Question: "What is the meaning and importance of the Last Supper?"
Answer: The Last Supper is what we call the last meal Jesus ate with His disciples before His betrayal and arrest. The Last Supper is recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:17–30; Mark 14:12–26; Luke 22:7–30). It was more than Jesus’ last meal; it was a Passover meal, as well. One of the important moments of the Last Supper is Jesus’ command to remember what He was about to do on behalf of all mankind: shed His blood on the cross thereby paying the debt of our sins (Luke 22:19).
In addition to predicting His suffering and death for our salvation (Luke 22:15–16), Jesus also used the Last Supper to imbue the Passover with new meaning, institute the New Covenant, establish an ordinance for the church, and foretell Peter’s denial of Him (Luke 22:34) and Judas Iscariot’s betrayal (Matthew 26:21–24).
The Last Supper brought the Old Testament observance of the Passover feast to its fulfillment. Passover was an especially holy event for the Jewish people in that it commemorated the time when God spared them from the plague of physical death and brought them out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 11:1—13:16). During the Last Supper with His apostles, Jesus took two symbols associated with Passover and imbued them with fresh meaning as a way to remember His sacrifice, which saves us from spiritual death and delivers us from spiritual bondage: “After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:17–20).
Jesus’ words during the Last Supper about the unleavened bread and the cup echo what He had said after He fed the 5,000: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. . . . I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. . . . Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (John 6:35, 51, 54–55). Salvation comes through Christ and the sacrifice of His physical body on the cross.
Also during the Last Supper, Jesus taught the principles of servanthood and forgiveness as He washed His disciples’ feet: “The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:26–27; John 13:1–20).
The Last Supper today is remembered during the Lord’s Supper, or communion (1 Corinthians 11:23–33). The Bible teaches that Jesus’ death was typified in the offering of the Passover sacrifice (John 1:29). John notes that Jesus' death resembles the Passover sacrifice in that His bones were not broken (John 19:36; cf. Exodus 12:46). And Paul said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, including the feasts of the Lord (Matthew 5:17).
Typically, the Passover meal was a family celebration. However, at the Last Supper, the apostles were alone with Jesus (Luke 22:14), which suggests that this particular meal has specific meaning for the church, of which the apostles became the foundation (Ephesians 2:20). While the Last Supper had implications for the Jews, it was designed for the church as well. Today the Lord’s Table is one of two ordinances observed by the church.
The Last Supper was rooted in the Old Covenant even as it heralded the New. Jeremiah 31:31 promised a New Covenant between God and Israel, in which God said, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). Jesus made a direct reference to this New Covenant during the Last Supper: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). A new dispensation was on the horizon. In God’s grace, the New Covenant applies to more than Israel; everyone who has faith in Christ will be saved (see Ephesians 2:12–14).
The Last Supper was a significant event and proclaimed a turning point in God’s plan for the world. In comparing the crucifixion of Jesus to the feast of Passover, we can readily see the redemptive nature of Christ’s death. As symbolized by the original Passover sacrifice in the Old Testament, Christ’s death atones for the sins of His people; His blood rescues us from death and saves us from slavery. Today, the Lord’s Supper is when believers reflect upon Christ’s perfect sacrifice and know that, through our faith in receiving Him, we will be with Him forever (Luke 22:18; Revelation 3:20).