Understanding the Lord's Supper properly requires us to recognize that much of the language used is not meant to be taken literally. This happens often in certain kinds of Bible teaching, especially in memorials such as the Lord's Supper.
In order to help us understand the nature of the language, let us consider the Old Testament memorial feast which itself was a symbol of the Lord's Supper.
God sent Moses and Aaron to instruct Pharaoh to let the Israelites go from slavery. When Pharaoh refused, God sent ten plagues on the Egyptians, the last of which was the death of the firstborn. First God commanded each family in Israel to kill a lamb or goat without blemish and sprinkle some of the blood on the door posts and the lintel of their houses (Exodus 12:3-7).
Exodus 12:11-14 - So you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord's Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast... Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations.
Verses 26,27 - And it shall be, when your children say to you, "What do you mean by this service?" that you shall say, "It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households."
Notice three different ways that the expression "pass over" is used here:
(1) Literally the "pass over" describes the act in which God slew the firstborn in each family of the Egyptians but passed over the houses of the Israelites that had the blood on the door (verses 13,23,27). This is the literal, physical meaning of the expression "pass over."
(2) The feast that Israel was to eat in Egypt and then each year afterwards was called the "Passover" (verse 11). [Ezekiel 45:21; Luke 2:41; 22:1]
(3) The lamb that was slain was also called the Passover (verses 21,27). [Luke 22:7; 2 Chronicles 30:15; Ezra 6:10; Mark 14:12]
When Moses referred to the feast and the lamb as the "Passover," was this the literal "pass over"? No, the literal "pass over" was God's act of passing over the firstborn of the Israelites. The eating of the lamb was an annual feast to remember God's act of passing over the firstborn. This was a symbolic memorial to the literal act.
In Matthew 26:17-19, Jesus' disciples prepared the Passover feast so Jesus could eat it with the disciples.
Matthew 26:26-28 - 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." Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."
The Lord's Supper is a feast to memorialize the death of Jesus just like the Passover feast was a memorial to God's passing over the Israelites.
When Jesus said, "This is my body ... This is my blood," He did not mean that the elements physically or literally became His body and blood. He meant they were a memorial by which we remember His body and blood. This is like Moses, when he referred to the feast and the lamb as the Passover, he did not mean they were the literal event in which the Lord passed over the houses of the Israelites. He meant they were a memorial to that event.
1 Corinthians 5:7 - "...Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us." So here is yet another symbolism based on the Passover. The lamb that was shed and its blood sprinkled on the doorpost of the Israelites was a symbol of Jesus who died on the cross so that God could forgive us and pass over us so that we do not have the die for our own sins.
We memorialize the death of Jesus in the Lord's Supper, just like Israel was commanded to memorialize the Passover in the eating of the lamb.
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2017
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.