What is the Lord’s Supper?
The Lord’s Supper is a meal in which Christians participate to celebrate and appropriate the saving work of Christ.
Where does Scripture teach us about the Lord’s Supper?
The institution of the Lord’s Supper is recorded for us in Matthew 26:20-30 and Mark 14:17–26; Luke 22:14–23; and 1Corinthians 11:17–34.
What is taught us in Matthew 26?
This passage reads:
20 Now when evening had come, He was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples. 21 And as they were eating, He said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.” 22 And being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 And He answered and said, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me. 24 “The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” 25 And Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He *said to him, “You have said it yourself.” 26 And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” 30 And after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matt 26:20-30)
It appears that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as part of another meal.
Yes, the Lord’s Supper was instituted at the close of the Passover meal.
What was the Passover feast?
The Passover was a meal in which the Jewish people participated to celebrate their deliverance from Egypt as is clear in these verses:
And when your children say to you, “What does this rite mean to you?” you shall say, “It is a Passover sacrifice to the LORD who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.” (Exo 12:26-27)
How was the Passover feast celebrated?
The Passover was celebrated in the first month. On the tenth day of this month, each Israelite family chose a lamb. This lamb had to be:
- flawless and without any blemish;
- either a sheep or a goat;
- one year old.
This lamb was to be kept with the family until the fourteenth day of the month on which day it was killed. Some of the blood from this lamb was smeared on the sides and top of the doorframes of the house. That same night, the lamb was roasted and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The key factor here was haste. The lamb was not to be savored and lingered over. All the family was to be fully dressed, with their sandals on, and their walking stick in their hand. They were to eat on the run so to say. Any leftovers were burned. All this is contained in Exodus 12.
What is the higher meaning of this lamb, the unleavened bread, the herbs, etc.?
The Bible does not explicitly identify these meanings, but neither is it difficult to discover. Edersheim quotes Gamaliel saying,
Whoever does not explain three things in the Passover has not fulfilled the duty incumbent on him. These three things are: the Passover lamb, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs. The Passover lamb means that God passed over the blood-sprinkled place on the houses of our fathers in Egypt; the unleavened bread means that our fathers were delivered out of Egypt (in haste); and the bitter herbs mean that the Egyptians made bitter the lives of our fathers in Egypt. source
What are the four cups of the Passover celebration?
Already in the time of Jesus, the Jews celebrated the Passover with four cups of wine. These cups are not explicitly commanded in Exodus but were said to correspond to the promises given in Exodus 6:6-7.
- I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians,
- I will deliver you from their bondage,
- I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments,
- I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
There is no command from God to use these four cups in the Passover. When did this get started?
This is not known, but it must have begun sometime between when the Passover was originally instituted and the time of Jesus since Jesus appears to have celebrated Passover with these four cups.
How does this fit with what we read in the gospels of Jesus and His disciples’ celebrating the Passover?
It appears from Luke that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper in the drinking of the third cup. Luke writes:
And when the hour had come He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. 15 And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And when He had taken a cup [first cup] and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 And in the same way He took the cup [third cup] after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:14-20)
Edersheim believes that the cup in v17 is the first cup of the Passover, and the cup in v20 is the third cup at which time Jesus transitioned to the institution of the Lord’s Supper. source
Why is all this significant for our understanding of the Lord’s Supper?
It shows us the close connection between these two rituals. The Lord’s Supper is the new covenant parallel to the Passover just as baptism is to circumcision.
Do we learn anything additional from the accounts in Mark, Luke, and Paul?
In Matthew and Mark, Jesus blesses the cup and says “this is My blood of the covenant” where Luke and Paul add an adjective, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:20; 1Cor 11:25)
What is meant here by Jesus reference to the covenant?
Jesus is here bringing in the new and better covenant which was promised so often in the Old Testament and is explained in Hebrews 8:
But now He [Jesus] has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. (Heb 8:6-7)
Why is the bringing in of this new covenant associated with Jesus’ blood?
This is a reference to what Moses did in Exodus 24. In this chapter, Israel is still at Mount Sinai. Moses built an altar at the base of Mt Sinai and set up twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel (v4). Then he sent young men with orders to offer sacrifices to God (v5). Moses then took the blood from these sacrifices and divided it into two. One half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar, as was usual with sacrifices. The other half, he set aside in bowls. Moses then read the covenant which God was making with them (v7). When he finished reading, he took the other half of the blood and sprinkled this on the people (v8). As he did this, he announced, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:8)
What does all this mean?
This was a solemn ratification of the covenant between God and Israel something like our marriage ceremonies.
Why was blood such an important part of this ceremony?
