March, 2001

Neosho, MO

"This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever" (John 6:58, RSV).

You know, the scriptures promise us that if we want to know anything, we should ask God (James 1:5-7), and over the years, I have counted on His living word (the rhema) to answer my heart's yearning. Jesus said, "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matt. 7:7, RSV). Accordingly, I have been asking, seeking, and knocking for an answer to my questions and concerns about the Lord's Supper. What the Lord has given me satisfies my heart and I pray it will be a blessing for you as well. For over a year now, I have felt very uncomfortable when it comes time to take communion, even though I was raised to believe that this is how we access the blood of Christ and that taking it is a commandment. In spite of that, I have found myself increasingly unable to do so.

At first, I thought it was because what began so gloriously in the last Passover Supper that Jesus celebrated with His disciples (Matt: 26: 26-28; Mk. 14:22-25; Lk. 22:19-20), has degenerated into a stale and powerless ritual involving a few drops of grape juice and a tiny wafer or cracker. The sad reality is that the communion services I have participated in have left me cold and unmoved. Perhaps it is the mind numbing sameness of the ritual or the lack of power present, or the fact that the Spirit hasn't seen fit to participate either. And at such times, I always remember what Paul said to the Corinthian brethren: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged" (I Cor. 11:27-31, RSV). Those are sobering words, which I take very seriously, and sure enough, as I look around me at the participants in the Lord's Supper, often I see those who are weak and ill, not only physically, but spiritually.

The church has exercised considerable control over the flock by telling them that if they do not come and take communion, they are no longer members in good standing. By making communion a commandment, a duty, they have taken the pleasure out of it. When you love someone, you want to break bread with them. If you are commanded to do it, you lose not only the intimacy, but the inclination. In some churches, it is part of "paying your fire insurance," to keep you out of hell.

I'm long past the need to pay fire insurance, because Jesus paid it in full, but it continued to trouble me about taking communion until I got to the place where I could not do it in good conscience, no matter what people might think of me. We are told that we need to take communion because we need to remember the Lord's death. The Apostle Paul reminds us, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death UNTIL HE COMES" (I Cor. 11:24-26, RSV). The phrase "until he comes" jumped out at me and I thought, "BUT, HE'S HERE!" When He left them, ascending to heaven in a cloud (Acts 1:11), He was only gone 10 days, because He returned in Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). If you need further proof, Paul affirms that the Lord IS the Spirit (II Cor. 3:18). Clearly, the Lord has returned.

For those who insist that there was no "visible coming of the Lord," I would remind you that the angel told the men watching the ascension, that He would come "IN LIKE MANNER as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). He was lost to their physical eyes as He ascended and the same was true when He returned, because He returned in Spirit rather than in flesh. I've written about this topic before and won't go into detail here about it, but make no mistake, the Lord is here among us! If He is not here, then we have much greater problems than how often to take communion and whether or not to use grape juice or wine. If He is not here, our Lord lied to us, for He promised, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20, KJV). Think of it like this, when I'm away from my daughter and her family, I love to look at pictures of them which I have on my walls. I do that in remembrance of them, to bring them to mind, to refresh the memories of the wonderful times we had the last time we were together. But let me assure you, that when we are together, I do not have to look at those pictures, for they are with me, I am in their midst and they are in the present moment with me.

The communion services I have attended do not celebrate the fact that Christ is alive and with us every second of every day. Most are sad and somber occasions in which the communicants are encouraged to remember the death of the Lord, which I realize, is what Paul said the Lord's Supper does, but somehow that "sticks in my craw," as they say around here. I do not choose to "hang out" around the cross, or the tomb either, because "I serve a risen Savior who is in the world today, I know that He is living, whatever men may say" as the beautiful old hymn proclaims. "You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart." Yes, His death on the cross bought our pardon and yes, it is His blood shed for us that He sprinkled in the heavenly sanctuary once for all (Heb. 8:5; 9:11-15), so that we may enter the Holy of holies and commune with God in person, but I have the sense that those who are filled with gloom and guilt over His death miss that glorious truth. Had He died and NOT risen again, He would have been like millions of others whom the Romans crucified. It was their death sentence of choice. But He was different. He rose again. Paul concludes that if He was not raised from the dead, "We are even found to be misrepresenting God,....If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied" (I Cor. 15:15-19, RSV). Thus, to cling to the cross and the tomb seems to me to miss the point that we are saved by His life (Rom. 5:10).

