The Purpose of the Lord’s Table
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (11:23–26)
These verses are like a diamond dropped in a muddy road. One of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture is given in the middle of a strong rebuke of worldly, carnal, selfish, and insensitive attitudes and behavior. The rebuke, in fact, is of Christians who have perverted the very ceremony that these verses so movingly describe.
As he often did when about to present an especially important or controversial truth, Paul makes it clear that what he is teaching is not his own opinion but God’s revealed Word. From the tenses in verse 23 we know that what he is about to tell the Corinthian believers is not new to them. He is reminding them of what he had already taught them. For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you.
Most conservative scholars agree that 1 Corinthians probably was written before any of the gospels. If that is true, Paul’s account here is the first biblical record of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and includes direct quotations from Jesus. It is perfectly consistent with the gospel accounts, but Paul’s revelation most likely was received from the Lord directly, not through the other apostles (cf. Gal. 1:10–12), even though the terms here speak of a chain of tradition that had come from the Lord to Paul and then to the Corinthians.
In the night in which He was betrayed gives the historical setting, which many of the believers may not have known, because, as just noted, probably none of the gospels was yet written. Again we see a jewel against a filthy backdrop. This most beautiful and meaningful of Christian celebrations was instituted on the very night the Lord was betrayed and arrested. In the midst of the world’s evil, God establishes His good; in the midst of Satan’s wickedness, God plants His holiness. Just as, by contrast, the fleshly factions cause the Lord’s approved saints to “become evident” (11:19), so Jesus’ betrayal and arrest cause His gracious sacrifice to become more evident. In the midst of Satan’s absolute worst, the condemnation of the Son of God on the cross, God accomplished His absolute best, the sacrifice for the redemption of the world through that cross.
Although Jesus was celebrating the Passover meal with His disciples in the upper room, neither the gospels nor Paul’s account here give all the details of the meal. They concentrate on Jesus’ institution of the new meal, the new supper, which now supersedes the old.
The Passover meal began with the host’s pronouncing a blessing over the first cup of red wine and passing it to the others present. Four cups of wine were passed around during the meal. After the first cup was drunk bitter herbs dipped in a fruit sauce were eaten and a message was given on the meaning of Passover. Then the first part of a hymn, the Hallel (which means “praise” and is related to hallelujah, “praise ye the Lord”), was sung. The Hallel is comprised of Psalms 113–118, and the first part sung was usually 113 or 113 and 114. After the second cup was passed, the host would break and pass around the unleavened bread. Then the meal proper, which consisted of the roasted sacrificial lamb, was eaten. The third cup, after prayer, was then passed and the rest of the Hallel was sung. The fourth cup, which celebrated the coming kingdom, was drunk immediately before leaving.
It was the third cup that Jesus blessed and that became the cup of Communion. “And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood’ ” (Luke 22:20). After Jesus gave some brief words of warning, rebuke, and instruction (vv. 21–38), the meal was concluded with the singing of a hymn (Matt. 26:30).
When He, that is, Jesus, had given thanks, He broke it (cf. John 6:11). In the Greek had given thanks is a participle of eucharisteō, from which we get Eucharist, the name by which some Christians refer to the Lord’s Supper.
The bread that had represented the Exodus now came to represent the body of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. To the Jewish mind the body represented the whole person, not just his physical body. Jesus’ body represents the great mystery of His whole incarnate life, His whole teaching, ministry, and work—all He was and all He did.
The word broken (as in the KJV of verse 24) does not appear in the best manuscripts or in most modern translations. Though the Romans frequently broke the legs of crucified victims in order to hasten death as an act of mercy, John specifically tells us that Jesus’ legs were not broken. In order “that the Scripture might be fulfilled, ‘Not a bone of Him shall be broken’ ” (John 19:33, 36). The best reading therefore is simply This is My body, which is for you.
For you are two of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture. Jesus gave His body, His entire incarnate life, for us who believe in Him. “I became a man for you; I gave the gospel to you; I suffered for you; and I died for you.” Our gracious, loving, magnanimous, merciful God became incarnate not for Himself but for us. Whether a person wants and receives the benefit of that sacrifice is his choice; but Jesus made it and offers it for every person. He paid the ransom for everyone who will be freed.
