One Last Meal: Finding Jesus in the Passover
[Inside – “One last Meal: Finding Jesus in the Passover”. #3 in our series “A Journey to the Cross: 40 Days in the Footsteps of Jesus”.]
It’s the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. Jesus has one last meal with his disciples. This last meal is still celebrated today as The Last Supper…The Lord’s Supper…Communion.
This was also the beginning of the Jewish festival, Passover. The first night of Passover begins with a meal. It appears that Jesus’ last meal was on this first night of Passover. We see this in three of the Gospels [See Matthew 26:17, Luke 22:7, and Mark 14:12]
The Gospels don’t reference all of the elements on the Passover table (only the bread and the wine are referenced), and it’s not clear if all of the contemporary elements present at the Passover Seder were represented on Jewish tables at the time of Jesus. Nevertheless, the symbolism and the connection between the Passover, the Seder, and Jesus are unmistakable.
As we focus on Jesus’ last meal, we’ll work our way through many of the elements of a Passover Seder meal. We’ll discuss the historical significance and examine the connection to Jesus.
*This post can be used to read aloud as you taste and experience the elements of this meal together with family and friends.
A Brief History of the Passover
The Hebrew People Come to Egypt
For 400 years, the Hebrew people lived as slaves in Egypt.
However, that’s not how their time in Egypt started out. They originally came as Pharaoh’s guests in the midst of a worldwide famine. As it turned out, Pharaoh’s right hand man, Joseph, was their long-lost brother. So, Pharaoh invited Joseph’s father and brothers, along with their flocks and herds and everything they own, to stay and live in the best part of his land – Goshen.
[You can read about Joseph and his brothers, and their experiences in Genesis 37-50.]
Fast forward – Joseph and all his brothers are long dead. There’s a new Pharaoh in town, and Joseph is long forgotten. This one large, extended family flourished and were now so numerous that the Egyptians feared them.
“What if they rise up against us?”
“What if they join our enemies against us?”
So the Egyptians came up with a plan to work them so hard that they’d be too beaten down to do anything.
They forced the Hebrew people to make bricks and build great cities. It was back breaking work, but the Hebrews continued to thrive. This made the Egyptians work them all the harder. They were ruthless.
Life was a brutal existence for these Hebrew slaves. For 400 years they cried out to God in their misery (Exodus 1).
God Hears the Cries of His People
Their cries did not go unnoticed. God heard them, and was concerned about their suffering (Exodus 3:7).
God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to let His people go free.
But Pharaoh wouldn’t listen.
[You can read all about Moses in the book of Exodus.]
So God sent a series of plagues to afflict Egypt. Perhaps when they saw this display of God’s power, Pharaoh would change his mind. Instead, Pharaoh continued to defy God and refused to let his people go.
As a result the Lord told Moses he planned to send one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt.
God told Moses,
“After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely” (Exodus 11:1).
“About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal” (Exodus 11:4-7).
The First Passover
You see, God had a plan to preserve his people.
He told each family to choose a year old lamb that was without defects. He told them to care for the lamb in their homes for 14 days and then slaughter it at twilight on the 14th day.
Then, God instructed each household to take some of the blood and spread it on the sides and the tops of their doorframes. Once this was done, every family was to go inside their house and close the doors.
God promised to pass over the homes marked with lambs blood when he stuck Egypt with this final plague. The plague wouldn’t touch anyone inside.
That same night, they were to roast the lamb and eat it along with bitter herbs and bread made without yeast.
God told them to eat with their cloaks tucked into their belts, their sandals on their feet and their staffs in their hands. He told them to eat quickly, because they would need to leave right away after he passed over.
On the night the Lord swept through the streets of Egypt, the first born of every Egyptian household and the firstborn of all their animals died. But the Lord passed over every house with lamb’s blood on their doorframes.
God told the Hebrew people to commemorate this day for generations to come; to celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – a lasting ordinance. This festival is called The Passover.
Jesus Celebrates the Passover
The Festival of the Passover began during Jesus’ last week on earth.
The night that Jesus was betrayed, he first had a meal with his disciples. It’s likely that this last meal was a Passover Seder meal: the meal that marks the beginning of the Passover Festival.
“On the first day of the Festival 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?’”
We’re going to sample some of the foods that were likely on that Passover table, and some that would be on a more modern Jewish Passover table. We’ll talk about why they were on the table, what their significance was, and we’ll explore the connection between these items and Jesus.
Preparation for the Passover
A family begins preparing for the Passover by cleaning the house thoroughly and getting rid of all the yeast in the house.
Yeast symbolized sin. A small amount of yeast can permeate an entire batch of dough. In the same way, sin starts out small, and grows until it permeates our entire lives.
Before we begin, let’s take a moment to get rid of the “yeast” (sin) in our “house” (our self). In the same way we would confess sin before we take communion, let’s take a moment and confess our sin before God.
*Take a moment of silence.
Lighting the Candles on the Passover Table
Before we begin, we’ll light the candles on the table. A woman typically lights the candles to begin the Seder meal and mark the beginning of the Passover.
