Nothing in the narrative of the first Lord’s Supper implies that Christ is starting a new meal; He simply reveals the symbolism inherent in an old one. If He wanted to start a new meal, He could easily have said so, and introduced this new meal in a vacuum as a random event; He doesn’t. What He actually does is tell us to remember Him as we partake of Passover. (Lk 22:19)
The following year at Passover, no doubt, the disciples thoughtfully recalled Christ’s revelation of the symbolism in the bread and wine … and again the following Passover, and so on year after year. It seems His intent was for us to remember Him in our Passover celebrations while He is away (1Co 5:7-8), and no subsequent revelation suggests otherwise. Where then do we get the idea that Christ started something new?
Some claim that “when you come together to eat” (1Co 11:33) refers to a weekly meal, and perhaps it does. Yet this may be a natural reference to the weekly sabbath feast, where communal dining habits were ingrained among believers. It would be natural to apply the principle of charity identically to both types of meals, principally since bad habits at the weekly meal might result in sickness and death if practiced at Passover.
Further, significant parallels between The Lord’s Supper and Passover suggest they are indeed identical, and attempting to decouple the meals generates contradiction: only human presumption may sanctify elements of The Lord’s Table such that they bear divine symbolism and therefore supernatural discipline when abused. We ought therefore to carefully reconsider how we might observe The Lord’s Table, Passover, properly. It is indeed a treasure missed.
In the Bible, in 1 Corinthians 11, it is written:
20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.
21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.
22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.
23 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:
24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.
27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.
33 Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.
34 And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.
This text describes The Lord’s Supper, or we might refer to it as The Lord’s Table, or Communion, or The Eucharist. It is the only text in the Bible which describes this meal in detail, and indicates (vs 30) that neglect or abuse of it may cause sickness, and even death among God’s people. This passage is therefore worthy of very careful consideration.
Firstly, let us observe that this event is called a supper (vs. 20). This word supper is taken from the Greek deipnon, which represents the principle meal of the day, usually a formal meal eaten in the evening. This is consistent with verses 21 and 22, which imply that the Corinthians observed the Lord’s Supper by eating an entire meal together. The Lord’s Supper is, in fact, a very special mealthat the Lord has given to us to remind us of His death. (vs 26)
It is perhaps here, in this initial observation, that we find the most obvious and striking difference between what most Christians have observed throughout most all of Christian history, right up to the present, and what the early Christians did, those who walked with and learned from those actually present at the very first Lord’s Supper. The common practice in observing the Lord’s Supper today involves the consumption of very tiny portions of bread and wine. This is not, in anyone’s vocabulary, a supper. This fact in itself should help us conclude with relative certainty that the Lord’s Supper is not being respected or understood as it was originally intended and practiced.
Next, let us consider another simple insight. This supper we are discussing, when it was initially introduced, was Passover: the special meal God gave to His people at the Exodus. The bread and wine which Jesus originally identified as symbolic of His body and blood were elements of what we would now call a Jewish Seder, the traditional Jewish term for the elaborate meal eaten at Passover. This is clear from each Gospel account we have of the meal. (Mt 26:17-28)
During the very first Lord’s Supper, a Jewish Passover Seder, Jesus stated that two of the elements traditionally included in this meal were symbolic of His body and blood. He told His disciples to continue eating these elements in His remembrance: “this bread” and “this wine” refer to the wine and bread consumed during this first Lord’s Supper, which, as we have noted, was a Passover meal.
If the elements of the Lord’s Supper were originally part of a particular meal, Passover, could it be that what we have come to call The Lord’s Supper actually is that particular meal? Could it be that The Lord’s Supper is the same thing as Passover? Well, why not?
The very notion is perhaps striking, that the Lord’s Supper is not a new thing introduced by Jesus, that it is not an ordinance unique to the New Testament Church, that it is not a sacrament of a new religion (as some see Christianity) started by Jesus Christ. Yet most all Christians have been taught that the Lord’s Supper is a new meal, unique to the Church, something new that Jesus started when He came, and we seem to accept this notion without hesitation or concern. But would it not be wise to at least consider the possibility that this common perspective might be in error?
Many may protest that, in spite of the fact that the Lord introduced The Lord’s Supper in the context of a Passover meal, one need not necessarily assume that The Lord’s Supper is actually the same as Passover, and that Jesus certainly could have been introducing an entirely new concept to the Apostles, as He was starting His Church. We would agree, and counter with the assertion that neither is it prudent to assume the contrary, that The Lord’s Supper is a new meal. Let us look carefully at the evidence rather than making assumptions based on what we have already been taught, or on Christian tradition. It is certainly possible that Jesus started a new meal at the first Passover. But we must ask if it is reasonable to think this way. It may not be reasonable, even though it is possible. It is this concern that we will attempt to address in detail, as thoughtfully and as thoroughly as we are able.