The foundational truth here is that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22). and where there is no forgiveness, there can be no reconciliation with God. Since Israel was alienated from God on account of its repeated sin, atonement had to be made, or God would destroy them forever. Now atonement can only be made by death; and in the Old Testament ceremonies, blood represents death. Thus, the guilt of Israel resulted in alienation from God. The blood, however, makes atonement, takes guilt away, brings forgiveness, and results in reconciliation with God. This is seen when Moses took the blood of these offerings and sprinkled it on the altar (Exodus 24:6). The altar represents God in this covenant transaction; and when the blood is sprinkled on it, the blood becomes a propitiation and removes God’s anger against His people. The blood sprinkled on the people pictures their reception of this atonement and their application of it to themselves.
What do you mean here by propitiation?
This is a term used to mean the removal of God’s wrath with the result of reconciliation. For example, the publican prayed in the temple, “God be merciful or be propitiated ἱλάσθητί to me…” He was praying that God’s wrath against him would be removed.
How do you know this is how we are to understand this ceremony in Exodus 24?
Because the author of Hebrews teaches us to understand it this way when he references this ceremony in Hebrews 9:20. This author points out that the High Priest never entered the holy of holies without blood. The reason given is that he needed this blood to atone for his own sins and for the sins of the people (Hebrews 9:7). The author goes on to show that our conscience also condemns us for our guilt, but the blood of Jesus is able to cleanse our consciences so that we may serve the living God without this burden of guilt (Hebrews 9:14). The blood of the animal sacrifices was not able to do this (Hebrews 9:9).
Why do you say that blood represents death?
Because God taught Israel that the life of any creature is in the blood. Hence, the pouring out of the blood or the shedding of blood represents the loss of life.
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’ (Leviticus 17:11)
Why do you say that atonement could only be made by death?
The same verse (Leviticus 17:11) teaches this. We could paraphrase this verse this way:
Now the reason for this strict prohibition of eating blood is this. The life of any creature’s body is bound up in its blood. If a body loses too much blood, it dies. Furthermore, blood is a very significant thing in your life of faith and your walk with Me. You know that I have specified certain animals to be used as sacrifices. Now I’ve given the life of these animals to you to serve as an atonement for your sin. How is this atonement made? It is made when this animal’s life is poured out with its blood as a substitute for your own. By rights, you should have lost your life, but I accept the life of this animal as a satisfaction for your guilt. Now the death of this animal takes place when its blood is shed; so in a real sense, you can say that atonement is made by blood even though it’s not really the blood that makes the atonement but the animal’s life given in place of your own.
What does all this from Exodus 24 teach us about the Lord’s Supper?
It helps us understand what Jesus’ meant when He said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.” We now understand this to mean, “This cup and the wine in it represents My blood which establishes a new covenant between God and you. This covenant brings salvation and eternal life to you for the reason that My innocent life was taken as a substitute for your life which by rights you should have lost because of your sin.”
What is the new covenant which Jesus says is now established in His death?
This is the covenant which has terms of grace and not of works. In other words, in this covenant, we meet God’s standards not by our own personal obedience but by the obedience of Christ in our place. (Romans 5:19) Furthermore, Jesus also takes the penalty which we deserved and thus satisfies the wrath of God which is against us and reconciles us to Him again.
Why do Luke and Paul call it a new covenant?
Because this covenant represents a new set of terms by which God’s people relate to Him. The old covenant was the covenant He made with Israel at Sinai, and this covenant was a type of the covenant God made with Adam in the garden of Eden. The terms of this covenant required perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience to God’s every command in order to win His favor. This is why it is often called the covenant of works as opposed to God’s new covenant of grace which was sealed to us in the blood and death of Jesus; see covenant theology.
Why did Jesus choose to use bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper?
Jesus chose bread as a picture of His body and wine as a picture of His blood. The gospel accounts say that He took bread and wine and said, “This is My body…” (Matthew 26:26) and “This is My blood…” (Matthew 26:28) The symbolism is carried on by Jesus tearing the bread into pieces (Matthew 26:26) just as His body was torn and bleeding on the cross. The wine was served with the comment that so Jesus blood was “poured out” (Matthew 26:28) for many.
See full article on this here.
Why do some say that these words are to be understood literally and not as signs of Jesus’ body and blood?
Roman Catholics understand the words of the institution in light of Jesus teaching in John 6:
Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. (27) “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” (John 6:26-27)
Here Jesus rebukes those who were following Him simply to secure physical bread for their bodies. Jesus counsels them to seek something higher; i.e. food which endures to eternal life. This food, Jesus promises to give them. Later in this discourse, Jesus identifies this “food” as His own flesh:
Truly, truly, I tell you, he who believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that anyone may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And this bread, which I will give for the life of the world, is My flesh.” (John 6:47-51)
The Jews who hear this remark are taken aback by this and clearly understand Jesus to be speaking about His physical flesh.
