Was the last supper a sacrificial meal?
Today many Biblical scholars maintain that the Last Supper Jesus celebrated with His disciples was not the actual Passover meal known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread [see Exodus 12:1-8, 15-20; 13:3-10; 23:14-15; Leviticus 23:5-8; Deuteronomy 16:16]. The misinterpretation of difficult passages in John's Gospel has led them to conclude that either John contradicts the Synoptic accounts, which clearly identify this "last supper" as the sacrificial meal eaten on the night of the Passover sacrifice, or they suggest that Jesus and the disciples disapproved of the date set for the Temple sacrifice, and therefore, celebrated their own Passover meal a day earlier [known as the two-calendar theory]. The difficulty with both these theories is that only the High Priest, God's representative to the Covenant people, could set the date of the feast day and the sacrifice could only be performed on that day, Nisan 14 of the official Temple liturgical lunar calendar, at God's holy altar of sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. If Jesus and the disciples did not eat the sacrificial meal of the Passover on the day prescribed by the High Priest for the sacrificial meal to be eaten, then the sacrificial character of the first celebration of Eucharist is distorted and damaged, and the celebration of the Last Supper becomes only a "symbol" of a sacrifice and not a reality. To embrace the theory that the meal Thursday night [Thursday our time; the beginning of Friday for the Jews at sundown] was not the genuine Passover lamb sacrificed at the Temple and was, therefore, not a sacrificial meal, is an attack on the belief of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and upon the Mass as a representation of Christ's unbloody sacrifice.
Part of the difficulty is that we no longer understand the nature and character of the Old Covenant sacrificial system. The actual sacrifice of the animal was only the first step in the process. The desired result was to eliminate sin as the barrier between God and man and to reestablish full fellowship with God. The bloody sacrifice provided the necessary atonement for sin: "For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you for performing the rite of expiation on the altar for your lives, for blood is what expiates for a life" Leviticus 17:11. Through the bloody sacrifice the sin, which had separated the sacrificer from Yahweh, was covered; the sacrificer had sanctified, consecrated, and surrendered himself and the fruit of his labor to God. Yahweh now turned to the sacrificer, welcomed him, and was reunited with him/her in the eating of the sacrificial meal, communion was reestablished. The meal became an expression and a promise as well as an actual symbolic attestation of the blessedness offered to the covenant people in fellowship with Yahweh. It was the highest sacramental point of the whole process of sacrifice: the sacrifice and burning of the victim answered to sanctification, the sprinkling of the blood on the altar to justification, and the meal celebrated the mystical union with God. It is this sacrificial meal that Jesus transformed into His mystical union with the New Covenant people that night in the Upper Room.
The event of Christ offering Himself in the Last Supper is what the celebration of the Eucharist became for New Covenant believers in its deepest and most intimate union with the risen Christ. The fruits of our labor are brought forward to the altar. The priest accepts our offering of bread and wine and in the words of consecration our offerings are supernaturally transformed into to unbloody sacrifice--the essence of the body and blood of the risen Savior, Christ Jesus. The sacrifice is accepted, atonement is made and then we come forward to offer ourselves to Him in celebration of the reestablishment of communion with God by eating the sacrificial meal and becoming mystically united with God the Son.
That night in the Upper Room Jesus transformed the sacrificial meal of the Passover Lamb-a sacrifice that over a thousand years earlier had redeemed the firstborn of Israel from the sentence of death, and a sacrificial meal that was intended to unite the people in a mystical union with God and to nurture them spiritually on their journey to the Promise Land. Everything that happened the night of the first Passover prefigured Christ as both the sacrifice and as the meal. That night of the Last Supper, holding Himself in His own hands, Jesus gave us the Sacrament that would provide for our loving union with Him and with real food for our spiritual journey through life to the "Promised Land" [John 6:47-58] where He waits to receive us in His heavenly Kingdom.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2004 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.