Precisely what our Lord appears to have done was to change the symbols which represented his sacrificed Person in the feast, was to adapt it to the new conditions of the kingdom as now introduced by him, and thus to perpetuate it throughout the new dispensation. The lamb had hitherto been the symbol of the great coming sacrifice; but as they sat about the table and ate, Jesus solemnly took up a loaf and breaking it gave it to his disciples and said: “take, eat: this is my body that is given for you.” Many thoughts, many feelings may have crowded in on His disciples’ minds as he spoke. There was much they may not have understood; much which, half understanding, they may have have revolted from. But there was one thing that, however dimly, they can scarcely have failed to catch a glimmering of: their master was identifying himself with the Paschal lamb, and he was appointing to them a new symbol in its stead.
The most salient fact connected with the institution of the Lord’s Supper is, of course, that this took place at, or, to be more specific, in the midst of, the Passover Meal. It was “while they were eating” the passover meal, Jesus, having taken up a loaf and blessed it, broke it and gave it to his disciples (Mat. xxvi. 26; Mark xiv. 22). This was, assuredly, no accident. As the time of His offering drew near, the indications thicken of the most extreme care on the part of our Lord in the ordering of every event: and these indications are least of all lacking with respect to this Passover (Mat. xxvi. 2; Luke xxii. 8; Mark xiv. 13 sq; Luke xxii sq.), which He himself tells us he had earnestly desired to eat with his disciples before he suffered (Luke xxii. 15). We must certainly presume that all our Lord did at this meal was in execution of a fairly detailed plan of action, formed in the clear light of the whole future (Luke xxiii. 16, 18, 30; John xiii. 1, 3, 11, 18, 19, 21, 27, Mt. xxvi. 31; Luke xxii. 31, 37 etc.). Nothing can be more certain than that He deliberately chose the Passover Meal for the institution of the sacrament of His body and blood.
The appropriateness of this selection becomes apparent the moment we consider the similarities between the two ordinances. These lie in part upon the surface. Both, for example, are feasts, religious feasts, religious feasts in which the devotional life of Jews and Christians respectively to a large extent centre. They penetrate, however, also in part very much below the surface. The central feature of both, for example, is eating a symbol of Jesus Christ himself. The typical character of the Paschal lamb certainly cannot be doubted by any reader of the New Testament (Jn. i. 20, 19, 36; I Cor. v. 7; I P i. 19; Rev. v. 6, 12, vii. 14; xii. 11, xiii. 8 et passim): the lamb that was slain and lay on the table at this feast was just the typical representative of the Lamb that had been slain from the foundation of the world in whose hands is the Book of Life.