I. The instituting of the Lord’s supper
There is a supper in the church which all God’s children should attend. This supper was instituted by the Lord Jesus on the last night He was on earth. He was to be crucified the next day. It was the last supper the Lord took on His last night on earth. Although He ate after His resurrection, that eating was different from ordinary eating. That eating was optional.
What was the last supper like? There is a history behind this supper. The Jews had a feast called the Passover; it was for remembering their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. How did God save them? God commanded the children of Israel to take a lamb, according to the house of their father, one lamb for a house, and slaughter it on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month. After that they had to take the blood and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper doorpost of their houses. That night they ate the flesh together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. After the exodus from Egypt, God commanded them to keep this feast every year as a memorial (Exo. 12:1-28). Hence, to the Jews, the Passover was instituted as a reminder of their deliverance.
The last night before the Lord Jesus departed from the world was the very night of the Passover feast. After the Lord ate the Passover lamb with the disciples, He instituted His own supper. The Lord was trying to show us that we should take His supper in the same way the Jews took the Passover feast.
Let us compare these two matters. The Israelites were saved and delivered from Egypt, and they kept the Passover feast. God’s children today are saved and delivered from the sins of this world, and they partake of the Lord’s supper. The Israelites had their lamb. We also have our Lamb — the Lord Jesus, the very Lamb of God. We have been delivered from the sins of the world, from Satan’s power, and we are completely on God’s side. Thus, we take the Lord’s supper in the same way that the Jews partook of the Passover lamb.
After He celebrated the Passover feast, “Jesus took bread and blessed it, and He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, Take, eat; this is My body. And He took a cup and gave thanks, and He gave it to them, saying, Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is being poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:26-28). This is the supper that the Lord instituted.
What is the meaning of a supper? It is a time when the whole family comes together to eat in peace after a day’s work. It is not a hurried meal like breakfast or lunch. It is peaceful dining in full rest. This should be the kind of atmosphere among God’s children when they partake of the Lord’s supper. They should not be in any haste. Their mind should not be busy thinking about this or that. Instead, they should enjoy their rest in God’s house.
The Lord used unleavened bread, instead of leavened bread, because He instituted His supper during the Passover (Exo. 12:15). The “product of the vine” spoken of in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22 can also be translated as the “fruit of the vine.” During the bread-breaking meeting, we can use either grape wine or grape juice, as long as it is a product of the vine.
II. The significance of the Lord’s supper
A. To remember the Lord
Why does the Lord want us to keep His supper? The Lord said, “This do…unto the remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:25). Thus, the first significance of the supper is to remember the Lord. The Lord knows that we will forget Him. Although the grace we received is so great and the redemption we received so wonderful, our experience tells us that it is easy for man to forget Him. With a little carelessness, the newly saved ones can even forget the Lord’s salvation. This is why the Lord purposely charged us: “This do…unto the remembrance of Me.”
The Lord wants us to remember Him, not simply because we tend to forget, but also because the Lord needs us to have such a remembrance. The Lord does not want us to forget Him. He is much greater than we are; we could never fathom His greatness. We do not add benefit to Him by remembering Him. Still, for our sake, He said, “This do…unto the remembrance of Me.” The Lord has condescended Himself and has beckoned us to remember Him. He first condescended Himself to be our Savior. He also condescended Himself to win our hearts and gain our remembrance. He does not want us to forget Him. He desires that week after week we continuously live before Him and remember Him. He asks this so that we may gain spiritual blessings from Him. The Lord wants us to remember Him; this is His request in love. If we do not always remember Him and place His redemption before us, we will easily be entangled with the sins of the world. There will easily be quarrels among God’s children. Our loss will indeed be very great. This is why the Lord wants us to remember Him. We are blessed when we remember Him. This is one way to receive His blessing. We receive the Lord’s grace through remembering Him.
One great blessing in remembering the Lord is that we are separated from the power of the sins of the world. Once every few days we are reminded of how we received the Lord and how He died for us. By this we are separated from the sins of the world. This is one blessing we receive from breaking bread in remembrance of the Lord.
