©2012 Dr. Irene Bonney Faulkes DD
THE TABLE OF THE LORD
It is the practice in nearly every evangelical church and in nearly every denomination to hold a communion service, sometimes weekly and sometimes monthly. It is often called "The Lord's Supper" or "The Table of the Lord".
The basis for holding this service is found in the words of Jesus at what is called "The Last Supper" that He celebrated with His disciples before He went out to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Cross on the Hill of Calvary.
The account of this is found in all the Gospels, as having taken place after the Passover Feast, Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22;Luke 23:19; John 13:21. This Communion Supper that He commanded for us today, is not a repetition of His death and burial but is a remembrance of it.
The communion service was inaugurated by Christ and continued by the early apostles, believers and churches. In some form or other it has been adhered to down through the centuries until the present day.
In the early church, the idea of it was that believers commemorated the Lord's death as they recognized He had died on the cross. They knew it had been a death of atonement for their sins. In this they rejoiced, knowing that in the celebration of that feast, they were in union with Him. They saw that they were all believers together in union with one another, as part of the mystical Body of Christ. They were thankful for what He had done for them on the cross and for the privilege of serving Him in this world. This commemoration took place during the love feast to which believers went. That was only for the first two or three centuries. Then it gradually took on the beginning of the forms in which we know it today.
Today, we remember His death, in whatever church we attend. We are to follow on
from what they did in those early days, also recognizing that His death on the
cross was a death atoning for all of our sins. Let us recognize the personal
union of each one of us with Him and our union by the Spirit with one another.
THE LAST SUPPER IN THE FOUR GOSPELS
We should examine the various passages mentioned above that are found in the four Gospels.
He takes the bread.
Let us look at what Jesus did at that first communion event. He lets it be known that it is a remembrance feast that we are to observe, until He comes. In the middle of the Passover Feast, while they were eating, Mark 14:22-2 (Luke 22:19;Matthew 26:26), "He took a loaf of bread and broke it". He was typifying His body that was to be broken or wounded for sin on the cross. Moses used similar words in Exodus 12:11, "It is the Passover of the lord", referring to verse 8, when they were to eat the flesh of the slain lamb. The lamb did not become the actual Passover. The bread Jesus broke did not become His actual body. His body was to be broken by death, pierced or bruised in order to make atonement for your sins, He was telling them. This broken bread represented His body. It or any other bread could never then or at any time or place become His body. Indeed, He was there in a living body and it would be ridiculous to think He could mean it to become a dead body. It is as in 1 Corinthians 5:7, "Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us". Also, this was as John the Baptist said in John 1:29,"Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world".
This body was to become the atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross, as clearly stated in Romans 3:25 about Christ Jesus, "whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood". This was prefigured in all the sacrifices of animals in the Old Testament, in particular in the book of Leviticus. Those sacrifices all pointed to some aspect of the death of Christ. He, in His body, became the atonement for our sin. That body did not become the atonement to heal our sicknesses, as some would say today. It was the atonement for our sin that of course led to sin and death. It is incorrect to say the body of Jesus was given for the healing of our sicknesses and that His blood was shed for the cleansing of our sins. The whole sacrifice was a sacrifice of atonement. As in Ephesians 5:2, "and live in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God". As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:3, "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures". Then we can read 1 Peter 2:24 25, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls". These latter verses all have one subject, viz. the death of Jesus Christ in His body on the cross, for our sins.
Lack of discerning the Lord's body and its possible sickness and death, in 1 Corinthians 11:29-32, has nothing to do with a person not seeing healing for him in the body of Christ on the cross. He died an atoning death for our sins.
He takes a cup
After partaking of the unleavened bread, Jesus in Mark 14:23, "took a cup and after giving thanks he gave it to them and all of them drank from it. He said to them, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many'."
It specifically here is the blood of the covenant and not the blood in this instance as mentioned for the taking away of sins as elsewhere in the word of God. We are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Our sins are washed away by the blood. The blood speaks for us in heaven today. Here, the thought is in relation to the new covenant.
Clarity of thought about this matter can be obtained from the book of Hebrews. In view of the greatness and magnitude of the meaning of the communion service, it is hard to understand why some speakers in some churches, before the distribution of the emblems, will speak on light matters instead of the reality in what Jesus instituted.
Jesus said in Mark 14:24; Matthew 21:58 Luke 22:20, "This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many". It is the blood of the covenant. The emphasis is on the covenant God has made with Jesus as the Surety of the covenant on our behalf.
