Messiah in the Passover
This week on the Christian calendar is sometimes called “Holy Week,” because this week we commemorate the events between Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday—especially the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord.
This week on the Jewish calendar we find the celebration of Passover. The celebration of the Resurrection and the Passover are not always in such close proximity, because of the odd way that the date of the Resurrection celebration is calculated each year and because of the difference in the year-length between the modern Western calendar and the ancient Jewish calendar.
But in the original “Holy Week” the Passover was a critical element in the prophetic fulfillment of the ministry of the Messiah. For it was at that Passover that He fulfilled His mission to be our true Passover Lamb, so that we could pass over from death into life through faith in Him. (I Cor. 5:7)
I want to take a few minutes this week to talk about the revelation of the prophetic destiny of the Messiah in the meal that is the heart of the Passover celebration, the seder.
Passover is a feast, a time of celebration and commemoration. It celebrates the deliverance of the nation of Israel from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. You can read this story for yourselves in Exodus 1-15.
The meal that is called the seder at Passover originally marked the entrance into a blood covenant between God and Israel.
In chapter 12 we find this direction from God for Israel:
The Lord goes on to say to Moses that the people shall take the blood of this lamb and put it on the lintels and doorposts of their houses. And He continues, “The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”
Then He instructs Israel to keep this as a memorial feast each year thereafter, to remember their redemption from the land of Egypt.
So from that day to this, Jewish people have gathered each year on Passover to recite special prayers and eat special foods in order to retell the story of Passover at a special meal called the seder—which in many families lasts 5-6 hours
This is a marvelous way to pass the memory of this story from one generation to another. Children grow up at the Passover table hearing this story and experiencing the smells and tastes of the holiday each year.
Over the centuries the words spoken, the songs sung, and the food eaten at the seder have changed. One major change is that modern seders do not feature the consumption of a specially-slaughtered lamb, as in the day of Yeshua (Jesus). This is because the temple at Jerusalem no longer exists.
In Yeshua’s day observant Jewish men and their families went up to Jerusalem each year to celebrate Passover. The lamb they would eat at their seder would be killed in the temple late in the afternoon on the fourteenth of the month of Nisan.
So Yeshua and His talmidim (disciples) went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover during what became that first Holy Week. Yeshua would be crucified later that week, on the very day and at the time of day when the Passover lambs were killed in preparation for the seder.
But on the same night He was arrested, to be executed the next day, Yeshua spent His last evening on earth with His talmidim, celebrating a Passover seder (Mt. 26:19). I have heard it said that Jews from Galilee celebrated the Passover a day earlier than those from Judea (the area around Jerusalem). Apparently Yeshua’s talmidim (who were mostly Galileans) did not think it odd that they were going to have a seder with their rabbi on the night before the Passover lambs were ordinarily slaughtered.
During a seder in Yeshua’s time, and indeed even to this day, four cups of wine were drunk. Each cup was related to a promise that God made to Israel in the sixth chapter of Exodus, v. 6-7. These four promises are:
Scholars say that it was during the third cup of the seder, the Cup of Redemption, that Yeshua instituted what we now call “The Lord’s Supper” or “Holy Communion”—or what might be called in a Messianic congregation “Yiskor L Yeshua.”
The bread of Passover is unleavened—that is, it has nothing in it that would make it puffy—no yeast. It is a symbol of purity, of a lamb without blemish or sin, who is fit to give his life’s blood in place of the most precious inhabitant of the household—the firstborn son, the one who will carry on the family name, the one who gets the double portion of the inheritance.
It was this bread that Yeshua broke and distributed to His talmidim at His last seder, as He said, “Take, eat. This is My body which is broken for you.”
Remember that I said earlier that the first seder was a blood covenant meal. I don’t have space here to teach extensively about the origins and customs of blood covenant.
But I will say that when a blood covenant was entered into, it was customary to prepare a feast. Animals prepared for this purpose were eaten, with the idea that each side of the covenant, each party, was thereby feeding the other party their own flesh—saying in effect, “If it takes the death of my own flesh to fulfill my responsibilities to you under this covenant, I will do it!”
Likewise blood was drunk at a covenant meal. Blood from a representative of each of the parties to the covenant would be placed in a cup, maybe mingled with wine, and drunk by both of the parties. This was to show that from that day forward, they shared one life—“We are one blood, one life. I will do for you whatever you need, just as I would do it for myself.”
Israel was forbidden by God to drink the blood of animals or of humans. So blood covenants in Israel (such as betrothal and marriage agreements) were entered into through the drinking of wine that stood in the place of blood.
From a cultural perspective, in the ancient Middle East, that wine became the blood of the person offering it as a covenant drink. Likewise in the minds of the people making covenant, the animal eaten WAS their own flesh and the wine drunk WAS their own blood.
This is such a difficult concept for us to grasp, because our culture wants to make it only a symbol—a representation. But in the context of the culture of those times, the elements of a covenant meal were much more than representations of the ideas behind the food and drink. They were tangible elements of the heart of the covenant itself.
So as Yeshua offered that unleavened bread to His talmidim, He was saying, “This IS My body, broken for you.”