The Passover Seder and The Lord's Supper

The Institution of the Lord's Supper.

Q: Do you think that it is general knowledge that Jesus celebrated the Passover Seder? EDB: Readers of the New Testament should not miss this fact in the history of Jesus' Last Supper. We began this talk by quoting the Synoptic Gospels. Mark, as an example, in chapter 14, verse 12, reads:

Now on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus' disciples asked Him, "Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?" (NIV)
Compare also Matthew 26:17-19 and Luke 22:7-8. Surely, this record in all three Gospel narratives established the fact that Jesus and His twelve Jewish disciples planned to sit down and observe the annual traditional Passover Seder.

1. Preparations for the Last Passover Supper

For four days, from the 10th to the 14th of the Hebrew month "Nisan", the disciples observed their selected lamb to make certain that it was indeed without spot or defect. By the way, the original name of the Passover month, being the first month of their sacred calendar, "Aviv," was later changed to "Nisan" either during or after the return of the Jewish nation from the Babylonian captivity in the sixth century B.C. (606-536 B.C.)

In that year of Jesus' last Passover supper, the 14th of Nisan was reckoned from the evening of Wednesday until the evening of Thursday. By mid-morning of Thursday, all leaven or hametz was removed from every Hebrew house, whether in solids or liquids. The Pesach or Paschal lambs were due to be slaughtered in the Temple courtyard about 1:30 p.m. on that Thursday, and the sacrifice was due to be offered on the great altar about 2:30 p.m. Laymen were also permitted to slaughter their own lambs. "This is the only blood service that need not be performed by a Kohen" or priest. This Rabbinical law is apparently based on the Torah, Exodus 12, verse 6 "all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them (lambs) at twilight" or dusk. This meant that the slaughtering may be administered by Kohen, Levite, and Israelite.

The first gush of blood from the precise and delicate incision in the animal's neck was caught by the priest in a bowl of silver or gold. There were two rows of Kohanim stretching from the courtyard to the altar; one row of priests carried silver bowls, the other gold ones. The blood of the sacrifice was passed along the lines of the Kohanim until the last priest at the altar received the bowl and poured it out at the base. During the slaughter and sacrifice, the shofar sounded, and the Levitical choir continuously chanted the Hallel - Psalms 113 to 118.

Q: So, this is the historic picture of Temple services during the Passover in the life and times of Jesus the Messiah?

EDB: Yes. Jesus sent Peter and John (Luke 22:8) to prepare the lamb in accordance with the Torah prescription, as we have read earlier in Exodus. Jesus affirmed on a number of occasions that He had come to "fulfil the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 5:17). On a number of occasions He instructed people whom He healed, saying: "Go, and show yourself to the priest (the Kohen) and offer the sacrifice that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." (Mark 1:44; Luke 5:14)

The disciples brought the roasted lamb into "a large upper room, furnished" by another disciple, unnamed, or a believing Jewish couple (Luke 22:11-13). When the first stars appeared, the Hebrew calendar reckoned that the 15th of Nisan had begun. Then Jesus and the Twelve reclined at the table. The first thing that He said to them was: "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover (which meant the Pesach or lamb) with you before I suffer. For I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God." (Luke 22:14-16 NIV)

Jesus spoke of "fulfilment." The "Lord's Passover" and the "Feast of Unleavened Bread" were destined by God to see "fulfilment." (Leviticus 23:5 cp. Jeremiah 31:31)

In the light of the New Testament, we learn a valid principle in the study of theology, namely, typology. For example, the Passover lamb of Exodus chapter 12, was a type of its reality in the Person of the Suffering Servant of the Lord, the Messiah who, in the New Testament, is called "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29 NIV), and "Messiah (or Christ) our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed for us." (I Corinthians 5:7 NIV; NKJV)

Dr. Luke, the author of the third narrative of the Synoptic Gospels, being the only non-Jewish writer of New Testament books, gives particular attention to two of the traditional "Four Cups" of the Passover Seder, which was observed in the time of Jesus, as it is still observed in the contemporary Passover Seder. Taking up the first cup, called the "Kiddush Cup" or Cup of Sanctification, Jesus sanctified the festival. He pronounced the traditional familiar benediction: "Blessed art Thou, 0 Lord, our God, King of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine."

Q: What source material would you recommend for those who would like to read about the detailed order of the table ceremony on Passover night in Temple times?

EDB: All authors dealing with this subject refer to the Mishnaic Tractate, Pesachim, as the primary source of information. Of course, there are other ancient documents to consult. The Gospel narratives do not record every detail in the ritual of the Passover home ceremony, as it was observed in the time of Jesus. We shall fill in what we find in historical records, and we shall also make reference to certain customs which were added to the Passover Seder since A.D. 70.

