Passover’s significance to the Church

Introduction:

God set apart 3 specific times of commemoration for the Jewish people that were occasions that all the men were required to appear before Him in Jerusalem.  These 3 days also coincide to significant days to the Church — namely (1) the day of the “Last Supper” of Jesus and His disciples, where He instituted the New Covenant, (2) the day the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost and (3) the date that many Biblical scholars believe to be the date of Jesus’ birth.

To understand the significance of any of the three pilgrim festivals to the Church, one first needs to understand the significance to the Jews, so we’ll cover that first.

This article is on Passover; the day of the “Last Supper” of Jesus and His disciples, where He instituted the New Covenant.

Last Supper vs Last Seder 709 x 803


Passover (Pesach) falls on the 14th day of the first month on the Biblical calendar and is the first day in the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. Nowadays the term “Passover” refers to both.

“The Passover to the Lord comes in the first month, at twilight on the fourteenth day of the month.  The Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord is on the fifteenth day of the same month. For seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you are to hold a sacred assembly; you are not to do any daily work. You are to present a fire offering to the Lord for seven days. On the seventh day there will be a sacred assembly; you must not do any daily work.”

Leviticus 23:5-8

While months in Scripture are numbered; first month, second month, etc. they also have names.

The names of the months that appear in the Old Testament are split between the names used before and after the exile of the Jews under the Babylonians.  As a result, in some passages, Passover is said to fall in the month of Aviv — in the parts of the Old Testament written before the Babylonian exile, and to fall in the month of Nisan in the parts of Scripture written after the exile. The first month is still called Nisan, today.

Passover is the commemoration of God bringing the Jews out of Egypt, our deliverance from slavery, God’s redemption of us, and His taking us as His people, as He said He would in Exodus 6;

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will deliver you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.  I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.”

Exodus 6: 6-7

I will bring“, “I will deliver“, “I will redeem“, “I will take”  from the verse above are referred to as “the four ‘I wills’” and play a central role in framing the commemoration of Passover, called a Seder (for “order”). These four “I wills” correspond to the 4 cups of wine that are poured during the Passover commemoration and have significance to the Church, as well as to the Jewish people. More on that below.

The Feast of Passover commemorates the night when the Angel of the LORD passed over the households in Egypt where the blood of a perfect lamb was applied to the doorposts and lintels of the house; sparing the first born son (Exodus 12:1-13; Leviticus 23:5).

The Feast of Unleavened Bread commemorates that the Jews left Egypt in such haste that they did not have time to let their bread rise and had to bake it quickly by grilling it, as opposed to baking it.

Passover is quite literally, the account of how God saved His people by the shedding of the blood of the perfect Passover lamb. Sound familiar?  It should.

The 4 cups of wine that are poured during the Seder, the commemoration meal of Passover and which correspond to the four “I wills” are called;

Cup of Sanctification
I will bring you out from under the burden of the Egyptians

Cup of Judgment
I will deliver you out of their bondage

Cup of Redemption
I will redeem you with an outstretched arm

Cup of Praise
I will take you to me for a people

It is believed that it was the third cup, the Cup of Redemption that Jesus took with His disciples and with which He instituted the New Covenant.

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the [1] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

[1] some manuscripts insert "new"

Matthew 26:25-28

Here is Luke’s account;

“And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Luke 22:20

If there is a “new” covenant there must necessarily be an “old” covenant.

Most Gentile Christians think of the “old covenant” as the “Law” given to Moses at Mount Sinai – but God says in Jeremiah 31:32 that the “old covenant” is the one that He made with our forefathers in the day that He took us by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt”.


The “New Covenant” – promised to the Jewish People

It may come as a surprise to learn that the New Covenant was promised by God beforehand to the Jewish people.

The “new covenant” that Jesus instituted at what the Church calls the “Last Supper” (more accurately called ‘the last Seder’) — was promised to the Jewish people in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 31.

It is a Jewish covenant – one He said He would make with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (the Jews).

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

Jeremiah 31: 31- 33

Why did God need to make a “new” covenant?

Hebrews 8 explains why He needed to make a new covenant with us.  We broke the first covenant:

“if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second one. But finding fault with His people, He says:

 Look, the days are coming, says the Lord,

when I will make a new covenant

with the house of Israel

and with the house of Judah—

not like the covenant

that I made with their ancestors

on the day I took them by their hands

to lead them out of the land of Egypt.

I disregarded them, says the Lord,

because they did not continue in My covenant.

