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the first Passover meal

The very first Passover lambs for the children of Israel in Egypt were slain in the middle of the afternoon on Aviv 14 (see “parallels between Jesus and the Passover lamb”: P-I).  About three hours later, at sunset, Aviv 15 began.  That night, they were to eat the entire, fully roasted lamb with bitter herbs and with unleavened bread (Exo. 12:8,9)—that is, made without yeast.

The bitter herbs were to remind them of the bitter slavery they had endured for so long in Egypt.  The bread was to be unleavened for two reasons.  One was that they were not to take time to add yeast to the bread and let it rise, since they were going to make a hasty retreat out of Egypt and were going to take some of the dough with them (Exo. 12:34).  The other was that yeast (leaven) represents malice, evil, and sin, in the sense that a small amount will contaminate a person’s character (or permeate throughout a group of people) in the same way that a little yeast permeates an entire batch of dough (1 Cor. 5:6b,8).

Hag hamatzoh or Festival of Unleavened Bread

Hag hamatzoh (or “Feast of Unleavened Bread”) was to be celebrated as a lasting ordinance for generations to come (Exo. 12:14-20; Lev. 23:6-8; Num. 28:17-25; Deut. 16:3,4,7,8).  Unleavened bread was (and is) to be eaten for the seven days of the festival, beginning on Aviv 15, although often unleavened bread was (and is) also eaten on Aviv 14 (often considered the “first day of unleavened bread”).  The Passover sacrifice occurred late in the day on Aviv 14, also referred to as the “day of Preparation” (John 19:31a); and the Feast of Unleavened Bread began (at sunset) on Aviv 15, one of several special Jewish Shabbaton or “High Sabbaths” (19:31b) during the year.  It is not uncommon to refer to the entire week—including the day of Passover (Aviv 14), the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Aviv 15), and the remaining six days of the Feast (Aviv 16-21)—as simply “the Passover.”

the Passover Seder

The meal on the first night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is referred to as the Passover Seder.  Traditionally, as was stated before, the entire Passover lamb, among other things, was eaten at this meal.  However, ever since the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 A.D., the Jews have felt it would not be appropriate to partake of the sacrificial lamb.  Sometimes the shank bone of the lamb is served, but not the whole lamb; instead, chicken or beef commonly is eaten.  I feel that it will not be long before the lamb again will be eaten in Jewish homes on Passover, as all indications are that reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem is imminent (see “preparations for the future temple”: C-11, P-III).

the afikomen

A ceremony, dating back to the days of Jesus, is rehearsed during the Passover Seder.  It is called the afikomen (sometimes spelled afikoman or afikomin), a Hebrew word meaning “festival procession.”  (This should bring to mind the coming forth of the Passover lamb—and Jesus, the absolute Passover Lamb—into Jerusalem on Aviv 10—see “parallels between Jesus and the Passover lamb”: P-I).

Near the beginning of the Passover Seder, after the first of four cups of wine has been drunk, the father of the household takes three pieces of unleavened bread, each called matzo (pronounced matzah), and places them in a white linen envelope (the “unity bag”) with three adjacent compartments.  A matzo (which contains no leaven) resembles a large flat soda cracker with consecutive, indented “stripes” (from being grilled), and it is “pierced” throughout with many holes.

Shortly thereafter, the middle matzo, now itself referred to as the “afikomen,” is used in a short ceremony called the yachatz (meaning “to break”).  The afikomen is removed from its individual middle compartment in the envelope and broken in two.  One part is put back into the envelope, while the other part is wrapped in another piece of white linen and hidden or “buried” (often behind a cushion, in a drawer, or under the table).  The children will search for this piece of the afikomen until one of them finds it.

Later, the child who has retrieved the broken afikomen holds it for “ransom,” and the father must “redeem” it, traditionally with silver.  Once this has been done, the father blesses the bread and the third cup of wine of the meal, the “Cup of Redemption.”  A piece of this bread (referred to as the “bread of life”) is eaten by everyone with the third cup of wine.  After the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., the afikomen became the substitute for the Pesach or Passover lamb.  As the lamb had been the last thing eaten in the meal, so the afikomen became the last thing to be eaten, as though this bread finally would satisfy everyone’s hunger and provide permanent sustenance.

