During that poignant evening when He knew betrayal loomed, Jesus Christ yearned to leave His followers with a tangible symbol of His enduring love. In much the same way that God had previously reassured Noah with a rainbow, elevated Abraham’s gaze to the stars, and sanctified the Sabbath for Israel, Jesus sought to present His disciples with a visible affirmation of His faithfulness. And thus, He blessed and broke a loaf of bread, and filled a cup with wine.
In these common elements, the bread and the wine, our crucified and resurrected Lord communicated His victories. Through them, He established our identity. Moreover, He provided a foretaste of His impending kingdom, where He would once again host a feast, but this time with no ensuing sorrow.
Yet, to truly appreciate the depths of Christ’s love in this meal, and not see it as mere bread and wine, we must grasp the significance of these elements. As John Calvin elegantly penned, “Indeed, the most important aspect of all sacraments is that the word of God should be clearly etched there and that a clear voice should resound.”
So, what messages have Jesus embedded within the bread and the cup? What does the Last Supper convey?
The bread and wine, with their roots embedded deeply in the traditions of Israel, are rich in associations. They’re recurrent motifs in the Old Testament and in Jesus’s ministry. These were the nourishment of God’s people, the key to survival (Genesis 27:28; Leviticus 26:26), tokens of friendship and hospitality (Psalm 104:15; Genesis 14:18; Ruth 2:14), and indicators of God’s covenant blessings or curses (Deuteronomy 7:13; Hosea 2:9). They are symbolic of Israel’s hope for the eschaton when God would end death and hold a feast for all people (Isaiah 25:6–8; 55:1–2).
Jesus, in His divine wisdom, used bread and wine throughout His ministry, multiplying them, drawing parallels between Himself and them, consecrating them for the church’s covenant meal, and promising their presence in the age to come. He was indeed Israel’s God incarnate, the life sustainer, gift giver, covenant maker, and bringer of the eschaton.
On a particular night, during the Passover, Jesus revolutionized the traditional meal. While the Passover meal celebrated a past liberation from slavery and declared God’s redeemed people, the Last Supper turned the focus to the present and to the ultimate Lamb of God, Jesus Himself. By aligning His Supper with the Passover, Jesus infused familiar categories with profound new meanings. His death would provide a once-for-all sacrifice, and His redemption would rescue us not from Pharaoh, but from sin, death, and hell itself.
Similarly, the cup of the Last Supper recalls the covenant moment post Exodus, where Moses sprinkled Israelites with sacrificial blood, signaling their status as God’s people (Exodus 6:7). Jesus alluded to this moment when He passed the cup to His disciples, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). His blood, unlike that of goats and calves, cleanses not only the flesh but also the conscience. His blood secures an eternal redemption, inheritance, and covenant, fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy of a “new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:33–34), under which God writes His law on our hearts and grants divine forgetfulness to our sins.
This ordinary bread and wine, albeit simple in appearance, encapsulate divine glory. In this meal, we find echoes of the past and promises of the future (1 Corinthians 11:26). We find the message of our redemption from wrath and sin, and our covenantal bond with God, all through Jesus Christ, our Bread of Life and true Vine. So let’s partake of this bread and wine, savor the love of Christ, and rejoice in His covenant of eternal salvation.