We are often asked this question around the Easter season when many churches have Communion. “The Lord’s Supper” is what Jesus gave His Body to memorialize His death, and like the Jewish Passover, we must take it at least once a year. Those who fail to partake of Communion at least once a year have no spiritual life in them, and Jesus said that they will not be raised up in the rapture-resurrection (John 6:35-51). It is a serious matter not to be taken lightly.
1Corinthians 5:7-8: “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.”
This is written to New Testament Christians, and Paul likened us to unleavened bread. Since Christ is our Passover (Hebrew: PESACH: “lamb”), we do not need to eat lamb at Communion. We are commanded to eat unleavened bread and grape juice. Moreover, we must first purge out the old leaven of malice and wickedness. There are both physical and spiritual applications in the Communion. Since it was the eve of the Passover when Jesus and His 12 disciples gathered for the Last Supper, we should examine the origins and commandments regarding the Passover meal.
The First Passover
Passover referred to an event, Israel’s exodus out of Egypt at midnight, to the meal they ate that night, and to the lamb itself. They were commanded to keep this feast every year throughout all their generations, and anyone who did not would be cut off from Israel.
There were specifics that had to be met, such as the lamb had to be perfect, a year-old male without blemish. This typified Jesus: “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). When it was slain, its blood was struck on the header and door posts of their homes. This protected them from the death Angel that carried out the 10th and final plague, killing all the firstborn of Egypt. God said: “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:1-13).
The lamb was eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs to remind them of their cruel slavery in Egypt. They were leaving in haste and would not have time for the yeast to rise, so God commanded that the bread be baked without leaven. From this point in the Scriptures, leaven is always symbolic of sin. Not only could they not eat unleavened bread, but there was to be no leaven anywhere in their living quarters: “Seven days ye shall eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses; for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel” (Ex.12:15).
Even today before Passover, Jews thoroughly clean their houses of all food products that contain yeast. Some will sell their baked goods to their Gentile neighbors for a small amount, like a dollar, and buy them back at the end of Passover.
The command not to eat leavened bread was repeated no fewer than 10 times in the passages regarding Passover. Moreover, non-Jews living amongst the Israelites could not partake of Passover unless they were first circumcised. Circumcision is the sign and seal of the Abrahamic covenant, showing that one is in a covenant relationship with the God of the Bible, JEHOVAH (Genesis 17:12-13). Clearly, Communion is not to be taken by sinners. It is only for believers who are in a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ His Son.
How Is Bread Leavened?
Leavened bread has undergone a fermentation process which requires time. It is the decomposition of living organisms when yeast and bacteria inside the dough convert the natural carbohydrates in the wheat to carbon dioxide. This causes gas bubbles to form, which fill up with air and cause the bread to rise. This fermentation process is very similar to wine and beer and is why some people think that baking fresh bread smells like beer.
So if God forbid the Israelites to eat fermented bread at Passover — Do you think He would want them to drink fermented grape juice — alcoholic wine?
The Last Supper
Jesus, on the night of His betrayal, took the unleavened bread, motzah, and blessed it and brake it, saying, “This is my body which is broken for you; eat this in remembrance of me.” If you have ever looked at a whole piece of motzah, you saw that it has stripes and small holes throughout. Messianic Jews see these as the 39 stripes on Jesus’ back that He bore for our physical healing, and the piercings He suffered when nailed to the cross as prophesied by Isaiah: “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed” (Isa.53:5). Peter looking back at Pilate’s whipping post: “And by his stripes you were healed.” (1Pet.2:24).
Then Jesus took the cup and blessed it, saying, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt.26:26-29, 1Cor.11:23-25).
The Fruit of the Vine
We know leaven is symbolic of sin in the Bible, and that only unleavened — unfermented bread can be served at Communion, so it would be preposterous to think that it would be okay to serve fermented grape juice — alcoholic wine. The blood of the sinless Lamb of God would not be symbolized by corrupted, fermented wine. Furthermore, Jesus called it “fruit of the vine”, which refers to fresh grape juice and not fermented wine. Jesus refused to drink fermented wine even when He was hanging on the cross and cried: “I thirst!” They gave Him “wine mingled with myrrh”, but when He tasted it, He refused to drink it (Matt.27:34, Mk.15:22).