At this, the Jews began to argue among themselves, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” (John 6:52)
When Jesus responds to this, He does not appear to be interested in correcting their misunderstanding. He says:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For My flesh is real food, and My blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your fathers, who ate the manna and died, the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)
At this, even the disciples seem a little disturbed by His teaching. They say:
Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” (John 6:60)
On these words, Hunter writes:
If the discourse recorded in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John be read (vs26–72), it will be seen that Christ promised His hearers that He would give them His Flesh to eat, and that they who eat should have everlasting life. Some of His disciples refused to believe this declaration, and left Him: St. Peter and others were faithful and believed the words of the Son of God. This passage clearly admits of being understood as conveying a promise that the Blessed Eucharist, such as Catholics understand It to be, should in due time be given to the Church. We maintain that no other interpretation is possible. source
Clearly the Jews understood Jesus to be referring to His physical flesh and blood, and Jesus does not say that they misunderstood. Does this not indicate that Jesus really was referring to His actual flesh and blood?
The meaning of Jesus’ words here must be understood in their connection to John’s understanding of Jesus fulfilling the Passover. The Jewish people were about to celebrate the Passover meal which involved eating the Passover lamb. Jesus’ words here assume that He is the Passover lamb, and His hearers are to eat His body and drink His blood. To understand this with the literalism of the Roman Catholics involves cannibalism. Can anyone really think that this was Jesus’ meaning especially in light of the fact that Jesus “never taught without using parables.” (Mark 4:34) Evidently, Jesus was not the only one who used this figure; Lightfoot gives an example from the Talmud of the Messiah being eaten. source
Why does Jesus here mention the drinking of His blood? Would this not have been abhorrent to the Jewish people?
Because the blood of the Passover lamb played such a critical role in the salvation of the people. Godet writes:
It was the blood of this victim which, sprinkled on the lintels of the doors, had in Egypt secured the people from the stroke of the angel of death and which, in the ceremony of the sacrifice of the lamb in the temple, was poured out on the horns of the altar, taking the place in this case of the doors of the Israelite houses; its flesh it was which formed the principal food of the Paschal supper. The shed blood represents expiation; and to drink this blood is to appropriate to oneself by faith the expiation and find in it reconciliation with God, the basis of salvation. source
If we follow the metaphor here, the blood is drunk when the death of Jesus is received in faith. This is Jesus’ meaning.
Is Jesus directly referring to the Lord’s Supper here?
This is difficult to say. Certainly, the truth here taught is also taught us in the Lord’s Supper.
What can we say in summing up Jesus teaching here?
No doubt the words were difficult, and, to those who came in a hard and false spirit, offensive; no doubt also the death and passion of our Savior Christ, and the mystery of that Holy Sacrament, in which we spiritually eat His flesh and drink His blood, has enabled us more clearly to understand His meaning; yet there was in the words which He had used, enough, and more than enough, to shadow forth to every attentive hearer the great truth, already familiar to them from their own Law, that “Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God;” and the further truth that eternal life, the life of the soul, was to be found in the deepest and most intimate of all conceivable communions with the life and teaching of Him who spake. And it must be remembered that if the Lord’s Supper has, for us, thrown a clearer light upon the meaning of this discourse, on the other hand the metaphors which Jesus used had not, to an educated Jew, one-hundredth part of the strangeness which they have to us. Jewish literature was exceedingly familiar with the symbolism which represented by “eating” an entire acceptance of and incorporation with the truth, and by “bread” a spiritual doctrine. Even the mere pictorial genius of the Hebrew language gave the clue to the right interpretation. Those who heard Christ in the synagogue of Capernaum must almost involuntarily have recalled similar expressions in their own prophets; and since the discourse was avowedly parabolic—since Jesus had expressly excluded all purely sensual and Judaic fancies—it is quite clear that much of their failure to comprehend Him rose not from the understanding, but from the will. His saying was hard, as St. Augustine remarks, only to the hard; and incredible only to the incredulous. For if bread be the type of all earthly sustenance, then the “bread of heaven” may well express all spiritual sustenance, all that involves and supports eternal life. Now the lesson which He wished to teach them was this—that eternal life is in the Son of God. They, therefore, that would have eternal life must partake of the bread of heaven, or—to use the other and deeper image—must eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man. They must feed on Him in their hearts by faith. They might accept or reject the truth which He was revealing to their consciences, but there could be no possible excuse for their pretended incapacity to understand its meaning. source
What is the Lutheran understanding of the Lord’s Supper?
If the Roman Catholics understand that the bread and wine are only the very body and blood of Jesus, the Lutherans understand that, in some mysterious way, the bread and wine is both. The elements consist of both real bread and wine as well as Jesus’ physical body and blood.
Is this why it is called consubstantiation?