First, perhaps a bit of common sense might be helpful in order to see if it is reasonable to identify the Lord’s Supper as identical to Passover itself. Let us put ourselves as one sitting at the last Passover meal with Jesus when He said this cup and this bread. Could we, sitting there with Him, find a motivation for the following thought: “Now, Jesus didn’t mean that this unleavened bread, the unleavened bread I’m now holding in my hands, that has been scarred and bruised and punctured according to the traditional manner for consumption with the Passover meal … He didn’t mean that this bread is symbolic of His body. Jesus must be talking about some new bread, a whole new thing that He’s starting now, a meal I have never heard about. I bet He’s talking about a new meal never described before which has nothing to do with Passover.” Does this sound reasonable?
Hopefully, we can agree from the outset that this train of thought has no motivation; it would have to be imposed on the narrative in a completely arbitrary manner, for there is absolutely nothing in the narrative of The Lord’s Supper that would incline anyone to think this way. The thought pattern is, in fact, evidently unreasonable. Any reasonable person would have understood Jesus to be referring to the bread and wine of the Passover meal.
Given that, if one wouldn’t have thought such a thing at the last Passover meal with Christ, then what about at the first Passover meal without Him? When the next year rolled around and we were getting ready for Passover and thinking about what Jesus had said about the bread and wine at our last Passover with Him, would it have made more sense at that time to think of “this bread” and “this wine” as being part of some other meal?
How would the mere passage of time change the orientation we had about these elements at the time the original instruction was given? Time does not alter truth. Some other motivation must be present in order to decouple the elements symbolic of the body and blood of our Savior from Passover.
Only those who do not value Passover as Christ did, who wish to discourage others from celebrating it and decouple their religious agenda from the biblical record would want to replace Passover with something else. If we have a love for the biblical feasts at all, Passover will become even more significant to us because of what Christ has said about it, not less.
Upon reflection then, in order to get to where Christian history has taken the Lord’s Supper, it is evident that one must presume a kind of nonsensical response to the statements of Christ, a non-sense which could only be imposed by those wishing somehow to decouple Christianity from its Biblical heritage. For, if the disciples started out thinking the Lord’s Supper was Passover, that it was the bread and the wine of the Passover meal that were the special symbolic references to Jesus’ body and blood, then when would they have ever changed their minds about it, and started thinking that He must have been starting a new thing and not deepening their understanding and appreciation of the old thing, the Passover meal itself? But, admittedly, this is an argument from mere sensibility. Is there any specific evidence to support this view in the Bible?
Well, let us look at how Jesus felt as He was looking forward to the time when He would introduce to us The Lord’s Supper. When we read the Gospel accounts carefully we find that Jesus fervently anticipated the eating of the last Passover meal with His disciples. “And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer: for I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Lk 22:15) Jesus prophesied that He would not again eat Passover with them until its symbolism at been fulfilled and God’s kingdom had been fully established. This particular meal, the last Passover of Jesus, was extremely important to our Savior, and He said during this particular meal that He had been looking forward to it passionately. Could it be that the reason He did so was because He knew that it was during this particular Passover when He would reveal its true meaning to us? In revealing the meaning of Passover to us at the last one, could it be that He intended for us to continue observing this meal, with this new understanding, until He returns to celebrate it with us again?
Celebrate it again when He returns? Yes, when Jesus returns, He will be celebrating Passover again with The Twelve, and also with us. This experience will not be a new meal, not a meal thought of as “an ordinance of the New Testament Church” that is distinct from Passover, but an old meal … Passover itself, the meal God has been telling His people to observe ever since their fathers were taken from Egypt with a mighty hand.
If this is so, does it not seem unlikely that in the interim, while He is away from us, that His intention is for us to forget all about Passover, this special meal He promised to share with us again when He returns, and ignore it? Does it really make more sense to think of Him starting a new kind of meal, one that He had never celebrated with us before, nor even really explained to us, a meal which He makes no promise of ever celebrating with us? Does it not make more sense that we should be continuing to keep Passover while He is away, this holy meal that He longed to share with His disciples before He suffered, a meal that He promises to eventually celebrate with them, and us, again at His return?
Paul does reinforce this idea in verses 25 through 28 of 1 Corinthians 11 (emphasis mine): “After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” Paul is repeatedly, and clearly, referring to particular instances of bread and wine that comprise the Lord’s Table; these elements were still, as Paul wrote to Corinth, years after that last Passover with Jesus, elements of Passover. It is not any old cup of wine or piece of bread which is, in God’s economy, symbolic of Jesus’ body and blood, nor is it any particular cup that a congregation or church official might think to set apart as sacred for this purpose outside of Passover. Paul is clearly referring to the wine and the unleavened bread consumed as part of the Passover Seder meal. And Paul explicitly said that in this meal we are to “shew the Lord’s death till He come.” Jesus has not come again, and while He is away we are to be observing Passover to remind us of His death. To state it any other way is to ignore the text itself, simply as it is written.
