Just before Jesus was about to be arrested, put on trial, and crucified, He took a moment while in the upper room with His disciples to establish an important reminder. There was little time left for Jesus to give more instructions about what was coming or what would be required of His disciples. Yet with the few moments He had left with the disciples, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. For Jesus to spend one of His last moments of the earth establishing this memorial ought to cause us to realize the significance of the Lord’s Supper. What we do when we partake of the Lord’s Supper is, therefore, of the utmost importance. What exactly are we to be doing? What are we to be remembering? How should we meet the commands that our Lord Jesus Christ left for us? These are the things we will consider as we use 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 as our study text.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: on the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, 24 gave thanks, broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He also took the cup, after supper, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
This is My body
The first thing Jesus did was take the bread after giving thanks, broke it, and said, “This is My body.” As most of us understand, Jesus is using a simple metaphor. There is nothing in the text that would have us to believe that Jesus was saying the bread literally turned into His body. Such a statement would certainly have not made sense to the disciples in the upper room since Jesus’ body was still present with them. Jesus is saying that by taking the bread and eating it in this memorial, the bread represents the body of Jesus.
Now we must ask an important question: what did Jesus want for us to recall when He said that the bread represented His body? Did Jesus merely want us to think about His physical body? To do such would be rather difficult since no one alive on the earth has seen Jesus’ physical body. But we are able to understand historically and from the scriptures the amount of suffering Jesus undertook on our behalf. To think of the body of Christ is to think about the immense sacrifice that our Lord made. It is important that we remember the physical anguish that Christ suffered as an innocent man. Jesus was not a criminal and had done nothing wrong to deserve what He experience, as admitted by Pilate himself.
But there is more for us to consider when we remember the body of Christ. Philippians 2 reminds us that Christ was found in the appearance of man and took on the form of the slave. This is another aspect of the humiliation Christ suffered as His glory was bottled up such that no one could see the tremendous might and glory of who He really is. Instead, He took on the form of a man and had to humble Himself to do so.
To remember the body of Christ is to remember the shame that He carried for us. “He grew up before Him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground. He had no form or splendor that we should look at Him, no appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like on people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn’t value Him. Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds” (Isaiah 53:2-5). This is the reminder of what the body of Christ suffered.
“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; by His wounding you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). The body represents the shame, the humiliation, and the suffering that Christ endured by coming in the form of a man and allowing His creation to put Him to death. I believe these are the key aspects we are to recall when we partake of the bread and remember the body of Jesus.
Given for you
Jesus not only wanted us to think about the suffering of the body, but also the great sacrifice He made for each of us. Consider again the words of Jesus, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” This is a quotation from Luke 22:19. Jesus seems to be telling us that we are to remember the sacrifice that has been made. He GAVE himself for us. The memorial brings to mind the suffering, and also the sacrifice. Consider all that Jesus gave up for us. Consider that he died by crucifixion for us.
Some of the versions read, “which is broken for you.” The reason many of the version do not contain this phrase any longer is because many ancient manuscripts do not have the word “broken” in them.
We have to be careful how we understand this phrasing if we say “broken for you.” According to the scriptures, the body of Jesus was never broken. In John 19:32-36 we see the Roman soldiers are going to break the legs of Jesus to hurry His death. However, when the soldiers come to break His legs, they find that Jesus is already dead and do not break the legs. This was to fulfill scripture, “Not one of His bones will be broken” (John 19:36). For Jesus to not have one bone broken is a symbolic statement that He died in favor with God. According to the Old Testament, an animal with a broken bone could not be an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord for atonement. A broken Jesus would not have been acceptable according to the law.
Further, the Old Testament describes the wicked having their bones broken while the righteous will not. I will spend more time with this idea when we come to Psalm 34. But for now, let us understand it was of the utmost importance that Jesus’ bones not be broken and further was the fulfillment of prophecy. As we read 1 Corinthians 11:24 we see that the bread is broken. Jesus takes the bread, breaks it, and says that this bread represents His body. We only can consider Jesus broken in regard to the suffering He endured and as a metaphor for the death of His physical body. But His body was not broken in a spiritual sense, nor in a physical sense since He raised that body from the tomb three days later.
Why the different bread?
You may wonder why the bread is different. It is unleavened bread. When Jesus is instituting the Lord’s Supper, it is nearly the time of the Passover. Jesus instructed the disciples to make preparations for the Passover (Luke 22:13). One of the preparations was to completely remove all leaven from the house and make the bread with leaven.
