7-4-4 The Breaking of Bread and the Judgment
The Lord told a parable about how the man who takes the highest room in the feast [= the ecclesia in this life] will be rebuked at the coming of the Master and “with shame take the lowest room" (Lk. 14:9). The idea of the Lord Jesus returning and one of His guests having “shame" must surely refer, in line with other Biblical passages, to the shame of condemnation. ‘And so therefore’, the Lord continues, ‘take that lowest place at the feast right now’. If the “lowest room" is seen as the place of the shame filled condemned… then surely He’s saying that we should consider ourselves as “condemned" now as we sit at the feast. And what feast does the Lord have in mind? Is He perhaps referring on some level to the breaking of bread, which is the Lord’s supper / feast where we now each take our place? Should we not, therefore, be sitting there feeling [although this is only part of the story] condemned, and the lowest of all? Is that not one [and only one, be it noted] of the emotions elicited in us by the cross? The “feast" of the breaking of bread is clearly meant to be understood by us as a foretaste of the Messianic “feast" of the future Kingdom. And if we genuinely feel we should have the least place there, we will reflect that in our taking the lowest place at the memorial meeting. In our hearts, we will sit there knowing we ought to be condemned.
The Lord Jesus clearly saw a link between the breaking of bread and His return. He not only told His people to perform it “until he come", but He said both before and after the last supper [putting together the Gospel records] that He would not keep this feast until He returned. Our breakings of bread are therefore a foretaste of the final sitting down with Him in His Kingdom- for He had elsewhere used the idea of feasting with Him as a symbol of our fellowship with Him at His return. The Rabbis had repeatedly taught that Messiah would come at Passover; the first century Rabbi Joshua said that “In that night they were redeemed and in that night they will be redeemed by Messiah". Much evidence could be given of this(1). For this reason Josephus records how the Jewish revolts against Rome repeatedly occurred around Passover time.
Yet all the Jewish feasts have some reference to the breaking of bread. The Hebrew writer picks up the image of the High Priest appearing to pronounce the blessing on the people as a type of the Lord’s second coming from Heaven bearing our blessing. And yet they also all prefigure judgment in some way. Thus the Mishnah taught: “At four times in the year is the world judged"(2). Because the breaking of bread involves a serious concentration upon the cross, and the cross was in a sense the judgment of this world, it is apparent that the breaking of bread is in some ways a preview of the judgment seat. Our attitude to the cross and all that is meant by it is the summation of our spirituality. I normally dislike using alternative textual readings to make a point, but there is an alternative reading of 1 Cor. 11:29 which makes this point so clearly: “He who eats and drinks [‘unworthily’ isn’t in many manuscripts], eats and drinks discernment [judgment] to Himself. Not discerning the Lord’s body is the reason many of you are weak and sickly". The Corinthians were not discerning the difference between the Lord’s body and a piece of bread, for they were eating the bread as part of a self-indulgent social meal, rather than discerning Him.
The eating and drinking at the memorial meeting is a judging of ourselves. It’s a preview of the judgment. 1 Cor. 11 seems to be concerning behaviour at the memorial meeting. Time and again the brethren are described as “coming together" to that meeting (:17,18,20,33,34). Believers ‘coming together’ is the language of coming together to judgment. Where two or three are gathered , the Lord is in the midst of them (Mt. 18:20) uses the same word as in Mt. 25:32 concerning our gathering together unto judgment. We should not forsake the “assembling of [ourselves] together" (Heb. 10:25)- the same word as in 2 Thess. 2:1 regarding our “gathering together unto Him". The church being assembled (Acts 11:26), two or three being gathered (Mt. 18:20)- this is all a foretaste of the final gathering to judgment (Mt. 25:32 s.w.). The command to examine ourselves (11:29) uses the same word as in 3:13 concerning the way our works will be tried with fire by the judgment process of the last day. If members of an ecclesia break bread unworthily, they “come together unto condemnation" (11:34). Yet we must judge ourselves at these meetings, to the extent of truly realising we deserve condemnation (1 Cor. 11:31). We must examine ourselves and conclude that at the end of the day we are “unprofitable servants" (Lk. 18:10), i.e. worthy of condemnation (the same phrase is used about the rejected, Mt. 25:30). This is after the pattern of the brethren at the first breaking of bread asking “Is it I?" in response to the Lord’s statement that one of them would betray Him (Mt. 26:22). They didn’t immediately assume they wouldn’t do. And so we have a telling paradox: those who condemn themselves at the memorial meeting will not be condemned. Those who are sure they won’t be condemned, taking the emblems with self-assurance, come together unto condemnation. Job knew this when he said that if he justifies himself, he will be condemned out of his own mouth (Job 9:20- he understood the idea of self-condemnation and judgment now). Isaiah also foresaw this, when he besought men (in the present tense): “Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty", and then goes on to say that in the day of God’s final judgment, “[the rejected] shall go into the holes of the rock...for fear of the Lord and for the glory of His majesty when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth" (Is. 2:10,11,19-21). We must find a true, self-condemning humility now, unless it will be forced upon us at the judgment. The LXX of Is. 2:19 speaks of a rending of the rocks, exactly the same phrase as occurs in Mt. 27:51 about the crucifixion. Rending of rocks is common judgment day language (Nah. 1:5,6; Zech. 14:4), and consider too how this happened in the theophany of 1 Kings 19:11,12, in which the still small voice would be comparable to the message of the cross.