Another reason given for taking communion is that we are to take it until the time that we eat and drink with Him in His kingdom. In Mark's account of the Last Supper, Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:25, RSV; see also Luke 22:18). Some have concluded from this that Jesus was talking about the marriage supper of the Lamb which they believe will be held when He returns and sets up an earthly kingdom. To these folks, then, the mandate is clear. They must continue to take communion until He comes, assuming He comes the way they expect. Like the first century Jews, these folks are looking for a literal, physical kingdom on the earth. Consider this verse: "Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:20,21, RSV). It seems pretty clear to me that the folks today who are looking for an earthly kingdom have missed the Messiah, big time, just like the first century Jews did. A close look at the Gospels will reveal that John the Baptist announced that the kingdom was at hand (Matt. 3:2), and Jesus decreed that it was here. Matthew reports, "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt. 12:28, RSV). We all know that He did cast out demons on many occasions, and since He said this was proof that the kingdom of God had come among them, then obviously, it had come, in power! Luke says it differently, but the meaning is exactly the same: "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Luke 11:20, RSV). The inescapable conclusion is that the kingdom, like the Lord, is already here.

Now, you may ask, "When did the kingdom come?" There is a great difference of opinion among bible scholars about that, but consider these scriptures: "And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power" (Mark 9:1, RSV). Unless there are some very old Jews lurking about on planet Earth, the kingdom of God came with power during Jesus' earthly ministry. My study bible offers a few suggestions about when the kingdom was manifested. Some think that God established the authority of Christ at His baptism when the voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17; Mk. 1:9; Lk. 3:21). Others believe that it happened at His transfiguration, when the cloud overshadowed them and the voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him" (Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7; Lk. 9:35). When it happened is not important. That it did happen is what "packs the punch" in our lives.

You also have a number of scriptures which indicate that the kingdom will come with power and majesty, such as this one: "For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (Matt. 16:27-28, RSV). There it is again, the statement that some in Jesus' audience that day would be alive when this event transpired. Later on in this gospel, Matthew talks about the Son of man coming in great glory: "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matt. 24:30-31). Many have projected this verse out into some nebulous future and call it "the second coming of Christ," but notice verse 34: "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." Again, He says that this is a soon to be accomplished event.

To understand these verses, it helps to know that the Hebrews spoke and thought in symbolic language. Thus, they might describe God metaphorically as "a rock," or "a stream in the desert." These are images that appeal to the right brain, the place of intuitive knowing, which explain God on an emotional level. Westerners tend to describe God in more tangible ways, such as "He loves the world," or "He is the creator of the universe," which is often a way to say what He does, rather than who He is. All of it is a way to put into words that which is incomprehensible to the natural human mind. We run into problems, however, when we take an expression which had a symbolic meaning to the Jews and try to make it literal, try to make occur in the natural. A good example is the expression "coming in the clouds of heaven." This way to describe God coming in power was very familiar to the Jews because the Old Testament is full of such expressions. The prophet Daniel said, "I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him" (Dan. 7:13). Speaking of the Lord, the prophet Jeremiah lamented, "Behold, he comes up like clouds, his chariots like the whirlwind; his horses are swifter than eagles, woe to us, for we are ruined!" (Jer. 4:13). And in Rev. 1:7, John relates this vision, "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen." All of these prophets describe the coming of the Lord in judgment against His people as, "coming like the clouds," or "coming in the clouds." Jesus' listeners understood this for they were familiar with the law and the prophets.

There is still another event that meets the criteria of Jesus' proclamation that the kingdom will come with power and the Lord will come in judgment during the lifetime of many of His listeners. That event took place in AD 70, when the Roman General Titus, inflamed by the zealots in Israel, surrounded the city, laid siege to it for several years, and finally conquered Jerusalem. He destroyed the temple and everything in it. I have written about that in "A Mark of the Beast" (End Note "A"), with a bibliography at the end, and so will not go into detail here. However, when you read the historical account of Josephus, who was the Jewish chronicler and interpreter for Titus, and realize what actually took place there, it is easy to see that these prophecies of Jesus in Matt. 24, and Luke 21 were literally fulfilled during that time. I just read Joel, Chapter Two, and this clearly is a symbolic description of God's judgment against Israel in AD 70, as well.

Why would Jesus say that these events would happen in the lifetime of His listeners, if they still have not happened? In fact, this is one reason that many Jews reject him today. They didn't see any kingdom on earth, and so concluded that He was wrong in everything else He said. Many are still looking for the Messiah to come. In the Jewish mind, there were only two ages: the age of the law and the prophets and the age of the kingdom, which to their natural minds, STILL has not come.

