Understanding the Last Supper can be confusing as there are quite a few opinions on it, and a very broad range of ideas. The last supper, of course, was the Passover meal that Jesus celebrated with his disciples the night he was betrayed. In the Old Testament, the Passover is when the Angel of Death “passed over” those who had marked their homes with the blood of a lamb. The Passover was the defining moment for the Israelites – it was their birth as a people. To this day, the Jewish Passover is rich in history and ritual. But what did Jesus mean by it?
Here’s what we’re told in Matthew 26:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Now, the Israelites were in literal bondage. They were a slave people suffering under Pharaoh. Pharaoh was not interested in letting his labor force go free. However, after a series of plagues (blood, frogs, lice, hail…etc), with the last one being the death of all Egyptian first-born sons, Pharaoh changed his tune. God told Moses to instruct all the Israelites to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a lamb. This way the Angel of Death would “pass over” that home, saving them from the suffering and agony of losing a first born.
Here’s the passage from Exodus:
So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again
What a night! One can only imagine the horror the next morning. As Tim Keller notes, folks either woke up to a dead son, or a dead lamb. With this very brief back story in mind, Keller goes on to point out that, in Luke, Jesus explicitly told his followers to memorialize the Last Supper. Jesus was saying memorialize my death. Think about my death. Reflect and meditate on my death. Why?
Just as the Israelites had become a nation after the Passover, the death of Jesus was the birth of something new. Jesus is the new Passover saving us from the Angel of Death – saving us from God’s wrath by taking it upon himself (see Why Did Jesus Have To Die for more on this). Jesus broke his body and bled his blood so we could be spared, and so we could be adopted into God’s family – this is the new covenant – the new deal.
Jesus wants us to remember his death. Notice he didn’t say remember my teaching, remember my transfiguration, remember my miracles…etc. He’s not saying don’t learn from those or don’t remember them. Rather, Jesus is saying my death is central to everything.
It makes sense really. Think about the sacrifice of God. Jesus, a unit of the Trinity, a part of God, came and died to save us from our own self destruction and to pay the cost for our iniquity. The Creator of the universe self-sacrificially laid down his life for us. His humility, His resolve (I must die), and His grace, love, and power gives us an incredible window into God.
When we reflect on the death of Jesus as He instructed us to do by memorializing the Last Supper, we begin to see that, despite the incredible gift that freed us from slavery, we can’t boast. Our egos can’t say look at me, I’m great – I’m saved. We can’t say we’re better than the “other” because Jesus died, freely, to save us. We did nothing and can do nothing to earn our salvation. God sought us out. It was pure gift!
At the same time, we are empowered with his love, his humility, and the confidence to face anything. Not even the sting of death can hurt us. Because of Jesus, we can be bold, yet humble. We can be assertive yet respectful. We can be aggressive yet patient. In a very real sense, as we continue to think about who Jesus is, what he did for us, and how he did it, we begin to transform. We can become like him.
What would it mean to have a world full of people who didn’t need their ego or pride because they truly reflected on the meaning of Jesus death? What if people were not driven by their own selfish desires, but rather sought to serve others self-sacrificially like Jesus? What would it mean if the fear, anger, and resentment that boils inside us was gone because it was no longer needed, but replaced with the love of God? What would it mean if greed, jealously, envy disappeared because we were so confident in God’s love for us?
It would mean world peace. Or, what Christians refer to as the Kingdom of God. The time of God’s reign.
Christians don’t call Jesus the Savior of the World as a cute title. Jesus has big plans. Christians fully expect Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson