23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” (1 Cor. 11:23,24)
As Paul continued to remind the Corinthians about the origin of the Lord’s Supper, he moved from the backdrop of treachery (1 Cor. 11:23a) to the historical inception of this ongoing ordinance. He said that Jesus took bread. This, in itself, was a part of the Passover tradition that occurred after the second cup of wine was poured and passed.
The bread Jesus took was the matzah which, of course, was unleavened. Messianic Jews, at least some of them, would be quick to tell you that it was also striped and pierced, even as the prophet Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be: “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging [stripes] we are healed” (Isa. 53:5 NASB).
Jesus took the bread, and when He had given thanks, (thanksgiving prayer was common before eating – Mk. 8:6; Jn. 6:11: Acts 27:35), He broke it for the purposes of distributing it, which in itself is a great picture: the disciples didn’t go looking and hunting for their own food; rather, they simply received it from Jesus’ hands. So it is with us in our salvation isn’t it? We simply receive life and sustenance ‘from the hands’ of Christ as it were.
And then, upon breaking the bread, He gave the bread to His disciples and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” The bread, which had been a reminder of their affliction (Deut. 16:3), would now remind them of Jesus’ affliction and the doctrine of penal substitution. Just as the Passover reminded the people that a sacrificial lamb was the key to a spared home, so the Lord’s table was to be a reminder that a sacrificed Savior was the key to a spared soul. The bread was to become a reminder of how Jesus’ body was offered up for them, for us, and all who would believe in Him for the forgiveness of sins. To use language from Isaiah 53:10, Jesus offered Himself as a guilt offering for their sins; and the bread, as they partook of it that night, and as Christians have partaken of it ever since, represents the body that was prepared for Jesus (Heb. 10:5; cf. Ps. 40:6) and given for us. When Christ came into the world He said to the Father, “a body You prepared for Me” (Heb. 10:5b) and at the last Supper He told His disciples, “My body…is given for you” (Lk. 22:19b).
Now when Jesus said, “This is My body” we can assuredly know that He was not teaching the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. – the notion that while the bread (and wine) maintain their external accents they nonetheless become the literal body and blood of Jesus. The problems with that are legion for they are many: (1) The bread was clearly not transubstantiated given the fact that the totality of Jesus’ body was present; part of His flesh was neither added to nor subtracted from by transubstantiated bread. (2) For Roman Catholicism to teach that transubstantiation happens during every mass contradicts the reality of Jesus’ incarnation – meaning, while Jesus is omnipresent by virtue of His deity, His human body is fully human; therefore, being fully and truly human, His body is limited by the realities of mortal, human finitude. We know where the human body of Jesus is – it is seated at the right hand of the Father and it cannot be mystically displaced throughout the entire earth for human ingestion. Therefore, it is not only textually absurd to think that Jesus was saying that the bread was His actual body, but it would contradict the reality of the hypostatic union – Jesus was one person with two natures, truly human and truly divine, with neither nature being augmented or diminished by the other. (3) There is no need for Christ’s sacrifice to be re-presented over and over again; His sacrificial work was finished with His once and for all offering of Himself. The Scripture never calls the Lord’s table “an unbloody sacrifice” or ‘a re-presenting of Jesus’ sacrifice’ – it is a table of remembrance. And additionally (4), it would be wrong to think that Jesus meant that the wine became His literal blood given the fact that ingesting such would have been a sin against the Levitical Law (Lev. 7:26; 17:10; 19:26; Deut. 12:16, 22, 24; 15:23).
The bread represented His body and like Jesus said, His people were to eat it in remembrance of Him. Jesus’ call to remembrance is another way in which He redefined the Passover. The Passover was to be a memorial (Ex. 12:14), each year the story was to be retold to the Israelite children that the LORD “passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptian and delivered [Israelite] households” (vs.27b), and that “by strength of hand the Lord [He] brought [Israel] out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex. 13:14). But now Jesus was calling His people to remember Him, and via the bread, the ways in which His body was given for them. His back and sides were severely lacerated. His face and head were bruised, bloodied, and spat upon. His head was pierced with thorns. His hands and feet were pierced with nails. He was thrust through with a spear. He bore in His body our sins upon the tree. The bread is meant to remind us of how His body was given for us.