The Bible clearly tells us that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper when He and His disciples were gathered to eat the Passover. Matthew 26:17 and 26 tell us, “Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?… And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.” At this time in history, the terms Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were often used interchangeably. As Baptist scholar A. T. Robertson wrote, “The Passover was expanded to mean the entire feast that followed, and vice versa.”
So, as Matthew says, this was the “first day of the feast of unleavened bread.” Mark 14:12 agrees: “And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?” Luke 22:7-8 gives this account: “Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat.”
In Exodus 12:18-20, God gives this command concerning the Feast of Unleavened Bread: “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even. Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land. Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall ye eat unleavened bread.”
No leavened bread would have been found in the house in which Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover. Obviously, then, the bread Jesus used had to have been unleavened. But is this just a matter of circumstance, or is the fact that Jesus used unleavened bread to represent His body a detail of importance?
The Symbolism of Unleavened Bread
In the Old Testament festival, the Passover lamb was killed, roasted, and eaten. This was symbolic of the substitutionary atonement made by Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, for the sins of His people. As part of this Old Testament type of the reality that came with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Israelites were to not eat leavened bread for the remainder of the week of this festival. This was a symbol or type of the feast that Christians now live each day in Christ. Paul explains the symbolism when writing to the Corinthian church, which had been allowing a member to live openly in sin: “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
Paul uses the Old Testament symbolism of putting out leaven to tell the Corinthians to put the sinner out of their midst. He likens leavening with malice and wickedness, and unleavened bread with sincerity and truth. He tells them that they are unleavened because “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” Christ has taken away our sins. Therefore, we are sinless in God’s eyes.
From this, we see that leavening in the Bible represents sin. In Matthew 16:6 and 12, we see that Jesus used leavening to represent the wrong and sinful teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. In Leviticus 2:11, we find that leaven was almost entirely forbidden in the offerings: “No meat offering, which ye shall bring unto the LORD, shall be made with leaven: for ye shall burn no leaven, nor any honey, in any offering of the LORD made by fire.” These sacrifices represented the sinless Jesus Christ, and it would have been improper to use leavening, which was a type of sin: “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).
The Significance of the Unleavened Bread in the Lord’s Supper
The elements of the Lord’s Supper are symbols. Paul says of Jesus’ introduction of the bread in the Lord’s Supper, “And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24). The bread represents Jesus’ body broken for us.
I think that no Christian would say that Jesus was sinful. To be a sacrifice acceptable to God, to be our substitutionary atonement, Jesus had to be sinless. He could not pay for our sins if He had His own sins. Speaking of Jesus Christ, our High Priest, Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”
We have learned that, in the Bible, leavening typifies sin. Unleavened bread, then, typifies sinlessness. Leavened bread was never used in the Old Testament offerings that typified Christ. And Jesus Himself used unleavened bread when introducing the Lord’s Supper.
What, then, must we conclude? Only unleavened bread, picturing the sinless body of our Lord Jesus Christ can properly be used as an element in the Lord’s Supper. Although this may sound distastefully strong to some, to use leavened bread in the Lord’s Supper is to not discern the sinlessness of the Lord’s body, and, since that is inherent of the Lord’s body, it is to not discern the Lord’s body. Of course, many do this in complete ignorance, and I am certainly not setting myself up as anyone’s judge. But once someone has this knowledge, I believe he or she should act on it.
Copyright © 2006-2009 Peter Ditzel