The way communion is done at your church will depend on your denomination and theological background. Because of that, you will probably need to adapt this article to the way ministry is done at your church.
Start With a Devotional Thought About Communion
Communion is a powerful, spiritual moment in your church service. It is appropriate to begin this time with an explanation of communion and its meaning for us. It is often helpful to remind people that communion comes from Jesus and read the following verses:
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.
After this, you can explain the symbolism of the bread and wine (or wafers and juice), which represent the body and blood of Christ.
You probably don’t want to say the same thing every time you lead communion. Another devotional thought that may be compelling for your people is to talk about the three things we do during communion.
- We are looking back at the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
- We are celebrating our salvation through Jesus as a church family, and our unity as believers.
- We are looking forward to the return of Jesus.
You will find all three of these truths in the 1 Corinthians 11 passage.
Explain Who Communion Is for
Guests at your church will have questions about who is supposed to take communion. Make sure you address what a person who is not yet a Christian is supposed to do. You can say something like this:
Communion is for anyone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter if this is your first time at church or you’re a regular attender. If you have put your faith in Christ then please join us in communion.
If you are not yet a Christian, I want to encourage you take this time, stay at your seat, and reflect on the truths we have talked about today.
Explain How Communion Is Done at Your Church
It’s always helpful to explain exactly what people are going to do, when they are going to do it, and how they are going to do it. At church, you may say something like this:
We will have several tables at the front of the stage. After the music starts playing, whenever you are ready, please come forward. Take a wafer, dip it into the cup, eat it, and then you can return to your seat. If you are unable to come up for communion please let one of our ushers know and they can bring it to your seat.
Pray and Leave Some Time for Reflection
Close your communion explanation/devotional with prayer. Leave some time for silence and reflection. Be sure to clearly let people know when it is time for communion to begin.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.
This is a guest post by Lenora Rand.
Last year at the Wild Goose Festival, the band, The Liturgists, hosted a worship experience one night, which culminated in communion. I was among several people invited to help serve. As each person came forward and stood in front of me, I tore off a small piece of bread, dipped it into a cup of wine, and offered it, along with the words many people say as a part of this church sacrament, “The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.”
Every time I’ve gotten the chance to serve communion in this way, I’ve been bowled over by it. I always get the feeling, as I look into the eyes of the person standing a foot away from me, speak to them and offer bread and wine, that I am participating in something way beyond words and actions, something amazingly intimate and absurdly holy.
The Wild Goose Festival draws a diverse crowd but a large number of them come from traditions in which communion is served by ushers passing around big silver trays filled with shot-size glasses of grape juice and broken up cracker-like objects. To receive the Lord’s Supper you, in the quiet of your pew, chew up a piece of cracker and wash it down with a hit of juice. This is a solitary moment of reflection. Usually, the only words spoken come from the minister far away at the front of the sanctuary.
So when people came forward that night at Wild Goose, for a lot of them, taking communion in this more personal way, was a first. I could see it in their eyes, looks of surprise and gratitude, as well as confusion, sometimes sadness, and even, wonder.
I was overwhelmed in that moment with how much I wanted to help feed hope and pour love into the souls standing before me.
I was also suddenly so uncomfortable with the words I have always known to say during communion. As they were coming out of my mouth, my head was swirling with questions about whether these particular words adequately reflected my beliefs anymore.
The body of Christ, broken for you.
The blood of Christ, shed for you.
That night, I’ll admit, I even tried to improvise a little, tried out some other words I thought I could say with more confidence, but to be honest, it wasn’t always pretty. It may have been theologically and poetically cringe-worthy, at times, kinda like George Lucas crossed with Dr. Seuss. So, I often ended up just reverting back to the comfort and ease of the words I’ve heard all my life.
I started thinking about it afterwards though. Wondering, what do I really believe about atonement? And about this sacrament? What else could I say with conviction during communion?
So I began doing some research into what other churches and faith communities are thinking about and saying during the Eucharist. And in the process, I ran across a whole lot of people who feel very strongly on the subject (including a number who are, by the way, very much against the “intinction” method of delivering the elements — the way we did it that night at Wild Goose, and how we always do it at my progressive evangelical church in Chicago — since they feel it’s biblically incorrect).
I also decided to read Tony Jones’s book, Did God Kill Jesus? to help me think through some of my questions about atonement. In the book Tony looks at the various ways Christ’s death on the cross has been viewed throughout the history of the church and asks 6 key questions about each one.
What does the model say about God?
- What does it say about Jesus?
- What does it say about the relationship between God and Jesus?
- How does it make sense of violence?
- What does it mean for us spiritually?
Where’s the love?
Now, I’m not a pastor or seminary graduate or person who generally has a whole lot of patience with theological discussions. (And between you and me, I almost giggle a little every time someone says Penal Substitutionary Atonement…you know what I’m talking about.)
However, I am a person who finds myself in a church pew most Sunday mornings, full of questions and doubts and hope and longing…someone who has, for a good portion of my life, been trying to figure out what following Jesus might actually look like, in the midst of an overly demanding corporate job, bills to pay, kids to raise, boatloads of laundry to do. And I found Tony’s book incredibly readable and clarifying. It even occurred to me that his 6 questions might not only be a helpful lens for what Christ’s death on the cross could mean, but also an interesting way of examining a lot of things we Christian-y types believe and do…including how we do communion.