The cup that had represented the lamb’s blood smeared on the doorposts and lintels now came to represent the blood of the Lamb of God, shed for the salvation of the world. The Old Covenant was ratified repeatedly by the blood of animals offered by men; but the New Covenant has been ratified once and for all by the blood of Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:28), which God Himself has offered. The old deliverance was merely from Egypt to Canaan. So Jesus took the cup and said it is the new covenant in My blood. It is important to realize that this was not new in the sense that it was a covenant of grace replacing one of works. It is new in that it is the saving covenant to which all the Old Testament shadows pointed. The new deliverance is from sin to salvation, from death to life, from Satan’s realm to God’s heaven. Passover was transformed into the Lord’s Supper. We now eat the bread and drink the cup not to remember the Red Sea and the Exodus but to remember the cross and the Savior.
Do this in remembrance of Me is a command from the lips of our Lord Himself. Sharing in the Lord’s Supper is therefore not an option for believers. We must have Communion on a regular basis if we are to be faithful to the Lord who bought us through the act we are called to remember. Not to partake of the Lord’s Supper is disobedience and a sin.
For the Hebrew to remember meant much more than simply to bring something to mind, merely to recall that it happened. To truly remember is to go back in one’s mind and recapture as much of the reality and significance of an event or experience as one possibly can. To remember Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross is to relive with Him His life, agony, suffering, and death as much as is humanly possible. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper we do not offer a sacrifice again; we remember His once-for-all sacrifice for us and rededicate ourselves to His obedient service.
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. As often as we are willing to remember and to proclaim the death of Christ, we will celebrate Communion. No frequency is given, but it is a permanent feast. It is more than a remembrance for our own sakes; it is also a proclamation for the world’s sake. It is a testimony to the world that we are not ashamed of our Lord or of His blood, that we belong to Him and are obedient to Him.
Communion is also a reminder of the Lord’s coming again, for He tells us to proclaim His death by this means until He comes. It helps keep us looking forward to the day when we will be with Him. It is a celebration of His present life and of His future return in glory.
There is much involved in that remembrance. When a believer comes to the Lord’s table, he remembers Christ’s work on the cross (11:25), he partakes of Christ’s spiritual presence in the fellowship, not the elements themselves (10:16), he communes with the saints (10:17), he worships in holiness (10:20–22), he proclaims salvation in Christ (11:24–25), and he anticipates the return of the Lord (11:26) and the coming Kingdom (Matt. 26:29).
26 Paul asserts that through continual celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, believers “proclaim” (katangellō, GK 2859) the Lord’s death. This verb occurs only in Acts and Paul’s letters and for the most part refers to proclaiming or preaching Christ (see 1 Co 2:1; 9:14; Php 1:17–18; Col 1:28; cf. Ac 4:2; 13:38; 17:3, 23). In other words, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a visible means of telling the story of Jesus’ passion and death. (To be complete, I should note that the bread and cup also demonstrate our participation with him in that event; cf. 1 Co 10:16.)
Moreover, we are to celebrate the Lord’s Supper regularly “until he comes” again. There is also an eschatological element in this supper, for by it we testify to the truth that Jesus will return. This element is apparent in the original Last Supper, since Jesus said to his disciples: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.… I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Lk 22:15–18). The Lord’s Supper becomes a foretaste of the great wedding banquet in store for believers (Rev 19:6–9).
11:26 / In bringing this formal, traditional segment of his teaching to a conclusion, Paul extends the repetitive theme and brings together the bread and cup in the declaration you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. In referring to the Lord’s death in this way, Paul connects it with God’s future in the Lord’s coming. In the context of this discussion, particularly in the framework of this letter, this concluding note places the observation of the Lord’s Supper in the larger conceptual framework of apocalyptic eschatology. It takes the Supper as a prescribed celebration that is essential for the time between the cross and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul has already dramatically registered the importance of the cross as the foundation of God’s salvation in chapter 1, especially 1:17–25. In turn, in chapter 15 he will take up the eschatological issues of resurrection and “the end”; but at this point, he is focused on the present as a concrete form of life that finds its shape and direction from Christ’s cross and God’s ultimate reign over all.
In reminding the Corinthians that they are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes, Paul highlights the essentially missional nature of even so congregationally oriented a ritual as the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The participation in the Supper was to have an evangelistic cast, for one was not merely receiving the elements for one’s own sake (or the sake of the community). The believers gave themselves to the celebration as a means of proclaiming the death of the Lord, a death that yielded mysterious salvific benefits for all who heard and believed the proclamation. Note, the Supper is not presented as a means of strengthening believers so that they could proclaim the Lord’s death; rather, participation in the Supper is understood to be that proclamation itself. By manifestly observing Jesus’ self-giving death and the formation of the new covenant, the believers made known a christological truth of eschatological importance.