But this is the covenant

that I will make with the house of Israel

after those days, says the Lord:

I will put My laws into their minds

and write them on their hearts.

I will be their God,

and they will be My people.

And each person will not teach his fellow citizen

and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,”

because they will all know Me,

from the least to the greatest of them.

For I will be merciful to their wrongdoing,

and I will never again remember their sins

By saying, a new covenant, He has declared that the first is old. And what is old and aging is about to disappear.”

Hebrews 8: 7-14

God needed to make a new covenant with us because we broke the “first covenant” (the one He ratified with Abraham and that He swore by Himself to uphold) and which He implemented when He led us out of Egypt to bring us into our own Land, which He promised to Abraham. He was a husband to us and we were unfaithful.

While the New Covenant is a Jewish covenant promised by God to the Jewish people in the Old Testament, it was also God’s  means to fulfill the promise He made to the Gentiles back in Genesis 12:3;

“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and curse those that curse you, and in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.

In this passage, God speaks of His promise to Abraham (developed more in Genesis 17:1-8) that He will make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation and given them a specific land . He then goes on to say something incredible — that through a descendant of Abraham’s “all the nations [Ha-Goyiim, in Hebrew, meaning “Gentiles”] on earth will be blessed”. 

This is referred to as “the all-nations clause of the Abrahamic Covenant”

Wow! God planned right from the beginning that the Messiah, a Jew — would be a blessing to the Gentiles.  On the cross, access to all — Jew and Gentile was provided.  The veil was torn.  Whosoever will, may come.

Jesus is the mediator of this new covenant (Hebrews 8:1-6).


The “Bread and the Cup”

Some people think that Jesus was implementing  a new ritual, a “Holy Sacrament”, an Ordinance, when He took the “bread and the cup”,  gave thanks, broke it and said “take eat all of you, for the forgiveness of sins“. Let’s look at this in its context…

Jesus was sitting at the Passover meal with His disciples.  As Jews, in accordance with the Law of Moses, they were keeping the memorial feast (Seder) to remember that night that the Angel of the Lord passed over the houses of the children of Israel when He saw the blood of a perfect lamb (“a lamb without blemish”] — painted on the doorposts and lintel of the Jews’ houses. When He saw the blood, He passed over — sparing the first born of the Jews.  It was in THIS context, that Jesus took the “bread and cup”.

It was not “any bread” that He took.

It was not “any cup“.


Taking, Giving Thanks and Breaking the Bread

In the account in Luke (Luke 22:14-20) it says:

He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”

Luke 22:19

Let’s break down the account of what Jesus did in

(1) taking the bread

(2) giving thanks and

(3) breaking it


The “Bread” Jesus Took

Have you ever seen what matzoh, unleavened bread looks like? It is hard, dry and very crumbly.

Here is a picture;

passover cup and echad

Matzoh is made of only flour and water and is baked very quickly over an open fire — because it symbolizes the the Jews had no time to let their bread rise (with yeast) when they fled Egypt. Holes are pierced into it in stripes to allow more even heat flow during the baking process and to keep it from puffing up while it is cooking.  The flames leave these little brown spots that look like bruises all over, because matzoh are grilled over an open fire.

Matzoh is pierced, striped and bruised — like the Messiah was prophesied to be in Isaiah 53:4-6.

This is the “bread” that Jesus took !


“Giving Thanks”

Scripture says that when Jesus took the (unleavened) bread from the Passover Seder, He “gave thanks“.

As a Jew, having a meal with His Disciples who were Jews, “giving thanks” meant something very specific.

There is the “blessing on bread” and the “blessing on wine” — bread and wine are two elements that are found at every feast meal, including the Sabbath (Shabbat) meal. The only difference is, at Passover, the “bread” is unleavened.  So matzoh is used.

These are specific blessings.

When Jesus took the “bread” and “gave thanks” He prayed the “blessing on bread” over the matzoh;

“Blessed are You, O LORD, God King of the Universe, who brings bread from the earth. Amen”.


“Breaking” the Bread

Remember, the “bread” Jesus took was hard and pierced with holes in stripes. “Breaking” the matzoh means it would ‘snap’ along one of the lines of pieced holes.

After He took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, He gave it to them and said;

“This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”

He was saying, this broken pierced, striped, bruised matzoh — is Me. He was saying that He was going to be ‘broken’ for them, that He is the One spoken of in Isaiah 53.

Then He said;

“Do this in remembrance of Me”.

Was He implementing a new ritual? A Holy Sacrament? An Ordinance of the Church?

