Bible Class Curricula - First Principles - Lesson #12 - The Lord's Supper
God desires that the church respect His authority on what He demands in regards to how we ought to worship Him. When Jesus was in conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, He said to her in John 4:23-24: “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” Jesus wants our spirit (attitude/heart) to be sincere, heartfelt and contrite so that we can worship Him acceptably “in spirit” (Josh. 24:14; Psalm 34:18; 51:17; 78:8; Ezek. 18:31; 36:26). Jesus also desires that we worship Him the way that God has prescribed it, that is, in accordance with His will (John 4:23; 9:31; 17:17). One of the worship actions that God has prescribed for us to observe in worship/service to Him as His assembled church is the partaking of the memorial meal known as the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-29; Matthew 28:18, 20). This lesson is designed to examine this very meaningful action of worship to God.
The Authority of the Lord's Supper
How do we know what pleases God? By hearing, believing and doing what His word authorizes (Heb. 11:6; Romans 10:17; James 1:21-22). God has revealed His mind to us on what He desires through His inspired word (1 Corinthians 2:10-12). We can know what is authorized by God because of this “chain” of authority linked in the Scriptures. The “chain” of authority begins with God the Father who permitted His Son to reign at His right hand after Jesus ascended into heaven (Ephesians 1:20-23), giving Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18; Hebrews 1:1,2; Matthew 17:5; Acts 3:22,23). Jesus then “dispatches” the Holy Spirit to equip the apostles by endowing them with miraculous power (John 16:7-15; Ephesians 3:3-5). As the Spirit guides the apostles into all truth, they eventually record the written word which gives us all things that pertain to life, godliness and eternal salvation (John 16:13; Acts 2:42-43; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; 2 Peter 1:3). Among the things the apostles reveal is Jesus’ desire/command for His children to assemble together to partake of His Supper, signifying His death on the cross (proving how much love He had for us as he suffered and agonized on the tree for six hours, as recorded in Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:17-20; Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 10:16-21; 11:17-34).
The Beginning of the Lord's Supper
What is the origin of the Lord's Supper? The Bible reveals that on a Thursday night the Lord and His disciples assembled together in an upper room in Jerusalem and partook of the Jewish Passover meal. After the Passover meal, Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper. Luke 22:14-16 states: “When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, ‘With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’”
According to Luke's account, Jesus took a cup before giving the unleavened bread to the apostles. After breaking the unleavened bread He took that cup, the one for which Jesus gave thanks and said of that cup, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:20).
Based on the facts of all the gospel accounts put together, we could assemble the complete picture this way:
- Jesus took a cup and gave thanks for it (Luke 22:17a).
- Jesus then told His disciples to “share” the contents of the cup among themselves (17b). They probably did this by pouring the contents of the container into their own containers.
- He did not tell them to drink it at that time.
- He stated that He would not drink of it until the kingdom of God came (Luke 22:18).
- After this saying, Jesus took the bread, blessed it, and gave it to the disciples, and they ate (Luke 22:19). Jesus stated that it symbolized His body, which would be given as a sacrifice.
- He then took “the cup” (the one previously referred to as “a cup”), for which He had given thanks and from which they had poured the fruit of the vine into their own cups (Luke 22:20a).
- Then He told them to drink and that it symbolized His blood of the new covenant that was shed for the remission of sins (Luke 22:20b; Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24).
- Then the disciples who had already poured out the contents into their own containers to drink.
Through apostolic authority, practice and sanction, this memorial meal would be commemorated by the church of Christ beginning on the day Jesus’ kingdom/church was established (Matthew 16:18-19; 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:16, 18; Acts 2:42 “breaking of bread”; Acts 20:7 “break bread”; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
The Contents of the Lord's Supper
There are two elements of the Lord's Supper that our Lord took and signified as a memorial to His death on the cross.
1. The first element was the bread.
What kind of bread was it? Was it leavened or unleavened bread? Using the Scriptures and correct reasoning, we can deduce what bread they used in this meal.
What was leaven? It included yeast which caused dough or batter to rise through the process of fermentation. Leaven is used in a negative sense and a positive sense in the Scriptures.
