What is the Last Supper and why is it significant?

The term "Last Supper" refers to the final meal Jesus ate with His disciples before His trial and death on the cross. The Bible tells us that this meal was also a Passover dinner. God commanded that every year Jewish people commemorate the miracle of Passover when He spared the lives of their firstborn and freed them from slavery in Egypt. Just prior to the Exodus, God had warned the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb and paint the door frames of their houses with its blood so He would "pass over" their house thereby sparing them from the plague of the killing of the firstborn (Exodus 12). Each year, Jews celebrate this event with a Passover meal and the seven-day Festival of Unleavened Bread. Jesus entered Jerusalem to celebrate this festival and said to His disciples, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15). The Jews understood this meal to represent when and how God had redeemed them from slavery and brought them to freedom, but Jesus was looking forward to adding new meaning and significance to this meal.

Before the meal, Jesus humbled Himself as a respected rabbi (teacher) by performing the servant's role of washing the disciples' feet. Afterward, He said, "I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you" (John 13:15). Later, He added, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34). Jesus was beginning something new with this final meal. During the meal, "he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'" (Matthew 26:27–28). About 600 years earlier, God had promised a new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31–34, so when Jesus said He was instituting this new covenant, His disciples understood the reference. In the new covenant, God had promised, "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jeremiah 31:34). With His reference to the new covenant and the forgiveness of sins, Jesus was showing that His blood that was about to be poured out on the cross is what brings forgiveness. Furthermore, we also see how just like the Passover lamb's blood on the door frames protected the Israelites from the death of the firstborn and ultimately brought Israel to freedom, so too Christ's blood protects us from eternal death and brings us freedom in our relationship with God. That is why Paul refers to Jesus as "our Passover lamb [who] has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7).

The church continues to commemorate this Last Supper and the institution of the new covenant by celebrating the Lord's Supper or Communion. Jesus told His disciples to "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). Paul explains, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). Communion reminds us that Jesus's blood is what brings forgiveness for our sins. His Last Supper on the night of Passover is a physical illustration of when and how God made it possible for not only the Jewish people, but all people to be redeemed and set free.

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