Or was He taking elements that are found at the Passover meal — elements that already had a specific meaning and relating THAT to what He was about to do?

Like the perfect Passover lambs on the night the Jews left Egypt, He was about to be sacrificed — broken for us.


“The Cup”

It is believed that the cup that Jesus took was the 3rd cup — the Cup of Redemption, as it was a cup He took “as they were eating”.   As you will see below, the 4th cup was taken “after supper”.

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Matthew 26:25-28

By way of background, it is important to know, is that the wine served at the Passover Seder meal must be red wine, because it is represents

“the blood of the lambs that was placed on the doorposts and lintels of the homes , the night we left Egypt — so that when the Angel of the Lord saw it, He would “pass over”.”

Jesus took an element fundamental to the Passover Seder meal — a cup of red wine that already had a very specific meaning and told His Disciples what He was about to do;

“When the hour came, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him.  Then He said to them, “I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

Luke 22:14-18

He took the cup and after “giving thanks”…  i.e. He said the “blessing on wine”:

“Blessed are You O LORD, God, King of the Universe, who brings forth the fruit of the vine. Amen”

Since He said the “blessing on the cup”, he would have taken a sip of it. Then He passed the cup around for everyone to take a sip, which is what is done after “Kiddish”, the “blessing on the wine” is said.  He would have passed the cup to the eldest male there, who would have taken a sip and then passed it to the next eldest.

Then He said:

“I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.

He knew what lay ahead and that on THIS Passover, He was the Lamb that was about to be sacrificed — so that they (we) could be spared the penalty of death.

Then Jesus said He would not drink of the fruit of the vine (i.e. would not drink the 4th cup of wine of the Passover Seder meal) until He drinks it with us in the Kingdom of God (cr Matt 26:29, Mark 14:25).


The Fourth Cup  — the Fourth “I will”

We know that this was the fourth cup, because it says in Luke 22:20 that it is the one that He took “after supper”. This cup represents the fourth “I will” – “I will take you to me for a people”.

Of this cup, Jesus said;

In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said,“This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you.” “

By saying this, Jesus was telling His Disciples that THIS Passover it would be His blood that was going to be the sacrifice and more than that, He was saying that His blood would be the sacrifice that would ratify the New Covenant — the covenant spoken of in Jeremiah 31.

Remember…

The “first covenant” was the one that was ratified with Abraham — the SAME Covenant with the “all-nations clause” in it.

This was the Covenant that was ratified when God alone passed through the split carcasses. This meant that if that Covenant was broken by the Jews, only God would have to pay the penalty for it having been broken.

Referring back to Hebrews 8:7-14, a “new covenant” was needed because we (the Jews) broke the “first covenant”.

Jesus was saying when He took the 3rd cup — the Cup of Redemption, that just as God swore by Himself to do when He passed through the cut carcasses alone, He was going to “pay the required price” for us breaking the first covenant. He was going to redeem us — buy us back.

In just a few hours, He would do, just that.

While the New Covenant was promised to the Jews and He would be the sacrifice that would soon ratify it — God planned from the beginning, that ‘all the nations — the Gentiles, would be blessed through this descendant of Abraham‘…the Jewish Messiah. In this new covenant — both Jew and Gentile would be full and equal partakers of.

When Jesus took this cup, He was comparing His blood to those of the lambs’ that were put on the doorposts and lintels of the houses the night we left Egypt — to spare us from death.

The reason that Jesus won’t drink the 4th cup yet — is because He is still gathering His people — both Jews and Gentiles to Himself.

Paul speaks of this in Romans 11:25-17;

“I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,

he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;

“and this will be my covenant with them

when I take away their sins.”

As regards the gospel, they [the Jews] are enemies of God for your (the Gentile’s) sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.  For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

Romans 11:25-27

[for an in-depth explanation of this passage, phttp://www.jewishrootsofchristianity.ca/a-partial-hardening-has-come-to-israel-until-the-full-number-of-the-gentiles-has-come-in/]

Paul also speaks of His future redemption of the Jews in Romans 11:11-15;

“So I ask, did they [the Jews] stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their [the Jews] trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.

Now if their [the Jews] trespass means riches for the world, and if their [the Jews] failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their [the Jews] full inclusion mean!

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. In as much then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.

For if their [the Jew’s] rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

Jesus is coming back for His Bride, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles and at that time He will again drink the fruit of the vine, the Cup of Praise, in the fulfillment of the fourth “I Will” – “I will take you to me for a people”.