In Part I of this series, we examined Lamb Selection Day, and in Part II, we examined the preparations for Passover.

In Part III, we will examine the banquet traditions of Passover as practiced in the first century – in very similar manner as is done today – with the intention of examining some significant details relevant to Christianity. It is not my intention to give an all-encompassing look into what is now referred to by faithful Jews as the Seder (which is most likely not the name used for this meal in the first century). If you want to see all of the parts of the service, there are a number of Christian and Jewish websites which document this.

The Banquet

Unlike the traditional Christian “Lord’s Supper”, this meal was a four-course banquet, each with a specific cup of wine to symbolize it. While we are certain that this was practiced in the First Century, we do not know whether Jesus and his disciples each had four cups or if only Jesus had the four cups (there is evidence of both, though the synoptic accounts seems to indicate that Jesus shared from one cup for at least the third cup), which also signified where they were in the meal. We do know, though, that the tradition of the cups of wine began some 200 years before Jesus and his disciples met in the Upper Room.

These four cups, according to Jewish tradition, are given their meaning from Exodus 6:6-7

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will deliver you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free 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.

The four cups are (sometimes the English translations for the names differ, but the meaning is consistent):

  1. The Cup of Blessing/Thanksgiving (I will deliver you)
  2. The Cup of Judgement (I will free you)
  3. The Cup of Redemption (I will redeem you with an outstretched arm)
  4. The Cup of Praise (I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God)

Each of these four cups symbolized one of God’s promises, and it is believed, from numerous early Jewish sources, that wine was representative of life/blood, and that God was promising on His own life that He will keep His promises (more on this tomorrow, if it seems a little “odd” to you).

Cup of Blessing/Thanksgiving

After the cup of blessing was drunk, the host (Jesus, in the case of the gospel account) would talk about God’s promise to remove His people from slavery in Egypt – which is symbolic of their slavery to sin.

After drinking this cup, the person in the least honored position at the table would wash the feet of the others at the table (which seems likely to have been Peter, based on his interaction with John and his reaction to Jesus’ washing of feet – Lord, are you going to wash my feet?). Jesus broke with tradition at this point to wash the feet of his talmidim, demonstrating his teaching of leadership through service.

Cup of Judgement

After drinking from the Cup of Judgement, the host would recount the story of the children of Israel and their deliverance from Egypt, finishing with the Judgement of Egypt.

During this part of the meal, the first part of the loaf of bread is removed (which is called the afikomen) and the remainder is shared with everyone at the banquet. During this part of the dinner, bitter herbs called maror (often horseradish root in modern Passover banquets), are eaten, dipped from a dish. These bitter herbs were to represent the bitterness of sin. This bitteness of sin would then be washed away by the wine in the Cup of Redemption. What an amazing picture!

It was here during the last supper that Jesus told John that the one who would betray him would be one who dipped into the bowl with him. Since three people would share a bowl in a triclinium arrangement, this would place Judas on Jesus’ left hand, where it would also be easy for him to leave the room without disturbing anyone else.

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

“What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. (John 13:26-30)

Notice that, since Judas leaves immediately after eating the bitter herbs (the only item dipped from a dish as part of the meal), he does not share in the Cup of Redemption, and he is left with the symbolic taste of sin in his mouth.

The Cup of Redemption

Just prior to drinking the third cup, the afikomen (the bread set aside earlier) is broken and given to all participants, as a “taste of freedom” at the end of the meal, to remind them all of the freedom given by God from sin. It is here, in the gospel account, that we read

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (Mark 14:22)

The blessing Jesus would have said over the bread is the Jewish blessing for bread that had been said for hundreds of years before him, and which is still said today.

Baruch attah Adonai, Eloheynu Melech Haoolom, hamotzee lechem min ha-oretz.
“Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”

So, for the participants in the last supper, here is what Jesus would have said in its entirety:

“Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth. Take and eat; this is my body.”

And so, again, we have Jesus predicting his death, burial and resurrection, and (again) his disciples do not understand.

Next, the Cup of Redemption is shared by those at the banquet. This cup is understood to be representative of God’s grace and forgiveness of sin. Thus it is fitting that this would be the same cup which we Christians share when we share in the Lord’s Supper.

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:23-25)

After this part of the banquet, the host would then share the fourth cup, the Cup of Praise, symbolic of God gathering all of His people to Him. Some scholars indicate that Jesus seems to cut the meal short, by saying that he will not drink this cup again until after the his resurrection (the arrival of the kingdom of God). This seems likely, as this symbolism is consistent with Jesus’ teaching.

The Hallel

After the Passover banquet, the traditional Passover hymns are sung. These hymns, collectively called the hallel, are comprised of six Psalms (Psalm 113-118), and are sung at all the Jewish festivals except Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

From the gospel accounts, we read that after the meal, Jesus and the disciples sang hymns and went to the Garden of Gathsemene, which is on the Mount of Olives. In order to get to the Garden, they would have had to cross the Kidron valley, north (and downward) of the Temple Mount. Here, at the bottom of the valley, the blood of all of the sheep sacrificed that day, according to Josephus, flowed from a channel from the altar as a stream more than a foot deep.

So, picture in your mind Jesus and his disciples, after the Passover banquet, singing Psalms 113-118. Read these words and keep this picture in your mind – this is what Jesus would have been singing, hours before his trial and horrible death.

