Communion or the Lord’s Supper Explained in Its Hebraic Context
The Importance of Memorials and Symbols
Obedient and truth-seeking disciples of Yeshua will want to love him by keeping his commandments (John 14:12), and by teaching and doing everything he commanded (Matt 28:20). They will be following Paul’s example to imitate Yeshua the Messiah (1 Cor 11:1) as well heeding John’s admonition “to walk just as [Yeshua] walked” (1 John 2:6). This applies to the important biblical ritual of communion as well. How can we celebrate communion just as Yeshua did it? How closely is your typical mainstream Christian church following Yeshua’s commandments when it conducts a communion or the Lord’s supper? We shall discover the answer below.
With regard to obeying YHVH’s commands, symbols and memorializations figure prominently in YHVH Elohim’s spiritual economy. Why is this? They are teaching aids. Physical humans need physical things to help them to comprehend spiritual truths and ideals. Using symbols, commemorations and memorializations is a method of teaching and relates to pedagogy, which is “the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept.” A effective teacher endeavors to build bridges of understanding between what the student knows and what the teacher wants to teach the student— between the known and the unknown, between what the student understands now and what the teacher wants his students to learn. A successful teacher learns the skill of building bridges of understanding with his students to bring them to a higher level of understanding. The same is true of YHVH Elohim as we works with humans to teach them about spiritual things.
On a spiritual level, YHVH Elohim, our Heavenly Teacher, employes similar pedagogic or teaching techniques as he endeavors to bring men to a higher level of understanding heaven’s spiritual truths and realities. The use of symbols and memorials as teaching tools is essential to this process of teaching and learning.
The Bible is full of symbols and memorials that represent or point to something else and act as teaching aids to assist humans in learning about Elohim and what he requires of us. For example, the very name of the Creator, YHVH (Yehovah), is a memorial, symbol or remembrance (Heb. zeker from zakar) of who Elohim really is (Exod 3:15). His name is a way for humans to connect with him. The same is true of each of our names. Our name is a label, a pointer, a symbol of who we are, but it’s not really us. Similarly, eating unleavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread is a memorial (Heb. zikrown from zakar) of coming out of Egypt and putting sin out of one’s life (Exod 13:9). The twelve stones on the high priest’s breastplate were memorials (Heb. zikrown from zakar) of the twelve tribes of Israel (Exod 28:12). The grain offering that was made on the altar of sacrifice in the Tabernacle of Moses was a memorial (Heb. azkarah from zakar) or remembrance that prophetically pointed to Yeshua the Messiah’s death on the cross and the fact that he is the bread of life (Lev 2:2). Blowing shofars on the Day of Trumpets is a memorial (Heb. zikrown from zakar) of many things past, present and prophetically including the second coming of Yeshua and the firstfruits resurrection (Lev 23:24). In fact, the whole Tabernacle of Moses, the Levitical priesthood, the sacrificial system, the Sabbath and biblical feasts is a complex system of memorials, remembrances and symbols to point humanity to the higher, upward spiritual path, which eventually brings him to Yeshua the Messiah. This is so abundantly clear in the Bible. Why don’t more people see this? Why do so many Christians and their leaders have such an apathy, even antipathy for these things? It’s mind boggling, especially in view of the fact that these teaching aid memorial and symbols were ordained of Elohim himself!
The overarching purpose and meaning of the Hebrew word zakar and its derivatives is something that “gets men to think about something, to meditate upon something, to pay attention to something, to remember something, to mention something, to declare or proclaim something or to commemorate something” (see The TWOT on the meaning of zakar).
