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Instituting the Lord's Supper

Thursday, March 28, 2013

by John MacArthur

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.” (Matthew26:26-28)

Passover was the oldest of Jewish festivals, older even than the covenant with Moses at Sinai. It was established before the priesthood, the Tabernacle, or the law. It was ordained by God while Israel was still enslaved in Egypt, and by the time of Christ it had been celebrated by God’s people for some fifteen hundred years.

But the Passover Jesus was concluding with the disciples in Matthew 26 was the last divinely sanctioned Passover ever to be observed. No Passover celebrated after that has been authorized or recognized by God. Significant as it was under the Old Covenant, it became a remnant of a bygone economy, an extinct dispensation, an expired covenant. Its observance since that time has been no more than a religious relic that serves no divinely acknowledged purpose and has no divinely blessed significance. To celebrate the Passover is to celebrate the shadow after the reality has already come. Celebrating deliverance from Egypt is a weak substitute for celebrating deliverance from sin.

In fact, Christ ended the Passover and instituted a new memorial to Himself. It would not look back to a lamb in Egypt as the symbol of God’s redeeming love and power, but to the very Lamb of God, who, by the sacrificial shedding of His own blood, purchased the salvation of all who believe. In that one meal Jesus both terminated the old and inaugurated the new.

Breaking the unleavened bread was a normal part of the traditional Passover ceremony. But Jesus now gave it an entirely new meaning, saying, “This is My body” (Matthew 26:26). The original unleavened bread symbolized total detachment from the old life in Egypt, carrying nothing of its pagan and oppressive “leaven” into the Promised Land. It represented a separation from worldliness and sin and the beginning of a new life of holiness and godliness.

By His divine authority, Jesus transformed that symbolism into another. Henceforth the bread would represent Christ’s own body, sacrificed for the salvation of men. Luke reports that Jesus added, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19), indicating He was instituting a memorial of His sacrificial death for His followers to observe.

In saying the bread is His body, Jesus obviously was not speaking literally. A similarly foolish misunderstanding already caused the Pharisees to ridicule Him and many superficial disciples to desert Him (John 6:48-66). It is the same misunderstanding reflected in the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. That literalistic notion is an absurd misinterpretation of Scripture. Jesus’ statement about eating His body was no more literal than His saying He is the Vine and His followers are the branches (John 15:5), or than John the Baptist’s calling Him the Lamb of God (John 1:29).

As the disciples drank of the cup, Jesus said, “This is My blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:28). Luke’s gospel indicates that the Lord specified “new covenant” (Luke 22:20), clearly distinguishing it from all previous covenants, including the Mosaic.

When God made covenants with Noah and Abraham, they were ratified with blood (Genesis 8:20; 15:9-10). When the covenant at Sinai was ratified, “Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (Exodus 24:8). When God brought reconciliation with Himself, the price was always blood, because “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22; cf. 1 Peter 1:2). A sacrificial animal not only had to be killed but its blood had to be shed. “The life of all flesh is its blood” (Leviticus 17:14), and for a life truly to be sacrificed, its blood had to be shed.

Jesus therefore did not simply have to die but had to shed His own precious blood (1 Peter 1:19). Although He did not bleed to death, Jesus bled both before He died and as He died—from the wounds of the crown of thorns, from the lacerations of the scourging, and from the nail holes in His hands and feet. After He was dead, a great volume of His blood poured out from the spear thrust in His side.

There was nothing in the chemistry of Christ’s blood that saves. And although the shedding of His blood was required, it symbolized His atoning death, the giving of His unblemished, pure, and wholly righteous life for the corrupt, depraved, and wholly sinful lives of unregenerate men. That blood made atonement for the sins of all who place their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

As noted above, the divinely ordained Passover remembrance ended when Jesus celebrated it that night with His disciples. Any observance of it since that time has been based solely on human tradition, the perpetuation of an outward form that has long since lost its spiritual significance. But for those who belong to Jesus Christ, that event in the upper room began a new remembrance of redemption that the Lord will honor until He returns in glory.

As you prepare to celebrate the Lord’s death and resurrection this week, take some time to consider God’s faithful deliverance of His people. If you’ve been redeemed, remember that your salvation was possible only through the sacrifice of Christ on your behalf (Ephesians 2:8-9). And if you have yet to bend your knee in repentance and faith, know that it is only through the shed blood of Christ that you can be set free from the captivity of your sin (2:1-7).

(Adapted from Matthew 24-28: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary.)


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#1  Posted by Adam D  |  Thursday, March 28, 2013at 7:17 PM

Amen Brother John.

Salvation, sanctification and our future glorification is only possible through the precious blood of Jesus.