After finishing the book, I ended up writing down some things I felt like I could say with conviction when offering the bread and wine, some things, I realized, I’d also like to hear when communion is being served to me.
Christ is here, in your brokenness
Christ is here, bringing you to life
Christ broken, with us in our brokenness
Christ’s life, flowing through our lives
The bread of life.
The cup of love.
But, that’s just me, I realized.
Communion is, by its very nature, communal.
So, I began to casually bring up this question in conversations with some folks in my church, including more than a couple, who, I discovered, like me, struggle with the words being said, and find the experience often feels exclusionary, full of hot buttons about who’s in and who’s out.
But who are hungry for it. Desperately hungry to feel God’s presence, dying for a gulp of God’s amazing grace.
After hearing that, and with my own questions, I recently took another step. I asked my pastor if we could gather a small group of people in our church, a mix of seminary professors and “regular people” — men and women, old and young, from different races, different occupations and religious backgrounds (in short, a cross section of our church) to look at all the words we say during communion, through the lens of the Bible and church history and also personal histories and experiences. My hope is that we could, together, make sure what we’re saying is what we really believe, and what can truly fill us.
She thought it sounded like a good idea too, and it’s something we’ve decided to try to do during Lent. I’m very appreciative that she’s willing to help convene a conversation about this. Willing to wrestle with it herself within our community.
Sure it’s just a few words… but every time I remember those faces from the Wild Goose communion last summer, those eyes looking up at me as I served them bread and wine, hungry for hope, thirsty for blessing, I know that these are words that matter. Maybe more than we know.
When she’s not working at her very full time job, Lenora blogs about her quest to be more godly when you’re not very good at it at Spiritual Suckitude and helps direct The Plural Guild, a collective creating music, prayers, visual art & liturgy for people of faith and doubt, who are trying to follow the Jesus who so loves the world. She also writes lyrics for the band The Many.
Many refer to the special observance of Jesus’s Last Supper with His disciples as “Holy Communion,” though biblically, it has been called “The Last Supper” because it is the last evening meal Jesus shares with His disciples before He is crucified, buried, and resurrected. Baptist churches consider this to be one of the two ordinances of the Baptist denomination as a whole (the other is baptism). Holy Communion, like Baptism, was established by Jesus. Free Will Baptist churches are prone to argue that Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet, and the mention of the practice with regard to church enlisted widows over the age of 60 in 1 Timothy 5, is another institution that believers should observe.
In examining Holy Communion, we learn why it is called “Holy” and how modern-day believers should respect this ordinance that Christ has established. And we also learn what happens when we disrespect and dishonor it as well (there is a divine punishment for those who do).
To look at what the Bible says about Holy Communion or The Last Supper, we’ll look at the events that led up to the Last Supper, what happens at the Last Supper, and so on.
Leading up to The Last Supper: Background
The Last Supper marked a sad event for Jesus, as He was soon to be crucified and hung on the Cross. At this point, Jesus realizes that His time is drawing near. He had been teaching and preaching and inaugurating the gospel on earth by healing the sick, raising the dead, opening the eyes of the blind, helping the lame to leap, the dumb to speak, and even casting out demons. Jesus had a successful ministry, so much so that whenever the crowds heard that Jesus was nearby, they would come from miles and miles around to hear Jesus teach, preach, and heal.
Despite all of Jesus’s success in ministry, and His consistent message, the Pharisees did everything they could to conspire against Jesus and trap Him in His words. When Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, to follow Him, then went to Matthew’s home and sat with other tax collectors, the Pharisees wanted to stir up trouble by asking Jesus’ disciples about His actions:
As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.
Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:9-13, NKJV)
Jesus sat with the tax collectors, but the Pharisees (the name “Pharisees” means “separated ones”) inquired as to why Jesus would even do it — as though Jesus shouldn’t have entertained the tax collectors at all. Jesus responded with the words “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” a reference to the Torah (our Old Testament Scriptures) that says, in effect, that having mercy on those who are in need of it (those who’ve sinned, which includes us all, even the Pharisees) is greater than offering animal sacrifices for sin. Sacrifices do not take the place of the sacrifice of the heart, but can add to it if one’s heart is right before God and aware of his or her sinfulness and God’s righteousness. The Pharisees were not, so they believed that “godly” persons shouldn’t associate with ungodly ones. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 that “bad company corrupts good morals,” but Jesus’ mission involved everyone. If He didn’t come for tax collectors, who did He come for? And if He came for tax collectors, how could He win them if He didn’t visit them? Had Jesus come for the tax collectors but never encountered them in daily life, how could He have ever won them over? It is this same Christ that tells us to go into the hedges and highways and compel dying men and women to come into His house (Luke 14:23). We have to go seek and bring the lost to the house of God, not expect them to come on their own.
Several verses later in Matthew 9, Jesus heals a mute, demon-possessed man, and the Pharisees accuse Him of healing by way of the ruler of the demons, what they call “Beel-Zebub”:
As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a man, mute and demon-possessed. And when the demon was cast out, the mute spoke. And the multitudes marveled, saying, “It was never seen like this in Israel!”
