I know that if you have one of those Bibles organized with captions labeling specific events, the subhead at Matthew 26:17 or Mark 14:12 or Luke 22:7, or John 13 perhaps, says, “The Last Supper.” But what we so often call “Last Supper” is not the Last Supper.
And before you declare and dismiss me as a heretic, come with me to examine Scripture references to make my point. Then answer my rather impertinent concluding question: “Are you ready for the Last Supper?”
And I have other questions before that: What really took place at the event labeled the “Last Supper”? What significant aspects of it make it the first rather than the last? Why do I say the label is a myth? And why do I believe that the true “Last Supper” is still future?
The origin of the Lord’s Supper is rooted in the original Passover, both in timing and symbolism. Passover marked a new beginning for God’s people, Israel, and symbolized deliverance from a life of bondage. The Lord’s Supper brings the same meanings to Christianity—
new birth and freedom from the penal debt of sin. Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage was a type of the real deliverance that Jesus would bring to the whole human race.
Despite the on-again, off-again relationship between the nation of Israel and their God from the time of their liberation from Egypt to first-century Judaism, the tradition of Passover celebration was preserved, though with a variety of interesting changes: on that last night in Egypt, Israel consumed bitter herbs; but by the New Testament era the bitter herbs seem to have been replaced by wine. Unleavened bread and roasted lamb were maintained, but over time the tradition grew into a “15-point” ritual, with as many as three to four servings of wine, an element adapted from the Romans, perhaps, since Romans drank several glasses of wine with each meal.
The Jewish Seder (“order”) usually included the Matzo—unleavened bread—and roasted lamb as well as a ritual of seeking and removing all leaven from the house, a symbolic purging from sin (Ex. 12:15, 19; 13:7). In addition to a ritual cleansing of the house, some families that could afford it would use separate cooking and eating utensils specifically set aside for Passover—to avoid contamination with leaven.
Today there are more than 3,000 versions of the 15 ordered steps. The rabbis required the story of deliverance from Egyptian bondage to be told in as many ways as possible as long as the general theme was emphasized: “God’s redemption from evil.” Belief in the four goblets of wine is allegedly based on God’s promise in Exodus 6:6, 7, as follows:
Cup 1: I will free you from bondage (start of the meal).
Cup 2: I will deliver you from slavery (with the main meal).
Cup 3: I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.
Cup 4: I will take you to be My people (the Cup of Consummation—usually poured at the end of the meal but never drunk).
In their first-century equivalent of this ritual Jesus met with His disciples in an upper room, conforming to a tradition that He Himself had instituted as Israel’s original Deliverer, and was about to reinterpret and reapply to all lost humanity as the Savior of the world from bondage to Satan and sin: “As He ate the Passover with His disciples, He instituted in its place the service that was to be the memorial of His great sacrifice. The national festival of the Jews was to pass away forever. The service which Christ established was to be observed by His followers in all lands and through all ages.”1
What’s incorrect about the Last Supper? Our quotation exposes the limit of the name itself, the “Last Supper.” For Jesus intended the service “to be observed by His followers in all lands and through all ages.”2 This was an inaugural supper, with novel elements that are clearly identifiable: as they ate, Jesus said, of the bread, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And of the wine: “Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:26-28, KJV), new concepts for a familiar ritual—first, not last; Christian symbols that modified the Jewish ritual and hold a message of hope for all Christians.
Luke preserves a second new note in the order that Jesus gives when presenting His disciples the bread:“Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). The early Christian church respected that counsel, which caused Paul to write: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). From that night in that upper room down through the ages until today, Christians have taken this supper in the hope of His coming.
And Mark’s next new note from Jesus’ words is a promise that thrills the expectant saint again and again: “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25, NIV). This, above all, is the Cup of Consummation, the cup that was not drunk; the cup that Jesus is waiting to drink with us in His Father’s kingdom: now, that’s a “Last Supper” to look forward to. It will certainly be “the Climactic Supper.” I want to be there. Have you thought of being ready for that Last Supper? I find it a thought worth living with: supper in the kingdom with Jesus.
Steve Constantine pastors the Palo Alto Seventh-day Adventist Church, Palo Alto, California.