Lord’s Supper

What is the Lord’s Supper?

The Lord’s Supper is a meal in which Christians participate together 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 1 Corinthians 11:17–34.

Now when evening had come, He was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples. And as they were eating, He said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.” And being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, “Surely not I, Lord?” And He answered and said, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me.  “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.” And Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He *said to him, “You have said it yourself.” 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.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. “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.” And after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:20-30)


Is there any significance in this being a meal?

Yes. for the reason that meals were a symbol of friendship and intimacy in Old Testament times.  Consider the interaction between Abimelech and Isaac:

Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath and Phicol the commander of his army.  Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have sent me away from you?”  They said, “We see plainly that the LORD has been with you; so we said, ‘Let there now be an oath between us, even between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.'”  Then he made them a feast, and they ate and drank.  In the morning they arose early and exchanged oaths; then Isaac sent them away and they departed from him in peace. (Genesis 26:26-31)

Here we see that relations between Isaac and Abimelech were strained. (Genesis 26:16)  Abimelech, however, reaches out to Isaac with an overture of peace asking for a covenant to be established between them.  When Isaac agrees to this, the covenant is ratified by the two sides sitting down and having a meal together.  Clearly, the meal was not to satisfy hunger but to ratify the covenant.


Was not the covenant between God and Israel also ratified by a meal?

Here too we see that after the covenant terms are read and agreed to (Exodus 24:6-8), the elders of Israel sit down with God at a meal. (Exodus 24:9-11)  Again, this meal was not to resolve hunger but to symbolize the agreement of both parties to the terms of the covenant.  It was a ratification of the agreement which they had just made.  This text is further explained below.



It appears that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as part of a Passover meal.

Yes, this is true.


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:

  1. flawless and without any blemish;
  2. either a sheep or a goat;
  3. 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 (p203),

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.


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:

  1. I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians,
  2. I will deliver you from their bondage,
  3. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments,
  4. 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.


If there is no command from God to use these four cups in the Passover, then when did this practice begin?

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. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And when He had taken a cup [first cup] and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” 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.” 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.


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; 1 Corinthians 11:25)


Exodus 24

What does Jesus mean when He refers to a “new” covenant? (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25)

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. (Hebrews 8:6-7)


Why does Jesus identify the cup with the new covenant “in His blood?”

Because just as the old covenant was ratified by blood so also the new.


Where do we read of the old covenant  being ratified by blood?

We read this in Exodus 24.  In this chapter, Israel is still at Mount Sinai and have already received the ten commands (Exodus 20) and various other laws. (Exodus 21-23)  Now Moses builds an altar at the base of the mountain and sets up twelve stones, each representing a tribe of Israel.  Then he sends young men with orders to offer sacrifices to God.  Some of the blood from these sacrifices, Moses divides into two.


What do these sacrifices represent?

These sacrifices and the blood that was poured out from them represent atonement of sin and dedication to God as was typical of most of the sacrifices prescribed by God.  The sin of the people is forgiven, and they are now able to enter into God’s presence and to dedicate themselves to the service of YHWH.  Do note, however, that Moses also captures some of the blood from these sacrifices for another purpose.


What purpose did Moses have with the blood which he captured from these sacrifices?

This blood was to be used in a covenant ratification ceremony.  Note that Moses divides this blood into two parts.

He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the LORD.  Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. (Exodus 24:5-6)


Why did Moses sprinkle half of the blood on the altar?