Another spiritual reason for breaking bread in remembrance of the Lord is to prevent God’s children from having any quarrels or divisions. When I recall that I am saved and another brother also recalls that he is saved, how can we not love one another? As I consider that the Lord Jesus has forgiven my numerous sins and I see a sister coming to the Lord’s supper who is also redeemed by the blood, how can I not forgive her? How can I hold her to her faults and make divisions based on this? Throughout the two thousand years of church history, many quarrels among God’s children were resolved when they met together at the Lord’s table. Animosity and hatred have dissolved at the Lord’s table. When we remember the Lord, we also remember how we were saved and forgiven. The Lord has forgiven our debt of ten thousand talents. How can we seize our companion, who owes us a hundred denarii, and take hold of him by the throat? (Matt. 18:21-35). When a brother remembers the Lord, his heart is enlarged to embrace all God’s children. He will see that all those redeemed by the Lord are loved by Him, and spontaneously he will love them as well. We cannot have envy, hatred, contention, and a lack of forgiveness when we are in the Lord. It is unreasonable for us to remember the Lord’s forgiveness of our many sins and yet quarrel with the brothers and sisters. We cannot remember the Lord if we are quarrelsome, envious, hating, and unforgiving. Therefore, whenever we gather together to remember the Lord, the Lord reminds us of His love and His work on the cross. He reminds us that all the saved ones are loved by Him. The Lord loves us and gave Himself for us. He gave Himself for us and for all those who belong to Him. He loves all those who belong to Him, and we spontaneously love all of His children because we cannot hate those whom He loves.
“This do…unto the remembrance of Me.” We can never remember those people whom we do not know. We can never remember the things that we have not experienced. Here the Lord wants us to remember Him, which means we have already met Him at Golgotha and have already received His grace. We are here remembering what He has accomplished. We look back to remember the Lord in the same way that the Jews look back to remember the feast of the Passover.
Why are so many people lazy and unfruitful? It is because they have forgotten that their former sins were washed away (2 Pet. 1:8-9). This is why the Lord wants us to remember Him and to love Him. He wants us to remember Him all the time. We should remember that the cup is the new covenant enacted by His blood, which flowed out for us. We should also remember that the bread is His body given for us. This is the first thing we should emphasize in our bread-breaking.
B. To declare the Lord’s death
There is another significance to the Lord’s supper. First Corinthians 11:26 says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you declare the Lord’s death until He comes.” When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we are declaring the Lord’s death. The word declare can also be translated “proclaim.” It means to proclaim the Lord’s death to others. In charging us to take His supper, the Lord is asking us not just to remember Him but also to proclaim His death.
Why do the bread and the cup declare the Lord’s death? Originally, the blood is in the flesh. When the blood is separated from the flesh, it means death has occurred. When we see the wine in the cup, we see the blood, and when we see the bread on the table, we see the flesh. The Lord’s blood is on one side, and His flesh is on the other side. The blood is separated from the flesh. This is a declaration of the Lord’s death. In this meeting there is no need for us to tell others, “Our Lord has died for you.” They know that death has occurred when they see that the blood is separated from the flesh.
What is the bread? It is wheat ground into powder. What is inside the cup? It is grapes that have been pressed. When you see the bread, you are reminded of ground wheat, and when you see the cup, you are reminded of pressed grapes. This clearly reminds us of death. A grain of wheat is only one grain; it cannot become bread unless it is first ground. Likewise, a cluster of grapes cannot become wine unless it is first pressed. If a grain of wheat tries to save itself, there will be no bread. Likewise, if a cluster of grapes tries to save itself, there will be no wine. Here the Lord spoke through Paul, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you declare the Lord’s death until He comes.” We eat the grains that have been ground, and we drink the grapes that have been pressed. This is to declare the Lord’s death.
Perhaps your parents, children, or other relatives do not know the Lord. If you take them to the meeting and they see the bread, they will ask, “What is this? What is the meaning of this breaking of the bread? What is the meaning of the cup?” You can respond, “The cup signifies the blood and the bread signifies the flesh. These two things are apart. What does this show you?” They will answer, “This means death has occurred.” The blood is on one side and the flesh on the other. The blood and the flesh are separate, and this implies death. We can demonstrate to all men that the Lord’s death is displayed here. We should preach the gospel not only with our mouth, in the meeting hall, or with our gifts but also with the Lord’s supper. This is one way of preaching the gospel. It would be a great thing in the universe if men would realize that taking the Lord’s supper is not a ritual. We are declaring His death when we take the Lord’s supper. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, has died. This is a tremendous fact displayed before us.
