We have looked at Christ’s command for believers to observe the Lord’s Supper. Now let’s look at the background of this command. Why is Jesus giving a command about a meal? How did we get to this? What’s the importance of the Table?
The Table Throughout Scripture
Actually, the Lord’s Supper finds its context way back in the Garden of Eden. The Table has its origin in the Garden. Let me explain:
At the heart of Eden was a garden and a tree with food. Adam and Eve glorified God, enjoyed God, and dined with God. Every meal was a feast in the very presence of the Lord; presumably two, three, or more times a day. Paradise was eating food in the presence of the Lord.
Biblical eschatology also ends with a table and a garden and a tree. Paradise restored is epitomized by a meal and feasting in the presence of God. The Bible starts with the tree of life and the Bible ends with the tree of life. This is worth considering. Guy Prentiss states,
“Significantly, both Genesis and Revelation describe this tree of life as something that human beings eat or consume. At significant moments in the Bible, human beings enjoy a meal with God and are invited to dine at a special table that God has spread for us.”
If paradise was eating food in the presence of the Lord, then the Fall brought a colossal change. Sin spoiled the Supper. God still allowed people to eat and get pleasure from eating, but it was different. It was apart from His presence. But as the drama of redemption unfolds, occasionally, the Lord allowed His people to eat with Him and worship Him through various meals. Peter Leithart said it well: “The people of God always worship at the table…Foodless worship is unthinkable in the Bible and has been unthinkable through most of Christian history.”
Leithart observes that the sacrifices of Abel, Noah, and Abraham were food rituals, sacred barbecues. When an ancient Hebrew came to worship at the temple, he would offer an animal on an altar, along with flour or cakes. Leviticus calls the offerings of the tabernacle “bread of God” (Lev. 21:6, 8). Ezekiel says that the altar in the temple is Yahweh’s table (Ezek. 44:16). The “peace offering” was a shared meal. Fat was burned as the Lord’s food, while the rest of the animal was divided between worshipper and priest. The point of building a sanctuary was to have a place where Israel could “eat, drink, and rejoice” before Yahweh (Deut. 12:15–19; 14:6). (First Things)
The classic example of this comes in Exodus 24:9-11:
“Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.”
They beheld God and ate and drank. Just ponder that for a moment. It sounds a bit like a Supper with the Lord. That’s really what believers do at the Lord’s Table —we behold God, and we eat and drink.
These religious meals were in some ways a temporary restoration of Eden and a foreshadowing of heaven. These meals were a partial restoration of divine fellowship. Between the two trees of life in the Bible, the Lord instituted regular meals for Israel. They had a yearly calendar of dining with the Lord (Lev. 23).
The Undeserved at the Table
In Revelation, the Bible culminates with God and redeemed humanity dwelling together and fellowshipping face-to-face over a feast. In fact, heaven is described as a wedding meal. The angel says to the Apostle John in Revelation 19, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
The underserving have been invited to the table of the Lord. As Prentiss observes,
“From Genesis to Revelation, and at many points in between, God uses the image of a feast, meal, or banquet to characterize some of the most cherished teachings of Scripture. God prepares a bountiful table and invites the underserving to sit with him there. The table, in all its abundance, points to the spiritual blessings that God gives his people--life, joy, peace, and glory. It points supremely to the chief blessing--God himself...we have been treated to an appetizer in this life. The fullness of the meal awaits us when the Savior returns.” 84
Christ at the Table
Speaking of the Savior, throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus was dining with people. Tim Chester has pointed out that there are three different ways that the Son of Man is described coming:
“The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
“The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10)
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” (Luke 7:34)
One aspect of Jesus’ coming was celebration and joy. The Son of Man came eating and drinking. In the Gospels, it’s almost comical how much Jesus is found eating. Robert Karris noted that in Luke’s gospel Jesus is always “either going to a meal, at a meal or coming from a meal”:
- Luke 5- Jesus is in Matthew’s home eating with sinners.
- Luke 7- Jesus is anointed at the home of Simon over a meal.
- Luke 9- Jesus feeds 5 thousand.
- Luke 10- Jesus eats in the home of Martha and Mary
- Luke 11- Jesus condemns the Pharisees and religious lawyers over a meal.
- Luke 14- Jesus is eating a meal and telling others to invite the poor rather than their friends, to a meal.
- Luke 19- Jesus invites himself to have a meal with Zacchaeus.
- Luke 22- Jesus has a Passover Last Supper meal with His disciples.
- Luke 24- The Resurrected Christ has a meal with two disciples, then makes a fish breakfast for some other disciples.
This isn’t merely descriptive or coincidental. The ministry of Jesus was characterized by eating and drinking. His evangelistic method was feasting over a long meal with outcasts. He ate food with the riffraff. Eating around a table with sinners marked His earthly ministry.
So why did Jesus do this?
All this eating wasn’t merely coincidental or biological. He was deliberately making peace with sinners. He was calling sinners, and dining and fellowshipping with them. He was giving them a foretaste of peace, a teaser of what reconciliation with God feels like. It was an invitation to table fellowship, to intimacy and closeness with God.