This blood represented God’s acceptance of the covenant terms.  Blood is here used with the same symbolism as the ceremony in Genesis 15:10.  By having blood sprinkled on them, the covenant partner is agreeing that if he breaks the covenant, may his blood be shed which means may my life be taken.  Hence, this blood represented the penalty which would fall on covenant breakers.  Note the order Moses follows here:

  • First, half the blood was sprinkled on the altar representing YHWH’s acceptance of the terms of the covenant. (Exodus 24:6)
  • Second, Moses reads the book of the covenant which contained all the commandments which Israel was to keep. (Exodus 24:7)  These were the terms of the covenant for Israel.
  • Third, Israel agrees to these terms. (Exodus 24:7)
  • Moses then sprinkles the rest of the blood on the people which was a symbol of their acceptance of the covenant. (Exodus 24:8)

Dennett writes (p210):

The life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11), and consequently the blood, the shedding of it, will represent death, and death, when connected with sacrifice, as the penalty of sin. Here therefore the sprinkling of the blood signifies death as the penal sanction of the law. The people promised obedience, and then they, as well as the book, were sprinkled to teach that death would be the penalty of transgression. Such was the solemn position into which, by their own consent, they had been brought. They undertook to obey under the penalty of death.


What does all this mean?

This was a solemn ratification of the Sinai covenant between God and Israel similar to our marriage ceremonies.


What does the book of Hebrews teach us about Exodus 24?

The author argues that a covenant can only be ratified by death. (Hebrews 9:16-17)  This is why the old covenant or the Sinai covenant was ratified by blood, the blood representing death.

Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. (Hebrews 9:18)

This is a reference to what took place in Exodus 24.

For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “THIS IS THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT WHICH GOD COMMANDED YOU.” (Hebrews 9:19-20)

Again, with a few additional details, this is what took place in Exodus 24.

And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood.  And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:21-22)

Here the author clearly refers to blood as a symbol of atonement.  It’s the shedding of blood or a death which makes atonement for sin.


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 death given in place of your own.


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 similar to the covenant God made with Adam in the garden of Eden.  Both of these covenants placed demands on the covenant partner to keep the covenant; these were the terms.  The New Testament authors, however, announce the inauguration of a new covenant which is all of grace and puts no demands on the covenant partners except that they place their full confidence and trust in the great Covenant-Keeper, the Lord Jesus Christ and agree to be saved by what He has done in their place.


What does all this have to do with the Lord’s Supper?

First, 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 death.  This My death establishes a new covenant between God and you different than the covenant which God made with you at Sinai. This covenant brings salvation and eternal life to you for the reason that My innocent life was given as a substitute for your own which by rights you should have lost because of your sin.”

Second, it helps us understand why Jesus gave us a meal as a sacrament.


How does Exodus 24 help us understand why Jesus gave us a meal as a sacrament?

Here too we see that after the covenant terms are read and agreed to (Exodus 24:6-8), the elders of Israel sit down with God at a meal. (Exodus 24:9-11)  Again, this meal was not to resolve hunger but to symbolize the agreement of both parties to the terms of the covenant.  It was a ratification of the agreement which they had just made.


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 said, “This is My body…” (Matthew 26:26) and likewise wine, “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 Jesus commenting that His blood was “poured out” (Matthew 26:28) for many.


Christ’s Presence at Communion

What is the real presence of Christ at the Lord’s Supper?

This is how Christians understand the presence of Jesus at our celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

  1. Roman Catholics teach the literal, actual, physical presence of Christ at the Supper. The elements are no longer bread and wine but have been changed into the actual, physical body and blood of Jesus.
  2. The Lutherans teach that in some mysterious way, both are present. The physical body and blood of Christ and the actual bread and wine are both present on the Lord’s Supper table.
  3. The Reformed teach that Christ is really present at the Supper but entirely in a spiritual way.
  4. Other Protestants teach that Christ is not present at the Supper in any kind of special or unique way. The Lord’s Supper is just a representation of the atoning death of Jesus.



What is transubstantiation?

This is the Roman Catholic doctrine which teaches that the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are actually turned into the literal body and blood of Jesus.  The bread and wine are changed (trans-) into a new substance (substantiation).  Note the teaching of this catechism used in Roman Catholic circles to teach children:

1 Q. What is the sacrament of the Eucharist?

A. The Eucharist is a sacrament in which, by the marvelous conversion of the whole substance of bread into the Body of Jesus Christ, and that of wine into His precious Blood, is contained truly, really, and substantially, the Body, the Blood, the Soul and Divinity of the same Lord Jesus Christ, under the appearance of bread and wine as our spiritual food.