When Jesus was crucified, the veil in the temple was rent from top to bottom. The barrier between God and the people was destroyed so that at that moment, man could go into the Most Holy Place and more importantly, God could flow out among the people. But God did not stop there in His dramatic ending of the age of the law and the prophets. He sent the Roman General Titus to finish what was begun at the crucifixion. Titus completely destroyed the temple and all the items of worship, including the priests and the priesthood itself. Jesus warned His disciples that this would happen: "And as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, "As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down" (Luke 21:5-6, RSV). When we were in Israel in March of 2,000, we viewed the site where the temple had once stood, and all that is left of the glorious temple built by Herod the Great are a few huge stones that were part of the wall surrounding the temple mount. Jesus had told them the truth. Josephus reports that Titus was so angry and frustrated by the time he broke through the wall into Jerusalem, that he intended to kill all the Christians as well as the rebellious Jews. Fortunately, Jesus' listeners had heard Him well. He had said that when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies they were to flee and not look back. They heeded His advice, and though over one million Jews were slaughtered, no Christians were, having fled before it became impossible to get out of the city.

In Luke, Chapter twenty one, you find that more apocalyptic language about this end time: "And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves" (Luke 21:25, RSV). Those expressions about the sun, moon, and stars, falling from the sky, which used to terrify me as a child, no longer do, now that I understand the symbolic nature of apocalyptic language. Describing the judgment that Nebuchadnezzar was going to wreak on Judah, for example, Isaiah says, "For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising and the moon will not shed its light" (Isa. 13:10, RSV). Jeremiah uses similar language to describe the same event in Jer. 31:35.

What does this have to do with communion? Simply this: when we take bible descriptions that were written for Jews, using their familiar metaphors in symbolic language and try to make them literal, we drift off into the confusion of our natural minds and usually scare ourselves silly in the process. I think it is probable that we have approached the Lord's Supper with our natural minds and missed a great spiritual blessing in it. Feasts were part of the Jewish tradition, commanded under the law. There were three great feasts: "Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place which he will choose: at the feast of unleavened bread (Passover), at the feast of weeks (Pentecost), and at the feast of booths (Tabernacles). They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed" (Deut. 16:16, RSV). You can read about these feasts in Exodus, Chapter 23, and Deuteronomy, Chapter 16. They were a type and shadow of things to come in the kingdom of heaven. I've come to see that the communion service is a spiritual fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, where the "bread of heaven" is the appetizer, the main course, and the dessert!

Jesus told several parables involving feasts, which you can read about in Matt. 22: 2-14 and Lk. 14:16-23. The stories differ slightly, but in each of them, the person giving the feast is rejected by the invited guests, and in his anger, he replaces them with "riffraff," and "lowlifes." The religious world has taken these feast parables, which I encourage you to read on your own, and used them to scare us into "being good," telling us that if we don't obey the commandments, we will end up in outer darkness forever, rejected by God. In actuality, these stories were Jesus' way to tell the Jews that because they had snubbed the offer that God set before them in Him, that He would go out into the highways and byways and bring in "the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind" (Lk. 13:21), to be His guests. The Jews looked down on the Gentiles as inferior people, and so "the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind" was the perfect language to describe how the Jewish people felt about them. Jesus was telling the stiff necked, self righteous Jews that since the "clean" folks wouldn't come to His banquet, God was going to bring in the "unclean." And bring them in He did. Aren't we thankful that "..God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish" (Luke 6:35, RSV), the spiritual equivalent of "the poor, the maimed, the halt and the blind," a category that included every last one of us before Jesus came along.

Like everything else in the Old Covenant, the great feasts were a type and shadow of our fellowship with God, our communion with Him. Jesus said, "I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 8:11, RSV). To sit at table with the fathers of their faith was the high water mark of spiritual achievement to the Jew. And yet a greater than Abraham had come among them and they rejected Him.

One of the most difficult chapters in the bible for me personally has been John 6. That's because I was reading it literally. God has finally shared with me what it means spiritually. The Jews were expressly forbidden to eat blood, "For the life of every creature is the blood of it; therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off" (Lev. 17:14, RSV). And yet, Jesus came along and declared, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53, RSV). The Jews were deeply offended, and went away, gagging, as our good friend Jeri Fox would put it. Now those are admittedly hard to understand words, which not only his listeners that day, but many afterward have stumbled over, but He explained it in this passage, "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63, RSV). Here again, we see that they had been so conditioned to avoid blood that they were revolted when He said they must drink His blood and eat His flesh in order to have eternal life, but really it is His Spirit filled words, the rhema, that He is referring to in this passage. He invites us to eat our fill of Him, for He is truth and life and whoever eats of Him shall never die. For me, eating his flesh and drinking His blood is a word picture of taking Him into our lives on a cellular level, and that is the essence of this passage as well: "But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him" (I Cor. 6:17, RSV).

