LORD’S EVENING MEAL
A literal meal, commemorative of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ; hence, a memorial of his death. Since it is the only event Scripturally commanded to be memorialized by Christians, it is also properly termed the Memorial. It is sometimes called “the Lord’s supper.”
The institution of the Lord’s Evening Meal is reported on by two apostles who were eyewitnesses and participants, namely, Matthew and John. Mark and Luke, though not present on the occasion, fill in some details. Paul, in giving instructions to the Corinthian congregation, provides enlightenment on some of its features. These sources tell us that, on the evening before his death, Jesus met with his disciples in a large upper room to observe the Passover. (Mr 14:14-16) Matthew reports: “As they continued eating, Jesus took a loaf and, after saying a blessing, he broke it and, giving it to the disciples, he said: ‘Take, eat. This means my body.’ Also, he took a cup and, having given thanks, he gave it to them, saying: ‘Drink out of it, all of you; for this means my “blood of the covenant,” which is to be poured out in behalf of many for forgiveness of sins. But I tell you, I will by no means drink henceforth any of this product of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father.’ Finally, after singing praises, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
Time of Its Institution. The Passover was always observed on Nisan (Abib) 14, being on or near the day of full moon, inasmuch as the first day of every month (lunar month) in the Jewish calendar was the day of the new moon, as determined by visual observation. Therefore the 14th day of the month would be about the middle of a lunation. The date of Jesus’ death is shown in the article JESUS CHRIST (Time of his death) to be Nisan 14, 33 C.E. Concerning the day of his death as reckoned on the Gregorian calendar, astronomical calculations show that there was an eclipse of the moon on Friday, April 3, 33 C.E. (Julian calendar), which would be Friday, April 1, on the Gregorian calendar. (Oppolzer’s Canon of Eclipses, translated by O. Gingerich, 1962, p. 344) Eclipses of the moon always occur at the time of full moon. This evidence strongly indicates that Nisan 14, 33 C.E., fell on Thursday-Friday, March 31–April 1, 33 C.E., on the Gregorian calendar.
It was on the evening before his death that Jesus observed his last Passover meal and afterward instituted the Lord’s Evening Meal. Even before the Memorial meal began, the traitorous Judas was sent out, at which time, according to the record, “it was night.” (Joh 13:30) Since the days of the Jewish calendar ran from evening of one day to evening of the next, the Lord’s Evening Meal was celebrated also on Nisan 14, on Thursday evening, March 31.
How Often Observed. According to Luke and Paul, when instituting the Memorial of his death Jesus said: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” (Lu 22:19; 1Co 11:24) From this it is reasonable to understand that Jesus meant that his followers should celebrate the Lord’s Evening Meal annually, not more often. The Passover, observed in remembrance of Jehovah’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage in 1513 B.C.E., was commemorated only once a year, on the anniversary date of Nisan 14. The Memorial, also an anniversary, would appropriately be held only on Nisan 14.
Paul quoted Jesus as saying regarding the cup, “Keep doing this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me,” and added: “For as often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives.” (1Co 11:25, 26) “Often” can refer to something done only once a year, especially when done for many years. (Heb 9:25, 26) Nisan 14 was the day on which Christ gave his literal body as a sacrifice on the torture stake and poured out his lifeblood for forgiveness of sins. Hence, that was the day of “the death of the Lord” and, consequently, the date to commemorate his death thereafter.
The participants in this meal would be “absent from the Lord” and would celebrate the Lord’s Evening Meal “often” before their death in faithfulness. Then, following their resurrection to heavenly life, they would be together with Christ and would no longer need a remembrancer of him. Regarding the duration of this observance, “until he arrives,” the apostle Paul evidently had reference to Christ’s coming again and receiving them into heaven by a resurrection during the time of his presence. This understanding of the matter is clarified by Jesus’ words to the 11 apostles later that evening: “If I go my way and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you home to myself, that where I am you also may be.”
Jesus informed the disciples that the wine he had drunk (at this Passover preceding the Memorial) was the last of the product of the vine that he would drink “until that day when I drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father.” (Mt 26:29) Since he would not be drinking literal wine in heaven, he obviously had reference to what wine sometimes symbolized in the Scriptures, namely, joy. Being together in the Kingdom was what they looked forward to with highest anticipation. (Ro 8:23; 2Co 5:2) King David wrote, in song, of Jehovah’s provision of “wine that makes the heart of mortal man rejoice,” and his son Solomon said: “Wine itself makes life rejoice.”
