By Sidharth Mohandas on February 8, 2011
By Sidharth Mohandas
In order to fully understand Scripture, I believe it is important that we study it in its original setting and context. As we all know, the New Testament or B’rit Chadashah is highly influenced by the Jewish culture and tradition. There are things in the Scripture we will never fully understand unless and until we see things from a Jewish perspective.
Today, I want to introduce you to the “Lord’s Supper” or the “Eucharist” in the light of how it was celebrated during Jesus’ time. There are a lot of details that I will not share in this article, as I want to focus on only certain aspects.
Now the Lord’s Supper has its root in the Jewish Passover (a.k.a Pesach) or the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Matthew 26:17). Since the New Testament writers chose to mention the bread and wine aspect, we shall limit our study to the significance of these in the Passover.
The Unleavened Bread
During the Passover meal, there were 3 loaves of unleavened flat bread, and 4 cups of wine. At the beginning of the meal, the leader or Rabbi would take the three loaves of unleavened bread one on top of the other and cover it with a white cloth. The loaves represented Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, respectively. According to the tradition, the Rabbi would take the middle bread and break it into two, and set aside one part of it for the end of the meal. This part that is set aside is called the afikomen, which is eaten as a dessert. Jews don’t have a consistent explanation as to why this was done, but it was a custom that was followed without exception.
The Four Cups
At the same time, the 4 cups of wine were sipped at different junctures of the meal. The first two cups were taken before the meal, and the last two were taken after the meal. Each of these four cups had names that were given to them. And they represented the four kinds of deliverances that the Lord promised in Exodus 6:6-7.
Cup 1: “I will bring out”
Cup 2: “I will deliver”
Cup 3: “I will redeem”, and
Cup 4: “I will take”.
Passover with Jesus
Now when Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples, towards the end of the meal He took the afikomen (the part that was set aside from the middle bread), broke it and gave it to His disciples saying “Take and eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26). I’m sure this puzzled the disciples, for He had taken the bread that represented Isaac and equated it to His body. Now that we have a better understanding of the Scriptures, we can clearly see that when Abraham offered Isaac, it was a foreshadow of what was going to happen to Jesus that night, His own Father was offering Him as a sacrifice, so that we might have life.
Jesus now takes “the cup after the meal”, that is the third cup (1 Corinthians 11:25), and He says “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:26-27). In other words, He takes the third cup that represented the promise “I will redeem”, and assures them that He was going to redeem them (the word redeem means to recover the ownership of something by paying a certain sum).
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.(1 Peter 1:18-19)
Through the blood of Christ, a whole new world and life with God has been opened to us. Not only is our ‘now’ secure in Him, but our ‘forever’ is secure. We are His.
The Fourth Cup: “I will take you”
After drinking from the third cup, Jesus says to His disciples, “I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).
In other words, we understand that He did not drink from the fourth cup. This makes it quite clear to us that He broke tradition by not finishing the Passover with the fourth cup. Rather, He allowed the promise to remain, “I will take you” (expressed in the fourth cup), to be fulfilled later when He returns in all His glory, taking us to be with Him forever.
Like a Bride that longs for her Groom, we long for His coming. None of us have seen Him or been with Him physically, but we are assured by many Scriptures, and through the significance of His fourth cup that we will see Him face to face, see the expressions on His face, touch Him, hear His laughter and share with Him that last cup…what a joyful day that will be!
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Let these words resonate in our hearts: “I will take you”.