Jesus' Parable of The Leaven
Most passages in the Old and New Testament deal with leaven in a negative sense. The only positive passage in the New Testament that deals with leaven is found in Matthew 13:33. In this parable Jesus focuses on the growth of the kingdom. The church’s growth will be like the hidden yet convincing effect that yeast has on flour: As stated by Jesus, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
Sacrifices Under The Old Testament
There are instructions in the Law of Moses that outlawed using leaven with certain sacrifices (Ex. 34:25; Leviticus 2:11; 6:17) with a few exceptions such as: (1) the peace offering that used leavened bread (Leviticus 7:13) and (2) the offering of the first fruits of the grain harvest (Leviticus 23:17). Unleavened bread symbolized the requirement of purity for worship.
The Use of “Bread” In Matthew 14-16
Read through Matthew 14-16 and notice all the ways that “bread” is used throughout those chapters.
- In Matthew 14:13-20, Jesus had fed about 5,000 men (besides women and children) with five loaves and two fishes from a young boy's lunch.
- In Matthew 15:1-9, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they were upholding the man-made traditions of their forefathers rather than the word of God because the disciples were eating bread with unwashed hands.
- In Matthew 15:23-28, Jesus heals a Syro-Phoenician woman's daughter because the mother was able to pass the test of the Savior by upholding her faith in Him: Jesus told her, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus had been sent to bring light to the dark nation of Israel, but along the way, we see examples of Him also being a light to the Gentiles.
- In Matthew 15:32-37, Jesus performs a second miracle that involved the multiplication of seven loaves of bread and a few fish to about 4000 men (besides women and children).
- In Matthew 16:1-8, Jesus saw that the “leaven” of the Pharisees and Sadducees were destructive to His disciples (Matthew 16:6; Mark 8:15). The disciples finally understood Him to be talking about the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:8).
The Illustration of Leaven In Church Discipline
Paul uses the idea of the negative influence of leaven on a batch of flour to warn the Christians about the potentially destructive effect of condoning sin within the congregation (1 Corinthians 5:1-8; Galatians 5:9).
Jesus Cleans Out His Father's House
Read John 2:13-17. Ask yourself these questions:
- 1. Was Jesus a Jew? Yes.
- 2. What Jewish feast was about to begin? The Passover.
- 3. What was Jesus doing at His Father's house (temple)? He was cleaning it out.
- 4. What were the Jews to do at Passover in their houses? They were to clean out the leaven from
- their houses. Jesus was cleaning out the “leaven” out of His Father's house.
When Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper, He and His apostles had just completed the Jewish, Passover meal. Therefore, we can deduce that they did not use leavened bread because (1) the Passover meal was to consist of unleavened bread only (Ezekiel 45:21) and (2) because all leaven was to be kept out of the house (Exodus 12:15, 19; 13:3). As obedient Jews, Jesus and His disciples were faithful in following the Law of Moses and did not have/use leavened bread in the upper room. At the same time, Jesus used the elements of the Passover and instituted the Lord’s Supper as an example of how His kingdom would commemorate His death under a new covenant with a new and better meaning and significance. Furthermore, the unleavened bread was a fitting element to represent the sinless, pure, undefiled body of Jesus on the cross (Hebrews 9:26) as well the unleavened nature of Jesus’ body, the church (1 Corinthians 5:7).
2. The second element was the fruit of the vine.
In Palestine the major fruit that grew on vines from which the juice could be extracted was grapes. All around Palestine there are ancient wine presses where people would stomp the grapes to extract the juice. Notice Jesus’ specific reference to “the fruit of the vine” in describing the second element of the Lord’s Supper (not the Greek word oinos, which is usually employed for wine, whether unfermented or fermented, depending on the context; Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18).
Is alcoholic wine required? Is it acceptable? The answer to both questions is an emphatic “No”! No only is fermented wine not authorized by Jesus to be used in the Lord’s Supper, but using it would be a direct violation of Jesus’ nature and the nature of faithful Christians; for in some cases it would place a stumbling block especially in the way of Christians who once lived as alcoholics/drunkards (Rom. 14:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21).