34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons.” (Matthew 9:32-34)
The Pharisee claim, of course, makes no sense, but this isn’t the only place where the Pharisees will say this. They also say it to Jesus in Matthew 12 when He heals another demon-possessed man who was both blind and mute:
Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”
24 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”
But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. (Matthew 12:22-30)
The Pharisee logic made zero sense. To be frank, if Jesus cast out the demons by the head of the demons, wouldn’t that be working against the demon agenda and thus, conquering and ultimately destroying the demonic kingdom? Why would the demons work against their agenda and purposes? Standing unified is how anything gets accomplished, so if one demon is working against all other demons, then the demonic kingdom is self-destructing. This was what Jesus was saying to the Pharisees when He adds the statement about putting the master of the house as a hostage and removing him as a threat to a home invasion.
Thus, if the ruler of the demons was bound, then the entire demonic kingdom was bound. If Jesus used the Spirit of God to cast out demons and defeat the ruler of the demons, then the entire demonic kingdom would be ruined as a result. But Jesus said that He wasn’t using the ruler of demons to expel the demons, but that the Kingdom of God was among them.
Earlier in Matthew 12, the Pharisees criticize Jesus and the disciples because the disciples pluck grain on the sabbath from the grain fields:
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”
But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:1-8)
Jesus has to explain to the Pharisees that the disciples were plucking grain because they, like all other humans, needed sustenance. Jesus’ examples that He gives, of David eating the shewbread, reserved for the priests only, and the fact that the priests “profane the Sabbath, and are blameless” (Matthew 12:5) because they are mandated to work for the sake of the people and the cause of God. In the same way, the disciples can pluck the grain because “the sabbath was made for man” and man is superior to the Sabbath. The Sabbath is subservient to him; man was not created for just the Sabbath, or for just one day, such that he must observe it to the detriment of his well-being. The Sabbath is a gift of God given to man so that he can rest, recover, recoup, and see that his physical needs are met (which includes food and drink, rest, and relaxation). The Lord tells the Pharisees not to “condemn the guiltless,” which tells us all where He stands on the matter (the disciples are innocent). Again, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” is a phrase the Pharisees knew little about.
In Matthew 19, the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce and whether or not divorce could happen “for any reason”:
Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.
3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:1-9)
The Pharisees seek to trap Jesus up regarding the divorce question, asking Him about Moses giving the writ of divorce to say argue against Jesus’ claim that divorce was not intended by God from the beginning. In other words, “if Moses gave a writ of divorce, and he got the Law from God, then God approved of divorce.” This was the Pharisaical thought, but Jesus tells the Pharisees that God did not ordain divorce from the beginning and that a man cannot divorce his wife for any reason except divorce — and only that. If a man divorces his wife for any other reason outside of adultery, he commits adultery.
Again, Jesus is there to interpret the Law, since the Pharisees add their own interpretation and obligations to the Law to bind men even further.
In Matthew 22, the Pharisees attempt to catch Jesus in a trap regarding the issue of paying taxes:
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the tax money.”
So they brought Him a denarius.
And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”
They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”
And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”22 When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way. (Matthew 22:15-22)
The Pharisees were wicked, and Jesus tells them that, not paying attention to their words designed to pretend they were asking an honest question and wanted an honest answer. As usual, they only wanted to trip Jesus up and catch Him in something they could use against Him. Jesus tells them that yes, they should pay taxes, that being a citizen of the kingdom of God did not exempt them from their citizenship duties on earth. And they walked away because they didn’t know how to give a good comeback. That’s how the reader knows Jesus: as the One who could always answer and reason in such a way as to dumbfound the Pharisees. Noticed in Matthew 12:14 that they started plotting as to how they could get Jesus, so all their questions are designed to catch Jesus in some false teaching that they could use against Him, and here in Matthew 22:15, they’re doing the same, have the same agenda. So the question about taxes and Caesar is designed to trap Jesus so that He can be accused of treason. In Mark 3:6, we’re told that the Pharisees plotted with the Herodians. Luke 13:31-32 confirms as much. The question of Caesar and taxes is recorded by Luke in Luke 20:20-26, where it says that “So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor” (Luke 20:20). Every question the Pharisees ask Jesus is designed to catch Him in something they can use against Him in the political scene.
There was a man with a withered hand, and Jesus encounters him on the Sabbath. Now the Pharisees were there (somehow, they were always around) and wanted to see what Jesus would do, if He would profane the Sabbath:
Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7 So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him. 8 But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, “Arise and stand here.” And he arose and stood. Then Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?” And when He had looked around at them all, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. But they were filled with rage, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. (Luke 6:6-11)
The purpose of the Pharisees standing around with the scribes was to catch Jesus in something heretical, treasonist, or criminal (Luke 6:7). And yet, Jesus asks a question of whether or not it is acceptable or commendable to God to do good on the Sabbath — even if it means doing what the Pharisees would call “work.” And yet, Jesus healed the man with the withered hand to show that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, whether or not it is deemed work or the exertion of physical energy. There’s never a limit to doing good for others, and there’s no limit to the number of days within any given week to do good for others, either. In other words, you can do good on Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath) and even Sunday (Christian Sabbath) — even if it involves not being in a church building. Helping someone across the street, buying them a bag of groceries, or simply sitting with them after the loss of a relative or friend is to be the hands and feet of Christ on earth. The Lord will not forget your labor of love for Him.