When Ye Come Together
Another clue from the text is drawn from verse 33: “Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.” Paul begins the passage, “When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.” Some have thought that Paul is speaking of a meal that the disciples ate every time they came together, which would imply that The Lord’s Supper is, in fact, a new meal … for the disciples could only celebrate Passover once a year. Note carefully however the wording of this concept at the end of the passage. Paul clarifies the nature of the timing of this meal by saying, “when ye come together to eat.”
Now, as the text states, there were occasions when the early church came together for the purpose of eating a meal. Yet, how often did the early church come together for this purpose? We might think that this was weekly, or perhaps even daily. However, we must be careful. The early believers came together frequently to worship, to encourage each other, to pray, to study… and it is clear that they generally ate together during these times. But this is not coming together… to eat.
When we meet as a church family and have a meal together afterwards we do not think of the entire purpose of the gathering as, “coming together to eat.” We are not coming together in order to eat, but for other reasons. Eating is something we happen to do when we do come together, but that is not the purpose of our coming together. This is clear from the way God describes the general purpose of our assembling together in the rest of the Word of God. The emphasis throughout God’s word is not on eating, yet Paul is describing a particular gathering where the focus of the gathering actually is the eating of a meal, corporately experiencing a special meal together according to God’s command. In other words, the meal is the focus of the meeting, it is the very reason we are coming together on such occasions. This is an entirely different concept than merely “coming together.”
There was only one time in the year that the disciples of Jesus came together for the express purpose of eating a particular meal, where the eating of this meal was the focus of their attention. This was a meal God commanded them to eat together once a year to commemorate the death of Messiah. It was Passover, and Paul is calling Passover, in this context, The Lord’s Supper. It is the only meal that is “the Lord’s,” the only meal that belongs uniquely to God, that is defined by Him, commanded by Him and commended by Him to His people.
A New Thing?
Now that we have looked a little more carefully at what Jesus actually did and said, let us also carefully note what Jesus did not say, nor Paul. Jesus did not say that He was changing the meaning of these Passover elements, that they “now” represented His body and blood, as if He was introducing something new. Paul gives no indication of this concept either, that Jesus was creating something new. While it is certainly possible that Christ might have introduced something new, there is actually nothing in the texts to even suggest this idea.
What Jesus actually did was explain that these two elements of the Passover Seder, the unleavened bread and wine of the Passover meal, meant something very special. In any other context, without presuming any particular bias about it, one would normally take this to mean that the two elements had always had this property, that the unleavened bread and wine consumed as part of the Passover meal had always symbolized Christ’s body and blood. In fact, nothing had changed since the original Passover meal back in Exodus up unto that particular time, when Christ last partook of Passover, to suggest any motivation to change their symbolic meaning. In fact, Jesus had not yet died when He spoke this about the bread and wine. His body had not yet been broken and His blood had not been shed.
Eat My Flesh and Drink My Blood
In fact, well before this last Passover, Jesus spoke publicly to the Jewish people about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. The Lord’s Supper was not the first time He had mentioned this concept. (Jn 6:53-57)
The context was a public discussion about the manna that came down from heaven. The people, after being miraculously fed by Jesus, were wanting Jesus to continue feeding them, and appealed to the idea that Moses fed God’s people with bread from heaven for a generation. However, Jesus explained that He Himself was the bread they should be seeking: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (vs 51) Jesus was speaking about the true manna from heaven as if it was still available to anyone to eat, as if it had always been available to everyone, and that anyone who partook of that bread would have eternal life.
Jesus was saying that He was the fulfillment of what the physical manna offered by Moses only symbolized. He then introduced the additional concept of men drinking His blood, as well as eating His flesh, and tied it in with the symbolism of His body being as the manna. And He did so with no reference to what we now call, “Communion.” These were Old Testament Jews and Jesus is speaking to them about what they should already be doing, not telling them about something new He was planning to introduce later. These sayings are certainly difficult to understand in a vacuum… but let us not allow the vacuum. Let us look at the social and historical context.
The Jews were deeply familiar with bread being used as a symbol of Messiah. The hiding of the afikomen, the mysterious ritual at the end of Passover practiced by the Jews during the second temple period, was thought to represent Messiah and His kingdom (Ransoming the Afikoman United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism). There was also an obvious relationship between blood and wine, for it was considered the “blood of grapes.” (Ge 49:11) And a significant context in which Jews regularly considered bread and wine together symbolically was Passover. Jesus, by bringing in the concept of the wine, was very likely saying to the Jews that He was the fulfillment of the symbolism of Passover as well … that it was also all about Himself. As people partook of the Passover celebration, if they understood what it meant, they would be understanding how the symbolism pointed them to receive Messiah, Christ, into themselves and allow Him to redeem them, rescue them and become part of their lives.