Jesus, the Passover Afikomen

The three pieces of unleavened bread in the linen envelope or “unity bag” may be thought of as symbolizing the three unified aspects of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see C-6).  The middle matzo, the afikomen, thus may be considered to be representative of the second Person of the Godhead—the Son or Jesus.  A matzo is baked without leaven, the latter which represents “sin.”  Likewise, Jesus never committed a sin (1 Pet. 2:22).

Recall that the matzo has numerous rows of indentations, resembling stripes, as well as holes piercing it throughout.  Before Jesus was crucified, his back was flogged (Isa. 50:6a; Matt. 27:26b) with a whip (with pieces of jagged glass and metal at the ends of the leather strands) which ripped away strips (stripes) of skin and muscle from His back, down to the bone.

Furthermore, Jesus’ head was pierced by a crown of thorns (Matt. 27:29a), His wrists and feet were pierced through by nails on the cross (Psalm 22:16c; Mark 15:25), and His side was pierced by a soldier’s spear after He died (John 19:34).  Isaiah, writing of the future Messiah, said, “But he was pierced for our transgressions,...and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5ad).  (In most Bible versions, “wounds” is translated “stripes.”)  Zechariah, referring to the time of Jesus’ second (physical) coming, when the inhabitants of Jerusalem will realize that He is their Messiah, said, “They will look upon me, the one they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10b).

The afikomen is removed from its original location in the white linen envelope with the other two matzo (plural of matzo).  (Jesus left the presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit in heaven to come to this world.)  Then it is broken into two parts.  (One aspect of Jesus is God; the other is man.  Also, Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would be “crushed” or “broken” for our iniquities—Isa. 53:5b.  And, at the Last Supper, Jesus broke bread; as He offered it to His disciples, He said, “Take and eat; this is my [broken] body”—Matt. 26:26.)  One part of the broken matzo is put back into the linen envelope, while the other part is wrapped in a separate piece of white linen and hidden or buried.  (The last thing Jesus said before He died was, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”—Luke 23:46—meaning that He voluntarily was giving back His Spirit to the Father to do with it whatever He had in Mind to do.  Jesus’ body was wrapped in a clean linen cloth and placed into a tomb—Matt. 27:59,60).

Traditionally, silver is the reward paid for finding the afikomen.  (Judas Iscariot was awarded thirty pieces of silver for arranging to find and betray Jesus so that He could be killed—Matt. 26:15.)  The afikomen is held for ransom.  (Jesus “...gave himself as a ransom for all men...”—1 Tim. 2:6).  The afikomen also is called the “bread of life.”  It is the last thing eaten, symbolically depicting that it will be sufficient to sustain everyone from that point forward.  (Jesus repeatedly told a crowd of Jews that He was the “bread of life” and that whoever came to Him would “never go hungry”—John 6:35ab,51,53.)

Jesus’ body, the bread

As discussed before, I believe that Jesus celebrated the Passover on the evening of Aviv 14 (sometime after sunset, ending Aviv 13—see “crucifixion on Thursday”: P-I).  Jesus was the “father” at His Passover table.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26).

The phrase “gave thanks” is (more literally) translated in most versions as “blessed.”  But what blessing did Jesus repeat over the bread?

Zola Levitt, Jewish-Christian scholar, notes that Jewish blessings do not change and have been stated the same for millennia.  According to him, Jesus would have said at the Passover Seder, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who bringest forth bread from the earth [sic].” (4)  Now, Jesus had made numerous allegations to His disciples that He would be killed.  So with Jesus’ assertion, following the blessing, that the bread was His body (Matt. 26:26), He was implying that God the Father would resurrect His dead body from the earth.