Why do people need to remember something or to stop and think about something? Simply this. In the busyness of life, people forget a lot of things that they should remember, meditate on, ponder, be thankful for and learn from. The fact that people tend to forget important things is the whole reason we have national holidays, statues, gravestones, war medals, a national flag and anthem, birthdays and anniversaries, photo albums and other manmade traditions. Biblically, the same can be said of a Torah scroll, the Bible itself, the Sabbath, the biblical feasts, the cross as a symbol of something, the ritual of baptism and Passover, which had embedded in its observance the Lord’s supper (1 Cor 11:20), communion (1 Cor 10:16) or the Lord’s table (1 Cor 10:21). All of these remembrances or memorials are designed to cause us to pause and stop and to reflect on something that is beyond us (in the past or future) or above us. The memorialization of past events should cause us to better appreciate those who have gone before us and be thankful for our present blessings. Such reflections can help us not to repeat the mistakes of past generations and at the same time learn from their wisdom. Simultaneously, things that memorialize future events (like the Sabbath and the biblical feasts) should encourage us onward and upward in our spiritual journey. They strengthen our faith and give us hope for tomorrow. Symbolic rituals like baptism and communion can help us to connect to present realities that relate to our upward spiritual walk and our relationship to Yeshua the Messiah—our Master and Savior.
What Does Communion Memorialize?
So what does the Christian sacrament of communion or the Lord’s supper memorialize? To its credit, the mainstream Christian church understands the basic meaning of communion quite well. But let’s review this basic understanding, while, at the same time, adding some Hebraic or whole Bible background information. This will hopefully help us to appreciate more fully this glorious sacrament, which, sadly, due to its frequent occurrence in many churches, can become banal ritual that is easily taken for granted.
Paul refers to the taking of the bread and fruit of the vine (wine or grape juice) as the Lord’s supper (1 Cor 11:20) or communion (1 Cor 10:16). The words supper is the Greek word deipnon meaning “a formal meal usually eaten in the evening.” Communion is the Greek word koinonia meaning “fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse, the share which one has in anything, participation, intimacy, the right hand as a sign and pledge of fellowship.” From these definitions we see that the Lord’s supper is a serious, formal and an intimate meal involving the pledge of intimate fellowship or friendship. This meal is not open to the public, but only to Yeshua’s disciples who are those who have an intimate spiritual relationship with him and have accepted him as their Lord and Savior, and who are actively and obediently living out their faith. By way of a quick overview (each of these points could be expanded into a whole teaching), the Lord’s supper symbolizes the following spiritual realities in the saint’s life. During communion the saint should…
- Reflect on what Yeshua did for them when he died on the cross (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24–25), for which they should be eternally grateful.
- Realize that even as Passover commemorated YHVH delivering the children of Israel from enslavement to Egypt (a biblical metaphor for enslavement to sin through the deleterious influences of the world, the flesh and the devil), communion pictures Yeshua delivering us from bondage to the sinful rudiments of the world, the flesh and devil and bringing us into his glorious, eternal and spiritual kingdom (1 Cor 5:6–8; Col 1:13–14).
- Pledges his or her unity with each other and their loyalty to Yeshua.
- Renew their faith and participation in and loyalty to the New Covenant (Matt 26:27–28).
- Appropriate the broken bread as a symbol of Yeshua’s body being broken for the healing of their spiritual and physical brokenness or sickness as a result of sin (Isa 53:5; 1 Pet 2:24).
- Recognize that as physical bread nourishes the physical body, so Yeshua, who is the spiritual bread of life (through his Word and Spirit, Eph 5:26; Tit 3:5–6; John 14:26; ; 15:26; 16:8,13–14; Rom 8:9–11), nourishes their spiritual body (John 6:53–58).
- Understand that the bread not only symbolizes the physical, broken body of Yeshua, but his resurrected, glorified body, as well, through which the saint has communion or intimate fellowship (1 Cor 10:16), and receives spiritual empowerment (John 11:25; Rom 5:10; Phil 3:10; 1 Pet 3:21).
- Understand that the wine symbolizes the saint’s sins being atoned for by the shed blood of Yeshua, who took upon himself the wages of our sins, which is death, and died in our place. When we drink the wine, we are accepting and legally appropriating Yeshua’s vicarious atonement to cover our sins (1 John 1:7; Rev 1:5).