Jesus, though disagreeing with the Pharisees, was invited by some to dine with them — and He went. We read in Luke 15 that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, a decision that turned some Pharisees against Him. And yet, Jesus made it clear that to eat with tax collectors and sinners was part of His mission:
Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He spoke this parable to them, saying:
4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7)
This is the backdrop for the Parable of the Prodigal Son who wastes all his father’s inheritance and then remembers while out in the “pig slop” that his father had everything. Yet, when he returns home after making a mess of things and his father receives him and kills a fat calf, puts a ring on his finger, and gives him a luxurious robe, the prodigal son’s brother turns mean because he feels as if the prodigal son is treated too nicely while he has always been there with his father (having never left). Jesus tells this parable in the face of Pharisees because He was saying in so many words that “the Pharisees are like the begrudging brother: angry that He would receive back the prodigal sons of the tax collectors and sinners instead of rejoicing that they are coming back to the Father whom they left.”
Throughout all that is happening between Jesus and the Pharisees, there is the Pharisee plot to trap Jesus. And in the midst of it all, the Pharisees find a willing participant to help trap Jesus: Judas, one of Jesus’ own disciples. We read in John’s Gospel that Judas often opposed any money being spent at all because he was a thief who often stole money from the treasury for himself:
But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. (John 12:4-6)
“He used to take what was put in it,” the text says, meaning that he always stole from the money bag. It’s interesting, but Judas was always watching over the money bag; he was in charge of it, according to John 13:29 :
For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, “Buy those things we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. (John 13:29)
Here in John 13, we see that the disciples didn’t realize Judas was the one who’d betray Jesus because he held the money box. They assumed that Jesus was telling Judas to buy something with the money. He was unsuspecting because Judas was likely a quiet character within the gathering, didn’t say much, held the money box, and appeared to be a part of the group. I imagine Peter, James, and John (Jesus’ inner circle) were more outspoken than Judas. Granted, Judas did have his times to speak (when money was being taken from the box and away from his grubby paws) but outside of that, we get the sense that Judas said and did very little. He was never really an outspoken voice. Tragically, it’s been said that one must always watch out for the quiet ones.
In the world we live in today, there are a number of church treasurers who aren’t so godly with church money. Judas wasn’t the first thief, and he isn’t the last. And yet, he always loved money. He was greedy for money, would do anything for money, which made him the ideal disciple to plot to betray Jesus for money.
In Matthew 26, we read that it is after Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair, that Judas goes and gives himself over to betraying Jesus:
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him. (Matthew 26:14-16)
Judas asks “What are you willing to give me,” a question that shows that he was only in it for himself. The chief priests and scribes gave Judas 30 pieces of silver in order to betray Jesus. Judas takes the money and plots for a ripe time to hand Him over to them. The money, the object of his greed, drives him to do something. His response is what we’d expect of someone who doesn’t have his greed under control. A drug addict, I’ve been told, will rob his or her family in order to get more drugs. The same can be said for Judas, a greedy man who lived for money: he would hand over his Lord for money, as if money were more important than Jesus (it isn’t).
Mark 14 tells us that when Judas goes to betray Jesus or commit to it, rather, the chief priests and scribes “were glad, and promised to give him money.” Incidentally, Luke 16:14 tells us that the Pharisees themselves were lovers of money and criticized Jesus after He told the Parable of the unjust steward — so they’d have no problems giving money to Judas. Judas and the Pharisees were “birds of a feather,” to use a common statement with which many would be familiar today.
What some may not know is that, while Judas goes to the Pharisees to volunteer himself, the Pharisees had put out a public notice for anyone to report Jesus if they saw Him:
Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”
And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.
53 Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death. 54 Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples.
And the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went from the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves. Then they sought Jesus, and spoke among themselves as they stood in the temple, “What do you think—that He will not come to the feast?” 57 Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a command, that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him. (John 11:45-57)
The events of John 11:45-57 above in their proper context refer to what happens after Jesus raised Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, His friends, from the dead. Jesus tells Lazarus to come out the grave and he does. From what we know, some Jews believe as a result of the resurrection of Lazarus, but others escape to tell the Pharisees. Yep, the Pharisees had their “hooks” into the population such that, everywhere the people went, the Pharisees had “eyes” and “ears.” John 11:53 says that the Jews plotted to put Jesus to death, and in John 11:57 as the Jewish Passover was nearing, we read that the Pharisees had given the command “that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him.” They were waiting to trap Jesus, and Judas just happened to willingly offer himself up —though the Pharisees had reinforcements in place in the event that Judas couldn’t find him or “chickened” out and failed to follow through.
This deal takes place, and Judas becomes the betrayer. The disciples do not know it, but Jesus chooses to reveal His crucifixion and betrayal at what we now call “the Last Supper.”
Now on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?”
And He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.”’”
So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.
When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve. Now as they were eating, He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.”
And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, “Lord, is it I?”
He answered and said, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. 24 The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”
Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, “Rabbi, is it I?”
He said to him, “You have said it.”
26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission 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.”
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:17-30)
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, His disciples said to Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare, that You may eat the Passover?”
And He sent out two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him. Wherever he goes in, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ Then he will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared; there make ready for us.”