The Emblems. Mark relates concerning the bread used by Jesus when instituting the Lord’s Evening Meal: “As they continued eating, he took a loaf, said a blessing, broke it and gave it to them, and said: ‘Take it, this means my body.’” (Mr 14:22) The loaf of bread was the kind on hand for the Passover meal that Jesus and his disciples had already concluded. This was unleavened bread, as no leaven was permitted in Jewish homes during the Passover and the associated Festival of Unfermented Cakes. (Ex 13:6-10) Leaven is used Scripturally to denote sinfulness. The unleavened quality of the bread is appropriate because it represents Jesus’ sinless fleshly body. (Heb 7:26; 9:14; 1Pe 2:22, 24) The unleavened loaf was flat and brittle; so it was broken, as was customary at meals in those days. (Lu 24:30; Ac 27:35) Earlier, when Jesus miraculously multiplied bread for thousands of persons, he broke it in order to distribute it to them. (Mt 14:19; 15:36) Consequently, the breaking of the Memorial bread apparently had no spiritual significance.
After Jesus had passed the bread, he took a cup and “offered thanks and gave it to them, and they all drank out of it. And he said to them: ‘This means my “blood of the covenant,” which is to be poured out in behalf of many.’” (Mr 14:23, 24) He used fermented wine, not unfermented grape juice. Biblical references to wine are to literal wine, not to the unfermented juice of the grape. (See WINE AND STRONG DRINK.) Fermented wine, not grape juice, would burst “old wineskins,” as Jesus said. Jesus’ enemies accused him of being “given to drinking wine,” a charge that would mean nothing if the “wine” were mere grape juice. (Mt 9:17; 11:19) Real wine was on hand for the Passover celebration that had been concluded, and it could appropriately be used by Christ in instituting the Memorial of his death. Doubtless the wine was red, for only red wine would be a fitting symbol of blood.
A Communion Meal. In ancient Israel a man could provide a communion meal. He would bring an animal to the sanctuary, where it was slaughtered. A portion of the animal offered went on the altar for “a restful odor to Jehovah.” A portion went to the officiating priest, another portion to the priestly sons of Aaron, and the offerer and his household shared in the meal. (Le 3:1-16; 7:28-36) One who was ‘unclean’ as defined by the Law was forbidden to eat a communion sacrifice on pain of being “cut off from his people.”
The Lord’s Evening Meal is likewise a communion meal, because there is a sharing together. Jehovah God is involved as the Author of the arrangement, Jesus Christ is the ransom sacrifice, and his spiritual brothers eat the emblems as joint participants. Their eating at “the table of Jehovah” would signify that they are at peace with Jehovah. (1Co 10:21) In fact, communion offerings were sometimes called “peace offerings.”
Partakers of the meal, in eating the bread and drinking the wine, acknowledge that they are sharers together in Christ, in complete unity. The apostle Paul says: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of the Christ? The loaf which we break, is it not a sharing in the body of the Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, although many, are one body, for we are all partaking of that one loaf.”
In thus partaking, these indicate that they are in the new covenant and are receiving the benefits of it, that is, God’s forgiveness of sins through Christ’s blood. They properly esteem the value of “the blood of the covenant” by which they are sanctified. (Heb 10:29) The Scriptures call them “ministers of a new covenant,” serving its ends. (2Co 3:5, 6) And they fittingly partake of the emblematic loaf because they can say: “By the said ‘will’ we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.” (Heb 10:10) They share in Christ’s sufferings and in a death like his, a death of integrity. They hope to share in “the likeness of his resurrection,” a resurrection to immortal life in a spiritual body.
Of each participant in the meal, the apostle Paul writes: “Whoever eats the loaf or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty respecting the body and the blood of the Lord. First let a man approve himself after scrutiny, and thus let him eat of the loaf and drink of the cup. For he that eats and drinks eats and drinks judgment against himself if he does not discern the body.” (1Co 11:27-29) Unclean, unscriptural, or hypocritical practices would disqualify one from eating. If he should eat in that condition, he would be eating and drinking judgment against himself. He would be failing to appreciate Christ’s sacrifice, its purpose, and its meaning. He would be showing disrespect and contempt for it. (Compare Heb 10:28-31.) Such a person would be in danger of being ‘cut off from God’s people,’ as was the one in Israel who partook of a communion meal in an unclean state.
In fact, Paul compares the Lord’s Evening Meal to an Israelite communion meal when he speaks first of the partakers sharing together in Christ and then says: “Look at that which is Israel in a fleshly way: Are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers with the altar? . . . You cannot be drinking the cup of Jehovah and the cup of demons; you cannot be partaking of ‘the table of Jehovah’ and the table of demons.”
Partakers and Other Attenders at the Meal. Jesus had gathered his 12 apostles, saying to them: “I have greatly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.” (Lu 22:15) But John’s eyewitness account indicates that Jesus dismissed the traitorous Judas before instituting the Memorial meal. During the Passover, Jesus, knowing that Judas was his betrayer, dipped a morsel of the Passover meal and handed it to Judas, instructing him to leave. (Joh 13:21-30) Mark’s account also intimates this order of events. (Mr 14:12-25) During the Lord’s Evening Meal that followed, Jesus passed the bread and the wine to the 11 remaining apostles, telling them to eat and drink. (Lu 22:19, 20) Afterward he spoke to them as “the ones that have stuck with me in my trials,” a further indication that Judas had been dismissed.
There is no evidence that Jesus himself ate the bread thus offered or drank out of the cup during this Memorial meal. The body and blood he gave was in their behalf and for validating the new covenant, through which their sins were removed. (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:10-12; 12:24) Jesus had no sins. (Heb 7:26) He mediates the new covenant between Jehovah God and those chosen as Christ’s associates. (Heb 9:15; see COVENANT.) Besides the apostles present at that meal, there were to be others making up the spiritual “Israel of God,” a “little flock,” who would eventually be kings and priests with Christ. (Ga 6:16; Lu 12:32; Re 1:5, 6; 5:9, 10) All of Christ’s spiritual brothers on earth, therefore, would be partakers in this meal each time it is celebrated. They are shown to be “certain firstfruits of his creatures” (Jas 1:18), bought from mankind as “firstfruits to God and to the Lamb,” and are revealed in John’s vision to number 144,000.
Observers not partaking. The Lord Jesus Christ revealed that, at his presence, there would be persons who would do good to his spiritual brothers, visiting them in time of need and giving them assistance. (Mt 25:31-46) Would these, who might attend the celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal, qualify as partakers of the emblems? The Scriptures say that God will provide, through his holy spirit, evidence and assurance to those qualified to partake of the emblems as “heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ,” that they are God’s sons. The apostle Paul writes: “The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.” He goes on to explain that there are others who benefit from God’s arrangement for these sons: “For the eager expectation of the creation is waiting for the revealing of the sons of God.” (Ro 8:14-21) Since the joint heirs with Christ are to ‘rule as kings and priests over the earth,’ the Kingdom will benefit those living under it. (Re 5:10; 20:4, 6; 21:3, 4) Those benefiting would naturally be interested in the Kingdom and its development. Such persons therefore would attend and observe the celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal, but not being joint heirs with Christ and spiritual sons of God, they would not partake of the emblems as joint participants in the death of Christ, with hope of resurrection to a heavenly life with him.
No Transubstantiation or Consubstantiation. Jesus still had his fleshly body when offering the bread. This body, whole and entire, was to be offered as a perfect, unblemished sacrifice for sins the next afternoon (of the same day of the Hebrew calendar, Nisan 14). He also retained all his blood for that perfect sacrifice. “He poured out his soul [which is in the blood] to the very death.” (Isa 53:12; Le 17:11) Consequently, during the evening meal he did not perform a miracle of transubstantiation, changing the bread into his literal flesh and the wine into his literal blood. For the same reasons, it cannot be truly said that he miraculously caused his flesh and his blood to be present or combined with the bread and wine, as is claimed by those who adhere to the doctrine of consubstantiation.
This is not contradicted by Jesus’ words at John 6:51-57. Jesus was not there discussing the Lord’s Evening Meal; such an arrangement was not instituted until a year later. The ‘eating’ and ‘drinking’ mentioned in this account are done in a figurative sense by exercising faith in Jesus Christ, as is indicated by verses 35 and 40.
Furthermore, eating actual human flesh and blood would be cannibalism. Therefore, Jews who were not exercising faith and who did not properly understand Jesus’ statement about eating his flesh and drinking his blood were shocked. This indicated the Jewish view on eating human flesh and blood, as inculcated by the Law.
Additionally, drinking blood was a violation of God’s law to Noah, prior to the Law covenant. (Ge 9:4; Le 17:10) The Lord Jesus Christ would never instruct others to violate God’s law. (Compare Mt 5:19.) Furthermore, Jesus commanded: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me,” not in sacrifice of me.
The bread and the wine are, therefore, emblems, representing Christ’s flesh and blood in a symbolic way, just as were his words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Jesus had said to those offended by his words: “For a fact, the bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.” (Joh 6:51) This was given at his death as a sacrifice on the torture stake. His body was buried and was disposed of by his Father before it could see corruption. (Ac 2:31) No one ever ate any of his flesh or blood, literally.
Proper, Orderly Observance. The Christian congregation at Corinth had got into a bad spiritual state, in some respects, so that, as the apostle Paul said: “Many among you are weak and sickly, and quite a few are sleeping in death.” This was to a great extent due to their misunderstanding of the Lord’s Evening Meal and its significance. They were failing to respect the sacredness of the occasion. Some brought their supper with them to eat before or during the meeting. Among these were persons who overindulged and became intoxicated, while others in the congregation who had no supper were hungry and felt shamed in the presence of those who had much. With their minds drowsy or on other matters, they were not in condition to partake of the emblems with appreciation. Furthermore, there were divisions in the congregation over the fact that some in their midst favored Peter, others preferred Apollos, and yet others looked to Paul for leadership. (1Co 1:11-13; 11:18) They were failing to appreciate that this occasion was one that should highlight unity. They did not have full realization of the seriousness of the matter, that the emblems represented the body and blood of the Lord and that the meal was in memory of his death. Paul emphasized the grave danger to those who partook without discerning these facts.