3 You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. 4 No leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory for seven days, nor shall any of the flesh that you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain all night until morning. (Deuteronomy 16:3-4)
Therefore, when Jesus took of the bread and gave thanks, he and disciples would have been using unleavened bread because all leaven was removed from the houses in preparation for the Passover.
This cup is the new covenant in My blood
If the bread represents all that we have just described concerning the body of Christ, then what does the cup represent? Too often we have made the bread and the cup mean the same things and call the mind the same things. But I want us to carefully read this passage and see if the cup is to symbolize the same thing as the bread.
Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood.” Paul does not say that Jesus was merely referring to the blood of Christ. If Jesus was, then we would be right to assume that we are to remember the same thing twice. However, the cup represents the covenant in His blood. What is Jesus telling us to remember each Lord’s day when we partake of the fruit of the vine?
I think a straightforward reading of the verse gives us the proper understanding. The cup that we drink calls to our minds the ratification of the new covenant that we live under today. The new covenant would not and could not have been put into effect with the blood of Jesus.
16 For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. 18 Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” (Hebrews 9:16-20)
I believe the writer of Hebrews enlightens us as to how the covenant and the blood of Christ are to be tied together. I do not know what else Jesus could mean when He says the cup is the new covenant in His blood. But without this understanding I think it becomes easy for us to skip the words “new covenant” and just think about the blood that flowed from His side. I suggest to you that we have already remembered the physical suffering and sacrifice of our Lord. When we think about the blood, we are not called to think about the suffering, but the covenant that was inaugurated for us by His blood.
Notice that the phrase “blood of the covenant” recalls how the first covenant, the law of Moses, was established. After the commandments had been given to Israel, Moses sprinkled blood on the people and the book, entering into a covenant relationship with God. With the blood of Christ, we are able to enter into a covenant relationship with God. Therefore, we must remember the covenant which brings us into a relationship with God.
Furthermore, the blood brings to our minds the forgiveness of sins that is available through the new covenant. Again, the writer of Hebrews says, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14). I hope we see what the blood of Christ is about from the scriptures. The blood of Christ is not about the suffering, but is about the forgiveness of sins that gives us life through Him. The blood of Christ recalls our state of being dead to God in our sins and how He made us alive through Him. We are remembering where we have come from and where God has placed us. In a sense, with the bread we remember what Jesus did for us. With the cup, we remember the changed relationship we have with God and the covenant to which we are now bound.
Why Grape Juice?
Why do we use grape juice? Why not Coca-Cola? Why not water? Why not apple juice. When instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said concerning the cup: 28 For this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
Jesus specifically commanded what they were drinking and that is the fruit of the vine. Fruit of the vine is common Jews language for grape juice, fermented or unfermented. Therefore, we must use fruit of the vine, that is, grape juice, as well.
Why Every Sunday?
Most Christian groups will partake of the Lord’s Supper but not every week. Typically, the Lord’s Supper is kept once a year and sometimes as frequently as quarterly. Why do we partake every Sunday? When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper before his death, he did not state the day nor the frequency for which it would be taken. So we must look to the examples of the early church in the scriptures to know how we ought to proceed.
6 but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days. 7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:6-7)
We learn from Luke’s record that early Christians met on the first day of the week.Christians gathered on the first day of the week for the purpose of breaking bread, which is partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Further, I would wonder why we would not want to remember the important death of our Lord? Why would we not want to remember the sacrifice of Jesus and covenant that brings us forgiveness of sins every first day of the week? I am unable to comprehend any argument that would limit a person from partaking of the Lord’s Supper as long as it is the first day of the week. We should want to remember the Lord’s sacrifice regularly, not annually or quarterly.
There is another important aspect that we read from this verse. Notice that the Christians gathered together to break bread. There are no examples of Christians staying home and partaking. The Lord’s Supper is something that we come together for and do together. We can especially see this in Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians concerning the Lord’s Supper.
But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. (1 Corinthians 11:17)
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. (1 Corinthians 11:18)
When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. (1 Corinthians 11:20-21)
So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. (1 Corinthians 11:33)
If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. (1 Corinthians 11:34)
It seems clear that Paul is emphasizing the point that the Lord’s Supper is to be done together. This is why we do not do this at home. This is why we do not take the Lord’s Supper to people. This is why we do not take of the Lord’s Supper while in our tents or in a motel while on vacation. This is an act to be done with the gathering of Christians on the first day of the week.
The Lord’s Supper is important and it is something that we must perform properly and with the proper frame of mind. Paul warns against partaking in an unworthy manner. Therefore, we must take the memorial of our Lord with a degree of solemnity as we remember the death and also a degree of joy because of the covenant relationship we enjoy from Christ’s blood.