Does the Lord’s Supper add anything to Christ’s atoning work?
No, Christ died once for all. The Lord’s Supper is a covenant meal celebrating Christ’s atoning work; as it is also a means of strengthening our faith as we look to him, and a foretaste of the future feast. But those who take part with unrepentant hearts eat and drink judgment on themselves.
Proof Text: 1 Peter 3:18
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. . . .
Conqueror of Death, we celebrate your finished work when we take the Lord’s Supper. May our eating be a confession of faith, that though we are unworthy, we have been joined together with the worthiness of Christ. May we come to your table with repentant hearts, putting away pride and self-sufficiency, enjoying the free grace you offer to us. Amen.
I recently saw a restaurant advertisement that simply had the name of the restaurant and the words spiritual dining. It made me wonder about whether dining, at its best, is more than a mere material experience. And it made me think about the Lord’s Supper, the spiritual meal, and what it does and doesn’t do. There are actually three dimensions to what the Lord’s Supper does: past, present, and future.
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he told his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), underscoring that what he was urging them to do would point back to what he had done for them. When we remember what Jesus did for us, we ground our lives in his finished work. The Lord’s Supper isn’t a way you can earn your salvation; it is spiritual dining for those who are saved. It doesn’t add anything to the finished work of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, but confirms and strengthens us in him. It becomes a sort of gospel shorthand where, as an ancient writer put it, first we hear the gospel, then we taste the gospel, and so the gospel goes forward in our lives on two legs. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (11:26). As Christians we eat and drink to remember Jesus’s triumph. That’s the past dimension.
Paul points to the present dimension of the Lord’s Supper when he writes in 1 Corinthians, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (10:16). That word participation could also be translated “fellowship” or “communion.” It’s where we get the term communion. Think of what that means—the Lord’s Supper is not only a symbolic reminder of what Jesus has done for us; it’s also a present communion with one another and with Jesus.
It’s important to note that the bread and wine don’t change in any way. Jesus isn’t present physically, but he’s present spiritually as the Holy Spirit exhibits him to us by faith. Now for those who are spiritually unresolved, the Lord’s Supper is a call to them to receive Christ rather than to participate in the meal. By witnessing Christians partaking, they’re encouraged to hear the echo of Jesus’s loving call: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). And when we as believers take communion by faith, Jesus meets with us, uniting us as a community, nourishing us with himself, and strengthening us to love and obey him. That’s the present dimension.
When Jesus gave his disciples the cup he said, “I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29). With these words he directed them to the future dimension of the Lord’s Supper, as a sign pointing forward to the great day of anticipation. It’s a foretaste of the marriage supper of the Lamb and the everlasting feast believers will enjoy with Christ in glory. Now we’re broken creatures due to sin. Through Christ’s broken body we’re made whole again. Yet in this life we continue to experience the brokenness of our fallen condition. The future dimension of the Lord’s Supper points us forward in hope to a day when we will be made completely whole and when we’ll enjoy, with our Savior and with one another, dining at its very best.
Historical Commentary by qqq J. C. Ryle
Who is J. C. Ryle?
Let us settle it firmly in our minds that the Lord’s Supper was not given to be a means either of justification or of conversion. It was never meant to give grace where there is no grace already, or to provide pardon when pardon is not already enjoyed. It cannot possibly provide what is lacking with the absence of repentance to God, and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. It is an ordinance for the penitent, not for the impenitent, for the believing, not for the unbelieving, for the converted, not for the unconverted. The unconverted man, who fancies that he can find a shortcut road to heaven by taking the Sacrament, without treading the well-worn steps of repentance and faith, will find to his cost one day that he is totally deceived. The Lord’s Supper was meant to increase and help the grace that a man has, but not to impart the grace that he has not. It was certainly never intended to make our peace with God, to justify, or to convert.
The simplest statement of the benefit which a truehearted communicant may expect to receive from the Lord’s Supper . . . is the strengthening and refreshing of our souls. Clearer views of Christ and His atonement, clearer views of all the offices which Christ fills as our Mediator and Advocate, clearer views of the complete redemption Christ has obtained for us by His vicarious death on the cross, clearer views of our full and perfect acceptance in Christ before God, fresh reasons for deep repentance for sin, fresh reasons for lively faith, fresh reasons for living a holy, consecrated, Christ-like life,—these are among the leading returns which a believer may confidently expect to get from his attendance at the Lord’s Table. He that eats the bread and drinks the wine in a right spirit will find himself drawn into closer communion with Christ, and will feel to know Him more, and understand Him better. . . .
In eating that bread and drinking that cup, such a man will have his repentance deepened, his faith increased, his knowledge enlarged, his habit of holy living strengthened. He will realise more of the “real presence” of Christ in his heart. Eating that bread by faith, he will feel closer communion with the body of Christ. Drinking that wine by faith, he will feel closer communion with the blood of Christ. He will see more clearly what Christ is to him, and what he is to Christ. He will understand more thoroughly what it is to be “one with Christ, and Christ one with him.” He will feel the roots of his soul’s spiritual life watered, and the work of grace in his heart established, built up, and carried forward. All these things may seem and sound like foolishness to a natural man, but to a true Christian these things are light, and health, and life, and peace.