It is unfortunately true that those of our fellow believers who have been led astray by ultra-dispensationalism, based on the error of accepting Acts 28:28 as a "dispensational division" in Paul's ministry, do indeed qualify for the classical description of an expert as being "one who gradually learns more and more about less and less!"
That their particular theory long ago has been shown as untenable, because unscriptural, seems to be news that has never reached these friends, judging by the widespread adherence to this aberration indicated by the publications which reach me, and the sad thing is that by this attitude such people are depriving themselves of much valuable Scripture and thus of much vital truth.
It is probably true that many of us, in our developing search for truth, did at some time or another fall for this Acts 28,28 heresy, especially since it was (in his later years) endorsed by no less a leader than Dr. Bullinger. We are all prone to follow respected teachers!
One of the more serious by-products of this theory has been the teaching that the Lord's Supper (or Dinner) is a rite or ordinance for the Circumcision only, and therefore not applicable to the Church which is the body of Christ.
If we examine the facts as set out by the Apostle in First Corinthians 11 regarding this one and only celebration enjoined upon believers we shall see that Paul received a special revelation regarding it:—"For I accepted from the Lord what I give over also to you .... " (v. 23) and since when he wrote to the Corinthians he was separated from the other Apostles who had confined themselves to Israel, it is apparent that this observance is entirely in harmony with Paul's Evangel. Baptism was not. He thanked God that he had baptised only a few of the Corinthians, for he said he had not been commissioned to baptise (I Cor. 1:17), but the Lord's Supper was, indeed, to be observed "till He comes." It is not an ordinance, but a quite voluntary act which we are called upon to undertake for the deliberate, and salutary, recollection of our Lord's broken body and shed blood.
Those who shut themselves off from this observance shut themselves off, also, from a whole body of teaching regarding the Bread of Life. Paul's Epistles are a unit, but they are also part of a greater unit, the Holy Scriptures, and consequently cannot be regarded in isolation, any more than they can be carved up into sections. Among some it has become a fashion to avoid John's Gospel as if it did not concern us very much, especially since over-emphasis on this Gospel is almost a badge of traditional evangelism. Yet it is John who gives us the truths relating to the significance of the Bread, especially the Lord's declaration "I am the Bread of Life." Paul can be understood only if we first of all understand John—all Scripture is interlocked.
In all four Gospel descriptions of the Lord's Supper the Bread is spoken of first, and then, after supper, the wine. But Paul reverses the order! Literally, he writes, "The cup of the blessing, which we are blessing; is it not the fellowship of the blood of the Christ? The bread which we are breaking; is it not the fellowship of the body of the Christ? Seeing that one bread one body we, the many, are; for all of one bread are partaking" (Note I Cor. 10:16,17). The reason for the change seems to lie in the word ONE. The "one bread" is used to imply the "one body," whereas the cup implies no such unity. The cup and the bread are tokens of fellowship, but whereas the fellowship of the bread is linked with the "one body" very definitely indeed (v. 17) we who are partakers of the cup are not "one cup," neither are we "one blood."
Indeed, if we study the theme of Chapter Ten we shall find that Paul is discussing idol sacrifices and demons, and says "You cannot be drinking the Lord's cup and a cup of demons" (v. 21), so evidently it is drinking of the CUP that determines whether a person's communion is with the Lord or with demons. And from this we must draw the conclusion that the words wine, blood, cup and table can possess some sort of association with idols and demons, but that the bread and the body have no such direct connection.
In Paul's exposition in this chapter we notice that the words "eating," "sacrifice," and "altar" are to be found. The same word "eat" is used both of the true sacrifices enjoined upon Israel by the law and for the bread of the Lord's Supper, but this word is not used in the context of the references to demons, nor is any other word used for "eating," but only the word "drink". The Epistle to the Hebrews emphatically links BLOOD and SACRIFICES together, but Hebrews 10:1 sheds a very revealing light on the subject. So far as the sacrifice of animals is concerned, it is the BLOOD that matters,and this blood could only cover sins, it could not cancel them. But the sacrifice of Christ is not, actually in itself, regarded as of His blood—IT IS THE OFFERING OF THE BODY OF JESUS CHRIST, once and for all. It is by the sacrifice of Him—that the blood of Christ has its efficacy, and the blood is not the whole of His sacrifice, but a part. The truth is that the sacrifice of Christ, in all its many aspects, is far too tremendous a thing to be divided off into various sections of thought for consideration by minds like our own. All we can do, and all this paper attempts to do, is to note carefully what Scripture says about some of these things, and to believe Scripture.
