for testing, or purifying. Again, he passed the test. When Christ died upon the cross, he did so without spot or blemish. He was the perfect lamb for our sacrifice. He was the Lamb of God, our Passover sacrificed for us.
Christ died at the ninth hour, or 3 p.m. (cf. Mark 15:34-38). Again, this was no accident. It was in the grand scheme of things. In reality, as the priest were slaying the first Passover lamb, Christ our Passover was dying upon the cross. What a perfect picture! Christ was literally fulfilling that grand type at the very hour it was being enacted in its shadowy form.
This same pattern applies to the observance of the Lord’s Supper. As a congregation assembles together into one place to eat the Lord’s Super, it is to eat this at one time and in one place. This is implied by Paul’s rebuke to the Corinthians. “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.” (I Cor. 11:20)
In all the accounts where we find the Lord’s Supper being practiced we have only one assembly, and that is the church be come together. We do not have any authority to remove the Lord’s Supper from the assembled congregation and take it to another place. This means that those who are home sick, in the nursing homes, or in any other place that prevents them from attending the assembly are not obligated to eat the Lord’s Supper. We cannot take it to them. To do so would violate the admonition of Paul: “Wherefore, my brethren, when come together to eat, tarry one for another.” (1 Cor. 11:33).
The one loaf that we have on the Lord’s Table represents the body of our Lord. This, then, is what represents to us our lamb that was sacrificed for us. Each congregation, or house of the Lord, then possesses its own loaf. We then follow the pattern set forth by the Passover. (cf. 1 Cor. 10:17 where we find that we are one body and one bread).
The unleavened bread of the Lord’s Supper represents the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. To fit this pattern, this loaf cannot be broken into various parts. It must remain whole. We all partake of this loaf in the same fashion as the children of Israel did the Passover lamb. Each of us removes a portion from the whole. In this, we picture the sacrificed body of our Lord upon the cross, which did not possess a broken bone (cf. John 19: 33).
God provided a simple plan for continuing this feast just as He had instituted. This was done by limiting the number of participants. There could only be so many in the house. That number was in proportion to the feast elements. There could not be more in the house than could sufficiently eat of the elements. If there were too many, then those extra would have to be included in a household that had too few. We have this statement in verse four.
“And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb.”
This same principle applies to the Lord’s Supper. The simplicity of this institution is directed towards communion. The closeness of those who partake heightens the meaning of this beautiful service. If there are too many, then there is the tendency to lessen the impact of this service. To carry this pattern into the Lord’s Supper, we realize that if the congregation gets too large for the proper observance of this service, then we should seriously consider establishing another congregation. We have the authority to establish a new congregation in order to maintain the purity of the Lord’s Supper, however we do not possess authority to change the Lord’s Supper to accommodate extra growth.
With these similarities between these two institutions, we should approach the Lord’s Supper with fear and reverence. In this we should not attempt to yield to modern pressures to change this timeless institution to suit modern concepts. Only by observing the Lord’s Supper as it was originally instituted can we fully appreciate its meaning and purpose. We are to observe, or remember, the Lord’s death till He comes. This is done only when we faithfully observe that feast as God intended.
I Cor. 5: 7, 8 “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
The institution of the Lord’s Supper during the Passover was no accident. This was all in the divine plan of God. It was in the mind of God, and was pictured for us through the Passover. As we view the Passover, we can see Christ in all of its particulars. Let us honor God, through Christ, by observing that most sacred institution just as God designed.
Part of the preparation of the Passover lamb was to take its blood and place it on their houses as God commanded. “And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side post and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.” (Ex 12:7). This blood would be their salvation. For at midnight, when the angel of the Lord came into the land, if it did not see that blood, would come into that house and take the life of the first born. None would be exempt, unless the blood was applied.
This so beautifully pictures for us our salvation through the blood of Christ. He is the door though which we must enter for our salvation. We must go through the blood of Christ, otherwise we are not saved. If we are in Christ’s house, the church, then we shall escape the second death.
One day the death angel will come to our physical house. Will he find the blood of Christ? Will your soul be cleansed by our savior’s blood? If not, then you face only the wrath of God. Now is the time to consider your soul’s condition. Now is the time to prepare to meet the Lord, and to meet him with favor instead of woe. To Christ we must flee for our salvation. He is our Passover sacrificed for us.