Now why did Jesus tell His disciples to “take and eat” the bread, which He subsequently referred to as “my body”?  It is because of something that He had taught some time before.  “I am the bread of life. ...  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If a man eats of this bread, he will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:48,51).  Jesus did not mean, though, that anyone who literally would take a piece of His flesh and eat it would live forever.  Later He added, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (6:63).  By breaking the bread at the meal, Jesus was demonstrating that His body would be broken (killed) as a sacrifice.  However, His Life originated not from His body but from the Spirit within; so anyone who ate the broken bread—keeping in mind that it represented a personal sacrifice by Jesus as well as a spiritual impartation upon it of the everlasting Life within Jesus—would receive eternal Life.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Matt. 2:1a), which in Hebrew is Beth Lechem or “House of Bread.”  He used the illustration of the necessity of a kernel of wheat (from which bread is made) falling to the ground and dying, thereby coming alive to produce more seeds and fruit than it otherwise would have (John 12:24).  He Himself died, was placed in the “ground” (in a tomb), and emerged alive as the “bread of life” to bring eternal Life to anyone who believed in Him and in His Plan of salvation.

Jesus’ blood, the wine

After partaking of the bread, Jesus next focused on the wine:

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:27-29).

To fully understand the significance of this, see the Jewish engagement and marriage customs at the time of Jesus, and the fulfillment of these by Jesus, in “bridegroom and bride” and “Bridegroom and Bride”: C-6, P-III.  At the presentation of the first contract or covenant to the bride, the groom would toast the bride with a cup of wine.  If she also partook of the wine, effectively she was accepting and sealing the covenant—agreeing to remain true to Him until his return.

Jesus, at the Last Supper, likened the wine to the blood which He would shed (that very day, Aviv 14) and which would confirm the new covenant with the disciples at the table and, in fact, with all of humanity.  He offered the wine as a toast to His Bride, the Church of believers, stating that He would drink the wine with them again at the time they were all together in the Father’s Kingdom—specifically, at the future wedding supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9—see “wedding supper of the Lamb”: C-12, P-IV, S-1).

all believers, the fruit of the vine

Again Zola Levitt gives insight as to the words of thanks or blessing that Jesus most likely said over the wine at His last Passover Seder:  “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine” [sic]. (5)  Jesus previously had referred to Himself as the “true vine” and His disciples as the “branches” connected to this vine, and He encouraged them to bear “fruit” by bringing others to a belief in Him (John 15:1a,5,8).  Jesus was thanking the Father for the “fruit of the vine”—that is, for all people who have been and will be called by God to believe in Jesus and “...whom he prepared in advance for glory” (Rom. 9:23b).  Furthermore, these people will bear the “...fruit of the Spirit [which] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22,23a).

Holy Communion

The Christian celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion or Eucharist) is a commemoration of Jesus’ body broken and His blood shed for us.  It is, essentially, identical to the eating of the afikomen and the drinking of the third cup at the Passover Seder (see “the afikomen” earlier in this part).  It is unfortunate that so many Christians and Jews do not even realize the homogeneity between the two.  When taking part in either ceremony (and I believe Christians should attend Passover Seders), it is important for a Christian to recognize the spiritual presence of Jesus in the bread and in the wine (or juice).

I view Communion as a time of intimate communication and union with the Lord.  If I am at home, I prefer to use matzo and red wine for the elements.  Paul said that

...whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup (1 Cor. 11:27,28).

I believe that eating the bread and drinking the wine in an “unworthy manner” means failing to realize what the bread and the wine signify and neglecting to recognize the spiritual presence of Jesus in the bread and in the wine while partaking of it.  Some believe that, at the moment of eating and drinking, the bread and wine literally are transfigured into the flesh and blood of Jesus.  I do not hold this belief; however, I do believe that His spiritual presence permeates the bread and the wine at that moment.

Paul also implied that if one is hungry, one should eat a meal before partaking of the Lord’s bread and wine (1 Cor. 11:34a).  One reason is so that one will not be distracted from the significance of the observance by feeling hungry.  But I also consider equally sound the reason for eating the afikomin as the last thing at a Passover Seder: that it suggests nothing else is necessary to satisfy one’s hunger after that bread is eaten.  And Jesus completely satisfies all spiritual hunger.

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Copyright © 1998– by Ted M. Montgomery, O.D.  Most rights reserved.