Consequently if there can be, as Paul points out, a parody of the Lord's cup by partaking of the cup of demons, there cannot be any such parody of His sacrifice involved in the breaking of the bread. As we have seen, the cup represents fellowship in the blood of sacrifice, but the bread REPRESENTS FELLOWSHIP OF THE BODY OF CHRIST; of Himself, not only of His soul (which is what the blood represents). We do need care over these truths. Hebrews 10:10 speaks of the offering of "the body of Jesus Christ" and I Peter 2:24 says of Him" "Who Himself bears our sins in His body on the tree." Apart from these two passages there are no references to His body except in the Gospels where they recount events of the Lord's Supper, and in Paul's Epistles, and what Paul teaches is so completely different as to belong to another world of thought, so we are compelled to keep Pauline doctrine regarding Christ's body completely isolated from all doctrine regarding Israel. And in view of this it seems probable that NO ONE AT ALL, apart trom those who received Paul's Evangel, ever kept the Lord's Supper after the Ascension. True, the breaking of bread is recorded in Acts, but if that was the Lord's Supper it is strange that Luke never hints even at any ceremony, or refers to the cup or wine, His body or His blood, His death or His coming again. Indeed, the last reference (Acts 20) almost rules out anything like that.
And at this point it is most desirable that we should more fully consider John 6, and its references to bread. If we approach this chapter and see it AS IT IS, we should try and see the events recorded in it as the disciples saw them, without any preconceived ideas about the Lord's Supper. It begins with the Lord Jesus feeding a "vast throng" from a lad's five loaves and two fishes, which made an immense impression so that He had to avoid the crowd following Him, which involves His walking on the sea, but as they still follow Him round the lake, at their request He gives His great explanation on the theme of the bread. The climax of it is in the words:—
Readers of the Concordant Version will observe that at verse 54 the Lord Jesus changes over to a different word, masticate, a word which has the meaning of deliberate effort and intention beyond the simple acceptance of bread; in short, the CHEWING of it. If we change the word to accord with the facts, verses 54-58 literally read something like this:
The words from John are very clear, and they are obviously not literal, as the unbelieving Jews took them to be. The idea itself is quite revolting. We are told that the Lord Jesus is Himself the Bread of eonian life, that this very bread is His flesh, and He gave it for "the sake of the life of the world." He added that "Except you should be eating the flesh of the Son of Mankind, and be drinking His blood, you are not having eonian life in yourselves," and that this flesh has to be "masticated;" that is, eaten purposefully and deliberately. His flesh and blood are true food and drink, and those who masticate His flesh and drink His blood are having eonian life.
He left it to spiritual intelligence to interpret this but, even so, only a few of His disciples understood, wherefore He explained more clearly: "Is this snaring you? ..... The spirit is that which is vivifying the flesh is benefiting nothing! the declarations which I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." This statement must be taken as true of ALL His declarations, and includes declarations made later by the Holy Spirit. They mean that the believer has, by a deliberate and conscious personal act, in spirit, to take His Life to himself, and there the matter stood for the time being, but first His flesh had to be given up in His broken body and His blood poured out; after that, these declarations in John 6 could become practical experience.
