In the first lesson I emphasized several truths associated with the Lord’s Supper: they were substitutionary death as illustrated by the Old Testament animal sacrifices; the spiritual death of Christ required to pay the penalty for our sin; the term “blood of Christ” being a synonym for that spiritual death; the Gospel record recording that spiritual death (separation from God and His judgment of Christ on the cross as the sin bearer) and the fact that the Scriptures tell us Christ suffered two deaths (spiritual and physical) on the cross.
Now we need to look at the history and Gospel record of the Passover, as that ritual sacrifice is directly related to the Lord’s Supper. To avoid the tenth plague in Egypt, (the death of the firstborn son of every family) the Jews were ordered to sacrifice a male, yearling lamb, without blemish (Exodus 12:5). The lamb represented the sinless Christ, who would be qualified to bear the sins of mankind. The blood of the Passover lamb represented the spiritual death of Christ, and the offerers painted it on the sides and tops of their doors (Exodus 12:7). For those behind the blood, symbolically trusting in the future spiritual death of Christ, the judgment of the plague would be averted. The lamb’s flesh was roasted with fire and was to be eaten with bitter herbs and unleavened bread (Exodus 12:8-9).
Because the Passover ritual contains so much important symbolism related to the future sacrifice of Christ, the Lord commanded that it be commemorated by all future generations, a permanent ordinance (Exodus 12:14). There are several references to Israel keeping the Passover in the Old Testament (in the wilderness in Numbers 9:1-5; when they came into Canaan in Joshua 5:10 and several other times under various kings).
Moving forward, there is no doubt the young Jesus possessed more than just passing familiarity with the Passover and other spiritual matters. Luke 2:40-50 tells us His parents went to Jerusalem every year for the feast of the Passover (verse 41); He was with them in Jerusalem for the Passover observance when He was twelve years old (verse 42); the religious leaders in the temple were astonished at His understanding and answers (verse 47); and even at that young age He seemed to understand His unique relationship with the Father and quite possibly His relationship with the Passover lamb (verse 49).
Early in His public ministry Jesus was in Jerusalem for Passover and the passage in John 2:13-17 records His first cleansing of the temple at that time. According to Josephus there were over 256,000 animals sacrificed for Passover. The temple priests sold permits to vendors who then sold the animals on the temple grounds. The temple priests refused to sacrifice any animal that had not been bought from these vendors at an inflated price. They also refused to accept foreign currency for the required head tax, so the moneychangers exchanged it at exorbitant rates. This exploitation under the pretense of worship angered Jesus and He drove out the moneychangers and animal vendors with a whip He had made with rush cords (long marsh grass stems commonly used to make baskets or mats).
The city is thought to have had a normal population of around 25,000 people at this point; but at Passover it would swell to 6 times that number. Every room was filled and campsites could be seen on every hillside around the city. Needless to say, the religious elite and those who worked for them took every advantage over the many foreign visitors to the city in anything that involved the temple – there was a lot of money to be made during Passover.
In John 6:48 Jesus revealed Himself as “the Bread of Life” (literally, “the Bread that gives life) that came down from heaven. Then in the passage that runs from verse 53 to 58 He uses the terms bread, flesh and blood to illustrate the true meaning of Communion.
"Then Jesus said to them, I’m telling you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you cannot have any life in you. The one who continually feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is real food and My blood is real drink. He who feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood dwells continually in Me, and I (in the same way dwell continually) in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, even so whoever continues to feed on Me will live because of Me. This is the Bread that came down from heaven. It is not like the manna that our forefathers ate, and yet died; he who feeds on this Bread will live forever.
When we observe Communion, we’re actually reaffirming our faith in the physical death, resurrection and spiritual death of Jesus Christ. By eating the bread and drinking the cup we acknowledge the promise of our own future resurrection and eternal life. The key verse in the passage above is verse 54 that is underlined.
Here’s one more example. This is 1 Corinthians 10:16, “The cup of wine at the Lord’s supper for which we ask God’s blessing, does it not mean that we share in a fellowship (a communion) in the blood of Christ when we drink it? And the bread that we break, does it not mean that we share in a fellowship (a communion) in the broken body of Christ when we eat it?
I have always been careful to not allow Communion to become a mindless or meaningless ritual. Paul warns against participating in Communion in an unworthy manner, not recognizing with appropriate appreciation what Christ suffered on the cross and what the bread and the cup symbolize.
Paul calls Christ “our Passover” in 1 Corinthians 5:7. And like the Passover lamb that had represented Him for nearly two thousand years, the Lord Jesus Christ died on the Passover (John 19:14), fulfilling in reality the symbolism of this feast day in every detail. However, the night before His death (Passover had begun at sundown that evening), Jesus converted the old Passover feast into Communion. This is the account found in Luke 22 starting with verse 19. "And He took bread and after giving thanks, He broke it into pieces and gave it to them saying, This is My body given for you, eat this in remembrance of Me."
Instead of the lamb, Jesus used bread to represent His unique person. Actually, a more correct translation of this verse would read something like "this keeps on being My body". Here, Jesus was actually promising His resurrection. He was saying that it might look bad, you might watch Me die, you might not think so; but the fact remains, I’ll always have a body. Eating the bread is, as it was with the Passover lamb, a picture of faith. When we eat the bread, we’re saying that we trust in Jesus’ resurrection and His promise to resurrect those who have true faith in Him.
Then we go on to verse 20. "Then after the supper was ended, He took the cup and in the same manner said, This cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is given for you." In less than twenty-four hours, the shadows would be fulfilled and the reality would come. The New Testament would be put in full and binding force by the spiritual death of Christ on the cross. The cup of the Communion table, therefore, is symbolic of the spiritual death of Christ. And, as before, drinking the cup is our way of saying that we trust in that spiritual death.
Anytime we observe Communion we should realize (again) that we are reaffirming our trust in the spiritual death of Christ on the cross, as referenced by “the blood of Christ” represented by the cup, and our confidence in our own resurrection through our trust in His resurrection represented by the bread. And don’t fall for the false, religious view that one can only observe communion the proper religious authority figure supervising it. You can observe Communion on your own anytime you wish. I always suggest people read 1 Corinthians 11:20-34 to see what Paul says about it, then observe it with a clear conscience and understanding of truth.