In considering such things, it is very helpful to remember a very simple concept that permeates Christ’s entire ministry: Jesus came to the Jewish people as their long awaited Messiah. He did not come to change the nature of how Man relates to God, putting away an old paradigm and introducing a new one, but to reveal and explain how Man has always had relationship with God. Jesus Christ never introduced anything fundamentally new in His teaching, He simply explained the spirit of what already was. He said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Mt 5:17) He did this fulfilling not by invalidating or replacing (which is essentially destroying) but by completely obeying the Law, explaining its true nature, and being the reality of many of its shadows, promises and prophecies.
During His entire earthly ministry to the twelve, and to the multitudes, there is no hint whatsoever that Christ came to change anything at all about God’s standards, God’s instruction to His people, or how people are to relate to God. All Jesus ever did was reveal the spirit and truth about what was already written. As a simple and obvious example, when Jesus taught Nicodemus about being “born again,” Jesus acted as if Nicodemus should have already known this based on what is plainly revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures. “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” (Jn 3:10)
It is a powerful lie deeply rooted in the Christian psyche that Jesus Christ came to Earth to change something fundamental about how Man relates to God: to start, as it were, a new religion. This lie is at the root of the misconception most all believers have about the Lord’s Supper. During His last Passover Seder, in enjoying it with His disciples, Jesus gave them absolutely no hint that He was introducing something new when He said, “this cup is the new testament in my blood.” When Jesus explained the symbolic meaning of the bread and the wine, anyone sitting there at the time would have understood that He was simply revealing what these elements had always represented, not assigning new meanings to them.
Now, anyone remotely familiar with the Passover Seder understands that the entire meal is absolutely chock full of symbolic elements. The roasted lamb, the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread … all of these elements are evidently symbolic. The bread itself, as Jewish tradition had evolved over time, was to be prepared in a very special manner: punctured with visible holes, somewhat scorched to give the appearance of bruising, and with deep lines pressed into it to give the appearance of stripes or scars. Is it any wonder that Jesus told the disciples that this bread, the bread that they had always eaten at Passover year after year, had in fact always symbolized His body?
This entire Passover meal, the only meal ever prescribed by God Himself, was explicitly given by God to remind His people of His deliverance, of His salvation. The idea of deliverance or salvation by substitutionary death was, from the very beginning, woven into the very fabric of this meal. One would expect that most every element, if not every single element, would be symbolic of this basic idea in some way. In Exodus 12 we see God’s definition of this meal laid out in detail. Let’s look at it now very carefully.
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, 2 This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you. 3 Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: 4 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. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: 6 And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. 7 And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. 8 And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof. 10 And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. 11 And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’S passover.
This is an entire meal, prescribed in careful detail by God. God told His people what to eat, how to prepare it, when to eat it and how to eat it. You will not find any other meal in the entire Word of God defined like this. At the end of this explanation, in verse 11, God says that this meal is His Passover, His supper. This is confirmed in Leviticus 23:5: “In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’S passover.” This Passover meal is the only meal of its kind: this is the only meal that God explicitly says is His meal, His supper… literally, The Lord’s Supper.
This Passover meal, this Lord’s Supper, if you will, is prescribed in careful detail with one notable exception: there is nothing said about what to drink during the meal. Now, when God does not say something, He does not say it for a reason. It is no accident that God did not specify what His people are to drink, or whether they are to drink anything at all during this meal. He is silent in Exodus 12 about what to drink, indicating that this part of the meal is negotiable. Most people are accustomed to drinking with their meals, and this is certainly not forbidden at Passover.
In fact, the meal itself looks to be rather difficult to eat without something to drink. Bitter herbs are included, unleavened bread (which can be quite dry), as well as the entire corpse of an animal, of which we are not to leave any remotely edible part remaining. It is certainly not inappropriate for us to take something to drink with such a meal, and the most common drink at meals has been, from antiquity, wine. Adding wine to the Passover meal is perfectly natural, and evidently God’s way of allowing us to participate with Him in the definition of this sacred, symbolic meal.
As it happened over the years, the people of Israel certainly did bring wine into the Passover meal in a formal, symbolic manner: four very distinct cups of it, to be exact, to be taken at various points throughout the meal. The Jews also, as has been their manner, made up their own meanings about these cups of wine, imagining that they somehow understood what each cup represented, or that they were actually allowed to define the significance themselves. Perhaps they should instead have asked the Author of the Passover meal what this obvious addition of wine into the meal meant, as well as asking Him about what the other components meant which were already present in the meal, rather than taking up their own imaginations.
In any case, in response to Jewish thought imposed on the symbolism of the bread and wine, what Jesus actually does, in His last earthly partaking of Passover, is provide the correct explanation of the symbolism inherent in the bread and wine. He’s telling the disciples, and all of the rest of us, just in case we missed the point: Passover is all about Him… “for even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” (1Co 5:7)
Christ our Passover
What a striking concept: “Christ our Passover.” He is become Passover to us; we see and understand that He is present in all of it. All of the symbolism is about Him, and given by Him to help us understand Him and what He has done for us. It is not a meal that was defined only for Jewish people long ago, it is for us, “our Passover.”
