On Thursday of the week Jesus died, the Bible tells us that Jesus celebrated The Passover with His disciples. In Leviticus 23 God sets out seven “feasts of the Lord.” Passover is definitely the foundational one, upon which the other six are built. Passover occurred in the first month of the Hebrew calendar and kicked off the calendar year for Israel. While the Passover has been celebrated annually since Moses’ time, there really was only one Passover. It occurred in Egypt about 3,500 years ago, and we read about it in Exodus 12-13. A lamb was slaughtered and its blood applied to each doorpost in faith and obedience to the Lord, and that home was “passed over” and the life of the firstborn was spared. Every other observation of Passover since that event has been to remember that event. (Exodus 13:3) In the same way, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper (communion) on a regular basis in the Christian church, but there was only one occasion in which the Messiah was slaughtered as the Lamb of God (John 1:29) and His blood applied to cover the sins of all who by faith and obedience put their hope in Him. This is the meaning behind Jesus’ cryptic words in John 6:53-58, where he talks about people eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He is referring to Himself as the ultimate Passover. Passover and the Lord’s Supper are connected in the same way that everything else in the Old Testament is connected to everything else in the New Testament. The Passover was a shadow of the events that the Christian church celebrates this week.
Let’s look at the typical Passover seder (order) and at the meal that Jesus celebrated with His disciples.
Four cups of wine were taken in the Passover meal, one for each of the four aspects of the Lord’s deliverance of His people from Egypt (Exodus 6:6-7):
- “I will bring you out”
- “I will deliver you from slavery”
- “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment”
- “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God.”
The father (or leader) would pour the first cup and give thanks, setting the day apart to God. In the upper room, Jesus raised the first cup and gave thanks. (Luke 22:17)
Next, a member of the family would bring water, a bowl and a towel to each member of the family to wash their hands, as a symbolic act of purification. It was most likely at this point in the meal that Jesus washed the disciples feet. (John 13:2-20) as an object lesson for them in serving one another. Notice Peter’s reaction: “Lord, do you wash my feet?” He was confused, because it was just hands that were to be washed at this point in the meal. Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:8-9)
During the meal, the youngest person at the table (usually a child) would ask the traditional Passover questions to fulfill Exodus 12:26: “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’” Traditionally, the youngest asks:
“Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights, we eat either leavened or unleavened bread, but on this night only unleavened bread? On all other nights, we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night only bitter herbs? On all other nights, we do not dip even once, but on this night we dip twice? On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night, we eat reclining?”
Often the youngest at the table (again, usually a child) will recline next to the leader. It is commonly believed that John was the youngest of the disciples, so John was reclining near Jesus during the supper. (John 13:23) Most likely, John asked these questions.
Then the second cup of wine is poured and the leader begins to tell the story of God’s deliverance from Egypt. We don’t see a specific reference to this in the Lord’s Supper, however we do see the next thing that would happen. Each person would dip some matzah into the bitter herbs and eat is as a way of identification with the bitter slavery of their forefathers. It was at this point that Jesus gave a piece of matzah he had dipped to Judas Iscariot. (John 13:21-27)
Next, the Passover meal would be eaten. Notice that Judas left before the meal, which wold have made him subject to the consequences of Numbers 9:13: But if anyone who is clean and is not on a journey fails to keep the Passover, that person shall be cut off from his people because he did not bring the LORD’s offering at its appointed time; that man shall bear his sin.
After dinner, the third cup of wine, called the cup of redemption, is poured and sipped. It is significant that, at this point, Jesus departed from the symbolism of the exodus and used this third cup (“after they had eaten”) as a reminder of his redemptive work that is about to take place on the cross. (Luke 22:20)
The fourth cup of wine was called the cup of acceptance. It was this cup that Jesus did not drink, saying, “I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29)
At the conclusion of the seder, a hymn is usually sung or recited. “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:30) By tradition, this hymn is Psalm 115-118. Take a look at how this song ends:
Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through themand give thanks to the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD. The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 118:19-29)
Jesus sang these words, and then He fulfilled them for you and me on the cross. He is the stone that the builders rejected that has become the cornerstone. (Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Acts 4:11) Jesus has fulfilled every aspect of the Passover, right down to the closing hymn. He is our Passover lamb and our Redeemer.