Q&A: Presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper

Presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper

Question

John doesn’t include the Lord’s Super, so since he's the disciple that Jesus loved, it can’t be all that important. And nowhere in the Bible does it state that Christ is present during the meal. This is something you’ve added to the meal!

Answer

John 13-17and the Synoptic Gospels

Thanks for your comments.

The three Synoptic Gospels record Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23). They emphasize the importance of the institution, and so do other texts (cf. Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11; 1 Cor. 10:37; 11:17-34). Yet John’s gospel does not include the scene of the Lord’s Supper. Why? While there are others, one reason is simply that John’s gospel reveals how Christ can be both absent from the disciples and abide among them at the same time.

Each of the three Synoptic Gospels includes essentially the same facts. Briefly, they highlight, Judas’ plot to betray Jesus, Jesus institution the Lord’s Supper during the Passover, and his prayers in the garden. In John’s gospel we see something similar, but the institution of the Lord’s Supper is missing and in its place John puts Jesus’ teaching concerning the presence of the Holy Spirit (John 13-17). Why did John do this? Recall that in John 13 Jesus gently but authoritatively comforts his disciples. He tells them about his impending departure (John 13:33, 36). He explains that although he will be absent, the Holy Spirit would be present with them (John 14:16-17, 19). Note carefully what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit; “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). In other words, Jesus would come to us in the person of the Holy Spirit. He explains how the Holy Spirit will bear witness concerning him (John 15:26); that is, the Holy Spirit will point the disciples (and us) back to Jesus. He further explains the advantages of the Holy Spirit’s mediating presence (John 16:7-11) and also that this must happen in part because“I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer” (John 16:10). So, in essence we are told of Jesus’ intensions — departure and his coming to us. “Not here” and “yet here” at the same time! An absence/presence reality.

Then in John 18 John returns to essentially the same narrative that the three Synoptic Gospels have. Thus, we observe that Jesus’ dialogue in John 13-17 replaces the position the Lord’s Supper institution has within the three Synoptic Gospels. Again, why? It's because all four Gospels aim to explain how Jesus can remain among his disciples while yet being physically absent. This is done with the elements in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and with the missing scene in John.

Luke later highlights this absence/presence reality in Luke 24:13-35. We recall that Jesus appeared to certain disciples, but they couldn’t discern who he was. They once again broke bread together, Christ’s presence was made known to them and then he vanished again (Luke 24:31). And this same pericope emphasizes the Lord’s Supper saying, “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them” (Luke 24:30). So, Luke the historian, portrays the first Lord’s Supper after the Last Supper, with Christ being present and yet absent. For us, it's as Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20).

By the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit, through faith, we spiritually feast upon Christ — “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56). Please note, that here John is not silent concerning the Lord’s Supper!

Risen Up Together with Him

Christ is spiritually present during the Lord’s Supper. We’ve already observed that Jesus comes to us in the person of the Holy Spirit (John 14:18). And spiritually we are already risen up together with Jesus. Ephesians 2:6 states, “...and raised us up [synegeiren] with him and seated us [synekathisen] with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Colossians 3:1 says, “If then you have been raised [synegerthete] with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). In both texts, Paul is using the aorist tense and indicative mood. This indicates something in past time, something that has already happened to us! So, if you know Christ, he is just a breath — or even less than a breath — away. We are spiritually present with one another (cf. 1 Cor. 6:17).

All who are "in Christ" are in an intimate, solemn, binding and eternal covenant with Christ (Heb. 13:20-21). They are eternally in union and identified with him. When Christ died, we died (Rom. 6:3). When he was buried, we were buried (Rom. 6:4). When he was raised up, we were raised up (Rom. 6:4-5; Eph. 2:5). When he was glorified, raised and seated, so was his invisible church (Rom. 8:30; Col. 3:1; Eph. 2:6). Believers are co-crucified, co-buried and co-resurrected with Christ (Rom. 6:3-5); co-quickened, co-raised, co-seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph. 2:5-6); and co-buried, co-raised, co-quickened with Christ (Col. 2:12-13; 3:1). No wonder Paul seems to already be raptured and in ecstasy when he pens Romans 8:31-39! So great a salvation (Heb. 2:3)!

As a husband and wife are united through marriage and become one (Gen. 2:24; Mark 10:8), so the invisible church is united to Christ through the Spirit's baptism. We are "sealed" and given his "guarantee" (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30). Jesus is the head and we are his body (1 Cor. 6:15-19); Jesus is the husband and his church is his bride (Eph. 5:25-31); Christ is the firm foundation and we are the living stones joined to him (1 Pet. 2:4-5). The invisible church is in an intimate and eternal union with Christ; we are sealed for eternity "in him" (Eph. 1:7-14).

Scripture very clearly teaches that the invisible church is united to Christ in an intimate, unique and very special way (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 6:17; 12:13; Col. 1:18). We are "one" with Christ (John 17:20-23), and so all those in Christ are necessarily "raised up" (Col. 3:1) and "seated" (Eph. 2:6) with Christ in the heavenly places.

Contemplating this just briefly will transform the way we celebrate the Lord's Supper. [1] Christ is spiritually present with us as we participate. As the Westminster Confession 29.7 states:

Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive, and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.

When we partake of the elements of the Lord’s Supper, it’s more than a mere remembrance of something that happened in the past. While that is very important, it is not just the memory; he is actually there with us. This was his promise; “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 18:28).

Biblically, the Holy Spirit’s emphasis is on his presence within the worshiping covenantal body and not within the actual elements of the table themselves (i.e. transubstantiation and consubstantiation). The Lord's Supper meal has relationship significance. Whenever we gather together to participate in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is spiritually in the midst of his saints.

May God give us his grace and mercy to more fully comprehend and properly apply these spiritual realities.

Notes

[1] Since the invisible church is already considered "raised up" (Col. 3:1), and "seated" (Eph. 2:6) with Christ, then when did "the first resurrection" happen (Rev. 20:5-6)? Isn't the reason "the second death" has no power over those who have part in "the first resurrection" (Rom. 8:30; Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1) because they have already "passed from death to life," and that the life they now experience is eternal (John 5:24-25)? Eternal life for the believer has already begun (John 3:36; 10:28; 1 John 2:25; 5:11-12, 13).

So, for Christians, the "now but not yet" reality of being seated with Christ helps our understanding of many other theological concepts; not only our understanding of our eternal sealing by the Holy Spirit, but our assurance in salvation, the Lord’s Supper, and the second coming as well.

Related Topics

Transubstantiation vs. Consubstantiation vs. Memorialism vs Reformed?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).