In fact, Paul commands the body of New Testament believers to, “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.” (1Co 5:7) Paul is drawing on the symbolism present in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the feast that immediately follows Passover, to encourage Jew and Gentile believers in Christ to practice church discipline and remove from the congregation any wickedness that has infiltrated the body. Paul, who had been meditating on God’s feasts for years as he sought to integrate his understanding of the (Old Testament) Scriptures with the implications of the gospel, is saying that the symbolism of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is actually fulfilled in the purity of the local congregation of believers, composed of both Jews and Gentiles. Paul is also observing that these feasts were given with the express intent that all believers in Jesus Christ would observe them, see their symbolism, understand it, and be reminded of our duty to live lives of holiness as individuals, and also to be intolerant of open disobedience among our brothers and sisters within the congregation of the Lord.
This congregation is certainly not an entirely Jewish one, but a congregation into which Gentiles have been adopted; Jews have not been taken out of Israel to become “Christians,” but Gentiles have become an intrinsic part of Israel. Consider how Paul addresses Jew and Gentile believers in this church of Corinth: “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea.” (1Co 10:1) As is clear from the remainder of this entire context, Paul is not saying “our” in the sense of only Jews, but he is including Gentiles in the picture. Paul is saying “all (of us in the church) our father’s” were the ones that were delivered from Egypt. Jew and gentile have been grafted together into a single body, the olive tree of the Israel of God (Ro 11), and it is not a new tree, but the same old tree that has been growing since Abel. It is to this people, the Israel of God, the Church, that God gave His feasts.
Christ’s fulfillment of the symbolism evident in the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover does not imply that believers should no longer keep these feasts. In fact, the opposite is the case. In the next verse, Paul tells the believers to continue keeping them: “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. (1 Cor 5:8) The symbolism of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread is for the Church, for the Israel of God, and always has been, even from its inception. The symbolism is rich and powerful: unleavened bread, bitter herbs, a roasted lamb, and Paul intends for us to appreciate this symbolism as we observe these feasts so that the reality symbolized in them will be fulfilled in us.
The other symbols in the Passover meal, the roasted lamb and the bitter herbs, are perhaps more obvious to anyone really thinking about this meal, to those who are prayerfully trying to understand its significance. God does not always state the obvious. Many times, in fact, He does not. He expects us to be pursuing, exploring, asking, thinking about the things He has given us to reveal Himself to us. The problem is, evidently, that most people aren’t thinking about this incredible meal at all.
A Treasure Missed
The Jewish people have been, for over three millennia, partaking of this sacred meal ritualistically, and making up their own ideas about its symbolism, almost entirely missing their Messiah in it. And now Christians have been, for the most part, trying for two millennia to re-interpret Christ’s behavior during His last Passover meal as if He were starting something entirely new, a non-Jewish event we now call The Lord’s Supper that bears little if any resemblance to Passover. Christians have done this without giving sufficient consideration to the rich biblical, historical and cultural background in which the event initially occurred. Early Christian leaders deliberately detached themselves from this rich heritage in order to create their own, new, non-Jewish version of a Savior, much to their own hurt and confusion.
Starting in Matthew at a Jewish Passover Seder, we now find in Christianity something we call “the Church” completely usurping and re-defining this experience, and doing so in such a way as to both distance disciples of Jesus from Jewish (Biblical) thinking and culture and at the same time making them heavily dependent on some ritual and timing invented by this “Church.” What was evidently intended to deepen one’s appreciation for Passover was actually twisted so as to supplant it. Only a deeply anti-Semitic orientation could possibly derive what we see in churches today from such a deeply “Jewish” event. Decoupling “The Lord’s Supper” from Passover must have been done with malicious and subtle deliberation over a long period of time. It was certainly the work of the enemy of God, and not the Lord Himself, even if those who carried out the plan were well-intentioned. Looking back on history, it took several decades and a lot of twisting to get there, but get there we did. How in the world would we ever get back? Should we even try?
A Practical Consideration
Ignoring the facts is not an option for anyone who wishes to understand and obey their Creator. Somehow, we must recover what He intended for us in this command to remember Him at His Table, to take the bread and the wine as He intended for us to take it, understanding what it signifies and being reminded of His incredible deliverance as often as we do it. There is a blessing in every command, and a curse when we ignore or pollute any one of His commands. It is certainly important to dig a little deeper here and take appropriate action based on what we find.
