The Covenant Meal (Lord's Supper)

Let us start this message with an introduction to covenants.

Covenants were a form of agreement or contract based on trust made between two parties – between two persons or two groups of people.

Covenants are not mere contracts.
Trust in each other was an integral part of covenants.
A covenant is a legally binding contract based on trust.

They were popular in ancient times in Middle East area.
They were unchanging as long as the conditions stipulated in the covenant are kept.

There were different kinds of covenants.

Usually covenants have stipulated conditions for both the parties.
Both the parties should keep the conditions; otherwise the covenant would be nullified.
If any one party violates any condition of the covenant, the covenant is considered cancelled.
This type of covenant is called bi lateral covenant.

There were also unilateral covenants.
In unilateral covenants, conditions stipulated in the covenant are applicable to one party.
There would be no conditions for the second party.
That means the covenant would be kept in force by the first party in spite of the adherence to it by the second party.
There would be no conditions to keep for the second party.
And hence there is no question of violation of any terms and conditions by the second party.

There were also blood covenants and covenants without shedding any blood.
Blood covenants were sealed with shedding of the blood of an animal.
Stronger and universal covenants are blood covenants.

Covenants can be made between two or more parties.
They may people equal in rank or unequal persons or people group.
If the covenant is made between a higher person with a lower person in rank, the covenant is proposed by the higher person.
Higher persons include God, Kings etc. and lower person are people lower in rank to them.

Covenants contain blessings and cures.
In bi lateral covenants, we are blessed as long as the covenant is kept and cursed when we break the covenant.
In unilateral covenants, either blessings or curse is effected whether we obey or disobey the covenant conditions.

The parties those who enter into a covenant establish or exchange a symbol or token for their covenant.
It helps them and their generations to remember the covenant.

Having a Covenant Meal after the announcement of the covenant was also a custom, where ever it was possible.
In blood covenant, the animal killed to shed the blood was cooked for the meal.
Both the parties sit together peacefully and partake in the meal.

All covenants have a purpose of establishing peace among the parties.
The covenant meal is a meal of peace taken together.

Covenants usually have these 4 characteristics:

1.   Statement of the purpose and terms
2.   Oath by both parties
3.   Shedding of blood
4.   The Covenant Meal

The covenant Meal

A covenant meal was nothing new in the Middle East during the time of Jesus.
Among the people of the Middle East for many centuries it’s been understood that to eat bread with a man and to share the same cup were to make a very solemn and sacred commitment to him.

The covenant meal is an especially important part of entering into a blood covenant with another person or group.
It is a picture of the two parties becoming one.

It is usually the final part of the "traditional" ceremony, but it can be done at any time to symbolize the "oneness" being created.
If you refer back to the traditional steps in making a blood covenant, you will see that bread and wine were normally used in the covenant meal.
They represented the body and blood of each party being consumed by each other thereby becoming one in union.

Lord’s Supper as a part of the redemptive history

Covenant meal as started and established by our Lord is a part of the redemptive history since creation to the eschatological fulfiment.
Since creation God has sought covenant relationship with his creatures in order to establish a community.
With this purpose, God entered into a covenant with Abraham and his descendants and ultimately with all the nations toward the eschatological end of eternal communion.

God's covenant desire was to be our God and we to be his people.

Throughout the whole history of God's redemptive work, God has established fellowship and covenant through sacrifice.
The fellowship and covenant were confirmed through eating the sacrifice, a meal.

Those meals within the redemptive history anticipate the eschatological messianic banquet when God will dwell with his people in the new Jerusalem.

The "Lord's supper" is the present stage of the covenant meal in the redemptive history of man.
It embraces the past and anticipates the future.
We are enacting and reaffirming the covenant through the covenant meal expecting the consummation of the covenant for redemption in the eschatological end.
So the full meaning of this Christian meal can only be understood in the light of redemptive history.

Covenant Meal in Redemptive History

Covenant Meal in the Old Testament

All these kinds of covenants are seen in the Old Testament of the Bible.

In Old Testament times, covenants were made not only between men, but also between God and His people.
In fact, God has continually used covenants as a way of establishing and increasing the level of fellowship between himself and his people.

Covenants between God and Man are progressive in nature.
One covenant does not cancel or wipe away the former covenant.
Because God brakes no covenants.

