The Lord's Evening Meal,
and 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.
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 disciples were shocked, because they failed to grasp the meaning; and consequently many of them were stumble and "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: “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) It was not until that final evening with his disciples, after Jesus had celebrated the passover with them, that he made clear to them the meaning and importance of his words regarding the eating of his flesh and drinking his blood.
Matthew, one of the twelve, describes what happened. After they had eaten the Passover meal, "Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, saying, 'Take, eat; this is my body.'” (Matt. 26:26) 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. (It is the only "translation" to render it that way. 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." (Matt. 26:27-28; Mark 14:22-25, ESV)
Because of substituting the word this "means my body", and this "means my blood of the covenant", where it should read "is", it has resulted in greatly diminishing the significance and importance of Jesus' command to "keep doing this in remembrance of me". In fact, the vast majority of Jehovah's people have since 1935 rejected the command as applying to them; because in that year the then president of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Joseph Rutherford, proclaimed that only the "little flock" of 144,000 was entitled to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
He based this new teaching on his interpretation according to the theory of types and antitypes, which influenced much of his other teachings as well. According to this theory, he argued that the Holy Scriptures were written primarily for the members of the 144,000, or "spiritual Israel" as he referred to them (a term nowhere found in the Scriptures), whom he considered to be the antitype of ancient Israel―the so-called type. And since God had made the old covenant, mediated by Moses, solely with ancient Israel, he believed that Jesus was the mediator of the new covenant only with the antitypical "spiritual Israel". Accordingly, he not only excluded the "Jonadabs" (as he called the non-members of the "spiritual Israel") from participating in "proclaiming the death of the Lord until he arrives", but he even refused to apply to them the new name "Jehovah's Witnesses", which had been adopted four years earlier. That understanding, though, was overturned shortly after his death in 1942, when the name came to be applied to all of God's people; as the Bible says, "a people called by my name, says Jehovah, who is doing these things". (1 Cor. 11:26; Acts 15:14, 17; Isaiah 43:10-12) ―See JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES ― PROCLAIMERS OF GOD'S KINGDOM, page 83 Footnote.
Jesus told the Jews that "the bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world." This bread from heaven was not restricted just to the Jews; nor some other minority group; but given "in behalf of the life of the world". (Compare John 3:16; 1 John 2:1,2) Throughout the many centuries, all of God's people celebrated the Lord's evening meal according to Jesus' command ― from that first evening when Jesus instituted it until the year when Rutherford took it upon himself to change that. And although the Watchtower Society has updated some of Rutherford's teachings over the years, yet, as a whole, they continue to cling to his concept that much of what is recorded in the Scriptures applies solely to the so-called "spiritual Israel" (as they are still referred to), as based on the philosophy of types and antitypes. Interestingly, in 2015 the Watchtower published an article explaining that the Watchtower Society no longer supports the once popular concept of types and antitypes; even going so far as to call it "a trap" for those who promoted it. That comment, of course, must include the second president of the Watchtower Society, Joseph Rutherford. (See The Watchtower 2015, March 15, pages 17-18)
Some have tried to gain insight into who should or should not partake at the memorial of Christ's death by drawing comparisons with the passover that God gave the Jews under the law of Moses. Is there any validity to that? Jesus never mentioned the passover in his discussion of the need for us to eat his flesh and drink his blood, in order to have a sharing with him and receive everlasting life. Rather, Jesus drew a comparison of the manna, "the bread from heaven," that God provided his people during the forty years in which they had wandered in the wilderness. Jesus speaks of the manna when he says: "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 6:35, 48-51; Matt. 26:26-28)
Do you believe Jesus' words when he says that he is the "bread of life that came down from heaven"; and that "anyone may eat of it and not die", but "live forever"? Will you live forever if you don't eat of this bread? Is there some other means by which we can receive everlasting life? If there is, then why the need to listen to Jesus? (Acts 4:10-12) Are you spiritually starving? Could it be because you are failing to avail yourself of the "bread of life" that keeps one from going hungry?
Satan is well aware of the necessity for us to always be obedient to Jehovah; and that includes Jesus' command to eat and drink of the bread and the wine at the Lord's evening meal. To prevent us from receiving everlasting life, all the Devil needs to do is to convince us that Jesus' command does not apply to us. He certainly proved successful in fooling Adam and Eve into believing his lie. If you have any doubt about what you should do, the choice is very simple. Ask yourself: Do I obey Jesus or someone ― whoever that might be ― who teaches the contrary? Jesus could not have said it any clearer when he said that "everyone" and "anyone" that exercises faith in the Son, by eating his flesh and drinking his blood, will have everlasting life. On the other hand, the opposite is also true; not eating his "flesh" or drinking his "blood" will prevent you from receiving everlasting life. It's that serious, yet basic! (Matt. 7:21-23; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 1 John 4:1, 6; Compare 2 Thess. 2:11-12)
Jehovah said that he himself will "require an account" from everyone who does not listen to the prophet like Moses whom he would sent. Jesus is that prophet, and he tells us: "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) If you are inclined to question the seriousness of Jesus command, please ponder over these words: "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 Corinthians 11:26)
Do you personally have good reason not to eat of the loaf and drink of the cup at the Lord's Evening Meal? The apostle Paul explains that some may become guilty respecting the eating and drinking at the Lord's evening meal, doing so unworthily. A person could become guilty by not making a distinction between the holy and the common. (1 Cor. 11:27-34; Ezek. 22:26; 44:23; Haggai 2:11-14) This is a holy occasion, having a sharing with Jesus at Jehovah's table. (John 6:35-39, 57,65; 1 Cor. 10:18-22) It's not a picnic! What if a person were to show up drunk? Or suppose he is guilty of a serious sin? Should he then partake? Paul says that such a man would "eat and drink judgment against himself." "First let a man approve himself after scrutiny, and thus let him eat of the loaf and drink of the cup."
Jehovah is separating the wicked from among his people before the coming great tribulation, and will clearly identify his true worshipers. (Dan. 12:9-10; Matt. 13:40-43) Being obedient to Jesus' command to celebrate the memorial in the way that he instructed may well be the means by which we identify ourselves as his true worshipers. (Rev. 7:9-10, 13-17; Mal. 3:17,18; 2 Tim. 2:19; 1 Peter 4:17-18) Failure to listen and obey will place a person among the many concerning whom Jesus will say: "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)