2 Q. In the Eucharist is there the same Jesus Christ who is in heaven, and who was born on earth of the Blessed Virgin?

A. Yes, in the Eucharist there is truly the same Jesus Christ who is in heaven, and who was born on earth of the Blessed Virgin.

3 Q. Why do you believe that in the Eucharist Jesus Christ is really present?

A. I believe that in the Eucharist Jesus Christ is truly present, because He Himself has said it, and holy Church teaches it.

4 Q. What is the matter of the sacrament of the Eucharist?

A. The matter of the sacrament of the Eucharist is that which was used by Jesus Christ Himself, that is, wheaten bread and wine of the vine.

5 Q. What is the form of the sacrament of the Eucharist?

A. The form of the sacrament of the Eucharist consists of the words used by Jesus Christ Himself: “This is My Body: This is My Blood.”

6 Q. What is the host before consecration?

A. The host before consecration is bread.

7 Q. After consecration what is the host?

A. After consecration the host is the true Body of our Lord Jesus Christ under the species of bread.

8 Q. What is in the chalice before consecration?

A. In the chalice before consecration there is wine with a few drops of water.

9 Q. After consecration what is in the chalice?

A. After consecration there is in the chalice the true Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the species of wine.

10 Q. When does the change of the bread into the Body and of the wine into the Blood of Jesus Christ take place?

A. The change of the bread into the Body and of the wine into the Blood of Jesus Christ is made in the very moment in which the priest pronounces the words of consecration during holy Mass.

11 Q. What is the consecration?

A. The consecration is the renewal, by means of the priest, of the miracle wrought by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper, of changing bread and wine into His adorable Body and Blood by saying: “This is My Body: This is My Blood.”

12 Q. What does the Church call the miraculous change of bread and of wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ?

A. The Church calls the miraculous change which is daily wrought upon our altars transubstantiation.

13 Q. Who gave this great power to the words of consecration?

A. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who is Almighty God, gave this great power to the words of consecration.

14 Q. Is there nothing left of the bread and of the wine after consecration?

A. After consecration the species of the bread and of the wine alone are left.

15 Q. What are the species of the bread and of the wine?

A. The species of the bread and of the wine are the quantity and sensible qualities of the bread and of the wine, such as the form, the color, and the taste.

16 Q. How can the species of the bread and of the wine remain without their substance?

A. The species of the bread and of the wine remain without their substance in a wonderful way by the power of God Almighty.

17 Q. Under the species of the bread is there only the Body of Jesus Christ and under the species of the wine only His Blood?

A. Both under the species of the bread and under the species of the wine the living Jesus Christ is all present, with His Body, His Blood, His Soul and His Divinity.

18 Q. Can you tell me why Jesus Christ is whole and entire both in the host and in the chalice?

A. Both in the host and in the chalice Jesus Christ is whole and entire, because He is living and immortal in the Eucharist as He is in heaven; hence where His Body is, there also are His Blood, His Soul, and His Divinity; and where His Blood is, there also are His Body, His Soul and His Divinity, all these being inseparable in Jesus Christ.

19 Q. When Jesus Christ is in the host does He cease to be in heaven?

A. When Jesus Christ is in the host He does not cease to be in heaven, but is at one and the same time in heaven and in the Blessed Sacrament.

20 Q. Is Jesus Christ present in all the consecrated hosts in the world?

A. Yes, Jesus Christ is present in all consecrated hosts in the world.

21 Q. How can Jesus Christ be present in all the consecrated hosts in the world?

A. Jesus Christ is present in all the consecrated hosts in the world by the Omnipotence of God, to whom nothing is impossible.