So His disciples went out, and came into the city, and found it just as He had said to them; and they prepared the Passover.
In the evening He came with the twelve. Now as they sat and ate, Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me.”
And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, “Is it I?” And another said, “Is it I?”
He answered and said to them, “It is one of the twelve, who dips with Me in the dish. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had never been born.”
22 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
23 Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. 25 Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:12-26)
When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. 15 Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
17 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.21 But behold, the hand of My betrayer is with Me on the table. And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”
Then they began to question among themselves, which of them it was who would do this thing. (Luke 22:14-23)
Here in Matthew 26, we see that Jesus and the disciples gather to eat and celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It is at this dinner in the evening that Jesus reveals His betrayer, who will hand Him over. Jesus issues a warning to Judas, the betrayer, telling him “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed” (Matthew 26:24). And yet, it’s at the Last Supper that we see the purpose behind the Supper: to commemorate Jesus’ Crucifixion. In Matthew 26:26-28, Jesus lifts the bread before His disciples to represent His body, and the wine as the blood. In verse 28, Jesus says that the wine represents His blood “which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” The bread was “broken” to show that Jesus’ body was broken for us.
“I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’ Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”
When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke.
Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke.
Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, “Lord, who is it?”
Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.” And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. 27 Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” 28 But no one at the table knew for what reason He said this to him. For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, “Buy those things we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor.
Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night. (John 13:18-30)
Jesus says that the one who is to betray Him has been prophesied in Scripture (in Psalms, if you want to know the book). Jesus said that the one dipping his hand into the bowl with Jesus is the one who would betray Him. Judas was the one who shared a morsel of bread with Jesus, pointing to his role as the betrayer. It is also at this account of the Lord’s Supper that we see Satan enter into Judas Iscariot, which tells us that this act of betrayal had spiritual consequences: Judas betrays Jesus because he’s given himself over to Satan, not because he made an honest mistake. In the end, Judas does feel guilty because he betrayed an innocent man, but he willingly betrayed Jesus because of the thirty pieces of silver involved. When he betrayed Jesus, he didn’t think about anything but the money — the guilt or innocence of Jesus wasn’t a top priority.
The Last Supper is about Jesus sharing a last meal with His disciples before He is betrayed, arrested, tried, condemned, crucified, and brought back from the dead to life. And yet, the bread and wine represent His body and His blood, broken and shed for us.
Paul mentions the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion in his letter to the Corinthians in two places, 1 Corinthians 10 and 1 Corinthians 11:
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. 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? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He? (1 Corinthians 10:14-22)
First, Paul says that we are “one bread and one body,” referring to our union with Christ. Paul also uses the people of God as bread analogy when he refers to the sin in the Corinthian church of the man sleeping with his stepmother that the church tolerated:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:1-8)
The word “leaven” refers to sin here, and Paul tells the Corinthians to get rid of the sin so that they can be a “new lump,” “unleavened” as unleavened bread, without sin or corruption. The “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” shows his aim with these words: to help the Corinthians move forward in godliness by putting away the sin from among them and taking action to deal with it in a godly manner. Their toleration of the man sleeping with his stepmother was not good, was not a sign to the world that they were standing for God. Paul said earlier in 1 Corinthians 5 that not even the Gentiles tolerated such a thing (a statement designed to make these “Gentile” believers feel terrible because their ungodly counterparts wouldn’t live with the same incestual relationship they tolerated).
Paul’s words here involve the “bread” and the “cup,” both of which are present in the Holy Communion of the Lord’s Supper. Paul argues that he wants the Corinthian believers to flee idolatry because they belong to the Lord. “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” Paul says (1 Corinthians 10:21-22a), reminding us that Holy Communion is no mere ritual: it is an act of union, an act that says we belong to the Lord, an observance of His disciples. Paul says here that to partake of Holy Communion and then join oneself to a table of food and drink sacrificed to idols is to provoke the Lord to jealousy because it is to join oneself to other gods. And the Lord has told His people to not have any other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3). Holy Communion involves the body and blood of our Lord, that is, the memory of His death and the shedding of His blood for our sins. To eat from the food of idols, despite our communion with Christ, is to become unfaithful to Christ and to “pledge our allegiance to another.” It is apostasy, a defection from the gospel, a defection from Christ, a turning away from the one true faith and a turning aside to lies. It is to become a spiritual “Benedict Arnold” to eat from the table of idols where food is sacrificed to idols.
Paul discusses more about the Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion in the following chapter:
Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come. (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)
Paul has heard that there are divisions among the Corinthian congregation, and he believes it. Why? In part because of their division over a sacred ordinance, the Lord’s Supper. “For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” These words alone tell us that instead of eating the Lord’s Supper together, instead of observing the Lord’s Supper together as a body of believers, each one partakes of the Supper by himself. Others get drunk from drinking too much wine, while others are starved because they wouldn’t arrive until after all the food had been consumed. From traditional views of this passage, it appears as though the wealthier Corinthians who didn’t have to work were eating themselves “stuffed” at the church, while others who came afterward, the poor and working-class folk, would find the Lord’s Supper finished, completely gone, with no food for themselves.
