The Meaning and Importance of Jesus’ Last Supper

One of the most famous paintings in history is Leonardo da Vinci’s depiction of the Last Supper. Chances are, you can visualize that painting right now. Ironically, it is a visual representation of an event that was originally intended to be a visual representation of another event.

God knows the value of visual images that cause us to remember. That's why, in the Old Testament, God instituted the Passover meal as a visual reminder that the Israelite people would celebrate every year to recall what God did for them when He liberated them from slavery in Egypt.

Consequently, Jesus instituted the last supper as another visual representation of something He wanted His disciples to remember. Some people call it communion, others call it Eucharist. Every time we participate in communion, it helps us remember all that Christ has done for us.

There is another word for a visual reminder, and that word is “symbol.” A symbol is simply a visual picture and reminder. The definition of a symbol is that a symbol can be an object, a character, or an action that points beyond itself to a deeper meaning. Symbols have power in two ways. First of all, symbols unite people. The second thing about symbols is that symbols preserve and promote values and traditions.

The reason the Passover is so important to Jewish people is that it helps them remember and preserve the values of God's redeeming nature.

In Luke 22:7-20, Jesus leads His disciples through their last supper together, which was also a celebration of Passover. During the meal, the story of the Passover was shared. The children of Israel were in slavery in Egypt for 400 years. Moses led them out of Egyptian captivity. Moses, with God's help, brought plagues onto the Egyptian people: frogs and flies and gnats. Pharaoh continued to resist until the tenth plague.
 
Finally, the Lord resorted to slaying the oldest son in every Egyptian family and among their animals. God told Moses to have the Israelites slaughter a lamb or a young goat and take a hyssop branch to mark the front door frame of their home with that blood of the animal. During the night, the angel of death would pass over every home marked with blood.

Moses was also told to celebrate a last meal together with that slaughtered, sacrificed lamb. And to prepare the lamb with some bitter salad and unleavened bread and a course of wine. The Passover was given by God to Israel as a symbolic reminder of his saving work in their story and so that they would not forget God’s redeeming work through Moses.

Jesus and the Apostles sat down together at the table and Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you that I will not eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”

Then He took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. And then He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves, for I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.”
And then he took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. And then He broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body which is broken.”

After supper, He took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people.”

A covenant is an agreement within a relationship. Jesus is providing a new covenant between God and His people. It is an agreement confirmed with the blood of Jesus, which was poured out as a sacrifice for us. The Last Supper was given by Jesus, to the Church, as a symbolic reminder of His saving work for us, through His death on the cross.

The Last Supper is symbolic. It is a channel through which we are reminded of the saving grace we have received. Christ's death once and for all, provides our salvation and we celebrate this supper in order to remember.

To what do the symbols Jesus celebrates point?

Jesus invited all his disciples around a common table. In those days, to invite someone to the table meant that you were accepting them, you were befriending them, you were committed to their well-being. And around that table with Jesus at the Last Supper were all kinds of men. And that's why this common table points to the fact that everyone is invited. This common table is communicating to us that it doesn't matter who you are or where you are from, what your perspectives are, or what your ethnicity is, or what nation you've come from, everyone is welcome at the table.

Then Jesus took the bread and he broke it. The bread points to the fact that everyone is loved.

After the supper, he took another cup of wine and said, This cup is the new covenant between God and his people. That is, it's a new way that God is going to relate to people and people are going to relate to God. It is an agreement confirmed by my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.

In the same way that Moses splattered blood all over the people, Jesus indicated that he was pouring out His blood to confirm this new covenant that God is establishing with all of his people.

This last supper signifies something new - this new covenant.

The old covenant was made with the nation of Israel - the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was not made with you or me. But The New Covenant was made with the Church of Jesus Christ. That is, followers of Jesus - disciples who gather together and who are following Him and who have committed themselves to Him in faith.

The Old Covenant relies on external motivation, fear. But in the New Covenant, it is based on internal motivation. We are New Covenant people. Living in grace, under grace, out of gratitude, being transformed from the inside out. That's what it means to live under the New Covenant - following Jesus above everyone and everything else.
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