*Light the candles.
The First Cup of Wine
There are four cups of wine on the Seder table. The Passover Seder, begins with a blessing, or the Kiddush, recited over the first of the four cups of wine; the cup of sanctification.
As you raise the first cup, recite the blessing:
Baruch atah Adonai,
Eloheinu melech ha-olam,
borei p’ree hagafen. Amen.
Blessed are You, God,
Our God, Ruler of the Universe,
creator of the fruit of the vine. Amen
Learn how to say the Kiddush for Passover
The Connection to Jesus
In Luke 22:17-18, we read that Jesus himself blessed the cup. The Gospels don’t specify that there were four cups of wine on Jesus’ table as there are on contemporary Seder tables. If there were, it’s likely the cup Jesus blessed was this first cup.
Luke 22:17-18 reads,
“Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then he said, ‘Take this and share it among yourselves. For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.’”
*Drink the first cup.
The Second Cup of Wine
The second cup, the cup of plagues, is to remind us of the Ten Plagues and the suffering of the Egyptians when they hardened their hearts against the Lord.
The Jewish people felt it wasn’t right to be happy about the demise of their enemy, the Egyptians.
Prov. 24:17 says “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice.”
To ensure they didn’t rejoice over the suffering of their enemies, Jewish people would spill one drop of wine as they recited each of the ten plagues.
Wine symbolized joy. With each drop they spilled, the wine in their cup, or their joy, became less, reminding them that their joy was diminished at the suffering of others.
Dip your finger in the juice in the second cup and sprinkle a drop onto your plate for each of the 10 plagues as you recite them:
The plague of blood.
The plague of frogs.
The plague of gnats.
The plague of flies.
The plague sickness & death of the livestock.
The plague of boils.
The plague of hail and fire.
The plague of locusts.
The plague of darkness.
The death of the first born.
*Drink the second cup.
The next item on the table is the matzah – or unleavened bread. No leaven, or yeast, is be used in the bread.
- At the first Passover meal, this was because the Hebrews had to leave Egypt in such a hurry there was no time to let the dough rise before baking it. The bread they ate was unleavened.
- On subsequent Passover tables, this was also because yeast was removed from the houses prior to the Passover meal.
On your tables you will find a cloth with three pieces of matzah. Take out the middle piece of matzah and break it in half. Put one half back into the cloth with the other two pieces. Wrap the other half in a linen cloth and hide it, to be taken out later, after the meal. This hidden piece is called the Afikomen.
Karpas and Salt Water
The first item to be eaten is the Karpas – or greens.
Greens are a symbol of life.
There is also a small bowl of salt water on your table. The salt water represents the tears shed by the Hebrew slaves under the oppression of the Pharaoh.
The greens dipped in salt water are a reminder that the life of the Hebrew people was soaked in the tears of oppression.
Dip a small amount of bitter herbs (parsley) in the salt water and taste them.
As you taste the bitter herbs, remember the bitter suffering of the Hebrew slaves.
As you taste the salty water, remember the tears of the Hebrew slaves.
The Connection to Jesus
We also remember the abuse Jesus suffered on our behalf. He was beaten, flogged, ridiculed, and spit on. He hung on a cross and died a torturous death.
Remember also the tears Jesus shed when he wept for Jerusalem. Remember the tears his followers wept as he died on the cross…as they laid him in the tomb.
*Taste the parsley and salt water.
Beitzah – Roasted Egg
You’ll find a roasted egg on the modern Seder plate. The egg is a reminder that daily temple sacrifice can no longer be offered because the temple no longer stands (and sacrifices were only made at the Temple). In the midst of the Passover Seder, the Jewish people are reminded that they have no sacrifice to make them righteous before God.
In Jesus, There is No More Need for Sacrifice
As you taste a small bit of the egg, recognize that there is now no more need for this sacrifice. Jesus’ death on the cross was the ultimate and final sacrifice made on our behalf for the forgiveness of sins.
Eggs also represent new life. Remember the new life we now have in Christ.
*Taste the egg.
Maror – Bitter Herb
The maror – or bitter herb- on your table is horseradish. It’s customary to eat enough to bring tears to the eyes.
The bitter herbs are another reminder of the bitter years of slavery the Hebrew people endured before they were set free.
Today, they are a reminder to us that we cannot appreciate the sweetness of redemption unless we first acknowledge the bitterness of our enslavement to sin.
*Taste the horseradish.
Charoset is a sweet mixture of chopped apples, chopped nuts, honey, cinnamon. This sweet, pasty, brownish mixture is symbolic of the mortar the Hebrew people used to build with bricks in Egypt.
Why do we remember such a bitter experience with something so sweet? Rabbis say that even the bitterest of labor can be sweet when our redemption draws near.
As believers in Jesus, this is especially true. We can find sweetness even in the bitterest of experiences because we know our Messiah is near. Because he suffered, he can relate to our suffering. He doesn’t leave us, but walks with us through even the most painful times. Jesus comforts us, gives us courage to face our troubles, and uses them to transform us: to make us like him. (See Romans 8:28.)