This “fruit of the vine” represents the blood of Jesus that was shed for (eis) the remission of sins (Matt. 26:28). It is interesting to note that the same Greek phrase “for the remission of sins” is also found in Acts 2:38 where we find that in order to be saved we must repent (for the remission of sins) and be immersed (for the remission of sins). Those who teach that immersion is not essential for salvation will tell you that “for the remission of sins” in Acts 2:38 means “because your sins have already been remitted/forgiven”. If that is the meaning in Acts 2:38, then Jesus’ statement in Matthew 26:28 would have to mean that Jesus shed His blood because our sins have already been remitted/forgiven. What an absurdity! Jesus shed His blood so that the remission of sins could be obtained by those who render faith and obedience to the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). We are to have a change of heart and be immersed so that our sins will be washed away by the blood of the Lamb (Acts 22:16; Revelation 1:5).
The Day of Observing The Lord's Supper
During Jesus’ earthly ministry up to His ascension, did He specify what day His Supper was to be observed? We have no record of such. However, it is important to remember that while Jesus was on the earth, His intention was not to reveal every specific thing; instead Jesus would reveal His full and final truth to His apostles and prophets by way of the Holy Spirit after He ascended into heaven and received all authority to do so (Matthew 16:18-19; 28:18; John 16:13; Ephesians 2:19-20; 2 Peter 3:2; Jude 3).
An example of added clarification after Jesus’ ascension can be found in the Corinthian correspondence where Paul was asked whether or not it was authorized for a Christian to divorce his/her non-Christian spouse. Paul replies in 1 Corinthians 7:12: “But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him.”
Though the Lord’s statement in Matthew 19:6 addressed the lack of authorization for divorce in general, The Lord had never addressed the specific question of whether or not a believer was authorized to divorce his/her unbelieving spouse or what to do if the unbelieving spouse departs from/divorces the believer. Since Paul was authorized to bind what was already bound in heaven by the Lord Himself (1 Corinthians 14:37), he revealed as an inspired spokesman what God commanded. Similarly in regards to a day of observing the Lord’s Supper, is there added revelation that clarifies a specific time that the early church partook of the Lord's Supper by Apostolic sanction? After all, disciples of Christ were commanded to assemble together (Hebrews 10:24-26) and “do this” (eat of the Supper) in remembrance of Jesus’s death till He comes (1 Corinthians 11:20, 23-29). Through apostolic authority, practice and sanction, this memorial meal was first observed by the church of Christ beginning on the day Jesus’ kingdom/church was established, namely, the first day of the week (Sunday, Acts 2:1, 42; Leviticus 23:15-16). Such a practice continued on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 11:20; 16:1-2; Acts 20:7).
The Lord had much to reveal that would ultimately be accomplished through the apostles themselves. Jesus' will would come into effect after He died on the cross. While the time to observe the Lord's Supper was not specified by our Lord during His earthly ministry, we can deduce from the Scriptures and correct reasoning that we ought to follow the approved accounts of action that were set by the apostles as they were guided by the Holy Spirit.
It makes perfect sense why we ought to observe the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week when we put together all the data from Scriptures:
- It was the day the Lord raised up from the dead (Mark 16:1,2).
- It was the day in which the church was established (Acts 2).
- It is also known as the Lord's day (Revelation 1:10).
The Examination At The Lord's Supper
Since God desires for us to worship Him “in spirit” (John 4:24), such applies when we come together as the church to observe the Lord's Supper. The Bible commands that we examine ourselves when partaking of this sacred supper.
- The Lord's Supper is to be eaten with a look backward to the death of Jesus. Jesus stated in 1 Corinthians 11:25,26: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Paul's instructions make it clear that we are to discern (make a distinction) the Lord's precious body that was given on the cross. A memory device was shared with me many years ago that continues to help me to examine the Lord's death: ONE Lord, TWO robbers, THREE crosses, FOUR-parted garments, FIVE wounds, SIX hours, and the SEVEN sayings of Jesus on the cross.
