What It Means to Partake of Our Lord’s Memorial

IN THE institution of the Memorial supper, Jesus prepared a very meaningful way for his followers ever since to have brought forcefully before their minds the meaning and the importance of his sacrifice unto death. Jesus and his twelve apostles had gathered in the upper room to keep the feast of the Passover, which was required of them according to Israel’s Law. It was in harmony with this type, the killing of the Passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the first month, that our Lord was to die as the antitypical Passover Lamb—the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.

As the Jews were commanded to select the lamb of sacrifice on the tenth day of the month, and to receive it into their houses on that date, Jesus appropriately offered himself to them on that date when, five days before the Passover, he rode into the city on an ass. The multitudes cried, “Hosanna to the son of David, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Five days later, on the same night in which he was betrayed, and the same day in which he died as the antitypical Lamb, he celebrated the typical Passover of the Jews, eating with his twelve apostles the lamb which represented himself—his own sacrifice for the sins of the world.

On this occasion, after the Passover observance was finished, Jesus took some of the remaining unleavened bread and some of the wine, and instituted a memorial of his own death as the antitypical Passover Lamb. We read concerning this, “As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the New Testament [Covenant], which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”—Matt. 26:26-28

Our Lord’s evident intention was to fix in the minds of his followers the fact that he is the antitypical Lamb to the antitypical firstborn. The expression, “Do this in remembrance of me,” implies this new institution should take the place of the former one which would become obsolete by reason of fulfillment. As it would not have been lawful or proper or typical to celebrate the Passover at any other time than that appointed by God, likewise it is still not appropriate to celebrate the antitype at any other time than its anniversary. The Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 11:26, “As oft as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show forth the Lord’s death till he come.” This shows us the disciples clearly understood the annual celebration on the fourteenth day of Nisan had a new meaning, the broken loaf representing the Lord’s flesh, and the cup representing his blood. Although this new institution was not given as a law, the Lord knew well all who trusted in him and appreciated his sacrifice would be glad to take up the memorial he suggested; and so it is still.

The broken bread and the wine, the product of the crushed grape, denotes suffering and death. Jesus used the bread to symbolize his flesh, his perfect humanity, broken in death as a ransom for mankind, and wine to represent his poured-out life. Thus in the two-fold symbolism employed in the Memorial Supper we are reminded, not only that a life had been poured out for us and for the world, but that it was a perfect human life. How appropriate it is once each year to be so forcefully reminded of the basis of our reconciliation with God and of our eternal salvation from death.

As we partake of these emblems we are saying to one another and to the Lord that we recognize our need of his sacrifice on our behalf because of the fact that we are by nature members of a fallen and sinful race. Jesus said on another occasion, the only ones to receive life through him would be those who eat his flesh and drink his blood. And it is this that is symbolized by our partaking of the bread and of the cup. John 6:51-54 reads, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. … Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

It was difficult for the disciples, prior to their receiving the Holy Spirit, to understand how they could eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood. Noting this, Jesus said, as recorded in verse sixty-three, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit, and they are life.” In other words, we partake of the flesh and blood of Jesus, symbolically speaking, by our obedience to his teaching and to the teaching of the entire Word of God. This means we do not partake of Christ merely on the evening of the Memorial Supper, but daily throughout the entire course of our earthly pilgrimage. It is through the teachings of the Word that we learn we are sinners and estranged from God. It is through the Word we learn the need for repentance, and acceptance of Jesus and his redemptive work. It is through the Word we hear the invitation to consecrate ourselves to the doing of God’s will. We hear Jesus invite us to deny ourselves take up our cross, and follow him.—Matt. 16:24

It is through the Word we are given all the helpful admonitions to faithfulness in laying down our lives in divine service. Through the Word we are counseled to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, to be submissive to his will, and thus to work out our own salvation while he works in us to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12,13) And as we give heed to all these wonderful things of the Word of God, applying them in our lives to the best of our ability, we are, symbolically speaking, eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of man. Our partaking of the bread and the cup at the Memorial Supper is merely a reminder of the fact that, if we are living up to our privileges, we are feasting on Christ through his Word every day of the year.

It is specifically stated that Jesus broke the bread and personally offered the cup to his disciples on that original Memorial night. How well this signified the willingness of our Lord to offer himself in sacrifice—his body was not broken by others and his life was not taken from him—but, rather, he himself willingly, and lovingly, laid it down during the three-and-one-half years of his ministry. He endured suffering and affliction for the Gospel’s sake, and finally a painful death upon the cross. Jesus said, “On account of this the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may receive it again. No one taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to receive it again. This commandment I received from my Father.”—John 10:17,18, Diaglott

It was the prospect of receiving his life again—receiving into his possession the ransom benefits of his sacrificed human life—that inspired him to lay it down. The receiving of it again implied his resurrection from death to a position of power and privilege which would enable him to bestow the life-giving merit of his ransom price upon, first of all, the church, and then to all the remainder of mankind. Paul tells us this prospect was a joy that was set before him which enabled him to endure the cross and to despise the shame.—Heb. 12:2

In the prophecy of our Lord’s life, recorded in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, it is stated that he was led as a lamb to the slaughter. He opened not his mouth to save himself. He stated to Peter, who tried to save him from death, that he could call upon twelve legions of angels for protection. But, heeding the desire of Jesus, the angels stood aside and allowed him to be cruelly crucified by man. He was despised and rejected by those to whom he was sent. Even though he knew through the prophets that Israel would not receive him, it brought him sadness. He sorrowed at their hardness of heart and wept over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37) He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, feeling so acutely the elements of sin and degradation around him, and sympathizing so keenly with human suffering.

