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Clifford McLain's avatar
January 8, 1986

The Lord’s Supper Administered

While Matthew xxvi 26-29 and Mark xiv. 22-25 both record the Lord Jesus taking the bread and the cup of the Passover supper and explaining their significance in relation to the New Covenant, yet in neither is it mentioned that He instituted an ordinance. These two Gospels are especially suited for that proclamation connected with the earthly sphere of New Covenant blessings, and for the still future proclamation of that gospel (Matt. xxiv. 14; Mark xiii. 10). Luke is the only Gospel to record the fact that an ordinance was then instituted (xxii. 15-20). Luke laid the basis of Paul’s ministry which, during the time of the Acts, embraced the heavenly sphere of New Covenant blessings. Paul is the only other writer who received instructions concerning this observance, and these instructions were given to those who were a sort of firstfruits of the ministry of the New Covenant, and whose blessings were in the heavenly sphere of the New Covenant. Thus it would suggest that the Lord’s Supper was given to these blessed with heavenly things, while the Passover was still perpetuated by Israel after the flesh, until the day when their hearts will be turned to the Lord to receive the earthly blessings of the New Covenant.

The authority to open the testimony of the kingdom after the Lord’s resurrection was given to Peter. The twelve were the first to whom the Lord gave the instructions concerning the New Covenant memorial “This do in remembrance of me” (Luke xxii. 19). It might have then been asserted that these should be looked to for guidance as to the manner of the Lord’s Supper rather than to Paul. But what does Paul claim?

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread . . .” (1 Cor. xi. 23).

Paul, being at that time a minister of the New Covenant especially commissioned to go to the uncircumcision, was the one chosen to write of the Lord’s Supper, for there the Jew and Gentile met in a common communion and with the prospect of a mutual participation in the hope of Israel. The continual insistence on the fact that Paul’s authority came from the ascended Lord was occasioned by the resentment of the Jews to his ministry as recorded in the Acts.

Paul’s references to the Lord’s Supper are confined to 1 Corinthians where it is dealt with twice. The context of both passages has to do with eating. First, the eating of things offered to idols (1 Cor. x. 19-21), and secondly, the propriety desirable when they gathered to eat (1 Cor. xi. 22, 33-34). The question of approval is the dominant theme of both (1 Cor. x. 5; xi 19).

The first reference is introduced by the example of the many in Israel of old who, while they were partakers with the rest, yet failed to be well pleasing to God:

“Moreover brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink, for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ: but with many of them God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples . . . neither be ye idolators as were some of them . . . they are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the age are come” (1 Cor. x. 1-11).

The analogy is then drawn in respect to these believers who were made partakers of the Lord’s Table:

“Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men, judge ye 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 are all partakers of that one bread . . . the things that the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils . . . ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils; ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of devils” (1 Cor. x. 14-21).

A compromise between the Lord’s Table and anything else was not approved. The Gentiles who had been brought out of idolatry and made partakers of the Lord’s Table had to leave all their old associations. The Jews, with the failure of their fathers brought to their notice, were warned of the things not well pleasing.

The second reference is introduced by a sad picture:

“When ye come together, therefore, into one place, ye cannot eat the Lord’s supper, for, in eating, every one taketh before another his own supper, and one is hungry and another is drunken” (1 Cor. xi 20, 21).

To prevent this they were told, contrary to modern ritualistic practice, to eat at home before they came together:

“When ye come together to eat, tarry one for another, and if any man hunger, let him eat at home” (1 Cor. xi 33, 34).

The ministry of the New Covenant during Acts was accompanied by confirmatory signs and miracles; the Corinthian church, although charged with being carnal, were richly endued with these powers. These supernatural happenings were not only used in grace but also in condemnation. With the eating of the Lord’s Supper was associated the evidence of the Lord’s approval or disapproval:

“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 . . . he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you and many sleep” (1 Cor. xi. 27-30).

Sleep here is koimaomai, to sleep unintentionally, a word frequently used of the death of the saints, see first occurrence Matt. xxvii. 52; also Acts vii. 60; 1 Cor. xv. 6, 18, 20, 51; 1 Thess. iv. 13, 14, 15. In eating of the Lord’s Table unworthily many of the believers had fallen ill, while others had actually died.

The Lord’s Supper must not be disassociated with the New Covenant or with a dispensation when the hope of the New Covenant was still probable. When this was the testimony evidential signs were given both to confirm the truth and to judge among the saints. If this testimony is to be given today and this ordinance is to be kept, then we should expect these signs to still obtain.

From the Study: The New Covenant