During this season of egg hunts, peeps and chocolate rabbits, prize incentives, and food giveaways, the message of the gospel is often overtaken by the church’s pursuit to capitalize on a season of strong attendance. In an effort to re-center our focus, I want to dive into the events leading up to Easter Sunday. Today we celebrate Holy Thursday, and tomorrow Good Friday, and the Hebrew context in which the events of this day unfolded is critical to a full understanding of what happened.
In Luke 22:14-20 the scriptures allow us to look through history’s window and peer in as Jesus leads his disciples in the Passover meal, which many of us know as The Last Supper.
“14. And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it2 guntil it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and hwhen he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.18 iFor I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vineguntil the kingdom of God comes.” 19 jAnd he took bread, and hwhen he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, k“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, k“This cup that is poured out for you is lthe new mcovenant in my blood.”
Traditionally most scholars agree that there were at this time 4 stages to the Passover meal, which are signified by the mixing of a cup of wine.
- Cup of Sanctification or Blessing
In this beginning segment of the meal, the person presiding over the ceremony would mix a portion of wine and water together and bless the first cup and the meal. It is at this point that the elements of the meal would be brought to the table, which would include bitter herbs, a sauce called haroseth, several loaves of unleavened bread, and the roasted Passover lamb.
- Cup of Proclamation
After the mixing of the second cup of wine, the leader of the meal would begin to proclaim what God had done for the people of Israel in rescuing and freeing them from slavery in Egypt. The cup of wine is full at the beginning of the second portion of the meal representing full joy and peace, but a small amount of wine is poured out after the telling of each plague because of the bitterness that the Israelites experienced while they were being freed from slavery in the exodus. The retelling of the story of the exodus and the redemption that was won for the Israelites is followed immediately by an explanation of the elements. The name Passover was used because God passed over the houses of the Israelites, the bitter herbs because the lives of the Israelites were embittered by the Egyptians. The unleavened bread represented the ransom from Egypt, and the lamb because of how the Israelites painted their doorposts with the blood of the sacrificial lamb. After this, the second cup was consumed and the third cup was poured to begin the next portion of the meal.
- Cup of Redemption
After the mixing of the third cup was traditionally when the unleavened bread and the lamb were eaten. After the meal, the leader of the meal said another blessing and the third cup was taken.
- Cup of Hallel or Praise
In this final portion of the Passover meal participants traditionally sang some or all of Psalms 115-118 in praise to God for what He had done for His people, and the fourth cup was taken to close the ceremony of the Passover meal.
Now that we have a picture of what would have been a traditional Passover meal, it important for us to take notice of some key changes that Jesus made in foreshadowing and completing the ultimate ransom of His people the very next day.
In Luke’s account, although we don’t get a picture of the entire meal, there is evidence of 2 of the cups of the Passover meal that Jesus takes with His disciples. In verse 17 we see Jesus giving thanks and explaining the meaning of the bread, which would be consistent with the second cup. What is interesting here is that Jesus changes the explanation of the bread and now ties the bread with His body when He says, “This is my body, which is given for you.” Then in verse 20 the scripture says, “And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” This would be consistent with the third cup and Jesus here introduces the new covenant when He says, “This cup that is poured our for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
In the accounts in Matthew and Mark we see that Jesus and the disciples then sang a hymn together and left the upper room to go to Gethsemane. This is crucial on two fronts! First, the singing of the hymn. Just imagine the emotions that Jesus must have felt when He sang words as are found in Psalm 116 and 118 when the writer says,
“How can I repay the Lord for all the good He has done for me? I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of Yahweh. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people. The death of His faithful ones is valuable in the Lord’s sight. Lord, I am indeed Your servant…” Psalm 116: 12-16
“I will not die, but I will live and proclaim what the Lord has done. The Lord disciplined me severely but did not give me over to death.” Psalm 118:16-17
These hymns are an obvious foreshadowing of what was to come and Jesus is singing them as praises to God as each step leads Him closer to His death! Secondly, Jesus does not take the fourth cup, which would have officially concluded the Passover meal. Instead He says, “For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
This is where it all starts coming together for me! Jesus and the disciples now come to the garden and in Mark 14:32-40, Jesus says “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.”, and he goes to pray saying, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) Jesus prays this same prayer multiple times in the garden and it is in this prayer that we understand why He did not take of the last cup.
The last cup of the Passover meal, the fourth cup, was the cup of praise. Jesus here is facing the reality that it is in His unwavering obedience to His Father’s will that He offers up His greatest praise. Now lets fast-forward to the crucifixion. In John 19 just before Jesus breathes His last, in verses 28-29 it says,
“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.”
And now, in the very last moments of suffering on the cross, Jesus takes the fourth and last cup of wine, the cup of praise, and proclaims, “It is finished!”
Let us celebrate the obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ and His purchase of our redemption this season, and may we hold His gospel high above all else as we draw into these holy days.
This post was written by John Paul Basham, Student Ministry Specialist