- Take the time to exercise self-examination to ensure that one is in a right spiritual relationship with Yeshua (1 Cor 11:27–32). This we must continue to do “until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26).
- Remember that communion symbolizes connecting with the body of Yeshua (1 Cor 10:14–17). The saint recognizes that the body of Yeshua is now a spiritual entity of which Yeshua is the head and the saints are members, and each part of the body edifies and strengthens the other. Therefore, the saints recognize their need to be a participatory part of and loyal to that spiritual body (Eph 1:18–23; 4:15–16; 1 Cor 12:12–31).
- Know that the Lord’s supper is prophetic in that it points to Yeshua’s second coming and the marriage supper of the lamb that is yet to occur, and in which his wise virgin saints will participate (Matt 26:29; 25:1–13; Rev 19:7–8).
How Did Yeshua and the Disciples Celebrate Communion?
So if we are going to memorialize Yeshua’s life, death and resurrection and our relationship to him by partaking of communion wouldn’t it behoove us to do it the way he did it? To follow his instructions on how and what to do?
Communion or the Lord’s supper has been one of the most revered sacraments of the Christian church for nearly 2000 years. So why does the mainstream church not follow the clear teachings and example of Yeshua with regard to when and how to observe it? How is it that many millions of Christians regularly partake of communion and never ask themselves, “What did Jesus do?” and “What did he actually command us to do?”
This is such a glaringly simple question, yet few seem to ask it, instead preferring to go along with their manmade church traditions.
So what did Yeshua do? He instituted the sacrament of communion on the Passover—the first of the seven annual biblical holidays that YHVH commanded the children of Israel to observe back in Exodus 12 and again in Leviticus 23. The Lord’s supper as it was subsequently called (1 Cor 11:20) was an embedded part of the Passover seder or order of service. The Passover was something that Yeshua did, and who Paul and John commanded us to imitate (1 Cor 11:1; 1 John 2:6). Passover is also connected to the Feast of Unleavened Bread—the second of the annual biblical holidays, and a festival that Paul linked to Passover and diplomatically commanded the primarily non-Jewish members of the Corinthian church to celebrate (1 Cor 5:6–8).
When initiating the sacraments of the Lord’s supper while celebrating the Passover seder with his disciples, Yeshua said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:25). This was Yeshua’s imperative command to his disciples. Communion was part of the whole Passover seder along with the foot washing service, which he also commanded his disciples to do (John 13:14). How many modern churches do communion and a foot washing service while celebrating Passover as Yeshua commanded? If not, why not? What are their excuses? There are no good reasons for disobeying our Lord and Master if we are claiming to follow him.
So why doesn’t the Christian church keep Passover (of which communion was an integral part) along with the Feast of Unleavened Bread? Good question. Ask your Sunday Christian pastor this question and then watch him squirm and cough up some mumbo-jumbo, nonsensical, unbiblical, traditions-of-men answer that makes of none effect the word of Elohim just like the religionist Pharisees of old did, and for which Yeshua roundly condemned them (Matt 15:6–9 and Mark 7:6–9). On the judgment day at his second coming, he will severely judge, if not condemn, those religionists who claimed to be his disciples, but who failed to obey his clearly delineated laws and commands (Matt 7:21–23).
Yeshua and his apostles taught that communion is to be done at Passover. However, can communion be done at other times in addition to Passover? Yeshua commanded it to be done at Passover “in remembrance of me.” This commandment is definitive and immutable. Those who do not do so are disobeying Yeshua! Plain and simple. Obeying him by taking communion during Passover is no different than obeying his commands to love your enemies, turn the other cheek, do not hate, do not look lustfully on a woman, and so on. Eating the Lord’s supper or taking communion at the appointed time during the spring season on Passover is the minimum requirement and fulfillment of this command of Yeshua. This, however, in no way prohibits one from taking communion at other times, as long as one is not neglecting Yeshua’s basic command to do it at Passover. The Bible contains basic requirements for serving and obeying Elohim, but if one, out of zeal and passion for Yeshua, wants to exceed the basic requirements of obedience, this is acceptable and pleasing to Elohim. There are several examples in the Bible of the saints exceeding Elohim’s basic biblical commands, and there is no indication that YHVH was displeased with this.