"Surety" means "pledge". Jesus Christ is God's pledge to man. The covenant cannot fail because Jesus cannot fail. He is also man's pledge to God. We would fail but He cannot fail and we who believe are in Him. Therefore the covenant will stand. Hebrews 8:6 "He is the mediator of a better covenant".
We are under the new covenant. The old covenant (or testament) was only temporary. This covenant is eternal. That distinguishes from the former one that was made by God with Israel at Mount Sinai, Exodus 24:8; Hebrews 7:22, "Accordingly Jesus is the guarantee (or pledge) of a better covenant. God had promised in Jeremiah 31:14 that He would make a new covenant, that is also set out in Hebrews 8:8-12. In verse 23, "He has made the first one obsolete, and the old one has nearly disappeared". Jesus tells us to remember the blood of this new covenant, when we partake of the Lord's Supper at the communion service.
The old covenant, as in Hebrews 9:1,2, was earthly with an earthly sanctuary and of an earthly substance, being only a shadow of what has come under the new covenant, Hebrews 10:1, and not the true form or the reality. We have the true form or the reality under the new. The blood of Jesus has brought about the new covenant. Now we drink of that blood as we naturally drink the cup. We drink of that blood and we eat of His flesh in a spiritual way. Jesus said in John 6:54-56, "Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood have eternal life, My flesh is meat indeed and My blood is drink indeed" and "Whoever eats Me will live because of Me." This was not to be an eating of literal flesh and blood. That would be cannibalism. He was speaking of eating and drinking in a spiritual way. We do this continually. During the communion service, as we eat the natural bread and drink the natural wine or juice, we should be spiritually partaking of Christ as well as thanking Him in remembrance of His death and resurrection.
The washing of feet
There is a portion relating to the washing of feet. It appears in John's gospel, chapter 13:3-15. Verse 15 shows the reason he performed such a task, "For I have set you an example that you should do as I have done to you". There is no place in the Bible or in the history of the early church, where this kind of washing ever became a religious ritual or a custom in any church. It was not until the fourth century that it became a custom in the Orthodox Church and is still practised by the Pope of Rome to this day on the Thursday before Easter. Up until the year 1731 there was a custom in England where a High Churchman would wash the feet of poor saints on that same Thursday. We normally do not follow those customs.
We should understand that it was a Jewish custom of hospitality to have the feet of visitors washed when they arrived. The streets were very dusty. Cleanliness was part of Jewish life as it should be in the lives of Christian believers everywhere. That does mean to say we are obligated to wash anyone's feet! This custom of washing the feet of visitors is mentioned in 1 Timothy 5:10.
The point that Jesus was making was one of humility. He, the Lord of Glory, knowing Who He was, One to be worshipped, showed His Divine humility by doing the work of the servant in the household. He tells us in this incident that we are to have similar humility. The emphasis is on the humility that we are to show. This is taught also in Philippians 2:3-7, where we are shown to have humility instead of pride, to do nothing from selfish ambition, to regard others as better than ourselves, not to do anything from selfish ambition or conceit to look on the interests of others. In other words, says Paul, "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave".
Breaking Bread at home
After Jesus went back to heaven, He poured out the Holy Spirit upon them. We are
told in Acts 2:46 that they spent much time together in the Temple, doubtless
speaking of Christ, continually being filled with the Spirit and worshipping
Christ and of their breaking bread as well as eating meat at home. This has no
reference to communion. The use of the word indicates normal food. Perhaps there
were joint meals in various houses. There is therefore no basis in Scripture for
the celebration of communion in one's house, daily.
THE TABLE OF THE LORD AND THE TABLE OF DEMONS
Perhaps we should consider 1 Corinthians 10:14-30 as it sometimes becomes a problem with new converts who have come out of heathendom and idolatry.
First of all, it mentions the communion service. Having given up the worship of idols, the believer is free to partake of communion. The cup is mentioned before the bread. As Paul followed the mention of the bread with eating food offered to idols, he naturally spoke of it after speaking of the cup. That did not mean he was setting out an order of service. The cup is a cup of blessing that "we bless". To call it this is to follow on from the custom at the Jewish Passover Meal where it was so called. For us, redemption by the blood, the blood of the new covenant, is typified by this cup of blessing in communion.
