The Origin of the Lord's Supper
Dr. Joe Temple


Will you open your Bibles, please, to Paul's second letter to Timothy, chapter 3, for one verse of Scripture which we will use as a point of departure for our message. It is a verse which many of you have committed to memory, a verse which is very familiar to nearly all of us:

II Timothy 3

16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

We settled a long time ago in our thinking that the Bible is the Word of God. We could not prove that, but we decided men could not disprove it, so we said to ourselves, “The Bible is the Word. Whatever the Bible says, we believe.” That was many years ago. We can prove today, we believe, that the Bible is the Word of God. But whether we can or cannot, we accept that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. Whatever it says is so.

In this passage of Scripture we are told it is profitable, and then there are a number of things listed for which it is profitable. We are told that it is profitable for doctrine, and we have used it in that way; for reproof, and we have used it in that way; for correction, and we have used it in that way; for instruction in righteousness, and we have used it in that way.

In some of these areas there is a great deal of inspiration. People hear a message, and they go away inspired; they say, “My, I got such a blessing today.” But there are times when it is necessary to give instruction. The instruction may be related to doctrine, but it is instruction, and it will not necessarily be inspirational. So if you receive a blessing today, it will not be because I have told you some interesting stories, and it will not be because I have left some promise with you that has blessed my own heart and that I trust will bless yours. If you receive a blessing today, you will receive it because you accept what the Bible says about a most precious ordinance taught in the Word of God.

I want to begin thinking with you about the observance of the Lord's Supper. Because we observe the Lord's Supper every Sunday and the danger of the sacred's becoming commonplace is always present; because many do not understand what the Bible teaches about the Lord's Table, and men forget that it represents a holy communion of the body and the blood of Christ; because men fail to recognize the inconsistency, yea, the impossibility, of partaking of the cup of demons and the cup of the Lord at the same time; because it could be a matter of life or death to come to the Lord's Table in an unworthy manner; for these reasons we feel that it is necessary from time to time to instruct some and refresh the minds of others concerning the importance of this particular ordinance.

You will note that I have used all the Scriptural names for this ordinance. I think it would behoove every believer to be familiar with how the Bible speaks of the observance to which we first referred as the Lord's Supper. Turn, please, to I Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 20, where you will find the Apostle Paul saying:

I Corinthians 11

20When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper.

We will not discuss that verse at this time, except to say that it was written to correct some inconsistencies in the observance of the Lord's Supper in the church at Corinth. We call your attention to the verse so that you may see that one Scriptural name for this observance is the Lord's Supper.

Another Scriptural name is the Lord's Table. Will you turn, please, to I Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 21:

I Corinthians 10

21Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils [demons] : ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils [demons] .

Notice the phrase “the Lord's Table.” When we speak, then, of this observance, we are Scripturally correct when we refer to it as “the Lord's Supper,” when we refer to it as “the Lord's Table,” or when we refer to it as “the cup of the Lord” in contrast to “the cup of demons.”

There is another phrase that is used to describe it, found in I Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 16:

I Corinthians 10

16The 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?

So when we use the term “communion” in speaking of this observance, we are Scripturally correct. but notice, please, that it is the communion of the blood of Christ. The word communion is a translation of the Greek word which means fellowship . It speaks of the fellowship of the blood of Christ. Everybody who partakes of the Lord's Table should be covered by the blood. If this be not true, then the observance is sheer mockery.

It is also noted as the communion of the body of Christ. The body of Christ is the Church of Christ, the Church of the First Born. It is that group of people whose names are recorded in Heaven. They may worship in buildings which have various names, but if they are born again, they are members of the body of Christ, and they are in one great fellowship. That is why at the Bible Center we welcome all Believers to the Lord's Table, regardless of their church affiliation or their lack of it. If you are born again, you are part of the body of Christ. You may be worshiping in a Methodist, Baptist, Christian—I cannot name all of the 250 different communions which claim the name of Christ; but if you are a member of the body of Christ and worshiping in any of those groups, or perhaps worshiping all by yourself because there is nobody with whom to worship, you are part of this vast communion of Believers who are under the blood.

I think it is important for me to point out as we continue our discussion of names that there are some unscriptural names that are given to the Lord's Table. They have come down to us from tradition, and these traditional names are used so often that folk sometimes think they are found in the Word of God, which is not true.

One of the names is the Eucharist. If you use this word to describe the Lord's Table, you are using a term that is not in the Bible, but it is used by tradition to speak of thanksgiving for the bread and the blood. There may not be anything particularly wrong with using that term, but I have learned long ago that when you are Scripturally instructed it is better to use Scriptural terms. They are better than any man could invent.