The symbolism of the Passover Supper, is very clear, but my problem with it, as I have expressed already, is that communion with God, this deep calling unto deep that we have as a result of the New Birth, cannot be satisfied by a few drops of grape juice and a bit of cracker. For me, that only touches the hem of the garment. This is why we must have our minds renewed so that we have the mind of Christ (Rom. 12:2; I Cor. 2:16), in order that we might discern the body of Christ, which is one of the ways the Apostle Paul describes our relationship with Christ. He is the head and we are members of His body (Rom. 12:4; I Cor. 12:12; I Cor. 12:20).

In Eph. 5, Paul describes our relationship with Christ as a marriage relationship between husband and wife, and that brings me back to the marriage supper of the lamb, which some in the church are projecting out there to some time in the future. To me, that is another example of taking a spiritual metaphor and trying to make it literal. The Apostle Paul says that we are members of the church, His body, which He describes in Eph. 5, as the bride of Christ. If we are acting like a bride, but there has been no wedding feast, then we are living in sin. So, I conclude that the marriage feast of the Lamb has already been celebrated in Spirit. This is not to say that it may not be celebrated when the Sons of God are manifested, of course. Like a lot of things in the kingdom, it transcends time, and thus, it was celebrated; it is being celebrated; and it will be celebrated. Not long ago, I heard a Televangelist say that the Marriage Supper of the Lamb would happen right after the rapture, when we would be caught up to a feast with the Lord, and he assured his television audience that we wouldn't be eating low calorie food either. I thought, "Swell, I guess we are supposed to turn a deaf ear to the screams of the dying in the Great Tribulation, and celebrate the fact that we aren't part of it while the rest of mankind writhes in agony. But then, they deserve it." Does that turn your stomach or what? It does mine. Anyone who thinks in these terms does not a clue what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about.

And by the way, for those kingdom advocates who infer that they are now celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles because they are so spiritually enlightened, I have a wake up call. It was the only one of the great feasts which was INCLUSIVE (Deut. 16:13-15; 31:11-13; Zec. 14:19). Everyone was invited, even those who were not Israelites, those not among the spiritually chosen people, and thus it is a grand picture of the kingdom of heaven, and of the gospel of Christ. It must have been very annoying to the elitist religious leaders when Jesus told them that the harlots and tax collectors would go into the kingdom ahead of them (Matt. 21:31).

One of the greatest pictures the Apostle Paul gives us about our relationship to God is the church, of which we are members. Acts 2:47 reports, "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." From this, we conclude that all who are saved are members of Christ's church. Unfortunately, this is often not what the church on Main St., USA, preaches. They want to limit the saved to their own members. And while I'm on that subject, let me share with you that just as the kingdom does not come with observation, i.e. it is spiritual, not physical, so exactly is the church that Paul describes in chapter after chapter of his letters. That church, as I have said before, has no mailing address, no street number, no phone number, no e-mail address. It is universal and triumphant (Eph. 3: 9-11), and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her (Matt. 16:18), but it is not visible in some external form. I saw a bumper sticker this week that said, "I love my church," by which, I suppose, the person means the body of believers who meet at 1212 Any Street, Any Town, USA. The Jews had to come to the temple in Jerusalem in order to worship God. That was their equivalent to what some call "our church." But Jesus told the woman at the well, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father." But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (Jn. 4:21, 23-24).

To sum up my thoughts about communion, the grape juice and the wafer in no way satisfy His command to fellowship with Him, for that can only be satisfied in love. If you do it out of duty and/or "to pay your fire insurance," rather than out of love, you might as well stay home. Servants keep commandments, but sons want to fellowship with the Father because they love Him. You do not have to go to "your church" to "take communion." In fact, it may be a stumbling block which prevents you from seeing with spiritual eyes the fact that the Lord is here 24/7 as they say. I made a screen saver for my computer which says, "The glory of the Lord is everywhere around us." I pray that God will open your spiritual eyes to see it, even as He did for Elisha's servant: "And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (II Kings 6:17, KJV).

May the Lord quicken these words to our hearts, for He is wonderful; He is ever present; He is glorious; He is the bread of heaven who feeds us until we want no more. Thanks be to God, He lives in our hearts, where we have instant and continual communion with Him, now and forever, world without end. Amen.

Jan Antonsson

 

Jan and Lenny Antonsson

17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850

A Mark of the Beast," Click Here!

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To Return to The Glory Road, Click Here!

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