In 1 Corinthians 11:22, Paul asks: “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” This question is asked to shame the Corinthians. If they have houses to eat and drink in, which they do, then what need do they have to devour the Lord’s Supper and leave others hungry? They were treating the Lord’s Supper, “Holy Communion,” as an “unholy” thing, acting as if it were nothing more than a meal they made at home, as another meal worth eating (and only devouring). It was meant to be a sacred supper shared between believers of the Body of Christ, but it was being treated as nothing more than a common dinner.
In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 above, Paul delivers the same doctrine, the same teaching, to the Corinthians that he received from the Lord. Here’s where Paul takes us back to that very night on which Judas betrayed Jesus for money and Jesus was handed over to be crucified. The Lord told the disciples to eat the bread, which represented His body. And they were to do it “in remembrance of Me,” Jesus said. The same goes for the wine: when they drank the wine of the cup, they were remembering the shedding of His blood for the remission of sins. Without the shedding of blood, sins cannot be forgiven and erased, and Jesus’ shed blood, better than the blood of bulls, lambs, rams, and goats, is how salvation is made possible for humanity.
Drinking the cup and breaking the bread to eat it, are all done to “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:26. Since Holy Communion is “holy” for a reason, then one must keep in mind the purpose for the meal and treat the meal as sacred as it is. Since the meal is about the Lord and His sacrifice, perhaps Paul was telling the Corinthians that they should make a sacrifice and exercise some self-control over their biological appetites when they come together to observe this most sacred ordinance. Those who were getting drunk, for example, lacked self-control because the wine (it must’ve been real wine used, otherwise they could not have been drunk) was to be used to represent the death and suffering of Jesus. The wine was not meant to be used as though some were drinking it for their own personal orgies. Orgies were also treated as terrible within Scripture:
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders,drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:3-5)
Scripture is against drunkenness, and orgies (drinking parties). You would’ve thought that the people of God would never have considered getting drunk, but drunkenness was something the world impressed upon some of the Corinthians; coming to Christ didn’t eliminate it right away, and we see drunkenness rear its ugly head here. Some didn’t know how to limit the amount of wine they consumed (lacking self-control), and this explains why they drank too much and others ate everything in sight.
Since the meal is about the Lord who sacrificed His life, believers who follow Him and remember His suffering should also suffer and deny their appetite so that their fellow brothers and sisters in the faith can also eat and partake of the Lord’s Supper. There’s enough food for everyone, and everyone who believes should be allowed to partake of some portion of the Lord’s Supper without starving due to the selfishness of others. What Paul wanted them to do was think about Jesus and His sacrifice, what the meal represented, and then act accordingly.
Notice Paul says in verse 26 that “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup.” The words “as often” imply that there’s no set number of times in a month or year that you partake of the Lord’s Supper; there are no set number of times in which the church has to offer Holy Communion on an annual basis. The church can celebrate it 5 times a year, 12 times a year (once each month), 3-4 times a year (once each quarter or third of the year), and so on. There is no prescribed number of times, as if to say that, should a church not comply with a number of times it is outside the Word of God. So, in other words, what matters is how you partake of the Lord’s Supper, not the external requirement of a set number of times to do it. This means that, should your heart and mind be right before God when you partake of it, the act itself pleases God. One can partake of Holy Communion 12 times a year, have the wrong spirit when doing so, and still displease God — so offering Holy Communion more or less than someone else isn’t a mark of true spirituality or godliness.
27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32)
Paul mentions “whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner,” referring to those who get drunk, eat all the food and deprive others of any, and so on. In the context, those getting drunk are not partaking of the Lord’s Supper as they ought. No one at the Lord’s Supper that night with Jesus got drunk; drunkenness was never to be a part of it. Those eating the food up from others were also being gluttons at the Lord’s table. Being a glutton is also unbiblical:
“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. 20 And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
Hear, my son, and be wise;
And guide your heart in the way.
20 Do not mix with winebibbers,
Or with gluttonous eaters of meat;
21 For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags. (Proverbs 23:19-21)
Proverbs 23 tells us that both the drunkard and glutton “will come to poverty,” meaning that nothing good comes of being a drunkard and glutton (eating everything, overeating).
“He who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner,” someone who doesn’t treat the Lord’s Supper as it should be treated (sacred) is someone who will be “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (v.27). That person will be treated as if he or she put the Lord to death, is what Paul is saying. Whether or not Paul is using exaggeration here (which I doubt), or a serious warning, there’s no playing around with the Lord’s Supper. Those who misuse and abuse Holy Communion will bear physical consequences as punishment: “For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep” (1 Corinthians 11:30). There are many that had become weak in body and experienced a general loss of strength, while others had become sick in need of medical treatment. Some had died (“sleep” in Scripture is often used to refer to the sleep of death), showing that the Lord punished those who took Holy Communion in vain. Taking Holy Communion in vain is akin to taking God’s name in vain — which brings with it terrible consequences.
Remember what happened to Uzzah, one of Abinadab’s sons who bore the Ark of God on a new cart to bring it up from Baale Judah, the house of Abinadab, to Obed-Edom? The oxen stumbled and Uzzah put his hand out to the Ark to steady it. The text says that the Lord struck him and he died as a result:
Again David gathered all the choice men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, whose name is called by the Name, the Lord of Hosts, who dwells between the cherubim. So they set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart. 4 And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill, accompanying the ark of God; and Ahio went before the ark. 5 Then David and all the house of Israel played music before the Lord on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals.