There is another term, “the Sacrament.” Many folk use the word Sacrament without realizing that it is nowhere found in the Scripture, and without realizing that its derivation lies within Roman Catholicism. It brings to the minds of those who know its meaning that the observance of the Lord's Table carries with it a sacerdotal character. When we remember that, we realize that some of the erroneous theories related to the Lord's Table can be very damaging indeed—eternally damaging, as a matter of fact. Since this is true, I think it would be wise for us to notice some of the erroneous theories that are held in connection with the Lord's TAble, so that, being familiar with them, we will be able to avoid them and to speak of this observance in a Scriptural fashion.

The first of several erroneous theories that I would like to call to your attention is described by the word transubstantiation . What that means is that after the prayer is prayed for the wine, or the fruit of the vine as it is called in the Scripture, it actually becomes the blood of Christ. When the prayer is prayed for the bread, it actually becomes the body of Christ. If you have accepted this erroneous theory, when you partake of the cup and the bread you believe you are literally eating the body of Christ and literally drinking the blood of Christ.

The real problem with this theory is that individuals who believe it believe that they obtain salvation by partaking. There are churches which have services to which they refer as Masses. When a Mass is performed and the bread and the wine, prayed over, become the body and the blood of Christ, it means that the Lord Jesus Christ is crucified anew and afresh every Lord's Day. What a sad thing that is. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself took His blood into the very throne room of Heaven and offered it as a final, complete sacrifice for the sins of mankind; He then sat down at the right hand of the Throne of God, indicating that His work was finished. He or anyone else need not to add anything to it.

There is another erroneous theory. It is called consubstantiation ,, and it is very similar to what we have been discussing. It is that the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ are supernaturally, mystically, in a way that nobody can understand, united with the bread and the wine. You see, Roman Catholics held to the theory of transubstantiation for centuries. When various reformers left the Roman Church, they could not hold to the theory of transubstantiation, but neither could they give up altogether all that it included, so they adopted what is known as consubstantiation . It is believed that somehow, we don't quite understand how, after prayer the body and the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ are united with the bread and the wine. The end is the same: the observance of the Lord's Supper has a saving value.

The third erroneous theory is described by theologians as spiritual presence . They do not want to say that the body and the blood of Christ are actually on the table, they do not want to say that mystically the elements become the body and the blood, so they say that the spiritual presence of the Lord abides within the bread and the wine and thus becomes a means of saving grace. That is why, Beloved, you are told by some people that if you do not observe the Lord's Supper regularly your eternal life will be in danger; the observance of the Lord's Supper presents a means of saving grace. We would remind you that that is erroneous.

You will say, “If that is wrong, what is right?” So we will offer you very briefly the Scriptural views related to the Lord's Table. All we can do at this time is offer them to you, but you will see before we are through with this series of studies that we are correct in what we have to say.

First of all, the Scripture teaches that the bread and the cup are but symbolic of the body and the blood of the Lord. They have no merit. They have no saving value. They are but symbols of the broken body and the shed blood. The purpose of our observance is expressed in the words of the Saviour, “in remembrance of Me.”

We will discover that the phrase “in remembrance of Me” has a veery important meaning. But that is all that the Lord's Table represents: a symbol of a finished work, a remembrance of a marvelous act of grace.

Since you should be familiar with what the Bible has to say about the Lord's Table, we remind you of where the Scriptural accounts are found, so that you will be able to read them in detail at your leisure. The synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each presents an account of the Lord's Table. The other account is what I have termed the revelation of Paul , and is found in I Corinthians, chapter 11, verses 23-26. I call it the revelation of Paul because the Apostle Paul said that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself revealed to him the truth about the Lord's Supper.

Those who were present at the institution of the Lord's Supper wrote what they actually observed, but what the Apostle Paul wrote, he wrote because the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him, probably while he was in the desert, and told him exactly how the observance of the Lord's Supper should be carried on.

Matthew and Mark are very brief in what they have to say. Only Luke tells that it is to be done in remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew emphasizes that the cup represents the blood of the Saviour that was shed for the remission of sins. Matthew also emphasizes something that encourages our hearts today—that His blood was shed for many. The word many here is an all-inclusive word. If you have been hearing, and no doubt some of you have, that the blood of Christ was shed for a selected few, then you have been hearing a thing that is contradictory to the Word of God. The blood was shed for the many.

Luke emphasizes something that is very precious—that the blood of Christ was shed for you, as if you were the only person in all the world. This is not contradictory; it simply emphasizes a very precious truth. The blood was shed for the whole world, but only individual acceptance of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the Cross will result in salvation for you. We do not believe in what some people refer to as the final restitution of all things—that because Christ died for all, all will be saved whether they want to be saved or not. We believe that Christ died for you, but only as you, an individual, receive the Lord Jesus Christ will you be saved.