There are two kinds of wine, fermented and unfermented; just as there is sweet cider and hard cider. In O.T. Hebrew, writers used several words to distinguish between fermented and unfermented wine. In the N.T. only one Greek word is used to describe both, but by understanding the context, it is easy to determine which is meant. For instance, Jesus said in Mark 2:22: “And no one puts new wine into old bottles (animal skins); or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, and the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins” (NKJV). Clearly, new wine refers to fresh, unfermented wine. This is further supported by Haggai 1:11: “I called for drought upon the corn and the new wine.” Obviously, this refers to growing grapes. If the wine were in the wineskins, the drought would have no effect upon it.
Did Jesus Turn the Water into Wine?
Jesus performed His first miracle at a wedding in Cana when He turned the water into wine (John 2). Many Christians try to use this to advocate their liberty to drink wine. They ignore the fact that it is abundantly proven in the Bible that there is more than one kind of wine, and disregard the fact that the O.T. consistently disapproves of alcoholic wine. Priests who ministered in the Tabernacle and those under a Nazarite vow were forbidden to drink alcoholic wine, even on the penalty of death (Num.6:2-3, Lev.10:9-10). All believers in the new covenant are “a royal priesthood” (1Pet.2:9, Rev.5:10).
There were six water pots which held about 27-30 gallons each. This means they would have Jesus making over 162 gallons of alcoholic wine for the wedding guests! Moreover, for wine to become alcoholic, time is necessary for the fermentation process to take place. When freshly made, wine has no alcohol content at all. Because the master of the feast said that the wine Jesus made was “the good wine,” some say this proves that it was alcoholic, when he was actually complimenting the groom on its pure quality.
Why Tell Timothy to Drink Wine?
“Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (1Timothy 5:23). Many assume that the wine Paul referred to was alcoholic, but this is not true. There is historical evidence that unfermented grape juice was used for stomach disorders. Paul instructed him to drink “wine” as a tonic. Grape juice is an excellent tonic for the stomach, and there is no greater or additional medicinal benefit in alcoholic wine. In chapter 3, Paul said that church leaders must not drink wine (neither should their families), so he would not then advocate that Timothy, the pastor of Ephesus, drink alcoholic wine.
He also told Titus: “A bishop (pastor) must not be given to wine” (Titus 1:7). He would not tell Timothy to drink wine and tell Titus not to drink wine, if he meant alcoholic wine in both cases. Obviously, he meant for Timothy to drink grape juice.
Don’t Be A Stumblingblock!
A major reason not to drink alcohol is not to put a stumblingblock before a weaker brother and sister, causing them to fall. Paul wrote in Romans 14:21:”It is good neither to eat meat, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbles, or is offended, or is made weak.” I personally know of cases where Christians who decided it was okay to have a glass of wine at mealtime or social gatherings, progressed into full-blown alcoholism and the sorrows it brings. For someone who has battled with addiction in the past, we must not lift the cup of wine to his lips (Habakkuk 2:15). In America, there are at least 20 million problem drinkers, and alcoholism kills and destroys lives, marriages, and families. Once we have been set free from the bondages of the flesh, we are not to make provision for the flesh again to fulfill its lusts (Rom.13:14). How can we set wine before someone who was an alcoholic? How can we put him in a position of temptation? Paul concluded that if we eat or drink with any doubt, if we have any conviction in our hearts, it is not of faith, “and whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom.14:23).
The Body is the Temple of God
The believer’s body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and we are warned not to defile our Temple (1Cor.3:16-17, 6:19-20, 2Cor.6:14-18). Alcoholism destroys a person’s brain, liver, and blood vessels. To condone drinking of any alcohol for those who are susceptible to temptation and addiction is sin. “Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles (unbelievers), nor to the church of God” (1Cor.10:32).