In men’s eyes, the Lord Jesus is no longer on the earth. But the symbols of the cross — the bread and the cup — are still here. Whenever we see the bread and the cup, we are reminded of the death of the Lord on the cross. This symbol of the cross reminds us of the constant need to remember the Lord’s death for us.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you declare the Lord’s death until He comes.” The Lord will surely come back again; this is a great comfort to us. It is particularly meaningful when we associate this coming with the Lord’s supper. Do you not enjoy a good evening meal? Supper is the last meal of the day. Every week we partake of this supper of the Lord. The church has been partaking of the same supper week after week for nearly two thousand years. This supper still has not passed away. We continue to eat this supper. We wait and wait until the day the Lord comes back. When He comes back, we will no longer eat this supper. When we meet our Lord face to face, this supper will be no more. When we see Him again, we no longer will need to remember Him in this way.
Hence, the Lord’s supper is for remembering Him and for declaring His death until He comes. The Lord’s supper is for remembering Him. We hope that the brothers and sisters will focus their eyes on Him from the very start. When a person remembers the Lord Himself, spontaneously he remembers His death, and when he remembers His death, his eyes will spontaneously be set on the kingdom — the Lord will come again one day and receive us to Himself. The cross always leads to His coming; it always leads to glory. When we remember the Lord, we must lift up our heads and say, “Lord, I want to see Your face; when I see Your face, everything else will fade away.” The Lord wants us to remember Him. He wants us to declare His death continually and proclaim His death till He comes.
III. The meaning of the Lord’s table
First Corinthians 10 has another expression for the bread-breaking meeting. It does not call it a supper but a table. As a supper, which He instituted on the last night before His death, this meeting is for remembering Him and declaring His death till He comes. But this is only one aspect of the bread-breaking meeting. There is another aspect to the church’s breaking of bread, which is signified by the Lord’s table (v. 21). The meaning of the Lord’s table is clearly defined in verses 16 and 17, which say, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the fellowship of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the fellowship of the body of Christ? Seeing that there is one bread, we who are many are one Body; for we all partake of the one bread.” Two things are signified here: fellowship and oneness.
The first thing signified by the Lord’s table is fellowship. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the fellowship of the blood of Christ?” Do we not share the Lord’s cup when we meet? This is fellowship. First Corinthians 11 talks about the relationship between the disciples and the Lord, but chapter ten talks about the relationship between the saints. The supper is for us to remember the Lord, and the table is for us to have mutual fellowship one with another. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the fellowship of the blood of Christ?” The emphasis here is not just the drinking of the blood of Christ but a joint participation in this blood. This joint participation is the fellowship.
“The cup of blessing which we bless” — here the word cup is singular. The cup spoken of in Matthew 26:27 is also singular. According to the original text, the translation can be rendered, “And, taking the cup and giving thanks, He gave it to them, saying, Drink of it, all of you.” This is why we do not agree with using many cups, because once there is more than one cup, the meaning is changed. The cup which we bless, is it not the fellowship of the blood of Christ? We receive of the same cup. The significance of having the same cup is fellowship. If we are not that intimate, we surely cannot drink out of one cup, each taking a sip out of it. God’s children drink out of one cup. Everyone drinks from the same cup. One takes a sip, and someone else takes another sip. We have many, yet we drink out of the same cup. This signifies fellowship.
The second meaning of the Lord’s table is oneness. “The bread which we break, is it not the fellowship of the body of Christ? Seeing that there is one bread, we who are many are one Body” (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Here we see that God’s children are one. The bread spoken of in chapter eleven has a different meaning than the bread spoken of in chapter ten. In chapter eleven the Lord said, “This is My body, which is given for you” (v. 24); this refers to the Lord’s physical body. The bread in chapter ten refers to the church. “We who are many are one Body” (v. 17). We are the bread and this bread is the church.
We need to see the remembrance aspect, the declaration aspect, and the fellowship aspect of the Lord’s table; we also need to see the oneness. All of God’s children are one in the same way that the bread is one. We have only one bread. One person breaks off a piece of this bread and takes it. Another breaks off another piece and takes it. If all the little pieces that we break off and swallow are gathered together, do we not still have one bread? Though this bread is broken up and is inside every one of us, it is still one bread in the Spirit. Once the physical bread is consumed, it is gone, and we cannot gather the pieces back. But spiritually speaking, the bread is still one and it is one in the Spirit. Christ, like the bread, is originally one. God dispenses a little Christ into you and a little into me. The one Christ is now scattered and is dwelling in the many members. Christ is spiritual. Though He is scattered, He is not divided; He is still one. God gives Christ to you and to me, but in the Spirit Christ is still one. The scattered bread is still one in the Spirit; it is not divided. When God’s children break bread, they not only remember the Lord, declare His death, and fellowship with one another, but they also acknowledge the oneness among themselves. This bread represents the oneness of God’s church.