6 And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God. 8 And David became angry because of the Lord’s outbreak against Uzzah; and he called the name of the place Perez Uzzah to this day.
David was afraid of the Lord that day; and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” So David would not move the ark of the Lord with him into the City of David; but David took it aside into the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite three months. And the Lord blessed Obed-Edom and all his household. (2 Samuel 6:1-11)
Uzzah was struck because no one was to touch the Ark of the Covenant, but instead, to bear it on a new cart and bring it to the place the Lord intended. Uzzah was killed because he disobeyed the commandment of the Lord (regardless of the reason, to disobey is to disobey). David was afraid to even bring the Ark of the Covenant to his home, but he changed course after seeing how it had blessed the home of Obed-Edom for some months.
The Lord’s Supper is to be sacred and holy and is to be observed as such, and those consuming the food for themselves, eating alone, and then stealing food from others were not doing what was right. And some had died, become sick, and weak because of their disobedience. The Corinthians were thinking of the Lord’s Supper as just any meal, but it wasn’t — disobeying it brought unforeseen consequences. Paul warns them of some of them here so that other Corinthians would see and fear and not misuse and abuse Holy Communion for their own purposes.
Paul tells them these terrible consequences to deter them, those who remained alive, from doing the same. “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged,” a statement in 1 Corinthians 11:31 that tells us that if we were more careful and thought through such things before we did them, the Lord would not have to punish us. In other words, “think before you act” would’ve been a saying Paul would’ve heartily adopted. “But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord” is a statement that says the Lord judges us so that we are not “condemned with the world,” we are not sentenced to Hell eternal as the rest of the world will be. God chastises those He loves, Paul writes in Hebrews 12:3-11, and those that aren’t chastised by God are not “sons” but are “illegitimates” who will not receive the inheritance of eternal life:
For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:3-11)
God is our father, and, as every good father does, He chastises His children. In Hebrews 12:9, Paul says that we are to submit to the chastening of the Lord, the “Father of spirits” so that we can live and experience eternal life. Those who do not submit, who choose to be rebellious, choose to suffer with the world. And the Lord’s chastening is designed to prevent us from eternal damnation and an eternity outside of the “gates to the city.”
In 1 Corinthians 11:33, Paul says “Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.” Remember, some of those gathering were eating up the food from others, with some being hungry at the Lord’s Supper because the food was being gobbled up like Thanksgiving dinner before others could arrive (see verse 21: “each one takes his own supper ahead of others”). Paul says “wait for one another,” showing that the Lord’s Supper is designed to be distributed among all who believe, not some of them.
Those who have been getting there ahead of everyone else were now told that there was no need to race to the Lord’s Supper because the meal would be for everyone, not just the early risers. “The early bird catches the worm” mindset wouldn’t apply here, because the Lord’s Supper was not something to be eaten by early risers. No “first come, first served” would apply in this case. Perhaps that was the mindset of many in their own homes, but there was to be enough for everyone with Holy Communion. Remember what happened in the case of the early church?
And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:40-47)
The early church in Acts 2 broke bread “from house to house,” a sign that everyone shared in the meals, that the meals were for everyone, designed to feed everyone. Sure, they had their own homes, but they shared all that God had blessed them with; there was no “my food,” but rather, “our food.” The text says that they “had all things in common…and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44-45). Holy Communion was to be no different, shared among all, so that all could enjoy the “body” and “blood” of the Lord by remembering His crucifixion for the sins of the whole world.
What we’ve learned from this study of Holy Communion/the Lord’s Supper is that the ordinance was commanded by the Lord Jesus to be observed until He comes, that it shouldn’t be entered into lightly, and that every believer should examine his or her own heart and mind before partaking of it.
Jesus referred to eating His flesh and drinking His blood earlier in His ministry:
I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:48-58)
John 6 is the context for the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion): those who “eat His flesh,” that is, the bread, and “drink My blood,” that is, the cup of wine, are those who believe in Him. One is not cannibalist — no one is consuming Christ’s actual flesh in Holy Communion — but by consuming representations of His body and blood, believers are identifying and remembering what their Lord and Savior has done for them at the Cross. And those who partake of this do so not only to look back, reflect, and remember, but to anticipate His coming again.
The Lord’s Supper is memorable, reflective, doctrinal, spiritual, and futuristic and anticipatory, all in one. Let us keep this ordinance until our Lord comes again and we enter into the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb!
Communion ought to be a time of celebrating Christ’s finished work on the cross. It ought to be a time when we proclaim his victory over sin and sickness. Yet for many, communion is a time of navel-gazing self-examination. It’s a time of asking, Am I good enough for God? Am I worthy?
Although Jesus said “take this cup in remembrance of me,” often we drink it in remembrance of ourselves. This is a misplaced focus. Communion isn’t about you but him. As I have explained elsewhere, communion is a time for receiving the full benefits of what Jesus paid for.
Yet many churches have rules stipulating who can and cannot take communion. Never mind whether you are good enough for God, the real question is whether you are good enough to eat our crackers and drink our grape juice!