Perhaps it is hard for us to appreciate what a difficult course of life his was. To think for the whole time of his ministry he was aware of the exact time and manner of his death! How his humanity must have rebelled at this, and how his love for righteousness and appreciation of his Heavenly Father must have recoiled at the idea of dying the death of the cross, condemned as a blasphemer of God. Yet, it was Jesus’ choice to endure all this contradiction of sinners against himself for our benefit, and so that a way could be prepared for us to follow in his footsteps.

The Apostle Paul tells us that after having poured out his human life unto death, having broken himself on earth as the living bread, he, being raised to the divine nature, appeared in the presence of God for us. There he offered the merit of his ransom sacrifice for our justification. We, standing upon the foundation of his imputed righteousness, can lay hold upon the words and the deeds of his life as a guide for our discipleship.

In the three-and-a-half years of his ministry, Jesus taught by precept and example the pattern of life required of all who would be his followers. He taught by personal example what was meant when he stated if any man would be his disciple he must take up his cross, and follow him. In the cross was represented the sacrificial death Jesus had consecrated his all to carry out. This involved divesting himself of all personal interests in this world, and devoting his time and strength to serving the kingdom of heaven. This brought suffering upon him from the many who opposed him. His devotion to God was constantly tested by demands upon his physical strength in serving the people.

The Apostle Paul wrote that we have a partnership in his ministry when he said God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. He also stated that the Lord hath given unto us the Word of reconciliation. (II Cor. 5:18-20) Paul further explains that this makes us the ambassadors of Christ—we represent Christ in the world, even now, and through us the Word of reconciliation reaches those who have a hearing ear. But the god of this world has blinded the minds of nearly all mankind, and because of this, Christ’s ambassadors are often repudiated and persecuted. This leads to our suffering with Christ, and thereby gives us the opportunity of proving our worthiness to live and to reign with him.

This future hope of sharing in his resurrection glory, if faithful in sharing in his suffering and death, was referred to by Jesus when he said the wine represented his blood of the New Testament, or New Covenant. Centuries before Jesus came to die for the sins of the world, God made a wonderful promise concerning a New Covenant he would bring to pass: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which covenant they brake. … But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, … I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”—Jer. 31:31,32

While this promise states the New Covenant will first be made with restored Israel, other prophecies indicate that in time it will extend to all the world of mankind. There was shedding of blood associated with the establishment of the old covenant. This blood pointed forward to the sacrificial work of Jesus, typifying the fact he would shed his blood in order that a New Covenant might be established with the world. For this reason Jesus referred to the cup as representing his blood of the New Testament, or New Covenant. This New Covenant was not made at the time of our Lord’s first advent; but what did begin was the work of the selection and training of those whom Paul refers to as “able ministers of the New Testament,” or New Covenant. These are the true footstep followers of the Master who are being prepared to be co-administrators with Jesus in the future establishment of the New Covenant under which the entire world of mankind will be blessed.

Paul wrote, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who hath made us able ministers of the New Testament [Covenant].” (II Cor. 3:5,6) No member of the sinful and dying race could qualify for such a high position, but, as Paul explains, our sufficiency is of God. He has made a provision, through the blood of his Son, which qualifies us to share in the fulfillment of his promise to bring all mankind into covenant relationship with him during Christ’s thousand-year kingdom. The blood of Christ is used during this present age to cover the imperfections of those who are being prepared to be associated with him in making the New Covenant. Thus it is properly referred to as the blood of that covenant. It will be this same blood, or merit, of Jesus’ sacrificed life which will seal that covenant when it is made with the world of mankind.

When we partake of the Memorial emblems, we are not only reminded of the riches of God’s grace to us, but also are expressing our faith and our confidence in God’s purpose to extend the blessings of life through Christ to all mankind during the Millennial Age.

Drinking blood was forbidden by the Jewish Law. God said in the blood was represented life. The blood of the animals sacrificed under the Law arrangement so often symbolized, or pointed forward to, the precious blood of Jesus, our Redeemer. Because of this it must have seemed strange to the disciples when Jesus said to them unless they drank his blood they could have no life in them. Now Jesus wanted his disciples to know they must drink his blood if they were to have life. When we drink Jesus’ blood we do have life—his life. Paul wrote, “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.”—Gal. 2:20

When we present our bodies a living sacrifice, our offering is acceptable because we partake of the life provided by Jesus’ shed blood. We see, then, that as we partake of the symbols of Jesus’ sacrifice, we appropriate to ourselves, by faith, the merit of that sacrifice. But we do more than this—we consecrate our lives to share in that sacrifice. In his letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul said, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”—I Cor. 10:16,17

The Greek word which is here translated communion, has the meaning of ‘partnership’, or ‘sharing’. We, then, partake of the justifying merit of Christ’s sacrifice in order that we, in turn, may also lay down our justified lives in sacrifice, “filling up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ.” (Col. 1:24) The Revelator wrote, “These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.”—Rev. 14:4

We, too, as part of Christ’s body, are required to be broken, to be sacrificed, to share in his sufferings. This we agreed to do when we consecrated ourselves to the Lord. The eating of the symbolic bread and the drinking of the symbolic wine is a confirmation of our vow of consecration to share with Jesus in laying down our lives, following closely the example he set for us in his life. How well this was expressed in his words to us, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.”—Matt. 5:44,45

So it, is when we drink of the cup, it is with deep appreciation of the gracious privilege extended to us of being crucified with Christ—for the prospect of sharing in the hope of his resurrection! And our appreciation of this glorious privilege can best be expressed to the Lord by a renewal of our determination to fulfill our vows of consecration. Let nothing stand in the way of our being faithful unto death!

Dawn Bible Students Association
|  Home Page  |  Table of Contents  |