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Luke 22:15-20 is clear that the cross yet lay ahead of Christ. Then he said, "This is my body which is given for you… This cup is the new testament in my blood which is shed for you”, commanding them to eat and drink. Did the bread which he broke, speaking of his broken body, and the wine to be drunk, speaking of his shed blood, mean something to the disciples different to their view of those emblems after Jesus’ resurrection, once they started to do that in remembrance of him? Obviously, Jesus HAD to institute that Supper before he died! And Greek tenses may allow for past or present tense to underscore the assurance of what would happen. But on that evening, their partaking of that bread and that wine could never have struck them as being a literal partaking of the actual body and blood of Christ.

For clarity, I am NOT wanting any examination of whether the Last Supper was, technically, the First Supper of a new event for Christians (as opposed to being connected to the Passover seder for Jews). Nor am I wanting comments about which cup was used, when. Those matters are dealt with in existing Stack questions.

A similar question to mine is here, Lutheran response to non-literalist interpretation of the Lord's Supper ‘What is the Lutheran response to the argument made by some, that Christ couldn't have meant "this is my body" in a literal sense, since he was himself bodily present in the midst of the disciples, in the same upper room, as distinct from the elements?’ The only answer given, from the Marburg Colloquy, 1529, was not helpful.

I am not looking exclusively for the Lutheran response, but for views from all Christians who partake of those emblems themselves within the general fold of Protestantism. This would exclude all who do not partake of the bread and wine passed around at this event. I am not looking for the Catholic view either, not yet, as I may frame another question for them after I have had responses to this one.

My question seeks insights into believers partaking of the bread and wine prior to Jesus’ body being broken and his blood being shed. This only happened once in history and I am not aware of any comments from those few as to how they understood it, compared with how they came to understand it the second time (and thereafter, down the centuries). Now, it could be that there are some ancient Catholic sources that would shed a little light on my question, so I do not preclude those being quoted by Protestants; I just don’t want answers extolling (or disagreeing with) either Catholic or Protestant views of what the emblems came to mean after that ‘First Supper’. My focus is entirely on that ‘First Supper’. So, please help me with a matter that is very narrowly focused, even if the range of answers can come from a very broad school indeed!

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The occasion of Last Supper (called so because it was the last earthly supper that Jesus partook of with his apostles) was not on any count the first in which the apostles would hear of Jesus offering his own flesh and blood as their spiritual food. John the Evangelist does not mince words when he writes the following at 6: 47-68 (NRSVCE).

"Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. "

Of course, Jesus and the apostles also had the normal food of Passover on that day , as we see from Mtt 26:26 :

"While they were eating, Jesus took bread, spoke a blessing and broke it, and gave it to the disciples....."

So, the apostles had been well-oriented into believing what Jesus said about partaking of his body and blood, at the last supper. And they did believe .

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    Good point about Jesus speaking about his body and his blood, initially to his disciples and then to theJews who completely misunderstood what he was saying. At that time he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Yes, his disciples believed, but did they actually understand what Jesus meant? Even up to his crucifixion they did not appear to have taken on board the fact that Jesus would have to die before he could be resurrected (John16:17). Yes, Jesus had spoken of these things prior to his last supper with his disciples and then he told them "to keep doing this" until his return. – Lesley Oct 31 '20 at 10:46
  • The reminder of John 6:37-70 is most appropriate. We won't find out till we're in the glory the extent to which the disciples connected that earlier discourse with the events that momentous night. It is surely reasonable to conclude that it wasn't until after the resurrection that the penny finally dropped and it all made sense. Yet that earlier discourse was, indeed, critical to how the wonder of it all dawned on them. Appreciated. – Anne Nov 5 '20 at 18:56
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My best guess is that at the Lord's supper the disciples were probably confused. In the gospels the disciples seem to pick up on things and miss out on others. They seem to have a difficult time grasping things until post resurrection when the Holy Spirit is poured out. Even then some get a little off track and need to be corrected (Peter in Galatians).

Do I think they took the breaking of bread literally, if so, maybe at first until they understood later with the Spirit that it was representative and not literal. It's not a focal point at all in their writings after these events other than correcting bad behavior.

In addition, Christ taught in parables. A small story they would be familiar with to illustrate a truth. In the same way he used figurative language to illustrate truth. This "I am the bread" phrase is that same figurative language tied to this event...

There are multiple "I AM" statements in John in which Jesus is using figurative language to communicate truth. I am the Light, I am the true bread, I am the door, I am the good shepherd, I am the resurrection and the life, I am in the Father, I and the true vine, I am a king. Recognizing the literary style is key to understanding the claims within each context.

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While it is true that the Disciples had heard Jesus teach in parables, and they had heard him use many word-pictures to describe himself, the vine, the door, the way, the living water, etc, this must have been nothing less than shocking to them to hear Jesus say that this was his body and blood.
Most Christians today are Gentile- and are also very far removed from Jewish culture and customs, and laws. For Jews, eating or drinking blood was very strictly forbidden, and so this imagery was no doubt disturbing. Saying you are a door, or water or the way might be weird, but not directly opposed to the religious laws of your entire culture.

As others have noted, these word pictures gained an entirely new and deeper meaning after the crucifixion and resurrection, but when they heard this - they must have been confused, shocked and a bit creeped out.
I'm not suggesting that they thought they would literally eat Christ's flesh on his arm, or drink his blood while he sat there. The notion of the elements literally becoming Christ's actual flesh and actual physical blood contradict multiple scriptures, which expressly forbid eating and drinking of blood, and this is heresy.

This also presents a huge problem for those who believe that the elements are magically changed into Christ’s literal blood, because it means that they should take all the other places literally where Christ described himself using symbolism. Was Christ actually transformed into a vine?? Was Christ's body physically and visually changed into a wooden door, with metal hinges? Of course not.

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    Glad to see you participating on this site and +1 vote from me for some points taken from a Protestant point of view. It certainly requires study of Jewish laws in the Old Testament to grasp how immensely shocking Jesus' words initially were - indeed, many forsook following him upon hearing them! Those who don't think there's an important link between OT forbidding consuming blood and what Jesus said here are missing a vital point. – Anne Dec 22 '20 at 10:39

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