We notice in the Gospel accounts that the Lord's Supper has its roots in the Passover, for the Lord's Supper was instituted in the midst of the Passover. The simplest explanation of the Passover is found in the record in the book of Exodus of how it was instituted; the first born of everybody in Egypt was sentenced to death except those who were under the blood. They were the only ones who escaped. A lamb was killed, the blood was placed upon the door posts, and everybody who was under the blood was saved when the death angel passed over. I do not know of a more appropriate observance than the Passover in which to begin the observance of the Last Supper, because of the similarity of the two.

In the time of Christ, the Passover had become a rather involved ritualistic thing. I call this to your attention because you may find when you discuss the Lord's Supper with folk that there is a difference of opinion as to exactly when the Lord's Supper was instituted.

The Passover in the day of our Lord was built around five cups. The first cup was the cup that was blessed for everybody present, and everybody gathered around the table at the time of the Passover feast, partook of this cup. After this was done, everybody washed his hands, there was a benediction, the table was set with the bread, the bitter herbs, the sauce, and the sop (that is, the bread was dipped into the sauce), and after this the dishes were removed from the table and the second cup was brought. It was the cup of question-time, because at this time as they sipped of this cup, they were permitted and encouraged to ask questions. Children might say to their fathers, “Father, why are we doing this?” Then they would be told the story of the first Passover—how God graciously delivered from the death that awaited them. After this time of questioning, a third cup was brought in. It was the cup of blessing, because this cup was blessed. That is, the Lord was thanked for the cup and what it represented, and they partook of it, and the cup was taken away. Then a fourth cup was brought in, the cup of song, because they all shared in this cup and then they sang. You see, the book of Psalms is actually a hymn book. They sang Psalms 115 through 118. Many times the Passover ended with that fourth cup. Many other times another cup was brought in, the cup of the great song, because Psalms 120 through 138 were sung.

Somewhere in the midst of this observance the Lord instituted the Last Supper, because He used the Passover cup and the bread that was on the table. Most Bible scholars believe on the basis of what Luke said in his Gospel, that the Lord's Supper was instituted after the fifth cup was presented—the last cup, representing the fact that one Age had come to an end and another Age was beginning; one thing was passing away and a new thing was being instituted.

If you follow this thinking, you will never try to take the laws which are related to the Sabbath day, the seventh day, and apply them to Sunday; you will never say that Sunday was exchanged for the Sabbath. If your are Scripturally indoctrinated, you will never call Sunday the Sabbath. The old Age ended and a new Age came into being. This is true with the Passover and the Lord's Table.

Let us notice very briefly what we mean when we say that the old gave way to the new. Since the Lord's Supper had its roots in the Passover, very naturally there would be a similarity and a difference. In the Passover, the people recall from the past the blood of the lamb, the little animal that was slain and its blood put upon the door posts. But in the Lord's Supper believers recall the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Passover, individuals remembering something . In the Lord's Supper, we have the opportunity of remembering Someone , a Person, the precious Saviour Himself. The Passover is observed once a year. If we follow the precedent set in the Scriptures and clearly presented, the Lord's Supper is observed once a week.

I am aware that the Saviour said through the Apostle Paul, “As oft as ye do this, do it in remembrance of Me.” Some folk say that gives you the right to do it once a year or to do it once every ten years, and that is right. As a matter of fact, the early Christians observed the Lord's Supper every day of the week. But there is one thing of which we are absolutely sure, and that is that the New Testament Church never met together on the Lord's Day without observing the Lord's Supper. Although we are not commanded to do this, since the early Church did it—surely, being closer to the origin of the Church, they would have a better idea of what was proper than we—we follow the Scriptural example set by the early Church. But we do not argue and we do not break fellowship with anybody who does not do likewise, since there is no such command in the Scripture.

Having considered these basic facts concerning the Lord's Table, we will be prepared to look at what is its real significance as it is found in the revelation given to the Apostle Paul. But may I say in closing, that unless you know Him of whom the ordinance speaks, you are in a precarious condition, because without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin (Hebrews 9:22). Unless you know Him who is commemorated in this ordinance, you are living a lonely life; you are living a life that is centered around yourself, and a life that is centered around self has to be lonely. Only the life that is centered around the Saviour can really amount to anything.

If you have never received the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour, receive Him. If perchance you have received Him, but you have neglected Him and your fellowship has been broken and the Holy Spirit is grieved, remember that restoration to fellowship is a simple thing, based upon a very simple God-given formula: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

Many times we emphasize the confession, but I want to emphasize another phrase, because I have found this is where most people have their hangups. I want to emphasize the statement “He is faithful and just to forgive.” You see, so many folk confess and then wonder whether they have confessed enough, wonder whether enough tears have been shed, wonder whether they have punished themselves enough about it. It is the old, old belief that has its roots in the Adamic nature, that we must somehow, some way, make ourselves pleasing to God, and then God will do for us what we ask Him to do. Beloved the verse says, “He is faithful and He is just.” You confess and let Him take care of the rest.

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