We are under the blessings of the new covenant. Therefore, we respond to this cup when it is blessed before we drink. We do this by audibly offering praise and thanks to God. We do it because we have shared in the blood of Christ. We are now blessed by being under the new covenant put in place by God through that blood. That blood and all that it means, as being in heaven today, enables us, if we will, to share in its resultant blessings, 1 John 5:7, "There are three that testify, the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree". Their testimony exists today, "there are three". Jesus, when He ascended to His Father in spirit that He had committed into His Father's hands, took His blood in spirit form into heaven. His spirit of course went back into His resurrected body. In that body He finally was caught up into heaven as related in Acts 1.
This was typified in Leviticus 16, by the High Priest going in behind the veil, with the blood, coming out and going in again. His blood is living and powerful today. It is the blood of the eternal covenant. It existed after the death of Christ, Hebrews 13:20, "Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant". That blood today is applied to us, 1 Peter 1:2. "to be sprinkled with His blood", 1 John 1:7, "the blood of Jesus Christ, cleanses us from all sin".
"The bread that we break" in 1 Corinthians 10, speaks of His body on the cross, the body of suffering and death. In the communion service, we spiritually eat of that body and partake of Him. It reminds us of the fact that when we received Christ, God made us to be crucified with Him and to be raised with Him. We were partakers of the benefits of salvation bought for us on the cross of Calvary.
Christ is the bread of life. He is the manna sent down from heaven, John 6:48-51. We are of Him. He is the only bread of life. "There is one bread". There is one body. "We who are many are one body, for we all are all partake of the one bread". Here again as in chapter 11, we get the thought brought out, that being one body, there should be no discrimination. There should not be any separation, one from the other, in the celebration of the communion service. We, who believe, who have eaten of that living bread, the Lord Jesus Christ, are one.
We believers have partaken in spirit of the Lord Jesus. How then can we go to a heathen temple and obtain or eat of food sacrificed to idols? Even though the idols are nothings, and sacrifices to those idols are not anything, behind the worship of them are multitudes of demons. We cannot allow ourselves to have anything to do with those demon spirits. We cannot "partake of them". This of course should be taught to all new believers. "What pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God". Paul says further, "I do not want you to be partners with demons".
However, Paul explains further on in the passage that if an idol worshipper invites us to his house to eat, even if the food has been offered to idols beforehand, unless we know that, it is in order to eat. If he tells us it has been offered to idols, we cannot eat. The eating will not harm us but we would be a stumbling block to him and to all who know we have so eaten.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF COMMUNION
The disciples and us also, were told by Jesus to commemorate this Last Supper that He had with them. He wanted us to remember Him. To remember Him is to understand His sacrifice for us on the cross of Calvary. The service is to centre around our memories of what the Word of God say in relation to that sacrifice.
All know that the bread we eat represents His body, broken for us. That is the reason in many places that the one officiating breaks a loaf of bread in two. The drink we have, represents the blood that was shed as He hung and died upon the cross.
As we partake, it is not necessarily to be a time of sorrow. Jesus did not say anything about our having to share His anguish. His anguish of soul was His own experience. It is never to be ours as He was on the cross with all its sufferings, on our behalf, for us.
When we do understand much of the meaning of the cross, we then are to be occupied with mediation upon it. We are to give thanks, many thanks for this supreme act willed by God for His Son as He died in our place and as a sacrifice for our sins. Our lips should offer the sacrifice of praise to Him, aloud, as we think of the real meaning of the cross.
The book of Hebrews gives us much insight upon this matter. All believers know that Christ died for them on the cross. They know it was on account of their sinfulness. They will assuredly know that His death was because of the great love God had for us. The marvel and wonder of the Cross should occupy much of our attention. At this point, we will give it deep thought.
By "eternal Spirit" not "the" eternal Spirit. The word "the" is not in the original that was written in Greek. Because the sacrifice was made by Christ through "eternal Spirit" it places the sacrifice of Christ on a much higher plane. It gives greater meaning and significance to the sacrifice. It enables the sacrifice to be presentable in heaven.
Heaven itself was the ultimate place that was the focus of the crucifixion. Yes, earth was the scene of the cross. Christ Jesus as God and man died on the cross here on earth. He was put to death by legal processes of earth despite their being unjust. Men nailed Him to the cross. People viewed the ghastly scene.
Heaven where God's throne is was most affected by the Cross. True, earth with its people, was affected. Earth needed the cross. People were doomed to eternal misery without the cross. They would be left in eternal despair after their time in a world dominated by sin with its results and by Satan in his cruelty. The world of sinners must have the cross.