Psalm 113

1 Praise the LORD.
Praise, O servants of the LORD,
praise the name of the LORD.

2 Let the name of the LORD be praised,
both now and forevermore.

3 From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the LORD is to be praised.

4 The LORD is exalted over all the nations,
his glory above the heavens.

5 Who is like the LORD our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,

6 who stoops down to look
on the heavens and the earth?

7 He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

8 he seats them with princes,
with the princes of their people.

9 He settles the barren woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.
Praise the LORD.

Psalm 114

1 When Israel came out of Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of foreign tongue,

2 Judah became God’s sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.

3 The sea looked and fled,
the Jordan turned back;

4 the mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.

5 Why was it, O sea, that you fled,
O Jordan, that you turned back,

6 you mountains, that you skipped like rams,
you hills, like lambs?

7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,

8 who turned the rock into a pool,
the hard rock into springs of water.

Psalm 115

1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness.

2 Why do the nations say,
“Where is their God?”

3 Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.

4 But their idols are silver and gold,
made by the hands of men.

5 They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but they cannot see;

6 they have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but they cannot smell;

7 they have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but they cannot walk;
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.

8 Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

9 O house of Israel, trust in the LORD—
he is their help and shield.

10 O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD—
he is their help and shield.

11 You who fear him, trust in the LORD—
he is their help and shield.

12 The LORD remembers us and will bless us:
He will bless the house of Israel,
he will bless the house of Aaron,

13 he will bless those who fear the LORD—
small and great alike.

14 May the LORD make you increase,
both you and your children.

15 May you be blessed by the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

16 The highest heavens belong to the LORD,
but the earth he has given to man.

17 It is not the dead who praise the LORD,
those who go down to silence;

18 it is we who extol the LORD,
both now and forevermore.
Praise the LORD.

Psalm 116

1 I love the LORD, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.

2 Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.

3 The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came upon me;
I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.

4 Then I called on the name of the LORD :
“O LORD, save me!”

5 The LORD is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.

6 The LORD protects the simplehearted;
when I was in great need, he saved me.

7 Be at rest once more, O my soul,
for the LORD has been good to you.

8 For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,

9 that I may walk before the LORD
in the land of the living.

10 I believed; therefore I said,
“I am greatly afflicted.”

11 And in my dismay I said,
“All men are liars.”

12 How can I repay the LORD
for all his goodness to me?

13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD.

14 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.

15 Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his saints.

16 O LORD, truly I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your maidservant;
you have freed me from my chains.

17 I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
and call on the name of the LORD.

18 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people,

19 in the courts of the house of the LORD—
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD.

Psalm 117

1 Praise the LORD, all you nations;
extol him, all you peoples.

2 For great is his love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD.

Psalm 118

1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

2 Let Israel say:
“His love endures forever.”

3 Let the house of Aaron say:
“His love endures forever.”

4 Let those who fear the LORD say:
“His love endures forever.”

5 In my anguish I cried to the LORD,
and he answered by setting me free.

6 The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

7 The LORD is with me; he is my helper.
I will look in triumph on my enemies.

8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.

9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.

10 All the nations surrounded me,
but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.

11 They surrounded me on every side,
but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.

12 They swarmed around me like bees,
but they died out as quickly as burning thorns;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off.

13 I was pushed back and about to fall,
but the LORD helped me.

14 The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.

15 Shouts of joy and victory
resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!

16 The LORD’s right hand is lifted high;
the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!”

17 I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the LORD has done.

18 The LORD has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.

19 Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.

20 This is the gate of the LORD
through which the righteous may enter.

21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.

22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;

23 the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

24 This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25 O LORD, save us;
O LORD, grant us success.

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you.

27 The LORD is God,
and he has made his light shine upon us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.

28 You are my God, and I will give you thanks;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.

29 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

Some of the key verses to keep in mind, as well, are Psalm 118:22-24. Too often, we Christians use “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” to describe each and every day. Yes, every day IS a blessing from the Lord, but this particular verse is not descriptive of every day – it is descriptive of the specific day that “the stone the builders rejected has become the capstone” – the day that Jesus died for our sins. THIS day is the day that the LORD has made; let all of us, forever, rejoice and be glad in it!!!

  • Share/Bookmark
This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 18th, 2008 at 12:01 am and is filed under Devotional, Original Articles, Theology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
+/- Collapse/Expand All

3 Comments(+Add)

1   Dave Muller
March 18th, 2008 at 7:53 am

I always feel funny commenting first :/ but thanks again Chris! This was fantastic. I think I will see if my bible study group wants to do a passover meal now :)

2   Chris L
March 18th, 2008 at 8:38 am

As Rick pointed out in the last post, 2008 is one of the few years that Passover and Easter do not coincide – the Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle. The lunar calendar loses more than a day each year, so every 17 years, they add a 13th month to the calendar to help it catch up with the seasonal cycles. (And you thought that folks born on Feb 29th had it bad – imagine being born in a month that only comes around every decade or so…)

3   Rick Frueh
March 18th, 2008 at 8:41 am

The Passover Meal as recreated by a believer in Jesus has been used to lead many Jews to Christ and to edify millions of Gentile believers. I have been to many and Have gone from tears to dancing and I see something else every time.