The Lord’s Supper
It has often been said, and I believe rightfully so, that Christianity is not simply a way of life, but a life to be lived, the life of the risen Christ Himself who dwells in the heart and life of every believer. Christianity is a supernatural way of life, but such supernatural life never happens naturally or automatically. It is always and only the product of intimate fellowship with the Lord Jesus sometimes called “the abiding life.” It is in this intimacy of fellowship that the believer must learn to walk in conscious dependence on the principles and promises of God’s Holy Word as it reveals the person and life of Christ in all His sufficiency. Of course, the experience of His life never does away with our God-given personalities, but it does bring them under the control and influence of the Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit who desires to reproduce Christ’s character within us—transforming our lives into His.
Our Lord sought to impress this truth upon His followers and His disciples throughout His ministry and one such time was the last Passover when He also instituted the Lord’s Supper. In essence, the Lord’s Supper through its symbols that represent His person and work becomes a reminder that His life is to be the very source of our life.
It is highly significant that the discourse on the vine and branches occurred almost immediately after the institution of the Lord’s Supper and this time of fellowship with the Savior. By the symbolic acts and elements of the Supper, Jesus sought to establish a symbolic act of worship that would be a perpetual reminder that His life alone must be the very source of ours. He wanted to remind His disciples that without Him they could do nothing. When properly grasped, the Lord’s Supper, in symbolic fashion, teaches us the truth of John 15:1-7. The institution of the Supper and the discourses that followed in John 14-17 were designed to portray and teach the need of faith in God’s activity in the person of His Son who is the Bread of Life and the Lamb of God.
A Fellowship (see 1 Cor. 10:15-17)
The Lord’s Supper is a sharing or partaking, or to use the Greek words of the New Testament, a koinonia and a metochos. It is an act of worship in which we, in a very real way, can share, have fellowship with our Lord and with one another as we share and think together on the person and work of Christ, past, present, and future as portrayed in (1) the meaning of the elements and (2) the acts or worship connected with them.
Nature and Meaning of the Lord’s Supper
It is a visualized act of worship which symbolically visualizes spiritual truth for our edification using two symbolic elements: the bread and the cup, and four symbolic actions: (1) breaking the bread and sharing it, (2) eating the bread, (3) pouring and passing the cup, and (4) drinking the fruit of the vine from the cup.
The Meaning of the Elements
(1) The Bread: The bread symbolically speaks of the body or the person of Christ as the God-man Savior, the one who was and is the bread of life come down from heaven as God’s solution to man’s sinful state (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24). The bread remains bread, but it symbolizes the concept of the incarnation. God the Son in the person of Jesus Christ took upon Himself true and sinless humanity that He might die for us, and now lives on in His glorified state to be our life and to be in our midst as the head of the body of Christ, His church (John 6:32-33, 38, 48-58).
(2) The Cup: The cup was filled with the fruit of the vine which was red like blood. This, as Christ taught, is symbolic of the blood of the covenant which was shed on behalf of many. The cup with its blood red wine calls to mind the cross and the death Christ died as our sinless substitute. It proclaims the Lord’s death as accomplished, but it is not a reenactment of His death; it simply reminds us salvation has been accomplished and our sins put away as far as the east is from the west. It portrays His life given in death as God’s Lamb.
It also stands for the new covenant, the concept that the Old Testament or old covenant in types and shadows has been fulfilled and put away, and that we have God’s guarantee of the forgiveness of our sins based on the finished work and death of Christ (Heb. 10:14-18).
Meaning of the Lord’s Supper in Its Time Element
In Relation to the Past
The Supper is first and foremost a remembrance of Christ’s death as that climatic event which brought about the promise of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God. It deals with the past and with the fact of the removal of the penalty of sin. This is why Paul said “for as often as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim His death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).
The separate bread and wine signify his body and blood, and together speak of His sacrificial death as the Lamb of God. It took a perfect and sinless person, the Lord Jesus, dying for us to pay for our sins. But there is more, and this is so important!
In Relation to the Present
The Supper is a reminder of our present fellowship with Christ and of His presence with us.
It is not the recalling of a figure of history who has long passed away, but the proclamation of the death of the risen Lord who is present in the church. He who invited the disciples to share the last Supper continues to be the real Host at each communion service.
As such He continues to be the very source of our spiritual life, without whom we cannot live the Christian life. Our Lord is present spiritually, and eating and drinking of the elements which speak of His Person and work, not only signifies faith in Him and trust in His death, but also the necessity to partake in the riches of His life in continued fellowship with Him in the Word and in prayer. As 1 Corinthians 10:16 states, the Supper is a sharing in the Person and work of Christ.
The outward action of eating and drinking, then, are to be an expression of an inner communion and an inward faith of one who is counting on the worth of the Savior as the source of his or her own spiritual life. It is a reminder of our need and His ever present availability to be the source of our daily life.
The real presence of Christ in the Supper is thus no different than His real presence in the Word. In the one He encounters His people in visible elements and in the other (the Word) in the words of Scripture.
In Relation to the Future
With the words of verse 16, our attention is directed to the future and our eventual reunion with the Lord through the rapture (the catching up of the body of Christ to be with Christ, 1 Thess. 4:13-18) and our time with Him in the joys and blessings of the millennial kingdom.
The Lord’s Supper not only looks back to the first advent of Christ and the cross, but it looks forward with joy and expectation to the future and our partnership with Him in the future kingdom when all our enemies (sin, Satan, the world system, and death) will be put under His feet and He will reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. As believers in Christ, we will be there with Him in that glorious place, and if we have lived by virtue of His life through faith, we will know the joys of rewards, reigning with Him in His glory.
So sharing together in the Lord’s Supper not only looks to the past and reminds us of the accomplishments of the Savior’s death, but it should also be an anticipation of the future and should remind us of the need to live as sojourners, as those who live for eternal treasures rather than for the passing pleasures of this life (see Heb. 11:25; 1 Pet. 1:17-19; 2:11).
With this anticipation of the glory of the future for those who have put their faith in Christ, there is the immediate reference (vss. 21-23) to the judgment that would fall on Judas. The betrayal of the Savior by Judas, as one who had rejected His saving life, is brought to the forefront. While a glorious future awaits those who put their trust in the Savior, only divine judgment, eternal separation from God, awaits those who reject Jesus Christ and put their trust in other things like materialism or the religions of the world.
While this is not the prominent focus, the reference to the woe awaiting Judas teaches us the Lord’s Supper is also a testimony or a declaration of the doom that awaits those who, like Judas, have failed to put their trust in the person and work of Christ. Remember, Judas’ betrayal was but the product of his rejection of Christ as his personal Savior.
If you do not know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior through faith in (1) His person as God’s Son, the God-Man Savior, and (2) in His work on the cross where He died for your sin, may we encourage you to acknowledge your sinfulness, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and believe, trust, in Jesus Christ alone as your personal Savior.
Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
John 1:11 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,
John 3:16-18 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
J. Hampton Keathley III, Th.M, The Lord’s Supper and the Competing Agendas of Luke 22, Copyright ©2004 Bible.org, reprinted with permission. Click here for the complete study by J. Hampton Keathley III, Th.M