I’m not making light of communion. I understand where these rules come from. They come from these three verses:
Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. (1 Cor 11:27-29, KJV)
These are heavy-duty verses but you need to understand that Paul is not saying, “If you do communion wrong, God will damn you to hell. He’ll smite you with sickness and death.” No, when Paul tells the Corinthians, “your meetings do more harm than good” (1 Cor 11:17), he is simply saying:
Your meetings are a disgrace. You’re competing with each other (v.18), playing silly games of one-upmanship (v.19), and being incredibly selfish (v.21). Some of you are even getting drunk while others are missing out completely (v.21). By acting this way they you are despising the church and humiliating those who have nothing (v.22). ~My paraphrase
There’s no question the Corinthians were doing communion badly. But neither is there any hint that God was going to smite them for doing it badly.
So how do we account for these three judgmental verses above? What does Paul mean when he says those who participate in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord?
Taking communion in an unworthy manner
In these three verses Paul is speaking in general terms. Note the word “whosoever” as in “Whosoever shall eat this bread…” Paul is not saying you guys are drinking unworthily and you guys are guilty. He is saying whosoever drinks unworthily will be guilty. He is making a general claim of the kind…
– Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Rom 10:13)
– Whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst. (John 4:14)
– Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God. (1 John 4:15)
The proper question to ask is, who is Paul referring to? Who are the whosoever?
You might think it’s anyone and everyone but if that were so, then Paul would be wrong when he says there is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). Paul is not referring to anyone and everyone in general but anyone and everyone outside the kingdom. He is referring to those who don’t value the cross, namely, unbelievers who take communion without recognizing that Christ died for them. It’s not that they are unworthy – none of us is good enough – but that they are eating and drinking unworthily. They are not valuing what Christ has done for them.
But what does Paul mean when he says that such a person is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord?
Guilty of the body and blood
An unbeliever who takes communion can no longer claim ignorance of the gospel. He can’t say “I didn’t know Jesus died for me” because he’s eating and drinking in commemoration of that very death.
Someone who has never heard the gospel is ignorant and therefore capable of receiving mercy and grace. But someone who has heard the gospel and scorned it is guilty of the blood and body of Jesus. Although Judgment Day awaits every one of us, such a person has essentially brought judgment on themselves ahead of schedule. That is what Paul is saying in verse 29.
It’s not that God is reaching down from heaven and smiting the scornful with the damnation stamp. They are damning themselves. They’re actually in a worse place than when they were ignorant because now they know. They have heard the good news of God’s grace and have hardened their hearts to it.
Clearly, Paul is not referring to Christians in these three verses. A Christian, by definition, can no more eat and drink judgment on their heads than they can blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Paul is not describing those who have received God’s grace with thanksgiving. He is referring to those who have tasted of the goodness of God but rejected it (Heb 6:4-6). He is describing those who have received the knowledge of truth but are unchanged by it (Heb 10:26).
Being “guilty of the blood and body of Jesus” in 1 Corinthians 11 is analogous to “trampling the Son of God underfoot” and treating as unholy “the blood of the covenant that sanctified him” in Hebrews 10:29. Think of the Pharisees. Think of Judas. They had a taste, they had a glimpse, and they concluded this is not for me. By hardening their hearts to the things of God, they placed themselves beyond the reach of God’s grace and mercy. Clearly, this is serious stuff!
And this brings me back to the question I asked at the top of this post:
Can unbelievers take communion?
Many churches say, “No. It’s inappropriate.” When I published my earlier series on communion many wrote to tell me the same thing. “Since unbelievers don’t value the cross, they shouldn’t be allowed to drink judgment on themselves by taking communion.” But don’t you find it interesting that Paul never says this. He never says,
When you do communion, make sure you don’t give any to the unbelievers among you. But be nice about it. Say something like, “If you’re visiting with us today, please let the cup and plate go past. Communion is for Christians only.”
Paul never says this because it’s a ridiculous thing to say! It is not our job to play the Holy Spirit. Our part is to proclaim the finished work of the cross and one way we do that is through communion. Denying communion to unbelievers is like denying them the gospel. It’s like saying:
I am going to proclaim the good news. If you’re visiting with us today, have the freedom to jam your fingers in your ears. The good news is for Christians only.
Can you see how absurd this is?
Communion is a symbol of God’s grace. It represents the awesome price God paid to redeem you from the prison of sin. An appropriate response is to say Thank you Jesus for your death on the cross! An inappropriate response is to dismiss it as irrelevant. This is not for me. Maybe later. But no one will ever respond unless they get the opportunity to respond.
Paul never says, “Make sure unbelievers don’t take communion.” Instead, he says, “Let each man examine himself.” In other words, give everyone a chance to respond.
And what is the proper way to examine ourselves? Answer: In light of the cross. Jesus died for me! Wow! The world says I’m nobody special and I know I am a miserable sinner. But if Jesus did all this for me, then he must really love me. Thank you Jesus!
Taking communion in an unworthy manner is surely a big deal, but it’s no worse than rejecting the gospel. If we are indiscriminate with one, we should be equally generous with the other.
The next time you do communion, don’t worry about who’s saved and who’s not. That’s not your concern. Instead, proclaim the good news of God’s love and grace and let each one respond as the Holy Spirit leads them.
Communion is a time for celebrating Jesus’ death. It is a time for proclaiming the awesomeness of his grace.
It is not a time for playing judge and jury.