- The Lord's Supper is to be eaten as we look within ourselves. 1 Corinthians 11:28 reads, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Such a person will be blessed in eating and drinking because an examined person will personally reflect on his or her life with Jesus. A search deep into our souls will be able to help us manifest greater service to our Lord rather than keep us away from the Supper.
- The Lord's Supper is to be eaten with a look forward to His second coming. 1 Corinthians 11:26 reads, “For as often as you eat this bread, and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.” This Supper is intended to be a perpetual proclamation until the end of time.
- The Lord's Supper is to be eaten in a worthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). It is eaten in a worthy manner when a Christian properly partakes of and discerns the Lord's body.
The Frequency of the Lord's Supper
There are many people today who believe it does not matter when we observe the Lord's Supper. There are various denominations who take it annually, semi-annually, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily. Some people will even take it at weddings. Where does the biblical evidence point? What has God authorized (Colossians 3:17)?
- Christians (who are mentally and physically capable) must come together in one place to worship God in spirit and in truth on at least a weekly basis (John 4:23-24; Acts 2:42 “continued steadfastly” is imperfect tense, indicating continuous action; 14:27; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:18-34; 14:23, 26; 16:1-2; Hebrews 10:24-26).
- In 1 Corinthians 16:1,2, Paul writes: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.” The Corinthian church met to eat the Lord’s Supper (even though they abused it: 1 Cor. 11:20). 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 implies that the Corinthian church was already meeting “every” Sunday (the Greek word “kata” means “every” even though it is not translated as such in the King James and New King James). Since they were already meeting every Sunday, Paul was ordering the Corinthian congregation to give as they had prospered every first day of the week (this was ultimately to be used for the needy saints in Jerusalem, Romans 15:25-28).
- In church history, we understand that the post apostolic churches continued to meet together on the first day of the week (Didache 14.1; Ignatius, Magnesians 9.1). This reinforces what was practiced by the early church in the first century under apostolic sanction.
- What was the primary purpose of the church assembling together on the first of the week? They came together to partake of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20; Acts 20:7; 2:42). The Corinthian congregation came together for the purpose of partaking of the Lord’s Supper, even though sadly they abused it (use of aorist infinitive active to denote purpose). The brethren at Troas came together for the same purpose. Acts 20:7 states: “Now on the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread” (use of aorist infinitive active to denote purpose). Therefore, the primary purpose of the “every first day of the week” church worship assembly was to partake of the Lord’s Supper (compare “remember the Sabbath” in Exodus 20:8).
- These official assemblies of the Lord's people were occurring at regular intervals according to Hebrews 10:25 because some Christians were abandoning coming together when they ought to have been.
- They were assembling together on the first day of the week because it was the Lord's Day (Rev. 1:10).
If we desire to go by Bible authority, then we will partake of the Lord's Supper only on the first day of the week and every first day of the week. There is no other day on which Jesus’ kingdom/the church is authorized to partake.
Major Premise: The partaking of the Lord's Supper upon the first day of the week is right only if its use is authorized by the New Testament (Colossians 3:17).
Minor Premise: The partaking of the Lord's Supper upon the first day of the week is authorized by the New Testament (Acts 20:7; 2:42; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34).
Conclusion: Therefore, the partaking of the Lord's Supper upon the first day of the week is right.
The Gist of the Lord's Supper
What is the meaning of the Lord's Supper? What ought we to cherish from it? There are various aspects that are pointed out in the Scriptures for us to remember:
- We ought to remember Jesus and His death.
- We ought to meditate on what Jesus means to us personally and as a corporate body.
- We ought to spiritually commune with our Savior.
- We ought to honor and respect Him as the Son of God.
- We ought to remember that the Supper equips us to better service and devotion.
- In the worship service, what are some ways in which one could prepare to partake and meditate
- upon the Lord's Supper?
- Why ought we to partake of the Lord's Supper on Sunday and only on Sunday?
- How did the Lord's Supper originate?
- Why should we use unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine?
- Research transubstantiation. Is it a biblical practice? Provide justification why or why not.
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