However, it was God Himself who was most affected. There had resulted a certain uncleanliness due to our sin that in some way penetrated the heavens. More than that, God's justice and righteousness had to be dealt with by He Himself. His love and desire for a people to be indwelt by Him must necessarily be satisfied. Only God could determine and ask for a way all these things could be repaired from the damage done by sin.
The question of our sin was a spirit-ual matter. It became so because God is Spirit and He made us in His likeness. Heaven is not a creation. Therefore, a sacrifice not of Spirit, a sacrifice consisting of created things and matter could never be sufficient.
Although Jesus died on the cross, God as well as man, although He was perfectly obedient to His Father and became a spotless sacrifice for our sin, that was not enough to give the sacrifice its power before God. The sacrifice must be made by Christ Himself, "through eternal Spirit". It was the eternal Spirit who gave the sacrifice validity. Hebrews 9:14, "Who through eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God".
We should all think about this until the Holy Spirit opens our spiritual eyes to understand. "O make me understand it, Help me to take it in, What it meant for Him the only Son, To take away my sin", as an English hymn goes.
When we take part in a communion service, we should not be occupied with our side Son.
The relevant point should never be what we feel or experience. It is not whether my life all week has been truly holy. It is not how much victory I can claim over daily sins, weakness or failures. The blood of Jesus covers those things because we confessed them. It is not necessarily my subjective thoughts and feelings in relation to the cross. It should be objective, what Christ has done towards God in His great sacrifice, His wonderful sacrifice, through eternal Spirit first of all, before God. It was the great sacrifice of atonement.
This has meant that God is now able to allow sinful man to approach Him, to honour Him, to adore Him, to worship Him and to call Him, "Father", the first and foremost accomplishment. It has reconciled us to God. Then we can think of all the things that this sacrifice did for us. God has forgiven us, cleansed us, redeemed us, made us new creations in Christ Jesus.
Christ has made purification for our sins. It has been done already. It is not necessary or possible for purification for our sins to happen again. The word, "purged" is the meaning in the original. There is not to be any more purging. Therefore, there is no place, "Purgatory" in God's plan or in His Word. There is no need for a purgatory as for all believers in Christ, their sins have been purged. Hebrews 1:3, "When He, (Christ, the Son) had made purification for sin, (or purged us from our sins), he sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high". He had completed the work of purging us from our sins.
Christ did a finished work on the cross. There is nothing that can be added to it. The work of our redemption was completed on the cross, when as He died on the cross, He said, "It is finished". It was a sacrifice for our sin, once and for all. There could never be another sacrifice. He would never sacrifice Himself again. There can never be another sacrifice of Christ to God. Hebrews 9:25-27, "Nor was it to offer Himself again and again", "He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages, to remover sin by the sacrifice of himself" and "so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him".
The sacrifice of Christ was that of a spotless Lamb of God, pleasing to God. However, It was necessary that there be a sacrifice by eternal Spirit to God. That was what finally made the sacrifice "a sweet savour to God", Ephesians 5:2, "Christ loved us, and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God".
No one on this earth could do anything about making a sacrifice to God that
would cover our sin. Therefore, as Isaiah 59:16 tells us, "His own arm brought
God Himself through Christ has made the eternal sacrifice.
Our lives are "hid with Christ in God", Colossians 3:1-3. We are to "set our minds on things above, not on things of this earth". The book of Hebrews in particular, gives us the picture of the invisible world of God, heaven, in which world we believers are all immersed. That is the actuality even if we do not realise it.
The main thrust of our lives should be in that regard. We have a High Priest in Heaven in whom we are. That is God's setting for us. It is not our material church building.
All these truths should be the motivation of our fellowship with God and His Son, Jesus Christ, in the Communion Service.
THE COMMUNION SERVICE
In 1 Corinthians 11:17-33 Paul writes strong words of condemnation to that church because they were having communion services without recognizing the above features. As was common in those days, it was a Love Feast. This included the eating of food. There were those, mostly the rich, who ate and drank to the full in a discriminatory manner. They discriminated against the poorer brethren. They excluded them when they sat together to eat. They did not care that the poorer ones were isolated and often without food. They did not recognize that they were all fellow believers and fellow brethren supposed to be in total fellowship one with the other and thus with Christ.
They thus disregarded the Lord's Body that in a mystical way was to include them all in and by the Spirit. Because of this many were sick and many had already died under the judgment of God. The judgment came because they were eating and drinking thus in an unworthy manner. Paul said in serious words, "you will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. This meant that those guilty ones would be considered as guilty of His death as those who at His crucifixion cried out, "Away with Him, crucify Him".
These lacks and wrongs one to the other led to the injunction by Paul to "examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup" It means, "Let a man prove himself; test himself as he would a piece of metal to see if he is genuine". There was to be an examination of a person's motives. Were those motives due to remembering Christ's death and also, was there regard and love that acknowledged the individual believer's union and communion with the other believers, rich or poor? This examination was not in relation to any personal sin that had occurred through the week. If that person had already confessed that sin, as he should have done through the week so that he was washed clean by the blood of Jesus, 1 John 1:8,9, this examination could have no relation to such sins. The celebrant of this communion feast should have no need to examine himself as to how he stood before God in relation to salvation. According to 1 Corinthians 6:10,11, written perhaps half an hour previous to this account in chapter 11, they were clean already and they were justified. As Paul says, "none of these (a list of terrible sinners) will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God". That should be the position of every believer today, who comes to the Communion Service.
The service has no relevancy to whether a person is a member of that particular church or not. The responsibility for him or her to partake of the bread and the wine, rests with that person. Young's Translation that shows the tense of the Greek in which the New Testament was written, reads, "Let a man be proving himself and so (in this fashion) let him eat and so (in this fashion) let him drink". It is a personal matter. According to these verses, he or she is not meant to be peering inward to search out all his sins and failures. He should already know his standing in Christ. It does not rest with the Pastors or leaders, according to this portion of Scripture. It says, "And so let him eat". In a situation where there is discrimination and lack of love in the assembly, all should be looking at themselves within. Each should be able to prove to himself or herself that he is not discriminating against another person there and he or she has only love in the motives of the heart and subsequent actions.
We should note that there is no mention in these verses that the believer had to have been baptized in water before taking communion or baptized with the Holy Spirit. It does not say he has to have been baptized in water or have become an official member of that particular church. It does not appear that there was an official role of membership in those early days. Today, it would strongly appear that in churches where hordes of believers are sent out before the Communion Service, that those Pastors and churches are doing exactly what Paul forbade and condemned. They are discriminating against certain believers. In doing that, there is lack of love and actual guilt of sin. Paul himself did not do that. He corrected the situation by teaching the truth in relation to communion. Then the church was expected to do what he said. If not, judgment would fall on those Pastors and believers who refused to do what he said, by the Spirit.
These verses in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, should be followed today. They indeed set out the meaning of the service, its order and purpose. In the early church the love feast included the remembrance of the Lord's death. Today we have eliminated the love feast and are happy with it being a Communion Service. Paul further on in 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 sets out what could be called the pith of the meaning of the service of remembrance.
Should the Pastor always officiate?
With regard to who may serve the bread and the wine, there is no mention in the Word of God. Orthodoxy has demanded that the priests do the serving. In Pentecostal, Charismatic and evangelical churches, we have the practice of giving this officiating norm, first of all into the hands of anybody of prominence, whether he or she be Pastor, Elder, Deacon or an ordinary but zealous member. Then it is a general custom for ordinary people to hand out the bread and the wine. In the past, those particular denominations have not left the practices of the Orthodox churches. If they do today, it need not be as the Word of God does not give any commands about the matter.
"With you in my Father's kingdom."
Jesus said in the gospels to do it in remembrance of Him until He comes again to receive us unto Himself and take us to heaven. He also said, in Matthew 26:29, "I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom". This verse is often used as relating to the common idea of the period in heaven of the Bride at the marriage supper of the Lamb, taking place over a period of seven years. There is no time in heaven so the followers of that belief must be thinking of time on earth!
However, Jesus mentioned "my Father's kingdom". That does not occur until as it says in 1 Corinthians 15:23,24, "But each in his own order, Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power". According to those verses, the common meaning placed on those words, by Millennialists, cannot be. Jesus was speaking in a spiritual sense. We do not know that He actually drank the cup. In fact it is probable that He did not as He was not to participate in a service of remembrance of His death.
When His Father's kingdom would come after the tribulations of earth, well after there remained on earth any ruler, authority or power that opposed Him, whether human or Satanic, then He would participate with them and us in that everlasting kingdom. It is doubtful that the fruit of the vine we know today will exist in the new heaven and new earth. This is His meaning. The blessings of His blood would extend to its final fulfilment in having us there in His Father's kingdom as joint heirs with Him, Romans 8:17, "and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him".
Our remembrance of Him on earth at each communion service, will meet its climax as an eternal and heavenly reality when we "eat it anew with Him in His Father's kingdom".