The Last Supper. These words are so full of meaning to believers the world over, and yet we as westerners are unfamiliar with the Jewish celebration during which this event occurred. Because of this, much of the meaning of the meal is lost to us. Jesus’ Last Supper was a Passover Seder meal. I believe that understanding a few things about the Passover meal itself will enrich your understanding of this most important event.
Everything about the Passover Seder is symbolic, but there are a few things I would like to highlight. During a Passover Seder wine is drunk at four separate specified times. There are four expressions concerning the promises of God in Exodus 6:6-7 which are connected to these four cups of wine:
“I will bring out,” “I will deliver,” “I will redeem,” and “I will take.”
What I love about these four statements is not only that they foretell the Exodus story, but that these same four statements relate to the process of our salvation. God brings us out of our former condition, he delivers us from bondage to sin, redeems us by paying sin’s penalty for us, and he promises to take us to heaven when he returns.
This is the typical way a Seder meal would progress:
- Kadeish (blessings and the first cup of wine)
- Ur’chatz (washing of hands)
- Karpas (appetizer)
- Yachatz (breaking of the middle matzo)
- Maggid (telling of the Passover story followed by the second cup, the cup of deliverance)
- Rachitzah (ritual washing of hands)
- Motzi(the blessing over the matzo)
- Maror (bitter herbs)
- Koreich (sandwich of bitter herbs between two small pieces of matzo)
- Shulchan Orech (the meal)
- Tzafun (eating of the afikoman)
- Bareich (blessing after the meal and drinking of the third cup, the cup of redemption)
- Hallel (songs of praise)
During the Passover Seder, one of three pieces of unleavened bread (the center piece) is broken in half, wrapped in a napkin, hidden, and later retrieved to be served as the last morsel of food eaten at the end of the meal. This bit of unleavened bread eaten at the end is called the “afikomen”. It symbolizes the Passover lamb. (I wrote in an earlier post about the connection between Jesus and the Passover lamb, you can read about it here.). It’s interesting to note that Jesus body was broken in between two criminals, wrapped in a cloth and hidden in a cave only to return later after rising!
The word “afikomen” is a Greek word. It is curious to find a Greek word in the middle of a Hebrew ritual. Its Greek meaning can be understood as “that which is coming”. According to Jewish tradition, Messiah would come at Passover to bring a redemption like the redemption brought through Moses.
Now let’s go back to the upper room. The bible says after the meal Jesus took the bread (the afikomen, the symbol of the Passover lamb), gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “THIS is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me”
Next Jesus took the cup, the third cup, the cup of redemption, and he held it up and said, “THIS is My blood, which is poured out for the forgiveness of many sins.” To the disciples sitting around the table, the significance of what Jesus was saying was not lost on them. They must have been stunned. They had been practicing this Passover Seder since birth. Their fathers taught them the specific meaning of every part, as Jewish fathers had been teaching their children for centuries. Jesus could not have said any more plainly, I am the Passover lamb, I am “that which is coming”, I am your redemption. I am the Messiah!