The significance of the meal (23–26)
Paul then reminded the Corinthians what the Eucharist-plus-Agape was originally meant to be. He recalled the actual institution by the Lord Jesus himself on the night when he was betrayed. Paul’s anonymous reference to Judas may have been an incidental challenge to the Corinthians in their own behaviour.
He passed on to the Corinthians what he personally received from the Lord himself. We cannot be sure precisely how Paul received this revelation. He did not receive the gospel itself ‘from man, nor was I taught it; but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ’. He could have been claiming the same direct revelation concerning these words of instituting the Lord’s Supper. However, the word translated received (parelabon) is the technical word for oral transmission down the generations and across different groups. Perhaps the facts came from oral transmission, but their interpretation and application came directly from the Lord. Whatever the nature of their source, these words are to determine the whole meaning, atmosphere and behaviour in any celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is pre-eminently the death of the Lord which must dominate the proceedings, and this was clearly not the case at Corinth.
The head of any Jewish home would have performed such actions with bread and wine at any meal, and with special solemnity at the Passover-meal. It is, thus, the words which give the actions their unique significance, as well as the identity of the Person who uttered the words. He took bread … He gave thanks … He broke it … He said, ‘This is my body which is for you’ (23–24). And then he added the world-shaking statement/command: ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ He followed these actions with similar ones with the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’ (25).
The words over the cup would have evoked memories of key Old Testament passages, but Paul’s own stress is on the way every such celebration is a public proclamation of the Lord’s death, until he comes (26). There is an anticipatory element in every celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It looks back to his death; it looks forward to his return.
The main word Paul uses to describe what has happened is covenant. Through the shedding of the blood of Jesus, the paschal lamb (5:7), it is now possible for Jews and Greeks, rich and poor, libertine and rigorist, men and women to know the glorious freedom of forgiveness and to have personal knowledge of God. Those who enter into this personal relationship, this covenant-relationship, with the Lord naturally enter at the same time into a covenant-relationship with one another. Thus, the covenant community is established—and that is precisely what the Corinthians were undermining by their behaviour. For them the death of Christ was not central; the return of Christ was not dominant; the love of Christ was not in control. It was, in a word, not ‘the Lord’s Supper’.
11:26. Paul closed his account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper with an explanation of his unique repetition of the remembrance of Christ. Why should eating and drinking in the Lord’s Supper focus on the remembrance of Christ? It is because whenever the church participates in the Lord’s Supper, Christians proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. The expression “proclaim” (katangello) occurs many times in the New Testament to describe the ministry of the church to the unbelieving world. It is the prophetic announcement to those outside the church that Christ is the only way of salvation.
When the world sees the church eating and drinking in order to remember the significance of Christ’s body and blood, the word of the gospel is made visible. The expression “the Lord’s death” represents the whole of Christ’s saving ministry on behalf of the church: his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
26. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
- “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup.” Of all the New Testament writers who record the words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, only Paul has Jesus’ command: “Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.” Paul adds his own summary of and insight into the Lord’s Supper. With the conjunction for, he summarizes Jesus’ formulary. He repeats the words as often as and links them to both the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup. These two actions must always be equal elements of this sacrament. At the Corinthian love feasts and Communion services, irregularities occurred which Paul now seeks to rectify.
- “You proclaim the death of the Lord.” Paul teaches that all those who eat the bread and drink from the cup symbolically proclaim Jesus’ death. By his death, Jesus has made them partners of the new covenant that God established with his people and of which Christ is the mediator. Paul reminds them of the spiritual benefits that accrue from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and they by partaking of the bread and the cup acknowledge unity one with another in Christ.
When the church celebrates the Lord’s Supper in the setting of a worship service, ministers of the Word ought to proclaim the significance of Christ’s death. Whenever they expound the Word verbally, the worshipers proclaim it silently by partaking of the sacramental elements.
- “Until he comes.” The members of the church proclaim both Jesus’ death and his return. They look forward to the day when Christ shall return and they shall be forever with the Lord. In the church of the second half of the first century, believers celebrated Communion and then prayed Maranatha (Come, O Lord).
Christians cannot suppress their desire to be with Jesus; they must proclaim his death, resurrection, and return. In a similar vein, the prophet Isaiah notes his inability to suppress this desire:
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her righteousness shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 270–273). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 360). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Soards, M. L. (2011). 1 Corinthians (pp. 241–242). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Prior, D. (1985). The message of 1 Corinthians: life in the local church (pp. 187–188). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). I & II Corinthians (Vol. 7, p. 201). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, p. 398). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.