22 Q. When the host is broken is the Body of Jesus Christ broken also?

A. When the host is broken, the Body of Jesus Christ is not broken, but only the species of the bread are broken.

23 Q. In which part of the host is the Body of Jesus Christ?

A. The Body of Jesus Christ is entire in all the parts into which the host is broken.

24 Q. Is Jesus Christ just as much in a particle of a host as in a whole host?

A. Yes, the same Jesus Christ is just as much in a particle of a host as in a whole host.


In the Roman Catholic understanding, what happens to the body of Jesus after it leaves our mouth and enters our stomachs and intestines?

They believe that once the bread and wine cease to be bread and wine, then they also cease to be the body of Jesus.  The same catechism:

46 Q. How long does Jesus Christ abide within us after Holy Communion?

A. After Holy Communion Jesus Christ abides within us by His grace as long as we commit no mortal sin; and He abides within us by His Real Presence until the sacramental species are consumed.


In light of their view of the bread and wine, do Roman Catholics take any kind precaution to prevent the bread from falling or the wine from spilling?

Yes, the same catechism gives the following instructions in terms of the bread:

47 Q. How should we act while receiving Holy Communion?

A. In the act of receiving Holy Communion we should be kneeling, hold our head slightly raised, our eyes modest and fixed on the sacred Host, our mouth sufficiently open, and the tongue slightly out over the lips.

48 Q. How should the Communion cloth be held?

A. The Communion cloth should be held in such a way as to receive the sacred Host in case it should fall.

49 Q. When should the sacred Host be swallowed?

A. We should try to swallow the sacred Host as soon as possible, and we should avoid spitting for some time.

50 Q. If the sacred Host should cling to the palate what should be done?

A. If the sacred Host should cling to the palate it should be removed with the tongue, but never with the finger.

In terms of the wine, it is not given to the laity; only the priest drinks the wine.


How do Roman Catholics defend such an idea?

Roman Catholics understand the words of the institution of the Lord’s supper 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.  “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.  I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that anyone may eat of it and not die.  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.  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For My flesh is real food, and My blood is real drink.  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him.  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.  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 (John 6:26–72), 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.


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?

This is not correct because Jesus does correct their misunderstanding.  Note His words:

Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?”  But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble?  What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and are life. (John 6:60-63)

Here Jesus clarifies His meaning by pointing out that soon He will be returning to the Father.  His physical body and blood will no longer be on the earth.  So “eating My flesh” and “drinking My blood” cannot be understood literally because it will not be possible after His ascension to heaven.  The meaning is that what Jesus’ torn body and shed blood represent, this must be “eaten” and “drunk” which is another way of saying that “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life.” (John 6:40)  Furthermore, Jesus points out here that the Holy Spirit is the One who brings us into a saving union with Christ.  The “flesh” meaning Jesus’ physical body and blood cannot do us any saving good.


How do Roman Catholics understand this verse?

They understand Jesus to be teaching here that the truth which He had just presented, regarding eating His flesh and drinking His blood, could only be understood by a person who had been made alive by the Spirit of God.  Mere flesh, i.e. a person without the life-giving Spirit, could not understand what He was teaching and would eventually leave Him.


What are we to think of this interpretation?

There is nothing obviously incorrect with this interpretation.  Jesus could be answering the disciples by telling them that without the Spirit’s teaching, they would never understand Him.  Jesus had just done exactly this. (John 6:43-45)  There is one thing Jesus says, however, which leads us to believe that He is addressing the misunderstanding of His disciples and not returning to the truth He had stated in vs43-45.  At the end of v63, Jesus references “the words which I have spoken to you” which shows that He is reflecting back on what He had just said and giving the correct understanding of “eating My flesh” and “drinking My blood.”


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 (p36):

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.

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 speaking about the Lord’s Supper here?

Jesus had not yet instituted the Lord’s Supper.  Still, He is clearly paving the way for its introduction into the Christian church.


What can we say in summing up Jesus teaching here?