In both Passover and The Lord’s Supper, considering them distinctly for the moment, we find ominous warnings related to any abuses of either meal, or any neglect of either one of them. As one may note in the initial celebration, failure to obey God’s pattern resulted in death: the first born of every household died unless the blood of the Paschal lamb was sprinkled upon its entrance. (Ex 12:13) The uncircumcised were forbidden to partake of the paschal lamb (vs. 43); all males who would partake were to align themselves with God’s physical people in this manner, by being physically circumcised. Similarly, anyone eating leavened bread during Passover, or during the week following Passover, was to be “cut off.” (Ex 12:19) A bit later, God provided some additional clarification about being ceremonially clean when keeping Passover, and indicated that a second season would be available in the second month each year for those who did not happen to be clean at the time of the Passover celebration in the first month. (Num 9:10-12) No one was exempted from keeping Passover, and anyone abstaining, other than for being ceremonially unclean, was threatened with being “cut off.” (vs. 13) Suffice it to say, keeping this meal as God specified was very important to Him. Evidently, it still is important to Him. There must be a reason for this intensity.
We find, interestingly, the same kind of intensity involved in partaking of “the Lord’s Supper” described in 1 Corinthians 11, where we began.
27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.
Note in verse 30 that some who partook of the Lord’s Table got sick, and some died. As it is for Passover, so we find here: clearly, there is a kind of judgment that falls on those who abuse or neglect this meal. Perhaps the similarity is evidence enough that Paul is not describing a separate meal, but that he is describing Passover.
It is very significant that this event, The Lord’s Supper, is not optional: believers are commanded to celebrate the meal as it is prescribed, and to do so in a worthy manner. Those who partake of the meal inappropriately, unworthily, are guilty of insulting and disdaining the very body and blood of the Lord. This is confirmed in Hebrews 10: 26-31:
26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. 28 He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: 29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?30 For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
What we appear to be observing is that the physical and ceremonial cleanliness required in observing Passover is symbolic of an inward spiritual, mental and emotional purity that is ultimately required of Christ’s disciples when observing the Lord’s Supper. As believers, being enlightened in spiritual truth, willful inward sins against the Lord’s heart reap the same kinds of punishments as outward sins and ceremonial uncleanness did when Israelites violated the Lord’s physical economy. We are commanded by God to walk with Him in holiness, both physical external and spiritual internal holiness (Eph 5:3), and the Passover is evidently an annual “stake in the ground,” so to speak, to facilitate and re-focus our attention on holiness in our journey through “this present evil world.” (Gal 1:4)
In any case, we have before us a very practical reason to pursue a proper understanding of The Lord’s Supper: willful neglect of this meal is hazardous to our health, hazardous to our emotional spiritual… and physical well being.
Proof By Contradiction
So then, due to the severity of God’s response when we neglect or abuse The Lord’s Supper, we must try our best to answer the question: Is The Lord’s Supper the same as Passover? Our answer to this question will significantly affect how we observe this meal.
When considering such things it is often helpful to assume that what we want to prove is false, and then see what happens. If assuming falsehood implies a contradiction, then this is a proof that what we are considering must be true. It so happens to be the case here.
Denying that “the Lord’s Supper” is indeed Passover presents a very real problem if we stop and think about it carefully. If we are to take an opposing position, and claim that the Lord’s Supper is not Passover, we must not only do injustice to the contexts included above, we must also have some way to “sanctify” a particular instance of bread and wine as the “elements” of the Lord’s Supper in some context other than a Passover Seder.
To further explain, if we insist on separating the two meals, then it is evident that the Lord’s Supper has no clear context provided in Scripture, for there is no other specific context defined for it anywhere in God’s Word. All we are told is that the early congregations observed this meal: we are not told when they did so, as in the time of year, nor are we told how frequently they observed it. So, without artificially providing some real context to replace Passover, if we insist that The Lord’s Supper is not Passover, we are in a position where judgment could conceivably fall on any believer at any time, for failing to discern “the Lord’s body,” whenever they ate any bread or wine. This is evidently both implausible and unreasonable.
And this is not an entirely theoretical problem: we actually have an account in this text of 1 Cor 11 of people getting sick, and even dying, for not properly observing this meal, a meal which has no explanation in the NT. If we insist that The Lord’s Supper is not Passover, we have God killing His people for breaking a ritual that was never properly explaned to them by God in His inspired Word. It has never been explained to anyone by God.
Literally, to hold our assumption that The Lords’ Supper is not Passover, someone must invent a way in which we agree that someone or something, say the Church, somehow sanctifies a particular instance of bread and wine to symbolize the Lord’s body and blood in order to observe the Lord’s Supper, making these particular elements different from common elements that one might ingest in a common setting. After this ritual is performed, however simple and innocuous it might be, which ritual must be — by definition — extra-biblical and man-made, entirely arbitrary, only then are we, in man’s theory anyway, able to partake of “the Lord’s Table.”
