On the week Jesus was crucified, he shared the most important meal of his ministry. The words and actions were full of meaning, and what took place would constitute the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper in the early church (see 1 Cor. 11:23-25).
To understand why Christians look back to the last supper in the Gospels, we must go back even further in Scripture. Exodus 12 instituted the annual Passover meal. Over a thousand years later, Jesus sat down at a Passover meal with his disciples. His meal fulfilled the purpose of that ancient feast, for he himself would be the lamb of God. He would be slain. His shed blood would bring atonement, a covering from righteous wrath.
Normally at a Passover meal, the family head would explain how the elements reminded them of God’s passing over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt (Exod. 12:27). That had been the explanation of the meal for more than a millennium. No one expected a divergence from the script.
But in the Gospel accounts of the last supper, when Jesus began to speak about the elements on the table, he did something different. He didn’t refer to a lamb. He didn’t mention the Israelites in Egypt. He didn’t remind the disciples of God’s judgment passing over houses with shed blood on doorposts and lintels. Instead he took bread and said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). He took the cup and said, “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” (26:27-28).
No one had ever gathered at a Passover meal and heard those words. Jesus was doing something new. He wasn’t talking about the past, he was talking about the future. He wasn’t talking about a lamb’s death, he was talking about his own. He wasn’t talking about deliverance from Egyptian slavery, he was talking about forgiveness of sins.
More than a thousand Passovers had come and gone since the days of Moses. Now here in Jerusalem, meeting in secret with his disciples, Jesus spoke words connected to a new and greater exodus and to a new and greater covenant.