The original context of the Lord’s Supper
Paul described the Lord’s Supper as follows, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:23-26NIV).
The original context is Jewish – Jesus and His disciples were Jews. Jews living under the old covenant were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Festival. This was the last Passover under the old covenant. Jesus gave the command to His disciples during the Passover meal, a few hours before He was arrested, trialed and crucified (Mt. 26:26-30; Mk. 14:22-26; Lk. 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). Jesus told His disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God” (Lk. 22:15-16). The last supper was a Passover meal. What the Passover was to the Israelites, the Lord’s Supper is for Christians of all nations. The Israelites looked back to God liberating them from slavery in Egypt via the sacrifice of the Passover lamb. Likewise, Christians look back to God liberating them from the penalty of sin through the sacrifice of Christ to have eternal life with God. Paul linked the two when he said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7).
At the last Passover Jesus looked ahead to the kingdom of God (Lk. 22:18). He said that He would not partake in a Passover again until His millennial reign (Lk. 22:15-18). The victory that began with the first Passover in Egypt and was remembered whenever the Jewish Passover festival was celebrated will be ultimately finalized when Christ’s millennial kingdom is established on earth. The rescue mission that began with the Passover, which was a foretaste of Christ’s death, will be completed and evident to the universe at the second advent of Christ and in His subsequent kingdom. Likewise, Christians can also look ahead, Paul said, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). So, we look forward to the rapture when there will be no need for the Lord’s Supper because all Christians will be with the Lord. And Christ’s victory over Satan will not be complete until Satan’s forces are defeated at the triumphant second advent (Rev. 19:11-21).
The context of Paul’s instructions on the Lord’s Supper is a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers in the local church (Appendix). So, in AD 55 at the Lord’s Supper believers looked back to the Lord’s death and ahead to His coming again (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Likewise, at the Lord’s Supper believers today look back to the Lord’s death and ahead to His coming again.
How does the Lord’s Supper apply to us today? The church began 50 days after Christ’s resurrection. The command was given to the disciples who were the leaders in the early church, which was mainly Jewish. But they were commanded to spread the gospel (the good news about Jesus) across the world (Acts 1:8). And today there are churches in all countries of the world. So, the command that was given to Jews now applies to all of the Christian churches across the world.
The Passover was an annual event, but the Lord’s Supper seems to have been originally an event whenever Christians met together (Acts 2:42), which settled down to be a weekly event (Acts 20:7).
The bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper are symbols of Christ’s incarnation (He came in a human body) and His sacrificial death. They represent His person and His work. The bread represents His body. And the cup of wine represents Christ’s death. At the Lord’s Supper believers recall His suffering and the blessings and benefits which come from His death and resurrection, and they offer thanks and praise for all that God has done for them through Jesus Christ.
Lord Jesus we recall your command to the disciples to remember you in the Lord’s Supper. And like the first Lord’s Supper, we look back and ahead. Back to your sacrificial death that took the penalty for our sin and the sin of all mankind. And ahead to being with you, and your final victory over Satan. Thanks for your new covenant of eternal spiritual life and your spiritual blessings now and forever more. For all that you have done, continue to do, and promise to do, we offer thanks and praise.
Appendix: The church at Corinth
Paul’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper is given in his first letter to the church at Corinth (written AD 55), which instructs and corrects them on topics like factions, immorality, litigation in pagan courts, the Lord’s Supper and the resurrection.
During his second missionary journey, Paul spent 18 months at Corinth (Acts 18:1-17). He established a church which would have been comprised of both Jews and Gentiles. In this letter he refers to Jews in six verses (1:22, 23, 24; 9:20; 10:32; 12:13) and to Gentiles or Greeks in five verses (1:22, 23, 24; 10:32; 12:13). So, the context of his instructions on the Lord’s Supper is a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers in the local church.
Written, November 2021