Paul implies that communion can be taken more often than Passover in his instructions to the disciples in Corinth when he uses the phrase “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup…” (1 Cor 11:25). This seems to express Yeshua’s sentiments as well (1 Cor 11:24). “As often” can refer to the annual Passover celebration, but Paul and Yeshua do not seem to limit how often it can be done, so neither should we.
Scriptures Relating to the Lord’s Supper or Communion
The following Scriptures speak of the Lord’s supper, which Yeshua did at his last Passover with his disciples just prior to his arrest and crucifixion.
- Matt 26:26–30
- Mark 14:22–26
- Luke 22:14–23
- John 13:1–17:26
- 1 Cor 11:20–26 (also vv. 27–34)
- 1 Cor 10:16, 21
- 1 Cor 5:7
Furthermore, Yeshua in his sermon on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee teaches about the symbolisms of what would later become known as the Lord’s supper or communion:
Then Yeshua said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (John 6:53–58)
The Order of the Communion Service
So how does one actually partake of communion as Yeshua did? It is actually a very simple service. Here are some pointers to consider:
- Before the communion elements are consumed, the leader explains that drinking the cup of wine (or grape juice) symbolizes entering into a new covenant relationship with Yeshua. The new covenant is a legally binding agreement and a blood covenant. In ancient times, when a person violated a blood covenant, that person brought the curse of death upon himself. Similarly, Paul says that if a person partakes of the communion elements in an unworthy (i.e. in a careless or indifferent) manner, then he brings the curse of sickness and death upon himself (1 Cor 11:27–32). In fact, Paul accused some believers in Corinth of doing that, and for this reason, these saints had become sick and some had even died. This is why Paul admonishes each partaker of the communion elements to examine himself before hand. If one isn’t walking with Yeshua as they should be, has sin in their life, then let that person repent of it (see 1 John 1:9) before partaking of the Lord’s supper, so as not to bring the curse of sickness or death upon themselves.
- Only those who are disciples of Yeshua—those who have repented of their sins, accepted Yeshua as their Master and Savior and have made a public profession of their faith in Yeshua—can take communion. Those who have not done so and who partake of the communion elements will be doing so in an unworthy manner and potentially bring divine judgment upon themselves (1 Cor 11:29).
- The bread used in the communion service must be unleavened bread and contain no leavening agents (e.g. yeasts, baking soda, baking powder). This is because leavening is a biblical metaphor for sin, and since the bread of communion represents the body of Yeshua, and since Yeshua died sin-free, the bread must be unleavened. Eating communion bread that is leavened is a blasphemous portrayal of Yeshua’s body because it implies that he was a sinner. In the Levitical system, when the bread was baked in an oven (Lev 2:4) as an aspect of the grain or minchah offering, the bread contained only flour, oil seasoned with frankincense and salt (Lev 2:1, 4, 13), and it contained no leavening or sweetening (Lev 2:11). It contained no sweetening such as honey, since this would have violated the symbolism of the bread representing Yeshua’s death on the cross. His death was a painful and bitter affair, not a sweet one.
- Next,the wine is poured out into a cup then passed out individually to each disciple, but not drunk (Luke 22:17). The bread can be broken first and the wine poured afterwards as well (Matt 26:26).
- Next the bread is taken, a prayer of thanks is given, a blessing is made, then it is broken and passed out to each disciple of Yeshua and it is eaten (Matt 26:26; Luke 22:19).
- The cup is then drunk (Luke 22:20).
- After this, Yeshua and his disciples sang a hymn and they got up and left (Matt 26:30; Mark 14:26).