The Lord's Evening Meal ― The Command to Partake
"Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves.
He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life."
―John 6:50-58, NWT.
Every year, on what corresponds to the Jewish calendar of Nisan 14 (which falls on the day of the first full moon after the March equinox), Jehovah's Witnesses all over the world meet together to celebrate the Lord's Evening Meal in obedience to Jesus' command to "keep doing this in remembrance of me". (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26) This is a solemn occasion that everybody acknowledges they need to attend; but the vast majority of those in attendance are there merely as respectful observers. Do you personally understand the seriousness of the occasion, and how your everlasting salvation depends on your obedience to Jesus' command? Being present for the Memorial as a mere observer does not benefit you, unless you obediently partake of the bread and the wine. According to Jesus' own words, your obedience involves your relationship with him, and that of our heavenly Father Jehovah.
Jesus is the foretold prophet regarding whom Jehovah had said to Moses: "A prophet I shall raise up for them from the midst of their brothers, like you; and I shall indeed put my words in his mouth, and he will certainly speak to them all that I shall command him. And it must occur that the man who will not listen to my words that he will speak in my name, I shall myself require an account from him." (Deut. 18:18,19) Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, who visited Jesus one night, acknowledged: "Rabbi, we know that you as a teacher have come from God; for no one can perform these signs that you perform unless God is with him.” After alluding to the changes that were about to come upon the Jewish nation, Jesus concluded by saying: "For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life." (John 3:1-21) To exercise faith in the prophet greater than Moses, namely, God's only-begotten Son, means everlasting life, rather than being destroyed.
What does it mean to exercise faith in Christ Jesus? what does it involve? To a crowd of about five thousand men, whom Jesus had miraculously fed the previous day on just five barley loaves and two fishes, and who had now been searching for him, Jesus said: "I am telling you the truth: you are looking for me because you ate the bread and had all you wanted, not because you understood my miracles. Do not work for food that spoils; instead, work for the food that lasts for eternal life. This is the food which the Son of Man will give you, because God, the Father, has put his mark of approval on him.”
So they asked him, “What can we do in order to do what God wants us to do?” Jesus answered, “What God wants you to do is to believe in the one he sent.” They replied, “What miracle will you perform so that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, just as the scripture says, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
“I am telling you the truth,” Jesus said. “What Moses gave you was not the bread from heaven; it is my Father who gives you the real bread from heaven. For the bread that God gives is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they asked him, “give us this bread always.”
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “Those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believe in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:26-35; GNT)
The crowd began to murmur because Jesus said that he was the bread that came down from heaven. After all, they knew him to be the son of Joseph and Mary. Therefore, Jesus again told them: “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the wilderness and yet died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that anyone may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever; and, for a fact, the bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.” (John 6:48-51; NWT)
The Jews began contending with one another, saying: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Accordingly Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I shall resurrect him at the last day; for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in union with me, and I in union with him. Just as the living Father sent me forth and I live because of the Father, he also that feeds on me, even that one will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. It is not as when your forefathers ate and yet died. He that feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:52-58)
His listeners were shocked, because they failed to get the sense of Jesus' words. They did not understand, because, as Jesus said, "It is the spirit that is life-giving; the flesh is of no use at all. The sayings that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." Therefore, "owing to this many of his disciples went off to the things behind and would no longer walk with him." (vs.60-66) Even his twelve apostles were confused, as demonstrated by their reply, when Jesus asked them: "You do not want to go also, do you?” Simon Peter answered him: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life; and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (vs. 67-69)
What about us today? Do we understand that Jesus' words, as recorded by John, "are spirit and are life"―yes, that it involves our everlasting life? How can we be certain that we have the correct understanding of all that Jesus said, seeing that the vast majority of the disciples who heard Jesus were stumbled? It was not until that momentous evening, when Jesus gathered with his apostles to celebrate the Passover for the last time, that they were given the understanding of Jesus' words, namely, that he is "the living bread that came down from heaven";―and in what sense they were about to obey his command to eat his "flesh" and drink his "blood". (1 Cor. 2:7,8)
After having eaten the Passover meal, Jesus instituted a new celebration (by now Judas Iscariot had left to betray Jesus, as Jesus foretold at the time he asked the twelve disciples whether they also wanted to leave). Matthew describes the event as it unfolded: "Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.'” (Matt. 26:26; English Standard Version) Please note that Jesus referred to the bread as being his body, "this is my body". He did not say, "this means my body," as it appears in the New World Translation. (By the way, it is the only "translation" to render it thus. Even The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures―published by the Watchtower Society―shows the Greek word "εστιν" as "is", not "means".) The same is true regarding the cup of wine, which Jesus passed to his disciples, 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." (vs. 27,28)
By substituting the word "means my body" and "means my blood of the covenant", instead of rendering it correctly as "is" my body" and "is" my blood of the covenant", the meaning of the fulfillment of the Lord's Evening Meal becomes ambiguous, even misleading. It has resulted in the vast majority of Jehovah's people being told that Jesus' command to "keep doing this in remembrance of me", does not apply to them but only to the few who hope to rule with Christ Jesus in his heavenly kingdom. This teaching of abstaining from partaking is in opposition to Jesus' command, and it has absolutely no scriptural basis, for it is entirely established on Joseph Rutherford's interpretation of the Scriptures, which he based heavily on the theory of types and antitypes (which teaches that everything that happened in ancient times to God's people―the type, has a modern fulfillment―the antitype. Many of the Watchtower Society's teachings are based in this theory propounded by Rutherford.) (Luke 22:19,20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26) Satan is well aware of God's requirement for his people to partake of the bread and the wine, seeing that it is a vital aspect of exercising faith in his only-begotten Son for everlasting life. All the Devil has to do to prevent them from obeying God's commandment, is to have their leaders, to whom they look for spiritual guidance and instructions, give them a reason not to apply the commandment to themselves. (1 Tim. 4:1-5; 1 John 4:1, 6) Please note: Jesus said that "everyone" and "anyone" that exercises faith in the Son, by eating his flesh and drinking his blood, will have everlasting life. There is no Scriptural prohibition, to keep anyone from obeying.
Bear in mind that Jehovah said that he himself will "require an account" from everyone who does not listen to the prophet like Moses whom he would raise up. Jesus himself also said: "If you observe my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have observed the commandments of the Father and remain in his love. You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you." (John 15:10, 14) What is the commandment that Jehovah and Jesus require us to obey? This: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I shall resurrect him at the last day; for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in union with me, and I in union with him." (John 6:52-58) Partaking at the memorial is an essential part of exercising faith in Christ Jesus. The apostle Paul explains, "for as often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives." (1 Cor. 11:26)
Do you personally have a good reason for not partaking of the bread and the wine at the Lord's Evening Meal? Jesus said that your everlasting life depends on your obedience to do so. Does that perhaps stumble you, as many of his disciples stumbled at his words for lack of understanding? Do you realize, that obedience to Jesus' command to celebrate the memorial in the way that he instructed, may well be the means by which Jehovah is identifying his true worshippers today? (Malachi 3:17,18; 2 Timothy 2:19) Failure to obey may put a person among the many concerning whom Jesus said: "Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness." (Matt. 7:21-23)
Jesus said, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven." The bread and the wine at the memorial are mistakenly referred to as "emblems". They are not emblematic of Jesus' body and blood! Are we therefore to conclude that they are literally Jesus' flesh and blood? No! That is not what the Scriptures teach. For example, John the Baptist referred to Jesus as "the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world". Yes, Jesus is the Lamb of God. But does that mean that Jesus is a literal lamb? Of course not! And no one would argue that he is. (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7; Rev. 7:9, 10, 17; 14:1, 4)
Also, consider Jesus' words regarding John the Baptist himself, which can help us understand how the bread and the wine is Jesus' flesh and his blood―and not "means" or "represents" or "symbolizes" his flesh and his blood. The prophet Malachi foretold: "Look! I am sending to you people Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah. And he must turn the heart of fathers back toward sons, and the heart of sons back toward fathers; in order that I may not come and actually strike the earth with a devoting [of it] to destruction.” (Mal. 4:5,6) Thus, in the first century, the Jews were in expectation of Elijah's coming. (Matt. 16:13,14; 17:10-13; John 1:25)
On one occasion, Jesus explained to his listeners the significance of John the Baptist and the work he performed in fulfillment of specific prophecies. Jesus said: "For all, the Prophets and the Law, prophesied until John; and if you want to accept it, He himself is Elijah who is destined to come." (Matt. 11:7-15) By that, was Jesus saying that John the Baptist actually was the resurrected prophet Elijah? No! Jesus knew the circumstances surrounding the birth of John, how the angel Gabriel announced to Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth was going to become mother to a son, and to call his name John; and that he would "go before [Jesus] with Elijah's spirit and power...to get ready for Jehovah a prepared people". (Luke 1:17; Isa. 40:3)
Why, then, did Jesus say that John in fact "is" Elijah ("εστιν" ― the same word he used in connection with the bread being his body and the wine being his blood?) Because John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecies regarding the coming of the prophet Elijah; therefore he was the foretold Elijah. In the same sense, when Jesus instituted the Lord's Evening Meal, and he said that the bread and the wine is his flesh and his blood, he made clear to his disciples that this was the fulfillment of his earlier words regarding eating his flesh and drinking his blood, which had stumbled so many of his disciples. The emphasis was on "this is my body", respecting the loaf; and "this is my blood of the covenant", respecting the wine; and, undoubtedly, his eleven disciples that were with him this last night must have greatly rejoiced at the clarification that they now received. And so should we!
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"Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.'"