More positively, because we know God’s judgment, we can have some knowledge of our acceptability with God as we face the emblems. Whilst it may be hard to believe, Gal. 6: 4 says that we can prove / judge our own works, and thus have rejoicing in ourselves. Although self-examination is fraught with problems, and even our conscience can be deceptive at times (1 Cor. 4:4), there is a sense in which we can judge / discern ourselves now.
This connection between the breaking of bread and judgment day is in fact a continuation of an Old Testament theme. Three times a year, the Israelite had to ‘go up’ to present himself before the Lord at the feasts (Dt. 16:16). He was to ‘appear’ there- a Hebrew word elsewhere translated approve, discern, gaze upon, take heed, look upon oneself, perceive, shew oneself. His very presence before the Lord would have this effect: he would be revealed openly to God, and he would see himself as he was. This was the intention; and yet Yahweh went on to warn them not to appear before Him “empty", vainly, ‘to no effect’. Behold the intense relevance to our appearing before the Lord at our Passover: we can so easily present ourselves there ‘to no effect’, when the intention is that we should be manifesting ourselves to ourselves and to God. The familiar order of service, the well known hymns, the presence of familiar and often family faces...these factors (not wrong in themselves) all encourage us to ‘appear’ there to no effect. David describes the going up to keep the feasts in unmistakable judgment-seat language: “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go [up] into the house of the Lord...the tribes go up...unto the testimony of Israel [cp. the Lord Jesus, the faithful and true witness], to give thanks unto the name of the Lord. For there are set [AV mg. ‘do sit’] thrones of judgment, the thrones [an intensive plural- the great throne] of the house of David [i.e. that of Christ]" (Ps. 122:1-5). David wrote this well aware that Messiah was to sit on his throne in Jerusalem at His return and final judgment. Is it going too far to suggest that David saw in the tribes going up to Zion a type of God’s people going up to meet the Lord at the final judgment? If so, he understood their response to the invitation to go there as one of joy; we go to judgment to praise, joyful at the invitation.
Another OT anticipation of these things is found in the way the “water of separation" granted cleansing, in prophecy of the effect of the blood of Christ (Num. 19:21). But the Hebrew for “separation" is also translated ‘uncleanness’ (Lev. 20:21; Ezra 9:11; Zech. 13:1). Touching this water for any other reason made a man unclean. Only if used in the right context did it make him clean (Num. 19:21). This is why it is described with a word which has these two meanings. Thus the RSV gives “water of impurity", the Russian, following an LXX manuscript: ‘water of purifying’. And so it is with our contact with the work of the Lord, symbolized in the emblems. We are made unclean by it, we drink damnation to ourselves, if we don’t discern it. Only if we properly discern it are we cleansed by it.
The most evident link between the breaking of bread and the judgment / second coming is in the fact we are to do it “until he come". The Jews expected Messiah to come at Passover, and the Lord seems to have plugged into that fact. ‘Until he come’ was an allusion by Paul to the contemporary Passover prayer for the coming of Messiah at the Passover meal: “May the Lord come and this world pass away. Amen. Hosanna to the house of David. If any man is holy, let him come; if any man is not, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen". Joachim Jeremias translates the phrase: “’Until (matters have developed to the point at which) he comes’, ‘until (the goal is reached, that) he comes’" (3). He points out a similar construction in other passages relevant to the second coming (Lk. 21:24; 1 Cor. 15:25; Rom. 11:25). Thus each memorial meeting brings us a step closer towards the final coming of Jesus. It would therefore be so appropriate if the Lord did return during a breaking of bread. One day, the foretaste of judgment which we experience then will be, in reality, our final judgment. As we break bread, each time we are ‘reminding’ the Father as well as ourselves of His Son’s work and the need to climax it in sending Him back.
I’ve pointed out elsewhere how Paul so often alludes to and further interprets the words of the Lord Jesus. In Mk. 4:22 the Lord says: " For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it should come to light". Paul’s inspired allusions to this can be found as follows: 1 Cor 4.5: " who will bring to light the secrets of darkness and will make public the purposes of the heart" ; Rom 2.16: " God judges the secrets of people, according to my gospel through Jesus Christ" ; and, significantly for our context, 1 Cor 14.25: " The secrets of his heart are made public / revealed" . The context of 1 Cor. 14 is of behaviour at the memorial meeting, following on from Paul’s concerns about this in 1 Cor. 11 and 12. The point of the connections is this: As the secret / hidden matters of the heart will be judged at the last day, so they are revealed at the memorial meeting. For there, we stand before the cross, and the hidden thoughts of our hearts are revealed.
(1) See Joachim Jeremias The Eucharistic Words Of Jesus (London: S.C.M., 1973 ed.,) p. 206.
(2) Quoted in Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching Of The Cross, 3rd ed., p. 266.
(4) Joachim Jeremias, op cit p. 253.