This, in my opinion, is the very heart of the problem with Christianity’s concept of the Lord’s Supper, the way that Catholics, Protestants and even Baptists and Methodists have been celebrating it. Each group thinks of this man-made ritual, whatever it is, as providing a spiritually significant event whereby the elements are thus “transformed,” at least in the mind of the communicant, to represent the Lord’s body and blood. This may be as simple as a group of people arbitrarily deciding that a particular piece of bread and cup of wine will bear this symbolic nature, or the invention of some actual ritual that is to be performed over the elements by those defining themselves as “priests.” However subtle or unconscious the ritualistic event, such an event must indeed occur in the mind of the believer in order for the believer to respond to these elements appropriately, admitting their very real symbolic significance. Whether the particular congregation sees the taking of these elements as a “means of grace,” or a “sacrament,” or merely as obedience to an institution of our Lord, every Christian celebrating the Lord’s Supper is instructed to attach great spiritual significance to the particular elements of this meal, understanding them to be symbolic of the body and blood of Christ, and this significance is now, indeed, generated entirely arbitrarily.
Regardless how one looks at the problem, it is indeed one that must be resolved entirely without support from the Bible. This is true because the Bible provides absolutely no guidelines as to how this sanctifying process of the elements is to be accomplished.
Early Christians certainly did invent numerous mystical rituals whereby it was claimed that certain instances of bread and wine became the elements of the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, it was commonly believed that if one wanted to participate in the Lord’s Supper then they were dependent on someone in spiritual authority, particularly church officials, performing such rituals properly. Whatever ritual one adopts will evidently be nothing more than a clever way to render people miserably dependent on a particular type of church, or church leadership… regardless of their character, beliefs or ethics.
Such practices must be, by definition, completely foreign to the Word of God. Persisting in them opens the door for the enemy to dull and pollute the mind and spirit with superstition, legalism and idolatry.
One consequence of admitting such arbitrary rituals is that people didn’t know where to stop in claiming how significant and effective their invented rituals were. Consequently, many even began to teach that the elements, once sanctified in their arbitrary ritual, actually became the substance of the Lord Himself, and that ingesting these sanctified elements effected, or at least facilitated, salvation itself. Perhaps it is here, in our allowing men to invent rituals and their significance, that we find the ultimate heresy surrounding the common observance of this meal, and finally understand the enemy’s ultimate intention in decoupling Jesus Christ from His Jewishness.
So, in a spirit of completeness, let us also briefly consider this commonly held idea, believed by many throughout much of Christian history, that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper actually become the very body and blood of Christ. This would imply that, while Jesus and the disciples were all sitting around the table, Jesus was giving them His literal flesh and blood to drink as part of the Passover meal. Formally, this idea is called transubstantiation, and it is derived from the exact wording of the gospel texts, though, evidently, taken quite out of its context.
In all honesty, one must admit that Jesus does say of the bread that it is His body, and that the wine is His blood. Yet did He intend for us to take this literally, or is Jesus explaining that these elements are merely symbols of reality and not the realities themselves? To avoid the obvious absurdity, as many have failed to do, it is easy to note the very taste of the elements as they are consumed: what tastes like bread and wine… evidently is. It is also convenient to observe in the immediate context, in the very next verse in fact, that Jesus Himself refers to the liquid as, “this fruit of the vine:” it was still wine as they consumed it. Note verse 29 (emphasis mine): “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Jesus was clear about the fact that, as they passed that cup around the table and drank it, after He had said that it was “my blood,” that they were drinking wine, not blood. Jesus had not changed the bread into His body nor the wine into His blood, He was merely explaining, in His usual manner, what these elements represented. Notice that He does this as a rule when explaining the symbolism in a parable: “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.” (Luke 8:11) Passover is both a meal and a parable, as anyone familiar with it can testify.
However, obviously, the problem with all of this is that the Lord Himself provides no means whatsoever for any congregation or church official to achieve this sanctification of the elements of the Lord’s Supper. There is no evidence that these invented rituals have any affect at all. These facts, and they are indeed facts, imply that decoupling the Lord’s Supper from Passover creates a very serious disconnect, a contradiction: it implies the need for the invention of some mystic ritual which the Lord didn’t (and, surely wouldn’t) approve. This is essentially, a formal proof by contradiction that the two meals we are considering are in fact the same, and that they cannot be rightly decoupled.
What To Do?
Now that we have biblical evidence that the Lord’s Supper is indeed the same as Passover, what does this imply?
Firstly, it implies the need for Christians to become deeply and intimately interested in Passover itself. This incredible meal is designed by God to remind us of our salvation in Jesus Christ and to reveal Him to us. He said He would observe it again with us when He returns. Meanwhile, we ought to begin to treasure it for what it is, just like all of the biblical feasts, a shadow of things to come (Col 2:17), designed to help us understand and apprehend priceless spiritual realities, no longer to be ignored.
Listen. Reading about Passover is not the same as doing it… any more than reading about the act of marriage is the same as doing it. There is something special in the doing of God’s commands that cannot be gleaned by the mere observer, the mere hearer of God’s Word.