Each covenant is a progressive revelation of God to Man.
Covenants are progressive revelations of God’s plan to redeem humankind.
We should study covenants along with the redemptive history of mankind from Genesis to the eschatological age in eternity.

Food or meal was an important part of covenant making in the ancient Near East.
Eating with other people was a significant event in ancient days.
Only people who were at peace with each other could dine together.

Covenant Meal – Jacob and Laban

Genesis 31:22-55 provides an example of a covenant meal within a family clan.
Laban and Jacob came to a truce (ceasefire) and solemnize their pact with the breaking of bread.
Thus peace was established between them.

The covenant would be witness between Jacob and Laban of their peaceful relationship.
God was not only be a witness to the covenant, but a participant in blessing the parties involved as well as a judge between them (31:49-50,53).
Both Laban and Jacob swore an oath, and a sacrifice was offered to enact the covenant.
It was followed by a meal to celebrate and confirm it.

Genesis 31:54  Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount. (KJV)

The meal was a symbol of peace and mutual acceptance within the clan.
It celebrated and sealed the peace which now existed between Laban and Jacob

Covenant Meal – God and elders of Israel

Exodus 24:1–11  records an extraordinary covenant meal that is shared by the God and the elders of Israel.

Moses and Aaron were already on the mount, or at least some way up (Exodus 19:24) There they had heard the voice of the Lord distinctly speaking to them.
God had been laying down all the laws as narrated from the beginning of the 20 chapter of Exodus to the end of the 23.
Before they went down from the mount to lay them before the people, Lord asked them to come back.
Down in the valley they had to propose the conditions of the covenant to the Israelites.
The whole Israelites were to ratify them.
After that they were to go up again unto the mountain accompanied with Nadab and Abihu the sons of Aaron, and seventy of the principal elders of Israel. 

Moses accordingly went down, spoke to the people and ratified the covenant
And then, according to the command of God he and the others re ascended the mountain. 

The elders of Israel were invited up on the mountain with Moses and the priests to see a vision of the Lord.
We are not sure of what this vision actually entailed, but it was a glimpse of God’s glory.

After a sight of God’s glory they did eat and drink.

Exodus 24:11 But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank.

The eating and drinking here may refer to the peace offerings on which they feasted.
It is likely that what the elders then ate in the presence of the Lord was the oxen of the peace offering, burnt at the covenant making ceremony

Exodus 24:4
4    And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel.
 5   Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD.

Peace Offerings

Peace-offering (fellowship offering)  is distinctly a sacrificial meal.
The peace offering emphasizes the fact that the people of ancient Israel had the opportunity for close communion with the Lord.

They could eat the flesh of an animal that had been presented, identified, and consecrated as an offering to the Lord.
This signified that all was well (peaceful) in the relationship between the Lord and his people.

Moses and all others on the mountain drank the libations (liquid offering - probably wine, according to the popular custom) that were then offered on the ratification of the covenant. 
But they rejoiced the more because they had been so highly favoured, and were still permitted to live.

The meal is where God, the priest and the worshipper share shalom through the meal.
The sacrifice provides meat for the covenant meal, and the meal is the means by which fellowship is shared.
The meal celebrates covenantal communion.

This feast had a prophetic bearing.

·        They feasted upon the sacrifice before God is a token of their cheerful consent to the covenant.
·        The meal expressed their grateful acceptance of the benefits of the covenant.
·        The covenant meal is a communion with God in pursuance (continuance) of that covenant.

The God of Israel is a Holy God who cannot be approached by sinful human beings.
But God establishes communion with his people through covenantal sacrifice.
This communion is expressed by not only "seeing" God, but also sharing fellowship with him through a covenant meal.
God becomes the God of his people through covenant, and this covenant is celebrated through a meal.

Through the meal they were affirming peace with God.
Two parties were brought into peace with each other.

Thus this act of covenant meal signals God's dwelling with men.

The peace with God that Israel enjoyed on the mountain lasted but a moment.
The history of the old covenant is one of war between the Lord and His unfaithful bride.
Hence a greater work would be done to secure eternal peace, commemorated by a greater meal that includes people from all nations.
This is the importance of the Covenant Meal established by Jesus Christ.