  1. Jesus is the bread of life or the Bread which gives eternal life. (John 6:58)
  2. Eating this Bread is a metaphor for coming to and believing in Jesus. (John 6:35)
  3. More specifically, the Bread which we must eat is Jesus’ flesh which refers to Jesus’ torn flesh and shed blood which represents His atoning sacrifice. (John 10:11)
  4. “Eating My flesh” and “drinking My blood” are metaphors used by Jesus to show the close union that exists between Himself and the believing sinner. (John 6:56; 15:5)
  5. It is not the physical body and blood of Jesus that has any saving effect on us. (John 6:63)

Farrar writes:

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


If the Roman Catholic understanding were true and we really did eat the physical body of Jesus, how would that profit us?

A very good question. The same catechism quoted above goes on to teach:

29 Q. Why did Jesus Christ institute this sacrament under the appearances of bread and wine?

A. Jesus Christ instituted this sacrament under the appearances of bread and wine, because, the Eucharist being intended to be our spiritual nourishment, it was therefore fitting that it should be given to us under the form of food and drink.

30 Q. What are the effects which the Most Holy Eucharist produces in us?

A. The principal effects which the Most Holy Eucharist produces in those who worthily receive it are these: (1) It preserves and increases the life of the soul, which is grace, just as natural food sustains and increases the life of the body; (2) It remits venial sins and preserves us from mortal sin; (3) It produces spiritual consolation.

31 Q. Does not the Most Holy Eucharist produce other effects in us?

A. Yes; the Most Holy Eucharist produces three other effects in (1) It weakens our passions, and in particular it allays in us the fires of concupiscence; (2) It increases in us the fervor of charity towards God and our neighbor, and aids us to act in conformity with the will of Jesus Christ; (3) It gives us a pledge of future glory and of the resurrection of our body.


If this is all true and the Eucharist is meant to produce in us these spiritual benefits, then the question remains, how can our immaterial soul receive any benefit from material food in our stomachs?

Bavinck asks the same question. (Dogmatics 4:570)


If the bread and wine are really changed into the very person of Jesus, then should not these be worshipped just as we would worship Jesus if we met Him in person?

Yes, the same catechism teaches:

26 Q. Ought the Eucharist to be adored [worshipped]?

A. The Eucharist ought to be adored by all, because it contains really, truly, and substantially, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Recall the Roman Catholic distinction between the worship given to God (adoration) and the veneration or lesser worship given to saints and others.

22 Q. What is the difference between the honor we give to God and the honor we give to the Saints?

A. Between the honor we give to God and the honor we give to the Saints there is this difference, that we adore God because of his infinite excellence, whereas we do not adore the Saints, but honor and venerate them as God’s friends and our intercessors with Him. The honor we give to God is called Latria, that is, the worship of adoration; the honor we give to the Saints is called Dulia, that is, the veneration of the servants of God; while the special honor we give to the Blessed Virgin is called Hyperdulia, that is, a special veneration of the Mother of God.


If the bread is Jesus and the wine is His blood, then it would seem that the mass is a repetition of what took place on the cross.

Yes, this is why Roman Catholics call the Eucharist a sacrifice.


What do they mean by this?

Again, the same catechism:

1 Q. Should the Holy Eucharist be considered only as a sacrament?

A. The Holy Eucharist, besides being a sacrament, is also the permanent Sacrifice of the New Law, which Jesus Christ left to His Church to be offered to God by the hands of His priests.

2 Q. In what in general does a sacrifice consist?

A. In general a sacrifice consists in the offering of some sensible thing to God and in some way destroying it as an acknowledgment of His Supreme Dominion over us and over all things.

3 Q. What is this Sacrifice of the New Law called?

A. This Sacrifice of the New Law is called the Holy Mass.

4 Q. What, then, is the Holy Mass?

A. The Holy Mass is the Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ offered on our altars under the appearances of bread and wine, in commemoration of the Sacrifice of the Cross.

