The Last Passover — The First Supper
In these verses the Holy Spirit describes how our blessed Savior instituted as a perpetual ordinance in his church the observance of the Lord’s supper. This is one of those passages of Holy Scripture that ought to immediately arouse deep reverence in our hearts. The hour had come “when the passover must be killed” (v. 7), when “Christ our Passover” (1 Cor. 5:7) must be sacrificed for us. Therefore, the Lord Jesus gathered his disciples together to observe the passover feast with them for the last time and to observe the Lord’s Supper with his church for the first time.
I find it utterly astonishing that this blessed ordinance of divine worship, so beautifully simple and majestic, so delightfully unifying and blessed, has been made a matter of fear and a point of controversy and division throughout the history of the church. How dishonoring that is to our Savior by whom the ordinance was established and for whose honor it is to be kept! Let’s look at these verses line by line, asking God the Holy Spirit to be our Teacher, praying that he may write the lessons here taught upon our hearts.
We are specifically told that Judas was with the disciples when the Lord Jesus established this ordinance in his church. — “And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him” (v. 14). After making his bargain with the chief priests, Scribes, and elders to betray the Son of God, Judas brazenly came and took his place with the rest of the apostles, both to cover his sin, and to watch the best opportunity of betraying the Master.
The betrayer was present even as the Lord Jesus instituted the blessed ordinance of the gospel (v. 21). That fact makes it abundantly clear that our Lord did not fence the Table to keep unbelievers from eating the bread and wine with believers. He did not give any basis for the practice of closed communion.
Let me be clearly understood. The Lord’s Supper, like baptism and church membership, is for believers only. We must never encourage unbelievers to join us in observing this blessed ordinance of the gospel. Yet, we must never attempt to set barriers around the table to keep anyone away. The Holy Spirit makes it crystal clear that it is the responsibility of the person who eats the bread and drinks the wine to examine himself, to be certain that he or she is a believer, one who discerns the Lord’s body, warning all those who eat and drink unworthily (without faith in Christ), eat and drink damnation to themselves (1 Cor. 11:27-30).
You, and you alone can determine whether you are in the faith. If you profess faith in Christ, it is my responsibility and the responsibility of Christ’s church to look upon your profession as genuine, and to receive you “without doubtful disputations,” without suspicion (Rom. 14:1).
Our Lord knew that Judas was a devil, and that he was, at that time, looking for an opportunity to betray him. Yet, when he passed out the bread and wine, he gave it to Judas as well as to James and John, because Judas professed to be one of his.
In verse 15 our Savior expressed his heart’s ambition and desire to redeem us. — “And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.” He desired to eat this, the last passover, with his disciples because, in doing so, he had come to the end of his mission in this world. He was about to suffer all the fury of God’s holy wrath and offended justice as our Substitute and enter into his glory. Before doing so, he established the communion ordinance as a perpetual reminder to us that our union and communion with him is based upon and arises from his sin-atoning death upon the cursed tree.
He desired to eat it with them, with his disciples, because his desire is toward us his people (2 Pet. 3:9). It was so from everlasting, when he desired us as his spouse and bride. It was so in time, when he became incarnate, suffered, died, and gave himself for us. His desire is towards his people before they are called, while unregenerate, unbelieving rebels. His desire is with us and toward us still, notwithstanding all our sin and unbelief (Song 5:1-2).
In ourselves we are black with sin; but in him we are comely and beautiful, robed with his righteousness, washed, pure, and made white in his precious blood, so comely and beautiful in his eyes, that he declares he is ravished by us! Imagine that! The Son of God declares that we ravish his heart (Song 4:9). Therefore, he desires our company and communion always!
The Lord Jesus delighted in us from eternity, viewing us as perfect in himself before the world was made. We are the joy set before him, the joy that sustained him and carried him through his sufferings and death. You and I, my brother, my sister, are the objects of his unceasing desires and prayers!
Our blessed Savior desired with desire to eat this, the last passover, because that meant that his sufferings and death were at hand, that the eternal redemption of our souls was about to be accomplished. Justice would soon be satisfied. The law would soon be fulfilled. Our sins would soon be atoned for and put away. The Father would soon be glorified by his obedience unto death.
Until it be Fulfilled
“For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (v. 16). — The law, once it was fulfilled by him, must end (Rom. 10:4). The passover and all the ceremonies and rituals of the law were about to be abolished forever. Therefore, he said, “I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Now that the law has all been fulfilled by him, our blessed Savior girds himself with grace and serves us all that was signified and typified in it. And, in the glory that soon shall be ours, we will eat and drink together with him in his Father’s kingdom, and spend an endless eternity in never fading joys and pleasures, singing the song of Moses and the Lamb (Ex. 15:1-18; Rev. 15:3).
In the observance of the Jewish passover, four cups were used. Commonly, as each cup was passed around the table, one by one, the head of the house would lead the family in prayer and thanksgiving. Then, the family would drink from the cups divided among them. Having done this, the Lord Jesus said, “For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of this vine, until the kingdom of God shall come” (v. 18). What was our Lord referring to here? Perhaps he was simply saying, “I am about to leave this world, and will never again eat and drink with you physically.” Perhaps he was talking about the new wine of grace, that was to be poured out by him in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Most likely, I think, he was referring to the everlasting celebration of redemption with us in eternal glory, when we shall eat and drink at his table forever, as he tells us in verse 30.