Eschatological Fulfillment

Isaiah 25:6-9 anticipates a day when God will wipe away every tear through swallowing up the disgrace of his people.

Isaiah 25: 6 – 9
6 And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.
 7            And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations.
8 He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.
 9            And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

The Banquet would have been understood from Isaiah to be metaphorical of a description of the entire future messianic age.
The banquet of these righteous ones represents the promised future prosperity of the messianic reign after Jesus defeats the enemy.
This feast is for people from all the nations who are invited to participate.
This is no single event.
The banquet describes an entire eschatological age.

On the day when God destroys death the eschatological banquet will come to its full.
God will celebrate with His people a banquet with rich food and the best wine.
It will be a day of celebration when God has conquered all his enemies, the last enemy being death.
God can then spread the messianic banquet, and all of his people from all nations will sit down with each other to enjoy fellowship with their God and with each other
It will be a covenantal meal in which God will fully dwell with his people.

The Last Supper

Here in this study we are focusing the Covenant Meal Jesus had with His disciples.
It is also known as ‘Last Supper’ or our ‘Lords Table’.

Jesus used the last supper for introducing the New Covenant.
This new covenant reconciles us with God establishing peace and brings a close level of fellowship with him.

It has great significance to Christian faith.
It is here where Jesus announces a bi lateral covenant between Himself and God; Himself and Man and God and Man, for the salvation and eternal life of men.

Jesus and His disciples had gathered together to celebrate the Passover meal as was the requirement under the Law.
But at this gathering, knowing it was going to be His last meal with His closest friends, Jesus did something unexpected.

During the Passover supper He took two of the simple elements that were on the supper table, the bread and the wine.
Jesus used those two elements to seal a very sacred covenant.

The meal that Jesus shared with his disciples, just before his death, was the Jewish Passover meal.
Jesus celebrated the Passover to signify its fulfillment through his imminent sacrifice as the ultimate Passover lamb.
So Jesus was the Passover meal.
Through the sharing of this Passover meal Jesus also instituted the New Covenant.
 Jesus’ last supper bears all the markings of a covenant meal.

The covenant meal consists of the meat of the sacrificial animal.
 Jesus was having a Covenant Meal with His disciples.
Soon after this Jesus was taken away to give His life on the cross and spill His blood to make a way for all to enter into a Covenant with God through Him.

Here are the words that describe what Jesus did.

Matthew 26:26–28
26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."
27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you.
28 "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
29 "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."
30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

The Covenant Meal is extremely important to God.
When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper:

·     We bring God in remembrance of His Word.
·     We are remembering Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross
·     We are reaffirming our acceptance of, and participation in, the New Covenant that Jesus has secured for us.

When Jesus is asked us to reenact the Covenant Meal, he meant:

§  To remember the Covenant Meal
§  Remember His broken body and the shedding of His blood.

What are its purposes?

1.   To commemorate
Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”
In other words, always remember how the covenant was initiated.
Always remember where this relationship began.
Never forget that.

2.   To perpetuate it.
We have to keep it always before us.
The Covenant meal is an ongoing relationship which would never cease, both between Jesus and His disciples and amongst the disciples themselves.

3.   To renew.
I believe there are times in our Christian experience when we’re beginning to slip from God’s standards, from God’s requirements.
And one of the ways that God calls us back to His standards is by this covenant meal.
Here we are reminded, once again, of what it is all about, what it cost, what Jesus expects of us.

The Institution of the New Covenant Meal

According to Luke 22, Matthew 26 and Mark 14, the new covenant meal was instituted during the last Passover supper shared with his disciples.

Matthew 26:26
26   And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.

Mark 14:22 - 26
22   And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body.
 23 And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it.
 24 And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.
 25 Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.
 26 And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
Luke 22:14 - 20
14   And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him.
 15 And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:
 16 For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
 17 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves:
 18 For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.
 19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.
 20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

They directly linked the old covenant Passover with the new covenant meal.
Jesus ate this Passover with the anticipation that he would eat it (the Passover) again with the disciples in the kingdom of God.
The Passover supper would find its "fulfillment in the kingdom of God" (22:16) where they would eat and drink at Jesus' table in his kingdom (22:30).

They placed this new covenant meal on the trajectory (route/path) of redemptive history.
The goal of redemption is the eschatological community of God in the heavenly kingdom.