5 Q. Is the Sacrifice of the Mass the same as that of the Cross?

A. The Sacrifice of the Mass is substantially the same as that of the Cross, for the same Jesus Christ, Who offered Himself on the Cross, it is Who offers Himself by the hands of the priests, His ministers, on our altars; but as regards the way in which He is offered, the Sacrifice of the Mass differs from the Sacrifice of the Cross, though retaining the most intimate and essential relation to it.

6 Q. What difference and relation then is there between the Sacrifice of the Mass and that of the Cross?

A. Between the Sacrifice of the Mass and that of the Cross there is this difference and relation, that on the Cross Jesus Christ offered Himself by shedding His Blood and meriting for us; whereas on our altars He sacrifices Himself without the shedding of His Blood, and applies to us the fruits of His passion And death.

7 Q. What other relation has the Sacrifice of the Mass to that of the Cross?

A. Another relation of the Sacrifice of the Mass to that of the Cross is, that the Sacrifice of the Mass represents in a sensible way the shedding of the Blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross, because, in virtue of the words of consecration, only the Body of our Savior is made present under the species of the bread and only His Blood under the species of the wine; although by natural concomitance and by the hypostatic union, the living And real Jesus Christ is present under each of the species.


How did the Reformers respond to this teaching?

They vigorously rejected it. The Heidelberg Catechism includes an article specifically condemning this teaching:

Question 80: How does the Lord’s Supper differ from the Roman Catholic Mass?

The Lord’s Supper declares to us that all our sins are completely forgiven through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which he himself accomplished on the cross once for all. It also declares to us that the Holy Spirit grafts us into Christ, who with his true body is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father where he wants us to worship him. But the Mass teaches that the living and the dead do not have their sins forgiven through the suffering of Christ unless Christ is still offered for them daily by the priests. It also teaches that Christ is bodily present under the form of bread and wine where Christ is therefore to be worshiped. Thus the Mass is basically nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ and a condemnable idolatry.



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 there is no consensus amongst Lutheran theologians 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 meant to bring Christ to our minds and to bring us to meditate on it.  Calvin speaks (p468) of those who make too little of the Lord’s Supper.

That Christ is the bread of life, by which the faithful are nourished to eternal salvation, there is no man, not entirely destitute of religion, who hesitates to acknowledge: but all are not equally agreed respecting the manner of partaking of him. For there are some who define in a word, that to eat the flesh of Christ, and to drink his blood, is no other than to believe in Christ himself. But I conceive that, in that remarkable discourse, in which Christ recommends us to feed upon his body, he intended to teach us something more striking and sublime; namely, that we are quickened by a real participation of him, which he designates by the terms of eating and drinking, that no person might suppose the life which we receive from him to consist in simple knowledge. For as it is not seeing, but eating bread, that administers nourishment to the body; so it is necessary for the soul to have a true and complete participation of Christ, that by his power it may be quickened to spiritual life. At the same time, we confess that there is no other eating than by faith, as it is impossible to imagine any other; but the difference between me and the persons whose sentiment I am opposing, is this: they consider eating to be the very same as believing; I say, that in believing we eat the flesh of Christ, because he is actually made ours by faith, and that this eating is the fruit and effect of faith: or, to express it more plainly, they consider the eating to be faith itself; but I apprehend it to be rather a consequence of faith. The difference is small in words, but in the thing itself it is considerable. For though the apostle teaches that “Christ dwelleth in our hearts by faith,” yet no one will explain this inhabitation to be faith itself. Every one must perceive that the apostle intended to express a peculiar advantage arising from faith, of which the residence of Christ in the hearts of the faithful is one of the effects. In the same manner, when the Lord called himself “the bread of life,” he intended not only to teach that salvation is laid up for us in the faith of his death and resurrection, but also that, by our real participation of him, his life is transferred to us, and becomes ours; just as bread, when it is taken for food, communicates vigor to the body.


Who may participate in the Lord’s Supper?

Only those who are trusting that their sins are forgiven them only because of the one sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.


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