It was after that time that the Lord's Supper was revealed; so John's words, although related to it, cannot possibly be a reference to it. But the Lord's Supper may well be a reference to this discourse on the Bread of Life. It has been suggested by some that the passage in John 6 was intended to serve instead of any reference by that writer to the actual institution of the Lord's Supper; for John gives no facts concerning it, but merely refers to it before and after his account of the washing of the feet of the disciples. But if we put together the four Gospel accounts of the Supper, we see running through them all an awareness of the coming betrayal. The sequence of events is linked by Luke in this manner: "And they begin to discuss among themselves which of them it may be who is about to commit this thing. Now there came to be a rivalry among them, which of them is seeming to be the greater" (Luke 22: 23-24). At this point John (in 13:18) quotes our Lord as saying: "He who is masticating bread with Me lifts up his heel against Me," which is a quotation from Psalm 41:9. Judas was not chewing the Bread which descends out of heaven. On the contrary, he was chewing ordinary bread, and at the same time making ready to betray the Lord, so that His flesh should be put to death and His blood poured out.
So it is plain that the Lord's discourse on the true Bread has its fulfilment in what took place AFTER the Lord's Supper, and which continues to take place. It is in a way prophetic of the results that the coming terrible betrayal and tragedy would bring in their wake; of their effect on God's people, and ultimately upon the whole world. It becomes clear that the Lord's Supper and its institution had a threefold objective: firstly, to be a constant reminder of His broken body; secondly, it was the announcing or showing forth of His death till He should come; and thirdly, it was to keep in remembrance the future New Covenant, not yet brought into being; which, when it is, will be the foretaste on earth of that life which God ultimately intends for the whole world. And John 6 gives us insight into the SPIRITUAL realities, and the heavenly realities as well, which underlie these things, for no less than SEVEN times John tells us, in reporting the Lord's words, that the true Bread "cometh down out of heaven."
Paul tells us (in I Cor. 15:44) that in resurrection we shall have spiritual bodies, and (to quote Andrew Jukes) "To support this new and heavenly life we need the selfsame substance as that which formed and sustained the Lord, when in Himself He formed the 'new covenant' for us. Thank God, as the babe in nature takes in its mother's flesh and blood, and grows thereby, without in the least knowing or understanding either what it takes in or how this nourishment is communicated, so it is with us who are quickened with Christ's life and born of Him. We live by Him while yet we understand little or nothing of that on which we live, or how we are sustained by it. But it is Christ's flesh that feeds and supports us; it is something of His very nature that we take in, through a real receiving and appropriating of His substance. This flesh or substance is distinctively the 'flesh of the Son of Man' ..... It speaks of man according to God's mind as He came forth from God, before that division entered which is met and overcome by the glories pledged both to the Woman's and to Abraham's Seed .... This and nothing less is the flesh He gives, that so eating this flesh we may build up again in the undivided image of the Son of Man."
And in all these considerations it is as though we were viewing, from some tremendous and Divine altitude, the inimitable sweep of God's purpose in the betrayal and death and resurrection of our sublime Lord Jesus Christ. So wide is the scope of this purpose that it is absolutely impossible for it to be constrained and confined within the usually accepted "dispensational" theory. No part of these truths belong to Israel EXCLUSIVELY; none of them can be restricted to so-called "kingdom truth" or confined to one "economy." The Bread of Life, and the truth inherent in this title, is for ALL God's people, both now and for all future time, until in the consummation of His purpose life has come to the whole world of mankind. So great is our God!
And with this thought we should bow in reverence before the great Mystery of God's purpose for this universe. A mystery which utilises human and Satanic treachery in its accomplishment; a mystery which we can never understand fully while in this earthly life.
One often comes across keen students of Scripture who seem to think that with sufficient application we should be able to dot every "i" and cross every "t" in a full and complete understanding of the deep things of God. It never has been my own experience that we can do so. Here and there in the Scriptures we are granted glimpses into matters too deep for our present mortal understanding, and some spiritual experiences are not of a nature that can be expressed in words. If we cannot understand the reasons, we can at least begin to see the consequences for Himself, deliberately chosen as they were when God created this world and peopled it with creatures who were enabled to rebel against Him. The poet of long ago expressed what should be our feelings in these words:—
Cecil J. Blay (Treasures of Truth, Instalment Seventeen, May-June 1975)