*As you taste the Charoset, remember how sweet it is to know that Jesus is always there, even in your most painful, bitter moments.
Shankbone of the Lamb
On every Seder table is a bare shank bone of a lamb. In the book of Exodus, Jewish firstborns were spared from death by the blood of a spotless, innocent lamb applied to the doorpost of their homes as God brought the final plague on Egypt and set his people free from slavery.
The Connection to Jesus
Today, we believe Jesus is that perfect Passover Lamb, and when we apply His blood to the doorposts of our heart, we too pass from death into life, from the slavery of sin into the freedom of being a redeemed child of God.
When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him, he said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29
*Taste the lamb.
The Search for the Afikomen
After the meal is finished, the leader of the Seder lets the children loose to hunt for the Afikomen, which we wrapped in a napkin and hid at the beginning of the meal. Everyone rushes around to be the first to find the Afikomen and claim the prize. When one of the children finds the Afikomen, the leader of the meal redeems it – pays a ransom for it.
*Someone finds the Afikomen. That person is paid the “ransom” – the coins.
For Jewish families, this is a fun activity to keep the kids interested until the end of the meal.
However, it is widely believed that these pieces of Afikomen bring a good, long life to those who eat them.
The Connection to Jesus
Once the Afikomen is redeemed, the head of the table breaks it up into pieces and distributes a small piece to each person seated at the table.
It’s not known for sure, but it’s possible the tradition dates back to the time of Jesus. If this is the case, then Luke 22:19 takes on a greater meaning:
“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’”
If this tradition indeed dates back to the time of Jesus, Jesus would have taken the middle of the three pieces of matzah. This middle piece stands for the priest or mediator between God and the people. We are reminded that Jesus is our High Priest, our mediator.
Imagine Jesus breaking the bread, just as his body would be broken; wrapping half in a linen napkin, just as he would be wrapped in linen for burial; and hiding it, just as he would soon be hidden away in a tomb. As the hidden piece is brought back, we are reminded how Jesus was resurrected; brought back. Jesus would have given some of the bread to everyone seated at the table with him. In the same way, he gives life to all who believe. As He did this, he would have been aware that this middle piece of matzah represented his own body which would be broken for the redemption of his people.
By His Stripes…
Look at the matzah. It’s striped and pierced. The prophet Isaiah revealed that the Messiah would suffer that we might be healed.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his stripes we are healed.”
Jesus’ own body would be striped with the marks of the whip and pierced by the sword. It is by these “stripes” that we are healed of our sin sickness.
This middle piece of matzah, or the Afikomen, is our communion bread. Every time we take communion, we remember Jesus’ body that was striped, pierced, and broken for us. We remember Jesus’ sacrifice, and we remember our redemption.
Take and eat all of it.
*Eat a small piece of matzah.
The Third Cup
The third cup of wine is taken after the meal. It is the cup of redemption. It reminds the Jewish people of the shed blood of the innocent Lamb which brought the Hebrews redemption in Egypt.
The Connection to Jesus
“In the same way, after supper Jesus took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
Jesus was holding the third cup, the cup of redemption; the cup that is taken after the Seder meal.
This third cup is our communion cup. We drink the cup of redemption when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. We’re reminded that Jesus redeemed us from slavery to sin and set free.
*Take and drink the third cup of wine (juice); the cup of redemption.
The Fourth Cup
The fourth cup is the cup of Hallel. Hallel is a Hebrew word which means “praise.” In the beautiful High Priestly Prayer of John 17, we see that Jesus took time to praise and thank the Lord at the end of the Passover Seder, his last supper. The spotless Passover Lamb had praise on his lips as he went to his death.
As we drink this last cup, may praise for the Lord be on our lips.
*Drink the fourth cup.
*A simple way to finish the last cup of the Seder with praise on our lips – sing the doxology a capella.
Elijah, the Honored Passover Guest
One place setting remains empty for Elijah the prophet, the honored guest at every Passover table. The Jewish people expect Elijah to appear at Passover and announce the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5).
So a place is set, a cup is filled with wine, and everyone anxiously expects Elijah to come and announce the Good News. At the end of the Seder meal, a child is sent to the door to open it and see if Elijah is there.
*Send a child (or someone else if no children are present) to throw open the door and see if Elijah has come.
Every year, the child returns, disappointed, and the wine is poured out without being touched.
The Connection to Jesus
The Jewish people still wait and hope for Messiah – they don’t realize that Messiah has already come.
Those of us who follow in Jesus – Yeshua – know that He is the one the prophets spoke of. He is the spotless, unblemished Passover Lamb, whose body was broken for us and whose blood was shed so that God would ‘pass over’ us when he comes to judge sin.
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”
Jesus freely gives life to all of us who apply His blood to the doorpost of our lives. We are rescued from death, just as the Israelites were rescued from death that first Passover night. God spares us from the judgment and wrath that Pharaoh and the Egyptians experienced during that final plague.
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”
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This post is the third in the series “A Journey to the Cross: 40 Days in the Footsteps of Jesus”. Read the rest of the series here: