Questions From Readers
▪ Why do so few of Jehovah’s Witnesses partake of the bread and the wine at the yearly celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal?
This is because Jehovah’s Witnesses, in contrast to the churches of Christendom, accept the Bible’s teaching that a small number of humans will gain heavenly life and the rest of God’s faithful servants will be rewarded with everlasting life on earth.
The churches have long taught that heaven is the reward for all who please God; the rest go to a hellfire. The Bible says otherwise. The Scriptures clearly show that only some humans, such as the apostles, will reign with Christ in heaven. Jesus said that these are a “little flock.” The Bible says that they number 144,000. (Luke 12:32; Revelation 14:3, 4) Many who served Jehovah faithfully and had his approval died before Jesus opened up the way to heavenly life. (Matthew 11:11; Hebrews 10:19-21) And after the selection of the “little flock,” millions of others have become true Christians. For all these loyal ones not of the “little flock,” the Bible holds out the prospect of endless life in a restored earthly paradise. (Psalm 37:20, 29; Revelation 21:4, 5) But why do such ones not also partake of the bread and the wine? Jesus indicated that partaking of the emblems during the Lord’s Evening Meal was only for those called to life in heaven, those who are in the new covenant.
Of course, faith in Jesus’ sacrifice is vital for all who would gain God’s forgiveness and everlasting life, whether life in heaven or life on a paradise earth. Christ showed this at John 6:51-54: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever; . . . the bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world [of redeemable mankind] . . . He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life.”
Yet, it is noteworthy that Jesus addressed those words to more than his disciples. A day after he had miraculously fed thousands, the crowd came to Jesus in the area of Capernaum. This crowd engaged him in the conversation that included his words at John 6:51-54. So Jesus was not speaking primarily to disciples when he said that he was the figurative “bread that came down from heaven” that can provide more enduring life prospects than the manna that had been eaten in the wilderness.—John 6:24-34.
In considering that ancient experience in the wilderness, recall who had come out of Egypt into the wilderness. It was ‘the sons of Israel numbering six hundred thousand able-bodied men on foot, besides little ones, and a vast mixed company.’ (Exodus 12:37, 38; 16:13-18) This “mixed company” included Egyptians who were married to Israelites and other Egyptians who had thrown in their lot with Israel. Both the Israelites and the “mixed company” needed manna to stay alive. Did the “mixed company,” though, have the same prospects as the Israelites? No, they did not. Even though they could worship among the Israelites and could hope to enter the Promised Land, they could never be kings or priests under the Law covenant. So eating the literal manna in the wilderness did not give everyone the same prospects.
This is a distinction to remember as you reflect on what Jesus said to his disciples about a year after he spoke the words at John 6:51-54. On this later occasion, Jesus was describing a new practice involving actual bread and wine that was to symbolize his flesh and blood. While he was instituting the celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal, Jesus said to his close followers: “This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood, which is to be poured out in your behalf.” To the same small group of apostles, he added: “You are the ones that have stuck with me in my trials; and I make a covenant with you, just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.”—Luke 22:20, 28-30.
Observe from these later words that the ones who were to eat the actual bread and drink the actual wine as emblems symbolizing Jesus’ body and blood were the disciples in “the new covenant.” Such ones would also be in another covenant, one that Jesus makes with them so that they could share rulership ‘in his kingdom.’ Clearly, Jesus was here referring to those who would be ‘made a kingdom and priests to our God, to rule as kings over the earth.’ (Revelation 5:10) In the first century, God began selecting the 144,000 who would share in the heavenly Kingdom. Christians in Corinth were of that group, for they were described as ones who had “been sanctified in union with Christ Jesus, called to be holy ones.” (1 Corinthians 1:2; compare Romans 1:7; 8:15-17.) Such “holy ones” were to share in the Lord’s Evening Meal, partaking with appreciation of the emblematic bread and also the wine meaning “the new covenant by virtue of [his] blood.”—1 Corinthians 11:23-26.
Today there remains alive on earth only a small remnant of those chosen by God for heavenly life. Only such ones who are in “the new covenant” are authorized to partake of the emblems, the bread and the wine, during the annual Memorial celebration.
Of course, all true Christians today who look forward to living forever on earth under Kingdom rulership know that this is possible by exercising faith in Jesus’ sacrifice. As Jesus told the crowd, he is “the living bread that came down from heaven.” (John 6:51) Yet, that does not mean that those with the earthly hope ought to partake of the literal Memorial emblems, for they are not in “the new covenant,” nor are they in the covenant with Jesus to be ‘in his kingdom, sitting on thrones.’
Consequently, this large group with earthly hopes does not partake of the emblems, the bread and the wine. But this in no way reflects a lack of faith in or appreciation for Jesus’ body and blood. In fact, because of their deep appreciation for his sacrifice and the delightful earthly prospect before them, they most definitely are present each year as respectful observers at the celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal. In this way, they reflect their own faith and give happy evidence that the remnant of the “little flock” and the multitudinous “other sheep” are in warm unity.—John 10:16.