Take for example, the command in Exodus 12:10 to consume the entire body of the roasted lamb. This is, should you ever try it, non-trivial. Getting at all of the meat on a bone is not something we are easily able to do. It takes a lot of work to do this. While you are actually doing it, perhaps it would occur to you that it cannot actually be completely and entirely done in the course of a typical meal. Similarly, apprehending all of Jesus Christ in a lifetime is not so easy either: one will never comprehend Him entirely. There are many things that He said and did that you don’t necessarily understand, or even like. Where are you in your apprehension of Him? How much joy is produced in you at the mere thought or mention of Him? If not much, then perhaps you’re not making that much of an effort to eat the entire Lamb.
As another example, one might actually put some lamb’s blood (or perhaps some water with a bit of red food coloring in it) in a bowl and go out to the front of their house with the entire family and stand there in front of the door and actually try to do what God told them to do at the first Passover. Get a leafy branch of some kind and dip it into the bowl and try to put enough “blood” on the door posts and cross beam of your front door so that you can see the splash marks clearly from a ways off. (While you say to the kids, “Now we wouldn’t want Mr. Death Angel to have to squint now, would we?) While this is not necessarily a command we are given to obey today, think of it as an opportunity to do some role playing. One might find, as we have, that both sprinkler and nearby spectators become sprinkled with blood, speckled all about the head and shoulders with little red dots. Perhaps then one gets a little bit more of the picture of what God was trying to teach His children at that first Passover. It is blood … on an individual, as well as on the entrance to a house, that God is after.
These are the kinds of things we might not see until we actually do them… just like we don’t really begin to understand and appreciate God’s promises until we begin to actually obey Him, especially when it’s inconvenient. The hearers only don’t get this kind of blessing.
Secondly, we must consider that there is a spiritual side to God’s Law (Rom 7:14) that is still quite relevant to followers of Christ today. Gentiles have been brought into the household of God (Eph 2:19), in which Jews once comprised the majority. This house was not destroyed and an entirely new household established when the Jewish nation as a whole rejected their Messiah. The only thing that changed was the mix. Gentiles are not visitors; we are family with the commonwealth of Israel… so we ought to begin to act like it. This does not mean taking on the trappings of modern day Judaism, but rather looking for ways to align ourselves with as much of God’s Law and Instruction as we possibly can. It is for our own good.
Finally, we must be careful, as we pursue a deeper understanding of God’s Law and its relevance to us today, that we do not develop an overly critical or condemning attitude toward those who are not so disposed. Poor teaching on the subject is very deeply entrenched throughout most every Christian community, and we must remember that God judges men according to their hearts. If a believer truly thinks that the invented traditional rituals actually do sanctify the Communion elements in some fashion, and in that understanding intentionally abuses or neglects them, then we would expect the Lord to respond accordingly. Likewise, if a believer respects these supposedly transformed elements with a pure, though misguided, heart, one would expect God to bless them in it, even if it actually has nothing to do with The Lord’s Supper. Let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater, or treat a weaker brother or sister carelessly.
God intended that Passover, the Lord’s Supper, be an integral part of the Christian experience. His motivation here is evidently to provide for us an annual reminder of our deliverance from sin through His Son Jesus Christ and to rhythmically prompt us in a serious consideration of our spiritual state before Him. Yet both Judaism and Christianity have largely missed God’s purpose in this meal. Poor teaching and practice has robbed the Church of extraordinary blessing, producing much heresy, confusion and suffering.
Understanding and obeying God’s commands to His people is intrinsic to being a Christian, and this body of instruction is entirely rooted in Torah, God’s Law. There is nothing new in the New Testament, and trying to understand anything in it without considering the underlying foundation of the Old will inevitably result in error.
There are many difficult and interesting questions to consider in our search for full understanding of God’s revelation, and each one must be considered from the perspective that:
♦ Every single law of God is both good, and good for us (Rom 7:12),
♦ The flesh cannot be subject to God’s Law, and is thereby exposed. (Rom 8:7)
♦ Each and every one of God’s Laws that can be in any way related to us is a practical application of how to love God with all of our being and our neighbors as ourselves. (Mat 22:40, Gal 5:14, 1Co 9:10).
It is when we begin to understand God’s laws from this perspective that we can also begin to examine ourselves in light of God’s standard in Torah, as we are instructed to do at the Lord’s Table (1Co 11:28). We may then begin to understand what it means to be circumcised in heart, spiritually clean, and to begin to discern the Lord’s way. (Ps 27:11) Then, as obedient children, we will be more fully equipped to apprehend Jesus Christ. (Php 3:12)
God’s intends for all of His instruction to equip us to this end, and in the end, to bless us. To the spiritually minded, both God’s Way and the precious Law that illumines it, are true blessings indeed.