The Lord’s Supper

Dirk Philips

When we examine and look closely into the above words of Scripture in order to understand them thoroughly, and to lay hold of the true sense and understanding of it that accords in all cases with the Scriptures, and is contrary to no Scriptures or the faith we find the following. The Lord Jesus Christ, out of his great, overflowing love, gave his body for us, and shed his blood for us. He instituted the Supper with bread and wine as a memorial, that through the bread of his body given for us, and the wine of his blood for us, we might with thanksgiving remember. Hence the words of Christ at the  Supper: “This is my body,” “this is my blood,” must be understood spiritually, for how else could it be that in the Lord’s Supper the bread and wine were at the same time bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, the communion of his body and blood, and a memorial of his suffering and death, a new testament of the blood of the new, and that at the same time all Scripture be reconciled? We will now look carefully inal all these Scripture passages and by God’s grace thoroughly explain them.

In the first place the Lord Jesus Christ instituted his Supper with bread and wine, and this accords perfectly with the statement, that he is himself the living bread, come down from heaven, by which souls are spiritually nourished by faith unto eternal life (Jn. 6:33). He is also the true vine (Jn. 15:7), planted by the true husbandman, God the Father. His Word is the pure wine (Is. 55:1), by which the believing soul is refreshed and made joyful in the Holy Spirit. Hence, as often as Christians eat of the bread of the Supper and drink of the wine, they are admonished and reminded of this.

After giving thanks, Christ broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: “Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you.” On account of these words there is much dispute and chatter both among the learned and unlearned. Many firmly maintain that Christ is bodily in the bread. With this we do not agree, and do not understand the words cited above literally, but spiritually. The reasons that lead us, indeed force us, to this conclusion are many, and we will here present and point out a few:

First, the word eating in the Scripture is often synonymous with believing and drinking with trust. But the food and drink that are eaten and drunk is the bread of heaven, the word of God, the waters of the Holy Spirit, yea, the flesh and blood of Christ. This is evident in the sixth chapter of John, where the Lord says: “I am the bread of life. He that comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst again” (Jn. 6:51[35]). And again he says: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live eternally. And the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” And again: “My flesh is the true food, and my blood is the true drink. Whoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, remains in me, and I in him,”etc. From all this it follows incontrovertibly that he who believes in Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who died for us, has eaten the flesh and drunk the blood of Christ.

Thus in the Scripture, eating often signifies believing. For Christ is the true bread of heaven (Jn. 6:51), which is eaten. The bread of heaven is God’s Word and the Word became flesh (Jn. 1:14), and the flesh of Christ was sacrificed and given for us. Thus the soul who believes in the crucified Jesus Christ is fed with the bread of heaven (Jn. 6:31), with the Word of God, yea, with the flesh and the blood of Christ. For these three, the bread of heaven, the Word of God, and the flesh and the blood of Christ, are all alike called the food of life. Christ himself in the gospel speaks of the one as of the other without any distinction. First, he speaks much about the bread of heaven and calls it the bread of life. Further he speaks in the same way and manner of his flesh and blood and calls his flesh the true food, and his blood the true drink. Finally, when some of his disciples understood his words literally, and therefore could not believe or endure them, he explained all that he had said of the bread of heaven, of the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood, he said in conclusion: “The flesh is of no use; it is the spirit that brings to life. The words that I speak are spirit and life” (Jn. 6:63), as much as to say: All that I have said of the bread of heaven, likewise of eating my flesh and drinking my blood, is said, meant, and is to be understood of my words, for they are spirit and life, and food for believing souls.

Therefore, whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who was crucified and died for us (Mt. 26:25), and trusts in him, receives Jesus Christ, the Word of the Father. He is fed with the heavenly manna; indeed, he eats the flesh and drinks the blood of Jesus (Ex. 16:15; Num. 20:13), but spiritually with the mouth of the soul, and not physically, with the mouth of the body. For spiritual food-that is what the body and blood of Christ are-much be spiritually received.

Thus Christ, in the Supper, calls the bread his body, and the cup his blood. He does not mean that his natural body is actually in the bread and the cup. However, both bread and blood mean and signify that Christ gave his body and shed his blood for us, and that we, through the power and consequence of his holy sacrifice-namely, the offering of his flesh for us, and the shedding of his blood for our sin, once for all (Heb. 9:12; 10:10)- in the spirit, have eternal life by true faith. Therefore when he gave the bread and the cup to his disciples, and said to them, “Take and eat; this is my body. Drink of it, all of you. This is my blood of the New Testament,” he added, “which is given or shed for you.” By these words he meant us to understand that by means of the bread and the cup of the Supper we are to remember and be assured of our redemption and reconciliation with God the Father through the offering of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. By it we become renewed in and reminded of the spiritual fellowship which we have with Christ Jesus, namely, that he is in us with the Spirit through faith and we in him. He is our head (Eph. 4:15, 5:30) and we his members, flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bones, and therefore also partake of all that he has brought through his sacrifice and shedding of his blood, which is peace with God, forgiveness of sins, righteousness, salvation, and everlasting life.

This communion and incorporation with Christ is confirmed and renewed through the Supper in that Christians in the true Unity of the Spirit and of faith break the bread and drink the wine. These point to and remind them of the fellowship of Christ and participation in all his merits, his righteousness, his holiness, indeed, all that is his. All this they partake of together to eternal salvation. The fellowship of Christ consists in this that all the treasures of Christ are given to, and possessed by, each Christian, and have thus become generally available. Therefore Paul says: “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 being many are one bread, and one body, for we are all partakers of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16).

Hence they break the bread and drink from the cup as a testimony that they are in the communion of the body of Christ, into which they have entered by the grace of God and election by faith. They are confirmed in it by the true baptism, and preserved and confirmed in it by the Supper of the Lord. By this communion they are also made partakers of all that belongs to Christ, as the sons of Aaron in partaking of the alter were therefore partakers of all that God had given, and committed to Aaron, their father.

The harmony and fellowship of the believers are also portrayed and typified in the bread and wine of the Supper. In order to show the significance of this fellowship, the Lord chose and ordained such signs in the Supper as are everywhere available, and which by their form alert and persuade people toward such a communion. For as the bread is made of many grains broken and ground together, and out of many grains has come one loaf of bread in which every little kernel has lost its individual body and form; and likewise as the grapes, by changing their form become the body of a common wine and drink, so also must all Christians be united with Christ and with one another. First they must be United with Christ, whom they received by faith and who becomes their nourishment. For there is no closer intimacy nor anything more inseparable than the union of food with those who are fed , for the food is taken and becomes changed in its nature, and becomes one with the one fed. Thus also Christians by faith just Christ are wholly United with him and incorporated in him, yea, transformed and changed so as to be like him in kind and nature. Therefore Christ takes such an interest in their behalf that he who harms them harms Christ himself.  Again, he that does good to them does it to Christ , he himself says: “What you have done to one of the least of my brothers, you have done it to me” (Mt. 25:40).

Through this fellowship and love of Christ love must in turn be so enkindled in Christians that they consider the infirmities and needs of all Christians as being common to all, taking to themselves their condition and needs and thus becoming a community Through The Love which Bears one another’s burdens, and thus fulfills the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).

Third, the bread and wine in the supper are a token of remembrance of the bitter suffering and innocent death and shedding of blood of Jesus Christ, namely, that buy it we remember that Christ Jesus in his great love gave his body and shed his blood for us.  “He has made it to be a remembrance, and the gracious, merciful Lord has given food to those who fear him” (Ps. 111:3[5]).  He has instituted a Supper with the bread and wine for the believers that thereby they should remember his suffering and death.