The basic element of the Lord’s table is the bread. This bread is very crucial. In a general sense, this bread represents all God’s children. In a particular sense, it represents God’s children in a particular locality. If some of God’s children gather together and see only themselves and if their bread only includes the few of them, that bread is too small. It is not inclusive enough. The bread must include all of God’s children in a locality; it must represent the church in that locality. This is not all. The bread must also include all of God’s children on earth. We must see that this bread declares the oneness among God’s children. If we want to establish a church that is our own, our bread is too small and cannot represent the whole church. If there is a table in a place and those attending that table cannot say, “We who are many are one Body,” we cannot partake of that bread because that is not the Lord’s table.
We must remember the Lord, and our hearts must be open to the brothers and sisters each time we break bread. All God’s children, as long as they are redeemed by the precious blood, are included in this one bread. Our hearts need to be enlarged by the Lord; they need to be as large as the bread. Though we are many, we are one bread. Even those brothers and sisters who are not breaking bread with us are also included in this bread. If we put them aside completely when we break our bread, our bread is not big enough, and our heart is not big enough. This is not right. We cannot have the thought of excluding certain brothers and sisters or sending them away. This bread does not allow us to be narrow people.
If a brother who has never shared the bread with us comes to the Lord’s table and if he is one who is joined to the Lord, he is also in this bread. Do we receive him or not? Please remember that we are not the host of this feast. At most we are the ushers. The table is the Lord’s, not ours. The Lord sets up His table in a locality in the same principle that He first set it up in that large upper room; that room was borrowed. Today the Lord is merely using this place to set up His table. We cannot forbid others from breaking bread. This table is the Lord’s. The authority to receive or not to receive is the Lord’s. We do not have such authority. We cannot reject the ones whom the Lord receives, and we cannot reject anyone who belongs to the Lord. We can reject only those who are rejected by the Lord and those who do not belong to Him. We can reject only those who remain in sin and will not come out. We discontinue fellowship with them because they have discontinued their fellowship with the Lord. We cannot reject anyone who is received by the Lord. Likewise, we cannot receive those whom the Lord does not receive, those who have lost their fellowship with the Lord. Therefore, we must know a person very well before we can decide whether or not he should be received at the Lord’s table. We should be very careful in receiving people for the bread-breaking meeting. We cannot be careless. It must be done according to the Lord’s desire.
IV. Various pertinent matters concerning the bread-breaking meeting
Finally, we have to mention two or three things. In particular, we have to take care of one matter in the bread-breaking meeting: As those who are cleansed by the Lord’s blood, we do not come to ask for the cleansing of His blood. As those who have received the Lord’s life, we do not come to ask for His life. Therefore, we should have only words of blessing in this meeting. “The cup of blessing which we bless.” Actually, we bless what the Lord has already blessed. On the night that He was betrayed, the Lord “took bread and blessed it, and He took a cup and gave thanks” (Matt. 26:26-27). There the Lord only blessed and gave thanks. After the Lord broke the bread, He and the disciples came out singing (v. 30). The proper tone for this meeting is blessing and praise. In this meeting, we do not plead or preach. It may be all right to speak something directly related to the Lord. It may not even be necessary to do this. But definitely any other kind of preaching is unsuitable. (Paul’s word in a bread-breaking meeting in Troas in Acts 20 was an exception.) We should restrict ourselves to only thanksgiving and praise in this meeting.
We break bread once a week. When the Lord instituted the supper, He said, “This do, as often as…” (1 Cor. 11:25). The early church broke bread on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Our Lord not only died but also resurrected. We remember the Lord in resurrection. The first day of the week is the day of the Lord’s resurrection. The most important thing on the first day of the week is to remember the Lord. I hope that all the brothers and sisters would not forget this.
We must also be counted “worthy” when we remember the Lord. First Corinthians 11:27-29 says, “So then whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself, and in this way let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not discern the body.” The most important thing to remember when we come to the table is to be counted worthy. This does not refer to whether or not the person is worthy but whether or not his attitude is worthy. If a person belongs to the Lord, he can partake of the bread. If he does not belong to the Lord, he cannot partake of the bread. Thus, it is not a question of whether the person is worthy. It is a question of the attitude. It is wrong for us to be careless and not discern the body when we partake of it. This is why the Lord wants us to discern. Although there is no problem with our person, we must realize that we are partaking of the Lord’s body while we are eating. We should not be careless, sloppy, despising, or loose in attitude. We must take it in a manner worthy of the Lord’s body. The Lord has given us His blood and His flesh. We should receive them and remember the Lord in a godly way.