The Lord's Table

Including Q&A

Robert F. Wall

In 1 Corinthians 10 there are three tables, being the altar of burnt offering, (v. 18, —called 'The table of Jehovah' in Malachi 1:7), the table of demons (1 Cor. 10:21), and in the same verse, the Lord's table. In each case, physically eating (and drinking) what had been offered, to Jehovah, to the idol, or in the case of the Lord's table, the loaf and the cup which represent the Lord's body and blood, has a spiritual consequence. By eating what is on the table there is spiritual identification and fellowship with the one whose table it is.

It is a wonderful truth for the Christian that 'The cup of blessing which we bless,[1]  is... (the) communion of the blood of the Christ' (v. 16). We know that all our blessing flows from His sacrifice; and the fact that His blood was shed for us and that we have a vital interest in it are matters for deepest thanksgiving. 'The bread which we break, is... (the) communion of the body of the Christ' (v. 16). In this too, 'The bread which we break' we are reminded of His death; that the soldier found Him 'already dead' before he pierced His side (John 19:33-34). That after His blood was poured out, His crucified and dead body was taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb (John 19:38-42).

Who has the privilege of partaking of the loaf and of the cup? It is the Lord's table and He alone has the right to determine who is admitted there. Yet here in verse 17 we have a large part of the answer: 'Because we, (being) many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf.' All who are His may partake, provided they have the capacity to 'judge what I say' (v. 15—to understand fully what partaking of the loaf and of the cup entails), and are not disqualified by immorality (1 Cor. 5:11), or by holding error (Gal. 5:1-9; Matt. 16:6, 12) , or by evil associations (1 Cor. 10:21-22).

Does not the consideration of these things deeply stir our affections for the Lord? No doubt Paul intended that they should. How then could any of them eat and drink in the idol temple that which had been offered to the idol? In doing so they were identifying themselves and having fellowship with the demons who used the idol to usurp God's place! They could not say, 'our hearts are not in it, there is no spiritual connection with the idol.' No! By the act of physically eating and drinking what had been offered to the idol identification and fellowship with it and the demon were expressed! What a solemn reality!

'Ye cannot drink (the) Lord's cup, and (the) cup of demons: ye cannot partake of (the) Lord's table, and of (the) table of demons' (v. 21). We have seen that this was something that some of the Corinthians were doing. But it was not something that could be done without consequence. It was a provocation to the Lord. 'Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?' (v. 22). If such gross inconsistency was persisted in, the Lord Himself would take up the matter.

Having been occupied with the Lord's table, the loaf and the cup of which we partake and who may partake of it, we might well ask the question, where is the Lord's table to be found? From the other chapters in 1 Corinthians we can say it is found in the place marked by certain spiritual characteristics, where:

  • The Lord Jesus can be in the midst of His gathered saints (Matt.18:20; 1 Cor. 1:9)
  • The wisdom of the world is excluded (1 Cor. 1:8-24; 2:1-8)
  • The primacy of the Word of God is acknowledged (1 Cor. 2:13-16)
  • Scriptural discipline is maintained (1 Cor. 5)
  • Paul's apostleship is accepted (1 Cor. 9)
  • God's order (in creation and the assembly) is submitted to

(1 Cor. 11:1-16; 14:34-35)

  • The Lord Jesus is remembered on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 11:17-34; Acts 20:7)
  • Divine love is operating (1 Cor. 13)
  • Provision is made for ministry as the Lord leads (1 Cor. 14)
  • The gospel is taken out to the lost (1 Cor. 15)

To this list we may add two important further characteristics, taken from chapter 10:

  • It is where the unity of the spiritual body of Christ (the Church) is recognised and kept (v. 17). The Lord's table is not a sectarian table!
  • Association with evil is not allowed (1.Cor. 10:20-22)

 

Some further remarks

It is a mistake to make great differences between the Lord's table and the Lord's supper. A table is where we eat. In eating at the table we express fellowship with the one whose table it is and with those who are eating with us. The Lord's table is where we eat the Lord's supper. This is why our passage speaks of the act of ‘partaking’ of the Lord’s table.

