Jesus’ last meal with his twelve apostles was a critical event that marked the end of his three year ministry on Earth. The objective of this special event was threefold. First, it was supposed to be a celebration of the Jewish Passover Feast that was instituted by Moses at the time that the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12:11). Second, it signified the institution of Jesus’ New Testament or Covenant with the Jews (Matthew 26:28; Jeremiah 31:33-34). According to the Apostle Paul, the Lord’s supper was to repeated periodically until Christ’s return (1 Corinthians 11:26). Finally, The Last Supper symbolized restored communion between God and man and became a ritual known as the Eucharist that represents for believers Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross.
A central point of The Last Supper was Jesus’ recognition of his betrayer, Judas Iscariot. Matthew recorded, “Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve. And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me” (Matthew 26:20-21). The reason Jesus may have wanted his disciples to know that he was aware of who would betray him was so that they wouldn’t be shocked when it actually happened. Jesus definitely wasn’t caught off guard and didn’t even seem to be slightly disappointed that Judas was planning to betray him. It appeared as though Jesus was actually encouraging Judas to do what he thought he needed to when he told him, “What you are going to do, do quickly” (John 13:27, ESV).
The words that Jesus spoke as he passed the bread and wine to his disciples are recorded in three of the four gospels, but there are some variations that suggest his words were not remembered or recorded exactly as he spoke them. Matthew’s account is likely the most reliable since he was present when the words were spoken. He said, “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it, for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:26-29).
Jesus’ association of the bread with his body and the wine with his blood may have been a spiritual metaphor that was intended to draw his disciples attention to the act that he was about to complete. Although some people may have been taught that Jesus’ words were meant to be taken literally, there is no indication that the bread the disciples ate and wine they drank was anything other than normal food and beverage. It could be that the symbolic nature of Jesus’ last supper was intended to be evident in his instruction to “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19, ESV). The Greek term that appears in the phrase translated “remission of sins” in Matthew 26:28, aphesis (af´-es-is) indicates a legal transaction is taking place in which the sinner is being pardoned and/or set free from captivity.