Food is a Gift From God
Let me get personal for a moment: My enjoyment of food is borderline dangerous. Of all of the arts, (movies, paintings, sculptures, music, design) the culinary arts are by far my favorite.
A number of months ago my wife and I had a layover in New York City. We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. It was great, don’t get me wrong. I love Monet as much as the next guy, but as soon as I walked down those long steps, I was looking forward to our meal. We had made plans for one of New York’s finest and most famous restaurants—Le Bernardin. One of only four Michelin three-star restaurants in all of New York. One of the most famous restaurants in the world. And it didn’t disappoint. It was glorious. Not just the food (French fine dining on steroids), but the ambiance, the conversation, the fellowship, the service. It was honestly magical. A meal we will never forget.
There is nothing quite like dining with the one you love. And, there is nothing quite like the fellowship a meal provides. It’s Biblical.
Steve Motyer expounds on this table fellowship,
“When we eat with friends, we are not only nourished by the food on the table. We also feed upon their company, and come away refreshed by it. The personal communion with them is a vital part of the ‘nourishment’ we derive from the dinner. So in a sense, we feast on them, as well as with them.” (Remember Jesus, 117)
The Dangers at the Table
Eating and drinking are necessary parts of our lives, and I’m glad for that fact. And I’m not alone. Just think about this, there are entire networks and TV shows devoted to food. Personally, my favorite documentaries are about food—“The Chef’s Table” comes to mind. Truly, food is a gift from God. In fact, food is so powerful, it can be dangerous.
The book of Proverbs gives us warnings about food and wine. Like any good gift from God, it’s possible for it to become an idol. As Romans 1:25 reminds us, “They worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator.” It’s possible to worship the creation more than the Creator. It’s possible to love the gift more than the Giver.
This was the case with some of the Roman believers. Their culinary proclivities had become loveless stumbling blocks. Paul rebukes them for this, saying, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).
Paul isn’t suggesting that the coming kingdom doesn’t include food to enjoy. It does. But the danger is real. It’s possible for Christians to enjoy food and drink more than they enjoy Christ.
He Spent it All on the Feast
One of my all-time favorite stories is the story of Babette’s Feast. It’s a story about a strict, dour Christian community in Denmark. Babette worked as a cook for two elderly sisters who had no idea that she once was a chef to nobility back in her native France. Every night her austere employers demanded that she cook the same dreary meal of boiled fish and potatoes, because, they said, Jesus commanded, “Take no thought of food and drink.”
Such was the stern attitude of the believers in this community. Not only that, the community had grown increasingly bitter and hostile towards one another. There was much gossip, jealousy, and greed.
Babette’s dream was to return to her beloved home city of Paris, so every year she bought a lottery ticket in hopes of winning enough money for the trip. One day the unbelievable happened: Babette won the lottery! The prize was 10,000 francs, a small fortune.
The anniversary of the founding of the community was approaching, so Babette asked if she might prepare a French dinner with all the trimmings for the village. At first, the townspeople refused: “No, it would be sinful to indulge in such rich food.” But Babette begged them, and finally, they relented, saying, “As a favor to you, we will allow you to serve us this French dinner.” But the people secretly vowed not to enjoy the feast and instead to occupy their minds with spiritual things. They believed God would not blame them for eating this sinful meal as long as they did not enjoy it.
Babette began her preparations. Caravans of exotic food arrived in the village, along with cages of quail and barrels of fine wine. Finally, the big day came, and the village gathered together. The first course was an exquisite turtle soup. The diners forced it down without enjoyment. But although they usually ate in silence, the conversation began to take off.
Then came the wine: Veuve Cliquot 1860, the finest vintage in France. And the atmosphere changed. Someone smiled. Someone else giggled. An arm draped over another’s shoulder. Someone said, “After all, did not the Lord Jesus say, love one another?”
By the time the main entrée of quail arrived, those austere, pleasure-fearing people were giggling, laughing, slurping, guffawing, and praising God for their many years together. This pack of Pharisees was transformed into a loving community through the gift of a meal.
One of the two sisters went into the kitchen to thank Babette,. She said, “Oh, how we will miss you when you return to Paris!” To this, Babette replied, “I will not be returning to Paris because I have no money. I spent it all on the feast.”
Babette sacrificed a great deal to bring the community of believers back into loving fellowship with one another. She spared no expense, even giving up her dream to go back to France.
The table has a way of bringing people together. The table has a way of bringing unlikely people together. Feasting is divine.
Our Lord has also spared no cost on the feast. He gave His life in order to bring us back into table fellowship with Himself and with each other. His entire ministry revolved around making a way for sinners to have peace with God. The overarching storyline of the Scriptures is one of table fellowship lost in the garden and table fellowship restored through Christ. The ultimate restoration of this table fellowship is still to come when Christ returns.
For other articles in David Anderson’s series on the Lord’s Supper, click here.