It will be seen by reading the many extracts on this subject on this website taken from the writings of brethren who were able teachers of the Word, that they understood the Lord’s table in this way, i.e. you partake of the Lord’s table by taking the Supper in line with Scriptural principles. They frequently used these terms interchangeably. This wasn't carelessness on their part but simply a reflection of the very close connection between the two. This close connection is stated explicitly in a number of these extracts, for instance in those from Mr Kelly (the Lord's supper: 'we may distinguish where we cannot separate'), Mr H Rossier and Mr J. A. Trench.

 

Q&A

I have heard it said that we are always at the table of the Lord. Is that correct?

No. There are three tables in 1 Corinthians 10, and those that partake of them do so by physically eating (and drinking). Those who ate of the Jewish altar, or those who ate of the table of demons, were not always at those tables. Neither is the Christian always at the Lord's table. When we consider where the Lord's table is to be found, we can say that the assembly comes together into the same place for other assembly meetings (see the extract from Mr H Rossier).

Doesn't the table of the Lord represent the whole circle of Christian fellowship into which all Christians are called (1 Cor. 1:9)?

No. The table of the Lord is where, by partaking of the loaf and the cup, those who participate express their identification and fellowship with the Lord. In partaking of the one loaf (that speaks of the body of the Lord Jesus) the communicants also express the fact that all believers 'are one loaf, one body' (v. 17), that they all belong to the one circle of Christian fellowship of which 1 Corinthians 1: 9 speaks. The other verses in 1 Corinthians 10 show that this circle of fellowship is an exclusive one (v.19-22).

What about the altar in Hebrews 13:10? 'We have an altar of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle.'

The altar (note, it is not called the Lord's table) speaks of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. And by faith we can appropriate all the benefits that accrue to us through that work. The greatest of these is the privilege of drawing near to God (Heb. 10:19-23). We can enter the holiest because His shed blood gives us title and boldness to do so. On the other hand, we must 'go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach' (Heb. 13:13). It is by Him that there, outside the religious world (and for a Jew, outside Judaism) we can 'offer (the) sacrifice of praise continually to God, that is, (the) fruit of (the) lips confessing his name' (Heb. 13:15).

Surely it is true that we partake 'spiritually' of the Lord's table  24/7? 

No. It is blessedly true that we may feed on Christ and His death at all times. John 6 speaks of this, both as to our initial appropriation of His death (John 6:53) and also our subsequent feeding on Him (John 6:54-57). But this is John 6, where there is no mention of the Lord's table, not 1 Corinthians 10, where there is. God has taken great care to distinguish between these two things and so should we. Although there is communion at the Lord's table (of the sweetest kind, as we ponder His love) we do not come to it primarily to get but to give; to respond to Him in view of His death.

What about Mephibosheth? We read that he 'did eat continually at the king's table'     (2 Sam. 9:13). Surely this supports the assertion that we are always at the Lord's table, and can partake of it 24/7?

See the previous answers. As a general principle it is always right to take Christian doctrine from the New Testament (Acts 2:42; Eph. 3:1-7; Col. 21-29). The truth of the Lord's supper was something that was the subject of a special revelation by the Lord to Paul and he alone in the epistles writes about it (1 Cor. 11:23). The Old Testament is full of types, shadows and figures, but types, shadows and figures of what? The 'anti-types' are in the New Testament. There is great danger in taking something from the Old Testament and forcing it as a type of something that is not found in the New. As to the verse concerning Mephibosheth, it does not seem likely that he was continually eating, or that he was always sitting at the king's table. Rather, what is emphasised, is that he had the privilege of taking his daily meals at the king's table.

Why is the truth of the Lord's table important?

The Lord's table is at the centre of corporate Christian communion. This being so should not everyone who partakes of it understand what is signified by it? It is not something mystical about which our thoughts may be vague and uncertain. The teaching of Scripture (carefully considered in its own context) has not changed over the years. Many able teachers of the Word, in whose writings we have come to have confidence, have written on the subject. The extracts from some of these writings included in this website are intended to show what the truth of Scripture is on this point. It is hoped that those extracts and this article will be of help to everyone who reads them.

 

[1]        I.e. ‘for which we give thanks’.