The world wants to try everthing but the blood to get right with God. Heck, the church today wants to try everything possible except the one thing that works, which is the blood.

Keep preaching the Cross of Christ as a beacon for hope for a sin sick world.

Adam D

#2  Posted by Gregory Montes  |  Friday, March 29, 2013at 8:42 AM

We remember the Ultimate and Unique sacrifice of Gods Lamb.

Ultimate, because all prior led to it & non must follow it.

Unique, because all prior could not "take away the sin" but only cover it.

Thank you Jesus for shedding your blood once and for all. We remember & worship with gratitude in our hearts!

It sure is a Good Friday!

#3  Posted by David Barrow  |  Sunday, March 31, 2013at 12:51 PM

As Brother John said, the old covenant is now obsolete (Hebrews 7:18-19, Hebrews 8:13), a shadow of what was to come (Colossians 2:17, Hebrews 10:1), from a line of human priests (Hebrews 7:16, Hebrews 7:28) making sacrifices on an earthly altar (John 4:21-24, Hebrews 13:9-10), to resting on a certain (Sabbath) day (Mark 2:27, Hebrews 4:6-11), to upholding the law as a way of being holy and blameless in his sight (Romans 11:32). Praise be to the Lord Jesus Christ who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:22-23).

#4  Posted by Manuel Jr. Reyes  |  Monday, April 01, 2013at 2:46 AM

The salvation of the Jews was in memorial to "what happened" back in the Exodus AND looking forward to "what would happen" in Calvary hunderds of years later. Thus the Pasqua.

Then when Jesus the Christ came, he made it clear that all who would need to be saved have to look back to "what happened" back in 30AD. Thus the Holy Communion.

Therefore pre-cross and post-cross salvation happened in that very day the Lamb of God died for humanity.

That is what Redemptive History is all about. That is where we base our faith and our very lives on - in that which was "what happened" back then. Our faith is not wishful thinking but based on very hard evidences. Praise GOD!

#5  Posted by Charles Allan  |  Wednesday, April 10, 2013at 5:31 AM

Just wondered what Paul meant that we were to discern the Lord's body at communion or we could suffer death. This backed up by John's gospel indicates to me that it is the Lord's body and blood that we are taking at communion. The pre Constantine writings on communion say that there was no disagreement on this point except by obvious heretics who had other strange beliefs. It is hard to see communion as only being symbolic when such strong words are used by Jesus to the departing Jews - eg naw or chew on my flesh.

Since most churches believed this for 1500 years and beyond would God have allowed error to last so long.

#6  Posted by Cameron Buettel  |  Wednesday, April 10, 2013at 4:41 PM

Charles,

It is difficult to give a simple answer to your question since it is based on two Bible verses from different books in the Bible. A careful look at each verse within its own context should help to clear up the matter.

Firstly, to discern the body, or “judge the body rightly” (1 Cor 11:29 NAS), is actually about irreverence or indifference to the celebration of communion. When seen in its wider context it becomes apparent that Paul was responding to carnal behavior going on in the church at Corinth. Verses 17 through 22 reveal that their communion table had become a place of divisiveness, drunkenness, and gluttony. Paul, therefore, called on them to “examine” themselves (verse 28) prior to partaking of the communion elements. This was to check that they were not sinning in any of those areas. There is nothing within the passage that suggests this discerning or judging had anything to do with defining the communion elements as Christ’s literal body and blood.

Secondly, I am assuming your “chew on my flesh” statement is referring to John 6:53-54 when Jesus said, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Once again, if this verse is read in its wider context, its meaning becomes readily apparent. Jesus was dealing with a crowd of people whose stomachs had been the beneficiaries of his miracle with the loves and fish (verses 23-24). The entire context of this passage centers around food. The crowds wanted Jesus to feed them again and had no interest in His teaching (verse 26). In contrast to their desire for another meal, Jesus proceeded to present Himself as the true spiritual food they needed, describing Himself as the Bread of Life that will eternally satisfy them (verse 35). Eating His flesh and drinking His blood was about believing in Him (verses 29, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64, 69) and had nothing to do with their view of the Lord’s Table as He had not yet instituted it. If it was to be interpreted as Jesus referring to the communion elements then it would also have to be interpreted as Jesus teaching that salvation is attained by eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table (verse 54).

I hope this clears it up for you Charles.

#7  Posted by Manuel Jr. Reyes  |  Thursday, April 11, 2013at 1:32 AM

When Jesus said the Jews had to eat His flesh, it was not cannibalism per se. Jesus was telling them that they had to come to Him not in their terms but "in His terms". Secondly, Jesus as prophesied in the OT will speak parables or poroimeia to the people for a purpose (Ps 78:1-4; Mt 25:1-3)