Early in the Passover service in the time of Jesus, the first food required was, and still is, the dipping of a bitter herb into fruit vinegar or salt water. This ritual recalled the bitter bondage in Egypt, and the Jewish sages said that it was "a sign of freedom and well-being," apparently now that the Jewish people were no longer enslaved. The master of the festival prepared a portion of the dipped bitter herb and gave it to each guest to eat. There were then, as there is still, two kinds of dipping during the ritual. In the Fourth Gospel, John described the dipping of the "sop" (KJV - John 13:26). The second dipping is composed of a mixture of figs, nuts, fruit and cinnamon, representing the mortar with which the Hebrews were forced to make bricks with straw. A bitter herb and a portion of this mixture taken between pieces of matzah are eaten.

2. Traditional Ritual and New Words

Also, early in the Seder, a plate with three unleavened loaves - "matzoth" - was exhibited. These were called "the bread of affliction" - quoting Deuteronomy 16:3. This plate is still exhibited as "the bread without yeast" which was eaten in haste on the night of the Hebrews' exodus from Egypt. It was this matzah which Jesus took up before the meal was served, pronounced the traditional blessing, broke it and gave it to His disciples - with a new word:

This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.

Do you think that the disciples reflected upon the prophetic portrait of the Suffering Servant of the Lord, as was foretold by Isaiah in the seventh century before the Christian era?

Q: Do you mean Isaiah chapter 53 - "He was oppressed and he was afflicted"?

EDB: Exactly - Isaiah chapter 53, verse 7: "He was oppressed and he was afflicted." Here, we have typology again. The "bread without yeast" - the matzah - is now declared by Jesus the Messiah, to symbolize His "body given for us." Isaiah 53, verse 5, foretold that He would be "pierced for our transgressions" (NIV). On "Good Friday," Jesus was literally "pierced"!

Earlier we spoke of the four promises which God made to His people while enslaved in Egypt, as recorded in Exodus 6, verses 6 and 7. Because God kept His word, a custom originated in Israel long before the time of Jesus, known as the "Four Cups" or four sips of the "fruit of the vine" observed in the Passover ritual. This custom is still practised.

The Gospel of Luke records Jesus taking up a second cup - "the cup after supper." This was the "Third Cup" in the order of the service, known as the "Cup of Blessing" and "Cup of Redemption." The latter term memorializes the third promise: "I will redeem you..." Jesus pronounced the same familiar blessing which preceded the first or "Kiddush Cup," but He added a second new and electrifying word:

This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. Luke 22, verse 20.
Jesus purposed to bring to their memory a prophetic promise given to the nation by Jeremiah about six hundred years earlier: Jeremiah chapter 31, verse 31 reads:
Behold, the days are coming, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.
The Passover of "the new covenant" became "the Lord's Supper," as the Apostle Paul wrote (I Corinthians 10:20). In typology we now see that the paschal lamb of the Hebrew Passover was a type of "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," as the Apostle John wrote (John 1:29) - "Christ (Messiah) our Passover Lamb sacrificed for us," said the Apostle Paul (I Cor. 5:7 NIV; NKJV). The stain of the lamb's blood applied to the doorways of the Hebrew homes in Egypt, which redeemed all believers from the tenth plague of death, was a type of "the precious blood of Christ (Messiah), as of a lamb without blemish and without spot," wrote the Apostle Peter (I Peter 1:18-19). The "bread without yeast" - the matzah of the last supper in Egypt - was sanctified by Jesus the Messiah as symbolic of His pure, sinless body.

The "cup after supper" containing the unfermented "fruit of the vine," was sanctified by the Lord Jesus as symbolic of His pure, unadulterated redeeming blood - as He said, "This is My blood of the new covenant." "The blood of Jesus (Yeshua) the Messiah which cleanses us from all sin," wrote the Apostle John. (I John 1:7)

"The Lord's Supper," as the Passover of the New Covenant, brings us into communion" "koinonia," fellowship, participation, sharing - in the body of believers with the spiritual Presence of the Lord Himself (I Corinthians 10:16-17). Paul wrote; "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ (Messiah)? The bread (without yeast) which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ (Messiah)?"

3. The Purpose and Duration of "the Lord's Supper"

In conclusion, Paul explained the purpose and duration of the observance of "the Lord's Supper:"

For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death (this is God's purpose) till He comes (this is the duration). (I Corinthians 11:26)
The Jewish nation awaits the coming of the Messiah. The Christian church awaits Messiah's return.

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