The Last Supper refers to the last meal Jesus ate with His disciples before His betrayal and arrest. The Last Supper is recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-30). It is not recorded in the Book of John. The meal is the last time Jesus spends with His disciples and He tells them what is to happen.
The Last Supper was more than Jesus’ last meal; it was a Passover meal as well. Maundy Thursday is the name given to the day on which Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples. It is the fifth day of Holy Week, followed by Good Friday, on which the Crucifixion of Jesus is commemorated. One of the important moments of the Last Supper is Jesus’ command to remember what He was about to do on behalf of all mankind; shed His blood on the cross thereby paying the debt of our sins (Luke 22:19).
In most depictions, Jesus and His 12 disciples drink wine and bread – all hallmarks of a Passover celebration. The books of Mark, Matthew and Luke all describe the Last Supper as a Passover Seder. Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples in the traditional Seder that were prescribed in His time by the sages. This was the order which He employed in the Last supper. Paul gives us the liturgical order for recognizing Jesus’ sacrificial death in the Passover celebration. The Bible tells us: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, 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.' In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.'” The Lord ’s Supper occurred in a Passover Seder. Communion represents the final Passover.
In addition to predicting His suffering and death for our salvation (Luke 22:15-16), Jesus also used the Last Supper to give the Passover new meaning, institute the New Covenant, establish an ordinance for the church, and foretell Peter’s denial of Him (Luke 22:34) and Judas Iscariot’s betrayal (Matthew 26:21-24).
The Last Supper brought the Old Testament observance of the Passover feast to its fulfillment. The first of God’s seven annual festivals is the Passover (Leviticus 23:5). This falls in early spring in the Holy Land. The celebration of the Passover is in remembrance of the time in Israel’s history when the Lord moved through Egypt destroying the firstborn of all animals and people. This is described in great detail in the Old Testament in Exodus 11 and 12. The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years. God commissioned Moses to lead the Israelites out slavery and out of Egypt but Pharaoh refused to let them leave. Though Pharaoh told his servants that he would release them, He never followed through on His promises and God took action. The plagues were God’s judgment in action on Egypt as a result of Pharaoh’s refusal to release “the children of Israel,” God’s people.
The Passover references the final of the ten plagues God placed upon Egypt as a way to force Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave the country and their enslavement. The final plague was death of the first born, the most horrific of the ten. The Bible tells us at around midnight one night, all the firstborn children of the Egyptians began to die, including the first child of Pharaoh, which was the highest position in Egyptian society, and the first child of the maidservants, which was the lowest occupation in Egyptian society. The Israelites were commanded by God to take the blood of a male lamb that was without blemish, and smear it on the doorposts of their home. When the Lord saw the blood, He would “pass over” that house. This foreshadows the coming of Jesus, the spotless lamb of God whose blood would cover our sins for those who believe in Him. God’s judgment passed over believers who honored His command. Since that night, Jews have celebrated Passover in remembrance of God’s grace to them – it commemorated the time when God speared them from the plague of physical death and brought them out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 11:1-13:16).
During the Last Supper with His apostles, Jesus took two symbols associated with Passover and infused them with fresh meaning as a way to remember His sacrifice, which saves us from spiritual death and delivers us from spiritual bondage: “After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.’ And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way, after the supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:17-20).
The words He used during the Last Supper about the unleavened bread and the cup echo what He had said after He fed the 5,000: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For My flesh is real food and My blood is real drink” (John 6:35; 51; 54-55). Salvation comes through Christ and the sacrifice of His physical body on the cross.
The Last Supper was rooted in the Old Covenant even as it heralded the New. It was a very significant event and proclaimed a turning point in God’s plan for the world. In comparing the crucifixion of Jesus to the feast of the Passover, we can see the redemptive nature. As symbolized by the original Passover sacrifice in the Old Testament, Christ’s death atones for the sins of His people; His blood saves us from slavery and rescues us from death and through His death we find new life.