Focus on Jesus Series
The Lord's Supper and Passover
Notes on Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-35, Luke 22:17-20
by Ed Vasicek
The Lord's Supper is often misunderstood because it is divorced from its Jewish context. The Jews had celebrated the Passover for about 1500 years before Jesus was born. Jesus took two elements from the Passover and instituted a memorial feast for all His followers. We call this memorial "The Lord's Supper" or "Communion."
The purpose of the Passover was to memorialize God's deliverance of the Jews from the slavery of Egypt. The feast involved several elements, including four cups of wine (diluted with water), matzo (unleavened bread), bitter herbs and a lamb dinner.
Several rituals are remarkably prophetic of the work of Jesus Christ. One of these practices involved the remarkable use of three matzos. The center matzo was hidden and not eaten until after dinner. When everyone had their fill of lamb, the children would search for the matzo; whoever found it would be awarded a prize. Then the family would eat this last matzo and drink another cup of wine. It was this part of the meal that Jesus transformed into the "Lord's Supper."
The symbolism is remarkable. The three Persons of the Godhead are represented by the three matzos, which are wrapped in a cloth pouch called the "afikomen." The second matzo, representing the Second Person of the Trinity (God the Son) was hidden from the Jews. But there is great reward for those who find Him, those with childlike faith.
When Jesus took that second matzo and broke it, He said, "This is My body, given for you." He was NOT saying that the bread was turned into His body (for Christ's body had not yet been broken), but He was saying that "you have been doing this ritual for years, not understanding what it means. This hidden matzo represents me and what I am about to do for you on the cross." Again, the Jews drank a cup of wine after the Passover meal, and Jesus now says, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood." The Jews had long been anticipating the coming of the Messiah and the new covenant associated with His coming; this cup represented that new covenant, a covenant that would be ratified by blood (as all covenants were) within 24 hours. Again, the cup was not transformed into Jesus blood: Jesus had not yet shed His blood (and God forbids the drinking of blood both in the Old and New Testament—Acts 15:20).
By the way, the wording in all the Gospels state it was the "cup" that was the new covenant in His blood. Although most interpreters would understand this as a figure of speech (the cup represents the contents of the cup), another understanding could be, "This ritual of taking the cup and drinking wine was meant to prefigure My work on the cross," (the emphasis being on the ritual and not the contents of the cup).
The ancient Feast of the Passover was the shadow and prophecy of what Christ was about to do. As the Passover looked forward, so we are clearly commanded to celebrate the Lord's Supper to look back on the finished work of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:23-27).
The Lord's Supper is a special time of worship and remembrance. It does not save our souls, but it rather helps us focus on that holy point in time when Jesus Christ did save our souls by dying on the cross as the sacrificial Lamb of God, paying the penalty for our sins. It becomes easy to take our salvation for granted; God's command for us to celebrate the Lord's Supper was given to help us live in light of Calvary. But Communion only accomplishes this if we come to the table with open and sincere hearts.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA