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What Does the Bible Teach About the Lord's Supper?

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

Image by: Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

The Lord’s supper is an ordinance of the New Testament instituted by Jesus Christ that, unlike baptism, is observed repeatedly throughout our Christian lives as a sign of continuing in fellowship with Christ.

"For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." - 1 Corinthians 11:26

The other ordinance, baptism, is the initiatory rite of passage into the church. When a person is saved, they join the church through baptism, a one-time ceremony, but communion (the Lord’s supper) is celebrated again and again. The Lord’s supper is commemorative. It reminds us of what Jesus did for us and is, therefore, rich with symbolism.

First, the bread represents his body, which was broken for us. The cup represents his blood, which was poured out for us on the cross. The death of Jesus was a sacrifice for sins. Jesus died so that we might live. Therefore, when believers partake of the supper, they remind themselves of what Christ has done for them on the cross.

To clarify, the Lord’s supper is not a re-crucifixion. It is not like the sacrifice of the Old Testament. In the old system, the priest would daily enter the temple and sacrifice animals on our behalf for our sins. This was necessary because the blood of animals could not wash away our sins. It could only atone for our sins. In other words, it could only cover them up like you might hide a mess under a rug, but it could not remove them completely.

The sacrifice of Christ is different. His blood washes away our sins completely. He propitiated the wrath of God and imputed his righteousness to us, justifying us once and for all. The author of Hebrews makes this point clear.

"Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he [Jesus] would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 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." – Hebrews 9:25-28

Since communion is not a re-sacrifice, it is a remembrance of the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

Second, communion reminds us of the humility of Jesus. On the night he was betrayed, he instituted the supper in the upper room with his disciples. He showed them how to practice it and what it meant, but before the meal, he did something that reminds us of his great humility. He washed the disciples' feet. To be the servant who washed feet was a lowly position, but that is why Jesus came. He taught us how we ought to be toward one another. Every time we take communion, we should remember the humility of Christ and remember to humble ourselves as well.

Third, the Lord’s supper reminds us of the new covenant in Christ’s blood. An analogy in our day would be the Fourth of July. The Declaration of Independence was signed on July fourth,1776, and we remember that every year as the birth of our country. When we take communion, we remember the inauguration of the new covenant. No longer are we under the Law; rather, we are under Christ. We are saved by faith in him alone. This is worthy of celebration.

Fourth, The Lord’s supper reminds us not only of his death but also his resurrection and soon-coming return. When Jesus died, he didn’t stay in the grave. He rose again. When we take the Lord’s supper, we should not only remember our sins that resulted in Jesus' death but also look to Christ in faith, knowing that he rose again and defeated sin and death. If we focus only on our sins, we become incapacitated and drown in despair.

The supper calls us to confess our sins but not to focus on them. The focus is on what Jesus did for us and that he was victorious over our sin. The Lord’s supper should fill us with the joy of our salvation because we know we are forgiven, and we serve a Savior who lives.

"For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." – 1 Corinthians 11:26

Finally, the Lord’s supper reminds us of the hope of heaven and the marriage supper of the Lamb. On the night Jesus was betrayed, he said he would not drink of the fruit of the vine until he does again with them in the Kingdom. Jesus was going to his death, and he called his disciples to follow him. Our lives in Christ now are service, sacrifice, and humility, but one day we will be exalted with Him in heaven. One day our trials will be over, and we will feast with our Lord. The supper reminds us that while we are humbled now, we will one day feast with him at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

"I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” – Matthew 26:29

The rich symbolism of communion reminds us of all the blessings and hope we have in Christ, which is why it has been practiced from the conception of the Church. But over the years, various questions have been raised about how to understand the meal, and it’s important to understand what the Bible teaches. A common question that is asked is this:

Where is Christ During the Supper?

The answer to this question has been debated over the centuries, but the Bible is quite clear. Physically, Jesus is in heaven. Spiritually, he is participating with us.

“And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:9-11

Some believe that Jesus is in the elements or that he becomes the elements, but this understanding results from a misreading of the text.

Jesus said, “This is my body…this is my blood,” but he was not speaking literally—for he ate the supper with them—he was speaking metaphorically. How can we know this? By the way that he finishes his statement: “Do this in remembrance of me.” The supper is about remembering and proclaiming the truth of what he did. It’s not literal; it’s symbolic. It's a metaphor.

Therefore, Jesus is not physically present. He is spiritually present, and communion is a participation in Christ, spiritually speaking. We cannot see this with our physical eyes or fully comprehend it. Paul shows that he understands communion this way when he speaks of eating meat offered to idols in a temple in 1 Corinthians 10. He argues that although the idols are false, they are still demonic and participating in a sacrificial meal offered to an idol is participating with demons. It's a spiritual reality. He then compares this spiritual reality to communion. He explains that communion is a participation with Christ. It is not only a remembrance. It is a spiritual reality, just as worshipping demons is a spiritual reality.

“I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” – 1 Corinthians 10:20-21

Where, then, is Christ during the Lord’s supper? Physically, he is in heaven. Spiritually, he is right there with us, participating in this glorious meal of communion.

Who Should Participate in the Lord’s Supper?

The answer is simple. The Lord’s supper is for Christians. It can seem exclusive that we reserve communion for Christians, but the logic makes sense. If the Lord’s supper is a participation with Christ and a remembrance of what he has done for us, it would make sense for the partaker to believe in Jesus and be unified with Christ. The Lord’s supper is called communion because it represents our union with Jesus. Why would someone who does not believe participate?

This raises the question as to whether children of believers should participate. This is for parents to discern with their children. Does the child believe and show genuine faith in Jesus, or are they still learning? My personal opinion (and this is my opinion, not a requirement) is that once a child professes faith, they should be baptized before they take communion. But baptism is not a requirement of communion. Faith is. Nevertheless, each family should think this through themselves and decide. Regardless, it should be thought through and not taken lightly.

What Does It Mean to Examine Your Heart?

Without a proper understanding of the gospel, examining our hearts in communion can become an act of legalism rather than faith.

We may look back on our week and see that we have sinned in various ways, and in a desire to make ourselves worthy, we make deals with God, “I won’t do this again. I’ll read my Bible every day this week, and I’ll pray ten minutes a day, and I’ll be better. Just please forgive my sins.”

Is this a gospel-motivated prayer? No. The supper reminds us that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, not so we could make deals with God, but so that we could be saved by faith alone in him. When we examine our hearts, we are to confess our sins, but the next step is not to make a bargain. It is to trust and believe that Jesus is enough.

When we believe in the forgiveness he has purchased for us, we honor what Christ has done, for we are worthy to take the Supper not by our works but by the works of Jesus Christ alone.

Should I Ever Abstain from the Lord’s Supper?

Paul says very clearly that we should not participate in the supper in an unworthy manner.

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord…For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” – 1 Corinthians 11:27, 29

This warning displays the serious nature of the Lord’s supper, but it should only keep the unrepentant from the table. If a person is not a Christian, then they have not repented of their sins or put their faith in Jesus. It would make no sense for them to commune with Christ, for they do not know him.

On the other hand, if a person is a Christian, the only thing that should keep them from the table is unrepentance, but a Christian should not live in willful unrepentance. When Christians see their sin, they should turn from it, confess, believe the gospel, and participate in the Lord’s supper.

So, should a Christian abstain? Only if they want to walk in unrepentance, which is something I believe a Christian would not want to do.

The Lord's supper sanctifies. It impels change and growth, which is why it is called a means of grace.

Conclusion: What Does the Bible Teach About the Lord's Supper?

The Lord’s supper is an ordinance of the New Testament instituted by Jesus Christ that, unlike baptism, is observed repeatedly throughout our Christian lives as a sign of continuing in fellowship with Christ.

It is a time for Christians to commune spiritually with the Lord and one another, remembering his death and resurrection on their behalf. It is meant to be done with an attitude of repentance and faith, and when practiced in this biblical way, it is a means of grace, causing us to grow more and more into the image of Christ.



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