Yes, although the Lutherans reject this label. The Roman Catholic idea is that the substance is trans- or changed into something different; and hence, they call it transubstantation. The Lutherans believe that the physical body of Jesus is added to the elements; and hence, they use the prefix con- which means “with”.
- transubstantiation = changed into a new substance
- consubstantiation = existing with a new substance
What did Luther teach about the Lord’s Supper?
Schaff quotes a letter Luther wrote to Melanchthon in which he says, “the body of Christ is distributed, eaten, and bitten with the teeth.” source He stressed the oral manducation of the body of Jesus. source
What is oral manducation?
This is a term used to mean the actual eating of the body of Christ with the teeth. “oral” means mouth and “manducation” means chewing. In the Lord’s Supper controversy, those who advocated oral manducation were arguing for the real, physical presence of Christ at the Supper and that the body of Christ was physically chewed with the teeth.
What was Melanchthon’s view of Christ’s presence at the Supper?
Melanchthon did not break with Luther on this subject, but he did emphasize more the spiritual side. He did not use the words oral manducation. source
What do the Lutheran confessions teach?
The Formula of Concord rejects (in contradiction to Luther) the idea of a oral manducation:
Article 7, 21: Hence we hereby utterly [reject and] condemn the Capernaitic [or the people of Capernaum in John 6:52] eating of the body of Christ, as though [we taught that] His flesh were rent with the teeth, and digested like other food, which the Sacramentarians, against the testimony of their conscience, after all our frequent protests, willfully force upon us, and in this way make our doctrine odious to their hearers; and on the other hand, we maintain and believe, according to the simple words of the testament of Christ, the true, yet supernatural eating of the body of Christ, as also the drinking of His blood, which human senses and reason do not comprehend, but as in all other articles of faith our reason is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and this mystery is not apprehended otherwise than by faith alone, and revealed in the Word alone. source
What actually is the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper?
It is not possible to say with precision as Lutheran theologians are not united on this. Luther’s position changed over time as did Melanchthon’s; see Fritschel. Lutherans reject the label of consubstantiation even though it certainly seems to fit their view. source
What is the Reformed doctrine of the presence of Christ at the Lord’s Supper?
The Reformed doctrine grew out of the teaching of Zwingli and Calvin. In a word, the Reformed believe in the real presence of Christ at the Supper but understand this presence to be entirely spiritual. The Heidelberg Catechism teaches:
Question: What does it mean to eat the crucified body of Christ and to drink his poured-out blood?
Answer: It means to accept with a believing heart the entire suffering and death of Christ and in this way to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But it means more. Through the Holy Spirit, who lives both in Christ and in us, we are united more and more to Christ’s blessed body. And so, although he is in heaven and we are on earth, we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. And we forever live on and are governed by one Spirit, as the members of our body are by one soul.
The Westminster Confession states:
Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive, and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses. source
What does the Belgic Confession teach?
The Belgic Confession makes a parallel between our eating to sustain our physical bodies and our “eating” to sustain our spiritual life.
Now those who are born again have two lives in them. The one is physical and temporal— they have it from the moment of their first birth, and it is common to all. The other is spiritual and heavenly, and is given them in their second birth; it comes through the Word of the gospel in the communion of the body of Christ; and this life is common to God’s elect only. Thus, to support the physical and earthly life God has prescribed for us an appropriate earthly and material bread, which is as common to all as life itself also is. But to maintain the spiritual and heavenly life that belongs to believers he has sent a living bread that came down from heaven: namely Jesus Christ, who nourishes and maintains the spiritual life of believers when eaten— that is, when appropriated and received spiritually by faith.
Edersheim writes something similar:
If we may venture an explanation [of the words “This is My Body…”], it would be that ‘this,’ received in the Holy Eucharist, conveys to the soul as regards the Body and Blood of the Lord, the same effect as the Bread and the Wine to the body—receiving of the Bread and the Cup in the Holy Communion is, really, though spiritually, to the Soul what the outward elements are to the Body: that they are both the symbol and the vehicle of true, inward, spiritual feeding on the Very Body and Blood of Christ. So is this Cup which we bless fellowship of His Blood, and the Bread we break of His Body—fellowship with Him Who died for us, and in His dying; fellowship also in Him with one another, who are joined together in this, that for us this Body was given, and for the remission of our sins this precious Blood was shed. source
What other theories of the Lord’s Supper are found in the Christian church?
Many Protestants hold to what is called the memorial view of the Supper. They hold that Jesus is not really present at the Lord’s Supper any more than He is present anywhere else in the church’s worship. The Supper is simply a picture of the atoning work of Christ and nothing more.
Who may participate in the Lord’s Supper?
Only those who have believed in Jesus to the saving of their souls.
Have any denied this?
Should the Lord’s Supper be administered privately to persons who are unable to attend the public worship services?
Should the Lord’s Supper be administered privately?