Jesus will eat and drink with the disciples again when the kingdom comes.
The fullness of kingdom is the reign of God.

However, Luke also believes that in the person of Jesus, who exorcises demons, the kingdom is already present (11:20).
And Pentecost was the inauguration of restored Israel when Jesus' ascent to the throne of David was proclaimed (Acts 1:6; 2:29-35 with Luke 1:30-33).

Thus, the fulfillment of which Jesus speaks during the meal has a dual import:

1.   It is fulfillment in the new covenant meal of the inaugurated kingdom.
2.   The eschatological banquet.

The language, in connection with the Passover context, establishes the covenantal character of this meal.
There is a strong continuity with the old covenant meals, but there is also a redemptive-historical fulfillment of the old in the new covenant.
The type has been fulfilled and taken to a new level.
That fulfillment in the Lord's Supper anticipates an eschatological fulfillment when the kingdom of God fully arrives.

§  The Passover meal was a memorial of God’s work in redemptive history.
The new Covenant meal is a memorial of Jesus’ work in redemptive history.

§  The Passover remembered the Exodus
The new Covenant meal remembers the gospel events, the death and resurrection of Jesus.

To eat from the Lord's Table means to commit ourselves to the Lord's covenant.
To drink the Lord's cup is to renew our covenant with God through Christ.

So every Lord's Supper is a covenant renewal for the covenant people.

Through the covenant meal we proclaim our faith in God's eschatological promises, and we anticipate the messianic banquet in God's eschatological kingdom.
As we eat and drink now, we eat and drink in the hope of eating and drinking with Jesus in the fullness of his kingdom.

A Communion Meal

The communion of the altar in the new covenant meal is a communion with the body and blood of Christ as well as the communion of the many members as one body.

The covenant meal means to share in the blessings of God's work in Christ.
The Covenant meal means that we come before him as the one covenant people of God.
Though there are many members, there is one body of fellowship which is focused on Christ's work.
The covenant meal is a communal meal where the people of God are united to each other by their covenant with the one God.

Covenantal Renewal

When we eat and drink we renew our covenant with God.
We pledge ourselves to keep the covenant.
Just as Israel voiced its willingness to obey the covenant, so we ratify the covenant in our life when we eat and drink.
It is a moment of rededication and recommitment.
In the context of the worship experience, we voice our commitment to live worthy of the gospel (cf. Phil. 1:27).
We vow to take up our cross, call upon Jesus as Lord and follow him into the world as an obedient servant.
The Supper is the ritual moment when we renew the covenant vow we made in our baptism.

When the New Testament Church eats this meal:

·        It eats the new Covenant Passover (or thanksgiving meal)
·        It expects the eschatological victory.
·        It eats in the light of the resurrected Lord who has conquered death and will remove the disgrace of his people.
·        The supper is a meal shared with the risen Lord.

The Presence of Jesus

We are not simply re enacting the drama of Last Supper.
We are re enacting the covenant meal and reaffirming our acceptance of the covenant.
For affirming or reaffirming the covenant, both parties must be present.
Jesus is present whenever and wherever we participate in the Covenant Meal.

And so when we reaffirm the covenant, Jesus is always present with us through his Spirit.
We eat this Covenant Meal with Jesus reaffirming His side of the Covenant as the Saviour and Redeemer who rescues us from the power of sin and death.

Covenantal Presence

God has always promised to live among his people and to be their God.
God is present among his people in the covenant meal - it is an eating and drinking in the presence of the covenant Lord.
The presence of God in the meal, in the tabernacle, in the temple is a covenantal presence.
This presence is found in the church through the indwelling Spirit by whom we are the temple of God.
The church is the habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:22).
In the covenant meal, the body and blood of Christ are present through the Spirit.
As we worship in the Spirit, Christ is present through the covenant meal.

Covenantal Fellowship

The covenant meal symbolizes and mediates the fellowship between God and his covenant people.
It testifies to the reconciliation which God has enacted and the peace which exists between God and the redeemed, and between the redeemed.
It is a moment of joy, communion and thanksgiving.
The people of God celebrate their reconciliation by God's work; they rejoice in the redemptive work of God for them.

It is a moment of communal fellowship between God and his community.
It is a moment of communion with the risen Lord at whose table we eat and drink.

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