Jesus supplies the primary purpose of this new covenant feast: “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25). Paul clarifies that this mandate has an expiration date: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (v. 26, emphasis added). Thus, the supper is “to be observed in his church, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of himself in his death” (Westminster Confession of Faith 29.1).
There is perhaps no more scathing an indictment leveled at a church than that of the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth: “When you come together it is not for the better but for the worse” (1 Cor. 11:17). The Corinthians left worship in worse shape than when they came. The Apostle doesn’t hold back: “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat” (v. 20). Their errors were so severe that the Lord’s Supper wasn’t even recognizable. In fact, their practice of the sacrament had more in common with pagan temple feasts than with the meal of the Lord, prima facie evidence that they were in desperate need of reform. Perhaps they misunderstood from the beginning the nature and purpose of the sacred meal.
In any case, Paul sets out to steer the ship back on course by reminding the Corinthians that the manner in which he taught them to celebrate the Lord’s Supper was delivered to him by Christ, in all likelihood through a private revelation some fifteen years before Paul delivered it to the Corinthians. He chronicles the precise order of events: “The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’ ” (1 Cor. 11:23–25).
Notice that Paul specifies the night as the one on which Judas betrayed the Lord. That night was the celebration of the feast of the Jews, the Passover (Luke 22:1, 7; John 6:4). Thus, some background on this feast can be helpful for understanding the context of the Last Supper.
The Passover was instituted on the night of the tenth plague in Egypt (see Ex. 12:14, 18). Pharaoh’s stubbornness persisted through nine plagues. Finally, the Lord said to Moses: “Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely” (11:1). At the behest of the Lord, each Hebrew household was to take an unblemished lamb and kill it at nightfall. Its blood was then to be smeared on the doorposts and lintel of the home. After that, the family would hastily consume the roasted lamb, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, on that same night (12:5–8).